As is customary, I open the debate by thanking all those who worked hard to get us to this place and to get the bill into shape for stage 3. First, I thank my own bill team, who have not had their challenges to seek in having to deal with legislation in a very truncated timetable. They have worked extraordinarily hard with members across the chamber on the amendments lodged at stage 3. I also thank the members of the Justice Committee, and its clerks, for their scrutiny and diligence and, again, for working constructively with the Government on a number of amendments at stage 3.
I thank, too, those who, crucially, took the time to share their knowledge and experiences during the scrutiny process. Scottish Women’s Aid has already been referenced. However, I know that many other organisations, such as the advocacy, support, safety, information services together—ASSIST—service, survivors and victims, who are predominantly women, have come forward to speak about their experiences of domestic abuse. I am sure that I speak for all members when I say that we applaud their bravery.
These are not normal times, and the pressures that many of us have faced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic have meant that we have struggled to dedicate time to help the Parliament to develop new laws, because there have been other competing priorities. I really thank members for the time that they have given to this bill, because it is absolutely crucial. In a week in which the Parliament has already united to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law, here is another opportunity for us to unite around transformational legislation.
Of course, the pandemic has meant that we have all been spending more time in our homes, which for many people will have been welcome. I have certainly enjoyed the time that I have spent at home with my family. However, sadly, we know that that is not true for everyone. The scourge of domestic abuse remains a blight on Scotland. Earlier in this parliamentary session, in taking evidence on what is now the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, we heard harrowing examples of the kinds of behaviour in which perpetrators of domestic abuse might engage. We now understand better the totality of what it is like to experience such abuse. Of course it can be physical—we have known that for a long time—but it can also consist of behaviour that is intended to humiliate or denigrate a partner or to exert control over every aspect of that individual’s life. It is corrosive, coercive and controlling behaviour.
Although the new domestic abuse offence has improved the criminal justice system’s ability to take action against perpetrators of such abuse, we know that we cannot rely solely on that system to deal with it. Inevitably, there are cases in which there will not be the evidence that is required to proceed with a criminal prosecution and so unlock the powers of the criminal court to protect those who are at risk.
When someone is being abused by a partner or an ex-partner with whom they live and it is not possible for criminal action to be taken against their abuser, they may lack the freedom to pursue, for example, civil court action, and they can find that they have very few options. We know that domestic abuse is the leading cause of homelessness for women, and it is easy to see why that is the case. I suspect that I am not the only member of the Scottish Parliament who has had to deal with such cases on a far-too-regular basis.
If the bill is passed by Parliament today, it will provide new powers that can be used to protect people, predominantly women.
The cabinet secretary talked about the statistics and homelessness. Earlier, I looked at the Scottish Government’s forthcoming publications. I might be missing something, but I did not see the usual publication of the Scottish Government’s domestic abuse statistics. Last year, they were published on 25 February. Will they be published and, if so, when?
If the member will forgive me, I will take a look at that and get back to him before the end of the session.
The powers that are provided in the bill are significant. Part 1 of the bill creates new powers for the police and the courts to make a domestic abuse protection notice or a domestic abuse protection order. They can remove a suspected—that is an important word—perpetrator of domestic abuse from the home of the person who is at risk, and prohibit them from approaching or contacting the person who is at risk or any children involved. That provides the police and the courts with the powers to take action to remove a suspected perpetrator of abuse from a home that they share with a person who is at risk for a period of up to three months. That is intended to protect people who are living with an abusive partner or ex-partner, and gives them a breathing space within which they can consider the steps that they can take in the longer term to address their safety and their housing situation without any interference from their abuser.
Part 2 makes provision to allow social landlords to transfer a tenancy to a victim of domestic abuse. As it stands, there are a number of grounds on which a landlord can evict a tenant and reassign the tenancy to another person, but domestic abuse is not one of them. A new ground on which a social landlord can apply for a court order to end the tenancy of the perpetrator is being created. That will allow the victim to remain in the family home as sole tenant. Having the legal ability to end a perpetrator’s tenancy in domestic abuse cases will allow social landlords, without requiring the victim to commence the process themselves, to take a more proactive role in supporting and protecting victims of domestic abuse, and to support the victim to remain permanently in the family home.
The bill has been subject to effective scrutiny through a timetable that has meant that the bill has moved quickly from stage 1 just two months ago in January to today’s stage 3 proceedings and debate. That has been challenging, and I thank the Justice Committee for its excellent work in proceeding with scrutiny, alongside the many other demands that have been placed upon it.
The bill provides us with a legislative framework to implement a scheme of protective orders for people who are at risk of domestic abuse. However, I am all too aware that, if the scheme is to be effective in improving the lives of those people who are experiencing domestic abuse, how it is implemented will be vitally important. Indeed, a number of the concerns that were raised during parliamentary scrutiny of the bill relate not to the exact wording of the provision but to how it will be implemented in practice. As I said during the stage 1 debate, there will be a Scottish Government-led implementation board that will bring together all the key interests and stakeholders and partners, including Police Scotland, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, Scottish Women’s Aid and others to work together to put in place the necessary processes to ensure that protection can effectively be given to those who are at risk of domestic abuse.
