Committee (6th Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
163: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse
(1) This section applies where there are two or more joint tenants under a secure or assured tenancy and the landlord is a local housing authority or a private registered provider of social housing.(2) If one joint tenant (“A”) has experienced domestic abuse from another joint tenant (“B”) then A may apply to the county court for an order that B is removed as a joint tenant.(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) it is sufficient that the domestic abuse was directed at A or to anyone who might reasonably be expected to reside with A.(4) On such an application, the court must take the following approach—(a) the court must be satisfied that the tenancy is affordable for A, or will be so within a reasonable period of time;(b) if the court is so satisfied, then—(i) if B has been convicted of an offence related to domestic abuse against A or anyone who might reasonably be expected to reside with A, the court must make an order under this section;(ii) if B has been given a domestic abuse protection notice under section 20, or a domestic abuse protection order has been made against B under section 26, or B is currently subject to an injunction or restraining order in relation to A, or a person who might be reasonably expected to reside with A, the court may make an order under this section;(iii) if the application does not fall within sub-paragraph (i) or (ii), then the court may make such an order if it thinks it fit to do so;(c) for the purposes of subsection (4)(b)(ii), the court must adopt the following approach—(i) if B does not oppose the making of such an order, then the court must make it;(ii) if B does oppose the making of such an order then it is for B to satisfy the court that, as at the date of the hearing, there are exceptional circumstances which mean that the only way to do justice between A and B is for the order to be refused.(5) Where A has made such an application to the court, any notice to quit served by B shall be of no effect until determination of A’s application or any subsequent appeal.(6) Notwithstanding any rule of common law to the contrary, the effect of an order under this section is that the tenancy continues for all purposes as if B had never been a joint tenant. (7) For the purposes of this section, an offence related to domestic abuse includes, as against A or anyone who might be reasonably expected to reside with A, an offence of violence, threats of violence, criminal damage to property, rape, other offences of sexual violence or harassment, coercive control, breach of injunction, breach of restraining order, or breach of domestic abuse protection order.(8) In section 88(2) of the Housing Act 1985, after “section 17(1) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Actusb 1984 (property adjustment orders after overseas divorce, &c.)” insert “, or section (Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021,”.(9) In section 91(3)(b) of the Housing Act 1985, after sub-paragraph (iv), insert—“(v) section (Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;”.(10) In section 99B(2)(e) of the Housing Act 1985 (persons qualifying for compensation for improvements), after sub-paragraph (iv) insert—“(v) section (Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;”.”
My Lords, I am exceedingly grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for supporting this amendment and making it cross-party. There are few things in the unjust world of domestic abuse that make me more angry than a perpetrator driving the victim and their children out of the family home. This amendment seeks to address this injustice for joint tenancies in a secure or assured tenancy, where the landlord is a local authority or a private registered social landlord—I would make it wider if it were possible under the law as it stands.
As things stand, it is very difficult and costly for a victim in a jointly tenanted home to get the tenancy transferred to them if the perpetrator does not agree. For the purposes of simplicity, I am going to use the pronoun “he” for the perpetrator and “she” for the victim, but of course there are circumstances where it is the other way round. They could also be a same-sex couple.
Until the perpetrator’s name can be removed from the tenancy agreement, the victim will never achieve the security she needs. She cannot change the locks or restrict his access. She can seek a temporary court order to remove him from the property but when that expires, he has the right to return. The perpetrator can give notice to end the tenancy without the survivor’s consent or even knowledge, even though he no longer resides there. Unless he signs away his interest in the tenancy, her only recourse as things stand is to embark on costly court proceedings, which are complex and tortuous. Social housing providers, much as they might wish, have no legal mechanism to evict perpetrators and support survivors to stay in the tenancy. A number of creative methods have been tried, but these use legal mechanisms for which they were not designed.
For all those reasons, all too often the victim ends up fleeing the family home, leaving the perpetrator ensconced while she ends up homeless, often in a refuge with no resources to enable her to start again except emergency assistance from the state. It makes my blood boil even thinking about it.
This new clause aims to resolve the problem, at least as far as secured and assured social tenancies are concerned. Three family law and housing experts, Giles Peaker, Justin Bates and Jenny Beck, developed the solution which I am proud to lay before the Committee today. It provides a simplified mechanism for transferring a joint tenancy into the hands of the victim as a sole tenancy. It utilises other mechanisms in the Bill, domestic abuse protection orders and notices, as well as existing mechanisms such as restraining orders, occupation orders and non-molestation orders, which can remove the perpetrator from the home temporarily. The breathing space created when the perpetrator is out of the home can be used to transfer the tenancy permanently to the victim, so when the order expires, he is no longer legally able to return.
Subsection (4) of the proposed new clause describes the conditions under which a domestic abuse transfer of tenancy order can be granted by the court. The new sole tenant must be able to afford the rent or have expectations of being able to do so in a reasonable amount of time. The court must make the order if the perpetrator is subsequently convicted of domestic abuse. It may make an order if a domestic abuse protection order or notice, injunction or restraining order has been issued. Even if none of these conditions applies, or the victim has already fled the property, the court may still make the order. If the perpetrator does not object to the order the court must make the order. If he objects, the onus is on him to make the case that there are exceptional circumstances why he should stay.
That is the gist of it. No doubt other noble Lords will have points to make which are more learned and informed than someone with no legal training like me, but I must say that it looks to me like an elegant and equitable solution. No doubt the Minister may have some legal reservations, but all I ask at this stage is for him to take it away, think about it and come back at Report—with, I hope, an even more elegant solution of the Government’s making. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment, which now has support from all four corners of the House. I add a brief footnote to the compelling case just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. This is a rather modest amendment, as it covers only the transfer of a tenancy where the victim is a joint tenant. A more radical but perfectly defensible amendment would have proposed the transfer of the tenancy where the perpetrator was the sole tenant and the victim was living lawfully in the property as a spouse or partner, but not as a joint tenant. I should have been happy to sponsor such an amendment—with adequate safeguards, of course.
Once again, we find that Scotland has stolen a march on England with its amendment to its domestic abuse Bill. That amendment enables either the social landlord or the survivor/tenant to do just what I have said: to seek a transfer of tenancy through a court order. It can transfer a sole tenancy in the perpetrator’s name into a sole tenancy in the survivor’s name. Our amendment is more modest and proposes that the survivor can apply for a transfer of tenancy through the county court only if it is a joint secured or assured social tenancy, shared with the perpetrator. Of course, in those circumstances, the tenant is already known to and approved by the landlord.
The amendment is one of the domestic abuse commissioner’s top recommendations. At a round table last month with the Chartered Institute of Housing, Shelter, the National Housing Federation and the National Federation of ALMOs, there was unanimous support for this initiative. Since the A New Deal for Renting consultation in 2019, the organisation Standing Together Against Domestic Abuse, to which I am grateful for its briefing, has regularly met the department about joint tenancies and discussed the amendment. The organisation has sought to address the concerns expressed in the letter that the Minister, my noble friend Lady Williams, sent to us, which stated that
“there are good practical and principled reasons for the rules which seek to balance the rights and interests of each tenant and the landlord.”
I shall quickly go through those rights and interests. Those of the social landlord would be basically unchanged because the nature of the tenancy agreement would stay the same. The rights of the tenant-survivor would also stay the same by their retaining the right to continue to live safely in their home. The rights of the perpetrator would, of course, be affected, and I agree that we should be cautious about making anyone homeless. However, in the circumstances to which the Bill applies, we have to strike a balance. If the perpetrator leaves, he may indeed face homelessness, probably as a single person. But if he does not, the innocent party and any children would also face either homelessness or continuing harm by staying put.
The amendment provides that where there is such a dispute and this balance has to be struck, the matter should be resolved by the county courts, which would hear both sides of the case before reaching a judgment. If a perpetrator loses but remains in the property, the normal eviction process would take place. However, in many cases, he may already have left due to a domestic abuse protection order, a restraining order or an occupation order, or he may have done so voluntarily. Under the amendment, the courts would have to define affordability, but this is something they already do, and it would be based on the survivor’s income and access to benefits to cover the rent.
There are further injustices in the present position, which were touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. At the moment, the perpetrator can leave the property and then unilaterally end the joint tenancy. That cannot be right. He can stop the survivor accessing housing benefit because his income is taken into account, but he will not be paying. As we have heard, the survivor cannot change the locks without the perpetrator’s consent. Without the amendment, if the perpetrator does not leave, the survivor has to resort to costly legal proceedings. That cannot be right, either, because it can take up to two years to complete the process and, depending on legal aid, can cost up to £10,000.
I therefore hope, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has just said, that the Minister will listen sympathetically to the case made this afternoon and indicate that there is some flexibility in the position that the Government have adopted so far.
My Lords, I am proud to stand with the other signatories to the amendment, which is eminently sensible. Sadly, our discussions on the Bill have uncovered the nasty elements of the ways in which one human being can behave towards another. This is another example.
Stereotypically, it is the mother with children most in need of staying put, housing and avoiding children changing school. It is much more difficult to rehouse her if he causes her to flee. We must therefore remove the power of the abuser who is a joint tenant to remove the victim. The amendment would allow the victim to apply for a tenancy transfer, even if she has already been forced to flee. He, the perpetrator, could potentially cause rent arrears and damage to the property, for which she would be responsible.
It is a shame that the amendment cannot apply to private tenancies. Are there no alternatives? At the moment, a victim might obtain a temporary court order, such as a non-molestation or occupation order, but they are time-limited and could cost up to £5,000 at legal aid rates—more if there is no legal aid. The perpetrator might return. He may well not consent to a tenancy transfer and there is no guarantee that the landlord would grant a sole tenancy to the victim in the alternative. He, the perpetrator, might vindictively give notice to end the tenancy. Therefore, if there is a temporary eviction, it would have to be followed up by a transfer of tenancy action, again costing thousands. A married victim who is seeking a divorce could apply for a tenancy transfer under the Matrimonial Causes Act or Section 1 of the Children Act. This is all slow and expensive.
We need to avoid those complications and expenses that mean that the victim has to become homeless and start finding a home all over again. In the case of social housing, the provider can evict the perpetrator only after the victim has left the shared property. Again, she is put in a position of rendering herself homeless and hoping that someone will take care of her immediate housing needs. That is just not good enough because it is all disjointed and no-one has pulled together all the strings and pieces of legislation that might protect the victim, albeit imperfectly.
If the amendment is passed, victims would not need to pay to obtain a transfer order. The amendment will also represent another saving to the public purse. It has been estimated that rehousing parent and children could cost from £3,000 to £11,000. Under the amendment, a domestic abuse protection notice would immediately remove the perpetrator from the property when it was issued by the police. Once it ends, the victim needs permanency by getting the tenancy transferred into her sole name.
The amendment is compatible with Article 1 of Protocol No.1 to the European Convention on Human Rights, on the protection of property rights, because it is in the public interest. It is also compatible with Article 6 of the convention, on the right to a fair hearing, because the perpetrator can make representations as to his situation. The Government must surely favour this humane and money-saving amendment, and I strongly urge it on them.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation, the representative body for housing associations.
The amendment seeks to enhance the welcome improvements in relation to tenancies embodied in Clauses 71 and 72. They show that the Government have recognised that survivors of domestic abuse in this area are currently let down by the law. The tenancy laws can mean that where there is a joint tenancy a survivor of domestic abuse has only two options: to stay and endure further abuse or to leave the home and potentially become homeless. There is currently no way in which the survivor can exercise a right to stay in the home, with all the security and instability that that means, and require the abuser to leave. Indeed, an abuser could unilaterally terminate the joint tenancy, thereby effectively evicting the survivor into potential homelessness.
Where the landlord is the local authority or a registered provider of social housing, there is no requirement for alternative accommodation to be under the same security of tenure that the survivor and her children previously enjoyed. As Women’s Aid has said, the risk of losing a lifetime tenancy is a significant concern for survivors who fear the consequences of losing security of tenure if they leave. Yet, that is a frequent outcome for survivors and children who escape to a refuge.
As I have said, Clauses 71 and 72 are welcome. However, they assume that it is the survivor of abuse who must quit the family home and not the abuser. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, would ensure a legal solution for survivors with joint tenancies to retain their housing security and stay safely in their own homes long term. It is important that there be a range of housing options available to people experiencing domestic abuse and that if they wish to stay in their home they should be able to do so safely and affordably. They should not have to become homeless or struggle to afford their tenancy because of abuse.
I know that housing associations are keen to work to support people who are experiencing domestic abuse and I know that they have also worked supportively with survivors if there are any arrears on the tenancy and/or damage to the property caused by the perpetrator. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has said, it would be useful if there were more workable rules for joint tenancy in general, but the amendment is certainly a good first step.
The Government have recognised the importance of guaranteeing safe accommodation for survivors who flee their home and their abuser. I hope that they will agree that the best outcome for any family is to have the safety and security of staying in their own familiar home, free from the abuser and free to get on with their lives.
My Lords, I should declare a number of interests because this is a housing matter. I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of Heart of Medway Housing Association and a director of MHS Homes Ltd.
The amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, is one that I fully support. I am delighted to sign it with other Members from across the House. During our discussions on this Domestic Abuse Bill, we have heard how perpetrators can take control of all aspects of victims’ lives. The victims need help and support to get away from their abuser. The ability to live in your home without fear of the person you are living with is an important first step to getting control of your life. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, when she says that a victim being driven out of their home—to a refuge or other temporary accommodation or to stay with friends—is something that should make us all very angry. It is just part of the devastating consequences that abusers have on victims’ lives and their children’s lives. We all want to ensure that we stop this.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, again made an excellent contribution. I would be happy to support an amendment with his suggestion at the next stage. Maybe the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, could respond to that. It may be that we need something more expanded. If someone is not a tenant at all but is living in the house, perhaps they should have the right to take over the tenancy as well. I think it is an important point.
Both the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, listed the disadvantages that a victim can suffer. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, we need to take away the power of the abuser in this situation. We can all see the situation in which an angry abuser wants to get even or cause trouble for the victim, for example by ending the tenancy or doing something else equally unpleasant and nasty. We need to ensure that we are doing what we can to stop those things. As my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe said, you can see the real concern of a victim, “I’m in this terrible situation. Even worse, I’ll be on the street”. It just makes it even more difficult for people.
This is a very important issue and a very good amendment. As we have heard, the amendment provides for a new mechanism whereby a survivor of domestic abuse can apply for the transfer of the tenancy from a joint tenancy to a sole tenancy. The amendment is welcome and it gives the victim support and another option as to the action they can take to protect themselves and their children. If they want to stay in their home, they can stay and get the abuser out.
I hope for a very positive response from the Government. Hopefully we can find a solution at the next stage.
My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, set out, Amendment 163 seeks to allow victims of domestic abuse who have a joint social tenancy with the perpetrator to transfer the tenancy into their own name and to prevent the perpetrator from unilaterally ending the tenancy.
We certainly recognise and sympathise with the motivation behind this amendment, as expressed very eloquently by all noble Lords who have spoken. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, abusers who seek to control their victims by threatening to unilaterally end a tenancy and make their victim homeless—or indeed who actually do make them homeless in this way—are exercising a particularly cruel form of control.
The amendment would apply to local authority and housing association tenancies. By way of background—as I am sure noble Lords will know—these social tenancies are usually in place for a tenant’s lifetime, as long as the tenant adheres to the terms of the tenancy and, as such, a lifetime security of tenure is a valuable asset. That is why we are including provisions in the Bill which seek to protect the security of tenure for victims of domestic abuse when they are granted a new tenancy by a local authority for reasons connected to that abuse.
The current legislation means that, where any joint tenant of a periodic tenancy serves a notice to quit, it ends the whole tenancy and the landlord is able to seek possession of the property. This is a long-standing rule, which has been established in case law and was upheld by the Supreme Court in the 2014 case of Sims v Dacorum Borough Council. The rule seeks to balance the interests of each joint tenant, as well as those of the landlord. For example, a victim of domestic abuse who has a joint tenancy with the perpetrator, and who has fled their home to escape abuse, would be able to end the tenancy to ensure that they are no longer bound to it with their abuser.
We do recognise that, in some cases of domestic abuse, as noble Lords have pointed out today, a perpetrator could use this rule to exert control. We understand how this proposed new clause seeks to overcome this important issue. The victim through it would be able to apply to the court to remove the perpetrator from the tenancy, which would effectively transfer the tenancy into the victim’s name. The perpetrator would also not be able to end the tenancy unilaterally.
We have certainly looked carefully at it and I am afraid we have some concerns with the effect of the amendment as drafted. One is that the amendment does not consider how any liabilities that might have occurred during the course of the joint tenancy, such as accrued rent arrears or damage to the property, would be apportioned between the tenants. As the perpetrator would no longer be a tenant, they would no longer be liable. That certainly ought to be considered. As a result, the victim and any remaining joint tenants would be left responsible for any liabilities, even if they were not fully responsible for contributing to them. We need to ensure that the victim and any remaining joint tenants are not put at any disadvantage by changes to the law in this area.
Another concern, picking up the point raised by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham is that the amendment does not provide for how the interests of third parties—including the interests of any other joint tenants, children, or those of the landlord—might be taken into account by the court.
It is for landlords to decide whether to grant a tenancy for their property, and on what basis. This amendment would mean that, where a landlord grants a joint tenancy to two or more individuals, the number of tenants could be changed without consideration or consent from the landlord as the owner of the property. Landlords may decide to grant a joint tenancy for a number of reasons, including affordability and because joint tenants are jointly and severally liable for paying rent or looking after the property. In addition, this could result in interference with a housing association landlord’s own rights under human rights law. Since this engages other parties’ human rights, including those of the perpetrator, we need to consider very carefully the right approach in order to balance those rights, and to ensure that any interference is proportionate and justified.
It is important that we carefully consider the practical and legal issues, such as these, before we decide what the right approach is to protect victims in this situation, and whether that includes making changes to legislation so that we can ensure that any proposals have the outcomes which I am sure all noble Lords intend them to have.
Today’s debate has certainly contributed to that process. We would welcome further evidence on the scale of the issue, including how many victims wish to remain in a property where the perpetrator knows where they live. I understand that officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are continuing to engage with the domestic abuse commissioner and her office, as well as the domestic abuse sector more widely, on the termination of joint tenancies in order better to understand this issue.
We understand how important this issue is as part of a whole housing approach. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the work that is being done by the domestic abuse and social housing sectors together in supporting victims of domestic abuse. I am aware that many landlords are already committed to taking action through sector-led initiatives such as the Making a Stand pledge.
I am very happy to underscore our commitment to continue working with the sector in considering these issues, with a view to arriving at a workable solution. I repeat my thanks to the noble Lords for their contributions today, which have contributed to that important debate. We will certainly continue to consider it, but in the meantime I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I have received a request to speak from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, I listened very carefully to the noble Lord’s explanation. Could I just ask that the noble Lord reflects on this after the debate? The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has identified a really practical issue here. It is real. This will be our one chance to sort it out in this Bill. When the noble Lord gave some of his answers, I just thought, “Really?” I just think he needs to think about it more. This is a simple solution to a real problem. I am sure he talks to the charities and to the commissioner. The abuser can cause the victim real problems here. They will deliberately do that and we need to stop that. I hope he can reflect on that and that we can have this discussion again on Report and seek a solution.
Yes, we certainly will. I hope equally that the noble Lord listened to the points where I outlined some of the complexities, which have to be considered in the law. But we certainly want to continue to engage on this and arrive at the right place.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have made extremely knowledgeable contributions. I thought that there would be experts on the Benches on all sides of the House, and I have certainly not been disappointed this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, talked about the balance that must be struck and the role of the courts in that; the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, used their professional experience and knowledge of human rights law; and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, had two bites of the cherry—and very welcome they were too, because he embodies the spirit of what we seek to achieve.
I am grateful to the Minister, who rightly commented on the issue of assured tenancies, which is already in the Bill, and very welcome it is. I appreciate that he has drafting concerns; that is why I invited him in my initial remarks to draft his own, if he wants—that would be wonderful. He also said that he would welcome further evidence, and I am pretty sure that he will get it. He has promised to continue working with the sector and bring in other legislation if necessary, so I am quite heartened by his response. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 163 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 164. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
164: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Monitoring of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under multi-agency public protection arrangements
(1) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.(2) In section 325 (arrangements for assessing etc risk posed by certain offenders)—(a) in subsection (1), after ““relevant sexual or violent offender” has the meaning given by section 327” insert—““relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” has the meaning given in section 327ZA;”;(b) in subsection (2)(a), after “offenders” insert—“(aa) relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators,”.(3) After section 327 (section 325: interpretation) insert—“327ZA Section 325: interpretation of relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator (1) For the purposes of section 325, a person (“P”) is a “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” if P has been convicted of a specified offence and meets either the condition in subsection (2)(a) or the condition in subsection (2)(b).(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the conditions are—(a) P is a relevant serial offender, or(b) a risk of serious harm assessment has identified P as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm.(3) An offence is a “specified offence” for the purposes of this section if it is a specified domestic abuse offence or a specified stalking offence.(4) In this section—“relevant serial offender” means a person convicted on more than one occasion for the same specified offence, or a person convicted of more than one specified offence;“specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning of 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.(5) Within six months of the commencement of this section, a Minister of the Crown must lay a report before both Houses of Parliament reviewing the interpretation of the term “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” for the purposes of section 325.(6) A report under subsection (5) must give specific consideration to arrangements for assessing and managing the risks of domestic abuse or stalking posed by perpetrators convicted of offences other than a specified offence.(7) Subject to a report under subsection (5) being laid before both Houses of Parliament, a Minister of the Crown may by regulations amend this section.””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause amends the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides for the establishment of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (“MAPPA”), to make arrangements for serial domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators to be registered on VISOR (the Violent and Sex Offender Register) and be subjected to supervision, monitoring and management through MAPPA.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 164 on behalf of my noble friend Lady Royall, I will also speak to my Amendment 177B. My noble friend is extremely sorry that she is not able to speak today due to a long-standing and immovable commitment. My remarks very much reflect her views and passion to see strong action in relation to serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. I am grateful also to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Brinton, for putting their names to the amendment.
This amendment follows many years of advocacy, during which my noble friend Lady Royall has sought to reflect the views of families of victims and many organisations, including John and Penny Clough; Paladin; Aurora New Dawn; Women’s Aid; the Hampton Trust; the Alice Ruggles Trust; the Centre for Women’s Justice; the London Assembly and the Mayor of London; the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs; the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC; Napo; magistrates; police officers; countless survivors, including Zoe Dronfield, Georgia Hooper, Rachel Williams, Charlotte Kneer and Celia Peachey; and the 217,000 people who have signed the petition in support of the need for action.
My noble friend’s amendment seeks to ensure a co-ordinated, consistent and mandatory approach throughout the country to the flagging and targeting of perpetrators, without which, more women and children will be terrorised, and some will die. It would place a statutory obligation on police, prison and probation officers to identify, assess and manage serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. This would change the culture and ensure that questions are asked of the perpetrator and not the victim. It would ensure a multiagency problem-solving approach by the statutory agencies charged with a responsibility for public protection.
So far, the Government have resisted this in the belief that current arrangements are adequate. They are not. There are pockets of good practice, but it is not national and there is no co-ordinated approach led by statutory agencies. There is no legal framework or national process in England and Wales by which serial perpetrators are routinely identified, monitored and managed. These serial perpetrators and stalkers are simply not visible or held to account, even though past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. We know that they are transient: they seek to control the most vulnerable women and children, and if that includes moving across borders to meet their needs, they often will do so. They travel and start new relationships, but the history is not recorded, so vital information does not travel with them. We have to change this by ensuring that there is a legislative duty to proactively identify, assess and manage these men using MAPPA-plus, an enhanced version of MAPPA, to include domestic abuse specialist services, honour-based abuse services and stalking services that understand coercive control and stalking, and ensure that the intelligence is collected and put into the national system, ViSOR.
The enhanced system would of course require multiagency training, complemented by clear guidance ahead of implementation. Without MAPPA-plus, Clare’s law will never work effectively, because there is no duty on the police to add any information or intelligence about a perpetrator’s previous offending to a local or national system. If information is put on a local system, it lacks the detail required. The burden is placed on the victim, and too often the perpetrator’s narrative is believed rather than the victim’s.
When my noble friend Lady Royall met the Minister, she was asked for evidence of such a system, and she forwarded a report by Laura Richards, a global expert and founder of Paladin. Her report focused on 28 men who had murdered 31 women and eight children, and who had significantly harmed more women and children. There will undoubtedly be more. In addition, there are family members who are terrorised and threatened by serial abusers, and the impact on others when a loved one is killed. The report makes for distressing reading. It is utterly compelling in its conclusion that there have been too many reviews and that the time for action is now.
I will cite just two cases in the report. The first is that of Alfie Gildea:
“Four-month-old Alfie Gildea was killed by violent Sam Gildea, who had been previously convicted of manslaughter by violent shaking. This is how he killed Alfie.”
His mother, Caitlin McMichael, learned about Sam Gildea’s history after Alfie had been murdered. Why was she not told before about his previous conviction?
“This is the police force that failed Clare Wood, and the reason Clare’s Law came in because of their failures. Greater Manchester Police knew that he was a serial perpetrator and they did not act. Why not?”
Last November, the coroner, Alison Mutch, said that Gildea was a
“serious and serial domestic abuse perpetrator”
who was well known to Greater Manchester Police. They failed to recognise coercive control. Why was his case not heard at MAPPA, when his history of violence was known to Greater Manchester Police?
I now come to the case of two unnamed women, in 2020:
“Stephen Williams was sentenced to two years in prison on May 29 2020, for a horrific campaign of mental and physical abuse on his 18 year old girlfriend. She is 10 years younger than him. He held a knife to her throat, punched in the face, poured corrosive cleaner over her head and threatened to kill her. He coercively controlled her and made her give up her job as a hairdresser & her family and friends … made her travel with him in his HGV lorry cab to make sure she didn’t talk to anyone … punched her in the face, bit the back of her neck and said he would ‘break every bone in her body.’ He pulled her finger back causing ligament damage and fractured her rib. Her sister called the police and she was taken to hospital.”
Williams was arrested and pleaded guilty to controlling and coercive behaviour, assault by beating, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, causing an unauthorised transmission from prison, and witness intimidation.
“A former partner gave evidence at court about his abuse. Williams pressured her to retract her statement and threatened her by saying ‘I will get out of her one day and you will regret it.’ The judge described him as a controlling and manipulative bully and said ‘I have come to the view that you pose a significant risk of harm to your female partners.’ Williams was sentenced to just two years in prison and made the subject of a restraining order, forbidding him to see or contact his ex-partner for two years.”
Upon his release, Williams will not be identified as a serial perpetrator and a risk to other women. Under the new system, he would be categorised as category 4, included on ViSOR and managed via MAPPA. Other relevant services would be involved as well. An order could be placed on him regarding whether he moves, starts a new relationship or changes his name, as well as attendance at an accredited perpetrator programme. But we do not have that at the moment, and
“under current guidance and practice it is unlikely that he will meet the MAPPA criteria.”
I have mentioned two cases. In her contribution the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, will bring another disturbing example to the House’s attention.
My noble friend Lady Royall is arguing that, under MAPPA-plus, a new category four,
“serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators”,
should be included. Positive obligations would be placed on a perpetrator, including attending a treatment programme. They would have to notify the police if they changed their name, moved, went abroad or started a new relationship. These are critical components of the strategic plans in Amendment 167, which I also support, and my own Amendment 177B. The difference between these two amendments is the time given to the Government to come forward with a strategy. In fairness, my noble friend Lady Royall thinks that my two-year period is far too generous and that we need much quicker action. Time is of the essence. We know that at least two women a week are murdered by ex-partners, many of whom are serial offenders. This has increased to five a week during the pandemic. It is self-evident that a cohesive strategy is needed as soon as possible.
At Second Reading the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, spoke of investing more than £7 million in direct perpetrator-focused interventions through police and crime commissioners to prevent abuse. She also promised that the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy would include specific work to tackle perpetrators and prevent offending. This is welcome but not sufficient.
It is significant that, last year, 80 signatories, including charities such as Women’s Aid, Respect and Action for Children, as well as academics and individuals, called on the Government to invest in a perpetrator strategy. They called for public voluntary services to be empowered to hold perpetrators to account; best-practice perpetrator interventions to be available across England and Wales; a national quality assurance system and a sustainable, predictable source of funding; and for national and local leaders to spearhead the perpetrator strategy. Nicole Jacobs, the designate domestic abuse commissioner, supports these measures. She said
“I support the call on Government to publish a Strategy on Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse. Current prevention work is patchy and too often perpetrators go unchallenged and are not offered opportunities to change their abusive behaviour.”
I urge the Minister to accept the principles contained in Amendments 167 and 177B but, even more importantly, to accept my noble friend Lady Royall’s amendment and introduce MAPPA-plus without further delay. I beg to move.
My Lords, before I speak to the amendment in my name, as we enter the final day of Committee I want to thank everyone who has been involved in this marathon. By tabling more than 200 amendments, we have created a vast amount of work for the clerks, the Bill team and the Whips’ Office. I acknowledge their professionalism, time and effort. I also recognise and pay tribute to the different organisations and individuals who have worked so hard to brief us while also dealing with a huge surge in work because of the pandemic. In particular, I thank Drive and Veronica Oakeshott.
I thank all noble Lords who have put their names to Amendment 167, giving it cross-party support. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. As he set out, this amendment would require the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abuse within one year of the Act being passed. I will not speak specifically to the other amendments in this group, but I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her tireless work against the insidious crime of stalking. I support the sentiment behind her amendment.
With so much of the current discourse on domestic abuse rightly focusing on victims, the term “perpetrator strategy” can jar. For years perpetrators have barely been mentioned in political debate, as if domestic abuse simply appears from thin air. Only with robust action on perpetrators can we put an end to domestic abuse, which is why the Government urgently need to publish and fund a comprehensive strategy for England and Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, colleagues inside and outside this House are calling for it. More than 100 signatories, spanning domestic abuse charities, police and crime commissioners, police forces, children’s voluntary sector organisations, academics and survivors, have asked the Government to set out this comprehensive plan.
I will outline its five key points. First, it should drive significant improvements in the risk management of known perpetrators, many of whom are hiding in plain sight. It is unacceptable that the system, or lack of it, effectively allows perpetrators to offend time and again. This speaks to the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. Just as we would watch someone who presents a terrorist risk, the eyes and ears of a whole range of agencies need to be on the people who make a lifetime habit of destroying lives. The best way to achieve this is through multiagency forums led by the police. As we have heard in many debates during Committee, training is vital to help professionals from a range of services exercise professional curiosity, even when they are assured that all is well. They need to spot the signs, share information and know what to do next.
Secondly, good quality behaviour-changing programmes need to be provided nationally to give offenders the best chance of ending their abusive behaviour. Such interventions could include structured group work, where perpetrators are challenged to recognise their abuse and their impact—although it is fair to say that this kind of intervention is more suitable for those who accept some responsibility for their actions. For more severe offenders, one-to-one, intensive case management is often more effective.
Disrupt approaches are also needed for high-level perpetrators who are not willing to co-operate and who continue to abuse. This is where multiagency work becomes vital through sharing information, being responsive to the dangers posed by perpetrators and being ready to react to changes or triggers that could increase aggressive behaviour, such as new child contact arrangements or new partners. The reorganisation of probation services must also form an important pillar of this strategy.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, current provision for change programmes is extremely patchy. Nowhere is there a full range of programmes. For example, putting an LGBT perpetrator on a group work programme for heterosexual perpetrators will not work. Similarly, a perpetrator of honour-based abuse will need something very different from someone perpetrating abuse against an intimate partner. This is the inconvenient reality of domestic abuse. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The strategy must invest in developing a fuller range of programmes.
We already know that there are many proven programmes that should now be extended. A study by London Metropolitan and Durham universities of 12 domestic violence perpetrator programmes found a reduction from 54% to 2% in the number of women whose partners tried to punch, kick, burn or beat them. A random control trial evaluation of the Drive programme, which works with perpetrators who pose serious risk of murder or severe harm to their victims, found that it reduced physical abuse by 82% and controlling behaviours by 73%.
Successful provision of the programmes would be a triple win: for victims, who would be safer; for the public purse, which currently shells out billions of pounds each year addressing the impact of domestic abuse; and for perpetrators. Some want to stop their abusive behaviour. Many were themselves victims when growing up.
Thirdly, quality assurance and data systems must be put in place. Safe, quality perpetrator interventions will always include support for the victim. Badly managed perpetrator work can be worse than doing nothing. The charity Respect has published standards which the Government have endorsed, but there is currently no requirement for commissioners to follow them or any other standards in England. We need to ensure that, at best, the Government are not wasting their money and that, at worst, victims are not being put further in harm’s way.
Fourthly, this successful strategy needs a sustainable, reliable source of funding for intervention programmes. The perpetrator intervention fund was a very welcome first step, with its grants confirmed in September last year. However, these have to be spent by March, which means that commissioners, services and victims have no financial security from April this year. A report by SafeLives estimates that a full range of perpetrator interventions would cost £680 million a year. Such an amount could not be responsibly spent tomorrow but this is the scale of what is ultimately needed. Such investments in prevention should also be considered in relation to the estimated £66 billion cost of domestic violence in any given year.
Finally, the strategy should encourage leadership. I commend the Home Office’s engagement on this issue and the Chancellor’s launch of the first perpetrator fund. However, it is vital that other departments step up and play their part in the development of a strategy. That could be MHCLG thinking about new ways to support victims to stay safe in their own homes by removing perpetrators. As we heard in the previous debate, housing is a huge element in all this. It could be DCMS thinking about how it can encourage cultural shifts. How can we get away from “Why doesn’t he just leave?” to “Why doesn’t he stop?”? The Government should not underestimate the power they have to encourage and speed up culture change with public awareness campaigns. Let us not forget the lasting impact they have had over the years on issues such as drink-driving, and through anti-smoking laws.
A targeted campaign to drive down the acceptability of misogyny and macho attitudes among young men is also overdue. Many charities and police officers are voicing concerns about the growing problem of abusive sexual behaviour in intense teen relationships. Children as young as 13 or 14 are victims, but some are also perpetrators. If we do not address this urgently, the fight will be lost for another generation. Technology firms and internet giants—I refer noble Lords to my registered interest as an adviser to BT—have got to accept their share of the blame for this. But they must also step up and be part of the solution, whether by helping the Government far more proactively to, for example, prevent smartphones becoming an abuser’s weapon or by finding a workable solution to prevent such easy access to violent porn that degrades women and girls. I urge the Government to hold their feet to the fire.
So where do we go from here? The Government appeared to acknowledge in the other place that a more strategic approach to perpetrators is needed. That is good. Now we need a firm commitment that this approach will be laid out clearly and be truly comprehensive, not just an afterthought, as perpetrator work has so often been. That is why I am calling on the Government to incorporate a thoughtfully developed perpetrator strategy within one year after the passage of the Bill. We need the right balance between urgency and consultation, through something that reflects the ambition and the need. I feel one year should give the time for that.
This is the Government’s chance to turn the tide on domestic abuse and pave a route into a new era where perpetrators, not victims, are expected to make changes in their lives. The Bill is the foundation block to kick-start that rethink. Put simply, if we do not properly tackle the people who cause the harm, we will never see an end to it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. They reminded us just how popular these amendments are, as almost every single one of them was backed by many organisations and individuals. Whereas popularity is not necessarily a good guide to the way we approach legislation, in this case we ought to be listening to the people who know what they are talking about. We have talked extensively about stamping out domestic violence, misogyny and gender-related violence. We have discussed the fact that domestic abuse is endemic in our society, and these amendments would hand important tools to people who try to be in the arsenal in that fight.
Amendment 164 requires the monitoring and rehabilitation of serial domestic abusers and stalkers. That is an important requirement. It means that they are treated alongside other violent and sexual offenders. Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements—MAPPA—are about protecting society as a whole, and individuals against the most dangerous and sinister people in our society. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, used the phrase “change the culture”. Changing culture is incredibly difficult. It takes a huge amount of work, but that is the only way we have to make a difference in this, and we have to change the culture.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, used a very good phrase, “professional curiosity”, and I will come on to that in the next group of amendments. That is something we should encourage so that people spot exactly what is happening. So often, people feel that they should not get engaged because it is personal and involves people’s privacy. MAPPA would bring together the police, probation and prison services and draw support and co-operation from social services, health, youth offending teams, Jobcentre Plus, local housing and education authorities. It would also take the responsibility off the victim for reporting it themselves, which is crucial. MAPPA is a ready-made system.
