Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Levelling Up Fund, Teacher Numbers and Children’s Learning Hours, Social Security Programme Business Case, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill
- Time for Reflection
- Business Motion
- Topical Question Time
- Levelling Up Fund
- Teacher Numbers and Children’s Learning Hours
- Social Security Programme Business Case
- Motion without Notice
- Decision Time
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-07485, in the name of Martin Whitfield, on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament notes that 16 March 2023 will mark two years since, it considers, the Scottish Parliament committed to delivering a “revolution in children’s rights”, by unanimously passing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill; believes that, by taking what it sees as a maximalist approach to incorporating children’s rights into Scots law, Scotland would deliver a fundamental cultural shift that would transform the life chances and outcomes for children and young people, including in the South Scotland region; understands that the Bill was passed after over 10 years of campaigning by children, young people and their families, and was supported by children’s organisations across Scotland; acknowledges reports that the passage of the Bill was celebrated widely by children and young people through to teachers, social workers, the police, MSPs across all political parties and members of UN committees; accepts that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled that the Bill needs to be amended to bring it within the competence of the Scottish Parliament; welcomes the Deputy First Minister’s commitment to address the Supreme Court judgment through the Scottish Parliament’s reconsideration process; acknowledges the view that children and young people still do not know what timescale the Scottish Government is working to, or how long this process will take, and understands that, as the second anniversary of the Bill being passed approaches, charities are urging MSPs to set out to children their continued commitment to the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law and to supporting reconsideration of the Bill that brings it within the Parliament’s competence, and are requesting that the Scottish Government sets out a timescale for the reconsideration process so that children and young people know when UNCRC incorporation will be a reality in their lives.17:10
Presiding Officer, it is a pleasure that you are in the chair for the debate on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. I thank all those members on all sides of the chamber who supported my motion in order to make the debate possible.
I am conscious that members may be concerned about the political element in the context of a members’ business debate, but I make no apology for that, because the bill was passed unanimously by the chamber. In reality, therefore, the concerns are not of a political nature, but relate instead to process.
The bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 1 September 2020 and passed unanimously on 16 March 2021. In 37 days, therefore, we should be celebrating its second birthday—a birthday that could, if the bill was a person, potentially have opened up childcare funding for it.
On 6 October 2021, however, the United Kingdom Supreme Court gave its judgment on the UNCRC bill: the judges unanimously decided that four sections of the bill go beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament. That risk was warned about, both prior to stage 3, in correspondence from the UK Government, and at stage 3, in the debate that took place in the chamber, in which members pointed out—
Martin Whitfield rightly reminds members about the correspondence that the Scottish Government received from the UK Government instructing it of the illegality, or potential illegality, of sections of the bill. Had this Parliament been made aware of the correspondence at that time, it might have acted differently at stage 3. Does Mr Whitfield share my concern that we did not learn of that correspondence until after the bill had been passed?
I am grateful for that intervention, and 20:20 hindsight is always strong, but it is right to say that members were aware of concerns regarding the bill both during its stage 3 voyage and before that. Whether the conclusion would have changed with the publication of the correspondence from the UK Government, I cannot say; I did not have the pleasure of serving in the Parliament during session 5. Nevertheless, we were aware of the potential for overreach.
However, let us move forward. What has happened since October 2021? In March 2022, the Scottish Government was, we were told, “carefully considering” the effect of the Supreme Court decision. On 24 May 2021, the Deputy First Minister came to the chamber and gave a statement in which he set out the theory behind the proposed changes to sections 6, 19 and 21. There was also “targeted engagement” with the third sector. We know that by June that year, all stakeholders who had responded were supportive of the proposed fixes for the bill.
By August, amendments were being drafted and committee time was being sought to deal with the bill. By 25 August, stakeholders were being told that the aim was to return the bill to Parliament and have it
“passed before the end of”
On 27 September, that timetable was “still on track”; ministers were content with final amendments, and a motion would be lodged in the Parliament.
We know, from published minutes, that the Scottish Government had drafted amendments and that those were being discussed in detail with the UK Government, and that, at the end of September, the bill was “still on track” for end-of-year implementation.