We know that legislation alone cannot address the issue of domestic abuse. However, ensuring that appropriate powers are available through the legislation is key. Once it is implemented, the bill will provide our police, courts and social landlords with significant new powers to deal with domestic abuse. Use of those powers will reduce the risk that the only way that a person can escape from an abusive partner is to flee their own home, often having to take the children with them or, even worse, to leave their children behind, then having to rely on emergency homelessness provision. That cannot be right.
We collectively have a duty to ensure that our law and our law enforcement agencies have the tools to prevent victims from being faced with such an impossible and devastating choice simply for their own safety. We have a duty to ensure that our law can keep people safe in their own homes, and I believe that the bill provides our law enforcement agencies with those tools and allows us to fulfil that collective duty.
That the Parliament agrees that the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill be passed.
I confirm that the Scottish Conservatives will vote in favour of the Domestic Abuse Protection (Scotland) Bill at decision time tonight. We share the chamber’s condemnation of domestic abuse as a scourge—to use the cabinet secretary’s correct word—on our society and welcome any attempt to address it and get justice for victims.
The context in which we are considering the bill is sobering. Recorded incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland have risen over the past three years. Indeed, the number of domestic abuse charges was at a four-year high in 2019-20. The committee heard evidence that Police Scotland is called out to around 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse every year. That is an average of 5,000 a month—1,200 every week.
Each incident that Police Scotland attends consumes, on average, nine hours of police time, and the social costs are massive, to say nothing of the horrific impact on the victims. That is terrifying, and I have no doubt that we are united in our wish to address it. The bill has three basic ways to do so.
First, to protect a person who is at risk of domestic abuse in the immediate term, it gives the power to a senior police officer, on reasonable suspicion, to issue a domestic abuse protection notice on a person who is engaged in abusive behaviour. Breach of such a notice is a criminal offence, and it forces the person to leave the home and stay away.
Secondly, the bill sets out provisions for the domestic abuse protection order. Whenever a DAPN is issued, the police must apply to the court for a DAPO on
“the first court day after the notice is” issued, and any order can last up to two months, which period is extendable to three months. Breach is a criminal offence. I recall that I proposed an amendment to the bill that ultimately became the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 that called for something similar, so I am pleased that that provision is present.
Thirdly, the bill gives social landlords a new power to evict a tenant when the tenant has engaged in abusive behaviour.
It is a good bill in its principles, and it was further improved, as the cabinet secretary rightly said, at stage 2. For example, at stage 2, I flagged up Police Scotland’s representations that other statutory and third-party agencies should be able to apply for a DAPO. The police had pointed out that
“reliance on a single organisation, such as Police Scotland, to apply the legislation, not only creates a significant and potentially unmanageable demand on a single service, but is out of step with the established partnership approach in Scotland.”
I am pleased that Parliament agreed to my amendment 20 today, which gives effect to that.
However, I made the point at stage 2 that it will ultimately be the practicalities that need to be addressed, because legal bodies and the police, in particular, had signalled outstanding issues that might mean that the bill’s powers could prove to be difficult to use in practice. As Detective Chief Superintendent McCluskey said, even at the moment, situations can be
“very challenging for officers on the ground.”—[
Official Report, Justice Committee
, 22 December 2020; c 29.]
The Law Society flagged up that DAPNs will be imposed by Police Scotland but noted that exactly what will amount to a sufficiency of evidence and the quality of that evidence in relation to abusive behaviour might not be consistent. If there is ambiguity, there is a risk of variations in the use of the bill’s provisions, depending on the operational decisions taken day by day and case by case by Police Scotland. The Law Society argued that that leads to a risk that there could be inconsistent practices across Scotland, as well as a lack of certainty.
All of that feeds into resource concerns. Scottish Women’s Aid makes that point forcefully and well in its briefing for the debate, saying that the police must
“be adequately resourced to be able to respond appropriately” when assessing and imposing DAPNs or dealing with DAPOs and on enforcement. That will require training, which requires money and time. As Scottish Women’s Aid makes clear, that education and training will be required not only for the police but for everyone who is involved, such as the judiciary, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and specialist independent advocacy.
In his opening remarks, the cabinet secretary referred to the post-bill implementation group, which is being set up to bring together all the key agencies that will be affected by the new legislation, including Police Scotland. That is welcome, but it will not be straightforward. The group will, of course, be assisted by the report that is required by my amendment 22, which will allow for scrutiny and evaluation. It will help to measure exactly what use is being made of the measures and where. In line with Scottish Women’s Aid’s recommendations, the group will broaden its focus beyond criminal justice outcomes to collect a much wider range of data on those protected and their children.
Every effort possible must be made to prevent domestic abuse, and the bill is another attempt to address this vile problem in society. It seeks to provide victims of domestic abuse with the protection that they need, and we are absolutely supportive of that. I would remark very gently that, looking at things holistically, I am concerned that the presumption against short-term sentences would mean that those who breached a DAPN or a DAPO would be unlikely to go to prison. That has been highlighted to me as a potential weak point by victims of domestic abuse, so I would be grateful if the cabinet secretary addressed that concern in his closing remarks.
The Scottish Conservatives will always stand up for the victims of crime, which is why we will be very pleased to support the bill tonight.
