The following Acts were given Royal Assent:
Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Act,
Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act,
Non-Domestic Rating (Public Lavatories) Act,
Forensic Science Regulator Act,
British Library Board (Power to Borrow) Act,
Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Act,
Domestic Abuse Act,
Prisons (Substance Testing) Act,
Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act,
Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Act,
Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act,
Financial Services Act,
Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Act,
Fire Safety Act,
National Security and Investment Act.
The following Measures were given Royal Assent:
Diocesan Boards of Education Measure,
Commons Amendments and Reason
9C: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
Report on the use of contact centres in England
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals, when they are using contact centres in England, are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm.
(2) “The relevant period” means the period of 2 years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(3) In this section “contact centre” means a place that is used for the facilitation of contact between a child and an individual with whom the child is not, or will not be, living (including the handover of the child to that individual).”
9D: Page 59, line 8, after “72” insert “, (Report on the use of contact centres in England)”
9E: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Report on the use of contact centres in England);”
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar much regrets that he is not able to move this Motion himself; he is giving evidence to the Justice Select Committee in another place. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, this is another important part of his work and accountability to Parliament. He is very grateful to noble Lords who have engaged with him on this issue since our last debates on the matter.
Since then, the elected House has disagreed with Amendment 9B—as it did with the previous Amendment 9 —by a significant majority of 133. Noble Lords will recall that Amendment 9B would require the Government to introduce a set of national standards for child contact centres and services to which organisations and individuals would be required to adhere. This would, in effect, be a form of indirect accreditation which the previous Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and debated on Report, explicitly sought to establish.
When we debated Amendment 9B last Wednesday, my noble friend Lord Wolfson was very clear that there is nothing between the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and other noble Lords who have supported these amendments, and the Government when it comes to our commitment to the protection of vulnerable children and the victims of domestic abuse. These are absolute priorities for Her Majesty’s Government. That is why we have listened intently during the passage of this Bill to the arguments made both in your Lordships’ House and in another place and have acted to strengthen the Bill in a significant number of ways. That is also why we have established the expert panel on harm in the family courts, and why we are now acting on its recommendations better to protect domestic abuse victims in the family courts. Where we have been persuaded of the case for change, we have acted, and will continue to act, in the interests of victims.
In this instance, the problem we face is one of evidence, as we have stressed previously. We have explained in detail the safeguards that are in place in relation to child contact centres and services in both public and private law and the steps that are being taken with the President of the Family Division and the chief executive of Cafcass to reinforce existing expectations. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for not repeating the detail of those safeguards again on this occasion, as I hope my noble friend has covered them in adequate detail previously and I believe that our time would be better served by outlining the steps the Government now propose to take.
As I say, my noble friend is very grateful for the constructive way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and other noble Lords have engaged with him and others on this matter. We are also grateful for the evidence provided to the NACCC in support of Amendments 9 and 9B. While we remain of the view that the evidence provided so far is insufficiently robust to justify new statutory requirements, we are also keenly aware of the limited time which has been available to investigate this matter systematically in order to build a more convincing evidence base—a point made last week by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in her concluding remarks.
We are also drawn heavily towards the comments made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh last Wednesday, when she suggested that the Government might investigate the evidence available themselves rather than the NACCC which, as she rightly said, should focus its efforts on the protection of children. We agree. We accept that if there is a demonstrable problem here, the risks to children are real. But if a demonstrable problem does exist, we would also need to understand fully how prevalent it is and how it manifests itself in order to understand how we can address it effectively and proportionately. Without this research, any measures seeking to address the perceived problem may not be effective and may have unintended consequences. It is for this reason that the Government have tabled their Amendments 9C to 9E, which were agreed by another place yesterday, in lieu of Amendment 9B.
Amendment 9C would place a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals are protected from the risk of domestic abuse when they use a contact centre or, in the case of children, other harms. The amendment draws the definition of a “contact centre” widely to include any place used to facilitate contact between a child and an individual with whom they do not or will not live. The scope of the amendment goes beyond a formal child contact centre accredited by the NACCC to include more informal arrangements, in order to address the issues at the centre of noble Lords’ concerns.
The amendment requires that the results of the review be published within two years of the Bill being passed. I want to make it categorically clear that this timescale, which some might argue is too long, does not mean that the Government are not serious about this review. It is already clear that it is not easy to gather evidence in this area, and it is important that we take time to investigate thoroughly in order to reach meaningful and robust conclusions. We will proceed with the review as quickly as possible after Royal Assent and publish its findings. I also give the Government’s commitment to act appropriately in response to those findings.
I am sure that noble Lords will understand that, before the review is launched, there is more work to do on establishing its precise terms of reference, scope and exact timescales. We will want to consult with experts in this area—including, for example, the NACCC, the judiciary, Cafcass, local government and victims’ groups—before reaching final decisions on these points.
However, I reassure your Lordships, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh, that the scope will be sufficiently broad to cover both private and public law and circumstances where parents may decide to approach those providing child contact services outside court proceedings. It will also include an external consultation to gather information from key parties.
I repeat the commitment my noble friend Lord Wolfson gave in our debate on 21 April: that we are ready to explore, as part of the review, whether there is a case for ensuring that appropriate arrangements are in place whereby anyone who seeks to set themselves up as a provider of child contact centres would be subject to criminal record checks. Indeed, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice are already exploring the feasibility of extending eligibility for higher-level criminal record checks to the self-employed.
In developing the terms of the review, I also commit explicitly to engaging further with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh. The Government would welcome the noble Baronesses’ input in establishing the review, given their commitment and interest in this area, and I am sure that they will have valuable evidence to contribute—all the more so, given the additional time that the review will afford.
In conclusion, I hope your Lordships’ House will agree that in bringing forward our amendments in lieu, the Government have shown their commitment to giving this important issue the detailed consideration it deserves. We can build a robust evidence base concerning the scale of any problem with regulating those providing child contact centres, so that we can reach a fully informed decision on any further steps which may be necessary. I put on record again our appreciation of the dedication shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh on this subject. I ask them and the rest of your Lordships’ House to accept the Commons amendments in lieu and to agree Motion A. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 9C and its consequential Amendments 9D and 9E, which the Government have tabled in place of my original Amendments 9 and 9B, which had support across this House.
I am most grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, who has met with me and colleagues across the House and spoken with us on several occasions about this issue. He clearly has listened to our concerns. We are of course disappointed that our amendments have not been accepted but appreciate that this is such an important Bill that we must not jeopardise its passage at this stage in the Session. I have the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, ringing in my ears from an earlier meeting at which she expressed just this fear.
I have three questions for the Minister. First, can he confirm that the term “contact centre” means the people who work in a place or use a place for facilitating contact between a child and the person they are not living with? A place could be an empty building or open parkland. It is the way that a place is used by people that matters—and it was the people involved who were the subject of my Amendment 9B.
Secondly, can the Minister confirm that the spirit of Amendment 9B is encapsulated in proposed new subsection (1) of the government amendment, where it is stipulated that a report must explicitly tackle the extent to which individuals are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm. All we have asked is that, as outlined by Sir James Munby in his statement in support of our previous amendment, the
“standards in child contact centres and services are consistent and high, and domestic abuse and safeguarding is appropriately handled through high quality staff training to protect those children and families who find themselves involved with the family justice system.”
These vulnerable children must have the same standard of safeguarding as other children, such as those going to childminders, those in nurseries and those aged 16 to 19 in education.
Thirdly, can the Minister confirm that the judicial protocol on child contact will be actively promoted across all family courts to ensure that it is properly used in practice?
Jess Phillips MP, shadow Minister with responsibility for domestic violence and safeguarding, recounted in the other place yesterday that she has heard of case after case where there is poor practice, bad handovers and perpetrators can access victims. Now, all this evidence must be gathered in one place. It must be clear and publicised to whom such evidence is to be addressed, as some people reporting may feel intimidated at drawing attention to a problem, particularly in small and somewhat closed communities.
All those involved in this debate will, I am sure, be entering a date in our diaries two years hence when we expect the report to be published. We all hope sincerely that no disasters will happen between now and then. We all believe that there is a loophole that must be closed. Let me be clear: I welcome the proposed investigation by the Secretary of State and greatly appreciate all the work the Minister has put into this to date. In the meantime, we appreciate the government Amendments 9C to 9E.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and thank her for all the work and passion that she has shown in bringing this series of amendments to the House. I am also grateful for the support shown across the House, especially by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and others on all Benches. I also thank and pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar in his absence. Without his particular personal interest in the issues before us we would not be where we are today. I therefore ask my noble friend Lord Parkinson to pay fulsome thanks to him.
It is important to welcome the fact that there will be some movement. I say that especially as vice-president of the National Association of Child Contact Centres and co-chair of the All-Party Group on Child Contact Centres. However, I regret that, under the terms of the amendments before us in the name of my noble friend on the Front Bench, it may be two years before we see any change whatever. It is welcome that all of us across the House are united in wanting to ensure that children can continue to see absent parents in the event of a family breakdown in safety.
However, I regret that there is no sense of urgency, such as that which we have seen with the Private Member’s Bill that will go through in this parliamentary Session, which makes sure that there are national standards and safeguards for all those working with 16 to 19 year-olds. It is bizarre and slightly concerning that they are being treated preferentially as compared with those in a younger age group, infants and those possibly up to the age of 18, seeking to meet parents in child contact centres and settings.
It is important that we establish that contact centres and services, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, are subject to the same basic minimum safe- guarding, training, DBS and criminal checks, and enhanced checks as all others working with children, including childminders and nurseries. The Bill will leave the House today with the addition of these amendments, which I welcome in so far as they go, but it does not go as far as it should.
I shall quote the statement issued yesterday by Sir James Munby, as president of the National Association of Child Contact Centres, and former President of the Family Division. He stated:
“The government’s reservation to support Baroness Finlay’s amendment, which has been drafted in partnership with the National Association of Child Contact Centres, would be a missed opportunity to address an anomaly in safeguarding children and improving standards in general and specifically in regard to domestic abuse…The amendment is seeking is to ensure the same standards of safeguarding, accreditation, checks and training for all child contact centres and services whether in a public or private setting, and on the same basis as those who work with children as child minders, in nurseries and now with 16-19 years olds in education.”
Perhaps the most disappointing omission in the Government’s amendments is that we have failed to alert them to certain essential facts. DBS checks already apply to those setting up contact centres through an accredited service. However, if one is not accredited, one can go ahead without getting DBS checks. Therefore, amending the regulations will not move matters forward. That applies also to enhanced DBS checks. About one-third of families who attend child contact centres are self-referrals, so they have no-one to guide them to an accredited centre unless they go on to the NACCC website. Also, in tune with what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, the weight placed on the judicial protocol means that guidance will need to change to the equivalent of a requirement to ensure that it can support the expectation being placed upon it. The essential fact is this: if there is no one to check whether someone has DBS certificates, how would anyone know whether they have them or not?
I simply end with a question to my noble friend. If evidence comes to light within the two-year period he has allowed for the review, which is welcome, will the regulations that the Government are empowered to apply through the Ministry of Justice be put in place? Secondly, why is a higher bar being asked for in the evidence required for the younger age group of infants to 18 year-olds than that required in the Private Member’s Bill introducing safeguards for 16 to 19 year-olds? However, I welcome the movement that has been made and hope that we can work together with the departments concerned in this regard.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, for their tenacity in protecting the interests of vulnerable children and abuse victims. Their knowledge and experience have fuelled their tenacity and insistence that a solution be found. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has used his great experience in the family courts, and I have had, if not exactly the same level of experience, raw enthusiasm in backing the cause.
However, that would have all been to no avail if the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, had not only seen what we were trying to achieve but gone the extra mile in seeking a solution, despite the fact that we did not have all the incontrovertible evidence he sought. I am sorry that he is not in his place, but I know that the Minister will pass on these remarks. When we suggested that the Government, not the NACCC, should obtain the evidence, he has come up with the amendment, which I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, will be minded to accept, to go and get the evidence. The widening of the definition of a child contact centre will catch many informal organisations—those that we are most concerned about—in the net.
All that any of us wants is to protect our children at a most difficult and vulnerable time, to ensure that unskilled and even unscrupulous people do not get anywhere near those children, and that those children are received into a welcoming environment manned by skilled, trained and compassionate people. We are not there yet and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, said, the movers of the original amendment will be setting two-year reminders in their diaries after the passing of the Bill, so the Government can expect timely reminders if the report has not appeared as the deadline looms.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the tenacity of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Although I have experience in the family courts and was aware of the child contact centres, I was not as well briefed on this issue as I am now, given the noble Baronesses’ backgrounds on this matter, particularly the legislative history of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
I should also pay fulsome tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, who is relatively new to our House. We met him a number of times; he has properly engaged on the issues and expressed scepticism, which is sometimes helpful to people moving amendments. He has come up with a solution. Although, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, it may fall short of what we were hoping for, it nevertheless provides a road ahead for addressing the concerns that he expressed. He has potentially come up with a proper solution for the various loopholes in the child contact centre system, if I can put it like that.
As the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, said in his introduction, the Government’s problem was one of evidence. As we repeated in numerous meetings, it is very difficult to get evidence of contact centres that come and go, perhaps operating in particular communities and essentially functioning under the radar. I am glad that the Government appreciated that point to the extent that they are willing to take on the responsibility of seeing whether this is a real problem and whether appropriate measures can be put in place to protect children who go to these child contact centres.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked three good questions for the Minister to answer. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, went on to quote Sir James Munby’s support for the earlier amendments. Sir James Munby has unequalled experience in these matters, so the Government should listen to what he says.
In conclusion, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and I have sat on a lot of committees together over the last couple of years and she has always been sensible in her support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady McIntosh. As she said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, accepts the Government’s amendments and that we continue to work together for the next couple of years to ensure that the Government follow through on their promise to review the existing provision.
My Lords, first, I thank and agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh for their tenacity in pursuing this issue in the interests of vulnerable children. We have all been mindful of that throughout these discussions and are grateful to them. I am also grateful to noble Lords for their tributes to my noble friend Lord Wolfson. I will pass on their thanks and appreciation, and I know that he would have liked to have been here to see the conclusion of this important matter. But I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for saying that my noble friend went the extra mile. That has been the Government’s approach to the Bill throughout and, even those provisions that will not be in the Bill have launched some important work, which will continue to bear fruit and help victims of domestic abuse, whether legislatively or not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked three questions on which I hope I can provide reassurance. Her first was about whether contact centres mean the people who work in the place. Yes, we are going to review the way that a place is used, rather than a building, which may be empty. Her second was about the spirit of the amendment. Again, yes, we want to build an evidence base through the review that assesses the need for regulation, along the lines that the noble Baroness proposed. Her third was about promoting the judicial protocol. That protocol is being updated and will be communicated by the judiciary, not Her Majesty’s Government. That will provide an opportunity for its promotion but, as I am sure she and other noble Lords understand, that is a matter for the judiciary.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked some questions about the review. As I say, we want to establish a robust evidence base about the scale of the problem, so that we reach a fully informed decision about any further steps necessary. We would welcome her input and that of others into establishing the terms of the review. We will also be engaging the judiciary, among others, so the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about Sir James Munby is well heard.
That has answered all the questions raised. Again, we are very grateful to all noble Lords for their engagement on this and hope that it is a sensible resolution. I hope that noble Lords support Motion A.
Motion A agreed.
40D: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Data processing for immigration purposes
Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes
(1) The Secretary of State must before the end of the relevant period—
(a) review the processing of domestic abuse data carried out by specified public authorities for immigration purposes,
(b) prepare and publish a report setting out the findings of the review, and
(c) lay a copy of the report before Parliament.
(2) In carrying out the review, the Secretary of State must have regard to the recommendations of the HMIC Report.
(3) In subsection (1), the “relevant period” means the period beginning with the day on which this section comes into force and ending with 30 June 2021 (but see subsection (4)).
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations extend the relevant period by a further period of up to 6 months.
(5) The power conferred by subsection (4) may be exercised only once.
(6) In this section—
“domestic abuse data” means personal data obtained for the purposes of, or in connection with, the provision of support in relation to domestic abuse to victims of domestic abuse or their children;
“the HMIC Report” means the report on Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ super-complaint on policing and immigration status published by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary on 17 December 2020;
“immigration purposes” means the purposes of—
(a) the maintenance of effective immigration control, or
(b) the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control;
“immigration officer” means a person appointed as an immigration officer under paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971;
“personal data” has the meaning given by section 3(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018;
“processing” has the meaning given by section 3(4) of that Act; “specified public authority” means—
(a) a chief officer of police of a police force maintained for a police area in England and Wales;
(b) the chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland;
(c) the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland;
(d) the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Force;
(e) the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police;
(f) an immigration officer or other official of the Secretary of State exercising functions in relation to immigration or asylum.”
40E: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Code of practice
(1) The Secretary of State may issue a code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.
(2) A code of practice issued under this section—
(a) must be kept under review;
(b) may be revised or replaced.
(3) A person to whom a code of practice issued under this section applies must have regard to it in processing domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.
(4) In preparing, revising or replacing a code, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner,
(b) the Information Commissioner, and
(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) Before issuing a code (or a revised code) under this section, the Secretary of State must lay the code before Parliament.
(6) If, within the 40-day period, either House of Parliament resolves not to approve the code—
(a) the code is not to be issued, and
(b) the Secretary of State may prepare another code.
(7) If no such resolution is passed within the 40-day period, the Secretary of State may issue the code.
(8) In this section, the “40-day period” is the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which the code is laid before Parliament (or, if it is not laid before each House of Parliament on the same day, the later of the 2 days on which it is laid).
(9) In calculating the 40-day period, no account is to be taken of any period during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than 4 days.
(10) In this section—
“domestic abuse data” has the same meaning as in section (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes);
“immigration purposes” has the same meaning as in section (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes);
“personal data” has the meaning given by section 3(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018;
“processing” has the meaning given by section 3(4) of that Act.”
40F: Page 58, line 36, leave out “or 72” and insert “, 72, (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes) or (Code of practice)”
40G: Page 59, line 8, after “72” insert “, (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes), (Code of practice)”
40H: Page 59, line 36, after “35(7),” insert “(Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes)(4),”
40J: Page 60, line 15, at end insert—
“( ) sections (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes) and (Code of practice),”
40K: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes);”
Noble Lords are aware that Amendment 40B seeks to create a data-sharing firewall, so that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purposes of their seeking or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes. Amendment 40C introduces a conditional commencement procedure, so that the firewall comes into force only once the review into current data-sharing procedures has been completed and following a vote in both Houses.
While I appreciate the case that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and other noble Lords have been making, the Government remain of the view that Amendments 40B and 40C are premature, pending the outcome of the review of the current data-sharing arrangements, as recommended by the policing inspectorate following its December report on the super-complaint from Liberty and Southall Black Sisters.
In an effort to meet the noble Baroness half way, the Government tabled Amendments 40D, 40E, 40F, 40G, 40H, 40J and 40K in lieu to which the Commons has agreed. Amendment 40D places our review of data-sharing arrangements on to a statutory footing, with a duty to lay a report before Parliament on the outcome of the review by 30 June, a little over two months away.
In addition, Amendment 40E confers a power on the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration control purposes by specified public authorities. Persons to whom the code is issued, notably the police and Home Office immigration staff, would be required to have regard to that code. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that although the new clause provides for a power rather than imposes a duty to issue a code, it is the Government’s firm intention to issue such a code, following the completion of the review. Noble Lords will note too that Amendment E also places an obligation on the Secretary of State to consult the domestic abuse commissioner, the Information Commissioner and others before issuing the code.
We are on track to publish the outcome of our review by the end of June. As part of our review, we have given a commitment to engage with domestic abuse sector organisations and the domestic abuse commissioner to better understand concerns about why migrant victims might not feel safe in reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. We have tabled amendments, now agreed by another place, to place the review on to a statutory footing and to provide for a statutory code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.
I hope noble Lords will see that we have listened and acted. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the whole of your Lordships’ House to support Motion B.
My Lords, I shall respond to the Minister and the Government’s amendment on the safe reporting of crimes by domestic abuse victims who have uncertain immigration status. I am very grateful to our Ministers for their sympathetic handling of this Bill and for the incredibly helpful meetings that we have had with all of them in previous weeks, and to the Government for tabling the compromise amendment. Of course, it does not achieve the reassurance that we sought with our original amendment, but it paves a way forward that could help these most vulnerable of women.
I welcome the fact that the report on the government review of this issue will be laid before Parliament and that this is put in statute by the Government’s amendment. That is definitely a step forward. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the review will seek to identify the depth of fear of many of the victims of concern here. That is important—about half do not report crimes because they are too frightened, in particular in situations of modern slavery, for example. A concern in the field is that the six-month possible extension for the publication of the review could be used by the Government to prevent anyone making progress in the meantime. Three months would be greatly preferable. Does the Minister have any comment on that? Do they really need six months to complete this? If it means that they will do a more thorough job, I suppose we must be grateful.
Turning to the code of practice, I am concerned about subsection (1) of the proposed new clause, which says that the Secretary of State
“may issue a code of practice”
rather than that they “shall” issue such a code. Again, I am grateful to the Minister for emphasising in his remarks that the Government have a clear intention to issue such a code. It would also be helpful if he could indicate in his closing comments a timeline for the code of practice and confirm its purpose—again, this is an important point—to provide protection from the immigration system for vulnerable victims of domestic abuse whose immigration status is uncertain.
The amendment makes it clear that the domestic abuse commissioner, the Information Commissioner and
“such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”
must be consulted in relation to this code of practice. I put on record the importance of consulting survivors and specialist organisations such as the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, which, incidentally, apart from doing a huge amount of work to support these women, has been a pillar of strength in the background, behind these debates in this House. It would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that those survivors and organisations will be consulted. With the hope that the Minister can provide some assurance on these points, I will not oppose the Government’s Motion.
My Lords, the essence of this Motion is to ensure that victims of domestic abuse, whoever they are, are not afraid to come forward to report the matter to the police without fear of being reported to immigration enforcement. No review or code of practice will reassure them without an undertaking that enforcement action will not be taken. The Government know this, and I therefore conclude that they place more importance on immigration enforcement than on protecting the victims of domestic abuse—a disgraceful position for the Government to take. We will not allow this matter to rest here, even though we are unable to take it further today.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has received strong support from the Opposition Benches throughout the progress of this important Bill, and that support is not diminished at this final stage. We will continue to press the Government on this very serious issue, to make sure victims can feel safe coming forward to report abuse. It has been a pleasure to learn from her and work with her on this amendment. The noble Baroness’s amendment provided for the circumstances where victims’ data cannot be shared for immigration purposes if they come forward to report abuse. She is content to agree the important concessions that she has obtained from the Government on her amendment and, to that end, it just leaves me to thank her and all noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently and with passion throughout the passage of the Bill.
In the other place yesterday, the shadow Minister spoke movingly about her own experiences and reiterated her thanks for some movement by the Government on this amendment. But I echo her remarks of concern by asking the Minister if we can ensure that there are buy-in services for the very victims we are talking about, that they are consulted throughout the process, and that the whole point of the code is explicitly there to ensure that data can be shared only to enable victims to receive protection and safety. We now have mention of a victims’ code, so what happens when there is a breach of the code? We need clarity; we seek to have things written into primary legislation so that there is no doubt when barriers are crossed.
I eagerly await the translation into law of this landmark legislation. I thank my Opposition Front Bench colleagues and the staff team who have so ably guided me through my first major Bill in this House; what a maiden Bill it has been to have contributed to. My thanks go to the Minister and others who have listened and acted upon amendments to make better laws alongside our charities, support organisations and, indeed, the brave survivors whose lived experiences and testimonies have spoken out loudly and clearly throughout the course of the Bill: stand up to domestic abuse.
My Lords, I again applaud and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her tenacity on this point in standing up for another vulnerable group of victims. I thank her for the time that she has spent engaging with me on this point since your Lordships last debated it. I am grateful that she sees the amendments that we have put forward in lieu as a step forward, and want to reassure her on the points that she raised; as I said previously, one of the frustrations in this area is not knowing what we do not know about the depth of fear among those who may be reluctant to come forward. That is why we are engaging with domestic abuse sector organisations to better understand the scale of that problem and to allay any concerns that people have. I am pleased to say that engagement with those groups is beginning next month.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked about the timeline for the code; we would seek to have that in place as soon as is practicable after the completion of the review. We would of course need time to consult the domestic abuse commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The power to extend the deadline is purely precautionary, as, alas, the experience of the pandemic over the last year or so has shown the need to expect the unexpected, but it is our intention to proceed swiftly on this. As the noble Baroness noted, despite the word “may” rather than “shall”, it is our firm intention to issue such a code, so I reiterate that for her reassurance. We will look at enforcement issues when drawing up the code.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, suggested that we are approaching these issues the wrong way round. I hope people appreciate that the Government have a statutory obligation under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to maintain an effective immigration system, but we have been clear throughout that both the police and immigration enforcement officials deal with victims as victims first and foremost. We are very mindful of that. With those answers, and in reiterating my thanks in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I urge noble Lords to support Motion B.
Motion B agreed.
41C: Because the Amendment would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, to recap, Amendment 41B seeks to lift the no recourse to public funds condition for migrant victims of domestic abuse until the conclusion of the support for migrant victims scheme. The amendment also provides that, within two months of the scheme’s conclusion, the Secretary of State must consult the domestic abuse commissioner and specialist sector, and publish a strategy for the long-term provision for victims who do not have leave, or have leave subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. I am conscious that after two full debates, in Committee and on Report, along with our consideration last week of the Commons reasons, we are all likely to be well versed in the points that I have highlighted and will highlight now, and those which proponents of Amendment 41B will outline. For that reason, I will try to make my points relatively short.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester knows how much I respect her, and I share her commitment to providing protection and support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. But I still do not believe that Amendment 41B represents the appropriate course of action. The other place likewise disagreed with this amendment, again on the basis of financial privilege. Waiving the no recourse to public funds condition for 12 months—double the six months provided for in the earlier Amendment 41, which sought an extension to the DDVC—would clearly involve a significant charge on the public purse.
As I have emphasised previously, there is a clear precedent for our current position regarding the no recourse to public funds condition. Successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly funded benefits and services should normally reflect the strength of a migrant’s connection to the UK. We continue to believe that such access should become available to migrants only once they have settled here. There is a clear rationale for this policy; namely, that it seeks to assure the public of the benefits to our country that controlled immigration can yield, to ensure that public funds remain protected for permanent residents, and to manage the UK’s finite resources. Automatically waiving the no recourse to public funds condition irrespective of the diverse financial circumstances of victims is not a desirable or necessary outcome.
Moving beyond the precedent for our position, Amendment 41B presents other significant difficulties. Leave and access to public funds cannot be separated as easily as it suggests. As I highlighted last week, to provide access to public funds, one must also necessarily confer leave. We have launched the support for migrant victims scheme because it can provide support for migrant victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds by funding the required support directly from Southall Black Sisters and its delivery partners, bypassing the need to access public funds. To reiterate, the support for migrant victims scheme will provide support to this vulnerable cohort.
As I have highlighted many times during the passage of the Bill, the support for migrant victims scheme is designed to provide support to those individuals who fall through the gaps of other support mechanisms, such as the DDVC. It provides a safety net of support through provision of accommodation in a refuge or other relevant safe accommodation. Additionally, the scheme can provide wraparound provisions, including practical support such as immigration advice. The support provided by the scheme can be tailored to the needs of the individual victim much more than a blanket automatic granting of public funds.
I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for her continued commitment to the cause of migrant victims of domestic abuse. It truly is a cause that I share. However, while we seek a similar outcome, we have different ways of getting there. I hope that noble Lords are mindful of the votes in the elected House, along with the reasons given for disagreeing with this amendment, and are content to agree Motion C. We must now ensure that the Bill is enacted and implemented. I assure noble Lords that this Government have not, and will not, forget about migrant victims of domestic abuse. I have no doubt that the right reverend Prelate will continue, rightly, to press us to act on the outcome of the support for migrant victims scheme in the months to come. I beg to move.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, who moved the successful amendment on migrant women and recourse to public funds during the first stage of ping-pong in this House on the Domestic Abuse Bill last Wednesday, regrets that she cannot be here in person today. I pay tribute to the work that she has done—and will, I am sure, continue to do—on this issue. On her behalf, I have been asked to say the following, which also reflects my feelings:
“I would urge the Government to consider all victims of domestic abuse as victims first. It is therefore regrettable that recourse to public funds has not been made available to a small but extremely vulnerable group of migrant victims. That said, at this stage, we accept that it has not been possible to add this to the Bill. We hope that when the pilot scheme comes to an end, careful note will be taken of the results. The organisations providing support and hope to these migrant victims must be consulted, and we would do well to listen well to their experience.”
My Lords, I too pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate for championing this issue.
Again, I will boil this down to its essence. The refusal of the Government to offer equal protection to all victims of domestic abuse, whatever their status, which is the effect of their rejection of the Lords amendment, is a clear breach of the Istanbul convention. As I said when we considered these matters last time, this Government cannot claim that this is a landmark Bill when they continue to treat those with irregular immigration status less favourably. These are some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse.
We are unable to take this matter further today, but the Government cannot avoid ratifying the Istanbul convention much longer without serious reputational damage.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for her work on this Bill. I hope I have made it clear throughout the passage of the Bill, including in my introductory remarks today, that people—women mostly—who are victims of domestic abuse should get the support that they need when they need it.
On the Istanbul convention, as set out in our latest annual report on our progress towards ratification of it, published last October, the position on whether or not we are compliant with Article 43 of the convention, to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status, and with Article 59 relating to resident status, is under review, pending the findings of the evaluation of the support for migrant victims scheme. We will consider compliance with Article 59 in parallel with Article 43. As such, it also depends on the outcome of the support for migrant victims scheme. Far from not being compliant, we are working towards that compliance. I hope that noble Lords are content with what I have set out today and in previous stages of the Bill.
Motion C agreed.
42G: Page 53, line 10, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for—
(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse,
(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving domestic abuse, including (among others) risks associated with stalking, and
(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences involving domestic abuse.
(2) The Secretary of State—
(a) must keep the strategy under review;
(b) may revise it.
(3) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.
(4) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and
(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) Subsection (4) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.
(6) In this section, the reference to “risks associated with stalking” is to be read in accordance with section 1(4) of the Stalking Protection Act 2019.”
42H: Page 59, line 8, after “section” insert “(Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders),”
42J: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders);”
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for the very constructive discussions that we had on this matter at the end of last week and this morning, to make some final adjustments to what I think we all agree is a very good Bill.
Amendment 42D, put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to provide for a new category of offender to be managed under multiagency public protection arrangements, known as MAPPA. The intention is then that such offenders are recorded on ViSOR—the dangerous persons database—although this is not set out in the amendment. The new category would cover perpetrators who have either been convicted—and “convicted” is the operative word—on two or more occasions of a relevant domestic abuse-related or stalking offence, or have been convicted of a single such offence and have been assessed as presenting a high risk of serious harm.
The elected House has now disagreed with noble Lords’ amendments on this issue for a second time, and again by a substantial margin. That said, we agree that more needs to be done, but we do not think that this amendment is the right way forward. Many have asked why the Government will not support the amendment, and the simple and honest answer is that we do not think it will be effective in securing the changes that we all want to happen. As I have said before, if we did, we would have no hesitation in supporting it. When the Bill was last in this House, I set out in detail our concerns surrounding the amendment and I will not go through them again. In essence, I do not think it adds anything substantial to the current legislative landscape around MAPPA.
Much has been said during the course of our debates and in the media about what this amendment will achieve. An example of this is that it will create a register; it does not. In fact, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and others have said that that is not what they wish to achieve. Equally, it does not address the issue of perpetrators not being charged and convicted of the offences they have committed. We should not lose sight of the fact that MAPPA is a framework for the management of convicted offenders, and a good number of the cases cited of failures to intervene relate to perpetrators who had not been convicted of an offence. I want to take a moment to place both these points on the record, because any miscommunication on this highly important issue feels deeply unfair to victims. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, would not want any such misunderstandings to take root.
This is a very sensitive and difficult issue and there is no easy solution to it. However, I want to stop focusing on—and noble Lords will know I have done this the whole way through the Bill—where we do not agree and instead put our focus on the many areas where we do agree. Everything I have heard during the passage of this Bill continues to lead me to the firm belief that the issue we need to address is not the legislative framework but how offenders are brought to justice and, once convicted, how MAPPA operates on the ground to ensure that agencies actively identify those offenders who pose the highest risk and then manage them effectively.
I reassure the House that we are undertaking a substantial programme of work to tackle this issue from multiple angles to make a real difference to the outcomes for victims. I will take the opportunity briefly to go over these again and to provide some further updates on developments. We will refresh and strengthen the MAPPA statutory guidance to make it clear that convicted offenders who demonstrate a pattern of offending behaviour that indicates either serious harm or an escalation in the risk of serious harm, related to domestic abuse or stalking, which is not reflected in the charge for which they were actually convicted, should be considered for category 3 management. The guidance will set out the importance of being mindful of the totality of an offender’s behaviour in domestic abuse and stalking cases. I know that this is an important point for the noble Baroness.
The strengthened guidance will ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify offenders who are domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multiagency management and take action based on that risk, no matter what the category. The guidance is statutory, which means that agencies must have due regard to it. It is in no sense voluntary. I should add that the updated guidance will be dynamic. We will keep it under regular review to ensure that it reflects developing good practice.
We will consult MAPPA-responsible authorities and agencies with a duty to co-operate on the updated guidance by the Summer Recess and, once we have their views, we will also share a draft with the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. We will also consult both the domestic abuse and victims’ commissioners. Once the revised guidance is settled, we will promulgate it through a Written Ministerial Statement, and this will provide an opportunity to update the House on the delivery of the other commitments I have set out. Noble Lords talked about having some sort of debate in this place, perhaps after the Summer Recess. I am very happy with that—the beauty of this place is that we can organise debates through noble Lords.
We will have oversight of and monitor the impact of the updated guidance through the responsible authority national steering group. This group is chaired jointly by the chief constable who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s lead for MAPPA and by the public protection group director of HM Prison and Probation Service. The group provides strategic direction for MAPPA-responsible authorities and partner agencies and monitors key aspects of their performance. Senior nominated representatives of the police, National Probation Service and HM Prison Service, as well as specialist representatives from the Youth Justice Board, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office and the Parole Board are members of the group.
In addition to the role of the responsible authority national steering group, I have no doubt that the domestic abuse commissioner and the victims’ commissioner will also be monitoring the impact of the strengthened guidance and the other actions we are taking. In addition, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has the police response to domestic abuse as part of its thematic inspection programme for 2021-22. The inspectorate will also continue to monitor progress made by policing against recommendations from its previous thematic inspections of the police approach to tackling harassment and stalking. There will also be a continuing role here for the prisons and probation inspectorates.
In the case of the domestic abuse commissioner, I remind noble Lords of the powers available to her under Part 2 of the Bill. In particular, the police and others are under a duty to co-operate with the commissioner, and this includes the provision of information. Moreover, the commissioner can make recommendations to Ministers, the police and others subject to the duty to co-operate, and they will be required to respond to these within 56 days. Taken together, Part 2 affords the commissioner important powers to monitor progress in strengthening the management of perpetrators, whether under MAPPA or other arrangements.
