A NEW body will be created to oversee the management and protection of Scotland's historical heritage, MSPs have confirmed.

Holyrood unanimously backed the Historic Environment (Scotland) Bill, which will merge the functions of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) into a new body.

The Act is designed to simplify the public sector landscape by reducing the number of Scottish public bodies.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: "The historic environment lies at the heart of our cultural identity. It plays a key role in defining who we are, and our place in the world. It tells Scotland's story. It has intrinsic and instrumental value, over and above any economic considerations. It merits our most careful stewardship for those reasons alone.

"As well as being central to telling the story of our nation, the historic environment already supports more than 40,000 jobs, contributes well over £2 billion a year to Scotland's economy, and contributes to the well being of our communities. There is no reason why it cannot offer more.

"Historic Environment ­Scotland will take forward the Government's contribution to delivering Scotland's first national strategy to ensure our diverse historic environment is understood, valued, cared for, protected, enjoyed and enhanced - now and for future generations.

"The complementary nature of Historic Scotland and RCAHMS has long been recognised. They both work well and that is clear in the praise I hear for the great work that both do. Bringing them together to create a strong and efficient single lead body is the next logical step to sustain and enhance this.

"The new approach will bring resources, skills and experience together, and it will simplify procedures. That will help create conditions in which our historic environment can flourish."

Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson said: "Our historic environment tells Scotland's story, but it also tells the story of every community in every part of Scotland and is valuable to us for that and the sense of place it gives to us.

"It is also valuable in the sense that it is our most green resource, in the way that it can be recycled over time changing function or retaining a function over many decades or perhaps many centuries, so it's importance to us cannot be underestimated."

Conservative MSP Liz Smith said: "By merging Historic ­Scotland and RCAHMS there will be an agency that is better equipped to conserve, preserve and hopefully maintain, even if that is not formally in the Act, and enhance Scotland's historic environment in a particularly challenging time not just from a financial perspective but a curatorial one too."