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Thursday, 07 December 2017

Named person policy faces fresh delay after Holyrood committee vote

Written by The Press Association

The Scottish Government's controversial named person policy is facing further delays following a vote by a Holyrood committee.

A majority of MSPs on the Education Committee backed extending scrutiny of key legislation for the scheme.

They want ministers to provide details of crucial guidance accompanying the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill before they will sign off on a report and recommend it proceeds to the next parliamentary stage.

The committee's six opposition party members defeated the five SNP members in the vote.

The Conservatives said the parliamentary process was a mess, blaming the government, while Labour described Education Secretary John Swinney's handling of the legislation as "cack-handed".

Mr Swinney has said a delay to the parliamentary process is not necessary because MSPs will have an opportunity to scrutinise the guidance at a later stage.

The Bill 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 human-rights laws.

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 Mr Swinney admitted had ''created some confusion and uncertainty amongst stakeholders''.

The majority of members want to scrutinise an "authoritative" code before the legislation proceeds but Mr Swinney has said it will not be available until September at the earliest.

Tory committee member Liz Smith said: "The Information Commissioner was very clear that the illustrative code of practice was not fit for purpose and was unlikely to bear much resemblance to the final code of practice.

"The practitioners told us time and time again that their support for the bill was contingent upon them knowing exactly where they stood in relation to their responsibilities.

"The illustrative code did not give them that clarity and that is why committee members, irrespective of their views on named persons, came to the conclusion that they did.

"Frankly, this whole parliamentary process is a mess and the responsibility for that lies solely with the Scottish Government."

Scottish Labour's education spokesman Iain Gray (pictured) said: "Labour supports the principles behind the named persons policy, to ensure the most vulnerable children do not fall through the cracks.

"But John Swinney's cack-handed incompetence has created a situation where his own policy is falling apart."

Green MSP Ross Greer said: "I hope that the Scottish Government take our considered conclusion on board. A confrontational, head-in-the-sand approach will get them no further."

In a letter to the committee sent last week, Mr Swinney said he had already indicated he will amend the Bill to guarantee further parliamentary scrutiny of the code, and a requirement for parliamentary approval of it prior to implementation.

He has also pledged to set up an expert panel to guide its drafting.

In light of these measures, he said he did not believe a delay was necessary.

The committee will now write to Holyrood's bureau seeking an extension to stage one of the parliamentary process.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.