In addition to the statutory guidance—and to ensure maximum accessibility and clarity—we will publish a succinct thresholding document to guide practitioners in deciding on the most appropriate level of management. The different levels of management under MAPPA are set to ensure that resources are properly targeted at those offenders who pose the highest risk and are the most complex to manage.
However, we need to be sure that action is taken where there are indicators of escalating harm for those managed at the least intensive level. Therefore, HM Prison and Probation Service will issue a policy framework for its staff setting out clear requirements for their management of all cases at MAPPA level 1. This will further help improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews and, importantly, the identification of cases where additional risk management activity is required. Both the policy frame- work and the thresholding document will include specific reference to domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. We will decommission ViSOR, which is now almost 20 years old, and bring in the new multiagency public protection system, which will be piloted from next year.
We will bring forward a new statutory domestic abuse perpetrator strategy as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy to be published later this year. Following discussions last Friday with the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, we have modified the government amendment in lieu to expressly reference stalking that occurs within a domestic abuse context. As I have indicated, I believe the MAPPA guidance—the perpetrator strategy—is the appropriate place to address the issue of risk assessments taking into account past patterns of behaviour, rather than Amendment 42G.
In the last debate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about the dual strategy approach. In the summer the Government will publish a tackling violence against women and girls strategy, and further to the Government’s amendments in the Bill we will also bring forward our complementary domestic abuse strategy. This approach will allow us to focus on lesser-understood violence against women and girls crimes, while a dedicated strategy on domestic abuse, given its high-volume, high-harm nature, will ensure it gets the attention it deserves.
The VAWG strategy will include a perpetrator strategy pillar, which will, among other things, address stalking perpetrators. I should clarify that “violence against women and girls” is an umbrella term and, while we know that these crimes disproportionately affect women and girls, we recognise that men and boys also experience them. We will therefore consider this as part of the VAWG strategy, alongside updating the male victims position statement.
We are also legislating already in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to put beyond doubt the powers of duty to co-operate agencies to share information under MAPPA by clarifying existing information-sharing provisions. We are investing new resources to tackle perpetrators, with an additional £25 million committed this year.
While we might not agree with the approach set out in Amendment 42D, we do not shy away from taking action to tackle this issue. The last time the Bill was in the House, many noble Lords—including the noble Baroness, Lady Royall—agreed that these actions we have set out are tangible and would make a real difference in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of current offender management arrangements. I hope the noble Baroness and the whole House will support Motion D so that we can pass this truly landmark Bill and it can be enacted. I beg to move.
Motion D1 (as an amendment to Motion D)
42K: Before Clause 69, insert the following new Clause—
“Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for—
(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse,
(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving domestic abuse, including (among others) risks associated with stalking and an individual’s past pattern of behaviour; and
(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences involving domestic abuse.
(2) The Secretary of State—
(a) must keep the strategy under review;
(b) may revise it.
(3) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.
(4) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and
(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, publish revised statutory guidance on Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements to provide that—
(a) a person assessed by the responsible authority to pose a high risk of stalking; or
(b) a person assessed by the responsible authority to pose a high risk of domestic abuse,
must be placed under Category 3 in Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
(6) When assessing a risk of stalking or repeated domestic abuse the Responsible Authority must take into consideration a person’s past patterns of behaviour involving stalking or domestic abuse.
(7) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to require—
(a) an individual who is convicted on more than one occasion of a specified domestic abuse offence;
(b) an individual who is convicted on one or more occasions of a specified stalking offence,
to be automatically risk-assessed in Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements.
(8) Where a person is—
(a) risk-assessed under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements; or
(b) placed under Category 3 in Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
as a result of offending which involves either domestic abuse or stalking, notice of this must be given to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for the purposes of a report on these decisions to inform the strategy on an annual basis.
(9) Subsection (4) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.
(10) In this section, the reference to “risks associated with stalking” is to be read in accordance with section 1(4) of the Stalking Protection Act 2019.
(11) In this section—
“responsible authority” has the same meaning as in section 325 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003;
“specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;
“specified stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.”
42L: Page 59, line 8, after “section” insert “(Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders),”
42M: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders);””
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her full response, including to my amendment, which followed the Government’s revised amendment passed in the Commons last night. I am also grateful to her for our very constructive meeting and for the letter responding to the issues raised by me and my colleagues in our meeting; I think it was last Friday, but it feels a long time ago.
Yes, we have come a long way with this very good Bill, and indeed on the perpetrator strategy on both stalking and domestic abuse. I am glad our various debates have highlighted the fact that the current system is not working. Indeed, it is indefensible and leads to thousands of women living in fear and hundreds murdered. It is for this reason that the noble Baroness and I are in complete agreement that there must be a change. The change that I believe would be most effective, and will continue to argue in favour of, is the inclusion on the new database of all serious and serial high-risk perpetrators of stalking and domestic abuse. I am perplexed by the articles in the press—I think it was in the Times at the weekend—suggesting that a comprehensive database would soon be forthcoming. Nothing has been said at the Dispatch Box in either your Lordships’ House or the Commons to confirm this. I leave that to one side.
I was confused last night when listening to the Minister in the Commons address the issue of the MAPPA categories, although the noble Baroness the Minister has been much clearer and more explicit. The new policy framework is welcome, but can the noble Baroness again confirm that domestic abuse and stalking will be flagged in category 1, so that when assessing risk or managing a sex offender, consideration will have to be given to whether he poses a domestic abuse or stalking threat? I believe that to be the case, but I would like her to make that point once more. I am grateful for her assurance in writing that all category 3 offenders will be on ViSOR and therefore on MAPPS.
Listening to the Minister in the Commons last night, my biggest concern was that she did not propose a significant expansion to category 3—quite the contrary; she rejected the repeated suggestions from my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper. She repeated the current practice: that it will be up to the professional judgment and professional curiosity—I find that quite a strange and unfortunate phrase—of the relevant authorities as to whether they think a domestic abuse or stalking case could benefit from being managed through MAPPA. That is not good enough.
The Minister spoke of the flexibility of MAPPA 3, which, as my honourable friend Jess Phillips pointed out, was part of the problem, in that there is no proper direction for its use, and the resources are so stretched that the authorities cannot use their professional judgment. But that flexibility is also part of the solution, in that its use will now be expanded. It is very good to hear that category 3 will not be restricted to people who have been sentenced for one year or more. I believe that to be the case and would like the Minister to reiterate that. We all agree that that is a major gap: that people who have not been sentenced but are serial perpetrators and whose actions escalate into heinous crimes are still out there, and no information about them is being exchanged.
Adequate resources are critical. If sufficient funding is not available, the people making the decisions will be constrained in their actions. Last night the Minister mentioned an additional £25 million. Will any of that be ring-fenced for MAPPA 3? If not, what additional resources will be specifically allocated to MAPPA 3?
Currently there are only 330 offenders in total under category 3 MAPPA, compared with more than 60,000 in category 1 and more than 20,000 in category 2. MAPPA includes all offences, but in future it absolutely must include the thousands of high-harm repeat perpetrators of stalking and domestic violence. The Minister has been very clear that when assessing a risk of stalking or repeated domestic abuse, there must be consideration of a person’s past patterns of behaviour involving stalking or domestic abuse. That is a major step forward and is very welcome.
It is only with the new guidance mentioned by the noble Baroness that we can ensure that practice really is changed, so that serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators are flagged to MAPPA and heard there. But that guidance must be informed by experts, by the people who will use the guidance, who are frustrated that the current system is not working. Everyone using the new guidance must be trained in order to effect the change so desperately needed. That must be included in the guidance and the requisite funds made available. We expect the head of MAPPA to ensure that this happens. The ever-vigilant noble Lord, Lord Russell, noticed that NOMS is looking for a new head of MAPPA. I am sure he will speak to this, but I merely urge that the current job description be updated to reflect the changes being introduced in this Bill.
I am glad to hear that the guidance will be dynamic. A debate on the guidance in the autumn is an excellent idea. May I also have an assurance from the noble Baroness that specialist domestic abuse and stalking services will be invited to attend MAPPA? Timing is of the essence. The Minister has given her assurance that the MAPPA guidance will be revised before the Summer Recess; I thank her.
I am grateful for the explanation of the current plan, that oversight will be undertaken through the responsible authority national steering group. I may be wrong, but it does not sound as if that is an impartial body. It sounds as if it will be required to mark its own homework, and we believe that the oversight must be independent. The Minister said,
“I have no doubt that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner will also be monitoring the impact of the strengthened guidance and the other actions we are taking.”
However, I firmly believe that the independent monitoring and oversight must be undertaken by the domestic abuse commissioner, who clearly has the powers and must have systematic access to all the information relating not just to people included in MAPPA 3 but to those whom she might believe should be included in MAPPA 3. In this way the commissioner, your Lordships and the wider world will be able to measure and judge the success of the actions outlined by the Minister, including the strategy and the revised guidance. I beg to move.
My Lords, I too wish to start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her helpful speech from the Dispatch Box this afternoon and for the repeated emails and meetings with some of us to try to progress matters. We recognise that some of the things we would like to see in this Bill are better placed in statutory guidance and I thank the Minister for her reassurance and the offer of showing us that draft statutory guidance to bring these perpetrators to justice. It was also encouraging to hear details about the thresholding document.
Herein lies the problem, which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to in part. We need to substantially change the culture and practice inside the criminal justice system to tackle these particular perpetrators. We have said repeatedly that the consequence is that these fixated, obsessive, serial and high-risk perpetrators escalate their behaviour—far too often resulting in serious violence and murder. That is why we welcome the changes to the current arrangements for a perpetrator to be considered for MAPPA category 3. The assessment of past patterns of behaviour is vital—something we asked for in the stalking law reforms of 2012—including convictions at a lesser level. I thank the Minister for her words on that.
One of the consequences of an effective risk assessment for these serial and high-risk perpetrators is that MAPPA teams need more resources than they currently receive. It should not be possible for these cases to be disregarded because of resources. I echo the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about how much of the extra perpetrator funding the Minister outlined during the passage of the Bill will be dedicated resource for local MAPPA areas to manage a larger numbers of offenders. This is one of those few times when it will be good to see numbers going up, because it will provide reassurance that these perpetrators are being managed properly. This Bill and these arrangements will fail without those resources—and this Bill must not fail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, cannot be in her place today, but she specifically asked me to make the following points to your Lordships’ House on her behalf. She joins those of us who signed the amendment on Report in expressing concern that serial and serious high-risk perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking must be included and therefore on the database.
Can the Minister give the House some assurance that domestic abuse and stalking experts and agencies will be included as a matter of course in the MAPP meetings? Their expertise at a local level will be vital; risk assessments of patterns of past fixated behaviour will not be effective without their input. It is the early identification of these patterns of behaviour that can change the experience of the victim and, with appropriate support, can help the perpetrator too.
The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, also asks whether the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner will have access to MAPPA data— especially, but not only, that relating to those serial and high-risk stalking and domestic abuse perpetrators. It is vital for them to be able to hold those making decisions inside the criminal justice system to account. She makes the point that this is particularly important because, until the victims law the Government have promised comes into force, it will provide powers for the Victims’ Commissioner. Until then, there will be no powers for the Victims’ Commissioner to perform that role. It is vital that both the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner have similar powers to hold the Government and agencies to account.
I will end by looking both backwards and towards the future. This month marks the 16th anniversary of the start of the harassment and stalking campaign of which I was the principal target. It took three years before the perpetrator was caught and my many discussions with the police mirrored far too many of the cases we have heard of elsewhere. I swore to myself that no one should have to repeatedly explain incident after incident to the police as if each one were the first—but that is still the case far too often.
During the passage of this Bill we have all spoken of the tragic deaths of far too many women at the hands of stalkers and abusers—currently between two and five per week. This morning on Radio 4’s “Today” programme Zoe Dronfield spoke movingly of her own experience. She discovered, after escaping a violent attack with her life, that her previous partner had stalked and attacked a dozen women before her. This Bill and the arrangements for the statutory guidance the Minister outlined have the capacity to start to change the experience of victims such as Zoe, but only if every single part of the criminal justice system engages with these changes to make them work. That is why the expertise that exists in pockets of good practice in the police and probation needs to be mainstreamed into MAPPA—and the work before MAPPA in call centres, front-line policing and the court system—with effective training throughout to watch for the red signals and pick up on this type of behaviour.
I want Parliament to hear of reductions in attacks and murders, of an increase in the number of offenders successfully managed by MAPPA, and a world where victims can start to live their lives no longer in fear—knowing that they can turn to the police and others for help. This Bill is the start of a very long journey to be continued in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and the domestic violence and violence against women and girls strategies. We will watch with interest and, in fulfilling our duty, we will return to challenge and scrutinise how these important changes are being effected. At the end of the day, lives depend on the Government and everyone in the police and criminal justice system getting it right.
My Lords, at the last stage of the Bill I started by saying it felt dangerously like
“déjà vu all over again”.—[Official Report, 21/4/21; col. 1935.]
I am very pleased to announce this afternoon that it does not feel like déjà vu any longer. I think we are in mortal danger of actually moving forward—for which I thank the Minister very warmly.
It is perhaps no coincidence that this group of amendments, which in many ways is at the heart of the Bill, is coming right at the very end of it. The reason for that is that it is probably the most difficult part of the Bill to deal with. Almost all the excellent work done in both Houses up until this point has been dealing with some of the effects and after-effects of domestic abuse. What we are talking about in this group is trying to identify the causes and early signs of domestic abuse: in other words, trying to stop it happening rather more efficiently and effectively than we have done in the past.
To the Government’s credit—and this is not easy to admit—they have admitted that the current system is not working well. You just have to look at the weekly litany of deaths and some of the stories behind them to realise that it is not working. But it still takes a certain amount of courage to admit that one has not got it right and that one needs to change—so I am very grateful for that.
Although I have played an insignificant part, I am also extremely grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, the latter of whom is an expert on stalking, for putting forward such compelling arguments for stalking to be included that the Government have acceded to the strength of their arguments. I am extremely grateful for that.
I am also grateful that new statutory guidance will be forthcoming. But at this point I want to issue a very strong health warning. I apologise to the Minister, who heard me go on a bit about this earlier this morning. For any new guidance to be effective, it must be created and then applied in a fundamentally different way from the way it has been done in the past. Part of that is that it needs different voices and experiences around the table. The individuals responsible for MAPPA at a national level and in the 42 different MAPPA areas all around the country—effectively, each police force—are largely the same group of people from the same organisations that have been responsible for trying to make the MAPPA system work over all these years.
However, part of the Government’s recognition of the complexity behind the causes of domestic abuse—in particular the addition of stalking—means that there is a compelling need to bring these new experiences and knowledge to the table. They have to become an integral part of MAPPA. They must have the same power of voice and vote around the table. Part of what needs to happen is for MAPPA to evolve and develop a different way of looking at all this. It needs to develop a new language, and new forms of assessment and forecasting, and to do so in a dynamic way, not looking at things every six months or every two years. It has admitted that part of the reason why the statutory guidance is now online rather than printed is that it has probably already been out of date by the time it has been printed. Putting it online means that it can be updated constantly; I genuinely welcome that.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said, I managed, by googling away, to find the job description for the new head of MAPPA, who Her Majesty’s Government are currently seeking. Some of your Lordships may have seen a slip of paper in the past couple of weeks, before the election of the Lord Speaker, where, after 30 or so years of being a head-hunter, I put pen to paper—actually finger to iPad—and wrote a brief description of some of the attributes I thought were important in the role, as well as, very importantly, some of the deliverables. The glaring omission in the job specification for the head of MAPPA is any definition of relevant experience. There is nothing whatever to indicate what type of prior experience and knowledge would qualify the candidates to be on that shortlist. I put it to the Minister that whoever becomes the next head of MAPPA must have a breadth of knowledge, an openness of mind, and an ability to manage and argue compellingly for change of a different order of magnitude from what has been required before. That will be absolutely fundamental.
I finish my rant by again thanking the Minister very much indeed. We have made considerable progress. I look forward to not forgetting about the rear-view mirror —as a dedicated cyclist I know that would be extremely dangerous; indeed I have rear-view mirrors on both of my bicycles. I congratulate the Government on the progress they have made, but I ask them to take what I have said seriously to heart and to try to make sure that we get it right this time. The test will be when the awful metronomic death toll of the work done week in, week out by the Counting Dead Women initiative starts going down, and the number of people on the MAPPA system starts going up with the right sort of people. At that point we can feel that we are actually doing something that all these victims and their families have been looking for, for so many years; that will be really good news.
A Member in the Chamber has indicated his wish to speak. I call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, I should be sitting on a Back Bench, but there is no space on our Back Benches. Noble Lords might perhaps just assume that I am speaking from the Back Benches.
I have not spoken on this issue before but, as a former senior police officer, I feel that I should say a few words. I agree with the Minister that this is largely a failure of implementation rather than of legislation, but the movers of these amendments have had to resort to legislation due to frustration with the lack of progress in improving the situation. This could potentially be the result of a lack of resources, or, as my noble friend Lady Brinton said, there is a need for a change of culture—something to which the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, also alluded. It is very welcome that the Government are looking to refresh and strengthen the MAPPA statutory guidance. I recommend that, if at all possible, they consult with Laura Richards; I was going to say that she is an acknowledged expert, but she is the expert in this area.
One question I have for the Minister that causes me some concern relates to her remarks about stalking “within a domestic abuse context”. Stalking needs to be addressed both within and without the domestic abuse context. Can she please reassure us on that point?
Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? No? Then I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.
My Lords, my group and I wish to avoid putting this Bill in jeopardy by doing our own bit of disagreeing with the Government and forcing another round of ping-pong just before Parliament is dissolved. We have achieved so much for victims in this Bill, with the exception, yet again, through the Government agreeing to Motion C, of failing to treat all victims equally and thereby failing to meet the criteria of the Istanbul convention, as my noble friend Lord Paddick said. The right reverend Prelate must be as disappointed, as so many of us are, that this was the only amendment to “go the distance” and be substantially modified, but still get no movement from the Government. Anyway, I digress; I have no wish to detain the House.
I feel reassured at the Minister’s words regarding Amendment 42. If I have misunderstood anything that she has said at the Dispatch Box, will she please disabuse me in her final remarks? My understanding is that, first, experts in domestic abuse and stalking will be included in the MAPPA process, assessing patterns of behaviour to decide which category an offender should be placed in. I particularly welcome the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, on how MAPPA should change the way it works.
Secondly, I understand that the assessment of MAPPA categories will depend on patterns of behaviour, not on the sentence received—I was going to say, “if any”, but from what the Minister said I understand that there must have been a conviction, not necessarily with the one-year criteria.
Thirdly, I understand that the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner will get access to the figures on stalking and domestic abuse from MAPPA under the duty in this Bill to co-operate. References to the inclusion of stalking by the Minister have been heard loud and clear.
Finally, I reiterate what my noble friend Lady Brinton said: we are at only the start of this process. We have heard so many stories from victims of how their repeated calls for help have been ignored and threats and actions underplayed until the worst happened. Our culture must change; our responses must improve. Only then will we be able to say that the Bill has achieved its purpose. However, it is a great tribute to the Minister and her ministerial colleagues that we are where we are on the Bill today.
My Lords, we on these Benches are grateful for the movement from the Government that we have heard in the debate, including the inclusion of domestic abuse-related stalking in the perpetrator strategy. I pay tribute to the Minister for all her work on the Bill and for the many welcome changes, including these, that have been made during its passage. That is not to say that we do not still have some concerns that the proposed changes to the MAPPA guidance will not be strong enough. We welcome the idea of a debate in the autumn on the effectiveness of the guidance.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon for all her work on the issue of stalking, not only in the context of this Bill but over many years of campaigning in this House. The progress that we have made to date would not have been possible without her work. I also pay tribute to the work and support of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and many others in this House.
I think we have all accepted that the system as it stands is not working—it is not catching the perpetrators where the Minister claims it should be. I would like her to be clear about what it is specifically about this change to the guidance that will make it work. If it is simply about a change in the guidance, we could have done that before. What is it about this amendment to the guidance that is going to deliver change?
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I listened to the “Today” programme this morning and heard the contribution from Zoe Dronfield; I do not know if other Members have. It was harrowing to listen to what that poor woman has gone through. She met someone and, after a few weeks, thought it was going to work, but then there were all the phone calls, the texts, the knock on the door and then her front door being kicked in. At no point did she get help from anyone—the police said, “He hasn’t really done anything, has he?”—and it had to get to the point where he nearly killed her before action was taken. That is totally wrong. These amendments are trying to stop the situation where you have to be nearly killed before any action is taken. We need a guarantee that serial and high-risk offenders will be risk-assessed and, where the risk of harm is identified, be included under MAPPA —otherwise, what is changing?
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, is right that the death toll has to come down for us to see that the guidance and the Act are working. If we do not see that happen then we are failing victims, their families and campaigners. In the weeks and months ahead we have to see effects from this. If we do not then we have failed in our duty.
It is key that an offender’s past behaviour must be considered. Zoe Dronfield told the “Today” programme that she was not the first case; the person who attacked her had previously abused and attacked 12 other women, but she knew nothing about it. We have to ensure that the system starts to recognise the reality of these crimes and where the risk escalates—otherwise, what are we doing here today?
My noble friend Lady Royall has asked a number of detailed questions and I am sure the Minister will respond to them. The debates that we have had, particularly on this issue, have shed light on the failures of the past and current failures, and we all agree that we have to do better. I look forward to seeing the effective action that is going to happen.
I know that my noble friend and other campaigners, in this House and elsewhere, will be back if this does not work. We have the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, as well as other debates and issues—this is not going to go away; for too long victims have wanted to get this sorted out. The Government have done loads of good work on this and a good job with the Bill, which we are very happy with. But if there are issues that have not been sorted out, we will be back to ensure that they are, because we owe that to the victims and their families.
My Lords, to take the words that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has just spoken, I would expect the House to be back if the measures that we have put into the Bill and the accompanying guidance and practice around them were not working. He asked what it was about this Bill that would change things. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has said that this last bit is the hard yards, because it asks the question: where in practice will what is in the Bill change things? That is absolutely the right thing.
In no particular order, I shall go through the various questions that noble Lords have asked. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about domestic abuse and stalking in category 1. The revised guidance will address the management of domestic abuse perpetrators at level 1 for category 1 sexual offences. In addition to guidance, and to ensure that there is maximum accessibility and clarity, we will, as I have said, publish a succinct thresholding document to guide practitioners in deciding on the most appropriate level of management. The different levels of management under MAPPA are set to ensure that resources are directed to, and properly targeted at, those offenders who pose the highest risk and are the most complex to manage. However, we need to ensure that action is taken where there are indicators of escalating harm, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned, for those managed at the least intensive level. HMP Prison and Probation Service will therefore issue a policy framework for its staff setting out clear requirements for their management of all cases at MAPPA level 1.
On the question about a person not being sentenced for something, and therefore where the information is, the guidance will make very clear that convicted offenders who demonstrate a pattern of offending behaviour that indicates either serious harm or an escalation in the risk of serious harm relating to domestic abuse or stalking but which is not reflected in the charge for which they were actually convicted—I think this is what the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was referring to—should be considered for category 3 management. The guidance will set out the importance of being mindful of the totality of an offender’s behaviour in domestic abuse and stalking cases. The noble Baroness reiterated her points, and I know this is an important issue for her. She wanted me to say it again, and I hope she is happy with that.
On MAPPA category 3, there is no minimum sentence for those who can be managed under that category. On commissioners monitoring the impact of the actions that I have outlined, they are independent but I am certain that they will be monitoring the impact of those actions, because one of the first things that will be on the commissioner’s desk when she is formerly in post is the Domestic Abuse Act and the implications and practices arising out of it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, talked about the very important issue of the sharing of information. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill specifically clarifies that information can be shared with non-duty-to-co-operate agencies—for example, specialist domestic abuse organisations—if they can contribute to the risk management plan.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, talked about the job description for the head of MAPPA. He said that whoever does it will need a breadth of knowledge and a broadness of mind. Perhaps they might refer to Hansard for inspiration from the passage of this Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked whether stalking was covered within and outwith domestic abuse. The answer to that is yes.
The last thing that I must talk about is funding. Funding was set out in the Budget but MAPPA is clearly a set of arrangements for managing high-harm offenders and, as such, is resourced from within the existing budgets of responsible authorities. However, the Government are committed to an additional 20,000 police officers, of which 6,600 have already been recruited. As I have already said, we are investing £25 million in additional funding to tackle perpetrators in 2021-22. We will continue to work with specialist domestic abuse organisations and the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that that funding is spent effectively. We will continue to push to maintain that investment in perpetrator programmes as part of the next spending review.
As a House of Lords, we have come a long way with this Bill. We have revised it for the better. The Government have acquiesced to virtually all that noble Lords have asked in order to make this the excellent Bill that it now is. I hope that noble Lords will not divide on this matter and that they wish to see this Bill pass. The test will be the difference it makes to the lives of so many women and children.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this hugely important debate. I thank the Minister for her responses to this most difficult part of the Bill. The thresholding document she mentioned will be extremely important, as will the policy framework.
The guidance is critical. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that we will have this before the summer, and we look forward to being consulted. It is crucial that we see it before the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill reaches this House. If it is seen to be in any way inadequate, and if it is not accompanied by a statement of the funding allocated to its implementation —including for training—we will revisit this issue then.
The noble Baroness suggested that funding came from various departments. I accept this answer, but it is not enough. Some funding needs to be ring-fenced. This will ensure that MAPPA 3 can be implemented, as we all believe it should be, in order to increase the number of perpetrators encompassed by MAPPA 3 who are assessed and managed accordingly.
The Minister has made many commitments, for which I am grateful. We will continue to follow their realisation closely. In a year’s time, my noble friends and I will table a debate to enable a progress report. We expect to see that the number of murders has greatly diminished.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, are most definitely my noble friends in this context. I thank them for their support. We shall continue to work together, doing everything possible to ensure that the perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking are identified, assessed and managed, so that their actions are not repeated and escalated. We wish to bring about the necessary change in culture. The number of people in MAPPA 3 must go up and the number of murders must go down.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, spoke about Laura Richards, the global expert on stalking. She is the most extraordinary woman who should be consulted at every step of the way.
I thank all the brave women, such as Zoe Dronfield and Rachel Riley, who have come forward to tell us of their appalling experiences. I thank the families of victims who have used their pain and grief to campaign for change which will benefit others—the Cloughs, the Ruggles, the Gazzards of this world, and many more.
I also thank the Minister for her amazing work on this excellent Bill, for the progress she has made and for her time and shared determination to bring about change. This will prevent women living in fear and prevent murder.
As so many noble Lords have said, this is the beginning. We have much work to do, but together we can do it. The debate today is another step in the building block towards bringing about the necessary change. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Motion D1 withdrawn.
Motion D agreed.
Consideration of Lords message
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendment 41B. If any Lords amendment engaging financial privilege is agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered in the Journal.
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 9B.
With this it will be convenient to consider the following:
Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.
Lords amendments 40B and 40C, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (g) in lieu.
Lords amendment 41B, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 42D, 42E and 42F, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (d) to (f) in lieu.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members of this House and noble Lords who have worked tirelessly to make this a truly transformational Bill. It will make a significant difference to the lives of many women, men and children by better protecting them from their abusers and providing them with the support they so very much need. However, before the Bill can have any impact, we need to pass it, and we are fast running out of road to get us to that point. In the course of our deliberations, we should all be clear, therefore, about the risk of the Bill being timed out this week. None of us wants that—I hope I can take that as read. In the collegiate spirit of many of the debates on the Bill, we reflected carefully on the debates that took place in the Lords last Wednesday and we have tabled further amendments in the hope, and indeed expectation, that both Houses can now agree to submit this landmark Bill to Her Majesty for Royal Assent.
On child contact centres, there is no dispute that they need to be subject to appropriate regulation. It remains our contention that, on the evidence currently available, that is already achieved through accreditation by the National Association of Child Contact Centres, the agreements in place between the NACCC, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the judiciary, and the comprehensive statutory provisions already in place that determine how local authorities should discharge their duties in public law family cases.
We listened carefully to the debate last week and recognise that there is an issue that needs to be examined further, but we cannot legislate on the basis of anecdotal—albeit pertinent—evidence. That is why the Government tabled Amendments 9C and 9D, which will require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals, when they are using contact centres in England, are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm. The report will need to be laid before Parliament within two years of Royal Assent. We will engage closely with the NACCC and others in carrying out the work, which will provide a firm evidence base on which to introduce further regulation, including in the area of vetting, should that be necessary.
I turn to Lords amendments 40B and 40C. We remain concerned that the revised Lords amendments regarding data firewalls still pre-empt the outcome of the review recommended by the independent policing inspectorate in response to the super-complaint. We need to undertake that review without any preconceptions as to its outcome. To provide further reassurance on that point, Government amendments 40D to 40J introduce two new clauses. The first new clause will put the review of the current data-sharing arrangements on to a statutory footing and enshrine in law our commitment to report on the outcome of the review by the end of June. The second new clause will provide for a statutory code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes. Persons to whom the code is issued—notably the police and Home Office immigration staff—will be under a duty to have regard to the code, which will also be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Although the clause is framed in terms of a permissive power to issue a code, I assure the House that we fully intend to exercise that power.
On Lords amendment 41B, I welcome the fact that this revised amendment attempts to separate the issue of leave to remain from the provision of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. As I previously indicated, we need to focus on ensuring that victims with insecure immigration status can access the support they need. That is the priority. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, the amendment would not achieve the outcome it seeks. The question of leave to remain is inextricably linked to the conditions attached to that leave, so it is impossible to waive the “no recourse to public funds” condition in isolation from consideration being given to a person’s immigration status.
As I announced last week, we have now appointed Southall Black Sisters to oversee the support for migrant victims scheme. The scheme will provide access to safe accommodation and the associated support to migrant victims of domestic abuse who are not eligible for the destitute domestic violence concession or other existing support mechanisms. The scheme will be independently evaluated, and will provide us with the necessary evidence of the gap in current support arrangements, so that we can put in place sustainable long-term provision. That is the direction of travel we are on. Since the scheme will provide support to victims, Lords amendment 41B is not necessary, and waiving the no recourse to public funds condition for a full year will again have significant new resource implications. The support for migrant victims scheme will be up and running shortly. We should see it through to its proper conclusion and settle on a sustainable programme of support.
Lords amendments 42D to 42F bring us back to the issue of how best to strengthen the management of high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. Again, we are all in agreement as to the outcome we want to achieve. If I thought that the amendments would, of themselves, make women safer, I would be offering them my full support. However, it remains our firm view that they will not deliver the outcome they seek to secure. I say again that the legislative framework under which multi-agency public protection arrangements operate is not the problem. We acknowledge that those arrangements need to work better on the ground, but we need to look elsewhere for the fix.
A comprehensive programme of work is in place to deliver a step change in the protection of vulnerable women, and men, from domestic abuse perpetrators. First, we will update and strengthen the MAPPA statutory guidance so as to include sections on domestic abuse. That will ensure that all agencies involved take the necessary steps to identify offenders who are domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multi-agency management, and to put in place an action plan that reflects the risk. We will ensure that domestic abuse perpetrators captured under category 1 and category 2 are included in the threshold guidance being developed. That will assist relevant agencies in making decisions on the appropriate level of MAPPA management needed in individual cases.
Will the Minister clarify what she just said? At the moment, repeat domestic abuse cases and stalkers will often not be included in categories 1 or 2 because the offences are not treated as serious enough in the way those categories are listed. Category 3 currently involves a tiny number of people. Will the Minister include all repeat domestic abusers and high-harm stalkers—all of them—under MAPPA in future?
As the right hon. Lady will know, category 1 perpetrators have to have committed a specified sexual offence under the legislation, and for category 2 they have to have been convicted of a violent offence and received a sentence of imprisonment for at least 12 months. If they are domestic abuse perpetrators, they will be included in the threshold guidance. This is very much about drawing out in the guidance the factors that local agencies should be concentrating on.
Although domestic abuse is already mentioned in section 6 of the guidance, we have listened to concerns that at local level the preponderance and patterns of behaviour are not necessarily being picked up in offenders in categories 1 and 2, as well as category 3. That is why, in discussions with Baroness Royall, we have been clear that we want to better capture those people under the existing framework. We will consult MAPPA responsible authorities on the draft revised guidance by the summer recess, and we will inform Parliament when the updated guidance is promulgated. Today, Baroness Williams of Trafford has written to Baroness Royall to confirm that past patterns of behaviours will be explicitly referred to in the guidance.
There are countless serious repeat domestic abuse cases that are not sexual offences. There are also countless very serious repeat domestic abuse offences that do not pass the 12-month threshold. All the Minister is saying is that she is going to try to include little bits of lines about domestic abuse in categories 1 and 2, which we know will not include huge numbers of repeat domestic cases, so she has actually gone backwards on some of the things that Baroness Williams was saying.
I do not accept that. The point is that category 3, as we have always said, is the flexible category. It is meant precisely to fit those cases that the hon. Lady has described. These offenders do not fit in category 1 or 2, but because they are considered to be dangerous offenders—they may, for example, have received a sentence of imprisonment of less than 12 months—they are in category 3. We want to join up that understanding in the guidance across all three categories.
We will consult with MAPPA authorities and will also invite views from across the House, but we have been working closely with Baroness Royall to try to address some of the issues that were rightly raised in the other place about past patterns of behaviour and so on. We give that undertaking today: we will look at that phrasing within the statutory guidance that is being drafted to help address some of the concerns in both Houses.
I am very grateful to the Minister, who is being very generous with her time. May I specifically ask about category 3? There are only around 300 offenders in that category, compared with the thousands or nearly tens of thousands of people that we are talking about. Will she undertake to include all convicted serial domestic abusers in category 3?
The flexibility of category 3 means that that is already possible, if there has been a conviction. I gave the example on 15 April of criminal damage, such as if somebody kicks down a door. On the face of it, a criminal damage offence would not fit into category 1 or category 2. That is where the professional curiosity of professionals on the ground—police, probation and prison officers and so on—comes in. If someone has been convicted of that offence, he or she may not be in category 1 or category 2, but if those professionals believe that it is part of a pattern of past behaviour, on which Baroness Royall has rightly focused, that is how they will be put on to the system under MAPPA. We very much want the concerns that have been raised to be reflected in the guidance as well as the national framework.
I have already announced that we need to be sure that action is taken when there are indicators of escalating harm for those who are managed under the least intensive level of MAPPA—so, level 1. To that end, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will issue a new policy framework setting out clear expectations for the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1 by the National Probation Service. This includes domestic abuse perpetrators. That will further help improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews, and the identification of cases where risk is increasing and additional risk management activity is required.
Thirdly, as I announced on 15 April, we are bringing in the new multi-agency public protection system, or MAPPS, which will be piloted from next year. All category 3 offenders will be on MAPPS, which will have much greater functionality than the violent offender and sex offender register, or ViSOR, which is the existing database. That will enable criminal justice agencies to share information in real time and improve their risk assessments and the management of MAPPA nominals, including domestic abuse perpetrators.
