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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 8, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 08 September 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Living Wage in Scottish Football, Named Person Policy, Refugees, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time


Contents


Named Person Policy

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

Good afternoon. The next item of business is a statement by John Swinney, giving an update on the named person policy. The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills will take questions at the end of his statement, so there should—as is usual practice—be no interventions or interruptions.

The Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills (John Swinney)

Since the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999, there have been a number of issues on which it has spoken with one voice. One example of such an issue is the importance of ensuring the best possible start in life for every child in our country.

Parliament has agreed on a number of occasions over a number of years and under different Administrations that the getting it right for every child policy—GIRFEC, as it is known—is the best way to promote the best interests of our children and young people. I take this opportunity to set out the principles that underpin the GIRFEC approach and why they are so crucial in driving Scottish Government policy on children.

GIRFEC is the national approach to improving outcomes and supporting the wellbeing of our children and young people, through offering the right help at the right time from the right people. It supports children and young people and their parents to work in partnership with the services that can help them. It puts the rights and wellbeing of children and young people at the heart of the services that support them—early years services, schools and the national health service—to ensure that everyone works together to improve outcomes for the child or young person. It is an agenda that enshrines the principle of early intervention that was championed by the Christie commission and embraced by the Parliament and several of its committees over many years of inquiry.

Those are fundamentally decent aims that Parliament has endorsed repeatedly on a cross-party basis—aims that have been welcomed by children’s charities and by the teaching and nursing professions. It was against that backdrop of a shared commitment to children’s wellbeing that the named person service was developed. That was done through the recognition, based on real life experiences and expert advice, that a timely and early offer of advice or help can prevent troubles from becoming crises and, in some cases, crises from becoming tragedies.

The GIRFEC approach works. It was taken forward in the Highland Council area, where the value of the named person as a central point of contact was first identified by parents, and it was rolled out across the authority between 2008 and 2010. Since then, more families have been receiving additional support, and more quickly. That means that there has been less need for compulsory measures and that the needs of many children have not escalated. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of referrals to the children’s reporter in Highland dropped from 2,335 to 744—a drop of 68 per cent in what are complex, sensitive and costly processes.

The number of children on the child protection register and the number of looked-after children have been sustained at levels 15 to 20 per cent lower than they were prior to the GIRFEC approach being introduced. Moreover, social workers’ case loads have been reduced by up to 50 per cent from previous levels, and now average about 15 cases at any one time. Accordingly, early intervention is getting more support to more children, and those who need higher levels of intervention are receiving it.

Those figures represent progress, but the arithmetic represents something far more valuable—it represents the opportunity for young lives to be improved at an earlier stage, and significantly so. Those are the benefits that we want to bring to the whole of Scotland.

Although I accept that political support has not been universal, there has been, and continues to be, broad political and stakeholder support for the policy. However, the named person service has been subjected to a legal challenge, which has cast uncertainty over its scope and legality.

Although both the outer and inner houses of the Court of Session upheld the provisions of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, on 28 July the Supreme Court determined that ministers needed to provide greater clarity about the basis on which health visitors, teachers and other professionals who support families will share and receive information in their named person role. It ruled that the information-sharing provisions of part 4 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 are incompatible with article 8 of the European convention on human rights, and that changes are needed to make those provisions compatible with article 8, to ensure respect for a person’s

“private and family life, his home and his correspondence”.

In recognition of the changes that are required in the legislation, I laid the necessary orders to pause commencement of the relevant parts of the 2014 act, to ensure that all those provisions were not commenced, as had been intended, on 31 August.

Since the Supreme Court judgment, I have provided Parliament, key stakeholders and practitioners with regular updates on procedural progress with regard to amending the legislation. I welcome this opportunity to bring Parliament up to date on the next steps.

Crucially, the Supreme Court ruled definitively that the principle of providing a named person for every child does not breach human rights and is compatible with European Union law. The Supreme Court described the intention of the policy as

“unquestionably legitimate and benign”,

and rejected the petitioners’ argument that the legislation relates to reserved matters. Therefore, the attempt to scrap a service that can bring benefits to young people and their families in Scotland failed. This Parliament, which passed the necessary legislation on a cross-party basis, with no votes cast against it, was vindicated.

