HC Deb 13 February 1976 vol 905 cc857-900

Order for Second Reading read.

2.1 p.m.

Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

At about this time on a Friday afternoon thousands of women are dreading the thought of Friday night. To them Friday night can often mean a night of strife with the man in the house. It can mean a night that ends in injury and battering, yet relatively few people, possibly not even the neighbours, may know about it. To many women it is something that they feel they should keep within the family, so they continue to suffer it. Some women are injured on week nights, and at any time, but Fridays and weekends, when father is at home, are times to be dreaded in many families.

Wife beating is as old as the hills. Unfortunately there are many who believe that it is right to beat their women and that any interference from outside is an unwarranted intrusion. This problem has now become one of general public concern. Centres for battered women began springing up three or more years ago and there are now over 40 women's aid centres. They are a godsend to women who are forced to leave their homes because of their husband's brutality.

Such centres provide only temporary shelter. There has been much discussion about them in the media. There has been discussion about how good they are and whether they are overcrowded. I have visited some centres, and on my last visit I was told that on that very day four families, consisting of four women and a large number of children—one woman had nine children—had turned up at the refuge and could not be accommodated. If people in that position had a stronger law to protect them they would probably be able to remain in their own homes.

The present position is that some women take refuge with relatives or friends. Their husbands can find them, and often do. They may well drag them back. Other women can find women's aid centres that have room for them. Yet others—this happens more often than not—continue to suffer the beatings and batterings. The Select Committee that investigated violence in marriage has produced an important Report with 28 far-reaching and helpful recommendations, which I hope the House will have an opportunity to debate and which I hope the Government will accept. Its recommendations include aid to establish further refuges, the setting up of family crisis centres, and the strengthening and changing of the law. It is the strengthening of the law with which the Bill is concerned.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

The hon. Lady has mentioned aid centres, but will she tell the House why the ladies concerned have not been to the police courts to pursue their rights? The police courts offer protection if there has been persistent cruelty. The police courts used to be used in a great many cases.

Miss Richardson

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me, in dealing with the law as it is at present and how I think it should be improved I shall take in what he has said.

The law as it stands offers little protection. If a woman is assaulted by her husband she must first start divorce or separation proceedings, or bring assault charges, if she is to get an injunction to restrain him from beating her. The time when a woman usually needs an injunction is immediately after having been beaten. That will be the moment when she decides that she must get away from her husband, or that he must get away from her. At that time she is usually distraught, bruised and battered. The last thing that she will want to do in those emotional circumstances is to make a long-term decision about a divorce or separation that will affect the rest of her life. The prime purpose of many women at such a time is to ensure that they are not assaulted again. Sometimes a breathing space is needed. If a woman has to initiate divorce or separation proceedings merely to obtain an injunction, she may later feel that that step was undesirable, or too hasty.

Lawyers and court proceedings cost time and money. If a woman subsequently decides not to go ahead with her divorce or separation it is too easy for her lawyer to accuse her of wasting the energy, time, effort and money that have already been spent. In practice, lawyers are often reluctant to suggest the possibility of obtaining an injunction because of the lengthy process that is involved. Consequently, many people are unaware that it is a means of obtaining some legal protection.

A woman who is not married to the man who is battering her must necessarily initiate assault proceedings against him if she wishes to obtain an injunction. Life then becomes extremely complicated, because the man usually knows that the woman is pressing charges. He then becomes even more angry. The result is that often the man harasses and beats the woman once more.

We must not forget the children, whether they are the children of a marriage or a common law association. Children often come in for a battering themselves, and their protection is of prime importance. Many children carry the marks of both the physical and mental strife that has taken place in their homes. Even if a woman obtains an injunction by starting divorce or judicial separation in order technically to prevent her husband from beating her, the injunction is frequently breached. In that circumstance, an application must be made to commit the man to prison for contempt of court. The application must be served on him personally before the case can be heard. Even when the order to commit him to prison has been made, an arrest can be carried out only by the court bailiffs. Furthermore, they can arrest the man only within the boundaries of the court. If he moves outside those boundaries the paners have to be transferred to the court in the area in which he is thought to be.

One can imagine the substantial delay that all this procedure entails. Throughout that time the woman is vulnerable to further attacks. When there is a breach of the injunction and the police are called it is often beyond the powers of the police to help. It is a civil matter, and the police have no power to interfere unless the assault is sufficiently bad to allow them to bring a prosecution for grievous bodily harm. In practice, the police are reluctant to intervene in domestic situations.

Clause 1 seeks to give the battered person the right to obtain an injunction on a simple application, without divorce or separation proceedings, an injunction restraining the use of violence, or excluding the batterer from the home, or part of the home, if the judge considers that that is necessary for the woman's protection. This would save all the present delays. It would mean that she could apply for an injunction without the paraphernalia she must go through now, and it would save her from possible further injury.

Clause 2 will give the judge power to make an injunction to establish a power of arrest if he is satisfied that there has been an assault causing injury and that the situation is likely to continue. That power of arrest arises when he makes an injunction restraining the use of violence or ordering the husband to vacate or not to come within a specified distance of the home.

It will mean that the injunction will also be served on the local police, so that if the wife complains of battering again and her husband is in breach of an injunction or has broken the order, the police can arrest him. They will have the duty of finding a judge and of bringing the man before him to be dealt with. If he is not brought before the judge within 24 hours of the direction, he will be released. I am told that it is possible to see a judge at almost any time, but I should not like to see anybody in custody for longer than 24 hours before being brought before a court and charged.

Under the Matrimonial Homes Act 1967, if a married woman is evicted by her husband from a house in his name, she may obtain an order of court to allow her to re-enter the home. She can also obtain an order of the court to "regulate" their occupation—which means that he must stick to one part of the house and she to the other.

Clause 3 will permit a woman also to obtain an order for the husband to vacate the home altogether. This will give battered wives another remedy without starting divorce or judicial separation proceedings.

Clause 4 seeks to cover the situation in which a wife is co-owner or joint tenant of the property. It will enable her to protect her rights of occupation or to ask the court to regulate her husband's occupation. She can obtain the same orders under that Act as can a wife who has no legal interest in the house.

Clause 5 restricts the provisions of the Bill to England and Wales. Scottish law is so different from ours that it will have to be considered separately. I hope that it will be possible, when the Bill is enacted, for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to consider making an Order in Council extending its provisions to Northern Ireland. Since I chose this subject for a Bill I have received a large number of letters from women who live in Northern Ireland asking me why Northern Ireland cannot be included in the Bill and hoping that the Government will take some steps to deal with their problems.

I hope that many hon. and learned Members will give careful consideration to the Bill, even though they may feel it is not perfectly drafted. I am grateful for the expert help that I have received, particularly from the Lord Chancellor's Office. I hope that drafting matters can be put right in Committee, if the Bill is fortunate enough to reach that stage.

Since I first decided to introduce this Bill, I have been overwhelmed with letters from battered women. I have purposely worded the Bill to apply to both sexes. It is conceivable that a man can be battered, but I have not had one letter confirming this, although I have had many letters from women who have been battered. In general, I am sure that hon. Members will agree that the great majority of people who are battered are women.

In case anybody thinks that battering consists merely of the odd slap or punch, bad or degrading though that may be, I must tell the House that many of the acounts that I have received reveal a level of violence parallel only to that of torture.

One woman was picked up by a taxi driver at one o'clock in the morning walking the streets with her children. She had severe cuts to her face and shoulders. The taxi driver took her to a women's aid refuge near by. The woman had finally left home at that early hour in the morning because on every night in the last 10 years her husband had come home, begun to abuse her, and then beaten her brutally. She had had enough, but she did not know where to go. This is what prevents a woman leaving home in many of the cases when other say "Why does she not leave him?"

Another woman reported that twice a week she was locked in her bedroom while her husband was out drinking. This happened regularly. The husband would come home and accuse her of having broken out of the locked room, and would then kick and punch her. The final straw came when he kicked her hard in the stomach when she was six months' pregnant. On that occasion her parents came and took her to their home, where her baby was born prematurely a little while later.

