§ 11.20 a.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, Session 1974/75 (House of Commons Paper No. 553) and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 6690), of the First Report from the Select Committee on Violence in the Family in Session 1975/76 (House of Commons Paper No. 473), of the First and Second Reports of that Committee in the last session of Parliament (House of Commons Papers Nos. 329 and 431) and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 7123).As I was Chairman only of the Committee that reported on violence to children, I shall confine myself to that report and to the Government's reply to it. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), who was Chairman of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, will be able to catch the eye of the Chair later in the debate to speak to its report. But it would be unreasonable to expect hon. Members not to take in both subjects in the course of the debate, which covers the whole field of violence in the family.
I believe that there was some hesitation about the setting up of an inquiry into baby battering, following the inquiry on battered wives. Any such doubts must have been dispelled by the value and volume of the evidence submitted to the Select Committee and the constructive proposals that have emerged from it.
It was a most rewarding experience to take part in the Committee's work, as I think all members of the Committee will agree. I should like to place on record my appreciation of the interest of its members, the dedication and deep concern of those who gave both oral and written evidence and the valuable guidance of the Committee Clerk, Mr. Cubie. I must add my special personal appreciation of the contribution of the late Member for Ilford, North, Mrs. Millie Miller, both to the setting up of the Committee and to its work.
The Select Committee's report reminds us that it is estimated that in England and Wales about 3,000 children will be severely injured non-accidentally each year, and six of them will die each week. In addition, there are each year more 1337 than 40,000 cases of injury, which range from the severe to the mild and are more moderate in extent.
The typical baby batterer is often highlighted in the Press and by the public as a vicious monster, but the majority are not of that type. However, some undoubtedly are, and constant vigilance is needed by the whole community to try to identify them early enough to prevent serious injury to or deaths of children. It is in this area particularly that the role of the police is crucial, together with that of the social services and other groups.
The co-operation of all the people concerned with non-accidental injury when it occurs or is suspected is an area of some sensitivity, but it is vital that the police as well as other specialists should be fully involved in the management of such cases. This is particularly true of the case conferences which are held. It would be helpful to hear from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security whether any progress has been made in this area since the Command Paper was published. There are particular problems in London, where the more mobile population and the proliferation of health and other authorities make liaison more complicated.
The Committee also recommended that such case conferences should be conducted speedily, efficiently and with the smallest number of members necessary for effective case management. Can my right hon. Friend tell us what progress has been made in this respect, and whether there is any evidence that case conferences are now working better?
I have received a number of approving comments about the Select Committee's proposals for obtaining greater standardisation in the compilation, content and use of registers. Have the Government any progress to report in this direction?
It was also the Committee's view that only in exceptional cases should the parents concerned not be informed that their child's name had been entered on the register as being at risk. The Department's reaction to that is disappointing. I hope that we may hear the views of other hon. Members about this civil liberties issue, so that we may know whether they share the Select Committee's views on this matter.
1338 I am sure that other hon. Members will also have strong views about the Government's negative reaction to the Committee's proposals on family courts. Since the Government's report was published, increased support for the Committee's views on this matter has become manifest. I appreciate the work involved in new legislation to which my right hon. Friend refers, but the preparation of a Green Paper on family courts was a modest enough recommendation. It would provide the opportunity for informed discussion and consideration before such legislation was prepared.
I have also been concerned to hear that there appear to be difficulties in practice about a recommendation on which the Committee felt very strongly—the access of health visitors to mothers as soon as they leave hospital after confinement, in order to provide from the outset a continuing person to person contact on which the mother can rely. Has my right hon. Friend anything to say about this difficulty and whether it is being resolved?
What I have said so far has been concerned with the administration of the various services designed to try to prevent non-accidental injury to children and to cope with it when it occurs. This is vital, but it does not even begin to express the concern felt by all members of the Committee over the steady accumulation of evidence before us of the effects on families of a society where communities have been broken up, often by the well-meaning actions of public authorities, where generations have been separated from each other, where old traditions and methods have been lost, and where a rootless, bewildered and isolated generation is often totally unable to cope with the realities of parenthood.
In such circumstances, a baby which instead of constantly cooing and smiling—like those in the baby products advertisements on television—just cries and cries and will not stop, can drive even the most amiable mother to distraction if she is cut off from her family and friends by housing transfers, or if she is living in rooms with neighbours knocking on the walls at the slightest noise.
When the parents are also poor, very young, and badly housed, with marriage difficulties and a variety of other problems—as is so often the case—the situation is even worse.
1339 In some such cases tranquillisers are given to one parent or to both parents. We had some disturbing evidence that some of the commonly prescribed tranquillisers may produce an increase of aggression instead of damping it down. In the report we draw particular attention to this danger. It is in such circumstances that many babies are injured not by a violent monster but by an overwrought young mother, who loses control because there is no one to deflect the build-up of tension, to make a cup of tea, to hold the baby for a while, or to take over and send the desperate parent out for a breath of fresh air so that she is away from the crisis situation for a short break.
Neighbours, particularly those who have had children of their own, can do a great deal to help in such a situation, and I am glad that the Government have accepted our recommendation to extend the "good neighbour" scheme to young parents. Anything which helps to break down the isolation of the parent is a preventive of baby battering. That is why the emergency lifeline telephone number which can be contacted 24 hours a day is perhaps the most important of the Committee's proposals. It would cost little and help so much. I am bitterly disappointed that the Government have not accepted that proposal.
We were told by mothers who had injured their children that they experienced incredible relief when they met other mothers with similar problems and were able to work out their difficulties together. Just by meeting regularly they were able to help one another and provide an outlet which prevented further trouble. I was recently encouraged to receive a letter from a young woman who had attended some of our sittings. Under the heading "Parents Anonymous" she wrote:I am writing to let you know that not everyone sat back to see what the Government would do in the field of child abuse. We actually acted on the Select Committee's Report and started a parent-controlled group. We were helped by two groups already in existence. Now I am able to act as co-ordinator and advise on the setting up of other groups. To date, three other groups have started as a result of this. One day there will be a 'Parents Anonymous' group in every county at least and they will have got there by word of mouth, not as a result of a national organisation.1340 It was very encouraging to receive this letter. I would add that these young women are operating entirely out of their own resources and would very much welcome any assistance which may be forthcoming by means of Government grants, or in other ways if this can be arranged. In the meantime, they are carrying on out of their own pockets, overworked but doing a splendid job.
Mother and toddler clubs can also be helpful and nurseries and nursery schools should be available to all children, not only to social priority groups. Increasingly, society has been forced to recognise that such provision is not just something which is desirable if we can afford it; it is absolutely essential, whatever the cost.
The same is true of education for parenthood. This is necessary for all young people, boys and girls, before they leave school. Many young parents are completely unprepared for the unglamourous side of child rearing. Some just have no idea how to handle children who make messes, break things, refuse food or demonstrate wills of their own. They can often see no alternative between either allowing the child to do what it likes or resorting to blows which may cause injury.
The Committee had a shot at trying to prepare a code for bringing up children, but on second thoughts decided that it was really the job of professional agencies involved with child rearing. In their report the Government say that they feel that there is already enough literature on this subject. That may be so, but the problem of creating a loving discipline in the home is a real one from which many parents have abdicated in despair. We must urgently find more effective ways of helping them.
I am puzzled by the Government's reluctance to establish the right of children under school age to have regular medical examinations. This is vital for the general surveillance of young children's health and would also play a valuable part in the early identification of non-accidental injury.
There seems to be an agreement between the Committee, the Government and all concerned about the importance of the first days of life and then encouragement of the bonding between mother 1341 and baby at this time, which may be helped by sensitive care during labour and delivery and a homely hospital atmosphere. There is still reluctance, apparently, to encourage home confinements where such bonding is easy and natural in a family setting. The first days are also important, because a mother may reject her baby them. This is a danger sign of probable future abuse which may be prevented by special help and care at the time and follow-up afterwards.
That being said, it is clear that the causes of many cases of baby battering are so varied and complex that we cannot hope to prevent them all. But we are fortunate in having dedicated professionals who handle these problems with skill, day in and day out. We hope that some of our recommendations will help them in a job which is often time-consuming, confusing and frustrating.
To the Government, who have, perhaps understandably, been disappointing in their response, due to lack of resources, I say that of course no one can quantify the life of a child in cost terms. We can, however, quantify the cost, in medical care and support, in respect of a battered child who may spend years being treated in hospital for its injuries. We can set that cost against the cost of, for example, a 24-hour telephone service which might have prevented those injuries. Our report is also for the general public. Its message is "Do not just condemn baby battering. That is easy. Think whether there is anything which you could do to help prevent it."
§ 11.37 a.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)
I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who made a good Chairman of the Select Committee. She was thorough and impartial, and no one could criticise her for not being thoroughly investigative, in that a large volume of evidence was taken before the Committee from a wide range of agencies and a great many authorities.
In a debate of this kind it is easy for the discussion to become abstruse, with the result that it does not command the attention of the public because it wanders down too many channels. I want to confine myself largely to what I regard as the channel of outstanding importance which is contained in recommendation 1342 No. 53 made by the Select Committee, when we said that we wanted the Government to produce a draft Bill to provide for a family court system to beprepared and published in Green Paper form so that the detailed implementation of that system can be fully and openly discussed, with a view to complete implementation … as soon as possible".We never said that the finance would have to be there for the introduction of this system by the Government now. We indicated the difficulties that would arise. But there appears to be substantial unanimity of thought in the country that we need an improved and better correlated system.
What was the reply, bearing in mind that the Minister himself, as long ago as 1974, declared that the introduction of a family court system was an integral part of Labour Party policy? It was with some surprise that I read paragraph 81 of the Government's response to the Select Committee:The Government are unable to accept the Select Committee's recommendation that a Green Paper on the family court system be prepared, although the recommendation has been strongly supported by a number of the bodies consulted on the Report. While the Government have accepted in principle the concept of the family court, there is little likelihood of such a court being established in the foreseeable future. Although it is arguable that a draft bill might be prepared in anticipation of the day when it might be possible to institute family courts, the work involved in carrying out consultation and in preparing such a bill would be considerable. The resources required for such an undertaking, both in terms of the availability of draftsmen and departmental manpower and the expenditure involved, make it undesirable to embark upon such an undertaking at a time when expenditure must be restrainedand so it goes on.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that when I tabled a Question to the Law Officers' Department asking if it would quantify the costs which had led the Government to that conclusion, the answer came in the vaguest and most indeterminate way, with no figures at all? One is forced to the conclusion that no serious attempt has been made by the Government to estimate what would be the cost of taking the minimum first step to establishing the family court, as recommended by the Society of Conservative Lawyers.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. He puts the picture correctly. No great cost is involved in preparing a draft Bill of this nature. Parliamentary draftsmen are no more deeply concerned in this matter than they are in a great many others. But it is interesting that paragraph 81 must be put against a very solid background of demand, first, from a positive panache of ladies in the Labour Party—indeed, all its leading women MPs. Whereas we did not have the advantage of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) on either Committee, we were confronted with all the leading ladies of the Labour Party on one or other of them. Several of them served on the one dealing with children.
I shall be surprised to hear that any of those right hon. and hon. Ladies dissent from a word that I am saying, when I point out that the Labour Party committed itself in its policy, four years ago, to the introduction of a family court system. Yet, when the subject finally gets at least some investigation which indicates, in the practical nature of the problem, the advantages which would be derived from a better system, the Labour Party turns its back on it in this way.
Let me explain a few aspects of this matter, because it is importance to get clear what we mean by a family court system—or at least what I take it to mean—in a way that the public can understand. The essence of success in the long term is that there should be a merger between family law and social welfare in this area, in the introduction and evolution of family courts, which would ultimately ensure one family court which would provide a uniform set of legal procedure, an impartial judicial court, an organisation of the best facilities for conciliation in matrimonial disputes and the introduction of professional trained staff to assist both the courts and the parties with advice and in matters requiring the services of social workers. That, of course, takes in the case of abused children.
At the same time, the social security authorities would work intimately with the family court and in cases of need and where finance was involved the arrangements of the family court would then develop the confidence of the citizen. 1344 With administrative services correlated, we think that this would lead to a sense of trust in a process of this kind.
There would thus be attached to the family court services which would investigate, report and supervise, and the court with its staff services would be in touch with the social security, education and other functions of the local authorities, together with the specialised agencies and the police. Indeed, the social welfare service would really conduct itself as an arm of the court. The court would have welfare officers—not probation officers—of its own, and in due time it would be seen that the best approach would be the formation of a new family court welfare service. There is really no need for me to say that to achieve such a service will require a close working relationship between the court and the social welfare authorities. So much for the long-term approach.
At present, we have the High Court Family Division, the county courts, the magistrates' courts, and the specialised agencies. The High Court, with the new service, would be retained for substantial disputes, but the functions of the registrar would be substantially developed. He is the key man at present in matters of matrimonial dispute, custody, and child disputes of this nature, and I believe that in the judicial element the development of the registrar's office could play an important part in developing what we wish to see.
The county court would be given the present power of the High Court, and it should be given the power to make children wards of court. If it had that power, there would also be the necessity for the appointment of a children's ombudsman to act in the interests of the children, particularly in cases of child abuse, which the Select Committee studied in some depth.
We found that the case conferences that we studied showed the need for a more speedy procedure. Many of these case conferences are very lengthy and immensely costly in professional time and money, and even though they may reach a desirable result, the resources expended on them are very considerable. A children's ombudsman would assist in this regard. Cases of child abuse would be registered and brought to his attention.
1345 There is need to continue the development of a successful liaison between the different parties in these abuse cases, with the development of the registrar's court, following through from the family court, into a system where, in my belief, many of the problems involved in family law should be dealt with.
I turn now to the question of the increase in divorce and the effect that divorce has on the whole relationship of the child, the battered wife, and so on. In the 1950s, there were about 29,000 divorce petitions a year; that increased to 110,000 in 1972, and it is now about 150,000. It was only in April 1977 that the new procedures started—the special procedure, for example, that we saw in the case of Princess Margaret, divorced without anyone having to attend court, the whole matter passing through very simply with the judge acting as little more than a rubber stamp.
This, of course, is an integral part of the change of our whole life in Britain. As the family court develops, and as the concept of what I called matrimonial misconduct becomes a thing of the past, questions of maintenance and whether one party can reasonably be expected to live with the other party or not, together with the welfare procedures, will all be dealt with together, to provide a complete service to the citizen.
As the whole concept of conduct in marriage goes out—I am not arguing whether it is right that it should go out; I am not concerned with that, and am only saying that it has gone out—and as the question whether it is reasonable for one party to live with another party becomes really the only issue, so it will become necessary to protect the interests of the children as well as of those in the marriage and give them the advice they need. These matters will then all come in as part and parcel of the province of the family court.
It is obvious that it is not a matter merely of the judge or the registrar, dealing with the judicial aspect; it is also a matter of the agencies which advise, such as the Marriage Guidance Council and the other outside agencies which will be advising in the court welfare service. They will be able to create the climate which will satisfy the public and 1346 which will set up a system which will evolve into one of family law.
The outcome will be a system of family law activating the law relating to children. There will be one procedural system, with social welfare work on a sufficient basis and linked to it. There will be a co-ordination of family law and of welfare and social security benefits, so that all disputes can be resolved in one institution. The magistrates, meanwhile, will retain their jurisdiction in adoption and guardianship matters, and custody cases, until such time as the evolution of the family court can embrace the whole of this field.
That, I believe, is the approach that we should take. From the Conservative Benches—as an evolutionary party and a party that always works its way towards achieving its distinguished objectives—we do not suggest that this can be done immediately. No, but we should begin, and if we begin wisely, the Government will change their response and will implement recommendation No. 53.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)
I have read the three reports of the Select Committee, on violence to children, in marriage and in the family, and the evidence put before the Committee. I congratulate the members of the Committee on their detailed examination of the problems with which they had to deal and on their conclusions and recommendations. The value of these is well demonstrated by the White Paper issued by the Government, which accepts many of them. I shall deal a little later with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies).
The main difficulty today, of course, is that of the availability of resources to carry out the proposals made. Many of them necessarily involve considerable expense, and the economic position is such that their implementation may well have to be postponed until circumstances permit. Take, for instance, the provision of refuges for ill-treated women and children. This is examined by the Government in some detail in Cmnd. 6690. It is a very important provision and, no doubt, as the White Paper says, social services, housing and even health authorities have been of great help to groups 1347 setting up refuges and in giving advice generally.
Cmnd. 6690, issued in December 1976, states that the number of refuges has increased from 29 to over 100, and no doubt by today there will have been a further increase. These refuges, however, are there merely to provide emergency accommodation. A more realistic view, as the Government suggest, is that if women and children are compelled to leave the marital home because of some form of violence they should either be given alternative accommodation or treated as homeless, and they should be given priority in housing. Here we immediately come up against the almost insoluble problem that local authorities have to face in providing sufficient housing accommodation.
There is a vast field in which help can be given which may involve very little expense, or considerably less expense than might otherwise be required. The recommendations made with regard to such matters should, in my view, receive prompt attention. It is important, for example, to consider ways and means by which education in parenthood and domestic matters can be furthered. No doubt, also, steps can be taken to see that medical schools and nursing colleges give special attention to the social dynamics of family life. The recommendation in regard to the availability of advice seems to me to be of paramount importance. There should be no difficulty in parents obtaining such advice, especially when it is required urgently.
