Minister waters down plans to enshrine children's rights into Scots law

The Scottish Government has amended the bill in a bid to avoid another clash with Westminster.

Scottish Government waters down plans to enshrine UN children’s rights treaty into Scots law iStock

Plans aiming to improve children’s rights have been watered down by the Scottish Government.

Legislation to enshrine the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) received unanimous support from MSPs in March 2021.

But in October of the same year, the UK Supreme Court ruled the bill impacted reserved areas, meaning it could not go ahead in its current form.

Speaking on Tuesday, the Government announced major amendments to the bill.

The legislation requires public authorities to take proactive steps to protect children’s rights and gives children, young people and their representatives a new ability to use the courts to enforce their rights.

If they act in a way that contravenes the UNCRC the children and young people’s commissioner will be able to take legal action where they feel the treaty has been breached.

The Supreme Court rules parts of the original UNCRC bill were outwith the competence of Holyrood.iStock

But the latest changes mean that public authorities will only have to comply with UNCRC requirements when dealing with legislation drawn up by the Scottish Parliament.

Laws and powers created by Westminster will no longer be affected by the rules.

The Scottish Government said the changes are the only way to minimise the risk of the legislation being referred to the UK Supreme Court again.

Social justice secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “These proposals will result in a bill that provides valuable protections for children’s rights and that does so in a way that is legally sound and is clear for users.

“It will also allow us to begin our journey to legislate for children’s rights and wider human rights and provide a solid legal foundation on which to build in the future.

“That would become easier if there was political commitment in Whitehall to legislate for children’s rights.

“Once again we find the democratic will of this Parliament blocked by Westminster.

“It remains true that the simplest way to secure protection for children’s rights, in Scotland and across the UK, and to do so as fully as possible, is for the UK Government to incorporate the UNCRC into UK law.”

Shirley-Anne Somerville said the UK Government had blocked the 'democratic will' of the Scottish Parliament. STV News

Scottish Labour spokesperson for children and young people, Martin Whitfield, said “The SNP has wasted years playing political games with this landmark bill, only to wind up back where we started.

“Delivering the strongest possible bill as quickly as possible must be the priority, and I am pleased this is finally being brought back to Parliament – but we cannot ignore the glaring gaps in these new plans.

“Despite the SNP’s long-forgotten claim that education was their top priority, the huge swathes of education laws still pre-date the Scottish Parliament and will go unprotected by this bill.

“UNCRC incorporation must go ahead without any more delays.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader and shadow minister for early years, Meghan Gallacher MSP, said: “This is a deeply disappointing statement from the SNP Government.

“They have dithered and delayed bringing this crucial legislation back to the Scottish Parliament and that looks set to continue.

“The Supreme Court made their ruling in October 2021, giving the SNP more than 600 days to make the changes needed to pass this law.

“Instead of putting the necessary work in, the SNP has continued to politicise children’s rights and promoted grievance.

“Little progress has been made and this statement completely lacked any substance.

“The SNP must drop their political games, put our young people first and urgently confirm when this Bill will be able to be passed by MSPs.”

The UK Government has been approached for comment.

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