During that woman's stay with her parents her husband continually harassed and terrified her. He telephoned, called through the letter box, smashed windows and generally made life miserable for the whole family. The police always said that they could not intervene. She was moved to a refuge for safety. The husband broke in there, too, and tried to attack her with a knife. He continued to harass the refuge until eventually she had to be moved. She has now been found a fiat, but is afraid to apply for divorce or separation in case her husband finds out where she is. Most of the women who are in this category are terrified of their husbands finding out where they have gone.

Children are often attacked, too. One woman suffered repeated brutality, and when her son of 10 went to her aid his father broke the boy's nose. I believe that the mental suffering and disturbance caused to children in these situations are extremely serious. We must take these matters carefully into account.

In another case the husband already had two previous convictions for assaulting his wife. During one attack, he tied a flex so tightly round her throat that her larynx was damaged and she had to be fed through a tube in hospital. The man was taken to court, fined £2 and told to behave himself. On a subsequent occasion the same man began to bash the children. The wife managed to lock the children into a room for their protection, and called the police. The police came, but said they could do nothing. As a reprisal against his wife for calling the police, the husband stuck a knitting needle through her arm. Her screams and those of the children finally brought a neighbour brave enough to break in and take her away.

There are many cases of sexual assault. The House has just spent some hours discussing legislation on the subject of rape. Many women have told me that they have been beaten into submission by their husbands, who arrive home drunk and demand what they consider to be their conjugal rights. Women in those circumstances consider themselves to have been raped in their own homes. Often, as a result, women become pregnant. People have said, "We cannot believe that her husband can be a batterer. Look how many children there are in the family. If she has become pregnant so many times, she must love him." One often finds that when a woman finally leaves home she is pregnant at the time she leaves. This may be an unwelcome accident, but she must put up with it in addition to everything else. The examples I can give on this score—and no doubt this applies to other hon Members—are endless.

There are some who suggest that batterers are ignorant people who know no better, and who should therefore be for-given. My researches show that batterers are to be found in a number of different jobs and professions and at a number of different income levels. I am told that when they get home, many husbands who are regarded as respectable professional people behave like savages and pigs. It goes across the board. I beg the House to believe that I am not exaggerating the problem. I am sure that hon Members will know of cases.

Some women have died as a result of the injuries they have received. Quite apart from the horrors of physical battering, it is monstrous that any human being should so degrade another human being. It denotes a sickness of mind. It says quite a lot that many women who have been treated in this way recognise that it is a sickness and, once they are away from danger, feel that their husbands should have help. It is no good saying that this has always happened and always will. We cannot hope to have a decent society unless we stop turning a blind eye and begin to give what aid the law can give to people who find themselves in this situation.

I know that the Law Commission has been considering these matters and I am grateful that thought is being given to the problem. I hope that the House will allow the Bill to be read a Second time, even though it may have drafting and legal imperfections. These can be discussed and ironed out in Committee. The Bill will be of real help to many people who are entitled to expect the law to protect them. It will not solve the problem. We shall need more refuges and a more general recognition that the problem exists. We shall need a change of attitudes towards women in general.

I must warmly thank all those who have helped me so readily and promptly to get the Bill this far. The National Women's Aid Federation—

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I judge that the hon. Lady is coming to the end of her presentation. If so, before she finishes will she please say a word about the rôle of the police in this Bill? The current rôle of the law is small. What is being suggested is the placing of an additional burden on the police. I am sure that it would help if she could say a little about the further discussions she has had with the police since the Select Committee reported.

Miss Richardson

It is true that the Bill will give the police an extra duty. I believe that it will also help the police, because it will regularise the situation with which they are presently finding difficulty in coping. At the moment, when they are called to situations of domestic strife, although they may see immediately what the situation is they have to withdraw. It must cause them considerable embarrassment to see a woman being beaten and to have to say, "We are sorry, we cannot do anything about it. It is a matter between you and your husband or the man you are living with." The law places the police in an invidious position. It ought to be cleared up.

If the Bill becomes law the policeman, having satisfied himself that an assault situation exists in a home, will be able to arrest the batterer and take him back to the police station overnight. I hope that we shall have consultations with the police about this. It would be perfectly possible to receive representations. I believe that the police would welcome clarification of their powers and duties. At present many of them do not know what it is all about.

I would like warmly to thank those who have helped me. The National Women's Aid Federation has supplied me with a lot of evidence. Without this organisation many battered women would be much worse off. I have had help from lawyers and the Lord Chancellor's Office in drafting the Bill. I principally thank all those brave, battered women who have allowed me to call upon their bitter experiences to help others. I have heard with pleasure that the Government may be supporting the intentions of this Bill. I hope that hon. Members will allow it to receive a Second Reading and so give hope to many people.

2.26 p.m.

Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on the coherent and succinct way in which she introduced the Second Reading of her Bill. I had the good fortune to serve on the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, one of whose recommendations the hon. Lady has picked up and incorporated in the Bill. In passing, may I say how sad it is that the Government have not as yet found time to enable the House to debate the Select Committee's Report. We are having to deal in isolation with one of the Committee's recommendations without the opportunity of trying to redress some of the other ills we came across.

The hon. Lady's Bill has some connection with the Bill we have debated earlier today dealing with rape. I am bound to say that the violence that takes place within the context of the family is much worse than the violence we heard about today in connection with rape. My view, having served on the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, is that man's inhumanity to man is rivalled only by man's inhumanity to wife. I pay tribute to the many ladies who gave evidence to the Select Committee, often at considerable personal risk in the event of their husbands discovering that they had done so. We were able to cross-examine them and find out what had gone wrong. As the hon. Lady has said, the price that many wives have paid is a heavy one. Murder has often been the result of incidents of violence in marriage.

One of the problems we came across on the Select Committee concerned the police, a subject touched on by the hon. Lady towards the end of her speech. It will be seen from reading the evidence given by the police to the Select Committee that they were less than enthusiastic about the extension of their rôle as proposed in the Bill. Their problem is that often when they have intervened in a family dispute and taken the side of the wife they have found subsequently that the woman has exercised the prerogative which all women have—namely, to change their minds—and they have been left out on a limb. In some cases they have been accused of interfering in a private family matter.

The hon. Lady will have to exercise her considerable charm in seeking to persuade the police that her Bill will help them, as she has implied. Discussions with them would be very much welcomed. They would enable the police to put their problems to her and would allow her to point out how they might be overcome through the Bill. There is traditional hostility by the police to intervening in what they see as a private family matter.

I have one suggestion to make in that context. Where the police intervene because a husband has battered his wife, or so it is alleged, it is important that the policeman should see whether there are any children in the family and look at them too. If that had been done in the past, some of the battered babies of which we have heard would have been identified earlier. This is an elementary precaution.

I am not a lawyer. My view, having served on the Select Committee, is that the legal protection afforded to wives who are at risk from their husbands is not adequate and needs streamlining. The message which came through to those of us who served on the Committee was that the procedure was too complicated and too slow and could be avoided.

There is a case for reform. Not being a lawyer, I am unable to say whether the reforms which have been suggested are right. Some of my hon. Friends who have the benefit of a legal background will be able to shed some light on that matter. But there is a grey area between the law and the family, and it is not clear to what extent the law can effectively intervene in a family matter. I agree with the hon. Lady that whether or not a woman wishes to divorce her husband is irrelevant to whether she wishes to stop being battered by him. I accept the need to separate the decision about divorce from the decision about an injunction.

I welcome the Bill as providing an opportunity to debate the inadequacy of the legal protection afforded to wives. I have some doubts whether the police will be able to play the rôle which the hon. Lady envisages, and I hope that she will have some discussions with them about that. I welcome her initiative in picking up one of the recommendations of the Select Committee on which I had the privilege to serve.

