Previous Section Home Page

Mr. MacGregor : I should be happy to have a debate when everyone has had a chance to digest the voluminous report. I agree with the hon. Lady on that, but that is not a matter for me. One of the recommendations in the report is for an annual report, and we will now be looking at that.

The hon. Lady mentions giving guidance line by line on where action is required in the United Kingdom, the European Union and the IMO. The report itself gives that guidance, and flags clearly where each lies. Responsibility for the majority of all major actions lies with international action rather than with purely domestic action. There is an interesting recommendation in the report on the anonymity of ships to which I am attracted, and that would also require international agreement. The Donaldson report rejects radar in the Shetland Islands, and finally-- [Interruption.] The report rejects permanent radar for Shetland.

The action I took with regard to the Braer included not only calling for the marine accident investigation branch report, but asking Lord Donaldson- -a noted authority on


Column 687

these matters, and that authority shines through the report--to undertake the inquiry. I can assure the House that I will now go through the report, not line by line but recommendation by recommendation, to ensure that we take follow-up action. I hope that we will take that action in the vast majority of the areas in which he recommended us to do so.


Column 688

Homicide (Defence of Provocation)

4.12 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Homicide Act 1957 in respect of the defence of provocation.

The playwright Edward Bond said :

"You can live without kindness ; you can't live without justice". The injustice that I seek to remove is the blatantly sexist application of the law in homicide cases and the availability of the plea of provocation.

The Townswomen's Guilds recently produced a poster headed "Provocation--a male defence ?", which showed a picture of a man, with the caption :

"man strangles nagging wife . . . sentence 18 months suspended." and a picture of a woman, with the caption :

"after years of violent abuse, woman stabs husband . . . sentence life".

The poster went on to say :

"These are real life cases. Both defendants pleaded provocation. A successful plea reduces the sentence to manslaughter. The man was successful--the women was not."

This is the third time that the House has been asked to consider an amendment to the legal definition of provocation that would allow a woman who has experienced years of fear at the hands of a violent partner to name that as a cause if, driven beyond all endurance, she kills that partner.

I bring the Bill before the House because the plea of provocation is without doubt more easily available to men than to women. That perceived injustice does not concern only those of us in the House who share the belief that the law treats men and women differently. The Townswomen's Guilds recently presented a 40,000-signature petition to the Home Office, calling for the law to be changed, and that came from right across the political spectrum.

The noble Lord Ashley, then a Member of this place, first introduced a Bill to remove the present injustice in 1989. I presented a Bill last year and I return with it today. Hon. Members should make no mistake about it : this issue will not go away. If the Bill does not become law I, or some other hon. Member, will continue to present it or something similar until the British public are satisfied that justice, in the words of Lord Hewart, is

"manifestly and undoubtedly seen to be done."

Lord Ashley is presenting a similar Bill to the other House next week.

At the heart of the matter is the law that specifies that the conviction of murder carries a mandatory life sentence. It is despicable that a woman who has suffered years of sustained domestic violence and acts out of fear and desperation on behalf of herself and her children should be treated as a common murderer and put away for life. Pleas of diminished responsibility or provocation are the two ways in which a person who is obviously guilty of the crime can be given a lesser sentence. It has been obvious for years that the law operates two different systems when deciding what is provocation for men and what is provocation for women.

Women are always barred from pleading provocation if the death was not the result of an immediate and "sudden loss of control" ; that is the language of the law. Part of the argument about why that is discriminatory revolves around the differences between men's and women's reactions. Men act immediately and their physical strength alone can


Column 689

mean instant death. Women often react more slowly. Inevitably, they must seek a weapon if they are to kill, and their fear may have to grow before they act. At present, however, the law does not recognise that difference. That oversight needs to be corrected.

The existing law and the judicial system that interprets it seem to work on the basic expectation that women must be completely obedient, submissive and subservient to their male partner's every whim. If they react after a sustained period of violence and abuse, or even in response to the threat of more to come, it is not understood or accepted as the reason for killing. The same underlying assumption does not apply to men.

Only in February, Mr. Roy Greech was given a two-year suspended sentence and walked free. The provocation that he had suffered was his wife's adultery--one of the 10 commandments that is broken, I am led to believe, by many people inside and outside this House. In Britain, adultery is not a legal crime and carries no sentence. Mr. Greech stabbed his wife 23 times and left the knife embedded in her throat. The judge told him :

"You have not only been a man of good character, but you are a good man also."

