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25 November 2004

S2M-2059 Violence Against Women

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 25 November 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Violence Against Women

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2059, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on violence against women, and one amendment to that motion.

15:00

... ... ...

15:34

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To talk of violence against women is not to deny the existence of violence against others. Indeed, failure to highlight violence against women—which makes up the largest part of the various discriminatory forms of violence—would be failure to support all victims of violence by showing indifference to the largest affected group. I say that as a man.

Violence against women is hardly new. The new king of a tribe of lions goes through a series of actions on taking over power in that group. There is the massacre of the young to destroy the previous gene stock, the fertilisation of the females to introduce his gene stock and, of course, the on-going suppression of the females in the group. In many ways, that is how humans have behaved over successive invasions: the Vikings, Genghis Khan and Hitler's Nazis followed the same course. In most of Scotland and much of the world we now know better. However, in significant areas of the world the culture has changed little from that of Genghis Khan—the model of the tribe of lions continues. That is why is important to make reference to a wider picture.

Modern technology has provided us with new ways of introducing our impressionable young people to distorting influences and views of the society in which they will take part. Computer games focus disproportionately on violence as entertainment. Violence admired and engaged with at second hand is the first step towards real engagement with violence. In many instances, violence is the response of the weak and inarticulate to those whom they see as even weaker and more subservient than they. Too often, women are seen as the weakest in our society. Many women—thankfully, a declining number—share that vision.

The 2000 Scottish crime survey had some interesting things to say. For example, it demonstrated that twice as many women as men experienced incidents of domestic violence each week. That reinforces the importance of talking about women. However, in this context we are talking about violence, rather than crime. Forty-three per cent of incidents recorded by the police did not lead to the recording of an offence or a conviction. Many more incidents are not even recorded, because victims have comparatively low confidence that what they say will be taken seriously. They are victims each week of repeated violence and cannot see a way out of the cycle of despair. At the high-tariff end of the problem, to which Donald Gorrie referred, a tiny minority of prosecutions and rape charges lead to someone being banged up and locked away from the target of their violence.

I will comment on a couple of points that have been made. I say to Donald Gorrie and the Executive that there is one measure that has been tried against kerb crawling that does not need legislation. We might encourage the police, simply in the interests of good public order, to supervise tightly areas in which kerb crawling is likely to be an issue, to photograph the vehicles that are involved and to make the appropriate inquiries at the homes of the perpetrators. Social pressure is as effective as pressure directly from the criminal justice system. It has been applied elsewhere and appears to work.

Essentially, this debate focuses on women as victims. We must provide adequate support after the event and ensure that such events happen much less often. The numbers tell us why. I refer to the types of violent crime experienced by men and women in 1999. Among male victims, 38 per cent of violent crimes were committed by a stranger, 42 per cent were committed by an acquaintance and 5 per cent were domestic. However, for women, 64 per cent of violent crimes—two out of three—were domestic. Therefore, we can tell that those are abusive situations that are based on a relationship, whatever it may be. It is violence against women because they are women and it is the least acceptable kind of violence.

The good news is that the report also tells us that in the lower age groups, particularly the 25 to 44 group, we are seeing much more reporting than in older age groups. That is a good sign that women may be standing up for themselves, which is part of the problem, but only a tiny part. I support my colleague's amendment.

15:40

S2M-2056 Food (Supermarkets)

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 25 November 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

Food (Supermarkets)

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2056, in the name of Shiona Baird, on supermarkets and the Scottish food chain, and three amendments to the motion.

09:30

... ... ...

11:11

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I will begin by posing a few questions. Instead of going to the fridge in the morning for my milk, should I walk a mile down the road to the field and personally milk the cow, a task for which, having never tried it, I am ill-fitted?

Christine May: Is there something that the member has not done?

Stewart Stevenson: I always start with confessions, because it might get the audience on my side.

Should I drink that milk unpasteurised? Should I really go back to basics and drink the milk from a cow that has not been tuberculin tested? Not even the Greens are suggesting that we roll the clock back that much. I see that my colleagues are also relieved about that.

We all accept that processing food has benefits for public safety and convenience. As a result, I hope that no one in the debate yearns for a return to subsistence farming and only local production and consumption. The world is simply not like that.