With this Bill, we recognise that as a society we have failed to treat domestic abuse as the serious and grave offence that it is, so updated arrangements would be perfect—MAPPA-plus—and a natural extension of MAPPA. Then we can recognise domestic abusers as dangerous people who need that level of intervention and co-ordination. It is essential if we are to stamp out domestic abuse and misogyny in the way that any civilised country would expect us to do.
My Lords, I should remind the Committee that I was a police officer for more than 30 years. Picking up the theme from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, of a change in culture, there has clearly been a change of culture in the police service towards domestic abuse, but it needs to go further. There needs to be a cultural change in attitudes, particularly those of men towards women and towards domestic abuse in wider society.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for so clearly and comprehensively introducing this amendment. He clearly demonstrated that the approach to perpetrators is, at best, inconsistent. The examples he shared with the Committee showed that existing legislative and procedural provisions are insufficient or are not being complied with adequately. I have received more emails on this amendment than any others during this Committee.
Section 325 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires the responsible authority for each area to
“establish arrangements for the purpose of assessing and managing the risks posed in that area by … relevant sexual and violent offenders,”—
and other offenders which the responsible authority considers
“may cause serious harm to the public.”
These are the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, MAPPA.
Section 327 of the 2003 Act defines “relevant sexual or violent offender”, and Amendment 164 would add
“relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator”
to that definition. It goes on to define a “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” as someone who has been convicted of a serious offence and is a “serial offender”, or that
“a risk of serious harm assessment has identified”
“as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm.”
A relevant domestic abuse or stalking offence is defined as an offence under Clause 1 of the Bill or under Section 2A or Section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.
I have known Laura Richards, whom the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned, since we were both in the Metropolitan Police Service. She has been a tenacious campaigner to improve the identification, assessment and management of serial stalkers and perpetrators of domestic abuse. Although many of them are captured by the existing definition of who can be managed through MAPPA, her long and extensive involvement in these issues suggests to her that this is not happening in practice, with sometimes fatal consequences. As we have heard from other noble Lords, serial perpetrators who could have been identified, and the risk they presented managed, have gone on to commit murder. Laura Richards’ belief is that there has been an albeit understandable focus on supporting victims but that this has detracted from managing the perpetrator. She provides some tragic examples and statistics that show that one in four perpetrators of these offences are serial offenders.
I will be interested to hear from the Minister whether a change in approach needs to be forced on relevant authorities by means of primary legislation, as suggested by the amendment, or by mandating the relevant authorities to undertake assessment and management of high-risk perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking through an enhanced MAPPA process that involves specialist services relating to domestic abuse, honour-based abuse and stalking. The evidence presented suggests that something needs to change.
Amendment 167 similarly calls for a strategic plan to improve the identification and assessment of domestic abuse perpetrators, including increasing the number of rehabilitation programmes and the work done to tackle abusive attitudes and behaviour. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has just given examples of how effective such programmes can be. Amendment 177B also calls for a domestic abuse national perpetrator strategy.
Clearly, it is far better for domestic abuse to be prevented from happening in the first place than to have to support the victims and survivors after the event, and effective perpetrator strategies are an important part of this. This must go beyond simply identifying and managing high-risk individuals. As the noble Baroness alluded to, it must start in schools and young offender institutions, with comprehensive personal, social, health and economic education that includes teaching students what healthy relationships look and feel like, as opposed to what many children, sadly, experience in their own homes.
I look forward to participating in a later group on the impact of the internet on perpetuating misogynistic attitudes. But, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said, it is time that the perpetrator, not the victim, was expected to change their behaviour.
My Lords, I wish to speak briefly in support of Amendment 167, in the names of my noble friend Lady Bertin and others. Given that we are discussing multiagency strategies, I declare my interests as a non-executive member of the board of Ofsted and a non-executive director of DCMS.
My noble friend gave a powerful and comprehensive speech. It is quite right to push us to change the narrative from “Why doesn’t she leave?” to “Why doesn’t he stop?” What has really come across today is the need for urgency here. My noble friend is right to urge the Government to take a definitive step to help this happen and for it to be reflected in lived experience.
As we have heard, it is completely unacceptable for perpetrators to move from one victim to another when evidence exists that they can be stopped with early intervention. We have a huge bank of evidence showing what works, and I am grateful to all those who briefed me—in particular, the Drive initiative—and to those in your Lordships’ House who have brought their own examples to the Floor. Seeing who follows me in the list, I am sure that we will hear more of those today.
We have heard consistent calls for a national approach to quality assurance, from better-tailored information on data sharing to workforce training, long-term funding and campaigning. The Government have, rightly, emphasised the need for an evidence-based and precise approach to a perpetrator strategy, but let us not drag our heels. The concern that has come across today is that we do not want to end up with the situation where everyone agrees with each other but nobody takes the lead and gets this done. On that note, I very much look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am delighted to be able to support all these amendments but particularly Amendments 167 and 177B. I too pay tribute to all those who have written to me and have frankly explained not only their policy approach but, in the case of individuals, the personal tragedies that they have experienced. I may not have replied to them all, but I have been deeply moved by many of them. My sense is that we all want the same things with this Bill, but some take a more binary approach than others. I try to avoid that in order to look at what I hope is the larger picture and wider criteria, but I apologise in advance if I fail.
My starting point is that with domestic abuse there is already a relationship in which the parties to it mostly come together voluntarily and often remain so in a sufficiently close and prolonged arrangement for children to arrive on the scene. Whatever happens thereafter, there are thus emotional and psychological bonds, some of which remain very important and for children are often formational, even when the original adult relationship has started to go wrong or failed altogether.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, set out very many points—too many for me to say, on each individual one, how much I agreed with him. But, however justified in any given case, simply providing for some variant of justice in which perpetrators are branded as intrinsically evil or criminal and resource is focused primarily on due process and the support and protection of victims and survivors does not, in my view, amount to a comprehensive policy response. So I was very glad to learn both from my local police and crime commissioner and again from the Minister herself in a briefing last month about the £7 million provided last year to police and crime commissioners for perpetrator programmes.
The PCC, in particular, was enthusiastic in her explanation of the hugely beneficial effect that even a relatively modest allocation of £150,000 or so could have in pressing forward with a perpetrator programme and the disproportionate advantage that would flow from this intervention as compared with what I might term the “picking up the pieces after the relationship” debacle. Of course, with the largest force areas, the available sum might be a drop in the ocean but, for all that, it is welcome. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said in speaking to her amendment, it is not ongoing but a one-off. That needs to be addressed.
In all this, I have in mind that every perpetrator may cast a shadow over the lives of maybe six victims—at least, that is the factor that I most frequently hear. But, beyond that, it is the pain, the dislocation of lives and the damaging effects on adults and particularly children that concern me, plus the potential for abused partners to fall into some other similarly abusive relationship, just as unaddressed abusive behaviour might simply be allowed to repeat itself in an endless cycle of wretchedness. We know that these things have social and emotional costs—they lurk behind crime statistics, in judicial activities, in the all-too-limited resources of the voluntary and charitable sector, in the workplace, in health outcomes and in children’s long-term attainment.
To intervene and break this cycle, the Bill must now provide for a national framework for perpetrator programmes; it seems to me that the Long Title readily admits it. The Government clearly readily admit it to the tune of £7 million as an admission of need. We have heard much about the architecture of the Bill and I agree that it needs to keep focused, but all the focus in the world will be of little help if it is so narrow that the principal facet of what is, after all, a process involving human relationships of the most complex kind is overlooked. In the Bill we have motive, opportunity and the means to effect change. We should do it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, referred to current programmes, such as MAPPA, and their success. I suggest that a carrot and stick approach may be better than simply stigmatising perpetrators. I agree with other noble Lords that this is very much a two-way street that we need to look at. She also referred to the need for coherence—for sustainable and reliable funding and the wins all round in the effects on society for perpetrators, victims, victims’ families and survivors that would flow from that. I fundamentally agree.
At the end of the day, we have a relationship, usually between two people, each of whom makes a personal investment in that. Were we to be successful in making perpetrator programmes not only universal according to some sort of coherent framework and leadership referred to by the noble Baroness, but also part of the normal, non-criminalised mainstream service provision, then more relationships might remain functional and a significant proportion of perpetrators might cease to abuse. That would have implications for the frequency and severity of victimhood and victim and survivor experiences.
Amendments 167 and 177B propose in their various ways what is fundamentally the right way forward. This needs to be co-ordinated and driven as a national strategy by Government. I trust that the Minister will see the merits of this and accept that there is now an unanswerable case for adopting the principles behind these amendments.
My Lords, I echo the thanks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to the many organisations and people who have briefed us and who constantly fight for safety and justice for victims of serious domestic abuse and stalking. I have added my name to Amendment 164.
Ten years ago, I was a member of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. It has been a pleasure to work with her over the succeeding years. I was asked to join the inquiry because I had been the victim of harassment and stalking by a political opponent, who over nearly three years waged a war of anonymous hate, criminal damage and increasingly serious threats of violence against myself and my team in Watford.
We could not get the police to take seriously what was happening to us. Only when I gave them my spreadsheet linking more than 100 escalating incidents did the police realise that this was not a political spat. But it took their expert profiler to warn them of how serious this behaviour was and how violent it was likely to become before they arrested the perpetrator. He pleaded guilty to 67 separate incidents and, in common with many other obsessed perpetrators, was found to have had mental health problems.
We know that this category of serious domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators exhibit FOUR traits—an acronym for fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated. Their entire behaviour and its escalation must be understood rather than each single incident being looked at separately.
The College of Policing guidance and flow charts published since the stalking protection orders came into effect last year are excellent. This is exactly the type of documentation that needs to be understood by all front-line staff and officers in the police, courts, probation and health. A decade on, there are some pockets of excellent practice, but it is not consistent. The result of that lack of consistency is that victims of such perpetrators—usually but not always women—are ignored. Too many times, this has resulted in serious violence and murder.
I shall give just one example. In 2014, Cherylee Shennan was stabbed to death by convicted killer Paul O’Hara in front of police officers called to investigate reports of domestic abuse. He had already served a life sentence for murdering Janine Waterworth in 1998. Coroner James Newman published a prevention of death report, raising alarms over lack of inter-agency communication between probation services and police. He said that, following O’Hara’s release,
“there were no local MAPPA meetings, no inter-agency meetings and no significant inter-agency communications regarding the perpetrator; no detailing of his licensing conditions and no information regarding either his nature or the trigger factors of his offending”.
Cherylee was failed at every step of the way when she tried to get help. She was even held hostage at knife point at least twice. Had that information been shared, O’Hara would have met the category 4 criteria and could have been risk-managed by MAPPA-plus.
There is still no mandatory process for the sharing of information between agencies where the offender, despite a known extensive history of domestic abuse and identified trigger factors, is then managed at MAPPA, hence the need for this amendment. Women are still being attacked and murdered by these fixated perpetrators. Laura Richards, the founder of the Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service, has written a report, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, with a shocking list of 30 perpetrators who have murdered 31 women, seriously harmed at least 58 more whom we know about, and seriously harmed 12 children and killed eight children—again, whom we know about. That is far too many since the stalking law reforms of 2012.
These murders do not happen in a vacuum. These are murders in slow motion—the drip, drip, drip happens over time on an escalating continuum. The incident-led approach to patterned crimes such as domestic abuse and stalking is very costly and must be stopped, as women are paying with their lives and perpetrators continue to offend with impunity.
Many predatory stalkers, sex offenders and serial killers also abuse their partners. Police research found that one in 12 domestic rapists was raping outside the home. Once a violent and controlling man leaves a partner, it does not mean that the violence ends. Evidence suggests that they find new partners to abuse. Many had extensive histories of abusing multiple women.
MAPPA panels already exist as a statutory requirement to manage perpetrators across England and Wales, and the violent and sex offender register—the ViSOR database—supports the process and allows for standardised and meaningful data collection, case management and governance, and should be the answer that we seek. However, the information on the police national database is very mixed, with some forces uploading key information while others, more commonly, simply input the offence with no other contextual data. Context and nuanced detail are crucial when risk assessing and managing these offenders. This is particularly problematic regarding Clare’s law disclosure, as it often means that information is missing, as it is commonplace for domestic abuse and stalking cases to be downgraded to common assault instead of strangulation or attempted strangulation, to criminal damage and harassment instead of stalking, and burglary or interfering with a motor vehicle instead of attempted murder. These cases are downgraded to achieve a conviction, so the insidious and terrifying pattern of behaviour is not recorded, routinely missed and, worse, can mean that MAPPA is not involved.
The NHS regards certain incidents as “never” events. I argue that any violence or murder from a known perpetrator with a history should be regarded by all parties in the criminal justice system as a “never” event. Never again should women repeatedly report that they fear for their lives, and then be murdered after the police have failed to act on a report. Never again should different agencies be aware of escalating serious behaviours, but not catalogue and share them, resulting in attacks and murders. This amendment seeks to put systems in place to make these very serious attacks and murders “never” events, by ensuring that all parties in MAPPA understand and implement the effective guidance that will save lives.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I wish to speak in support of Amendment 167 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and others.
I have long supported the view—also held by the Local Government Association—calling for the Government to introduce a national domestic abuse perpetrator strategy. It is clear that the right interventions at the right time can stop abuse occurring, recurring or escalating. According to the organisation Respect, there are around 400,000 perpetrators causing high and medium levels of harm across England and Wales, and yet only a small percentage of these—fewer than 1%—get the specialist intervention that might prevent future abusive behaviour.
The strategy should focus on community-level initiatives and communication campaigns for those seeking help and let them know where to access such help. Perpetrator interventions need to be responsive to the cultural context in which they are delivered. Programmes for children and young people are also needed to ensure that they are appropriately educated about domestic abuse and that prevention starts at the earliest stage. These programmes should also be available for those excluded from mainstream school. Some consideration should also be given to accommodation for perpetrators. This is an important aspect of helping the domestic abuse victim to remain in their own home, if it is safe to do so, and ensuring that the perpetrator leaves.
I am pleased to have added my voice to others emphasising to government the urgent need to produce a much-needed perpetrator strategy.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating both my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, on the way that they introduced this group of amendments. The examples that they gave to illustrate their points were horrendous by any stretch of the imagination.
My noble friend Lord Hunt’s point about the need for a cultural change is significant. I have looked at some of the figures that have been published; I do not wish to repeat them in detail, but the numbers of people involved are phenomenal. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also gave a very stark example. I understand and accept that the role of the police has changed in recent years; I know in particular that it is taken incredibly seriously by the part of the police family which with I am familiar in the West Midlands.
I do not want to repeat what others have said, but my central point relates to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, regarding Amendment 167; I agree entirely with their thrust and indeed support them. She mentioned that the overall costs were thought to be something like £66 billion and that there was a need for funding—probably £600 million. The point I want to make is that in order to have a strategic government approach, you must break the Whitehall silos.
This takes me back. I am not going back to the good old days, but I can remember when, in 1997, along with many others, I entered government after decades in opposition. We made an attempt, over a range of issues, to try to work across Whitehall, and it is not easy to break the silos. It has to be driven by ministerial commitment; it has to be known that the Minister at the top—in fact, the Prime Minister really, when you come down to it—has a bang-on, full-hearted commitment to something because that can be used to drive from the top. In both my first and second departments, when I was still in the House of Commons —first MAFF and then DSS; two very different departments—I can remember occasions when bright and, I will say, youngish civil servants moved from the department to go to work at some of the cross-departmental units that had been set up. One reason was that they saw the benefit of working in those units in terms of their career and promotion prospects and an enhanced role in the Civil Service—they were committed to the issues; this is not in any way a criticism of the individuals concerned—simply because of the drive to get cross-departmental work going and to break the silos. I realise that over the years, more particularly towards the latter end of the Labour Government years, things fell by the wayside. It does not mean that it cannot be rebuilt.
I would encourage the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and others, and the Ministers as well, to learn from experience. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. There are people around with experience—there are of course ex-heads of the Civil Service in your Lordships’ House who would fully take on board the points that I am making. You have to build a strategy that crosses the silos and breaks them down. If you do not do that, it will not work. That is what will filter to the cross-departmental work and indeed the cross-agency work outside government at other levels.
My central message, based on my own experience where I can see how things have worked in the past and indeed how they have not worked—I have examples I could use where it has not been successful—is on this issue of the silos and the cross-departmental working in Whitehall. The effect on civil servants is absolutely fundamental to success. I hope that this can be taken on board. I know that the Home Office Ministers have been very receptive on a range of legislation recently, but this has to permeate right across Whitehall.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the comprehensive opening by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. He and every other noble Lord who has spoken have stressed the urgent need to overhaul and broaden our perpetrator strategy.
Amendment 164 from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, would correct a very obvious deficiency in the Bill and in our current arrangements for protecting potential victims from known perpetrators who present serious risks to those they may prey on in future, notably women with whom they form new relationships, but sometimes men, when those new partners know little or nothing of their past offending and nothing of the risk they take by being with them.
However, it is not always new partners who may be threatened. Serial stalkers threaten victims they hardly know but who still stand to be harassed by them in life-destroying ways. We know how stalking offences, which may not cause physical harm, can cause long-lasting and sometimes permanent psychological damage. Happy, untroubled lives can easily be reduced to anxious existence only, with work, travel and lives at home overshadowed by ever-present fear.
The case for this amendment is as clear as could be. There can be no argument against including domestic abuse offenders and stalkers in the arrangements already in place under the 2003 Act for serious sexual and violent offenders, including MAPPA. But these arrangements badly need enhancing, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others have explained, by establishing MAPPA-plus.
A central part of the system is the violent and sex offender register, ViSOR, a national database that enables agencies to register offenders, to carry out risk assessments and keep them up to date, and to manage and keep track of offenders. It is important that the register is national because offenders travel. It has been far too easy in the past for offenders to leave one area and set up home in another, where they are unknown to the police and manage to commit appalling repeat offences, without warning lights ever flashing.
I have not been able to see any weakness in the way that the amendment is drafted, but it is not the drafting that matters; it is the outcome that we seek. However, there is a further concern, which is that the current arrangements are not working well enough for monitoring offenders who are covered already. None of us can have been unmoved by the harrowing accounts prepared by the tireless campaigner, leading academic on this subject and former police analyst Laura Richards, the founder of Paladin, of horrible violent offences committed by former offenders about which their new partners knew nothing. Those accounts, some given in this debate, catalogue multiple failures of responsible agencies to ensure proper information-sharing and monitoring of offenders’ whereabouts and activities, which have sadly often contributed to tragic results.
Another common theme emerges, and it is really worrying. In so many cases, victims’ complaints to the police have been ignored, not taken seriously, largely disbelieved or simply not followed up. This point is supported by the personal account given by my noble friend Lady Brinton of the long history of her being stalked by a political opponent and then of her many clearly true complaints not being taken seriously. This pattern is not unusual, even in the case of repeated complaints and transparently genuine accounts of violent and abusive attacks.
My noble friend Lord Paddick spoke of the need for a change of culture, not just in the police but in society at large. One of the great benefits of the Bill as a whole will be its effect in fostering that change of culture. However, too little effort has been concentrated on protecting actual and potential victims. When complaints are made, when offenders are released from custody and when they attack victims, there is always a risk of future attacks. The next attack is so often worse than the previous and, tragically, sometimes fatal. As we discussed in the non-fatal strangulation debate, a strangulation offence is a chilling predictor of future homicide.
We need not only MAPPA-plus, and a new category four, but more training for police officers and others involved in taking full histories from vulnerable victims—coaxing out of them full accounts of what has happened, even when those victims are reluctant to give such accounts—and in following up on reported attacks, recognising risk, protecting victims and monitoring perpetrators. I agree with my noble friend Lord Paddick that this also means a change in education and culture, among children about relationships and in society at large. Effective monitoring would go a long way towards protecting likely victims if the arrangements were made to work well, but there is much more that could be done to protect women and girls from future offences.
My Lords, I add my support to Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. I do so as, in my former role as Victims’ Commissioner, I met many heartbroken families suffering from the loss of a dear loved one. In having such discussions with them, listening was really heartbreaking, especially knowing that nothing would bring their loved ones back.
I also speak on a personal level, albeit not about domestic abuse but about systems. In 2007, my late husband was murdered by a gang of youths. I found out afterwards that when a murder happens, the Home Office asks agencies to see if those charged are flagged up on their systems. To hear the background information of criminal activity is just shameful—even more so given that when I was a key speaker at an agency’s conference, I heard another speaker go into further detail on the procedures of gathering information for the Home Office. I ask the Committee to imagine the emotions going through my heart as I listened to a speaker that day describe how their agency breathed a sigh of relief that the offenders were not on its system as a red flag. However, I found that not to be true: one of the defendants was out on bail, awaiting sentence for a violent offence. Earlier on in the day when Garry was murdered, the defendant had appeared in court for a breach of bail and been bailed again with conditions that he then went on to breach in not just one attack but a further attack that night, which was Garry being kicked to death.
There have been some excellent speeches and they have been heartrending to listen to. I add my thanks to Laura Richards, the founder of the Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service, for her outstanding briefing. I commend her on her many years of hard work in helping families to understand why. In fact her briefing makes for extremely distressing and deeply disturbing reading, especially, as others have already mentioned, her outstanding report about 30 perpetrators, which describes a total of 109 women and children who were seriously harmed or murdered. In all those cases, they were let down by systemic failure. The cases highlight the failure of information-sharing, risk assessment and management across all agencies. Put simply, the focus should have been on the perpetrator and there should have been a MAPPA referral, but that rarely happens in practice regarding coercively controlling perpetrators and stalkers. This is exactly why a national co-ordinated mandatory approach is urgently needed for MAPPA to co-ordinate MAPPA-plus. Such systemic changes are urgently needed through law reform because, as Laura says, no amount of training has changed this.
The situation has to be dealt with as soon as possible, without more reviews that lead to no action because we are dealing with men who routinely terrorise and harm women and girls, who need protection now. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned, it is right, as we discuss such an important amendment to an important Bill, that we listen to a young lady’s horrendous story. It is only fitting to share it now. I have asked her permission so I am not reading this without her consent. She says:
“I must first introduce myself and share with you my own experience of domestic abuse. My name is Georgia Gabriel-Hooper. I am 17 and, along with my mother, I am a victim of domestic abuse. I was witness to the domestic homicide of my mother, only two months after my 14th birthday. I grew up with abuse in the home from a very early age. My parents divorced when I was two after my dad gambled and drank away all the money in the relationship, leaving my mum with major debts and a child to look after.
I faced the rigmarole of Cafcass, where it was decided that my father would get supervised contact for a period of time. He was soon allowed to see me away from the contact centre but subsequently chose to pay more attention to betting offices and alcohol than to his own daughter. I have now not seen him for five years, as he was more of a burden in my life than a parent.
My mum entered into another relationship while I was still young. This ended after several years, when I was aged approximately six. This relationship was extremely physically abusive towards myself, and we always found ourselves in the situation of having to make up excuses to people for why I was bruised. I used to be dragged up the stairs by my wrist and thrown into my room, even when I had not done anything wrong. I would be left with black bruises on my wrist and carpet burns and bruises from where I had tried to resist being taken away.
My mum was helpless in these situations: all she could do was stand and watch, as, if she intervened, it would only make the situation worse. We spent 10 months locking ourselves in a bedroom together at night, with three bolts fitted to the door to stop him being able to get to us. He also put nails in our car tyres and tacks on the drive. The police refused to do anything because the tacks he was putting down were on his own property, even though they were there with intent to harm.
Shortly after my seventh birthday, in 2010, my mum met my stepdad-to-be. At first, he was the most charming, lovely man, well respected by his peers. He was a farmer and undeniably intelligent. Andrew Hooper soon turned out to be our worst nightmare. He was an emotional abuser and extremely controlling and unpredictable. Unfortunately, my mum had a miscarriage roughly a year into their relationship. He made her sit on a wooden kitchen table all night and bleed into a bucket, as she was ‘dirty’ and ‘disgusting’. The abuse had already started long before this incident.
Coercive control is incredibly hard to spot. It is like carbon monoxide poisoning: you can’t see it, smell it or taste it until it is too late. My mum had a lot of friends and would often go out to meet them for a coffee or a meal at the pub. Andrew would punish my mum for this by giving her the silent treatment or humiliating her, in private or public. The mood swings and trouble that would come from venturing out eventually got too much, and my mum was cut off from a lot of friends. We could not even have people over to visit us, as he would make us all so uncomfortable that nobody wanted to come back, and my mum was too embarrassed to even ask.
At some point in the relationship, Andrew made Mum aware of a situation that had occurred in 2004 regarding his ex-wife which resulted in him pleading guilty to affray and receiving a four-year suspended sentence. However, we were never told the full details, and it would not have mattered either, as he would still have managed to manipulate us into thinking that that was okay. We, of course, did not know his ex-wife, which made it very easy for him to convince us that she was a psycho and deranged and that his actions were to rescue his son from her. By the time we found out what had really happened, it was, of course, too late.
Andrew and my mother wed in 2016. The problems were meant to go away, but they only got worse. At this point, he really did have my mum where he wanted her, and leaving was made even harder. Things came to a head in December 2017, when a drunken Andrew smashed a television and was messing around with guns in his cabinet in the middle of the row. It was at this point that my mum made the decision to leave. From start to finish, it lasted approximately six weeks.
We stayed at my nan and grandad’s until we could find a house that we could move into. We were incessantly stalked. He would be outside the house, monitoring when we were in. He would drive round to our friends’ houses, hoping to find us there, and, if we were not there, he would flip between crying and rage, trying to get them to convince Mum to go back. He told a close friend that, if he could not have her, nobody would.
He removed our car from the drive without us knowing, as he had found the spare key. He kept the car for a matter of days before apologising and letting us have it back. However, he had fitted a tracker to the car, so he knew every move. There was also a long string of suicide threats, including one where he drove to my mum’s place of work and sat outside with a loaded shotgun, saying he would kill himself then and there if she did not go to him.
We did manage to find a property that we could move into in early January 2018. We had been there for three weeks before Andrew murdered my mother. She had gone out with a friend for the evening, when Andrew showed up unexpectedly to question my mum about what she was doing. My mum was in an area she would never normally go to, so, suddenly, we realised that he had been tracking her car. He made threats to destroy our belongings but not of physical harm. I was at a friend’s house, and my mum had to text me to tell me to call him in an attempt to calm him down. I received an angry fit of rage down the phone from him; this was the last time he ever spoke to me.”
The letter continues: “The drive home was quiet, but full of tension and concern. As we pulled onto the drive, Andrew’s silver Land Rover Defender shot behind us, and he blocked us in. He got out of his vehicle and started trying to smash the driver’s side window. It was 11 o’clock at night and extremely dark; all I could see was his silhouette. I believed he may have had a spade or scaffolding pole in his hands. I jumped out of the car, and, despite being in a medical boot and on crutches for three months, I ran around the front of the car, trying to call the police. I was running towards him, to either be a distraction or to take the beating so that my mum could get out of the car.
I never made it to him. Before I got there, he fired a 19th-century vintage shotgun through the window, shattering it and penetrating my mum’s arm and chest. That was not enough to kill her, so he fired again at her neck, and the shot went through her collar bone, severing her arteries and spinal cord, and came out through her armpit. The last words my mum ever said were, “Oh my God, he’s here”. If I had not got out of the vehicle, I would have likely been permanently injured or killed too.
He was sentenced to life, with 31 years minimum before eligible for parole, in 2019. It was then that it came out about his previous convictions, and I found out the truth from court and also family members of his. He had broken into his ex-wife’s house with surgical gloves and a carving knife in the hand, threatening to kill her and leaving her with permanent mental scars. He was prosecuted for aggravated burglary but pleaded guilty to affray and received four years’ suspended sentence. Somehow, after this violent incident, he was still allowed to keep his shotgun licence, something that will for ever play on my mind.
Had Andrew been placed on a register or monitored more closely after this, my mum may never have even entered into a relationship with him. Yes, we have Clare’s law, but it has flaws. First, a potential victim has to reach out to the police to ask about a specific person. That is their choice: they are not automatically notified that the person is a known abuser and a danger to them. Another major flaw is the fact that someone may not even know what Clare’s law is or that they have the right to ask the police someone’s history in the first place.
My question to you is: we have a sex offenders register —why do we not have a domestic abusers register, when we know that domestic abuse is just as prevalent, life-threatening and damaging as any sexual assault or misconduct? My mum might still be alive today if this had been in place. Next Tuesday, 26 January, is the third anniversary of my mum’s murder. You can make a difference to stop more victims getting murdered or permanently mentally scarred when they could easily have been saved.
At the age of 17, I have no parents, because I was failed by a system that was meant to protect us and take domestic abuse seriously. Her name was Cheryl Gabriel-Hooper; never ever forget.”
This Bill presents an opportunity to create a real change to better protect women and girls. We must not delay any further—too many women and girls are paying with their lives.
My Lords, when considering these amendments, I thought at first about tackling the perpetrators guilty of persistent stalking and constant and continued terrorising or harassment of the victim. The kind of stories that we have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in the testimony about Cheryl is what came to mind. For anyone who has experienced, or known friends or family on the receiving end of, that kind of treatment—constantly living under the awful reality of fear, looking over one’s shoulder and sometimes then facing police indifference or negligence—that is what springs to mind, as it did for me when I first looked at these amendments.
Yet I have some real qualms and queries about these amendments and feel that, however emotive this topic is, we need to pause and be cool. At the very least, I think there is a need for more precision in terms of what or who we are talking about. Who, exactly, does this allow the law to target? What constitutes a serial offender? What constitutes a serious enough offence to trigger these kinds of perpetrator interventions? Are there any time limits at all on surveillance, the sharing of information or the labelling of someone as a perpetrator? I worry that we could bring our own prejudices and subjective views and assume that we all agree on who or what we are talking about.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, stated as fact that
“past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.”
I dispute that. It flies in the face of agency and the possibility of reform, and it is not necessarily the basis on which we should develop law. We should certainly suggest that it is not always true. We heard the terrible story of Colin, whose past behaviour went on and escalated. But this Bill broadly spells out abuse to include a huge range of different types of behaviour. Do we always think they will escalate and end up as murder?
We are told that if somebody moves and starts a new relationship or moves away, they must report to the police, but that assumes that they will always be an abuser. We assume the police should have the right under Clare’s law to warn partners. But again, I want to know: does that mean we consider abuse a permanent feature in somebody’s personality? I worry about a national system of surveillance that follows around somebody dubbed a perpetrator that involves all state agencies. This amounts to state stalking of those labelled as abusers. I worry when perpetrators are accused in this Bill of hiding in plain sight, as though they are permanently committing offences, when maybe they are living in plain sight as citizens who have done the time for their crime and are not offending. Why do we always see them as perpetrators?
Of course, the most extreme examples are being given here today, and some of those terrorising examples of the most violent abusers, leading to preventable murder, are what concern me and many others here. Yet this legislation has broadened the meaning of abuse to an ever-expanding number of behaviours, as though all of them are escalating behaviours. I worry about losing a sense of perspective and justice. I worry that we end up focusing on offenders, not offences. For legislators, that is nerve-wracking. I do not think that if somebody has been abusive, they should for ever be tarred as abusive or we should see it as predetermined that they will carry on.
We will go very close, if we are not careful, to seeing certain people as malevolent, dangerous and evil. Are we saying those who have ever committed any of the multitude of abuses named in this law are a peculiar breed of criminal who, inevitably, no matter what, will strike again, and will carry on posing an ongoing threat? It is far too reminiscent of outdated views about “criminal types”, and that view of people has a long, unsavoury history.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, earlier asked us to “spot the signs”, but I am worried about us wandering around spotting signs in people. In an earlier part of this Committee, we were told that football matches and drinking might lead to domestic abuse. The “spotting the signs” version of legislative change strikes me as being too arbitrary and rather dangerous. Whenever we discuss domestic abuse, I often detect a lurking class prejudice. But the most important thing is the danger of lumping together a variety of individuals and behaviours.
I will make one point as an aside. Many noble Lords have mentioned that we all received a huge amount of information before these amendments were discussed. That is true, and in the debate so far those briefings have been used as evidence. I will make a caveated note about what constitutes evidence. When people stand up and say “But the evidence shows”, it is not quite the same as the evidence of the efficacy or safety of, for example, a vaccine against coronavirus. The evidence we are sent as legislators is often commissioned by, and presented by, lobbying organisations. Their briefing documents, much repeated in this House, might be repeated as facts or truth, but they are not always objective —or, in fact, factual. At the very least, we should recognise that they can be contentious. So, I ask for some caution that, while we want to deal with the most extreme examples, in the course even of this discussion facts and evidence have been thrown in that have been ideological than helpful.
My Lords, we have debated at length whether our laws are sophisticated enough to catch all the terrible subtlety and invidiousness inherent in domestic abuse. It is important, though, that we also consider what can be done by way of prevention and reform. It is for this reason that I speak in support of Amendment 167 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and other noble Lords.
I say, first, that not a penny should be spent on perpetrator programmes until we are sure the victim support provision is comprehensive. But where it is, we should also look at perpetrator strategies. We must do all we can to help victims, but our ultimate aim is to come as close as we can to eradicating domestic abuse from our society. Here, we are looking to reform individuals but also to weed out the idea that domestic violence is somehow a normal part of existence. Our targets are as much perpetrators as their children and extended families. It is right, then, that the Government should come forward with a perpetrator strategy, and one year should suffice to ensure it is sufficiently thought through and properly resourced.
In particular, I call attention to proposed new paragraph (a),
“improving the identification and assessment of perpetrators.”
Everything we have heard throughout the passage of this Bill has been about domestic abuse and its victims falling through the cracks—cracks in public health, cracks in early intervention, cracks in enforcement and cracks in sentencing. We need to get ahead of this crime wherever we can, and that means getting better at identifying perpetrators as well as victims to lessen damage and expedite justice and reform.
A large number of organisations, including those that support victims, have come forward to say they support this amendment and call for the Government to create a perpetrator strategy. The only caveat I would offer is that we should make sure that the strategy is thoughtful and comprehensive and that the programmes it offers are quality-assured. I read with interest the debate from the other place, where Members heard stories of providers that were not only opportunistic but unqualified bidding for contracts to provide perpetrator programmes. But if we get this right, the effects could be profound.
Other noble Lords have mentioned the Drive project, which works with high-risk, high-harm abusers—in other words, the worse and most dangerous perpetrators of domestic abuse. A University of Bristol evaluation found the Drive project reduced the number of perpetrators using physical abuse by 82%, and those displaying jealousy and controlling behaviour by 73%, and that it was similarly effective in reducing other types of abuse. In other words, if we have a strategy that supports quality-assured programmes such as these, we can prevent abuse, reform perpetrators and save lives.
My final point is a call for the Government to ensure that funding is available for such programmes consistently and universally. Local authority budgeting cycles or geographical location should never prevent such provision being available. The consequences are simply too profound for postcode lotteries. Domestic abuse is unfortunately ubiquitous and, if we are to attempt to eradicate it, our support programmes must be too.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group but I will focus my remarks on Amendment 167, to which I have added my name. This is a good Bill and it contains many well thought out provisions to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but it deals almost exclusively with the support of those victims after the abuse has occurred. That is commendable, but it is not enough. Surely we also need measures to stop abuse happening, so that there are fewer victims and there is less harm done to them and their children.
Amendment 167 focuses on the perpetrator rather than the victim to prevent repeat occurrences with the same victim or, as often happens, with fresh victims. If we want to reduce domestic abuse, we need to change the focus. Instead of asking “Why doesn’t she leave?”, we should be asking “Why doesn’t he stop?” We should be changing the dynamics of abusive relationships, making it clear that responsibility lies with the perpetrators of domestic violence and giving them tools to deal with their behaviour.
We already know, and we have heard again today, that high-quality interventions can substantially reduce or even stop violence and coercive control, which leads to happier and safer lives for victims, their children, and future generations. Amendment 167 calls for urgent research on the assessment and identification of perpetrators. Domestic violence does not come from nowhere. It often builds over time until outbursts of violence become commonplace. For example, we already know that non-fatal strangulation is a common signal of future, more serious violence and even murder. This research should lead to an increasing number of high-quality rehabilitation programmes, which should be checked for quality and based on best practice. The opportunity to make use of such a programme should no longer be a postcode lottery based on whether an appropriate charity is funded in your area. It currently amounts to a postcode lottery as to whether the one or two women who will be killed this week by their partner will be you, your daughter, your sister or your mum.
We should be ambitious in tackling the foothills of domestic abuse issues. Specialist work that challenges abusive attitudes and behaviours should be part of every school curriculum, so that every child knows what an abusive relationship looks like. We can teach the next generation to recognise the warning signs, so that they can avoid ever entering into such a relationship —either as an abuser or a victim. For those children who know all too well what domestic abuse looks like, we can give them the vocabulary and a place to talk about it, and chances to seek help to stop it.
