§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law of Scotland relating to protection from family violence, by providing for the making of orders excluding a person from the family home; by increasing the power of the court to grant interdicts; by removing the requirement of corroboration in relation to exclusions and interdicts against family violence and breaches of such interdicts; by making breaches of such orders and interdicts a criminal offence; and for purposes connected therewith.The Family Violence (Scotland) Bill provides a clear legal remedy for thousands of Scotswomen who find themselves trapped in a situation of appalling misery. Subjected to regular beatings, to assaults on their children, to molestation at home or at work, there is little they can do if the house is in their man's name—as it is in the vast majority of Scots cases. They are caught in a cycle of terror, never sure of what he will be like when he comes home, aware that the police can do little and that the law as it stands is slow and cumbersome. And if they quit the family home, they render themselves and their children homeless.
The Bill follows a simple principle. It puts personal rights above property rights. It makes it clear that a woman—or, in a few cases, a man—should be able to live at home without the constant fear of violence.
It is now nearly four years since the Select Committee on violence in marriage recommended that battered women in Scotland should have greater legal protection. The Scottish Law Commission has taken two years to produce a draft memorandum on the subject, and is still considering various views. It is quite wrong that Scotswomen should have to wait so much longer than women in England and Wales to be provided with adequate protection. As with so much reforming legislation, Scotland lags sadly behind.
The Bill brings Scots law closer into line with the South, while benefiting from the experience of how the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act has worked in practice since 1976.
Wife battering is a widespread problem affecting women in all social classes. It 1283 is a crime which takes place behind closed doors and is seldom witnessed, so accurate estimates of the true extent of the problem are admittedly difficult to make. However a research project conducted by Drs. Rebecca and Russell Dobash at Stirling university—covering 34,000 cases of assaults—shows that one-quarter of serious assaults in Scotland are wife assaults and suggests strongly that the reported cases are only the tip of the iceberg. This is not a working-class problem. Women's Aid has given advice and support to the wives of architects, solicitors, consultant psychiatrists, university professors and MPs. [HON. MEMBERS: "MPs?"] Yes, MPs.
The Bill allows a court to make an exclusion order to remove the violent spouse from the family home, and it increases the power of the court to grant interdicts. Such orders and interdicts must be reported to the responsible chief constables. It removes the requirement of corroboration in relation to exclusion orders, interdicts against family violence and breaches of those interdicts. It is a criminal offence to break them, with no discretion on the part of the court. The potentially violent spouse has therefore to think seriously about his position and it is simultaneously much easier for the police to act.
Lastly, in a country with a history of marriage by custom and repute, the Bill extends the same protection to cohabitees who have taken a clear decision to set up a joint home.
Those are the general principles of the Bill. I shall now deal with specific aspects in greater, and more human, detail.
The Bill gives the woman the right to obtain an exclusion order from the court removing her spouse or cohabitee from the home for a period of up to 12 months if it is necessary to protect herself or her children from violence. She would be able to get an interim order if she could show that immediate protection was needed. These provisions would help women such as Mrs. G from Dunfermline, who suffered serious assault for eight years and had to leave home. Because her children have grown up, she is not a housing priority and has to stay in a refuge. Under the Bill, she would have time to seek alternative accommodation or try to have the house transferred to her own name.
1284 The provisions would help Mrs. M from Glasgow, who was thrown on to the street with her baby at two o'clock in the morning, and Mrs. G from Edinburgh, married to a man with strong psychopathic tendencies. She had eventually to escape to London, whereas what she needed was both an exclusion order and an interdict prohibiting him from molesting her. They would help Mrs. L from Falkirk, married to a prosperous man but with no resources of her own. She was a good wife and mother but was so beaten that her hearing today is severely impaired. He gave her one month to get out. Under the Bill, she could have stayed in her home while divorce proceedings were carried out.
The Bill gives further protection by excluding the violent spouse from any specified area. In addition to the home, this might be the stair or close, the street outside, the children's school, her place of work or the home of her relations.
Clause 6 of the Bill allows a woman to obtain an exclusion order or an interdict or to charge her husband with breaching these without having to provide witnesses to his violence. This is a very important change for battered women since by its nature most domestic violence takes place within the home where there are no witnesses. This would help women such as Mrs. H from Clackmannanshire, whose husband regularly, but very quietly, threatened to set fire to the baby and herself with paraffin. It would help Mrs. A from Edinburgh, who got a short period of relief only when a police dog so savaged her boy friend that he had to go to hospital. It would help Mrs. Y from Edinburgh, who, despite the fact that she and her sister were violently assaulted when her man broke down the door, and the doctor who had been called had to escape through the back window, could not get the police to charge the husband.
I appreciate that some Members have written to me about this clause, expressing concern. I say to them that under the present law a judge can be satisfied that a battered woman is telling the truth yet find himself prevented by the law on corroboration from acting accordingly. Because domestic violence takes place in private, this clause is a justified exception, in my view, to the normal view of Scottish criminal law. It has the support 1285 of the Scottish Council on Civil Liberties, and because a breach of order or interdict would become a criminal offence the standard of proof required would be raised from the "balance of probability" to "beyond all reasonable doubt". That, in my view, is a sufficient safeguard.
The fact that breaches of interdict and exclusion orders are automatically criminal offences is of vital importance. The sheriff would have no discretion in the matter, and this approach would avoid the problems encountered in England and Wales, where the judges have often been very reluctant to attach the power of arrest to an injunction. Such powers would allow the police to arrest a woman's husband if they believed that he had breached the order or interdict. They provide for much better protection than the present procedure for enforcing interdicts, which is slow and very ineffectual and leaves many battered women to the conclusion that interdicts are worthless pieces of paper.
Those powers would help Mrs. G from Edinburgh, whose husband tied her up and set her alight but who, despite interdicts, is still coming round mouthing obscenities and threats.
The powers would help Mrs. B from Dunfermline, who, despite getting a flat and an interdict, finds her husband constantly pestering her and the police saying that they cannot help. They would help Mrs. J from Glasgow, who also has an interdict but whose husband climbs up the balconies and through the window and assaults her. Such women need effective protection now.
The general principles of this Bill are clear. They concern personal rights and, above all, the right to protection from violence. That right should take precedence over property rights. The Bill is complete in every respect and has been 1286 professionally drafted by lawyers from Edinburgh university. I trust that hon. Members will look on it with favour, that it will have the support of the Scottish Office, and that the Secretary of State will put his weight behind it.
Battered women in Scotland should not remain in an underprivileged position relative to women south of the border. That, of course, was part of the case for a Scottish Assembly, and with that great debate still going on, alongside other affairs of State, I think that it would be appropriate to conclude with six lines of Robert Burns, who said:While Europe's eye is fixed on mighty thingsThe fate of Empires and the fall of Kings While quacks of State must each produce a planAnd even children lisp the Rights of ManAmid this mighty fuss, just let me mentionThe Rights of Women merit some attention ".
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. George Reid, Mrs. Margaret Bain, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mrs. Winifred Ewing, Mr. Robert Hughes and Mr. Russell Johnston.