By October, however, that message was starting to change. The Scottish Government was engaging
“with the Scottish Parliament over the admissibility of ... amendments”,
and the Scottish Parliament information centre was “preparing a leaflet”. In fact, SPICe has prepared a briefing, which was published on 27 January 2023, regarding the reconsideration stage, which is a procedural stage in the Parliament that is required to amend the bill.
At a minuted meeting, in response to a question about whether there was any
“parallel ... process, should ... reconsideration ... not be agreed”,
it was confirmed that,
“We don’t have another approach at present.”
The minutes show that by November, the Scottish Government could not say whether the amended bill would be presented before the end of the year.
So, where are we? On 30 January 2023, a question to the UK Government was tabled, seeking its position on the matter. That question was answered on 6 February 2023. The UK Government, through Alister Jack, said:
“It has always been the responsibility of the Scottish Government to determine how they will comply with the requirements of the Supreme Court judgement. The Scottish Government have yet to formally set out how they plan to proceed.”
I raise those questions as a background to where we are. This week, children, young people and adult human rights defenders from Scotland who make up the hashtag #TeamScotlandUN are joining their partners from across the UK to give evidence to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.
Beau Johnston MSYP and Daisy Stewart Henderson MSYP are joining members of the Children’s Parliament, Arden and Omima, who are 13 and 14 years old, in raising children’s and young people’s rights issues with the UN committee. They are doing so because the UN is reviewing the human rights record of the UK. Incorporation of the UNCRC, and the urgency of action from both the Scottish Government and the UK Government, is one of the most important issues that they will raise. I salute Beau, Daisy and all members of #TeamScotlandUN for raising, on an international stage, the failure of this Government.
So, where are we? The legislation was heralded as “world-leading”; it was supported by this Parliament and by the third sector; and, most importantly, it was a promise to our young people that they would be not simply listened to but respected with regard to their views and their human rights.
Will the Scottish Government publish the draft amendments that are being discussed with the UK Government, and publish the deadline that was given to the UK Government to agree those amendments? Will the Scottish Government confirm, and publish formally, its plan to proceed to make good the bill, and confirm that that plan has been shared with the UK Government? Finally, will the Scottish Government publish its timetable to rectify the bill?
Those are my asks tonight, not from a political or ideological position, but because the children of Scotland deserve to know the answers.17:17
I thank Martin Whitfield for lodging the motion. I am pleased to be able to contribute to this important debate today.
The bill will, with some amendments and, I expect, with broad cross-party support, pass through its reconsideration stage, and its enforcement will provide an umbrella of critical protections for children across Scotland. The intention of the bill is to embed a culture that prioritises children’s rights in such a way that when those rights are not upheld in practice, MSPs will be equipped—indeed, compelled—to take action to remedy incompatible laws.
The movement to reconcile children’s rights in international law with their realisation on the ground will, I believe, foster the development of a radical change in how children are treated in Scotland.
Bill Kidd speaks very positively about the possibility of the bill coming back to this Parliament. Does he know what the timetable is for that to happen?
Strangely enough, I have not been made a minister of any description, so I do not actually know. However, I believe that the bill will be coming back—I know that there is genuine enthusiasm for it to be brought back as soon as it can be, and I will support that.
We know from cases of historical child abuse, such as the sports abuse scandals stretching from the 1970s to the 1990s, that, in relatively recent years, some people in Scotland have turned a blind eye to child abuse and sexual exploitation. I believe that times are changing. However, child abuse still goes on today, and we must make every effort to erode structures or gaps in safeguarding that allow for perpetrators to continue their abuse of children.
In the previous debate on ending violence against women and girls, I highlighted the story of Emily, a survivor of sex trafficking. At the age of 11, Emily was forced by a friend’s father to move drugs for a gang. She was then trafficked by the gang into prostitution. She is not the only child from across the UK who has been forced into prostitution and trafficking for sexual exploitation; there are sadly many cases of such exploitation. Often, however, we are not aware of such stories happening in our own towns and cities, as the disappearance of 200 unaccompanied asylum-seeking refugees and children has evidenced.
