Domestic Violence

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 2nd September 1999.

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Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 5:00 pm, 2nd September 1999

We now move to the debate on members' business, on motion S1M-94, in the name of Maureen Macmillan. This debate will be concluded in 30 minutes.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the Work Plan drawn up by the Scottish Partnership on domestic violence which has as part of its remit an examination of the experience of women in rural areas; calls for swift consideration to be given to improving the safety of women at risk, and supports the work carried out in this field by Women's Aid and other organisations in the Highlands and Islands.

Photo of Maureen Macmillan Maureen Macmillan Labour 5:04 pm, 2nd September 1999

When one has been involved, as I have, in campaigning against domestic violence for nearly 20 years, it is easy to forget that not everyone realises how domestic violence pervades every part of society. As I speak I am conscious that women who have experienced domestic violence might be listening, because one in five women will be victims of violence in their lives. Two hundred children in Scotland today will see their mothers abused. Twenty-five per cent of all reported violent crime is domestic violence that is committed by men against women, and dear knows how much goes unreported.

There are misconceptions about domestic violence. The most common one is that the abuse is drink related. Domestic violence is not caused by alcohol, as both the Strathclyde police and Ross-shire police discovered when they kept records of cases last Christmas. It is not confined to one social class. Middle-class women might not present themselves at refuges, but they telephone for advice and help. They are as likely to suffer domestic violence as are women from other social classes.

Another misconception is that domestic violence happens only in urban areas. I can assure members that it happens in rural areas, too. Isolated areas are often deliberately chosen by an abuser to cut a woman off from her friends.

Abuse does not run in families and it is not necessarily the case that a violent father will have violent sons. Nevertheless, domestic violence affects children profoundly.

Violence is used to control a woman by making her afraid. The abuser uses threats as well as physical violence, and assaults are sometimes severe. Just less than half of female murder victims are murdered by their male partners, and three quarters of those victims are killed by the man after they have left him. Not all abuse is physical. Many women suffer psychological or sexual abuse, which is used to control, and which can be damaging in a different way.

It is of the utmost importance that women have easy access to help and support, but in the Highlands and Islands there are particular problems. In a small community, the abuser might be an important figure who is well liked. A woman might suffer in silence because she feels that she would not be believed. It is important that women in such situations should be able to get information on where to find help.

It can often be difficult for a woman to leave her abuser because there might be little or no public transport and the distance involved might be enormous. Once a woman has made the decision to leave-and that is not an easy decision-it is of paramount importance that she has a safe place to go. In the Highlands, that is not always easy.

There are no women's refuges on the west coast mainland north of Dunoon and none on the east coast mainland north of Dingwall. The existing refuges are overloaded; three families might be living in a house meant for one. We still need more space.

Last year, Ross-shire Women's Aid gave shelter to 26 women and 43 children, and helped and advised 200 women through telephone helplines and visits. It had to turn away 37 women and 55 children. One reason for that is that women often have to stay on in refuges longer than is necessary because there is a lack of rented housing to move on to, and that blocks refuge spaces that other women need.

Refuges are funded, not centrally, but by local authorities. The provision of housing therefore varies from council to council, and the level of commitment can depend on the attitude of one official in a housing department. I pay tribute to Orkney Islands Council's housing department for its efforts to help abused women.

Outreach work and the building of new refuges, both of which are now being tackled by Highland Council, are only part of the answer. Not every woman wants or needs to be in a refuge, although some women need to move as far as possible from their abusers for safety's sake. There are only two outreach workers for the Highland Council area.

Not every woman wants to leave her community. A woman needs to be supported in her community and to feel safe. Changes in the law are required to achieve that. The support that is available is improving through partnerships among health boards, the police and voluntary organisations.

Domestic violence is beginning to be treated in an holistic way. That is a significant move forward.

Organisations such as the Highland Domestic Abuse Forum are trying to reach out to the whole of the Highlands by educating and campaigning, or rather, they would do so if they could get sufficient funding. It is discouraging to be unable to initiate campaigns that have long been established in other areas. O for a zero tolerance campaign in the Highlands.

An audit of good practice throughout the country is needed. The areas that are only now recognising the extent of the problem need successful initiatives and encouragement. What we need most of all is a change in public attitudes, and that can be achieved only through public service broadcasting and through work in schools. Relationship education is as important as health education or drugs education, and it is a matter of great concern that around 10 per cent of teenage girls still condone violence in a relationship.

