John Swinney announced he is delaying his controversial named person scheme for a second time as he watered down key aspects of the controversial plan.
The education secretary has been forced to draw up new legislation to implement his proposal to appoint a named person – typically a health visitor or a teacher – to look out for the welfare of every Scottish child.
The new legislation will not come into force until next year and will attempt to overcome legal objections to the original plan.
Mr Swinney made his announcement at Holyrood as he attempted to deal with the fall-out from a successful legal challenge brought by opponents of the scheme.
Last year the UK Supreme Court ruled that elements of the policy were “incompatible” with the right to family life as set out in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
Of particular concern was the Scottish Government’s plan to allow named persons to share information about a child across agencies without parental permission – a feature critics decided was an unwarranted intrusion into family life.
The court judgment last summer resulted in the scheme being delayed for a year with Mr Swinney hoping to have it up and running by this August.
Today, however, the education secretary postponed it further and also announced a reversal on his information-sharing proposals.
The changes announced by Mr Swinney are designed to overcome the Supreme Court’s concerns that named person information-sharing provisions could breach families’ right to privacy.
Mr Swinney said parents and families would be consulted about information sharing except in “exceptional circumstances” when a child was at risk of harm.
The education secretary said: “As with families, nursing and medical professional organisations and trade unions told us that information sharing that was rooted in consent, engagement and empowerment of families was the best way forward.
Only in exceptional circumstances, such as where the risk of harm was present, should we consider departing from those core principles.
“Practitioners highlighted that professional judgment and discretion remains vital in working with families to decide whether, when and with whom information should be shared.”
The education secretary claimed there had been a lot of “misinformation” about the named person scheme as he said there would be a public information campaign to make sure children, young people and parents know their rights.
The new legislation will replace parts of the existing Children and Young People Scotland Act of 2014, the original vehicle for the scheme.
Mr Swinney insisted he remained “absolutely committed” to the project.
But the Scottish Conservatives said the scheme should be ditched otherwise it would end up back in court. Tory education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “This is a scheme that has run aground and the fact the delay is now at two years shows exactly that.
“If the SNP had been listening properly it would have recognised months ago that it is completely unworkable and unwanted.
“Every opinion poll on the policy has made clear that the vast majority of parents do not want it, and it’s clear many professionals tasked with delivering it are extremely concerned.
“Rather than muddy the waters even further, John Swinney should scrap this policy once and for all.
“As it stands, the named person policy is heading straight back to court.”
Mr Swinney rejected Labour’s call for 16 and 17-year-olds to be excluded from the scheme.
Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said: “This statement has done nothing to restore much-needed trust in the Named Person scheme. Labour remains supportive of the scheme, but the government’s veil of secrecy has led to deep scepticism among parents about how it will work – and this needs to be urgently addressed.
“And question marks still remain over how the scheme will be resourced or when it will be introduced.”
The campaigners No to Named Person (NO2NP), who brought the legal action, hailed Mr Swinney’s announcement as a “major climbdown”.
“However they try to spin it, this is a major climbdown by the Scottish Government,” said Simon Calvert, spokesman for NO2NP.
“After two years of causing fear and confusion amongst parents, they are now conceding that they cannot lower the threshold for non-consensual disclosure of personal information on families.
“They are reverting to the existing threshold of ‘risk of harm’. It’s about time.”
Dr Gordon Macdonald, of Christian Action Research and Education (Care) Scotland, said: “The named person scheme has been strongly criticised by both parents and leading professionals across all spheres of life – education, health and law enforcement.
“The Scottish Government must listen to the majority.”