That said, we need to have some view of the world that we want before we can decide on the nostrums that will deliver it. I believe that people want one-stop shopping, and we have proven that by going to the places where such shopping is easy. They want decent quality and make discriminating choices both between supermarkets and between supermarkets and other alternatives.

Increasingly, people want year-round availability. When I was a bairn, fruit and vegetables were seasonal, but consumers no longer want such seasonality. They also want convenient products that free up personal time, which is why pre-prepared food dominates so many of our supermarket shelves. In fact, such a concept is not particularly new: the Cornish pasty is a convenience food that the worker used to take to the field. It was designed particularly for that purpose, with a crust that the worker's grubby hand could hold while he ate the rest of it.

Consumers want free parking, but they also want fewer supermarkets. We have to try to resolve the contradictions in what the public want.

Shiona Baird: The member's Cornish pasty would have been home-made from fresh ingredients. Does the member agree that, in that regard, there would be a significant difference between the nutritional benefits of what is being offered for sale now and those of the food that was eaten then?

Stewart Stevenson: I suspect that there were Cornish pasties that could poison people and Cornish pasties that would be excellent for them. There is merit in having consistency in delivered products and a processing system that supports public safety. That said, the supermarkets are not free from criticism.

Although supermarkets dominate the market, the biggest buyer is the Government. As Richard Lochhead has advocated in the SNP amendment, the Government not only has a role in drawing the supermarkets into a debate in the hope that we might bang heads together for the benefit of consumers, producers and our communities but should be doing more to support our primary producers.

In that respect, I make no apology for returning to the subject of pork. Although our welfare standards for pork production are incredibly high, standards in the rest of the EU—the free market within which we operate—are not so high. What happens? Because produce is cheaper in other countries, the Government and others buy from there. The Government needs to address that matter.

My constituency contains primary producers and producers of processed foods, both of which are important to my constituents. Indeed, most of the salmon, beef and chicken in supermarkets comes from factories in my constituency. It is a shame that people cannot always tell that that is the case. One would have to know the three-digit code on a Tesco label that identifies the supplier. I hope that, when the Government speaks to the supermarkets, it persuades them to break the code to let us find out which produce is local.

It would also be worth discussing the issue of transport with the supermarkets. Although the Tesco supermarket in Fraserburgh sells fish that is caught and landed in the north-east, that fish has come via the north-east of England. It does not even use local suppliers.

We have free choice. When I go to my local butcher, John Stewart—I will give him a name check, because he is worth it—he tells me which field the beef has come from. The meat is also cheaper than it is at Tesco. I have—and I make—that choice. However, supermarkets have many advantages, particularly with regard to business rates, and I invite the minister to tell us what he plans to do about that.

I am happy to support Richard Lochhead's amendment.

11:18

24 November 2004

S2M-2003 Lung Cancer

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 24 November 2004

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

… … …

Lung Cancer

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2003, in the name of Irene Oldfather, on lung cancer awareness month. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, the Macmillan Cancer Relief and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation's month-long campaign to raise awareness of lung cancer and highlight the message that early diagnosis saves lives; recognises that lung cancer is now the United Kingdom's biggest cancer killer with 94 people a day dying from the disease; recognises that people are 40 times more likely to survive if the disease is detected early on; congratulates NHS Ayrshire and Arran on its innovative Smoking in Schools scheme whereby health advisers visit secondary schools across North Ayrshire to educate them on the dangers of tobacco smoke and to offer cessation services for young people who have already taken up the habit; recognises the importance of educating our young people on the dangers of tobacco smoking; looks forward to the future development of this scheme, and welcomes the Scottish Executive's plans to increase support for those wishing to stop smoking and to ban smoking in public places, which will help reduce cases of lung cancer in Scotland.

17:09

… … …

17:39

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I thank Irene Oldfather for providing the opportunity for members to speak on such an important subject.

I want to tell members about an ambition that I have, which I think that we would say that we all share, if we were being honest. I have an ambition to die healthy. That means that I want to go suddenly and to live an absolutely healthy life up to the end. I knew a 80-year-old lady who had had barely a day's illness in her life. She was climbing a Munro with a group of friends and dropped dead from her first illness in a couple of decades—she had not even had a cold in that time. That was a perfect way to go. People who are afflicted by the addiction that is tobacco can rarely choose when to die.