I like the idea that every health clinic, social department and doctor's waiting room should display prominently lists of services available for families in the area, and that leaflets with this information should be distributed. Legal centres should be readily available and they should, in particular, be staffed by persons who can deal with the legal difficulties arising from matrimonial problems.
In the legislative field there is need for further examination of the powers of magistrates, so that they can deal more adequately with complaints made to them.
I should like now to touch upon what the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West said. I agree with his criticism of the paragraph contained in the White 1348 Paper. I am very sorry indeed to see, in paragraph 81, thatThe Government are unable to accept the Select Committee's recommendation that a Green Paper on the family court system be prepared, although the recommendation has been strongly supported by a number of bodiesand so on. Even though there are difficulties in contemplating that the sort of family court we envisage should be set up, I see no reason why a Green Paper on preparation for the system should not be brought forward. The hon. and learned Gentleman has gone into the matter in very great detail and I agree very strongly with some of his points.
A family court should, of course, be devised in such a way that it can deal with the many problems which arise in the matrimonial field—problems of children, the possibility of their being made wards of the court, and matters of that kind. It is time that the Government accepted this recommendation and got down at any rate to the preparation of the Green Paper that is proposed. It seems to me that a family court should be devised as soon as it is possible to do so, so that it can efficiently and expeditiously deal with many of the family difficulties. It should be a court in which legal formalities can be largely dispensed with, and in which parties can be dealt with, with the assistance of legal aid.
Criticism has been made of the reluctance of the police to intervene in domestic matters. Here again, there should be an examination of the restricted powers of the police. There is no doubt that there are many matrimonial disputes in which police intervention could be of great assistance.
There are many other matters on which I could dilate. It is vital, in my view, that much greater publicity should be given to this matter in the Press, on television and on the radio.
The media can play an enormous part in highlighting both the problems raised and the ways of dealing with them. They can invite suggestions from the public, and they can impress upon people how essential it is that all possible steps should be taken to remedy the situation.
Clearly, the Committee is right in emphasising the dangers of alcoholism. However, I wonder why it has not drawn 1349 special attention to the effect of some programmes presented on television. Children, often small children, sitting with their eyes glued to the screen, are presented again and again with programmes of extreme violence—shooting, murder and violence of almost every kind form the subject matter. Very often such programmes affect the viewer whether he or she is an adult or a junior.
I appreciate that the television authorities seek to produce programmes of educational value during the earlier hours of the day. In my view these should be extended. But the authorities should appreciate, although it may be the fault of parents, that many teenagers and small children are kept up, and they must be affected.
I do not wish to deprecate the tremendous value of television, but I suggest that greater attention should be paid to the need to prevent harm resulting from programmes containing excessive violence which may well affect the younger generation especially.
It is important to ask why we have such serious problems in the Welfare State. Is it because we are having it "too good"? The other day, in my surgery, a middle-aged woman of about 50 separated from her husband, came to see me with a domestic problem concerning her children. I had to inquire about the finances coming into the household. She was earning £50 a week. Her son of 21 was earning £50 a week. Her daughter of 19 was earning £40 a week. Had they too much money to spend? Did they realise its value and what it could provide?
Do betting shops and casinos and the many forms of gambling that we now have constitute too great an allurement? Does the fact that many married women now go to work lead to the neglect of children and lack of discipline? I am in no sense an advocate of conscription, but would not a period of some form of training for teenagers lead to less violence and vandalism and a keener sense of discipline? Are not we in danger of having too many do-gooders, as the Commissioner of Police described them the other day? I have always supported divorce Bills which helped spouses to dissolve their matrimonial ties when recourse had to be had to the courts, but I wonder 1350 whether in some way this has not furthered the disruption of family life.
The Select Committee gave consideration to many topics. I do not suggest that the conclusions that it has come to are not warranted; indeed, I commend them. But I wonder whether the Committee would not have been helped further by a consideration of some of the questions that I have posed and the need to understand why these problems exist.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
Unlike other contributors to this debate so far, I propose to restrict my remarks entirely to that aspect of the debate which relates to violence against wives and, dare I say, husbands rather than violence against children. I do this partly because it is a subject which has interested me for some time and partly because, as the representative of what I suppose can be described as a middle-class area, I think that I have detected over the past few years a tendency towards an increase in the incidence of domestic violence against wives and husbands which goes under the shorthand term "wife battering".
I have looked carefully at all the recommendations of the Select Committee in this regard, and I should like to deal with them in the sequence in which they are placed before us as recommendations.
First, I should like to discuss briefly the question of prevention of this seemingly mid-1970s phenomenon, although I shall question later whether it is quite such a new phenomenon as the media would have us believe. It may just be that it is reported rather more freely in 1978 than perhaps it was in 1928. However, I suggest that that is a matter for individual judgment.
I think that we have a duty to look at ways in which wife battering can be prevented. I was not at all struck by the recommendation that serious attention should be given to school curricula regarding the roles of partners in marriage. In my view, that is an unrealistic and potentially unrewarding way of dealing with an extremely important matter and there are other and better ways of communicating to young people the dangers of wife battering in terms of ultimately irreparable marriages. I suggest that one of the most effective ways of doing this is likely 1351 to be a course of action we have adopted before for other purposes.
When I was a young teenager, I saw a film about the dangers of venereal disease. The impact upon me was considerable. I understand that that sort of educational film is still shown to the youngsters at school. There are, for example, films shown about the dangers of drug addiction. I wonder whether it is beyond the wit of the education authorities to produce a film showing the dangers, perhaps showing the potential signs of incipient wife battering and underlining the real contribution made by the excessive intake of alcohol. It seems to me that all these factors are much better communicated by a film than they could possibly be by an alteration of the school curriculum.
As for alcohol education, not only in relation to wife battering and the effect that alcohol intake has upon it but on a much wider front, I have long been an advocate of much more education of young people about the dangers of alcohol. If that led us to feel that perhaps the excessively free availability of alcohol to very young people via supermarkets and off licences was a matter to which we should also turn our attention, the House would not find me disagreeing.
So much for prevention. What, then, of alleviation? The recommendation that each urban area should have a well-publicised family crisis centre, as it is described, open 24 hours a day is yet again not necessarily the best way of going about dealing with this problem. I concede at once that a wife who is subjected to a battering by her husband immediately feels that she must escape from the household, perhaps with time only to clutch the children and run in a particular direction. The difficulty at the moment is that throughout the country there is almost no direction in which she can run.
There is a strong argument for some haven to which a wife in that situation can go. But whether it should be a 24-hour crisis centre, which would be bound almost to be unpatronised for a large period of the day, is very much an open question. I should prefer to see existing social services or the police stations given some sort of role in this. In the light of the considerable expendi- 1352 ture that would have to be made in order to develop 24-hour crisis centres, I would suggest that one effective compromise might be to have at each police station a policewoman or social worker on duty for 24 hours who was available to calm down the battered wife who ran there for refuge and solace.
It is one thing to have someone there to calm the woman down, but the question then arises of what should be done with her, particularly as these incidents invariably occur late at night. The woman, clutching her children, arrives at the police station and is given solace by a policewoman or social worker, but what happens then? Obviously we must meet the demand for overnight accommodation. I am not talking about short-term accommodation; I shall come to that later.
One organisation which might help is the Samaritans. At present it has a very narrow role to play, but it could be encouraged to build up a register in each local authority area of all the people who were prepared to give immediate assistance by providing overnight accommodation in their homes.
However, that takes us only to the next morning, and, although it may be of great assistance at the time of night when these domestic tragedies seem to occur, we must think of the following days. That brings us to the need for refuge accommodation. There is no doubt that it is essential that there should be temporary shelters of a bed-and-breakfast nature, similar to those provided by law through the local authorities for homeless people. The emphasis should be on the short-term duration of such institutions.
The real aim should be to allow a woman and her children to return to the marital home with the least possible delay. That seems to require that we should act more quickly against the offending husband in order to enable the mother and children to return home. Therefore, I suggest that we should look at a system of court injunctions to turn the husband out of the family home, even if only for a short period pending a possible reconciliation.
§ Mr. McCrindle
Yes, I am aware of that, but I am suggesting that in these circumstances there is still a continuing need to look at the legislative situation, although admittedly it has improved. I cannot emphasise too much the dramatic and sustained nature of the crisis that tends to occur in such cases—usually late in the evening. I have been looking at the situation that night and the next morning, and I am now attempting to look at a more permanent solution to the problem.
The permanent solution appears to be in gaining reaccess to the marital home for the mother and children, and that requires swifter movement against the offending husband. There are cases where the wife is unable to return home because the offending husband is also likely to return, resulting in a repetition of violence against the woman. Local authorities must be more prepared than they are at present to transfer a woman away from the tenancy in which the violence occurred to an address which, in some cases, must be kept secret from the husband because this sort of man often tends to pursue his wife.
Another area to which attention must be given is the case of the husband who, injunction or no injunction, returns home. At present, the powers of the police are unnecessarily restricted in their freedom to arrest a husband in these circumstances.
So far I have spoken almost entirely about action against the offending husband, but it is incumbent upon us and upon society in general to ask why wife battering takes place in the first instance. It is not enough simply to take punitive actions against husbands who batter their wives. We must ask how we can do more to understand the psychology of the wife batterer.
I am not a psychologist, but I cannot help feeling that a man who engages in these practices does so because of his environment, his inheritance—something that we do not wholly understand—or the sheer boredom of his job in this mechanised and automated society.
We cannot just say what must be done to restore the family home to the battered wife. We must consider, perhaps, 1354 establishing a partnership among the police, social workers and medical people, including psychiatrists, to help the offending husband and to reintegrate the fractured household.
It is a social problem which most people know about and which still has many aspects that are beneath the surface. These need to be explored. Therefore, I felt that we would have failed today had we concentrated entirely on the emotive and important problem of baby battering without taking account of the social phenomenon to which I have referred and which is of equal importance.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mrs. Audrey Wise (Coventry, South-West)
I served on both Select Committees whose reports we are considering today. I agree with the scepticism of some hon. Members about the apparent increase in this phenomenon. The Select Committee found it very difficult to assert that there had been an increase in ill-treatment of wives or children. What it found was a much greater awareness of both problems and a much greater horror of them. We now see them as problems, but in the past they were regarded as more or less a normal fact of life. To that extent we have made some progress, but it is only the beginning of what is needed.
I believe that although it is convenient to talk about wife battering and baby battering as though they are part of the same process of violence in the family, this could be misleading. The Select Committee looking at violence against wives came to some different conclusions about the causes and solutions from those reached by the Select Committee on violence against children. It is not always true that a husband who ill treats his wife also treats the children badly. We found that often a wife is battered but that the husband does not abuse the children at all. If he goes in for abuse of the children, it often happens at a later stage and to older children, whereas the battering of babies seems to be in a different category.
What can be said about both conditions is that they are often the result of multiple problems. Individuals and families can often withstand certain problems, such as money troubles, ill health, housing and marital problems, or weaknesses in the family such as dependence on alcohol or 1355 the crying baby syndrome, to which reference has already been made, if they occur separately, but when there is a multiplicity of such problems a breakdown may occur.
Battered women are greatly indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) for the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act, the provisions of which are invaluable. However, the existence of that legislation does not obviate the necessity for an increased provision of refuges for battered women. I am concerned that wives should be able to maintain their presence in the matrimonial home, but women often need a change of place when they are escaping from their husbands. It often has to be literally an escape, and they often need to meet other women who are in the same position as themselves. Although I accept that refuges are a temporary measure, there are many battered women for whom they provide a necessary stage in coming to terms with their lives. Obviously one would like to see those women back in normal housing, preferably their own home, as soon as possible, but we should not take the view that if we keep these women at home we shall not need refuges.
We are pleased that there is now a network of refuges throughout the country, but we must not become complacent. The Select Committee set a target of one place per 10,000 of population. That was a guess, but it is no guess to say that we are nowhere near an adequate figure of provision. Perhaps we do not need as many places as one per 10,000, but nobody can assert that yet.
The provision of refuges is an example of the value that can come from the cooperation of State and local services, and especially of State finance for the activities of voluntary organisations. The Select Committee was impressed by the tremendous amount of work carried out by women's groups, and we believe that they can usually supply the best kind of support for battered women—certainly better than could be arrived at by more orthodox institutional provision.
In the refuges established by women's groups, the battered women are given a different kind of support and encouraged to play a different kind of part from that 1356 which is so easily achieved in a more normal institution. I believe that it is a good use of public money to support organisations such as the National Federation of Women's Aid Groups and Chiswick Women's Aid. I shall not dwell in detail on the relations between Chiswick Women's Aid and the national federation and other groups, except to say that all these bodies carry out an invaluable job. It is right that there should be different groups with a different emphasis whose work explores varying aspects of this complex problem.
I support the refusal of the Chiswick Women's Aid centre to turn away battered women. It is deplorable that the centre has been hounded. It is hypocritical for a local authority to say that women at Chiswick have been endangered because of overcrowding, when they are at Chiswick only because they are trying to escape from far greater dangers. I am not saying that I criticise other refuges which operate a different policy. Legitimate arguments can be advanced for both kinds of policy, but the only way in which to solve this matter in an acceptable way is to provide enough places in refuges all over the country. Until that happens, it is incumbent on us all, including the Government and local authorities, to concentrate on giving assistance rather than harassment.
I wish to endorse the remarks which have been made about the effect of alcohol. Both Select Committees which examined this subject were concerned about various aspects of advertising. On the subject of battered babies, we were concerned about the advertisements showing glowing model homes containing beautiful children who are always angelic. We were worried about the effect on the young mother who did not feel she was able to keep up that kind of standard. The Select Committee on Violence in Marriage was concerned about other advertising, especially that of alcohol. It is deplorable to see sometimes half the advertisements in Underground stations given over to the advertising of alcohol. Although I am not teetotal, I believe that it is dangerous to devote so much of our resources to the use of alcohol. I certainly do not want to forbid access to alcohol, but there should not be over-persuasion such as is happening now. Alcohol was the factor that occurred most 1357 constantly in cases of violence against wives.
The Committee which dealt with the subject of violence to children found that this could indeed often be correctly described as the battering of babies, because it is the younger children, even babies of a few months old, who are the most vulnerable. This is why the Committee looked in such detail at subjects such as the procedure in maternity hospitals, the experience of women in childbirth and early bonding. We felt that these were important areas of investigation, and I am not satisfied with the Government's response. It is easy to say that because hospital confinement is apparently safer we should concentrate on it. That is too narrow a definition of safety.
I believe that if women had easier access to home confinement, provided that the ante-natal care was such as to select those women at risk and recommend them for hospital care, we could find ourselves in the same position as the authorities in Holland, where there is both a high level of home confinement and a much lower mortality rate than in this country. Holland achieves this best of all worlds by careful selection at the anti-natal stage. It is all too easy to say "Put them all in hospital, and that will take care of everything". This is not so. For many women, hospital will always be second best in relation to emotional factors which are extremely important for the future safety of the family.
I am also concerned at something that we found concerning hospitals which was confirmed by the Court Report on child health services, which quoted that only one-quarter of babies are offered the breast on the first day of life and that by the third day of life still only one-third of babies are being breast-fed. I believe that this is not only a medical decision and certainly not the free decision of the mothers. I believe that a great deal of pressure is exerted, again through advertising, to persuade people that manufactured food is best for babies and children. This applies not only in connection with breast feeding, but with the feeding of toddlers. It is a great pity that the interests of food manufacturers are pressed as they are and seem to have an undue influence in hospitals.
1358 These are all matters of significance, but the strongest view that I formed as a result of serving on the Select Committees was of the need for support of all sorts for families—support from individuals, friends and neighbours but also support from the community at large.
The factor that has changed in recent years and makes this support even more important is that we now have such a tremendous mobility of the population. We found that this exaggerates and exacerbates the isolation that can be felt anyway by a young mother faced with coping with a new baby. Families are now often isolated from their relatives and isolated in their housing circumstances—not only in high-rise flats but in rural areas, because young mothers can be extremely isolated when they live in the depths of the country. Isolation, increased by social mobility, is an important factor in child battering.
Since families and young mothers have the problem of isolation, we should consider how we can provide some sort of replacement for the extended family relationship which may have existed before. We felt strongly that accessibility to all sorts of day provision for the under-fives should be an absolute priority.
We believe that many sorts of provision are needed. We are concerned about the straightforward provision of nursery accommodation and education. This should be available to every family that feels that it is necesary, but we are also concerned about the increased provision of mother and toddler clubs and help for playgroups. We recognise that this is another area in which there should be flexibility, but flexibility should not be a cover for chaos and lack of provision.
Although I was pleased in many ways with the Government's responses to both reports, I took exception to the response to the battered babies report in which the Government said in relation to the provision of day care:for 1977–78, the Departments concerned suggested, that, if the balance of services had to be changed, day care facilities should be reduced only if it was unavoidable; for 1978–79, they are suggesting that it might now be possible to make some progress in remedying deficiencies in services for under-fives, amongst others.That is a totally inadequate response. I am sure that my fellow members of the 1359 Select Committee would say that it should never be regarded as unavoidable to reduce the already scarce provision for the under-fives, and that the cautious suggestion that some progress might now be made is inadequate.
