After section 17

Part of Family Law (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 3:30 pm, 15th December 2005

I will speak quickly. I support the sentiments behind amendment 42, in the name of Pauline McNeill, and I turn quickly to amendment 15. At stage 2, I lodged three amendments dealing with the enforcement of contact orders. One related to warning notices and was agreed by the committee, resulting in section 17B. The other two amendments, which dealt with introducing additional measures, such as community service orders and compensation for financial loss, gained some support, but they were not agreed.

Since stage 2, I have become aware of the different legal interpretations of the warning notice statement. Rephrasing the statement so that it applies to both parents has proved difficult. The amendments that I moved at stage 2 built on the research and consultation that is associated with the Children and Adoption Bill in England and Wales, which is passing from the House of Lords to the House of Commons, and I am sure that there will be a lot of discussion about the non-enforcement of contact orders and other points.

The Family Law (Scotland) Bill will be law shortly. On balance, the minister's suggestion that the lack of enforcement of contact orders should be addressed is constructive, even at this late stage—as long as there are no delays. Research will be important to provide the kind of data that at the moment exists only in England and Wales. More important is the Executive's proposal for a pilot project to investigate the role of a contact compliance officer. It is essential that that person works centrally in the court system and is more permanently involved than the existing curators.

It is vital to act quickly once a court order has been breached. A constituent of mine, who has campaigned for a long time on this issue, knows that long court proceedings—eight years in his case—can be not only financially costly, costing up to £50,000, but emotionally costly. Contact with his children has now stopped. I ask the minister to consider—