Scottish Government urged to reconsider approach to named person code of practice

Holyrood is to be given a final vote on a code of practice that will set out how proposed changes to the controversial named person policy will work.

Education Secretary John Swinney

A parliamentary report had urged the Scottish Government to reconsider its approach to the code accompanying fresh legislation brought in after a legal challenge to the policy, which will see a single point of contact, such as a teacher or health visitor, appointed to look out for the welfare of every child.

Education Secretary John Swinney confirmed the Scottish Parliament will be given final approval on the code which will start from a “blank sheet of paper”.

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The Children and Young People (Information Sharing) (Scotland) Bill aims to address the Supreme Court’s finding last year that information-sharing provisions in the original legislation were incompatible with the right to privacy and family life as set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The new legislation requires Scottish ministers to publish a code of practice for professionals on how information should be shared.

Scrutiny of the Bill revealed concerns that the draft code of practice drawn up by the government did not offer sufficient clarity and that the code itself would not be set out in in legislation.

The issue was considered by Holyrood’s Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, which concluded the code was ‘’more than simply an explanatory document’’ and highlighted other examples of codes of practice which had been brought forward by way of subordinate legislation.

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In a letter to the Education and Skills Committee ahead of a hearing on Wednesday, Mr Swinney said: “The procedure outlined in the Bill affords Parliament a high level of scrutiny on the draft code of practice and my intention has always been to ensure meaningful dialogue with both practitioners and Parliament in relation to its contents.

“That is why the Bill requires ministers to take account of any comments expressed by Parliament before issuing a final code of practice.

“I have, however, considered carefully the evidence given to the Education and Skills Committee and the report of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee and can confirm that I have asked my officials to prepare an amendment at Stage 2 that would give Parliament final approval of the code of practice.

“The code of practice and supporting materials, which includes detailed statutory guidance required under the 2014 Act, will incorporate the sort of information which many stakeholders have called for in written and oral evidence.

“My objective is to ensure this works in practice for children and young people, parents and practitioners.”

Opponents of the legislation welcomed the move.

Simon Calvert, spokesman for the ‘no to named persons’ campaign, said: “It would appear that the named person scheme is being put on the back burner for the moment.

“Mr Swinney has conceded that his proposed code of practice must reflect any forthcoming changes which will be incorporated into UK law through the Data Protection Bill, currently being considered by the Westminster Parliament.

“And he admits the code made under the Act, once passed, will start from a blank sheet of paper and take account of these upcoming changes.

“If this is the case all the pilot schemes already in operation in Scotland must be stopped immediately.

“It’s always better when government ministers listen instead of not listening.

“And changing tack and now granting MSPs a vote on the code of practice is the absolute bare minimum that Mr Swinney can do given the hammering the policy has had in Parliament during the recent evidence sessions. But these changes are still just window dressing.”