For the avoidance of doubt, the Government remains absolutely committed to the named person service. The Supreme Court judgment does not dilute our commitment, but it has required us to revise part of the legislation to ensure that it is compatible with the European convention on human rights. We want the legislation to achieve exactly what the Supreme Court says it needs to achieve: compatibility with article 8, along with greater clarity around the information-sharing provisions.

I am keen to commence the provisions of the 2014 act as early as possible. However, I am also keen to pursue an inclusive approach—one that takes Parliament, stakeholders and the wider public with it. We recognise that information sharing has been an important issue for practitioners and the public alike, and we want to ensure that there is a clear consensus across Scotland on how information sharing should operate. That must include the essential principle of consent, and the rare occasions when it is not appropriate to require or seek it.

The matter must be addressed through open dialogue. For that reason, the Scottish Government will undertake a three-month period of intense engagement. We will take input from practitioners as well as from parents, from charities as well as from young people, and from those who support the named person policy and those who have concerns about it. I intend to involve the offices of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and the Scottish Information Commissioner as we look to address the Supreme Court judgment effectively.

In order to address the concerns that the Supreme Court raised, we will discuss the principles that should underpin the legislation and the development of a code of practice to set out how information should be shared under the legislation. The Minister for Childcare and Early Years and I will take that work forward.

Once that engagement ends and we have agreed a way to proceed, I will return to Parliament and announce the next steps, in terms of legislation. However, it is my ambition to work towards a commencement date of August 2017 for the legislative provisions.

Let me address one final point: the judgment itself does not require current policy to change. The judgment relates only to the information-sharing provisions that were intended to come into force under the 2014 act; it does not relate to current practice under GIRFEC. Any sharing of personal information that takes place now or in the future must be done in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. A local authority or health board can nominate a person as the named person for a particular child, and can arrange for that person to be responsible, within the local authority or health board, for the provision of services to that child. Organisations can, within the framework of the existing law, continue to deliver or engage with existing or developing named person services.

My message to local authorities and health boards is clear: please continue to develop and deliver a named person service in your area in order to make the benefits of the service available to every child who needs it. I am all too aware of the debilitating impact that the peddling of misinformation has on practitioners and stakeholders, so I say to them today: thank you for your efforts in providing the best support network possible for every child in our country; ministers know that what drives you every day is doing the best you can for the children with whom you interact.

The commitment to the provision of a named person service has not wavered. The commitment to enshrining all aspects of the service in legislation at the earliest possible date following appropriate and inclusive consultation is absolutely resolute. As a Parliament, we have made significant progress on the GIRFEC agenda. That progress has been enabled and facilitated by cross-party consensus on what is important and on how improvements to the life chances of Scotland’s children and young people can be achieved.

The Supreme Court judgment provides us with an opportunity to amend the information-sharing provisions in the 2014 act in a way that will improve the named person service and reassure parents and practitioners and the wider public. It provides us with the opportunity to continue, in the spirit of shared purpose and consensus, getting it right for every child.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The Deputy First Minister will now take questions on the issues raised in his statement. I intend to allow 30 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business.

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I thank the Deputy First Minister for the prior sight of his statement.

Can the Deputy First Minister provide a categorical assurance that any local authority that was implementing the named person policy prior to what would have been statutory implementation on 31 August and which was acting under Scottish Government guidance was acting lawfully in terms of its data-sharing practices?

Secondly, notwithstanding the fact that the Scottish Government is not obliged to provide its legal advice, what evidence from the information commissioner and other advisers made the Scottish Government so sure at the time of the consideration of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill that the data-sharing aspect of the named person policy would be ruled compatible with article 8 of the ECHR, given that many legal experts, including the Faculty of Advocates, the Law Society of Scotland and Professor Norrie, and MSPs on the Education and Culture Committee raised serious concerns?