No amount of refuge provision will stop abusers, but a change in social attitudes will. I hope that the Scottish Partnership on Domestic Violence will reconvene soon and that its recommendations will be presented to Parliament as soon as possible. Domestic violence is a cancer in our society and we must do our utmost to find a treatment.

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament

I should be grateful if members kept their speeches to about four minutes' duration.

Photo of Dr Winnie Ewing Dr Winnie Ewing Scottish National Party 5:09 pm, 2nd September 1999

I whole-heartedly congratulate Maureen Macmillan on her speech. The passion and clarity of her description of domestic violence should make us all pause to consider this terrible problem. I welcome her last point about public attitudes: we must find a way to get the nature of the problem home to people.

I have some credentials to speak in the debate. I served on the Westminster select committee on violence and marriage, which was miscalled "battered wives". Hundreds of women came before us, as well as one battered husband, who very bravely gave evidence. It is almost always women who are battered, although not in all cases.

My second credential is as a former member of a legal practice, which was not a posh one. I advised hundreds of battered women in civil and criminal cases. I will mention one case of a woman who came to see me. I could see immediately that she had been battered and I thought that she must be over 50. She was 31 years old and her face had no planes left, because all the bones had been broken. Domestic violence is a terrible thing, and we do not know whether violence towards women extends almost inevitably to the children.

The select committee on violence and marriage was followed by another on violence and the family, and on which Margaret Ewing served, because clearly the subject needed to be widened. If many of the recommendations made by those select committees had been acted on, perhaps the problem would not be as grave as it is now.

Being one of the Highlands and Islands list MSPs, I am aware of the lack of provision in the far north and west of Scotland. We need to make more money available to create the safe haven provided by refuges. I do not often read The Sun, nor do I always believe what I read in it. However, today I read that Chancellor Brown is sitting on a £10 billion surplus because of the self-assessment tax arrangements, which have provided more money than he expected.

We need some money to tackle the problem of domestic violence. It will not be solved entirely along the lines that Maureen suggested-we need to spend some money on creating safe houses. I criticise the cutting of money to citizens advice bureaux-where they exist-because often they provide people with a port of call. As a lawyer, I am also aware that in some places people do not even have ready access to a legal aid lawyer.

I have one final significant point, which grew out of my years of reflection on the subject, about having a roof over one's head. I used to find that if a woman had a mother, a friend or a sister who would take her, her problem was not so grave and she could escape. However, that was not a possibility for many women-the mother's house was overcrowded, or there was nowhere to go-who were stuck in their wretchedness.

I would like council house tenants to have the right to take the tenancy and to throw out a husband who has been proven to be violent to his wife-a battered husband would have the same right. That would require a simple change in the law. Many tenancies are joint, many are in the man's name, and many are in the woman's name. Legally, the woman can put the husband out, although she often does not know how to do it. Sometimes, I was able to help in that process. However, where the tenancy is joint or is in the man's name, the woman is stuck. That would be a sensible issue for the Executive to consider and it would not require a complicated bill.

I appreciate very much what teachers do when they see evidence of violence towards children. Teachers often act as a barometer and draw problems to the attention of people who can help.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 5:14 pm, 2nd September 1999

I am delighted to be able to speak in today's members' business debate on domestic violence. I am grateful to Maureen Macmillan for highlighting the work plan drawn up by the Scottish Partnership on Domestic Violence, particularly for rural areas. Living in and representing central Scotland, I have to say that the problem of domestic violence still pervades the central belt.

As colleagues inform me, rural areas in the Borders and the south of Scotland suffer acute problems that are similar to those of the Highlands and Islands. I am thinking particularly of tied housing-the Matrimonial Homes Acts tie the house so that a woman cannot put her husband out. I am thinking of access to services. As has already been said, sometimes people have to travel 100 miles to the nearest public telephone to call for assistance-a woman who has suffered domestic violence cannot chap a neighbour's door. Geographical isolation, the lack of housing stock, people's attitudes and-sometimes-the response of the police, can all be problems.

I should add a note of caution. Domestic violence-as Dr Ewing mentioned-is not just men abusing women and children. A number of women-admittedly a small number-harry and verbally and physically abuse men. It would be wrong not to admit that.