Like the cabinet secretary, I wish to thank all the people and organisations who have contributed to the bill. The shocking and brutal death of Sarah Everard has reminded us all of how vulnerable women are to violence and abuse from men. As tragic and sad as that horrific murder is, it should not blind us to the fact that the vast majority of attacks on women who are abused are carried out by perpetrators who are known to, and often related to, the victim. I recognise that not all victims of domestic abuse are female, but the harsh reality is that the vast majority are. Therefore, this short but welcome bill is not about women; it is overwhelmingly about men and men’s behaviour towards women.
Scottish Labour is clear that we need a criminal justice system that protects women and all victims, and this bill is another small step in correcting the power imbalance and unfairness that has always existed. It is another small step in giving greater protection, security and support to all victims of domestic abuse. It is another small step in declaring to perpetrators of domestic abuse that this behaviour will not be tolerated. Scottish Labour supports the bill, and we agree that there is a need to enhance protections for those at risk of domestic abuse, especially when the risk is from a perpetrator who is living in the same home.
During the scrutiny of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, the Justice Committee became aware that the law and court processes in Scotland did not provide adequate protections for victims in emergency situations, and this bill aims to close those gaps. Scottish Labour believed that there were issues with the bill as originally drafted, but I appreciate the positive way in which everyone has worked to make the bill a reality, and I thank the cabinet secretary for his willingness to listen to suggestions. It remains to be seen whether the bill will be effective. The proof will be whether it is able to change the experience of those who are at risk of abuse.
Scottish Labour believes that there should be more protection for children who witness abuse in their homes, and we welcome the changes that emphasise the need to consider children’s views. That is why my colleague Rhoda Grant has pursued the matter. Improvements have been made in that regard, but the issue must be closely monitored. However, legislation on domestic abuse will never achieve its aims unless it is enforced, which we have discussed already today. Wider society needs to change, and Police Scotland must use all available powers to protect victims.
Domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders are not insignificant measures, and I appreciate the pressures that they could place on Police Scotland. However, it is right that urgent and effective action is taken to give immediate respite to victims, and forcing a perpetrator to leave the home of the abused partner and to stay away for two or more months is the right thing to do. I understand the sensitivities about whether a full protection order should require the consent of the victim, but it is also important that protection notices and orders are effective and that they are used to protect victims, some of whom might be under the coercive control of their abusers.
Earlier, my colleague Rhoda Grant made important points about training. She also sought amendments to clarify that other court orders, such as those on child contact, cannot be used as a defence for a breach of protection orders or notices. I welcome the fact that those amendments were agreed to and the assurances that they will provide. I hope that the Scottish Government will come back to the Parliament if the evidence shows that the time limits for protection orders are not sufficient.
The cabinet secretary emphasised the importance of implementation, and, like Liam Kerr, I am clear that the age-old problem of resources also needs to be confronted. The legislation will place an additional burden on Police Scotland, the court service, the legal aid system and housing providers. I would not want the effectiveness of the legislation to be diminished through a lack of proper investment, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will give Parliament comfort on that.
Scottish Labour commends the bill. We hope that, although it is short, it will be effective. I look forward to its making a positive difference to the victims of domestic abuse.
My thanks go to all the people who have brought us to this point. As colleagues have said, they are many in number, and their contributions have all been very helpful in shaping the bill, which the Scottish Green Party will support at decision time tonight.
One of the early contributions was a briefing from the Scottish Parliament information centre. It contained a section headed “The story so far”, which outlined the changes that had taken place over a period of time. It is an evolving story, and those changes have hopefully been playing their part in addressing what Neil Bibby referred to as “the power imbalance”. We have a way to go but, in chipping away at it, we are making some progress.
I recall the scrutiny of the bill that became the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. Members of the Justice Committee took harrowing testimony from people about the circumstances in which they had found themselves, which obviously cannot be discussed in detail, but it demolished much of the stereotyping associated with the vile scourge of domestic violence. It involved controlling and coercive behaviour.
The legislation is rightly viewed as unfinished business. There is a gap in the requirements of the Istanbul convention, which has been signed, but not yet ratified, by the UK Government. Scottish Women’s Aid told us that the convention is
“probably the ... best piece of violence against women policy that has ever been written, anywhere.”
It is for that reason that I had some disquiet in not going along—for once—with Scottish Women’s Aid on the issue of consent. We had an interesting debate about that and about the obligations that have been put in place. My concerns were primarily predicated on controlling and coercive behaviour, which is a pernicious, nuanced abuse, invariably of women.
Police Scotland now has the new powers, which it described as
“providing an exceptional tool for use in exceptional circumstances”,
“should not constitute the routine response.”—[
Official Report, Justice Committee
, 22 December 2020; c 24.]
I hope that that is the case in many respects. I have a number of concerns about circumstances in which the suspect—that is what they would be—is absent from the scene. The suspect may have been arrested, but there might be insufficient evidence. We heard about issues around what would actually happen with the administration of the domestic abuse notice. I am very grateful for the engagement that Scottish Women’s Aid and the Cabinet Secretary for Justice had on tightening up the parameters around that.