Thirdly, given that the Deputy First Minister is urging local authorities to proceed with developing the policy—which they cannot actually do because they do not know what it is—does he believe that the Scottish Government made a mistake by moving away from the term “welfare”, which is defined in statute, to the term “wellbeing”, which has no clear definition? As a result of that move, the possible threshold for intervention has been lowered from significant risk of harm to any minor concern about the child.

Finally, does the Deputy First Minister agree that the former convener of the Education and Culture Committee, when he was challenged by my colleague Alex Johnstone to define the term “wellbeing”, was entirely wrong when he said that that was “a ridiculous intervention” and that nobody knew what they were talking about?

John Swinney

On Liz Smith’s first point, I set out in my statement the current legal position, which is that, if any local authority wishes to provide the service, it must ensure that it is compatible with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. That is the legal framework within which local authorities must act in designing their schemes. In my statement, I made a distinction between that framework and the provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, which the Supreme Court has clearly said require to be altered. That legal framework has not come into force and has not been enacted. It was to come into force, but the Supreme Court has said that it cannot unless it is revised. Local authorities must vest their schemes in the existing legal framework that precedes that, and I cited the basis on which that should be done.

On the second point that Liz Smith raised, I am glad that she put in the caveat that we do not reveal our legal advice, because we do not reveal it. I point out to her that the Parliament considered all those issues when it legislated in 2014 and came to its conclusions. The act was then tested in the outer house and the inner house of the Court of Session, and the legal challenges were dismissed in both those courts. Therefore I do not think that it is fair for her to say that somehow the Government has not taken due care or paid due attention in taking forward the legislation, because we have had it tested already in the two highest courts in Scotland and the legal challenges were dismissed.

The Supreme Court has taken a different view in relation only to the information-sharing provisions. The roots of the decision and judgment of the Supreme Court in July come from the thinking that has emerged, originating in the Supreme Court’s handling in June 2014 of a case against the chief constable of Greater Manchester Police. At that point, the Supreme Court attached much greater significance to the vesting of provisions in relation to convention rights in accordance with law, to use its term. That judgment postdated the passage of the legislation by the Scottish Parliament earlier in 2014.

In answering the point about the legal strength of our arguments, I say to Liz Smith that the consideration of the bill and the dismissal of the challenges by the inner and outer houses of the Court of Session are a strong vindication of the legal position taken by the Parliament. I have cited the basis on which I think that there has been an emergence of thinking within the Supreme Court that opens up what I consider to be a new point of analysis on convention rights in accordance with law, which postdates the passage of the legislation in this Parliament.

The final point on wellbeing and welfare is a very substantial point because it relates very directly to one of the other terms that Liz Smith used, which was the question of threshold. The Supreme Court judgment raised the issue with us. I do not take the view that this should just be about welfare; I believe that it should be about wellbeing too, because that is at the heart of GIRFEC and it is what provides for our early intervention activity to address difficulties that young people face to try to avert those and prevent them from becoming more serious. However, there has to be an appropriate threshold. That is the issue that now has to be examined as part of the analysis that I have undertaken.

I hope that that provides clarity on what will be in my mind and the mind of the Minister for Childcare and Early Years as we go about the process of ensuring that the legislation is given absolutely secure foundations and that it fulfils its purpose, which is to be of value as an asset to protect the wellbeing of children in Scotland and to make sure that we can deliver the best outcomes for every single one of them. In that respect, I am an unapologetic advocate of getting it right for every child, and that will drive everything that I do as the education secretary in this Parliament.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

I also thank the Deputy First Minister for early sight of his statement.

The Deputy First Minister knows that Labour supports the principle of the named person policy. The measures that he is taking to resolve the issues over information sharing are therefore welcome. However, exactly because we want it to work, we have to face up to the fact that the policy has lost the confidence of many Scottish families. Fixing that is as important as fixing the information-sharing section of the 2014 act. Responding to the requirements of the Supreme Court judgment is a necessary but not sufficient response.

