Children (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th May 2020.

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Photo of Keith Brown Keith Brown Scottish National Party

I start by wishing Ruan MacGregor a happy birthday

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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of the bill at stage 1. The bill is of particular interest to me, although I am not a member of the committee, and to many of my constituents. It is also of great importance to many parents and children across Scotland.

We all acknowledge that family separation is, even at the best of times, a painful and difficult process. Trying to legislate on it can sometimes be even more difficult. Many constituents have contacted me over the years to express continued concern about the way in which family law operates in Scotland, but I am very cautious of the ability of Government to provide simple solutions for the deeply complicated family situations that can often surround separation.

Notwithstanding those points, it is clear that the law and legal frameworks need updating. There are fundamental values over which there can be no disagreement. The law must protect women and children, and indeed everyone, from domestic abuse and ensure that abusers do not have continued access to the people whom they have abused. It is also very important to protect people from malicious accusations of abuse—an accusation of abuse can often be used to strengthen someone’s legal position or in a vindictive way. That is why I welcome, as others have, the further measures that the bill introduces to protect abuse survivors and vulnerable witnesses.

Some of my constituents believe that the bill represents a missed opportunity when it comes to updating the law, and that it does not address some of the difficulties that they face. An issue that has been continually raised with me is that of shared parenting. Countries such as the Netherlands and New Zealand have a presumption of shared parenting. However, we do not have that in Scotland, which often results in what many feel to be a tiered system of parenting, in which those who live with the child are able to dictate access to the parent who does not. I was recently contacted by a constituent who alleges that her ex-partner is using the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to prevent her from seeing her child. Although there are many legitimate reasons to reduce contact with a child, I am sure that many members will agree that it is not reasonable that parents are able to prevent responsible ex-partners from accessing their children in that manner.

Attempts to address such concerns through the standard system of mediation are often not productive. Parents with residence may not attend, with an adversarial court process the only remedy for parents without residence, bringing with it conflict and financial and emotional costs.

Contact orders that have been issued by the courts may not be complied with, with seemingly little recourse for parents who have been deprived of time with their children. I take on board what Bob Doris and others have said about contact centres and some of the issues that arise in relation to non-compliance with contact orders, but sometimes such things are used by one parent against another.

Although the proposed improvements with regard to child welfare reporters are positive—