Trafficking and exploitation of children across the UK is very much a present reality. Of the UNCRC provisions relating to those areas of serious concern, article 35 obliges Governments to protect children from trafficking, in or outside of their country, for the purposes of exploitation; article 19 protects children from abuse or neglect; article 34 enshrines the right of children to freedom from sexual exploitation and abuse.
It is also worth noting the protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which will be incorporated under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. I believe that, once it is amended, the bill will help protect children at risk of trafficking and exploitation. It will also reinforce the legal rights, protections and duty of care of children who have been forced into various illegal activities at the hands of their traffickers. The UNCRC and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child are clear that
“victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation should be recognised as such, provided with appropriate support and benefit from protection against arrest, charge, detention and prosecution.”
Unfortunately, it is often the case that child trafficking victims are charged for crimes that they were forced to commit. The office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland has explained that, in Scotland, trafficked children can still be prosecuted in the adult justice system and, moreover, that gaps in Scotland’s legal and policy protections for child trafficking victims have resulted in a number of child victims being detained.
I have to wonder what steps would have stopped Emily, at the age of 11, from being sex trafficked as a child. Who saw the red flags, and did fear of prosecution stop her from reaching out for help as a child? While Emily’s abuse began in the early 2000s, the same vulnerabilities continue, and people who seek to exploit children still exist. The full incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is required to offer real protection for children, who are most vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. On top of the bill, children must have adult champions who can identify when something is wrong, know when to investigate further and act to stop the abuse.
Mr Kidd, you are over time. Could you please your remarks to a close?
I will do so.
Adult champions can also raise policy and legal issues with the Parliament.
In recognition of our duty of care, as parliamentarians, for children, we must remain committed to the passage bills such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill and to the fullest possible implementation of children’s rights in Scots law.17:22
I commend my friend Martin Whitfield for lodging the motion, and I congratulate Bill Kidd on what was an excellent speech, dealing with what is a serious and sobering matter.
When we consider any statement of rights, it is always interesting to give consideration to the rights of a small number of people, or even of a single individual, against the rights of the majority or larger group. Balancing those competing forces is essential in any consideration of rights.
In Scotland today, we have a growing epidemic of disruption, violence and threat in our classrooms. Research by the Scottish Conservatives found that there had been more than 70,000 assaults on teachers in Scotland over the past five years. That is a remarkable and horrifying statistic, which is made worse when we realise that that includes the Covid years, when children were learning remotely. Understanding the importance that atmosphere plays in a child’s education and monitoring what is happening in Scotland’s classrooms should be a top priority of those involved in education. That is currently not happening.
In Falkirk Council, Scottish Conservative councillor James Bundy asked in November for the rates of assaults and violence against teachers in Falkirk, and he was told by the director of children’s services that there had not been “any significant increase” and that there had just been “the odd incident”. Last week, however, Councillor Bundy revealed that he had received the information from a freedom of information request that there had been a 989 per cent increase in the rate of assaults against teachers and staff in Falkirk in the past five years and that, on average, there are 4.95 assaults per day. That is not an “odd incident”; it is a significant increase.
People might ask what that says about our approach to children’s rights. Does the UNCRC have anything to say to us on the ability of children to enjoy their schooling free from the threat of violence, bullying and misconduct? Last week, The Herald led on a story about a whistleblower—a teacher in Glasgow’s east end—who spoke about a culture of “toxic positivity” in schools, where school bullies and violent pupils are not challenged on their behaviour, and where the focus on individual rights eclipses the right of a class to learn. Articles 28 and 29 of the UNCRC provide help and direction in that respect.
We have a responsibility to provide education for our children; historically, we would not have needed a UN charter to remind us of that responsibility. We also have a responsibility to ensure that children have respect for the charter of rights itself. We have come to understand that as children understanding their rights, but perhaps a new reading of the rights in the UNCRC could help our children to understand the rights of others. It should also help children to understand that with rights come responsibilities. The charter outlines that. It speaks about respect for parents, the values that we have as a country and preparation to live in a free society.