Going ahead, there is an important role for the implementation group in understanding the particular challenges that will arise with legislation that must apply equally to Shetland as it does to Stirling, and in understanding the implications and challenges that come with giving police an extraordinary power to deny someone their residence. That is a power that would normally be reserved to court, and it is a power on which the court will pass comment on the next lawful day. That in itself presents a big challenge.
In the limited time that I have left, I will mention the issue of police and judicial training, which is absolutely vital. It is still the case, sadly, that some inappropriate comments are made from the bench. When it comes to understanding the consequences of men’s violence against women, particularly the perniciousness of controlling and coercive behaviour, we are not quite there yet.
I commend White Ribbon Scotland, which engages with men in speaking out on and taking action against men’s violence against women and girls. This is undoubtedly very much gender-based violence, but it affects everyone, and it remains a blight on our communities.
Everyone should feel safe in their home, and I hope that the bill will go some way in providing some reassurance to women on that.
I start where John Finnie ended: I declare an interest as an ambassador for
White Ribbon Scotland Orkney.
Recent events have provided a graphic reminder of the context in which we need to view the proposed legislation that we have been debating this afternoon. The bill was necessary when it was introduced to Parliament last year, it remains so today and Scottish Liberal Democrats look forward to passing it into law shortly.
Much of the debate around Sarah Everard’s brutal murder and its aftermath has focused—quite rightly—on what needs to be done to allow women and girls to feel safe on our streets and in our public spaces. That debate must, and will, continue. However, it should go alongside an emphasis on the right of women and girls to feel safe in their own homes, too. The grim reality is that home is often where they face the biggest risks and the greatest harm, never more so than during the pandemic, given the effects of the lockdown restrictions.
That is why the measures in the bill to improve protection for those who are at risk of domestic abuse are so important, in particular where survivors are living with the perpetrator of the abuse. As I said during the stage 1 debate, the principles of the bill broadly reflect the policy that was adopted by Scottish Liberal Democrats back in 2019. Despite that, the original bill was in need of quite a bit of remedial work. The Justice Committee heard concerns from various witnesses, not least the police themselves, about the practical implications, a lack of clarity, potential overlap and other similar concerns. Those concerns have now largely been addressed, and I put on record my thanks to the cabinet secretary and committee colleagues, in particular Rhoda Grant for the leading role that she has played. I also thank witnesses, clerks, SPICe and all those who assisted the committee in carrying out scrutiny in what, as the cabinet secretary acknowledged, has been a truncated timeframe.
In Scotland, current civil measures place the onus on the victim to apply for protective orders in cases of domestic abuse. Under the bill, police would be able to impose a protection notice and thereafter apply to the court for a protection order. That could place prohibitions on a suspected perpetrator of domestic abuse, which may include removing them from a home that is shared with a person who is at risk and prohibiting contact while the order is in effect.
Today, Parliament has agreed to provide further flexibility in the court’s powers in relation to orders, which is sensible. The step of creating a new ground for social landlords to apply to end the tenancy of a perpetrator of abusive behaviour, with a view to transferring the tenancy to the victim, is also welcome and, as John Finnie reminded us, not insignificant. It will help to address, at least in part, the well-established link between domestic abuse and homelessness.
The provisions in the bill are both welcome and timely. Of course, they are only a very small part of the measures that are needed in response to the concerns that we have heard voiced with such force in recent days. The lived experience of too many women and girls is not one that should be tolerated in 21st-century Scotland. I look forward to seeing the recommendations from Dame Helena Kennedy and her working group on misogyny. However, her work is, of necessity, likely to focus principally on the case for a stand-alone offence of misogynistic harassment, which is necessary but not enough. I therefore welcome the proposal from my Scottish Liberal Democrat colleague Caron Lindsay for a commission that is able not only to build on the working group’s findings, but to look at the wider issues that need to be addressed. I thank the cabinet secretary for responding positively to that idea when I raised it with him in the chamber yesterday. I hope that colleagues in other parties will also agree to look at how a commission might be established in the next session of Parliament after the election.
For now, I confirm once again that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will be happy to lend our support to the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill at decision time.
It gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate as a member of the Justice Committee, which has been involved in the bill process at all stages. The bill is an important piece of legislation that builds on previous bills that this Government has introduced in seeking to protect women from domestic abuse, such as the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. There were people in the public gallery when that bill went through—those were certainly different days.
When I was working as a social worker, one thing that always struck me and my colleagues in dealing with a domestic abuse situation was the inherent unfairness in that it was the victim—the victims were primarily women and children—who had to choose whether to leave or flee the situation. Often, pressure was put on them to get out of the situation, and sometimes even child protection procedures and the like were directed to that end. How unfair is that? It has always been unfair—it is the victim’s home too, and the bill seeks to address that unfairness.
Through DAPNs and DAPOs, the bill provides for the removal of the alleged offender, to protect the person who is at risk. Orders will allow immediate protection while the person works out what to do next. As Liam McArthur said, under part 2 of the bill, social landlords will be able to end or transfer the tenancy of a perpetrator of domestic abuse, to prevent a victim from becoming homeless and enable them to remain in the family home.
As members said, the bill as introduced was not perfect. Its progress through the stages is another good example of this Parliament working well to develop good legislation. We heard concerns about, for example, compliance with human rights and how the police might enforce orders. Amendments at stages 2 and 3 sought to address those concerns.
