SNP ministers have been forced to scale back plans to embed children’s rights into Scots law – 834 days after MSPs unanimously approved the initial legislation.

The Scottish Government has been accused of making “little progress” in redrawing the bill after taking almost two years to confirm it will be forced to amend the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Bill so that it only applies to provisions tied to devolved law.

The Bill was backed by Holyrood on March 16, 2021, before being struck down by the UK Supreme Court in October 2021 for being outwith the competence of devolution following a challenge from the UK Government.

SNP Social Justice Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville, told MSPs that discussions with UK Government lawyers didn’t give her enough confidence that Whitehall would not launch another legal challenge against to the legislation if it applied to some UK-wide legislation.

Ms Somerville told Holyrood that despite the “limitations” of the scaled-back legislation, the reconsideration of the proposals will produce “a bill that provides valuable protection for children’s rights”.

But she warned that the revised plans mean that bodies and public authorities tied to UK-wide legislation could not be mandated to enforce the legislation, including laws for special needs provisions, looked after children and free school books and equipment.

Last month, the Herald on Sunday revealed that earlier this year, the Scottish Government was continuing to wrangle with Whitehall lawyers over where the power lay to legislate.

Read more: SNP wrangling with UK lawyers over 'where powers lie' for UNCRC

The SNP cabinet secretary told MSPs that “there has been engagement since September last year with UK lawyers” over whether current or future UK legislation could be subject to the UNCRC plans.

She added: “While that has helped us to develop those proposals, the UK Government lawyers have continued to raise questions.

“It has become clearer to me that they cannot give us reassurance, no matter what is put to them, that would guarantee there would not be another referral to the Supreme Court.”

Ms Somerville said that pressing ahead with plans to tie UK-wide laws to the legislation could mean “the provisions become more complex, uncertain and challenging for children and young people and their representatives and for public authorities to work with”.

She added: “The most effective route forward is to progress the option that minimises the risk of future referral to the Supreme Court and which also minimises the complexity users will need to navigate.

Read more: SNP playing 'roulette' after five options set out to rewrite devolution settlement

“This is for the compatibility duty to apply only when public authorities are delivering duties under powers in an act of the Scottish Parliament.”

Ms Somerville said that “the compatibility duty would not apply to services being delivered” under UK-wide legislation.

Professor of Public Law and Human Rights at Durham University, Aileen McHarg, labelled the update a “very significant climb down” by SNP ministers.

She added: “This will mean swathes of public functions affecting children are excluded from the duty to comply with the UNCRC.

“This outcome illustrates the very restrictive effect of the Supreme Court’s (widely criticised) ruling in the UNCRC Bill reference, and reinforces my view that doing something to address that ruling should be a priority in any proposals for reforming devolution.”

Read more: UN committee tells SNP ministers to 'expeditiously' redraw UNCRC Bill

Ms Somerville told MSPs that she will give “due consideration” to calls for an audit on UK-wide legislation that could be brought into devolved laws and therefore be subject to the UNCRC.

Despite the set-back, Ms Somerville was adamant the scaled-back legislation would “give us the greatest effective coverage for children’s rights”, but warned “that journey would become more effective if there was political commitment in Whitehall to legislate for children’s rights”.

She stressed the amended UNCRC Bill, to be tabled “as soon as possible after the summer recess”, would produce “a clear, coherent and workable bill that provides some valuable protections for the rights of children in Scotland”.

But Scottish Conservative deputy leader and shadow minister for early years, Meghan Gallacher, branded the update as “deeply disappointing”.

She added: “They have dithered and delayed bringing this crucial legislation back to the Scottish Parliament and that looks set to continue.

“The Supreme Court made their ruling in October 2021, giving the SNP more than 600 days to make the changes needed to pass this law.

“Instead of putting the necessary work in, the SNP have continued to politicise children’s rights and promoted grievance.

“Little progress has been made and this statement completely lacked any substance. The SNP must drop their political games, put our young people first and urgently confirm when this bill will be able to be passed by MSPs.”

Scottish Labour spokesperson for children and young people, Martin Whitfield, said: “The SNP has wasted years playing political games with this landmark bill, only to wind up back where we started.

“Delivering the strongest possible bill as quickly as possible must be the priority, and I am pleased this is finally being brought back to Parliament – but we cannot ignore the glaring gaps in these new plans.

“Despite the SNP’s long-forgotten claim that education was their top priority, the huge swathes of education laws still pre-date the Scottish Parliament and will go unprotected by this bill.

“UNCRC incorporation must go ahead without any more delays.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “The Supreme Court determined that parts of the Scottish Government's original bill were outside the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

"We will consider any revised legislation in the usual way.”