By letting the epidemic of violence continue, we let our children down. We let down the children who do not learn the lessons of respect that the UNCRC outlines, but perhaps most important, we let down the majority of children who turn up to school to learn and want to do their best. We let them down by destroying, or undermining at the very least, their life chances, and stopping them from learning by not dealing with the disruptive elements in their classroom.
I agree with the motion that we need a cultural shift. We need a new deal for our classrooms. It is time for a right to a school day that is uninterrupted by violence, threats of violence or intimidation, which is a reality far too familiar to too many of Scotland’s children.17:27
The debate should be about celebrating two years of the UNCRC incorporation bill. Instead, 16 March will be a sad reminder of the delay and that two years after it was passed in the chamber, the bill has still not been enacted. That is disappointing for the Parliament and for the children and young people who still do not have access to the rights and provisions that should have been written into our domestic legislation.
Children and young people led the fight for incorporation, and we all recall how proud they were of that achievement, but now they are disappointed, because many of the provisions and protections in the UNCRC are not accessible to them. They are being met with more delay and silence over when they can expect their rights to become a reality.
It has been well over a year since the Supreme Court ruled that the bill as passed reached beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament, and the last update from the Government was the Deputy First Minister’s statement in May, which gave a welcome promise that the Government would amend the bill and consult children and young people. That statement was 10 months ago, but we are no clearer on when those next steps will take place, despite attempts from MSPs of various parties to secure some clarity. Any indication on when the reconsideration process might start is the least that children and young people deserve. They should not have to face any more delay.
The UK Government has been clear in setting out where the bill strays beyond devolved functions, and the Scottish Government has recognised those concerns, so there is no need for a hold-up. It is time to implement solutions and bring before Parliament a bill that legislates within devolved competence to deliver for children and young people the rights that they have fought so passionately for.
There is often a tendency for members to focus on what divides us rather than what unites us, but the matter of UNCRC incorporation unites us all, regardless of party. We all want to see the bill progress and become a reality for children and young people’s lives in Scotland, because, as Martin Luther King said,
“A right delayed is a right denied.”
The longer incorporation is delayed, the longer Scotland’s children and young people are denied the proper protection of their rights in law and the ability to challenge where their rights are not being met. They are losing out on the wider legal and cultural changes that international experience has shown comes hand in hand with embedding children’s rights into domestic law. Countries including New Zealand, Finland, Canada and Sweden demonstrate that incorporation ensures that Governments are held to account at a national level and compels public bodies to act in a manner consistent with children’s rights, which creates a culture of better-informed policy and greater respect for children and young people as individuals.
As it works towards the reconsideration of the legislation, the Scottish Government must do all that it can in its wider decision making to protect and promote children’s rights by taking a rights-based approach to policy development and spending. That includes improving the transparency of its budget so that we can identify money that is directed towards ensuring that rights are being met.
There is an absence of legislation, but that does not mean that there needs to be an absence of action. The UNCRC incorporation bill included a duty on ministers to report on their actions to further children’s rights via the children’s rights scheme. It might not yet be required to produce such a report, but to do so would be a signal that the Government has not forgotten its commitment always to consider the best interests of children and young people.
The Parliament is united behind incorporation but the ball is firmly in the Scottish Government’s court. As parliamentarians, our hands are tied until the bill is brought back before us, so I urge the Scottish Government to gather pace in doing so. Children and young people cannot afford Scotland to lag behind on their rights any more.17:30
The incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law was one of my main motivating factors for seeking election to the Parliament. Before I was elected, I spent 13 years in the children’s voluntary sector working for a variety of children’s charities and 19 years as a youth worker. My concern for the rights of children is what first drove me towards elected politics and I believed the Scottish Government when it came to power and said that it wanted to make Scotland
“the best place in the world for children to grow up.”
However, the journey to this point has been long and circuitous. The Government tried to make good on that original commitment and overarching aim with the proposal to introduce a rights of children and young people bill in 2012. That was then folded into what became the much bigger Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. However, the foothills of work on incorporation that were done at that time were junked. They were dispensed with and we were told at the time that it was too complicated to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law. Year after year, we watched countries that we idolise and that the Government points to as blueprints for independence or a more progressive way of living incorporate the convention.