Before I became a member of this Parliament, I sat on the bench in my district court, and I chaired the justices training sub-committee. Part of the training was to go out and do a tour of duty with the local police force-not just on traffic duty when we got to go in the fast cars, but on night duty. Going out and seeing the way in which the police do their job is not a new idea of Ian Davidson's; it is something that we were trying to do many years ago. It would pain members to see the sights that I saw. I came upon those scenes not because women had reported violence themselves, but because neighbours had reported a disturbance, gone to the home and seen women who had been battered to a pulp. It was horrifying.

I sincerely hope that this Parliament will address the issue of domestic violence, and I am grateful to Maureen for bringing it to our attention.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 5:17 pm, 2nd September 1999

I want to home in on one aspect of this debate-women's refuges and the way in which they are funded. I will illustrate the problem with reference to a refuge in a market town in my constituency. A letter from the manager of the refuge starts with the words:

"We would like to draw attention to the erratic way our particular refuge is funded."

The refuge gets £22,000 in grants from the local authority, out of which it pays back to the authority nearly £11,000 in rent. The letter continues:

"Our main income has to be derived from housing benefit. This has caused serious problems for us in the past as not all families are eligible to receive this; when occupancy rates fluctuate we have to struggle to pay even the basic expenses."

On occasion, the manager has had to wait to receive her salary until the housing benefit money came in. That is totally unacceptable. Last year, the refuge dealt with 146 contacts and accommodated 30 families including 34 children, but it had to turn away 35 families.

The need is huge. There is some provision to meet that need, but it is woefully inadequate and refuges are not funded properly. There is an enormous amount of work to be done. We have to give much greater commitment to it, and somehow we have to find the money to fund refuges and to give equity of access across rural and urban areas.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am conscious that about 10 members wish to speak, but without a motion to extend the business, I must now go on to the concluding speeches.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour

May I move a motion to extend the business?

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Yes.

Motion moved,

That the meeting be extended by 30 minutes.- [Ms Curran.]

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

The question is, that the motion to extend the meeting by 30 minutes be agreed to.

Motion agreed to.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

In that case, we can continue with members' speeches.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 5:20 pm, 2nd September 1999

I have been involved for many years with battered women. My involvement has been both as a journalist, trying to publicise some of the groups that aid those women, and as a volunteer. I have therefore met umpteen battered women-although perhaps not nearly as many as my colleague Winifred Ewing-and I can assure anyone in this chamber with any doubts whatever that, in Scotland in the 1990s, there are women in much the same mental and physical state as wartime atrocity victims. Such women always wear cover- up clothing to hide some of their scars and bruises and pretend to lead a normal life. I have met women who have been kicked in the stomach while they were pregnant or have had their arms broken and their ribs kicked in; and I once met a woman who had had a lit blowtorch taken to her body.

In many ordinary homes right across the spectrum in Scotland-"chez nous"-there are women who are no better off than their great-grandmothers, because, like their great-grandmothers, they have no place to go and will put up with anything just to keep a roof over their head. I am sure that members will agree that that is totally unacceptable in this age.

Such violence can never be tackled until we have sufficient places of immediate refuge for those women and their children. The most terrible scandal in this whole affair is that, in Scotland, each year 9,000 women and their children are turned away from refuges because of lack of places. Those 9,000 women actually believed the pledges of successive Governments that something would be done about domestic violence.

The motion quite properly concentrates on domestic violence in rural areas, particularly the Highlands. However, cities such as Glasgow are so short of refuge places that, in areas such as Easterhouse, desperate Women's Aid workers have to phone round refuges as far apart as Galloway and Inverness to find a bed for the night for a woman and her children. Every week, 50 women from Easterhouse alone apply for the four available places in that area. That is scandalous. In the long term, battered women will be in a worse position because of the massive housing stock transfer and the demolition of 15,000 Glasgow council houses. The homeless, including battered women and their children, will suffer more. As it is, women stay for far too long in the few refuge places available and many children are being brought up in so-called temporary shelters for several years at a time.

Last year, Helen Liddell announced that a series of advertisements in a campaign against violence would start on boxing day. The campaign cost the Scottish Office £600,000, but not one penny went into extra refuge places. A sum that was mere peanuts was added later because women's groups and my party protested strongly that we wanted substance-real money-to save those women, rather than a shadow show on television.

