After section 17

Part of Family Law (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:45 pm on 15th December 2005.

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Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 3:45 pm, 15th December 2005

To answer Christine Grahame's final point, we will scope that, but it is for the court to determine what is best and to try to resolve problems. The purpose of compliance officers is contact enforcement. They will report to the court, after which it will be for the court to determine exactly what happens.

We are committed to the delivery of high-quality public services, which is why we give a huge amount of support to local government through grant-aided expenditure, the changing children's services fund and other funding sources. Under the way in which we operate in Scotland, it is then a matter for local government—the democratically elected local councils—to deliver services locally. I recognise that it is for local authorities, working with partners, to determine their local service priorities based on local need. In that way, they can secure the outcomes that matter locally. Therefore, it would be wrong for us to build an infrastructure in which local services are funded directly from the centre.

However, I also acknowledge the point that Mary Mulligan made and that other members made in the committee, which is that local councils must be held to account locally, given that there are huge gaps in provision across Scotland. Stewart Stevenson also made that point. The question is whether it is for us to determine what happens in a local area or whether that is a matter for the council. The money that we put in will go towards trying to encourage the development of local services. As we have not quite finalised the arrangement, at this stage I would prefer that we put more effort into looking to help people to work through relationship problems by using counselling and conciliation services. We already spend money on mediation, which also has a contribution to make. We are not talking about a universal service that everyone should have; people need the service at certain times in their lives and in different ways. This is about local needs being responded to locally by those responsible.

I said this morning that I am arranging a meeting with COSLA to discuss concerns about patchy service delivery. Mary Mulligan mentioned the excellent way in which South Lanarkshire Council uses the changing children's services fund. Why have other councils not done the same? We give the money to local government to use as they see fit in local areas. Why is it that the arrangement can work very well in some areas but not in others? I want to explore that issue further. I know from talking to the convener of the Justice 1 Committee that the committee may well come back to the issue.

A statutory obligation on local authorities to provide services in a specific way would have significant financial implications, as they would come straight back to us to ask for more money. This morning I heard SNP members shout to Conservative members about what was, in comparison, a relatively modest financial proposal. The SNP members asked, "Where will the money come from? Have you costed the proposal?" We could say exactly the same about this proposal, which would involve a huge financial burden, for which there is no blank cheque.

I know exactly what Stewart Stevenson is trying to do. We sympathise with his aim and we will work to try to improve service delivery locally in an appropriate manner. We want new models of working. We want joint working and better integration of services such as counselling, mediation and conciliation throughout the country. We want more effort to be put in at the start of the process rather than at the end. That is why we announced the funding this morning.

Stewart Stevenson's amendments are well intentioned, but they would have completely the wrong effect. I worry about what the consequences would be if they were agreed to. Therefore, if he does not withdraw amendment 44 or moves amendment 53, I ask Parliament to oppose them.