In 1991, Mr. Joseph McGrail killed his common law wife by kicking her in the stomach while she was drunk. The judge expressed his sympathy with Mr. McGrail, saying :

"this lady would have tried the patience of a saint".

Mr. Singh Bisla was given a suspended sentence after he strangled his wife. She had been nagging him and he wanted to shut her up. The judge told Mr. Bisla that he had "suffered".

Time and again the message is clear : it is the age-old message that is used against women whenever men do something violent to them--"She was asking for it." So British justice becomes an ass. Women can be murdered because they have affairs, are drunk or are nags. In some respects we have not moved on from 17th-century witch burnings.

Meanwhile, women like Sara Thornton, Carol Peters and Emma Humphreys still waste in prison. Emma Humphreys has been there for nearly 10 years. All three suffered years of violence and abuse and had been admitted to hospital because of the beatings that they suffered. They have been joined in prison by new women who are at the sharp end of that injustice, such as Josephine Smith. The organisation Justice for Women estimates that between 30 and 50 women are in prison although they have a history of being the victim. Sara Thornton has been much maligned by the Home Office and some of the tabloid press, yet the police were called on many occasions when she was being assaulted and an Alcoholics Anonymous representative saw her violent husband punch her. A neighbour said that he had witnessed "her husband beat her black and blue" and she was admitted to hospital unconscious. Yet her husband was described as a "happy drunk". In Sara Thornton's case, the judge said that she could have walked out or gone upstairs. Why do judges never say that to people like Joseph McGrail ? Where could women like Sara, Carol or Emma


Column 690

go ? There is no national provision for women's refuges, and if the Government's current proposals about homelessness are not altered, there will be fewer places in those that exist.

In our society there is still a reluctance to admit that violence is used against women. It is often seen as being the woman's fault and she is given little support. The Select Committee on Home Affairs, Lord Lane and the Law Commission have recommended that the law in relation to homicide be reviewed. Lord Chief Justice Taylor said that it is Parliament's job to review the law. It is obvious that, unless Parliament protects these women by amending the provocation law, the judiciary will continue to hand out uneven and unequal justice. I stress that the Bill is not a licence for women to commit murder. These organisations, august bodies and personages would not support it if it were. In New South Wales, Australia, where the law has been changed, there is no evidence of any "licence to kill". The Bill proposes a recognition of provocation as a mitigating plea where domestic violence has been endured but it would still be a matter for a judge and jury to decide in all cases. We should recognise that we are legislating for desperate women who are victims of

brutality--victims of a domestic war--and they should not be put in prison, especially for life.

I do not stand alone in my attempt to change the law. Apart from my many parliamentary colleagues who support the Bill--I believe, on both sides of the House--I have the privilege of speaking for the majority of women in this country who want to see the law changed. An alliance of women's organisations has been formed to campaign for the changes in my Bill. More than 6 million women are directly represented by groups such as the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the TUC Women's Committee, the Townswomen's Guild, National Women's Aid, Southall Black Sisters, and Women for Justice. All these groups have campaigned for a change in the law.

There is no question but that injustice occurs every time that a man walks free from a murder conviction under the provocation law while women who have suffered years of domestic violence are imprisoned. The question is : does Parliament still have the 17th-century mentality to which I referred, or does it feel that the time has come to change this unjust law ? I give Parliament the opportunity to change the law.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Harry Cohen, Mrs. Teresa Gorman, Ms Clare Short, Mrs. Barbara Roche, Ms Jean Corston, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Ms Glenda Jackson, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mr. Bruce Grocott, Mr. Ken Livingstone, Mr. Malcolm Chisholm and Mr. Nicholas Winterton.

Homicide (Defence of Provocation)

-- Mr. Harry Cohen accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Homicide Act 1957 in respect of the defence of provocation : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 17 June and to be printed. [Bill 112.]


Column 691

Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Ordered,

That the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely, new Clauses, new Schedules, Amendments relating to Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 7, Schedule 2, Clauses 8 to 18, Schedule 3, Clauses 19 to 33, Schedule 4, Clauses 34 to 40, Schedule 5, Clauses 41 to 51, Schedule 6, Clauses 52 to 61, Schedules 7 and 8, Clauses 62 to 66, Schedule 9, Clauses 67 to 78, Schedule 10, Clauses 79 to 94, Schedule 11, Clauses 95 to 127, Schedule 12, Clauses 128 to 175, Schedules 13 and 14 and Clauses 176 to 178.--[ Mr. Lang .]