We know that working with perpetrators brings success. The University of Bristol’s three-year study of over 500 cases, as we have heard earlier, shows an 82% drop in physical abuse and an 88% drop in sexual abuse. Similar dramatic drops in stalking and controlling behaviours are also seen after high-quality perpetrator programmes.
Domestic abuse leads to whole families living with the constant presence of fear at home. It leads to victims in a constant state of high alert, concealing physical and emotional damage, terrified almost every moment of every day, but with nowhere else to go. It leads to children feeling frightened, powerless, confused and angry, and their taking responsibility for events over which they have no control. They are unable to concentrate at school, unable to make friends, afraid to go home and afraid not to.
Domestic abuse leads to abusers feeling that the only way they know of staving off loneliness is to carry on controlling, beating, hurting, screaming, shouting and threatening, because no one who had a choice would ever live with them. Perpetrator intervention can reduce and even eliminate this pain, violence and death which leaks from relationship to relationship and generation to generation. We know this and now we have the chance to act on it. Amendment 167 is that chance, and I hope the Government will accept it into this Bill.
My Lords, one is always left stunned and moved when listening to my noble friend Lady Newlove. I rise to support Amendment 167 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and others. I congratulate her on her clear and persuasive introduction.
As I said last week when moving Amendment 176 in my own name, to truly tackle domestic abuse we must be bold. We need to take a holistic, whole-family approach, with targeted interventions to support adult victims to rebuild their lives, to support children experiencing domestic abuse and to ensure that perpetrators have access to quality programmes to prevent offending and reoffending. It is the quality programmes for perpetrators that Amendment 167 is addressing.
We know from MARAC data that there are at least 53,000 high-harm perpetrators in England and Wales at any given time. We know too that the Drive project which noble Lords have spoken about, set up by Respect, SafeLives and Social Finance, is probably the best-funded perpetrator intervention programme. It has suggested that it is working with just over 2,000 of the highest-harm perpetrators who pose a risk of murder or serious physical harm. It is important, it is praiseworthy and it is life-saving work, but 2,000 out of 53,000 is not even scratching the surface. As my noble friend Lady Newlove explained, so many are in danger now.
This timely and vitally important Bill is very welcome and has so much support, but this amendment is crucial. It is crucial that efforts are made to improve and enhance current perpetrator programmes, but it is also crucial to dramatically increase the number of programmes. I look to my noble friend the Minister to find a way to welcome this amendment, as it will enhance this vital legislation. As my noble friend Lady Bertin rightly said, it has support not only across this House but from countless organisations on the front line, from children’s organisations to the police, LEAs and—perhaps most tellingly—survivors themselves.
My Lords, I am also pleased to speak in support of Amendment 167 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin. I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Polak in his encouragements for this amendment to be made law, particularly because of the emphasis on prevention as well as perpetrators in the strategy. It is essential to focus adequately on perpetrators, but this is late intervention. It needs to be properly matched with a root-and-branch approach to early intervention, preventing, where possible, the precursors to violence and abuse from developing into full-blown perpetration.
There is very little mention of prevention in the Bill as it currently stands, yet adopting a prevention paradigm is indispensable for reducing the staggeringly high levels of domestic abuse reported in this country over the long term. This requires acknowledging that in this area of policy, as in so many others, people cannot be treated as individuals, because their identity, health and well-being fundamentally depend on their relationships. As well as being a crime, domestic abuse is a problem with a relationship or set of relationships, and if we are ever to get ahead of its dreadful curve, a cross-government approach to strengthening families before, during and after abuse occurs is utterly foundational.
I could substantiate this in very many ways. The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, when she led the Government’s troubled families programme, highlighted the ubiquity of domestic violence in the families being helped. Evidence suggests that the most powerful contributors to domestic abuse in our society are rooted in the relationships people have and are witnesses to when they are young. This needs to be addressed in a prevention paradigm. Childhood exposure to domestic violence and child physical abuse are two of the most powerful predictors of both perpetrating and receiving domestic abuse as an adult. Domestic violence between parents increases the likelihood of violence in their children’s later relationships by 189%. The public understand this. Polling carried out by the Centre for Social Justice, albeit in 2011, found that most of the population—73% of adults—think that if we want to tackle domestic abuse, we have to recognise that many perpetrators have themselves been victims of abuse.
Childhood neglect can mean that individuals enter adult life unable to regulate their emotions and communicate with others. They often have intrusive memories of violence, think badly about themselves or others and are at risk of struggling profoundly when they become partners and parents. Obviously, there are other cultural influences, such as misogyny and enduring beliefs that it is okay, under certain circumstances, to resolve arguments with violence. These can be tackled also with social marketing. In Hull, they put up posters with slogans such as “Real Men Don’t Hit Women”.
Low income is consistently associated with, and indeed worsened by, domestic abuse. Victims’ ability to work is hampered by psychological and physical effects, and restricting their access to work is a form of abuse of economic control. Money worries make conflict about finances more likely to trigger aggression. It can also threaten men’s identity where lack of money is associated with lack of male power. Men denied power through social status can seek it in violence, social control and subjugation of women.
Alcohol and drugs are also massive drivers. In almost two-fifths of domestic violence incidents, the perpetrator is under the influence of alcohol; in one-fifth of cases, under the influence of drugs; and sometimes, both. Substances hamper social and problem-solving skills and the ability to control emotions and they lower inhibitions, but the link between alcohol and violence is socially learned. This and the other factors cited above, including adversity in childhood, are never excuses; they simply help to explain. Many men and women with the most desperate back stories never resort to abuse. They may even determine to alchemise adversity into kindness towards themselves and others.
Finally, if we are to prevent revictimisation, we have to recognise that victims are often unable to break free of the psychological drivers embedded in their past experiences. These can contribute to them becoming enmeshed in an abusive relationship in the first place, and help explain why they feel so ambivalent towards the perpetrator and end up in other abusive relationships. Between 40% and 56% of women experiencing domestic abuse have had a previously abusive relationship. In one study, 66% of refuge residents had previously left and returned to their abusive partner; 97% of these women had done so on multiple occasions. These are sobering statistics because the impact of abusive relationships is cumulative; so much of the harm associated with domestic abuse is due to multiple victimisation.
I hope that I have given the Government a steer as to what a prevention strategy would look like. It would acknowledge the effects of low income, substance misuse and culture, but primarily focus on early intervention in families and be explicit about the relational character of domestic abuse. It would highlight the role of family hubs as places people can go to get help in this area, including when early signs of violence are seen in children and young people. In summary, families and family relationships can no longer be neglected in solutions to this most heinous of social problems.
My Lords, the Lib Dem group strongly supports this group of amendments—noble Lords might have already guessed that from the number of Liberal Democrat speakers we have had already this afternoon—so I shall try to be brief. It is a hugely important group of amendments because it takes us off the back foot in dealing with perpetrators and gives us a chance of keeping track of them, preventing further offending and helping them to change their behaviour for good. We have heard several harrowing examples, and several noble Lords have made the point in respect of Amendment 167 that it is the perpetrator who must change, not the victim.
Amendment 164 strengthens the ability of the law to register and track serial stalkers and domestic abusers so that they can be registered on ViSOR, the violent and sex offender register, and be subject to supervision, monitoring and management through MAPPA. I add my thanks to Laura Richards, founder of the Paladin group, for her excellent briefing. Domestic abuse and stalking are the only areas of offending where serial abusers are not routinely and proactively identified and managed by police, probation and the prison service across the UK. This has serious consequences for the safety of women and children. There are many pockets of excellent good practice across the country but no systematic approach and no systematic tracking—a failure of systems so tellingly described by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. Her story of Cheryl Gabriel-Hooper will stay with me for a long time.
My noble friend Lady Brinton strongly argues that we desperately need a strong, national, co-ordinated approach, and cited several harrowing examples, including her own, to prove her case. She calls this “murder in slow motion” and talks about under-reporting and inaccurate reporting on the MAPPA database, as have several other noble Lords. As things stand, the stalker or abuser can remain one step ahead, free to pick his next unwitting victim with a head start on the police, whose response between different forces is patchy. This is not good enough: now is the time and this is the place to lay down legislation to get on the front foot—legislation based on facts, not ideology, as urged by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox.
Amendment 167, to which I have added my name, requires the formation of a national perpetrator strategy. I understand that the Government instituted the first ever fund for perpetrator work last October, but I gather that there are big teething problems. Will the Minister update the Committee on this, and particularly the fact that part of the fund allocated for research must be spent by the end of this financial year, but the research bodies have only just been informed of their grants and have not even received the go-ahead to start spending? Can the Minister confirm that this deadline will be extended?
I and many other noble Lords are very grateful to the Drive Project for its briefing. It shocks me to learn that Drive, whose work has already been commended, including by my noble friend Lord Strasburger, says that only 1% of perpetrators get a specialist intervention that might help prevent further abuse, yet research shows that one perpetrator in four is a repeat offender, and some have up to six victims. It is a vicious cycle. Drive’s work has shown how perpetrator interventions can stop this cycle, which not only blights whole families, but spreads like a canker down the generations.
We invest huge amounts of money in dealing with the damage perpetrators have wrought, but that is next to nothing compared to stopping the vicious cycle and enabling perpetrators to turn their and their families’ lives around. Investment now will benefit untold numbers of people, not just those directly affected today. Let us pass this amendment, and reap the rewards today and into the future.
Amendment 177B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is very similar to Amendment 167 but is more generous to the Government, giving them two years to establish a comprehensive perpetrator strategy. If the Government will commit to two years today, that is a done deal as far as I am concerned.
My Lords, like others, I thank Laura Richards for her excellent briefing, which has been a precursor to an excellent debate on these amendments. I fully support Amendment 164, proposed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, with my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Brinton, as I do Amendment 167 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, which I was delighted to sign, and Amendment 177B tabled by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
With these three amendments the Government have effectively been given a whole range of options to choose from. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath’s Amendment 177B would require the Government to lay before Parliament a national perpetrator strategy within two years of the Bill passing into law. I agree with my noble friend Lady Royall that my noble friend Lord Hunt is probably being a bit too generous to the Government in allowing them two years. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, would require a comprehensive strategy focusing on prevention and how to deal with perpetrators within one year of the passing of this Bill into law. The lead amendment in this group from my noble friend Lord Hunt sets out a comprehensive framework in which to deal with perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalkers, and would require a report to be laid before Parliament within six months of the Bill being enacted.
It was good to hear my noble friend set out a range of organisations that support this multiagency approach. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon for her years of work on this issue. She has raised these matters again and again, and we are all very grateful to her for that.
We have heard previously that domestic abuse, coercive control and stalking are escalating crime: the behaviours can persist over many years and escalate, and more crimes of increasing levels of abuse and harm are committed. This amendment raises the need for joined- up, multiagency working in tackling and managing perpetrators in the community. My noble friend Lord Hunt highlighted two horrific cases where a proper, all-encompassing approach is needed to deal with these perpetrators.
I recalled, while listening to this debate, the day I spent at the domestic violence unit of the Metropolitan Police in the Royal Borough of Greenwich—I still recall the horrific acts of violence I was apprised of. I was so impressed with the officers in the unit and the way they worked closely with the local authority. It is quite clear that, by working together, the council and the police officers of the unit were helping victims and saving them from further abuse and, in some cases, the risk of being murdered.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, who spoke about this multiagency approach and referred to research by Durham University and London Metropolitan University. It was good to see that violence inflicted on victims reduced when that work took place. I also endorse her comments on internet companies and platforms. I know we will come to this in another Bill, but these companies, which are making a lot of money, really need to step up to ensure that their tools are not used to aid abusers. We need to deal with that very soon.
As many noble Lords mentioned, we need a culture change. We need to get to a situation where these offences are viewed as totally unacceptable and as the disgusting, evil acts they are. That culture change is what this strategy is all about. We must break the cycle where children witness abuse—I think the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, mentioned this—and risk becoming the abused or abusers many years later. To do that, we need effective action.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, mentioned drink-driving, I remembered watching a programme featuring Barbara Castle, who got death threats for introducing the breathalyser. She appeared on a programme called “The World This Weekend”, where the journalist said to her that it was a rotten idea to bring in the breathalyser. He said, “You’re only a woman; you do not drive; what do you know about it?” Thankfully, things have changed, but I hope we get to a point where these disgusting offences are viewed as we view drink-drivers today, who now face bans and fines, risk imprisonment in serious cases and at best are viewed as completely reckless, irresponsible, stupid idiots. That is the sort of culture we need here: let us get to a place where we can have that, because women’s lives will be saved, we will have better men and better, happier relationships, and we will not have children witnessing abuse and becoming abusers or victims in later life. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, also referred to that in her contribution.
My noble friend Lord Rooker talked again about breaking silos in government. He was a Minister for many years in the previous Labour Government and knows all about how government works. I very much agree with him. I have a similar problem campaigning to get these GP letters banned: I am tackling the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I have four departments trying to get it sorted out, but I hope that we will finally get somewhere on that issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, said we need to get the outcomes right. I fully support that.
It is always a privilege to listen to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. Her story about Cheryl Hooper was harrowing, but sadly not unique. As I said, when I went to the domestic violence unit at Greenwich they gave me a number of redacted statements to read. What struck me in reading about these awful events was that they were not some story, but were happening to real people—the most appalling things being done by one human being to another. It was dreadful. All these things started off with, “I met someone; we were happy; then the abuse escalated.” It gets to the point where people are at real risk of losing their lives.
I did not agree with the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. Of course perpetrators can be rehabilitated—we want people to be rehabilitated —but what we are proposing is about protecting victims and developing a strategy to control perpetrators, help victims and save lives, and to stop the years of abuse that victims can suffer. Some may not be killed, but can undergo years of abuse and a terrible life. We must stop that.
I also do not agree that there is some suggestion or implication in the briefings or from noble Lords’ comments that this offence is committed only by working-class people. I think I have been here for most of the debates and I have not seen that. I do not believe it either. I come from a working-class background, having grown up on a council estate near Elephant and Castle, and I just do not believe that is the case. I have also been told by the police that, when they get the perpetrators in, they are from all walks of life—they can be very rich people with well-paid jobs who are doing very well, such as lawyers. All sorts of people across the spectrum can be victims or perpetrators. That is one of the things about this offence; it does not affect any one group, and we need to ensure we get that right.
I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, about the determining factor with children; we must stop that. We can all point to things that have happened. The one thing that was a real shame was disbanding the Sure Start programme from 2010 onwards. That was a mistake. The centres are the family hubs that he talks about.
This has been a good debate and I look forward to the noble Baroness’s response. I hope at the next stage of this Bill we can come forward with the strategy to put in it.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that this has been a very good debate. I join noble Lords in commending the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who has done a huge amount of work in this area and with whom I have worked over several years now. I think she would join me in paying tribute to John Clough—his daughter met her death at the hands of a serial stalker—and his family. I also pay tribute to Cheryl Hooper; I had not heard that story until my noble friend Lady Newlove talked about it today.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that it is a classless crime. When I visited my noble friend Lady Barran’s charity, SafeLives, way back when and heard the various testimonies, it really underlined the fact that it does not matter who you are or where you are from: this can affect you. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also gave a very moving testimony. I also echo my noble friend Lord Farmer’s point about the cycle of abuse. I join him in paying tribute to the troubled families programme which, as its name suggests, takes a whole-family approach to the issue of domestic abuse.
I will deal first with Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. This seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 so that individuals convicted of more than one domestic abuse or stalking offence should automatically be subject to management under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements. Management under MAPPA may result in these individuals being recorded on ViSOR, the dangerous persons database.
The amendment also seeks to place a duty on the Government to issue a report six months after Royal Assent to review these changes to the Criminal Justice Act. This review would include details of consideration given to assessing and managing the risks of domestic abuse or stalking posed by perpetrators convicted of offences other than those outlined in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 for stalking or an offence for behaviour that amounts to domestic abuse within the meaning of Clause 1 of the Bill.
I agree with the intentions behind this amendment. We want to make sure that we have the right systems in place to allow the police and partner agencies to identify the risks posed by high-harm, repeat and serial perpetrators and to act accordingly to protect victims. However, the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 already provide for these offenders to be managed under MAPPA arrangements.
Individuals who are convicted of offences listed in Schedule 15 to the 2003 Act and sentenced to 12 months or more are automatically eligible for management under MAPPA category 2 when on licence. These offences include domestic abuse-related offences such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, and attempted strangulation, as well as harassment and stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress within the Protection from Harassment Act. There is also discretion for people who have been convicted of other domestic abuse or stalking offences and who have been assessed as posing a risk of serious harm to be managed under MAPPA category 3.
Guidance makes it clear that MAPPA should be actively considered in every case of domestic abuse. The guidance specifies that offenders should be considered for category 3 where they demonstrate a pattern of offending behaviour indicating serious harm, such as domestic abuse, that was not reflected in the charge on which the offender was actually convicted, are convicted of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, or are serial domestic abuse perpetrators. My instinct is that instead of amending the current legislation, there is probably more value in making better use of the existing MAPPA framework and related police systems and we recognise the need to strengthen the use of these. Listening to noble Lords, I do not think that they would inherently disagree with that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out what she saw as some of the deficiencies undermining it.
It is also true that not all victims of domestic abuse call the police and not all victims wish to pursue a criminal justice outcome against their abuser. There are many other statutory agencies involved in families’ lives, not just the police, which is why effective multi-agency working is so vital to ensuring that the risks faced by victims of domestic abuse and their children are properly identified and assessed. I do not think noble Lords would disagree with that either. That is why the package of non-legislative action that underpins the Bill covers the full range of front-line professionals with a role to play in protecting and supporting victims of domestic abuse, including schools, children’s social care, job centres, the NHS and local authorities.
My noble friend Lady Newlove and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, mentioned Clare’s law, otherwise known as the domestic violence disclosure scheme. It already provides a system for the police to inform partners and ex-partners of a person convicted of domestic abuse-related offences about that person’s offending history. Importantly, that is from both a right-to-know and a right-to-ask point of view. Clause 70 places the guidance for the police on the DVDS on a statutory footing. This will help to improve awareness and consistent operation of the scheme across police forces.
Work has already begun on improving existing police information systems. I am pleased to say that we have already completed the first phase of work, looking into the current functionality of ViSOR. The College of Policing has issued a set of principles for police forces on the identification, assessment and management of serial or potentially dangerous domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. More generally, as part of the £10 million funding announced by the Chancellor in last year’s spring Budget, we have now allocated £7.2 million—the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to it—in 28 funding awards to police and crime commissioners for the introduction of perpetrator programmes for domestic abuse, including stalking, such as the Drive Project that noble Lords have been referring to so positively.
There are also existing provisions in the Bill that will help to improve the management of the risk posed by domestic abuse perpetrators. The new domestic abuse protection orders—DAPOs—will provide an additional tool for managing the risk posed by perpetrators by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions, including electronic monitoring, or tagging, and positive requirements. DAPOs will also require perpetrators subject to an order to notify the police of their name and address and any change in this information, and that will help the police to monitor perpetrators’ whereabouts and the risk that they pose to victims.
Regarding stalking specifically, in January of last year we introduced new civil stalking protection orders, which can also impose positive requirement conditions on perpetrators. These orders, which were welcomed by most stalking charities, enable early police intervention pre conviction to address stalking behaviours before they become deep-rooted or escalate. Therefore, while we agree with the spirit of the noble Baroness’s amendments, we do not feel that it is necessary to accept them at this stage.
I am similarly supportive of the intention behind Amendments 167 and 177B, which call on the Government to prepare a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has been more generous in his time than my noble friend Lady Bertin, and that has been spotted and pointed out already, but the substance of the two amendments is the same. The Government are clear that we must hold perpetrators to account for their actions, and we are ambitious in our aim to prevent these destructive crimes happening in the first place. My noble friends Lord Polak and Lord Farmer spoke very eloquently about that.
I am also sympathetic to the aims outlined in the calls to action for a perpetrator strategy, which are reflected in the amendments. We recognise that more work is needed to improve the response to perpetrators, and in particular to increase the provision of effective perpetrator interventions. I assure the Committee that we already have a programme of work under way to address the issues raised by the amendments and by the calls to action.
What we are not persuaded of is the need for an inflexible legislative requirement for a perpetrator strategy, but the Government of course endorse the need for such a strategy. Indeed, I can inform the Committee that, later this year, the Government will bring forward a new, ambitious strategy to tackle the abhorrent crime of domestic abuse. This strategy will be holistic in its approach to tackling domestic abuse and will outline our ambitions not only to prevent offending but to protect victims and ensure that they have the support they need. It is right that we have a strategy that takes a holistic approach to tackling domestic abuse.
In the meantime, we are building our evidence base to inform this work. As part of his spring Budget last year, the Chancellor allocated £10 million to fund innovative approaches to tackling perpetrators and preventing domestic abuse. As I have said, more than £7 million of this has been allocated in 28 funding awards to PCCs from all areas of England and Wales to support the adoption of a range of domestic abuse perpetrator-focused programmes in their area. To strengthen the evidence base of what works in preventing reoffending, as part of this funding, PCCs will be required to conduct an evaluation of their project to measure outcomes for perpetrators, victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
We value the importance of research in helping to improve our understanding of perpetrators of domestic abuse. That is why we will also be funding a range of research projects that focus on topics including drivers and aggravating factors, and what works in preventing offending, identifying perpetrators and improving understanding of underrepresented groups to further aid our understanding of perpetrators of domestic abuse. I will provide the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, with more details on this, but I know that the contracts have gone out today. I think she will agree that the findings from this research will play a key role in helping to shape the domestic abuse strategy.
In addition, the designate domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has already begun mapping the range of interventions currently available for non-convicted perpetrators who are showing signs of abusive behaviour, which will allow us to better assess where there is unmet need for this cohort.
I must mention two things that have come out consistently today—and I really welcome their mention. My noble friends Lady Bertin and Lord Farmer, and the noble Lords, Lord Rooker and Lord Kennedy, talked about a whole of government approach. They are absolutely right. This does not exist in a vacuum in the Home Office; it needs a whole of government approach to get it right. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, gave a very good example of the GP letters, which I think we have not heard the last of. The noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, talked about sex and relationships education in schools being such a much-needed development in teaching school-aged children what healthy relationships look like, because some of them may be witnessing domestic violence in their own home. It was of course made compulsory as of last September. Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Rooker and Lord Kennedy, talked about the culture change that is needed, and I could not agree more.
Finally, I hope that noble Lords will agree that the work currently under way to achieve a comprehensive package of perpetrator programmes and improve our understanding of what works in managing offenders and preventing reoffending, as well as our upcoming domestic abuse strategy that will look to incorporate this, already meets the essence of these amendments and, on that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and, through her, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I think, will be content to withdraw the amendment.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister: from the noble Lords, Lord McCrea and Lord Kennedy. First, I call the noble Lord, Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown.
My Lords, acknowledging that rehabilitation programmes are an essential part of tackling these abhorrent abusive attitudes and actions, can the Minister tell your Lordships’ House who will take the lead in any co-ordinated approach, bringing together such a multiagency strategy so we can ensure that any programme will not be cosmetic but meaningful and productive?
I may have misheard the Minister, but did not she say that one of her reasons for not accepting any of the amendments was that it would be restrictive to place these things in the Bill? You can perhaps argue that Amendment 164 is a bit more prescriptive, but the other two amendments, other than setting a time limit for a report, set no restrictions at all. They would just steer the Government to get on with the matter in good time. Beyond that, I do not see that they are restrictive at all.
I call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to speak on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and to my noble friend Lady Royall for her fantastic work in this challenging area. It has been an extraordinary debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said, perpetrators have for too long been ignored and it is those very perpetrators who must change their behaviour—not the victims.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke about the importance of changing the culture. That was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who talked about the changes in culture—but, as he said, they need to go further. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, spoke about good practices in his local patch but, as he said, funding has been vulnerable; it is too patchy and we need national action.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was very effective in referring to Laura Richards’s powerful and shocking report. As she said, murders do not happen in a vacuum. Never again should a woman be murdered following a report by her to the police about the perpetrator.
My noble friend Lord Rooker, echoed by my noble friend Lord Kennedy, stressed the importance of cross-Whitehall action. He said that it is not easy. I agree with him. However—my noble friend Lord Rooker will have experienced this—when we had public service agreements across government departments, it brought them together. I commend that approach to the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, said that Amendment 164 was needed to ensure that new partners who know nothing of the past behaviour of a perpetrator are informed and protected. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, as a former Victims’ Commissioner and also personally, spoke movingly about her husband’s murder and the systematic failures that we still seek to confront. Then there was the moving case of Cheryl Gabriel-Hooper. I am so grateful to Georgia Gabriel-Hooper for allowing her story to be quoted by the noble Baroness.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, disagreed with my assertion that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour and is worried about state incursion. We know enough to suggest that we need a more proactive approach. On her suggestion of a lack of evidence, I suggest that evidence-based research should form part of the perpetrator strategy that we are all calling for.
I agree with the noble Lords, Lord Strasburger and Lord Farmer, who stressed the importance of a preventative approach and early intervention. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, spoke about the need for us to get off the back foot and change the law to give us the ability to track serial abusers and stalkers. My noble friend Lord Kennedy echoed my tribute to my noble friend Lady Royall and spoke about the need for joined-up agency working. I agree with him about Sure Start also. Finally, the noble Baronesses, Lady Wyld, Lady Eaton and Lady Finn, and the noble Lord, Lord Polak, spoke forcefully in favour of a strategy.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her very considered response. She said that she agreed with the intention behind my noble friend Lady Royall’s Amendment 164 but that existing provisions already provide what my noble friend is seeking to achieve. Ministers clearly think that more value could be made by the better use of MAPPA as it is now. I certainly agree that improving the way in which we do things under the current legislation and guidance would help. However, from all the submissions that we have seen, improvements to the current system will not be sufficient. Nor does £7 million, welcome as it is, seem anywhere close to what is needed.
On Amendments 167 and 177B, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that she was sympathetic but did not want legislative provision and that work would proceed without it. However, legislative back-up in relation to a strategy would be a visible sign of its importance.
On the merits of the three amendments, all I would say is that they are consistent in embracing the detail contained in the amendment of my noble friend Lady Royall, with stress on a strategic approach in Amendments 167 and 177B. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, it is not about the drafting but the outcome. We need a new MAPPA and category 4, and a new strategy and resources. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 164 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 165. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
165: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to report suspected abuse
A local authority must ensure that, where any of its employees suspects in the course of carrying out a financial assessment for adult social care that a person is the victim of domestic abuse, the employee reports the suspected abuse to a relevant social worker or the police.”
We can hear you. Carry on.
Thank you very much. I beg to move the amendment and speak also to Amendment 166. I have tabled these amendments to strengthen the Bill to protect older adults at risk of domestic abuse. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for adding their names to both amendments.
Historically the abuse of older adults has been underreported and, sadly, all too often it is not viewed as a serious crime. It was nearly 30 years ago that I, as director of Age Concern England, with the help of the Department of Health, set up the charity Action on Elder Abuse, now Hourglass, of which I am proud to be a patron. However, it is with regret that I say that, after all these years, the prevention of abuse of older people is still not prioritised, despite one in six people over 65 in the UK having experienced some form of abuse. This is shocking, and the aim of these amendments is to improve the reporting and prevention of this crime.
Amendment 165 places a duty on local authorities to report suspected abuse. The financial assessment for adult social care carried out by local authorities is one area where the financial abuse of older people can be detected. The amendment would reinforce existing safeguards practised by local authorities and the duties of care detailed in the Care Act 2014. Figures from Hourglass show that 40% of calls to its helpline involve financial abuse. Often this is carried out by a family member or carer who is trusted by the victim, who is unaware that the abuse is taking place. Or perhaps the victim relies on the perpetrator for support and therefore feels unable to report the abuse.
Reinforcing the duty of local authorities to report this abuse through the amendment is essential to safeguarding adults at risk. This is particularly so for those who need social care, as they are often more vulnerable and may not be able to speak out. I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia. Dementia is a condition that 850,000 people in the UK live with. Further, one in three people born in the UK this year will likely develop some form of dementia at some point in their life, according to Alzheimer’s Research UK figures. People living with this condition are much more vulnerable than most to financial and other forms of abuse, because they may not be aware of what is happening—or, if they are, they may not be considered a reliable witness if they report the abuse. Therefore, strengthening the duty on local authorities to report while carrying out adult social care financial assessments is crucial to preventing the financial abuse of older adults at risk.
Amendment 166 concerns powers of entry for registered social workers where there is suspected abuse of older people. At present, only the police have powers of entry and this is only when life and limb are at risk. The amendment allows powers of entry to a registered social worker only after a magistrates’ court has made an order permitting them to enter the premises for the purpose of identifying and supporting victims of domestic abuse. Power of entry would be granted only where a registered social worker has reason to believe that the occupants of the premises are at risk of being victims of domestic abuse and they have been refused entry by any occupant of the premises.
This power of entry was introduced in Scotland in 2008, and similar powers came into force in Wales in 2016. It is time to bring England in line with other parts of the United Kingdom, and this amendment seeks to achieve this. The experience both in Scotland and Wales suggests that having this power of entry in law can speed up the process of safeguarding inquiries.
In 2017, the King’s College London workforce research unit found that most practitioners were in favour of giving social workers the power of entry that this amendment would. Practitioners were concerned that perpetrators often use coercion or controlling behaviours to ensure that the victim would not consent to entry. They believed that giving registered social workers the ability to enter premises to investigate suspected abuse was necessary to ensure safeguarding.
In a situation where there is suspected child abuse, powers of entry would be given to social workers and/or the police. The life and limb of the child would not need to be at risk before state services intervened in this way. The amendment seeks similar protections for adults at risk.
A real-life example of how the current laws regarding power of entry are not sufficient to safeguard older adults at risk is the 2014 court case taken by the London Borough of Redbridge; this is recorded as EWCOP 485. In this case the local authority had received reports that a 94 year-old lady was the victim of abusive behaviour and that her finances were being controlled by the people she was living with. The social worker faced consistent obstruction in carrying out their duties and was unable to investigate the suspected abuse. Due to the current life-and-limb threshold in law, the court was not able to grant entry to the social worker, which I believe is quite shameful.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her kind words on day five in Committee on this Bill regarding all the work that I have done in this area. But there continues to be a lack of awareness of the abuse of older people and a lack of sufficient safeguarding measures to prevent it happening in future. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to these two amendments: Amendment 165, which strengthens local authorities’ duty to report financial abuse, and Amendment 166, which brings England in line with Scotland and Wales with regards to the power of entry for registered social workers in cases of suspected abuse against adults at risk.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to put my name to the noble Baroness’s amendments. She has been such a tireless campaigner for older people over many decades, and she has pinpointed a very important issue in her amendments.
The aim of the first amendment in the group is to create a duty on local authorities to report suspected abuse, such that the local authority must ensure that, where any of its employees suspects in the course of carrying out a financial assessment for adult social care that a person is the victim of domestic abuse, the employee must report that suspected abuse to a relevant social worker or the police.
As Hourglass has pointed out, we know that the manifestations of abuse are often multiple and interacting. Financial abuse has typically been the most common abuse reported to the helpline—40% of calls in 2019. This rarely occurs without corresponding physical and/or psychological abuse. The financial assessment referred to in the amendment is a vital access point where abuse can be identified. The amendment could reinforce existing safeguards practised by the local authority and the duties of care detailed in the Care Act 2014. For older people, for whom domestic abuse is often viewed solely through a health and social care lens, the measure could join up the delivery of justice to survivors.
The second amendment in the group concerns the ability of social workers to gain entry for the purposes of identifying and supporting victims of domestic abuse. We know from a King’s College social care workforce research unit report in 2017 that, in current safeguarding practice in England, access to an adult at risk can be obstructed by a third party. This is referred to by King’s College as “hindering”. The study focused on those situations in respect of adults who are thought to have decision-making capacity because there are powers permitting professionals to access a person lacking a decision-making capacity. The study was also concerned with cases where professionals are unaware of the capacity of the adult at risk because of problems in gaining access.
Why then are third parties being obstructive? Practitioner interviews identified an array of scenarios. Sometimes family members were being arguably overprotective, often in cases involving an adult at risk with learning disabilities. Some third parties were thought to be fearful that the social worker would disrupt an established relationship.
While complex hinder situations appear to be rare, practitioners report that they are usually resolved by good social work and multiagency working. Social workers appeared to be creative in their approaches to gaining access to the adult at risk, but in a small number of cases, gaining any access can prove to be very difficult and sometimes impossible. Such cases take up an awful lot of time and resource, and may mean that adults at risk suffer abuse or neglect for long periods. In such cases, many social workers support the introduction of a power of entry and some of the other powers available in Scotland, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, refers.
This sets a very helpful context to the two amendments and I hope that the Government will prove to be sympathetic.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow two such experts in this field as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I pay tribute in particular to all the work that the noble Baroness has done over the years. In fact, it was her speech at Second Reading, reminding me of the problems connected with elder abuse in reference to domestic abuse, that gave me the inspiration to jointly sign this amendment with the noble Baroness, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who will follow—all of whom have much more expertise in this field that I do. I am not entirely sure that elder abuse of the kind that has been discussed—particularly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned, among dementia sufferers—is given quite the same impetus as in other forms. I feel strongly that we should be looking at this.
I will not detain the Committee long. There are many other speakers with much more expertise in this field. I have discovered that provisions similar to those suggested in these amendments already exist in Scotland and Wales. It seems strange that we do not follow them in England. I would be interested to hear my noble friend the Minister explain why the Government cannot accept these amendments. Call me psychic, but I have a feeling there will be some reason why not. I urge the Government to accept them. If not, perhaps they could come back on Report. Let us take this issue as seriously as we all agree it should be.
My Lords, I support Amendments 165 and 166. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for her tireless work over so many years, as other noble Lords have done. I thank her too for tabling these amendments and for her excellent introductory remarks. She knows so much about these issues.
Abuse against older people is widely assumed to be a problem in care homes. In reality, the vast majority occurs in the elderly person’s home and the perpetrators tend to be family members. Too often, one of the offspring happens to live near the surviving parent, as happened in my family. This person finishes up taking on the care responsibilities. Often the relationship between the two—the elderly person and the slightly less elderly person, who may also be elderly—can have been quite problematic for many years. The fault may lie on either side, or the word “blame” may be completely inappropriate. The child, who may be aged 60 or even 70-plus, can find themself having to do all sorts of personal and unpleasant jobs, day after day for many years. Generally, there is no financial reward, although this may be irrelevant. It is not surprising that resentment can build up and there is abuse in some form or other.
My only comment on the wording of Amendment 165 is that I should prefer the reference to reporting to be limited to a social worker and not to include the police. I do not want to speak against police officers. They can be good and sensitive in these situations. However, in my experience, relationship conflicts are generally best handled with empathy on both sides, rather than with an immediate reaction based on victim and perpetrator. Of course, if a crime has been committed, the social worker could—and would—report the situation to the police. This option is available, but I worry about the police becoming involved too early when it may not be appropriate. If the Government accept the amendment, I should like to see guidance that makes it clear that intervention will need to be made with an open mind to the position of both parties.
I also support Amendment 166, which provides for a registered social worker to be given a legal right of entry if they suspect domestic abuse of an elderly person in their own home. Many years ago, I practised as a psychiatric social worker. We had powers of entry. I never used them, but I am aware that, where people are frightened of the authorities and may prevent access, the only way to provide the much-needed help is to explain that you have the legal right of entry and, if necessary, would involve the police. There is then no question about it: as I understand it from colleagues, the door is then opened, and you can begin to make progress.
Oh dear, I seem to have lost my sound.
We can hear you, clearly. Carry on.
Sorry. My machine went off. I have nearly finished anyway.
Abuse of the elderly by relatives is much neglected. If the Government support resolving these problems in principle, I hope the Minister will see these amendments as helpful and constructive.
My Lords, I am speaking on this group because I respect the experience and judgment of the signatories to these two amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned the resentment that can grow after a long period of caring for a family member. I would add the sheer exhaustion and the discovery that the person who is being cared for does not seem to be the person they once were.
The first amendment on the duty to report reminds me of debates we held not so long ago about a mandatory duty to report and act on the abuse or neglect of children. This amendment does not go that far. It seems to be cast as a contract of employment. I am not sure what the outcome would be in the case of non-compliance. It may be too detailed at this stage when we are discussing principles.
This is another aspect of awareness and the culture change, which have been discussed quite a lot this afternoon. The amendment is worded as if someone is carrying out a financial assessment. Would that person have more access than someone carrying out an occupational health assessment of the needs for adaptations? I accept that a financial assessment is about more than paperwork, but there will be clues, such as, “Oh, my daughter deals with all that”.
