04 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.
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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.


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