Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2016.

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Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

Thank you for those very kind words, Presiding Officer.

Today’s bill is another step in the significant progress on action against violence against women that we have seen in the Parliament since 1999. I welcome the domestic abuse aggravator, the extension of non-harassment orders, the action against image-based sexual abuse and the measures on jury direction. I respect Margaret Mitchell and Christine Grahame, but I have to say that, when I read the research of Professor Louise Ellison and Professor Vanessa Munro, I found it overwhelmingly persuasive. Of course, it led to the similar changes that took place in England a little while ago.

The consultation document on the bill included a proposal for a new specific domestic abuse offence to cover coercive control and the long-term repetitive nature of much domestic abuse. I look forward to that becoming law, which I think will happen in the new session of Parliament. I hope that other measures will be taken in the new session—for example, there will perhaps be a response to the recent Scottish Women’s Aid report on homelessness and domestic abuse.

I also hope that there will be a renewed focus on prevention. I first spoke on that subject in the House of Commons in July 1993, when I highlighted the great Zero Tolerance prevention campaign that was taking place in Edinburgh at the time. That was bringing the issue of violence against women out into the open and was challenging men with striking messages and shocking facts. It also transformed my understanding of the issue and led me to see such violence as a consequence and a cause of gender inequality. At the centre of that campaign was Evelyn Gillan, whom many members will remember and who tragically died a few months ago. I know that her partner recently wrote to the First Minister to suggest that the Scottish Government could consider a prevention campaign that at least drew on the lessons from the Zero Tolerance campaign. I hope that the Government will reflect on that.

We have certainly come a long way since 1993. In the debate then, I mentioned a Scottish Office campaign that focused on women taking precautions rather than on challenging men. I do not say that to criticise the Conservative Party, because I doubt that any other party would have done anything different at that time. Without being in any way complacent, especially in view of the horrifying continuing prevalence of violence against women, we can regard progress on the issue as one of the great achievements of the Scottish Parliament.

I believe that Scotland is regarded as the leader in the UK on such issues. That is certainly what I found when I spoke at a meeting 10 years ago in the House of Commons that involved English groups that were working against violence against women. I am sure that we are still the leaders now, because the current Scottish Government has carried on the work of the previous Government.

There are two fundamental reasons for progress in the area in Scotland. The first is that, from the very beginning, the key stakeholders were involved in developing the strategy, and that is still the case. I pay tribute to Zero Tolerance, which I mentioned, and to Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland. There are too many groups for me to remember, but I want to thank especially certain inspirational women who are connected with those groups and other campaigns. I am thinking of women such as Jenny Kemp, Evelyn Gillan, whom I mentioned, Lily Greenan, Marsha Scott and Sandy Brindley of Rape Crisis Scotland. They have inspired me and many other people in the Parliament and across Scotland, and they have driven the strategy. With due respect to both Governments, they perhaps deserve the most praise.

The other key factor is the large number of women who have been members of the Parliament from the start. The proportion of women is much larger here than at Westminster, although I should add that it will not be large enough until 50:50 is achieved across the Parliament.

Our approach has been characterised by collaboration and even consensus, although that cannot and should not be the case with all issues. I do not believe in a consensus that buries genuine differences and turns a blind eye to injustices that need to be addressed, but we should collaborate and work together whenever we can and, if we agree, we should say so. Violence against women is one issue on which we have been able to work together and, for the most part, agree, even if there are disagreements on one or two specific policies.

I have one minute to go until my end as a speaker in the Parliament, unless I have the luck to get to ask question 9 at general question time tomorrow—I had better keep in with the Presiding Officer. As I said on television last night, I like the Westminster Parliament very much, but I have loved the Scottish Parliament. There are so many amazing MSPs from all parties and I thank all members for being such great colleagues, whether we have agreed or disagreed. I also thank my brilliant staff: Lesley Montgomery, April Cumming and Jason Thomson. Finally, I thank all the wonderful people who work in the Parliament, whom I will miss so much—although, being Edinburgh based, I may pop in from time to time. [Applause.]