The Government tells us that it wants to be a rights leader but it has a history of talking a good game and then not delivering on that. I need only point to the legislation on the age of criminal responsibility, which was a flagship of the Government’s policy intent towards children and young people in the previous session of the Parliament. We were holding children responsible for their crimes from the age of eight years, which was awful, and the Government wanted to finally raise that age to 12, but—guess what?—during the consideration of that legislation, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, of which we have heard so much this evening, changed the floor to 14. Amendments in my name at stages 2 and 3 to try to bring us into line with that de minimis position of 14 were rejected. That means that we still sit behind Russia and China—those bastions of human rights observance—on the age at which we hold children responsible for the crimes that they commit.
I remember the passion with which Alex Cole-Hamilton argued that we should raise the age to 14. The then Minister for Children and Young People agreed that we would review the age of criminal responsibility and we are committed to doing that.
I am delighted about that, but I am concerned that it will fall into the basket of jam tomorrow, which is the reason why we are having the debate. It is now two years since the Parliament unanimously passed the legislation that we are debating and we have seen no sign of the amendments coming back—having been agreed with the UK Government—to be passed by the Parliament.
What we are talking about is not complex. It is done the world over in jurisdictions that recognise in law the rights of children. It is about ensuring that their voice is heard in decisions about them and that they have access to redress and, in some cases, justice when the state impinges on those rights. We know that that has happened time and again. We heard eloquent words from Bill Kidd about some of the times that that happened historically. We want to ensure that we have a legal architecture that underpins those rights going forward. That is one of the reasons that the bill was passed unanimously by the Parliament.
I am very concerned that, although amendments were lodged to try to ameliorate the issues that the UK Government eventually took the bill to court over, those were not passed at stage 3. In large part, I think, that is because we were unaware of the salience of those amendments at the time. Had we been privy to the correspondence that the Scottish Government had received during the passage of the bill, we would have understood its susceptibility to legal challenge and we would have taken steps—at stage 3, if need be—to remedy that. However, we were not made aware. That makes me cynical about the motives of the Government: it could see a fight with the UK Government in the offing, so the rights of children and young people in this country were sacrificed on the altar of grievance—we know all too well that the Government is capable of that.
I will turn briefly to the points that the UK Supreme Court has suggested need amending—there are only four of them. That could be addressed tonight. I know that several people in this chamber have already ghost-written amendments that would do the job. We need to bring those amendments back to the Parliament. The children of this country have their eyes on the chamber and the Scottish Youth Parliament has made the issue its priority for several years, so if we do not bring the bill back to the Parliament and make the amendments that are required, we will have let them all down.17:35
I thank Martin Whitfield for bringing the debate to the chamber. I have a specific interest in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, which I will come on to.
The bill was passed unanimously on 16 March 2021. Unfortunately, as we have heard, the UK Government had to send the bill to the UK Supreme Court. The case was heard in June 2021. In October 2021, in the judgment, which was unanimous, the court said that there was no objection to the intention behind the bill or the Scottish Parliament’s ability to incorporate the UNCRC:
“No-one disputes the right of the Scottish Parliament to regard the UNCRC as an important convention and to give effect to it”.
However, the court continued:
“provided that it does so within the limits of its legislative competence.”
As Alex Cole-Hamilton has just said, just four issues were raised. One was about the definition of “public authority”. The bill was written broadly, to include third parties that carry out services on behalf of the public authorities. The court found that definition to be too broad, meaning that it could apply to UK authorities that were acting in reserved areas. To its credit, the Scottish Government said that it would amend the bill to make it clear that only Scottish authorities acting in devolved areas would be subject to the law. It also said that there would be changes so that public authorities would not be found to have broken the new law if an existing law meant that they could not respect children’s rights in that area. That is the same approach that was taken to the Human Rights Act 1998.
Section 20 of the bill, which is about strike-down powers, was also an issue, as was section 21, which is about incompatibility declarators.