If one considers this matter even only in cost-effectiveness terms, there can be a great deal of additional expense incurred by the authorities in trying to seek out cases of baby battering, in caring for the children, in rescue work and legal work and in many other ways. All this work is devoted to the casualties once they have happened. Although it is necessary, it is second best. The crucial thing should be the provision of adequate services so that the casualties are reduced. As far as possible, we want prevention and not rescue. The Select Committee was in no doubt that the provision of adequate day care was for many reasons an essential aspect of preventive work.
I have spoken to the matron of a nursery school in my constituency who would very much like to be able to extend her work so that she could have mothers present at the school helping to care for children or to learn from the care that the children receive. All sorts of problems are wrapped up here that could be affected for the better by a greater provision of nursery care.
I am not advocating nursery care because I want a dumping ground for the nation's children—far from it. It is because I believe that it would strengthen family life and the ability of mothers and fathers to cope with the problems of caring properly for their children that I am anxious to have increased day care provision. It is an essential complement to the other matters mentioned in our reports. I do not accept that this is a matter that can be weighed by local authorities which can then say that they are terribly sorry but the provision of these facilities will have to be postponed.
The level of provision of any sort of day care facilities in this country is lamentable. Although the influence of the playgroup movement and voluntary workers is greatly to be encouraged and they should be provided with funds and premises where necessary, there is no substitute for nursery education for all those 1360 children whose mothers and fathers feel that it would be advantageous for them.
I want to see this provision given a very high priority, but I do not neglect the fact that this cannot be achieved if we are in an atmosphere of constant attacks on the whole notion of public expenditure. I learnt from serving on the Committee to be even keener on the idea that public spending is a necessary part of civilised life because it means communal support for all our citizens, and in this context particularly for our children.
I hope that the Government will be bracing on this matter and will not say that they cannot afford to make increased provision now but may be able to afford it later. This is one of many services that must be afforded now. It is cheaper in the long run in terms of money and in terms of human happiness to provide now. The day care recommendations of the Select Committee on Violence in the Family were among the most important. We shall be failing our children unless we make such provision. We shall also be failing our young mothers and families in general.
A debate of this sort is bound to range over many apparently disconnected aspects. That is because family life itself is complicated. I do not want to say anything about the legal aspects, except that I was disappointed by the non-response on family courts. If we are to have family courts, we have to get down to a concrete discussion and the provision of a Green Paper. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) said, the Committee made a most modest recommendation. It is disappointing that it has not been taken up.
When discussing registers of battered children and those at risk, we took the view that the welfare of the child has to be paramount but that a delicate balance has to be struck in relation to the right of the parents to have information. It should be the case that in general the parents should be told if the names of their children are to be on the register. The Government's response is wishy-washy. We did not say that in all circumstances, regardless of any other factor, the parents had to be notified. We would not dare say that. Nobody would say that. However, we said that notification should be the general practice and that if 1361 that practice could not be followed in exceptional cases and a decision not to inform was taken, the decision should be recorded in case files together with the reasons advanced. The area review committees and the Department of Health and Social Security should periodically review the position, and to that end the decisions made and any reasons advanced should be collated agency by agency.
Surely that was a reasonable recommendation. We are agreeing that there may be circumstances in which it is not proper to inform the parents. However, we want the decision to be properly arrived at and properly recorded. We want an eye kept on that. It is not sufficient for the Government to say that it is a matter only for professional decision. Professional decision is not a constant factor and may vary greatly in quality. We believe that it would be a useful discipline for all concerned and a protection for the profession as well as for parents if the procedure were followed of recording reasons in cases where a decision was taken not to inform the parents. Care in this matter would be in the interests of the children as well. I hope that the Government will reconsider and issue firm guidance.
This will be a valuable but complex debate. The public expenditure consequences of adequate action are most important. It is not sufficient for the Government to talk about local autonomy. Local autonomy should have a much lower priority in our thinking than the need for adequate minimum provision. Local autonomy should be about a decision to provide an even better service. It should not be used as a means of providing a less-than-adequate service.
I hope that the Government will consider carefully all the sections where they mention the need to preserve local autonomy. It could be a dangerous excuse for non-action by the Government in an area where action is very much needed.
I have concentrated in my remarks on those matters where I feel that the Government's responses have been inadequate, but I should say that in general I think that their response to the Committee, both in the giving of evidence and their final response, has been helpful and useful. I hope that the work of the Select Committees will be the beginning of a 1362 greater interest by the Government and Parliament in helping towards safety in families for children and a happier and healthier family life.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)
It is a pleasure to take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) as I find myself in broad agreement with so many of them.
The hon. Lady's observations on costs were entirely justified. She will know that we were cautious about asking the Government to spend more money. However, we were all genuinely convinced that if more money were spent now in some of the areas that we mentioned, we would save spending a great deal more money later. That is a valid argument.
I agree with the hon. Lady's description of the overall Government reaction. We are all familiar with the occasion when we address our constituents at a political meeting; we hope that we have done well and that we shall get a good response, and instead we get a watery, polite smile. I thought that the Government gave the Committee a rather watery, polite smile.
I served on the Committee from start to finish. On reading some of the reports, it might be thought that that was a horrific experience. It may help to say that during that period I married. My wife is hoping to have a Young Conservative before the next General Election.
I welcome this debate, but I am sorry that there has been such a delay. Our first report appeared in September 1975 and the report on children was published in April 1977. It seems that that sort of delay is normal. We are all aware of the pressures on parliamentary time, but it is important that the House should have a chance to consider a Select Committee's report as soon as possible either after the report is published or just after the Government's reply. We are talking today about evidence that was taken and views that were expressed in many instances before September 1975. That was a long time ago.
Having served on both Committees, I pay tribute to our two widely different Chairman. I never thought that I should be on my feet praising the work of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr 1363 Hamilton). However, there is no doubt that he was an effective Chairman. The hon. Gentleman has a great art for publicity, and that publicity was more than needed by the Committee. Without publicity, we should have got nowhere. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) was extraordinarily able in blending the Committee into one. The members of the Committee covered the political spectrum. I only wish that more attention were given outside the House to the workings of such Committees. There was a wide disparity of political views, yet not once did we have a political row either in private or in public. We examined some highly controversial evidence and I believe that we reached sensible and practical conclusions.
It was the first Select Committee on which I sat and I was extremely impressed with the way in which a Select Committee works. It was right that we had so many experts helping us. I believe that other Select Committees would benefit to a great extent from the presence of more such experts. At one stage we had three professionals supporting the Committee, and on the medical side they were invaluable. Our report had greater depth and professionalism as a result of their work. We should pay tribute to our Committee Clerks. We all know that they do the detailed drudgery.
We found that invariably we were led into many different subjects. We talked about the police, the courts, housing, education, abortion and alcohol. But we produced a comprehensive and clear report. The report on battered wives possibly was more significant because the report on battered babies went over ground that had been well worked. There had been some most alarming and highly publicised cases of which we were well aware.
Neither in the House nor in the country should we fall for the view that wife battering is only a British disease. We heard evidence that it is widespread in other countries. Japan in particular was mentioned. In this country, however, we have taken a lead in analysing this social problem and tackling it. That is much to our credit.
It would be wrong if some mention were not made of Mrs. Pizzey. We were all aware that she had been a tremendous 1364 tower of strength long before we arrived on the scene. Those who met her would agree that she is an awkward and uncomfortable personality, but she is just the type who can stand up to establishment pressures and get things done. I have no hestitation in saying that I regard her as a great social reformer of our time.
Anyone who has read our reports will be in no doubt about the seriousness of some of the incidents. I shall mention two. We were told of the wife who was doused in petrol and then lighted matches were flicked at her. We were told of the wife who was thrown out of a window and her back was broken. Her husband attempted to go to the hospital and assault her again there.
In my constituency I still meet those who think that the work of our Committee was misguided and that the whole matter has been built up by the Press. It has not. It is a real, vivid social issue in hundreds of homes.
I shall pick out one or two points from both reports. Education is absolutely essential if we are to make progress. I would not wish to alter a single dot or comma of the wording in the report. We said:Much more serious attention should be given within our school (and further education) system to the problems of domestic conflict … to include study of roles of the partners in marriage, and their relationships with their children.Perhaps surprisingly, we all came down in favour of a much tougher approval to the problems of alcoholism. The report states:We recommend that the Government should now introduce a vigorous publicity campaign against excessive consumption of alcohol, particularly by the young, and should formulate a positive policy on the advertisement of alcohol.I am convinced that alcohol is behind both these social problems in a big way. I was disappointed with the Government's response. It was far too cautious.
Having served on both Committees, I am convinced that there is a cycle of family violence. The Government say that that is unproven, but a reading of the evidence that we heard would not support such a view. I am convinced that a battered wife is likely to take it out on her child, particularly if that child is unwanted.
1365 In both areas we need more research. I should like to reintroduce the idea of establishing a special family unit to deal with all aspects of research instead of having research scattered in various institutions in our towns and cities. An institute for the family is a valuable suggestion. I am sorry that the Government are so cool about it. I add my support to the idea of setting up a family crisis centre. In both spheres that is a practical and important recommendation. There should be such centres manned 24 hours a day.
I turn to the question of the role of the police. We all realise that they have a greater part to play than they have played so far. It is easy to visualise the young constable on a Saturday night hearing a report of a wife being battered in a council house and saying "Come on, that is a family problem. Why should I get involved?" The answer is that serious damage could be done and that laws are being broken. As a police officer, he has a duty to enforce those laws. The police must be encouraged and pursuaded to be more positive than they have been in the past.
I have visited a number of refuges. A tribute should be paid to the National Women's Aid Federation, which has done a marvellous job. We are ahead of any other country in setting up such institutions. In my constituency the refuges attract a certain amount of hostility from people in the area. People ask "Why are these women being housed here? Are they, perhaps, getting something on the cheap?" I cannot go along with such views.
Normally, the living conditions in the refuges are incredibly primitive and the overcrowding is appalling. People do not move into such houses unless there is a real need. If one becomes involved in the cases in any way, one quickly learns what that need is and the real fear of violence in the minds of the women concerned. One has only to see how quickly they are filled up to realise how much pressure is on them and that there is a need for more refuges.
I turn to the question of wanted children. I agree with the hon. Member for Coventry. South-West that there are strong social pressures to have two children per family. We all know that in our 1366 private and political lives. But is that really what we need today? Would not this country be happier and healthier if our population decreased? I am convinced of the need for a proper family planning service and access to National Health Service abortions. The Minister will know how out of balance such facilities are. I am thinking in particular of the West Midlands. I was impressed with the work of Parents Anonymous. Its activities should be highlighted. It put up a very good case of which the House should take note.
I have a word of praise to say for social workers. They are often blamed, and sometimes that blame comes most strongly from this side of the House. They have been pilloried far too often in the newspapers in stories about battered babies. There is a view that always the social workers must have been to blame. We must accept that it is impossible for our social services, however elaborate they are or however well trained the workers, to give comprehensive coverage. One has only to think of what happens when a problem family moves to a new area. There are bound to be difficulties for the new social worker in picking up all the relevant facts of the case. Too often social workers are being criticised, and that does great harm to them and to their work for others.
When we began preparing our report, I believed that it would be hard to produce firm and sensible proposals and that it would be rather like catching Scotch mist in a bottle, yet over the weeks we formed up some detailed effective points. I hope that the House as a whole will help the members of the Committee to get these recommendations out of parliamentary papers and put into practice in the homes and the High Streets of our constituencies.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)
Having served on the Select Committee which looked into violence to children I am certainly well aware of the vast range of problems and the difficulties, in making a speech, of trying to pick out from the vast range of material supplied to the Committee the points that one wants to emphasise. I am conscious that this is an area in which there is a great deal of agreement about what should be 1367 done, but that it is difficult to get action taken, mainly because of the problems of resources. I therefore very much welcome the Government's response to much of the report, but I also wish that the Government could have gone much further.
In this debate we should stress that the family is a remarkable institution. In the vast majority of cases it is a success story. In looking at Select Committee reports it is easy to think of all the disasters. We should therefore, on occasions, stress the successes. Society should assume that it is a success and occasionally get round to paying tribute to the successful family. Making a family is a job for which people have no training, yet people of all sorts of backgrounds and educational standards, and all sorts of abilities make a success of it.
We ought not to talk of the family as a marvellously creative institution just because it produces children. It also shows just how much imagination and spirit every individual has and how much people can make of their lives through their families. But we should recognise that being part of family is not easy, and that it is very hard work to make a success of it. Our sympathies should always go out to those who are struggling. We should bear that in mind when we see a mother struggling on a bus with a crying child, or hear a father trying to cope with his 14 or 15-year-old daughter who is acting like a prima donna and to whom he is trying to bring a little sense and rationality.
We should recognise that there is a lot of strain on two people who are living together and looking after children. Members of Parliament particularly should recognise that, since they so often have to leave the other halves of their families to cope with the children alone for long periods. We ought to say that what is surprising is that more families do not run into problems. The Select Committee recognised this and was concerned that the State should not merely provide help for the families that got into real difficulties but should provide better services for all families, with more support where needed to remove some of the strains which cause difficulties to all families, not just to those that go under. By saying firmly that we as a nation give 1368 family support and are doing something about it we would go a long way towards reducing violence in the family and against children.
There is the old saying about a stitch in time saving nine. That fact came through to the Committee when it looked at the costs of permanently caring for a brain-damaged child in hospital. We came to a figure of £98,000 for looking after one human tragedy for the rest of its life. If one thinks how that tragedy could have been avoided and how the money could have been used elsewhere, one can see the point very clearly. It may cost £130 or £150 to hold a case conference to try to sort out what has gone wrong. The cost of all the services used to try to patch things up is frightening. That emphasises the point by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise), that prevention is a lot better than trying to cure.
I turn now to one or two specific areas. We should be conscious that, unfortunately, society often almost puts the boot into family difficulties. We should examine our consciences and wonder how often we make matters a little more difficult for some families. Let me give two instances. A constituent of mine who is keen to get out of the flat she lives in has two small children. One of the things that causes her a great deal of strain is that every time the smaller of the children starts to cry—and at 18 months it does that pretty frequently—there is a banging on the ceiling from the lady upstairs. It is not pleasant for the lady upstairs to have a crying child beneath her, but she should remember that it is not very pleasant for the mother to have a crying child, and that the mother is not trying to make the child cry. She is probably already doing her best to stop the child crying, and the banging simply adds to her problems and solves nothing.
There is the whole question of drink, which has been referred to by many hon. Members. There are many pressures on a person to have an extra drink and not to go home, particularly after work. That leaves the wife alone to cope with perhaps two overtired and overstrained children. It is not necessarily enough for a person to have a bit more strength of character and to go home when all of his friends encourage him to have one more 1369 and to stay a bit longer in the pub. They may make that joke remark when he says that he must get back to his wife: "Haven't you got her under control?" There are many occasions when people in society in general put the boot into family life and make matters a little bit worse.
I refer now to our recommendation in paragraph 152, when we looked at the problems of the social workers and suggested that there should be a career grade for social workers which did not involve their moving from job to job. This is one of those matters that alarms me, because with some local authorities social workers have been averaging about nine months in one post, and the average for the country is about two and a half years. It is difficult enough for a family that is already in difficulties, but if, when it goes to see a social worker, it finds that first it is received by the duty officer and then, next day, it is passed on to someone else, and that that person is a changing figure lasting for relatively short periods, it seems to create a major problem.
Although most social workers have much more awareness of the problems of children and child violence, sometimes they should compare themselves with doctors, who perhaps have less awareness but are in many ways more effective. The assumpution of the family doctor, after his training, is that he goes to one job, becomes part of a partnership or goes to work on his own, and then stays in the neighbourhood probably for the rest of his working life. Over a period he builds up a fine knowledge of the neighbourhood and a relationship with his patients. He may actually see his patients for only short periods, but over a period the patients build up a respect and understanding for the doctor and feel that he is a valuable element of family support.
Yet the social worker, who in some instances takes the same length of time for training, after taking into account the time needed to secure a degree and professional qualifications, will, because of the way these matters are arranged, stay in each fob for short periods and move up from doing practical case work to administrative work for which he often has little training, little inclination and at which he is often not particularly successful. If we could do more to reorganise social 1370 work to give recognition and encouragement to social workers to stay in one community and to have a case load which continually evolves rather than flitting from job to job, we would do a lot to improve the quality of support from social workers.
I turn now to the question of the registers. It seems to me that there has been a tendency, particularly on the part of the Government, to suggest that the child abuse register has been an important element in dealing with the problem and in some way has actually helped solve it. We should firmly recognise that registers are a recognition of failure, because we are saying that there is not sufficient support throughout the community for all families and we have to pick a few and try to concentrate our attention on them. It would be far better if we could see the end of registers because we were providing sufficient support throughout the community.
We ought also to recognise that in some areas people have believed that they had dealt with the problem because they had set up a register. That is an extremely dangerous attitude. Also, we have some very bad registers in operation, and a bad register is probably worse than none. There should be a clear procedure for removing names from the register so that its size is kept to a reasonable level.
We should also consider whether the register should contain merely the names of the those in respect of whom there is evidence that some harm or damage has been done or those in respect of whom we think it might occur. It seems to me, especially when names go on the register because we think that abuse might occur, that such names ought quickly to be reviewed.
