Baroness Sanderson of Welton debates involving the Home Office during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 15th Mar 2021
Mon 8th Mar 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Lords Hansard
Wed 3rd Mar 2021
Thu 11th Feb 2021
Wed 10th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Technology Rules: The Advent of New Technologies in the Justice System (Justice and Home Affairs Committee Report)

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Monday 28th November 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble and learned Lord. As others have before me, I compliment the chair of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on her comprehensive opening remarks—no easy feat with this report—and her very fair and decent approach throughout the committee’s inquiry. I also compliment our secretariat on its hard work and guidance.

There are many topics we could cover—and have covered—in this debate today: the technology itself, the dangers of inherent bias and predictive policing and the implications for civil liberties. However, for the purposes of today, I will concentrate on the pace at which new technologies are developing, particularly within the police—which I, and perhaps the Minister, notice seems to be an emerging theme—and pick up on some of the Home Office’s responses to our concerns.

As my noble friend the Minister will know from the report, when we began this investigation, we did it on the understanding that, despite the concerns I have just mentioned, AI is a fact of modern life. We acknowledged that it can have a positive impact in improving efficiency and finding solutions in an ever more complex world.

However, in terms of the justice system, and more specifically the police, we became alarmed at the relatively unchecked proliferation of new technology across all 43 forces. As has been mentioned, we made a number of recommendations to combat this: a central register, kitemark certification, mandatory training and better oversight.

I know that these are significant steps and that they have costs attached, but they were carefully thought through and, to be honest, we were not expecting to be quite so roundly dismissed by the Government in their response. They seemed to imply that we had failed to appreciate the value and necessity of AI tools in today’s policing environment. In particular, the response highlighted the use of CAID—the Child Abuse Image Database—which brings together all the images found by police and the NCA, helping them to co-ordinate investigations.

In one sense, the Government are right to make much of CAID because it was game-changing. For instance, a case with 10,000 images that would typically have taken up to three days to review could be done in an hour, thanks to CAID. Perpetrators could be apprehended more quickly, officers protected from the effects of viewing these images and more focus placed on identifying the victims. As someone who worked on child sexual abuse and exploitation at the Home Office when CAID was introduced, I assure the Minister that I completely understood—and understand—the value of new technologies in certain instances.

However, in the context of the report, I just do not think that it is a very helpful example. The Home Office itself helped to develop CAID in collaboration with the police and industry partners. Once piloted, it went live across all police forces and the NCA. To suggest that that is the norm would be misleading, and it should not be used as a reason not to address the clear problems that we identified in a system where all 43 forces, as has been mentioned, are free to individually commission whatever tools they like in a market that is, as we said, opaque at best and the Wild West at worst, in which the oversight mechanisms are, frankly, inadequate. The Home Office may think that we are overreacting, but the truth is that it would be hard-pushed to make that case because without a central register, as we suggested, it is impossible to know who is using what, how and to whom.

If we dig a little deeper, the Minister may see why we are concerned. Some of this has already been mentioned. On procurement, we heard from a police representative who said that procurement is not the comfort zone of all police forces. When the tools they are procuring may have consequences for human rights and the fairness of the justice system, as we have been talking about, never mind taking into account the complexities of the technologies market, where providers are reluctant to share information on the basis of commercial confidentiality, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, that is truly worrying.

Then there is the problem that, as the NCC Group told us,

“many claims made by [Machine Learning] product vendors, predominantly about products’ effectiveness in detecting threats, are often unproven, or not verified by independent third parties.”

There are the salespeople who—in an understandably overzealous way in a burgeoning market—according to one developer,

“take something they do not understand and shout a number that they do not understand”.

I would add that in many cases they then make it available to officers who do not understand it either. Incredibly, the police are not required to be trained to use different AI technologies—this is one of the things I found most shocking in our report—including facial recognition, because they are procured at a local level.

All this does not feel like a solid foundation on which to deploy such highly sensitive tools and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has already alluded to, there are some in the police and in the market who agree with us. At the excellent conference at the Alan Turing Institute last week, one speaker representing the police pointed out that in order to become a detective you have to pass an exam, and that the same should be true for technology. Another from a different force said: “Artificial intelligence is not on the tip of the tongue of the public yet, but we don’t want it to be another frontier of failure.”

One way in which we could help to build confidence is statutory specialist ethics committees, which would not only increase community involvement and understanding but help to create an institutional culture of accountability, something that we already know needs to be improved. I am afraid to say that that was another recommendation dismissed by the Home Office.