The amendment is linked to the amendment introduced on the second day of Committee about mandatory awareness training for professionals. Its focus was on front-line professionals, but all the points made then apply here too. When the House looks again at that amendment, as I am sure it will, can we think about how it is relevant to this situation? In that debate, my noble friend Lady Burt talked about co-ordination between agencies. The Minister, who gave a sympathetic and detailed response, referred to guidance from different agencies. As the mover of that amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, said,
“there is plenty of guidance but no means of making sure that it is always translated into action.”–[Official Report, 27/1/21; col. 1741.]
Despite the Scottish and Welsh examples about the power of entry, I am rather leery of going down this path. I do not know the extent to which professionals, other than the police and social workers, can apply for an order, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned. I am too much of a Pollyanna in wanting to start from a position of sympathy with both sides and to take a gentler approach, but I know that gentleness and nuance do not always work. Adult safeguarding is complex, especially if access is blocked. All this raises issues around privacy and the importance of building relationships.
I realise that the life and limb threshold for the police to gain entry under PACE is high. I also appreciate that there has been work on this issue, although, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I could not get past “page not found” when I searched for it this morning.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is a doughty campaigner and advocate. I appreciate I have been a bit picky, so I make it clear that I share the concerns which lie behind these amendments, although I have some reservations about their detail.
My Lords, like others, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, on championing the rights of older people over so many years. I will speak in support of Amendments 165 and 166.
At Second Reading, I highlighted the ONS statistics showing that in 2017, when it comes to older victims, more than 200,000 people aged 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales. One in four victims of domestic homicide are over the age of 60. Age UK argues that older victims are systematically overlooked, suggesting that an older person being physically or mentally abused by their adult child or grandchild, family member or spouse of 50-plus years is far less likely to be recognised for who they are—a victim. It is a well-known fact that, in the UK, women regularly outlive men. As a result, they are often more vulnerable, living on their own and frail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, highlighted the work of Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse. Its recent polling, conducted during the pandemic last year, showed that the number of calls related to the abuse of older people by a neighbour doubled. Meanwhile, 38% of calls in the first six months of 2020 related to sons or daughters as the perpetrators. Hourglass also reports that financial abuse is the most common type of abuse reported to its helpline, making up 40% of calls in 2019. These facts only reinforce the importance of these two amendments.
Amendment 165 is needed because financial assessment is an important marker and access point where potential abuse can be identified. Amendment 166 will ensure powers equal to those tried and tested across the border in Scotland and is an important safeguard for all, including older victims. How we treat our vulnerable is a reflection of our society and the elderly, like the very young, are among the most vulnerable. We need a zero-tolerance attitude to abuse, whatever the age of those involved, and must work hard to protect the vulnerable and support the many hidden victims of such crimes.
My Lords, I too pay many congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. I mean this in the most polite way possible: during our time in opposition in the 1980s and 1990s, when I spoke on social services from the Front Bench—in other words, a long time ago—Sally was always there with helpful briefings. She has massive expertise and real hands-on experience of these issues.
I support both amendments in principle. I could quibble, as one or two others have done, about some of the detail, but they are both to be supported in principle, because this is an untapped area. In respect of Amendment 165’s provision for
“carrying out a financial assessment for adult social care”,
no one has yet mentioned that the person concerned—the older person—may well be the owner of the property. They may not be living in the property of their children or grandchildren. I can remember one occasion when a residential home in my former constituency was going to be closed. All the residents had to be assessed as to whether they might need nursing care, residential care or supported care. It was found that something like 10% of them could go off and live independently. What social services told me was: “We don’t know why they were there in the first place”. They had effectively been dumped by their families in order to get their hands on property.
All kinds of issues are involved here, not just, as some noble Lords have implied, the frustration due to the actual burden of caring. It would be quite valid if, where there is a suspicion, it is reported. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, talked about worries over being reported to social services or the police. The fact is that if there is good multi-agency working at local level, and the police were contacted first, you would expect them to say to social services, “Could you run the rule past this one?” In other words, it ought to be a multi-agency approach and it should not matter where the first contact is made. There ought to be a local procedure, and there should be no problem about worrying whether the police are contacted first.
As the noble Lord, Lord Randall, said, it will be interesting to hear the Minister’s explanation of why it works well, as one assumes, in Scotland and Wales and cannot work in England. I was amazed when I looked at the amendment originally, to be honest, by the implication that social workers did not have the power of entry, so I checked that. I understand the problems of PACE from my other activities and my interests in the food industry.
There is an issue where a professional has reasonable grounds for believing abuse may be taking place. First, it ought to be reported and secondly, if need be, access ought to be given. It seems quite simple: those two issues are not part and parcel of what goes on at present, and we require legislation to deal with it. If legislation is required to make the system work and protect older people from such abuse, then so be it.
My Lords, I will be quick, partly because noble Lords have already said almost everything there is to say about this, but also because it seems so obvious. These quite simple amendments would bring us up to date with other Administrations and it seems sensible to accept them.
Statutory reporting is an important tool, which we do not make enough of at the moment. Domestic abuse, child sexual abuse and other hidden crimes often arouse at least some level of suspicion and we need what was called earlier “the professional curiosity” to kick in, so that perhaps more will be reported. Whether that suspicion is noted by a social worker, teacher, or bin man, it should trigger a process of reporting and investigation that could lead to survivors being supported and perpetrators facing justice. Far too many cases go unreported at the moment, because it is too easy to pigeon-hole these human tragedies as “not my job” or “above my pay grade”, or simply because people do not know where to turn.
Implementing statutory reporting will lead to every individual understanding their role in tackling domestic abuse and require the authorities to put the process in place to deliver. This could matter more and more with our aging population. This abuse could happen more frequently, so these provisions would be needed with increased frequency. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, hugely for bringing these two amendments forward and look forward to returning to them on Report.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I too pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. Once again, she has identified an area which is absolutely right for an addition to the Bill. I would be very interested to know whether the Minister has had a chance to study how these provisions have operated in Scotland and Wales. If they have operated effectively there, as it would appear, it seems timely of us to introduce them at this stage of the Bill, or certainly on Report.
As other noble Lords have rightly identified, how we can better protect older adults, particularly those receiving social care in their own homes—we know that that number will grow over the next 20 to 30 years —is worthy of attention. This is a good opportunity to tackle abuse and raise awareness of potential abuse among older people. I have no hesitation in commending Amendments 165 and 166 to my noble friend and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and her co-authors on bringing them forward and allowing us the opportunity to support them today.
My Lords, these two small but important amendments are perfect examples of what I have been banging on about throughout the Bill and what my noble friend Lady Brinton kindly alluded to: the need for a joined-up approach on the part of all services to work together to help victims, particularly, in this instance, older people. Amendment 165 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and other noble Lords requires local authorities’ staff who suspect abuse to notify social services or the police. I am grateful to her and to Hourglass for all the work that they do. As she said, Hourglass says that 40% of the calls it received in 2019 related to financial abuse—the most common type of abuse reported—but it often goes hand in hand with physical and psychological abuse. When victims reach out for financial support, those in the local authority must be trained not just to process the claim or recognise the signs of abuse, but to report it to a relevant social worker or the police.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, illuminated the Committee with her telling description of how real-life long-term relationships can escalate, a point echoed by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who linked back to the day-to-day regarding the need for training professionals.
Amendment 166, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, tackles the issue of when a social worker is refused entry to premises and suspects that domestic abuse is being perpetrated. As we have heard, at present the social worker would need to ask the police to obtain a magistrate’s order, but there are several benefits of their being able to obtain entry themselves, not least not having to further burden an already overstretched police force. Research by King’s College, which has already been mentioned, identified that this could prevent escalation to the point where a more drastic intervention by police was needed and speed up the process of safeguarding inquiries. This power has already been trialled. As several noble Lords have mentioned, it was introduced in Scotland in 2008 and in Wales in 2016. It seems to work well and creates a greater expectation of compliance, which may obviate the necessity of obtaining an order at all. Obstruction of entry is rare but, on the occasions when it is needed, this no-messing early intervention can save lives.
Amendment 165, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, would require that where a local authority employee
“suspects in the course of carrying out a financial assessment for adult social care that a person is the victim of domestic abuse, the employee reports the suspected abuse to a relevant social worker or the police.”
Amendment 166 would allow “A magistrates court” to
“make an order permitting a registered social worker to enter premises specified … by force for the purposes of identifying and supporting victims of domestic abuse”.
I will be interested to hear the government response on the specifics of these amendments. We definitely support the general aim of making sure that older victims are focused on and protected and, like so many noble Lords, we recognise the truly immense contribution that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has made in drawing attention to and highlighting older victims of abuse. After all, the Bill will achieve its aim only if it works for all victims. Older victims are too often invisible—metaphorically speaking—can suffer different forms of abuse, and are at increased risk of adult family abuse. Amendment 165 raises the importance of staff being taught to recognise the signs of abuse and who to raise their concerns with when they see it. The amendment refers to an employee possibly reporting suspected domestic abuse direct to the police, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I am not sure whether that would be only with the victim’s consent. The amendment also raises the importance of joined-up working so that, where abuse is suspected, it gets acted on and victims are offered support.
The Local Government Association has raised the need for clarity on information sharing between agencies. In its consultation response on the Bill, it said:
“There is still not a clear and consistent understanding about what information professionals can share within agencies and across agencies … Given the changes introduced through the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the LGA thinks it is crucial for the Government to issue guidance on how”
those changes affect
“safeguarding and information sharing arrangements, particularly the impact on domestic abuse victims.”
Like other noble Lords, I await with interest the Minister’s response to both amendments on behalf of the Government.
My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, will not get a big head when I again pay tribute to her for highlighting the plight of elderly victims of domestic abuse. She has such experience in this area. These very well-intentioned amendments seek to tackle the scourge of elder abuse. My noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger said that the way we treat our elderly reflects us as a society; I agree.
Local authorities are well equipped to identify, investigate and address suspicions or cases of domestic abuse where the individual has existing care and support needs or is known through other means. There are mechanisms and clear professional responsibilities in place to ensure the safety of suspected or known victims. I am not convinced that these amendments will add value to existing rules and processes or improve outcomes for elderly people experiencing domestic abuse, and I will explain why.
On Amendment 165, local authority employees are expected to undertake safeguarding training to ensure that they are able to identify and act on any concerns about exploitation or abuse in any circumstances, including when carrying out financial assessments for adult social care. Existing mechanisms will be in place to ensure that training is effective and that employees are able to escalate any issues. Escalation may include making a report to the police or making a referral under Section 42 of the Care Act 2014, which places a duty on local authorities to make inquiries, or to ask others to make inquiries, where they reasonably suspect that an adult in their area is at risk of neglect or abuse, including financial abuse.
Turning to Amendment 166, the police have existing powers of entry which ensure the protection of victims of domestic abuse and other instances of exploitation and harm where appropriate. We do not think that social workers require powers of entry separate from those of the police, who already effectively carry out this function. It is appropriate for the police to lead on any steps which may require gaining entry to a home where there is a serious threat from a perpetrator of domestic abuse. Extending this power to social workers risks placing them in dangerous situations which they are not equipped to deal with.
In addition, introducing a power of entry applicable to instances of domestic abuse risks creating a hierarchy of the different categories of exploitation, harm and abuse that are set out in the Care Act 2014. To take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the police, and health and social care professionals, will have local arrangements in place to enable joint working with one another and other partners to investigate all instances where an adult or child must be safeguarded, including instances which may require police to enter a home. It also plays to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made about data protection when information sharing. I think that joint working, certainly in the case of the troubled families programme, gets round those data protection issues.
Where there are concerns that an individual with a mental disorder is being ill-treated or neglected, including through domestic abuse, approved mental health professionals have special powers of entry set out in Section 135 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This allows for the approved mental health professional to present evidence at a magistrates’ court to obtain a warrant authorising the police, an approved mental health professional and a registered medical practitioner to gain entry to the premises, for an assessment to take place there and then or for the person to be removed to a place of safety.
Local authorities have the power to investigate under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 if they have cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. These inquiries will determine whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. Furthermore, social workers may make an application under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989 for an emergency protection order. Where an emergency protection order is in place, the court can authorise a police officer to accompany the social worker if they are refused entry to the premises. Where the police have cause to believe that a child is likely to suffer significant harm, under Section 46 of the Children Act the child can be removed to suitable accommodation.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness that there are practices and procedures in place to identify and tackle domestic abuse where financial assessments are being undertaken for the purposes of adult social care, and that there are existing powers of entry, exercisable by the police and others, that can be used where necessary. Having initiated this important debate, I hope that the noble Baroness is happy to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, whom I now call.
My Lords, I declare my interest, as set out in the register, as chair of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. I ask the Minister that any guidance on training that is given to local authorities has added to it that some women may be victims of forced marriage and may therefore need some specialist support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I am most grateful. The understanding and special knowledge that many of them shared was very helpful and gave me a lot of hope for the future. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, because, as I have known for many years, he is aware of all the problems involved, physical, financial, et cetera.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall, pointed out that there is less impetus in reporting these issues than those of younger people, and we must ask why. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, identified the complexity of these issues and how existing relationships sometimes determine what is happening and what is reported. I was aware of her reluctance to involve the police, but my experience with the Met in London is that it is often the police who uncover aspects of bad care, no care or, worse, abuse that other people do not know about, so we disagree on that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, had some reservations relating to a lack of awareness about these issues. I agree with her. As she pointed out, cultural change is needed. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, emphasised how training is essential because many older people unfortunately face issues, as we have heard about in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, highlighted that the family is not always as loving and supportive as in the ideal situation that we are talking about and would like to see, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, emphasised how professional input is needed, whoever reports these issues. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, pointed out that we need to give attention to this problem, which we must tackle. It has been tackled better in Scotland and in Wales, which is quite unacceptable. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said that we must not leave older people out, which I am afraid has happened so often until now. I am not sure that without some measures we will do enough to protect the people to whom these two amendments apply.
The Minister emphasised how local authorities are well equipped and should deal with this problem, and how the police have the right of entry when necessary. But I have to say to her that, in spite of the fact that they have the right of entry and that local authorities are well equipped, there are problems, and I hope that I have highlighted them in a way that means that your Lordships will understand that they need highlighting.
As many people have said, I have worked on these issues for many years, and I feel that what we have in place is just not sufficient to make the system work well and ensure that older people have the rights to the protection of society and to the bringing to justice of perpetrators of abuse that they should have. Whatever our age, we are adults and are part of this country’s population, and we must not leave this huge number of people with fewer rights to help and care than other, younger people have. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but hope that this matter will be taken further.
Amendment 165 withdrawn.
Amendments 166 to 170 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 171. As usual, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
171: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
‘‘Repeal of provisions about defence for controlling or coercive behaviour offence
In section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship), leave out subsections (8) to (10).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause seeks to repeal the ‘carers’ defence’ for the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or family relationships.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the previous group. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has had many decades of campaigning for older people. I know that she had a long-standing friendship with my father, both when he was a Member of this House and in his days in local authorities, and that it was of great benefit to him.
Amendment 171 looks at another group of people—those who suffer from some form of disability—who are also disproportionately affected by domestic abuse. The amendment would repeal what has been labelled by some as the “carer’s defence” under Section 76 of the 2015 Act. Domestic abuse of disabled people has not been discussed as part of the Bill so far, and it is not generally discussed.
When abuse against disabled people is discussed, it is usually in the context of safeguarding issues. The disabled people are labelled as vulnerable adults and the carer’s defence is that their behaviour is reasonable and justified, given the nature of their caring responsibilities. The defence in the carer’s defence is that there could be a wrongful conviction of a carer for coercive and controlling behaviour when the carer was acting in the disabled person’s best interests. They might say, “I did it for their own good”—an expression often used by abusers who are also carers, and the courts might let them off with that defence.
The statistics on the abuse of disabled people are frightening and grim, and I imagine that we will hear more of them from my co-signatory, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, but I will give a couple of statistics which have been brought to my attention.
Disabled adults are at least one and a half times more likely to be a victim of domestic abuse than non-disabled adults. Disabled women are up to three times more likely to experience domestic abuse from their family members. Some of these abusers will also be their carers. I believe it is highly likely that those figures are an underestimate, as disabled people often find reporting crime difficult, and DA survivors often find it more difficult to access the help that they need.
There is a proper place for a carer’s defence. Genuine carers must be able to protect themselves from malicious allegations, but I argue that other Acts do this better—namely, the Care Act 2014 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Both provide proper protection for genuine carers.
This Bill is about domestic abuse and how to tackle its many manifestations and protect victims. Too often, disabled victims are ignored. Through the Bill, the Government have an opportunity to show that they are listening to disabled victims, who can be fully acknowledged with this landmark legislation. With the carer’s defence being found in other legislation, my amendment would not dilute the central message of the Bill, which is that all forms of domestic abuse are unacceptable. Disabled victims, too, need to be fully reflected in the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, in speaking to this amendment, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my declaration of interests, and I am vice-chair of the Local Government Association.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for comprehensively covering the reason for tabling the amendment, and I am delighted that my name is added to it. It is a very difficult issue to raise. There are many, many kind carers out there, but we should recognise that some are not. I know that some people have difficulty with this being debated as part of a domestic abuse vehicle and question whether it is the right vehicle for raising the issues, but I argue that it is, because many cases of abuse occur in a domestic situation.
It is incredibly difficult for disabled people to raise these issues when not only personal care but control of transport and money and the ability to get out might be at stake. We know from various pieces of work that it is very difficult for disabled people to raise these issues. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, in its work from November 2020 entitled Survival, Recovery and Justice: Specialist Services for Survivors of Domestic Abuse, said that disabled women are already disproportionately impacted by domestic abuse. In its 2017 report, SafeLives says that they are
“twice as likely to experience domestic abuse as non-disabled women”
“four times more likely to report abuse from multiple perpetrators”.
The charity Stay Safe East, which supports disabled survivors of domestic abuse, considers that the defence has the potential to prolong the abuse of disabled victims, to prevent victims getting justice and to disadvantage disabled victims of coercive control. This is particularly concerning in a context where disabled survivors already experience abuse for longer before seeking help. According to the SafeLives work from 2017, called Disabled Survivors Too, on average disabled victims wait for 3.3 years before accessing support, compared with 2.3 years for non-disabled victims.
A statutory framework is already in place to involve professionals where a person might lack capacity and require medication or confinement—for example, the procedures under the Mental Capacity Act or the Mental Health Act—and there is protection from criminal liability for carers of people who lack capacity. Should a person not lack capacity, they have the right to refuse medication or other treatments or restraints. Nobody should be subject to coercive or controlling behaviour by a spouse or carer, and the law should not provide lesser protection just because somebody is disabled.
There is a high bar for the crime of coercive control. Behaviour must cause a victim serious alarm or distress and have a substantial adverse effect on their day-to-day activities. We should consider the best-interests defence and the risks of it, as it could enable potential abusers to justify that behaviour by claiming that they were acting in the disabled person’s best interests. It also risks feeding into the stereotypes of disabled people, which suggest that they lack autonomy.
We are living in an increasingly paternalistic and ableist world. I know from my personal experience of the pandemic, because I have not been out every day and carrying out my normal line of work, how much resilience disabled people need to deal with their day-to-day experiences, when they are not being believed or having their views accepted. This applies to simple things. Even before our first lockdown, when I was travelling on public transport people felt able to ask me whether I was able to make the right decision about whether to get on a bus or Tube in London, whether to wear my coat out or what I should do with my purse in a shop.
These may sound as if they are at a tangent to what we are discussing in the Bill but, at that very low level, my day-to-day experience is questioned. Feed into that a disabled woman experiencing domestic abuse and their lack of ability to speak out. Who believes the victim? A disabled person continuously has to prove that they have the capacity to make these decisions. I am worried that, unless we have an open conversation and debate about this, disabled people will not be believed and this defence will carry on.
I recognise that carers often face challenging situations and that support for them is lacking. However, as the Carers Trust has said, the answer is to make better provision for services that support carers and to ensure access to the relevant procedures under the Mental Capacity Act or Mental Health Act. In this context, the Carers Trust states that
“unpaid carers need better services and support. Fully funding, implementing and enforcing legislation and guidance which protects unpaid carers’ rights and entitlements under such legislation as the Care Act, the Mental Capacity Act and the Mental Health Act would achieve this.”
The answer to the challenges faced by carers does not lie in providing a potential loophole for the abuse of disabled survivors. I look forward to further debate on the issue and to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who so eloquently and movingly spoke on this amendment. I am starkly aware that this afternoon is the first time that we have heard these figures on domestic abuse against disabled people. Disabled women are three times more likely to be abused by family members. This is deeply shocking and makes us pause for thought.
I am aware of the excellent work of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, as an active and practising magistrate. My question to him and the Minister relates to this point. If we pass this amendment, which appears attractive in the way it has been moved and reads, and repeal provisions in the legislation for the so-called carers’ defence to the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or family relationships, should cases be brought to court under the legislation, practitioners would be scrabbling around for other legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act and other Acts to which noble Lords have referred. There is a certain neatness and ease of reference from keeping the defence in its place, although I hope that it does not have cause to be used.
I am conscious of the huge shortage of carers in the country at the moment, particularly those looking after vulnerable and disabled people. They have a sensitive and caring role to play, so the background to this amendment is particularly sensitive. With those few remarks, I would be interested to know, from the Minister, what the position would be if we removed this defence and, from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, whether he thinks that it would cause a difficulty for practitioners.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for raising this. Amendment 171 seeks to repeal the so-called carers’ defence in coercive and controlling relationships. I am grateful to Stay Safe East for its excellent briefing. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, highlighted the frequency of disabled people being abused compared to non-disabled. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, was shocked by these figures and so was I.
As we have heard, the so-called carers’ defence clause reposes in the 2015 Serious Crime Act. This defence can be employed by the carer if she can prove that she believed that she was acting in the victim’s “best interests” and that
“the behaviour was in all the circumstances reasonable”.
Stay Safe East maintains that this Act discriminates both directly and indirectly against disabled victims. It says:
“The purpose of legislation on domestic abuse is to protect survivors, rather than to defend the rights of abusers or alleged abusers.”
It is already hard enough to get a case involving a disabled victim to court, as so many difficulties and barriers stand in the way. To abuse a disabled person in the cause of their own “interests” surely must be one of the most patronising and demeaning excuses for perpetrating coercive control of the victim. It piles insult on injury, can prolong the abuse and ultimately denies justice to the victim. I do not need to add to the cogent and clear description, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, of what this form of coercive control looks like and how it makes the disabled victim feel. Let us shut that loophole and give disabled victims justice and their dignity back.
A carer can already claim the “best interests” defence without our having to enshrine it in law. I listened carefully to the remarks of the Minister on Monday and she seems to have prejudged the amendment without listening to the arguments, which is most unusual for her. In response, I say that the arguments that she uses can be used in favour of the amendment. She said:
“As is the case with all legal defences, it is for the courts and juries to decide merit on a case by case basis”.—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 123.]
Why not take this patronising defence out of English law and let the courts decide, as she suggests?
My Lords, I start by commending the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, because she spotted something that nobody else noticed on Monday evening, which is that I spoke in response to this amendment, but the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, had not moved it at all. That might be why I sounded as if I had prejudged a bit. I will reiterate some points on this occasion, but I apologise for being a bit previous with my comments.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, Amendment 171 addresses the so-called carers’ defence within the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. Subsections (8) to (10) of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 allow for this limited “best interests” defence, where the accused can demonstrate that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. The defence is not available in situations where the victim fears that violence will be used against them. I must be clear on that. For this defence to apply, the accused would also need to demonstrate to the court that their behaviour was reasonable in all the circumstances.
The defence was designed to cover cases where the accused is genuinely acting in the best interests of the victim. The first example that comes to my mind is a situation where the accused is looking after an elderly partner or parent with Alzheimer’s disease and must ensure that that person does not leave the house for their own safety. In these circumstances, it is entirely possible that the accused’s behaviour, while it might be considered controlling in a different context, is reasonable given the nature of their caring responsibilities.
As we have heard today, proponents of this amendment fear that it may enable the abuse of disabled people. However, there is a real risk that, without such a defence—and bearing in mind the example that I have just given—a person may be wrongfully prosecuted for and convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour, when in fact they were acting in a person’s best interests.
Ultimately—and I am repeating my words from the other night—it is for courts and juries to decide merit on a case-by-case basis, whether or not the threshold for the defence has been met. It should also be noted that similar or equivalent offences in Scotland, such as Section 6 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, and the proposed new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland, in Clause 12 of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, which has recently completed its passage through the Northern Ireland Assembly, also contain a similar defence.
I hope that, in the light of my explanation—for the second time—of the necessity of this defence, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has been a short but important one.
The central point I took from the intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is that the Carers Trust wants better support and wants the support of carers to be a more suitable focus rather than this potential loophole for wrongly accusing carers of some form of abuse.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, was much more robust in her language than I have been. She called it a patronising defence and said that the courts should decide. Essentially, that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said; the courts can decide because the charges can be brought with other legislation, as she acknowledged in her intervention.
The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, argued that the neatness and ease of reference may be a deciding factor in keeping this defence in this legislation and that putting it in other Acts would create difficulty for practitioners. That is the point that I think both the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Grey-Thompson, would not have agreed with, because this Bill is about domestic abuse; it is not about giving potential defences to abusers that are already covered in other legislation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, opened her comments by saying that nobody noticed. I am sorry to disappoint her, but we did notice—but there was no easy way of informing the authorities that she had given an answer to these points on Monday evening. Nevertheless, this is a probing amendment and we will consider our position. I think that it shows that people with disabilities want to be fully represented in this landmark legislation. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 171 withdrawn.
Amendment 172 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 173. Again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
173: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty of the Secretary of State to take account of matters relating to gender
It is a duty of the Secretary of State in performing functions under this Act to take account of the evidence that domestic abuse affects women disproportionately and is a subset of violence against women and girls.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause establishes the gendered nature of domestic abuse in statute.
My Lords, I am pleased to move Amendment 173 in my name in this group of amendments.
It is a fact that domestic abuse disproportionately impacts women. More than one in four women in England and Wales will experience it at some point in their lives, compared with one in eight men. When we take a closer look at these statistics, we see that it is clear that the relationship between gender and domestic abuse is much deeper than the present statistics indicate, as the data on domestic abuse collected and published by the ONS does not take into account coercive and controlling behaviour. These are the best statistics that we have at the moment, but academics working in this field estimate that the gender disparity of experience of domestic abuse would significantly increase if coercive control were considered in these statistics.
An average of two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week. In the year ending March 2019, five times more women than men were killed by their partner or ex-partner. Over the past two years, over 96% of women killed in domestic homicides were killed by men. More than half the men killed in domestic homicides were killed by other men. These figures demonstrate clearly that the overwhelming majority of domestic abuse cases involve male violence perpetrated against women.
The Istanbul convention’s full title is the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. The convention places domestic abuse within the wider violence against women and girls framework. Charities such as Refuge, EVAW and others continually urge the Government to widen the scope of the Domestic Abuse Bill and make it a violence against women and girls Bill, to ensure that domestic abuse and other forms of voilence against women are responded to in a holistic, joined-up manner, recognising the key role that gender plays in these abuses. But, so far, this has not happened. I believe that it is essential that the gendered nature of domestic abuse is recognised in this Bill. As the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill said in its final report:
“Incorporating a gendered definition of domestic abuse ensures compliance with the requirements of the Istanbul Convention in demonstrating a gendered understanding of violence against women and domestic abuse as a basis for all measures to protect and support victims.”
None of this is to say that men do not experience domestic abuse or that they are less deserving of the vital support that they need. What is does mean is that domestic abuse is a form of violence against women and girls, where women make up the vast majority of victims and survivors of domestic abuse and men make up the majority of perpetrators.
Domestic abuse in the form of the Istanbul convention is a form of gender-based violence
“that is directed against a woman because she is a woman”.
The gendered nature of domestic abuse needs to be understood by all people whose job it is to respond to domestic abuse survivors and perpetrators, such as police officers, teachers, work coaches, doctors and many others who, in all likelihood, come into contact with survivors of domestic abuse in their day-to-day lives.
According to Refuge, the largest specialist provider of domestic abuse services in the country, it is becoming increasingly common for local authority contracts for domestic abuse support services to rely on a complete misunderstanding about what domestic abuse is and, therefore, the needs of survivors. I agree with organisations such as Refuge, Women’s Aid, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, the Southall Black Sisters and virtually every other domestic abuse service provider, that the best way of raising awareness of domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls is to include this in the Bill.
The Government’s consistent response is that they agree that domestic abuse disproportionately impacts women, which is why they have included it in the statutory guidance accompanying the Bill. In fact, their 2020 report on progress toward ratification of the Istanbul convention says, on page 9:
“In March 2016 we published our cross-Government VAWG Strategy”—
that is, violence against women and girls—
“which set out our approach to tackling all forms of VAWG, including domestic abuse, so called ‘honour-based’ abuse, stalking and sexual violence. The Strategy recognised the gendered nature of these crimes, and committed to continuing to challenge deep-rooted social norms, attitudes and behaviours that discriminate against and limit women and girls across all communities … In March 2019, we published a refreshed Strategy to ensure that we were doing all that we could to tackle these crimes which disproportionately affect women.”
Those are the Government’s own words. They recognise that women are disproportionately affected, and all I am asking is that that be recognised in the Bill.
The Government have also said that the Bill, not the statutory guidance, will be the primary driver of domestic abuse policy. It is the legislation that police officers, work coaches, housing officers, local commissioners, employers and numerous others will look to when forming domestic abuse policies and procedures. If we do not make sure that the Bill includes an accurate description of domestic abuse then we will miss a huge opportunity to challenge some damaging ideas and dangerous practices.
The Government have also raised the concern that recognising domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls in the Bill would exclude male victims of domestic abuse from the definition. That is simply not true. Acknowledging domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls does not automatically exclude men, non-binary people or indeed anyone else from being included under the legal definition. The amendment demonstrates that it is perfectly possible to recognise domestic abuse as a form of violence against women and girls in the Bill without excluding any survivor, regardless of gender, from the definition.
This is one of the issues that received significant attention from the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which devoted a huge amount of time to scrutinising the Bill. Its report says:
“We believe many of the objections to a gendered definition of domestic abuse come from concerns that it could exclude men from the protection of the Act. We recognise this concern but our evidence shows it is based on a misunderstanding of what a gendered definition means in practice. A gendered definition of abuse does not exclude men. Anyone can, sadly, suffer from domestic abuse just as anyone, regardless of gender, can perpetrate it. In recommending a gendered definition of domestic abuse we want to embed a nuanced approach to the most effective response to domestic abuse for all individuals who suffer such violence, and to ensure that public authorities understand the root causes of this complex crime.”
The Bill is a chance to make a real difference to how domestic abuse is understood and responded to. The amendment gives us the best chance of ensuring that the primary driver of awareness is accurate, reflecting the gendered nature of domestic abuse and ensuring that survivors can access the support that they need. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 185 in my name is a modest, simple amendment that would require the statutory guidance to take account of the Government’s violence against women and girls strategy alongside the existing requirement that the guidance takes account of the fact that the majority of domestic abuse victims and survivors are female. The latter was introduced by the Government in response to criticisms of the non-gendered nature of the Bill’s definition of domestic abuse, which my noble friend has been talking about so ably. The amendment has the support of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, to which I am grateful for its work in this area and its support, as I am to noble Lords who have signed the amendment. It also has the support of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and of the commissioner-designate, who has welcomed the amendment as ensuring that efforts to prevent and address domestic abuse are linked to an integrated and co-ordinated response to VAWG.
The coalition gives numerous examples of how domestic abuse is often experienced in the context of other forms of violence so that the two cannot be neatly separated out, especially in the case of black and minoritised women. These include the one-third of rapes going through the criminal justice system that were carried out in the context of domestic violence; forced marriages, which may involve coercive family control and abuse, rape and domestic violence; migrant women who have suffered domestic abuse, coercive control, sexual violence and financial exploitation combined; and the abuse of disabled women and girls, which also often involves rape and sexual violence.
While I support the amendment so ably moved by my noble friend Lady Gale, I see my amendment very much as a bottom line. It goes a small way toward meeting the recommendation by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill that
“there should be greater integration of policies on domestic abuse and violence against women and girls to reflect the realities of the experience of victims.”
As my noble friend pointed out, the Joint Committee made it clear that this did not mean excluding men, boys and non-binary people from domestic abuse protection. The Joint Committee suggested that:
“The legislation and practice in Wales provide useful lessons in this area.”
In their response, the Government agreed that
“it is vital to integrate policies on domestic abuse with wider VAWG issues, and our situation of domestic abuse policy within our VAWG Strategy demonstrates our recognition of the gendered nature of domestic abuse.”
In similar vein, as my noble friend observed, the 2020 report on progress toward ratification of the Istanbul convention placed the Domestic Abuse Bill firmly within the context of VAWG.
Yet it is now clear that the Government, far from integrating the two strategies, intend their revised VAWG strategy, on which they are currently consulting, to be separate from their domestic abuse strategy. This has caused consternation among women’s organisations and others working to end VAWG in all its forms. They see it as breaking a 10-year cross-party consensus around the need for an integrated approach to tackling domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG. That is rooted in an understanding of the reality of women’s experiences and of the kind of integrated services provided by specialist services, particularly those by and for black and minoritised women. They fear it will accelerate a shift to a more gender-neutral approach to domestic abuse and violence.
The separation also goes against the EHRC recommendation that there should be:
“A single new cross-government VAWG strategy that addresses VAWG in all its forms, recognising domestic abuse as a form of VAWG, and the value of specialist by and for services”.
Furthermore, it is arguably at odds with Article 7(1) of the Istanbul convention, which requires Governments to adopt
“comprehensive and co-ordinated policies encompassing all relevant measures to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Convention and offer a holistic response to violence against women.”
There is a clear consensus among those who work on the ground and other key organisations that this separation is a retrograde step. Ministers are well aware of the strength of feeling yet insist that they are right. Moreover, they have not even included this key change of policy in the consultation that they are currently conducting on the new VAWG strategy. Could the Minister explain why the Government are so sure that they are right that not only are they refusing to listen to key stakeholders but they have not even included this issue in the consultation?
The officers of the APPG on Domestic Violence and Abuse, of which I am a vice-chair, met the Minister for Safeguarding in December following an APPG meeting in which a range of VAWG experts emphasised that the new strategy must reflect the interconnectedness of women’s experiences, in particular disadvantaged and minoritised women’s, of abuse and violence, which shape their access to support, safety and justice. We very much appreciated the time she gave us, but I do not think anyone was reassured by her argument that, as the strategies will complement and sit next to each other, we should be pleased that we are in effect getting two strategies for the price of one.
It has also been argued that a separate VAWG strategy will allow for targeted work on crime types which have previously not been addressed, or addressed inadequately, while also allowing breathing space for other, less well-understood crime types to be gripped more fully. I am at a loss as to why separate strategies can do this more effectively than an integrated strategy that would include different strands. Could the Minister explain this please?
However well-intentioned the current Ministers and civil servants are, it is important that this complementarity is given legislative underpinning, and this amendment would do just that. I cannot see any reason why the Government should reject it because it does no more than give effect to their own claims about the strategies, and follows a model adopted by them with regard to the gendered nature of domestic abuse.
My Lords, I stand to support Amendment 185, also in my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for her very able introduction and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for her support. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I raised this issue at Second Reading. I also declare an interest due to my involvement in the APPG on Women, Peace and Security and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative and both those agendas. My work on these issues has demonstrated to me, time and again, that women and girls across the world, not just in the UK, are more likely to suffer from violence and abuse and form the greater proportion of victims. It is, sadly, a gendered crime. While men can and do experience abuse, women are disproportionately impacted.
It is important that legislation results in practical and workable solutions on the ground. This means policies and strategies need to be joined up and not left to act in their own silos. Many other crimes covered by the Ending Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, such as rape, forced marriage, FGM and stalking, overlap and are connected with domestic abuse. It is remiss that we are discussing this very welcome and progressive Bill to help combat domestic violence and yet there is no mention of the VAWG strategy. It is something that a number of organisations working in this space have highlighted as a gap. This short amendment neatly remedies this issue and would also help ensure compliance with Article 7 of the Istanbul convention. It is win-win, and I hope my noble friend the Minister will consider it favourably.
Before I sit down—or metaphorically sit down—I would like to add a comment about Amendment 186, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which is also in this group. In his very moving speech at Second Reading, he reminded us that
“one third of victims of domestic abuse are men, but only 4% of victims being supported by local domestic violence services are men.”—[Official Report, 5/1/21; col. 36.]
It is important that we work hard to uncover the extent of all hidden abuse and, as I have said before, have a zero-tolerance response, regardless of age or gender.