I have made some positive choices. I do not smoke now, although, like many others, I used to do so. When I was 51, my blood pressure was 140 over 90. Earlier this month, at age 58, it was 128 over 60, which is not too bad and is heading the right way. Coming to the Parliament has therefore been good for me, if not necessarily for anyone else. I also eat lots of fruit, as the Executive implores me to do.

When I was 17 and 18 and between school and university, I worked in a psychiatric hospital. I worked in the hospital ward, where the physically ill psychiatric patients came. During that time, I sat with someone who was dying of lung cancer. Believe me, there can be no greater spur to wanting to die healthy than my experience of 40 years ago.

Lung cancer in Scotland is, of course, a continuing concern. According to the statistics, its incidence is decreasing in males—we are slowly starting to get the message. The incidence of smoking and, with it, the incidence of lung cancer is falling over time. However, the statistics for females are rising. I think that that is partly because young females are beginning to act like young males used to act. They are beginning to be more assertive and to challenge the norms more, and they are more prepared to ignore warnings and make their own decisions.

The statistics also show that, although there have been improvements in one-year survival rates for younger patients, survival rates at five years have remained relatively unchanged over the past decade. Of course, Scotland's health record is among the worst in Europe.

Mike Rumbles referred to his constituency. There is little doubt that an element of deprivation is involved in the figures. Of course, it might be that the amount of tobacco smoking by smokers also varies as the number of smokers varies, but I do not think that there are good numbers on that matter—that is, there are some numbers, but it is not clear whether we can trust them. However, there is a good correlation between a person smoking more and their being more at risk.

I looked up the general numbers for health for my constituency and for a Glasgow constituency that has a lot of deprivation—I will not name it, as that is not the point. Using a standardised population, my constituency has a quarter of the alcohol-related admissions to hospital of the Glasgow constituency and under a quarter of its drugs misuse admissions. The figure for the percentage of data zones in the most deprived decile of the health domain in my constituency is 0 per cent. The figure for the other constituency is 66.23 per cent. The difference that deprivation makes can be seen.

The international comparisons that I have almost invariably show Scotland at the top of the table. Only Belgium beats our lung cancer incidence rates for males and nobody beats our rates for females. Sweden's figure is approaching a quarter of our figure. We are also at the top for mortality rates. Even countries such as Spain—or Greece, which is not normally thought of as a particularly wealthy country—are doing much better than we are. Factors other than deprivation are therefore at work. In addition, we can see that the issues arise in the Greater Glasgow NHS Board, Lanarkshire NHS Board, Argyll and Clyde NHS Board and, to a lesser extent, Lothian NHS Board areas.

I have one or two slightly off-the-wall comments to make to close my remarks. One of the poorest countries in the world is Bhutan. In Bhutan, only 1 per cent of the population smoke. Because of that, Bhutan was able to make tobacco illegal about 10 years ago, and the incidence of lung cancer there is almost nil. However, we must be cautious about drawing conclusions from that, as the diagnostic facilities are more limited there than they are here.

I have quoted James VI in other debates on smoking, and I shall do so again. James VI got it absolutely right 400 years ago when he took over the Crown and raised the tax on tobacco to a rate that today would be £30,000 per pound of tobacco. The fiscal option is certainly one that I would like the Executive ministers to encourage their colleagues at Westminster to rack up to an even greater extent.

Some years ago in India, I saw an advertising poster for a local brand of tobacco that used a slogan that encapsulates the problem. I do not think that the manufacturer saw the irony of the slogan, which was "The final choice". For too many people, smoking is the final choice.

I close with one suggestion that the Executive might take up. We had the finest medical schools in the world in Edinburgh because of the huge morbidity in the cess pit that was the old town. We may have a similar opportunity, because of our poor health and our high lung cancer rate, to invest more in understanding the problem not only for our own benefit, but for the creation of an industry related to that and for delivering a benefit through improved health care for people who suffer from lung cancer in countries throughout the world. That would be to our economic benefit, to our social benefit and to the benefit of everyone around the world.

17:47

18 November 2004

S2M-1837 Diabetes

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 18 November 2004

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

... ... ...