Fourthly, we are legislating in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to clarify the information sharing powers under MAPPA. For example, GPs and domestic abuse charities can very much be part of that data sharing. That is the intention of the clauses in the Bill, and I hope we will be able to persuade Opposition Members to support us on that.
Fifthly, we are committed to bringing forward a new statutory domestic abuse perpetrator strategy as part of our holistic domestic abuse strategy to be published later this year. Our revised amendment makes it clear that the strategy will address the risks associated with stalking. We will also include a perpetrator strand in our complementary violence against women and girls strategy, which will cover stalking that does not take place in a domestic abuse context.
Sixthly, we are investing new resources, with an additional £25 million committed this year, to tackle perpetrators’ behaviour and to stop the cycle of abuse. Finally, more broadly, I can assure right hon. and hon. Members that this Government are committed to supporting vulnerable victims. Having published a new victims code to guarantee victims’ rights and the level of support they can expect, we will consult over the summer on the victims’ law, which will enshrine those rights in law.
The other place has asked the Government to consider again these four issues. We will do so in the next hour. We have listened carefully to their lordships’ concerns and responded with a substantial new package of commitments, both to strengthen this groundbreaking Bill and to further our wider programme to protect and support victims of domestic abuse and their children and bring perpetrators to justice. It is time for the Bill to be enacted and implemented, for the sake of the 2.3 million adults and their children who are victims of domestic abuse each year. Let us agree to the Government amendments in lieu, let us pass this Bill, and let us help victims.
I thank the Minister for running through the amendments in lieu. I am sure she will not be surprised to hear that the Labour party remains in agreement with the Lords amendments. I will also run through some of the amendments in lieu and ask some questions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castleford, Normanton and Pontefract—sorry, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper); I went in alphabetical order—has rightly pointed out some of our concerns, although I recognise and want to place on the record our thanks for the constant work that is going on between our two Houses trying to settle this once and for all.
On the Government amendment in lieu on child contact centres, the Minister mentioned the NACCC as one of the safeguards already in place, but in fact it is that very organisation that seeks to make the provision more robust. I am sure she received the message today from Sir James Munby, the former head of family justice in this country, who says that the Government’s reservation to support Baroness Finlay’s amendment, which was drafted in partnership with the NACCC, would be a missed opportunity to address an anomaly in safeguarding children and improving standards in general. Specifically regarding domestic abuse, Sir James urges Members of this House to back the amendment in this afternoon’s—it was wishful thinking on his part that we would have got to this in the afternoon—consideration of Lords messages, to ensure that standards in child contact centres and services are consistent and high, and that domestic abuse and safeguarding is appropriately handled through high-quality staff training.
I welcome the review offered as an evidence-gathering measure. Although the Minister might say that there is not necessarily such evidence, I have certainly heard about case after case where there was poor practice, including bad handovers and perpetrators able to access victims. That is really problematic, so we will continue to support their lordships.
I am also grateful for the review offered on the firewall. I feel like I have to say that, but I really am grateful for that review, which has been greeted with some cheer in the sector. However, I seek some clarification specifically on the code. Under part 2, it states that the code must be kept under review, but it is not clear by whom. It also says that the code may be revised or replaced, but again, by whom? Can we ensure that at every single stage, there is buy-in by services for the very victims we are talking about and that they are consulted throughout the process? I also seek an assurance that the whole point of the code is explicitly to ensure that data can be shared only to enable victims to receive protection and safety. I will share with the House why that matters. For example, in a case in my constituency, a woman was applying for leave to remain and going through the process. She had been here on a spousal visa. Her husband threatened to kill her. When she called the police, she was taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre, where I had to go and get her out. She came forward to the police because there was a threat on her life, and that information was used to put her in detention. She is now legally in this country with indefinite leave to remain. That is why there is a need for a code.
The Minister cited the victims code in her remarks. What happens when there is a breach of the code? That needs to be made incredibly clear. I mention the victims code as somebody who has recently been a victim of crime myself. In that case, the way that my case was handled breached the victims code on a number of occasions. What recourse will people have when the code is breached? That needs to be made clearer and more understood. Even I, as an elected representative, am not entirely sure what I am meant to do when a breach of the victims code occurs. It is all well and good having codes, but we seek to have things written into primary legislation so that there is a check and balance in the system. I know it does not sound like it, but I am truly grateful for the progress we have made in that regard, with those caveats.
The Minister and I could spend the rest of our lives disagreeing about whether it would mean “indefinite leave to remain” if we took no recourse to public funds away from migrant victims. I imagine by the end of this week, we will have finally agreed to disagree, but the question I still cannot answer is about the Minister’s £1.5 million pilot. As she said, it will be handled by Southall Black Sisters. What happens in the first year if that £1.5 million runs out? Does the 500th victim go back to destitution or back to their perpetrator? It is not necessarily a solution even for a year, let alone for the future, and I hope it has legs way beyond the pilot, although I am sure the Minister has absolutely no doubt that I will continue saying that for the entire year of the pilot and thereafter.
I am grateful for the work that has been going on with the extra lists of stalkers and serial domestic abuse perpetrators. For me, over the weekend it felt like an ever-changing feast. Even today, as the Minister mentioned, Baroness Williams has written to those who tabled the amendments in the Lords to outline some more safeguards. However, I strongly share the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who rightly made the point about sentencing. In all my years of going to court and handling court cases of domestic abuse, I can think of less than a handful where more than a 12-month sentence was given. I am afraid to say, I can think of less than a handful where any custodial sentence was given. Last year, 58% of all stalking charges led to a community order or a fine.
These are not cases that will be picked up in categories 1 or 2. The Minister rightly points out the flexibility that exists in category 3, but for me that is part of the problem, because the flexibility has led to a deficit in the past. That is why we wish to remove the level of flexibility from those frontline workers. Many of them rightly have, as the Minister said, professional curiosity, which drives them to seek more, but when we are up against resources that are stretched, it is very difficult for professionals to say, “Well, he kicked her door in, and two years ago, he did this”, when actually, do they have the resource base to do it? I am afraid to say that decisions are made on the ground where harm comes secondary to resource, and that is our concern.
I seek further assurances that serial perpetrators will be included in the new MAPPS database and that it will include perpetrators with a past history, not just convictions. We also seek to take into account past patterns of behaviour under section 1B. The Minister has mentioned past patterns of behaviour, and case after case tells us that they are important. We hope the Lords will consider putting explicit provision into the Bill. An idea of the oversight arrangements is also important. Will the DA Commissioner have oversight of progress?
The peers of the realm will no doubt send the Bill back to us. I only brought enough clothes for one day in London and fear I am going to be here for four days. However—[Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that that is not fair, but she will agree that we are all seeking the best outcome. My remarks and the way we will vote are about only that: getting the best outcome for victims of violence, abuse and stalking in this country.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak so early in this debate. It seems to me that what has changed since only a few days ago is that the Government have clearly been in listening and amending mode. In the previous debate, I raised the concerns of two constituents: first, Bishop Rachel, who was concerned about the treatment of those who have suffered domestic abuse who are immigrants; and, secondly, Nick Gazzard, who was concerned about databases and risk registers in the context of the terrible murder of his daughter Hollie Gazzard. I asked questions at that time that have largely been answered today, so I wish to focus on two themes.
The first theme seems to me to be a question of trust. The Government have made various commitments in relation to the Lords amendments on child contact centres, Lords amendment 40B on data firewalls and Lords amendment 40C on data processing for immigration purposes. I believe that the time has come for this House to accept in good faith the Government’s commitments to the Home Office review on data sharing and on the code of practice, which uses the word “may” rather than “must”, but we have a clear statement of intention from the Minister that these things will happen.
The second theme is more complicated: the use of data and systems. In relation to the concern of Nick Gazzard, it seems to me that the main issue the Minister has addressed this evening is not so much the system and the risk register but how it is used and, in a sense, the reverse of the earlier issue in respect of data processing for immigration purposes, which is how to have effective data sharing so that things known by GPs and domestic abuse charities can be accessed by people who really want to access them. That seems to me to be crucial in the inclusion of category 1 and 2 and some category 3 domestic abuse offenders in the new MAPPS process.
I strongly believe that what has been said today about looking at firm guidance by the summer recess on a strategy for perpetrators, with action taken by the National Probation Service when there are “indicators of escalating” concern, will make a difference. On that issue, the time has come for the Opposition to recognise the incredible value of the Bill as a whole. As the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), said, there is much to support and much to be grateful for. Amendments have continually been made to take on board a whole series valuable points made by experts in the sector and, indeed, individuals from their own personal experience.
The one other thing I would like to contribute, if I may very briefly, is the use of Clare’s law and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which I do not think has been raised recently in debate. It is interesting to note that the figures for 2020, compared with the year ending 2019, have actually seen double the number of right to ask applications, and the number of applications that resulted in disclosure has gone up by 50% from roughly 2,500 to 4,200. We probably need to make more of that in communicating to the wider public. I think it would be reassuring for people to know that Clare’s law is in practice, being used, and increasingly being accepted and the information provided.
With all those things to bear in mind, and being conscious of your strictures on the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I encourage everybody in this Chamber, from whatever party, to put aside differences and to come together in accepting this Bill as it now is?
I am going to move to the SNP’s spokesperson, and I am sure colleagues will know that I cannot put a time limit on him, but after that I will put on a time limit of four minutes, because otherwise we simply will not get everybody in.
I want to speak briefly in relation to the amendments on data sharing for immigration purposes tabled by Baroness Meacher, which are Lords amendments 40B and 40C, as well as the Lord Bishop of Gloucester’s amendment on the domestic violence rule and concession, which is Lords amendment 41B.
On the former, it is good to see that the Government have at least come to the negotiating table with their own amendments in lieu. However, our view is that the other place has sent us what is already a very reasonable compromise, which would mean awaiting the outcome of the review of data processing, as insisted on by the Government, before action is then required in response.
In contrast, the Government alternatives have several problems. First, unlike the Lords amendments, they create for the Government, as we have heard, the power to act, but not an obligation, and also unlike the Lords amendments, that power is not granted for the specific purpose of achieving any specific aim, such as protecting victims of domestic violence. Secondly, Parliament would not be able to amend any code, albeit that either House could reject one. However, if either House did reject a code because it had concerns, the Government could simply then walk away, as there is no requirement to lay a new code that addresses any such concerns.
In short, the danger is that the amendments in lieu could lead to inaction and leave us no further forward. The Minister has sought to assure us that the Government are going to take action informed by the review, and that is welcome, but having given that assurance, the question then is: why are Lords amendments 40B and 40C a problem at all?
Finally on data sharing in relation to the consultation, if any such code is being drawn up that will apply in Scotland—and similar issues may arise for Northern Ireland—it would surely be really important to consult Police Scotland, Scottish Ministers and relevant stakeholders there, given the devolution of criminal justice issues. There is no express requirement for this in the amendments in lieu, so can the Minister give a firm commitment that such consultation would be considered appropriate in advance of issuing any such code?
Turning to the Lords amendment on the domestic violence concession and rule, it is disheartening that the Government have not yet even come to the negotiating table on this one. Instead of offering an amendment in lieu, they are sticking to outright rejection, justified by something I think has really been a moving feast of excuses. A pilot scheme is not even a comprehensive temporary solution, never mind a comprehensive and permanent resolution of the urgent problems that have been highlighted in debate after debate.
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester set out exactly why the pilot, though welcome, is not enough in itself. It is restricted in the numbers it can provide for, restricted in the time it can support people for and restricted in its ability to provide holistic wraparound support, even for the limited numbers who access it. While the Government may hope that the pilot scheme ultimately leads them to find the best solution, it is not acceptable to do nothing else in the meantime. Indeed, if the Government are confident about the scope and reach of the pilot, they should have nothing to fear from this amendment. All the new amendment asks for is a safety net, just for the duration of the Government’s pilot scheme, for those who cannot access that scheme. It is a safety net designed to complement, not undermine the pilot scheme, and surely the Government must now come to the negotiating table to discuss how we can make this work.
Again, this is about where our priorities lie—reserving immigration powers or protecting victims of domestic abuse. Of course, it must be protecting the victims, and that is why we should support amendment 41B.
I recognise the progress that has been made on these issues through the process with the other House. But as somebody who has been in the House for 11 years seeking to amend legislation to effect change, I gently say to the Minister that every Minister has told us that a Bill is at threat because of the parliamentary process and every Bill seeks to be a landmark Bill, so we are asking her to go the extra mile on these final issues in this Domestic Abuse Bill. In my short contribution, I want to look at the counterfactual: what happens if we do not include these amendments?
Will the Minister tell us the conditions under which she would want somebody’s immigration status to be a factor in whether they can access help? Like others, I welcome the pilot scheme, but, like the bishops, I am concerned that it can run out and we will be back at square one, where women are frightened to come forward, or are pushed back into the hands of perpetrators because of their immigration status. We will therefore not meet our conditions under the Council of Europe requirements for the Istanbul convention, and we will see women living with their perpetrators as a direct result of our failure to include them in this legislation.
I thank Baronesses Royall, Brinton and Newlove, and Lord Russell, for their work on Lords amendment 42B. However, from the fantastic work that Karen Ingala Smith has done with the Counting Dead Women project, we know that one woman is killed every three days in this country by a man, and that many of those men have a history of abuse. What does the Minister think will stop the cycle of violence, if not to clarify who these men are and monitor them—not to ask, as Clare’s law does, for victims to come forward, looking after their own safety, but for us to take collective responsibility?
The Minister has set out some welcome proposals, but we need clarity and detail, so will she tell us how past behaviour will be identified and defined in the guidance so that it will be part of category 3? My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) has pointed out that a handful of people are in category 3. With suggestions that there could be 50,000 people on a stalkers and serial abusers register in this country, what is the Minister’s metric of success? For example, will the number of people in category 3 go up under her proposals? What training will the police, probation service and Prison Service have to ensure that they are using these categories? How will we ensure that it is about not just community orders, but recognising the risk that women face?
Just this weekend, a woman in my constituency came to me, terrified of somebody who was stalking her—and, yet again, faced with police inaction. How will that change under the Minister’s proposals? It is not clear that it will. In the absence of that, let us go the extra mile and introduce all these amendments to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill will truly be something of which we can all be proud.
I also welcome the progress that has been made on the Bill and the cross-party consensus that exists on many of the important measures, but I want to take this opportunity to pursue further the issues around stalking and repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse, and to discuss what more needs to be done to keep other victims safe from those whose violence escalates and who pose some of the greatest threats.
I welcome the Minister’s commitment now to a perpetrators strategy. It was one of the issues that we raised previously through these amendments, so it is very welcome. I hope that she or her colleagues in the other place will be able to give more clarity about how stalking will be included in the perpetrators strategy. The wording is slightly constrained, which I assume is partly about reflecting the scope of this particular legislation, but it would be helpful to have some clarification of the Government’s commitment to including stalking and repeat patterns of behaviour as part of the perpetrators strategy. I am still very concerned about lack of strong underpinnings to the commitment to take action against these most dangerous perpetrators whose abuse continues and escalates.
The Minister spoke about being able to change the interpretations of categories 1 and 2 to include domestic abuse among perpetrators already included in those categories. That is fine and it will be welcome in order to take account of their domestic abuse threats, but it will not include the thousands—if not tens of thousands—of repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse, stalkers and high-harm perpetrators who will not be included in either category 1 or 2. As a result, they will not appear on the register or be included in the MAPPA arrangements.
The Minister says that those people will, in the future, be included in category 3, but there would need to be a massive shift in the way category 3 currently operates—not a minor tweak to the guidance, not a few tweaks and changes, not a bit of adjustment here and there; we need a massive change. At the moment, there are only 330 people on that category 3 list. That is half the number there were 10 years ago, and we know that awareness of stalking and of repeat perpetrators of abuse has increased.
That 330 includes a whole load of other offences, not just domestic abuse or stalking. It is tiny in proportion not just to the more than 80,000 people who are already on the high-risk offenders register, but to the number of stalkers and repeat-convicted domestic abuse perpetrators who go through the courts every week and every month, but do not make it on to these registers so that a proper assessment can be made and proper action can be taken to prevent them from committing more crimes and putting more lives at risk.
That is what we seek reassurance from the Minister about. That is why we wanted this to be in legislation, not just tweaks to the guidance. We need legislation in order to deliver a substantial shift in the response from the police, from probation and from specialist agencies. We are just not doing enough. We have talked many times before about how two women a week lose their lives as a result of a partner or an ex. It was two women a week 10 years ago. Not enough has changed. Why is anything going to change now?
It seems like an age since I spoke on Second Reading, and I commend those involved in the massive amount of work that has been done on both sides of the House and in the Lords. I spoke at that time because, unfortunately, the rates in Bristol South are double the national average and the highest in the city. It is no coincidence that it also contains some of the most deprived areas of the country. That link between poverty and abuse, and particularly the impact on children, must be addressed. Although the Bill is welcome, it does not go far enough in some of those areas.
I shall speak briefly about Lords amendments 42D, 42E and 42F. As we have heard, we all agree on the outcome, but I defer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) and my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who all, while recognising the Minister’s personal commitment and intent, eloquently expressed concerns about how we will hold the Government to account on behalf of the women we all know and represent if legislation is not brought forward on these things.
I know from speaking to women who are expecting a more defined register and legislation that they do not really understand why serial abusers and perpetrators are not more easily registered and tracked. Those are stories that we all know come before us repeatedly. If those amendments are not accepted, I know that the Minister will continue to do this work, but it will be incumbent on her and her Government to prove to those women that these measures are remotely enough.
We all know that we need better action across a range of service providers. Again, that needs much greater support from the Government. Finally—I am conscious of time—I touched last year on the nature of domestic abuse among older women. That is often a much-neglected area, and it would be good to see changes to the Bill that reversed some of the perceptions about the abuse that older women face and made them feel more empowered to come forward, safe in the knowledge that their experiences will be justly dealt with too.
I share what I believe was possibly the frustration of many other speakers tonight that we are so close to achieving what we want the Bill to achieve, yet we seem unable to cross that final line. I appreciate the efforts made by the Government and everyone else, and by the Minister in particular, but I still have reservations about the Bill—particularly about the vulnerability of migrant women, and specifically about amendment 40B. The amendment in lieu laid down by the Minister is a start, but it still does not go far enough and it fails to capture the one key thing that all our amendments and speeches have said, and everything we have heard this evening: waiting for a stalker or serial domestic abuser to get a conviction for 12 months before considering them for this is way too late.
We know that most stalking victims do not go to the police. This is about cumulative obsessive behaviour. Well-intentioned though the legislation is, we simply do not feel it is going far enough. Between 15 March and 19 April, another 16 women have been murdered—that is between the Report stage in the Lords and ping-pong last week. The Government’s inaction has to end. We have to address this issue now. We have to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill that so many people in this place have worked so hard for over the past four years is achieved by the end of this week.
The same recommendations have been made over the years and the same reviews have been repeated over and over, yet nothing is changing. Rarely are the recommendations put into place and we have seen systemic failures over many years, with widespread misogyny, institutionalised sexism and a gender bias. No amount of guidance or training has changed that across the past two decades. In fact, matters are getting worse. That is why we need this to be in the legislation.
Many Members have mentioned the overwhelmingly depressing statistics about one woman being murdered every three days by a man, and a woman being murdered every four days by an ex or a current partner. It is simply not acceptable. We are all agreed, but we must find a solution. I appreciate the steps that the Government have taken so far to compromise to meet people halfway, but I still think that this will take another step. That is why I, like the Liberal Democrats, will be rejecting the Government’s amendment in lieu this evening.
Briefly, I wish to highlight my concerns on the issue of the identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators, and the provisions that refer to that. I base most of the comments I make in this Chamber on personal experience—on the people I meet in my constituency office and have helped and tried to help over the years.
I recall sitting in my office looking at the face of a victim, sometimes sitting beside the perpetrator, and feeling helpless and hopeless. I could see what was going on. I could also understand that my words could make the situation more difficult for the victim. So I found myself on some occasions just being silent and listening, when everything within me cried out to speak, act and help. That is what I wanted to do, but I felt that sensitivity was more important. All too often, I have tried to distract a partner while the staff attempted to assure the victim that they were here to help wherever they needed and in confidence. All too often, I have offered help, only to hear a victim say, “No one would believe me because he is a pillar of society.” That proves that, irrespective of position, those in the highest positions and the lowest positions of the land can abuse ladies.
The Lords amendment on this brings clarity on repeated offences, broadening things to include serious harm, sexual violence and stalking, among other specifications. It makes it crystal clear and a little easier to help those victims. It offers them greater scope and, with that, greater support. It makes it clear that the offences clearly listed will never be acceptable. It makes it clear that all those listed offences are taken seriously and that a strategy to deal with this must be a Government priority.
This clarity is welcome. This House must send a unified message on this Bill today. I believe that the Minister is very much committed to making the changes that are necessary to pull all of the concerns and thoughts of Members together, and provide reassurance that when we pass the Bill it is not simply the best we can do, but the best possible—not that we offer help, support and recognition to as many victims as possible, but that we have left no victim alone without legislation to protect them.
It is my desire, when I am faced with cases of domestic abuse—unfortunately, my staff and I have been faced with such cases—to have the confidence to be able to tell the victim, “All the elements, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland to the courts, are designed with your needs in mind. You do not have to do this alone. The police and the courts will walk alongside you, and give you the protection you want.” I long to send that message. I look again to the Minister for clarity that this is what we are saying tonight in this Chamber.
I thank hon. and right hon. Members across the House for the constructive tone they have maintained not just tonight but throughout. I am particularly moved by the comments the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has just made. He speaks of the constituents he meets in his office. He knows they are sitting next to their perpetrators and he tries to distract them. I am sure many of us can understand and sympathise with that. It is precisely those people we are trying to help with the Bill.
I will try to deal with some of the issues raised but I am very conscious of time, so forgive me if I am not able to. My noble Friend in the other place will have more time tomorrow and will try to deal with some of the points that will no doubt be raised then.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) asked questions about the code in respect of the firewall review. We are very much in listening mode. We have not yet drafted the code and will consider the consequences she raised. I draw her attention to the fact that in the new clause we have said we will consult the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s Office. I very much hope that the fact that we have thought about the point she makes about accountability and so on, and included it in the new clause, gives her some comfort.
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) for raising Clare’s law. We have not talked about it in the context of recent debates. The right to ask and the right to know is an incredibly important tool for victims and the police. We can spread the message across our constituencies that if someone is worried about a new relationship they can ask the police whether there is something they should know about their new relationship, or if the police are worried about a serial perpetrator and want to warn the new partner, then this facility exists. Again, this is why it is so important that the Bill is passed.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) rightly and understandably raised questions about our approach to the point on MAPPA. I know this is an issue to which she has given a great deal of attention and consideration during the passage of the Bill and previously. If I may, I just want to clarify something. I do not know whether there has been a misunderstanding in translation, but I am aware of my duties at the Dispatch Box. I think she said that I had said that category 3 will include all serial perpetrators in future. I hope I have not misquoted her. To clarify, categories 1 and 2 will include domestic abuse perpetrators by definition of the qualifying offences under categories 1 and 2.
We very much hope and expect that the updated guidance we are issuing as a result of the discussions on the Bill and the improvements we will make to data sharing, not just in terms of guidance and framework but also, importantly, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will see an increase in category 3 offenders. We want local agencies to be applying the system in the improved way we all want. Of course, domestic abuse protection orders will also include notification requirements. I just wanted to clarify that. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding in translation, as it were, or in debate.
I think the confusion is that I was asking whether it would be possible to include all repeat domestic abusers and high-harm stalkers in category 3. That is what we were trying to achieve. Can the Minister include all of them through the change to guidance to include them on category 3?
I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for clarifying that. This is the nub of it: through the framework that already exists—improved guidance, the national framework that I described, and the wording in guidance and so on that has been discussed recently—we want those offenders whom local agencies judge to pose a risk to be assessed as such. They will either already have been automatically included in category 1 or 2, or assessed under category 3. That is the point of this—it is the professional curiosity that I talked about. We want this framework to work better, in addition to the work in MAPPS, which is being piloted next year.
I know that this is incredibly technical. I have spent the past three years trying to de-jargon—if that is a word—some of this very technical language so that we may all communicate with the victims whom we are desperately trying to help in our constituencies. This is one of those instances that is very technical. I have tried to de-jargon it as much as I can, but it is incredibly technical. We have to look to local agencies and professionals using their best endeavours to protect our constituents across the country.
The hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) asked the question—which I might have just answered—how we reassure women in her constituency that we are, first, acting with the best of intentions and, secondly, being held to account. I make this point, not just to us but to Members of another place: this is not the end of the road for our work on domestic abuse. We have been very clear that the Bill is a landmark one, but it is setting up a whole programme of work, locally through things such as our specialist services for people in safe accommodation, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and all the measures we have put into local family courts.
This programme of work will, I hope, outlast many of us and our time in this place. By virtue of that, I point the hon. Lady to things such as our announcement that we want to publish a VAWG—violence against women and girls—strategy later this summer, looking at some of the behaviours that we have discussed during the passage of the Bill. Later this year, we will publish a domestic abuse dedicated specialist national strategy to tackle abuse. The momentum that the Bill has created will be continued through both those strategies. This is very much the start of the journey as far as I and this Government are concerned. We very much look forward to listening to ideas and suggestions from across the House as we take through those strategies and other pieces of legislation.
To return to the people to whom the hon. Member for Strangford referred, those constituents whom he faces in his office to help—as we all do—I have talked before about my commitment to helping victims of domestic abuse. This is not just about those victims whom we are trying to help today, or in the future; for me, this is about the women, the victims, I could not help when I was working in the criminal courts at the very beginning of my career. In that day and age, it was all too inevitable that the victim would hand in her withdrawal statement, because the abuser had got to her before she had been able to give her evidence and to put her case forward. It is for those victims, as well as victims now and in the future, that this Bill is so critical. I very much hope that the Lords will help us to pass this piece of legislation as quickly as possible this week, so that we can start to help those victims as soon as possible.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 9B.
Lords amendment 9B disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83G).
Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 9B.
After Clause 72
Victims of domestic abuse: data-sharing for immigration purposes
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 40B and 40C.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendments 40B and 40C disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Government amendments (a) to (g) made in lieu of Lords amendments 40B and 40C.
Recourse to public funds for duration of pilot scheme
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 41B.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 41B disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Before Clause 69
identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendments 42D, 42E and 42F—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendments 42D, 42E and 42F disagreed to.
Government amendments (d) to (f) made in lieu of Lords amendments 42D, 42E and 42F.
Ordered, That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment 41B;
That Victoria Atkins, Tom Pursglove, Rebecca Harris and Chris Elmore be members of the Committee;
That Victoria Atkins be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Tom Pursglove.)
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.
In order to observe social distancing, the Reasons Committee will meet in Committee Room 12.
Business of the House
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 15),
That, at this day’s sitting, proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg relating to Business of the House (Today) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour, and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Question agreed to.
National Security and Investment Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the National Security and Investment Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 17 November 2020 (National Security and Investment Bill (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement.
(2) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
(3) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Question agreed to.
Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 41 and 43. If the Lords amendments that engage financial privilege are agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered into the Journal.
Definition of “personally connected”
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 4 to 8.
Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 10 to 32.
Lords amendment 33, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 34 to 36.
Lords amendment 37, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 38, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 39.
Lords amendment 40, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 41, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 42, and Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.
Lords amendment 43, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 44 to 82.
Lords amendment 83, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 84 to 86.
Before I start my speech, may I beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, and place on the record not only my condolences to Her Majesty the Queen but my and my constituents’ heartfelt thanks to His Royal Highness Prince Philip? He was the personification of public service, dedicating his life to Her Majesty and to serving our country for more than 70 years, and he did so with great style and often a twinkle in his eye.
May I also pay tribute to my friend, the right hon. Dame Cheryl Gillan, who passed away very recently? She would have loved to take part in today’s debate. She was a huge advocate for the vulnerable, including those who live with autism. She was a wonderful, wonderful friend and colleague to us all, and she will be very, very sorely missed.
We support the vast majority of the 86 amendments that the Lords have sent to us. Indeed, we have worked with peers in many instances to bring those amendments forward. There are 12 sets with which we do not agree and I will deal with those in due course. But I would like to take a moment to reflect on the events of recent weeks and the concerns, the experiences and indeed the fears expressed by women and girls across the country.
This Bill will help millions of women and girls who are living with abuse, whose emotions are manipulated by their abusers for their own disgusting gratification and control, and who want happier, healthier lives free from abuse. However, thanks to amendments made in this place and the other place, the Bill will reach even more women than that. On Report, I was pleased that we were able to respond to the calls by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and many other hon. Members to clarify the law surrounding the so-called rough sex defence. Hon. Members also argued, as part of that debate, for a bespoke new offence of non-fatal strangulation to strengthen the criminal justice response to that form of physical abuse. We listened carefully to the debate on the matter, including the compelling evidence presented to me by Dr Cath White, taking into account the concerns that cases of non-fatal strangulation can often be difficult to prosecute. That is why we concluded that a bespoke offence was necessary and that that should apply both to domestic abuse cases and to other cases where strangulation or suffocation were a factor. On conviction of the new offence, as now provided for in Lords amendment 36, the defendant could receive a harsher sentence as the harm required to qualify for the maximum five-year penalty has been reduced. We are drawing firm lines in the Bill as to what can and cannot constitute lawful violent sexual behaviour.
But harmful and abusive behaviour sadly extends beyond that. Lords amendment 35 seeks to extend the revenge porn offence to include threats to disclose such images. One in seven young women have been subjected to threats to use revenge porn. I thank colleagues across the House who have worked so hard on this topic, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee—my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes)—my hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) and for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), and of course Baroness Morgan of Cotes in the other place. I would also like to thank a young woman I met through my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—Natasha Saunders, who described to me her experiences of the use of threats of revenge porn. She has found the wherewithal to use those experiences to campaign on this matter very strongly and effectively.
Although the Law Commission is currently reviewing the law around intimate image abuse, we recognise the case for immediate action to better protect victims from that form of abuse and Lords amendment 35 does just that.
I thank my hon. Friend for all that she has done with regard to recognising the problems around threats to publish intimate images. Will she join me in saying that we need to make sure that the law is all-encompassing in this area? It is important to improve the law on revenge pornography as it stands now, introduced by this Government, but it is even more important that we have a wholesale review of this area, such as that which is part of the Law Commission’s review.
I agree completely with my right hon. Friend. I thank her for the work she has done over many years to address this and other issues particularly affecting women and girls. We very much take that point. We have worked on the amendment with Baroness Morgan to have an immediate impact, but in addition we look forward to receiving the Law Commission’s report and recommendations later this year—it is looking at the whole of the law on the use of intimate images and other types of malicious communications on the internet. If the law needs to be changed to reflect recommendations, we can address those in subsequent legislation. These clauses apply to all relationships and all encounters of a sexual nature, from a Tinder hook-up to a marriage of many decades. Those protections will be enshrined in this Bill.
I turn to another amendment that I know has been welcomed warmly by survivors and campaigners: the extension of the coercive and controlling behaviour offence to include post-separation abuse. We listened very carefully to debates in this place, as well as to charities such as Surviving Economic Abuse and, of course, to survivors themselves. We reviewed the offence to see how it is working after five years of being in force and we published that review in March.
We acknowledge that coercive and controlling behaviour continues and indeed may escalate following separation, so amendment 34 will extend the offence to cover post-separation abuse between former intimate partners and interfamilial abuse, regardless of whether the family members are living together or not. The amendment will send a strong message to perpetrators that controlling or coercive behaviours, irrespective of the living arrangements, are forms of domestic abuse and that the criminal law is there to protect victims.
The Bill also revolutionises the help that is available to victims who need to flee relationships to refuge or other safe accommodation. It is revolutionary in that it helps to ensure that they are helped to recover from their experiences. Part 4 introduces a duty on tier 1 local authorities to provide specialist services to such victims and we have announced £125 million of funding to support that provision in the Bill.
There is a cross-party desire to see those measures matched by equivalent provision in respect of community-based support. This Government are alive to such calls. Police and crime commissioners, and others, already provide significant community-based support to victims of crime, but we need better evidence of the gaps in current provision and how they might best be addressed. That is why the Government have now committed to consult on the provision of community-based support as part of this summer’s consultation on the new victims’ law. That commitment to consult is backed up by Lords amendments 5, 8 and 10 to 16. Lords amendment 5 will place a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to publish a report, under her new powers in the Bill, on the provision of and need for community-based services. Lords amendments 8 and 10 to 16 will place a duty on tier 1 local authorities, with the support of their domestic abuse local partnership boards, to monitor and report on the impact of the safe accommodation duty on the provision of community-based support in their area. Taken together with the responses to our victims’ law consultation, those amendments will ensure that the Government have all the information they need to build on the strong foundations of existing community-based services.
Some of the most upsetting and torturous experiences that victims can experience happen after a relationship has ended, in the family and civil courts. Lords amendments 17 and 24 to 31 relate to special measures and the ban on cross-examination in person in civil proceedings. In short, those amendments more closely align the position in the civil courts to that in the family courts, so that victims of domestic abuse have the benefit of automatic eligibility for special measures to enable them to give their best evidence and to ensure that they are protected from being cross-examined in person by their abuser. Our justice system should not be used as another form of abuse. This Bill will help to protect victims and secure justice.
In the case of the family courts, perpetrators can continue abuse through repeated unmeritorious proceedings. Lords amendment 33 amends the Children Act 1989 to prevent such vexatious claims. The amendment makes it clear that a court may make a barring order in circumstances where it is satisfied that a further application made by the named person would put the child or another, for example the parent victim, at risk of harm. For all the victims and survivors I have met, and whose stories we have heard in the Chamber: these measures are to help you all to secure justice, as you deserve.
Lords amendment 39 would ensure that a health professional working in a general practice that holds an NHS contract cannot charge for evidence to show that a patient has been the victim of domestic abuse for the purpose of obtaining legal aid. We recognise that it is already the case that most GPs do not charge for such evidence, but the amendment will ensure that no victim faces that barrier to obtaining legal aid.
The Bill also reaches beyond these shores. Lords amendments 70 to 82 amend the extraterritorial jurisdiction provisions in the Bill to remove the dual criminality requirement for relevant sexual offences, including rape, committed outside the UK by UK nationals. That will enable UK nationals who commit marital rape in countries where such behaviour is not criminal to be prosecuted in UK courts. This is also a significant step forward towards ratifying the Istanbul convention, as it addresses one of the three outstanding matters set out in the statement to the House in October last year.
I turn to the 12 sets of Lords amendments to which we have tabled motions to disagree. I emphasise that, in line with our approach throughout the Bill, where we do not agree with the amendments, and where possible, we have sought to address the concerns raised through practical measures instead. The first set of amendments relates to the definition of domestic abuse. Lords amendments 1 to 3 would bring abuse by all carers of disabled persons, paid and unpaid, within the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill. I hope it is clear—it perhaps does not need saying—that the Government abhor all abuse, and we have every sympathy for the spirit of these amendments. Abuse of disabled people by their carers must be called out and acted upon. The issue before us today is whether this is the right Bill to strengthen the protection for disabled people.
