HC Deb 14 March 1984 vol 56 cc389-90
38. Mr. Ernie Ross

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he will consult the Scottish Law Commission as to the effects of exclusion orders under the Matrimonial Homes Act.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The Government have no present intentions to consult the Scottish Law Commission on the question of exclusion orders.

Mr. Ross

If the hon. and learned Gentleman meets the Scottish Law Commission, will he dissociate himself from the comments made by Crown Agent Mr. William Chalmers in the correspondence that I sent to the Solicitor-General on 21 February? Does he agree that such comments are liable to help those in society who believe that domestic violence is not really a crime and is not suitable for the courts?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I think that the hon. Gentleman was upset by comments relating to the diversion schemes being introduced in Ayr. I certainly accept that in problems of domestic violence the exercise of a power of arrest may be an important safeguard to ensure that there is no repetition of violence against the wife. Nevertheless, I wish to reserve this position. In seeking alternatives for prosecution it would be premature at this stage to suggest that there is no circumstance in which we might consider problems arising in the home for use of the diversion schemes.

Mr. Malone

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the apparent anomaly in the Matrimonial Homes Act whereby the rights created by the legislation appear not to be subject to the normal Scots laws of prescription? Will he consult the Law Society of Scotland, which has expressed concern about this, and does he intend to introduce legislation to put the matter right?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

It is for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to introduce legislation. However, I appreciate that my hon. Friend and others are concerned about prescription. Following my hon. Friend's earlier representations I am glad to say that, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) and my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, I shall meet represntatives of the Law Society of Scotland next week to discuss this among other matters.

Mr. McKelvey

Is the Solicitor-General aware that the discretionary procedures in the powers of arrest vary from region to region? Does he accept that it might be helpful if a copy of the guidelines issued to the police were placed in the Library so that hon. Members could read them and assist the police in their districts?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has issued guidelines to the police to assist them in operating the Matrimonial Homes Act, particularly when matrimonial interdicts, ancillary to exclusion orders, have powers of arrest attached to them. I have already indicated in a written answer to the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) what in essence is provided in those guidelines. The Act has been in force for only a comparatively short time. Only about 400 orders have been granted, and we ought to see how these bed down.

Mr. Dewar

Let me press the Solicitor-General for Scotland a little further on that last point. There is now a general acceptance that recent court decisions have removed some of the worries about the way in which these exclusion orders are interpreted in the courts. However, a number of agencies connected with the Matrimonial Homes Act—the fiscals, the police, local authorities and social work departments—need guidance and perhaps help in operating the new rules. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman, in consultation with the Secretary of State, consider whether there is not a case for a code of guidance—perhaps along the lines of that issue in connection with the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act—to help increase the use of the provisions and to ensure that the Act achieves the purposes for which it was designed?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I want to make sure that the operation of the Act is fully understood. As I have already said, I hope that the police and fiscals have clear guidelines. As I told the hon. Member for Dundee, West, where the police have arrested a person for a breach of the matrimonial interdict to which a power of arrest has been added, this should be reported to the procurator fiscal, and I hope that that is now being done throughout Scotland.