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 Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

I have had this cough since 5 January. I wish it would go away.

Opponents within the judiciary argue that similar directions will creep into other areas of legislation, but that can happen only if Parliament agrees that it should happen. I do not think that mission creep is going to happen by itself. Decisions to extend judicial direction would have to be made by Parliament.

The bill also brings into effect a number of measures that have attracted less comment. For example, it extends courts’ ability to award non-harassment orders for domestic abuse offences to circumstances in which the alleged offender has not been fit to stand trial, although the evidence suggests that the person is guilty of the offence.

The bill also extends the jurisdiction of Scottish courts to prosecute offences that are committed against children elsewhere in the UK; amendments at stage 2 clarified how that will operate. The bill abolishes sexual offences prevention orders, foreign travel orders and risk of sexual harm orders, none of which were used often—there was a petition lodged in Parliament about that—and replaces them with sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders. That change is similar to provisions in the rest of the UK, and we hope that the new orders will be easier to use.

Although we welcome the bill and will support it tonight, we do not by any measure consider that the job is now done. The wider issue of coercive control, which exists in cases of domestic abuse but also in abuse of children and older people, is yet to be tackled. We appreciate the difficulty in defining such a broad offence that can be committed in many different circumstances, but we all know that behaviour of that nature can be very damaging to the victim. Such victims are often not aware of what is being done to them and, again, may blame themselves for what happens.

Whatever the shape of forthcoming legislation, there is a need for awareness raising. There is work to be done in our society and in our schools on respect and consent in intimate situations. The education programme that will accompany the bill is much needed in the light of recent evidence about the amount of sexting that is reported to be taking place in Perth and Kinross schools, and I am sure that Perth and Kinross is no different from any other local authority area in Scotland in that regard. I read today that there have been similar reports in England, and I believe that the Labour Party at UK level has proposed that there should be compulsory sex education on the subject. We might wish to return to that in this Parliament. Although the bill is not intended to prevent the activity of sexting, young people need to be aware of their vulnerability both to bullying and exploitation.

My colleagues have raised the importance of tackling other issues. Rhoda Grant raised the need to change both attitudes and legislation around the purchase of sex; she introduced a member's bill on the issue and lodged stage 2 amendments to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015. I am sure that she will return to those issues in the next session of Parliament. Cara Hilton, during the passage of the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 highlighted the harm that is done by the exposure of young children to exploitative, sexualised and degrading images of women, which remains an outstanding matter of concern. In the next session, and maybe in sessions after that, Parliament will have further work to do.

There has been much dissent and disagreement during the fourth session of Parliament. However, we end on a note of agreement, on an issue of great importance: we are taking action on sexual and domestic abuse, changing court procedure to secure greater access to justice for rape victims, and protecting victims of what has sometimes been described as “revenge porn”. I look forward to this final debate, and in particular to the speeches of Malcolm Chisholm and Margaret McDougall, who will be speaking in the chamber for the last time.