As other members have done, I note the concerns that Scottish Women’s Aid expressed about the amendments that removed the requirement for person B to consent to a DAPO. However, overall, Scottish Women’s Aid and many other organisations, including Barnardo’s, have supported the bill. I thank them for their briefings and input throughout the process. In its briefing for members in advance of stage 3, Scottish Women’s Aid said:
“The Bill marks a critical shift in preventing women’s homelessness by removing and barring the perpetrator from the home and gives social landlords greater control to transfer tenancies to a victim/survivor, upholding women’s rights to remain in her home and we strongly urge all MSPs to support it.”
I will continue to talk about women’s aid services for a wee bit. Members will be aware that, a couple of weeks back, I raised with the First Minster the defunding—in effect—of some women’s aid services in North Lanarkshire. The move has been condemned by MSPs and MPs across all political parties in the area, and Scottish Women’s Aid is seeking further meetings with North Lanarkshire Council. I understand that there was a tendering process, but there was broad trust in the services, and in the midst of a global pandemic, with domestic abuse on the rise, there is real concern that women and children will be left without much-needed support.
The council has not deliberately created that situation—of course it has not done; nobody would suggest that. The situation is likely the result of processes and procedures that are in place. However, it demonstrates the difference between policies and legislation that are made in the Scottish Parliament and the reality of what is happening on the ground. A reduction in women’s aid services is not in line with the aims of the bill or other legislation.
I am aware that Scottish Government funding continues for some services, but given that we are on the verge of passing a groundbreaking bill at decision time, I ask the cabinet secretary to look into the circumstances in North Lanarkshire and consider whether additional support can be given to the women’s aid services in the area, to ensure that they can continue all their services.
I am running out of time, Presiding Officer. I welcome the bill and am grateful to have been involved in taking it through all its stages. I urge members to support it at decision time.
I am delighted to take part in today’s incredibly important stage 3 debate—all the more so because improving support for survivors of domestic abuse is a subject that I care very much about.
Since I was elected, it has been an honour to work with and to learn from two brilliant community organisations: Waves (Women Against Violent Environments) and the Daisy Project in Castlemilk, which do so much to support survivors of domestic abuse and male violence. It is sadly but undoubtedly the case that domestic abuse and violence are happening in every community in the country. The situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Local groups such as the two that I just mentioned will never be more important than they are now.
A truly damning statistic is that the police in Scotland have in recent years recorded more than 60,000 domestic abuse incidents a year, on average. We all know that that is just the tip of a horrible and bloody manmade iceberg. We must do what we can to eradicate domestic abuse and to support the victims who are affected.
In this parliamentary session, the Government introduced a world-leading bill—it became the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018—to make psychological domestic abuse and controlling behaviour a crime. Scotland is one of only a handful of countries in the world that have introduced a dedicated bill that covers not just physical behaviour but other forms of abusive behaviour that could not easily be prosecuted under the previous criminal law. The bill builds on that important work by providing additional protections for people who are at risk of domestic abuse, particularly when the person is living with their abuser.
In 2019, I held a round-table event in the Parliament and secured a members’ business debate shortly afterwards on financial abuse and how it should be recognised as coercive and controlling behaviour. It was clear from our discussions that domestic abuse perpetrators are very often the main claimant on benefit claims and the main signatory on car finance and mortgages, which leaves the person whom they are abusing having to rely on them. It is hard enough for women—of course, survivors are overwhelmingly women—to leave an abusive relationship through fear for their or their children’s safety, and worry about other issues such as their housing situation adds to the feeling of helplessness and fear.
It is clear that survivors should not be made to suffer more after having had the courage to take action about their abuse. The perpetrators should be held accountable and should be the ones who are removed from the house. The likelihood is that the bill will provide courts with a new power to do just that, through the domestic abuse protection order.
The bill also contains important provisions for social landlords and their tenants. I have read the submission by the Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations, which made an extremely important point. It wrote that
“It has long been a source of extreme frustration for social landlords, and of course for people on the receiving end of domestic abuse, that the law does not allow one of two joint tenants to be evicted alone.”
It therefore warmly welcomed the tenancy-related measures in the bill, including
“Recovery of possession of the house, in the case of a perpetrator who is a sole tenant, with the intention to then create a new tenancy in the name of the abused person”
That provision will prevent a victim from becoming homeless by enabling them to remain in the family home, if that is what they desire. I agree with Scottish Women’s Aid, which said that the bill as a whole could make an immediate and significant difference for women and children who are experiencing domestic abuse.
It is fitting that my last speech of the session is on this subject. If I have the privilege of being returned, supporting women and working to eradicate violence against women and girls will be at the top of my agenda.
During a time when the Scottish Parliament is under attack, it is good to be able to remind everyone of what has been achieved in just the past seven days. Last week, we passed the Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, yesterday we passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill and today, we will pass this fabulous piece of legislation. The Parliament can be proud of the work that it consistently does—in particular, what it has done to support survivors of domestic abuse. We should all back the bill whole-heartedly at decision time.
Thank you very much. As the Deputy Presiding Officer said, this is, after 22 years, my final speech to Parliament as an MSP, before I step down in May.