Moreover, we ought to be firm about telling people that their names are on the register. I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West in wishing that the Government had been much firmer about that. The Select Committee looked at this matter carefully and made a clear recommendation that people should be told unless there are pressing reasons to the contrary, and those reasons should not be that it is a little awkward or inconvenient for someone to do it. It would 1371 be a big improvement if the Government could lay down clearly that people ought to be told unless in an individual case specific reasons could be recorded showing why it was inappropriate.
I come next to the subject of family courts. I echo the disappointment of other hon. Members that the Government have turned their face against tackling some of the practical problems. One of the difficulties with the family court concept is that it has been at the level of slogan for a long time. People have been saying that we need family courts. Eventually, the Government will probably say "Yes", but then the question will arise: what does everybody mean by "family courts"? That is what the Committee was getting at in asking for a Green Paper or even for a Bill to be prepared so that there could be specific discussion on what was meant.
One has only to look back to the way in which juvenile courts were set up. There were many teething troubles, because it was a quick transition from slogan to reality. If the major problem is lack of resources, we ought to consider carefully how we use our resources in court buildings, and so on, over the next few years, to ensure that what we do is helpful, so that, sooner or later, we can arrive at family courts. But unless we have a clear idea what they are to be and where they will be housed, we could well be spending on the present court system money which will be wasted when the transfer comes.
The Government ought to work out the cost of the present administration for deal-ling with the problems which would come to family courts in order to see the difference between that cost and the new cost of family courts. I do not suggest that they should be the same. If family courts are to work well, they will cost money, but we should know what the cost is now of doing things badly and what would be the cost of trying to do them well through family courts.
Next, I come to the supervision order. Again, I was a little disappointed that the Government, rather grudgingly, I thought, at the end of the relevant paragraph of their response, suggested that if there were parliamentary time there might at some future date be some alteration in 1372 respect of supervision orders. If it is put in that form—that the matter may go to the Cabinet's legislative committee, with an effort at persuasion to find Government time—that is a pretty half-hearted way of going about it. In my view, the Department should have made a firm commitment that there could be new powers to strengthen supervision orders.
It was put to us time and again by social workers that they have an overall power, but sometimes it means that they have to persuade people whom they are supervising to do something when it would be more convenient to be able to say "You have got to do this because it is in the supervision order".
In this connection, I refer specifically to children at risk attending playgroups. If it were a condition of the supervision order that the child had to attend a playgroup, it would be very much easier for the social worker to say not that it is a good idea for the child to go to a playgroup, but firmly "The court has said that you have got to do so, and we must now make that practicable".
I stress that the Government should look again at the powers in supervision orders, especially in relation to child abuse but also in relation to older children in respect of whom, I believe, a lot could be done to make the Children and Young Persons Act work more effectively if there were more powers to specify that children being supervised did particular things.
I come now to the question of the emergency telephone number. It is important that in every local area there should be a telephone number available for use by people who feel that they are in danger of abusing their children 24 hours a day. Again, however, it is important to go further than just having someone to answer the telephone. We must ensure that practical resources are available to respond to the cry for help. On many occasions, perhaps, people may find it valuable to be able to talk to someone on the telephone, but it is important also that something practical should happen.
Moreover, as a matter of social policy, if we are to rely on telephone calls we should ensure that there are telephone boxes that work on all housing estates. We ought to tell the Post Office, which 1373 has recently done pretty well in its finances, that there are occasions when it should be prepared to put in a telephone box as a social service, without regard to the question whether it automatically pays its way. If we are to rely, as I feel we should, on the emergency telephone service so that people can call for help, the telephone boxes must be there for that purpose.
I come now to the question of the case conference. Here again, as in the matter of registers, it is often felt that the child abuse case conference has some magic about it. I believe that the case conference is, in fact, often badly run, and wastes resources, because a lot of people spend a good deal of time at the conference without contributing anything of value. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has done useful work in suggesting ways in which the case conference can be efficiently run. I only wish that all case conferences were run as efficiently as that society suggests.
We should remember that as each tragic case of a child killed by its parents hits the headlines, that evidence is only the tip of the iceberg. There are other children killed each week whose cases get very few lines, if any, in the local Press. There are children permanently damaged whose tragedies are not recognised for what they are.
Many thousands who will never be permanently physically harmed or be killed are seriously damaged mentally by their parents as a result of neglect or failure to give them the love and care for which they crave. I emphasise again that actual physical abuse is just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger area of neglect.
As I said at the outset, I believe that the number of cases is very small in relation to the total number of families. However, as a society we must give support to the family, and we must vastly improve the help available to those who are running into difficulty. We should have compassion for family break-up and for children suffering abuse and neglect. Although the vast majority of families are success stories, it can be easy to slip from success to tragedy. We should always bear in mind that almost any family in the land may quickly slip from success to tragedy.
§ 1.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Mayhew (Royal Tunbridge Wells)
It was a pleasure to listen to that speech by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett), with which I almost entirely agreed, and it is a pleasure to hear him also because he served on the first of these Select Committees, in whose work I had the privilege to take part. I served for a short time on the Select Committee considering the problem of battered babies, but thereafter I had to leave. I add my tributes to those already paid to our two Chairmen.
I agree with what I see as the theme of the hon. Gentleman's speech—the necessary task for society today of helping the unit which is of such profound importance, the family. There are many who say that having a Select Committee of the House of Commons dealing with the family is like having a Select Committee in the end coming out, after profound deliberation, in favour of motherhood or against sin. Plenty of people will take a cynical or lighthearted view of that kind. I profoundly disagree with it.
More than one hon. Member has drawn attention today to the difficulty of quantifying in money terms the value to society of an effective and efficient family that does its job well. Attention has thus been drawn to the weakness that any Select Committee finds itself in when its proposals and recommendations are rejected by the Government on the ground that it would be expensive to implement them. One can never reply in terms of pounds and pence as to the respective costs of going on as we are and implementing a recommendation.
But surely enough evidence has now been gathered to make clear what immense damage is done to succeeding generations if a family breaks up. Therefore, I believe that the Committee's recommendation in its Second Report, pressing for the creation of a family court, is of equal relevance to the issue of battered wives and the issue of battered children.
Most wives who are battered become battered because there has been a slow breakdown in the relationship at home. Most children who are battered become battered for the same reason. Here I 1375 pick up a point from the speech for the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who opened the debate. The stresses inherent in family life build up, and not much is known about them by those who suffer them most. I warmly endorse the hon. Lady's remarks about the need for more instruction. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) also mentioned it.
It is easy to laugh at educational programmes designed to help children in schools, before they reach the stage of marrying and having a family, to recognise and understand some of the stresses inherent in family life. I believe, however, that there is an enormous gap here, and unless we fill it we shall continue to have people, particularly as they marry ever younger, entering marriage with no idea of the kind of stresses that may very well in time lead them to the danger of committing serious violence and injury—to their spouse or children.
If people were given the sensible advice "There will be times"—as all of us who have experienced the stress of married life can very well vouch—"when there will be the prospect that you will be tempted to do things that you would now view with horror", I believe that we should go a long way towards overcoming the evils that the Committee has been considering over two or three years.
I well understand the difficulties that confront councils when they are asked to approve a refuge for battered wives. I well understand the anxieties of people who live in the street in which it is proposed to set up such a refuge. But I recall the words of the hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green at the conclusion of her speech that it is not enough just to be against the battering of children: one must be prepared to do something about it.
I very much sympathise with the Hounslow Borough Council, confronted with the problem of Mrs. Pizzey's refuge at Chiswick in that borough. When I went as a member of the committee to see that refuge I was appalled, as we all were, by the overcrowding. One recognises the problems of councils which are responsible for the enforcement of fire precautions and so on, but we sometimes 1376 tend to overlook the furore that there would be if an awful catastrophe occurred. People would ask "Why on earth did the council allow it?"
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), who said that the very nature of the conditions in which the women at the refuge were prepared to live—sleeping in three tiers of bunks, many of them for many weeks and some even for months—was an indication of the conditions at home from which they were driven to escape.
I therefore warmly support—and I hope that we shall have a further indication of Government support—the Committee's recommendation in its First Report that refuges for battered wives should be available in every major town. The need for them is still lamentably unmet. People driven to that dreadful limit should be able to go not always to a refuge in their immediate area but often to a refuge a considerable way away. One of the problems is that a husband—it may be a wife who has committed the violence, but it is generally a husband—who has injured his wife is all too often intent on following her up and trying to do it again.
The family court has a relevance here, because one of its principal purposes was described four years ago in the Finer Report as providing a place for a family to come to, wheremembers of families which have collapsed come to court at a stage when critical decisions will have to be taken about issues … around which conflicts are likely to develop. They may be disputes over the custody of the children, or the ownership or occupation of the matrimonial home.I would add that there might well be recognition of stresses between husband and wife or within the family affecting the children, stresses which the parents recognise that they alone and unaided are unable to cope with.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) said, if we can bring about an efficient merger of the welfare services and the judicial services in family law we shall have a much better service to offer people who recognise that things are getting to danger level in the home, so that they can avail themselves of the expert advice that is available. All too often people lightly and without much thought say "We all go through this kind of thing, 1377 and it is a matter of the rough with the smooth". I believe, having heard a great deal of the evidence given to the Committee, that that kind of attitude has allowed the amount of violence in the home to increase so alarmingly in recent years.
Very often the courts, lawyers and the law generally, come in for a great deal of criticism because of their lack of practical understanding. It is pleasant to remember the great assistance that our Committee had from the President of the Family Division of the High Court when we were considering the enforceability of orders made by courts for the protection of wives. I believe that it was almost a unique occasion for a High Court judge to come to a Committee and not only demonstrated a great practical understanding of what we were about but offer improvements to our proposals which were in the end embodied in the Domestic Violence Act. He made a substantial contribution to making more efficient the order of the court made for the protection of a wife.
Turning to the question of children, I say that the family court, as envisaged in the Finer Committee's report, must be recognised as a great improvement upon the divided jurisdiction that we have at the moment. I have already mentioned the types of conflict which Finer had in mind in making this recommendation He went on to say that:Such practical matters have to be settled or determined at some time, and the presence of the parties in court provides the best opportunity … for discussion and decision.The major criteria which a family court should in principle satisfy were set out. They were that a court must be an impartial judicial institution, regulating the rights of citizens and settling their disputes according to law. Such a court had to be a unified institution in a system of family law applying a uniform set of legal rules and not the divided set of legal rules which we have now, with jurisdiction split between the county court and the magistrates. Such a court must organise its work in such a way as to provide the best possible facilities for conciliation between the parties in matrimonial disputes.
Here is the value of bringing the welfare and conciliation services under the same roof as the judicial services. Professionally trained staff should be on 1378 hand to assist the court and the parties appearing before it on all matters requiring social work services and advice. The court must work in close relationship with the social security authorities in the assessment both of need and of liability in cases involving financial provision.
I urge the Minister seriously to reconsider—and to urge such reconsideration upon his right hon. Friends—the rather summary rejection of recommendation No. 53 in the First Report, which calls for a Green Paper to set out the arguments for and against a family court. I do not necessarily go so far as to say that there should be a draft Bill, but let there at least be a Green Paper for discussion. It is not as though this has just been thrown up, as the Government response says, by our Committee and by the bodies consulted on the report by our Committee. This has been recommended by the Finer Committee. The late Mr. Justice Finer was appointed by Mr. Crossman to consider the problems of one-parent families. He was a most distinguished judge who gave a great deal of time to producing his extremely significant report.
I urge the Government to reconsider their rejection of the family court. They ought particularly to bear in mind—it is not a new observation—that in general those who have recourse to the magistrates' courts for their matrimonial disputes tend to be the people who have least confidence in the legal system. They tend to be the people who regard the magistrates' courts simply as criminal courts.
To some extent their fears are confirmed, because the magistrates' courts still have to exercise jurisdiction based upon a matrimonial offence while that has gone in the county court, where the sole issue on divorce is whether the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Such people tend to regard the magistrates' courts—I say this without disrespect to magistrates, who do such a marvellous, unpaid job—as criminal courts. They see themselves being treated, to a greater or lesser extent, as if they were criminals. This is not the fault of the magistrates.
There is an urgent need to bring the two jurisdictions together under the same roof within the unified family court to 1379 which Mr. Justice Finer drew attention so long ago. If the Government are to pay heed to the closing words of the hon. Member for Wood Green today—and I hope that they will—they have to do something and not simply express general agreement with the need to help battered wives and children. Let them take as their first priority the publication of a Green Paper on the merits of a family court.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Miss Jo Richardson (Barking)
As one of the hon. Members taking part in today's debate who was not a member of either of the Select Committees, I had little to say how glad I am that we have been given this opportunity for such a wide-ranging and serious debate. It is a wide-ranging debate, and in many ways I am sorry not to see on the Government Front Bench Ministers other than the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security.
I would have hoped that Ministers from other Departments would be present. One of the problems about violence in the family, whether it be in terms of battered babies or battered wives, is that it involves a number of Departments and not simply the DHSS. For example, we could have had a representative here from the Department of Education and Science. Many hon. Members have already mentioned the need for education about modern life. We should certainly have seen someone from the Department of the Environment, because the provision of housing for battered women is enormously important. We have seen this importance emphasised by the fact that the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act contains a specific provision to the effect that local authorities must pay some regard to the needs of battered women.
We certainly ought to have had a Home Office Minister with us, because the Home Office is responsible for the police, and the police are now getting involved in matters affecting domestic violence. Apart from the Scottish and Welsh Office representatives, who might also have been here, we might have had someone from the Law Officers' Department, since the Lord Chancellor's Department has a responsibility in terms of the courts. Perhaps this, more than any 1380 other subject which the House debates, would have been deserving of the attendance of no fewer than seven Ministers to listen to what we have to say.
Almost everyone who has so far spoken has referred to the provision of family courts and the need for the Government to make a genuine response to this issue. We have missed a golden opportunity in the past few months, during which time we have seen the passage through this House of the Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates' Courts Bill. Instead of dealing with that legislation, the Government could have taken the opportunity to reconsider the whole question of magistrates' courts, domestic proceedings, and family courts. Rather than entrench matrimonial proceedings in the way that that Bill does, we should have seized the opportunity to introduce the concept of family courts, a concept that has been widely accepted by society.
I want to address most of my remarks to the question of violence in marriage, but before doing so I wish to make one reference to baby battering. Of course, we are all horrified by the thought that anyone could be deliberately cruel to a child. A great deal of common sense has been talked today about the balance that we must strike between those who batter bodies out of some insane desire to hurt them and those who resort to baby battering as a result of the stresses of modern life which build up frustrations for them.
We can all recount constituency cases involving such factors. People who live in high-rise flats, for example, come to see us, ostensibly about housing matters, and we can almost see the potential baby batterer. It is necessary for such parents to be moved into accommodation where they can live at peace with one another, without the frustrations brought about by living with children in high-rise flats. The problems of the unemployed may also create difficulties at home. If the father of a family who has been the principle breadwinner is confined to the home because he does not have a job, this creates tension within the family. The parents feel frustrated, and this could result in baby battering.
What I am concerned about is the at-risk register. I am worried that such registers are being built up—we recognise the 1381 need for them in some respects—not necessarily always on the basis of correct information. We all have cases of families which are on the list because a social worker considers that at some stage in the future there may be a risk of violence to the children. The social worker may have noticed a bruise on a child's leg and thought to himself "I wonder how that came about". He considers that the family had better go on the list. If we are not careful, it could be a dangerous infringement of civil liberties if people can be put on file without being able to check that they are on file and without being able to see the file and judge whether it is correct.
We owe a great tribute to social workers in most localities. Despite the occasional instances, like that of Maria Colwell, which bring down on social workers the wrath and emotion of the Press, I am convinced that they do a considerable job in helping the family. But we need more of them—that is the problem. Many of them have too big a case load to be able to deal adequately with individual cases.
I turn now to the subject of wife battering. My first point concerns progress with the provision of refuges. The number has grown in the last 18 months. Whereas about 18 months ago there were 60 or 70 refuges, now we have nearly double that number throughout the country. But the problems facing the refuges are considerable because of inadequate funding. I hope that my hon. Friend will recognise—he can check it with the National Women's Aid Federation—that, whilst encouragement is given, or perhaps I should say while lip service is given, to the opening of more refuges to provide a more even spread throughout the country, some of the refuges are having to close because they are unable adequately to fund themselves.
The overwhelming majority of refuges are run by volunteers, to whom deserved tribute has been paid. But many of them have to spend far too much of their voluntary time in fund raising. Then they get browned off with the problem of constantly trying to provide a very small amount of money to do a very big job.
I realise that except through the urban aid and job creation schemes, the Government have no central responsibility for 1382 funding individual refuges. I wish they had. I wish that they would place a statutory responsibility on local authorities to take a much more positive line than they do at present for providing financial help for local refuges, leaving them to be run in the voluntary way that they are at the moment, which is a good thing, but making sure that they have sufficient money to carry out the job that they are trying to do so well. I hope that the Minister will comment on the possibilities, in due course, of putting on local authorities a statutory responsibility instead of the permissive one, in order to make sure that they take some responsibility for their local refuges.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I am following the hon. Lady's interesting speech with great care. Does she not see a danger in her proposal that the Government should impose a statutory responsibility upon local authorities in this respect? It is all too easy for the Government to tell local authorities that they shall have additional responsibilities, but if they are not provided with additional money to meet those responsibilities, they are caught. I am not making a party point here, but I remind the hon. Lady that we have had a good illustration of the situation in the recent cut-back of the rate support grant.
