After section 13A

Family Law (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:15 am on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 11:15 am, 15th December 2005

Group 6 is on the breakdown of communication between partners and the effect of that on children. Amendment 39, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, is grouped with amendment 52.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

Amendment 39 is a probing amendment that focuses on situations where there has been a breakdown in communication between spouses that has resulted in one or both parties indulging in hostile or obstructive behaviour to the detriment of any children of the marriage. The amendment seeks to concentrate both parents' minds on the needs of the children as opposed to any grievance that might be obscuring their ability to see the potential damage to children resulting from such behaviour.

The emphasis is therefore on trying to achieve a voluntary agreement as a result of which both spouses, despite the fact that they might be divorcing or divorced, will have quality parenting time and will remain united in being involved in their children's upbringing and future. Amendment 39 has at its heart the interests of the child and proposes that prior to the bill coming into force, there would be a campaign to cover those issues and promote the benefits of the excellent provisions contained in the parenting agreement and the grandparents charter, which are firmly focused on achieving agreements and arrangements for contact that are in the children's interests.

Amendment 52 is consequential to amendment 39.

I move amendment 39.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I welcome the Tories' commitment to spending public money. If we are going to do so, I suggest that it would be better if we simply increased the budget that Hugh Henry has announced for family mediation contact centres and conciliation.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour

I appreciate the sentiment that has prompted amendment 39, and I recognise that Margaret Mitchell said that it is a probing amendment. I hope that I will be able to give her the reassurances that will persuade her not to press the amendment. I do not believe that the provision should be on the face of the bill.

Amendment 39 suggests that a new provision would be required in statute so that we could take an information campaign to the public. I am sure that Margaret Mitchell understands that we already have the power to provide advice and information on any policy matter within our devolved competence.

We have heard a lot this morning from those who have experience as family law practitioners. Although I do not share that experience, I spent a considerable amount of my professional life working as an advocate for children whose circumstances, in some cases, had been brought about by that very breakdown—of communication and of the relationship between partners—that has caused so much concern to members. For the children in the middle of those situations it can be a living nightmare to watch their parents battle over several years and to see that battle, rather than their interests, become their parents' focus. That has informed all the work that we have tried to do with this legislation.

As has been mentioned, we have been working on a parenting agreement for Scotland and on a charter for grandchildren. They are designed to help those families where there is a separation—and particularly the children in those families. The parenting agreement aims to encourage parents at or around the painful point of separation to agree on the arrangements for the future care and welfare of their children and to put that at the centre of their considerations. It also seeks to persuade parents of the importance of putting aside their differences and not allowing them to cause problems for their children. That would include information on the negative effects that a breakdown in communications between the parties could have on the children of a relationship. The grandchildren's charter also aims at highlighting the role that the wider family can play in supporting children, especially at the point of family separation. In doing that, it focuses on the effect that a breakdown in communication—not just between partners but also within the wider family—can have on children.

Those two documents, which have been generally welcomed, were drawn up with the involvement of people who have experience of the circumstances that we are discussing today. The Executive believes that they will provide parents and families—and children—with useful and practical tools to help them through difficult times. We intend to launch an information and communication campaign to raise awareness of family law, to inform people about the non-legislative options that are available to them, and to detail the many organisations that can offer support and advice at difficult times.

I hope that, with those assurances, Margaret Mitchell will not feel it necessary to press her amendment.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I will press my amendment. I welcome everything that the minister said, but the amendment is designed to tackle entrenched attitudes. It is designed to tackle situations in which there is no co-operation and in which contact orders are either not being enforced, or in which there are huge difficulties in enforcing them.

We agree that the parenting agreement and the grandchildren's charter are excellent documents. However, my amendment would give them more prominence and would, I hope, encourage a difference in attitudes.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Have the Tories costed this commitment?

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative

I would look to the money coming from the same pool as money for mediation and counselling services. It would be on the same basis as the successful campaigns to tackle domestic violence and drink-driving. For those reasons, I believe it to be an important and worthwhile step that the Parliament could take to promote the grandchildren's charter and the parenting agreement. Similar campaigns have made drink-driving substantially unacceptable and have highlighted issues of domestic abuse.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The question is, that amendment 39 be agreed to. Are we agreed?

Members:

No.

Division number 5

For: Aitken, Bill, Brocklebank, Mr Ted, Byrne, Ms Rosemary, Curran, Frances, Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James, Fox, Colin, Fraser, Murdo, Gallie, Phil, McGrigor, Mr Jamie, Mitchell, Margaret
Against: Adam, Brian, Alexander, Ms Wendy, Arbuckle, Mr Andrew, Baillie, Jackie, Baird, Shiona, Baker, Richard, Ballance, Chris, Ballard, Mark, Barrie, Scott, Boyack, Sarah, Brankin, Rhona, Brown, Robert, Butler, Bill, Canavan, Dennis, Chisholm, Malcolm, Craigie, Cathie, Crawford, Bruce, Cunningham, Roseanna, Curran, Ms Margaret, Deacon, Susan, Eadie, Helen, Ewing, Fergus, Fabiani, Linda, Ferguson, Patricia, Finnie, Ross, Gibson, Rob, Gillon, Karen, Glen, Marlyn, Gordon, Mr Charlie, Grahame, Christine, Harper, Robin, Harvie, Patrick, Henry, Hugh, Home Robertson, John, Hughes, Janis, Hyslop, Fiona, Jackson, Dr Sylvia, Jamieson, Cathy, Kerr, Mr Andy, Lamont, Johann, Leckie, Carolyn, Livingstone, Marilyn, Lochhead, Richard, Lyon, George, MacAskill, Mr Kenny, Macdonald, Lewis, MacDonald, Margo, Macintosh, Mr Kenneth, Maclean, Kate, Macmillan, Maureen, Martin, Campbell, Martin, Paul, Marwick, Tricia, Mather, Jim, Matheson, Michael, Maxwell, Mr Stewart, May, Christine, McAveety, Mr Frank, McCabe, Mr Tom, McFee, Mr Bruce, McMahon, Michael, McNeil, Mr Duncan, McNeill, Pauline, McNulty, Des, Morgan, Alasdair, Morrison, Mr Alasdair, Muldoon, Bristow, Mulligan, Mrs Mary, Munro, John Farquhar, Murray, Dr Elaine, Neil, Alex, Oldfather, Irene, Peacock, Peter, Peattie, Cathy, Pringle, Mike, Purvis, Jeremy, Radcliffe, Nora, Robison, Shona, Robson, Euan, Rumbles, Mike, Ruskell, Mr Mark, Scanlon, Mary, Scott, Eleanor, Scott, Tavish, Smith, Elaine, Smith, Iain, Smith, Margaret, Stephen, Nicol, Stevenson, Stewart, Swinburne, John, Swinney, Mr John, Turner, Dr Jean, Wallace, Mr Jim, Whitefield, Karen, Wilson, Allan
Abstentions: Brownlee, Derek, Davidson, Mr David, Fergusson, Alex, Johnstone, Alex, McLetchie, David, Milne, Mrs Nanette, Scott, John, Tosh, Murray

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

The result of the division is: For 10, Against 95, Abstentions 8.

Amendment 39 disagreed to.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I propose to invoke rule 9.8.4A to allow the debates on groups 7 and 8 to take place. The debate on group 8 must conclude by 11:38.