Illustration: The debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament, Holyrood, Edinburgh

Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill – Stage 3

Date: Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Author: Rev David M Blunt
(The letter copied below was sent to all MSPs by the Rev D M Blunt on behalf of the Church's Public Questions, Religion & Morals Committee.)
 
Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill – Stage 3
 
Dear Sir or Madam,
 
As you are aware the Stage 3 proceedings of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill are due to take place in the Scottish Parliament today. The Bill seems to have had comparatively little publicity but the information we have regarding it causes us great anxiety as a church and as Christians. We regret that we did not communicate our concerns to you earlier in the legislative process but we wish to take this opportunity before the final vote to indicate briefly why we believe this Bill is a dangerous one in regard to one of its key proposals.
 
We share any concern the Scottish government may have for the welfare of children who are likely to suffer actual harm and we are supportive of appropriate measures to help such. However Part 4 of the Bill sets up a system of state surveillance covering every child and young person in Scotland and by extension every family. In particular Part 4 imposes a specific ‘named person' on each child and young person. For a pre-school child the named person is to be from the health board: for a schoolchild the named person is to be from the local authority – except where the child attends a grant-aided or independent school in which case the named person is to be from the ‘directing authority’ – typically the managers or proprietor of the school concerned. The duty of the named person will be to monitor the child or young person’s ‘wellbeing’ from birth until aged 18.
 
We object most strongly to this aspect of the Bill for the following reasons: 
 
1) The proposal for a named person is incompatible with the proper relationship between the family and the state. In Scripture we are taught that children belong to their parents and are to be reared by them for God (Hebrews 12:9; Psalm 127:3; Proverbs 22:6): children do not belong to the state. We note in the Bill that the provision of a named person is referred to as a ‘service’. We doubt whether there have been any requests from the public for such a service and suspect that the demand has come instead from the ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’ whose humanistic ideas have helped bring about the situation we have today where many families are dysfunctional and many children are in difficulty. We are convinced that the solution is not a greater role for the state as the Bill proposes but a return to the Christian values which gave us strong and stable families in previous generations and will do so again today. We do not believe that anyone is more expert and professional in looking after children than their own parents.
 
We read in Part 1 of the Bill that the Scottish Ministers will be required to “promote public awareness and understanding (including appropriate awareness and understanding among children) of the rights of children.” (1/2) It is revealing that the Bill appears to make no mention of the rights of parents or to have any respect for the authority they have over their children. It is extraordinary to read in the accompanying Policy Memorandum that as part of the Consultation on the Bill, “Several nurseries were commissioned to conduct informal engagement around the Bill to ensure that 3 and 4 year olds [emphasis ours] were able to participate in the process.”
 
2) The proposal for a named person is an unwarranted intrusion into family life, especially when it is on a universal basis. In Scripture parents are charged with the responsibility of bringing up their children, not the state (Genesis 18:19; Ephesians 6:4). In most cases they should be allowed to get on with the job without any government interference. It ought not to be the role of the authorities in any democratic country – and especially not in our own with its long history of religious and civil liberties – to spy on the population in general, perhaps taking particular note of individuals who hold views at variance with those which now prevail generally in society. The proposal in Part 4 of the Bill completely disregards the actual wishes of children and young people and above all the parents to whom they belong: it smacks of the worst type of authoritarian statism and is alien to our traditions as a country. It is sadly typical of modern government that because some families have serious problems it wants to meddle in everyfamily, with the result that scarce resources which should be concentrated on helping the most vulnerable are then spread thinly and ineffectually where they are not actually required.
 
3) The proposal for a named person gives great influence to individuals who have no natural tie to those they are supervising. Scripture speaks of the “natural affection” which ordinarily belongs within the family circle (2 Timothy 3:3). There is a bond of love between parents and their children which is conducive to the children’s welfare: that bond can never exist between those children and a stranger. The Bill as introduced gives the named person considerable powers over the children he or she is supervising. He or she will have the power of “discussing, or raising, a matter about the child or young person with a service provider or relevant authority” – including the police and the courts (19/5/a/iii). In general the various service providers or relevant authorities “must comply with any request” for help in the exercise of any of the named person functions for a child or young person (25/1,2) and provide any information which “affects or may affect the wellbeing” of the child or young person (26/3,4/a). Also the same providers and authorities may provide any information which they think is “necessary or expedient” for the carrying out of the named person functions (26/5,6). According to Part 7 of the Bill the persons who make up these providers and authorities are to be considered “corporate parents” and include such bodies as the Scottish Qualifications Authority, the Scottish Social Services Council and the Scottish Housing Regulator (50/1 & Schedule 3).
 
How can it be right to give these individuals such powers and what guarantees are there that the information they gather will not be used for wrong purposes? At present such information can be only be shared without parental consent if there is a danger of significant harm to a child: the proposals in the Bill go way beyond that. We are very worried that as the Bill stands no provision is made for parents and their children either to consent to be included in the scheme or to withdraw from it. Neither is there any means of them knowing what personal information has been collected and stored regarding them. These information sharing provisions may well come into conflict with the Data Protection Act and compromise the UK’s obligations in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. 
 
4) The proposal for a named person means that the state will now determine what is best for children in Scotland rather than their parents. Part 5 of the Bill deals with what is called a ‘child’s plan’. A child’s plan is deemed necessary if “the responsible authority in relation to a child considers that the child has a wellbeing need” and that need cannot be met fully by any action other than a “targeted intervention” by a relevant authority. The targeted intervention may involve consultation with parents but it does not require parental consent (31/1-4). A child is deemed to have a wellbeing need “if the child’s wellbeing is being, or is at risk of being, adversely affected by any matter.” (31/1,2) The meaning of ‘wellbeing’ is set out in Part 13 of the Bill: “The person is to assess the wellbeing of the child or young person by reference to the extent to which the child or young person is or, as the case may be, would be Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible, and Included.” (74/2)
 
We do not imagine that any normal parents would not want such things for their children. But how are these concepts to be interpreted? Who will have the final say as to what they mean? It is quite possible to imagine a scenario where what parents understand by these things differs radically from current government ideology where the emphasis is on ‘equality’and ‘diversity’ rather than what is true and right. For instance many parents in considering the safety and health of their children might want to warn them against pre-marital sex, telling them that it is harmful and wrong. However according to the Bill the named person has the function of “advising, informing or supporting the child or young person” and “helping the child or young person...to access a service or support.” (19/5/a/ii) The named person might think that the safety and health of the children they are supervising is best served by providing them with information on contraception and abortion facilities and helping them to gain access to them – totally against the values and wishes of their parents.
 
We fear that this Bill is a real threat to any parents who are not bringing up their children ‘properly’ in the eyes of the state. If the Bill is passed it is likely to lead to good, law-abiding parents, especially Christian ones, getting into trouble with what is increasingly becoming a nanny state. We therefore feel bound to urge you to vote against the Bill and in favour of any amendments which may lessen the powers given to the ‘named persons’ as proposed in the Bill.
 
Yours faithfully,
 
David Blunt (Convener)