Tuesday, 17 June 2003

Child Protection Act

Conference 2003: This is just a brief contribution to ask that the NEC consults with the Scottish Region and the Scottish Trades Union Congress before issuing the guidance the motion asks for.

While the legislation in England & Wales broadly mirrors that in Scotland, there are significant differences between the 1989 Children Act and the Scottish 1995 Act. There is also a brand new piece of legislation in the Scottish Child Protection Act.

UNISON, through the STUC, has had a major part to play in achieving significant changes in the Scottish Child Protection Act after giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament Committee, providing a detailed written submission by Mary Senior at our Regional Office and in direct talks with Cathie Jamieson, the then minister for Education and Young People.

We are grateful to MSPs like Karen Gillon and Cathie Peattie for taking a particular interest in the issue and raising it with the minister.

It is interesting that when we gave evidence to the Parliament Committee, every MSP except two had to declare an interest that they were a UNISON member. The two exceptions were one who was a member of a teaching union and the other who felt the need to be included by declaring his wife was a UNISON member!

Anyway, the Act in question allows people working with children to be barred from doing so if they have offended against them or have been sacked – or would have been sacked had they not left – because a child has been harmed.

It is a legitimate response to issues like the Dunblane tragedy and is clearly designed to protect children. But there is also a danger of a knee-jerk reaction that puts in measures that erode employees rights, that leaves the implementation open to abuse by employers and that, while seeming to be tough, actually does nothing to protect children.

I recall saying to the Parliamentary Committee – and I believe this is true – that our members are willing to give up some of their civil rights to protect children – but only if the protective measures are seen to be fair and transparent.

And the biggest bit of that transparency is employers taking their responsibility. Again, as we told the Parliament, if an unqualified young person is left with sole responsibility for six older teenagers and one of them comes to harm, where is the real responsibility for that? – not with the staff member, but with the employers who allowed that unacceptable position to arise.

Agencies need to be brought to account as well as individuals. Thank goodness the Lamming Report at least set that principle.

We have convinced the Scottish Parliament of that problem to the extent that there will be an employment law specialist on the panel overseeing the measures and employers actions and procedures will be under scrutiny too in the case of anyone being referred.

In addition, the STUC will have a seat on the group set up to advise on implementing the Act.

We hope that we can learn from your experiences with the England and Wales and to an extent the Northern Ireland legislation and hope that you to can learn from our experience in Scotland so that comprehensive advice can be issued covering the whole of the union.

Please support the motion.

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