New clause 21 --

Power of local authorities to provide assistance to voluntary organisations

. In section 88 of the 1973 Act (provision of information etc. on matters relating to functions of local authority), after subsection (2) there shall be inserted

"(3) A local authority may assist voluntary organisations to provide for individuals

(a) information and advice concerning those individuals' rights and obligations ; and

(b) assistance, either by the making or receiving of communications or by providing representation to or before any person or body, in asserting those rights or fulfilling those obligations.".'.-- [Lord James Douglas- Hamilton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.24 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to take new clause 17-- Voluntary organisations

(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, the Secretary of State shall establish an interim committee with the power to consider, and as it deems appropriate to approve applications for grant aid from voluntary organisations in good standing funded by existing councils in 1995 whose funding applications to existing councils for the year 1996-97 and/or to new councils for the year 1997-98 have been refused or delayed.

(2) The committee shall number not less than five and not more than seven members chosen from among people with knowledge and experience of the voluntary sector, at least two of which shall be chosen from a list drawn up by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and at least one of whom shall be chosen from a list drawn up by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, with a convener appointed by the Secretary of State.

(3) The committee shall operate from an appropriate date in 1995 to an appropriate date in 1997 as determined by the Secretary of State.'.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : In Committee, I undertook to consider an amendment that sought to confer specific powers on authorities to assist voluntary organisations in the provision of information, advice and representation. The original amendment was withdrawn on that basis. New clause 21 has been tabled following our further consideration of the issue. It seeks to amend the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 by giving a specific statutory discretion to local authorities to assist voluntary organisations in providing people with an information, advice and representation service. It will give the new Scottish councils the same powers as local councils in England and Wales.


Column 692

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow) : I did not think that the Minister would be quite so concise in his presentation. My intervention will literally be an elongated question.

I am being serious and I want a serious answer. Will the new clause allow the representatives of voluntary organisations to intervene in a strategic way in decision making about the disbursement of European structural funds ? I remind the Minister that, in relation to structural funds for Northern Ireland, the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the right hon. Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), said at the Dispatch Box no more than two months ago that he could see a role on the monitoring programme committee for representatives of the voluntary organisations. So, with regard to the distribution of structural funds to voluntary organisations in Scotland, will those organisations' representatives be aided and encouraged by the clause to take part, with Scottish Office officials, in determining the way in which such money will be spent ?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My understanding is that representatives of voluntary organisations are encouraged to act in partnership. I will inquire whether they are eligible to be appointed in that connection and will write to the hon. Gentleman, but certainly we would want a full input from the voluntary organisations. We would desire maximum continuity.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the other commitments given in Committee. We shall give guidance and, what is more, we shall issue directions to the new local authorities in due course, making it clear what assistance has been given to voluntary organisations in the past. We are keen that their interests should be borne in mind. I will follow up the detailed legal questions that the hon. Gentleman asked.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New clause 22 --

Byelaws under section 121 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982

. In section 121 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (control of the seashore, adjacent waters and inland waters) (a) in subsection (5), for paragraph (b) there shall be substituted

"(b) the local authority have given notice in writing of their proposal to make byelaws to each person having a proprietorial interest such as is mentioned, in relation to the byelaws, in paragraph (a) above whose identity has been ascertained as mentioned in the said paragraph (a) ;"

(b) in subsection (6) the words from "and of" to "that proposal" shall cease to have effect ; and

(c) in subsection (7)

(i) the words from "but the" to "his consent" ; and

(ii) the word "nevertheless",

shall cease to have effect.'.-- [Mr. Stewart.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time

Madam Speaker : With this, it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 194, 147, 214, 152, 216 and 154.


Column 693

The intention of the new clause and the associated amendments is that they will overcome the current impasse experienced by councils wishing to make byelaws to control activities on the seashore, adjacent waters or inland waters. I believe that

Dr. Godman : What consultations has the Minister undertaken with the Crown Commissioners concerning the areas in the new clause ?

Mr. Stewart : I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the new provisions are, I think, widely acceptable to those concerned, including the Crown Commissioners.