We have a great chance in this Parliament to save such women through all-party co-operation between men and women of good will, so let us not blow that. What happened to the thousands of women who trusted those advertisements and who thought that they would receive aid only to be turned away after a great extra rush following Christmas? They are back with the batterers, still wandering from room to room, or dead. As a parliamentarian, I do not intend to carry on my shoulders for the next four years the responsibility of doing nothing, and I am sure that every member feels the same.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 5:24 pm, 2nd September 1999

I welcome the fact that the motion has been lodged for debate, although it gives me no pleasure to be speaking here, as it shows how much work we have still to do.

I welcome the recognition that women in rural areas have received today, particularly the recognition of the difficulties in reporting incidences of domestic violence, which is a term I prefer to the phrase "battered women". I also recognise the problems that people in rural areas have finding alternative accommodation.

My main point relates to the effects of domestic violence and abuse on children and young people. Quite often, that kind of abuse cannot be seen written on children's faces. In a publication that is about to be produced by Scottish Women's Aid, there is a piece of writing by a child. The child wrote, "Dad makes me angry and sad. I am sad but you can't see sad because I am smiling. I am sad inside." That says it all and explains children's position in relation to this issue.

Information from Scottish Women's Aid suggests that as many as 100,000 children might be living with the problem of domestic abuse. Earlier, Winnie Ewing mentioned taking a pause to think about things. I would urge people to pause for a moment and reflect on the sheer scale of the impact of domestic abuse on children. We have responsibilities to those children. They are not safe or secure in their own homes, but face daily physical violence, emotional abuse or sexual abuse.

How can a child concentrate on their school work when they have been up for half the night because of what has been happening in their house? How can a child concentrate on their school work when they are afraid of what is happening at home when they are not there? How can a child risk bringing their friends home from the school when they do not know what they will face or walk into? How does a child deal with the well-meaning people who ask what is wrong, when they are too embarrassed to tell? Those are the real issues that children are facing daily.

How do children deal with being desperate to get away from the violence but being terrified of the consequences? They do not want to leave their home, local area, school and friends. One hundred thousand children face those issues every day-that is the scale of the problem.

I want to congratulate Scottish Women's Aid and other organisations on the work that they have done throughout the years to address this issue. A long time ago, during my summer holidays from college, I regularly worked for the organisation as a play leader. I am glad to see that children's workers are now recognised as a much more necessary part of the service provided to children. I question whether the 13 full-time refuge support workers, 31 part-time workers and eight outreach workers can provide the support needed for 100,000 children.

The clear message that comes through from the children's comments is that they need services in their own right. In the document that I referred to earlier, "Young Peoples Aid"-or "Young People Said" depending on how it is read-the most telling comments are the two words at the end, "please listen." Listening in itself is not enough. We need to hear the voices of children and act upon them.

Photo of Shona Robison Shona Robison Scottish National Party 5:28 pm, 2nd September 1999

As Maureen has already said, domestic violence affects all sections of society. It does not depend on class or whether people live in rural or urban areas; it affects all sections of society.

As has been said, women's aid groups provide excellent services throughout Scotland, despite their piecemeal funding. Helen Liddell's Scottish Office campaign against domestic violence raised expectations, as Dorothy said. The worst aspect of that was that the expectations were not met and many of the women who subsequently phoned the helpline were not found refuge places. It must have taken a lot to reach the stage of being able to leave a violent relationship and make that difficult decision, but not receiving the service they expected must have been a difficult blow.

We are aware of the acute difficulties in rural areas and the lack of refuge spaces. I would support the move to consider that as a matter of urgency.

Much has been said about physical abuse, but I want to make a couple of comments about the psychological abuse that many women experience. People ask why women do not leave. They do not leave because they do not have the self-confidence left to make that decision. We must raise those women's self-confidence and enable them to make the decision, but we must ensure that services exist for them once they have.

I call for a national funding strategy so that no matter where they live in Scotland, women can leave a violent relationship.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour 5:30 pm, 2nd September 1999

I too wish to congratulate Maureen on securing a debate on this important issue. I am glad that so many people are here; this is a large attendance for members' business and it shows the importance that we attach to the issue.

Like many other members, I ask the Executive to examine how women's aid groups are funded. There is a particular problem in my constituency with Dumfries and District Women's Aid. The group does a vital job, locally and nationally, and recently achieved a national profile for its "Breaking Point" video, which not only describes the experiences of women who have suffered domestic violence, but shows how they managed to get out of their relationships and began to rebuild their lives. It is important that women get the message that there are ways in which they can get through the abusive situation and that mechanisms are in place to support them.

