Children (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

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

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Photo of Ash Denham Ash Denham Scottish National Party

I will. I will come on to address section 16 in a moment, because it has been raised several times during the debate.

A number of members—among them Margaret Mitchell, Fulton MacGregor and Kenny Gibson—asked me to explain a bit more how I intend to promote further the charter for grandchildren. One of the actions of the family justice modernisation strategy will be promotion of that charter. A key aim of the strategy is to ensure that bodies such as local authorities, Social Work Scotland and organisations that represent family lawyers are fully aware of it. I will write to those key bodies to draw their attention to the charter.

I also intend, if the bill is passed, to issue circulars on implementing the legislation and on related matters. The Government will ensure that one such circular will specifically cover the charter. I will also ensure that information on the charter is made more prominent on the Scottish Government’s website, and on associated platforms. Furthermore, I commit to engaging with key stakeholders—including Grandparents Apart, which I have met previously, but would be happy to meet again—to discuss steps that they think the Government could take to raise awareness even further.

I turn to section 16, on non-compliance with court orders, which Liam Kerr has just raised and was mentioned earlier by a number of members. From the consultation’s events and the responses that were received through it, I am aware that that is a very complex area, as, I am sure, all members accept. We have heard concerns from resident parents that they are not complying with orders because of fears about children’s safety. Some non-resident parents have raised concerns that resident parents are deliberately not complying with court orders, but without good reason. I am also aware that the judiciary is already investigating non-compliance in some cases. The bill’s provisions are therefore extremely important, because they will create consistency across Scotland on that significant issue. They will ensure that in every case in which noncompliance with an order is raised, it will be investigated, either by the court or by a child welfare reporter. The bill will also ensure that the child’s views will be sought during that process. I hope that everyone in the chamber would agree that that is progress.

In conclusion, I say that throughout the development of the bill, in the conversations that I have had with children who have been through the family court system, their descriptions of what had happened to them, how it had impacted on their lives and how they felt the system had let them down, stayed with me: they affected me very deeply. The experiences of those children have guided me, so I wanted the bill to put the voice of the child at the very heart of the process.

I wanted the bill to better protect victims of domestic abuse and their families. I wanted more information on what should be expected to be available. I wanted important decisions to be communicated in simple language to the children involved. I wanted children’s welfare to be paramount. I also wanted consistency to reach across the whole of Scotland, so that a child in Galashiels could expect exactly the same as a child in Inverness. I hope that Parliament will agree that I have achieved those aims.

One girl told me:

“I have a voice, and I want to have a say in the decisions that affect my life, but no one is listening to me.”

The bill aims to change that. If it is passed at stage 1 this evening, it will be setting out to ensure that the experiences that were shared with me by those children will not be the experience of a new generation of young people going through the family court system.

Presiding Officer, I commend the motion to Parliament.