I am not blaming the police here. There are some brilliant forces, such as West Midlands, which have spotted the benefits but also the pitfalls, and which are working hard to get ahead of them. Without more commitment from the Government, though, I fail to see how the current system leads to anything but another frontier of failure. As people have said throughout the debate, at some point under the current free-for-all, when a police force that has not put in the protections that, say, West Midlands has, it feels inevitable that something is going to go very wrong.

It is not as though the Government are not doing anything. The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, which is based in DCMS, is piloting the public sector algorithmic transparency standard. We on the committee would all agree with that, and, genuinely, people around the world are looking at it. Can the Minister tell me, if you compare the work that is going on in DCMS with the response to our report, how closely do officials in the Home Office work with their counterparts in DCMS on this? This pilot includes some police forces, and it does not feel as if the two marry up.

Again, as others have said, I know that probably quite a few people may wish to put this report on the shelf and watch it gather dust. However, I think we all know that in practice, that is unlikely to happen because the concerns raised within it will surely become more apparent down the line.

Finally, we heard a great analogy at the conference last week with regard to training for those using AI. The speaker said: “For a car to be allowed on the road, it’s got to have an MOT, but the driver also has to have a licence.” I am afraid that at the moment, with regard to these technologies, we do not have either.

Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse: Final Report

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Monday 24th October 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate obviously makes some good points. I will outline what the Government are doing to ensure that all sectors and leaders of society are working together to tackle child sexual abuse. In his opening speech in the other place, the Home Secretary comprehensively outlined the cross-party and multiagency dimension to all of this. We are transforming the way that local safeguarding agencies work together to ensure a more effective response in safeguarding children.

The Children and Social Work Act 2017 introduced significant reforms, requiring local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and chief officers of police to form multiagency safeguarding partnerships. All of the new partnerships were in place by September 2019, but we know that there are still improvements to be made to the quality and consistency of the local partnerships. We are working with local partners to understand and address those challenges in ensuring effective independent scrutiny, engaging with schools and other relevant agencies and distributing funding.

I reiterate that the Government are firmly committed to supporting all institutions that play a role in safeguarding children to develop robust safeguarding strategies that are carefully monitored, ensuring the safety and protection of children, regardless of where they live and spend their time.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I worked with the right honourable Member for Maidenhead in setting up this inquiry. At the time, plenty of people said it should not have been launched: they said it was all in the past and that there was no point in raking it all up again. Then they said that the terms of reference were too broad and that it would never end. I am pleased to say that they were wrong on all counts.

I congratulate Professor Alexis Jay on her brilliant stewardship of this inquiry and on her hard-hitting report. As she did in Rotherham, she has revealed truths that mean we can never look at society in the same way again. There is too much to say here, but I will cite a couple of important statistics in the report that have not been mentioned. In any year group of 200 children, it is estimated that 10 boys and more than 30 girls will experience sexual abuse before the age of 16. The number of sexual abuse offences recorded by the police where the victim was a child under the age of four has risen by 45% in recent years. So, as noble Lords have said, this is not in the past; it is very much in the present, and it will continue to wreck lives if we do not do something to stop it.

Having worked on the inquiry’s Truth Project, I have listened to the accounts of victims and survivors. Although everyone’s experience is different, the damage is always the same: families torn apart, lives forced in a different direction and feelings of shame, anger and hurt. We should thank all those who came forward to ensure that what happened to them does not happen to future generations. Thanks to Professor Jay, it does not have to; she has given us the answers.

As I said, it is a brilliant report, but it can only ever be as good as the action that flows from it. So I thank my noble friend the Minister for the Statement, which reflects the deeper understanding that we now have of this issue. But could he assure the House once more that the Government will look quickly and seriously at its recommendations and ensure that all the relevant departments across government play their part in implementing them? As we saw from the interim report, if they do not work together, we cannot drive through the change that is very much needed.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her remarks and commend her for her efforts when she was working with the right honourable Member for Maidenhead. I am grateful for the opportunity to commend the former Prime Minister for her extraordinary work on this.

Those statistics are genuinely appalling, particularly when they are put in those terms. I have read them as percentages, which perhaps seem rather dry, but to give numbers is harrowing. The Government have made it clear that they are determined to work across agencies and across departments; that work will be ongoing, and all relevant departments will be involved in it.

Something the Home Secretary said bears repeating: when asked about a Minister for children, he said:

“We all … have to be Ministers for children”.


I think he is right.