To that end, we have suggested that we use the opportunity of the pause to remove 16 and 17-year-olds from the scope of the policy. To include them was a mistake. To many people, it seems absurd, given that a 16-year-old can vote, marry, work and pay tax as an adult. To remove them would be a strong signal that, although the Government is not surrendering on named person policy, it is listening—and not only to the Supreme Court. Will the Deputy First Minister undertake to remove 16 and 17-year-olds from the scope of the legislation?

John Swinney

First of all, I thank Iain Gray for the welcome that he has given to the provisions that I have set out today. I agree with him that there is a need to gain confidence in the named person policy. The way in which I have set out the argument for the named person policy, and the policy’s origin in the getting it right for every child framework, is an illustration of how I intend to build confidence in the application of the policy.

Mr Gray said that addressing the points made by the Supreme Court is necessary but not sufficient. I think that it is necessary and also significant in boosting confidence in the policy. If we satisfactorily address the issue of threshold—on which I closed my response to Liz Smith—we might begin to address some of the issues that have been raised about the policy. That will allow us to respond adequately to what the Supreme Court have asked us to do on addressing the issue of proportionality in the application of the policy and the judgments that are made within the policy. We can go a long way in building confidence in the policy by properly and fully addressing the requirements of the Supreme Court.

When, over the summer, Mr Gray called for me to look again at the provision in relation to 16 and 17-year-olds, I indicated that I would be prepared to consider that issue, and I remain of that view. I make two specific points to Mr Gray on the issue. First, today’s report from Childline revealed that 30 per cent of contact with Childline comes from 16 to 18-year-olds who are expressing their vulnerability to that particular medium. Although I understand and accept the points that Mr Gray makes about the fact that 16 and 17-year-olds are able to vote, join the armed forces and do many other things, there are also lots of 16 and 17-year-olds who remain vulnerable. We have to address that fact in our consideration.

My second point is that Parliament did not legislate on a whim for 16 and 17-year-olds to come within the scope of the named person provision. It did so because the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a young person up to the age of 18. Mr Gray will know from his long experience that the Government and the Parliament come in for criticism from time to time for not fulfilling international standards and points of recognition that are important in the policy process.

I put those points on the record, but I will give consideration to the issue that Mr Gray has raised. I made it clear in my statement that my determination is to proceed with the objective of building consensus and broad agreement on the named person policy, and that will be the approach that I take.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I call other speakers, I say that I have 11 members who wish to ask questions and I want to get them all in. That will depend on the length of the questions and, to some extent, the length of the answers, so do your best.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I could not agree more with the cabinet secretary’s concern about the debilitating impact of the peddling of misinformation on the morale and confidence of practitioners who day in, day out do one of the hardest jobs there is: supporting vulnerable children and families. Does the cabinet secretary agree that the Tories should tone down their hysterical rhetoric on the named person and accept the judgment of the Supreme Court, which stated that the intent of the legislation is “unquestionably legitimate and benign”?

John Swinney

The Supreme Court had an opportunity to look at all the relevant provisions and it came to its judgment. I am trying to take forward the approach that is required to ensure that the legislation can be implemented as quickly as possible, and to make sure that the public servants who are keen to provide the best possible connected services for the young people of Scotland and address their needs can proceed on that basis. Therefore, I will press on in the fashion that I have set out. I hope that we can have a political debate on the subject that is focused on addressing the issues of substance that emerged from the Supreme Court’s judgment, and that we can work to resolve those as speedily as we can.

Adam Tomkins (Glasgow) (Con)

I thank the Deputy First Minister for his statement and, indeed, for keeping Parliament appropriately informed during the recess.

The Deputy First Minister has identified that it was the information-sharing provisions of the named person scheme that the Supreme Court ruled unlawful in its judgment in July, and he has explained that he proposes to remedy those defects, even if he has said nothing about how he proposes to do that. I say to him that the issue is not just about thresholds; it is also about definition—in particular, the definition of “wellbeing”. The Supreme Court ruled that the relevant provisions were not in accordance with law, because it found that they lacked clarity and certainty. That lack of clarity and certainty goes to the heart of the question of wellbeing.

