Award of Parental Responsibilities and Parental Rights to Father

Part of Orders of the Day — Children (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 1st May 1995.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr William McKelvey Mr William McKelvey , Kilmarnock and Loudoun 5:45 pm, 1st May 1995

I rise to support new clause 2. I do so because I have studied carefully the documentation that was despatched to me from many sources, but particularly Women's Aid and Kilmarnock and Loudoun Women's Aid, an organisation with which I am often in contact, not for abusing my wife or children but because I take an interest and to assist those women who are under severe provocation from their partners.

The absence of a specific reference to domestic violence would substantially detract from the value of the Children (Scotland) Bill. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) that, if the troops are gathered simply to vote the new clause down without examining it, it will be an indictment of them.

7 pm

Abuse of women and children in society, and certainly Scottish society, is prevalent. It is a matter of concern to all women and all children and it should be of concern to all Members of Parliament. At present, there are almost twice as many children as women in Women's Aid refuges in Scotland. The best interests of those children must be paramount in law. That has been said throughout the proceedings on the Bill.

The experience of Women's Aid in Scotland clearly shows that the breakdown in contact between many fathers and their children is due largely to disinterest on the part of the father or the level of fear created by his abuse of either the wife or the children or, in some cases, both. I am speaking on this occasion about those violent husbands who abuse their wives and children. I am not talking about those husbands who look after the interests of their wife and children but who, for whatever reason, have decided to separate honourably. Their rights are still protected. I think that all of us would agree with that.

The Women's Aid network in Scotland supports the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill. The new clause seeks to limit the period within which a father can exercise his right to apply to a court for parental rights. That is quite proper. It seeks to maintain the confidentiality of the address at which a woman resides, if she does not wish the father to have such information. Many Members of Parliament know about the difficulties caused at women's refuges when the husband secures the address at which his wife or former wife is staying and goes to the premises to create a commotion or abuse her.

Scottish Women's Aid supports the new clause, first because it would restrict fathers' rights to claim parental rights after an unduly long absence and, secondly, because it would increase the safety of women and children where they have escaped domestic abuse and the father has access rights. My hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill said that the new clause might help to guard against future fatalities such as that of Jacqueline McFetvich, who was killed last year by her abusive husband after her address was released on not one but three occasions by the reporter to the children's panel.

It is vital that the connection between abuse and parental rights be enshrined in law to the effect that, where abuse occurs, evidence of which would result in a conviction or a protection order, parental rights will go into abeyance. The father will be required to reapply to the court to reinstate those rights under the conditions outlined.

I take this opportunity to explain that I did not have the opportunity or privilege to serve on the Standing Committee which considered the Bill. Due to some recorded mistake, many people have written to me under the impression that I was a member of the Committee. I have to advise them that I did not serve on the Standing Committee, although I chaired the meetings of the Special Standing Committee which took evidence on the Bill. I understand that, by protocol, that does not exclude me from speaking in the debate tonight. I wanted to put that matter on the record lest some of my constituents might think that I served on a Committee in which I never uttered a word. That, of course, would be unforgivable as well as unforgettable.