Sarah Everard: Home Office Inquiry

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Tuesday 9th November 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think the House agrees that trust and confidence in the police must be restored. We wish this inquiry to proceed at pace and to get to the nub of the various issues that it will look into. If the Home Secretary is not satisfied that a non-statutory inquiry is fulfilling those commitments, she can convert it to a statutory inquiry, but I must say that I think the whole House seeks the same end from this inquiry.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, on a slightly separate, but related, matter, what are the implications of the Sarah Everard inquiry for the Daniel Morgan inquiry, which reported in June, described the Met as institutionally corrupt and found numerous failings? Some work has already begun but, given the potential for overlap here and the Morgan family’s long wait for justice, will the Government consider including the delivery of the panel’s recommendations in their cross-government task force?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right that there is inevitable overlap here. HMICFRS is already inspecting the Metropolitan Police Service in relation to vetting and countercorruption, at the Home Secretary’s request, and findings from this will feed into the broader inspection that she has asked HMICFRS to undertake across all forces. There is work ongoing in the Metropolitan Police Service and in the Home Office to respond to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel recommendations, and the Home Secretary has already committed to provide an update in due course. Of course, any relevant evidence from this work can then be considered by part 2 of the independent inquiry, which will look more broadly at standards in policing.

Police: Body-worn Videos

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Wednesday 7th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I totally agree with the noble Lord that space between online circulation of video and the police reactively putting the video online creates a vacuum for speculation and can undermine the criminal justice process, so I think speed is of the essence. For that reason, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for asking the Question.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, on a separate but related issue, in her HMIC report, Wendy Williams recommended that all forces should record the entirety of all stop and search encounters by September of this year and that external scrutiny panels should have access to that footage. As the use of stop and search has increased, public confidence in the process is more important than ever. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm whether police forces across the country intend to implement these recommendations?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. As always, Wendy Williams’ report has come up with some very insightful recommendations. My noble friend will know that the use of body-worn video during stop and search is an operational decision for forces. The Home Office supports it as a tool for increasing transparency and accountability. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary reinforced that in her speech to the Police Federation conference early last month when she said that the Home Office would be

“looking carefully at strengthening the system of local community scrutiny and the value of body-worn video, because transparency”,

as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, said, “is vital.”

Policing and Prevention of Violence against Women

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Tuesday 16th March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con) [V]
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The noble Baroness will see some of the things that we have done in relation to perpetrator strategies and approaches, DAPOs, DAPNs and stalking protection orders. These are all measures to nip problems in the bud and prevent them from escalating into what could end up as full-on violence.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that one of the key things to make a difference to policing and the prevention of violence against women will be the Domestic Abuse Bill? It has been greatly improved by Members across this House, giving police clear new tools and challenging current norms of behaviour. Is it not now imperative that we get it on the statute book?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con) [V]
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My noble friend is absolutely right, and it has been a pleasure to work with her, given all her experience—of course, she was part of the team that was at the heart of that Bill’s inception. It is crucial that we get it on the statute book; she is absolutely right that we have all worked together to achieve it. It has been much improved and, as so many noble Lords have said, it is a landmark Bill.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Lord Strasburger Portrait Lord Strasburger (LD) [V]
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who has made several powerful speeches during the passage of this Bill. I shall speak to Amendment 81 in my name. It requires the Government to devise a perpetrator strategy to prevent, identify and assess perpetrators. It would increase the number of rehabilitation programmes and better tackle attitudes before they lead to a crime. It goes without saying that it is far better to prevent repetition of domestic abuse before it occurs. Even better, we should aim to prevent abuse happening in the first place.

At a time when violence against women is sadly in the headlines once again, we have a duty to do all we can to prevent crimes that can be entirely predictable, as we have heard, and often follow a multitude of warning signs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, illustrated in her four examples and as other speakers have done. Domestic abuse is a crime hidden in people’s homes. Behind the doors of ordinary homes, tens of thousands of victims live in pain and fear with their own families. Domestic abuse is a terrible, secret crime.

Several noble Lords have used the phrase “murder in slow motion” because when domestic abuse reaches its logical end, often after years, the murder is so very predictable. And yet it still happens, time after time—women mostly, dying after years of injury at the hands of the men they loved. The Bill sets out to help those victims when they leave their abuser and report them—when they have had enough.

However, Amendments 73 and 81 seek to prevent the crimes happening in the first place, so that victims do not have to leave and perpetrators can see what they are doing and choose to stop before another tragedy, of which there are so many, ending in injury, pain or death. We need to step in before children who witness this tragedy grow up and take everything they have learned into their own relationships, playing out the same tragedy again 20 years down the line.