2.31 p.m.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I wish to give my warm support to the Bill, because it is urgently required. Many people who oppose moves of this kind have failed to understand the difficulties of the women concerned. I was delighted with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) because her study of the problem and her practical experience of it, as a result of discussing it with the wives concerned, showed through her speech, a copy of which she kindly allowed me to see earlier.

The view of the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) about the police was accurate. Whenever we discuss with battered wives the problems that they face in going to the law, time and again we find that the attitude of the police presents a grave and serious difficulty. The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) asked why the women in question do not go to the police and then to the courts. The simple answer is that the police are very unsympathetic. I am a warm supporter of the police, who, by and large, do an admirable job, but they are absolutely hopeless on the problem of battered wives because they are fearful of intervening in domestic disputes. They fail to understand that the problems of battered wives are not the same as domestic disputes. It is a question of violence in the home and the equivalent of mugging on the streets. The police and everybody else should regard violence in the home in exactly the same way as they regard violence elsewhere.

One of the best ways of helping women in this terrible dilemma is that outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking. She was right in saying that the delays involved in securing injunctions impose unbelievable frustrations and difficulties on the women concerned, because an application for an injunction only after divorce proceedings have begun exacerbates the difficulties between the parties. It is unfair to the women to demand that they should institute divorce proceedings before they can secure an injunction. The proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking will make the obtaining of an injunction easier and quicker.

I proposed a Bill which suggested that wives should retain possession of the home if violence had been proved against the man. I still believe that that would be one of the solutions. Instead of the man maintaining possession of the home and the woman and children being kicked out, the man should be kicked out and the woman and children should take possession. The Bill is a step forward in that direction.

I could say much more on this subject but I propose to close because my hon. and knowledgeable Friends wish to speak. The Government can help to find a solution to these problems by providing a network of sanctuaries for women. Fewer women will have to apply for injunctions if the Government provide such sanctuaries throughout the land. That is one step which could be taken to alleviate the anxieties of women. I hope that the House will give warm support to this admirable Bill.

2.35 p.m.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Bolton, West)

I welcome the Bill both as someone who has had to deal with women who have come to me for advice having been ill treated by their husbands and also as a member of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, on which the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) served. Battered women come to Members for help because there are very few people to whom they can turn. They ask for advice about where they can go. If one represents a town such as that which I represent which has no refuge for women affected in this way, it is difficult to give them advice and to help them. The Bill will help very much in this respect.

The Select Committee on Violence in Marriage found that the problem of battered wives was complex. We discovered that there were many and varied causes, and it would be difficult to generalise about the problems faced by women. We found that the problem is hidden to a large extent because many women do not want to admit that they have been ill treated by their husbands. For that reason, as well as many others, it was difficult to estimate how many women are affected by violence in the home.

It is true to say that all of us on the Select Committee were shocked by the evidence we heard. I am sure that hon. Members have been shocked by the cases mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson). The Select Committee was also surprised by the fact that many women would put up with treatment of this kind for many years. We heard examples of women who had been ill treated regularly over 10, 15 or even 20 years.

One of the first questions we asked ourselves was why the women put up with the treatment for so long. The answer to a large extent was that they had very little alternative. They did not know where they could go, and they did not know how to get out of the situation. They did not want to admit that they had made a mistake in marrying the man who had been violent to them or that their marriage had failed. They thought that perhaps people would not believe them, because often husbands who batter wives are nice, respectable people to others. That is another difficulty.

The two main problems are: to where can a woman go, and how can she be supported? The difficulty about accommodation is significant. Mention has been made of the importance of refuges and the need for more of them throughout the country. Many women go to refuges because of the lack of an alternative, but they are not the complete answer. They are only one means of dealing with a crisis situation. They are not a long-term solution.

The Select Committee found it difficult to make suggestions for remedies. We wanted to make recommendations which would help to break what we saw as the cycle of violence whereby the children of battering husbands and battered wives often became the victims of batterers themselves. We felt, however, that there were many things that the Government could do in the short term which would, if not solve the problem, alleviate the situation for many women. These are matters with which we were concerned in the short term and with which the Bill aims to deal.

In our Committee, we often found that women who went to solicitors were told that there was no help available. Some were not even told about the injunction procedure. Even those who were told and who took out injunctions against their husbands often found that they were an ineffective way of dealing with the problem. The present procedure is not adequate to give protection for women in this situation. Very often a woman obtains an injunction but her husband continues to be violent, and when the police are called they say that there is nothing they can do because they do not have the power to act on the injunction. I am pleased that this aspect is covered by the Bill.

The rôle of the police has already been mentioned in this debate, and it has been suggested that they might be reluctant to take on extra duties. I do not see it that way. I think that the proposals in the Bill will make the job of the police easier because they will be given a clearly defined and specific rôle. This has been one of their problems in trying to intervene in matrimonial disputes. They say that they cannot intervene in a domestic dispute, but if in future a woman has an injunction the police will have the power to intervene in the way some of them might like to do at present but feel that they would be treading on dangerous ground if they were to do so.

The grey area has also been mentioned in the debate, and it is suggested that it is difficult for the law to get involved in family life. But we must consider the situation of these women and the dangers to which they are subjected. It is wrong that a wife should have less protection from the violence of her husband than has any other member of the public.

We have frequently heard from women involved with these problems, including some who run hostels, that injunctions are not considered to be worth the paper on which they are written. The Bill's proposals give force to injunctions by giving a power of arrest at the time they are issued. This is a significant step forward. It is not the only way in which we can help women who are subjected to violence from their husbands, but it will help many women. For that reason I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

2.43 p.m.

Mrs. Helene Hayman (Welwyn and Hatfield)

The Bill will be of enormous value to many people. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) spoke earlier about his hon. Friends being knowledgeable on this subject. Few of us are knowledgeable in the personal and direct sense. The husbands of lady Members of Parliament are more likely to become Whip batterers than wife batterers. But all of us who have dealt with the problems of women or who have, like myself, been involved with the problems of one-parent families have realised the inadequacies of the law relating to battering. Most of my experience has been with families who have eventually split up and where a marriage has finally been terminated, often after long and anguished periods of violence.

The women and children involved have often become one-parent families after suffering more physical and emotional pain than they need have done because of the inadequacies of the law, their fear that they would not be able to obtain help and the violence to which they had been subjected in the interim period between deciding to leave home and legally sorting out the consequences of that decision.

I particularly welcome the provisions which separate the need for divorce proceedings from the granting of an injunction to a woman who has been subjected to violence. The linking of divorce proceedings and other matters has concerned me for a long time, particularly in the realm of housing and the difficulties that one-parent families have in securing a transfer of tenancy from local authorities. Many housing departments demand a decree nisi before they will transfer a tenancy to a wife who is leaving her husband. This is wrong, particularly for the woman who wants a divorce but for whom obtaining a decree takes a long time. Often she has left the matrimonial home, and we get the idiotic situation which I have seen in my constituency of a woman with four children sleeping in one bedroom of her parents' home for one and a half years while the husband maintains the tenancy of their old home.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

This is one of the matters which the Select Committee considered. I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree with our recommendation that custody of the matrimonial home should go with custody of the children.

Mrs. Hayman

I absolutely agree with that, but it should be de facto custody of the children—the person actually caring for them at the time—without prejudice to later proceedings which may take place as a result of divorce action.

A woman and her children may be living in overcrowded and totally unsatisfactory conditions waiting for a decree to be granted by the court. It is even worse for women with a religious or conscientious objection to divorce. They are effectively debarred from ever getting a tenancy transferred to them by one of the many authorities which stick rigidly to this rule. There should be a great deal more flexibility in the policies of housing departments in such instances, and the separation in the Bill of injunctions and divorce proceedings should lay the path for a much improved policy within housing departments.

Housing problems often represent a substantial proportion of the difficulties facing women who eventually become lone parents and they are often caused by the fact that the women have not been able to get adequate protection through the law at the time that the battering took place. They give up the homes to which they have a legal right and leave because they cannot enforce that right speedily or effectively.

