Presiding Officer, thank you for giving me the opportunity to address the Parliament on the general principles of the Children (Scotland) Bill. I am delighted to open the debate.
I am grateful to the Justice Committee for its careful scrutiny of the bill, and I welcome its recommendation that the Parliament agree to the bill’s general principles. I am also grateful to the organisations and individuals who gave evidence to the committee.
Before I talk about the bill, I want to mention the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on family relationships. Many members will have received correspondence from worried grandparents, parents and other family members at this time and will appreciate that it can be extremely difficult for parents to work out what is in the best interests of their children. I am grateful to the Lord President for issuing guidance on compliance. In addition, we have published information on the Parent Club website, which is aimed at helping parents to make informed decisions. The most important message is that anyone who is concerned about risk of harm to their child at any time should contact their local authority social work department or the police on 101—or the police on 999 if they think that the child is in immediate danger.
Let me move on to the Children (Scotland) Bill. Like many members, I am sure, I receive a lot of correspondence about family court proceedings, and I appreciate that, for everyone who is involved in such proceedings, it can be a difficult and stressful time. That is especially true for the child who is at the heart of the case.
Civil law does not often take centre stage; it is often overshadowed. However, it can and does have profound implications for people who are involved with it, especially in the family courts.
The bill follows a consultation on the Scottish Government’s 2018 review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, which is the key legislation on contact, residence and parental responsibilities and rights. The consultation specifically sought the views of children and young people, from whom we received 300 responses to the questionnaire. The views of those children and young people guided the development of the bill.