Until my dying day I will be very proud, like the Deputy Presiding Officer, to be have been a founding member of the Parliament—the first ever democratically elected Scottish Parliament. We have proved that Jimmy Maxton was right when he said that a Scottish Parliament could achieve for Scotland much more in five years than Westminster could achieve in 25 years.
That said, we have a lot more to achieve, so I hope that in future years we will not be timid, but will instead be a bit more radical in what we try to do for Scotland. We will democratise the Parliament internally by strengthening the role and power of back benchers and committees, which I hope will happen soon.
I take this opportunity to thank all the Parliament’s staff for all the 22 years of exceptional and friendly support and help. I thank all my friends on all sides of the chamber for their friendliness and support, and I thank my excellent staff over the 22 years, including my existing staff, who are helping me enormously in the constituency in difficult times.
I particularly want to thank my constituents in Airdrie and Shotts, which is a very fine constituency with very fine people. It has been an honour to represent them in the Parliament for the past 22 years, as a list member and as a constituency member.
In two of the four ministerial positions that I have held, I have had responsibility for chairing the Scottish Government’s national group on violence against women, which is a body that includes representatives from a wide range of local and national organisations.
I believe that, since 1999, every Administration has made progress in dealing with the problem of domestic abuse and violence against women, although that has not always happened at the pace and scale that we all wished for. In supporting the bill today, we must rededicate ourselves to doing more to reduce and, I hope, eventually to eliminate that evil from our society. The measures that are contained in the bill that we are, I hope, about to pass will help us to do a lot more, by preventing enforced homelessness of abused women and their children, as well as, through provision of additional police powers, helping people who badly need our protection.
However, as the cabinet secretary and others have pointed out, passing legislation is extremely important but is not the total answer. I have to say that it does not always deliver the response that we need on the ground. On that point, I will mention two cases that I have dealt with involving women being stalked by ex-partners. Those women had horrific experiences.
To be honest, I say that the criminal justice system has not always been at its best when dealing with such cases—not through malicious intent but because it is not joined up enough. In one case—which started before the pandemic—the abused person has been waiting a year for the alleged perpetrator to appear in court. He still has not appeared in court and will not do so until July. That is just one example of our needing to do much more to drive the criminal justice system, the police, the prosecutors and everyone else involved to make sure that those women get the protection that we all want them to have and for which we are legislating.
As Fulton MacGregor rightly pointed out, the decision—again, I note that it was taken without malicious intent—by North Lanarkshire Council a few weeks ago to award a contract for local domestic abuse services to a national non-specialist organisation was a mistake. Under that contract, the same organisation will provide services to both victims and culprits. That is a backward step that flies in the face of what we know about best practice in dealing with violence against women. It will also result in the defunding of brilliant organisations such as Monklands Women’s Aid, which has done a huge amount of work in the field. Like Fulton MacGregor, I hope that North Lanarkshire Council will rectify that mistake, which was the result of a decision that was made with good intent but bad judgment.
As I said, the issue is not just about passing legislation. It is not even just about more training and more education. At the root, we need to change the culture, the attitudes and the levels of awareness among all the institutions that we need to fight against this terrible evil.
If I may make a recommendation to the cabinet secretary, I say that I think that his idea of an implementation board is absolutely excellent, but he should ensure that other essential services, including housing and welfare support, are included in that implementation plan, because there has to be an integrated approach to helping women who find themselves in situations such as many abused women and children find themselves.
Scotland, as a country, must do better if we are to stop letting down those women and make a real dent in the number of women and children who are subjected to abuse and violence by male perpetrators. No civilised society can tolerate such violence. Stopping it must be a top priority for the new Parliament that will be elected in May. I am absolutely sure that the legislation that I hope we will pass this afternoon will make a significant contribution to that objective.
I thank committee clerks and staff, SPICe and the legislation team, who helped the committee to scrutinise the bill and to frame amendments that I believe improve the bill.
I also wish Alex Neil all the best for the future and thank him for his contribution to the Parliament as well as his contribution to combating violence against women. I am sure that he will continue to do so, and he is right to say that there is much still to do in that area.
I also join him in paying tribute to Women’s Aid for the work that it does, not only on the bill but, daily, to help victims of domestic abuse. I believe that it should lead the charge against domestic abuse and hope that sense can be seen and that it will retain contracts to protect women.
We welcome the bill, which provides much needed assistance to victims of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is a blight on our society, where a perpetrator seeks to control their partner. What is even worse is that the abuse is carried out by someone who is supposed to love their victim. It happens behind closed doors and is difficult to prosecute because of the lack of corroboration.
Until now, victims have had to organise their own protection by getting non-harassment orders. That means getting legal advice, which is not always available through legal aid, even if they can find a legal aid lawyer. The bill puts state protection in place for the first time. As
Fulton MacGregor said in his speech, it enables the victim to remain in the family home and is a positive step in the right direction. We welcome that, but we need to remember that such protection was available in other countries a decade ago, so we must speed up how we work to protect victims of abuse.
Neil Bibby talked about the need to protect children, Such protection is, sadly, still lacking, and we need to look at how we provide it. It is disappointing that the bill will not provide children with protection in their own right, and I am sure that we will need to return to that in the future.