The women are often in unfortunate housing situations, both in the physical sense and in the sense that they may have left the district in which they used to live and have thereby lost the residency qualification with the local council. If they move into another authority's area, it could take years to improve their housing circumstances which have arisen from the simple fear of violence which causes many women to flee from their homes.

Authorities of one sort or another say that they cannot interfere in domestic disputes. This is the answer which one gets not only from the police but from housing authorities when one asks why they demand evidence of divorce and final separation before they will take action. This is far too simple and glib a proposition for us to permit authorities to give in response to the problems of many thousands of families each year. No one pretends that either the police or a housing authority will have an easy task in trying to assess what is going on within a family or trying to assess whether a separation is temporary or permanent. But it cannot be too strongly emphasised that we are dealing here not with trivial matters, not with trivial violence, but with severe and sustained violence.

It would be a dereliction of our duty on our part in the House if we refused to legislate for circumstances within the family, for violence, for assaults and for abuse which, if they took place outside the family, would raise no such question in anyone's mind. I strongly support the Bill.

2.51 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and the sponsors of the Bill are to be congratulated on the work they have done, before bringing the Bill to the House, to arouse public interest in a serious state of affairs which plainly must be examined and put right. I regard it as the purpose of the Second Reading debate on a Bill of this kind to continue that work, to underline the nature of the problem and to spread knowledge and interest among the general public. In the Standing Committee, where we shall have a line-by-line examination of the Bill, any legalistic arguments can be thrashed out. Our function here in the Chamber is to bring to the attention of the nation the reason why we insist that the Bill should become an Act of Parliament. We must, as Members of Parliament, make fully and properly known the position as we understand it to be.

Most Members of Parliament will have had personal experience of the distress which can be caused. I recall a case some years ago when, in the company of a constituent, I stayed up all night in a neighbourhood on the periphery of the constituency, seeking how best to resolve a situation in which a wife and her son were in fear. I have to tell the House that because of that night, from ten o'clock in the evening till six in the morning, a great tragedy took place.

First, I could not gain access to the house, since the law forbade it. I could only talk through the door to the husband inside, who was virtually berserk, hardly in a state to answer reasonable questions. His wife had been brutalised, and she was for the moment in the care of a neighbour. Her young boy, suffering all the emotional reaction from seeing his mother hurt, was in another house. Eventually I persuaded the man to open the door, and by two o'clock in the morning I had persuaded him to allow his wife and child to come back. He was exceptionally reasonable, and I was almost persuaded to return to my own home. But I said to my constituent who was with me that I thought we should wait outside for a while and see what happened.

Some two or three minutes later there was an unholy row within the house. I could hear people being knocked about, the door was opened, the wife was literally thrown out of the house and the son was thrown out after her. I had to take both her and her son elsewhere, and I eventually returned to the house. Then, by six o'clock, as I say, I gave up trying to persuade the man to respond.

But what happened thereafter? The son—he was an unfortunate boy, with a serious stammer—had enjoyed no love or real friendship, and I am sure that he had great difficulty in feeling that he was wanted at all. The following morning he walked down to the docks, took off his clothes, put them tidily by the quayside, and threw himself into the water. He was later pulled out dead. That woman had been brutalised, and her story is only one illustration of what goes on.

There is very little machinery to deal with domestic problems. There is very little machinery to deal with even the ordinary cases of battery as we understand them. Indeed, there is great difficulty in bringing in what services are available to bring peace into a household at the time when the problem actually occurs.

From my own experience, I believe that we should give the police full marks for trying in many ways to answer problems in people's homes in circumstances where they themselves do not have much by way of law either to protect them or to help them. The Bill will help to give the police the kind of power which, I am sure, they would like to have. The problem is one of implementation, and I am certain that this can be solved through our processes of discussion with the police.

I endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) about the services available. There is little co-operation and co-ordination between the services—the housing authority, the social services, the welfare services and the police—to help in cases of this kind.

I give these further illustrations to emphasise how important it is for public attention to be focused upon the problem. I have seen young married women, even before the birth of their first child, so battered that it has been a horrifying experience even to talk to them. They have reached a state of docility as a result of persistent brutality and fear, and on that count alone—the need to come to the rescue of young wives in such circumstances—the nation must recognise the need for legislation of this kind.

The matter does not, however, stop there. There are wives getting on in years who suffer similar distress. On many occasions I have recounted how, when I was a young man, I could walk down the Embankment in London and see men lying about the place—the drop-outs, men not belonging to society. Now, when I leave the House late at night, I am horrified to see women in this position, who have been thrown out of their homes and who show all the signs of having been brutalised. I am sure that there are many such stories.

The legal arguments can be dealt with in Committee. The Second Reading debate is the time to give the reasons for supporting the Bill. I believe that my hon. Friend is to be congratulated on bringing forward one of the most valuable pieces of social legislation of the last few years.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

I entirely understand the emotions behind the Bill and the desire to deal with the situations that arouse them. I am a little surprised that so many people are surprised at what they have discovered. Many of us have been closely aware of these matters for some time—not least the police, who have so far carried, and carried very well, the heavy burden of dealing with these difficulties and upon whom the Bill would impose the only additional burden put upon anybody. We can satisfy all our emotions in this way, but let us get down to brass tacks and see what we are asking others to do in dealing with things that stir such emotions in our breasts.

One might have thought from one part of the speech of the hon. Member for Welwyn and Hatfield (Mrs. Hayman) that the situation which has been so graphically described was due solely to the inadequacies of the law. I do not stand here to defend the law, although I am a lawyer. Law is made by this House, and we lawyers are the first to criticise it when it is inadequate and when the House makes bad law, as it often does, frequently with the best of intentions.

I make that point at the beginning because it is important. For goodness' sake let us stop fooling ourselves about the causes of these great social evils. To say that they are due to inadequacies in the law leads people to believe that all we have to do is remedy the law. Anyone who believes that is gravely misleading himself and the people.

The first recommendation of the Select Committee was that it should be immediately reappointed this Session. I do not think that even that has yet been done. I do not know of one of its 28 recommendations which has yet been implemented. The Committee obviously thought that a whole range of steps needed to be taken by a varied collection of people—local authorities, social workers and voluntary workers—and that each individual had a part to play. Until we allow ourselves to be more aware of the problem and more willing to take active steps to remedy it, it will remain with us.

The Bill is no more than the tiniest scratch on the surface. I had to say this last week too. Yes, let us do what we think is right, even if it grapples with only a small part of the problem, but let us not be carried away by our own emotions into leading people to believe that what we are doing will remedy these dreadful things overnight.

Mr. Leadbitter

None of us assumed that the Bill would solve the problem overnight, but it is one small step to bring the enormity of the problem to public attention. This may lead to the required policies by social service and housing committees. The public might do more in this direction even than the House of Commons.

Mr. Percival

I am entirely in favour of all that, but we are discussing a Bill. I do not know whether, like me, the hon. Gentleman has heard all the debate, but one of his hon. Friends described the Bill as being of enormous value. It will not be. It will be of only marginal value.

People may be led to believe that the procedure for getting an injunction will be changed. In fact the difference made by the Bill in that respect will be minute. The hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), on presenting the Bill, said that the important moment is when someone has been beaten up. One can get an injunction now from the county court speedily provided one knows how to go about it. That is true of everything in life. The procedure is usually available, but one has to know how to go about it. The Bill will do nothing to help that. It would help if we decided to set up crisis centres as the Committee recommended, which would be open for 24 hours a day, to which people could go for advice. However, the Bill will not make the slightest difference to the procedure for getting an injunction.

I draw hon. Members' attention to what is, perhaps, a Committee point. Clause 1 applies only to married women. Some women who are not married are in as much danger as those who are married. Under the clause, if an application were made to the county court for an injunction, the only difference would be that the person would not have to add the claim for 40 shillings damages on the particulars of claim, as is the case now.