I have read the ministerial statement that was made on 24 May 2022 and it is at odds with what the Scottish Government said that it was going to do. John Swinney wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 1 February 2022, to find a way for the bill to become law without needing to change what it said. A week later, the Secretary of State replied to say that that was not possible as it would mean changing the powers of the Scottish Parliament. However, in the ministerial statement, John Swinney announced a three-week consultation with stakeholders, to begin the reconsideration of the process.
John Swinney’s statement that the UK Government was unwilling to engage meant that the UK Government had to issue a statement in response, which said that, during the passage of the UNCRC bill, it had made suggestions about how the bill could be brought within the Scottish Parliament’s existing powers, but that those suggestions were, unfortunately, rejected by Scottish ministers.
The Supreme Court subsequently determined that the legislation was not within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. It went on to say that—
My intervention on that point will be very short. In that three-week consultation, all the third sector groups that responded were in favour of John Swinney’s proposed improvements, which were not about seeking additional powers for the Scottish Government but about curtailing the specific paragraphs that were causing problems in the Supreme Court.
My friend is absolutely right in what he says. That fact seems to be at loggerheads with the idea that the UK Government was not interacting with the Scottish Government, which had already decided on the best way to get the bill through the Parliament.
My specific interest in the UNCRC bill finally being adopted is that, as the cabinet secretary will testify, I was involved in trying to amend the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill in the most recent session of Parliament to include all children who were abused in a public care setting.
It is my contention and that of many other interested parties that although the intention of the redress scheme is very much welcomed, the scheme is fundamentally flawed and will have a narrow effect because it excludes many historical cases of child abuse within similar settings to the care setting, where the cabinet secretary contends that parental responsibility is adopted by the state. However, the bill that led to the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 used the term “in loco parentis”, which effectively gives parental responsibility to teaching staff. As Bill Kidd said, that is similar to the situation in a coaching setting where parental responsibility is often handed over to the coach. Others, such as the Fornethy survivors, have petitioned the cabinet secretary and I hope that they are getting towards a successful conclusion.
We need the Scottish Government to expedite the passing of the bill to ensure that all safeguards, rights and protections that the bill enshrines in law can be given to our children. Across the chamber, we are all agreed on the importance of the bill, so it is time that it was passed.17:41
I start by thanking members for their continued commitment to protecting and strengthening children’s rights. It is clear that the commitment that was demonstrated when the Parliament unanimously passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill in March 2021 remains, and I am confident that when we are ready to bring an amended bill back to the Parliament, it will again receive the support that it deserves.
We have emphasised our commitment to that process on several occasions, most recently on 26 January, when the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills responded to Mr Whitfield’s question about our latest discussions with the UK Government. The cabinet secretary explained the importance of the discussions with the UK Government and said that they are currently focusing on what the Supreme Court judgment means for the application of the UNCRC compatibility duty when a public authority is acting under powers conferred by UK acts in devolved areas.
I hope that members will find it useful if I provide further details on that. We have been clear to the Parliament and stakeholders that the Supreme Court judgment means that the duty to act compatibly with UNCRC requirements as set out in the bill cannot apply when a public authority is acting under powers conferred by a UK act, and when that act requires it to act in a way that is incompatible. However, there will be cases in which a UK act in a devolved area gives a public authority discretion over whether to act in a way that is compatible.
Our hope has been that, in those circumstances, the bill could require a public authority to act compatibly. The discussions with the UK Government are focused on whether the Supreme Court judgment enables us to do that. As well as carefully considering whether that is possible in the context of the Supreme Court judgment, we also need to consider whether setting more conditions on the application of the compatibility duty would over-complicate the bill. The compatibility duty cannot become so complicated that duty-bearers and children and young people and their representatives find it difficult to understand.
So, it is not the case that we have an amendment that is being considered. The Scottish Government and the UK Government are still having—and I use this word carefully—philosophical discussion about the extent of the Supreme Court decision on the relevance of UK legislation that might or might not apply in a devolved sense.
