Children (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

I am very grateful to members who have contributed to the debate, and I agree with Pauline McNeill about the quality of the speeches that we have heard.

A key point from the debate is that the bill is only one part of the work on reforming family courts. However, I note, as other members have, that Rona Mackay summed things up very well when she said that the bill gives children a voice.

I am very pleased that there is so much consensus across the chamber. It is agreed that the bill is a step forward, and I am glad of the support for the bill’s general principles. I have listened very carefully to what has been said about the many detailed issues that have been raised, and I will address as many of them as I can in the time that I have available. I also reiterate that I am always happy to look at proposals that will improve the bill.

On looked-after children, I reiterate that we want the duties relating to siblings and funding—that issue was raised by a number of members, including Liam Kerr and James Kelly—to be implemented. The Government is absolutely determined to make progress and will work with local authorities and other partners to assist with implementation.

As I said when I intervened on Liam Kerr, my view is that the care review report reassures us all that the money is in the system. It is, possibly, how the money is being spent that is the issue. The First Minister has committed the Government and local authorities to working with all focus to make the care review changes as fast and as safely as possible, so I am determined that we will see progress on that.

Use of the word “practicable” was mentioned a number of times. I am listening to what is being said on the matter, and will consider it further ahead of stage 2.

The theme of contact centres has run throughout the debate. The issue was raised by Margaret Mitchell, James Kelly, Rona Mackay and Bob Doris, who gave anecdotes about contact centres in relation to which he has constituency cases. I appreciate members’ comments about contact centre regulation; I am sure that all members agree that, in all cases, contact must be safe for the child and must be in their best interests. Members will agree that minimum standards for training and accommodation will help to ensure that all contact centres are safe locations for children.

I accept members’ suggestion that regulation should cover solicitor referrals—Bob Doris, I think, made that point—and self-referrals. I agree with that, but it is not possible, because there is no obvious sanction for lawyers or individuals for not ordering contact at a regulated centre. I hope to do all that I can to encourage use of regulated centres for self-referrals and solicitor referrals.

The subject of funding for contact centres was also raised. Members will recognise the need for sustainable funding arrangements to be in place. The Scottish Government currently provides funding to Relationships Scotland, which is the organisation that runs the majority of contact centres. As is set out in the bill’s financial memorandum, we will provide funding to cover the additional costs that will be involved in regulation. Members might also be aware that Relationships Scotland’s National Lottery Community Fund funding came to an end in March. Consequently, we have provided it with an interim grant and an assurance that an appropriate level of funding will be made available for contact centre services until 31 March next year.