Sometimes we are carried away by emotions, and lead people to believe that the remedies open to them are slow and complicated. 1 echo what the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbittcr) said about alerting the public's conscience to what is happening. These occasions should also be used to inform the public about what already exists to help them. The public should be aware that for a long time the courts have been accustomed to granting injunctions at the shortest of notice if the correct procedures are used.

I have telephoned a judge on a Saturday afternoon to find out whether he is home and then gone to his home—and having given an undertaking to file a petition—and have obtained from him the necessary order without proceedings having even been started. The judge made an order for the protection of children. So informal were the proceedings that when the judge made the order he asked what he should write it on. There were no papers in the case—no writ, or anything else. These speedy procedures are available now. Far from the House suggesting that they are complicated, it should bring home to people the fact that they are simple and quick, provided that people know how to use them. That is not a problem for lawyers; it is a problem for us all. It could be solved by having crisis centres to which people could go for quick information. The difficulty is knowing who to ask at the time when advice is needed.

Clause 2 raises important issues which have received all too little attention so far. Apart from that clause the Bill does very little. I do not suggest that the House should not give the Bill a Second Reading, but I have grave misgivings about Clause 2. I hope that it will be examined closely in Committee and that the promoters will even consider omitting it altogether if they are satisfied that the issues that I shall raise are of substance. Clause 2 allows the court to give a power of arrest on the making of an injunction.

I was glad that the hon. Member for Hartlepool had a good word to say for the police, because no one else had. My goodness, they deserve it. However, I thought that the hon. Gentleman was quite wrong in saying that they would welcome this as clarification. We do not have time to read all the reports and the evidence. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman has not had time to do that in this case. I have only had time to do it quite recently. However, if he looks at it he will find that he is a little wide of the mark. I shall shortly read a passage that ought to be in all of our minds in considering this matter.

The Bill is not clarifying anything and cannot be "making the task of the police easy" in the majority of cases because it does not alter their position at all in the cases in which there has not been an injunction, which is the vast majority of cases. Happily, the vast majority of people in Britain do obey an injunction once it has been made. In whatever field it may be, that is the experience. There is a hard core of people who will not do so, and in the matrimonial field, where feelings run highest, the percentage who do not obey is probably the highest, but it is still a very small percentage.

The police are not affected by the Bill at the pre-injunction stage. The only effect that the Bill has on their position is in terms of what happens after an injunction is made. They would then be used for the purpose of enforcing a civil order. That is something quite new and something which they view with grave misgivings, as I do.

It is said in the Report that Sir George Baker and Mr. Justice Arnold, who gave evidence before the Select Committee, welcomed the suggestion that there should be a power of arrest in the sort of circumstances about which we are talking. However, it should be remembered that their concern with it was on the question whether it would assist in the carrying out of the orders that they make. They were not directly concerned with the position of the police, that is a matter for the police. Concerning the courts, they made it very clear that they wanted to see every improvement that they could in the enforcement of their proceedings. Indeed, they put forward several other suggestions, which I think are more useful than this one which is giving these duties or powers, or whatever they are, to the police.

However, their support for the proposals enshrined in Clause 2 was subject to their view that they did not think they would be of any use outside London and the big conurbations. Secondly, they said that if this additional power or duty was to be given to the police, it must be given in very precise terms, and such terms as in fact did not increase their present task or duties. That was what those judges said in supporting the suggestion which is now enshrined in the clause.

The Solicitor-General gave evidence to the Select Committee. He was asked about this proposal. In a nutshell, his answer was that this was really a matter for the police, but that he could see obvious objections which ought to be raised to giving the police this extra duty.

Surely the important thing is to see what the police themselves said about it. I think that sometimes we in this House are pretty glib about expressing our feelings and then saying that someone else can do the necessary to put matters right. It is easy to say "Yes, something must be done—you do it." When one is considering putting extra duties on the police, who are already extended so greatly in our service, it really is important to have regard to their views and to recognise that they are the views of the people who know on the ground what it will mean when we do something here.

In a memorandum of evidence to the Select Committee the Metropolitan Police said: The Civil and the Criminal Law have always been separated for good reasons, and it would be wrong both constitutionally and practically to extend the Criminal Law to enable Police to exercise power to enforce orders made within the Civil Judisdiction of the Courts. That is a major point of principle which has not been referred to so far today. It will have to be considered with great care in Committee. I give warning that we consider that this is a point of great importance, and I raise no objection to the Bill on Second Reading only because I hope that such points will be closely examined in Committee. The memorandum continued: The Police Force is already over-extended with the enforcement of the Criminal Law generally and preserving the Queen's Peace with all that entails. All of us know that there is no word of exaggeration in that. To add the wide sphere of injunctions issued under a Matrimonial Judisdiction to their diverse responsibilities would place an intolerable strain on manpower resources and be to the detriment of safeguarding other members of the public. That is the considered view of the Metropolitan Police, of especial importance as it seems clear from the evidence of Sir George Baker that it is in London that the great majority of the injunction cases arise.

Other groups of police officers also submitted memoranda and gave evidence to the Select Committee. The oral evidence was not word for word in accordance with that paragraph, but its import was precisely that.

It has been suggested that the police have found difficulties in discharging their present role. The Lord Chancellor's Department submitted a memorandum to the Select Committee saying that, by and large, that was not so. Of course the police have difficulties when they are called to the scene and there is a dispute between husband and wife about what happened. That is precisely why we must realise the difficulties the police will be in if the Bill is passed in its present form.

On the question of the assistance the police have to give now to court officers in enforcing orders or accompanying enforcement officers to ensure that there is no breach of the peace, in the manner in which they deal with proved assault cases, and the like, the evidence is that arrangements between the police and those who have to enforce orders work pretty well.

That should be placed on the record dearly, for two reasons. First, it is greatly to the credit of those involved that the present arrangements do work pretty well. Secondly, although we should draw attention to the real dangers we should not raise people's fears about dangers that do not exist.

Against that background, what is it that we are asking the police to do? Although I entirely understand and share the motives of the Member for Barking and her hon. Friends, having heard the debate today I wonder whether those who are advocating this measure appreciate exactly what the police would have to do, what practical tasks would be imposed on them, and what benefit would accrue to those whom we are trying to help.

The Bill stipulates that in certain circumstances a court may, when granting an injunction, attach thereto a power of arrest. The important provision is contained in Clause 2(2): A power of arrest attached to an order under subsection (1) above shall authorise any constable to arrest a person whom he reasonably suspects to have disobeyed the order by having committed an assault or by having entered the area or place specified in the order, as the case may be. Then the police officer has to take him into custody. There is no question of bail, as there is in almost the whole range of criminal offences. If there were bail, it would defeat the whole object of the promoters of the Bill. We are talking of someone who has to be taken into custody and kept in custody. [Interruption.] I shall come to the matter of 24 hours in a moment, because that is not as easy as it may seem. He may be kept in custody for a maximum of 24 hours.

That sounds fine in theory, but I ask hon. Members to imagine themselves involved in the sort of scene that we have heard described today. Somebody has obviously been assaulted. She has broken teeth. As the law is the police officer will take the man into custody. One has very good reason to believe that if there is a doubt in the matter the officer will exercise his discretion in the cause of saving life and limb. In the case of the really nasty assault—and it does happen—this Bill will not really make any difference. Further, the new power of arrest will not arise unless there has already been an injunction, and that will still be in the minority of cases.

Where there has already been an injunction, if the injunction was on the ground of violence and the police officer went to the scene and found that the woman had two teeth knocked out, he would arrest the man anyway, as the law is. So let us not suppose that it would make a great deal of difference in that case. But what about the police officer who goes to the scene at 11 o'clock on a Saturday night and finds no marks to prove that the lady has been hit? He has got to listen to the stories from both sides. Then what is he supposed to do? What do the words" he reasonably suspects" mean? If the subsection said "if he reasonably believes that there had been an assault" one could understand a little better. That would at least give some indication of the level of evidence which had to be put before him. But "if he reasonably suspects" presents an impossible task for the police officer. It is a very indefinite proof.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

I do not wish to interrupt the hon. and learned Gentleman's interesting discourse, but would not that be the sort of problem which a police officer very often finds in the process of "reasonably suspecting" in any type of case?