Perhaps I could give an additional answer to the hon. Gentleman's question by spelling out the provisions in more detail. The new clause will remove the arduous requirement for councils to obtain the consent of all those with a proprietorial interest in the waters and replace it with a more realistic round of consultation and consideration of objections. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) has been personally involved in these matters in relation to Loch Lomond. I am sure that he will welcome the more realistic proposals that we are now putting forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New clause 24 --

Staff : Application of Chapter 2 of Part I

.--(1) Sections 8 (except subsections (2A) and (3)), 9 and 12 of this Act shall apply also in relation to the transfer to the Administration of officers appointed under subsection (1) of section 36 of the 1968 Act and staff provided in pursuance of subsection (6) of that section with the following modifications

(a) references to an existing local authority shall include references to an islands council and references to a new authority shall be construed as references to the Administration ; and (b) the reference in section 12(2)(a) to authorities which cease to exist by virtue of Chapter I of Part I of this Act shall include a reference to authorities which cease to have functions under section 36(1) and (6) of the 1968 Act.

(2) Section 10 of this Act shall, with the modification specified in subsection (3) below, apply in relation to persons ceasing to be officers appointed or staff provided as mentioned in subsection (1) above and being subsequently employed by the Administration as it applies in relation to persons ceasing to be employed by an existing local authority and being subsequently employed by another person. (3) The modification referred to in subsection (2) above is that references in section 10 of this Act to an existing local authority shall include references to an islands council.

(4) Section 11 of this Act shall apply also in relation to the remuneration of officers appointed and staff provided as mentioned in subsection (1) above with the following modifications

(a) references to an authority shall be construed as references only to an existing local authority and references to an existing local authority shall include references to an islands council ; (b) the reference in subsection (4) to the Secretary of State consulting associations of local authorities and employees of local authorities shall include a reference to the Secretary of State consulting the Administration ; and

(c) the reference in subsection (6) to an authority not having ceased to exist shall include a reference to an authority not having ceased to have functions under section 36(1) and (6) of the 1968 Act.

(5) Section 13 of this Act shall apply in relation to officers appointed or staff provided as mentioned in subsection (1) above with the modification that references in that section to an existing local authority shall include references to an islands council.'.-- [Mr. Stewart.]


Column 694

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Stewart : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : With this it will be convenient to discuss also Government amendments Nos. 176 to 182, 60 to 62 and 185 to 187.

Mr. Stewart : All the amendments in that group are either technical or fulfil commitments made in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New clause 1 --

New water and sewerage authorities

.--(1) The Secretary of State shall, before 1st April 1996, establish Joint Boards for the Local Government areas comprised in each of the combined areas set out in the Table at the end of this subsection for the provision in the combined area of the services required by the Water (Scotland) Act 1980 and the Sewerage (Scotland) Act 1968.




---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Grampian                                                     |Aberdeenshire, Moray, City of Aberdeen                                                                                   

Tayside                                                      |Angus, City of Dundee and Perthshire and Kinross (except                                                                 

                                                             |for water purposes the former County of Kinross)                                                                         

Central                                                      |Clackmannan and Falkirk, Stirling                                                                                        

Lothian                                                      |City of Edinburgh, West Lothian, Mid and East Lothian                                                                    

Strathclyde                                                  |Argyll and Bute, Dumbarton and Clydebank, City of                                                                        

                                                             |Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South                                                                   

                                                             |Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, East                                                                              

                                                             |Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, South Ayrshire.                                                             

(2) The provisions of Sections 62A and 62C of the 1973 Act shall apply to a Joint Board established by an Order made under this Schedule as they apply to a Joint Board established by an order made under the said Section 62A.

(3) The Water and sewerage areas mentioned in subsection (1) above and in column 1 of Schedule ( Water and Sewerage Areas ) to this Act comprise the areas for the time being respectively described in column 2 of that Schedule.'.-- [Mr. George Robertson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.30 pm

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker : With this it will be convenient to discuss also the following : Amendment (a), in line 1, leave out The Secretary of State' and insert

The local authorities in the areas concerned'.

Amendment (b), in line 17, at end insert

(1A) The members of the Joint Boards shall be elected councillors appointed in accordance with Schedule 7.'.

New clause 15-- New water and sewerage areas

'-With effect from 1st April 1996 there shall be established (a) a body, to be known as the Borders Water Authority, which as from 1st April 1996, shall be

(i) the water authority for the Borders water area ; and (ii) the sewerage authority for the Borders sewerage area ; (b) a body, to be known as the Central Scotland Water Authority, which as from 1st April 1996, shall be

(i) the water authority for the Central Scotland water area ; and (ii) the sewerage authority for the Central Scotland sewerage area ;

(c) a body, to be known as the Dumfries and Galloway Water Authority, which as from 1st April 1996, shall be


Next Section

  Home Page