UNCRC Bill brought back to Holyrood as Scottish ministers accuse UK Government of ‘blocking’ democratic will
Shirley-Anne Somerville has accused the UK Government of “blocking” the democratic will of the Scottish Parliament as she confirmed a children’s rights bill will be amended to ensure it is competent.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill aimed to introduce the international obligations into domestic law.
It was blocked from becoming an Act after the UK Government successfully challenged it in court for going beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
Somerville, the social justice secretary, said the bill would shortly be brought back to Holyrood for amendment, though she said it would mean the legislation is not as broad as first anticipated.
The Scottish Conservative’s Meghan Gallacher accused the Scottish Government of having “done nothing”, adding: “If this government really cared about children’s rights, work would have progressed by now.”
The UNCRC bill was unanimously passed by Holyrood in March 2021, but the following month the UK Government confirmed it would challenge sections which it said would place obligations on them.
The Supreme Court upheld that challenge in October 2021. The bill has been on hold since then.
Somerville told MSPs on Tuesday the Scottish Government has now decided to amend the bill in a way that “minimises the risk of a further referral” to the court, but this meant it would no longer apply to legislation passed by Westminster prior to devolution – including the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
“This is what we consider will give us the greatest effective coverage for children’s rights, given the legislative landscape in which we operate as a devolved administration and the implications of the Supreme Court judgement,” Somerville said.
She also urged the UK Government to commit to incorporating the UNCRC into UK law, adding this would be the “simplest way” of protecting children’s rights.
But in a further attack on Westminster, she said: “Once again we find the democratic will of this parliament being blocked by Westminster.
“With devolution under attack, we cannot simply afford to leave rights such as UNCRC at the behest of a Tory government. Surely the fact that we are seeing the UNCRC threatened by the repugnant Illegal Migration Bill is proof enough that this bill is essential for protecting children in Scotland.”
Responding, Scottish Tory children’s spokesperson Gallacher accused the SNP of using the bill to stoke constitutional grievance.
She said: “Instead of making the necessary changes to this bill, the SNP have deliberately provoked grievance, have continued to politicise children’s rights, have played constitutional games and have prioritised a debate on independence this afternoon.”
Nick Hobbs, acting children's commissioner for Scotland, welcomed the government's update.
But he added: "Our office continues to call for Scottish Government to undertake a legislative audit to identify areas of law which are currently incompatible with the UNCRC.
"This should include Acts of the Scottish Parliament and UK Acts in devolved areas which could be brought into scope of the UNCRC Incorporation Bill by being consolidated into new Acts of the Scottish Parliament. This will ensure maximum coverage of the UNCRC Incorporation Bill.
"The passage of the bill need not, and must not, be delayed by this audit. It should be done as a parallel process and can continue once the bill has received Royal Assent."