Mr. Percival

If it were, I do not know that that would further the argument that much. In matrimonial disputes or domestic disputes there may be all the more reason for exaggeration, for lying, for misunderstanding, and so on. It happens so often. We have heard stories today of some awful things that have happened. Those stories have all been based on the evidence from one side. When one practices in matrimonial cases one hears the evidence from one side, and then when one hears the rest of the story one finds that it is often entirely different.

We are putting the policeman right in the middle of these disputes, in the position where he may have to decide without any evidence of injuries—because if there are injuries he will not be in this difficulty—what he should do. And what a difficult decision it is. If he does not arrest somebody when he has got this power, there will be a complaint that he has not used the power which he is authorised to use. If he does arrest somebody and it turns out that he was wrong—or, indeed, if it does not turn out that he was wrong—there may well be a complaint against him. [Interruption.]

I hear observations made from a sedentary position. I wish that hon. Members, when we are talking about ideas, would put themselves in the position of the person who has got to carry out what we are just talking about. We should have only to put ourselves in that position to realise the very unattractive task which we would be placing upon police officers if this Bill were passed in its present form. Before we impose an extra task on people who already have, in many respects, an impossible task, we must be clear what its value would be and recognise the additional burden which it would place on those concerned. I doubt, from what I have heard in the debate, whether either of these aspects of the problem has been properly or fairly weighed by hon. Members who have spoken. Some people place too much value on the remedy which it is supposed will flow from these provisions and they overlook the fact that the extra duties to be put on the police are being imposed in the teeth of unequivocal opposition, strongly and plainly expressed.

Just before the hon. Member for Barking finished presenting her case, I intervened to ask whether there had been any further consultations with the police. Obviously there had not. The Select Committee reported in July last year, and now it is the middle of February—seven months later. I am surprised that a measure which is so contrary to the evidence of those most directly concerned with its implementation has been presented to the House without any further discussion with them.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department (Mr. Arthur Davidson)

Contrary to what the hon. and learned Gentleman may think, or to the impression that he may innocently be giving, I can assure him that consultations on Clause 2 are going on with the police.

Mr. Percival

That does not alter my position at all. If the hon. Gentleman had said that there had been consultation, and that the police had changed their minds and were happy about the situation, it would have been worth saying. The promoters have some responsibility for these things. I understood from the hon. Lady that there had been no discussions between the police and the promoters. How long have the consultations of which the hon. Gentleman speaks been going on? With whom did they take place? What views have been expressed? I would welcome that information from the Parliamentary Secretary, but from the look on his face I doubt whether I shall have that pleasure.

I hope that I have said enough to make it clear that we on the Opposition side of the House, while sharing the promoters' objectives, have grave misgivings about the machinery to be employed. I have said nothing about Clauses 1, 3 or 4, because they can be dealt with in Committee. Clause 2 is different, because it contains the major provision of the Bill, and raises questions of considerable concern.

I shall not recommend to my hon. Friends that the Bill should not have a Second Reading, but I want to make it clear to the promoters and the Government, who I think support the Bill, that it is only because we are prepared to see further time allowed for more consultations with the police, for agreements to be reached with them, if possible, and for a more detailed examination of Clause 2. We shall watch closely what happens in Committee in that respect. If our fears on those grounds are not allayed by Third Reading, we shall have to reconsider our position. Subject to that, we shall be glad to see these important matters given a careful and full examination in Committee.

3.31 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Law Officers' Department (Mr. Arthur Davidson)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on succeeding in presenting with great charm a Bill which deals essentially with ugly situations. She deserves complimenting because she is not a lawyer. I am complimenting her not because she is not a lawyer but on explaining concisely a Bill which deals with complicated legal matters. She deserves the plaudits of the House for fulfilling that difficult task.

I add my support to the aims of the Bill and I urge the House to give it a Second Reading. My hon. Friend has acknowledged that there are many points of detail which are not yet entirely right, but the principles have much to commend them. I am sure that any drafting imperfections can be dealt with in Committee.

My hon. Friend has told the House of the work of the Select Committee. The Bill will give effect to some of its recommendations for amendment of the law. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security explained on an earlier occasion the action which had been taken by the Government on other suggestions made by the Select Committee. I do not think I need elaborate on those aspects any further.

Mr. Percival

Is the Select Committee to be re-established?

Mr. Davidson

I understand that it is hoped that the Select Committee will be re-established. Obviously, that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Lord President.

My hon. Friend described with great feeling various situations of domestic violence. I agree that those who commit such actions have within them a peculiar and special sort of sickness. Those at the receiving end clearly suffer a shattering, horrifying experience which may linger with them for years after the act, or successive acts, of violence. I do not think that I can expand on the way in which my hon. Friend has described such violence from the experiences which have been related to her.

The word "batter" does not appear in the Bill, and I am happy that it does not. It is a word that has sprung up. It is inelegant and inexact, but I agree that it is used to describe inelegant situations. I noted that hon. Members extended the word, and we have heard of batterers and batterees. We are in danger of innocently adding several words to the English language. I intend to refer to the acts that the House has in mind as acts of domestic violence, which is how they are described in the Bill.

I should not like the House to get the impression that a wife who has suffered a violent assault cannot obtain redress under the existing laws, because she can. I accept, however, that there are a number of unnecessary, daunting difficulties to overcome. The Bill will seek through its first two clauses to remove some of those difficulties.

It has already been said that acts of violence of the nature in question are not confined only to women. Husbands also suffer frequent and continuous acts of violence. The Bill is meant to cover husbands, wives and children, as my hon. Friend has acknowledged. Therefore, if in the course of my remarks I refer to "wife" I am using a form of shorthand, because I am equally concerned with violence done to husbands and children.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The Minister referred graphically to "daunting difficulties". What are the daunting difficulties, and how does Clause 1 remove any of them?

Mr. Davidson

I did not think I attempted to describe the situation graphically, but the difficulties certainly are daunting to somebody who is not used to finding his or her way around the system. I shall come to that point a little later.

A wife who is the victim of violence does not know where to go to seek help—

Mr. Rees-Davies

Why not?

Mr. Davidson

The hon. and learned Gentleman asks "Why not?" I shall explain. Some of my hon. Friends have cited evidence given to the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage.

Mr. Rees-Davies

The Minister will surely appreciate that every woman knows that she can go to the police court or to a probation officer. They are the normal channels open to the public. If she does not know that, she can certainly go to a local citizens' advice bureau and will be given advice within a matter of moments.

Mr. Davidson

With great respect, the hon. and learned Gentleman knows his way around the courts—indeed, he has been practising in them for many years and has carried out that job very well indeed, as we all know. However, his familiarity with the courts and legal processes may not be shared by many of the women covered by the Bill. These women have been ill-treated and humiliated in a way that the hon. and learned Gentleman has never personally encountered. He knows the point I am making and I believe that he is being a little complacent.

If a woman who has suffered violence and who is not an articulate person wants to seek action through the courts, she must find somebody who can tell her what her remedies are and how to go about obtaining them. If she goes to a court office, she will be helped by being referred to a solicitor or by being given the appropriate forms to complete. The services of a solicitor will often be necessary.

I wish to stress that the Law Society is as anxious as are the Government that the availability of help should be widely publicised. The Law Society will shortly publish a referral list showing the categories of work undertaken by solicitors. These will be local lists available to all advice-giving agencies. I do not wish to leave out of account the citizens' advice bureaux, to which the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) referred. I know from the excellent bureau in my constituency how valuable and helpful is the advice it can give, particularly in guiding people to the right source of justice and providing an initial contact point.