§ Miss Richardson
I was about to say that there is no point in giving local authorities statutory responsibilities unless we give them the wherewithal to carry them out. So long as we go on having cut-backs in public expenditure, particularly by local authorities, not simply in terms of refuges but of day-care facilities and so on, local authorities will not be able to carry out their statutory responsibilities. I accept that responsibility has to be backed up by a proper rate support grant and other financial facilities from the Government.
My second point on the difficulties facing battered women concerns the operation of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977. It is very difficult for an individual to monitor how an Act is working in different areas, but I was fortunate to be able to take part last weekend in a conference in London, partly organised by the National Women's Aid Federation. It brought together a large number of representatives of Women's Aid, refuges, solicitors, police, a couple of Government 1383 Departments, and so on, to discuss the whole question of how the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act and the Domestic Violence Act were working.
I was appalled by some accounts of the patchiness of the way in which these Acts are operating—how some authorities are being good and supportive to battered women who need immediate housing help, while others are doing the old trick, patting them on the head and saying "Go home and have a cup of tea; we are sure that everything will be all right tomorrow. You must wait until you get an injunction before we, as a housing authority, can take you on."
I do not blame the Department of the Environment for the situation, but I think that the system is not working as well as it might. The Housing (Homeless Persons) Act is accompanied by a code of guidance which, although it expresses the views of the Secretary of State and his wishes for the legislation, has no force in law. Therefore, it enables the bad local authority or the less-caring local authority to ignore the provisions of the Act in respect of women who have suffered domestic violence. I wish in many ways that, rather than have a piece of legislation with an accompanying code of guidance which has no force, we tried as far as we could—I admit that it is not easy —to make statutory the provisions that local authorities must put into force.
I turn now to the operation of the Domestic Violence Act. Not unnaturally, I have been watching the Act with the greatest care since it came into operation on 1st June 1977. There is no doubt that it has been helpful to some women, but again I am perturbed by the patchy way in which it is operating. That patchiness seems to manifest itself in four ways. The first is the differing attitudes of the circuit judges. Some of them interpret the Act in the spirit of the Act. They grant injunctions and attach powers of arrest where they consider it necessary to do so. Others seem to refuse the injunctions over-regularly. I wish that there were a little more evenness in the way in which the Act is working throughout the country from an injunction-granting point of view.
I was greatly obliged to the Lord Chancellor's Department for giving me figures, admittedly provisional, up to April 1978, 1384 relating to the numbers of injunctions granted under the Domestic Violence Act. During that 10-month period the total number of injunctions granted under Section 1—that is the section which lists the provisions of an injunction—was 4,272, but of that number only 1,201 had a power of arrest attached.
Breaking down those figures by circuit, the pattern is very much the same in the Midland and Oxford circuit, the Northern circuit, the South-Eastern circuit—which covers London and the provinces—and the Western circuit. It is very much the same sort of percentage figure in each case. But, strangely, on the North-Eastern circuit and the Wales and Chester circuit, there is a rather different picture.
The judges on the North-Eastern circuit granted only 37 injunctions with a power of arrest, out of a total of 356 injunctions granted altogether. That is a considerably lower figure than that in all the other circuits, with the exception of Wales and Chester, where only 46 injunctions were granted under Section 1 with a power of arrest, and 124 without a power of arrest. I would not like to suggest that the judges on those two circuits had get together and said "We do not really like this Domestic Violence Act; we do not really approve of it, and therefore we must be very careful indeed and grant injunctions with a power of arrest only where there is the most obvious and awful manifestation of violence." But it is rather curious that the pattern in those two areas is no different from the pattern in the remaining areas which are covered by other circuits.
The second way in which patchiness appears is in relation to the knowledge of solicitors. There are solicitors—notably in the London area and in the bigger conurbations, such as Birmingham and Manchester—who have caught up with the Act and been able quickly and efficiently to give advice to women who come to them, but we have reports of firms of solicitors in other areas who do not even know that there is a Domestic Violence Act, and who have been abysmally ignorant in terms of the amount of experienced help that they can give to women
That, again, is a problem that we must overcome in some way. I do not know how solicitors are able to keep up with 1385 all the legislation that comes out of the House of Commons, but I should have thought that those who concentrate on matrimonial and domestic problems would keep themselves up to date, even though they may not be living in the bigger conurbations.
The third difficulty is that of proving to a judge, when a power of arrest has been attached to an injunction, that actual bodily harm has been occasioned. At the time of the drafting of the Domestic Violence Bill, those who were involved in it pointed out to the Government, who were supporting the Bill, that actual bodily harm might be far too precise a description to cover the whole reality. I am not a lawyer, but, as I understand the position, the term "actual bodily harm" has to mean actual bodily harm. We have all heard stories of people who are able to inflict harm on their partner without any kind of bruise showing, and without there being any outside evidence of it in any way.
I am sorry that difficulty over actual bodily harm has also arisen in regard to domestic proceedings in the Bill relating to magistrates' courts, where we now have provision for obtaining orders in domestic violence cases in magistrates' courts but where actual violence has to be proved before a judge can send a man to prison for having repeated the offence. It is a pity that we have too narrow a classification of this offence.
The fourth point concerns the attitude of the police. Although the police have been very helpful in most areas, they were initially a little resistant to the idea that they could intervene in cases of domestic violence. With some exceptions, they have risen to the occasion and have responded when called, having had a copy of an injunction produced at the police station to show that a power of arrest has been attached to it.
I hope that the police will take note of the point that they might make a greater use of policewomen, as distinct from policemen, in going to places where domestic violence is taking place. I have heard from senior policemen that they would not dream of sending a policewoman to deal with such a domestic situation because they feel that it is much too violent for her to be able to cope with it, but if a policewoman can be sent on the beat, where she is open to any 1386 kind of violent situation, I do not see why she cannot be sent into a home. Being a woman, she may have a better opportunity to make an appraisal of the situation, and perhaps calm it down. I hope that our senior police officers will consider the use of policewomen in this context.
I see the whole question of domestic violence not as a narrow problem—albeit an age-old one, as hon. Members have already pointed out—but as one in respect of which of a feeling has grown up that its resolution will come about as a result of a growing appreciation in society of the question of equality for women. Much of the attitude which has grown up in our history—that women at home are good for a clip around the ear and ought to be silent and accept it as part of their role in life—arises from the inequality of the sexes in society.
There was reference earlier to the fact that we in this country were doing a great deal to try to help in solving the problem. I was interested to read that a woman Minister in France, who is responsible for these matters, referred to wife battering some time ago as "the English malaise", until she was confronted by a number of women's organisations in Paris. They pointed out that it is by no means an English malaise; that it is world-wide. I think it is true that this country has paved the way towards an understanding of the problem, but until we can get society, principally through our education system, to accept that women have an equal role in life with men, we shall have to continue to grapple with the problem.
I welcome the Government's response to both Select Committee reports. I wish, as other hon. Members have said, that that response had in some ways not been quite so timid and had had a bit more clout behind it, but I look forward with interest to hearing what the Minister has to say.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)
Like most other hon. Members who have spoken today, I am sorry that neither the Government nor the Opposition have spoken today, I am sorry that neither the Government nor the Opposition have seen their way to having representatives of the other Departments or 1387 their Shadows on their respective Front Benches. I say that because I, too, wish to draw attention to various matters which affect Departments other than the Department of Health and Social Security.
The first is in the context of the Department of Education and Science and the Scottish Office. I served only on the Select Committee which dealt with violence in the family. A quick perusal of the recommendations of that Committee reveals the emphasis which its members felt should be placed on pre-five-year-old education facilities, pre-school playgroups and all sorts of assistance which would provide day facilities for young children and enable young mothers to have their children out of their hair for a short period of time. It seems to me, having listened to the evidence, that many of the stresses are created by the fact that mothers can see no escape from their very demanding youngsters.
The extended family in society has broken down to a very marked extent. In my constituency we have a new town where the population is dominated by very young families. Unfortunately, the grannies are in many cases away in Glasgow and out of reach of the young mothers, who do not all have cars, contrary to a fallacy which seems to exist.
We have declining primary schools rolls. In my constituency last year there was an infant intake of only one in a particular school. This has led to the closure of many classrooms in schools throughout the West of Scotland, and I am sure that the same is true of other regions of the United Kingdom. At the same time, we have a large number of highly qualified but unemployed schoolteachers who, I am sure, with a bit of encouragement would be only too delighted to involve themselves in preschool work which would be of assistance to these youngsters.
I followed this matter up recently with my local education authority on behalf of a group of young mothers who wanted to see a nursery school established in a primary school which had vacant classrooms. We were immediately confronted with red tape, bureaucracy, definitions of school use and so on which made it extremely difficult to visualise nursery 1388 schools or pre-school playgroups being established within under-used State school buildings.
We should be looking at the possibility of the Department of Education and Science and the Scottish Office, together with local authorities, looking at ways in which we could ease the situation and make these resources available to the young mothers who demand this facility.
I want to draw special attention to one part of the report of the Select Committee on Violence in the Family which makes particular reference to Scotland. I refer to paragraphs 95 to 98 of the report and to recommendation 58. In the report, attention is drawn to the fact that Scotland has a very high level of violence. There are a high murder rate, a high incidence of serious assault and weapon carrying, a high level of alcohol consumption, a persistent use of corporal punishment in schools and, especially in Glasgow, a great number of gangs.
One newspaper reported last week that, following the disappointing performance of the Scottish football team in Argentina, the incidence of wife battering had gone up because husbands had watched football on television, had been drinking steadily all day and had brought home their carry-outs—as they are called in England, their take-aways—and that it was the wives who suffered.
Against the background of all this violence in Scotland, in 1971 we brought in a novel and important way of looking at the problems of children under 16 who had committed offences or who were in need of care and protection. When the Select Committee visited Scotland, I believe that all its members were extremely impressed with the work being done by the children's panel system. It may seem strange to other hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies that the children's panel system is praised so much in the Select Committee's report when at home we are always aware of the criticisms made of the system. Hardly a day passes without the children's hearing system coming in for adverse criticism. I feel that this view should not be endorsed as I believe that the children's hearing system has done a great deal and is an idea which could well be copied south of the border.
1389 Recommendation 58 points out the desperate need for money to be made available to guarantee the kind of back-up facilities which are necessary for the children's hearing system to continue, to expand and to be effective. As yet, this money has not been made available. I hope that the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security will make sure that the Scottish Office looks very carefully at the resources being made available to the children's hearing system so that its virtues can be expanded and so that the children can benefit at the end of the day.
As I said at the outset of my remarks, I served only on the Select Committee on Violence in the Family. However, I should like to make one or two comments on the report on violence in marriage. Like most other hon. Members who have spoken, I take the view that housing is an extremely important aspect of this problem. Many wives continue to put up with intolerable circumstances because they have nowhere else to which they can turn. In this context, the breakdown of the extended family is every bit as important as it is in the case of young children.
I accept the Government's view that it is difficult to ascertain the number of refuges which are required. But I endorse fully the view of the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) that there are not adequate facilities available throughout the country and that, where they are available, in most cases they are in condemned properties. We find this in the West of Scotland. The properties are condemned, they are difficult to find, the accommodation is inadequate and the facilities are not appropriate.
One hon. Member referred to the possibility of using the local police station as an immediate temporary refuge. I have nothing against the principle of that idea. However, I am sure that the hon. Member is aware that our police services are very understaffed. I am sure that they would not be able to take on this additional responsibility along with the other difficulties that they have.
It is essential that finance should be made available to establish refuges evenly throughout the country, especially in the conurbations but bearing in mind rural areas as well where people have to escape 1390 from the same problems. Is it possible for us to be given up-to-date information about the number of refuges which have been established, with some kind of geographical breakdown of their locations?
Beyond that and the need for temporary housing for battered wives, there is the problem of permanent housing for homeless people and single-parent families. With the advent of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, many people hoped that the problem would be solved. However, they are still running into difficulties. One of the problems is that of interpretation by local authorities. In Scotland, we find that many local authorities did not want this Act to be brought into their remit. They wanted the problem of homelessness to remain with the social work departments. Much of the difficulty that we have experienced in Scotland is that the will does not exist in some local authorities to guarantee that women in this position are given homes.
As constituency Members, we all have experience of the woman who comes to us at our weekly surgeries and talks about the difficulties which she is having with the local housing department. When she is told about the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act, she asks "Assuming I leave home, will my children be taken into care if I am not given an immediate house?" This is one of the reasons why women remain in intolerable circumstances. They do not want their children to go into care even for a very brief period.
In my view, all tenancies should be made joint. The same goes for mortgages. This would help solve one of the problems. When a young couple are contemplating buying a house or taking the keys to their first council or corporation house, in their starry-eyed mood they are not thinking of the difficulties which may lie ahead of them. I think that it is incumbent upon local authorities to point out that joint tenancies are available and that the youngsters should take them out so that we do not have this intolerable position where the man, as head of the household, can put out his wife or where, having the children to care for, she does not have the opportunity even of staying on in the house to which she has often contributed. The Government should make it incumbent on all local authorities to ensure joint tenancies.
1391 In the report on violence in marriage, one recommendation was that Scottish divorce law reform should be taken up by the Government. It has been noticed in the observations that since then a Bill to that effect has been passed. It was a Private Member's Bill last year, and I was pleased to be a sponsor. This has improved divorce proceedings in Scotland and in a few months further improvements will be made. One of these will be that people will not have to appear in court when the divorce is agreed to by both parties.
I still believe, however, that there is a great deal of room for reform of the divorce law in Scotland. It seems ridiculous that in the vast majority of cases in which an individual has to make representations, the High Court in Edinburgh is the place to which he or she must go. I would think that sheriff courts throughout Scotland could quite adequately deal with many of the divorce cases that are coming before the High Court at present. There is a severe backlog of divorce proceedings, and this is one of the difficulties in housing, because women cannot be allocated a house until they have the divorce forms to place in front of housing managers. Anything that can speed up the proceedings will be very useful.
I hope that today's debate has stimulated interest throughout political circles and society as a whole. Much of what we have said requires public finance and assistance. I believe that all societies are judged on their humanitarian attitude to the problems of individuals and groups in society. On the question of battered wives and babies, no Government can find a better way of allocating their funds than in assisting these victims.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)
Everyone must agree that today we have seen the House of Commons working at its best. The debate opened with a formidable and sympathetic handling of the subject by the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). We know of the tremendous contribution that was made by her, and by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). In all their work these two 1392 hon. Members and their Committees have both been very thorough, and the debate which has now followed, covering so many aspects of this difficult subject, has been well researched.
I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow up every issue that was raised in the debate, because if I did we would be here for a very lone time. In particular, I shall not follow up the remarks on housing made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). I agree with her that this is a very important problem which must be looked at further, but we shall he debating housing next week. I hope that, in that context, attention will be given to the difficult situation which often prevails on the break-up of a marriage and where there is violence in a household where divorce proceedings will not immediately follow.
There is an anxiety in society that this problem is increasing. I have tried to look back at the various reports and estimates. In 1975 we had the report from the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage. Paragraph 7 said:Little indeed is known about how much violence in marriage there is, and whether or not it is increasing. What is clear is that the number of battered wives is large—much larger than may be thought—In 1977, when we had the Select Committee report on Violence in the Family, dealing with violence towards children, it referred to the Court Report, Command Paper 6684, which said, in paragraph 211:The true prevalence of violence to children is unknown but evidence from limited local studies suggested a figure of not less than 5,000 affected children a year in England.That did not cover Scotland and Wales.
I asked the House of Commons Library whether it had any further statistics on this problem, because I think that we must put its importance to the people of this country. It is a major area of concern, and if it is not prevented it is likely to become a problem that will cost the nation many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and that could be avoided. The Library produced a number of references —an analysis, made up from the report of the Select Committee on Violence in the Family, of cases reported to the police in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Out of 1,044 cases of violent assault within the 1393 family there were 12 cases in which the husband was assaulted. We have not heard much today about assaults against the husband, but there is a notable increase in the reporting of such cases from people around the country.
We have another quote in a memorandum from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, on three estimates of wife battering.
The Citizens Advice Bureau estimated in 1973, on the basis of a sample, that their Bureau received a total of 25,000 inquiries about or on behalf of battered women in a year. They stressed that the figure should be treated with reserve because of the problems of defining and interpreting the word 'battered'.The bureau went on to say that it had the impression that the number of inquiries were growing and that the tolerance levels of individuals, although they varied considerably, were going down.
Further studies, such as the Colchester study, showed that one in 500 wives suffered from violence from her husband. Allowing for other cases, it was tentatively estimated that violence might affect one wife in 200. The Samaritans examined 10,000 case records in one area, and found that 3 per cent. of the clients had suffered from marital violence. They felt that those figures might be even greater.
I could go on with other figures which have now come to our notice, including the figures quoted in the NSPCC annual report in 1977, which said that at least 7,700 children, received non-accidental injuries every year. Of these, 110 victims, most of them babies, were battered to death.
