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Battered Wives And Children(Accommodation)

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 19 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the progress being made on the provision of refuge accommodation for battered wives and their children.

No, Sir, I am not satisfied but think it best to await the recommendations of the Select Committee, to which my Department yesterday submitted a memorandum, before deciding on future policy. Meanwhile, as an interim measure, I have agreed that housing for battered wives and their children, including hostels, should be eligible for local authority subsidies and housing association grant, and I hope that councils and housing associations will make the necessary provision wherever possible.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will he recognise, however, that this is a matter of immense urgency for many women who daily face terrible injuries in their homes? Would he also recognise—[Laughter.] I am surprised that some hon. Members regard this as comic. I suggest that they attend the Select Committee on Violence in Marriage, where they will hear evidence which will put them right. Will my hon. Friend recognise that the valuable work done in this field so far has been done by groups of women on a help-one-another basis and that they work in difficult conditions? Will he ensure that local authorities do not harass them in any way on top of their present difficulties?

I certainly take the matter seriously and am trying to treat it as urgently as 1 can. The difficulty is that I am waiting for the results of the Select Committee's consideration and examination of all the evidence given it, not only by my Department, before reaching a view about the longer-term aspects of housing policy and how I can help to deal with this problem. The urgency is reflected in the fact that we have already agreed to provide the necessary subsidy facilities for the provision by local authorities and housing associations of appropriate accommodation for such people who live in tragic circumstances, as I know from cases with which 1 have had to deal as a constituency Member. For the rest we must await the future, but I assure my hon. Friend that I am not complacent.

Does the hon. Gentleman have any idea of the numbers of wives and children involved? This must obviously have a bearing on the kind of accommodation required.

No, 1 have no idea of the size of this problem or of its variation. This is a matter which I imagine will be dealt with much more adequately, at this stage at least, by the Select Committee. But we should not wait for some kind of national assessment of the scale of the problem before trying to provide facilities wherever possible, certainly in the field of housing for which I am responsible. To this extent I am happy that, as a result of what I have said today and contacts that we have with local authorities, facilities will be provided wherever possible under housing subsidy arrangements.

I welcome all that the Minister has said. When the Select Committee reports, which it is hoped we will do as quickly as possible, will the Government find time there and then to implement any recommendations we make, even if they require legislation?

:The hon. Lady will realise that I am concerned with one particular facet of policy and administrative practice—that relating to housing. We should have to await the examination which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will give to the report when it is forthcoming before deciding what legislation will be introduced and what policy decisions will have to be taken.