The focus of this Bill is on domestic abuse as it is commonly understood—that is, abuse by a current or former intimate partner, or by a family member. That is the approach taken in the Istanbul convention, which I know many hon. Members are keen for the UK to ratify. Where a disabled person is abused by a partner or family member, the abuse will be covered by the definition as already agreed by this House. However, Lords amendments 1 to 3 would bring in a much wider range of relationships, outside a domestic abuse setting. We should steer away from diluting the purpose of the Bill.
As I have said, however, in inviting the House to disagree with these Lords amendments, we do not wish to downplay or deny for one moment the experience of disabled people who are abused by their paid or volunteer carers. There are protections in place, including the offences in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 relating to ill treatment and wilful neglect. However, we have listened carefully to the experiences and concerns raised in this House and the other place. We want to find practical ways in which to address those concerns. That is why the Government intend to carry out a review of the protections for people at risk of carer abuse. We will engage with the noble Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and the disabled sector on the scope of the review, but it would broadly seek to examine the protections offered against carer abuse and the support available to victims. We have listened and we will act.
Lords amendment 33 takes us into the arena of judicial training, requiring the Secretary of State to set out a strategy and timetable for such training. Again, we agree, and we understand the motivations behind this amendment. No one can dispute the need for judges and magistrates to be properly trained in these matters, nor do we dispute that this must continue to be a developing process, and one of improvement. Indeed, the judiciary understands this and agrees. The Judicial College is committed to reviewing and improving training on domestic abuse. Moreover, the president of the family division has indicated that he will consider making recommendations regarding training, taking into account this Bill, the harm panel report and the four recent Court of Appeal judgments in domestic abuse cases.
The issue with Lords amendment 33 is not the ends it seeks, but the means of achieving them. It is not for the Government to dictate to our independent judiciary how they are trained. There are important constitutional principles at stake here; I have no doubt that the president of the family division will have taken notes on the debates on this amendment in the Lords and will again today, and will take appropriate action, but it is right that we leave it to him to do so and do not undermine the independence of the judiciary by endorsing this amendment.
I move now to Lords amendments 37, 38 and 83. They deal with two separate but related issues. Lords amendment 37 aims to extend the householder defence in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to victims or survivors of domestic abuse. Although the Government sympathise with the aim behind the amendment, we are not persuaded that it is necessary. We are not aware of any significant evidence demonstrating that the current full and partial defences available are failing victims of domestic abuse accused of crimes against their abuser. We are also concerned that the proposed defence could, as it provides a full defence to murder, be open to misuse, potentially even by an abuser, who could seek to claim they were the victim of domestic abuse, rather than the actual victim. We believe therefore that although it is very difficult to achieve, the law currently strikes the right balance between the interests of the defendant and, importantly, those of the victim as well.
Lords amendments 38 and 83 would provide for a new statutory defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit certain criminal offences on the basis of having no realistic alternative. Currently, several defences are potentially available to those who commit offences in circumstances where they are in an abusive relationship. These include the full defences of duress and self-defence, for example, as well as, in homicide cases, the partial statutory defences of loss of control or diminished responsibility.
The Government are aware of the concerns raised by both the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’ Commissioner among others, specifically in terms of the disparity in the way the courts sometimes deal with male and female defendants who have been found guilty of killing their partner. Again, in a spirit of co-operation, because we understand the motivations behind these arguments, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is reviewing the sentencing practices in cases relating to domestic homicide, and we believe this is a more appropriate response to some of the issues raised by these amendments.
Lords amendment 40 seeks to create a data-sharing firewall so that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purposes of their seeking or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes. I again stress, as I hope hon. Members across the House would acknowledge, that victims of domestic abuse, whatever their immigration status, must be treated as victims first and foremost. Guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which was updated last year, makes this clear. The national policing lead for domestic abuse is also clear that information sharing between the police and the Home Office can be in the interests of victims.
None the less, we recognise the concerns about ensuring that there are safe reporting pathways open to migrant victims of domestic abuse. That is why, following the policing inspectorate’s report on the super-complaint lodged about the police sharing immigration data, we have committed, in good faith, to review existing data-sharing procedures and publish the outcome by June. Having established the police super-complaint process in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which was supported, I am pleased to say, by Labour, we should allow that process to operate as intended. Given that commitment, we would argue that Lords amendment 40 is premature and, in fact, unnecessary, as the results of our review can be implemented through changes to the NPCC guidance.
I turn now to Lords amendments 41 and 43, which deal with the related matter of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. Lords amendment 41 in effect seeks to extend the destitute domestic violence concession to all migrant victims and provide them with a route to apply for indefinite leave to remain. The DDVC and the accompanying domestic violence rule were established to provide a route for settlement to those here in the UK on a spousal visa who, had they not suffered domestic abuse and been separated from their abuser, would have had a legitimate expectation of settling here. It was not designed for those who are here in a temporary capacity, who would not have had such a route to permanent residency.
For other migrant victims, the key consideration is not their immigration status, but the provision of support when they need to flee an abusive relationship. We accept that not all migrant victims have access to the necessary support and we need to address that, but we do not accept the proposition, reflected in Lords amendment 41, that someone who has come to this country on a temporary basis—for example, as a student—should have a route to settlement by virtue of being a victim of domestic abuse. However, we want to help such victims to recover and escape such relationships.
Throughout the passage of this Bill, we have heard about the role that Southall Black Sisters has played in helping migrant victims of domestic abuse to get the support they need. I am therefore delighted to announce that, following a commercial competition, Southall Black Sisters has been successful and will be running the £1.5 million support for migrant victims scheme, which will run for 12 months and will provide not only safe accommodation to victims, but provide us with the evidence on which to take long-term decisions on future support arrangements for migrant victims. As with the DDVC, such measures can be put in place on a non-statutory basis, so these amendments are unnecessary.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I am encouraged by what the Minister said. I say to her, as always, gently and honestly, that while I appreciate the £1.5 million, I am just wondering whether that is not—forgive me—a paltry sum of money when more may be needed.
Victoria Atkins: The hon. Gentleman will know—we have discussed this on many occasions—that the programme of support is not only delivering immediate support to migrant victims, but gathering the data that we need on the range of support and services that such victims need, so that we can build a sustainable programme going forward. The scheme will run for 12 months. I am really looking forward to working with Southall Black Sisters on this scheme, and from that we can then build a programme of work. This is not the end of the line for migrant victims, and I reassure the House on that.
Lords amendment 9 seeks to introduce statutory regulation of child contact centres. We accept the need for appropriate regulation, but this is already achieved in private law family cases through the National Association of Child Contact Centres accreditation framework and existing protocols, which ensure that the family courts and CAFCASS refer parties only to accredited centres. In public law family cases where children are in the care of the local authority, comprehensive statutory provisions are already in place, which determine how local authorities should discharge their duties, including in relation to maintaining contact between a child and their family while protecting the welfare of the child.
We have not seen evidence to suggest that the existing NACCC accreditation framework or the statutory framework governing local authorities is failing such that the cost and bureaucracy of a statutory accreditation scheme are justified. Since the debate in the other place, however, Lord Wolfson, the Minister responsible for family justice, has written to the president of the family division and the chief executive of CAFCASS requesting that they raise awareness among their colleagues and officials of the judicial protocol and memorandum of understanding that have been agreed between NACCC and CAFCASS. We will continue to work with NACCC to keep the position under review, but the case for Lords amendment 9 is not made out at this time.
Finally, let me deal with Lords amendment 42, which seeks to strengthen the management of domestic abuse perpetrators. Again, this is an objective with which we can all agree, but we have concerns about how the amendment would work out. The first limb of the amendment seeks, in effect, to create a new category of offender to be managed under multi-agency public protection arrangements, commonly referred to as MAPPA. To put this in context, last year nearly 86,000 offenders were managed by MAPPA.
The Government believe that creating a new MAPPA category for high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators would bring added complexity to the MAPPA framework without compensating benefits. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 already provides for serial and high-harm offenders to be managed under MAPPA. The real issue, therefore, is not the statutory framework but how it is applied in practice. Here, we accept that there is more to do, and we are strengthening the MAPPA statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse.
We recognise, too, that having access to an information management system that can effectively support the police and others in risk managing high-harm offenders is essential. ViSOR, the dangerous persons database, is now almost 20 years old and so does not offer the most up-to-date functionality. Work has begun on the new multi-agency public protection system, or MAPPS, a user-focused and transformational system for the management of offenders, which will be piloted from next year. MAPPS will support the more efficient and effective management of high-threat offenders and improve information sharing between frontline agencies. Interestingly, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill also strengthens the data-sharing powers of statutory and non-statutory agencies, including, for example, domestic abuse charities.
The second limb of Lords amendment 42 would require the Home Secretary to promulgate a national perpetrator strategy. We have already committed to doing just that as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy to be published later this year. We have therefore tabled amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 42 to enshrine that commitment in law.
In conclusion, I know that I have taken some time to set out the Government’s position, but this is an important piece of legislation that has the capacity and the potential to do so much and to help so many of our constituents, so I hope the House will forgive me for setting out our reasons in some detail. We need to get this Bill passed and on the statute book so that it can start to help victims of domestic abuse and other victims as quickly as possible, and I commend it and our amendments to the House.
Like the Minister, I wish to place on record my own and my party’s sadness on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen. I suppose all your life you get used to the existence of the royal family as if they are always going to be there. In the passing of Prince Philip, we realised how lucky we are as a nation to have a sort of backbone that is always there—a family who are not always perfect, like anyone’s family, but who we can look to. I and we all feel very keenly in light of the pandemic the loss to the royal family specifically and to us as a nation.
We also share in the Minister’s sadness at the loss of Dame Cheryl Gillan. Regardless of political party, she was a friend especially to every woman in this House. To every woman from every party who came, she offered words of advice and words of exasperation in the lady Members’ rooms. She was one of a kind, and she will be missed genuinely and keenly across the House. She would definitely have been here today, without question. She spoke in almost every single one of these debates. We will miss her further, and no doubt we will all seek to take on her work.
Following the death of Sarah Everard, heartbreak, fear and anger ripped through the country—a response to the endemic violence that women and girls suffer. People felt it in their bones. Responding to such an outpouring of grief is our job. It is our duty and a privilege as parliamentarians to take that emotion, that fear, that rage, that passion and that injustice and to turn it into policy and law. It is our job to do something meaningful.
The question for the House today, as we consider the amendments inserted into the Bill by the other place in the heat of those moments, is: who do we decide to save? I will briefly talk through which amendments we are supporting and why, as the Minister has done.
I welcome very much, as I have throughout its passage, the immense changes to the Bill. It is unrecognisable from the day it started, which I do not know if anyone can remember; it seems so long ago. The spirit in which the Bill has been forged—that is how it feels—has always been to seek amendments and to work to improve it, and my comments will continue in that exact same spirit as we seek to continue to amend it.
Amendments 40, 41 and 43—I am sure nobody will be surprised to hear my views on migrant victims of domestic abuse—would allow migrant victims to access support and protection just like everybody else and just like I could. Without the amendments, victims will be left trapped in abusive households. It is as simple as that. The Government will seek to tell us that they have proposed a pilot project, which we have heard about today. I am pleased to hear that the pilot has gone to Southall Black Sisters, I believe in partnership with Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid—a place very close to my heart—but the specialist organisations and independent commissioners have all been very clear that the pilot is inadequate, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) alluded to.
Analysis by the domestic abuse sector suggests that thousands of victims could be left unprotected and unsupported under the pilot scheme. Students here studying, for example, might be raped, battered and abused by their partners. Thousands of students have this week talked on the Everyone’s Invited site about sexual assaults on campus. Foreign students would not be able to seek refuge in the same way that I can under the current rules in this country if they needed to escape.
This pilot is not good enough. It will only provide minimal, short-term support for 300 to 500 women. There is no money, for instance, for counselling, therapeutic intervention, interpretation costs, children’s costs and medical or travel costs. What happens, then, when the 501st victim visits? I can tell you what happens to the 501st victim, because it is what happens now. It is happening to Farah, who was routinely tormented and assaulted with a belt by her father and trapped in that abuse without access to public funds or support and protection. She said:
“I made many calls to the council and even the national domestic violence helpline and many other organisations for people who suffer domestic violence. They all said the same thing: I had no recourse to public funds, so they couldn’t and wouldn’t help me. Some of them even said it was the law not to help me. I guess that no recourse to public funds means that it’s okay for me to be violated physically and mentally abused by my father. I guess the Government approves of that.”
Lords amendment 40 establishes safe reporting mechanisms which ensure that all victims of domestic abuse feel able to come forward to the police. Perpetrators know at the moment that they can use immigration status as a weapon against vulnerable, frightened victims—“If you tell the police, you’ll get deported and you’ll never see the kids again. If you go to the police, they’ll lock you up in a detention centre.” I have seen this thousands of times.
At the end of last year, three police oversight bodies said that the data sharing with immigration enforcement was causing “significant harm” to the public interest. If victims cannot report, those perpetrators remain out there. We are leaving violent rapists and dangerous, violent men in our community, able to hurt people again and again. I listened to the Minister’s comments on this, and obviously I welcome the idea of a review. In terms of the idea that it is premature to ask for the law to be amended to protect these victims, I have stood in the House asking for this for at least four years. It does not feel premature for my constituents who had threats to kill and ended up in detention. It does not feel premature when I had to go to Yarl’s Wood to collect them.
I have to disagree with what the Minister said. These amendments do not ensure indefinite leave to remain for all victims of domestic abuse or allow some mythical path to dodge immigration processes. They are about getting victims out of an abusive and dangerous situation, on an equal footing to what any one of us in this House would expect for ourselves and our daughters. I also expect it for all my constituents.
Moving on to other serial offenders whom we currently leave on the streets and those victims who are at the highest risk of harm, Lords amendment 42 requires serial domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators to be registered on a database and accompanied by a comprehensive perpetrator strategy. The Labour party supports this amendment. Zoe Dronfield almost died when her ex-partner attacked her with a meat cleaver. Zoe spent weeks in hospital recovering from bleeding to the brain, a stab wound to her neck and a broken right arm inflicted during an eight-hour ordeal at the hands of Jason Smith. Zoe discovered after reporting her case to the police that Smith had abused 13 previous victims. There is a desperate need in this country to do something to identify, manage and monitor these high-harm perpetrators of stalking and domestic abuse. They would not have been met by current MAPPA. [Interruption.] The Minister claims that that is not true, but they were not in these instances.
I just want to clarify this, because it is an important detail. Category 3 of MAPPA is defined as “other dangerous offenders”. It does not matter whether that offender has committed section 18 grievous bodily harm or criminal damage, which, as the hon. Lady will know, is a much lower offence. It is the risk assessment of that defendant in the circumstances of the offence that matters and puts them in category 3. That is the point—it already exists.
If it already exists, why was Jason Smith allowed to go on and abuse 13 other people? It is not just Jason Smith, of course—it is the person who killed Hollie Gazzard, the person who killed Jane Clough and the person who killed Helen. The reality is that this is not working, and the victims in these instances, like Zoe Dronfield, have spoken very clearly, and the agencies have spoken clearly. They have asked us to look again and help to protect them.
Just to assist the House, as I hope I made clear in my speech, we know there have been horrific instances where, in the system itself, those risk assessments and the management have not been done properly. I think we are having a disagreement about whether putting in a new category will change that. We want to look, and we are doing so through the statutory guidance, at how these assessments are made on the ground. That is what will make a difference, not a statutory framework.
I can sympathise with what the Minister is saying, but I would ask the House and the Minister to sympathise with somebody on the frontline who has been watched again and again, through one multi-agency risk assessment conference after another, or a serious case review or a domestic homicide review. Again and again, the same thing is said—agencies do not speak to each other. The idea of amending the statutory guidance but not putting in place some legislative framework so that this has to occur is just more, “Oh, let’s see if we can get agencies speaking to each other again.” It just is not enough. It is not just me who thinks it is not enough. When I spoke to Zoe Dronfield herself this morning, she told me that she was devastated. In the heat of the Sarah Everard killing, she felt that the Government were listening, and today victims like her feel as though they have been let down.
The Government amendment in lieu is not enough. It is perfectly fine in its own right and the Labour party called for a perpetrator strategy in Committee, but it is not the same as what is proposed in Lords amendment 42. It is not even nearly answering the same question. Dangerous criminals are on our streets and in our homes, and repeating the same acts of violence and abuse over and over again, moving from victim to victim. Nothing in what the Government have proposed, I am afraid, has anywhere near enough teeth or will account for, identify and offer safety to the victims now dead at the hands of the most serial perpetrators. The amendments from the other place are strong, and I very much imagine that it will successfully push back. The Labour party stands ready to support it as it does so, and stands to support the victims.
Disabled victims are currently left out of the Bill. Lords amendments 1 to 3 change the definition of “personally connected” to reflect the lived experience of disabled victims of domestic abuse. Disabled people can be victims of domestic abuse by paid and unpaid carers, with whom they have close, intimate relationships. For victims, this abuse of trust and power is experienced in exactly the same way as that perpetrated by a mother, a father or a partner, so it should be recognised as such in the Bill. The expansion of the definition of “personally connected” will not dilute it, as has been suggested by the Government, but fortify it to protect those who right now are being domestically abused because they are dependent on another person in their lives. This is what disabled people have asked for, and I am sure we will see after today if the review proposed by the Government is satisfactory to those voices, who are the ones we must listen to in this.
Moving on to training of the judiciary and the accreditation of child contact centres, I want Members in this House to know that today they will be voting against making it mandatory for family court judges to be trained on domestic abuse. The Government are claiming that Lords amendment 33 threatens the independence of the judiciary. They have yet to elaborate, and the Minister did not elaborate on this point earlier. However, I shall assume—she can of course correct me if I am wrong—that she and those who sit behind her, both metaphorically and actually, are using the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which gave the Lord Chief Justice responsibility for training. I am assured that those who tabled this amendment in the other place took legal advice on this exact thing, and they do not agree that it is unconstitutional, but think it fits very well with that Act.
The amendment was drafted by a peer who is a QC, and was accepted by the parliamentary Clerks. On Report, a number of significant legal minds voted in favour of the amendment, including QCs and the former Deputy President of the Supreme Court. I would very much welcome a copy of the Government’s legal advice. There is absolutely no desire on our parts to do anything that is unconstitutional. We are not even saying what the frame of the training has to be, just that it has to happen. The idea that the Lord Chief Justice would push back, saying it did not have to happen and was against the independence of the judiciary, is something, frankly, that we would want to push against.
The Government’s own harm review found that comments made by judges in the family court included, for example, that a woman could not be a victim of domestic abuse because she wore make-up to court. Judges also found that women were emotional and temperamental when they cried about their abuse in the court room. Who knew that we did not need the police, the courts or welfare for victims of domestic abuse? We should have just told women to pop on a bit of make-up, and that would have protected them from domestic abuse. That is essentially what is being said in our family courts: if a woman wears make-up, how can she be a victim of domestic abuse? That was not said by me but by a judge in our family courts, and that kind of attitude is not just insulting but dangerous, because terrible practice in our family courts leaves children alone with violent perpetrators. I am not offended by the sexism; I am frightened for people’s lives.
Lords amendments 37, 38 and 83 seek to understand the impact of domestic abuse. Amendment 37 would amend the law on self-defence and offer justice for victims who, because of suffering long-term violence, rape or coercive control, are driven to using force against their abuser. Sometimes terror, desperation and despair can drive a victim to inflict violence in self-protection. Society is beginning to understand that. The law must too.
Lords amendments 38 and 83 provide a defence where a person is coerced into a crime because they live in a situation of domestic abuse, and is based on existing legal protections given to victims of trafficking who offend. This is an already existing situation. The Minister said earlier that there is no evidence, but I would push back, as somebody who worked for many years in women’s prisons and in female offenders’ services, that there is plenty of evidence of women offending as a result of a pattern of sexual exploitation, coercion and domestic abuse. In fact, it was very well evidenced that one of the pathways to offending for women is domestic abuse—it is written in most Government documents. There is therefore quite a body of evidence that there is a problem in this instance.
These defences do not prevent individuals, no matter the circumstances, from being held accountable, but they are protections and take into account the true impact of domestic abuse on a person. In rebuttal of the amendments, the Government assert—without a shred of evidence in this instance—that such defences could be used by perpetrators. I would be happy to read any evidence that the Minister has of that, but there is no such evidence that I am aware of, and I am more than slightly annoyed that the Government then ignore the fact that the issue of no recourse to public funds gets used by perpetrators, when we see that every day—I guess we just have to pick and choose when these things are an issue in terms of which amendments we want to get through. There is very little evidence, if any, that such defences are used by perpetrators, but there is huge amounts of evidence in other areas.
Now is the time for deeds, not words. Today we can say that, yes, we have included migrant victims in this Bill, we have included disabled victims, we have improved victims’ access to justice and we have sought to stop perpetrators before they do the same thing again. Let us not have to look ourselves in the mirror and say, “We could have done more.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill has been a huge part of the work that I have done since I came into this House. I am going miss it; maybe that is why I want it to go back to the Lords—I just cannot let it go. Along with victims’ organisations and many brilliant and brave victims, we have worked to amend, educate and improve and to build consensus and agreement with the Government, and it has been an honour at many times. That is what we are doing here today; we are always seeking to improve the Bill, not for political wins, but for millions of terrified victims and their children in this country.
Their Lordships and the Baronesses have been incredibly thoughtful, thorough and detailed in their amendments. We should listen, because I promise hon. Members that eventually, for every single one of these amendments, a terrible case will come along that proves that we should have acted. It will not take long; they come every three days. Let us try to make that happen less.
If I may crave your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish, as the Minister did, to take the opportunity in this Chamber to pay my tribute to our late right hon. Friend, Cheryl Gillan. Cheryl was an incredible person. She was a fierce defender of her constituents and proudly put forward their interests, but she was also a great friend to MPs across this House. As the Minister and the shadow Minister recognised, she was particularly a friend to women in this Chamber. Quite simply, with the passing of Cheryl Gillan, this House has lost one of the best of its Members.
Before I comment on the amendments, I want to say a huge thank you to all those who have been involved in this Bill from the very inception of the idea of having another Domestic Abuse Bill. Although I do not necessarily agree with all the Lords amendments, I recognise that everybody has been working to make the Bill what they believe to be absolutely the best. This really important Bill will save lives and protect the too many people who, daily, are sadly abused by their partners and those they are living with in horrific and terrible ways.
I turn now to specific amendments. I have just referenced the abuse that takes place, and I fully recognise the intention behind Lords amendments 1 to 3. We should, of course, have absolutely zero tolerance of abuse by carers. The very name “carer” means that they are supposed to be looking after and caring for the person they are with. One of the most important aspects of the Bill—it seems very trivial, but it is one of the most important aspects—is the definition of domestic abuse, and the fact that we are adopting that wider definition of abuse. Domestic abuse is not simply abuse that takes place within a domestic setting. It takes place between two individuals who have a particularly close and intimate relationship, and it is that personal connection that I think is important.
The Government are absolutely right to be working with those who have raised, in particular, the abuse of disabled people to look at what protections need to be put in place, why the system is not currently working and why the arrangement that can deal with these cases does not always appear to be working. What lies at the heart of domestic abuse is the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. That is why it is important that we do not widen the definition in the way their Lordships have proposed.
Of course, domestic abuse can continue outside the domestic setting—for example, in a workplace or online. That is one of the reasons why I particularly welcome Lords amendment 34, to extend the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour to a situation where the perpetrator and victim are no longer living together. It is a mistake to think that domestic abuse ends if the two individuals, the perpetrator and the victim, are physically separated by no longer being together in the same premises. This is an important amendment. As we know, too many survivors find themselves subject to controlling and coercive behaviour even after they have been separated from their perpetrator. I commend the role played by my noble Friend Baroness Sanderson in putting forward the amendment. I also commend her for all the work she has done on domestic abuse when she was working for me in No. 10 Downing Street and subsequently in her time in another place. I am sure she will continue to work on these issues.
I want to come on to the Lords amendments that I do not agree with. Lords amendment 33 is about training for judges. I have heard the arguments across the Front Bench on that issue. During lockdown 1, I joined Dr Peter Aitken, Elizabeth Filkin and the former Supreme Court judge Nicholas Wilson to produce a report called, “Seize the Moment to End Domestic Abuse”. We focused particularly on the Bill and its implications. One important recommendation we made to the Ministry of Justice was that the MOJ should ensure the proper training of judges on the implications of the Bill once it is enacted. The shadow Minister is absolutely right that there have been some very bad cases where the attitude of judges has shown that they simply do not understand domestic abuse, the nature of domestic abuse or the wide range of abuse that can take place. It is important that training is the responsibility of the Lord Chief Justice, and I think the commitments given by the President of the Family Division and the Judicial College are important in that respect. I would simply say to the Government that it is important that the Government make sure that those steps are put in place and that training is put in place.
I want to raise a question that may be answered later. There is an issue about who decides the nature of that training, how good the training is and what it actually covers. I am sure there are those who would say that the judiciary have had training already. Well, it is patently obvious that there are some who perhaps did not imbibe the training as well as they might have done.
This point is not specific to the amendments, but, if I may, it is not just the judiciary whom we need to ensure are trained. We need to ensure that the police, local authorities and others are trained on the implications of the Bill when enacted if we are going to see it being implemented. One thing we sometimes forget in this place is that it is not just about passing pieces of legislation; it is about what then happens with that legislation and how it is implemented.
I will now come on to one of the more contentious areas in the amendments, which has been a long-standing issue: the question of support for migrant victims. The Minister and the Government have given a clear commitment to ensure that the victims of domestic abuse are treated as victims, whatever their immigration status. Of course, systems of support are already in existence—the destitute domestic violence concession scheme, as has been referred to by others, is for those who are here on a spousal visa, while victims who are also victims of modern slavery can be referred to support available through the national referral mechanism—but the concern is that there are those who are falling through the net. The Government undertook a review. They have now undertaken to put in place the Support for Migrant Victims scheme. The Minister announced that Southall Black Sisters will run that scheme, which I welcome.
It is important that we recognise that not all victims are the same and that we are able to identify the specific circumstances and the specific protections and support needed in those cases where people are currently falling through the net. I support the Government’s decision not to support the Lords amendments on these particular issues. What matters is that victims are recognised as victims, regardless of their status. What we must now allow is the good intention of providing extra support for victims inadvertently leading to more victims.
On data sharing, which has been linked in the amendments, the issue is not as simple as it is sometimes portrayed. I am very pleased to be able to say that this is, I think, the first use of the police super-complaints process, which was introduced, as the Minister said, under the Policing and Crime Act 2017, so I have some sense of bearing some responsibility for it. That is good, because it shows that it can work.
The hon. Lady is right; it won’t be the last. The important thing is that it has been shown that it works and that a super-complaint can be brought. Let us respect that process and do what has been recommended by HMICFRS—I apologise for the initials; I think I put the fire service in with the inspectorate of constabulary—and, as the Government say, undertake that review and put into place whatever is necessary as a result of it.
On Lords amendment 42, on the register, this has been a matter of debate for some considerable time. It has been raised with me by constituents and by one of my local councillors on behalf of a resident not in my constituency. What I would say is that simply putting somebody on a register does not mean that protection is going to be provided. There was an exchange across the Front Benches about MAPPA and how it is operating. MAPPA can currently cover these cases of serial domestic abuse offenders and high-harm domestic abuse offenders, so there is a question as to who would be covered who is not already covered. If they are already covered but there are still these cases, the question is not whether the system applies to these cases, but why the system is not working in relation to them.
Fundamentally, one problem all too often seen in a number of areas involving the police and others relates to information sharing between agencies. We do not improve information sharing between agencies simply by putting into legislation that somebody’s name has to go on the register. I am sorry, it is hard to say that, but it is the case. If it is already possible under that system for agencies to be sharing that information but they are not doing so, the question is: why are they not doing so? This partly probably slips back to something we were talking about earlier: the training and their actually understanding rather better these issues of domestic abuse and the role the different agencies can play. So overhauling the system is particularly important.
I wanted to discuss Lords amendment 9, because I have a question for the Government in relation to it. I recognise that in the private law family cases the judiciary and Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service have protocols. May I say to the Minister that from my experience of more than 20 years as a constituency MP, telling me that CAFCASS has an involvement in something does not necessarily fill me with reassurance? So I say to the Government that it is important to make sure that those protocols are sufficient and that they are doing the job that needs to be done. Speaking about child contact centres, may I simply say that I would like to thank everybody who has been involved in the Maidenhead child contact centre over the years? Sadly, it has taken the decision that it needs to close, but it has provided support to many, many families and children over the years, and I would like to thank those there for their work.
Finally, I wish to say that it is really important that we get this Bill on the statute book. We are running out of time. I know we can ping-pong and carry on until we actually get through it, but were we to run out of time and were it not to get on the statute book, that would be the biggest betrayal of victims.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this hugely important debate. First, let me echo what both the Minister and the shadow Minister said about His Royal Highness Prince Philip and about Dame Cheryl Gillan. We will very much miss what would typically have been a knowledgeable and passionate contribution from Dame Cheryl in this debate and in so many debates to come.
Although these Lords amendments cover many significant issues, I shall take only a short time to cover two, as the Bill almost exclusively extends to England and Wales and relates largely to devolved matters. The two excellent Lords amendments I wish to express Scottish National party support for are Lords amendments 40 and 41, which were drafted expressly with a broader scope, touch on a reserved matter—immigration—and have the potential to bring significant benefits to victims from across the UK if we support them today.
Lords amendment 40 would start to roll back the Home Office’s ever-extending network of data sharing agreements and its grab of sweeping exemptions to data protection laws—my party has repeatedly proposed this. These exemptions have contributed to a dangerous situation in which migrants feel unable or reluctant to access potentially vital public services for fear that any information they share will end up being used by the Home Office in a bid to remove them. Domestic abuse is one severe but perfect illustration of that point. Fleeing an abusive partner can of course put women at risk, and none of us would want them to fear seeking the protection and support that they need. The reality, however, is that too often they do, and one reason for that fear is precisely because they do not have faith that the information they are required to share will not result in an attempt to remove them or have other implications for their current and future status here.
That is what Lords amendment 40 effects, by requiring the Home Secretary to put in place
“arrangements to ensure that the personal data…processed for the purpose of”
securing that help and support “is not used” against victims for immigration purposes. We therefore give it our support. I listened to what the Minister said in response, but I do not understand how police guidance can provide any sort of comprehensive answer and I fear that the evidence shows that it will not. It does not provide the necessary or sufficient reassurance that a statutory provision can provide. It is that simple.
Lords amendment 41 is, as we heard, the new clause that would broaden the scope of the domestic violence rule and the concessions so that more victims of domestic abuse here can find safety, knowing that they also have a pathway to leave to remain and do not need endure destitution and homelessness while they pursue it. Now, those possibilities are limited largely to those who are here on spouse visas.
The domestic violence rule and the concessions have been transformative for many victims of domestic abuse who are able to access them. The very same reasons for putting them in place for those on spouse visas clearly also apply to other victims of domestic abuse. If we do not completely break the link between a woman’s lawful residence here and her relationship with an abusive partner, far from helping her, we are hindering her ability to find help and support—we hand power to the abuser. No one wants that but, unless we support the new clause, I fear that is the position that we will risk remaining in.
Again, I do not understand the Government’s answers in response, in particular what was said about the Lords amendment not being true to the original purpose of the rule and the concessions. On the contrary, it is about applying the same purpose, intention and reasoning to a broader group of victims who equally require support and protection, ensuring that they may access them.
In relation to another Government response, the Lord Bishop of Gloucester explained in the other place why the Government’s support for migrant victims, while welcome, is not a comprehensive answer, as the shadow Minister said today. We need bolder action as a matter of urgency. There is already an abundance of evidence that the changes proposed by way of Lords amendment 41 are utterly necessary and could transform lives.
The Government also seem to object that the leave proposed might ultimately be indefinite leave. If they find that objectionable—I do not understand the reasons why they might—rather than reject the amendment outright, they should at least provide for a decent period of time unencumbered by restrictions, including on public funds, to allow victims to get the support that they need and to get their lives back on track.
In a letter to MPs this morning, Ministers argued that migrant victims are not a homogeneous group, and that argument has been repeated this afternoon, but we know that—those advocating Lords amendment 41 know it better than anyone—and supporters of the amendment are not treating them as such. Rather, we would create a space in which complex and diverse needs can be better understood and addressed and where victims are free of the incredibly intimidating coercion and control that precarious immigration status can cause a victim. The Government risk denying victims that space and the possibility of addressing their diverse needs.
In conclusion, the focus should not be on the nature of victims’ immigration status or the type of visa that they hold; it should be on their needs as victims. Despite the Government’s protestations to the contrary, Lords amendment 41 would be another step towards ensuring that that happens. The question for this House is: what is more important, protecting and supporting victims, or protecting Home Office powers over migration? We say, support the victims, and we therefore give our full support to the Lords amendments.
I join in the tributes to Cheryl Gillan, whom we all miss badly from this House and from debates such as this one in which she has been a participant for so many years.
I welcome the progress made on the Bill with the work done in the House of Lords. It is an important Bill and I commend the work on it of the Minister, the Opposition Front Benchers and all those in the Lords who sought to improve and build on it, because it got better as a result of all that work along the way. We have seen, for example, the addition of references to children as part of the Bill—something that our Home Affairs Committee recommended some years ago—and the amendments to reflect the issues raised earlier in our Commons debates about making non-fatal strangulation an offence.
I want to focus in particular on two areas where the Lords have proposed amendments that the Government are still resisting. The first is to support points made by other Members about the need to make sure that migrant women are not deterred from coming forward to get help when they desperately need it. These can be some of the most vulnerable women of all, threatened by perpetrators with losing their immigration status. Effectively, what the perpetrators are doing is exploiting the immigration system to exert coercive control over vulnerable women. We have a responsibility to make sure that that cannot happen, but, again, the Government are not going far enough in that regard.
The second area that I want to address is in relation to Lords amendment 42, which was put forward by Baroness Royall with support from across the Lords, including from Baroness Newlove. It is similar to an amendment that I put forward at an earlier stage in the Bill’s consideration, which the Government did say they would consider, because they recognised the importance of the issue. It builds on the work that Laura Richards at Paladin has done and has the support of hundreds of thousands of people who have signed petitions for stronger action against repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking.
We know that there are too many cases of awful crimes against women—serious domestic abuse, awful violence, horrendous stalking, murder, and lives that are lost as a result of terrible crimes—and yet the perpetrator has committed crimes before. They may have been involved in other stalking offences, harassment, repeated domestic abuse or violence. They move from one victim to another and sometimes from one town or region to another. They find someone new to control and to abuse and someone else whose lives they can destroy. Too often, when those previous crimes emerge, everyone sighs in sadness, everyone wishes that the signs had been picked up earlier, everyone says that the dots should have been joined, and everyone says that lessons should be learned, but in the end they never are and not enough changes. We cannot carry on like this.
Hollie Gazzard was stalked and murdered by a man who was involved in 24 previous violent offences, including 12 on an ex-partner. Even though he had been reported to the police many times, there was no proactive risk assessment, and there was no management despite his previous violent offences. Linzi Ashton was raped, strangled and murdered by a man who had strangled two previous partners, but his repeat pattern of abuse towards women was not picked up. Jane Clough, an A&E nurse, was stalked and then murdered by a violent ex-partner, even though he had a history of abusing other women. He was not on the high-risk offenders register and the police were not monitoring him.