My Lords, I metaphorically rise to speak to Amendment 185. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for outlining the issues so clearly. It is a real honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and I am delighted to have added my name to Amendment 185. I do not want to repeat what they have eloquently said already, all of which I agree with.
The UK is party to international treaties and conventions that make it clear that we must deliver a co-ordinated response and integrated measures to end violence against women and girls. Amendment 185, as we have heard, simply seeks to ensure good join-up: the statutory guidance issued alongside the Bill must be linked to any violence against women and girls framework.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for a good meeting recently to discuss the need for statutory guidance to include an understanding of different faith contexts regarding violence against women and girls, as there is much good work being done, not least by the Faith and VAWG Coalition, which is well-known to the domestic abuse commissioner-designate. I am grateful to the Minister for her deep listening and I look forward to faith groups continuing to work with officials and Ministers.
With Amendment 185, I ask that similar attention is paid to joining up the vital work of the Ending Violence Against Women and Girls strategy and the Domestic Abuse Bill. It is vital that this is done, as we have heard.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 186 in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. As before, this addresses the same cause as our previous amendment that applied to the guidance. As debated before, domestic abuse experienced by men, and abuse in same-sex relationships, can be of quite a different nature. Just as the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, is trying to ensure a recognition, with her Amendment 173, that the sort of abuse that women in heterosexual relationships experience is of a different nature and volume from others, we are trying to ensure that, even though less in quantity and different in nature, the needs of men experiencing domestic abuse and abuse in same-sex couples are in the guidance, so that matters that pertain to their circumstances are addressed in the particular.
This amendment iterates that one-third of those facing abuse are male. I remember being surprised the first time I heard that figure by the level of domestic abuse directed towards men, when this was in my portfolio at the Home Office and I visited male refuges and services. Of course, women suffer two-thirds of domestic abuse, and perhaps we are more familiar with that scenario, but we think it is important to have the proportion on the record, for what is not counted may not count. If our earlier amendment and this are incorporated, it just becomes a statement of fact and is there to simply meet different needs, not to reduce the importance of the gendered aspects of violence against women.
Guidance is tremendously important, regardless of numbers or proportions. As the experience is so very different for men or those in same-sex relationships, it therefore requires very different support and different solutions. Women in heterosexual relationships who are being abused have a different experience: often, their abuse is repeated and severe, and it often includes sexual violence. However, men’s experience where their female partner abuses them is often complicated by old male norms, where “real men don’t complain”, or they are afraid that it makes them less of a man. This is not always the case, but it is clearly a very different scenario for men in that situation.
For those in same-sex relationships, domestic abuse is actually more likely to occur in homosexual couples than in heterosexual couples. Again, the issues and the remedies must be differentiated and addressed. Even today, with the vast strides forward, from civil partnerships to same-sex marriage, members of the LGBT community can experience a level of stress that is relevant only to LGBT people.
A gay, male American victim of domestic abuse said, “I never identified it as domestic violence due to the images out there being about domestic violence only being an issue experienced by heterosexual women”. While I recognise that the Government are trying to steer clear of gendering the Bill and understand their desire to do so, the experiences of those who suffer domestic abuse, be they men or women in heterosexual relationships, same-sex or other relationships, require specific and different guidance to address their experiences and their needs.
My Lords, I would like to speak to Amendment 186, and I would also like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for being so honest and open about his own experience.
At Second Reading, a number of noble Lords spoke about Erin Pizzey, who set up the first ever refuge for women and deserves much credit for doing so. It was good to see her being acknowledged in the context of this Bill, because the truth is that you do not hear much about Erin Pizzey anymore. Once she began campaigning on behalf of male victims of domestic abuse, she was pretty much airbrushed out of history. This is not the time to get into the whys and wherefores of that, but it shows how the facts were forgotten as the debate became more politicised.
As far as I can see, this amendment is simply stating a fact. It does not ignore the reality that the majority of victims are female; it simply seeks to acknowledge
“that one third are male, and that some are in same sex relationships”.
Of course, this figure may change, so it could be difficult to be so specific on the face of the Bill. But I think the aim is a good one—to make sure that in recognising that women are disproportionately affected we do not forget that there are other victims of domestic abuse. We do not want inadvertently to diminish the voice of others or discourage them from coming forward, as was mentioned by the last speaker. Let us not forget that the aim of this Bill is to encourage and protect all victims of domestic abuse.
My Lords, on an earlier day in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, said:
“The Bill seeks to raise the profile of domestic abuse in all its forms, and the wide definition should therefore help to clarify that wide-ranging nature for all involved in the criminal justice system.”—[Official Report, 3/2/21; col. 2286.]
I am increasingly concerned that this notion of profile-raising and these wide definitions are doing the opposite of clarifying and may unintentionally muddy the waters and see the legislation opened up as a vehicle to push a wide range of politically driven ideologies and hobby horses.
Here, we have what looks to be straightforward: the linkage of domestic abuse to the violence against women and girls agenda. These may seem obvious things to link. Certainly, I am of an age that I remember when this was a feminist issue. In some ways, it was simpler and there was more clarity when we talked of domestic violence—not abuse—and “battered wives” and “battered women.” I understand this legislation wants to be scrupulously gender neutral, but I have felt at times that this approach means erasing the reality that women are predominantly the victims of abuse, especially violent abuse. But I understand the Government’s desire to ensure equality under the law and to avoid as unhelpful the group victimhood of women or the labelling of all men as potential perpetrators. Also, we have greater knowledge now. We know that male partners can be victims, that women can be perpetrators and that same-sex relationships can be abusive. All that means we have a more inclusive approach.
To help clarify, one could argue that what is required is more information and data so that we have incontrovertible stats about who are victims, who are perpetrators and so on. However, even this endeavour can become mired in ideological positioning. I was reminded of this when, in an early Committee sitting discussing Amendment 146, data collection became jumbled up, I thought quite inappropriately, with a discussion about whether misogyny should be a hate crime—by the way, when we discuss that as a proposed new law, I will oppose it. Regardless, that discussion revealed the pitfalls of muddling up contentious political arguments with lawmaking.
After all, even if we decide, or the facts prove, that women are largely the victims of abuse by men, it is not for this law or even this House to decide why that is true. This was clarified again for me in that discussion of misogyny, when no clear definition of it was given yet it was argued that misogyny led to specific hate-based violence against women and girls. For example, in that exchange, the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, quoting the White Ribbon Campaign, noted
“one in five British men thinks that feminism has gone ‘too far’”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 54.]
as an example of misogyny on the rise. She then cited HOPE not hate, saying that online misogyny and interaction with men’s rights groups could be a gateway to and a recruiting tool for extreme racist and far-right hate groups. This argument is invalid because, in reality, it is a slippery slope to demonising men with political views that we disapprove of, who are labelled as being on the road to being abusers.
The politics around women’s issues are just not so black and white, and the Bill should steer clear of them. Indeed, while about one in five men think that feminism has gone too far, there are actually aspects of today’s feminism that I think have gone too far and are hugely problematic—maybe I have got internalised misogyny. Let us put it this way: I do not always share the orthodoxies of contemporary feminism.
Conversely, when we are talking about violence aimed at women and girls, many feminist friends of mine would argue that one of the rising examples of misogyny and abuse aimed at women is now coming forward from the toxic discussions surrounding the orthodoxies put forward by trans activists. I say “trans activists” and not “trans people” because there is a distinction between the two—a huge chasm, indeed.
Watch the sparks fly, the misogynist abuse flow and the threats come your way if you try to be a supporter of the writer J. K. Rowling or the SNP’s Joanna Cherry, arguing for the wrong views on gender, identity or— pertinently to this discussion—the need for single-sex spaces, such as women’s refuges, and on refusing to open up those spaces, or the delivery of intimate services for females, to those who identify as, but are not biologically, female.
I say this and try to look at a number of examples of where things are contentious because these matters are highly sensitive and difficult, and I simply do not want this Bill to get sidetracked by them. As such, I think that the Minister should avoid all the political agendas when drawing up this legislation and keep it simple: get the bad guys or bad girls, but keep away from the politics.
My Lords, these three short amendments bring together some very big debates around the Bill—much as the overall Bill has been welcomed from all sides of the House. I state my position as a feminist, as I have been since age five—and that is a trans-inclusive feminist.
I will begin with what I think is the easy amendment of this group: Amendment 185, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and backed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. It concerns joining up government policy and ensuring that any strategy to end violence against women and girls is thought of in the guidance around this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, said, this is a bottom-line, very simple approach. It asks that government thinking be joined-up and not be split into silos.
The Istanbul convention, which the Government are explicitly trying to comply with through this legislation, seeks
“to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and the private sphere”.
This amendment is very much in line with that approach.
We come now to Amendment 173 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. I very much agree with and support the broad intention of this amendment, particularly the first part of it. It is important to ensure that the Bill is not gender-neutral. The Bill must make it clear that domestic violence and abuse are perpetrated overwhelmingly by men against women. I am indebted to the Women Against Rape and the Support Not Separation coalitions for drawing my attention to figures from the Office for National Statistics from 2018: in the year ending in March, 92% of defendants in domestic abuse-related prosecutions were men, while 83% of victims were women and 95% of calls to domestic abuse hotlines were made by women. Gender-neutrality is at risk of hiding the nature of violence and the nature of our patriarchal society, and enabling perpetrators, sometimes in tit-for-tat claims, to then suggest that they are victims themselves.
However, on the wording of Amendment 173, I am not comfortable with the final phrase, which identifies domestic abuse as
“a subset of violence against women and girls.”
This is where I come to Amendment 186 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I agree with his broad intention, because the fact is that there are significant numbers of male victims of domestic abuse. I share with others the concerns about expressing that statistic—and the statistic in the amendment is very much contested—although I acknowledge that the figures I read out earlier may be influenced by a lack of understanding of domestic abuse against male victims and by social stereotypes.
None the less, I think we need to not be gender-neutral in this Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, said, the Government are trying to steer clear of gendering the Bill, but we are a society in which gender is a major characteristic. This has huge impacts on people’s power, access to resources and risk of domestic abuse. If the Bill does not recognise that fact, then I suggest it is failing to meet our obligations under the Istanbul convention.
My Lords, the first and perhaps most obvious thing to say is that, following the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, scratching from this group, I am the only man speaking here. If the Committee will allow me, I am going to take this very carefully.
I thank my noble friend Lady Featherstone and the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger and Lady Sanderson of Welton, for their support. I want to carefully go through what the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, said, before getting on to my substantive remarks. She said that domestic abuse disproportionately affects women. Clearly, it does. She also felt that the ONS figures took no account of coercive control. On where men are likely to be able to use their power to exert control over women, there are certain circumstances where coercive control is more in the hands of the man than the woman. However, on the other hand, it does not require physical strength, for example. I am not sure how much including coercive control would change the dial on the statistics. Speaking for myself and the abuse that I suffered, coercive control was the major part of that abuse.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, talked about higher levels of femicide; I will talk about homicides where there are male victims in my main remarks. She talked about violence directed against women because they are women. Clearly, that is the definition of violence against women and girls, but my position is that that is not the definition of domestic abuse—and this is the Domestic Abuse Bill. Agreeing almost completely with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, I would say that an accurate description of domestic abuse is not, to use the expression of the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, that it is a subset of violence against women and girls.
I accept far more the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. She explained that her amendment would mean that the guidance should take into account any strategy to end violence against women and girls. I agree that it makes no sense for any guidance issued under this Bill not to take account of any strategy to end violence against women and girls, as there is a substantial, but not exclusive, overlap between the two.
Amendment 173 requires the Secretary of State to take into account the evidence that domestic abuse affects women disproportionately and, as I have just said, is a subset of violence against women and girls. I accept that two-thirds of the victims of reported domestic violence cases are women and that, as a result, it can be said that domestic abuse disproportionately affects women—there is no dispute about that. It is also therefore a fact that one-third of victims of domestic abuse are men. Domestic abuse is not a subset of violence against women and girls in the sense that it is not exclusively, or even overwhelmingly, the result of male violence against women.
It has been suggested that you cannot rely on the statistics. Noble Lords will be familiar with the alleged connection between lies and statistics, but I will give the Committee some more. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, talked about wanting incontrovertible facts. In the area of domestic violence, I do not think that incontrovertible facts exist. We know that domestic abuse is common, but it is often hidden and difficult to quantify. Half of male victims fail to tell anyone that they are the victim of domestic abuse.
I was a senior police officer when I was subjected to domestic violence that caused cuts and bruises, where I was kicked and punched by my abusive partner—legally, an assault causing wounding, punishable with a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. I did not report it to the police, and I did not even tell my own parents, such was the shame and fear of retribution from my abusive partner that I felt at the time.
The information that I have been provided with—I am grateful to the ManKind Initiative for its work in this area—shows that male victims are far more likely to report that the perpetrator of domestic abuse was female, in 60% of cases, compared with 1% of cases where the abuser was male. Of course, female victims were more likely to report that the perpetrator was male, in 56% of cases, but also that more than 2% of perpetrators were female. The Crime Survey for England and Wales for 2017-18 recorded 695,000 male victims of domestic abuse, compared with 1,310,000 female victims. If these statistics are correct, a significant amount of domestic abuse is perpetrated by women.
These statistics should, however, be treated with caution. A relatively large proportion of victims said that they did not wish to identify the sex of the perpetrator or that they did not know. A third of male victims did not want to tell the ONS what the sex of the perpetrator was, and almost 40% of female victims did not want to declare the sex of the perpetrator in cases of domestic abuse. The latest officially verifiable statistics from the Scottish Crime and Justice survey—we have to go north of the border for the collection of data on same-sex relationships—showed that between 10% and 12% of male victims of partner abuse were in same-sex relationships; 88% of male victims of domestic abuse claimed that the perpetrator was female; and figures for domestic abuse recorded by Police Scotland showed that 18% of victims who contacted the police were male.
The ONS produced detailed homicide statistics for the period April 2012 to March 2015 for a bespoke piece of research on homicide. These show that, over a three-year period, 38 men—a far, far fewer number than female victims—were definitely known to have been the victim of a homicide by an intimate partner or an ex-partner. Of those 38 men who died, 33 were killed by a woman and five were killed by a man.
Of course, I am not attempting to hide that male violence is a major issue in society and that male violence against women and girls is a major problem. I accept that there is a power relationship between women and men, and that women are predominantly the carers and protectors of children and, on the whole, poorer—especially single mothers. They are therefore more vulnerable to economic abuse.
I gratefully acknowledge the work of women’s groups, particularly Women against Rape, with which I have been in dialogue, in bringing about positive change in relation to domestic abuse. We would not be here today debating this Bill if it were not for women organising to end male violence against women and girls. Male and female victims of same-sex domestic abuse would not have the support and protection they have today were it not for campaigners fighting to end male violence against women. What I am questioning, however, is whether all domestic violence is a gendered crime, the result of sex inequality, as the first amendment in this group suggests.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 173 in the name of my noble friend Lady Gale, who has done so much to support and defend the rights of women during her career in Wales and in the wider United Kingdom. She made many powerful points in her speech, urging an holistic and joined-up approach to this issue, and she remains steadfast in her support for the adoption of the Istanbul convention. I also closely associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I, too, was a feminist from my early childhood years, having been raised single-handedly by a resourceful and formidable Welsh man.
Wales has already adopted a gender definition in relation to domestic abuse. The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 includes all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls, including domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence, stalking, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, FGM, trafficking and sexual exploitation, including through the sex industry, and sexual harassment in work and public life.
At a global, European and national level, violence against women, including domestic abuse and sexual violence, operates as a means of social control that maintains unequal power relations between women and men, and reinforces women’s subordinate status. It is explicitly linked to systematic discrimination against women and girls. Failing to make the connections between the different violence that women and girls experience and how it is explicitly linked to their unequal position in society can hinder the effectiveness of interventions and prevention work. It is also important to recognise that different groups of women experience multiple inequalities, which lead to further marginalisation.
There are significant differences in the frequency and nature of abuse experienced by men and the abuse experienced by women, notwithstanding the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I take on board many of the points that he raised. However, the gender of both victim and perpetrator influences the behaviour, risk and severity of harm caused. Abuse perpetrated by men against women is a quantitively and qualitatively distinct phenomenon. Women and girls experience violence and abuse in their everyday lives at higher rates.
As we have heard, though it is worth repeating, more than 1.7 million women in the UK have experienced domestic sexual assault and rape. That is more than 12 times the number of men who have experienced this trauma. In 2019, five times more women than men were killed by their partner or ex-partner. Over the past few years, over 96% of women killed in domestic homicides—almost all—were killed by men. Of the men who were killed in domestic homicides, more than half were killed by other men. We know that domestic abuse impacts everyone: men, women and children. But we also know that it is women and girls who suffer the most frequent and severe abuse. It is important to acknowledge that to enable practice and support to be tailored to the specific needs of the person experiencing abuse, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.
I also speak in support of Amendment 185 in the name of my noble friend Lady Lister, which requires the statutory guidance to take account of the Government’s strategy on violence against women and girls, alongside the existing requirement that the guidance takes account of the fact that the majority of domestic abuse victims and survivors are female. As she said so expertly and with much learned experience in this field, it is clear that the Government intend their revised VAWG strategy, currently going through consultation, to be separate from their domestic abuse strategy. Many supporters feel that a 10-year cross-party consensus on the need for an integrated approach to tackling domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG is now broken. Amendment 185 would allow that position to be reversed. I urge the Government to listen to my learned noble friend Lady Lister and adopt her amendment, along with the amendment of my noble friend Lady Gale, who has done so much to enshrine the rights of women becoming the law of our lands.
My Lords, I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate because between them they have achieved the impossible of getting the balance right. It is very difficult to recognise that most victims are female while getting the legislation and guidance right.
I mention in particular the words of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who is my friend. As the only man speaking on this group, he recognised that the Bill would not be here if it were not for women. His personal accounts are always really moving and it takes tremendous bravery to recount them. Many people are still too traumatised to even speak about abuse and many accounts will remain unheard. We are very lucky to hear his account.
We know that victims’ needs must be at the centre of our approach to domestic abuse. They are individuals with individual needs. That includes an understanding and appreciation of their gender and, of course, sexuality. The latest Office for National Statistics report showed 4% of men aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse. Of course that figure, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, will be much higher as domestic abuse is so often a hidden harm, and it is too often underreported.
For a multitude of factors, including often misplaced cultural norms of masculinity, and how that is perpetuated, male victims sadly feel they cannot report their experiences, whether to specialist support services or the police. There are also some very specific issues that are unique to the experiences of LGBT victims, which include but of course are not limited to the threat of disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity to family.
This is one of the reasons we have a gender-neutral definition. This approach is absolutely critical to ensuring that all victims and all types of domestic abuse are sufficiently captured, and that nobody—absolutely nobody—is inadvertently excluded from protection, support or accessing the help that they need. As an aside, the Istanbul convention definition itself is gender neutral. That is why, in the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73, we detail the unique considerations among other issues, including expanding on the range of abuse and the forms that it can take, and on specific communities and groups, such as male victims and those in same-sex relationships, as well as, of course, minority ethnic and migrant groups.
It might be an opportunity to read out Clause 73, which gives powers to the Secretary of State
“to issue guidance about domestic abuse, etc … The Secretary of State may issue guidance about … the effect of any provision made by or under”
certain sections of the Bill, as well as,
“other matters relating to domestic abuse in England and Wales.”
Clause 73(3) states:
“Any guidance issued under this section must … take account of the fact that the majority of victims … (excluding children treated as victims by virtue of section 3) are female.”
I would like to reassure noble Lords that there has been extensive engagement on the statutory guidance. This is exactly why we published it in draft in July. A series of thematic working groups has been undertaken, where the focus has been on the unique needs of male victims, and separately on LGBT victims. This engagement and consultation on the guidance will continue following Royal Assent. I would like to thank all noble Lords for providing feedback and for their thoughts on the guidance to date. Let me be clear; this approach in ensuring that we are taking into account all victims is one we will consider beyond the Bill in the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy.
Amendment 185, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, seeks to build on the provisions in Clause 73 by seeking to ensure that any guidance issued under this clause takes into consideration any strategy to end violence against women and girls adopted by a Minister of the Crown.
Noble Lords will know that in 2016 the Government published the violence against women and girls strategy, which ran until 2020. The Government intend to publish a new violence against women and girls strategy, followed by a complementary domestic abuse strategy. We launched a call for evidence to inform a new VAWG—as we call it—strategy on 10 December and we very much welcome contributions from noble Lords.
The main argument raised by proponents of the amendment centres around the gendered nature of domestic abuse and the Government’s decision not to produce a single, integrated violence against women and girls strategy to include domestic abuse, in recognition of the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Proponents argue that this approach ignores the reality of women’s experiences and threatens to undermine specialist service provision, which takes an integrated approach to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls. Concerns have also been raised that the domestic abuse definition is not gender specific.
I will take this opportunity to reiterate that the Government fully recognise that domestic abuse is both a cause and a consequence of power inequality, with women disproportionately the victims. Women are more likely to experience repeat victimisation, be physically injured or killed as result of domestic abuse, and experience non-physical abuse—including emotional and financial abuse—than men. Neither of these strategies detracts from that.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that around two-thirds of all victims of domestic abuse are female, meaning that around a third are male. That is why the definition of domestic abuse is not gender specific, as male victims of this abhorrent crime must also be recognised and protected. This point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Interestingly, he also said that a third of male victims of domestic abuse did not want to reveal the sex of their perpetrator. Accompanying documents such as the statutory guidance and the domestic abuse strategy will make the gendered nature of domestic abuse clear.
Late last year, the Government announced their intention to publish two distinct but complementary strategies on domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. This does not mean that we do not recognise domestic abuse as a gendered crime. Indeed, our intention in producing a discrete domestic abuse strategy is to create space to focus on the high-harm, high-prevalence form of violence against women and girls—or VAWG—while allowing space for lesser-understood VAWG crimes to be considered in the separate VAWG strategy. The two strategies will work together to drive down VAWG crimes and their impact on society. Both strategies will continue to recognise the gendered nature of these crimes.
The Government fully understand that domestic abuse is, at its core, a subset of wider crimes against women and girls, and I can assure noble Lords that these two strategies will not stand alone but rather will complement and cross-reference each other, sharing much of the same framework and evidence. As such, the Government do not consider Amendment 185 to be necessary, as none of the wider work carried out by the Government is seeking to de-gender domestic abuse, and Clause 73(3), as it stands, is sufficient.
I hope that I have reassured all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and I thank them again for their contributions.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister—from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I call the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
My Lords, I strongly agree with the Minister that domestic abuse should be gender neutral. I particularly support the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, in what she said about Amendment 186. But I ask the Minister to take into account in the proposed strategy that some gay men suffer from serious coercive control from family members trying to force them into a forced marriage.
I fully recognise that point. I also recognise that conversion therapy might take place, not just in certain cultures but in this country as well, to try to convert gay men. A lot goes on, including, as the noble and learned Baroness said, families forcing people down a route against their wishes.
I have received another request to speak. I will call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, first, and then the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, I want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that he is not alone. I support the powerful speeches made by my noble friends Lady Gale and Lady Wilcox, without detracting in any way from what the noble Lord had to say.
I want to raise with the Minister the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made about the Government’s desire for this to be a gender-neutral Bill. The Minister spoke on this very carefully and said within the forthcoming strategy there would be gender-specific elements. The question I want to put back to her is: if it is okay to have gender-specific elements in a strategy, why on earth can that not be covered in the legislation?
This is prompted by the publication of the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill that is being debated in the Commons tomorrow. That Bill excludes the words “women” or “mothers”, instead referring to a “person” who is pregnant and a “person” who
“has given birth to a child.”
My question to the Minister is about whether the Government have decided not to use the term “woman” in future legislation. Does she share my concern that there is a risk of delegitimising specific concerns about women, and that women’s hard-won rights over the past six decades are in danger of dissipation as a result?
My Lords, I think what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just said could be the subject of a Question for Short Debate or even quite a long debate in your Lordships’ House, so complex is what he has just said so simply. By making reference to gender in the guidance but also having a gender-neutral definition, we recognise two things: first, that domestic abuse is mainly perpetrated against women, but taking into account that men, such the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who outlined his story so eloquently, can also be victims of domestic abuse. I said at the beginning of my speech that our aim is to protect and support all victims of domestic abuse, so I hope that what the Government have done, notwithstanding the legislation in the Commons, has struck that balance right.
My Lords, I very much appreciate the Minister’s sensitive response to the amendment, but I asked her two questions and I do not think she really answered them. First, when all the stakeholders—all the people working in this area—think that it is a retrograde step to separate, even if they are complementary, domestic abuse and VAWG strategies, why do the Government think that they are right and everyone else is wrong?
My other question was why the Government think that separate strategies will be more effective than an integrated strategy, which could have separate strands within it? The Minister said that my amendment—or our amendment, because it is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, to whom I am very grateful—is not necessary, but she has not said anything that convinces me that there is an argument against including it in the draft guidance. It is not about just gender neutrality; it is about integration, coherence and a holistic strategy.
I do not know how much she can say now, but it suggests that we may have to come back with this in order to get a more plausible answer about why this should not go into the guidance alongside what has already been put in it by the Government on gender.
I understand what the noble Baroness says. She made a point about VAWG versus DA. Of course, domestic abuse is a type of violence against women and girls, although violence against women and girls goes far wider than domestic abuse. We are going to be bringing forward a domestic abuse strategy later this year. I can see the noble Baroness shaking her head, and I do not think I am going to convince her at this stage.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I also thank Refuge for their briefings and support. As the Minister said, I think we have got the right balance in our debate today. I totally agree with my noble friend Lady Lister, the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester speaking in support of Amendment 185. They were criticising the Bill for being a non-gendered one, or gender neutral, when most people have spoken in support and said we should recognise that.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, first for being the only male voice—although my noble friend Lord Hunt was able to put his views in, and I thank him for that. I agree with a lot of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said. He said that it is not anybody’s intention to say that men do not suffer from domestic abuse and are not victims, because they are, and we know that women can be perpetrators. I do not want to undermine that in any shape or form. The noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, was raising this issue very strongly and was absolutely right: we should recognise all victims of domestic abuse.
The purpose of the amendments today was to illustrate that it is a gendered crime. Women are the majority of victims and men are the perpetrators, but that does not exclude recognising that there are male victims and female perpetrators. We have had a very good debate today. I am pleased with everyone who has taken part and put their views forward. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 173 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 174. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
174: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Code of practice: employer’s duty of care
(1) In this section—(a) “worker” means an individual who has entered into or works under a contract of employment or any other contract, whether express or implied and (if it is express) whether oral or in writing, whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual; and(b) “employer” means the person to whom the worker undertakes to perform the work or services in question.(2) The Secretary of State must issue a code of practice (a “code”) containing provision designed to ensure that persons affected by domestic abuse who are workers receive appropriate care and support from their employer in relation to their work.(3) A code may include provision requiring an employer to make reasonable adjustments for the purpose of ensuring that persons affected by domestic abuse are not, by reason of being so affected, placed at a substantial disadvantage in relation to their work in comparison with persons who are not so affected.(4) The Secretary of State may revoke or amend a code.(5) Before issuing, revoking or amending a code the Secretary of State must—(a) issue proposals, and(b) consult the Commissioner and such other persons as the Secretary of State thinks appropriate.(6) Failure to comply with a provision of a code does not of itself make a person liable to civil or criminal proceedings; but a code shall be—(a) admissible in evidence in criminal or civil proceedings, and(b) taken into account by a court or tribunal in any case in which it appears to the court or tribunal to be relevant, including (in particular) any case in which a question arises as to whether an employer is in breach of a duty of care owed to a worker.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice containing provision designed to ensure that persons affected by domestic abuse who are workers receive appropriate care and support from their employer.
My Lords, Amendment 174 standing in my name spells out the duty of care that any reasonable employer might expect to undertake in looking after an employee suffering from domestic abuse in a code of practice which the Secretary of State must issue.
Work is often the only respite for a victim from abuses that they are suffering at home and the only opportunity they might get to contact help agencies. Work provides, as well as financial reward and escape, a sense of purpose and self-worth which can be severely undermined at home. Workers are more productive and effective when they can bring their whole selves to work. Employers have a duty of care which they would be expected to exercise in other circumstances, such as sickness or bereavement, and give time off accordingly.
This amendment is not stipulating any additional cost requirement in terms of time off. It is laying down the expectation on the part of workers that, in these circumstances, the employer will make reasonable adjustments and not disadvantage them further because what they are going through may not enable them to achieve peak performance—just as if they were ill or had been bereaved, and so on. It does not seek to criminalise or penalise any employer who does not comply with the code, although it can be taken into consideration in any subsequent court case where they have not exercised their duty of care.
I hope this amendment is pushing against an open door: the Government recently published their review, Workplace Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse, which covers what employers can do to tackle all forms of domestic abuse. The review identifies a lack of awareness of warning signs of domestic abuse, a stigma surrounding talking about it and a lack of knowledge of what actions to take to help. Having a code will enable workers to feel they can come forward for help and that they will not be stigmatised. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is all over this, having already produced guidelines with the Equality and Human Rights Commission last September.
Amendment 182, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Hunt, adds paid leave to the support employers will be expected to give. The CIPD and the union Unison are also recommending paid leave, but I have stopped short of that in this amendment, not because I disagree with paid leave but because, given the degree of ignorance of some employers, I would prefer time to be given for awareness and understanding to bed in before potentially alienating unenlightened employers by hitting them in their pockets. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to support Amendment 174, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. As she explained, the amendment will require the Secretary of State to
“issue a code of practice … containing provision designed to ensure that persons affected by domestic abuse who are workers receive appropriate care and support from their employer”.
There is an important issue here: as the noble Baroness told us, work may often be the only place where a victim can escape their abuser. An abuser, of course, may want to disrupt and cause the victim as many difficulties as possible, maybe with a view to driving them out of work, to make them more economically dependent on them or to drive them to destitution, so they are forced to rely further on the abusive partner.
The code is important because it will provide guidance to employers on good practice, on what the employer should be doing to get this right. Paragraph (6) of the proposed new clause puts this on a statutory footing and underpins the intent of the amendment. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of employers will want to do the correct thing and support their employee who is having difficulties, struggling and being abused, but they may not know what they could or should do. In that sense, the code is an important tool, because it will give the employer the guidance and direction needed to make, as the noble Baroness, said, those reasonable adjustments to support their employee.
My Amendment 182 seeks to put a requirement in the Bill that guidance provided by employers should include what support they should give the victims of abuse, including, as we have heard, the provision of paid leave. This is only guidance: in some ways, it is trying to do something similar to what Amendments 174 is doing but with the addition of paid leave, through guidance, rather than a code. It may or may not be more attractive to the Government; we will wait and see.
We must help victims of abuse. If they want to be in, or remain in, work, we have a duty to help them do that. It helps with their economic security, financial stability and even financial independence. When we talk about the issues in the Bill relating to domestic abuse, it is all about control—making people unable to be independent and completely dependent on their abuser. One of our tasks with the Bill must be to identify the points where the abuser seeks to take control and stop them exerting that control.
The relationship between employers and employees is important. The way in which employers can take reasonable action, make reasonable adjustments and take reasonable steps for victims of abuse on their payroll must be central to the aims of the Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendments 174 and 182.
In my former role as Victims’ Commissioner, I had the pleasure of meeting victims and survivors of domestic abuse, but it saddened me to hear that their workplace was the only thing that let them down, with no support from their colleagues. As has already been said, the workplace should be safe and somewhere where they feel they can escape from domestic abuse and coercive control. It should feel like a safe haven.
I have also met many victims who have gone back to work because, financially, they cannot afford to take time off. I was amazed to hear the story of a victim who was so upset that one of her colleagues went to the boss, saying that she could not cope. The victim was called into the office and asked to kindly keep her emotions to herself, as she was upsetting colleagues in the workplace. That story has never left me. It is hard enough to hold a job down, especially with the global pandemic, as we do not know what we will face when the lockdown is lifted and we are all able to go back to some kind of normality, but during the lockdown, victims of domestic abuse have experienced life in a pressure cooker environment. Therefore, we need to look at the workplace, and that is why I support both amendments.
There is a duty of care in the workplace. Workspaces, including the desk, the chair and the height of the monitor, have to be assessed. Surely it would be good if the designate domestic abuse commissioner worked with the Secretary of State on a code of practice to ensure that employers have a duty of care to give support to a person who is suffering domestic abuse.
We know that financial independence gives victims a way of empowering themselves and that a lack of such independence makes leaving a violent home a hard struggle. I know from speaking to victims who have left their home and gone into a refuge that they have had to give up their businesses and their independence. If they have money, they still have to pay the mortgage, and that is a hold that the perpetrator has on them.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of going to a very early breakfast meeting with Jess Phillips from the other place. We had a meeting with the New Zealand MP Jan Logie, who was fighting to get paid leave for domestic abuse victims. I do not want to make too heavy a point about that but I applaud her success in getting that through the New Zealand Parliament after seven years of struggling to have her voice heard. She received applause in Parliament for getting that measure passed. Unfortunately, we know only too well that perpetrators like to use a pincer movement on their victims, especially with coercive control. As I have said in other speeches, they want to part their victims from their family and friends.
Our workplace is supposed to be somewhere where we can have open conversations. There might be a safe mentor whom you can talk to and unload the pressure so that you can go back to your home and relationship, having had some of the stress removed—albeit you will go through the same cycle again.
I support the amendments. I ask the Government to look at producing guidance on this issue, because we will see more and more people suffering financially, physically and mentally, and the perpetrator will enjoy every bit of that unless we empower the victim.
My Lords, I am glad to put my name to my noble friend Lord Kennedy’s Amendment 182, but I also welcome Amendment 174 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. I see the two as complementary. I remind the Committee of my membership of Unison. I am pleased that we are returning to debating these really important workforce issues.
Experiencing domestic abuse can significantly affect a person’s work life as well as their home life. Victims may have to relocate, which impacts on their ability to get to work, and the effects of the abuse may affect their performance or ability to work at all. As I said in the debate on the group of amendments beginning with Amendment 57, domestic abuse is a trade union and workplace issue as much as any other form of abuse that affects workers’ conditions and income. Home and work issues cannot always be neatly separated, and abusive, violent behaviour does not take place only in the home; it frequently crosses over into the workplace, where victims experience stalking, threats, harassment and sometimes worse.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, just said, work can equally be a lifeline to independence and survival for victims of domestic abuse. They are able to leave their homes to go elsewhere and can maintain a level of income independent of the perpetrator. All victims should surely feel safe in the knowledge that they can take action to put their lives back on track, with their employment secure, and that they are protected while at work. I agree with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, which seeks the issuing by the Secretary of State of a code of practice. I would also like to see a guarantee that employers will be provided with guidance about the provision of paid leave, which is reflected in my noble friend’s amendment. Guidance really does go hand in hand with a code of practice.
Granting paid leave is one of the most effective actions an employer can take to support workers who are the victims of domestic abuse. Time off allows them the time and space to address the impact of the abuse, such as by receiving medical treatment, finding safe accommodation and attending court or police dates. The great thing is that some employers understand this. During the lockdown, we saw the introduction of safe spaces for the victims of domestic abuse by businesses across the UK, including Boots, Superdrug and Morrisons. This demonstrates the huge impact that businesses can have in supporting victims of domestic abuse. Some employers have policies in place that introduce other practical measures. For example, Vodafone plans to offer up to 10 days’ paid leave to victims of domestic abuse and to provide specialist training for human resources managers to enable them to support employees experiencing violence or domestic abuse.
Hestia is part of a coalition of domestic abuse charities and organisations carrying out a programme called Everyone’s Business, which aims to encourage as many employers as possible to consider how they can support employees being impacted by domestic abuse, so there is something to build on. Despite this, only 5% of employers have in place a domestic abuse policy of any kind. A provision in the Domestic Abuse Bill to make it mandatory for employers to provide care and support for employees suffering abuse has the potential to make a significant practical difference to victims and survivors alike. The domestic abuse commissioner supports the inclusion in the Bill of paid leave and guidance, and I hope very much that the Government will give this further consideration.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and I agree with him that these two amendments, Amendment 174 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and Amendment 182 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Hunt, are complementary and, I would add, an essential part of the Bill to make it the complete package. Your Lordships are trying to make the Bill the best that it can be.
I will follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in reflecting on the valuable advice given by the designate domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales throughout the Bill. That advice noted that, while the BEIS best practice guide offers suggestions and advice that pretty much reflects these two amendments, its recommendations are only voluntary. Yet if we look around the world and, as we so often do, at New Zealand, we see an example of a place where this is part of the statutory provision that gives workers the protection they need.