Good-quality perpetrator programmes help those who assault, coerce or frighten those closest to them to stop. The best programmes help perpetrators realise that they do not do it because anyone makes them; they do it because they choose to, and they can choose not to. Good perpetrator interventions have stunning success rates, which I and other noble Lords have already rehearsed in this House. How can we possibly fail to do everything we can to stop the pain, the destruction and the transfer of this tragedy down through the generations? The Government must do everything they can to discover the best of these programmes, roll them out over the entire country and fund them in such a way as to make them a part of a well-used and reliable method of reducing this sickening secret crime.

We must do more. In their sex and relationships education classes, the children of this nation must be taught not only what good relationships look like and how to treat their future partners with respect, but also what an abusive relationship looks like. Then they will be able to recognise when a relationship of their own, which may have started well, begins to sour. Once we have shown them what it looks like, we should tell them where they can get help, what they can do, how they can stop it, or how they can escape it and who they can call.

In Committee, the Minister responded to this amendment with an assurance that a perpetrator strategy will be included within the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy. It has also emerged that a total of £25 million of initial funding is available. However, the Minister’s statement was rather short on important detail and I hope she will be able to fill the gaps in her reply. I invite the Minister to tell the House the Government’s position on the following matters, for all of which I provided her with advanced notice.

Will the Government not only fund behaviour change interventions but stimulate changes across public service delivery to better detect and prevent abuse in the first place? Will the perpetrator strategy set measurable targets? Will the Government lay out plans to stimulate social change to end any lingering tolerance of abusive behaviour? Will the Government commit the Home Office to work with other departments to shape the perpetrator strategy and ensure their buy in? Will they consult experts outside government across public services and the specialist women’s sector?

Will the perpetrator strategy contain clear guidance on quality for commissioners to ensure that there is no risk of public money funding poor practice? Will the perpetrator strategy set out the Government’s funding intentions for the next three years? Above all, will the Government no longer allow perpetrators to fly under the radar and abuse time and again? We must stop asking: “Why doesn’t the victim leave? Why doesn’t she keep her children safe?” We must start putting responsibility to change on those who are being abusive, until the abuser can ask himself: “Why don’t I stop?”

I look forward to the Minister’s response. If necessary, I will test the opinion of the House, depending on what she has to say.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 73 and 81. I applaud the intentions of both amendments but will raise a couple of practical points. I hope that they do not seem inappropriate after the shocking testimony of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the very powerful and moving speech by my noble friend Lady Bertin.

In relation to establishing a register, the aim of adding serial abusers and stalkers to ViSOR is to make it easier for agencies across the country to identify and monitor perpetrators. In principle, this seems sensible. It puts the burden on the perpetrator, not the victim, and, given that many high-harm perpetrators are repeat offenders, it could help manage the risk. However, there are concerns from some working on the front line as to whether it would achieve that goal in practice.

ViSOR is a vital tool for the police, prison and probation services, but its effectiveness depends on the quality and timeliness of the information recorded within it. If we are to extend it, then there must be questions about who goes on it, how long they stay on it and, given the potential size and complexity of such a database, how we ensure that it is fit for purpose. Will it be able to do the job for which it is intended? No one has yet found satisfactory answers to these questions. As I said, I applaud the intention, so I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could outline some of the alternative ways in which the Government can and will strengthen oversight in relation to perpetrators.

The call in Amendments 73 and 81 for a perpetrator strategy is more straightforward. Thanks to the innovative work of SafeLives and its partners in the Drive project, we know that targeted intervention programmes work. As they say, domestic abuse is not inevitable. We can and must stop it recurring and, indeed, occurring in the first place. I question whether we need to call for this on the face of the Bill, given that the Minister has already assured us that it will be part of the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy. However, like others, I do not question the need for it. As recent events have shown us, the focus should be on the perpetrator, not the victim.

Like others, I put on record my deepest sympathies for Sarah Everard’s family and friends. We all hope that something good can come out of something so unfathomably bad, but we should never forget that at the centre of this national debate is a very personal tragedy and a private grief.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
The Government need to act, if not in this Bill then in guidance, so that we identify and name this particular type of alienation for what it is—a form of domestic abuse—and that we furthermore signal that this is no longer a lever to be used in an adult conflict. I finish where I started by saying that I hope that, in the end, it will be found that this amendment is unnecessary.
Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with the Government’s decision to keep a broad definition of domestic abuse. I believe that the coercive nature of alienation is covered in the Bill, so I am afraid that I do not consider this amendment necessary. However, having not spoken on this issue in Committee, I would like to speak briefly to say that, although the amendment is not needed, the issue is real.

