HC Deb 26 January 1999 vol 324 cc132-4
7. Ms Sandra Osborne (Ayr)

If he will make a statement about the actions the Government are taking to protect the victims of domestic violence and abuse. [65832]

The Minister for Education, Scottish Office (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

The campaign against domestic violence is a priority for the Government. We have established a Scottish partnership on domestic violence to report with a detailed work plan and timetable by 31 March this year. We have also embarked on a consultation exercise on preventing violence against women; a proposed action plan is intended as part of that consultation. At Christmas, a new advertising campaign was launched, aimed at raising awareness and changing attitudes. It will roll out over the next three years. From 1 July 1999, this will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

Ms Osborne

I welcome the priority that the Government give to domestic violence. Will the Minister join me in condemning the actions of the former divisional commander of Kilmarnock police, who ordered the release of a man who had been charged with assaulting his wife, because that man was a family friend? Does she agree that that undermines the very positive policy of Strathclyde police, whereby it is presumed that alleged perpetrators of domestic violence will be detained until their court appearances? Does she agree that while changing public attitudes is the long-term solution, Scotland has only half the refuge spaces needed? What will she do to address the shortage?

Mrs. Liddell

I share my hon. Friends concern about the incident that was reported in the newspapers over Christmas. I know that the chief constable of Strathclyde has dealt with that matter. May I draw to my hon. Friends attention the way in which the media covered that case? It was done in a sensible and responsible manner and the media concentrated their attention on the negative impact of domestic violence on the well-being of families in Scotland. I pay tribute to the media organisations in Scotland that have signed up to the campaign against domestic violence. It will take time to change attitudes, but it will be helpful to have the support of the community and of the media not only in news columns, but throughout.

As for the resources required to deal with domestic violence, our prime concern must be for the plight of the victims of such violence. So far, the Scottish Office has provided £200,000 to Scottish Womens Aid, the umbrella organisation for local womens groups. That includes more than £83,000 for work on developing refuge and permanent rehousing options for abused women who would otherwise be homeless. More than £111,000 has been devoted to social welfare aspects of the work of Scottish Womens Aid, and £25,000 has been provided for training. Over and above that, considerable expenditure has been incurred by the police, the justice system, the health service and others who deal with the consequences of domestic violence.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I acknowledge and welcome the announcement that the Minister has made about the work that is being done. Does she acknowledge that when I did divorce work as a solicitor, I found that the best way of preventing domestic violence was often to have a refuge place available to which the family could be taken in an emergency? The hon. Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) is right that the provision of such refuges is still inadequate. Can the Minister give the House a commitment to do all in her power not merely to make available £73,000, but to work with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the voluntary sector to establish proper provision of refuges throughout Scotland?

Mrs. Liddell

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern on these matters. I have pointed out that £200,000 has been given to Scottish Womens Aid. Yes, the issue of refuges is serious, but we want to move to a situation in which domestic violence is so abhorrent in our society that we no longer have need of such refuges. Those in the hon. Gentleman's profession who deal with women from differing social classes also acknowledge that there has to be a multiplicity of routes to assistance for families and women who are the victims of domestic abuse.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I welcome the initiative that my hon. Friend has just mentioned. May I remind her that young victims of domestic violence and abuse are treated with considerable sympathy when they give evidence in criminal cases involving charges of abuse—sexual, physical or violent. Does she agree that the concept of a vulnerable person should be widened to give other fragile, vulnerable individuals the same protection when they give evidence in court cases? I know that my hon. Friend will say that Members of the Scottish Parliament will decide that matter, but it is an important issue.

Mrs. Liddell

My hon. Friend the Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution is currently looking at that matter. It is an issue that many who are concerned about domestic abuse take very much into account.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Given the importance of tackling domestic violence and abuse, on which there is unanimity in the House, can the Minister explain to us this afternoon why Victim Support (Scotland) has suffered a decrease in its budget despite an increase of 300 per cent. in requests for its assistance?

Mrs. Liddell

That is simply not true. I will make that point when I visit Victim Support (Scotland) on Thursday morning, accompanying the Princess Royal.