The Supreme Court said a lot more in its judgment. It did not focus on information sharing alone. The court stated that, even after the information-sharing provisions are sorted out, the named person scheme is still in danger of constituting a disproportionate, and therefore unlawful, interference with family life in many cases. In paragraph 100 of the judgment, the court states that the operation of the scheme is

“likely often to be disproportionate”—

and that is even after the information-sharing provisions are rewritten so that they are in accordance with law. Why has the Deputy First Minister’s statement failed to address that aspect of the court’s ruling?

John Swinney

I think that I addressed that issue in my statement, because I acknowledged the importance of addressing the issue of thresholds and proportionality.

I am not sure that I take a different view from Mr Tomkins on the question of definition. I agree that the Supreme Court said that the provisions need to be set out in accordance with law. That is now a habitual requirement of Supreme Court judgments, which is something that postdates the passage of the legislation. The Government has defined “wellbeing” in the guidance documents that we have set out—the Supreme Court had that draft guidance in front of it—but I accept that guidance does not constitute law.

If I can do a dangerous thing and try to summarise what the Supreme Court judgment was saying, I would say that it was almost saying, “Get your guidance into law and that will be the issue addressed.” That is perhaps not Supreme Court language, but that is what I would take from its ruling. I accept that there is a job of work to be done in defining “wellbeing” in that way. That will make the provisions in accordance with law, which will address the issues that the Supreme Court has raised with us.

The issue of proportionality is important because it relates directly to the question that Mr Tomkins raises about the occasions on which and the circumstances in which the information-sharing provisions might be utilised.

There is a very important point to make, which I know is perhaps not part of the narrative that has been used in the debate to criticise the named person policy, and it is why I set out the policy position in the context of GIRFEC. There are plenty of families who want to go to a named person to get the support that they require. In general, people do not come to my surgeries to tell me how well connected public services have been; in general, they come to my surgeries to ask me to get public services better connected. Members of the public will have an opportunity to use the service to get the support that they require to assist young people, and I think that that is a good thing.

Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement of an intensive engagement programme. Can he provide more detail on how he intends to involve health visitors, teachers, parents, carers and, crucially, children and young people themselves in that activity?

John Swinney

Over the next few months, the Minister for Childcare and Early Years and I will spend a considerable time in direct engagement with a variety of professionals but also with parents and young people and with people who have been critical of the policy to find ways in which we might be able to address the substantive issues.

There will be some people whom I cannot reach, who are just implacably opposed to the policy; even with the persuasion skills that I would like to think I have, there will be some people whom I will not manage to reach. However, I hope that we can have a fair climate to address the issues that have been raised in the Supreme Court, and the minister and I will engage in that substantively to ensure that that is the case, before coming back to the Parliament with further detail on how we will take the legislation forward.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

Following on from my colleague Iain Gray’s question, I would welcome an acknowledgement from the Deputy First Minister that addressing the point about the confidence and faith that people have in the policy is as important as addressing the legal point. Teachers and health visitors have raised all along their concerns about the impact of the named person policy on the time that they have to do their main jobs. Now that we have a pause, will Mr Swinney use it to find the resource and implement it so that those crucial professionals have the time and resource available to do their main job of caring for and educating our children?

John Swinney

In the last few words of Mr Johnson’s question, he talked about teachers having the opportunity to care for and educate our children. That is exactly what I want our teachers to be able to do, which is why I am investing so much of my time in ensuring that they are liberated from bureaucracy so that they can do that.

When I go round Scotland’s schools and talk to teachers, their conversations with me are not just about educational attainment. They are also about their judgment about children when they walk through the door in the morning and the support and nurture that they need before they can even think about any learning. In some schools that I have gone into, I have been overwhelmed by the empathy and, frankly, the love of teachers for children, with their first port of call being to put the toaster on as opposed to getting a book out.