John Finnie talked about the need for training of police and sheriffs, which was a point that I made when speaking to amendments. Too often, our courts allow themselves to be used in order to perpetrate abuse, by giving contact to abusive partners, which allows them to track and control their victims all over again and continue to damage the children of that relationship. Anyone who abuses their partner must be forced to relinquish access to their children until such time as they can prove that they have changed their behaviour and that they are no longer going to damage those children and the children’s parents.
This bill will not be the last word on how we deal with domestic abuse; we must deal with a number of issues, not least its impact on children. We must also take measures to ensure that victims have access to a safe place and alarms. That is especially the case in rural areas, where assistance is not close by.
We must teach boys and men that they cannot abuse their physical strength and power over their partner; that is missing from our education system. Neil Bibby made the point that domestic abuse is not a women’s problem; it is a problem with the men who perpetrate it. We must protect women from misogyny; we failed to do so with the hate crime bill last week but, until we do, women will continue to be subject to men’s violence. In a week in which we have seen, in sharp relief, men’s violence against women, we must redouble our efforts to create a safe place and an equal society for women.
This is the last speech that I shall make to the chamber, so I hope that the Presiding Officer will forgive me if I offer a few remarks not only on the bill that we are about to pass but on one or two broader matters.
The Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill is an important measure that adds to Scotland’s cutting-edge laws on domestic abuse. When, once again, violence against women is much in the news and our thoughts, it is timely.
I welcome the bill. The Justice Committee has been anxious to ensure that the provisions in the bill will be practical and of real use to those, especially in Police Scotland, who will have to make the new powers work. We have also been concerned to ensure that the provisions will operate compatibly with convention rights.
This is the third Government bill in quick succession that the Justice Committee has examined, following hard on the heels of the Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Bill and, of course, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland (Bill). All three bills touch directly on our fundamental human rights; all three make significant changes to the law; and all three have found the Justice Committee working hard together, across the parties, to agree reports that, I hope, have improved the quality and effectiveness of the Parliament’s legislation.
I have been the convener of the Justice Committee for a short time only, but I have enjoyed it immensely. Despite, in the end, not being able to vote for all the legislation that we have examined, I am proud of the work that the committee has done while I have served as its convener.
Parliaments exist to do three things: represent the interests of our constituents in debates on matters of public importance, hold the Government to account and make legislation. I have been studying and writing about Parliaments all my adult life, I have been a member of this Parliament for five years and, before that, I was an adviser to the House of Lords for six years. It was in the House of Lords where I saw at first hand what parliamentarians could do to improve laws, even if they were not in sympathy with the political preferences of the Government of the day. I tried to apply those lessons to my practice as a parliamentarian here.
As I look back on the past five years, I remember the work that my colleagues and I did at the beginning of the session with Pauline McNeill and Alison Johnstone to make the Child Poverty (Scotland) Bill stronger; the work that we did with Lewis Macdonald to make the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 stronger; and the work that Bruce Crawford and I did with the Finance and Constitution Committee on the common frameworks that the United Kingdom internal market needs now that we have left the European Union. Turning to more recent matters, I will long remember the work that I did with Liam McArthur, my good friend Liam Kerr and other members on the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill to make it, if not stronger, then a lot less dangerous than it would otherwise have been.
Child poverty, planning law, common frameworks and hate crime—that is a broad range of subjects, but there is one common thread: all were examples of cross-party working. Better together is the name of the campaign that first brought me into Scottish politics, and nothing that I have seen or heard in the past 10 years has made me change my mind about that. We are better when we work together, and we make better laws together.
When it comes to the other key function of Parliament, which is holding the Government effectively to account, I am afraid that the Scottish Parliament still leaves a great deal to be desired. It is not because we lack powers—it is more disturbing than that; it is because too many of us lack the will to use them.
However, today’s debate is not about holding the Government to account but about making law. The Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill is, I hope, good law. It will help to make women safer; it will help Police Scotland to tackle the scourge of domestic violence; it will be useful on the ground; and it will be compatible with the European convention on human rights. I am glad to have played a small role in making it. I commend it to the chamber and I look forward to voting for it at decision time.
As other members have already said, the Parliament is at its best when we unite. We do not pursue false consensus for the sake of it but, when we believe that there is an ideal that is greater than our individual parts, we come together to enact transformational law. There have been many examples of that. In the past 24 hours, we have seen the historic moment in which the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was incorporated into domestic law. The Redress for Survivors (Historical Child Abuse in Care) (Scotland) Bill, the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill and many other pieces of legislation have recently been passed by the Parliament through unanimity and consensus, or with the backing of a large majority of the Parliament.
It is right that we end this parliamentary session on a point of unanimity. There are other bills to be considered next week, but I am proud that the final Government bill of the session that we will consider is the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill.
I turn to important points that colleagues around the chamber have made. Liam Kerr, Neil Bibby, Liam McArthur, John Finnie, Adam Tomkins and many other members were right to remind us of the context that we are in. In the past week, we have heard harrowing testimony from women about the dangers that they face from men. One member mentioned women as being vulnerable. That is not the case. As I see it, men’s violence and abuse of power are the problem, not women’s vulnerability.