The amount of time that has been taken to consider the amendments has been because of the complexity of the legal landscape, especially the Supreme Court judgment and the implication for the devolution settlement. I appreciate that members from across the chamber have mentioned on several occasions that the Supreme Court came back with concerns about four areas, but they are really complicated matters of law.
I understand that members are frustrated that we have not yet been able to start the parliamentary process of reconsidering the bill, and that we cannot yet set out a clear timetable for that process. I trust that members will understand why it is important to take the time to work through the issues that I have described. This is not an insignificant matter or a matter of prevarication. It is important to understand that and to get it right for children now and for generations of children to come. It is also important for our incorporation of other human rights treaties in the proposed human rights bill on which we will be consulting in the coming months.??
I understand that the delay to bringing the UNCRC bill to Parliament is a concern for stakeholders. As the Deputy First Minister said last year, we are committed to incorporating the UNCRC through amendments to the bill. That has not changed.
I am grateful to the minister for giving way again. One of the challenges for the third sector is that statements made in committees and subcommittees are then being contradicted by ministers and cabinet secretaries in the Parliament. There is an air of confusion. I understand that there are amendments, which are still being discussed. Further to my requests, could those be published so that people can see them?
This is my final question, Presiding Officer. Does the Scottish Government have any concerns about the reconsideration stage as the legislative procedure in the Scottish Parliament? We have not even got there yet and I would be somewhat saddened to discover that that has become the hold up, rather than the discussions to which the minister was referring.
It is a complex area and, as far as I understand, the reconsideration process has not been used in the Parliament previously, although it has been in statute. We are absolutely committed to making amendments to the bill under the reconsideration process for Parliament to consider and vote on. I am sure that there will be much discussion when that happens.
The motion includes a request that the Scottish Government set out a timetable for the reconsideration process. As Mr Whitfield pointed out in Parliament last week, previous estimates have proved to be optimistic. The nature of our engagement and the groundwork required to reduce the risk of another referral to the Supreme Court means that not all of the milestones are within our control. However 16 March is an important date and we will endeavour to provide another update by then.
In the meantime, our programme of work to embed children’s rights continues at pace, regardless of the status of the bill. We are building the capacity for public authorities to take a children’s rights-based approach in the delivery of services, including by developing a skills and knowledge framework; providing a fund to test innovative approaches to embedding children’s rights; developing tools to assist public bodies to evaluate and improve their approach to children’s rights; funding the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to develop a child-friendly complaints process for public authorities under its jurisdiction; and funding the Improvement Service to assist local authorities and their partners to successfully implement the UNCRC at a local level.
I am gratified to hear that the Scottish Government is trying to take measures to improve children’s rights at pace, as the minister describes. However, I am concerned that, without the legislative architecture that the incorporated UNCRC would provide, that is for the birds.
I disagree with Mr Cole-Hamilton. It is not for the birds. We have evidence from some of the work that I mentioned that the Scottish Government takes children’s rights very seriously.
We are also raising awareness of children’s rights among children, young people and their families by providing national funding for the rights respecting school award, providing information on the Parent Club website and working in partnership with the Children’s Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament and Young Scot.
Would the minister accept that—as per my remarks earlier—there is a right to an uninterrupted school day? Is she satisfied that the Government is doing everything that it can within its current powers and in the spirit of what we have been discussing to ensure that that happens? It is clear that, daily and across Scotland, that is not happening.
I know that Mr Kerr’s colleagues have raised that issue. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills has responded to that and said that we all have a part to play, as do schools in relation to discipline and maintaining order in schools. Children have rights and they need to learn about them, but we also need to be respectful of one another. I am sure that we can all agree on that. Bullying and harassment have no place in our schools.
On world children’s day in November, we published a report that set out the progress that we have made in relation to children’s rights in Scotland since 2016. It explains, for example, how we are supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing to deliver their right to be as healthy as possible and what we are doing to support children’s rights to nutrition, adequate housing and extra financial support if their family needs it.
Judging by the commitment to the bill that the Scottish Parliament has demonstrated this evening, we will deliver the bill and will have more to celebrate in the future.Meeting closed at 17:50.