We should not compartmentalise this as if, somehow, the named person is an added burden for teachers. Teachers look at the children for whom they are responsible every minute of the day trying to establish what support they require, what difficulties they are facing and how they can be assisted in fulfilling their potential, and we should congratulate our teaching profession on doing exactly that.

I do not want us to have a debate that suggests that being a named person does not come naturally to the role of the teaching profession in assessing the wellbeing of the young people in their care and taking every step that they can to enhance that as a consequence of their productive intervention.

James Dornan (Glasgow Cathcart) (SNP)

What reassurance can the cabinet secretary give parents and families about their interests in the process? What will happen if they are unhappy with the named person service? Conversely, what might happen should a family refuse to engage with the service?

As convener of the Education and Skills Committee, I also ask what role the cabinet secretary sees that committee playing as this progresses through Parliament.

John Swinney

I am sure that it is not for me to specify the agenda of the Education and Skills Committee. I am sure that it will tell me what it wants—I suspect that that is how it will work, and I am very happy to engage with the committee in any way on these matters.

Mr Dornan also asked about the role of parents. The provisions of law in that respect have not been challenged by the court with the exception that it suggests that we can better specify the opportunities that exist for parents to, essentially, opt out of the named person provisions. I will reflect on that issue as part of the conversations that we take forward, and I will have adequate opportunities to discuss the issues with parent groups and representatives around the country.

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I welcome the fact that the Supreme Court judgment has moved the debate on. Does the cabinet secretary agree that those opposing the principle of the named person are on the wrong side of the judgment and that we must now all focus on addressing the shortcomings regarding information sharing?

John Swinney

I agree with that point. The Supreme Court did not strike down the legislation; it described its aims as “unquestionably legitimate and benign”.

There are issues—I have confronted them openly with Parliament today—with the information-sharing provisions. Within minutes of the judgment, I acknowledged that the Government would have to resolve those issues. We must now concentrate on doing that, and I have set out a process to Parliament that will enable us to do exactly that. I look forward to dialogue with members of all parties about how we can most effectively progress the provisions.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

Will the Government confirm that it is essential that every child and family should be able to get help, advice and support if they need it and, therefore, that it is absolutely essential that a named person is available for every child and family, just as an ambulance is available for every child and family?

John Swinney

That is a very fair and realistic way of bringing the policy to life—seeing the named person as a resource that is available for families to call on if they require that assistance.

To repeat one of my earlier comments, I generally do not meet people who are coming to see me because they feel that public services have been well connected; rather, people often come to see me because they need me to try to weave together those services for them. The resource is there to be utilised by families to ensure that the wellbeing of their children is most effectively supported by the public sector in any way that we can.

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I thank the Deputy First Minister for advance sight of his statement. I am sure that he is familiar with paragraph 95 of the Supreme Court’s judgment:

“parents will be given the impression that they must accept the advice or services which they are offered ... their failure to co-operate with such a plan will be taken to be evidence of a risk of harm.”

As both a minister and a father, does he find that as concerning as I do? Does that not show the need for the scope of the examination of the policy that he will undertake in the coming three months—the policy will be delayed by a year—to recognise exactly that point and the concerns of teachers and health visitors, given the 200 risk indicators that he talked about in the debate earlier in the summer? Does that not also show that the scope of the inquiry must recognise all those points and address them fully?

John Swinney

Mr Scott will understand the importance that I attach to Parliament’s democratic decisions. The Parliament has legislated for and put in place the provisions. Those provisions have been tested by two courts in Scotland and by a third court in the United Kingdom. The two courts in Scotland have said that the legal challenges to the legislation are not substantiated, and the Supreme Court has raised particular issues with us about information-sharing provisions. Mr Scott will understand my democratic point, because I want to operate within the rule of law and the scope of acting on behalf of promised democratic decisions, why it is important that I focus on addressing the issues raised by the Supreme Court in its judgment.