I understand the concerns about the way alienation is used by perpetrators, but that does not negate the incalculable harm that was done to my noble friend Lady Meyer and her family and to the many other parents, grandparents and children who have found themselves in a similar position. Her determination to bring a greater understanding and awareness is impressive. It took great courage to stand up in this Chamber and share what is ultimately a very private, very painful experience. That experience should not simply be dismissed and I welcome the fact that work is ongoing in this area, so that we may properly understand this complicated, often devastating problem.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I speak against Amendment 2 as I did against the comparable amendment in Committee. I also express my opposition to the inclusion of alienating behaviour in the statutory guidance.

In Committee, having begun examining the issue of claims of parental alienation with an open mind, I focused particularly on the research and expert evidence, including a complete issue of the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law. Today, I will reflect on what came next. As I expected, having spoken in your Lordships’ House, written an accompanying op-ed and shared both outputs on social media, I got a significant response.

A lot of that response was emotional and angry. That did not surprise me, since we are talking about the most intimate of personal relationships, and I was more tolerant of aggressive tones than I would have been on other topics. But something struck me in many of the responses that I received. It was the use of the word “right”, as in “my right to see my children”, “parents’ rights”, “my right to direct my children’s future”. That crystalised some of the unease that I had felt in reading the academic claims backing a so-called syndrome of parental alienation—explicitly or implicitly, that was where they were coming from.

We live, of course, in what continues to be a patriarchy. Claims laid down for millennia that the father is the head of the household, that, as in ancient Rome—the classical world that some of our current Government seem to so admire—he had the right even to kill any member of it without the law offering any legal protection at all, are extremely hard to wipe away.

Under British law, until 1839 every father had the absolute right to keep control of his children should their mother leave. Even after 1839, only women who had the means to petition the Court of Chancery had a chance of keeping what we would now call custody, and then only if they could demonstrate an absolute moral clean sheet. The father’s morals were irrelevant. If your Lordships want to see how there is nothing new about coercive control, the life of Caroline Norton, whose brave, landmark campaigning won that change in the law, will demonstrate that. The global pervasiveness of this patriarchal ideology was referred to earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, said in opening this group that the Bill should not be caught up in gender politics. This issue—the entire Bill—is deeply, inevitably gendered, however much the Government might try to deny it. The struggle to get to the situation we are apparently in now, where the wellbeing of the child is predominant in decisions made about that child, was one long struggle against a society run by men in their own interests. But now we are faced with renewed efforts, a fightback for a “presumption of contact”—an assumption that if a child says they do not want to spend time with a parent, the other parent must be turning the child against them.

After entering the debate publicly in Committee, I was contacted by women who told me what presumption of contact and a fear of an accusation of parental alienation had done to them. I want to give them voice, so I will report one such case. I will call her Camilla, although that is not her name. Her account was of seven years of hellish coercive control and physical assault. She remained, at least in part, because the partner concerned told her that he would claim parental alienation if she left and did not allow wide access to the children. She was concerned about what would happen during that access.

After Camilla had left the relationship, she went through court case after court case as he claimed rights to parental access, while not paying the child maintenance that he could have afforded, and alleging that the children’s expressions of a desire not to spend time with him were a result of so-called parental alienation. Such offenders, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, can be extremely convincing in a public space and in contact with professionals.

For fear of not being believed, Camilla told her child that should anything bad happen when they were with their father, the child should not tell her, but should instead tell an official authority figure. So, that upper primary school age child declared, in front of many peers and school officials at a school gathering, that their father was physically abusing his new girlfriend in front of them. Then, happily, safeguarding apparatuses kicked in, as they should have. A few weeks later that child disclosed, again to people outside the family, that they had been sexually abused by an individual that the father had left them with. It is a horrendous account and one that I will long remember, and I think of the difficulties and pressures on that child.

This brings me to my final point, one that I do not think our debate in Committee really brought out. It is about the impact on a child of being told that they are deluded, or that their mother or father is leading them astray, or lying to them, and that their own impressions, feelings, desires and beliefs about not being with a parent are some kind of false consciousness. When a child says that they do not want contact, they need to be given—no doubt for their own well-being—the chance to explore that with trained professionals and given the time to explain, to discuss and to vent their feelings.