Regrettably, one of the great difficulties for a woman who has suffered violence lies in getting into what might be called "the system". That is something that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West must accept. I am satisfied that once a woman gets to a court and makes an application for an injunction, matters proceed with reasonable speed.

Under the existing law a woman can get proper protection. What the Bill seeks to do is to make that protection slightly easier to obtain—I do not over-stress that—and to make the protection greater. There are other recommendations by the Select Committee on initial help and advice. The Government and local authorities are together currently considering the problem. My concern and the concern of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is that there should be a speedy process once the woman has got to court.

The most usual protection sought in the courts is an injunction. A woman can obtain this either in the county court or in the High Court. The county court is a local court and in the overwhelming number of cases is likely to be the most convenient, except in London, where nearly all applications are made to the Family Division at Somerset House. For administrative reasons this is more convenient. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is conducting a survey of applications for urgent injunctions in these cases. A similar survey of harassed tenants applying for injunctions against their landlords has shown that no more than three hours is taken by courts from the time of the applicant arriving at the court office to the granting of an injunction. This is the case even when the application is made out of hours.

I ought to inform the House that arrangements exist throughout the country for a judge to be available at any hour of the day or night in an emergency situation, such as may be involved in a case of domestic violence. Judges are frequently called out in the early hours of the morning. A judge may grant an injunction or any other such order as may be necessary. This facility is used, and in these cases the law can act speedily. These arrangements exist, and it would be wrong to give a contrary impression.

The new provisions will not necessarily speed the granting of an injunction. Clause 1 of the Bill simplifies the process of application. At present, an injunction may be granted in a county court only if it is ancillary to a claim for some other relief made by the applicant—for instance, a claim for damages for assault or for a divorce decree. This means that an appropriate application for this main relief must be made. That is an added and unnecessary difficulty for a woman.

Mr. Rees-Davies

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that under the existing law a woman can obtain an injunction in the High Court or elsewhere if she has been battered—to use the word which has been adopted today—and that that right remains separate and apart from the injunction to restrain violence?

Mr. Davidson

I have already made that point, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has underlined it.

Rules of court permit an application for an injunction to be made in an emergency and for a promise to be made to file the papers applying for the main relief at a later date. In fact, the court does not make things as difficult as perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Barking suggested. However, often—and this is elementary—the husband or wife does not want damages and has not made up his or her mind about a divorce. The requirement, therefore, to lodge an application for relief is an unnecessary difficulty. If the hon. and learned Gentleman does not think it daunting, he can hardly disagree that it is unnecessary. Clause 1, therefore, does away with this requirement and allows an application in these circumstances to the county court for an injunction alone.

Perhaps I should explain simply what an injunction is. It is an order to the other party to stop doing some act—for example, being violent to his wife—and it may also order him to stay away from the house or part of the house in which the other party is living. In most cases the order of the court is obeyed; the terms of the injunction are obeyed. When that is not so—and perhaps in a minimum of cases it is not obeyed—the court must act to enforce its order. This leads to an obvious difficulty for the wife in cases of domestic violence. Breach of the terms of the injunction usually consists of a fresh attack or fresh series of attacks on the wife. She must then go back to the court and make an application for the husband to be brought before the court to show cause why he should not be punished by the court for breach of its order; and punishment in most cases is by committal to prison.

There is an obvious difficulty for the wife in making this application, and it is this difficulty that Clause 2 seeks to overcome. The Select Committee heard a great deal of evidence on the attitude of the police to domestic violence, and the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) dealt at great length with the role and position of the police. It is difficult—the difficulty should be acknowledged—for a police officer to draw the line between a criminal offence and a private matter concerning only a husband and his wife which often occurs in the confines of their private home.

I cannot say that the clause will make the job of the police easy; it will not. But the job of the police is not easy now; it never is. But the clause may well make it easier than it is. Under Clause 2 the police station near the home of the victim of domestic violence will know that an injunction has been granted. The police will know that a judge has decided that there was an assault in the past, and that a judge has decided that there is a likelihood of assaults in the future. Because of that, the injunction will include a power to the police to arrest. If a man assaults his wife again and breaches the terms of the injunction, it will be a much simpler task for the police to decide than it is now.

A police officer will have powers of arrest and detention given to him by a judge for that specific event. He will not face the difficult decision that he would have to make if he involved himself in the criminal law. In these cases a police officer will take an arrested man before a judge, who will decide what should be done with him. There is a time limit of 24 hours, because the House will agree that nobody should be kept in custody longer than is absolutely necessary without a right of hearing before a court.

I accept that Clause 2 will involve the police in matters of civil law and I freely acknowledge that the Government are still doubtful about giving these functions to the police in view of the other pressures on them. However, given the difficult situation which the clause seeks to cure, we are satisfied that it is appropriate to support the provisions in principle, though it may be necessary to make changes on points of detail in Committee.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Would not my hon. Friend agree that, whatever the reservations of the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) about introducing the police into this admittedly difficult area, the failure to put right the manifest abuse of violence in marriage leads to outbreaks of individual initiative such as that instanced by Mrs. Erin Pizzey when she set up the Chiswick refuge, to the great horror of many of our more staid citizens but to the intense relief of many unfortunate women?

Mr. Davidson

I am sure my hon. Friend is right. It is important that people at the receiving end of domestic violence should feel that they have a comparatively easy and speedy remedy. At present they do not feel that, even though the remedy is there. The problem is frequently one of knowing how to get access to it and how to enforce one's rights.

Clauses 3 and 4 are concerned with the right of occupation of a matrimonial home and make changes to the scheme in the Matrimonial Homes Act 1967. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking explained their effect very fully and very well. It is a complicated matter, but her provisions are in accordance with the programme of reform of the law on matrimonial property undertaken by the Law Commission and are supported by the Lord Chancellor. They will provide additional powers to courts to do what is right between the parties in a matrimonial dispute, and, again, they carry out a recommendation of the Select Committee.

In effect, my hon. Friend's provision permit courts to exclude totally one party from the matrimonial home in circumstances in which there was obviously some doubt about the court's powers before. In Clause 4 powers are extended into areas not previously covered.

The hon. and learned Member for Southport mentioned the difficulties that the police will face as a result of these new powers. He knows the law better than I, but even under the existing law police may be called upon to arrest a person on a warrant from a High Court or county court judge and deliver the arrested person to the tipstaff or bailiff. The police also already serve summonses in civil cases in magistrates' courts.

Mrs. Hayman

Does not my hon. Friend agree that, although the police have powers and, from a technical point of view, they are able to intervene in certain situations, those powers carry great complexities which give rise to doubt in people's minds, and at the same time the police themselves have suspicions, fears and doubts about the propriety of intervening in family situations similar to those current throughout the whole of our society? Is it not urgent, therefore, for the police themselves to be able to know technically when they are able to help a woman in a distressing situation, and is it not at the same time essential that the House should state categorically that there are circumstances in which they should definitely intervene in domestic disputes?

Mr. Davidson

My hon. Friend has graphically described the dilemma facing the police, and I cannot add to what she has said. I have already explained that, in my view—I am sure that it is the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, too—the task of the police will be made slightly easier, though I should not like to go further than that.

Mr. Percival

In the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, when the police are ordered on warrant to arrest, the decision to make the arrest has been taken by the judicial authority, whereas under the Bill the policeman will have to take the decision on when to arrest, with very little guidance about how and when to exercise that power.

Mr. Davidson

He will have considerably more guidance than he has now—

Mr. Percival

More duties, but not more guidance.

Mr. Davidson

—considerably more guidance than he has now. I think that I have dealt fully with all the provisions of the Bill—

Mr. Rees-Davies

I have an important question to put to the Minister. I understood him to say earlier that he favoured the re-establishment of the Select Committee. All the matters contained in the Bill save one are not matters which have been canvassed. Does the hon. Gentleman still favour the re-establishment of the Select Committee—and would that be the view of the Government—to consider these matters?