Therefore, we are dealing with a very serious problem, perhaps not a growing one, but one of which we are more and more aware. Our discussions today have centred mainly on how to prevent this situation. The reports of the Select Committees and the Government's response to them have concentrated on this issue, but I must admit to being a little disappointed that the Government were not more definite about some of the recommendations of the Select Committee dealing with non-accidental injury to children.
We have heard a good deal about educating adolescents for parenthood. This will have to take a number of dif- 1394 ferent courses. It is no good just saying that it is enough to show adolescents the effect of battering within a family. Very often they think that this could never happen to them. Certainly that was the response that we heard after the showing of a film on drug abuse. Adolescents did not believe that they could ever be involved, or thought that if they were they would be involved only a little. It probably will be insufficient simply to leave it to showing films of the outcome of violence. It is always somebody else's problem.
Therefore, perhaps we should look at a number of different educative courses for different abilities in schools. In that way we may have a better response from growing adolescents in how to cope with the sheer pressures of complex modern society. Simple booklets have been suggested.
There is no doubt that in antenatal classes we could do more, beyond the actual stage of birth and babyhood, to prepare young mothers and their husbands for what lies ahead.
I can well remember being in charge of my two young nieces for a short while. The words "the terrible twos" never left me after dealing with them on some occasions. I hope that I was patient and never violent, but I well remember the frustration of an aunt, if not a mother
The other urgent consideration that we must give to the whole question of violence in the family—and this the Select Committee report certainly attempted to do—is the need for help at those moments of crisis.
The recommendation that crisis advice should be available at the end of a telephone throughout 24 hours, day and night, is a matter to which the House should give every support. It need not necessarily be a State function to run it. When I was in the United States I saw a number of crisis systems run entirely by volunteers. Those centres helped to avert the battering to a wife, husband or child, and impressed me a great deal The ability of somebody unknown to step in at the moment of crisis can be one of the greater preventers. In addition, we must give much more help to the counselling required by many young parents. This argument applies not only to young parents but to 1395 older parents who find coping with an adolescent an increasing challenge.
I notice that in recommendation No. 13 there is a reference to mother and toddler clubs. I saw one of these operating in an area of Leicester which can only be described as deprived. I was told of the tremendous assistance which this club had given to women because they could go to the club and discuss their problems before they got out of proportion. That prevented those women being over-corrective in their attitude to small and crying children.
In recommendation No. 13 the Select Committee also deals with community groups and pre-school playgroup associations. These bodies have a tremendous potential for prevention. In my constituency I visited a mobile hut containing a pre-school playgroup for 12 children. The organisers said "It is not just what we have been able to do for the children; it is the reassurance and advice that we have been able to give to mothers here in the play group and by diverting them to specialist help where that is necessary and appropriate. Please help us to extend this service." The value of involvement of the young mother in the Pre-School Playgroup Association has been totally underestimated. It can be an early warning system for the authorities, it can help towards a child's development, and, it can prevent a woman reaching the stage of over-reaction to her child's behaviour.
The Select Committee in recommendation No. 16 mentioned a further matter. I refer to the use of local government buildings as meeting places for groups which can give mutual support and counselling help. Far too often we come across situations in which, because of inflexible rules and probably because the local authority members concerned have not properly discussed the matter, there is a refusal to allow the use of a building, out of normal hours, by a group whose activities could comprise another preventive force in the battle to reduce violence in the family.
I pay tribute to the many voluntary agencies, particularly the NSPCC and the RSSPCC, and also to hundreds of self-help groups which daily try to take steps to alleviate the problems of violence. 1396 Without the voluntary sector, far less would have been done. I make the promise to the House that a Conservative Government would reinforce the work now taking place by all those voluntary agencies which are providing advice, refuge, communication, liaison, and preventing further violence and family breakdown. But they alone cannot combat the problems of violence. We must pay regard to what action the Government can take.
I appear to be concentrating mainly on violence against the child—the non-accidental injury. I am convinced from all I have read—the evidence is overwhelming—that if we can stop violence towards children in this generation, we shall stop violence among parents to a much greater extent in 20 years' time and prevent the cyclical build-up of this ghastly problem. I believe that the training of the health professions, social workers and all those concerned with this issue requires greater attention.
In these times of stretched resources, there is always the feeling that we must deal with the problem that we now face. Therefore, there is insufficient emphasis put upon the early recognition of the signs of abuse and therefore such courses of action that might be taken to prevent them. There is no doubt that the health visitor should be involved from the birth of the child, very early on, as the Select Committee recommended, but we shall need an increase in the number of health visitors. In time to come the modest 6 per cent. increase recommended may, in order to avert greater tragedy, require to be increased.
The report also referred to the early bonding between mother and child at birth and in the first few days after birth. With the increased knowledge that we now have of this subject, I believe that we could do more. I am told that the bonding often takes place more easily and much more naturally with home confinements, which is another recommendation made by the Select Committee. Perhaps the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) was right to refer the House to the experience in Holland, where the antenatal screening of mothers allowed those at risk to become hospital cases and those with a perfectly normal pregnancy to be advised that home confinement had its 1397 merits for them, if that was what they wished. There is no doubt that if a woman wants a hospital confinement and feels more secure in hospital, that should be the path to follow. But in such a case, in the early hours after birth, greater attention should be given to the bonding between mother and child.
Furthermore, there is the need in the health professions to co-ordinate the giving of information gained during school health checks where children are already at school and, if a child is at risk, to bring together all the available information.
This brings me to the subject of case conferences and at-risk registers. It saddens me to say that my personal experience of case conferences is that they are often rushed and incomplete and that sometimes persons who should be involved in them are excluded as a matter of professional jealousy. Even after the issue of the circular to local authorities, this matter should still be re-examined. We must make sure that, although case conferences should not become too large, they should ensure that the health visitor as well as the social worker and the links around the child who might be at risk, are all involved at the time of the case conference.
There can be no excuse for not passing relevant information among all the professional parties—yet that happens. En a case in the Wirral recently we have been desperately concerned at the fact that the failure to pass information at the requisite time led to a disaster involving the death of a small child. Local authorities have much to learn from the NSPCC and the way in which it runs its registers. That society has always had fair rules on the running of its registers. Until we can develop nationally acceptable rules along the lines of those adopted by the NSPCC, we may continue to encounter the problems of the moving family whose records do not get passed from one area to another, particularly where boundaries are not coterminous.
In the experience of some authorities—for example, East Sussex and Somerset—a two-level register has been found valuable. The first level relates to the hard core cases where there is a more than adequate suspicion of abuse having occurred even of proven abuse, the child having later gone to a foster family and, when its own 1398 family was thought able to cope once more, being returned to the family. In other words, a watch is still kept on the situation. Therefore, it should be a hard core central register but also a register that keeps watch on a number of suspected cases. In respect of the hard core register, I believe that the NSPCC is right to say that all reviews of the register must take place at least monthly and that, after a given trouble-free period, names should be dropped from the register. For those who are suspected to be less at risk, a quarterly rather than monthly review might be more appropriate.
The Select Committee has recommended that there should be a single "at risk" register. This would be an important co-ordination point that would help liasion between all the bodies concerned. There may need to be two levels of case conferences, according to the needs of particular families, and the degree of flexibility within national guidelines will have to be left to the local authorities operating them, just as the NSPCC leaves it to its local regional bodies.
With the problem of registers comes the problem of updating. One of the common factors in the sad investigations that have had to be carried out in recent years appears to be the lack of knowledge of he crucial facts for the regular up-dating of information, when to co-ordinate reports and when to send out the warning signals. The police have developed one of the best ways of dealing with these problems, and I note with pleasure the concern of the Select Committee that the police should be involved in all these cases. They can give valuable advice because they are used to having to make the difficult judgements that other people, however concerned, have not been trained to make.
Those who deal with children need a broader training than is given to some of our generic social workers. Until we put right the career structure in social work and keep those with the appropriate training for this most important load, we shall continue to run into problems.
I hope that the Government will review the way in which the "at risk "registers are working and will not allow this matter just to trundle on. We also need to involve, as we have not done before, the education authorities that provide nursery education. In some parts of the country, 1399 they are not generally consulted unless battering has already occurred and that seems to be a failure.
The hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) referred to the millions of families where nothing went wrong and rightly said that we must not get the problem out of proportion. He referred to real support to families. This is where we have to do rather more, not specifically on the basis of the Committee's report but in being conscious, in all our legislation, of the impact that we are making on cohesion or division in families. I do not think that we are adequately aware of this on many occasions when we pass legislation.
I hope that we shall become much more conscious of the need to reinforce the family unit which is the grouping to which most people return, even after a broken marriage. With that in mind, we may be able to avert some of the crises that can occur by having a better attitude to families as a whole.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett
I endorse the hon. Lady's basic thesis, but can she give some instances of legislation that has gone through in, say, the last four or five years, where we have not taken the family into account? The hon. Lady served on the Standing Committee that considered the Children Bill. A great deal of concern was shown there and is shown by the House generally.
§ Mrs. Chalker
If I were not afraid of stepping out of order, I could go into detail on the way in which our child tax allowances and child benefits do not always seem to have worked well for the family in various stages of their development, but I shall not stray too far. I am aware that we did a lot of good in the Children Act, and I believe that there is an underlying consciousness of these matters in the House, but sometimes we find ourselves developing a non-neutral tax position for women that can cause great stresses and force women, at times of prolonged unemployment, to go out to work. We should be able to avoid that if we looked at the whole family unit when discussing policies. But that is an issue for another day.
If we can get the Government to reconsider the Select Committee recommendations that they have so far not 1400 accepted, we shall be moving in the right direction.
Most hon. Members have referred to battered wives, but battered women are not always married to the men with whom they are living, Society may not condone or approve of that, but we should be referring to battered women—and battered men. I am glad that the number of refuges is growing and I hope that the Minister will be able to give the figures requested by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East. I am glad that the refuges are doing rather more than providing a roof over the heads of women who escape to them.
The examples in Women's Aid refuges and the Chiswick refuge show that a learning process takes place when battered women, who have been under severe stress, are together. They learn to cope in a way that they were not able to do when they were on their own. These refuges are developing most worthwhile self-help groups which mean that when a wife and child leave a refuge, there is continuing self-help in the community. We are beginning to see this movement springing up.
I referred earlier to the telephone advice that many mothers needed in connection with stresses with their children. The hon. Member for Wood Green also referred to this advice. I think that it is sometimes needed for problems of violence between a husband and wife. There is no doubt that if we could get the service going for children, it would develop for the adults who need advice on what to do when, for example, a husband comes home having had too much to drink and becomes violent.
We seem to be hearing more about families experiencing increased violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexley-heath (Mr. Townsend) referred to the proposal for a family research unit, which the Government have not yet accepted. I hope that the Government will reconsider the proposal. I believe that it is something that we must reexamine because we should be bringing together the massive amounts of information and co-ordinating and correlating it to give us an indication of what provision needs to be made in different cases.
There is a family crisis centre in Berkshire. Such centres are gradually being established throughout the country. At 1401 present, there is perhaps an average of one per county. Winnersh Grove in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) provides rehabilitation for families who have experienced not only a breakdown in their relationships, but extreme violence, perhaps towards the children. The work that is being done there for families who genuinely wish to stay together, but who find their personal relationships almost unbelievably difficult, is quite remarkable, and its success rate leads me to conclude that we should be monitoring with very much more care what these centres are doing.
That is why I applaud the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexley-heath. At the centre at Winnersh people are taken into flatlet accommodation for four months, six months or nine months. They are able to take advice. There is 24-hour crisis advice available, which often helps them to overcome problems when they have not before had the chance to do so.
In all the efforts that are being made, whether it be the report of the Select Committee or the work of any other group, there is no doubt that there is still tremendous concern about the working of our legislation. Even the domestic violence legislation that was piloted by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) is causing concern. I noticed in New Society this week that there is great concern about the way in which that legislation may not be working properly. That is because there is insufficient preparedness as yet on the part of the police to follow through in cases where an injunction should be enforced. That is something that will have to be given further consideration in the interests of the protection of women. I hope that that will happen in due time.
On the whole question of whether the law works and whether there is a refuge for anyone to go to, we have perhaps the greatest opportunity to overcome some of the problems by the creation of family courts. Erin Pizzey, who has done so much in Chiswick to advance the case for refuges, now has support from the Greater London Council for the work that she is doing. She has believed for a long while that family courts, which could consider violence in the family, separa- 1402 tion and all the problems that ensue, should be introduced.
The Select Committee asked for a Green Paper. That was not a tremendous request. I know that the hon. Member for Wood Green takes that view. Hon. Member after hon. Member, especially my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) in a most interesting speech, has made the case for a Green Paper on family courts. In addition to the recommendations of the Select Committee, there has been a recent publication by the Society of Conservative Lawyers. The National Council for One-Parent Families has brought out a recent pamphlet that is well worth examining. It includes ideas about the way in which we can move to family courts without excessive expenditure.
The fact that the Government felt unable to give my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) a quantified answer about the cost of moving to family courts makes me think that the problem is not nearly as great as they have suggested. The recommendation that we should have a Green Paper is thoroughly sensible. I ask the Government to reconsider their response.
Time and again in the debate there has been reference to alcohol and its influence on family violence. It is an issue that so often crops up in the courts. So often it is said that the problem started on the occasion when one of the spouses came home with too much alcohol in his or her system. We have made alcohol freely available in supermarkets, for example, and it is available to children in off-licences. We have gone down a dangerous path. It would be most helpful to consider the regulations covering the sale of alcohol, bearing in mind its wide availability and how easily an abuser of family life it becomes. The sale of alcohol could be curbed, especially when it is sold obviously for excessive drinking purposes. To curb such sales would help ultimately to prevent violence.
§ Mrs. Chalker
That is a grave problem. For a long time I have been concerned about the advertising of various 1403 products. The thought that all is well when a person has had as much as he can possibly swallow of an alcoholic drink, and the advertising that sometimes leads to that view, seems to influence the very people who should be warned of the dangers of drinking too much alcohol. Some forms of advertising do not help to warn those who are the most sensitive on that score.
I turn to resource allocation. In recommendation 3 the Select Committee refers to grants being made for periods longer than 12 months. The Government have responded to that by saying that it is done for special projects and that they do not believe that it is right to do so for ongoing projects. The NSPCC, the RSSPCC and groups such as marriage guidance councils which are trying to deal with the problems of violence in the family have a tremendous continuation problem.
It is not so long since the NSPCC had to lay off 20 inspectors because it did not have sufficient funds to continue with them. It did not know whether it would have the funds to continue. The inspectors were in the forefront of preventing abuse. I ask the Government to look again at their refusal to accept recommendation 3. There are instances where grants running for longer periods, and perhaps reviewed more than six months in advance of the ending of the grant, would have good sense.
There is much that we should do, whether it be for the under-fives in day care or for other categories. I give the House the assurance that my party will reconsider all the recommendations of Select Committee reports on these matters that have not already been implemented when it gets the chance to do so. The problems are urgent. Prevention is crucial. It is necessary only to go to a hospital to see a battered child or a battered woman to know that a great deal more must be done.
We say very often that Parliament must take steps to improve prevention, to educate today's children to prevent them from being the batterers of tomorrow and to ensure that there is real and active use of at-risk registers. There is a great deal that has to be done. We have to accept that we must set an example to society as 1404 a whole. We must not shy away from what society does not like and what it wishes was not present. We must face the problems and say that in the neighbourhood we can do much more about overcoming the problem of family violence. I welcome the suggestion that the good neighbour campaign should be extended to children and young families. That is a crucial factor in the battle.
We must do even more than that. We must make advice available to the young parent, to the woman who is very often at the end of her tether, as well as providing education, so that we ensure that every resource that society has to reduce violence in the family is fully utilised. We are not doing enough yet, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give us a more helpful response than he has been able to offer in the latest Command Papers.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Jim Callaghan (Middleton and Prestwich)
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who gave a clear, concise and in my view informative report on violence within the family. I say "in my view informative" because I feel that I am in the minority in the Chamber, most hon. Members now present having served on the Committee. Nevertheless, as a former member of the teaching profession of long standing, I have been interested in the welfare of children. I want to develop the theme of how violence within society has affected my constituency, and if I can add any useful facts, figures and evidence to the Select Committee's report I shall be only too pleased to do so.
Some hon. Members have raised the question whether violence within the family is a new phenomenon. One hon. Member asked "Is it new to 1978, or was it exactly the same in 1928?" I think that the answer lies within the White Paper. It states:Cruelty to children is probably as old as man himself.The problem is not a new one, but we are now becoming more and more aware of the problem. The problem is not confined to any one country. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) quoted a French Minister who thought that the problem was a malaise of the British but then discovered that it 1405 affected her country. The problem is international.
There is growing awareness of the problem. There is growing knowledge of the ways in which it can be anticipated, identified and treated. This has led to a great deal of effort nationally and internationally to combat the problem. That is what we are doing today. We are talking about taking steps to combat this new violence. Each case of non-accidental injury to a child is a tragedy for the child and the family. In many cases it leads to permanent physical or mental handicap or psychological damage.