There are so many cases. Shana Grice was stalked and murdered in 2016. The man who killed her had abused 13 girls before, yet there was still no focus on him as a perpetrator, and no intelligence or information sharing. Faced with these cases, where perpetrators have repeated convictions for domestic abuse or for stalking, why on earth are their names not on the high-risk offenders register? Why on earth is there not a process to identify or manage these high-risk individuals? Why on earth do the police not take these cases seriously, because it is not happening? That is what Lords amendment 42 is all about. It adds convicted serial domestic abusers and stalkers to the high-risk offenders register so that police and specialist agencies can work together to prevent them from offending again and to use the multi-agency public protection arrangements to keep more women safe.
We know that, when it comes to domestic abuse, stalking, or violence against women, the most serious offenders are those repeat offenders. That is where we should be trying to focus more of our efforts.
Let me consider the Government’s objections. The Minister says that they will draw up a perpetrators strategy, which was part of Lords amendment 42. That is strongly welcome, but the Government are not going far enough with their plans for that strategy. For example, the strategy currently does not include stalking, which it needs to do, and it is not a replacement for the high risk register and the proper monitoring and interventions underpinned by statute that we need.
The Minister has said that a new category 4 is not needed on the high-risk offenders register—a new category from MAPPA—because these dangerous people can be included in category 3. The trouble is that just because in theory some of them can be does not mean that most of them are. The system is not working; simply adding a bit more guidance, a bit more urging and a bit more soul searching will not mean they are included in practice either.
Category 3 has historically been interpreted very narrowly and is interpreted by gatekeepers—people who are concerned about stretched resources and will continue to be so. At the moment, what that means in practice is that police, probation officers and other agencies involved in the system are simply not treating repeat perpetrators —those with repeat domestic abuse convictions—as high- risk offenders, yet they are high risk. Someone who has already been convicted of domestic abuse against a series of different women is a risk to other women and needs to be properly assessed, yet at the moment the system does not assess them as high risk. That is what we are trying to fundamentally change through legislation, to send a strong signal through the system—to police officers, specialist agencies and probation services across the country—that these cases are high risk and put other women at risk in future. They need to be properly assessed and managed to keep other women safe.
The Government have said that that would introduce complexity without compensatory benefits. The compensatory benefit would be to include more people in the system who are high risk to future victims. That is the benefit, and it would be hugely important. Nor do I accept that the proposal would add complexity. It would undoubtedly add to the number of people who would need to be assessed, because we know that some of these people are not being assessed when they should be, but it would not add complexity. In fact, there would be a clear and simple process that recognises that this group of people needs to be assessed and recognised for the risks that they pose.
I fear that part of the difference between us is about resources and the number of people who would need to be assessed, because the undoubted impact of this measure would be to require additional people—those who pose the highest risk, the repeat domestic abuse and stalking cases—to be assessed, on the register and properly managed. My fear is that some of the resistance from within the Home Office comes from a fear of needing to provide the additional resources. I therefore ask the Minister to look again at this and at the importance of recognising that we need to expand the system to keep more women safe.
Let us remember that statistic we all use. We all talk about two women a week who are killed by a partner or an ex as a result of domestic abuse. It is still two women a week. When the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and I were first debating issues around domestic abuse almost 10 years ago, we were talking about the two women a week whose lives were lost; it is still two women a week whose lives are lost. Those are the women we should be trying to help, and that is what amendment 42 does. If two people a week were losing their lives at football matches as a result of the violent behaviour of a small number of hooligans or violent perpetrators, you could bet we would focus on those perpetrators and the action needed to target those violent offenders. We have to do the same for women’s lives and not think it is too complex or difficult to get the system to work and focus on high-risk offenders.
That is why I urge the Government to think again, change their position and support amendment 42. It is not enough to say that it is possible under the existing system to take action against dangerous perpetrators. It is not about what is possible; we need to ensure that it happens in practice. Our responsibility is to ensure that the action to keep women safe takes place. That is why we need amendment 42.
I urge the Minister to listen to the words of the father of Jane Clough, John Clough, who has said:
“It’s way past time serial abusers and stalkers were treated with the same gravitas as sex offenders and managed in a similar fashion”.
We do not have to be passive in the face of the escalating violence of a small number of dangerous offenders. We do not have to just allow these violent criminals to keep reoffending in perpetuity. After the awful murders of Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, the Government rightly said they would redouble their action on violence against women, so I urge them to do so. Amendment 42 gives them the possibility to do so. I hope the Minister will think again and support amendment 42 now.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate because this is a very important Bill, it is a good Bill and it significantly improves the law in a number of respects. A number of the amendments made in the other place improve the Bill, too.
I am particularly pleased to see the creation of the offence of non-fatal strangulation. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, I practised in the criminal courts for some 25 years before coming into this place. There was a gap in the law here. Evidentially it was often very difficult to fit that course of conduct into the existing offence under section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to reflect the gravity of it—the lower offence under section 20 often would not give adequate sentencing powers. Equally it was often difficult to demonstrate that the elements of attempted murder were made out—often it would not be possible to prove that was the case—in the light of what had happened. So the creation of a specific offence to deal with a type of behaviour that is particularly pernicious in abusive relationships—I certainly came across it in my career, as I am sure have many others in this House—is particularly valuable and welcome. I know it is welcomed by practitioners and by judges in these cases, because it now gives us a means of capturing the whole of the conduct that can happen in these types of relationship. So that is very welcome.
I welcome, too, what the Minister said about revenge porn. The Law Commission’s work is very valuable in this field, but the Government’s commitment to moving swiftly on this is important too, because it is critical that offences are kept up to date with the changing technologies and use of social media in society. So these are very good aspects of the Bill, in addition to the others that have already been mentioned.
I want to talk briefly about three Lords amendments that the Government are right to resist, although I understand and support, as will most Members, the sentiments behind them. The first is Lords amendment 33, which relates to judicial training. The Minister’s comments on this are right. It is absolutely right that there must be training. A great deal is being done now to improve awareness by judges and sentencers—both judges and magistrates, because we must remember many of these cases will be tried by lay magistrates as well as by professional judges. It is absolutely right that there is up-to-date and comprehensive training in this regard. The Judicial College has done a great deal of work now. As Baroness Butler-Sloss—a former president of the family division and one of the most experienced family judges we have in this country, although she is now retired—pointed out, that has been incorporated specifically both into the initial training and the refresher training that is required for judges and magistrates. The Justice Committee in previous reports in relation to the role of the magistracy has urged that there be a more comprehensive training programme. It is important that the Minister ensures that the Ministry of Justice makes the funding available for those training programmes, whether residential or day courses, to be systematically and comprehensively delivered across the country, and that all magistrates and judges have access to them in a timely fashion.
However, I do not think we need primary legislation to do that. We certainly should have a practical strategy, but I do not think it is right that that should lie in the hands of the Secretary of State. If I can draw an analogy, later in the proceedings, there is a Government amendment in lieu setting out a strategy for the prosecution of offenders. I think that is properly a strategy that can be owned by Ministers because it relates to what is done by the Executive arms of state such as the prosecution. That is different from what is done by the judicial arm of the state. It does not seem constitutionally proper, despite the good intentions behind the amendment, to enable any Secretary of State to have power to dictate to the independent judiciary how they should set about their training programmes and what they should contain. That is a discrete but significant flaw in the amendment, which is why the House would be right to resist it. The objective can be achieved but without trespassing over the constitutional division between Executive, legislature and judiciary that unfortunately is the inevitable and logical consequence of the amendment. It puts the power in a Minister’s hands when in fact there is a clear willingness by the judiciary to seize the nettle themselves on this. We shall make sure that they have the resources to enable them to seize that nettle, but we should not be dictating to them as to how they do it. That is why the Government are right to resist the amendment.
Lords amendments 37 and 38 relate to reasonable force as a defence and a further statutory offence in domestic abuse cases. Again, the intention is entirely laudable but, certainly in my experience, it is not necessary to put this into primary legislation. For example, the circumstances that are set out in the two amendments and in the lengthy schedule—I think that is Lords amendment 83, which is attached to one of those— relate to offences where it is already possible under existing criminal law for a defendant to raise the full defence of self-defence, which once raised must then be rebutted by the prosecution, or a partial defence—for example, an offence of duress, which can, under certain circumstances, either be a complete defence to an offence or reduce murder down to manslaughter. Those are already available.
Since the decision in the Challen case—a case that came too late in terms of justice to the individual concerned but which has now set the law on a much better and more up-to-date footing—there is a recognition that the course of conduct of coercive control can be regarded as a factor that raises the defence of duress in the appropriate case. Therefore, the means of a victim of domestic abuse to bring that before the court is already available and it does not seem necessary to add these clauses to the Bill. It might actually have the effect of limiting, unintentionally, the scope of conduct that can be captured and used by a defendant to assert that they were acting in self-defence.
The law of self-defence has changed. In fact, I was involved in one of the leading cases in the Court of Appeal, which rightly—albeit I was on the prosecution side—said that the law prior to the case of Bird back in the 1990s was too restrictive in what could be pleaded as self-defence. That is particularly important to a woman, and the defendant in that case was a female. The person she had assaulted in self-defence was, as it turned out, a man. That imbalance was not properly reflected in the law up until the Bird case, but it then was, and therefore the existing common law is on a much sounder footing to deal with this. Therefore, it is not necessary to go down the route set out in Lords amendment 38.
The defence of duress is, as I say, already available. Evidence that shows that the defendant had been a victim of domestic abuse is of itself already relevant and admissible to set up the defence of duress, in the same way as it is relevant and admissible where a defence of self-defence is pleaded. So we are in danger of over-engineering a solution that is already there and where the courts have shown themselves willing to reflect changes in social conditions and the pressures that exist.
Let me end my observations by stating that the attitude of the courts in relation to domestic abuse offences, and to sexual offences more generally as well, is sometimes criticised—sometimes rightly—but I have noticed that the judiciary’s approach has changed vastly over the years I have been involved in criminal law. There is now a much greater understanding of the power imbalance that often exists in relationships and that, very frequently, women are in the more vulnerable position. In both the investigation of offences and their handling in court, far greater sensitivity is now shown to victims and complainants in such cases, and absolutely rightly so.
It seems to me that the law is able to deal with these matters without the need for further primary legislation. The sentiments behind the three Lords amendments I have spoken about are entirely laudable, but they can be picked up and captured elsewhere. For those reasons, it is proper for the Government to resist them.
I express my commiserations to the Queen, the royal family and, of course, the family of our very own Dame Cheryl Gillan.
I really welcome the Bill: it is a huge step in the right direction to better support victims of domestic abuse, and I thank all those who have worked so hard to make sure that it has come forward. However, in passing this legislation we must ensure that someone’s migrant status does not prevent them from getting the support that they need.
One of the greatest challenges in tackling the abhorrent crime of domestic abuse is the fact that all too often incidents go unreported. The problem is further exacerbated if victims are afraid to come forward because they fear that doing so could lead to their deportation. For example, there is a risk that people will be afraid to report their abuse if their right to be in the UK is dependent on their staying with their spouse. Everyone, no matter their migration status, deserves equal protection under the law.
Lords amendment 40, on data sharing for immigration purposes, is therefore a huge opportunity to reassure victims and witnesses that the details they share with the police and other agencies will not be used for any immigration-control purposes. This will give them the confidence to come forward and report this often-hidden crime.
Let me turn to Lords amendment 41, on leave to remain and the destitution domestic violence concession. The long, arduous process of reporting domestic abuse and then through to eventual conviction is immensely taxing for all victims. The stress caused is unmanageable if victims are having to secure their right to remain in the UK at the same time.
The situation is made worse by the policies that limit access to some key services for those subject to immigration control. Lords amendment 41 will enshrine into law the right of victims of domestic abuse to have a route towards being granted indefinite leave to remain. Importantly, it will also guarantee their right to access services that could provide a vital lifeline. It could save lives.
In building a global Britain, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with all victims of domestic abuse, no matter their country of origin. Not only do we have a moral responsibility to enact the changes in the Lords amendments but, as signatories to the Istanbul convention on preventing violence against women and girls, we have an international responsibility, too.
One of the remaining hurdles in the way of full implementation of the convention is equal protection on the grounds of migrant or refugee status. Eight years on from the UK having become a signatory, it is a national embarrassment that the Government have repeatedly dithered and delayed its implementation. Lords amendments 40 and 41 will remove the stumbling block and pave the way towards Britain fulfilling its international and moral obligations.
Domestic abuse has existed in the shadows for far too long. This legislation goes a significant way towards protecting victims, and I hope Members will support Lords amendments 40 and 41 to ensure that its protections are available to all.
I am delighted to speak in this debate. Some excellent additions have been made to what was already a very strong Bill. In particular, I am delighted to speak to Lords amendment 35, which makes threatening to share sexual photographs or videos of someone without their consent an offence punishable by up to two years in prison.
Let me put on the record my thanks to both Bill Ministers, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). I know that they have long supported these measures and worked hard to include them in the Bill, and they have put up with my badgering them on this issue with good grace. I also thank Baroness Morgan of Cotes, whose expert—and indeed noble—badgering was successful in getting the amendment over the line in the other place.
Most of all, however, I thank my constituent Natasha Saunders. I should say “my former constituent” because I have lost her to my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin)—although she assures me that that is no reflection on her former Member of Parliament. Brave women such as Natasha, and brave men, have stood up and told their stories. It is one thing to campaign for changes to the law; it is much harder for someone to speak publicly about the darkest moments—the most personal and private moments—of their life.
When we last debated the Bill in this House, I shared some of Natasha’s story. She said, in her own words:
“The threat of those photos being shared was my worst nightmare—I had no choice but to comply with his continued abuse or face potential humiliation… The threat was always there and as the years went on, it was like I ceased to exist. He made me feel invisible to everyone and if I displeased him in any way, I knew he could use those pictures to ruin my reputation.”
Natasha has been working with Refuge. I thank it, too, for its excellent research on this issue, which gave us the evidence base we needed. Refuge’s “The Naked Threat” report found that one in 14 people in England and Wales, and one in seven young women, has been a victim of threats to share. Almost four in five women changed the way they behaved as a result of the threats, proving how much this law is needed.
Threatening to expose someone at their most vulnerable because they have done or want to do something you do not like is a deeply sinister crime. It has already resulted in tragedy, and I know it has contributed to trapping people in dangerous, abusive relationships. Now survivors will have a route to justice.
I am proud to vote for Lords amendment 35. I am even prouder of Natasha. She has decided to start on the journey from campaigner to Member of Parliament, to do more to protect others from the horror she suffered, and I very much hope that she will join us on the iconic green Benches before long.
First, may I associate myself with the remarks of the Minister and the tributes to both His Royal Highness Prince Philip and Dame Cheryl Gillan?
It is, as others have said, a privilege to take part in this debate. When the Bill was first introduced, we were already aware of the need for protection for so many in our society. Roughly 2 million people a year in the UK, most of them women, are subject to some form of domestic abuse. In the subsequent debates, we have heard some incredibly brave and moving stories.
Throughout the covid-19 crisis, we have seen domestic abuse figures increase exponentially. In the past month, we have become, if anything, even more aware of the need for this landmark legislation. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) expressed, it is our duty here to reflect the demand for change that we have seen and heard from so many in our society.
The Bill has certainly changed and developed over the past four years. It has been supported and shaped positively from both sides of the Chamber, and I believe it has become stronger as a result. We have made progress and strengthened the Bill in areas such as including children in the definition, introducing protections for survivors of abuse in court, and taking our first steps towards making misogyny a hate crime.
However, the Bill could still be stronger. There are important, significant areas in which there is more work that we need to do. They include migrant women, who should have the same consideration as every other woman in our society. Getting out of a violent or abusive situation should not be dependent on where someone comes from. For me, this is a critical point. As has already been mentioned, this country has signed the Istanbul convention, but the Government have yet to ratify it. Under that convention, a person could not be denied support on the basis of their immigration status.
There is a specific amendment that I would ask the Government to reconsider: Lords amendment 42, on monitoring serious and serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking. In the other place, my colleague Baroness Brinton spoke powerfully from her own awful experience about the clear need to strengthen MAPPA and introduce a register for serious and serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking. That is why Lords amendment 42 is so important, and we should oppose the Government’s attempt to replace it with a much weaker amendment.
Tackling domestic abuse must include ensuring that the criminal justice system deals with obsessed serial perpetrators properly. I appreciate the Minister’s explanation, and the fact that she sympathises with the objective of the Lords amendment, but I cannot agree that there are not sufficient benefits to justify complications. There is no complication I can see that is ever too great to justify not increasing protection for any of us at any time from anyone. We have already heard numerous moving examples today of the damage done to lives by repeat offenders, and Liberal Democrats do not believe that the Government’s amendment in lieu goes far enough. We will therefore not support it.
This Bill speaks to a problem that infects our society and threatens people, mostly women, in every part of the country every day of the year. We are sending a message today from this place. Let us make it the strongest it can possibly be, so that when the Bill reaches the statute book, this landmark legislation is the strongest it can possibly be.
I am privileged to speak in this debate today, and I would like to start by joining in the tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan. She was an incredibly kind individual and she will be sorely missed in the House.
This really is a landmark piece of legislation. It shows what the House is truly capable of when it works together, and I commend all those who have been involved in bringing the Bill to where it is.
Over the past year, we have experienced life in a very different way, often not being able to leave our homes. For most of us it has been incredibly difficult, but for victims of domestic abuse the reality has been much harsher. Over the past year, victims of domestic abuse have often found themselves trapped by their abuser without any space, physical or emotional, between them. There has been a worrying increase in the demand for domestic abuse support, and this has been seen across the country. In fact, just last night I was contacted about someone who is a victim of domestic abuse and who needs my support. This just happens way too often.
There are two parts of the Bill to which I will refer today: Lords amendment 42 and the now-included provision in Lords amendment 35 on the threat to disclose intimate images. On the latter, I will say this. In 2015, we recognised the manipulative and psychological power that abusers had over victims when laws were introduced in relation to revenge porn, and we have seen more than 900 abusers convicted as a result. I am relieved to see that the threat to disclose intimate images is now being addressed in this legislation, because the harm caused by these threats is immeasurable and can have an extremely deep and lasting psychological impact on the victims. It is a sinister and cowardly crime.
I have heard anecdotal stories of communities in which honour plays a big role, and where abusive husbands have threatened to disclose intimate images of their wives or partners in an attempt to dishonour them in order to coercively control and manipulate them. I hope that the Bill will go a long way towards letting those women know that this is not okay and that they are not alone. I thank Baroness Morgan for all the hard work she has done in getting this legislation amended. I also believe that social media companies need to play their part in fulfilling their responsibility to take down any distressing or manipulative images that may be classed as revenge porn—and swiftly, so that victims are protected.
I empathise with the intention and spirit of Lords amendment 42. However, I accept the Government’s position on this. There is, of course, still more that can be done through existing systems and better use of the MAPPA framework. As long as that is possible, the objective is the same, and if a way forward can be found through non-legislative means, that is certainly worth exploring. Of course, as has been said, domestic abuse does not just end when two partners—two individuals—stop living with each other.
By improving MAPPA, by improving the information-sharing processes with different agencies and individuals, the message to those who commit these cowardly acts of violence, stalking or domestic abuse is very clear: through this legislation, this Government and this House are determined that you will feel the full force of the law. We will come for you and we will not let you get away with it. And for the victims of these heinous crimes, the message is simple: you are not alone and we will not let you suffer alone.
May I associate myself with the comments today about the Duke of Edinburgh and Dame Cheryl Gillan?
If we want to tackle violence against women, we need to change the conversation. We need to stop asking how we keep women safe and start asking how we stop the violence. I pay tribute to the many organisations and many Members across the House who have devoted time, effort and energy to the Bill and to that conversation—SafeLives, Refuge, Women’s Aid, Southall Black Sisters, Laura Richards, to name but a few of the many. The bitter reality is that whatever political perspective we come from, we have all known, in the many years that we have worked on this legislation, that it is a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity, because the conversation has all too often been about how women should keep themselves safe, rather than our responsibility to free them from harm.
I welcome the Government’s agreement to many changes to this legislation along its journey—just today, we are discussing their acceptance of Lord Kennedy’s amendment to stop doctors charging domestic abuse victims for medical evidence, for example. This also includes the changes on revenge porn, treating crimes that are motivated by misogyny as hate crime and ensuring that the police act to record how hostility towards someone’s sex or gender means that women are targeted for assault, abuse and harassment. However, in the time I have today, I want to urge the Minister to go further and drop the Government’s opposition to amendments where we ask a victim to fit a particular box rather than recognising that they all need our assistance to stop the violence.
Lords amendments 1 to 3 recognise the abuse of disabled people by paid or unpaid carers. Disabled women are twice as likely as their non-disabled counterparts to experience abuse, so we seek to support our disabled sisters from those who are their intimate contacts—people we trust to undertake some of the most sensitive acts, whether that is personal care, or emotional or financial matters. The Minister says that she cannot accept these amendments because giving those who are abused by their carers the protection of the Bill would change the common law understanding of domestic abuse and somehow dilute the purpose of the legislation, but the amendment is exactly about changing our understanding of abuse, where it happens and who suffers from it. This abuse takes place in a domestic setting and it is the result of an intimate relationship. For too long, those affected have been telling us about reviewing their evidence, how somehow they have to prove their case and why they cannot keep themselves safe through existing legislation. If we want to stop violence and abuse, we need to act and change how we think about domestic abuse accordingly. That is what Lords amendments 1 to 3 do.
Many have already spoken about Lords amendment 41, because that ensures that we give migrant victims of abuse the help that they need to leave abusive relationships, whatever their status. Without it, the Government are asking us to make a decision on whether to keep a victim of violence safe not on whether she is at risk, but on whether she has the right stamp in her passport. There is a speech for another day about the dysfunctionalities of the UK Border Agency and its ability to manage our immigration service, but it is a simple matter of fact that many victims of domestic abuse cover the cost of getting support, help and access to a refuge through their ability to access public assistance. When we deny women access to that assistance due to their immigration status, we consign them to having no way out of harm. Indeed, as Refuge pointed out, the number of survivors of abuse with no recourse to public funds is likely to increase post-Brexit under our new immigration proposals, so the need to address this will become even more pressing.
The Minister said that migrant victims should be seen as victims first, yet as she can see from the super-complaint and the evidence that it reveals, the reality is that they are all too often treated as potential criminals first and foremost when they come forward. We need to not only safeguard them from having their data shared but give them protection from being exploited full stop, and that is what Lords amendment 41 does. There are contradictions already exposed in this debate. The Minister says in one breath that the key consideration for migrant victims is not their immigration status and then says that victims of domestic violence should not have an automatic right to status in the UK. She says she needs more information and claims that the amendments are unnecessary as a result because she is reviewing the matter. I tell her, as somebody who has had to deal with these cases in my constituency and who is a big fan of the work that Southall Black Sisters does, that we do not need more reviews and more evidence, because the evidence is painfully already there.
The Minister says there is support, but we know that in 2019, for example, four in five migrant women were turned away from refuges due to their “no recourse to public funds” status. We have seen at first hand the women kept in violent relationships because of their immigration status. We have given testimony of the culture of fear they experience—fear of not only their abuser but the officials who are supposedly there to help them.
I also say, as a former member of the Council of Europe who had the privilege to serve on it alongside Dame Cheryl Gillan and learn from her in that institution, that we cannot ratify the Istanbul convention while we try to draw a distinction between women in the help they can access. Ministers told us that women in Northern Ireland were not treated differently when it came to their reproductive rights, and quite rightly, the Council of Europe told them otherwise. It is the same when it comes to drawing a distinction between migrant women and whether they can access support for being victims of domestic abuse. It is long overdue that we ratify the Istanbul convention. We cannot let this prevent us from being able to do that. We are one of the few countries left in Europe that has yet to ratify the convention, and I ask the Minister to talk to her counterparts in Europe, and to recognise how this will be a barrier to doing that and will leave women at risk in our communities.
Finally, I turn to Lords amendment 42, another matter on which there is much agreement in the House that we need to act. It is the best example among the amendments of how we can change the conversation and stop the violence caused by serial perpetrators and stalkers. The Minister tells us that the amendment is not needed, that it is not about the category of an offender but how MAPPA processes work, and that her proposals for reform will address that. I understand the point that she is making, and I can see that there is some truth in her argument about how services need to work together, because the evidence shows time and again that serial offenders and serial stalkers were left to target women without intervention. For years, women have lived in fear and begged for help from the police to protect them, only to be told that they were being overdramatic. That is not me being overdramatic. Research shows how the constant dismissing and downplaying of stalking’s serious nature means that, on average, victims of the crime do not report to the police until the 100th incident.
Shana Grice was fined for wasting police time before she was murdered by her stalker—a man who had been reported by 13 other women for stalking. Alice Ruggles was murdered by her ex-partner in 2016. The court heard how a restraining order had been taken out by an ex-girlfriend of his just three years earlier, but at the point at which Alice was begging the police for help, Northumbria police had no knowledge of that. Janet Scott, Pearl Black, Linah Keza, Maria Stubbings, Kerri McAuley, Molly McLaren, Hollie Gazzard, Justene Reece, Kirsty Treloar, Jane Clough, Linzi Ashton—all those cases involved serial perpetrators who had been violent and abusive to other women before they were attacked. No one joined the dots. No one asked whether they were at risk and acted. These women were sitting ducks. That is the system that the Minister is defending today.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) says that putting someone’s name on a list does not make a difference. Frankly, I disagree. It means that we can finally hold the police, not the victims, to account, because they would have direct accountability for the management of their behaviour. It makes stalking something that the police have to recognise in its own right as something they need to stop, rather than something that women have to prove and manage. I pay tribute to the work that Laura Richards has done tirelessly to expose the situation and fight for these changes and to Baroness Royall, Baroness Newlove and Lord Russell for their work in the other place on this issue.
We know that this Bill has been a marathon, but we are asking the Minister to keep going that extra mile, to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to stop trying to defend the indefensible and the status quo, to change the conversation so that we can stop the violence and not allow perpetrators of these crimes to use the loopholes—those that the amendments would close—to continue the abuse. The evidence base is already there. It just needs the political will to act. I say to the House that if the Minister will not listen, we must, and we must vote for the amendments.
I join colleagues in their tributes to Dame Cheryl Gillan. I knew her for 20 years, from her role as shadow Secretary of State and later as Secretary of State for Wales. I am so very sorry she has gone; she would have made a fantastic speech today.
It was an honour to sit on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee last year. I am extremely proud that we have managed to prioritise this vital piece of legislation at this time. It will empower victims, communities and professionals to confront and challenge domestic abuse, and above all to provide victims with the support they deserve.
I commend the Minister for her efforts in this area and the shadow Minister, who talked about the spirit with which this Bill was forged. She is absolutely right that it has been made stronger all the way along by Members on both sides of the House, and I very much welcome that. I welcome the Government’s support for some of the amendments that were laid in the other place. They will create a standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation, extend the coercive and controlling behaviour offence to post-separation abuse and criminalise threats to share intimate images.
I also support the Government in opposing Lords amendment 41. I believe that, as worded, it could risk further exploitation of vulnerable individuals, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) pointed out. The Government have taken a significant step in supporting migrant victims today by announcing the scheme to be delivered by Southall Black Sisters. I met them when they gave evidence to the Bill Committee, and I am confident that they will be successful.
Much of what we will discuss this afternoon will be addressed later this year as the Government look at the violence against women and girls consultation. I commend the Government for acting fast and reopening that consultation in the wake of the horrific murder of Sarah Everard. It is extremely positive that so many more contributions were made to that consultation.
While I have the Minister’s ear, I want to press again the need to do something about cyber-flashing—spreading indecent images using mobile devices on an unsolicited basis. That happens often on public transport. I was once flashed by a man on a night out in Cardiff. I could have had him arrested, because doing it in person is a criminal offence, but if a person digitally exposes themselves unsolicited, it is currently not the same offence. That needs to change. No one should be made to feel alarmed, distressed or intimidated as a result of being sent an unsolicited explicit photo. With so many more of our young people living their lives online with their own mobile phones, we need to put a stop to cyber-flashing.
I briefly want to mention the case of Ruth Dodsworth. For those of us in Wales, she is a very familiar face. She is a TV and weather presenter on ITV Wales. Yesterday, her ex-husband was jailed for three years after making her life a misery for nine long years. He was verbally abusive and physically violent. He followed her to work, put a tracker on her car, and even used her fingerprints to open her phone while she was sleeping to read its contents. Every day, Ruth went to work and read the weather forecast in a sunny, positive manner, completely concealing the horror that she was facing at home. I raise that point not only to praise Ruth’s bravery and incredible courage but to remind victims everywhere that they do not have to put a smile on their face, pretend they are okay and get on with it. The police and the criminal justice system are there to support them when they come forward. Ruth’s case shows that this is not something that is happening in the shadows to women we do not know. We all know a victim of domestic abuse, whether we know it or not. This Bill is landmark legislation that will go a significant way to protecting the estimated 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year. I wish it swift passage through these Houses.
Before I close, I want to single out the work that has been going on in my local area in Powys. I particularly applaud Powys County Council’s children’s services. Recently, I met its head of service, Jan Coles, and she talked me through the outstanding work it has been doing to support children victims of domestic abuse. That work has obviously been made so much more difficult during the recent pandemic, and I want to put on the record my thanks for what it has done. Powys was one of the first local authorities to quickly get vulnerable children into school hubs at the same time as key worker children, and I commend the council for that effort.
Finally, I thank all the brave survivors and tireless organisations who have given evidence during the passage of the Bill. This Bill is stronger because of them. I give it my full support, and I am proud to have played a very small part in it.
I would also like to pay tribute to the great Cheryl Gillan, an inspirational and supportive colleague whose presence is felt very strongly on this side of the House. The Bill returns to us in different and better shape from how it left us. The amendments do not just add content, but expand the framework through which domestic abuse in all its insidious complexity is understood. It is something that may well outlive the relationship. I have seen through work I have done with a particular constituent of mine that coercive or controlling behaviour can live long after the couple have stopped living under the same roof.
The Bill recognises that the threat of certain forms of abuse can be as pernicious as the act itself. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) for the beautiful way she expressed the shame and humiliation that lies at the heart of revenge porn, which is an offence irrespective of whether the threat is actually carried out. The amendments provide protection against sexual violence that does not depend on any particular relationship status. The measures on revenge porn and non-fatal strangulation and the prohibition on the rough sex defence are all examples of that, and I pay tribute to Baroness Newlove for succeeding where we failed.
The Bill has evolved in part into a very significant body of law on sexual violence. It says to women, “It doesn’t matter if he is your husband or just someone that you met on Tinder. If he tries to choke you, that is a crime. If he tries to silence you by saying that he will share images of you online, that is a crime. If he hurts you, whether through choking or anything else, and says that you were up for it, that will not work; it is a crime.”
This Bill comes at a very important moment in a national conversation we are having. We know such things are happening because of the countless women who have submitted their stories to the campaign group We Can’t Consent To This in the past 18 months, detailing terrifying sexual violence in intimate encounters, and the more than 14,000 young women who have submitted anonymous testimonies on “Everyone’s Invited”, in particular describing the sharing of online images. Then there are the 40% of young women who told the BBC in 2019 that they had experienced unwanted strangulation. What we have heard time and time again is that they just thought it was normal. They did not think that they could report it. For now, these changes meet that challenge and give women a route to justice in respect of these crimes.
I want to speak briefly on judicial training. I start by reminding the House of what the Court of Appeal said about that in an appeal it heard on domestic abuse about a fortnight ago. It said that while domestic abuses are often not “crystal clear”, where there is detailed guidance on judicial training, the number of appeals tends to be smaller.
I would like to talk about judicial training in the context of non-fatal strangulation, which is something I have raised with Lord Wolfson. Subsection (2) of clause 72 says that the offence is initiated by consent. I understand as a matter of law and principle why that is, but we need to be realistic about what the offence looks like. First, we know that it is occurring frequently, and we know that it occupies a sprawling kind of grey area. As the Centre for Women’s Justice put it, there is
“growing pressure on young women to consent to violent, dangerous and demeaning acts”,
such as strangulation, most likely
“due to the widespread availability…and use of extreme pornography.”
Without proper training from the Judicial College, it is easy to see how the defence could be used to lead to an acquittal.
Very often, perhaps always, the victim will have consented to sex in the first place. She may on a previous occasion have consented to strangulation or something like it under duress or a desire to please, and by the time she reports it to the police, she may not have very strong evidence of physical injury. We know from precedent, such as the Samuel Price case in 2015 on very similar facts, that her history will be used against her in evidence and will be relevant. Judicial training is imperative so that a case founded on these facts is not destined to fail.
I would also like to associate myself with colleagues’ remarks about the sadness of the passing of His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, our dear colleague Dame Cheryl Gillan and of course Baroness Shirley Williams in the other place, and I send my sincere condolences to their families and friends.
I will be supporting the Lords amendments to this important Bill tonight. That we should need a Domestic Abuse Bill is a sad indictment of our society, but the facts speak for themselves. In England and Wales, two women a week will die at the hands of their partner, ex-partner or a family member. Yes, domestic abuse affects men as well, but most abuse is directed at women. Seventy-three years on from the commitment to universal human rights, which declared that
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”—
that women are equal to men—our fundamental rights to life are being denied by too many.
This violence against women and girls in a domestic or wider setting has context. For some, girl babies are seen as less important than boy babies, and daughters who are deemed to have shamed their families are punished, sometimes fatally. Too many still see their wives and daughters as chattels, and too many justify rape on how women dress. Our right to an education, to marry whom we wish, to work in whatever job we wish—limited only by our abilities, not by prejudice and discrimination—and to be paid equally for that work still elude us. If we want to stop violence against women, including in the home, we need a cultural change. Society needs to stop paying lip service to women’s rights and to treat women equally in every aspect of life, and this culture change requires leadership.
In addition to the cultural context, if we are going to try to prevent domestic abuse, we also need to recognise its drivers, including socioeconomic conditions. Yesterday, at the Work and Pensions Committee, we heard evidence that, although domestic abuse happens in all walks of life, being under financial pressure is associated with an increased risk of abuse. Poverty cannot be decoupled from abuse; it is both a cause and a consequence.
The lack of provision in the Bill to address wider cultural issues and the socioeconomic context associated with abuse were discussed at a recent Oldham roundtable looking at the impacts of covid on domestic abuse over the last year. In addition to these gaps, I noted with some concern that the detection of abuse at community level did not translate into incidents reported to the police. Reflecting national patterns during the first lockdown in Oldham, the average number of cases at MARAC doubled every fortnight and the numbers of children on child protection plans following domestic abuse concerns increased by 41%, but this was not reflected in the numbers of domestic abuse incidents reported to the police, which has remained fairly static at about 400 a month. This obviously suggests that domestic abuse has been under-reported and that there is an increased problem of hidden abuse, as colleagues have been discussing as we have been going along.
