I am pleased to open the debate on the general principles of the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill. I thank everyone who has contributed to developing the bill so far.
The bill is ambitious and touches on complex and diverse matters. Input from private individuals, employers, advocates, regulators and many others has been absolutely invaluable to understanding what they need and what we can achieve with the bill. We have been listening since its introduction. We have listened to the evidence that was given to the Education and Skills Committee and have engaged with more than 700 individuals, including children and young people, through events held by Disclosure Scotland and Volunteer Scotland. We have worked hard throughout to discover how we can make state disclosure work better for everyone.
I know that the proposals in the bill represent a significant change. To get all the benefits of the changes, we will need to maintain that engagement as we work towards implementation. I believe that the evidence that was given to the committee reflects the level of constructive cross-sector engagement that there has already been with a view to getting the bill right.
I also thank the members of the Education and Skills Committee for their considered approach to stage 1. In particular, I welcome the committee’s support for the general principles of the bill. I have taken time to consider its recommendations, and I am just as committed as it has been in providing a constructive response.
In recent years, the Scottish Government has worked to improve the justice, rehabilitation and disclosure systems. The Disclosure (Scotland) Bill is the next step in ensuring that we can continue to support safeguarding Scotland’s most vulnerable people while recognising the right of people to move on from their past behaviour. It is in that context that I am considering the committee’s recommendations.
The bill introduces new and reformed processes to allow certain information that could be disclosed to be fairly assessed. The current system provides only limited opportunity for people to challenge what is included in their disclosure. The reforms will ensure that people can interact with the disclosure process and expect it to take account of their circumstances. That does not mean that we will stop disclosing information that is relevant to safeguarding; it simply means that our disclosure system will be better able to take into account the individual circumstances surrounding offending behaviour.
That is particularly important when considering childhood offending. The bill will afford new protections to people who, as children, came into contact with the justice and hearings systems. The provisions allow the full context of childhood behaviour to be considered before a decision is made about whether to disclose such information to a third party.
I welcome the committee’s recognition of the particular needs of care-experienced people and our duty to listen carefully to their voices in developing policy. In evidence, we heard from Robert Dorrian, a care-experienced young person who described how a childhood conviction, for which he was admonished, followed him through his education and limited his opportunities as a young adult. That must change. It is vital that people who have experienced adversities in childhood are not further held back as they try to move on as adults.