The Scottish Government’s controversial scheme to appoint a named person to every child in Scotland was last night dealt a further blow when MSPs formally agreed to park the legislation.
MSPs unanimously agreed a Holyrood business motion annulling a crucial deadline for the legislation’s passage through the Scottish Parliament.
It had been proposed that Holyrood’s Education Committee should produce a report on Stage One of the legislation by 22 December.
Earlier this month, however, a majority of MSPs on the committee voted not to produce a report on the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) Bill until Education Secretary John Swinney had produced a new code of conduct for the health visitors and teachers expected to become named persons.
The Committee said it could not proceed because he had failed to provide the “critical guidance”. This meant the committee were unable to scrutinise the named person’s powers to share sensitive information about children, or decide whether they were now lawful.
Although Mr Swinney produced a draft code, he later had to withdraw it after it was criticised by expert witnesses for being confusing and legalistic.
Mr Swinney has said he cannot produce a revised code until September 2018 “at the earliest”. He said failing to support the Bill at the first stage would mean “significantly delaying” its implementation.
MSPs passed the motion tabled by the SNP’s business manger Joe Fitzpatrick agreeing “that the deadline of 22 December 2017 for consideration of the Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill at stage 1 no longer applies”.
No new deadline has been established. A report has to be produced in order for the legislation to go on to the floor of the house for stage 2.
Last night the Scottish Conservatives called for the legislation to be axed. Critics of the scheme to make named persons responsible for children’s well-being believe it is too intrusive and undermines family life.
Tory shadow education secretary Liz Smith said: “It’s welcome that the SNP has formally admitted this scheme cannot proceed. But now the nationalists should do the decent thing and scrap it altogether.
“The bill is a mess, and remains hugely unpopular among parents and practitioners across Scotland.”
Controversy over the bill has escalated in recent weeks with the Scottish Government facing claims that it has lobbied key witnesses before they gave evidence on the legislation to the Education Committee.
The Government has been urged to publish the minutes of the private meetings.
Despite the clamour for the scheme to be abandoned, Nicola Sturgeon has said she has not intention of doing so. At First Minister’s Questions last week she said she would push ahead with the plans because they are in the best interests of children.