I should say that Dumfries and District Women's Aid also provides support for male victims of domestic or sexual violence. The group is not affiliated to Scottish Women's Aid; that is true of about 15 per cent of rural women's aid groups throughout the country. Dumfries and District Women's Aid is affiliated over the border in Carlisle and therefore, last year, could not receive a portion of the £250,000 that was distributed to local groups through Scottish Women's Aid. We should ensure that there is a mechanism that allows all groups to get their share of funding, because irrespective of their affiliation the job that they do is extremely important.

As Maureen said, we must recognise that there are particular problems in rural areas such as the Highlands and the south and south-west of Scotland. Perhaps we should consider a more coherent way of addressing the problems of funding and giving some stability to the rural groups.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 5:32 pm, 2nd September 1999

I speak with some trepidation as the first male speaker in this debate, but it is important that males stand up on this issue. Domestic violence does not affect just women; it affects families.

Cathy Jamieson's speech about children was very moving and went to the heart of the problem. The effects on children of domestic violence in the home are horrendous and they carry on through a lifetime. We hear about them all too often when cases are tried in our courts and people relate back to their upbringing and experiences as young children. Cathy's points were very important. That does not undermine, in any way, the issues that Maureen has raised today and I congratulate her on the fact that she has also raised those issues with the Justice and Home Affairs Committee. That is another way in which the issue will be debated well into the future.

This is not a new issue, but it has been hidden under the surface for many years. Dorothy spoke about people who wore long sleeves to hide the signs of the abuse they were experiencing. That says something about society in the past. We should hope that we are now moving forward and have the strength to stand up to the issues.

The solution is not all about injecting money. It is about care and support. It is also about the way in which the police address the issue. At the beginning of the summer, I went along to a good conference that was organised by Strathclyde Police and heard a wide range of contributions. The conference emphasised that the attitude of the police in the past was perhaps to think, "Oh no, it's just another domestic abuse situation." That attitude has changed and the seriousness of the issue is now coming to the fore. It is great to see that forces such as Strathclyde Police are getting to grips with this issue.

I want to highlight the fact that, in the past, local authorities, Governments-in particular the Conservative Government-and others have not been dead to this issue. Elaine served on South Ayrshire Council, which replaced the Tory-led Kyle and Carrick District Council, which treated domestic violence very seriously indeed. It introduced a shelter in the Craigie area of Ayr, where 20 women could find shelter and support. Part of the support is the breathing space that shelters offer: the time for reflection, the time to gather things together again and the time to relate to other people with the same problems. It is very important for like-minded people who have the same experiences to come together, particularly when we hear that all their confidence has been driven out of them.

I could go on for much longer, but the Deputy Presiding Officer is getting impatient with me. We should think about men as well-domestic violence sometimes happens to them, as the mother of the house said. All the men are with her.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I am never impatient, Mr Gallie, but I am conscious that if we keep speeches to about three minutes everyone might be able to speak.

Photo of Mary Mulligan Mary Mulligan Labour 5:36 pm, 2nd September 1999

I, too, welcome the opportunity to discuss domestic violence. It is important that Maureen has brought the issue to this arena. As many members have said, if we are to assist women in situations of domestic violence, we must make resources available. It is important that we do not raise expectations and then fail to fulfil them.

I want to pick up on two points Maureen raised: the zero tolerance campaign and education. The zero tolerance campaign has been clear that prevention should be part of the campaign. At the beginning of this year, it launched a project called Respect, the idea of which was to show young people that they should have respect for one another-both young males and young females-and that they should treat one another as civilised human beings rather than get involved in violent acts, be they physical, mental or sexual.

The project used posters, postcards and a great deal of literature, which was given to young people in places where they usually go, such as youth clubs, discos and clubs in towns and cities. However, there is still concern that the message is not getting across and that prevention will not become part of the package. The zero tolerance campaign has gone on to develop an education pack that includes all the usual booklets, CD-ROMs and everything else that we have in education packs these days. The pack is to be taken into schools. It might be more effective in rural areas than some of the methods that have been tried in the past. It is also designed to instil in all of us a respect for one another, a respect that would ensure that no one, male or female, is abused in the same way as some of the people we have heard about today. I hope that members will join me in welcoming that progress and that, in the future, the zero tolerance campaign will be able to distribute the pack to all schools in Scotland.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:39 pm, 2nd September 1999

I wish to thank Maureen for initiating this debate, and to thank you, Mr Deputy Presiding Officer, for extending the debate. I realise that, when you were a member of the Westminster Parliament, you introduced a bill on this issue.

