SNP to update on children's rights bill eight months after Supreme Court defeat

·3-min read
John Swinney and Alister Jack have opposing views to the UN CRC proposals
John Swinney and Alister Jack have opposing views to the UN CRC proposals

SNP ministers have been urged to bring back updated plans to embed a key UK treaty into Scots law “as a matter of urgency”.

The Scottish Government is due to update MSPs this afternoon on plans to redraw two bills that were blocked by the UK Government launching a successful appeal in the Supreme Court.

Last year, MSPs unanimously backed the Scottish Government's legislation to incorporate the UN Convention of the Right of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law.

But alongside a bill to incorporate the European Charter of Local Self-Government into Scots law, the Supreme Court found the two pieces of legislation fell outwith the competence of devolution.

The Herald on Sunday previously revealed that the Scottish Government appealed to UK ministers to expand the powers of Holyrood in order to ensure the bill was competent with the devolution settlement.

READ MORE: SNP playing 'roulette' after five options set out to rewrite devolution settlement

One of the options put to UK ministers was to give Holyrood the same competence over the entire devolved set of laws, whether Scottish Parliament legislation or UK Parliament acts. The move would allow the Scottish Government’s currently flawed children’s rights legislation to apply to any UK Parliament legislation in a devolved area.

Other proposals put to UK ministers would allow Scottish courts to enforce UN human rights treaties in any legislation in devolved areas including UK Parliament acts, while another option would specify the courts could enforce only the Convention on the Right of a Child.

Ministers will update Holyrood on their way forward for both bills, amid calls from political opponents to bring forward updated plans without delay.

The European Charter of Local Self Government Bill is now being sponsored by Greens MSP Mark Ruskell, having initially being brought forward as a member's bill by fomer Greens MSP Andy Wightman.

LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said: “The Scottish Government should be bringing the UNCRC bill back to Parliament as a matter of urgency.

"This whole saga has been an embarrassment. Parliament was encouraged to vote for a bill which ministers had been warned was outside its competence.

"Rather than make changes and return with a new bill, SNP figures have fixated on stirring up a row with their UK counterparts.”

He added: "There can be no doubt that the SNP’s commitment to children's rights will always play second fiddle to their obsession with the constitution.

"At the same time, it is important to remember that this bill is a statement of intent, not a quick fix. From care experienced youngsters to extracurricular activities, there are a whole host of changes the government could make to improve the lives of children, even before a new UNCRC bill is in place."

Scottish Labour Education spokesperson Michael Marra said: “This is a chance for the SNP to stop using children’s rights as a political football and act.

“We don’t need more grandstanding or game-playing from the SNP – we need a clear timetable to deliver this legislation with the urgency needed.”

He added: “Children cannot wait any longer for the protections this Parliament unanimously agreed well over a year ago.

“The SNP must drop the meaningless rhetoric and focusing on fixing the mess they have made of these laws.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We remain committed to the incorporation into Scots law of the UNCRC to the maximum extent possible as soon as practicable.

“It is vital that we work through the complex issues raised by the Supreme Court judgment to ensure that incorporation can happen as quickly as possible with confidence that any amendments to the Bill do not attract further challenge. The majority of work in relation to implementation of the UNCRC is continuing.

“One aspect which we have been pursuing is engagement with the UK Government to explore whether powers under the devolution settlement can be used to give the UNCRC Bill greater effect than is possible under the Scottish Parliament’s current powers.”

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