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Bill enshrining UN treaty passes after changes made

The Bill was the first to have a reconsideration stage at Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)
The Bill was the first to have a reconsideration stage at Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)

The first-ever Bill in the Scottish Parliament to go through a reconsideration stage after being initially knocked down by the courts has passed unanimously.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was first passed in 2021, but the UK Supreme Court found it would impact on Westminster legislation.

The Bill forces public authorities to comply with the UN treaty, but changes to the legislation mean this can only be applied to acts of the Scottish Parliament.

Following a more than two-year wait, the Bill returned to the Holyrood chamber for amendments and was eventually passed by 117 votes to zero.

Shirley-Anne Somerville
Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville tabled the required amendments to the Bill (Jane Barlow/PA)

The changes – 45 in total were tabled by Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville – were passed in just 15 minutes.

“This Bill is a milestone – it is a substantial step forward, but it is limited insofar as this Parliament has its powers,” the minister said during the debate on the Bill, but called on the UK Government to incorporate the treaty to “give children and young people the human rights protection that they deserve”.

“I will continue to press the UK Government on that, and I hope that other colleagues in the chamber will do the same.

“But in the meantime, we have an important opportunity to lead by example in passing this Bill.”

She added: “This Parliament has an opportunity today to take that step forward, once again, to make that very, very important declaration to the children and young people, not just in the gallery today but those that will benefit from the rights that will be protected, that we are there for them today and in the future, and this is an important recognition of their rights and our responsibility about those rights that we can move forward with in the chamber this afternoon.”

Ms Somerville also said she was confident the revised Bill would not be referred again to the Supreme Court after UK Government lawyers were made aware of the content of amendments before they were laid and no issues were raised.

Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher told young people in the Holyrood gallery “this is for you”.

“(The Bill) is a milestone on Scotland’s journey to make rights real in practical terms and it will add to the existing protections that are already in place,” she said.

The Tory MSP added that the Scottish Government “ignored several warnings” from her party that the Bill would originally fall outside of the competence of Holyrood.

The Bill in 2021 passed unanimously, including with the votes of the Tories, but Ms Gallacher said her party agreed with the “principles” of the proposals, and also “warned the Scottish Government on more than one occasion” about potential issues.

“The SNP must reflect on this today, because we are two years behind where we should be on this really important Bill,” she added.

Scottish Labour MSP Martin Whitfield said: “This Bill was built on the expectation of our young people, that their rights would be enshrined in Scottish law, to have the ability to have their country stand by them and say ‘you have rights, the must be upheld’ and however uncomfortable sometimes for vested interests, for the status quo or indeed their elders, the right to be part of the decisions that are made about their lives.”

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton – a former youth worker – said: “It’s not enough to just write legislation, we have to live it, year in, year out, day by day.

“It must be delivered in a meaningful way, we must weave the spirit of its words into all of our actions.”