HC Deb 13 November 1974 vol 881 cc139-41W
Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the evidence he has on the extent of wife and child battering in Scotland; and what measures are being taken by local and central Government to alleviate these problems.

Mr. William Ross

The true incidence of violence to wives and children is difficult to ascertain. The published criminal statistics relating to Scotland in 1973 indicate some 300 crimes in the category "cruel and unnatural treatment of children", but the number of children who have suffered physical harm is believed to be greater. Separate statistics of wife assault are not kept.

Stirling University is undertaking a study of marital violence with financial assistance from my Department. My Department is in touch with the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children with a view to identifying avenues of joint research or action which it may be helpful to explore.

Local authorities are empowered by the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 to provide temporary accommodation for persons rendered homeless. Edinburgh and Glasgow Corporations have recently provided financial assistance to voluntary groups to provide refuges for wives and children exposed to violence. East Kilbride Town Council and East Kilbride Development Corporation are jointly involved in the provision of a refuge which is expected to open before the end of the year. Edinburgh YWCA recently acquired three flats as accommodation for unsupported women, including young battered wives without children; my department has offered a grant towards the project.

Several voluntary bodies are helping in this field. The RSSPCC and the Marriage Guidance Councils often deal with cases involving violence within the family and receive financial support from my department. The Salvation Army provides temporary accommodation for women who have had to leave their homes. Scottish Women's Aid, a national organisation to co-ordinate existing projects and help set up new centres, was formed in July with membership drawn from groups in the four cities.

I expect local authorities, in making assessments of housing needs in their areas, to take due account of the needs of special groups, such as one-parent families. Many authorities will accept separated wives on their waiting lists. Local authority social work departments already do a great deal to help wives who have complained of violence by trying to resolve associated difficulties such as mental illness, alcoholism or rent arrears. A considerable part of social workers' time is devoted to this kind of work, and to the probation supervision in cases involving wife assault coming before the courts. Local authorities can also give financial help in emergencies.

Many families in which children have suffered physical abuse need support and help from local authority social work departments in respect of the difficulties which may have given rise to the incidents. It is the responsibility of local authorities to protect children at risk and to provide the residential and other services necessary for their welfare: for example they take children into care on a voluntary basis, or bring them before children's hearings if compulsory measures of care seem to be indicated.

My chief professional advisers issued a memorandum on "The battered child" in June 1971, and I hope soon to issue further guidance to local authorities and the health service on arrangements for identifying and dealing with child assault.

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