The concerns raised in Oldham about the provisions in the Bill were particularly related to the issues, first, of victims with complex needs; secondly, of victims with no recourse to public funds; and finally, of the practical implementation of the Bill and its funding mechanisms. On victims with complex needs, including disabled people or people with a mental health condition, there were concerns, on top of the shortage of refuge places ordinarily, about the new duty to support a victim in safe accommodation and the availability of appropriately adapted or supported safe accommodation. Basically, there are not enough places. I would also like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and other colleagues who have been raising the disappointment regarding the Government’s position on abuse of disabled women by their carers and the lack of the support for the Lords amendments on this, which we think is very short-sighted.
I also echo colleagues’ remarks concerning the Lords amendments to address the lack of support for women with no recourse to public funds—predominantly but not exclusively migrant women. Currently, the destitution domestic violence concession scheme is a lengthy and bureaucratic process, leaving these women in limbo, often without access to the support they need, and we need to change that.
On the practicalities of implementing the Bill, there are concerns that the timescales for local authorities will be challenging in the context of an ongoing pandemic, particularly in regard to the requirements to have local strategies in place by August and to spend budget allocations by April 2022. Similarly, there is concern that funding will be skewed towards services around the narrowly defined duty for local authorities, at the expense of other essential support services, and that needs to be addressed. Given the timescales, local authorities will need to commit funding in advance of the strategic framework being ready, and they may not be able to spend the full allocation within this year. I hope that the Minister will also be able to address those remarks in her closing statement.
The Bill is a good move forward, but supporting the Lords amendments could make it even stronger, and I hope colleagues will support it.
I, too, would like to pay tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan. She gave me and so many others much support and encouragement on our journeys to this place, and she is an inspiration to us all.
It is a privilege to speak in this important debate, and it was an honour to sit on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee last year. I commend Ministers and Members on both sides of the House for the hard work behind the Bill. As we focus on the recent Lords amendments to the Bill, it is important that we remember that we are debating the finer detail of a Bill that will, as it already stands, deliver a radical change to the way that domestic abuse is defined and legislated against.
Not only does the Bill extend the definition of domestic abuse to include coercive and controlling behaviour, but it extends the definition of those who suffer to include children. For thousands of adults in the UK, the abuse they witnessed as a child will have had a profound and long-lasting effect. Many suffer deep trauma from the verbal, emotional and financial abuse they witnessed as children, which was perpetrated on and by the people they trusted to be their primary carers.
What we see and experience at an early age forms the basis of our future expectations, our own patterns of behaviour, and our health and wellbeing outcomes. It is devastating, therefore, to be exposed to any kind of abuse, including controlling and coercive behaviour, in our formative years. Studies have shown that children who witness domestic abuse often have the same poor life outcomes as those who are actually abused. They have the same likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder as soldiers returning from war. They are also more likely to experience stress-related physical illnesses and mental health problems throughout their lives, and they are more likely to exhibit health-damaging behaviours such as smoking and drug-taking. Crucially, they are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide.
Charities such as Gorwel in my constituency see those issues time and time again. In addition to providing refuges and support for men and women who are direct victims of domestic abuse, it offers specialist provision for children and young people who are dealing with the effects of domestic abuse. However, it can only do so much. As a result of the Bill broadening the definition of domestic abuse, we can improve the lives of not just the children of today but the adults of tomorrow. That is why the Bill is so important and why I commend the hard work that has gone into ensuring that it is fit for purpose and serves the needs of the adults and children of the UK.
The Domestic Abuse Bill provides an opportunity to deliver transformational change in tackling domestic abuse and violence, and many of the Lords amendments, which I wish to support today, strengthen it considerably.
Sadly, domestic abuse and violence remain endemic in this country, while unmet need remains a problem. Services have suffered under austerity, and one in six refuges in the UK have closed since 2010, while demand has increased, especially during the pandemic. Welsh Women’s Aid has shown that there has been a 32% increase in referrals to community-based support in the last year. Having worked in women’s refuges and with the victims of domestic abuse, I have witnessed the devasting impact this has on people’s lives—on women of all ages and backgrounds, on their children, and on families, friends and communities. I have seen how severe funding constraints hamper the development of effective services. I pay tribute to the excellent work carried out by Women’s Aid in my constituency, despite these challenges.
I strongly support Lords amendment 40, which would allow immigrants without leave to remain in the UK to safely report domestic abuse without the threat of immigration control. This amendment is crucial in order to overcome the reluctance and fear that migrant women have to access services. I also support Lords amendment 41, which would grant these survivors temporary leave to remain and access to public funds while they flee abuse and resolve their immigration status, and Lords amendment 43, which would require that all victims of domestic abuse receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their status, including migrants and groups sharing a protected characteristic status, such as older or younger victims, disabled people, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ victims. The provision is drafted in line with article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention, which the Government are committed to ratifying.
I am also pleased to support Lords amendments 47 and 48, which acknowledge the authority of the Senedd in Wales and prevent the Secretary of State from undermining the devolution agreements. I wish to make a further reference to the situation in Wales, as I feel Wales can be held up as a beacon of good practice. We already have the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 in place, and it was accompanied by a national strategy in 2016. Together, they set out measures to improve prevention, protection and the provision of support, to tackle domestic abuse, taking a multi-agency and collaborative approach. So I respectfully suggest that yet again Wales is ahead of the game and England can learn from us. However, the good work already done is hampered by a decade of cuts from central Government. Women’s Aid estimates that £393 million is needed for domestic abuse services annually. We need secure, sustainable, long-term funding from central Government, and this includes reversing the 41% real-terms cut in legal aid expenditure on civil domestic violence cases since 2012. Therefore, alongside this Bill and these Lords amendments, I call for those resources to be made available, so that the effective protection and support is available to all victims of domestic abuse.
May I again associate myself with the remarks about the passing of Prince Philip and of our wonderful colleague Cheryl Gillan?
This Bill was announced four years ago, and two generations later—sorry, two general elections later; it feels like two generations— we are on the cusp of it going on to the statute book. It is important to think about the time and the perspective, and to try to understand how the Bill’s evolution reflects the very much broader way society now understands the many forms of violence against women. Although I completely agree with the Minister that we cannot dilute the focus of this Bill from that specifically about domestic violence, and we are right to resist Lords amendments 1 to 3 to expand the application of the Bill to include paid and unpaid carers, we need to acknowledge that the Bill is not the same as it started out and that that is because of how we have seen and been appalled by the way in which violence affects women’s lives.
We have an opportunity in this Bill to ensure that women and girls know that they do not have to suffer abusive behaviour without having the support of the criminal justice system, but we also need the Government to make sure that there is consistency across all elements of Government policy in this respect; when it comes to schools, online and workplaces, we have to make sure that Government strategy reflects that there is no place anywhere in our society for abuse and violence against women. I hope that the Minister, whom I know feels this as strongly as I do, will make sure that this is reflected in the new strategy that she puts forward for the Government in the coming months, because at the moment there are inconsistencies there and that is confusing and undermining for women.
I welcome the approach that the Government and particularly the Minister have taken and the spirit of collaboration and co-operation across the House, which is important on an issue such as this. This Bill is not about what the Conservative or Labour party thinks; it is about what society thinks about women’s roles. That is hugely important when it comes to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said about how the Bill will only be of benefit if the police and judiciary put it into practice. In demonstrating that this is an issue that society feels strongly about and that transcends individual party interests, we demonstrate that what they have to embed, not just in their training systems but in their culture and ethos, is that violence against women is not acceptable in our society.
I commend the co-operative approach that the Government have taken, which I certainly saw when I chaired the Joint Committee scrutinising the Bill—which now feels like a lifetime ago. Indeed, the Government addressed almost all the Committee’s recommendations. In considering the more than 80 amendments today, we should not forget how far the Bill has taken us in making the culture change that we need to see, through establishing a commissioner, having the definition, stopping cross-examination by perpetrators and providing access to special measures. These things cannot be taken for granted, which is why we need to get the Bill on the statute book in its own right. We need those things to start to happen, rather than just continuing to talk about them. That is why I hope this is the last debate we have on the Bill.
I wish to speak in favour of two amendments that the Government are taking on board today. The first is Lords amendment 35, which concerns the disclosure of private intimate images. As other hon. and right hon. Members have said, it recognises a crime—the threat to publish private and intimate images—that has an appalling impact on those affected. I pay tribute to Refuge and its “The Naked Threat” campaign, but let us ponder what my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) said. She reminded us that one in seven women have experienced a threat to share an image in this way.
I fear that this will only become an increasing problem, because we have failed to tell young people that they should not share intimate images of themselves—that it is against the law and that they might never be able to remove them from the internet for the rest of their lives. We have failed to tell them that. In speaking in support of Lords amendment 35, I also urge the Minister to ensure that we tell young people, in our newly mandatory sex and relationship education—which, after 20 years of debate, has been on the statute book effectively since last September—that they cannot share such images. It is against the law and is not a normal part of growing up. We have still not landed that message.
My hon. Friend’s constituent Natasha’s story was from an adult’s perspective, but there will be hundreds and thousands of young women, and men, listening to this debate who are also living in fear of intimate images being released that they know that others have. This is a ticking time bomb and something that I hope my hon. Friend on the Front Bench and other Ministers will address even more directly in the online harms Bill and in response to the Law Commission’s long overdue consultation on intimate image abuse, which will look not only at the publication of such images but at issues such as cyber-flashing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) mentioned.
The other amendment that I want briefly to speak in support of is Lords amendment 36, which concerns non-fatal strangulation. As Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and the Joint Committee on the Bill, I have heard various evidence from young people under the age of 18 about how strangulation had become a routine part of their sexual experiences. I do not think we can overestimate the seriousness of this issue at all. I go back to my message to the Minister about telling young people that it is unlawful. Strangulation, simulated strangulation or semi-strangulation is not part of a normal loving relationship. If we do not tell young people that and they still have considerable access to extreme pornography, then we cannot expect anything to happen with regard to tackling the aggression rather than simply punishing the offenders.
The one hanging thread that remains from our Joint Committee inquiry into and scrutiny of the Bill is the individuals who have no recourse to public funds. That was not addressed at all when we scrutinised the Bill in Committee and it is, correctly, an issue we need to debate today. We need to get it right, and I just want to press the Minister a little further on it. No one wants to create a system that has the unintended consequence for migrant women of potentially putting them into a situation where they could be subject to further abuse as a result of the way our system of support works.
When we took evidence, the Joint Committee saw that there were very strong views on both sides on the support that would be in place for migrant women in particular. We took very strong evidence that said that a complete firewall was not always in the best interests of data and not always in the best interests of victims. We made a recommendation that there should be a much more robust Home Office policy on the use of firewalls and data in separating policy and practice with regard to support on immigration control.
The Minister has introduced a way forward on that with the pilot scheme she announced, the support for migrant victims scheme, but I feel we need more detail. We need to understand what will happen as a result of the pilot. Will £1.5 million be sufficient funding for the number of women who find themselves in a situation where they are suffering domestic abuse yet have no recourse to support? What metrics will be used to determine whether the pilot has been successful? How will it be rolled out? It is there to find more information, because the Government felt there was insufficient evidence to shape a policy in this area, but we really need to see from the Government more details about how the scheme, when it ends in 12 months’ time, will be evaluated and then taken forward. We cannot allow ourselves to be continually in the situation where we do not know how to put in place a long-term scheme to support migrant women who find themselves in this situation. I hope the Minister might at least be able to indicate today when we can expect to get more information and more detail. Maybe she could provide a briefing to those of us who follow these issues very closely.
In conclusion, the Bill was framed as a gateway to the ratification of the Istanbul convention. That is important because, as one hon. Member mentioned, we need to get ratification of the Istanbul convention. I hope that once the Bill goes on to the statute book that is what will happen—again, maybe the Minister will want to comment on that. The Bill is another clear sign of the Government’s commitment to helping to tackle the culture of violence towards women in this country, but there is much more to do, especially in the online world, and we need to keep going with our efforts to stop violence against girls and women around the world. We need to make sure we keep our focus on this very significant issue. By having this debate in the House of Commons today, we are showing that abuse is no longer something that will be tolerated in this country and that there is no place for violence against women at all. With this Bill, we will be adding yet another important piece of legislation to the statute books to ensure that women are safer in their day-to-day lives in our country.
I echo colleagues’ comments and put on the record that my thoughts are with the royal family and the friends and family of Dame Cheryl Gillan at this difficult time.
It is crystal clear that the Bill on the whole is extremely welcome. The strength of feeling across the country is that it has genuine potential to transform lives. It was a privilege to sit on the Bill Committee last year and I am proud of just how far the Bill in its current form has come.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse, I welcome with open arms the Government’s recent short-term investments in perpetrator work. What remains crucial, however, is for the Government to publish a comprehensive perpetrator strategy that addresses all the gaps identified in the debate in the other place. That strategy must be driven by the data.
At the moment, with current practices, we have no real idea about the true extent of the number of women losing their lives at the hands of a known perpetrator. Lords amendment 42 is utterly crucial if we are to get a real assessment of the extent of the issue. By forcing the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers within one year of the Domestic Abuse Bill being passed, we will be able to improve the identification, assessment and management of perpetrators to ensure a more co-ordinated approach to data collection across England and Wales.
That is critical to tackling domestic abuse in all its forms. Without an accurate picture, it is undeniable that cases will continue to fall through the net. It is utterly shameful that we live in a country where one woman is killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member every three days. Many of these perpetrators of violence have a history of abuse.
A multi-agency approach to managing risk is central to our ability to getting to grips with this crisis. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, only a few weeks ago, peers in the other place overwhelmingly voted for the plan to add convicted serial domestic abusers and stalkers to a high-risk offenders register. There is an obvious need and a desire for police forces and specialist agencies to have the tools to allow them to have a cohesive approach to preventing perpetrators from offending again, but also to protect victims going forward. Lords amendment 42, passed in the Lords, has the incredible potential to do just that, yet today Ministers are calling on MPs to vote to drop those plans.
Sadly, we all know the horrendous stories, we have all seen the headlines and we all know those women. The hard truth is that simply too often women are losing their lives at the hands of a perpetrator who has a history of abusive behaviour. That is an utterly shameful reality. I find it incomprehensible that the Government are failing to support action against serial abusers, who often pose the most serious risk of violence to women and girls.
There is no proper system for identifying these perpetrators, no system to monitor them and no system to centralise vital data that can assist in managing the risks and odds of abuse occurring when making initial risk assessments. I struggle to see how that can still be the case when we have known for years just how deeply rooted violence against women and girls and domestic abuse are in this country.
I pay tribute to campaigners such as Laura Richards, a former violent crime analyst for the Met police and the founder of the Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service. She has been fighting for legislation covering monitoring arrangements for serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators for years, and this is our chance to make that happen.
Domestic abuse is not inevitable, it is not something new and it is possible to prevent. Lords amendment 42 is a vital step forward, yet I find myself today facing a Government who just do not seem to get it. The Minister made some interesting remarks on the amendment in her opening contribution. She mentioned that the Government have concerns about the complexities of adding to the existing multi-agency public protection arrangements, but surely she must recognise that, if the Government’s hesitancy is about logistical challenges, as opposed to statutory frameworks, that opens some important questions about the Government’s ability to apply seriously the intricacies of the Bill in practice.
I am grateful for the honest assessment in recognising that there is more that the Home Office can do to improve arrangements, but I urge MPs to vote to keep Lords amendment 42 in the Bill and not to agree with the Government motion to reject the amendment.
This is a very important Bill. In April last year, I made my maiden speech during the Bill’s Second Reading debate and talked about my passion for supporting those who need it the most. Many Members from different parties have explained how far the Bill has come over the years, and it is important that changes have been made. I am proud to support the Bill as it will protect and give new rights to victims.
The Minister said in Committee that more than 2.4 million people are not safe in their own home and are subjected to scarring abuse. That is a huge figure and I am glad that the Government have responded to the voices of victims with this Bill, which is set to transform millions of lives. I thank everybody who has shared their personal experiences and contributed to the Bill.
Before I go any further, I wish to acknowledge the work of my local victim support services in Hyndburn police and the Hyndburn and Ribble Valley domestic violence team. These organisations have given a lifeline to domestic abuse victims in my constituency, as statistics continue to show the prevalence of domestic violence in households across the country. I speak regularly to Debbie who runs the Emily Davison Centre in my constituency. She has told me some harrowing stories and how covid has exasperated domestic abuse in homes. The centre has had to completely adapt the services that it provides and it is now much more about wraparound care.
I agree with the sentiments behinds all the Lords amendments, and I am pleased to see that the Government have accepted amendments such as Lords amendment 36 and Lords amendment 35, on what we know as revenge porn and the sharing of private images. Just the thought of being in that position, especially in professional positions—we will have seen and heard about that. It is hard to think that somebody could share an image and then everything that a person has worked for is gone, due to that one action by somebody who, in a lot of cases, that person will have previously loved, thinking it would never happen to them.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about the strategy review and the need for reform, and I welcome the support scheme for migrant victims, although, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), I would like the Minister to address specifically what it will look like. That is important for us all.
The Bill goes beyond previous definitions of domestic abuse and highlights the harrowing impact of emotional and coercive abuse. The definition is in place for victims who felt that their concerns were not legitimate when they were criticised by their partner and who were made to believe that the problem was always their fault. The Bill reinforces the rights of victims and shows perpetrators that they cannot get away with physical or emotional abuse anymore. As I have said previously, we are now joining together to say that it is absolutely not okay.
I got into politics to help those who have no voice and this landmark Bill does just that. I am proud of the difference that the Government are making, with this Bill, to the lives of people across the UK, and I am proud of the cross-party support that we have seen as we have moved through all its stages. I have not been around for all the Bill’s stages, but I have seen that that support has done tremendous work in making the Bill what it is today.
I speak in support of the amendments passed by the Lords that seek to protect those suffering from all forms of domestic abuse, regardless of factors such as their age and immigration status. The no-recourse-to-public-funds condition means that migrant victims face an increased risk of abuse, with limited support services to which to turn. That is why I support the Lords amendments that would ensure that support is provided to people regardless of their immigration status.
Today, the Minister announced £1.5 million of funds for an immediate-support programme targeted at migrant women. She mentioned data collection for the programme in order to potentially inform a more sustainable future programme. Many migrant victims will be asking whether they should come forward to receive help from this Government-funded programme; what kind of data on the support they receive will be collected; and whether the risk of immigration enforcement and deportation is the same, if not higher.
Furthermore, questions remain as to what assurances there will be that the pilot will believe migrant women’s experiences of abuse and that they will not be seen through a lens of suspicion. Many are perceived as exaggerating their experiences of abuse and even accused of lying to be granted indefinite leave to remain. All this is against the backdrop of an increasingly inaccessible and restrictive immigration system.
If we can recognise that abusers threaten to inform authorities and exploit fears of deportation, why cannot we recognise the fear that victims have in coming forward to seek help? Perpetrators use such systems to perpetuate their control. The HMICFRS, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct said only last year that police forces should restrict the sharing of information about vulnerable victims of crime, such as in cases of domestic abuse, with immigration enforcement, because the current system has been causing significant harm to the public. The Government need to address that now, because addressing this means recognising migrant victims for the victims that they are where they are.
It is positive that there is now a recognition that the harm caused by domestic abuse is far-reaching and that, in order for us to fight it, there must be a co-ordinated response across a variety of Government Departments. I do welcome the Government accepting amendments on areas such as the prohibition of charging for GP letters, but these concessions must be seen in the context of the Government continuing to strip away provision after provision, benefit after benefit, community space after community space, so support for those in need continues to weaken.
As chair of the all-party group on domestic violence and abuse, I pay tribute to the tireless work of those who have gone before me, my predecessor in the chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), and the many campaigners who have fought with such bravery and determination to stand up against domestic abuse and injustice, empowering people who, for too long, have had no voice, with support and rights—people like myself. As a survivor of domestic abuse, I cannot over-emphasise how, quite literally, life changing and life saving this support and solidarity can be. That is why it has truly been a privilege to be able to stand in this House and participate in the process of making the protections in this groundbreaking piece of legislation a reality. We can never stop our work in this area until no one has to go through what I have and what so many of us continue to be subjected to. This is why the amendments passed by this House, and by the House of Lords in particular, are so vital. Accordingly, I really urge the House to do the right thing today.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to follow two moving and passionate speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum). But can I first pay tribute to three former colleagues who have so recently died? Earlier this week we paid our tributes to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, but, today, I want to pay tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, and the former hon. Members for East Surrey, Peter Ainsworth, and for West Gloucestershire, Paul Marland. All three were, in their own ways, colleagues of the greatest fun and compassion in doing serious work.
Dame Cheryl in particular I want to thank for the advice she gave me when I joined our party board. Peter Ainsworth, who I have known since university, was a man of wide talents who played an important role after leaving this place in the Big Lottery and the Churches Conservation Trust. He was the only member of the shadow Cabinet to vote against the Iraq war. Paul Marland, who was the first Conservative MP for West Gloucestershire and represented that constituency, which neighbours my constituency of Gloucester, for 18 years should give everybody who aspires to be in politics the belief that, if you can keep trying, you will succeed, for he succeeded at the fourth attempt.
Turning now to this incredibly important Bill, the Domestic Abuse Bill, I cannot help but note today the number of speakers who have recognised, first, the importance of the Bill and, secondly, that the Bill has got better, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spelled out clearly. It is worth recognising how long work on this Bill has gone on for. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) briefly suggested that the work first started two generations ago, rather than two general elections ago, which is what she meant. It probably feels like that for the Ministers and those on the Bill Committee who have been involved. It has been a huge amount of work.
I pay particular tribute to the two Ministers who have been most closely involved—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk)—but there have been others too. I pay tribute to all those involved, on both sides of the House, for the importance of what they are doing.
It is important that men speak in this debate too. There is a danger of people thinking that the Domestic Abuse Bill is only about women and that only women should speak. It is incredibly important that those of us who are very conscious of domestic abuse issues should speak, and that constituents and people in our own offices and families who have had problems and been victims of domestic abuse can be represented by men on this issue as well as by female Members.
There is, of course, a hazard of a Bill such as this—that it might attract all sorts of other things that are not strictly to do with domestic abuse. One Member referred to the fact that there was nothing on stalking; another referred to issues about abuse by carers of people with disabilities. Those are incredibly important issues, but they are not within the scope of the Bill.
However, as we have heard today, amendments have been made that definitely improve the Bill. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) made an important point about what a difference Lords amendment 36, on non-fatal strangulation, will make. Measures have been taken to ban the rough sex defence, and against revenge pornography—an offence unknown when I left university but one very much known to my children as they leave university.
Those measures are incredibly welcome, as are new protections for children, and the important measure to protect victims of domestic abuse after the perpetrator left the shared home. I know of one case where a court order has banned someone from any contact with his previous partner, but they live in the same part of Gloucestershire, where there is only one supermarket. Almost inevitably, there is a risk of them bumping into each other in that place. It is very difficult to implement a court order of that kind in some places.
The other thing the Government should be given credit for is the business of reopening the consultation in the wake of the horrific death of Sarah Everard. The huge number of contributions to that consultation, and the number of people who had stories that they wanted to share, were surely a reminder to us all of how important the issue of domestic abuse is. I think we will all have benefited from understanding the strength of public feeling on this issue.
There are lots of good things here. There are two things, however, that I would very much like the Minister, when she winds up the debate, to respond to. The first is on Lords amendment 41, which I think I am right in saying was originally tabled in their lordships’ House as amendment 70 in the name of Bishop Rachel of Gloucester. There are very few times when I remotely wish to disagree with my own bishop, who is making a huge difference to her diocese, but on this, I am led to believe by the Minister that the pilot projects that have started will be rolled out further across the country, and that there is a clear intent—both in the Bill and in the Departments involved—that anyone who suffers domestic abuse, whatever their immigration status, will be protected and given all the support that is needed, but that that is separate from the issue of whether someone has the right to remain. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm what will happen to the pilot projects.
Secondly, on amendment 42, several speakers today—including, I believe, the shadow Minister—referred to the tragic death of young hairdresser Hollie Gazzard in my constituency some years ago: a case about which I know more than I ever imagined. I managed to check with her father, Nick Gazzard, who now runs the Hollie Gazzard Trust, and he believes there is a need for a separate register for serial offenders to make sure that prolific and serious abusers are visible to various organisations.
I will have a separate consultation with Nick Gazzard about this, because I think it is perfectly possible—the Minister for Crime and Policing is in his place on the Front Bench and may be able to comment on this—for police constabularies to make sure that they add the names of serial or prolific domestic abuse offenders to the risk offender list and that it is not necessarily essential to have a separate list. It is vital to try to address this point, which Nick Gazzard has made in the wake of the tragic murder of his daughter: various organisations must be able to see the names of serial high-risk offenders to try to make sure that there are fewer incidents in future. I hope the Minister will comment on that at the end of the debate.
Let me finish by saying that if one hazard of all legislation is that all sorts of other issues are laden on to a specific Bill, another is that a Bill can be lost at the end of a parliamentary Session. We have heard today from a number of speakers on the Opposition Benches about how good this Bill largely is: the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) specifically described it as a good Bill and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) acknowledged how far the Bill has come. It would be an absolute tragedy if at this late stage of the Parliament the Bill were lost.
I therefore urge Opposition Members, both in this and their lordships’ House, who approve of much, if not all, of what is in the Bill already, to make sure that it is not lost. That would let down victims who can see hope and would give comfort only to perpetrators—exactly what we would not wish to see. I will support the Bill and I encourage all Members to do so.
Diolch yn fawr Madam Ddirprwy Lefarydd. I, too, would be very grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan. She was of course a former Secretary of State for Wales, and when I first arrived in the House in 2015 I personally found her very keen and very supportive of cross-party working. It was a pleasure and honour to work with her.
I am, of course, pleased that this vital legislation has nearly completed its passage through the House and the other place. It has been an extremely interesting learning experience over two general elections for me as well, with the Joint Committees working on this. The issue of domestic violence has come into sharp focus in the public mind following the deaths of Sarah Everard, Wenjing Lin and others, and it is right to acknowledge that the Bill represents a positive step forward in addressing the deep-rooted reality of domestic violence in society.
First, I want to welcome the Government’s support for a number of Lords amendments—including especially Lords amendment 32, which seeks to reduce coercive control and vexatious activities in the family courts. I am glad to say I was able to raise this issue in my Courts (Abuse of Process) Bill back in 2017.
As for the rest of the amendments, a key concern of mine and many others has already been mentioned today: the monitoring of offenders and the effectiveness of the multi-agency public protection arrangements. I tabled an early amendment for a domestic abuse register and am pleased that Lords amendment 42 follows in the same vein. As Baroness Brinton said in the other place about MAPPA, there is some very good practice but it is not consistent because the agencies are not being forced to work together. The impact that is having on victims is appalling.
The Government need to evidence how exactly their changes to MAPPA guidance will be qualitatively different from what came about before. These figures are important. At present, just 0.4% of cases fall into category 3 of MAPPA—that is, on average, just 330 offenders a year, and the numbers have fallen by 48% since 2010. MAPPA category 3 can cover domestic offenders, yet it does not, at present, does it? The optimistic statement that data sharing will wave a magic wand and make this fit for purpose, especially after 11 years of austerity justice, is quite difficult to credit on face value.
The Government have promised that changes in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will clarify and extend the information-sharing powers of agencies subject to MAPPA. It is crucial that these measures complement rather than run counter to Senedd legislation in Wales. For example, how will updated information-sharing powers interact with devolved services in education and housing—areas of policy that should play a key role in the prevention agenda?
The Home Secretary had previously hinted that a register could be implemented. Can the Minister commit to reporting back to this House with data about how stalking and domestic abuse offenders will be increasingly monitored through MAPPA, and also commit to evaluating the effectiveness of this route? We have all learned too much to trust implicitly a system that has failed so many victims so comprehensively in the past.
On domestic abuse protection orders, I echo Welsh Women’s Aid’s call for clarity on the delivery of DAPOs for Wales. Further clarity on resourcing and guidance for both devolved and non-devolved areas are important, as the jagged edge of justice in action in Wales needs greater scrutiny—until, of course, such matters are coherently devolved. How will DAPOs be resourced? What guidance on resourcing will there be for commissioners both devolved and non-devolved, and how will the UK Government work with the Welsh Government on the application of DAPOs?
I strongly support Lords amendments 40, 41 and 43, which offer protections for migrant women who have suffered domestic abuse, given that they face additional, complex, interlocking barriers that can shut them out of safety. The Government argue that the existing asylum system can offer support to migrant victims, but in reality this is not often the case, and the Home Secretary’s plans for changes to the asylum system will make it harder for migrant victims to access support and fair treatment if they arrive in the UK by non-official means.
This flies in the face of the Istanbul convention, which requires that survivors of violence against women and girls can access protection irrespective of their immigration status. My party wants Wales to be a nation of sanctuary for those fleeing abuse and persecution and for us to be party to implementing the Istanbul convention in full. Sadly, however, the Government’s position at present is a barrier to these ambitions.
I urge the Government to support the Lords amendments and enact the ambitious and transformational change needed to shift the focus and balance in favour of the needs and welfare of victims, so that we can consign domestic abuse to the history books across the UK.
I support this Bill because it is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of those affected by domestic abuse. We all recognise that enormous progress has been made in the way we treat victims and their families, and also perpetrators, and the Bill sets out positive steps and more progress that we plan to make. A lot of the debate about the amendments before the House reflects a desire for practical outcomes that Members want to see, yet I accept the Government’s position that many of these are often better achieved through non-legislative means.
The response to domestic abuse as experienced by victims, families and perpetrators comes from a local partnership typically led by our councils but involving the police and the NHS. It is through these organisations that we make the difference that we all want to see. Ensuring that we learn from their experience and that we resource them properly to do the job we expect of them is critical. I pay tribute to the work done by former Hillingdon councillor Mary O’Connor, serving Hillingdon councillors Jane Palmer and Janet Gardner, and former safeguarding board chair Stephen Ashley to improve the way in which domestic abuse is managed in my constituency. They led the way in training people to identify victims of modern slavery and in uncovering complex forms of abuse, including coercive control. They have created a situation for my constituents where there is a local safe space night-time economy, with more than 40 businesses and hundreds of staff in different organisations trained in identifying the signs of risk and knowing how to support people. Vitally, they have ensured that this learning is shared at a national level, to help other places transform their approach too.
I conclude by urging Ministers to take a joined-up approach across Government. The sentiments that have been expressed in the debate need to find a practical expression at a local level. Things such as refuge space, especially where children need a place in a refuge as well, and the availability of programmes to local agencies that will target perpetrators, seeking to turn that situation around, all involve appropriate resourcing across multiple Departments and a high degree of focus.
Furthermore, we need to ensure that guidance on safeguarding such as that issued by the Department for Education in the document “Working together to safeguard children” is fully fit for purpose and includes organisations such as schools, which are often the first to come across the warning signs that someone is a victim of domestic abuse or that domestic abuse is present in a household but are not currently statutory partners in safeguarding. In the Minister’s response, I would be pleased to hear some clear assurance that that cross-Government focus and approach will feature as we take this legislation forward and implement it for the benefit of all our constituents.
I add my tribute to our late colleague Dame Cheryl Gillan.
I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) said about the importance of the role of local councils in dealing with problems of abuse. Like a number of other Members, I want to support Lords amendments 41, 40 and 43 and to argue that a serious problem of perpetrator immunity needs to be grasped and tackled. I welcome what the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) had to say on this.
Lords amendment 41 was moved in the other place by the Bishop of Gloucester. It provides migrant victims of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds for no less than six months, having left the abuse and while applying to regularise their status. People are often surprised that a large number of law-abiding, hard-working families in the UK—often with children born here, and sometimes with children who are UK nationals—have an immigration status subject to no recourse to public funds.
For a victim of domestic abuse, having no recourse to public funds is catastrophic. Basic victim protections are not available. Only 5% of refuge vacancies are accessible because costs in a refuge are generally met through housing benefit, and people with no recourse to public funds cannot claim housing benefit. Women’s Aid points out that a woman with no recourse to public funds who, as a result, cannot stay in a refuge has to choose between homelessness or going back to their abuser.
I commend the important work of Southall Black Sisters in this area, which has been frequently referenced in the debate. It says:
“Many women are too scared to report their experiences to statutory agencies because they are wholly financially and otherwise dependent on their abusive spouses or partners, many of whom use women’s immigration status as a weapon of control and coercion.”
The denial of safety in these arrangements to migrant women is obviously bad for them, but it has other immensely damaging impacts as well. Above all, it creates impunity for perpetrators, who get free rein to go on and harm other women and children.
The Children Act 1989 requires local authorities to provide accommodation and financial support for some families with no recourse to public funds, but they often do not provide it, due to lack of resources or confusion about what exactly people with no recourse to public funds are entitled to. There is, in practice, a postcode lottery of support, so Southall Black Sisters often has to take legal action against councils that are not fulfilling their obligations to vulnerable women. That is no way to run a system of proper support.
The DV rule introduced in 2002, which has been mentioned in this debate, allows migrant women on spouse visas to apply for indefinite leave when their relationship breaks down due to violence. In 2012, a concession was introduced giving those applicants three months’ leave and access to limited benefits and temporary housing while their applications for indefinite leave are considered, but the concession does not apply to women with other kinds of visas, including those with student visas, work permit holders and domestic workers. Southall Black Sisters reports more and more women on those other kinds of visas with no recourse to public funds being turned away, including by refuges and domestic abuse services.
Women’s Aid found in its report “Nowhere to turn” that, over a year, two thirds of its users were ineligible for support because they had visas other than spouse visas. There is a 2019 study by the professor of development geography at King’s College London, which reported a survey of migrant victims of domestic violence, in which two thirds had been threatened by the perpetrator of the abuse that they would be deported if they reported it. The ability to make that threat credibly, which the current arrangements allow, maintains the awful climate of impunity that we have at the moment. The Government are right to recognise that abused migrant women with insecure status need immediate support and protection, but restricting it only to women with spouse visas perpetuates impunity for perpetrators, and that is in nobody’s interests except the perpetrators.
The Government have responded with the support for migrant victims fund pilot, which we have heard about, both to support survivors of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds and to help gather data to formulate policies eventually to support all migrant victims of domestic abuse. It is due to report next March, and I welcome the announcement that Southall Black Sisters will manage it, but it has been pointing out that there is already ample evidence. We do not need more evidence on this. The pilot and the Bishop of Gloucester pointed out what a small amount of funding it entails, compared with the scale of the problem, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted that in his earlier intervention. The pilot must not be used to avoid addressing the problem and to carry on maintaining perpetrator impunity. We need the change in the law that amendment 41 would provide.
I want to put on the record my party’s condolences and thoughts about Dame Cheryl Gillan. I had the opportunity to speak alongside her, along with many others in this House, in many debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall. She had a particular interest in autism, which I have an interest in. I want to put on the record my condolences to her family, which I have conveyed by letter already.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this weighty, comprehensive and important issue. I begin by thanking the Government for the proposals to change the wider support for those suffering from domestic violence. I thank the Lords for their reasoned amendments, a few of which I will discuss in the short time available to me. In particular, I want to thank the Minister and the shadow Minister. The significant contributions from right hon. and hon. Members have really enhanced the debate on this Bill.
To illustrate the importance of getting this right, I wish to highlight that there are approximately 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland. In the year between October 2019 and October 2020, there were 32,000 reported incidents of domestic violence within our very small population. Of course, charities always tell us that the figure is much higher, when we consider how many incidents are unreported.