This is a very emotive issue, and I do not want to get too emotive about it. Others have described the horrific scenes that they have seen, and the consequences. The majority of incidents of domestic violence involve battered women.

We must take a two-step approach to this issue. First, we need immediate action. The zero tolerance campaign has been mentioned. The campaign raised awareness; the problem was that it gave people hope and aspirations, but we did not follow them up with funding. I hope that we have learned a lesson from that.

Both emotional and financial resources are desperately needed. Local authorities fund women's aid groups; perhaps the Parliament could consider ring-fencing local authority funding for this purpose.

We cannot impose such a change, but we could perhaps recommend to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that the funding could be ring-fenced. That way, women's aid projects could go ahead on a long-term basis, which would give them continuity and security, and women who approach the organisations would have something to hang onto. They would know that the organisations will still be there in two or three years' time.

The second approach is a long-term education strategy, through schools and homes. We must introduce something like a good citizenship scheme into schools, to teach boys and girls to see each other as equal partners. I would like that on the curriculum. It would go a good way towards getting people to treat each other equally. It may take a number of years-women have had to endure violence for centuries-but we must tackle it for this generation and for future generations. I congratulate Maureen on raising this important subject.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 5:41 pm, 2nd September 1999

I was moved by Maureen Macmillan's speech, and I hope that from today the Parliament will make it a priority of its first year to develop a comprehensive strategy against violence against women. I was brought into this issue by the zero tolerance campaign, which started in this city, and which taught us about the three Ps, which have also been mentioned by others.

Prevention, through education, is important. The male attitudes that lead to domestic violence, rape, child sexual abuse and other male abuses of power must be challenged. I hope that the Scottish Executive will involve zero tolerance from now on.

Protection is also essential. That is why we need several legislative changes, such as allowing all women, rather than only married women, to get an interdict with power of arrest, and such as providing specific protective measures for rape victims in court.

Provision is the third P, and the one that has been highlighted most today. I hope that funding will be sorted out in this year's spending round for Women's Aid and for rape crisis centres, either by a specific central grant, or through ring-fenced local authority budgets.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 5:42 pm, 2nd September 1999

Colleagues, we sit here today in a Parliament which has equality at its core and a greater proportion of female members than any other level of elected representation in Britain. That is why I particularly welcome the opportunity for us to debate this motion. It is a sign that Parliament recognises the importance of women and of combating domestic violence in Scottish society. I choose my words carefully. The problem is a societal one. There is a tendency for some to see the perpetrators of domestic violence and their victims as the only parties involved. That is not so. Domestic violence feeds off the ugliest attitudes within sections of our society and gives those same attitudes succour. Such violence is a cycle which can only be broken by zero tolerance, both of the act itself and of those attitudes which undermine the equality to which we are entitled within a just society.

It will be difficult to confront those attitudes. A recent survey carried out by the child and women abuse studies unit showed that more than one in two young people between 14 and 21 thought that women provoked violence in a number of contexts, such as by the way that they dressed. One in two boys and one in three girls thought that there were some circumstances where it would be acceptable to hit a woman or to force her to have sex. That these results come some 30 years after the first equal opportunities legislation shows that a concerted effort is required to challenge attitudes and ensure that violence towards women is eliminated. Nothing can be more important than ensuring that a woman can live free from fear and free from threat of violence within our society.

The change in attitudes which that requires will not be easy to achieve and a concerted effort from people from all walks of life will be needed. I believe that we have made an important start here today; we have shown cross-party support. Let us hope that we have sent a message of zero tolerance of violence against women to all Scotland.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 5:45 pm, 2nd September 1999

I add my thanks to Maureen Macmillan for securing today's debate. Scottish Women's Aid has done much to raise the issue of domestic violence and to provide practical solutions. The Parliament can learn from and use the expert advice which such organisations can offer. Indeed, the Justice and Home Affairs Committee will meet representatives of Scottish Women's Aid next week to discuss legal means of protecting women, and to see what this Parliament can do to help them.

As Maureen rightly says, there are particular problems in rural areas. For those who live in a small village, miles from the nearest town, who rely on public transport, and who have two toddlers in tow, it is very difficult to get away and there is nowhere to go anyway.

