MSPs vote to stall named person bill consideration
The Scottish government’s named person scheme has been delayed after MSPs refused to move legislation along.
MSPs are in the process of considering changes to the system to settle issues raised by the Supreme Court.
A bill was to go before the chamber before the end of the year, but the education committee has voted against publishing a stage one report.
Parliamentary rules mean the legislation cannot proceed until a committee report has been completed.
MSPs have never voted on a bill at stage one without a committee report carrying a recommendation on whether to back the general principles of the legislation in place.
The scheme would appoint a named person, usually a teacher of health visitor, to be responsible for ensuring the welfare of every child.
The plans were approved by MSPs in 2014, but were quickly tied up in legal challenges by campaigners who feared they could cause unnecessary intrusion into family life.
Judges at the UK’s highest court ruled against the scheme in July 2016, citing concerns that information sharing plans were incompatible with the rights to privacy and a family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The bill being considered by MSPs was a bid to correct these information sharing rules in order to let the system be implemented.
The education committee wants to see a draft code of practice before it agrees a report on the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) Bill.
Education Secretary John Swinney has previously said a draft code of practice could not be produced until September 2018 “at the earliest” – warning that failure to produce a report could “significantly delay” the implementation of the scheme.
Holyrood’s standing orders state that parliament will only consider the general principles of a bill “in light of the lead committee’s report”.
However, the education committee, which has repeatedly called for more clarity on the changes, wants to see a draft version of a proposed code of practice before they proceed to this part of the legislative process.
SNP members on the committee wanted to produce a stage one report, but they were voted down by other MSPs, who agreed that the committee should instead extend the period of scrutiny.
In a letter to the education secretary last week, committee convener James Dornan – an SNP member – said the majority of members “do not consider that they are able to make a decision on whether to recommend that the general principles of the bill be approved at Stage 1 until the Scottish government has provided the committee with an authoritative draft of the code”.
‘Prolong the uncertainty’
Mr Swinney replied noting “regret” at the decision, saying that “the committee is not being asked to approve the code”.
He said he did not believe a delay to the stage one process was necessary and asked the committee to “signal its support for the general principles of the legislation” while continuing scrutiny of the code of practice “in parallel”.
He added: “I fear that this could undermine stakeholder confidence in the principle of the named person approach, and prolong the uncertainty many in the sector feel in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s judgment of July 2016.
“This is to the detriment of implementing the wider principles of getting it right for every child – an approach to which I had thought everyone in the chamber subscribed.”
Committee members rejected this approach by six votes to five, instead agreeing that they should “extend the period of stage one scrutiny to provide the committee with the opportunity to scrutinise a draft code of practice alongside the bill”.
They are to write to the parliament and presiding officer calling for an extension to the legislative process, and said they would write to Mr Swinney to explain their decision.