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Programme for Government 2013-14

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 4th September 2013.

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Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I put on record our welcome for the new funding that is to be made available to refugees. None of us who has seen the harrowing pictures on television could think anything other than that we bear some responsibility to take action.

Besides the 13 new bills that were announced yesterday, a core plank of the Scottish Government’s programme for business this year is the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill. It is a substantial bill, which has implications for several policy areas and other pieces of legislation.

Scottish Conservatives agree with some of the bill’s stated intentions and with some of its actual proposals. In particular, we agree that we should do much more to increase a collaborative approach and ensure that children’s services are delivered more effectively, with better qualitative measures. We whole-heartedly agree with the plans to extend childcare, which will make it easier for parents to get back into work and will ease the financial pressures on hard-working families. We also whole-heartedly agree with the plans to provide greater backing for young carers and kinship carers, many of whom do tremendous work, at times with very little support.

The Parliament has made clear many times, on a cross-party basis, that it recognises the focus that needs to be put on such key areas, and compelling evidence on the need for additional focus on the early years has been submitted to several committees of the Parliament.

That said, there is much in the bill about which we have fundamental concerns. We are concerned about substantive as well as procedural and drafting matters. Most notable, we are against the unmistakeable statist and centralising philosophy that permeates so much of the bill.

As Professor Kenneth Norrie said during yesterday’s meeting of the Education and Culture Committee, the bill in its current state gives the Scottish minister powers that are open ended and not well defined. As we know from submissions to the committee, there are concerns about the proposed extent of data sharing, the extension to the powers of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People and ministers’ ability to meddle in family life.

If we consider the bill in its entirety, we can see that, although it contains welcome provisions on childcare and kinship care, it is designed to take an unacceptable degree of responsibility away from many parents and professionals and hand over that responsibility to ministers and bureaucrats. That is something with which we fundamentally disagree, as do some very powerful voices, who expressed concern during the summer recess and who have submitted responses to the committee.

We therefore want the Scottish Government to review its approach to the bill and specifically to ensure that limited resources are targeted at the most vulnerable children and that responsibility is placed in the right hands, in families and among professionals, and not in the hands of Government.

In particular, we want the Scottish Government to review its policy on named persons, which has aroused the greatest controversy and concern. For some people it is a matter of detail; for others it is a matter of basic philosophy—the Scottish Conservatives are concerned about both.