Scotland politics

Swinney to consider limiting scope of named person scheme

John Swinney Image copyright PA
Image caption John Swinney told the BBC he would "give consideration" to limiting the named person scheme

The Scottish government will consider removing older teenagers from the remit of its named person system, John Swinney has confirmed.

The education secretary told BBC Scotland he would look at "addressing concerns" about the policy while changes are made after a court ruling.

Amendments are to be made before the scheme is rolled out after the Supreme Court rejected existing legislation.

Opposition groups have called for wholesale changes to the scheme.

The system would see a named person assigned to every young person up to the age of 18, usually a health visitor or teacher. It will now not be rolled out on 31 August as planned, after the Supreme Court ruled information-sharing practices currently included would breach the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mr Swinney admitted that there had not been clear enough communication about what the scheme really entails, and stressed that it was a "voluntary" system which parents could opt out of.

Scottish Labour and the Conservatives want to see 16 to 18-year-olds excluded from the scheme, with Labour's Iain Gray writing to Mr Swinney on this front pointing out that these teenagers are deemed old enough to vote and get married.

He added: "This is just one of the elements that has allowed those opposed to the policy to present it as something that it is not.

"And to change this now would be a strong signal from John Swinney that finally the government are listening to critical friends of the policy, such as Scottish Labour, and are prepared to go further than simply tweaking the legislation around data sharing."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Campaigners opposed to the scheme say it could intrude on family life and privacy

The Scottish government previously said it would maintain the current scope of the policy, saying the UN's definition of a child included 16, 17 and 18-year-olds.

However, Mr Swinney told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that he would "certainly give consideration" to the suggestion.

"I am anxious to move forward the named person policy and to implement that, and in the process of addressing the implications of the Supreme Court judgement I want to make sure that we address the concerns and issues that have been raised about the guidance that Iain Gray has raised, and I'll give consideration to this particular point that's been raised.

"When I became education secretary I indicated that I would refresh the guidance available for the implementation of the policy, that because of a lot of the political and media traffic around the policy we should reaffirm to members of the public the importance of the named person policy and the great asset it would be to individuals and families who face difficulties within our society."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Families are able to opt out of the scheme

Opponents of the scheme say it could intrude into family life, with groups like the No to Named Persons campaign calling for it to be scrapped altogether.

Mr Swinney accepted that there had not been clear communication about what the system would actually mean for families.

He said: "We need to get across our message very clearly about the purpose of the named person. For me, it's to give every child in our country and their families a contact point within our public services who will be able to act on their behalf, and give them advice and guidance and signpost them to services if they face difficulties. That is the primary role of the named person service.

"The reason why it's available to every child in our country is to make sure that whenever a child gets into some difficulty, however minor it is, we can address that quickly and effectively so it doesn't escalate into a deeper problem.

"If we can get that service right and communicate it properly, I think it becomes a real asset to the young people of Scotland."

'Voluntary process'

Mr Swinney also stressed that families could "opt out" of the "voluntary" system.

He said: "The Supreme Court recognises that the named person is a voluntary process - parents and families are not obliged to participate with the named person policy. The court says we need to make this more expressly clear, and that is exactly what we will do as part of the exercise of making sure we fully comply with the requirements of the judgement."

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Media captionLord Hodge delivered the Supreme Court ruling against the scheme

Mr Gray said Mr Swinney's comments were "a welcome move", which suggested that the SNP was "finally listening to concerns about this policy".

He added: "The implementation of the named person scheme has been a complete mess and has undermined the important principles behind it - support for vulnerable children so that no one gets left behind.

"It is clear that this policy has lost public trust. John Swinney's comments today are welcome as it won't be enough to simply tweak the legislation to make it ECHR compliant. The SNP must also take the opportunity of this pause to completely revise guidance and training materials, as well as ensure the right resources are in place for the professionals who will deliver the policy."

The Scottish Conservatives said Mr Swinney's comments were evidence that their opposition to the scheme was beginning to "pay off".

Education spokeswoman Liz Smith said the information-sharing systems rejected by the Supreme Court were "at the heart" of the named person system.

She said: "Making tweaks to the legislation will not solve the problem. The comments over the last few days from Labour and the Liberal Democrats make it very clear that political support as well as public support is draining away fast.

"If the SNP was really listening, it would scrap the whole thing."

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