As I said, some of the testimonies that we have heard have been harrowing. However, they have also forced a lot of men—I certainly speak on my own behalf—to take notice. For example, my wife has told me of the dangers that she faces. The other week, she told me, she was taking my daughter for a walk in broad daylight and a man was behind her. As she turned the corner—and although I was at work, here, in the chamber—she felt the need to shout out, “Humza, just wait for us.” That is incredible. I would never think to do that on a walk in darkness, let alone in broad daylight. I have never felt the urge to clench my keys in my pocket—nor, in pre-Covid days, to say to my friends after a night out, “I’ll text you when I’m back home safely.” I have never felt the urge, on the way back to my car, to pick up my phone and pretend that I am on a call so that people will think that I am speaking to somebody. I have never felt the urge to do any of that. However, those are probably fairly common practices, as I have heard recently from many women who have shared their testimonies over the past week.
As the cabinet secretary makes his remarks, it strikes me that, over the past five years, almost every time that a woman is murdered or something terrible happens, we stand up in the Parliament and share what is happening. It is not something new. How does he respond to that? He has shared stories from the women in his life that we have to tell over and over again. It is important to acknowledge that, although the past week has been terrible, and painful for people, it has been like that for ever such a long time.
Yes; it has been like that not only for years or decades but for centuries and perhaps for even longer than that. As she spoke, I sensed Ruth Maguire’s rightful frustration. We have to respond as a Government but also, I think, as men.
The working group on misogyny and criminal justice in Scotland is being led by Baroness Helena Kennedy. I think that she will provide some helpful legislative solutions to some of the issues that have been raised.
However, as many members have mentioned—including, in particular, Rhoda Grant, in her closing speech on behalf of Labour—it is not just about legislation. It must also be about education. A number of my male colleagues have referenced the fact that they are members of White Ribbon Scotland, whose work I commend. We must take up that challenge from Rhoda Grant and from, I am sure, many other women members, of educating our sons, brothers, other males and ourselves about why women feel that men are a danger to them. We must modify our behaviour. I would certainly like to learn more on that journey. I think that I have done some of that; however, there is an immediate need not just to learn but to act. I hope that the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill is a demonstration of that action, in a small but nonetheless significant way.
I will also mention John Finnie’s comments. Although I am sure that he will contribute to other debates before the end of the session, I think that this will have been his last contribution from a justice portfolio perspective. I have known him for many years and I have admired and respected him as a friend. He has one of the strongest moral compasses that I know. I was deeply saddened when I learned that he had left my party. However, he has always worked constructively with members of all parties, and always in the pursuit of justice. As a member of the Justice Committee and as the convener of the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing, he has been formidable, forensic and thoughtful, and I, for one, will miss him greatly in the Parliament.
Other members made a number of points. I know that time is short. Fulton MacGregor and Alex Neil certainly made important points about North Lanarkshire Council, and both have challenged the Government to look at that situation. Although we fund local government to fund local services, I am nonetheless happy to look into the issue because domestic abuse is unfortunately prevalent in our society and it is important to tackle it.
Alex Neil made a thoughtful valedictory speech. He is formidable. The Opposition might breathe a sigh of relief that they will no longer have to deal with Alex Neil, who speaks so articulately and with great strength. I suspect that we will breathe a greater sigh of relief than the Opposition, but he has always challenged Government fairly and I commend him for doing so again in his valedictory speech. Even now, he is stealing the thunder and attention, although he is not in the chamber. He is right to do so.
Alex Neil made some fair comments about how the criminal justice system must do better and referred to a constituency case of stalking that he had dealt with. All of the issues that he fairly raises are being discussed by Police Scotland, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, the Government and many others as part of the work of the victims task force. I wish Alex Neil the very best.
Adam Tomkins made a thoughtful speech. I congratulate him on his five years of service in the Parliament. He has shown himself to be an effective committee convener. Perhaps the best compliment that I can pay him is to say that I suspect that many of his opponents will, again, breathe a sigh of relief at his departure. He said that nothing that he has heard in these five years has convinced him to change his mind about supporting the union. I remember an Adam Tomkins who supported independence, so we will not give up hope just yet.
I will end with a quotation from a 2015 publication by Scottish Women’s Aid called “Change, Justice, Fairness”. It was sub-titled:
“Why should I move everywhere and everything because of him?”
The research cast light on the massive impact of domestic abuse on women’s living situations. The group of women who were involved in that publication wrote:
“When we came together as a group of women from di?erent backgrounds and life experiences and began sharing our stories we found strong similarities in how we had been treated. We were determined to prevent other women and children in the future from having to live through what happened to us. We had done nothing wrong but were forced to leave our home, either by the perpetrator or by the housing system that expected us and our children to become homeless.”
We must do better, for those women who feel that they must flee their homes to escape domestic abuse. We must do better, for women who believe that they have to choose between their own safety and abandoning their children. We must do better, to ensure that women are not left homeless by the scourge of domestic abuse.
I hope that the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill is a demonstration of this Parliament, Government and chamber doing better. It gives powers to Police Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are provided with safety, even when the criminal threshold has not been met. We should never again have that stain on our collective conscience that victims of domestic abuse—predominantly women—must flee their homes in order to protect themselves from the risk of abuse.
I am delighted to hear that all political parties will support the bill and I commend the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill to the Parliament.