Mr. Davidson

The re-establishment of the Select Committee is not a matter for me or for my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. It is for the Lord President of the Council and for the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman knows that it would be quite improper for me to express an opinion on that.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

The members of the Select Committee have been pressing the Leader of the House for its re-establishment and have received assurances that it will be established in the very near future to continue its studies of the problems of violence in marriage and, in particular, the circumstances of children as well as of women.

Mr. Davidson

That is very helpful. My hon. Friend was a member of the Select Committee, and if it is set up again I hope that she will serve on it. She made an excellent contribution to the debate today, and her knowledge of these matters is well known.

This has been a most interesting debate. There has been general and overwhelming support for the principles of the Bill. Such criticism as there has been was directed to what I should call technicalities, drafting deficiencies and certain legal imperfections. In all the circumstances, I repeat what I said earlier: that the Government support the Bill and are quite satisfied that the House ought to give it a Second Reading. If it is given a Second Reading, such defects as there may be in its provisions could well be sorted out.

Mr. Rees-Davies


Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

The Question is——

Mr. Rees-Davies

Mr. Deputy Speaker, there is the important matte of the reappointment of the Select Committee—

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.

Miss Richardson

On a point of order. Would you mind explaining something to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker? I had always understood that, at the stroke of four o'clock, the Question was put and it was not possible for the Chair to call another speaker. Would you mind explaining what has happened? It was exactly four o'clock.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

At four o'clock, the occupant of the Chair would say "Order. Debate to be resumed what day?" But if it is before four o'clock, any other hon. Member who wishes to take part in the debate is entitled to do so. The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) rose to take part in the debate. It then reached four o'clock and I had no option but to interrupt the debate, which I did.

Ms. Maureen Colquhoun (Northampton, North)

Further to the point of order. I understood, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you had started to say "The Question is". You had started to put the Question.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is quite correct, but when another hon. Member rises he takes precedence over the putting of the Question before four o'clock.

Ms. Colquhoun

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We consider that it was four o'clock and that the only way that a point of order could have been taken was under the Division procedure, with the hon. Member seated and covered and all that performance. I think that you had started to put the Question.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

Further to the point of order—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Let me deal with this point of order. Let me get the situation straight. I know that a great deal of negotiation has been going on here and that the outcome has not been successful in one way or another. I have in front of me a timepiece which indicates the time. When it reaches four o'clock, I act by that piece of mechanism. What happened was that the Minister sat down before four o'clock. I was ready to put the Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." Then the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West rose to take part in the debate before four o'clock. I had to call him, according to Standing Order. When it reached four o'clock, I adopted the procedure of saying that the debate must be resumed and asking what day.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

On a point of order. Are the clocks in the Chamber and the clock in front of you synchronised, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

This matter was raised during this week's proceedings. The same thing happened with Mr. Speaker in the Chair and the question was raised with him as to which clock we were to go by. I go by the clock in front of me. Someone—it may have been Mr. Speaker himself—undertook to look at the question of providing the same red light in front of hon. Members so that they know exactly what time is shown to the occupant of the Chair.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

On a point of order——

Mr. Russell Kerr

Further to the point of order. We are getting into a fraught situation. I do not for a moment maintain that my knowledge of these matters compares with yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I listened carefully to the chimes which are a preliminary to the striking of the hour of four o'clock. You were on your feet during the chimes. There was a matter of seconds only left to the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) to make a contribution to the debate. Therefore, in terms of practicality and common sense, he could not possible have had time even to say "How's your father?"

Mr. Rees-Davies


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot have hon. Members challenging each other.

Mr. Russell Kerr

All I am saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that you certainly gave me and some of my hon. Friends the impression that you were about to go into the ultimate procedure and put the Question. Therefore, much though I respect your chairmanship, I am totally at a loss to know how we could have reached this situation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman does not follow what I said. I think I have made it abundantly clear. Four o'clock is the zero hour at which I have to interrupt the debate. If it is before four o'clock, I must call hon. Members who rise to take part in the debate. That is precisely what I did.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As these points of order are unfortunately taking time which might otherwise go to the Adjournment, and as this is the second occasion on which the House had had an unsatisfactory experience in this regard in recent days, is it not an excellent idea for the whole matter to be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure so that it can be sorted out?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have already indicated to the House that a similar situation and dispute arose earlier this week and that an assurance was given that consideration would be given to the provision of a red light, which seems to be the light that we have here, so that hon. Members can see precisely the time.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Ealing Southall)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Hon. Members can go on with points of order until Doomsday. They will take no time out of the Adjournment debate.

Mr. Bidwell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It might well be the case that the clock in front of you registers an earlier time than the two clocks within the view of hon. Members. That might be the simple explanation for the difficulties that we are in this afternoon. According to my observations, that appears to be the case.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It may be; I do not know. However, I carried out my duties according to the clock in front of me

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that hon. Members become confused because there are three clocks? We hear Big Ben chime and we see the clocks in front of us. However, you have a clock that we cannot see which determines the time when the Question is put.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I make one brief point?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not a conjuror and I cannot deal with three points of order at the same time. Let me make the position clear. I accept that there is great doubt as to whether the clock here shows the same time as the clocks that are visible to hon. Members. If that is the position, I give the assurance that, as this has happened twice in one week, the matter will be dealt with and will not arise again.

Mr. Russell Kerr

With great respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, chronologically Greenwich Mean Time, which is what we are operating under at present, is when, after the preliminary chimes of Big Ben, we hear the bang of the first of the four strokes that will follow. I suggest, therefore, that, as we are uniquely privileged in being able to hear Big Ben strike, your guidance should be exclusively from that source and not from any other.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I should not like to adopt that method of determining what hour we have reached, because when I am sitting in the Chair I cannot hear Big Ben.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that you had risen to your feet and said "The Question is" and, therefore, you had commenced to put the Question? Will not the record show that that was the case? Is it not also the case that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) was not rising to make a speech but was rising to make a point of order, which is not in order when you have said that the Question shall be put?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Lady is absolutely correct in her summary of the events. I rose to put the Question. It was not four o'clock. Another hon. Member rose to take part in the debate. I do not know whether he wanted to raise a point or order or make a speech, but it makes no difference.

I suggest to hon. Members that there is a difference over the question of time. We shall get nowhere with it. I have given my ruling as to what guided me. Let us leave it and see how we can avoid such a situation in the future.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Would it not be out of order, since we are talking in technicalities, for the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees Davies) to be on his feet when you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were on yours? Is it not a fact that he was technically—although very technically, I grant you—out of order in seeking to move the motion that he sought to move? Does not that make a total nonsense of the whole blessed business?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If we are going to argue, it could probably be argued that the Minister who was winding up the debate on behalf of the Government might have sat down just a couple of minutes or a few seconds before he did. That might have solved the whole problem.

Mrs. Wise

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As this House apparently operates to the second and not according to whether it is practicable for an hon. Member to make a contribution to the debate, may we know, to the second, at what time the hon. and learned Gentleman rose to his feet? How can we know how we are operating unless we know the exact time? Are you in a position, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to tell us exactly to the second the time that the hon. and learned Gentleman rose to his feet, in order to substantiate your ruling?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The position is this. I am not a time-keeper to the extent that I am watching it with a stop-watch. I have—[Interruption.] One moment. Hon. Members may, when the business of the House is finished, come around to the Chair and see where the clock is that governs my decisions as to the time. It is here available for everyone to see. We shall try to remedy this situation in view of the fact that it has occurred twice in one week.

Mrs. Wise

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we, therefore, to understand that you cannot substantiate your ruling by giving, to the second—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw that remark. She can take my assurance that it was not four o'clock when the hon. and learned Gentleman rose. I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw that remark.

Mrs. Wise

I do not understand what I am to withdraw, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because my point was a question. It was the question "What time was it?" I think that is a legitimate question. I do not understand—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It was before four o'clock.

  2. c899
  4. c900
  5. THEATRES BILL 19 words