HC Deb 19 December 2000 vol 360 cc199-200
30 Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

What measures she is taking to protect children from violent parents. [141593]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy)

The Children Act sub-committee of the Advisory Board on Family Law has produced a report on parental contact in cases in which there is domestic violence. The Lord Chancellor and the president of the family division in the High Court are considering what further action may be necessary.

Ms Keeble

Is my hon. Friend aware of a serious case in my constituency in which a woman was threatened with prison for contempt of court because she had refused her violent ex-husband access to her child? Will my hon. Friend consider introducing legislation along the lines of the best practice guidelines set out by the Children Act sub-committee, first, so that the whole House can properly debate important issues of access and parents' roles in relation to their children and, secondly, to ensure that children throughout the country are given equal protection? Despite the best practice guidelines, no safety net was immediately available to my constituent.

Jane Kennedy

I am aware of the representations that my hon. Friend has made and of the case to which she refers. I remind her that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is not persuaded at this time that legislation is necessary to protect children from domestic violence during contact with a non-resident parent. Those are extremely difficult matters and the enforcement of contact orders is particularly sensitive. Deliberate refusal to obey any court order is, of course, a contempt of court and can be punished with a fine or imprisonment, but such punishment may not be appropriate, and the courts have to make extremely difficult decisions, taking into account all the circumstances of each case.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

The Government have been widely condemned for refusing to impose legal constraints on child carers who smack children. When the consultation on that matter has been completed, will it be the subject of open debate and a free vote in the House, or will the Government continue simply to be guided by their own opinion polls?

Jane Kennedy

The hon. Gentleman catches me slightly off guard on a policy issue that is not my responsibility. The consultation period has ended, and the Lord Chancellor is now directly consulting the president of the family division to determine what guidance and best advice to give to the courts for dealing with those difficult and extremely sensitive cases.