It is difficult to enter the debate at this stage, because much has already been said: I just want to add my thoughts. One of the central themes of this debate is the need for resources and money. One of the most horrifying statistics is the fact that 9,000 women were turned away from women's refuges last year. Those women took the decision to make a break from their partners and we did not find them the help and resources to do so.

I saw Jack McConnell nodding his head at Jackie Baillie: I hope that he was telling her that there will be money for women's resources.

We need safe and accessible refuges, with the support staff, and we need dedicated police officers to deal with complaints. We need 24-hour helplines so that women can get the help they need, particularly in rural areas.

I look forward to working with Maureen Macmillan in the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, under the convenership of my colleague Roseanna Cunningham, to put legislation in place that will truly protect women, but we need the resources-the money-to do that.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

There is room for one more speech, of up to three minutes.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 5:47 pm, 2nd September 1999

I welcome this debate on domestic violence. It is one which is too often left hidden and not allowed to come out into the open.

We spent some time this morning, quite rightly, debating issues of public safety in relation to people with diagnosed mental illnesses. Domestic violence, which, in the vast majority of cases, is a violence which men visit upon women, is carried out by sane men against the women whom they live with or have lived with, and they carry it out simply because they can.

The issue of male victims of domestic violence is the exception which proves the rule. In reality, most domestic violence emerges where we find a certain kind of behaviour acceptable, where men's and women's roles are defined in a certain way, and where it is acceptable for men to view women in that way.

We obviously need to address the misery, fear and violence that is the daily experience of far too many women. I agree with the comments that have been made on funding and I say this: this Parliament, which has so many women, must reflect women's priorities, and I hope that the Scottish Executive will listen when we discuss funding. We cannot afford to have women who screw their courage to the sticking-place and who ask for help if that help is not there for them.

We need to examine a whole range of issues in some detail: I want to highlight one. There is a clear issue about the legislation in this country, some of which does a disservice to women and undermines those who are fleeing violence. There is a clear role for the Justice and Home Affairs Committee in scrutinising current legislation. Representatives from the Glasgow women's support project raised one example of that with me: the way in which the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 can be used by male abusers of women, because of questions of access, to create further difficulties for women fleeing violence.

I hope that the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, with women's organisations and other organisations supporting women who are fleeing violence, will deal with this and other matters that have such tragic consequences for women and their families.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

I apologise to the one member who wanted to speak who could not be called.

Photo of Jackie Baillie Jackie Baillie Labour 5:50 pm, 2nd September 1999

I join others in congratulating Maureen Macmillan on securing today's end-of-business debate and for raising such an important topic early in the life of the Scottish Parliament. I am disappointed, however, that the usually packed press galleries are virtually empty-not least because of the quality of the debate, but considering the seriousness and importance of the issue that is being debated.

All of us continue to be shocked at the extent of domestic abuse and the real and disturbing effect that it has on children who are caught up in such violence, as Cathy has vividly described. Domestic abuse is not peculiar to Scotland, nor is it a modern-day phenomenon. Sadly, the problem has been rooted in society for centuries and has an international dimension. We have an opportunity-a responsibility-to create a climate in Scotland that will not tolerate violence, particularly within the family circle.

I am grateful to Maureen for bringing to the attention of Parliament the existence of the Scottish Partnership on Domestic Violence and the draft work plan that it has prepared. The need for a multi-agency approach to domestic abuse was recognised in several recent reports, which is why the Scottish Office adopted that approach in bringing together the key agencies nationally and establishing the partnership. We have a core group of policy advisers in the Scottish Executive that is working alongside experts in the provision of services to victims. That group includes the police, the judiciary, the prison service, the health service, local authorities and victims organisations. The partnership is chaired by Anne Smith QC, and includes representatives from Scottish Women's Aid, Scottish Rape Crisis and Victim Support Scotland.

I assure members that the Scottish Executive gives its full support to the work of the partnership, and believes that it will provide us with a model for making a significant impact on service provision to victims of domestic abuse. That model will allow us to deal better with the effect, but we must not lose sight of the need to do more to tackle the cause. Only then can we begin to turn round the situation and make Scotland a safer place for women.

The remit of the partnership should put us on that course. It has been asked specifically to develop an action plan that is firmly located in the Government's overall strategy on violence against women. It will, for example, recommend minimum levels of service for women who are experiencing domestic abuse, to provide a consistent delivery of service throughout Scotland. Particular regard will be given to the needs of women from rural areas-a point that was strongly made by Maureen Macmillan-as well as those from ethnic minorities and the disabled. It will also take into account the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people. Importantly, it will consider effective strategies to prevent male violence against female partners and their children. I am sure that all members will agree that that is a challenging and ambitious, but worthwhile, piece of work.

