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

On the face of it, I have a lot of sympathy for that idea. It would certainly meet with the approval of those people who have contacted me on the issue.

More widely, Shared Parenting Scotland, which I know that the minister has met—I am grateful that she has met me, too, to discuss these matters—has raised concerns about the lack of reform in the language that is used in the bill. I expect that we will return to that issue as the bill develops.

In my view, the bill—especially the measures to ensure that the views of children are more effectively heard—represents a substantial improvement to family law in Scotland. However, it also represents an opportunity to introduce a measure of equity into our family law and to remove some of the historical inequalities that continue to overshadow it, which prevent parents from contacting and spending invaluable time with their children. Incidentally, I agree with what the minister said in response to Alex Cole-Hamilton on the rights of grandparents, which is an important issue on which we have all had representations. However, I do not think that such rights should cut across the rights of the children or, in some cases, the parents.

To go back to Bob Doris’s point, introducing a presumption of shared parenting, in line with the situation that exists in the jurisdictions of many of our European neighbours, would help to address—although, of itself, would not fix—many of the concerns that my constituents have raised. Such a presumption is in keeping with the spirit of the Scottish Government’s position on parenting and, crucially, is in the spirit of being in the best interests of children.

In my view, it is right that the Government believes that the best interests of the child must always be at the heart of family justice modernisation. Children’s wellbeing and their futures must be our priority. Ensuring that the family law system is just and fit for the challenges of the 21st century is a key part of that effort.

As I said, I am very grateful to the minister for meeting me to discuss the concerns of my constituents and the organisations that have been in touch with me, and I ask that, in continuation of that collaborative spirit, the issues that I and others have raised today be considered at future stages of the bill’s consideration.