HC Deb 02 November 1983 vol 47 cc871-2
36. Mr. Dewar

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland whether he is satisfied with the operation of the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981 and in particular with the effectiveness of exclusion orders.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am aware that doubts have been expressed as to how far the Act is effective in protecting women from violence. However, I remain of the view, which I expressed to the hon. Gentleman on 2 March, that it would be premature to draw firm conclusions about its effectiveness. The Government will continue to monitor the position and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has under consideration a proposal for research on the operation of the Act.

Mr. Dewar

I welcome what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said about research and monitoring. Does he accept that there are two particular areas of worry? The first is exclusion orders. Putting it as gently as I can, there seems to be some incompatibility between the approaches taken by different members of the bench, on occasions at least. There is genuine concern about that. The second area of concern is the transfer of tenancies, an issue which now often has to go through the courts rather than being dealt with by local authorities administratively. I think that the House should watch progress on both these issues extremely carefully. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman undertake to make the results of the research and monitoring public or perhaps, despite the criticism of the past few minutes, to invite the Commission to produce a supplementary paper, which could bring us up to date with its thinking on how the Act is developing?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. As he will appreciate, the research project is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. His comments about the interpretation of section 4 by the courts is of less concern than it was when the issue was raised in March. The attitudes currently being adopted might be described as less restrictive than they were originally. I am aware that a number of local authorities have expressed their concern about the effect of legislation on the transfer of tenancies.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who has responsibilities for these matters is aware of that, too.

Mr. Malone

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that during the two years of implementation of this piece of legislation considerable disquiet has grown up in the legal profession about many of its terms, especially at the stage of conclusion of missives, which is promoting much uncertainty in the legal profession and in conveyancing generally? Does he propose, after the two years of implementation, to consult the Law Society of Scotland with a view to mitigating the uncertainties?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I am aware that there have been some conveyancing difficulties as a result of the implementation of the Act. It is my understanding that in large measure these difficulties are being resolved. If there are outstanding problems, I shall be more than glad to consult either my hon. Friend or the Law Society to ascertain what can be done to eliminate the difficulties.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the concern of many specialist groups that work within this area of the law, which are concerned about some of the difficulties that have arisen over the implementation of the Act? Will he be prepared to place in the Library, or in the Official Report, the guidelines that are given to the police on the implementation of the Act by chief constables?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

This point was raised with an interested group which met the Lord Advocate. He said that he would not be prepared to do what the hon. Gentleman asks. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate—I know that the point that especially worries him is the use of the power of arrest where there has been a breach of interdict—that on occasions where there is the prospect of a breach of interdict, the procurator fiscal takes criminal proceedings against the person who is alleged to be in breach of interdict.

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