Coronavirus has affected us all over the past year and a bit. Heightened domestic abuse is another side-effect of this dreadful pandemic and the forced isolation that has come with it, so we need to get this Bill right, and that is why I am very grateful for the Lords amendments. For many victims, going to the police is the very last step in a long, harrowing journey of abuse. It is our responsibility to ensure that no one walks that journey alone.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the police look at patterns of behaviour? I have often found that they look at these as isolated incidents—whether that is stalking, or whatever it is—rather than an actual pattern of behaviour?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), made that point very well in her introduction. If there is a pattern—other Members across the Chamber have referred to this—there is a need for the police to be aware of that.
In reading through the Lords amendments, I noted that Lords amendment 39, after clause 72, highlighted that there must a prohibition on charging for the provision of medical evidence of domestic abuse. This should go unsaid, yet I understand the rationale behind highlighting this.
That brought my mind to the fact that the Bar Council had asked for the financial income limit as it pertains to legal aid to be withdrawn. Many Members have referred to legal aid. Legal aid expenditure on domestic violence cases has been cut by 41% in real terms, and has been declining ever since, with a 51% reduction. At the same time, I believe sincerely that this decline in funding cannot be attributed to a reduction in need, because the figures tell us something different. They tell us that there has been a 49% increase in domestic violence cases in the courts since 2012. Again, the situation since the start of the pandemic indicates that cases and reporting are likely to continue to increase even more so, meaning that we can expect a continued increase in the number of cases in court, with the UN—we cannot ignore it—calling domestic violence a “shadow pandemic”. That is a massive issue, which we must try to look at. Money is often controlled by the abuser. In terms of legal aid, it is clear that the victim must never be put in a position whereby they halt proceedings due to the lack of legal aid support. Legal aid is therefore a really important issue to those who are subjected to domestic violence.
I welcome many of the amendments that have come forward, such as Lords amendment 6 to amend clause 33, highlighting the need for domestic abuse protection orders to include a requirement not to
“come within a specified distance of any other specified premises”—
such as workplaces or, for example, even places of worship. Those are ones that I would be aware of and that change in the law is so important. In my constituency, over the years, I have honestly been heartbroken and righteously angry about the tales of intimidation from an abuser towards a victim in safe places, such as their local church and their workplace, and it is past time that churches and other places can legally prevent access in an attempt to intimidate. This provision is therefore necessary and I trust that it will soon become law.
Another issue that has come to me in my constituency office relates to the technological age that we live in. It is always great to be able see photos of my grandchildren—I have two grandchildren who have been born in lockdown, and I have seen one because we were able to have our cluster at Christmas. I have not seen the other one up close, except in a video—one thing I do know is that he has red hair; I am not quite sure where the red hair came from, as it is certainly not from my side of the family, but obviously there is some a few generations back somewhere—but I look forward very much to that time. However, I am desperately aware that there is a very real, very difficult and very disturbing downside of the no-hassle digital picture age, and that relates to revenge porn using very personal images. Every Member has spoken about that and I will, too, because I feel really annoyed and angry about it.
I have watched as my office staff have consoled young ladies whose ex-partners have threatened to disclose images, and their devastation is so very real and heartbreaking. The staff have a sadness in their faces as they know that unless an image is posted, very little can be done under harassment or other general laws, yet the distress is real; it is palpable—it could touch you and cut you. This behaviour is clearly another example of threat and control. It is right and proper that it is addressed in the Bill and I wholeheartedly support Lords amendment 35, which seeks to clarify that it is not okay to threaten the release of these images—by anyone, male or female. Sometimes we must remind ourselves that the release of any personal image without consent can be emotionally damaging for any person, no matter how seemingly confident they may be. Personal images are just that—intensely personal. I welcome the amendment’s reaffirming that no one can have the right to release an image of a personal nature without consent.
To conclude—I said I would be quick, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is difficult for one Bill to cover all the facets of the support and help that is needed for domestic abuse victims, but we must seek to get this right and ensure that the law supports every victim and does not further traumatise. I thank the Minister and the Government for their sterling efforts to deliver a Domestic Abuse Bill that really can protect.
Home should be a place of love and safety, but for 2.3 million adult victims of domestic abuse, and for their children, it is not. We all want this abuse to stop, and we want victims to live peaceful, safe and happy lives, and as I have said many times at this Dispatch Box, that is why this Government are bringing forward the Domestic Abuse Bill. The continued passage of the Bill marks an important milestone in our shared endeavour across the House to provide better support and protection for the victims of domestic abuse and their children. It is the culmination of over three years of work, although I rather liked the slip of the tongue by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) when she said it felt like two generations. I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend, who as chair of the Joint Committee, set in train much of the work that has happened in this place and the other place when the Bill was in draft form. I thank her sincerely.
I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for championing the Bill, both as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister, and now—eminently, if I may say so—from the Back Benches. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed today. The Bill has been improved during the course of debate in both Houses. It was scrutinised properly and thoroughly by their lordships, whom I thank for their vital contributions. I do not know whether many other Bills have had a mere 86 amendments to them when they came back to this place. This is a sign of their lordships’ commitment. The Bill includes real measures to help victims of domestic abuse and, as we have heard, even beyond those relationships. It expressly recognises the harm and distress caused to victims by so-called revenge porn and threats to disclose such images.
The Bill also creates a new offence of non-fatal strangulation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) did much in this place when the Bill was before us for scrutiny, along with the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), to campaign on the issues of rough sex and non-fatal strangulation. My hon. Friend asked me about consent in the amendment, and I want to try to clarify that in order to reassure people who may be watching. A valid defence of consent is available under the new offence only where the offence does not involve causing serious harm or where the perpetrator can show that they had not intended to cause serious harm or had not been reckless as to the serious harm caused. This provision reflects the current law as set out in R v. Brown and, indeed, in the rough sex clause that was passed earlier in the Bill’s progress. We have had to be, and tried to be, consistent with both of those provisions, and I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.
I have listened carefully to colleagues who have raised the issue of the management of perpetrators. This is absolutely critical. I have talked in the past about the evolution of our understanding of domestic abuse. We look back on the days of the 1970s when brave campaigners for Refuge and other organisations started setting up refuges and talking about domestic violence. Our understanding and our efforts to deal with this have obviously moved absolute milestones in the decades since then, but one of the challenges that we will certainly be looking to address in the domestic abuse strategy is the management of perpetrators. I am delighted that we are now investing unprecedented amounts in perpetrator programmes, as announced in the Budget, because we have to prevent perpetrators from committing harm in the first place. Again, let me emphasise that the reason we find ourselves unable to accept that Lords amendment is that creating a separate category as envisaged in the Lords amendment does not get away from the need for the MAPPA authorities to make a judgment in individual cases as to whether a particular offender should be managed under the framework. I want to be clear that three categories exist in MAPPA. Category 1 covers registered sexual offenders. Category 2 covers any violent offender or other sexual offenders convicted of offences under schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment. Category 3 covers any other dangerous offender. So on the sorts of horrific examples we have been hearing about, if there are convictions in the background of those offenders, these categories would cover some of the convictions that have been described. I say that, but I hope again that colleagues have appreciated that I have been very clear that there must be improvements in how the system works on the ground. That is why we have announced—we went into a little more detail in the “Dear colleague” letter—that we are going to revisit and refresh all relevant chapters of the MAPPA statutory guidance so as to include sections on domestic abuse, to ensure that agencies are taking steps to identify perpetrators whose risk requires active multi-agency management. We are ensuring that cases of domestic abuse perpetrators captured under categories 1 and 2 are included in the threshold guidance that is being developed. We will issue an HM Prison and Probation Service policy framework setting out clear expectations of the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1. This work on this new system, the multi-agency public protection system, will have a much greater functionality than existing systems, including ViSOR, enabling criminal justice agencies to share information efficiently and to improve risk assessment and management of MAPPA nominals. That is what will address the very understandable concerns that colleagues have raised in this debate.
I come to the final point I wish to touch upon, and I hope colleagues will understand why I am going to be quick. Hon. Members have raised questions and concerns about the issue of judicial training. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) set out the problems with the way in which Lords amendment 33 seeks to achieve that laudable aim, which we all agree with, of ensuring that the judiciary and magistrates must be trained well and, importantly, trained regularly. Referring back to the comments I was making earlier about the progress that has been made in the past few decades, let me say that, by definition, our understanding has grown, even, as some have said, during the passage of this Bill. Of course, that knowledge must continue to be deployed and trained. Domestic abuse is covered in all family law courses run by the Judicial College, and the debates held in the other place and in this place will I know—I have faith—have been watched and listened to very carefully by the President of the family court and others.
I admire the hon. Lady’s faith, but I would like something more than faith. The triumph of hope over experience will, I fear, leave us in the exact same position with the exact same problems. Faith is well and good—I have it in spades—but I would like to know about a monitoring process that will be done to review how well people are trained and how well this is working.
I am happy to help the hon. Lady. As I said in my opening remarks, the President of the Family Division has indicated that he will consider making recommendations regarding training, taking into account this Bill, the harm panel report, which, as she knows, is critical to the Ministry of Justice’s concerns in this area and the four recent Court of Appeal judgments in domestic abuse cases. I would argue that there is a real understanding among our independent judiciary of the need to make sure that they are equipped to ensure that justice is delivered—and delivered well—in the courtrooms over which they preside.
In summing up, let me reflect on the course of the Bill. Progress on the Bill has been characterised by a determination on both sides of the House to work constructively and collegiately. At every stage, we have endeavoured to focus on what can be done to help victims of domestic abuse and to ensure that the abuse can stop. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke put it, these are not our issues—these are not party political issues—but the issues of our constituents who are victims and of their children, and I know that each and every one of us has had that very much in mind in all our deliberations on the Bill.
I therefore commend the Bill and the amendments that the Government support to the House. I very much hope that we will be able to make real and meaningful progress and pass the Bill, so that we can get on with the job of helping the victims we all feel so strongly about.
Before I put the Question, just a reminder that, should there be more than one Division, the doors will be locked after eight minutes in the first Division and, after that, after five minutes.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 2 and 3 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 4 to 8 agreed to.
Support provided by local authorities to victims of domestic abuse
Motion made and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 9.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 9 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 10 to 32 agreed to.
After Clause 64
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 33.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 33 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 34 to 36 agreed to.
Before Clause 69
Reasonable force in domestic abuse cases
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 37.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 37 disagreed to.
Defence for victims of domestic abuse who commit an offence
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 38.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 38 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 39 agreed to.
After Clause 72
Victims of domestic abuse: data-sharing for immigration purposes
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 40.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 40 disagreed to.
Victims of domestic abuse: leave to remain and the destitution domestic violence concession (DDVC)
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 41.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 41 disagreed to.
Monitoring of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 42.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 42 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 42.
Effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 43.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 43 disagreed to.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendment 83 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 44 to 82 and 84 to 86 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1, 2, 3, 9, 33, 37, 38, 40, 41, 43 and 83.
That Victoria Atkins, Tom Pursglove, Michael Tomlinson and Chris Elmore be members of the Committee.
That Victoria Atkins be the Chair of the Committee.
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.
Clause 85: Monitoring of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
1: Clause 85, page 72, line 3, leave out “this Act” and insert “the Domestic Abuse Act 2021”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies a minor defect in the drafting.
My Lords, I am grateful for your Lordships’ patience in enabling me to table and move this short amendment, whose purpose is to correct a minor defect in my original drafting, for which I apologise. I am grateful to the clerks for their advice.
I understand from the Sunday Telegraph that the Government are going to create a super-database, which would include domestic abusers and stalkers, as well as sex offenders. If this were the case, I would naturally be delighted. This would enable police, prison and probation services to track offenders guilty of violence against women and would be a huge step forward in our efforts to tackle gender-based violence and misogyny.
I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned over many years to make this a reality, especially my formidable friend Laura Richards, as well as survivors and the families and friends of victims. I emphasise that we have never been asking for a separate register for stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence but rather that they should be included on ViSOR—the violent offender and sex offender register. I am sure that we will receive more details when the amendment agreed last week is considered by the Commons after Easter, but I hope that the intention, if not the details, will be on the face of the Bill. Likewise, I have outlined details of the perpetrator strategy which must be an integral part of the policy relating to the database. There must be a statutory requirement for police, prison and probation services to risk assess and manage perpetrators, in partnership with domestic abuse and stalking services. Unless this is mandatory, the key professionals will not always come to the table, and their participation is vital.
I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his work on these issues and, specifically, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for all that she has done and for her letter received this morning. Sadly, the letter was not as explicit as some of the media briefings, but I am grateful to her for recognising that there is a consensus that more needs to be done. I suggest that there is a consensus on the actions needed. As the noble Baroness has said in the past, we have already agreed on the ends; I think and hope that, as a consequence of the debate and vote on my amendment on Report, we are now close to agreeing on the means that will bring about a cultural change, focusing on the perpetrators and saving lives. I look forward to hearing the results of the discussions between her officials and experts in developing the database and the perpetrator strategy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I first apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, who is unable to be present today. The Home Secretary has asked my noble friend to deputise for her at today’s meeting of the G6, which the UK is hosting. The G6 meeting of Interior Ministers is one of the most important long-term, multilateral forums in which to discuss priority home affairs issues with some of our closest security partners. I hope that noble Lords will therefore understand the importance of my noble friend attending that meeting, but she is, none the less, disappointed that this means that she cannot be here today.
I turn briefly to the amendment which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, has explained, is purely a drafting amendment and, as such, the Government will not oppose it. My noble friend made clear on Report what the Government’s substantive view now is of Clause 85 of the Bill. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not repeat that position today. It is now for the other place to consider this and other amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for expressing the Government’s position on this amendment. I am sure we are all very proud of the fact that his noble friend Lady Williams, the Minister, is representing the Government at the meeting of the G6.
Amendment 1 agreed.
My Lords, I hope noble Lords will permit me to say a few words to mark the completion of the passage of the Bill through this House. I say, with some hesitation, that this is one of those Bills which has shown your Lordships’ House as its best. My hesitation does not arise from the proceedings on the Bill. Those were marked by speeches of high calibre and engaged debate and, undoubtedly, led to an improved Bill. My hesitation is due to the fact that this was the first Bill on which I worked in my time in this House. When I began work on it, I had nothing to compare it to, but I was fortunate to have the support and wise counsel of my noble friends Lady Williams of Trafford and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay. They were right about everything else they told me so, as they have assured me that this Bill shows the House at its best, I am relying on them to be right about that as well.
Having mentioned my noble friends, I must pay tribute to them and give my thanks to those who have supported them and me in this endeavour. We have had the benefit of expert support from officials and lawyers across no fewer than eight government departments: the Home Office; my department, the MoJ; the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; the Department for Education; the Department of Health and Social Care; the Department for Work and Pensions; the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; not to mention the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have also had a hand in this Bill. I also thank the Bill managers, Charles, Pommy, Oliver and Georgina, and the private secretaries, Rebecca and Patrick; their work has been exceptional. If nothing else, the range of government departments and people I have just mentioned shows that tackling domestic abuse is everyone’s business. We are very grateful to all those involved across government.
In addition, we are grateful to Members from across the House. I thank those on the Front Benches opposite for the constructive way in which they have dealt with the Bill, and the very courteous and constructive way in which they have engaged with me. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—I am particularly pleased that this Bill is the culmination of his four-year campaign on the issue of GP fees. Last, but certainly not least, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for bravely sharing his own experiences of domestic abuse, and to his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.
I will also take a moment to thank other Members of this House who have worked very hard. I thank my noble friend Lady Newlove, as well as the organisations which aided her, on their work on non-fatal strangulation —something that is now part of the Bill as a Government-drafted amendment. I thank my noble friend Lady Morgan for her work on threats to release intimate images. Again, this is now part of the Bill as a Government-drafted amendment. In that context, I must give my personal thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who discussed with me some of the legal issues raised by that amendment.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friends Lady Bertin and Lady Sanderson—if I may respectfully group them together—for their campaigning on coercive and controlling behaviour, which also is now part of a Government-drafted amendment. I thank my noble friend Lord Polak, who campaigned tirelessly on community-based services. This is something we have now taken on board. We may not have agreed on all points, but I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Grey-Thompson, for raising the important issue of carers in the Bill, which will be explored further in another place. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Altmann and the other sponsors of the amendments dealing with get. It is a somewhat recondite point, but one which causes real distress and suffering.
Whether we have agreed or disagreed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned a moment ago, in scrutinising this Bill, we have all been striving for the same outcome: ensuring that victims of domestic abuse and their children have better protection and support, and that perpetrators are brought to justice. As she said, the differences have invariably been about the means of achieving this, not the ends involved.
We will of course reflect carefully on the nine amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House against the advice of the Government. We will set out our position when the Bill returns from the other place in due course. We will inevitably debate this Bill at a future date, but I know that all noble Lords will join me in hoping that it will soon be on the statute book, making a real, tangible and positive difference to the 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse each year. I therefore beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
My Lords, along with my noble friends Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Lady Wilcox of Newport and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I will take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, and the Bill team for the patience and willingness to listen that they have shown throughout the passage of this Bill—not just in the Chamber but in the very many meetings that have been held with noble Lords on issues raised in amendments, and in the debates that have taken place. There have been a significant number of instances when Ministers have acknowledged the arguments that have been made in support of amendments and accepted them, put down appropriate government amendments or given undertakings of progress towards the objectives being sought that did not require amendments to the Bill. Ministers deserve full credit for that, and for their willingness to consider the arguments presented.
We have also really appreciated the helpful and informative briefings we have received from outside organisations committed to addressing the issues covered by this Bill. Along with my Front-Bench colleagues, I thank Grace Wright in our office for all the extensive and invaluable work she has done, liaising with so many others involved with the Bill both in Parliament and outside, and keeping us fully briefed on the Bill and its amendments as it has progressed through this House.
There have been a significant number of occasions when this House has agreed amendments to the Bill against the advice of the Government. It remains to be seen what will happen when those amendments are considered by the Commons in what I fear will be a somewhat truncated debate in the other place. What has been interesting is the number of amendments that the Government have accepted, or that have been carried in this House, which have been led not by Front-Benchers but by Back-Benchers, Cross-Benchers and the Bishops’ Benches. That reflects the wide cross-party, Cross-Bench and Bishops’-Bench backing that there has been for so many of the issues debated during the passage of this Bill. It is a Bill that has had very little to do with party politics.
The Bill now goes back to the Commons, where I hope it will not just be the Lords amendments that have government support that will be fully considered. While much progress has been made, there is still scope for further improvement in, and addition to, the content of a Bill that is rightly regarded as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address head-on the major issue of the unacceptable level of domestic abuse in our society.
We have talked about the Istanbul convention at some length during our debates. The stated purpose of the convention is preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Turkey has just made a decision to annul its ratification of the convention and Poland appears set to follow. This is a major backward step. America under President Biden and European leaders have condemned Turkey’s action. Sadly, we cannot add our voice to theirs, because we have still not ratified the convention. Let us hope that by the time this Bill has had further consideration, completed all its parliamentary stages and become an Act, we will be in a position to ratify the convention in full, and no longer be outsiders.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, stole my line. I was going to say that this Bill represents the House at its very best. I can most certainly confirm that to him. The Government have not only listened but gone out of their way to examine the feasibility of good ideas brought forward from all parts of the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, have all gone the extra mile, and I would particularly like to thank their incredibly hard-working Bill teams.
Speaking of which, I thank our own one-woman Bill team, Sarah Pughe, who has responded to my pretty much daily calls with good humour and total dedication. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I would also like to thank all the outside organisations which have given freely of their time and expertise to help us with this Bill.
However, the wins in the Bill are not for us; they are for the victims and their children. So I thank the Government on their behalf, especially for accepting some of the major amendments on non-fatal strangulation, threats to share intimate images and the extension of the ban on cross-examination. I thank them also for accepting the amendment on post-separation abuse, although I was sorry that this was won at the cost of not moving the amendment that would have added disabled people’s carers into the definition of “personally connected”, the initial vote on which had previously secured a huge majority.
We were also promised a public consultation on evicting perpetrators who are joint tenants and who sit pretty in the family home while the victim is forced to leave. The cross-party group that moved this amendment and others will be holding the Government’s feet to this particular fire, to see what measures they will take to redress this injustice.
Despite strong votes in favour of measures to support them, migrant women were losers in the Bill. There will be no information firewall between the police and immigration, no recourse to public funds and no equality of protection, even though the latter is prescribed by the Istanbul convention. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, we still have to ratify this, and it weakens our position internationally while we are in that situation.
All victims were potential losers, with the failure of the Government to acknowledge strong support for perpetrator strategy amendments. There will be no multi-agency co-operation, no register of perpetrators and no overall perpetrator strategy—yet. But the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, certainly gives us hope. Victims who commit violence against the perpetrator will not have the justification of reasonable force, despite usually being weaker and having to resort to using a weapon to defend themselves, and nor will those who commit offences under coercion. The Government also rejected a registration system for child contact centres. All these amendments commanded strong majorities, so we may well see them again once they have been discussed in the Commons. I hope some further movement can be made by the Government to give these victims the protection they deserve.
Finally, I thank our Bill team, especially my co-leader and noble friend Lord Paddick, who has done so much of the heavy lifting where the police are concerned. He has helped and guided me throughout. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, is not the only one for whom this is the first Bill he has led on. I thank my noble friend Lord Marks, whose amazing skill and knowledge has brought us through the courts issues, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who did so much in the preparatory stages and on migrant women, and whose support for me has led to a close personal friendship. Other noble Lords have added their passion and expertise, including my noble friends Lady Brinton, Lady Hussein-Ece, Lady Jolly and Lady Walmsley, my noble friends Lord Strasburger, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Alderdice, and last—but certainly not least—my noble friend Lady Benjamin. I also give great thanks to my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Featherstone for their contributions in Committee.
It has long been an ambition of mine to play a leadership role on this historic Domestic Abuse Bill. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to play my part. Thank you.
My Lords, I am delighted and honoured to make the concluding Cross-Bench speech at the Third Reading of this important—indeed, landmark—piece of legislation. I first thank, as so many others have, the three Ministers who have piloted the Bill through this House and the hard-working Bill team. They are so essential to the whole process. The Ministers have been most courteous and extremely hard-working, and they have listened sympathetically, sometimes, to the large number of amendments and the enthusiasm—sometimes passion—with which we have put forward our points of view.
This has become a very good Bill. The Government are to be congratulated on much of the draft Bill and on their amendments, which go a long way, but not quite the whole way, to making it an excellent Act. The widening of the interpretation of domestic abuse and the groups personally connected is excellent. I am particularly delighted by the recognition of the adverse effect of domestic abuse on the children of the family. The appointment of a domestic abuse commissioner is very helpful and I hope the Government will listen sufficiently to her recommendations. There remain areas of considerable importance, which we are sending back to the other place for their reconsideration. I hope that many of our amendments may eventually be accepted and incorporated into the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has already said, it really will be time, when this Act is passed, to ratify the Istanbul convention.
There will be financial challenges, especially for local authorities, in carrying out the requirements of the legislation. It is important that there is no pecking order and that specialist community-based services are sufficiently funded. Migrants and refugees need to be put higher up on the list of those who need help. Those who are victims of domestic abuse ought not to be at risk, especially of the possibility of deportation. I have, as chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage, referred many times to the victims of forced marriage, especially the young women and men—some under 18—who are at risk of being forced into marriage. Equally, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, I remain concerned about some groups of victims of modern slavery, especially those in domestic servitude. I am glad that the draft statutory guidance refers specifically to these groups. In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on the Bill and hope there will be even more improvements made in the other place.
I am delighted to have played a small part in this Bill, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wolfson and his colleagues: my noble friend Lord Parkinson, and, especially, my noble friend Lady Williams, who has been involved in so many Bills in this Session. I believe the Bill will leave the House in a better place.
I pay particular tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for supporting what I believe is a key amendment on recognising standards for all child contact centres and services. Just as a loophole which has been identified in safeguarding 16 to 19 year-old children will be closed by the important Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill, which passed its Second Reading last Friday, I believe this small but important amendment, moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and passed by the House, will close a potential and existing loophole by safeguarding children in all child contact centres. I hope my noble friend will embrace this small but important amendment, and that it will be maintained when the Bill passes to its next stages. I am delighted that the Bill has passed this House in a much-improved state. The Minister should take some credit for that.
My Lords, in the seven-plus years I have been in your Lordships’ House, I have been involved in a lot of Bills but this is the first of its kind. There was never one like this, because it has been special. The Bill was universally welcomed but then attracted about 200 amendments, which were fiercely argued. The Government suffered nine defeats in votes and made many concessions. There are still gaps. Other noble Lords have listed them but, for example, there is the Istanbul convention. However, the process has turned a good Bill into a very good Bill.
For me, making misogyny a crime was a priority. I am deeply sad we have not done that but we have moved towards it, and it is a step in the right direction by the Government which we can use to test the process. The Minister said something about this showing your Lordships’ House at its best, but I would argue the Bill shows the Government at their best as well. I wish this were the pattern with all Bills—that this House does its stuff and the Government listen. That would mean we produced much better legislation every time. On behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and myself, I thank the Ministers for all their hard work and co-operation. I say a big thank you to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay. It has been an experience, and I think it has worked wonders.
My Lords, I see the time and I hope the House will not think me discourteous if I respond very briefly. I am very grateful for the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. He was quite right to remind us that the Bill had cross-party support. He was also right to remind me to thank—I fear that I did not, but I do now—the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who brought his experience as a magistrate in family matters to the attention of the House, which was very helpful in number of issues, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, with whom I debated some of the legal matters. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for stealing her lines. I would put it this way: she reassured me that I was, in fact, correct when I said what I did.
The House benefited, as it always does, from the considerable experience and wise counsel of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I am sure we are all grateful to her. As for my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I hope she will allow me to disagree with her when she said that she played a small part. She did not; she played an important part and, with that very important correction, I very much endorse what she said.
Last but certainly not least, if I may put it in those terms, to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, praise the Government is a wonderful thing. It shows that miracles do happen. I can assure her that the Government always listen, we just cannot always say yes. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for being brief, but I do see the time and I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.
My Lords, I have received a request to ask a short question of elucidation from the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin.
My Lords, I thank the House for its leniency. I welcome the super register that has been proposed. I convey my thanks and respect to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It has been my long-standing hope to participate in a small way in this debate, and an honour to have done so. I extend my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson and Lord Parkinson, for their contributions and dedication to this cause. It has been much noted that the sisterhood across the House was incredibly powerful, and I wanted to state that. We have a common purpose in making real changes to the lives of survivors, so will there be a public information campaign to empower women with a message that our society has marked this day to say that we utterly reject violence against women? It is everyone’s business, as has been said, to begin the process of eliminating violence and abuse. It will send a very powerful message to all, around the world, that we intend to stand against violence and abuse in every form.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness. Of course, this Government oppose violence in all forms, especially violence against women. As to the publicity campaign she mentions, she will be aware that there are a number of areas where the Government already have publicity in this area. I am very happy to speak to her to understand particularly what she has in mind, and I will arrange to have that conversation in due course.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.
My Lords, I believe it is the intention of the House to proceed straight to the next business, but we shall have a short pause for the rearrangement of Front Benches and so on.
Report (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 1: Definition of “domestic abuse”
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—
“(f) unreasonable prevention or threat of prevention of dissolution of a religious Jewish marriage via a religious bill of divorce (a “get”);”Member’s explanatory statement
This specifically itemises one spouse unreasonably preventing the dissolution of a Jewish religious marriage with a “get” as being within the scope of the Bill by bringing it under the definition of abusive behaviour.
My Lords, I will also speak to the other amendments in this group in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lords, Lord Mendelsohn and Lord Palmer. I am grateful for their cross-party support.
These amendments relate to a particular form of abuse which has long been of concern to me as a British citizen of Jewish faith, whereby a spouse—usually the husband—unreasonably prevents the dissolution of his Jewish religious marriage and denies his wife the freedom to move on with her life. We seek to ensure that such behaviour is recognised as a defined form of abuse under this Bill, so that the wife can receive the support and help provided for victims.
I should stress that the majority of Jewish divorces proceed in accordance with religious laws, especially once the civil divorce settlement is agreed, but there are instances in which a husband deliberately refuses. Sometimes this is to extort money from the wife or her family; sometimes it is to wield power and control out of bitterness or spite; sometimes it is out of a vengeful desire to inflict long-term suffering on the ex-wife. The objective here is to support the victim, who is being treated as a chattel rather than as a person and denied her basic rights. There are cases where a woman has been civilly divorced from her husband for more than 20 years, yet the husband has consistently refused to engage with the religious authorities and to grant her a get. She is unable to remarry or to have further children. She is a prisoner in the marriage.
There is no intention here to undermine the role of the Jewish courts, which govern Jewish religious laws and which require the husband to voluntarily sign an official Jewish bill of divorce document, called a get. This can only be initiated by the husband in order to dissolve their Jewish marriage.
There is an entire legal framework governing all aspects of Jewish life, dating back to Biblical times. Although the present-day Jewish courts, known as batte din, and the judges, or dayanim, have been seeking ways to facilitate a process that can free the woman by means of persuasion or negotiation, this process is clearly open to abuse. The wife remains chained in the marriage and, if she wishes to stand by her faith, she cannot date or remarry another man unless she has been given the get. If she were to do so, any children would be considered illegitimate and would not be fully accepted under Jewish religious law.
We hope that these changes will assist rabbinic courts, so that fewer men will play these kinds of cruel games. Sadly, these have been used by men as leverage to control their ex-wives or demand a ransom for their freedom. We recognise that civil divorce is not a substitute for a get, without which, no matter how long the couple have been separated, they are still not considered religiously divorced. This legislation hopes to provide—and these amendments seek to achieve—a wake-up call for Jewish husbands, so that they recognise that it is socially unacceptable to refuse to religiously divorce their wives. Extortionate demands are not acceptable. It should be done in a timely way. It should be as inappropriate in this day and age for a Jewish man to refuse his wife a get as it is for a man to inappropriately fondle a woman or make lewd comments about her looks. We are seeking mindset change.
I hugely regret that this remains an issue for the rabbinic authorities, who have been unable sufficiently to overcome the problem that this causes for women. I understand and fully respect that these are difficult points of Torah, Talmudic and Mishnaic law, which I do not claim to have detailed legal knowledge of. I bow to the legislators in this country on Jewish matters, but I believe that we have a duty to ensure that these Jewish women are protected. They are entitled to the same protections as other victims of abuse.
Fantastic charities such as Jewish Women’s Aid and GETToutUK have been helpful, and many legal and other experts have pleaded for change. I hope that these amendments will further encourage recalcitrant husbands to free their former wives and that society will recognise their victimhood. Such behaviour is not only unreasonable and abusive; it is immoral. These amendments seek to establish that decent behaviour cannot encompass this type of abuse. Legislation cannot force a man to give a get. The religious courts want men voluntarily to attend and grant it. We are sensitive to concerns that a coerced get may be considered invalid, leaving the wife permanently held hostage in the unwanted marriage. We hope that this mindset change in the national community will be forthcoming as we move forward with this legislation.
The later amendments in this group, Amendments 74, 79 and 80, are designed to clarify that the Serious Crime Act 2015 definition of controlling or coercive behaviour covers a situation where a Jewish couple is separated or divorced under secular law and no longer cohabiting, but the religious marriage is not yet dissolved and the husband persistently refuses to give a get. The amendments seek to confirm the previous belief, not yet tested in court, that such a husband could be prosecuted for the crime of controlling or coercive behaviour and face criminal sanctions, even if the couple are no longer living together. However, I am pleased to tell the House that I will not need to move these amendments as Amendment 45 in a later group, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, has the support of the Minister and of my noble friends Lady Bertin and Lady Sanderson. That amendment would explicitly establish that post-separation abuse is covered by the 2015 Act, and that an unreasonable get refusal would potentially be a serious crime.
Since this issue was raised in Committee, I have been hugely grateful to my noble friends the Ministers who have continued to engage with us. I thank them and their departmental officials, and also the domestic abuse commissioner and her team, who have been so supportive and understanding of this situation. Indeed, perhaps I may put on record how grateful I am to be living in a country where issues of this nature, which affect a particular religion, can be engaged with so seriously and sensitively by our Government, the Civil Service and other officials.
The domestic abuse commissioner has stated that she welcomes these proposed amendments to the Bill and that she recognises that this would be a form of coercive behaviour on the grounds of psychological or economic abuse or coercion. She has requested and recommended that this issue be included in statutory guidance under the heading of “wider spiritual abuse”.
Since this issue was raised in Committee, we have listened carefully to the debate and we would like to thank again the domestic abuse commissioner and the Ministers. Although I stressed clearly that these amendments are designed to relate solely to Jewish religious divorces, with no intention to impact on any other religious groups, we understand that there were concerns of a read-across to other religions.
Having listened carefully to the debate in Committee, I have also been grateful for ministerial assurances that unreasonable and persistent refusal to give a wife a get is already covered by the broad definitions of abuse in the Bill, and I have received assurances that this will be explicitly mentioned in the statutory guidance. I would be grateful if my noble friend would confirm this and, on that basis, I would therefore accept that this issue need not be in the Bill and I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I beg to move Amendment 1.
My Lords, I have signed all the amendments in this group, which have been signed by noble Lords from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties and the Cross Benches—not very usual. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said so very clearly, all these amendments relate to a spouse—usually the husband—unreasonably preventing the dissolution of a Jewish religious marriage.
My thanks go to Government Ministers for engaging with us and for seeking a UK legal solution to this medieval enigma. I would have preferred for these amendments, clear as they are, to be in the Bill. However, I have to accept, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for the moment, that the problem lies with current interpretations of the rules of Jewish marriage, and not with a parliamentary solution. There is no doubt that chained women and their children, after a civil divorce, are being unreasonably discriminated against for life. I accept that the Government have been sympathetic and have sought by practical means of guidance issued to help those affected, such as with Amendment 45, which I understand will be supported by the Government.
I am grateful for this assistance, but it is not enough. Even if we do not vote on these amendments today, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, I will continue to call for a more sympathetic approach from the Beth Din religious authorities. They rely on the Catch-22 absurdity that a Jewish divorce is not recognised if the recalcitrant husband is seen to be “coerced” into giving a get, resulting in the divorce not being recognised in Jewish law. Thus the agunah, or chained woman, is prohibited from having intimate relations with a man other than her husband and cannot remarry in an orthodox ceremony. In a really unacceptable denial of rights, the children will have severe restrictions placed upon them. Children should not suffer in this way, whatever the reason. This is unacceptable in 2021.
However, these same restrictions on coercion do not stop coercion of the wife being blackmailed, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, into giving a get, be it by payment of money, loss of family home or access to the children of the marriage. All the amendments in this group seek to provide a remedy and I welcome the moves in the Bill and in the guidance. However, what we do not want is to worsen the situation by creating the very perceived coercion which these despicable men rely on.
My Lords, I first came across the problem with which Amendment 1 deals when I was promoting the divorce Act in 1996 and I was assisted in great measure by my late friend Lord Jakobovits, who was then the Chief Rabbi.
