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Thursday, 30 November 2017

Committee calls for code of practice draft before Named Person recommendations

Written by The Press Association

A Holyrood committee has warned it will not be able to recommend parliamentary approval for key named person legislation until ministers provide details of crucial guidance for professionals.

The Education Committee has called for the Scottish Government to provide "an authoritative draft" of the code of practice accompanying the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill, before it recommends the Bill is passed at its first stage.

The legislation was brought forward after a legal challenge to the named person policy, which will see a single point of contact, such as a teacher or health visitor, appointed to look out for the welfare of every child.

It aims to address the Supreme Court's finding last year that information sharing provisions in the original legislation were incompatible with the right to privacy and family life as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

It requires ministers to publish a code of practice for professionals on how information should be shared.

However, the committee was only provided with a draft and illustrative code, compiled without the necessary consultation - a move Education Secretary John Swinney admitted had "created some confusion and uncertainty amongst stakeholders".

The committee heard evidence some professionals are "confused and nervous" about the information sharing aspect, with others warning against an "overly legalistic" code.

Convener James Dornan (pictured) wrote to Mr Swinney on the issue, stating: "A number of organisations have highlighted how crucial the operation of the code is to the implementation of the bill.

"Indeed some organisations have suggested that their support for the bill is contingent upon the contents of the code.

"Based on the evidence heard to date, the majority of the committee 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 one until the Scottish Government has provided the committee with an authoritative draft of the code.

"By an authoritative draft, the committee means a draft that reflects changes in data protection law which will result from the passage of the UK Data Protection Bill and the subsequent Scottish Government consultation on a draft code.

"If the Committee was able to scrutinise an authoritative draft of the code alongside the Bill, and establish how the two would operate in conjunction, the committee would then be in a better position to consider whether to recommend the general principles of the Bill at stage one."

The letter also seeks assurances from Mr Swinney on questions over whether "the Scottish Government sought to directly influence evidence to the committee".

The issue was raised by Conservative member Oliver Mundell, and centres on meetings between the government and various organisations appearing before the committee.

"In order to ensure we can remain entirely focussed on scrutiny of this bill, the committee has asked if you could confirm that the Government's discussions with witnesses were limited to explaining the Scottish Government position, seeking deeper understanding of the issues stakeholders were raising and where appropriate discussing potential solutions," the letter states.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: "With yet more questions to be answered, a clear failure to address the committee's concerns and no tangible progress in building public trust, there have to be questions now as to whether this policy is savable at all."

Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: "The best way out of this mess is for the Scottish Government to ditch the bill and completely rethink how we should be supporting our most vulnerable children."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government will carefully consider this letter from the Education and Skills Committee and respond in due course."

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