The partnership has submitted its work plan to Scottish ministers, which sets out the time scale for the discharge of its remit. Since then, the work plan has been issued as a consultation document. Responses are being analysed and will be considered by the partnership when it meets next on 27 September. I shall attend that meeting and I look forward to seeing the partnership in action. We anticipate that a revised work plan will be published towards the end of October.

The Scottish Executive is supporting the work of the partnership with a domestic abuse advertising campaign that will extend over a three-year period. The campaign began last Christmas, with a television advertisement that showed how domestic abuse can start insidiously with verbal abuse. It also showed the distressing effect that such abuse has on children. That has been backed up with advertising on local and community radio as well as with press advertising.

I turn briefly to Malcolm's point. We recognise the value of Zero Tolerance Trust public awareness campaign. Members of that organisation have been invited to meet me tomorrow to discuss their forward work plan.

I now address the experience of women in rural areas, which was highlighted by Maureen Macmillan. It is clear that women in outlying islands and other remote areas face the greatest difficulty in gaining access to the services that are vital to their needs. I am aware that there is no Women's Aid provision in Orkney, and that therefore no refuge is available, although I am delighted that the council is making positive efforts. The nearest provision of such services requires victims to travel to Dingwall or Inverness. The picture is the same on Shetland and the Western Isles, specialist services being available only on the mainland.

We know there are gaps in provision and we also know there are inconsistencies in the way such services operate. That is why the work of the partnership is so important. In terms of service provision, the bases of statutory services are generally found at a range of locations throughout rural areas. Nevertheless, the very size of such areas means that many communities will be distant from outlying services. This makes access to emergency services very difficult for women experiencing abuse.

I know that in many rural areas few local services are provided and transport is clearly a major factor with low levels of service, high costs and lengthy journeys. Community issues such as lack of privacy and lack of confidentiality bring other difficulties. I am very concerned that in some of the remote and rural communities there is often an acceptance and tolerance of domestic abuse, often resulting in isolation and marginalisation of those attempting to address it.

I am pleased that the partnership will specifically address the very wide range of issues affecting women in rural as well as urban areas. I expect the recommendations they submit for consideration by Scottish ministers will be wide-ranging but practical. I am absolutely clear in my mind that it is incumbent on all of us-local authorities, the health service, voluntary organisations and the Scottish Executive-to get far better co-ordination and a level of provision that is consistent with the needs of the victims of domestic abuse.

The services provided by Women's Aid and other organisations are often an oasis in a desert of despair and hopelessness for many women seeking to escape. I echo the points made by Maureen Macmillan and extend my support and thanks to those volunteers-and I know Maureen is one of them-who do such a marvellous job.

I share the concerns expressed by a number of members about funding and I am well aware that many women's groups experience difficulties. Women's Aid in particular have expressed their concern that there is no consistency of approach and therefore no security on offer to allow them to plan for the future and improve the quality of and expand the range of services they provide. Those are matters that will also be considered by the partnership, but I assure you that they also exercise my mind and I hope we can devise an acceptable arrangement to improve the current position.

The partnership is charged with devising a national strategy, and the issue of funding is implicit in that. However, it is worth pointing out that last year funding amounting to almost £370,000. A grant of £30,000 was also made to Victim Support Scotland to provide, in association with Women's Aid, a telephone counselling and advice service for those using the freephone helpline facility set up to support the domestic abuse advertising campaign.

In addition, Scottish Homes gave grant funding of £136,000 to three projects for households that had suffered domestic violence. That provided 20 units of 39 bed spaces, a long way short of what is needed, and I agree that is essential that those services and refuge spaces are there.

I welcome the opportunity provided by Maureen to demonstrate the level of priority and seriousness given by the Scottish Executive to the battle to eradicate violence against women. I am pleased to record publicly my gratitude to the members of the partnership for their efforts to date, and particularly my gratitude for the services provided by Women's Aid and other voluntary and statutory organisations in dealing with the victims of abuse. There is still much to do before Scotland can begin to have a feeling of pride in the way it has tackled domestic abuse. We have embarked on a challenging and ambitious future. I want this Parliament to make a difference.

Meeting closed at 17:59.