Diabetes

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-1837, in the name of Karen Whitefield, on diabetes in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the rising numbers of people with diabetes in Scotland as evidenced in the recent report from Diabetes UK Scotland, Diabetes in Scotland and the UK 2004, which shows that there are 148,000 people in Scotland diagnosed with diabetes, a rise of 28,000 since 1996; is concerned that at least 65,000 people in Scotland are undiagnosed, as highlighted in the report, and that this number is rising year-on-year; recognises that diabetes is associated with chronic ill-health, disability and premature mortality and that long-term complications, including heart disease, strokes, blindness, kidney disease and amputations, make the greatest contribution to the costs of diabetes care, and believes that many of these long-term effects could be avoided with earlier identification and more effective treatment.

17:09

... ... ...

17:34

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I add my congratulations to Karen Whitefield on securing the debate on this important topic.

As far as I am aware, I am not related to anyone who has diabetes. One of my nephews-in-law, who is a professor of immunology, works in the field of type 1 diabetes. He hopes soon to bring forward for human trials a vaccine that will prevent the development of certain types of type 1 diabetes. Although his contribution is of great value, it is unfortunate that it will be of value only to a proportion of the 10 to 15 per cent of our population who suffer from type 1 diabetes. I am sure that it will be welcome, nonetheless.

We have heard a little about the role of targeted screening in early detection of diabetes, which is universally acknowledged as being important. It was interesting to hear of Mike Pringle's experience at Lloyds Pharmacy. Because I fly, I have to have a medical every year, which includes a test for diabetes—so far, so good. However, many people do not have that opportunity. Because of the Executive's munificence, free dental checks for people over 60 will start in 2006, which by coincidence is the year that I will become 60, so I thank the Minister for Health and Community Care very much. However, it is curious that we do not test universally for diabetes, although it is simple to do so with a urine test. I am slightly surprised that that has not yet appeared on the agenda, so I encourage the minister to include it.

David Davidson mentioned that 6 million days at work are lost every year as a result of diabetes, which means, when that is added to the £320 million that it costs the national health service to deal with diagnosed diabetics, that the total cost in Scotland of diabetes may be £1 billion a year. Undoubtedly, it is worth investing in the problem. With the potential that more than one in four adults will be obese by 2010, we can see that the problem will grow.

I want to touch on an aspect that no one has yet mentioned: mental health, which is an issue about which I speak from time to time. Long-term illness has mental health implications. The association with early erectile dysfunction and the relative paucity of services in the health service for addressing it means that we end up with men of advancing years who have significant problems that the present system does not really address.

I will end with a message from the "Scottish Diabetes Framework", which states:

"'You shouldn't have to tell your history over and over again.'"

It is time that we did something about patient records to ensure that every part of the health service has access to basic information about patients who present.

17:37

S2M-1960 Fire (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1960, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, that the general principles of the Fire (Scotland) Bill be agreed to, and two amendments to the motion.
09:30
... ... ...
11:15

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): As a loyal member of Amicus, I find myself in the same trade union as four of the members who are sitting on the Labour benches. As a loyal trade unionist, I thought that I should start with a quotation from the Fire Brigades Union's response to the consultation. It is a quotation with which I suspect there will be universal agreement. The FBU said that it is clearly

"on record and ... is clear that the only societal tolerable rate for all fire deaths that is acceptable to the inhabitants of Scotland is zero".

Whatever else we might disagree about in the debate today, or in the subsequent debates at stages 2 and 3, I am confident that we all want an effective fire service in Scotland that protects public safety and takes responsibility for communities.

My contribution to the debate will be made in a slightly different vein to that which speakers before me have taken. The bill that is before us today has some worrying aspects; they run across measures that the Executive has previously sought to implement and for which it has gained support from the Scottish National Party benches. I speak specifically about the power of well-being. The phrase is, of course, shorthand for saying that we expect more of our councils: we expect them to take more responsibility for what they do for their communities. The expectation that they will do so is reinforced by the steps that are being taken to provide councillors with better support and to give them the opportunity to professionalise. There is a real danger that, if many of the proposals in the bill are brought into force, they will diminish the role of local government in its ability to provide the kind of services that we all wish to see delivered effectively throughout Scotland.