I note the TUC submission to that BEIS review of this issue. It included something that is probably covered by the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, if not explicitly spelled out: the need for flexible working arrangements. We can well understand that, in the turmoil of surviving and escaping domestic abuse, flexible work might well be essential.
I also reflect on the TUC advice about the need to provide what might be called “training in first aid” for staff members, to ensure that those who see evidence of abuse or have abuse disclosed to them know what to do. In that context, I refer to the powerful contribution just made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. Thinking about the suffering of that victim of abuse being so treated in a workplace, it is not enough to say that employers should not behave in that way, as the BEIS guidance currently does; we need statutory provision that says that it is their legal responsibility.
My Lords, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is pretty hard pressed and overloaded, so it is interesting that it chose to work on the subject of domestic abuse at work in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development—the human resources professional body—from which we had a helpful briefing.
We spoke earlier about the impact of domestic abuse at work, about the workplace being a haven, about workplace culture and the importance to both employer and employee of dealing sensitively, appropriately and helpfully with domestic abuse. I regard this as part of occupational health and safety. As has been said, neither amendment seeks direct legislative provision.
Proposed new subsection (2) in Amendment 174, with regard to a code of practice, uses the terms
“appropriate care and support from their employer.”
It is not looking for the employer to solve the problem but to enable access to professional support and give flexibility to accommodate the needs of a victim or survivor. As the CIPD says in respect of its guide, Managing and Supporting Employees Experiencing Domestic Abuse, what employer support could look like includes
“recognising the problem, responding appropriately to disclosure, providing support, and referring to the appropriate help.”
One good outcome of the pandemic is the greater alertness to the various situations in which employees find themselves. I include in that senior staff right up to the top. We sometimes talk as if “the employer” is not made up of human beings. We will all be aware of, or work with, organisations that have a huge range of policies applying to employment and the workplace. They are, in effect, codes of practice. Both amendments identify a gap that should be filled.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and I join those who have already wished the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, a happy birthday. She has had a busy birthday in your Lordships’ House today. I hope that we will finish in time for her to celebrate before the day is over. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for setting out their amendments in the way they did. They bring us on to the role that employers can and should play in supporting employees who are victims of domestic abuse.
The Government agree that employers can play an important role, and that there is more that can be done in this area by working with them to help lift the lid on this often-hidden crime. However, as noble Lords have noted, this is a sensitive area and it is vital to ensure that we have the right approach. That is why, in June last year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched a review into support in the workplace for victims of domestic abuse. This comprised a call for evidence, a literature review and discussions with interested parties and groups to explore the issues in greater depth. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull noted, we published the report from this review last month, on 14 January.
The findings in this report show that, for people experiencing domestic abuse, the workplace can be a place of safety and respite. As my noble friend Lady Newlove said, it is somewhere where they might have a trusted mentor or confidant. They can make the arrangements that they need there and perhaps use a work telephone to contact refuges or other services, which can help them escape their abuser. The review also highlighted the importance of employers responding with empathy and sensitivity to disclosures of domestic abuse, asking the right questions and ensuring that the workplace is a safe place for people to come forward.
The evidence provided to the Government made it clear that victims may also need flexibility to engage with services such as refuges, healthcare, the police and the courts, during their regular working hours. Sometimes that might mean changes to their working location or the type of work that they do in order to ensure their safety. We expect employers to respond with empathy and flexibility to such requests. No victim should need to worry about their employment while they are seeking to leave an abusive situation.
Where victims of domestic abuse need to change their working patterns or locations, they may be able to make use of the existing right to request flexible working, which noble Lords noted. Our review into how employers can support victims of domestic abuse generated some valuable insights, which will be considered when we take forward the commitment that we made in our manifesto to consult on making flexible working the default.
The Government recognise that there is much merit in providing guidance and support to employers on how to support victims of domestic abuse. The review that I mentioned found that, while employers want to support their staff, they may lack the awareness, understanding and capacity to do so. My noble friend Lady Newlove gave an example of an employer who, sadly, got it wrong. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, companies are made up of people; this is first and foremost a human interaction. People want to get it right, but they need to be given the right advice on how to do so. It is also clear that domestic abuse can bring difficult challenges for employers, for example where victims and perpetrators work together in the same place.
The Government want to ensure that employers have the tools and support that they need to support their staff. As set out in our report, therefore, we will work with representatives of victims, employers and workers alike to bring forward proposals in this area. We welcome the positive action that we have already seen across the country. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, mentioned Vodafone, which is one of many employers, including Lloyds and many more, which are showing the way by adopting policies that support victims in the workplace and by raising awareness of domestic abuse as a workplace issue. We will continue to encourage employers to follow suit wherever possible.
In doing that, we recognise and value the good work being done by a variety of organisations, some of which have been mentioned in our debate, to provide support and guidance for employers: for example, the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, Hestia, Public Health England, Business in the Community, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development all provide resources for employers free of charge. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, said, they are all over this, and trade unions are doing important work in this area, as well.
Through our review, the Government have set out a clear course of action to help employers to support victims of domestic abuse. It creates a firm basis on which to make progress. Given that commitment and the findings of the report from last month which I mentioned, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this brief but very important debate today. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, made the point that paid leave is guidance only. That is a very helpful thing; at this incremental stage we are seeking to win over employers rather than beat them down and require them to pay employees who are suffering from domestic violence.
I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, put it very elegantly when she said that we have a code to make the work environment safe and happy, so the code we are talking about would create a good emotional work environment to go with the good physical one. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, made many very good points. He said that domestic abuse is a work issue. It crosses over. As I said in my earlier remarks, you have to be able to bring your whole self to work; you cannot just leave the sad and difficult bits at home.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, raised the need for flexible working in these difficult circumstances. I was pleased by the Minister’s comment that the Government will be bringing forward proposals and are consulting on making flexible working the default. I will be delighted when that day comes and I hope it will not be too far away. My noble friend Lady Hamwee said that these two amendments have identified a gap that should be filled.
I am delighted with the cautious comments of the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, saying that the Government are working with bodies to bring forward proposals. I hope that progress will be forthcoming and less than glacial. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 174 withdrawn.
My Lords, we come now to Amendment 175. Again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.
175: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“School admissions code: duty of Secretary of State
(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months after this section comes into force, secure that the school admissions code issued for England under section 84 of the Schools Standards and Framework Act 1998 (“1998 Act”) contains such provision as the Secretary of State considers necessary to achieve the objective set out in subsection (5).(2) The Secretary of State must secure that the Commissioner is consulted about any proposed provision under subsection (1).(3) The Welsh Ministers must, within six months after this section comes into force, secure that the Welsh Government school admissions code issued under section 84 of the 1998 Act contains such provision as the Welsh Ministers consider necessary to achieve the objective set out in subsection (5).(4) The Welsh Ministers must secure that the Commissioner is consulted about any proposed provision under subsection (3).(5) The objective is that—(a) oversubscription criteria for admission to any school to which the school admissions code applies give the same priority to children falling within subsection (6) as to looked-after children (within the meaning of section 22(1) of the Children Act 1989), and(b) the Code contains appropriate guidance about admission of children who have moved home to avoid domestic abuse or who are otherwise affected by domestic abuse.(6) A child falls within this subsection if the child—(a) is in the care of, or provided with accommodation by, a body exercising a function which, if the body were a local authority, would be a social services function of the kind mentioned in section 22(1)(b) of the Children Act 1989, or(b) has moved home as a result of being affected by domestic abuse.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would extend the duty on local authorities to provide school places for “looked after children” to children who are forced to change schools as a result of domestic abuse.
My Lords, Amendment 175 does the equivalent for school places as my Amendment 52 does for NHS waiting lists. Both look to ensure that children fleeing with a parent from their abuser should not be further disadvantaged in terms of health and education. Specifically, Amendment 175 requires the school admissions code for England to be changed to give children fleeing domestic abuse in a refuge or other similar accommodation, or who have moved home because of domestic abuse, the same priority as looked-after children when there is a waiting list for school places. The equivalent actions should be afforded in Wales and an equivalent amendment provides for that.
I know that in some areas there is huge demand for places in popular schools. Nevertheless, after all they have been through, if these children need to be settled in school, they should not be disadvantaged even further by going to the back of the queue. I beg to move.
Amendment 175, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, would extend the duty on local authorities to provide school places for looked-after children to children who are forced to change schools as a result of domestic abuse. We support this amendment and its objective, which was raised by Jess Phillips MP, the shadow Minister, during the Commons proceedings on the Bill.
The average wait for children who move to obtain a new school place is between four and six months in cases of domestic abuse. That is four to six months away from their peers, without the routine and safety of school, while living in an unfamiliar house or refuge. The alternative would be to continue to attend the school, which is quite possibly an impossible distance away in a location deemed too dangerous for that child to live in. Many parents of such children do not have the required resources or technology to home-school their children—particularly not when they are in a domestic abuse situation, living in temporary accommodation, where children of varying ages and needs can be sharing one room, as may well be the case in a hotel, for example.
The impact of Covid-19 has also demonstrated the importance of schools for not only education, but the provision of food. It is estimated that some 1.3 million children are now dependent on food parcels from their school. Children not enrolled in school cannot access the food parcels provided by them. Schools have remained open for children with special educational needs and those with an education, health and care plan. Schools are integral to referring those with special education needs to the local authority so that they can receive an EHC plan. However, children who are not enrolled in a school do not have access to that safety net and the support that can be provided by schools.
Children who are impacted by domestic abuse and have to move because of it already face enough trauma without also losing out on their education or the safety and security of being in school. I hope we will find from their response that the Government agree.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for taking part in this short but important debate. We firmly believe that all vulnerable children, including those who have been affected by domestic abuse and are currently receiving care or who have had to move home as a result of domestic abuse, should be able to access a school place quickly. We believe that any gaps in their education must be kept to an absolute minimum.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, previously raised the issue of NHS waiting lists where children are compelled to move area as a result of domestic abuse. Amendment 175 seeks to address the issue of changing schools by focusing on the application process for a school place in the normal admissions round—for instance, at the start of reception or year 7. However, children fleeing domestic abuse are more likely to be applying at other times, which, in the current drafting—with the usual caveats about this being a Committee amendment—Amendment 175 does not currently provide for.
The Department for Education has recently consulted on changes to the School Admissions Code to improve the in-year admissions process and fair access protocols to ensure that vulnerable children, specifically including children on a child in need plan or a child protection plan, and those in refuges or safe accommodation, can secure a school place quickly and keep the disruption to their education to an absolute minimum. The new School Admissions Code will provide detailed requirements and guidance for all, particularly vulnerable children moving in-year. The Department for Education proposes to publish this new guidance on fair access protocols, which provide a safety net for the most vulnerable children moving in-year.
We think that these changes and this action, rather than giving joint-highest admission priority alongside looked-after children for the main admission round, will have the greatest impact in achieving what I think lies behind the amendment: ensuring that all vulnerable children can access a school place as quickly as possible, including those who have been affected by domestic abuse. Given the work being undertaken in this area, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for rounding out some of the information as to why we need this small amendment. The average waiting time of four to six months for a child who has fled with a parent from domestic abuse is not acceptable. He outlined very clearly all the reasons why that is the case.
I was quite pleased with what the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, said regarding the new School Admissions Code on fair access protocols. I think he is reasonably confident that this will have the required effect; I very much hope so too. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 175 withdrawn.
Amendments 176 and 177 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to Amendment 177A. Once again, I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
177A: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Impact of online pornography on domestic abuse
(1) Within three months of the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must commission a person appointed by the Secretary of State to investigate the impact of access to online pornography by children on domestic abuse.(2) Within three months of their appointment, the appointed person must publish a report on the investigation which may include recommendations for the Secretary of State.(3) As part of the investigation, the appointed person must consider the extent to which the implementation of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 (online pornography) would prevent domestic abuse, and may make recommendations to the Secretary of State accordingly.(4) Within three months of receiving the report, the Secretary of State must publish a response to the recommendations of the appointed person.(5) If the appointed person recommends that Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 should be commenced, the Secretary of State must appoint a day for the coming into force of that Part under section 118(6) of the Act within the timeframe recommended by the appointed person.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require an investigation into any link between online pornography and domestic abuse with a view to implementing recommendations to bring into effect the age verification regime in the Digital Economy Act 2017 as a means of preventing domestic abuse.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 177A in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord McColl, and the noble Baroness, Lady Healy. This amendment would require the Secretary of State to commission a person to investigate the impact of access to online pornography by children on domestic abuse. It further requires that the appointed person must publish a report on the investigation and that, if they recommend that Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 should be implemented, the Secretary of State must appoint a day for that part coming into force, under Section 118(6) of that Act.
Some may ask why this amendment is central to the Domestic Abuse Bill. During its passage through the other place, the Bill was amended to embrace what is now Clause 65, which very properly removes the defence of consent in cases of rough sex when someone suffers serious injury or death. Embracing this provision, the Bill before the Committee rightly makes it plain that sexual violence is part of domestic abuse. One of the striking things about the debate in the other place that gave rise to Clause 65 is that it was informed by material that made it plain that there is a connection between an interest in experimenting with rough sex practices and the prior consumption of pornography depicting such practices.
Louise Perry of We Can’t Consent to This, the key group that campaigned for Clause 65, said:
“We can’t really ignore the porn factor … It’s there at a click of a button and can be accessed at such a young age. And the algorithms push you into a rabbit hole of more and more extreme stuff.”
The argument for Clause 65 was also informed by Savanta ComRes, which polled 2,049 men in Great Britain between 7 and 10 February last year for Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Scotland. The polling asked the following question:
“Thinking specifically of times you performed slapping, choking, gagging or spitting during consensual sexual activity, to what extent do you think pornography influenced your desire to do so?”
The answers were striking: 57% of those questioned said that it did, of whom 20% said that it influenced them “a great deal”.
I am very pleased that the other place amended the Bill to insert Clause 65, which addresses problems resulting from rough sex practices. However, to date, Parliament has only followed through on the logic of Clause 65 taking rough sex seriously at the level of dealing with the consequences of this form of domestic violence. We have not exhibited the same level of concern in relation to the steps that can be taken to prevent this form of sexual violence in the first place.
We need joined-up thinking here. We need action to prevent injury or death through rough sex, as well as criminal justice measures to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. One of the most basic strategies of prevention in that regard is to protect under-18s from material that normalises the expectation of violence in sexual relationships. Taking the step proposed in the amendment would constitute strategic investment in the next generation to ensure that as children enter adulthood, they do not do so believing that violence is a natural part of sexual relationships, with all that that means for their adult behaviour.
The irony, of course, is that Parliament has passed legislation that protects under-18s from such material on commercial pornographic websites, but the Government have refused to implement it. Had the Government implemented Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017 in 2019, under-18s would now be protected from exposure to pornographic content on pornographic websites, including significant rough-sex material. An interviewee said in a recent government report: “On ‘Pornhub’ you don’t have to look in the rough sex category to get rough sex. They’re just standard videos of men having sex with women by grabbing them by the throat”.
Of course, when the Government announced that they were not going to implement Part 3 in October 2019, they acknowledged only one downside to that approach—that of delay. They suggested that having to wait was worth while because the forthcoming online safety Bill would provide better protection from commercial pornographic sites than Part 3. However, in December 2020, when responding to the online harms consultation, the Government conceded not only that there would be a huge delay in providing protection to under-18s—probably until 2023, possibly even later—but that the alternative means of protecting children from commercial pornographic sites would also be much weaker. In the first instance, the Government confirmed that, unlike Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, the protections afforded under the online harms Bill would engage only with user-generated, not non-user generated, content. In the second instance, the detail that the Government provided about enforcement did not provide the reassurance required.
Noble Lords will recall that when Parliament scrutinised the Digital Economy Act, the point was made that of the 50 most accessible pornographic websites in the UK, none were based in the UK. Consequently, the only way to gain leverage over the sites in other jurisdictions in relation to enforcing age-verification blocks would be through IP blocking. A site accessing the UK market from Russia without robust age-verification checks would be told by the regulator to put those checks in place within a certain timeframe or risk being blocked. The site would then have to decide either to put in place those robust checks or lose significant UK revenue as a result of blocking.
However, in responding to the online harms consultation in December last year, the Government proposed fines as the main means of enforcement and seemed to entertain IP blocking only as a last resort, which is very concerning. At Second Reading, I raised those concerns, along with the noble Lords, Lord Alton, Lord McColl and Lord Morrow, and the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Since that debate, the Government have taken two steps that only amplify the difficulty. First, on 26 January, the noble Baroness the Minister wrote to Peers to address the points we made in relation to pornography at Second Reading. However, rather than addressing the presenting problem, the letter simply repeats it and makes it plain that unlike the Digital Economy Act, the online harms Bill will only engage pornographic sites that
“host user generated content or facilitate online user interaction”.
I am fully aware that the online harms Bill will have a much wider focus than the Digital Economy Act, engaging pornography on social media as well as online harms that have nothing to do with pornography. I lobbied for this and welcome it. However, when people like myself called on the Government to take steps to protect under-18s from pornography on social media, as well as on commercial pornographic websites, that was on the basis that the protections in relation to commercial pornographic websites should be implemented immediately—and certainly not made weaker.
Furthermore, when viewed specifically from the perspective of our domestic abuse debate today, the proposal not to focus on non-user-generated pornography content makes no sense at all because depictions of rough sex are just as likely in non-user-generated pornography as they are in user-generated pornography. Secondly, there is the Government’s response to a specific request made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, at Second Reading. In his speech, he specifically asked the Government to publish the long-awaited research that they commissioned on the impact of pornography construction on male attitudes and behaviour in response to reports produced by the Women and Equalities Committee.
On 15 January, that research was quietly published yet, despite the fact that the Minister was asked specifically about it, her letter on 26 January makes no reference to this important development. I discovered the research only by accident—I have it here. The findings are hugely important for this debate. The research demonstrates that there is now even more reason for the Government to acknowledge how accessing pornography generates the idea that violence in sexual relationships is normal, with all its behavioural consequences in adulthood.
First, literature reviewed on adult males aged 16 and over concludes that
“there is substantial evidence of an association between the use of pornography and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours towards women … it is clear that a relationship does exist and this is especially true for the use of violent pornography.”
The report states that
“a great deal of this easy to access, mainstream pornography depicts (to varying levels) sexual violence and female degradation with the perpetrators of aggression usually male, and the targets of aggression overwhelmingly female.”
On discussions with professionals working with clients aged 16 and over who had either exhibited harmful sexual behaviours towards women or were at risk of doing so, the report states:
“The view that pornography played a role in their clients’ harmful attitudes and/or behaviours was undisputed”.
This is of huge relevance to my Amendment 177A, with its focus on under-18s, because the professionals said that, for young people, pornography is seen as providing
“a template for what sex and sexual relationships should look like.”
“Porn comes up in probably eighty or ninety percent of my cases … what they’ve done is influenced by what they’ve seen … For them, the internet is fact.”
In order to appreciate the significance of these reports fully, it is important to revisit the consideration of the Bill in the other place. The honourable Member for Congleton tabled an amendment on the connection between pornography consumption and domestic violence and, in the course of moving it, asked the Government when their promised research on the impact of pornography consumption will be published. The Minister responded in a way that most listeners would assume suggested that the research was not ready and was therefore ongoing.
What the publication of the reports from January 2021 makes clear—as shown on the front of their covers—is that the research was actually prepared for publication by the Government Equalities Office for February 2020: a month before lockdown. This means that the Government have sat on research with significant implications for the discussion of domestic violence for nearly a year. The direct consequence of this is that MPs have been denied the opportunity to enlighten their debate on the Bill before us today with the relevant findings of the research. This was wholly unnecessary because the research was concluded before First Reading in the other place on 3 March 2020. When this failing is considered in the context of the failure of the Government’s letter to Peers to address the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, one is tempted to conclude that the Government were hoping that no one would spot the research. I am saddened and disappointed by this. I am sure that other noble Lords will feel the same way about this discovery.
This unhappy episode certainly does not build trust. It compounds the sense that, going forward, we need answers—and quickly. But there is a way forward. In order for me not to push my amendment, I ask the Minister, for whom I have great respect, to make two central commitments to doing what I strongly believe the Government need to do. First, I ask that the provision in the online harms Bill for addressing commercial pornographic websites be as robust as those in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. These provisions must fully engage pornographic websites showing both non-user-generated and user-generated pornography, and provide enforcement mechanisms through IP blocking that are as robust and accessible as those in Part 3. Secondly, given that the online harms Bill still has not been published and there is very little chance that it will protect children from exposure to online pornography —including pornography depicting rough sex acts—for at least another two years and probably more, I ask the Government now to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act as an interim measure to protect our children in the long term. As I always say, childhood lasts a lifetime. I beg to move.
My Lords, in returning to an issue that I raised at Second Reading, it is a particular pleasure to support Amendment 177A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I support what she said about the protection of children and young people and the harmful effects on their formative influences to which they are exposed. She said it so eloquently and powerfully; I think the whole House will be deeply appreciative of that.
In 1994, while a Member of another place, I tabled an amendment to the then criminal justice Bill. It set out to make it an offence to show gratuitously violent videos to children. At the time, against the opposition of the Home Office, it was supported by 80 Conservative Members of Parliament—including Sir Ivan Lawrence, then chairman of the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs—along with colleagues from all sides of the House and the Labour Front Bench; the shadow Home Secretary at the time was Tony Blair MP. After facing the prospect of defeat, the Government agreed to introduce an amendment in your Lordships’ House and the law was changed.
One of the things that united left, right and centre was the publication of a report by a group of 25 leading child psychologists who said that they had been, in their words, “naive” in denying a link between violent videos and violence by youngsters. The report was led by Professor Elizabeth Newson, an eminent psychologist and head of Nottingham University’s child development research unit, and was drawn up in the aftermath of James Bulger’s murder by two 10 year-old boys. At the boys’ trial, the judge said that their actions might have been encouraged by scenes in the horror film “Child’s Play 3”.
In two days’ time, on 12 February, it will be 28 years since the tragic death of James Bulger. Although I had raised the issue of the link between gratuitously violent material and behaviour prior to James’s death, what happened there in Liverpool, the city which included my parliamentary constituency when I served in another place, no doubt caused a proper, detailed examination of the factors which led to his appalling murder.
I last referred to those events in your Lordships’ House four years ago next month, on 20 March 2017, when I spoke in the debate on age verification of pornographic websites. It is with some sadness that, in intervening to support the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I still feel it necessary to argue the case for mitigating the effects and impact of graphic imagery on children and young people. I said:
“The evidence of the damage being done to children and young people through easy access to pornography is deeply disturbing and should give us all pause.”—[Official Report, 20/3/17; col. 21.]
More importantly, I quoted the then Justice Minister, who said that the internet was,
“driving greater access to more worrying imagery online. In the extreme, the sexualisation of youth is manifesting itself in younger conviction ages for rape”.
Given that statement, and the comments of the Joint Select Committee which considered the draft Domestic Abuse Bill about the distortion of relationships engendered by violent imagery—to which I referred at Second Reading —the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, should be accepted by the Government and the House. It is long overdue.
The Government argue for an evidence-based approach to making policy. Four years ago, the Government and Parliament were of the view that children and young people needed to be protected from graphic and distorting images. The links between such imagery and domestic violence were raised in the debate on 20 March 2017 by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, my noble friend Lord Listowel and the noble Lords, Lord Morrow and Lord Paddick. Yet the seminal legislation that we debated and passed then has not been implemented. As we have heard, during the past four years, notwithstanding the will of Parliament expressed in the Digital Economy Act 2017, a whole cohort of teenagers has been growing up without any requirement for the relevant websites to reduce access to those under 18.
In an article published online on 21 January 2021, the magazine Teen Vogue implied that:
“Porn that portrays nonconsensual sex, for instance, isn’t necessarily misogynist if it centers all characters’ pleasure and agency.”
I hope your Lordships will allow what is being said there to sink in. There was an outcry and the article now refers instead to:
“Porn that portrays fantasies about nonconsensual sex”.
We are having this debate just a few days after last week’s UK Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week. I am not convinced that women who have suffered rape or other sexual violence will agree that changing the wording to refer to fantasies is sufficient to reduce the harm that those messages give.
Noble Lords will remember that at Second Reading, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, I asked the Government about research that they had commissioned on
“exploring legal pornography use and its influence on harmful behaviours and attitudes towards women and girls”.
It was due to have been published in autumn 2019, but was actually published on 15 January—last month. Of course I welcome this, but find myself extremely disappointed in three ways. First, when Mrs Fiona Bruce, the MP for Congleton, raised the publication of this research last summer, the Minister in the other place reassured her that the publication would be “soon”. In reality, it took another six months. Secondly, the published reports make it plain that the research was concluded in February 2020. It should have shed light on the Bill before us today, both when it was being debated in another place and during our own Second Reading. Thirdly, although I asked the Government Front Bench specifically about this research on Second Reading, the subsequent letter to Peers, dated 11 days after the publication of the research, did not mention it.
The truth is that the reports were published very quietly. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I know of them only by chance; in my case, a friend accidentally stumbled on them and sent them to me. Perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking that the Government, while recognising that they had to publish these taxpayer-funded reports, rather hoped that no one would notice them. There has certainly been zero media pick-up, although I hope that will change thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin.
The findings of this research are hugely relevant to Amendment 177A. The literature review concludes that
“there is substantial evidence of an association between the use of pornography and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours towards women.”
While the report recognises that pornography is one among potential factors, it says that
“it is clear that a relationship does exist and this is especially true for the use of violent pornography.”
The report sets out details of the experiences and views of professionals working with individuals who have either exhibited harmful sexual behaviour towards women or are at risk of doing so. I remind the Minister of what we were told by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, a few minutes ago—how one person working with young people said that 80% or 90% of cases were influenced by what they had seen.
Anyone who is concerned about this component of domestic violence must be interested in asking not only what can be done to deal with the consequences of such violence, as with Clause 65, but what can be done to prevent it. The truth is that, had the Government implemented Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017—and I do not hold that against the noble Baroness; it is clearly the responsibility of others—those aged under 18 would now be protected from exposure to such websites. Part 3 provides a critical means of investing in preventing an important aspect of domestic abuse by ensuring that children are far less likely to be exposed to video content that normalises such violence. It is the very least we can do.
The Minister, for whom the whole House has very high regard and who is being worked off her feet, should review the letter to Peers of 26 January. In it she stated that the Government’s intention was only to protect children from commercial pornographic sites showing “user generated content” and not non-user generated content. Taken with the delay in providing protection for children when Part 3 was passed in 2017 and the failure to publish the online harms Bill, this narrowing of the protection of children from commercial sites is frustrating and disappointing.
In 1994, as the father of then young children, I said that we needed to fill our children’s minds with beauty and with innocence. Instead, we have created an ugly and rancid culture in which too many of our children are being brought up. They wanted bread and instead we fed them broken glass. Nearly 30 years later and now with young grandchildren, my view has not changed. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, who is synonymous with children’s programmes such as “Play School”, “Play Away” and “Fast Forward”, has throughout her life been an antidote to the brutish culture which robs children of innocence. It is a violent culture which forms them in attitudes and behaviours which can ruin their lives and the lives of others.
I very much hope that the Government will announce today that they will implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act as an interim measure, at least between now and when the online harms Bill is ready. If the Government are not willing to do that, I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, will bring her amendment back on Report. I hope it will be possible for the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to find some accommodation between now and then.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 177A, to which I have added my name. I very much echo what has been said about Clause 65 and the acknowledgment that sexual violence is an important part of domestic violence. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I do not believe that it is sufficient to seek to deal with the consequences of rough sex after it has happened. It seems to me that any credible domestic abuse Bill must seek to prevent domestic violence, as well as dealing with its consequences. As the evidence marshalled for Amendment 65 made very plain, there is a connection between watching depictions of rough sex practices in pornography and the incidence of such practices.
In my judgment, one of the most important ways in which this matter was first drawn to the attention of Parliament was through the seminal 2018 Women and Equalities Committee report on sexual harassment. The report stated:
“We asked Dr Maddy Coy whether there is a link between men viewing pornography and the likelihood of them sexually harassing women and girls. Dr Coy told us: ‘There is a meta-analysis of research that shows that. It was pornography consumption associated with higher levels of attitudes that support violence, which includes things like acceptance of violence, rape myth acceptance and sexual harassment”.
Moreover, one of the report’s conclusions was that:
“There are examples of lawful behaviours which the Government recognises as harmful, such as smoking, which are addressed through public health campaigns and huge investment designed to reduce and prevent those harms. The Government should take a similar, evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography.”
In their response, the Government stated:
“We have already begun work to identify whether links exist between consuming pornography and attitudes to women and girls, and harmful behaviours. Through qualitative research with frontline providers and a review of the existing evidence base, we aim to build our understanding of relationships between pornography use and harmful attitudes and behaviours.”
As noble Lords have noted, the fruit of that research has been a long time coming. Given its huge relevance to the debate on this Bill, I find the way that it has been released—for all the reasons expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton—deeply unfortunate.
The research consists of two papers in response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s sexual harassment report. One is the literature review and the other consists of interviews with front-line workers who are working with individuals who either have exhibited harmful sexual behaviours towards women or are at risk of doing so, aged 16 to over 60. The literature review makes some important statements regarding the content of the Bill. It states that
“pornography use has been associated with an increased likelihood of committing both verbal and physical acts of sexual aggression. With the correlation being significantly stronger for verbal rather than physical aggression, but both were evident. The use of violent pornography produced a stronger correlation.”
The report concludes that
“there is substantial evidence of an association between the use of pornography and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours towards women.”
It is clear that a relationship exists, and that is especially true for the use of violent pornography.
The second report, based on interviews with front-line workers, states:
“The majority of Frontline workers spontaneously mentioned pornography as an influential factor for harmful sexual behaviours towards women and girls”,
“This was especially the case for participants working with younger audiences … The view that pornography played a role in their clients’ harmful attitudes and/or behaviours was undisputed.”
Front-line workers recognise that there are a variety of factors contributing to violent behaviours, in relation to which pornography was felt to be a key contributing factor for many clients.
The second report also states:
“Participants believed that increased ease of access to pornography, lots of which includes violence towards women, was problematic for many of their clients … there was a widespread belief in the need to address the role that pornography plays, as part of the approach to minimising harmful sexual behaviours towards women.”
The front-line workers also reported on harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours that they had observed, including physical aggression during sex such as choking, slapping and hair pulling—that is, rough sex. This research is hugely important. It raises major questions about pornography consumption in the round, quite apart from by children and young people.
If we return to the proposed recommendation of the Women and Equalities Committee’s report—namely, that the Government should consider approaching pornography, as they do smoking, from a public health perspective—it is now plain that the new research completely validates that approach. In recognising that, we must acknowledge that the imperative for that is greatly compounded by the fact that the public health risks arising from pornography consumption are not limited to violent behaviours.
There is also the completely separate additional public health argument about taking action because of the problems raised by pornography addiction, which are similar in many ways to those caused by gambling addiction. The Government recognise that while for many gambling is not linked to harm, for some it has a very destructive effect through gambling addiction. This creates what is in a very real sense a form of social environmental pollution, where government pressure the polluter to pay. The gambling industry is asked to make a significant financial contribution to try to help people suffering from gambling addiction.
Given the social carnage left in the wake of pornography addiction, the polluter in this case should also be required to pay, yet the polluter in this instance is not so compelled. This is particularly odd when one has regard to the fact that whereas gambling facilitates gambling addiction, where the gambler damages his life and that of his family around him, pornography not only leads to these problems through addiction but is implicated, as we have seen, in actions taken by some consumers of pornography where they inflict violent acts on other people. In this context, it seems that there is a strong case for tough legislation on online pornography generally.
However, what is incontrovertible is that any further delay in protecting under-18s from accessing this material on pornographic websites, including depictions of rough-sex practices that normalise in their eyes violence as part of sexual relationships, is absolutely indefensible. It amounts to a perverse investment in the lives of the next generation that will make them think that an important aspect of domestic violence that the Bill is seeking to combat—sexual violence—is normal and appropriate.
Mindful of this, I find the Government’s response to the point that I and others made at Second Reading completely unacceptable. This House passed legislation four years ago requiring that under-18s are protected from accessing pornography on pornographic websites—much of which, as we have seen, is violent—through the introduction of statutory age verification. The only reason why the decision of your Lordships’ House has not been given effect is that the Government have refused to implement it. Moreover, they expect us to wait for what will probably be another three years, at least, for what they have now confirmed will be a weaker protection in relation to commercial pornography.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but I would point out that all the speakers in this group so far have spoken for considerably over 10 minutes. Noble Lords would appreciate brevity, so that they can all have an opportunity to take part.
My Lords, this amendment raises important issues in relation to domestic abuse. It is relevant to Amendment 184 in the next group, on teenage relationships, to which I shall speak. And I shall be brief.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, passionately described the situation in relation to helping prevent domestic violence in the next generation. We must maintain this passion. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Istanbul convention are powerful statements and calls to action, but of course calls to action must be taken at the national level, and we must do so.
The Council of Europe’s Lanzarote convention, which the UK ratified in 2018, continues to provide new insights into violence against children, including sexual violence and any form of exploitation. It was the first convention to address violence in the home. I declare an interest as the UK representative on the Council of Europe, and I attend the Lanzarote Committee. Its central tenet is:
“No violence against children is justifiable. All violence against children is preventable.”
Violence in teenage relationships, in whatever form, is violence against children: they are under 18. We need to consider how violence might be inspired. This amendment suggests that there is much concern about the influence of child viewing of violent and/or pornographic material, which may have a detrimental influence on the development of children’s brains and emotional behaviour. This is well documented.
A recent report from the Children’s Commissioner looked at the range of online platforms used by children, from social media to gaming and messaging. Digital technology is now a feature of children’s lives. One in three internet users around the world are children, and half of all 10 year-olds in the UK have their own smartphone. Of course, the digital world has much to offer, such as communicating with family and friends and accessing information. However, the digital world has not kept pace with keeping children from harm. In the digital age, people, including children, are influenced by what they see in the media, particularly if they are vulnerable in the first place. There is also evidence to show that some children watch this material at home, sometimes with parents. Children watching unsuitable material online has increased during Covid, not surprisingly.
Research has shown that perceptions of body image are susceptible to online images, especially among girls, leaving them feeling underconfident and inadequate. Violence in sexual relationships is sometimes presented online as normal, and there is evidence to show that teenagers, male and female, take it as such, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said. What does this say about how they will develop healthy relationships? What does it say about them becoming a possible perpetrator of violence, or a victim of violence, accepting such behaviour as normal?
The online harms Bill may be some way off, and we cannot wait to act. This amendment asks the Secretary of State to commission an investigation of the impact of access to online pornography on children and how this may encourage abuse. An age verification virtual conference took place in June 2020, with evidence from over 20 countries. It included a discussion of the effects of substantial online exposure on the adolescent brain. There is much research to work with, but there is more to do, specifically in the UK. I hope the Government will act on this.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 177A, so ably proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin.
Protecting children from pornographic websites is no less important now than it was in 2015, when the seminal Conservative manifesto commitment was made to
“stop children’s exposure to harmful sexualised content online, by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material”.
Similarly, protecting children from pornographic websites is no less important now than when the Digital Economy Bill became an Act of Parliament in 2017.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and others have eloquently covered many points I wished to make, and therefore I will not repeat them. However, I would like to make two points.
First, in understanding the full significance of Amendment 177A, it is important to see it as an investment to reduce the incidence of domestic violence in the future. A significant proportion of online pornography depicts sexual violence, and if Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act is not implemented, under-18s will be exposed to this content and will conclude that violence is a normal part of sexual relationships. This will, in turn, inevitably impact behaviour, not only among under-18s now but as they grow into adulthood. Protecting children from access to this pornography is not just about impacting them today; it is about impacting their development because of the consequences that it will reap tomorrow, when they are adults, in levels of domestic violence.
Secondly, I observe that the challenge we face is not unique to the UK. A US survey of 2,227 men and women aged 18 to 60 years old, published in 2020, found that
“the associations between pornography use and sexual behaviors was statistically significant. … Clinicians need to be aware of recent potential shifts in sexual behaviors, particularly those such as choking that may lead to harm.”
The authors also said:
“We were struck that one-fifth of women … reported having been choked as part of sex.”
In this context, it seems the 2015 Conservative manifesto was ahead of its time.
My Lords, I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 177A. Along with other speakers, I was not at all reassured by the Minister’s letter in which she confirmed the central concern that many noble Lords set out on Second Reading; namely, that unlike Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, which equally engaged user-generated and non-user-generated content on pornographic websites, the online safety Bill will narrow its concern to user-generated content. I also thought the Government’s response rather missed the point that I and other noble Lords sought to make on Second Reading. What the Minister wrote was couched in the terms of the original Digital Economy Bill debate. Those concerns are of course important, but are not the presiding context of this debate.
