Award of Parental Responsibilities and Parental Rights to Father

Part of Orders of the Day — Children (Scotland) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 1st May 1995.

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Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow 7:15 pm, 1st May 1995

I doubt whether the new clause will be accepted. I asked the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) whether the estranged partner or wife of a man making an application could challenge it. If she could, and if she had a low income, I take it that she would be able to receive legal aid. Many women constituents of mine who have had to seek refuge from violent partners or husbands have been on low incomes and faced all kinds of problems.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey). I happily support the new clause; women have to be protected. It is essential that the address of a refuge should not be divulged to a partner who has committed violence or where the woman has a genuine fear that violence may be inflicted upon her.

Cases in which the address of a refuge has been given to an estranged partner cause me considerable concern. Not long ago, I interviewed a young woman at my surgery who had been subjected to the most appalling violence by her partner. I am not sure that he is psychopathic, but it is very strange that he should inflict such violence on a young woman. At the same time, he has shown only love and affection for his children, who have suffered no violence. The poor young wife has been the victim of his wild, senseless acts of violence.

Where women need to seek refuge, it is essential that they be protected. Many refuges have no security, and once the partner has discovered the address, he can put the fear of God not only into his wife or partner but into other women in the refuge, especially if he turns up at night. I know of one refuge, the address of which was given out readily to husbands who had rightly been deserted by their wives, who were in fear not only of their own lives but of those of their children.

Although a father should have parental responsibilities and rights, it is essential that the woman concerned has the right to seek protection against him, especially, as subsection (3) states, where he has been convicted of any offence involving violence or any offences mentioned in Schedule 1 to the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1975 (offences against children to which special provisions apply)". As I said in an intervention in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty), it is possible to give violent fathers supervised access to their children without revealing the children's address, unless the children unwittingly give the game away and reveal the address to their parents.

Two constituents of mine can see their children only at a place designated by the social worker responsible for the care of the children concerned. Both the mother and father can see their children only in the company of the senior social worker responsible for the case. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East expressed concern that such meetings should not lead to the revealing of the address where the children are staying. That is perfectly manageable, given the sensible and sympathetic intervention of, say, a social worker.

If the Government will not accept new clause 2, they have a duty to take those concerns on board, particularly in respect of women who have had to seek refuge. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun. I occasionally visit the office of the women who run Inverclyde Women's Aid in West Blackall street in Greenock. The last time that I was in that office, they were receiving calls from Lanarkshire, Grampian and Aberdeen.

Just before I left, a call came in from Cornwall, where a woman with two children needed desperately to put as many miles as she could between herself and her children and her violent partner. So the Women's Aid offices in Inverclyde and Kilmarnock do not deal just with local women, but are often called on to protect women and their children from all points of the compass. It is therefore essential that reporters and others do not reveal the location of refuges. Those who have done so in the past are guilty of irresponsibility towards those women and their children.

I am keen to hear what the Minister will say in rejecting the new clause. My concern is for the children and their mothers who must seek refuge in the growing number of refuges in Scotland and elsewhere.