I believe that the community as a whole can do much to reduce the stress on families with young children. The first suspicion of non-accidental injury is a sign of a need of support for the family. For professional workers the prime objective must be to ensure that all available resourcesskilled manpower facilities and finance"—finance has been mentioned, particularly on this side of the House, because of the cuts in public expenditure—are used in the best way possible to support the family and safeguard the child at risk, as a means of reducing the number of cases of non-accidental injury".The key to early preventive work is the identification of families where the risk of injury to the child is greatest. Everything possible must be done by Government agencies and voluntary bodies to ensure that arrangements are established for identifying and treating cases at the earliest possible stage to meet emerging needs.
Because of their close and regular contact with children at school, teachers—and I was one, so I have seen the situation at first hand—other staff in schools, and educational welfare officers, might often be the first to suspect that a child has been non-accidentally injured. From my own knowledge I know that there is much liaison between the welfare officers who go to the houses and see what is happening at first hand, and the schools and teachers. Teachers are well placed to alter the health and social services at an early stage if they suspect cruelty or neglect. The teacher also has an imortant role in providing additional support and understanding to the non-accidentally injured child.
1406 In my constituency there are two large Manchester overspill estates. I have raised the problems of these estates in the House. The social problems on these overspill estates become more intense as the years go by. A year ago 50 per cent. of the referrals to the social services Department from the borough and, generally, 75 per cent. of the referrals on child care and family problems came from one of the estates.
In 1975, of the total of 1,422 cases referred to the social services department about 25 per cent. involved child care problems—that is, reception into care. About 23 per cent. of the cases involved financial accommodation and matrimonial problems.
In one of the schools serving the area —an area of acute social deprivation—32 per cent. of the families sending their children to the school were one-parent families. About 14 per cent. were one-parent families with four or more children, and 30 per cent. had five or more children. Between 35 per cent. and 40 per cent. of the families were in receipt of social security benefits and free school meals. This is an example of social deprivation.
I asked the head teacher of the school for a breakdown of families with children in the school who were known to have experienced violence within the family. The head teacher gave me a catalogue. I shall not go through the details. I have selected at random some cases out of 20 in one class.
In one case an infant girl's two sisters had been seen by a psychiatrist. There were marital problems and the mother had been battered. Another case involved an infant boy who had been a battered baby. There are still strange discolourations on his chest and arms. That child has been sent to hospital for observation. The mother had been battered before, and since, she was separated from her husband. Yet another case involves a boy whose father is in and out of prison. His mother was battered before and after marriage.
I shall not go on with the list of cases, but hon. Members can inspect it later. The head teacher said that the class was typical of the school. These were not isolated incidents. I wonder whether the school is typical of the area.
1407 The way in which these figures are reflected nationally is shown in the First Report of the Select Committee. The report estimates that of each 10,000 children under four years of age in England and Wales, 10 will be severely injured each year and one of those 10 children will die as a result of the injury. The report estimates that in England and Wales about 3,000 children will be injured each year and that six will die each week.
There is no one cause of abuse. Many factors interact. Few cases of child abuse are a result of premeditated sadistic acts, as many hon. Members have said.
Most acts of violence are the result of a sudden loss of control by a desperate parent. All of us have had violent impulses. Anyone can give way to stress and become violent, but many people under the most extreme forms of stress cope well and do not lose control. Stresses of one kind and another contribute to child abuse. Some of those stresses are related to economic deprivation, financial difficulties, immaturity and inability to cope with a difficult child. On the overspill estates to which I have referred economic deprivation is of paramount importance.
Since publication of the Select Committee's report, public interest in the plight of battered women has not abated. The Government must recognise that there must be a place to which people can turn for help and advice at a moment of family crisis. When a battered woman leaves her home, her immediate need is for shelter. Many women will turn to their wider families to meet this need, but some are isolated and may have withdrawn from contact with friends because of the unacceptable behaviour of the husband. While there has been a big increase in the number of refuges, still greater expansion is needed.
Consequently, each large urban area should have a well-publicised family crisis centre open at all times. As much as possible must be done to break the cycle of violence by attention to the welfare and special needs of vulnerable children. The Government should introduce a vigorous publicity campaign against the excessive use of alcohol, and 1408 they should formulate a positive policy on the advertisement of alcohol.
In my constituency of Mr. Sam Woodward, who has been very generous with his time in helping the Bishop of Middleton with his shelter for deprived people—mainly tramps—has switched to devoting the whole of his retirement time to going round the schools giving lectures to children. He is concerned about the effects of alcohol when it is taken by children under 18. These are the older teenagers, and it is to them that the problems will accrue in the future.
More serious attention should be given within the school and college system to the problems of domestic conflict. Finally, I should like legislation to be introduced as soon as possible to clarify the duty of local authorities to provide temporary accommodation for battered women who have to leave home.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)
I apologise for not having been here at the outset of the debate. I had an appointment outside which I had to keep. Therefore, if I repeat some things that have already been said I hope that the House will understand.
My first point is a general one. The first report on violence in marriage was published in the autumn of 1975. The Government's response came more than a year later in December 1976, and here we are now having the first debate on these matters in June 1978. Three years have elapsed between publication of the first report and debate. There should be some obligation on the Government of the day, whatever its political complexion, to give time for a debate on a Select Committee's report not more than six calendar months after publication of the Governmental reply, subject to a request from the Select Committee concerned.
Clearly, some reports are more controversial and more interesting than others. But there should be some obligation on the Government. If the price to be paid for that is perhaps one Bill fewer per Session, it is a price well worth paying. There are many important Select Committee reports gathering dust on shelves. Enormous amounts of work are put into these reports, not only by Members of Parliament but by civil servants and others. The people who take 1409 the trouble to prepare memoranda and give written and oral evidence to Select Committees all too often have their work wasted.
In the case of the report we are disresponse is perhaps more understandable cussing today, the Government's delayed than in most other instances. It is clear from the Government's response that there is an enormous need for the widest possible consultation on the Select Committee's recommendations with local authority associations, the police, the Law Commissions, Government Departments, voluntary oragnisations and the rest.
I wish to concentrate on the report for which I was responsible, which is the one on violence to women. Perhaps the hon Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) would prefer that I said "violence to people". We try to draw distinctions in these matters, but any attempt to distinguish between the battering of children and the battering of the spouse must be artificial. Our inquiries took over five months, and eight Ministers gave oral evidence.
There was some indication of irritation by some Ministers that they had to be bothered to come before a Select Committee of proletariat Back Bench Members of Parliament. There was one occasion when a Minister—I shall not mention her name—came before us dressed up for a social function and felt that she had to be away quickly because she had to go to some function at Lancaster House. As Chairman, I was determined that she would go not when she wanted but when I wanted. Ministers should not adopt any such attitude. All Ministers should recognise that, when they are called before a Select Committee, that is their prime responsibility and every other engagement must play second to it.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am sorry, but I shall not give way. I do not want to labour the point. I hope that the message has gone home. If it has not, I shall find occasion to repeat it.
We start from the proposition that everyone agrees that there is no easy solution to a highly complex problem or series of problems. Precisely for that 1410 reason, I think, there is some evidence of despair, if not of apathy and indifference, in Government Departments. I have the impression, rightly or wrongly, that when this matter was referred to the Select Committee it was very much a case of the Government passing the buck, because they could then stall in the House for two or three years, saying "The matter is before the Select Committee. We had better wait for its report."
It goes further than that. To illustrate what I mean, I shall quote the words of one Minister. I am sorry that he is not here and I apologise for not having given him notice, but he will not quarrel because I have had occasion to raise the matter with him previously. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon), who was then Minister of State at the Home Office. He is a very liberal-minded Christian, and I say that in view of his evidence to us.
I refer, first, to what my hon. Friend said in reply to Question No 1688:I am very sceptical about whether this Committee, with all its wisdom, is going to be able to produce, after all this time, any new remedy.In his next answer he said:I am not sure there is anything this Committee or the Government can do about it. There is a solution; the solution is husbands ought to treat their wives better.One of the members of the Committee said that that was a pious hope, and so it is. It is not a policy. It is a pious hope that the problem will go away and leave Ministers to sleep peacefully on their portfolios.
The problem will not go away. The hon. Lady the Member for Wallasey and others have, no doubt, said that there may be evidence that it is increasing. We do not know. I suspect that the reason is that it is less of a taboo subject now as a direct consequence of activity and debate in the House and, not least, I hope, the activities of the Select Committees.
It is a problem, moreover—I hope that this has been said, and I suspect that it has—which affects all sections of the community. The appointment that delayed my arrival was a dental appointment. I was referring my dentist to a case that came to us in writing from a dentist's wife who suffered violence in her husband's chair. I cannot understand 1411 how that happened. There must have been something wrong with the husband and also with the wife. I just mention that case to show that it is foolish for anyone to say that it is a problem concerning only working people.
Indeed, I go further and say that the higher up the social scale the injured spouse is, the more reluctant is that spouse to expose the trouble because there is so much social shame attached to it. People do not want to be shamed into confessing that there is abuse of the person in the middle-class or upper-class family.
§ Mrs. Chalker
I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that abuse of wives, husbands and children is spread throughout all groups, but very often the psychological abuse that occurs among certain groups can be almost as painful because it is less quickly noticeable than is actual physical abuse.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I entirely agree, and that is the principal reason why it is almost impossible to gather any meaningful statistics. It is incapable of definition. What is violence in the marital home—or outside the marital home, for that matter? The mental agony or torture which often goes on in the marital home cannot be put in any meaningful statistic.
I wish to concentrate on a subject raised repeatedly in this debate and in the debate on preventive medicine last Monday—the link between the misuse of alcohol and marital violence. I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Wallasey and my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Callaghan) had some words to say about that.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who would have replied to me if I had been here earlier, has apologised to me for having had to go. He has promised to reply in writing to the points that I shall raise. The Scottish Office written evidence, on page 320 of the minutes of evidence, was:It may be that the incidence of violence in marriage could be higher in Scotland than in England in view of the higher incidence of the misuse of alcohol in Scotland and the association of this with violence. A recent survey conducted by the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children into incidents of wife battering encountered in day-to-day work with families over a 3 month period revealed that in 71 per cent. of the cases concerned the husband was 1412 suffering from the effects of alcohol at the time of an incident of family violence.That is too small a sample to project over the country as a whole, but there can be no doubt that there is a close relationship between the problems with which we are concerned today and the consumption of alcohol.
I was interested in what was said by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain)—I am sorry that she has left the Chamber—about the increase in battering consequent on the poor performance of the Scottish football team in Argentina. I suppose that the reverse of that coin is the increased amount of loving following the by-election results at Garscadden and Hamilton. One can never associate one thing with the other in the way that the hon. Lady did.
I return to the question of the incidence of alcohol consumption and violence in Scotland. In reply to Oral Questions it was revealed that, despite the figure I have quoted, the recently established Scottish Council on Alcoholism was receiving a grant of £15,000 a year. That seems to me to be a cosmetic tinkering with one of the greatest social evils of our time.
Our brewers and distillers are the modern merchants of death and violence. Incidentally, the Tory Party receives a great deal of its funds from the brewers and distillers to fight the next General Election, as it did to fight previous General Elections.
The excessive drinking of alcohol is probably responsible for more tragic death, violence and accidents than any other single factor, yet the advertising of these dangerous beverages is allowed to grow and fester almost completely uncontrolled. In our report we made certain recommendations which I shall not repeat, but one that bears repetition is recommendation 3 fora vigorous publicity campaign against the excessive consumption of alcoholand the formulation ofa positive policy on the advertisement of alcohol.The Government's response was little more than a twiddling of their bureaucratic thumbs. They said that the Advisory Committee on Alcoholismsees no special reason at present to call for further restrictions on the content or volume of advertisements for alcoholic drinks".1413 A clique of alcoholics could not have put the brewers' case better.
The recommendations of the Select Committee on Preventive Medicines, debated last Monday, included a suggestion not that there should be a complete ban on the advertising of alcoholic drink but that a larger proportion of the £2,000 million collected annually by the Government in duties and taxes on alcohol should be devoted to attacking the problems associated with alcohol abuse. I could have written the reply of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, on that point in advance. He said that the earmarking, the hypothecating, of taxes for specific purposes would infringe one of the basic principles of our tax system—namely, that all our taxes should be put in one pool to be allocated by the Government according to their priorities. I think that that is right. But it makes the Committee's recommendation rather silly. If one can predict what the Government's answer will be, and it is a safe escape route for them, what is the use of making the recommendation?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine), who devoted the whole of his speech on Monday to this problem. He said, so rightly:when the true costs of alcohol abuse are ascertained they will shock the nation."—[Official Report, 12th June 1978; Vol. 951, c. 701.]They will shock the nation, not only in terms of marital violence either to the spouse or to the child but in terms of drunken driving, road deaths, absenteeism from work and the rest. The cost of alcohol abuse is truly colossal.
Yet in their departmental reply the Government said that the Advisory Committee on Alcoholism had been asked to make an in-depth study of alcohol in all its aspects, embracing social, cultural and other influences in drinking behaviour, including both advertising and health education. The Government went on:It is hoped to publish their views to stimulate … debate".How much longer are we to set up committees and inquiries, to instigate debate inside and outside the House, while thousands are being battered to death and killed on the roads and in the home by people who are the worse for drink? 1414 It is astounding that Governments can be so complacent in these matters.
I want to refer to other specific, Scottish matters. Here I am in some difficulty because the Under-Secretary is in no position to reply, but the Scottish Office has undertaken to read what I say, so I am reading it into the record for its benefit. The Scottish Law Commission was invited by the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Lord Advocate to give early consideration to a review of family law with a view to amending it in such a way as, first, to give additional protection to a spouse threatened with violence by the other spouse and, secondly, to consider whether a statutory right of occupation in the matrimonial home should be introduced in Scotland. This request was in part a response to the report of our Select Committee dealing with violence in marriage.
I have the Scottish Law Commission's memorandum No. 41 which was published on 17th April 1978 when the Scottish Law Commission put forward certain proposals for discussion and for legislative action. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East has referred to housing tenancies and the hon. Member for Wallasey has pointed out that we shall he debating housing on Thursday, so I shall not spend too much time on this.
It is worth quoting what the Scottish Law Commission said. It said:Having regard to these and other factors, we think that the spouse who happens to be owner or tenant should no longer have unfettered powers to put the other spouse out or to dispose of the home despite the other spouse's objections…The case for conferring occupancy rights is primarily concerned with the provision of accommodation—giving a spouse and dependent children a secure roof over their heads. The problem is, however, entwined with the problem of domestic violence. Two of the main reasons why women remain in the home enduring repeated violence over the years are simply (a) that they have nowhere else to go, and (b) that they cannot protect themselves by ejecting their husbands because the title to the home is normally in his name or joint names.In 99 per cent. of the cases the title is in the husband's name. This is part of the sex inequality which still bedevils our society.
The wife is usually the battered person, although the hon. Member for Wallasey was able to quote some husbands who were battered. They are very few and 1415 far between, I think. In most cases the wife accepts the violence because she does not have another roof to go to. She has no rights. The Law Commission wanted to put that right. I wonder whether the Lord Advocate and the Law Officers in Scotland will be sitting down to discuss this subject, as the English Law Officers will be—with a comparable report from the English Law Commission—to see whether they can draft family legislation on these matters based on the report of the Law Commission.
I read in the Western Morning News on 15th June that there are now 150 refuges. I presume that it was referring to England. I do not know how many there are in Scotland. But, whatever the figures, there are not enough of them. It cannot be denied that there is an enormous pent-up demand for these refuges. There is an unsatiated demand here, just as there is for all kinds of health services.
I hope that the Government will find a way of releasing more funds to local authorities and voluntary bodies to provide these refuges. There is always a problem with the allocation of scarce resources. The Government are continually up against it, faced as they are with pressures from all quarters of the House for increased resources to be made available to Members' favourite hobbyhorses. The Government have an unenviable task in trying to allocate resources in order of priority.
One of the best ways of spending money in this regard is to do it through the voluntary organisations. In that way one discourages the setting up of vast bureaucracies of officials, and the voluntary organisations are much more flexible in their approach. I must add my tribute to the voluntary organisations, such as Women's Aid.
I must also make particular mention of Erin Pizzey. She is a woman after my own heart. She dislikes establishments and bureaucracies, and she has pushed ahead and defied them. I like that spirit. I wish that it could be spread more and more throughout the country. I wish that there was an Erin Pizzey in each local authority area. If there were, we would soon get on top of this problem.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Roland Moyle)
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on behalf of the Government. As I am the last of those who wish to contribute, to some extent I am replying to the debate, which has focused on two very disturbing aspects of our family life. The debate has revealed a rich storehouse of ideas for tackling a number of these horrendous problems. In view of the generous amount of time that the House has allowed me, I shall be able to answer most of the questions raised.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) has let me off, so to speak, in respect of Scottish problems. He has spoken to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in charge of the Scottish Health and Home Department, who will be giving him a reply to some of the specific questions he raised.
Perhaps I should say that the solution to these problems depends very much on the general context of family policy, and that the solution to family problems works into almost every aspect of Government policy. If the House will bear with me, I shall give one or two examples of this point before dealing with the specific matters raised.
For example, there is the general policy of strengthening support for families, particularly those with children, which should help to reduce some of the chronic difficulties over such things as money, poor housing, social isolation, and ignorance of children's needs for love and security, which contribute to tensions within families. I shall not list them in detail, but we recognise that a tremendous amount more needs to be done.