The point made at Second Reading and, indeed, today is very much about the fact that much online pornography depicts sexual violence, including the rough sex practice that is the subject of Clause 65. In this context, the key point is that if Part 3 is not implemented, under-18s will be exposed to pornographic material on pornographic websites, including depictions of rough sex, and this will foster the thought that sexual violence is just part of the norm of sexual relationships. Moreover, and crucially, this will not only impact on under-18s as under-18s, but shape their thoughts and attitudes as they move into adulthood, making sexual violence and domestic abuse more likely.
In this context, the key problem with the Government saying that we should abandon Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act in favour of an online safety Bill that will target only user-generated content is the fact that depictions of sexual violence occur in non-user-generated pornography as well as in user-generated pornography. We must target, as Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act does, both user-generated and non-user-generated content on pornographic websites.
In this regard, it is interesting to note that Savanta ComRes polling from last September showed that 81.5% of people in Northern Ireland thought that the Government should implement Part 3 immediately and simply add additional protections in relation to other online harms when the online safety Bill is passed. The UK figure was 74% if the “don’t knows” were removed. It is not hard to imagine what would happen if that polling was repeated today, presenting people with the fact that the Government are seeking not only needlessly to delay the provision of protection for children from pornographic websites, but to narrow that protection down to pornographic websites with user-generated content.
My concern at the Government’s failure to engage with Part 3 from the perspective of the presenting issue in this Bill is greatly compounded by the fact that the letter inexplicably makes no reference to the two reports that the Government published on 15 January that highlight the connection between pornography consumption and behaviour, including male sexual violence. I very much hope that when the Minister responds to this debate she engages with Amendment 177A and Part 3 from the perspective of the domestic violence concern that informs our discussions today.
There are two other things about the Minister’s letter that cause me real concern. First, it contains the statement:
“Under our proposals, we expect companies to use age assurance or age verification technologies to prevent children from accessing services which pose the highest risk of harm to children, such as online pornography.”
This is a very clear shift from the previous language “we will require”, which is the essence of legal compulsion. Why the change?
Secondly, the letter’s final paragraph states that the online harms Bill will be more robust than the DEA because it will cover not only extreme pornography. Part 3 of the DEA was never just about protecting under-18s from extreme pornography or pornographic websites. It was about protecting them from all pornography on pornographic websites, that which is legal as well as that which, like extreme pornography, is illegal. If I have misunderstood what the Minister means by the final paragraph of the letter dealing with pornography, will she please explain when she responds to the debate?
One of the other concerns that I have about the idea that the online safety Bill would be better than Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act at protecting children from material that normalises sexual violence relates to enforcement. When the Digital Economy Bill was introduced, the primary means of enforcement was through fines. However, Parliament pointed out that of the 50 most popular pornographic websites in the UK, none was based in the UK and that enforcing fines in other jurisdictions would be impractical.
An amendment was then proposed and agreed to accept IP blocking, which enables the regulator to contact a non-compliant site from any country, accessed in the UK, to inform it that it must either introduce robust age verification within a set timeframe or be blocked. However, the Government’s statement about the online safety Bill suggests a reversal of policy, returning to a focus primarily on fines. Again, please can the Minister explain why the Government seek to reverse the change and emphasis that Parliament introduced in relation to Part 3? This might work for some other online harms if the source of the difficulty is based in the UK, but it will not work for pornographic websites.
In closing, I observe that this matter raises important constitutional questions. In this House we are governed by the Salisbury convention, which rightly states that we cannot reject a Bill giving effect to a proposal in the manifesto of the winning party at a general election. The undergirding principle is that in a democracy Parliament should not stand in the way of what the public have voted for. I wonder whether the same should not apply to other actors in the constitution. It is not just the House of Lords that could stand in the way of a legislative initiative mandated in a general election coming into effect; the Government could do the same if they were determined not to implement such legislation.
I can see an argument that if a new Prime Minister has been elected expressly on the basis of a manifesto commitment not to implement a provision in the manifesto of the previous Administration that had been through Parliament but had not yet implemented, the new Prime Minister would have a basis for acting in this manner. However, I do not believe that our present Prime Minister has such a basis, or indeed that he has such a basis in this case.
I very much hope that today the Minister will announce the Government’s intention to move immediately to implement Part 3. If they do not, I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, will bring Amendment 177A back on Report.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Benjamin, who introduced Amendment 177A in such an inspiring way and for whom I have the greatest admiration and the highest respect, has been a passionate campaigner her whole life on protecting and nurturing children. In her own inimitable style, she says, “Childhood lasts a lifetime”. I am very glad that she got that in, even if it was in the penultimate sentence of her speech. She is absolutely right. What happens in childhood impacts people for the rest of their lives, potentially with devasting consequences, and accessing pornography is one of those influences that can have an adverse impact on children.
In this Bill we are addressing domestic abuse, and many children grow up in households where domestic violence is a regular occurrence. I was at the same time impressed and saddened when I visited the only young offender institution in Scotland. The young people there were engaged in sessions with someone from a domestic abuse charity who taught them that the abusive home environment in which many of them had grown up is not normal and that it is not what a healthy, loving relationship looks like, despite it having been the lived experience of many of them. Living in an environment where you are surrounded by violence normalises violence as a way of life, and accessing harmful violent pornography is part of the landscape viewed by many young people.
As a police constable I was called to a disturbance. We were presented with a couple, a room that looked as though it had been ransacked, and a broken glass-top table. The woman had red marks around her neck. We found a ligature and a plastic bag with the impression of her face on it, like a mask. We arrested the man for attempted murder and took the victim to hospital. At court the next day, the accused’s lawyer claimed that it was consensual rough sex and the victim—I thought reluctantly—agreed, and the case was dismissed. To this day, those images haunt me, as does the nagging doubt about the extent to which the woman had really consented to what was done to her.
I am glad that this Bill finally, over 40 years later, is going to address this issue, but we have to ask ourselves where people get these ideas from. Some 57% of people in the BBC survey that my noble friend referred to said it was from pornography. Any means of preventing young people from accessing such harmful pornographic content should be implemented, so it seems quite extraordinary that the Government should work for a number of years with the British Board of Film Classification to develop a system of age verification for pornographic websites and pass legislation in the Digital Economy Act to enable such a system to be put into place—only to abandon it.
Age verification systems are not a panacea. There are numerous and easily accessible ways for a determined teenager to bypass them. I am not sure how many read Hansard, but I do not intend to publicise them. The means of enforcing age verification systems on the operators of pornographic websites is not without difficulty. Many are free to view and hosted outside the UK. Asking UK internet service providers to block websites that fail to comply with age verification rules would also block adults in the UK, who should be able to access legal pornography, if they so wish, from accessing them.
The measures to prevent young people from accessing pornography on some social media sites have improved, with users being prevented from posting pornography. This is effectively policed and enforced by website operators such as Facebook and Instagram. There are exceptions. The measures to prevent young people from accessing pornography on Twitter, for example, are somewhere between weak and non-existent. However, that does not mean we should not do all we can, despite the limitations, to encourage, cajole and use every legislative means possible to put pressure on these websites to introduce age verification for UK users and, in the case of social media, to ban pornographic content unless they can prevent children from accessing it.
We also have to work on the basis that a determined teenager is going to find a way around the system and that even curious younger children may try and succeed in accessing pornography. Comprehensive and compulsory personal, social, health and economic education—PSHE—including healthy relationship and age-appropriate sex education, is vital to combat what children might see and hear if they access online pornography, and what they might see and hear in their own homes.
It is particularly important that children of all ages are taught as early as is they learn what a loving, caring relationship between two people looks like, so that they see this as the norm, rather than anything that they might see online or experience when they are growing up. It is particularly important in this male-dominated, patriarchal society that children are taught that treating women and girls with dignity and respect and as equals with men is essential.
We are all impacted by our experiences and I have said some things in debates on this Bill as a survivor of domestic abuse to remind the Committee not to forget male victims and survivors who are or were in same-sex relationships. That is not intended to diminish the real issues that society must address in relation to the inequality between men and women in general and male violence against women and girls in particular. Some online pornography reinforces that inequality and glamorises male violence. We must do all we can to prevent the harmful impact this can have, particularly on children and young people. We support this amendment to require an investigation into any link between online pornography and domestic abuse.
My Lords, we have heard powerful speeches in this debate. I shall start my contribution with the things I would question in the amendment. I should make it clear that I support the amendment in principle, but I question whether simply making the Government commence Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act is the right solution. I question also whether the British Board of Film Classification is the right body to lead on this, whether the technology would work, and whether privacy concerns have been adequately answered.
As we have heard from other speakers, the worst material is generated outside the UK and we would have no legislative ability to control or curb it. The Government have consistently refused to take powers to block internet service providers from carrying material that harms children or glorifies domestic abuse. They have also not taken powers to prevent credit card issuers making payments for illegal content. So I will be interested in the Minister’s answer to the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that an interim arrangement could be made to bring in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act until more substantive legislation is put in place.
The speeches we have heard were extremely powerful, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who spoke with real passion and knowledge on this issue. My noble friend Lady Massey is clearly playing a leading role in the Council of Europe in setting international standards because, of course, our problem in the UK is not unique and all our friends in Europe and indeed across the world are grappling with these issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, also spoke with real knowledge. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, had it right when he said that education is the key to addressing this issue. That is a wider point and one that he has made in other groups, both today and on previous days in Committee, but it is a point that is worth repeating.
I was not here last Wednesday for the fourth Committee day because I was sitting as a magistrate. I was dealing with a sex case and I had reason to read two reports on a young offender which had been written by more than one specialist. The reports both commented on the use of porn by the offender. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the use of porn influences the way people behave, and that the influence is bigger if the users of porn are younger. We have really been led on this by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and I hope that the Minister will be able to respond as favourably as she can to that leadership.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, explained, Amendment 177A requires the Government to undertake an investigation into
“the impact of access to online pornography by children on domestic abuse”
and to review the commencement of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which all noble Lords spoke about.
We share the concerns raised in both Houses by parents and those advocating on behalf of children’s safety online that a large amount of pornography is available on the internet, often for free, with little or no protection to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so. In turn, this is changing the way that young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent.
In October 2019, the Government announced that they will not commence Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. We propose to repeal those provisions and instead deliver more comprehensive protections for children through our proposals for a wider online harms regulatory framework. Protecting children is at the heart of our plans to transform the online experience for people in the UK, and the strongest protections in our forthcoming online harms framework will be for children.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office have now published the full government response to the online harms White Paper consultation, which sets out the new expectations on companies to keep users safe online. These new laws will mean that companies must tackle illegal content on their platforms and protect children from harmful content and activity online. Major platforms will need to be clear about what content is acceptable on their services and enforce the rules consistently.
I am pleased that Britain is setting the global standards for safety online, with the most comprehensive approach yet to online regulation. Ofcom will be named in legislation as the regulator, with the power to fine companies failing in their duty of care up to £18 million or 10% of annual global turnover. It will also have the power to block non-compliant services from being accessed in the UK.
The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, asked whether the provisions in the online harms framework will be as robust as those in the Digital Economy Act. Through the online harms framework, we will be able to go further than the Digital Economy Act’s focus on online pornography on commercial adult sites. We will be able to protect children from a broader range of harmful content and activity across a wider range of services. The online safety duty of care will not just be for sites with user-generated content; it will also be for sites that facilitate online user interaction, including video and image sharing, commenting and live-streaming.
The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Ponsonby, the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and my noble friend Lord McColl all asked why, given that the online harms regime is years away, the Government cannot commence the Digital Economy Act as an interim measure. It is important that we take the time to deliver the most comprehensive approach for protecting children online, which will ensure that robust protections are in place for generations of young people to come. Through the online harms framework, we will be able to go further than the Digital Economy Act’s focus on online pornography on commercial adult sites, as I said. We will be able to protect children from a broader range of harmful content.
One of the criticisms of the Digital Economy Act was that its scope did not cover social media companies, where a considerable quantity of pornographic material is accessible to children. The Government’s new approach will include social media companies and sites where user-generated content can be widely shared, including the most visited commercial pornography sites. Taken together, we expect this to bring into scope more online pornography that children can currently access than the narrower scope of the Digital Economy Act. We will set out, in secondary legislation, priority categories of legal but harmful content and activity posing the greatest risk to children, which will include online pornography.
The Government expect that the regulator will take a robust approach to sites that pose the highest risk of harm to children. That may include recommending the use of age assurance or verification technologies where the risk is highest, including for sites hosting online pornography. Companies would need to put in place these technologies or demonstrate that the approach they are taking delivers the same level of protection for children. We are working closely with stakeholders across the industry to establish the right conditions for the market to deliver age assurance and age verification technical solutions ahead of the legislative requirements coming into force. The online safety Bill will be ready this year; in the meantime, we are already working closely with Ofcom to ensure that the implementation period that will be necessary following passage of the legislation will be as short as possible.
On the point about the Government sitting on the research, we were not seeking to suppress its results. Given the number of comments from noble Lords about the letter, I had better write again on the points there were clearly not satisfactory to them. My ministerial colleagues in the DDCMS will continue to engage with parliamentarians as we prepare for the vital legislation. I hope I have provided reassurance that Amendment 177A is not necessary and that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister and, accordingly, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for their powerful speeches. I listened very carefully to the Minister, but I have to say that I have a very heavy heart tonight. I am so disappointed by her response. I do not accept for one moment the argument that we should simply wait for the online harms Bill: that is too long. The Government must recognise, for all the reasons outlined by noble Lords in their powerful speeches during the debate, that this approach is not remotely credible.
On the non-implementation of Part 3 and the proposed delay of another three years or so, just think about the harm and damage that will be done to children and their future. This is simply not acceptable when the House has already passed legislation that could easily be implemented now and could, as a minimum, be used in the interim between now and the proposed online harms Bill, for which I cannot wait. When that Bill has been passed and is ready for implementation, so be it. I thank the noble Baroness for what she said will happen in that Bill; I will fully support it and I look forward to it.
There is one thing worse than not taking action to prevent the indoctrination of children and young people into thinking that violence is a normal and natural part of sexual relationships, and that is having the capacity to address the problem, as we do now through Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, and not bothering to use it. This is deeply concerning and disturbing. It is tragic that, having led on the issue from 2015, the Government should now have performed such a radical turnaround and be dragging their feet. We have to wait three years or more for any action to be taken.
In spite of the Minister’s official response, it is my sincere hope—yes, I am an optimist—that the Government will study the speeches in this debate carefully over the next few days and review their position. I am very happy to meet the Minister, along with other interested Peers, to discuss this matter further. It is important that we do so, and if progress is not made over the next couple of weeks, I will certainly bring this amendment back on Report. With a heavy heart, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 177A withdrawn.
Amendment 177B not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 178. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister’s reply should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any of the amendments in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
Clause 73: Power of Secretary of State to issue guidance about domestic abuse, etc
178: Clause 73, page 57, line 44, leave out “in England and Wales” and insert “—
(i) in England, and(ii) so far as not relating to Welsh devolved matters, in Wales.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s amendment at page 58, line 28 would ensure that guidance issued by the Secretary of State under clause 73(1)(b) about matters relating to domestic abuse in Wales does not relate to matters that are devolved in relation to Wales.
My Lords, I can be brief with the government amendments in this group. Clause 73 enables the Secretary of State to issue guidance about the effect of certain provisions in the Bill, but also about
“other matters relating to domestic abuse in England and Wales”.
It is the UK Government’s view that, with the exception of Clause 73, the provisions in the Bill relate to reserved matters in Wales. We acknowledge that the power to issue statutory guidance about any matter relating to domestic abuse encroaches on devolved matters in Wales. It is for that reason that Clause 73 requires the Secretary of State to consult the Welsh Ministers in so far as any guidance relates to a devolved Welsh authority.
Following discussions with the Welsh Government, these amendments narrow the power to issue guidance under Clause 73(1)(b) so that any such guidance does not relate to Welsh devolved matters. Guidance relating to Welsh devolved matters is properly a matter for the Welsh Ministers and not the Secretary of State. As I indicated, these amendments have been discussed and agreed with the Welsh Government. I will respond to the other amendments in this group when winding up but, for now, I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendment 180. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for adding their names to it. Most of all, I thank the Ministers for their extraordinary forbearance on this very long day.
A key aim of this amendment is to prevent domestic abuse in the future. How should we do it? First, we should ensure—perhaps surprisingly, you might say—that primary school children who exhibit symptoms of severe psychological disturbance receive the professional psychological help that they urgently need if their mental health is to be restored and if long-term problems, for them, society, their own children and future spouses, are to be avoided. The amendment makes it clear that, wherever possible, parents should be involved in that therapy. Much quicker and more sustained improvements for the child can generally then be achieved. Having been involved in family therapy work many years ago, I know just how powerful and beneficial it can be for all members of the family.
The second part of the amendment would ensure that effective preparation for adult relationships—sex, marriage and, most particularly, awareness of domestic abuse and its consequences—was provided across the country for all senior schoolchildren in the last years of their schooling. I will return to this briefly at the end of my remarks; I want to focus mainly on primary school children.
This amendment is probably not the polished article. If we proceed to Report on these important matters, relevant lawyers and, I hope, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, might help to get it into shape. But why is the amendment so important? It is because domestic abuse is rooted in childhood and is such a big problem. The Children’s Commissioner suggests that 831,000 children in England are living in households that report domestic abuse. The mental health of all those children will be adversely affected, in some cases very seriously. Many will go on to become domestic abuse perpetrators, as we have said before. Action for Children tells us that 692 assessments are carried out every day that highlight domestic abuse as a feature of a child’s or young person’s life.
The problem is very serious, for the children as well as for their future spouses and children. The consequences of domestic abuse on children range from negatively affecting brain development and impacting cognitive and sensory growth to developing personality and behavioural problems, depression and suicidal tendencies. Analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Study found that children whose parents experienced domestic violence when their children were aged three reported 30% higher than average anti-social behaviours aged 14, for example committing physical assault. Sensible, preventive interventions with children will save taxpayers’ money on police, courts and prisons, quite apart from saving the lives of the individuals involved from the miseries of criminality and becoming perpetrators of domestic abuse, with all that those things involve.
We have a big problem in the numbers of children affected and the severity of the problems, and we are not dealing with those problems comprehensively and effectively. Funding is a key cause for concern—it always is. Child victims of domestic abuse by either parent may need a range of services; most of these are provided by social services, but in my view the health services need to lead in this professional psychological therapy. We are some way towards this, which is another reason to have it in health, but this amendment seeks to transform access to those vital therapies. That is why it has a prescriptive angle.
Following Jeremy Hunt’s Green Paper on child mental health, clinical commissioning groups are aiming to fund mental health support teams in a quarter of the country by 2023 to provide NICE-recommended therapy to children and young people. The model is sound; these therapies work in schools, and there is one service per clinical commissioning group, with a strong clinical lead. Outcomes are monitored to ensure high standards, but we cannot justify limiting this vital service to a quarter of the country by two years’ time. Of course, a workforce plan would be needed to ensure that quality training and sufficient therapists were available, and funding above the £2.3 billion already committed under Theresa May and accounted for already.
Stephen Scott, director of the National Academy for Parenting Research, trained 4,000 parenting practitioners who delivered group therapy for the parents of children with behaviour problems. The programme was very effective; it reduced by two-thirds the anti-social behaviour and other problems of the children compared with a control group. After 2010, these people lost their jobs, but they are still there. An important aspect of this work is that children’s mental health problems are most often picked up in schools, where the child exhibits behaviour problems. Schools must be the major referrers, with a mental health lead in every school who would be responsible for ensuring that every child needing therapy was referred. According to national clinical adviser Peter Fonagy, this approach is evidence-based.
The fact is that most children’s mental health problems are rooted in dysfunction at home, whether it be explicit domestic abuse or major conflict of some sort. The cost to individuals and society of not taking the action we are proposing here is far too high to contemplate.
I will briefly touch on the second aim of the amendment: to ensure that effective classes in preparation for marriage are provided nationwide to all children towards the end of their schooling. The PSHE classes currently provided fail to achieve the key objective of preventing domestic abuse, including child abuse. Teachers need to be adequately trained in parenting, relationship skills and, most importantly, domestic abuse issues if they are to take PSHE classes.
In view of the time, I will stop there. I hope the commissioner will take up these issues. Above all, I hope the Ministers will agree that both aims of this amendment need to be addressed.
My Lords, I am speaking to Amendment 180, to which I have added my name. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and I could not agree more with everything she said. She has far greater knowledge and wisdom in this matter than I but I feel strongly that prevention and reaching children at an early age is vital, otherwise everything else in the Bill will just deal with what is, as opposed to prevention for the future.
We know that changes in behaviour, health, the ability to learn, attitude and appearance in a child can often mean that they may be witnessing domestic abuse. Schools need to be able to recognise and address that. Of course, our teachers are already aware of, and on the lookout for, behavioural signs of things not being right at home. However, Amendment 180 would ensure the provision of services to every primary school to support it in identifying, treating, supporting, and helping children who are showing signs of witnessing abuse.
“All children living with abuse are under stress”,
and advises that stress can lead to withdrawal, aggression or bullying, tantrums, vandalism, problems in school, including truancy, speech problems and difficulty with learning, attention-seeking, nightmares or insomnia, bed-wetting, anxiety, depression, fear of abandonment, feelings of inferiority, drug or alcohol abuse—hopefully not at primary school—eating disorders or constant colds, along with headaches, mouth ulcers, asthma and eczema. So many things affect children but our primary schools need support to be provided to address the issue properly and, where appropriate, involving parents is vital. That can be of great benefit—not always—but parents suffering domestic abuse, or perpetrating it, do not always realise the effect that it has on their children. Not all children show such obvious signs of stress; some have adopted coping mechanisms or hide it.
Obviously, primary schools need support in identifying children who are suffering, as well as those who are demonstrating less obvious signs of what is occurring at home. A child could be jumpy, or be avoiding situations or people. They may be withdrawn or simply have a stomach-ache. They may react badly to something that reminds them of what is going on at home. As this amendment suggests, support is needed to identify and treat children who are unusually aggressive or manipulative.
To see the many terrible effects that witnessing domestic abuse has on children, just do a Google search for Refuge, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the NSPCC or others. The information out there is crystal clear in demonstrating how necessary this amendment is, and how damning to the future well-being of children non-attention and leaving the issue unaddressed is. A great proportion of the children, if given proper help, are resilient. The sooner this problem is addressed, the better.
Amendment 180 would deliver
“the provision of services … to identify and treat children”
coming from homes where domestic abuse is occurring. It is necessary and right to put that protection and provision into the Bill as early as is humanly possible.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is having connection problems and so I call the noble Lord, Lord Farmer.
My Lords, I shall speak on Amendment 183 in my name. As I said in my explanatory statement, my amendment,
“would require the Government to provide information on the evidence-based differences between the motivational drivers of different types of abuse.”
Clause 73(2)(a) covers the range of behaviours that amount to abuse. We have, thankfully, moved a long way from thinking purely in terms of physical violence and there is welcome recognition that non-violent abusive strategies inflict profound psychological harms. These include but are by no means limited to: imposing isolation; stalking; subjecting partners to public and private humiliations; taking over all control of finances, social life and family matters; and often forcing compliance with those and other abuses by threatening, if not actually perpetrating, violence. I would expect those issues and many others to be covered in the guidance under subsection (2)(a).
However, what also needs to be included—hence my proposed new paragraph (c)—are distinctions between the different types of violence, which are essential for planning nuanced and effective interventions. Indeed, many social scientists consider that it is no longer scientifically or ethically acceptable to refer to domestic violence without making the type of partner violence clear.
Four types of relationship violence have been extensively recognised in research: coercive controlling violence—also known, more evocatively, as intimate terrorism; violent resistance; situational couple violence; and separation-instigated violence. While every form of abuse is completely unacceptable and the responsibility always lies with the perpetrator, it is essential to hold a relationship-based understanding of domestic-abuse intention along with the fact that abuse is a criminal act. We need to recognise the drivers of abuse as well as ensuring that the police and courts have all the powers they need to hold perpetrators to account.
A relationship-based understanding challenges the notion that abuse always stems from a power dynamic within couples, which typically means the male partner is seeking to control the female. In other jurisdictions such as the United States, policymakers have taken on board research from, for instance, Professor Michael Johnson, Professor Nicola Graham-Kevan and Professor Nicky Stanley, which has exposed the diversity of underlying motives. They emphasise that while male domination and coercive control are important elements of intimate terrorism, which occurs in 2% to 4% of heterosexual couples, and in what Stanley refers to as a sizeable minority of same-sex relationships, situational violence is the far more prevalent form, occurring in 12% to 14% of heterosexual couples and termed “common” by Stanley in same-sex relationships.
In situational couple violence, the violence is situationally provoked as the tensions or emotions of the circumstances that a couple find themselves in lead one or both of the partners to resort to violence. Conflict leads to arguments, which escalate to verbal aggression and ultimately to physical violence. It can also be perpetrated, say, after a bad football result and a lengthy drinking session. Johnson argues that the perpetration of situational couple violence is roughly gender-symmetric, and as likely to occur in same-sex as in heterosexual relationships. Typically, rather than a power imbalance, it occurs when one or both partners are struggling to control their emotions. However, even when violence is mutual, women often fare worse because they are physically weaker. It is terrifying to be a child in the middle of a physical fight between their parents. Through its threats to the child’s caregivers, all violence and abuse between parents profoundly threatens a child’s sense of safety.
A typology of violence does not downplay any one form of violence—it all has to stop—but understanding what is driving it will help that to happen. However, treating all violence as the same freezes out the possibility that some partners, where there has been situational violence, can safely stay together with specialist relationship and other support. The viability of providing specialist relationship support for couples where there is situational violence has been thoroughly researched by trusted providers such as Tavistock Relationships. Again, without victim-blaming or perpetrator-absolving, it points out:
“It is extremely rare for services to identify and respond to the dynamic processes within the couple relationship and other important contributory factors that influence the prevalence of inter-personal violence.”
There is UK evidence that the relationship-focused parenting intervention Parents as Partners reduces violent problem-solving. This and other approaches, such as Sandra Stith’s joint couples therapy in the US, give couples the opportunity to work together on their difficulties and help them to establish better ways of dealing with stressors in their relationships. This is never about forcing victims to stay with violent partners; blame lies solely with the perpetrator.
However, if victims want the relationship to endure but the violence to stop, risk-managed specialist help should be available. That said, relationship support for both partners where there is coercive control is profoundly risky, as the perpetrator will seek to manipulate the intervention. In summary, I am asking the Government to make specific mention in the Bill of the different types of violence and other abuse. The different motivators behind them require different remedies if cycles are to be broken in individuals and families.
I speak also in support of Amendment 180, introduced so effectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, because it is essential to the comprehensive set of solutions which flow from the relationship-based understanding of domestic abuse that I have just argued for. It is also essential to the preventive paradigm I argued for earlier when speaking to Amendment 167. The emotional vulnerabilities that many victims, perpetrators and the people who are both bring to relationships must be addressed if cycles of domestic abuse are to be broken and abuse prevented over the long term. Childhood experiences are key to understanding these vulnerabilities. Evidence suggests that the most powerful contributors to domestic abuse in our society are rooted in the relationships people have and are witnesses to when they are young. These never excuse, but they help to explain.
A strategy to prevent domestic abuse, as I outlined earlier, must include help for children to have positive relational experiences right from the start and to help them to develop the skills for these. If children are already exhibiting signs of relational dysfunction, such as aggressive or manipulative traits, action on this cannot come too early. Involving parents, who may be sowing these traits into them in the examples they provide in their own behaviour, is essential. Even if they have not picked up those traits at home, parents need to know how to encourage the right behaviours and discourage those which will harm their children and others, potentially throughout their lives. This help can be delivered in schools or in family support hubs—indeed, some hubs are based in schools.
This amendment also mentions marriage, the relationship form that most young people aspire to and the family context for raising children where abuse is statistically least likely to be present. Various studies and ONS statistics suggest, first, that domestic abuse is more prevalent in cohabiting relationships than in married/civil partnership couples; and, second that it is more prevalent between divorced or separated couples than where relationships are intact. The act of marriage does not, of course, vaccinate couples against violence, so compulsory preparation before entering this solemn, lifelong commitment makes a lot of sense, particularly if it helps to reduce levels of relationship dysfunction such as abuse and breakdown. This is important, because children growing up with unrelated adults, especially adult males who move in after their parents break up, are statistically much more likely to witness or experience abuse and violence than those who grow up with both biological parents.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 184, to which I have added my name. This amendment focuses on the issue of abuse in teenage relationships, which is very worrying and more common than we may think. Teenagers are children, and should be treated with all the protections offered to children in law and practice. I define children as expressed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—that is, any person aged 18 or under is considered to be a child.
I am familiar with the government view that abuse between children below the age of 16 is child abuse and should be dealt with under child protection. I suggest that this may be a somewhat redundant view. The system was designed to protect children from abuse within the home, not from outside. Many children aged 14, for example, are not always in the home, but some may be, and suffering from abusive relationships. They would therefore not be deemed suitable for statutory intervention.
As we know, there are gradations to maturity in children, especially in adolescents, who are still children but going through emotional and physical changes. Some children are mature in many ways at the age of 13 and some are not. Some of 18 are still immature emotionally, if not physically. Children cannot be slotted into a particular category simply because of age. Sexual activity is one of those categories, much as we may wish it were not.
The Bill and action after it need to address the fact that teenage relationship abuse is not defined in any statute or routinely identified in the child protection system. Interviews with young people, particularly girls, show a high acceptance of what would normally be considered unacceptable behaviour in boys, including violence. Relationships and sex education in schools, referred to by several noble Lords, may produce many benefits to young people. Making this statutory may help to develop self-esteem concepts and ideas of what is healthy and unhealthy in relationships, for boys as well as girls. With Covid, such sensitive discussions are not possible in schools. I fear the outcomes of that.
I taught adolescent girls for many years. Some of those from vulnerable backgrounds, but not exclusively, said that they would accept bad behaviour and even violence from a boy and consider it normal. I thought things would have radically changed many years later, and they have among some young people and people generally, but less than I would have expected. This is possibly due to the influence of the media and other complex factors. Relationship and sex education may have a greater impact now. It is more high profile and generally better prepared for and acceptable.
Beyond education, we need services that support children to prevent and address teenage abusive relationship. Brook Advisory Centres, which I have been involved with for many years, offer free confidential advice for young people under the age of 25 from trained staff, not only on contraception, but on relationships and abuse. But not every town has a Brook Advisory Centre. It would help in all kinds of ways if communities had confidential health services for children and young people.
Statutory guidance must make it clear that, if a child is a victim of abuse in an intimate relationship, they should be entitled to specialist support services. Those services must be available, visible and confidential. Statutory guidance on teenage relationship abuse must be produced to cover both victims and perpetrators. I hope this will be considered by the Government. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 184, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and signed by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
It is very important that the Government consider the issue of teenage relationship abuse and the need to provide services and support to deal with it. The amendment talks about
“sufficient levels of local authority service provision”.
We know how stretched local authorities are and there is a need for resources attached to that. It is very telling that a lot of the research into this area has come in the last couple of years. A lot of the research and work has been done by NGOs and campaigning groups, and indeed a lot of the education work.
I note the excellent Women’s Aid #LoveRespect campaign and research around that, which found that one-third of teenage girls knew that they had been in an abusive relationship. However, when the remaining two-thirds were asked more detailed questions, it became clear that more than half of them had experienced abusive behaviour but had not recognised it as such. I will go to the words of someone with experience. Women’s Aid quotes its ambassador, the personal trainer, author and social media influencer Alice Liveing, who said:
“When I was 16 I found myself in an abusive relationship and felt so isolated and alone. I didn’t think that abuse happened to young people, and to be honest I had no idea that what I was experiencing was even abuse for a long time”.
I look also to the excellent work of the group SafeLives, which quotes the 2015 Crime Survey for England and Wales reporting that 6.6% of males and 12.6% of females aged 16 to 19 had experienced domestic abuse in the past year, as well as a survey of 13 to 17 year-olds which found that 25% of girls and 18% of boys had experienced some form of physical abuse in a relationship, with the highest level of severity being no different from that suffered by adults.
To further add to the evidence on this, the research project From Boys to Men found that 49% of boys and 33% of girls aged 13 to 14 thought that hitting a partner would be “OK” in at least one of 12 scenarios that they were presented with. Clearly we have a problem here, and I believe it is really important that the Domestic Abuse Bill acknowledges this and accepts that there is a need to provide resources to deal with it.
I will briefly address Amendment 180 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and others. I note that in introducing it the noble Baroness acknowledged that the wording perhaps needed some work, and indeed I found some of it rather surprising. However, the push in proposed new paragraph (c) for increased mental health support in primary schools is certainly something that is very important to raise, given the epidemic of mental ill health that has only been growing in our deeply unhealthy society.
However, proposed new paragraph (d) does not really acknowledge the fact that the Government have brought in compulsory sex and relationships education—I know a great deal about that because in the other place my honourable friend the Member for Brighton Pavilion has been at the absolute forefront of pushing for fully inclusive age-appropriate relationships and sex education. However, I find the final element of the amendment rather curious, with its focus on marriage. The privileging of one form of relationship over another in education is not a constructive approach.
I hope the Committee will forgive me if I take a brief moment for a final reflection, given that we are coming to the end of the sixth day of discussion of this important Bill. The debate has been thoughtful and thorough, and I hope it will be useful for the Government when they go away to consider it. I want to reflect on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in the debate on Amendment 173. He was paying tribute to all the feminist campaigners who came before us who brought us to this point. That led me to look back over the history of misogyny in your Lordships’ House, which drew me rather quickly to one of our predecessors, Lord Curzon—a man against whom many charges might be laid. Little more than a century ago he authored a pamphlet giving 15 reasons against women’s suffrage. I know that one of his descendants is with us today and I will not hold his family heritage against him. But there is an important lesson to be drawn from that reflection on history: the lesson that campaigning works. Over decades, feminist campaigners have transformed the place of women in society. The Bill is an important reflection of that, and that is something that we can take into Report to fortify us for the debates ahead on this truly important Bill.
I shall speak very briefly on Amendments 178 and 188. I thank the Minister for moving them and express my support.
In the traditional approach to domestic abuse, we looked separately at the responsibilities of local authorities, health authorities, the police, the courts and those responsible for offenders. We generally also legislated separately. The modern approach is to try to tackle domestic abuse by a combined approach that tries to ensure that all who have an interest in doing what can be done to see that domestic abuse is properly tackled and prevented—local authorities, health authorities, educational authorities, the police, the courts and those responsible for offenders—work together under a single piece of legislation, under a single strategy and with single guidance. For England the Bill will do that, and I believe it will do so better still when it is amended in the way urged in the many powerful speeches made and the careful amendments proposed in this House.
However, for Wales, unfortunately the way the devolution scheme has so far evolved means that this solution is not possible. In Wales, local government, health and education are devolved. The duties and structures in England are different and so are dealt with in Part 4 of the Bill, which does not extend to Wales. In Wales there is separate legislation, the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. That Act imposes a duty on the Welsh Government to deal with domestic abuse and provides for its own local government structures and health boards to establish local strategies to address domestic abuse. However, this Bill has to deal with other issues for Wales. The duties of the police, remedies in court and protection in court in Part 5 and offences involving violence in Part 6 apply to both England and Wales because Welsh legislation could not provide for them as the police, courts and prisons are not devolved. We see this division further illustrated by the miscellaneous provisions in Part 7. Some deal with England and Wales, such as the release of offenders and information gathered by police, but some deal only with England, such as homelessness and tenancies.
As this very brief outline shows, Wales cannot enjoy the same overall solution of a single piece of legislation with supporting structures, strategies and guidance to apply between local authorities, health, the police, the courts and those responsible for offenders as will happen in England. In Wales, the position of local government, health boards and local authorities was addressed in 2015. As the police and the courts are for Westminster, they must now be dealt with in this legislation. It inevitably gives rise to a jagged edge and the lack of a single piece of legislation, a single strategy and single guidance. This is a matter for which I believe a solution must be found, as set out in the report of the commission which I chaired—but tonight, and certainly at this hour, is not the time to develop this matter.
What is for tonight is an interim solution, and to acknowledge and truly thank the Minister who, among all else that she has to do, has found the time to deal with Wales. I therefore welcome Amendments 178 and 188 and thank the Minister for them and for what she is doing to help the Bill ensure that domestic violence is tackled in Wales, as the work of the Welsh Government and investigations there have shown what a very serious matter this is in Wales. I simply observe that this clause is a perfect illustration, by providing for two sets of guidance, of the need for a long-term and rational scheme of devolution which eliminates the complexities and disadvantages to Wales. It is really remarkable that, alone of the four nations of this our United Kingdom, Wales is not able to enjoy the unified approach set out in the Bill for England.