The minister's role in this—as per the roles of ministers who are responsible for other areas that the Executive seeks to promote and has promoted in the past—is to consider whether we are using the opportunity that the bill gives us to re-empower and reinvigorate local government, or using it to say, "We do not trust you. We need to take charge." I will illustrate my concern with one tiny example that came before the Communities Committee, and which was related to a piece of secondary legislation to fix new rates for planning. Why not let councils do that? In the case of the bill, as in the case of the planning instrument, the Executive is placing duties and responsibilities on councils in a uniform way. That is neither consistent with good local democracy nor with the need to trust that the electorate will take account of the successes and failures of its local councils.

I turn to specific responses that the Executive received to its consultation. The Highlands and Islands fire board commented on control rooms—a subject that many members have referred to this morning. The board

"considers the retention of Control in Highland and Islands to be essential ... The Board would urge that the additional specialisms of our control room staff, and the special needs of our diverse communities, are all taken into account."

Another comment that Highlands and Islands fire board made touched on the centralising tendencies of the bill and in particular on the common fire services agency. It expressed considerable scepticism about the benefit of central procurement in respect of intermediate technology, procurement, finance and human resources. All of those are matters that the white paper identified as topics for the common fire services agency; the Highlands and Islands fire board thinks otherwise.

Grampian fire board, which is responsible for the area that I have the privilege to represent, said:

"The Board is not persuaded of the need to take general reserve powers of direction with respect to national service delivery and national resilience ... The Board has, it believes a strong record of supporting the Executive in developing on its national fire priorities. It sees no justification in developing statutory powers to formalise this situation."

Quite properly, Grampian fire board welcomed some aspects of the proposals, but it touched on an important issue when it discussed the role of commercial call centres, which load on to the fire service in Grampian a large number of calls that result from alarms, 95 per cent of which turn out to be spurious. There is a message in that about the disconnection among the people who deal with calls in the commercial sector and effects on the delivery of a public service. That disconnection illustrates the more general point about the difficulties that would exist if we were to disconnect control rooms from communities.

I want to give the minister a test on locality and localisation, which I think might appeal to John Farquhar Munro, who raised the subject. If all the members of a particular control room have read The Press and Journal in the morning, they will know what is going on in their communities, because that is the national paper that delivers local news par excellence. If a call comes in from Turriff about an incident in the swimming pool there, how much more effectively will the control room operators respond if they are aware that they must take into account the 30,000 people who are in the park immediately next door for a pipe band contest? Local knowledge is a moving phenomenon; it is not static and cannot be captured forever in a database.

The FBU raised other points. It appears that, yet again, the Executive has decided to take powers to the centre while claiming to improve local accountability and democracy. Section 14 is on training. One point on which national intervention might be really useful is in setting training standards and qualifications which, with local diversity of implementation, would allow fire and rescue workers to work consistently throughout Scotland.

I am happy to support my colleague Kenny MacAskill's amendment.

11:22

10 November 2004

Statement & Debate: Smoking

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a statement by Jack McConnell on smoking. The First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement, therefore there should be no interventions.... ... ...

The Deputy Presiding Officer: That concludes questions. My regrets go to the seven members whom I have not been able to call, but I must go to the next item, which is a debate on the ministerial statement on smoking. No question will be put at the end of the debate.

15:20
... ... ...
15:47

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): To seek an improvement in the health of Scotland's people is to seek something that no one in the chamber opposes. If there is any surprise in public life, it is that generations of politicians have dithered before engaging with the single measure that can deliver an unambiguous uplift in the quality of life of our people.

We lost more people to smoking in the 20th century than we did to all the wars of that century—more than a million people died from smoking. A successful public health policy would deliver a Scotland prepared for a competitive 21st century. The elimination of smoking in the long term is the single biggest gift that we can bequeath to future generations of Scots.

Helping those who have become trapped by their nicotine addiction is a health challenge. Protecting those who remain free from the scourge of that addiction is a moral imperative. Therefore, even if the Executive has taken a significant step today—and it deserves the heartiest congratulations on its announcement—it is but the first major step on a long and difficult journey.

Being a monarch need not separate the individual from common sense, intellectual achievement or scientific endeavour. Some 400 years ago, Scotland's James VI illustrated that well. For example, he said that because some smokers suffered no visible ill-effects from tobacco use, the illnesses of the majority could not therefore be due to smoking. He made his case through logic then; today we can examine the scientific evidence.

