John Swinney was yesterday forced into delaying the Scottish Government’s Named Person scheme for a year to address the legal issues surrounding the legislation.
The Education Secretary made the concession in a Holyrood statement yesterday, in response to a Supreme Court ruling that parts of the scheme were unlawful.
Six weeks after the UK’s highest court judged that elements of the policy were incompatible with the right to privacy and a family life, Mr Swinney announced that the Scottish Government is to undertake an “intense” three-month consultation on how to make the scheme comply with European human rights law.
The flagship policy, introduced as part of the Children and Young People Scotland Act 2014, set out to appoint a single point of contact, such as a teacher or health visitor, to look out for the welfare of all children up to the age of 18.
Mr Swinney, also the Deputy First Minister, said that while the Supreme Court had ruled “changes are needed” to provide greater clarity over data-sharing between health visitors, teachers and other professionals, the Scottish Government was still “absolutely committed” to the scheme.
Campaigners have objected to the plan, particularly the proposal to allow Named Persons to share information about children across agencies without the parents’ knowledge. Critics claim this will undermine the right to privacy and amounts to unwarranted state intrusion into family life.
The Supreme Court judgement does not dilute our commitment but it has required us to revise part of the legislationJohn Swinney
The Supreme Court ruling took issue with the data-sharing aspects of the legislation, which had been scheduled to be rolled out across Scotland at the end of last month.
Mr Swinney said it was now planned to get the scheme up and running across the country by August next year.
He said: “The Supreme Court judgement 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.”
The scheme has been piloted in some areas of Scotland, and Mr Swinney said councils should continue working towards its implementation.
He urged local authorities and health bodies to work to “continue to develop and deliver a Named Person service in your area” while stressing that any sharing of personal information “must be done in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998”.
His comments angered the No to Named Person (NO2NP) campaign, which was behind the legal action against the scheme.
NO2NP spokesman Simon Calvert said: “This would be laughable if it were not so offensive to the parents whose human rights were so cavalierly ignored in the drafting of the Named Person law.
“The Supreme Court said the kind of widespread, routine sharing of sensitive personal data that the government wanted is unlawful and a breach of human rights and cannot go ahead.
“So whatever the Deputy First Minister may claim, the Named Person scheme he ends up with in a year’s time will be very different from the policy he wanted.
“Instead of focusing on saving face, the government should be apologising to parents for ignoring their human rights. We welcome the Deputy First Minister’s pledge to consult widely with professionals and parents, including people who do not agree with the Named Person.”
Mr Calvert added: “The consultation, and the acknowledgement that it will take a year to draw up and implement the new proposals, is an admission that they have to heavily rewrite key aspects of the Named Person policy.”
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The Conservatives have been calling for the legislation to be scrapped, while Labour have demanded that 16- and 17-year-olds are excluded.
During a Holyrood debate on Mr Swinney’s statement the Conservative shadow education secretary Liz Smith said the three-month consultation and outstanding legal issues made it impossible for councils to know where they stood.
Ms Smith said: “Councils already running the Named Person scheme are being told to keep on with it – even though elements of it have been ruled unlawful. How can the SNP expect local authorities to continue operating in that way?
“It’s not clear how the Scottish Government can delay the scheme’s implementation for a year, yet tell those already doing it to continue.
“We will continue to fight against this unnecessary and unpopular policy. Parents want it scrapped, and so do the professionals tasked with implementing it.”
Ms Smith added: “The SNP has been told in no uncertain terms by the Supreme Court about the merits of this policy, and it’s time Nationalists swallowed their pride and listened.”
Last night Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “It’s disappointing that despite making positive noises before this statement, John Swinney refused to agree to Labour’s proposal to remove 16- to 18-year-olds from the Named Person scheme.
“The SNP’s implementation of Named Person has been a shambles. That is why Labour made three simple proposals: removing 16- to 18-year-olds from the policy, giving professionals the resources they need to deliver it and a developing a clear plan to win back public confidence.
“John Swinney did agree to engage with 16- and 17-year-olds during the review process, but he has offered very little to suggest that he is prepared to go beyond the changes forced on him by the Supreme Court.
“Labour still supports the principles behind the policy – support for vulnerable families so no child falls through the cracks – but John Swinney has a lot to do to win back public support.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which represents health visitors, reaffirmed its support for the legislation’s aims but said their members needed advice and support.
Ellen Hudson, associate director of the RCN, said: “It’s crucial that health visitors and other practitioners who are working under the current approach are not simply left in limbo, and are given clear advice and support during this time to allow them to continue to do their jobs effectively.
“Ministers have a chance now to get it right the second time round, but they must make sure that whatever amendments are made to the information sharing provisions within the Act they are subject to robust scrutiny, so that there can be no further challenges which would prolong uncertainty for health visitors and all those working on the frontline with children and young people on a daily basis.”