Mr Scott’s point about parents is illustrated by the Supreme Court’s view that the sense that individuals can opt out of the provisions is not perhaps as well understood or as well expressed as it could be. I will certainly consider issues of that nature. However, I stress that we must be respectful of Parliament’s democratic decisions. In 2014, the Parliament decided the shape of the legislation, and the Supreme Court has identified the areas where we specifically need to address that point.

Gil Paterson (Clydebank and Milngavie) (SNP)

As a long-standing MSP who remembers well supporting the policy as an Opposition MSP when it was introduced by the Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration, I welcome the focus of much of the cabinet secretary’s statement on the wider GIRFEC policy. One of the most important aspects of the legislation is in part 3 of the 2014 act, which requires local authorities to plan children’s services effectively. When will that come into effect?

John Swinney

I welcome the point that Gil Paterson made, because it illustrates the fact that many of us have supported the policy and approach for many years. As a long-standing Opposition member I enthusiastically supported our predecessors in bringing forward this policy framework. It is important that the named person policy is set within the long-term policy of getting it right for every child.

To answer Mr Paterson’s specific question, part 3 will come into effect on 7 October and requires local authorities and relevant health boards to have in place their first children’s services plans from 1 April 2017. Those plans will cover a three-year period from that date.

Monica Lennon (Central Scotland) (Lab)

It is vitally important that the Scottish Government seeks to build the confidence and trust of parents and young people across the country, as well as of staff on the front line. I am pleased that the Deputy First Minister recognises that.

How does the Scottish Government intend to engage with young people during the consultation, and will that engagement include 16 and 17-year-olds specifically?

John Swinney

It certainly will. We will take steps through a number of channels of discussion and communication. We are very lucky to have a range of organisations that are well connected with young people in Scotland. Various forums exist in which that engagement can happen, and ministers and officials will engage substantively on this point. Monica Lennon mentioned 16 and 17-year-olds, and it is a material issue for us to consult that group specifically.

I can understand the perspective that Iain Gray put forward on the issue. Equally, Monica Lennon will understand the perspective that I have from the data about the degree of vulnerability that exists among 16 and 17-year-olds. I assure her that we will complete that exercise.

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

It is important to go back to basics and remember why the legislation matters. Will the cabinet secretary outline what difference the policy will make to the wellbeing of children, and particularly to Scotland’s most vulnerable children?

John Swinney

It is important that we go back to the roots of the policy. This morning, I was at a school in Glasgow that is a splendid example of how we need to identify, at the earliest possible opportunity, weaknesses and deficiencies that young people may face and intervene and address them as quickly as possible. I met a wonderful young man who went to the school when he faced acute difficulties. The early intervention and the support that he received have had a transformative impact on him. That has been achieved because of good early intervention and a tremendous amount of care and nurture in the intervening years.

Fulton MacGregor makes a substantive point. We need to take early steps to support young people as effectively as we can and ensure that they are able to overcome obstacles and difficulties that they may face. That is at the heart of the thinking behind getting it right for every child and will underpin the development of the policy as we take it forward.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

John Scott, I can just squeeze you in.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con)

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

The cabinet secretary acknowledges the judgement of the Supreme Court, which is to be welcomed. However, if I heard him correctly, in response to Liz Smith’s question he failed to make clear the position of local authorities that, when acting in good faith in piloting the scheme, may have breached ECHR regulations as a result of following Scottish Government advice and guidelines. Where do piloting local authorities stand in terms of liability if they are pursued on the Supreme Court ruling, having followed Scottish Government advice and guidance?

John Swinney

I do not agree that I did not answer Liz Smith’s question, because I answered it very fully. In my answer and in my statement I said that what has been identified as being deficient are provisions in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 that have not yet come into effect.

Any local authority that is providing a service, up until the passage of that legislation or up until today, must be acting in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, and any legal advice to local authorities in relation to the design of their schemes must be compatible with those two provisions. That was the answer that I gave to Liz Smith in response to her first question; it is the position that I outlined in my statement; and it is the answer that I give to Mr Scott. It is the only answer that I can give because that is the legal framework within which local authorities are required to operate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

That concludes questions to the Deputy First Minister.