On the financial side, the Budget this year made a number of changes which will benefit families. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) did not have a great deal to say for the child benefit idea. At the same time, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer helped the family with the prices of school meals. He brought back school milk for the 7-year-olds. He made the largest increase in children's 1417 benefits payable to the mother tax-free that has ever been known in this country.
§ Mr. Moyle
I hope that they will see the wisdom of the freedom which my right hon. Friend has allowed them and will go ahead and institute policies which are for the benefit of children in their localities.
At the same time, the Budget began to allocate more resources for health and education generally. It is in that context—I shall be returning to the theme from time to time in the course of my remarks—that we have to consider what has been achieved in tackling the two aspects of violence in the family that we have been examining this afternoon, namely, violence to spouses—in deference to the hon. Member for Wallasey—and violence to children.
I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central that whatever might have led to the original reference by the Government or by the House to the Select Committee, certainly there has been no question of using it as a technique to buy inactivity. In fact, over the last two years there has been a veritable explosion of activity in this field, following on the report from the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage in March 1975, the Government's observations on the report in 1976, and the Government note on developments appended to the Second Report of the Select Committee on Violence in the Family.
As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) mentioned, there has also been the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977, which came into force in England and Wales on 1st December 1977, and in Scotland on 1st April 1978. Under this Act, which had all-party support, a woman is regarded as homeless if she cannot return to her home because of threats of violence. If she has dependent children or is pregnant, she is included in the priority groups for whom the housing authority has a duty to secure that accommoda- 1418 tion becomes available for her occupation.
The Act has been in operation for only six months, but, whatever the teething troubles turn out to be in practice, the House will generally agree that this is a major development. Experience will show in what ways the code of guidance made under the Act might be improved. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) has already put forward some ideas in that respect.
Then there is the development following the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976, which came into force on 1st June 1977 in Great Britain as a whole. Its effects have been to make it easier for a spouse or cohabitee to obtain an injunction to restrain the other partner from using violence against him or her or their children or against excluding the other partner from the matrimonial home, or both; to enable a judge to attach a power of arrest to injunctions if violence is likely to be repeated; and to amend the law relating to the occupation of the matrimonial home so that it applies regardless of whether the home is owned by one or both of the partners.
This Act—the point was made by my hon. and learned Friend—allows the police an increased power to act in;he case of domestic disputes. Here, generally speaking, the police claim that they now have to a large extent the powers that they require to intervene in matrimonial disputes, but the general problem is usually in acquiring evidence that some sort of matrimonial dispute has taken place, so that the police can act. Despite the variations in action taken under the Act, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, there is no doubt that the ability of the judge to attach to an injunction a power of arrest strengthens the position of the police in these matters.
The Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates Court Bill proposes to give similar powers to magistrates, including the granting of injunctions to restrain or exclude violent partners.
Several hon. Members referred to accommodation and refuges. My hon. and learned Friend mentioned this aspect, as did the hon. and learned Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) 1419 and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). There are now known to be over 150 refuges, including 13 in Wales, 20 in Scotland and three in Northern Ireland, as a result of the developments of the last few years. I have the list of Scottish refuges with me. However, since the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East has left the Chamber, I shall write to her about it.
Urban aid has been pressed into assisting. In the last financial year, £350,000 grants under the urban aid scheme were approved for 51 refuges and under the job creation programme another 54 projects received grants totalling nearly £500,000.
The National Women's Aid Federation has been created. This is a voluntary non-governmental body, but I think that there is general agreement on both sides of the House that voluntary bodies should be created in this area. This is the national organisation to which most women's aid groups are affiliated. Its objectives are designed to promote the interests of battered women and services to assist them, and I think that it does so with determination and vigour.
In accordance with the wishes of the Select Committee, my Department has funded the Federation since 1975 and in 1977–78 made a grant of £45,000 towards its headquarters costs. The Federation continues to receive help at this level while its application for an increased grant is receiving consideration. There are sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all receiving grant aid from central Government.
Chiswick Women's Aid has been mentioned by several hon. Members. The Select Committee recommended that my Department should continue its grant aid to Chiswick Women's Aid until the spread of refuges nationally was satisfactory. We formed the view by August 1976 that a basic network of refuges existed and, as it is departmental policy to fund centrally either national headquarters organisations and branches or new developments, we felt that after due notice we could bring to an end our grant, and that was done by July 1977. We thought and hoped that Chiswick Women's Aid would establish a satisfactory working relationship with its local authority and that 1420 it could continue its work as part of the network of refuges serving West London.
The situation has developed since then, and perhaps not all the hopes which were borne in mind at that stage have been realised. And so my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment only this week announced his approval of an application by the GLC under the urban programme for the conversion and improvement of a number of properties in the appropriate borough for use by Chiswick Women's Aid. There are good grounds for optimism now that a modus vivendi can be found between Chiswick Women's Aid and the local authorities. I do not think that much profit can be obtained by raking over the ashes of what have been some fairly tense moments in the history of the organisation. The future is reasonably optimistic now.
The hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) urged powerfully the case for a centre for research into this problem. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) also mentioned research, as did the hon. Member for Wallasey, who wanted to find out what was taking place in the refuges for battered wives and what role they were playing.
I do not know that a research centre would be a good idea. One of the basic aims of research is the proliferation of ideas which people are willing to back. In this respect, therefore, probably the Department sponsoring research in various research institutes and institutes of higher learning is just as good a way of proceeding as the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Bexleyheath.
My Department has commissioned research projects at Kent, Bristol and Keele Universities to deal with exactly the problem to which the hon. Member for Wallasey drew attention, and an account of the first part of Kent University's research has been published by the Stationery Office. Other Government Departments and the Greater London Council are also supporting research. My Department has been helping a 24-hour family crisis unit at Andover to remain viable while a suitable researcher is being sought to evaluate it.
The question whether violence in marriage is new was raised by several 1421 hon. Members. Violence in marriage is far from being a new problem. The reason why we hear more about it nowadays is the result of the welcome public concern it now receives. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking put her finger firmly on the target when she said that this increased awareness was evidence of the increased status of women in our society. The fact that violence had existed towards women before but was not heard of was evidence of their secondary status in days gone by. I have a feeling that this was particularly so in relation to the alcohol problem, which led to a great number of battered wives.
Our concentration on the subject today is an indication of our determination to eradicate the problem and to find a solution to it. Every credit is due to Members of the Select Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central who chaired it. Credit is also due to Mrs. Erin Pizzey and the National Women's Aid Federation, as well as to hon. Members in the House today for bringing the needs of battered women and children to the public's attention. Credit must also go to the local authorities which, despite serious resource constraints, have found a variety of ways of helping battered women. I hope that they will continue to do so.
I know that considerable difficulties are being experienced and that there is a great deal more to be done, but real advances have been made in the last few years. The Government will continue to support legislation and sponsor research for alleviating the problem and will help the agencies concerned to respond more effectively as we all learn more about the problem.
On the problem of violence to children, I am not so clear in my own mind as to its causes. My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Callaghan) said that violence to children was as old as man himself. I am sure that is true, but we must take more notice of the question of whether it is increasing as a result of the tensions in modern society, and we must make a determined attempt to improve standards. I know that far too many children have a nasty and brutish life, and for some it is tragically short. Such cases offend our basic concepts of relationships 1422 between parents and children, and frequently show in sharp relief the appalling difficulties faced by many parents in bringing up their children.
Again, my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich illuminated this sorry chapter of our national life with some very revealing comments drawn from the situation in Lancashire. He said that violence towards children might be the result of a sudden, uncontrolled burst of anger on the part of parents. I do wish that that were true. I find in reading the reports that some of the most tragic cases are the product of what can only be described as prolonged periods of torment, if not actual torture. It is a subject about which our natural feelings of horror can serve to obscure the reality of complex and difficult circumstances, and perhaps lead to a lot of misinterpretations of the actions and intentions of many of those involved.
The Government very much welcome the careful assessment of the subject by the Select Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). On behalf of the Government, I repeat the tribute paid in the White Paper to my hon. Friend and Members of the Select Committee for the important contributions that they made to the consideration of this particularly difficult subject.
The hon. Member for Bexleyheath was a little hard in saying that the Government had given a wishy-washy, polite welcome to the report. Indeed, we accepted most of the recommendations that the Committee made. The report came at an opportune time and it has helped us all—the Government, the field authorities and the professions alike—to check the judgments that we were making as policy developed, and the judgments on how we should tackle the problems posed by these tragic cases. We are glad to know that, in general, the Select Committee confirmed our approach. We in turn were able to approve the approach urged upon us by the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Townsend
If I may seek to put the record straight, I was referring to both reports. I agree that the Government were far more enthusiastic about the Second Report than they were about the First Report.
§ Mr. Moyle
I am glad that there has been that element of clarification. However, I think I have also demonstrated that there has been a substantial bout of activity following the First Report. The situation has already been substantially, if not perhaps fundamentally, changed.
Our approach to the problem of child abuse concentrated on alerting people to the importance of early recognition and stressing the importance for all professions and agencies of sharing information and expertise in the management of the cases. These lessons are still fundamental and important.
The Select Committee attached great importance to the need for preparation for parenthood. My Department, with the Department of Education and Science, has been reviewing all the current initiatives in education, health and social services, and in the voluntary sector, aimed at preparing future parents for this challenging task and to help them carry it out effectively.
A great deal of constructive and useful work is taking place. Contrary to what has been said by one or two hon. Members in this debate, I believe there is a role to be played by schools in this respect where education for parenthood can be part of the curriculum at various suitable stages in the school life of our pupils. The trouble is that there is still no generally accepted body of knowledge on the subject, and no real agreement among those concerned as to what should be done to improve education for parenthood.
There was also a great deal of interest expressed in nursery education and day care services for the under-fives. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East regretted that nobody from the Department of Education and Science was present to deal with that subject. The Department of Health and Social Security in England, and probably the Home and Health Department in Scotland, are responsible for all the non-nursery education elements of day care for the under-five age group. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-West (Mrs. Wise) drew attention to that subject and expressed her support for increased public expenditure—to which she had renewed her loyalty rather than been converted as a result of her considering this 1424 aspect of the problem—and also expressed her fears for the future.
I am not in a position this afternoon to be very positive about the development of nursery education and day services, but I assure the House that there is no likelihood of reduction in services for the under-fives. Progress in their expansion is more likely to be achieved during the course of the rest of this Parliament rather than the restriction feared by hon. Members. To that extent the position is now more encouraging than the position we set out in our response to the report.
One of the advantages of this debate is that it enables me to clear up some misconceptions about the allocation of resources to local authorities to follow up work on this report and, indeed, on both reports. This problem was mentioned in the debate by a number of hon. Members. When the report was published, it was criticised by some newspapers for not making a specific allocation to each local authority to allow it to devote resources to the support of children at risk. That approach has again been urged in some quarters of the House.
I believe that this approach is misconceived. My experience of dealing with local authorities over the past couple of years is that they are almost unanimous in insisting that Government money—and quite a lot of their money comes from central Government—should be allocated to them in a block grant, so that they may decide, in the light of their knowledge of local problems, the priorities to be allocated to expenditure in their localities. A very brief period of reflection will lead to the conclusion that this is the essence of local democracy. If the Government continually earmark funds for specific purposes, it will be in direct opposition to this approach and, irrespective of party control, will be almost universally resented by local authorities.
The Government can issue advice and guidance to local authorities on how central money is to be spent. We have certainly urged that money should be spent in certain ways in the light of the Select Committees' reports. It is clear in view of all the publicity that has been accorded to these problems in the last few years that any local authority that failed to make appropriate provision or to 1425 apply the lessons of the many inquiries held into these tragic and emotive topics will have a tremendous amount to answer for before the bar of local and national opinion. This applies not only to local government authorities, but to local health authorities. However, the specific earmarking of public funds would be counter-productive.
More than for most problems, the solution to the problems of children at risk and battered wives, and their discovery in time, depends upon the strengthening of the support services not just for those children and wives but within the whole network of local authority social services. A number of hon. Members have referred to this need. They include the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich.
We must also strengthen our primary health care teams. Much has been said about the importance of health visitors, and I hope to be able to return to this subject before I finish my speech.
What is the answer to the problem of resources? I think that it is the basic strengthening of local authority and health authority budgets to give them elbow room to deploy new resources in new areas of expenditure. This is what we are beginning to do. The rate support grant for this year has been based on the assumption of a growth rate of 3 per cent. in local government health and personal social services. Inflation does not have to be taken out of that figure. Inflation is added to the figure of 3 per cent. We are allocating more resources to the joint financing of local authority social services and some of this money could be used to help deal with the problem of battered children.
There has been a general welcome for voluntary activity. There are many local self-help groups in various parts of the country and some provide telephone advice services—sometimes for 24 hours a day—so that parents who are anxious about their children or have reached the end of their tether can obtain help and advice in complete confidence. We have drawn the attention of local authorities to the value of the work of these groups 1426 and have asked them to consider ways of supporting that work wherever possible.
I am also particularly interested in the recent proposals of the National Education and Research Development Trust to launch a national parents' help line scheme, offering a 24-hour telephone service, and I am awaiting with interest further information on the progress of that project, so that, if necessary, we can consider what help to give.
A number of other problems were raised. My hon. Friends the Members for Wood Green and Coventry, SouthWest—it was the general theme of the debate—referred to the need further to consider management arrangements that we have been recommending for dealing with non-accidental injury cases. One such arrangement is at-risk registers. I hope that we shall issue draft guidance for consultation with the professions and local authorities towards the end of the year. We have been concentrating so far on the development and widespread use of the registers. However, we have reached a stage where guidance would probably be useful.
The time has come when we should turn our minds to a greater uniformity between the various registers now being promoted by the majority of local authorities. The Simon Peacock inquiry illustrated the importance of uniformity, so that local authorities know where to look in each other's registers to find the information that they want. Greater uniformity will allow authorities more readily to appreciate the message that they are supposed to receive.
As has been said by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Wallasey, we are becoming an increasingly mobile society. The families at risk tend to move from one local authority area to another. There is much to be said at least for exploring the concept of uniformity, or greater uniformity, of local authority registers.
Much has to be done to improve the effectiveness of case conferences as experience of operating the technique is obtained. My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green spoke about the attendance of the police at case conferences. The indications that we receive are that that is becoming increasingly the rule and that relations between the police and 1427 social service departments are generally good. The police are invited to attend such conferences in some parts of the country, including most parts of London, where they feel that they have a contribution to make. It was London where a couple of years ago there were the largest problems, and those have been largely solved.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) spoke about career grades for social workers and the need for greater continuity. A number of local authorities are establishing career grades and ensuring that experience, advice, skills and supervision are available to their colleagues in social work.
I cannot end my remarks without mentioning family courts. It is the major subject on which the Government have been criticised for inaction. There was a forceful speech from the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies), supported by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and a number of other hon. Members, who thought that the Government should at least proceed with the publication of a Green Paper on family courts.
I hope that I shall be permitted a small indiscretion. When I considered my brief I wondered whether my right hon. Friends—it is primarily a matter for them —knew exactly what they were about when they replied to the Select Committee's report. Having listened to what has been said today—I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington are no longer present—I am now clear that my right hon. Friends had a powerful case for not publishing a Green Paper.
The hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West wanted to ensure that each family court had a corps of welfare officers attached to it. He wanted to link family law and welfare law. The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) criticised my right hon. Friends for not having precise figures on the resource allocation for family courts. It was clear, as a matter of common sense, that the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West was advocating a mammoth project. Common sense 1428 would lead us to believe that a substantial amount of resource in judicial time, staff and court buildings would be merely a first charge on any family court scheme.
In addition, there would be a prolonged debate on the implications of family courts. Not only was the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West calling for procedural changes in the way in which we deal with these matters, but he was urging changes in the substantive law. It would be a mammoth undertaking. There is no purpose in initiating a debate at this stage by issuing a Green Paper unless we have a clear indication that some sort of action will follow.
In many ways, a larger proportion of our resources could be tied up in that direction. However, I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friends the almost universal views of the House in case they stimulate further thought in their minds.
§ Mr. Moyle
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I have promised my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green that I shall sit down before 4 o'clock in order to allow her to make a few remarks.
We have had a stimulating debate. There are many ideas which we can use. A number of points have not been answered, but I shall answer them in writing.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler
I should like to put on record my appreciation of the opportunity that we have had for a constructive debate on these two most important family problems. Our numbers were few but they were select.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for remaining here for most of the day and for having answered many of the points raised. I appreciate the information that he has given us about the improved involvement of the police in case conferences, particularly in London, and about the guidance which the Department is hoping to issue on registers. I am also grateful for the information about an increase in the application of the 24-hour telephone service.
I hope that this debate has pushed family courts a little nearer to being 1429 established. When the appropriate Ministers have studied what has been said today, they are bound to take some note of what has been said here and in the Select Committee's report.
I was particularly pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned resources. There was a great deal of criticism in the Press and elsewhere at the time that the Government replied to the Select Committee's report. It is good to know that there is a small increase of money available and that some of it will be used to solve the problem of battered babies. I am happy that we have had the debate.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report from the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, Session 1974/75 (House of Commons Paper No. 553) and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 6690), of the First Report from the Select Committee on Violence in the Family in Session 1975/76 (House of Commons Paper No. 473), of the First and Second Reports of that Committee in the last session of Parliament (House of Commons Papers Nos. 329 and 431) and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 7123).