There are 400 separate chemicals in tobacco smoke, including—I inform Mike Rumbles—polonium-210, or radon. In 1989, the surgeon general of the United States identified more than 40 of those chemicals as carcinogens, and the number is rising. Few of the remaining chemicals have ever been demonstrated to be safe in the way that they are used; they have merely not yet been shown to be unsafe.

The effects of the chemicals are various. Besides the 40 or more carcinogens, there are many mutagens—substances that promote genetic changes in cells. Others are developmental toxicants—substances that interfere with normal cell development. The taking of that potent mixture has uncertain specific effects in individuals but a catastrophic effect on the population as a whole.

The debate is primarily about environmental tobacco smoke, half of which comes from the smoke of cigarettes left to smoulder between puffs and half from exhaled air. Let us be clear: we can each choose our own personal road to hell. Smokers are held captive by their addiction and they must not be personally stigmatised. As James VI said, man

"by custome is piece and piece allured".

We must support smokers' efforts to break free from the best efforts of the evil parasites that are today's tobacco companies.

The inhaler of smoke by accident must also be protected. David Davidson asked for evidence. He has obviously never put the arguments into the Google search engine. If he did so, he would find more than 1 million hits on the subject. I choose but a single example, from the United States. In 1986, a study was carried out there that unanimously had the scientists, who had been appointed by the US Government, deciding that second-hand smoke was a group A carcinogen.

We must do what we can. That does not mean that we are saying that we are not doing enough, although we have to do more. Rather, it is a reflection of the fact that we can legislate on the matter in the Scottish Parliament, and therefore we must.

There will be no Tory gerrymandering of the proposal, because we will not let them do that. The illusion of choice is actually the denial of choice for those whose health is being affected by second-hand smoke.

James VI ends "A Counter-blaste to Tobacco" in a way that remains appropriate 400 years later. He said that smoking was

"A custome lothsome to the eye, hatefull to the Nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, neerest resembling the horrible Stigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse."

We must end the scourge of smoking now.

15:52

4 November 2004

S2M-1943 Domestic Abuse

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-1943, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on domestic abuse services, and three amendments to that motion.
15:34
... ... ...
16:04

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is important to think about what domestic abuse is. I suggest that it is anything that damages anyone in mind or body, or which through repetition might do so in the future. At the core of our consideration of domestic abuse must be the victim's view. The initial presumption must be that there is truth in a victim's claim of domestic abuse. We must not be diverted by the difficulty that, for example, 48 per cent of young children in refuges are apparently suffering from mental illness. We should not assume that, because people are mentally ill, they are unable to describe and relate the conditions in which they are living.

I want to talk about the support agencies that exist and their strengths and weaknesses, as well as about some of the things that we can do. To Maureen Macmillan, I say that we are some considerable distance away from having a refuge on every street. I suspect that to be as true in her constituency as it is in mine.

There are individual examples that we will all see in our constituency lives of people being let down due to individual failures. For example, I met a wife who was separated from her husband but who still lived in the matrimonial home. There was an interdict on her husband to keep away, but he broke that interdict. I saw the photographs of what he did to that woman, and it was anything but nice. The court fined that man £100 and patted him gently on the head. We have got to do more. That was an individual failing, not a failing of anyone in this room.

In his introductory croak—I hope that he gets better soon—the minister focused on the essence of the issue. I welcome the news that we are getting Executive support for the domestic abuse helpline. I note that there is a degree of independence in the report that has been prepared on the helpline, as it states that it does not necessarily reflect the views of ministers. I ask the minister to see whether we can get the helpline to operate 24 hours a day. One of the graphs in the report shows something that our personal experience might confirm: that the number of out-of-hours calls rises rapidly from 6 am to 9 am. We are not all good humoured when we get out of our bed in the morning, but the helpline does not open until 10 am. That is a key issue to which the minister might turn his thoughts.

It is great that Thus has sponsored the 0800 number that is used for the helpline. However, many people who have had to leave their matrimonial home will be using a mobile phone, from which 0800 numbers are not free. That is a particular problem for people with pay-as-you-go phones. That is a difficult issue to deal with, but it is a point to note.

I conclude by mentioning briefly mediation services and the family mediation service that operates in my constituency and a little bit beyond. Like many agencies that support victims of domestic abuse and children in particular, they experience difficulty in sustaining the funding stream that enables them to do their work. That is an issue to which we must turn our minds.

16:08

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