My Lords, I might as well start by saying that as Baroness Fox of Buckley in North Wales, and with close family and friends who work in the area of domestic abuse, there is some tying up that we can bring together in my last contribution to this Committee stage.
All the amendments in this group, apart from the Welsh one, are about preventive measures that focus on children. Although I am not a fan of cycle of abuse theories, which I think are too fatalistic and deny agency, I want to address the broader question of education as a solution and raise some reservations before we get to Report. Of course, I am not in any way opposed to the resources and specialised service provision that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, suggested, but I am more concerned about the way that sex and relationships education, or just education in general, is used as the solution. I think that can be problematic.
Indeed, the Minister earlier today—goodness know when; she probably will not remember because it has been a long day—made a point that summed up what a lot of people have been saying: that we need to teach pupils what healthy relationships look like. I thought, “Well, good luck with that.” I do not know whether the Government know the secret of healthy relationships or whether they have a blueprint for success. If so, I hope they will share it. But, in all seriousness, I do not know how appropriate it is for the state to suggest, let alone teach, that there is an agreed or right way of conducting one’s intimate, personal private life. This might be asking too much of teachers—I declare my interest as a former teacher. Practically every single social problem has been outsourced to schools at some time or another, with the thought that schools will solve it and, in some instances, with queueing curriculum priorities.
When it comes to relationships, there is a real problem. If you teach maths or physics, you might have the right answers. Even I, as a former English teacher, would say that teaching the moral complexity of a Shakespeare tragedy would be a doddle in comparison with teaching what a good relationship is. There just is not a right or wrong way to do it.
We have to be careful as we tread the line between socialisation and a coercive, even, kind of social engineering. I always worry when adults talk about the need to talk to children about how they should behave, because it is always easier to win an argument with them and manipulate young minds than to win an argument with adults. That makes me nervous as well.
Because this is the end of this stage of the Bill and some of the issues that have been raised are worth reflecting on in relation to the whole Bill, I would like us to think of the perils involved in how we view relationships and decide what a healthy relationship is. I do not know about other noble Lords but, for me, other people’s relationships are always a bit of a mystery. I know couples who, as far as I can see, spend all their time squabbling, arguing and fighting, and sometimes even shouting. To an outsider, that might look like an unhealthy relationship, but I know that they are families full of love and it is just the way that they express themselves.
I know some religiously conservative couples who have adopted a traditional approach to relationships in terms of gender: maybe a wife who is financially dependent on her husband has adopted a subservient demeanour or is very modest, and perhaps the man is the man about the house and strikes a certain macho pose. On the surface, according to some of what we have heard in Committee, those relationships might look problematic and there might even be signs where one might spot abuse, yet, in reality, these are consenting relationships between religiously conservative people and they are healthy and happy. I just make the point that, although these might not be my chosen types of relationships, it is not my business, and it should not be the business of the state either. Conversely, I know couples who have open relationships, where one or both of the partners are promiscuous. That is definitely not my thing but, in a free society, that is up to them. My point is that every relationship has its own dynamic. It is negotiated by the participants involved and that is their choice.
Let us then think about teaching children. If we teach pupils that those versions of relationships—the various distortions that I have cited—are toxic, and that their dad being macho might mean that he is abusive and that their modest, subservient mum is a victim, or that the fact that their divorcing parents are for ever fighting means that that is a sign of abuse, we risk alienating children from their parents.
Possibly, if we looked at it from a different angle and said that the teaching model should not be to say those relationships are wrong but, rather, it should be to describe unhealthy relationships with graphic images of violence and horrifying narratives of abuse, some of which we have heard during Committee, then I fear that we will feed the young with a diet of alarmist scaremongering that will put them off intimacy and relationships, which in most instances are the wonder of life—full of love and so on.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked powerfully about the dangers of filling young minds with ugly visions when he was referring to pornography. I also do not want us to corrupt young minds by telling them that relationships are so damaging that they have to be scared all the time. In other words, the whole area feels like a moral minefield. We have to be careful when asking schools to be involved in this or saying that education will solve it that we do not fuel battles between parents and the state about which family values should be imparted and what model relationships should look like. We have to question whether that is what we want from this Bill.
My appeal to anyone, anywhere in the world, who is watching and who might be worried about the well-being of children and about them coping with the stresses of family life is that we demand that the Government open the schools as soon as possible, because that would really help. I thank noble Lords for their patience.
My Lords, I will start by talking to my Amendment 184. I am most grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey of Darwen and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for their support and for their excellent and knowledgeable contributions. Amendment 184 would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish separate statutory guidance on teenage relationship abuse. The amendment not only covers teenagers who experience domestic abuse but extends to those who perpetrate abuse within their own teenage relationships.
The Minister may say that this duty has no place in the Bill because of the statutory definition that domestic abuse occurs between two adults over the age of 16, but that definition does not stop it making provisions for people of all ages who are affected by domestic abuse. There is no suggestion that the age for domestic abuse or for criminalising anyone should be lowered. The amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance that acknowledges that teenage domestic abuse is a reality and that special referral pathways are needed to stop teenager abusers and abused turning into their adult versions.
To miss out these youngsters would be to miss out a vulnerable, troubled and abused section of our young people, who are unseen, unheard of and, as a result, unsupported. Research by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found that one in four young girls between the age of 13 and 17 reported some form of physical relationship abuse. That is pretty much the same as in the adult population. We need to ensure that help is available for our children now. What is the point of waiting until they are 16 to start trying to pick up the pieces?
The Government’s Working Together to Safeguard Children report makes no mention whatever of teenage relationship abuse. This oversight has led to policies and referral pathways that do not meet needs. Recent research by the Children’s Society found that only 21% of local authorities had a policy or protocol in place responding to under-16s, and policies and protocols really matter. It worries me that we have introduced compulsory relationship and sex education lessons in schools yet abuse among teenagers remains pervasive. If no services are available to tackle teenage relationship abuse now, we will see teenagers with a problem grow into adults with a problem.
Talking about the other amendments, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who made some thoughtful observations on devolution on government Amendments 178 and 188. Amendment 180 is in the names of my noble friend Lady Featherstone and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher—as well as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who, regrettably, was unable to join us—and they too made knowledgeable and interesting contributions, which, in the interests of the time of night, I will not go into now. On Amendment 183, the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, talked about evidence-based motivational drivers of abuse in his usual clear and authoritative manner.
I feel as though I have been through a bit of a masterclass this evening, but, the hour being late, I do not want to detain the House by elaborating further. As such, I will leave my last contribution of this stage for now.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, I will be brief, bearing in mind the time and the fact that much of what I would have said has already been said. I note what the Minister said on government Amendments 178 and 188, which would ensure that guidance issued by the Secretary of State about matters relating to domestic abuse in Wales does not relate to matters that are devolved in relation to Wales.
Amendment 184—which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and to which my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen added her name—would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish
“separate statutory guidance on … teenage relationship abuse”.
This would not just cover victims of teenage domestic abuse but extend to those who perpetrate abuse within their own teenage relationships.
We support the aims of Amendment 184, and in particular the emphasis on both providing support for victims of abuse in teenage relationships and looking at perpetrator behaviour in young relationships. Ideally, the aim must be not to criminalise very young people but to catch abusive behaviour early, challenge it and prevent it from continuing. The importance of good sex and relationships education, including empowering young people to recognise abusive behaviour, surely cannot be overstated.
I look forward to the Government’s response to Amendment 184 and to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in their amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for explaining their amendments, which I will deal with in turn.
However, first, I will address the curious point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about Lord Curzon and women’s suffrage. I remind the Committee—this will not be lost on noble Lords—that Conservative Governments introduced this Bill, introduced marriage for same-sex couples, were part of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and ensured that women such as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, are able to sit in your Lordships’ House.
That aside, Amendment 180 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, seeks further guidance in relation to “aggressive or manipulative” pupils and “relationship and sex education”. I agree with her that good behaviour in school is absolutely crucial if children are to learn and reach their full potential. As well as delivering excellent teaching, schools should be safe, calm and disciplined environments, free from the disruption that prevents children from learning.
However, I hope to persuade the noble Baroness that Amendment 180 is unnecessary, because there is already a framework of support in place for schools to identify and address the causes of misbehaviour in schools. Where a pupil’s difficulties are such that they require individual or specialist support, the process for this is already established through the special educational needs and disabilities statutory processes, in which the importance of the child or young person, and the child’s parents, participating as fully as possible in decisions is an underpinning principle.
All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy outlining measures to encourage good behaviour and the sanctions that will be imposed for misbehaviour. Department for Education guidance on behaviour and discipline says that schools should consider whether this is as a result of a special educational or other need, where a multiagency referral might be necessary. Where a pupil’s difficulties are such that they require individual or specialist support, schools should refer to the special educational needs and disability code of practice, and set out the provision and support that they will put in place, including drawing on specialist support to meet the child’s needs. All schools are required by the Children and Families Act 2014 to have regard to the views, wishes and feelings of the child and their parents when making decisions about special educational provision and support.
Persistent disruptive behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or young person has special educational needs. Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors, such as undiagnosed learning difficulties. If it is thought that housing, family or other domestic circumstances may be contributing to the child’s behaviour, a multiagency approach, supported by the use of approaches such as early help assessment, might be appropriate. In all cases, early identification and intervention can significantly reduce the use of more costly interventions at a later stage.
Amendment 180 also seeks to ensure that pupils have access to relationships, sex education and preparation for marriage classes. We want to support all young people to be happy, healthy and safe, and to equip them for adult life and to make a positive contribution to society. That is why we have made relationships education compulsory for all primary school pupils, relationships and sex education compulsory for all secondary school pupils, and health education compulsory for pupils in all state-funded schools.
To support schools in implementing these subjects, the Department for Education has published non-statutory implementation guidance, entitled Plan your Relationships, Sex and Health Curriculum, alongside teacher training materials. There is a specific training module on “families and people who care for me”, which has a section dedicated to marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships. The training materials are all freely available on GOV.UK.
I turn to my noble friend’s Amendment 183, which is concerned with the drivers for different types of abuse. I commend my noble friend’s incredible work through his Family Hubs Network. As he rightly says, there is no simple or single cause of domestic abuse. It is multifaceted, complex and a very sensitive issue. It warrants a response that is equally sensitive and, as he pointed out at Second Reading, one that is nuanced.
Drivers of domestic abuse include the exercise of power, but it can also occur through the breakdown of a relationship. In addition, where an individual has particular vulnerabilities, such as those arising from substance misuse, which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, highlighted earlier in Committee and my noble friend talked about tonight, this can potentially make domestic abuse more likely. That is why we make specific reference to the characteristics and types of domestic abuse in the draft statutory guidance that we have published alongside the Bill. It will be regularly updated to allow for emerging trends and behaviours to be recognised. In preparing it last July, we engaged extensively with the domestic abuse sector and practitioners, and that engagement is continuing as we refine it ahead of the formal consultation process following Royal Assent.
The forthcoming domestic abuse strategy will afford a further opportunity to address the drivers and multiple causes of domestic abuse, highlighted by my noble friend, with a specific focus on prevention and early intervention. In short, I assure him that the issues he has highlighted will be addressed in both the statutory guidance and our forthcoming domestic abuse strategy.
Finally, Amendment 184 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is concerned with the important topic of teenage relationship abuse. We know that it can be just as severe as abuse in adult relationships. We are clear that the impact of domestic abuse on young people, including those in abusive relationships, needs to be properly recognised, and we need to ensure that agencies are equipped to identify and respond appropriately. I therefore have no doubt about the intentions of the amendment.
However, under Clause 73, the Secretary of State must already publish guidance that concerns the effect of particular types of behaviour that amount to domestic abuse. This would include abusive teenage relationships, where the parties are at least 16 years old, and the impacts that these relationships have on victims. I therefore agree that the appropriate place to address this is the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73, but I do not think we need to make express provision for this in the Bill.
In preparing this draft guidance, we have worked with the children’s sector to include the impacts of abuse in teenage relationships in the guidance. We will continue to work with the children’s sector to ensure that the guidance is as effective, thorough and accessible as it can be, before it is formally issued ahead of the provisions in Part 1 coming into force.
In addition, Clause 7 of the Bill expressly recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people in the statutory functions of the domestic abuse commissioner. Moreover, the duty in Part 4 of the Bill on tier 1 local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse in safe accommodation expressly extends to victims and their children, so the need for statutory agencies to respond and recognise the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, including in the context of relationship abuse among those aged 16 to 19, is already embedded in the Bill. I have already outlined that relationships, sex and health education is now a statutory part of the curriculum.
Clause 73 already affords the flexibility for the Secretary of State to issue guidance not only about specified provisions of the Bill but about other matters relating to domestic abuse in England and Wales. Such guidance should, however, complement rather than duplicate existing statutory guidance issued by the DfE and others.
I hope that noble Lords agree that, while they have raised important issues, these amendments are not strictly necessary.
Amendment 178 agreed.
Amendments 179 to 187 not moved.
188: Clause 73, page 58, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of this section something relates to Welsh devolved matters so far as it relates to—(a) any matter provision about which would be within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru if it were contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, or(b) (so far as it is not within paragraph (a)), any matter functions with respect to which are exercisable by the Welsh Ministers, the First Minister for Wales, the Counsel General to the Welsh Government or the Senedd Commission.”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the Minister’s amendment at page 57, line 44.
Amendment 188 agreed.
Clause 73 agreed.
Clauses 74 and 75 agreed.
Clause 76: Regulations
Amendment 189 not moved.
Clause 76 agreed.
Clause 77 agreed.
Clause 78: Extent
Amendment 190 not moved.
Clause 78 agreed.
Clause 79: Commencement
Amendment 191 not moved.
Clause 79 agreed.
Clause 80 agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Debate on Amendment 141 resumed.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames tabled this amendment and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, added his name, as did I.
I will not speak for long—just a few minutes—but I would like to give this amendment some context. Just over a year ago, my noble friend was approached by a concerned mother about the “treatment” of her adult daughter by a person who described themself as a psychotherapist. This treatment would not have been recognised by any professional body and did a disservice to the regulated profession of psychotherapy. Such an individual is able to walk into a stranger’s home after being contacted on the strength of an advertisement in a shop window, local newspaper, magazine or online. Counterfeit certificates, business cards and brass plaques are easily obtained to give undeserved credibility.
The phoney therapist broke no law, but the treatment was unrecognised by any regulating body and did great harm to the young woman. She was turned against her family by coercive behaviour and a catalogue of lies. She was turned inside out emotionally and her family were left distraught. I was somewhat taken aback to receive letters from other families whose adult children had been in receipt of similar coercive treatment, leaving them a shadow of their former selves.
This amendment sets out to right these wrongs and ensure that the therapist would not be able to practise in future. I thank my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, who spoke in that debate, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier. The amendment sets out clearly what is an offence in this context, and how to determine that the perpetrator’s behaviour had a serious effect. It also sets out what would count as a defence for the person purporting to be the therapist, and, if found guilty, what the maximum terms of imprisonment would be.
Having listened to my noble friend Lord Paddick last week at the beginning of the debate, I think it worth mentioning that, although the original case concerned a young woman, there is no reason why it should not apply to a vulnerable young man. The amendment is gender neutral and goes a long way to right the wrongs in the case that brought me to this Bill in the first place. I am delighted to support it. I say to the Minister that the coercion was carried out in the victim’s home. It was abuse in a domestic setting and should have been a crime. This amendment will stop others being controlled or coerced by bogus therapists and, if they are sentenced, the punishment will fit the crime.
I wonder whether, before Report, the Minister would be willing to meet some of those who have spoken in this debate.
My Lords, I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the opportunity to talk about the role of psychotherapists. As I will be discussing regulatory issues, I declare my membership of the GMC.
I have no doubt about the value of psychotherapists and the beneficial impact of their work for so many people. But there are potential risks, which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to eloquently when we last debated the amendment. Also, in a Lords debate on 2 March last year, he said:
“We have heard harrowing accounts of victims, often young, brainwashed by unscrupulous and controlling individuals. These charlatans play on their clients’ suffering, deluding them into a false belief in their treatment, often conjuring up in them fake memories about their early years and inducing unhealthy long-term dependence on the therapist and rejection of families and friends.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 477.]
That was reinforced by the case the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, just referred to.
Patients and clients can be vulnerable, and an insensitive, critical or sexually exploitative therapist could increase the risk of the patient having a poor—and potentially damaging—outcome from their therapy. The big problem is that the terms “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected. Any one of us could call ourselves one of those titles and advertise our services to unsuspecting and sometimes vulnerable people. I have long had worries about this, going back to when I was a Health Minister, some 20 years ago.
In 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, introduced a Private Member’s Bill to provide for the regulation of psychotherapists and make provisions to enable the registration of the profession. Since then, we have established workstreams to look into regulation, but, unfortunately, the profession found it difficult to reach a common cause, principally because there were so many different, and sometimes conflicting, schools of thought.
That, I am afraid, was the start of a long and unhappy journey. In 2007, the then Government published a White Paper which included plans to introduce statutory regulation for psychotherapists and counsellors. But, unfortunately, by 2010, this did not import into statute, even though, by then, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had done a sterling job in pulling the different psychotherapy schools together and getting agreement on the way forward. We then had the coalition Government in 2010, which announced a new approach to regulation and a belief that centralised statutory regulation was not always the most effective or efficient way of ensuring high-quality care. That, essentially, is where it stayed.
The debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, last March, induced the following response from the Health Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell:
“The Government are committed to a proportionate system of safeguards for the professionals who work in the health and care system … Where practitioners pose a direct risk of harm to the health and well-being of patients, legal avenues will and must be explored … However, more rules are not always the answer to every problem. While statutory regulation is sometimes necessary where significant risks to users of services cannot be mitigated … it is not always the most proportionate or effective means of assuring the safe and effective care of service users.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 480.]
He also referred to the more than 50,000 talking service professionals on the registers accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. That is welcome, but it is not statutory regulation, nor is it protection of title, which means any of us could, if we wanted to, continue to call ourselves a psychotherapist or counsellor.
The big problem here is that the Government are basing this on a risk assessment for which there is little evidence. There is a real lack of hard research in this area. I am grateful to the Library for unearthing a 2019 article, published in Frontiers in Psychology, which provided a potential explanation of why there may currently be a lack of quantitative research. It said:
“Although the broad topic of negative outcomes has been extensively discussed, empirical research on patient safety, directly examining the causes and prevention of harm, is not well established. Because harm … is relatively rare, and not amenable to experimental manipulation, such research is difficult.”
In 2017, the Brighton Therapy Partnership, a continued professional development and training organisation for counsellors and psychotherapists, said:
“There is very little research into the harm that properly executed therapy can cause. This is an unusual anomaly for a medical field, as in every other area research is abundant into both efficacy and failure of all treatment options.”
When the Government say, as I have no doubt the Minister will today, that it is not proportionate to regulate psychotherapists, there is an absence of evidence to base that on. In the meantime, in the absence of statutory regulation, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is essential. I hope he is prepared to support this all the way in the Bill. There is a dangerous gap, and some action needs to be taken.
My Lords, I speak in support of this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the other noble Lords who have signed it. It seeks to create a new offence of
“Controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services”.
First, I commend the apposite wording—in particular, “persons providing … services,” since these abusive individuals are rarely actually psychotherapists, counsellors or registered practitioners of any kind, but individuals purporting to offer such services. That these charlatans are able to operate beyond the law and act on vulnerable people should be revisited, even if it is not the specific subject of this Bill.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will update our laws to recognise the breadth, and, unfortunately, the subtlety, of the crime. It will now include, among other things, the offence of coercive control. However, while the Bill recognises that such insidious behaviour is punishable within a household, it clearly exists outside the household too. This amendment seeks to address that omission, but it also speaks to the notion of what constitutes “domestic,” namely, the definition of the “connected” person. If one reads the language of the Bill and hears the heartbreaking stories of this abusive practice, there is surely no doubt that this proposed new clause belongs in the Bill.
We are talking about situations where bogus therapists attempt to alienate their subjects from their families and breed dependence on them, the so-called counsellors. False memories are concocted and sown, with happy childhoods replaced with nightmares of abuse that never happened. The symptoms follow a familiar pattern: the self-styled development coach preys on their vulnerable clients and tears them away from their families, to the extent that they break off all contact and become estranged. There are countless such cases. The goal of such therapy is coercion and control, to debilitate and disable—abuse, if ever there was.
The Bill currently defines “connected” persons using the language of intimate personal relationships, among other things. This captures the nature of what occurs in these bogus sessions. Families, friends and loved ones are wilfully alienated by the abuser, who then offers him or herself as a replacement. A dependence is created, and contact and communication of any kind with family and friends are discouraged. This is intimate, yet clearly abusive—exactly the subject of this Bill and exactly why I hope the Government will accept this amendment.
I began by lamenting the lack of legal protection and redress for those who might be duped by unqualified counsellors and psychotherapists, and I believe that this is definitely worthy of more debate and attention from the Government. But what we are talking about now is including such controlling and coercive behaviour by those who cruelly abuse their professional trust. The consequences for the individuals concerned and their families are profound and long-lasting. What goes on in these cases is intuitively and evidentially abuse. It is clearly coercive and controlling, and it is clearly done in the context of the intimate relationships captured by “connected” persons. For all these reasons, I would argue that the new offence belongs in this Bill. I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, during the Committee discussions last week, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, commented on how helpful the debate on presumed parental consent was, and I agree. I felt that I was back on “Moral Maze”; I was moving around the issue and considering it from all sides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made concrete for us that day, lots of issues thrown up by this proposed legislation are complex and nuanced moral dilemmas. It shows what a difficult task we have here in applying public law in what is usually the terrain of private and intimate relationships.
In some ways, though, that discussion on presumed parental consent focused our minds on the domestic core at the heart of this legislation. My concern is that this amendment shifts our focus away from that domestic core—although the previous noble Baroness tried to suggest that we should now broaden our understanding of “domestic”. It shifts our focus, broadens it too widely and potentially dilutes it. Do not get me wrong; when, at the end of the last Committee day, the noble Lord, Lords Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, spoke passionately and movingly—and we have heard similar testimony since—on the devastating impact of those reaping the bitter winds of recovered memory syndrome, which has been a dogma, sadly, I was cheering them on. I have been following the bitter memory wars since the 1990s, and consequences such as the satanic ritual abuse panics and various other panics. When that was a fashionable theory among trauma therapists, sections of social work professionals and some feminist academics, I argued against it. Now that form of therapy has largely been discredited by modern memory science, and is widely ridiculed, as it has been in this discussion, as pseudoscientific quackery.
I share noble Lords’ frustrations that the practice continues unlicensed and unregulated. I have no doubt that unethically encouraging vulnerable people to interpret their present woes through the prism of abuse, and then unethically planting false memories, is coercive. But my worry is that this amendment stretches the definition of coercive control, in the context of domestic abuse, too far. There is a danger, to quote a noble Baroness from an earlier Committee day, that this legislation will be seen as a Christmas tree on which everyone can hang a different preoccupation or grievance. That makes the definition so elastic that it can be a catch-all, and unintentionally relativises our gaze from the specific and discrete brutality of domestic abuse. I am already worried that this Bill has defined abuse far too promiscuously, and that it might well backfire and not help those it is intended to.
It is not just our focus—our gaze as legislators—that it will shift. How will it affect the police and criminal justice system if we label too many incidents as domestic abuse? Part of the popular frustration with the status quo is that serious incidents, threats or credible risks are not taken seriously, sometimes with tragic consequences. People go to the police and they are sent away. Surely what we do not want is for the authorities and the police to be swamped with endless numbers of complainants citing this Bill and a loose basis of the definition of coercive control, starting to make complaints.
I am all for dealing with, and exposing, the charlatans who call themselves counsellors, who play on the therapeutic culture and wo are only too willing to use the issue of abuse to push their own agendas with the consequence of destroying families. Let them be dealt with. I hope the Minister will look at how to deal with psychotherapists exploiting those who turn to them for help, but this is not the legislation to pursue that. So I will not be supporting the amendment, even though I cheer on those who wish to expose the charlatans.
My Lords, on Wednesday, both the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, put the detailed legal arguments for this amendment, and I have added my name to it as well. I shall not try to repeat what they said, but instead will say something that has, perhaps, been said by all bar the last speaker in this debate, which is that I strongly support this amendment.
As a nation we have been very slow to recognise the way in which the human mind can be coerced and controlled by unscrupulous people without the use of violence. I am not sure that until “The Archers” featured Rob Titchener in its storyline about marital coercive control, and gripped the nation with it, many of us would have been able to describe or recognise it on our own doorsteps. We have been even slower as a nation to recognise and enact legislation to protect those who are its victims in another category, namely those whose vulnerability, whether it is emotional or psychological, renders them a target for the bogus counsellors, the amateur psychotherapists and the self-styled life coaches, usually bent on profit, who may appear to be well intentioned but still often inflict real harm and damage on their so-called patients and their families.
This is not a new phenomenon. Unhappy people often search for explanations and cures, and the unscrupulous offer false promises of help and future happiness. They frequently obtain substantial amounts of money from them and very often, using transference, seek to replace contact with parents and families, sometimes by implanting false memories, which in turn often sever domestic relationships for life. As a pupil barrister in 1970s, I remember cases involving the Scientologists. I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, remembers cases involving the Moonies. Domestic alienation was a common feature then, 50 years ago, as it is today with some of the quasi-healers operating in this country right now with impunity.
I personally am aware of one family whose adult daughter fell into the hands of just such people in London. They were paid substantial sums of money by her. Their methods involved repeated “counselling” sessions lasting six or seven hours at a stretch during which, exhausted, she was persuaded to sever all contact with her parents and her family. It took some years for them even to find her, and eventually get her back. She was one of the lucky ones. These people are untrained, unqualified, unregulated and damaging to the vulnerable on whom they prey. Yet our present law currently provides no adequate protection from their activities.
Our understanding and recognition of mental illness is, thankfully, advancing rapidly today. Yet we are only beginning to understand more about how the power of words, whether they are spoken directly or via the internet, can convince an otherwise intelligent adult to become a jihadi or embrace a coronavirus conspiracy theory and, in so doing, often damage and even destroy their closest domestic relationships. On this form of abuse, we have looked the other way for far too long. We have given protection, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, to other vulnerable categories by law—whether they are children, the mentally ill or the elderly—and it is now surely time to add those who are at the mercy of these bogus healers.
The Government argument is often, “Yes, but it’s not right in this Bill”—but I do not see a better Bill on the horizon to deal with this particular lacuna in the law. I totally understand that members of a Bill team that has produced an excellent Bill, as this team has, will always be reluctant to look at a new amendment that may, they fear, perhaps alter the architecture of the Bill on which they have worked so painstakingly. However, I do not see any other way, in the near future, of tackling something that I believe has not only been overlooked for far too long but I suspect is likely to grow, particularly in these times when so many young people are searching for an explanation of why their lives have changed so drastically from their expectations.
I hope that the Minister will agree to take this amendment away, have a look at it with his Bill team and, hopefully, come back with a solution. If he did so, I believe that he would have support across the whole House.
My Lords, this important amendment seeks to include controlling and coercive behaviour by a psychotherapist or counsellor in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, clearly laid out the reality of very unscrupulous practices. When working as they should, psychotherapists are generally trained to work over a long period of time with more complicated mental health issues, whereas counsellors are generally trained to work in the shorter term with life issues such as bereavement and relationships—although in practice there is huge overlap.
A problem arises for the person whose world is in tatters, who feels at sea and is desperate for some help. How do they have any idea whether the person they have been referred to or had suggested to them to see is a charismatic charlatan or an excellent counsellor who will help them to restabilise their life? In this process, they are even more vulnerable than prior to the consultation—a vulnerability that is exploited by the unscrupulous and by sects, as we have heard. They go to speak to a stranger, often paying for the privilege, and as they tell their story, they reveal their vulnerabilities and are often retraumatised by remembering the abuse as they relate events. This is psychological intimacy, and the person is certainly profoundly psychologically connected to their victim.
As we have heard, only the titles “clinical psychologist” and “counselling psychologist” are professionally restricted and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. By contrast, the terms “therapist”, “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected; courses in these subjects are unregulated and vary very widely, which leaves unregistered and poorly trained people wide open to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviours.
Reputable employers providing counselling services, such as Women’s Aid, will expect an employee to have undertaken professional training. Often membership of a relevant professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society, is required to ensure continuing professional development and ongoing supervision to enhance practice. All these bodies stipulate certain standards and ethical codes.
Proposed new subsections (1) and (2) set out what constitutes an offence and emphasise that controlling and coercive behaviour can be both physical and psychological. However, given the lack of regulation, I wonder whether this important amendment sets too high a bar, even for registered and well-trained professionals.
Proposed new subsection (4) raises a concern for me, but I am sure that it can be sorted out. It states that it is a defence to show that, when engaging in the behaviour in question, the psychotherapist or counsellor was acting in the person’s best interests. Here I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. As your Lordships know only too well, the term “best interests” is laid out in the Mental Capacity Act.
If a person has capacity to consent freely to whatever is proposed, there seems no rationale to make a best interests decision for them, and no form of controlling or coercive behaviour would be in their best interests. The person must have had the capacity to be able to consent to the counselling session. If the person lacks capacity to consent to a particular decision at a particular time, that decision should be deferred until they regain capacity for that decision. If restrictions of any sort have to be put in place in a person’s best interests because they cannot consent to the proposal, a formal best interests decision-making process, as laid out in statute, must be undertaken. A deprivation of liberty safeguard procedure or safeguarding may be required. I am worried that this defence, as written in the amendment, actually lessens the safeguards of a vulnerable person. I am sure that that is not what it aims to do.
For children and young people under 18, there are specific requirements about consent that would suggest that a child or young person would need to show relevant competence to consent to counselling in any service. If they do not show that, surely only a professional registered with the Health and Care Professions Council—and subject to oversight—should be involved with the child.
Those deeply traumatised by domestic abuse need to be protected from people who may be exploiting their vulnerability for financial and other personal gain. The issues raised in this amendment are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, laid out the sad story of our attempts to establish registration some years ago. Now, enough is enough. Proper registration processes for those calling themselves counsellors, psychologists or psychotherapists are essential so that anyone providing such services of any sort, whether to victims or to perpetrators of abuse, must be trained against some minimum registration criteria, with ongoing supervision and outcome audits.
My Lords, Amendment 141, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, raises the important issue of controlling or coercive behaviour.
This proposed offence is modelled on the existing offence of coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015. I support the intent behind the amendment, but this appears to be an offence committed by a person who has a relationship with a family member; this is not about families, it is a professional client/patient relationship, so it is slightly different.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set out the timeline of discussions over the last 20 years. It made quite sorry listening—such a long period has elapsed and so little has been achieved. That in itself should be concerning to all noble Lords.
As we have heard in this debate, it is worrying that potentially dangerous individuals can set themselves up with little or no control or regulation—no standards appear to be adhered to—and seek to offer professional services to people who are vulnerable or have issues. Quite clearly, they are only going to make the situation much worse. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu talked about what she referred to as “quasi-healers” and gave an example of the suffering and damage that these people can cause.
I support the intent behind the amendment and its aim. However, I am not sure that this is the right Bill for it, although I accept the point made by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu that we cannot see a Bill on the horizon that it could obviously slot into, which is itself a problem for us all. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, will set out what the Government propose to do to address this issue and say not just that it does not belong in this Bill but what we are going to do about it, because, as we have heard today, there are clearly some serious problems that deserve to be addressed by Parliament and the Government. I would particularly like to hear what he intends to do between now and Report; I have no doubt at all we will discuss the issue again on Report after the Recess.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today and on Wednesday evening, when we began it. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for setting out the case for this amendment, which, as he explained, seeks to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to psychotherapists and counsellors providing services to clients.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was right; we have perhaps as a country been slow to appreciate the scale of coercive behaviour. I am very proud that it was my right honourable friend Theresa May who provided for the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. That offence applies only to those who are “personally connected”, as defined in the section. It applies to intimate partners, regardless of whether they live together, to ex-partners who live together and to family members who live together. Amendment 141 would extend the offence beyond those who are personally connected, as defined by Section 76, so that it would apply to psychotherapists and counsellors. Most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have pointed to evidence and indeed to specific harrowing cases suggesting that fraudulent psychotherapists and counsellors—or, as they understandably refer to them in many cases, charlatans—take advantage of their position to supplant friends and families in the minds and affections of their clients for the purpose of turning them against those friends and families. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, suggested that this abuse should be caught by the controlling or coercive behaviour offence because therapists are abusing their position of trust and the dependence of their clients.
We have already had a number of debates in Committee on earlier amendments where my noble friends and I have stressed the importance of preserving the meaning of “personally connected” for the purposes of the definition of domestic abuse and, by extension, for the purposes of the Section 76 offence. The controlling or coercive behaviour offence was created in 2015 to fill a particular gap in the criminal law in relation to a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. We are not persuaded that what looks like the beguilingly simple act of taking the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour in a domestic abuse setting and applying it to abuses of power by psychotherapists or counsellors should be undertaken without careful and detailed analysis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has said, the professional/client relationship is a different one.
We have had a thoughtful but not conclusive debate on the definitions of what constitutes a domestic setting and an intimate relationship. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said, these things may take place in the home, but often they will not. My noble friend Lady Finn explored what constitutes a domestic setting, but it is the personal connection that matters. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that we want to maintain a careful focus on the definition of domestic abuse as it is widely understood, and as we want the Bill to draw further attention to. That matters not only for the architecture of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, but in making sure that the police and other agencies are tightly focused on tackling the scourge of domestic abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said. We think, therefore, that without proper study it would not be right to transplant the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour into what is quite a separate power dynamic.
That is not, of course, to downplay the seriousness of this issue or the harrowing examples raised by noble Lords. The Government believe that we should look to other remedies, and it might be helpful to set out some of those that exist through the action that has been taken. A system of accredited voluntary registration with the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care already exists. The authority has a process for quality assuring voluntary registers of health and care professionals in the UK who are not subject to statutory regulation. It currently accredits 10 voluntary registers relating to counselling and psychotherapy, providing assurance to the public on approximately 50,000 talking therapy professionals. The registers can be used by service users to choose a practitioner to meet their needs and to be assured that those practitioners are safe, trustworthy and competent to practise.
To gain accreditation with the Professional Standards Authority, organisations have to meet 11 standards for accredited registers. These standards require organisations to have a focus on public protection, to have processes in place for handling complaints against practitioners, to set appropriate levels of education and training for entry to the register, to require registrants to undertake continuing professional development and to understand and monitor the risks associated with the practices of registrants. Any registrant who is removed from an accredited register for conduct reasons cannot join another accredited register. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that these registers are voluntary. We would urge anyone looking to engage the services of a psychotherapist or counsellor to ensure that they are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.
Noble Lords have raised issues which I know have been the subject of separate and indeed long-standing debates in your Lordships’ House. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, both referred to their experiences and insights from their time as Ministers and set out some of the actions which have been taken since. While there may be a need to legislate on this matter in the future, that is a question for the Department of Health and Social Care. I cannot commit the department one way or the other today, but for reasons of focus on the particular offence of domestic abuse, we do not feel that this Bill is the right place to do that. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I will call them in that order.
My Lords, one salutary and useful aspect of this amendment is that it has focused our minds on false memories and false allegations. It is therefore a reminder that we must challenge what we believe to be the victim mindset that can lead to grave injustices. The amendment should remind the Government that abuse is so emotive that it becomes quite hard to challenge if it has been alleged. The reason why false memories have been so damaging over the years is that once the victims say that they have been abused while under the care, guidance, manipulation or coercive control of said “quack” counsellor, no one can challenge that because it is an accusation of abuse. This legislation bends the stick in the direction of victims far too much, in my opinion, and I urge the Minister to take great care and perhaps investigate some of the harrowing stories of false memory syndrome in order to learn lessons and not make the same mistakes here.
The noble Baroness is right to say that this area needs continued and careful thought, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who referred to the complexity of the issues and the matters which have to be considered. We will indeed do that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his careful response. He said that this issue goes wider than his own department, and I agree. In the period between Committee and Report, would it therefore be possible for him to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to discuss it? It is clearly a serious issue that demands a cross-government response and that would not necessarily be met only by an amendment to a particular Bill.
I was going to make the same suggestion as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who made the point that this is an important issue that runs across departments. As he said, I am not sure that this is the right Bill in which to address it, but equally, I am concerned that there may not be a right vehicle at the moment. We have to find some way of dealing with this issue, which has been raised across the House. We have potentially dangerous people treating very vulnerable people and thus only making the situation worse. We should not allow that to happen and we must find a way of dealing with it.