HC Deb 06 March 2001 vol 364 cc142-3
29. Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

When he will conclude his review of child contact issues. [150765]

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

The Government endorse the report of the Children Act sub-committee of the Lord Chancellor's advisory board on family law, entitled "Contact Between Children and Violent Parents". We agree with the sub-committee that primary legislation in this area would be premature, but note that the guidelines have nevertheless been partially incorporated in law following judgments by the Court of Appeal. The sub-committee will shortly produce a consultation paper on the equally sensitive issue of the facilitation and enforcement of contact orders. In all these areas, the Government consider the interests and welfare of the child to be paramount.

Ms Moran

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I welcome the Court of Appeal's June judgment. However, is my hon. Friend aware that, in the past four months, there have been three casts in which contact orders have been granted although there has been clear evidence of abuse or violence to women and children, including one attempted murder and one child death—that of Daniella Hurst, who was found dead in her father's car after a child contact visit? Will my hon. Friend now act on the Children Act sub-committee's year-old recommendation that practice guidance on the subject be issued to all judges, so that we can avert further such tragedies?

Jane Kennedy

Yes, it is an appalling fact that children are often killed by their parents. The Government very much want to encourage consistency and good practice in contact when domestic violence is an issue. We shall work in partnership with the president of the family division to ensure the widest possible promulgation of the guidelines. The Children Act sub-committee and my officials are meeting on 15 March, when they will consider the duration and the best means of monitoring the effectiveness of the guidelines. We shall consider the need for amending legislation in the light of that monitoring.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What input to the review has been provided by police forces and particularly by their domestic violence co-ordinators, who have immense experience to contribute?

Jane Kennedy

They will have been among the groups that the Children Act sub-committee consulted in producing its guidance. Last year, that guidance was used by the High Court in determining appeals. The High Court' s decision will now have been noted by judges dealing with those matters across the country.