The problem arises, as has been explained, for a person of the Jewish faith who is married and then decides to seek divorce. If she is female, she may get a decree of divorce in the English courts, but the Jewish law to which she feels bound requires that she cannot be divorced under that law without the agreement of her husband. Some husbands who have been divorced by the English courts decline to agree that the wife should be allowed to divorce under the Jewish law which they have both agreed to follow. In that situation, the husband is able to hold the wife into the marriage which she has made clear she wishes to leave.
The exercise of power by the husband is a controlling or coercive power within the meaning of Clause 1(3) of the Bill. Since they are both over the age of 16 and have been personally connected within the meaning of Clause 2(1)(a) of the Bill, it is clear that the husband is showing what under the Bill is described—and this will shortly become law—as domestic abuse towards the wife and therefore is subject to the remedies for her provided in the Bill. No distinct amendment is required in order to bring the wife into the situation where she can receive the help that the Bill will provide when it becomes an Act.
I agree that there is a problem which cannot be solved by us about a get having to be voluntary. The use of one of the remedies may be easier than another in that situation, but one thing I am sure of is that it does not do any good to alter the provisions in Clause 1 of the Bill by these amendments, at least in respect of everything except the Serious Crime Act—but I do not think it requires anything to be done in that place, either. Adding things such as “reasonable” and “unreasonable” and so on is a mistake and the proper thing to do is to leave Clause 1 as it is, because it undoubtedly carries with it the implication that the refusal of a get is domestic abuse.
My Lords, the Ministers involved have done a great service by listening to the Members who have put forward these amendments. I am pleased to support all the amendments in this group, to which I have put my name.
By accepting the need to stigmatise husbands who behave unreasonably in not giving a get, the Government are sending a signal to spiteful men and to fossilised religious authorities that compassion and secular standards have to prevail. I support the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in all that he has said about this. The ability to refuse a religious divorce provides abusive husbands with power to control and to subvert conditions relating to the divorce, by, for example, demanding that the divorce settlement be repaid. The refusal can have a grievous effect on a woman’s entire life. She may be prevented from remarrying while still of childbearing age and there is concern for the status of children that she may have in future.
I am not defending the religious law underlying this, and it is not confined to Judaism. Nevertheless, it is accepted by some women here, and by millions around the world, but it is time for the secular law principles to prevail, all the more so since from this autumn, we will have no-fault divorce, a system which does not allow the unwilling spouse to defend a divorce at all—it must be accepted. The guidance, which I hope will contain these provisions, is a good example of how British law manages to encompass a diversity of views within its system. A man who refuses a get unreasonably in the future may even be found guilty of a criminal offence of coercive and controlling behaviour, under the Serious Crime Act 2015, because this Bill clarifies that domestic abuse provisions apply to former couples, even after separation. Nevertheless, this provision would work more effectively as a threat than an actual imprisonment, because the get must be granted by the husband without direct coercion. The clarification in the statutory guidance which we hope for will mean that this is a good day for women and a step closer to equality in religious law.
My Lords, I speak personally in this debate. It is a privilege and a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, because I remember 1996. I was in the Chamber as a newly appointed Peer and remember very well Lord Jakobovits, who was quite a close friend.
I come from an orthodox Jewish family and I am an orthodox Jew. My grandfather was an orthodox rabbi. He taught me Hebrew and Aramaic from the age of six or seven, and his wife, my maternal grandmother, was very concerned about the problem of get. She used to try persuading the rabbinical authorities, including my grandfather, who was not a dayan—a judge—of the rightness of the cause. She remained, throughout her life, from the First World War onwards, an activist on this. My grandfather supported her with a smile, but he recognised that the Jewish courts were rather reluctant to move forward.
My mother travelled around the world trying to persuade the rabbis of the problem faced by the agunah. She spoke to American, Israeli and Australian rabbis—for example, the Chief Rabbi of Israel—and those in parts of Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who will be speaking in this debate, can testify to how frightening my mother was. Unquestionably, many strictly orthodox rabbis appeared to be persuaded. She was always greeted with polite acquiescence, but nothing has happened, and one of the problems is that there are many different courts, so-called batte din, around the world. There is more than one in this country and they have been reluctant to work collectively in any way.
Another reason for being personally interested in this debate is that this is the week of my 48th wedding anniversary. My wife is not listening to what I am saying about divorce, by the way. Judaism differs from many other faiths because religious law is based on Talmud, which dates back to the Mishnah from the second century and the fifth century. It is a huge and remarkable compilation of discussions by the rabbis, who, of course, disagree with each other. Jews always disagree, and the Talmud is one of the few books of law of any kind which is almost entirely a matter of questions. One rabbi asks a question and another group of rabbis answers with a question. That is how the Talmud has built up. It has left Judaism almost unique in its religious format. It is not pyramidal—there is no one central authority. There is no supreme court in Judaism. I suspect that a supreme court would be in the world to come, not in this world. That has been a major problem for a few issues, particularly this issue of the chained woman.
It is embarrassing for someone such as myself to try persuading an English Parliament, to which I am absolutely committed, to help with Jewish law. I would also say that these instances of irreligious men hiding behind their religious cloak is much rarer than one might think, but none the less, there is this very important case for a few people where the future happiness of a woman, her freedom and, to some extent, the possibility of her having children is so important to her and to the community. It would at least prevent this shocking instance, so I am delighted that the Government are minded in some way to help us. I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, feels that the amendment to follow, to which I will listen with great care, will help to sort this matter out. I congratulate her on bringing forward this important matter, which affects a number of Jewish families.
My Lords, it is a privilege to speak to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. I am not Jewish, but as a woman of faith I appreciate the complexities detailed in the amendments. I am grateful to all organisations which have kept us fully briefed throughout the passage of this Bill. I salute them today, for many have spent a lifetime advocating for victims and survivors. As we approach the end, I have drawn on their experience, sentiments, and many of their expressions and words, to speak today, and I stand in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and other noble Lords who have spoken.
Violence and abuse often beget another generation of violence, not in all families, but some are so scathed by the pain, humiliation and loss of hope, respect and self-esteem, and mental and physical well-being, that this impacts all aspects of their lives. Women have achieved significant positions in society and throughout the globe, yet perpetrators— mostly men—have, as has been said, continued to feel entitlement to an inalienable right to batter and abuse their wives and partners, sometimes using religious references. Throughout the years, many in families and communities and, shockingly, lawmakers and law enforcers, have often been bystanders, designating the degradation of women as “domestic”. Women have tolerated millennia of violence and persecution sanctioned by family, society, and worst of all, the state, and sometimes even religion. This Bill is our pledge that we will uphold a society which liberates victims and survivors to live free of the fear of violence and abuse and, more importantly, institutionalise justice, freedom and liberty from aggressors and their assailants.
Laws, while a cornerstone, will not on their own aid the victims, the survivors, and their families to rebuild their lives. They will continue to require proper and adequate financial assistance and structural support to protect them until they are strong enough in transit from victim to survivor. Therefore, at the outset it is crucial that the gendered context of abuse is recognised on the face of the Bill. We live in an unequal world, where women are often at the margin or society, no matter what advances we have made in some aspects of our society. All victims of domestic abuse need support, but how we respond to men and women will inevitably be different, as has been stated, and therefore their experiences and needs require appropriate responses. To deny a gendered approach is to persist in repudiating the experiences of the vast majority of victims and survivors of violence and abuse, who are women in our country and throughout all parts of our world.
The Istanbul convention also requires states to take a gendered approach, taking on board women’s faiths when implementing laws and policies on domestic abuse. This Bill cannot deny the reality, thus ignoring well-established evidence that women escaping and recovering from violence and abuse will require women-only services.
May I say that I also wanted to speak to the group beginning with Amendment 2, but I mistakenly was unable to put my name down? But it was an honour to be present in the Chamber to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, as she powerfully addressed the Chamber and courageously stated her personal experience. I recognise the point that she has argued, and accept that there are certainly many complexities which become part of the continuous battle over children in separation and divorce. Regrettably, I am not in support of her clause. I worked with women’s NGOs and refuges—
Later in this Bill, we will be discussing the role of Cafcass and the family court in instructing contact with children, which calibrates comprehensive briefing, and must always ensure that the protection and well-being of children are at the forefront of any discussions. Although I recognise the important and useful role of Cafcass and the family court system, I suggest it is far from resilient in its effectiveness and application, due to insufficient understanding of the impact of violence and abuse.
I wish to address the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and her call for get refusal to be recognised as a form of domestic abuse within the statutory definition to ensure that Jewish women are protected and can access a DAPO on the grounds that a get is being withheld by an abuser.
I appreciate that this amendment specifically addresses get. I am in awe of the leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, in getting us to this point. If husbands who refuse wives religious divorce are likely to be prosecuted, it would be a godsend, not just for Jewish women, as it would give hope to other women of faith, including Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus—many of whom often discover, when there is a violent incident or separation, that their religious ceremonies are not recognised by the laws of our country. This blights the lives of countless women and families who have no recourse to the laws. The Register Our Marriage campaign and other leading women’s organisations welcome these proposed changes on get, as do I. It raises hope for others seeking state recognition for their plight in relation to religious ceremonies.
My Lords, I take part briefly in this debate because I was moved by what my noble friend Lady Altmann said in Committee. I go by one abiding conviction: we are all equal under the law and every subject of Her Majesty the Queen deserves the same consideration, the same protection and the same advancement as any other. As a great admirer of the Jewish community and what it has contributed to our national life over many centuries, I believe that what my noble friend is arguing for today is something that we should all recognise as a legitimate request. I was delighted to hear her comments that she believes that this will be covered, even though her own amendment will not be pressed to a Division.
I have tried to help a little in the work that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has done for Muslim women in the context of sharia law. Again, it is important that everyone in this country—every woman—has the same benefits as every other. The rule of law is what makes this a civilised country.
I sincerely hope that we will go forward from Report to see this important landmark Bill on the statute book very soon, and that it will indeed give true and equal protection to all those who suffer or who are in fear of domestic abuse. I am glad to support this amendment.
My Lords, I speak in support of this group of amendments, which I have signed. I associate myself with the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and my colleagues. I also thank the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the officials of the domestic abuse commissioner for their engagements on these amendments.
There is indeed progress. As my noble friends have said, there are some clear indications for some modest but significant improvements as outlined. Crucially, I hope we will hear some reassurance, building on what was said in Committee, that statutory guidance, as provided for in Clause 73, will take into account the measures proposed in the amendments.
It is also important to note that there is a host of additional elements throughout this Bill which support the plight of victims and will provide new opportunities for assistance and help, including DAPOs, the role of the domestic abuse commissioner and many others. There is no doubt that more will be done over time. At its very heart, this is a form of gender discrimination that we really cannot accept.
The Government have made a number of arguments as to why they could not go further or place these matters on the face of the Bill. Indeed, there is a reasonable point that the Government have not had enough time to tease through all the different implications for all faiths on this matter. There is a less persuasive point about drafting preferences.
There are two arguments, however, that are surely utterly wrong and incompatible with the underlying intentions behind this Bill: namely, that this is only domestic abuse in certain circumstances and that English law alone cannot solve this matter. A plainly gender-specific arrangement which places women where they have less rights and power in courts, which are exclusively run by the decisions of men, is wrong. This is not a situation we should accept, nor is it an arrangement we should settle for, even under any calculation of what religious freedoms should be accorded to faith communities in our country.
In Holland, the courts have been making rulings which have included fines and even imprisonment of husbands unwilling to deliver gets, with all the support of the rabbinate and the religious courts. In fact, under Dutch jurisprudence since 2002, which was strengthened in specific legislation just a couple of years ago—and which has been accessed by Jewish women across Europe, including, previously, some from the UK who, unfortunately, can no longer access it now—the secular courts are able to unchain Jewish women in these circumstances. The distinguished Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the head of the conference of European orthodox rabbis, supports this measure, as does rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, the former chief rabbi of Amsterdam, who now works in the orthodox courts in New York to bring reform and change. They support the Dutch judiciary’s proactive approach and recognise that, over 2,000 years, the role of the religious courts and the nature of Jewish communities in modern times is different. In response to the opposition of those who resist any notion that secular values or laws should ever interfere in how the Jewish law operates in liberal democracies. Rabbi Ralbag has powerfully said:
“Am I concerned that this is creating a precedent for interference? In some places, yes, I am. But I and every rabbi need to measure this against the pain and suffering that is being visited on Jewish women right now. And right now, this is what we can do to help”.
Regrettably, we are a long way from that here in the UK, but this is something that I think should inspire us that more can and must be done through this Bill—and indeed after it. I have been truly shocked and humbled over the issues presented by these amendments. I have been contacted by tens of women in this situation since I first spoke out. I have heard the most traumatic stories, including with people I knew, and in some cases people I have socialised with. How true it is that you never know what is going on, even with people you think you know well. The private torments, appalling behaviour, abuse and control—it has been utterly shocking. How important it is that there are excellent organisations such as the Jewish Women’s Aid and GETTout UK. I have been shocked at how some members of the legal profession have been providing the use of the get as a bargaining chip to ensure that women cannot receive what the law is clear and firm they are fully entitled to.
These issues go much deeper than the granting of the get and involve many cases that do not even touch the sides of the religious courts, where they are prepared to intervene. So while I am grateful to the Government for the progress that I hope the Minister will confirm during his speech, we cannot be satisfied with where we are. There is a huge duty on leaders in the Jewish community to face up to this dark side. While thus far it does not do what the Dutch have done, I hope the Bill will make them think and come round to proposing more legislative interventions themselves. I hope Jewish women will find comfort in the support that the Bill will give them in their struggles ahead, and for that we must be grateful.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to listen to and follow my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn and the other sponsors of these amendments.
I wish to make two brief points. The first is that whenever there is an unequivocal imbalance in power relations, that affects behaviour. The behaviour relayed to me in the context of these amendments particularly concerns women who remain in abusive relationships precisely because, in any definition of “negotiation”, the odds of getting out are stacked against them. One cannot go fairly into a separation negotiation if the other side has additional cards that are greater than the ones you possess. That imbalance affects ongoing behaviour; it will be affecting people’s behaviour now, as my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn rightly pointed out, in cases where perhaps no one will know anything at all other than the woman directly affected. There is a responsibility on the Government to listen acutely to the expertise being brought.
That brings me to my second point—and it is an apposite time to be making it in the context of Lord Speaker elections and people thinking about the size of the House—about the diversity of this place. There is no purpose in having an unelected Second Chamber if it does not represent the diversity of the communities out there. With these amendments and the Government’s arguments against them, we see a juxtaposition of the best and the not so good. Here we see a community effectively represented, by Members from across the range of the political spectrum knowledgably putting forward their expertise to the Government and to the House. But if we are to have a purpose here and carry out the precise role that an unelected Chamber needs to, we need to be far more inclusive of all communities across the country. The amendments, as clearly as any that I have ever seen, absolutely demonstrate the strengths of this House but also, in a sense—and I anticipate that this will be the Government’s response—part of its ongoing weaknesses, in that we are not inclusive enough of all communities.
I congratulate those who have brought forward their expertise from their community for the rest of us. With such cross-party wisdom, it would be foolish of us to ignore that expertise.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mann, who, as a non-Jew, has done, and continues to do, so much in the fight against anti-Semitism.
The well-informed debate in Committee was a good one and today’s debate has been just as important and impressive. I am delighted to confirm the assertions by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, about his mother, the late Ruth Winston-Fox; she was a force to be reckoned with but also a wonderfully warm, creative and successful campaigner. She clearly produced quite an impressive son, too.
The Bill, which is welcomed across the House and beyond, is about helping as many people who need it as possible. That is why I support my noble friend Lady Altmann’s amendments; as always, she made the case strongly and eloquently. I too am grateful to the Government, specifically on the Front Bench, my noble friends Lady Williams and Lord Wolfson. There can be no doubt in my mind that withholding a get is abusive behaviour. I also pay tribute to the inspiring work of Jewish Women’s Aid.
While it remains true that I am a member of the United Synagogue and part of the Modern Orthodox Jewish community, I am qualified to speak for no one. However, I spoke to a close family member who happens to be going through a divorce and, as she said, if via this Bill only one woman, one agunah, were spared the indignity, the abuse, the embarrassment and the hurt and were enabled to rebuild her life then that would be a good result. How much more important it is if, by passing these focused and narrow amendments, we can help many more than just one agunah. My noble friend Lord Wolfson understands, he has empathy and he has the knowledge to help. I urge him to help those who need it.
My Lords, I speak to show support from these Benches for the amendments. They relate to Jewish law but there are many women who, for many reasons, are effectively prevented from leaving a failed marriage because their spouse unreasonably decides to prevent them moving on with their lives. Just one example might be where a wife is subject to abuse but the husband threatens to cut her off without a penny if she leaves the relationship. Whether or not the threat could be carried out is not the point if the threat is believed. In the case of the amendments, the husband has to consent to the divorce in Jewish law, and so the threat is real.
It is a privilege to be able to speak on this Bill on International Women’s Day. Any woman should be free to leave any relationship if she so chooses, and that includes relationships covered by these amendments. In 2021 there should be no chained women.
My Lords, Labour is happy to support this group of amendments but recognises the realities of abuse that different communities face. We must ensure that what is in the Bill works in practice for victims of all backgrounds in the UK.
The technical aspects of the amendments have been described powerfully and in detail by other noble Lords. When I came to review them in preparation for today, I was struck by the complexity of the situation surrounding victims caught in these particular circumstances due to religious faith, and the clarity with which these amendments have been written in order to ameliorate the effects and consequences of that faith while unlocking the rights of the woman in that situation and disallowing perpetrators from using the get negotiations as an abusive bargaining chip.
I pay tribute to the noble Lords who have brought forward these amendments for the experienced and knowledgeable way in which they have highlighted this problem, and I am glad of the support across all areas of the House for the amendments, on the grounds of domestic abuse by way of controlling and coercive behaviour. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, spoke of in her detailed opening speech, this is a defined form of abuse where the victim is treated as chattel. I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Winston’s insights into the uniqueness of Judaism in not having one central authority, as well as my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn’s powerful and cogent arguments about what must be done, and the insight that he showed in his comment about not knowing what is actually going on with people who you think you know.
Inclusion in the Bill provides the opportunity to ensure that its provisions and protections are applicable to all. It specifically recognises the plight of these women by removing the shadow of abuse and control, restoring their right to exercise their faith through their ability to remarry and have children within their faith. The recognition would also offer these women other protections under the Act, once it is passed, if they are specifically included. It is in line with a key objective of the Bill: to raise awareness and understanding of domestic abuse and its impact on victims. Key is the ability of women to bring a case where they retain control of the process as the victims, rather than as a witness in a prosecution, having criminal sanctions as a civil party. It also clarifies that unreasonably preventing the obtaining of a get can include the imposition of unfair conditions, calibrated by reference to being substantially less favourable terms than the civil courts have ordered.
In conclusion, on International Women’s Day, this group highlights what so many noble Lords have said. The Bill needs to work for all victims and to do that it needs to grapple with the reality of how domestic abuse is experienced, in all the different ways that it is, by all of our communities across the UK—whatever their faith or ethnicity—by those living with it and trying to escape it.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Altmann for tabling these amendments. As a number of speakers have said, it is particularly apt that we are debating this on International Women’s Day. The quality of speeches in this debate is a testament to the strength of feeling across the House. Indeed, the standard of speeches has set a very high bar for the rest of Report.
I hope the House will forgive me if I depart from my prepared text to pick up two comments by my noble friend Lord Cormack. He first said that all were equal under the law. I respectfully agree entirely. Towards the end of his short but powerful contribution, he also said, if I took it down correctly, “The rule of law is what makes this a civilised country.” Again, I respectfully agree, and those two propositions guide not only the work of my department but my approach to this matter.
Amendments 1 and 3 would add a sixth limb to the list of behaviours in Clause 1(3) which count as abusive; namely, the unreasonable refusal to agree to the granting of a religious bill of divorce, or get, which is necessary to dissolve a Jewish religious marriage. The threat of such a refusal would also be caught by the amendment. It is undeniable that women who are refused a get by their husbands suffer long-lasting and significant consequences. A woman who has not received a get is regarded in the eyes of Jewish religious law as still married. She is therefore unable to remarry, but that is not the only disability which she suffers. Perhaps more importantly, if she does not remarry but has further children with another Jewish partner, those children will be severely restricted as a matter of Jewish law as to whom they are later able to marry.
The term applied in Jewish law to a woman whose husband refuses to give her a get, being an “agunah” or “chained”, is thus apt and tragic. I know that Jewish religious authorities are concerned about the problem but have not, so far, found a solution to it within Jewish religious law. That is a source of regret to many, but not something which English law alone can solve. While I accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, put it, that this issue goes back to medieval times and may go back further—it is certainly of long standing—it is a matter which ultimately, so far as Jewish law is concerned, the Jewish religious authorities themselves have to deal with. If the undoubted abilities of the mother of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, were insufficient to resolve this problem—I pass on congratulations from the Front Bench to him on his wedding anniversary—and she did not succeed with all her talents, one wonders where the solution will come from.
While English law cannot solve this problem, there is something which English law can and should deal with. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, reminded the House, this is not the first time English law has engaged itself in this area. He reminded the House of the significant work done by the late Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, of blessed memory, which led up to the legislation at the start of this century. English law can recognise that the refusal to grant a religious dissolution is all too often about the exertion of control by one spouse over the other—almost invariably, in the context of a get, by the husband over the wife—and, as such, may be considered a form of domestic abuse in certain circumstances
However, as my noble friend Lady Williams outlined in her response in Committee, we consider that this would sit better in the statutory guidance on domestic abuse provided for in Clause 73, rather than in the Bill. Again, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, identified, that is because the list of abusive behaviours included in the definition is purposefully drafted to be high level. That definition is therefore to be applied by the courts and other agencies on a case-by-case, fact-specific basis. Including specific circumstances in the Bill, such as a refusal to grant a get, may lead to calls for inclusion of other examples which would have two adverse consequences. First, as a matter of drafting, it would make the definition unwieldy. Secondly, we do not want to give the impression by including specific examples that there is a hierarchy of abuse. We are concerned to capture and prevent all forms of domestic abuse.
Before I provide further reassurance on the matter of statutory guidance, which a number of noble Lords have referred to, it would make sense to respond to Amendment 79 first. That amendment seeks to ensure that both the guidance I have just referred to and the statutory guidance issued under Section 77 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 include the unreasonable refusal to grant a get within their discussion of controlling or coercive behaviour. While we would not want to prescribe in statute what statutory guidance must contain, the House will have heard my own and my noble friend Lady Williams’ previous commitments during Committee and subsequent discussions to address this issue in the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73.
I am pleased to have met with my noble friend Lady Altmann, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lords, Lord Mendelsohn and Lord Palmer, recently to discuss this matter and share our progress on including the issue within the statutory guidance. Home Office officials have been working closely with my noble friend Lady Altmann, with Jewish Women’s Aid and others to shape the reference to this issue in the statutory guidance. I was particularly pleased to hear my noble friend refer to the work done by my department’s officials in this regard as well.
I am pleased that we have now included specific reference to refusal to grant a get within the draft guidance. We have also included a specific case study on get refusal, provided by Jewish Women’s Aid—to whom I pay tribute, as my noble friend Lord Polak did—to bring the issue to life for those reading that guidance. Let me say this clearly and unambiguously: there are, and no doubt will be, cases in which the refusal to give a get may be considered a form of domestic abuse. As my noble friend Lady Deech reminded the House, that is especially the case if refusal to grant a get is used as a method to undermine a financial settlement imposed by the civil court. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, reminded the House, the issue here is that that power affects all the negotiations which surround the issue of separation.
Turning back to the statutory guidance, we have also added a new section on spiritual abuse, a particular form of abuse where perpetrators use the victim’s faith or other belief system to control them. We have worked closely in this regard with the Faith and Violence Against Women and Girls Coalition, drawing on its expertise. The new section is now comprehensive and takes up a few pages within the guidance.
I respectfully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, that this applies to all faiths. Spiritual abuse is not faith specific, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Mann, that the Government’s approach is to be absolutely inclusive of all communities within our country. We will continue to work closely with the experts as we develop the guidance, and we will be publishing an updated version of the draft guidance shortly after Royal Assent for a formal consultation, where there will be a further opportunity for interested parties to contribute. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, because what we are dealing with here are ultimately issues of power and control, I hope that that will enhance the nature and quality of the consultation.
I turn now to Amendment 74, which seeks to ensure that partners in a Jewish religious marriage which has not been dissolved can be considered within the definition of “intimate personal relationship” within the Serious Crime Act 2015, whether or not they continue to be married under civil law or live together. My noble friends will have seen that we intend to support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which would remove the “living together” requirement contained within the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. Therefore, Amendment 74 is now unnecessary.
I turn finally to Amendment 80, which seeks to ensure that the unreasonable refusal to dissolve a religious marriage be regarded as a significant factor in the consideration of whether a person has suffered domestic abuse, whether a domestic abuse protection order should be issued, and the production by relevant local authorities of strategies for the provision of domestic abuse support, as required by Clause 55. My remarks just now about what is appropriate to include on the face of the Bill, and what to include in guidance, apply equally to the first limb of this amendment, on the determination of domestic abuse. On the second limb of the amendment, which refers to domestic abuse protection orders, it would not be appropriate for the Government to direct the judiciary as to what it must consider when deciding whether to grant such an order. That is a matter for the courts. The amendment is, in any event, unnecessary. The conditions which must be satisfied before a court can make a DAPO will already enable a court to make such an order if the behaviour amounts to abusive behaviour under Clause 1(3). On the final limb, relating to local authorities, we are not otherwise specifying what local authorities must take into account when drawing up their strategies, which will relate to general provision in the relevant local authority area. A specific reference is therefore unnecessary, but again I reassure my noble friend that this issue will be considered within the statutory guidance to which those local authorities will refer.
The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, referred to the approach in Holland, and said that the Jewish religious authorities ought to look at the approach there. It is not for the Government to identify what might or might not be an appropriate solution to this problem from the point of view of Jewish religious law. It is fair to say, as the noble Lord mentioned, that there are different answers or proposed answers to a very long-standing question. It is undeniable, as again he said, that there are causes which are traumatic indeed. The intent of this amendment has broad support across the House. We have heard a number of very powerful speeches supporting the proposals, and not only do the Liberal Democrat Benches support them but the Opposition do as well. I was a little worried for a moment about whether that support would be forthcoming, but it was. The Government are also in sympathy with the underlying aims of these amendments, and I was very pleased to hear from my noble friend that, in light of our discussions and the progress made on the statutory guidance, and the very clear—and I hope unambiguous—statements made from the Dispatch Box today, she will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his remarks, and am truly humbled by the widespread support across the House for the sentiments and intent of these amendments. Every noble Lord who spoke supported this group of amendments. I hope that, on International Women’s Day, this will help promote a mindset change among Jewish men, or men of any faith, that the position of power they may find themselves in should not be exercised against the interests of their wives. I accept that the broad definitions do cover get refusal, and I appreciate my noble friend’s unambiguous statements to that effect. On the basis of the assurances that I have most gratefully received, I will not be moving my Amendments 3, 74, 79 and 80, and I thank my noble friend and the department for all their engagement. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Clause 1, page 2, line 12, at end insert “, such as a parent’s behaviour deliberately designed to damage the relationship between a child of the parent and the other parent.”
My Lords, I rise to speak to the amendment tabled in my name and kindly supported by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, which I very much hope the Government will consider positively.
The reason I was sent to this House was my 19 years of work on family and children’s issues. Every day for nearly two decades I stepped through the wreckage of relationships destroyed by one parent poisoning the mind of a child against the other parent. Sometimes the abuser was a man, sometimes a woman. The gender was irrelevant. The horrific irony is that all parties—the abuser, the abused and the child—end up victims in their different ways, with lives wrecked and psychological damage beyond measure. For some the only way out is suicide. The Government say that there is no need to include an amendment as this form of abuse is already covered by implication in the Bill. But why should it be covered by implication and not explicitly?
In Clause 1(4) there is already detailed reference to “economic abuse”, by which one partner or spouse seeks to use money to coerce and control the other. How can economic abuse merit mention when the weaponising of children for the purpose of coercion and control by one parent over the other goes unmentioned? No one has put it better than the distinguished family court judge, His Honour Judge Stephen Wildblood QC, who said
“The problem with Parental Alienation is that it’s not about the child at all. It is about the adults … It’s using children as an instrument of that parent’s skewed emotions.”
In my book, there are few forms of domestic abuse more callous and damaging than that. Are we to draw the conclusion that money matters more than the lives and souls of the victims of domestic abuse—men, women and children? That surely cannot be the case.
This has nothing to do with creating a hierarchy of behaviours, as the Government fear. It is to ensure that through an Act of Parliament the issue of children as the victims of domestic abuse is not buried under a barrage of gender politics and misinformation. This debate needs to be broadened, not narrowed. There is a crying need for the justice system to be better equipped to distinguish between false and authentic accusations of alienation: between children who for good reason do not want to see one parent, and children who have been indoctrinated to say so. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put it in our previous debate:
“A little more time might be spent teaching magistrates, district judges and circuit judges a little more about it”.—[Official Report, 25/1/21; col. 1403]
“It”, of course, is parental alienation.
There is the rub: the dreaded words “parental alienation”. I regret to say that rational debate around this term has been made well-nigh impossible by the controversy and emotion that it attracts. That is why my amendment, instead of using the term, in effect describes what my supporters and I mean by it—that is,
“a parent’s behaviour deliberately designed to damage the relationship between a child of the parent and the other parent.”
Seen in that light, I cannot believe that any reasonable person can object to our amendment.
Of course I have every sympathy for women who fear that men will use parental alienation as a defence against well-founded claims of abuse. The last thing that I want to do is to make life easier for an abusive and dishonest man—to the contrary: I believe that our amendment, far from disarming women victims, will strengthen their defences. But it is plain wrong to assert that so-called parental alienation is a stratagem used exclusively by men against women. For example, Judge Wildblood was reported as saying in 2019 in an alienation case that the children would suffer “significant and long-term” emotional damage, adding that
“the cause of that harm lies squarely with this mother”.
Alienation exists; to deny it would be to deny that the earth is round. More to the point, noble Lords have all seen the petition signed within a matter of weeks by over 1,400 fathers, mothers and grandparents, begging the Government to hear their voices and to include in the Bill a reference to this vile form of abuse. Every day I receive emails asking for that. If that is not persuasive enough, I have an abundance of proof in hundreds of peer-reviewed research papers and scholarly articles, to be found in the written evidence that I have circulated. This body of work comprehensively refutes the so-called expert advice submitted to the Ministry of Justice—advice that says on the one hand that there is no such thing as parental alienation and on the other that it benefits men only.
This is a Bill that, if it becomes law, will deeply determine the well-being and mental health of families across the land for years to come. It is therefore vital that we have complete clarity about its intent and reach. Can my noble friend the Minister agree that the family courts would benefit enormously from having parental alienation defined in law? Can she further agree that the use of children as a weapon in adult conflicts is a form of child abuse and that this matter should fly above all politics and issues of gender, since it equally affects men and women, their children and their wider families? Lastly, can she confirm that parental alienation will remain in the final version of the guidance to the Bill and that Cafcass—that is to say, the experts and not the ideologues—will play a central role in advising the committee that will examine the guidance? I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendments in this group seek once again to put parental alienation both in capitals and in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, has again outlined her reasons for this. However, I do not hear any difference in objective from the amendments tabled in Committee. Those of us who oppose the amendments believe that adding parental alienation to the Bill is redundant because the alienating behaviours that she referred to are already caught in the definitions of coercive control. Further, the Government have agreed to add a phrase about alienating behaviours to the statutory guidance, which will sit alongside some of the other patterns of behaviour in domestic abuse.
As was mentioned in Committee, there are already problems in our family courts with one parent—often but absolutely not always the father of the child or children—alleging such behaviour. Unfortunately, as outlined in the Ministry of Justice’s harm panel report, fear of false allegations of parental alienation means that survivors and children of abusive and coercive relationships are suppressing evidence for fear that the charge of alienation will be made against them. Indeed, it is becoming such a worry in the family courts that even their solicitors are advising them against such evidence. There can be a history of abusive behaviour, especially coercive control, that is not presented formally to the family courts. This can include violence, restraining orders, criminal convictions and long-term patterns of such behaviour. Perpetrators of such fixated behaviour can often sound convincing and their ex-partners are often terrified of their behaviour, even in a court hearing.
In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and I went through some of the history of the development of parental alienation syndrome, which I will not repeat today, since we are now on Report, other than to say that there is evidence from the family courts of some abuse of a parental alienation defence. There are also some questions to be asked about the role of so-called experts in this area. Practice direction 25B, on the duties of an expert, the expert’s report and arrangements for an expert to attend court, is very clear on the requirements, including registration with a UK statutory body or having appropriate academic qualifications. The expert must also have completed the training. There are concerns from contested cases that some experts in this area might not have met this high bar, so I ask the Minister what checks there are to ensure that all expert witnesses meet practice direction 25B.
That is also why the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and my noble friend Lord Marks have tabled Amendment 44. We need to ensure that the courts are aware of the implications of a whole range of behaviours, especially in some of these egregious cases where there might have been some controlling, abusive, coercive and even alienating behaviour. The definition of coercive control—after many years of campaigning by organisations such as Women’s Aid and others, it is thankfully now a crime—is
“an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten”
the victim. That seems to fit very well the definition that the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, has been seeking. I hope that, on this basis, she will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have supported this amendment on the basis that it shows what the general definitions reveal and include. I do not think that it will be necessary to pursue it, if we have a clear understanding that the sort of behaviour that the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, has described is covered by the phrase “controlling or coercive behaviour”.
There is another important definition that deals with children being used as weapons against their parents. It points out that activity towards a child may well be against the parent. Clause 1(5) says:
“For the purposes of this Act A’s behaviour may be behaviour ‘towards’ B despite the fact that it consists of conduct directed at another person (for example, B’s child).”
I am certain that there are a large number of cases in which one parent, using his or her relationship with the child, seeks to damage that child’s relationship with the other parent. It is a natural weaponising in a conflict, which is apt to come forward in this sort of fighting between parents. When they are antagonistic towards each other, they are apt to try to bring children to their side of the dispute, which strikes me as extremely dangerous.
I believe that the attempt to use one parent’s relationship to damage the children’s relationship with the other parent is an obnoxious type of controlling or coercive behaviour. I verily believe that, if allowed to persist until the end, you will get parental alienation, because the operation of trying to damage the child’s relationship with that parent ultimately succeeds. That is what alienation is: by that means, the child has been successfully cut off from the other parent’s company, love and support. As we show, the law as it stands includes that.
The reason for the amendment is to illustrate that that is so, simply to make it possible to have this debate on Report. There was a tremendous amount of debate in Committee suggesting that parental alienation should not be contemplated. Sadly, I fear that, if the conduct that we have described succeeds, it will continue to happen. The Bill already, properly, includes a definition that deals with the kind of behaviour that underlies attempts to alienate the other parent from their child.
I strongly believe that this broad definition should not be restricted. I felt that the addition of qualifications in other amendments restricted the wide definition presently in the Bill. That is important, because domestic abuse is a large area and the definition manages to encompass it with great success. Therefore, the reason for the amendment is to illustrate that the conduct in question is included in the definition. Once that is accepted, as I hope it will be, the amendment will not be unnecessary.