This week my attention has been captured by two very different issues, which have caused a bit of a divide in public opinion. This has been apparent in letters, emails to my office, and on social media. The issues I refer to are the Named Person scheme and the proposed amendment to puppy tail shortening regulations.
With regard to the Named Person Scheme, there were concerns about the sharing information aspect. The Supreme Court, when they expressed concern about data sharing, also ruled that providing a Named Person for every child was “unquestionably legitimate and benign”. If every child has a Named Person it will help to make sure that children, young people and families have access to the right help at the right time and know who to approach to make that happen.
Cabinet Secretary for Education, John Swinney MSP, has now responded to the data sharing concerns. The proposal now places a duty on public bodies and other organisations to consider if the sharing of information about children and families is “likely to promote, support or safeguard the wellbeing of a child or young person”. Professionals must ensure that information sharing is compatible with the laws on data protection, confidentiality and human rights.
A fundamental requirement of any professional acting as a Named Person is to develop positive and constructive relationships with children and parents. I encounter skilled and committed professionals, routinely demonstrating these skills, and I meet parents and children who have welcomed a single point of contact to advise and support when necessary.
The Named Person role is too often presented as intrusive and snooping, or confused with child protection services which are only ever needed if a child is at risk of harm. If our health visitors, or perhaps our teachers, are supporting children and families as a Named Person we should be able to help prevent some children from ever needing protective services.
The other contentious issue this week was that of allowing puppy tail shortening for two breeds of working dogs – spaniels and hunt-retrievers. The amended regulations make an exemption for tail shortening by a veterinary surgeon only for those animals where the vet is satisfied that the evidence produced shows that “the dog is likely to be used for work” in later life. It will remain illegal to carry out tail shortening on any other type of dog.
I know that there are strong feelings about this and there is of course a view that the dogs shouldn’t be used in activities which could damage their tails in the first place. I totally understand that view, and sympathise with it myself, but the situation is that the dogs are used, and this measure is designed to minimise any damage. I looked at the evidence presented, and it was certainly a difficult decision. There are opposing views amongst veterinary surgeons too, who have a professional duty to ensure the welfare of all animals in their care. Individual vets are under no obligation to shorten tails if they do not believe that it is in the best interests of the animals that they are presented with.
Even with this change Scotland will continue to have the strictest controls on tail docking in the UK. One of the hopes is that this updated legislation will stop the practice of bringing fully docked dogs across the border for use in Scotland, as well as preventing the transportation of pregnant bitches to England, where their puppies can be fully docked.
The welfare of children and animals will always be emotive issues which provoke strong views on both sides of the argument. It’s right that these views can all be expressed and explored in full. It’s right that in Scotland we have public consultation and take evidence from the ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’ at our Parliamentary Committees. Of course the decisions taken will not please everyone all of the time – such is life. The job of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament is to carefully consider all the information presented and take the decisions believe to be the right ones.
I am space limited in my column of course, so if anyone would like me to send them more information on either of these subjects, please do get in touch.