Holyrood ministers are “absolutely committed” to ensuring Scotland is the first part of the UK to enshrine children’s rights into domestic law, with the Social Justice Secretary saying MSPs will “hopefully” vote on revised legislation to achieve this later this year.
Shirley-Anne Somerville conceded the legislation “has been narrowed” in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling almost two years ago, with it resulting in a “disappointing loss of coverage for children’s rights”.
But with Holyrood now set to look again at the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, Ms Somerville said the legislation will still make a “significant statement of intent”.
The unanimous vote to reconsider the Bill means amendments will be lodged on Monday, making changes after the UK Supreme Court ruled in October 2021 that sections of it were “outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament”.
In bringing the Bill back to Parliament, Ms Somerville said the Government has tried to balance “protecting children’s rights to the maximum extent possible” alongside “minimising the risk of another Supreme Court referral”.
As a result, public authorities will only be required to comply with the requirements of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) when delivering duties under powers set out by an act of the Scottish Parliament.
Ms Somerville conceded this was a “disappointing loss of coverage for children’s rights, compared to what we originally hoped to achieve”.
But she added: “It nevertheless represents the maximum effective coverage we think we can achieve in the present devolved context.”
The Scottish Parliament will “hopefully” debate and vote on the changes proposed to the legislation, to enable it to comply with the Supreme Court ruling, later this year Ms Somerville said.
The Social Justice Secretary added: “Although the scope of the compatibility duty in the Bill has been narrowed, bringing this Bill back will provide an important signal about the kind of country we want to be, as well as provide a solid legal foundation on which to build in the future.
“We remain absolutely committed to Scotland being the first UK nation to incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law, ensuring we are a country that respects, protects and fulfils children’s rights.”
Conservative MSP Roz McCall however criticised ministers for the time taken to bring the Bill back to Holyrood.
“What on earth has the Scottish Government been doing?” she asked.
“Instead of making the necessary changes to the Bill, required by the Supreme Court, the SNP have deliberately provoked grievance, politicising children’s rights and I find that abhorrent.”
Labour MSP Martin Whitfield said although the Bill had been “narrowed in some scope”, it will “still increase protections for those who are most vulnerable”.<
He added: “It will demonstrate to children and young people in Scotland that we will continue to uphold the commitments to them, now and into the future.”
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