Above all, children need to be listened to. Imagine what it feels like to have stated very clearly to officialdom that you do not want to spend time with a parent, that you have seen them doing things that are illegal or vicious or clearly damaging to other human beings, then being forced by a court to spend time with them anyway.

I was talking about these issues with a friend of mine who is over the age of 80. I was fascinated when she explained how, not through the agency of the court but through community and social pressure, she had been forced to spend teenage weekend days with her father who had separated from her mother years before. She felt that her father did not really want to be there, and she certainly did not want to be there as a teenager, but she did not have agency or control. More than 60 years later those weekends clearly still had an impact on her. We know that agency and control of one’s own self, being listened to and believed, are crucial for well-being.

It would appear that this amendment is not going to be pushed to a Division, so on one level this is academic. That is narrowly true in terms of the progress of this Bill, but in terms of defending a hard-won, long-fought-for principle of children’s interests being paramount in the official approach to custody and access, against the weight of those millennia when the father’s control was absolute or near absolute, this is an important debate. Let us keep the well-being of children as the sole goal—a very recent goal that is both a moral right and one that will give us the healthiest possible society.

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Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with these amendments and in particular with what the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has just said. However, I want to concentrate on Amendment 68, and I declare an interest as the chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. I am not asking for comments on forced marriage to be put into the Bill on Report, but I want to see it in the statutory guidance. When looking at Amendment 68, I think it is very important that an assessment should be made of the impact of social security reforms by the relevant government department. There is a group of young people whose needs must be assessed in the social security reforms: those who are being forced into marriage—they are usually coerced. They include, in particular—this is what I am concerned about—those who are aged under 18. I hope that they can be taken into account when the impact of these policies is taken into account.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I would like to speak to Amendment 10, and I am afraid I am going to make the argument that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, did not want to hear again today. I will speak to Amendment 17 later in the debate, but, in the main, I do not think that the exception should prove the rule. I am not sure that it is right to demand a report on such a specific issue on the face of the Bill, nor do I think it is right to demand that it is done within a year of the passing of this legislation. While the commissioner-designate has said that she is happy to do the work, she has indicated that she would need additional resources and support to do so.

I am not making any comments on the value or otherwise of the work itself, but I believe that it is for the commissioner’s office to decide priorities within the budget allocated to her, rather than it being the role of legislation. She is the “independent” domestic abuse commissioner and it is not for us to dictate in such fine detail what she should and should not be doing.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I begin by acknowledging my noble friend Lady Lister and her heroic persistence in seeking welfare reform. The staggering statistics which have just been shared by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, are shocking. In that light, I would argue that economic abuse is an integral part of coercive control that has been experienced by survivors. The Government’s recognition and inclusion of economic abuse in the new statutory definition of domestic violence is therefore welcome.

As has been said by all noble Lords, we know that financial control is a barrier to escaping violence and abuse, and therefore immediate access to financial assistance through welfare benefits is a lynchpin for women survivors if they choose or are forced to flee their homes. I am particularly concerned about women without secure immigration status, including those whose marriages have not been registered, and, of course, migrant women who find it impossible to access refuge accommodation and other welfare support, making it impossible for them to escape abuse.

Refuge and Women’s Aid, among other leading organisations, are seriously concerned about and are seeking changes to welfare benefits as regards all survivors of domestic violence, without which women will not be in a position to leave their abusive perpetrators. The single payment of universal credit, the five-week wait for payment, the two-child tax credit limit and the benefit cap all disproportionately impact single women and children. We are all too aware that the law detrimentally impacts them and other welfare support hinders women’s choices and decisions.

I therefore ask the Minister—I am sure these points have been made, but I want to reinforce them—if the Government will heed the call of women’s organisations and place a duty on the Government to assess all welfare reforms for their impact on women’s ability to escape abuse. Will the Government deliver separate payments of universal credit and ensure that they are safe for survivors of domestic abuse? Will they end the benefit cap for victims and survivors of violence and abuse which deters survivors from finding safe and secure homes as well as preventing some from being able to move on from secure refuge space?

I am very thankful to have been able to speak to these amendments, specifically highlighting Amendment 10. All noble Lords have spoken with a great deal of expertise, of which I profess I have none, so I am very grateful. I just wanted to stand in support of these amendments.

Stop and Search

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Wednesday 3rd March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I agree that we must police by consent. I also agree that someone should never be stopped on the basis of their race, and that the use of stop and search must be both reasonable and proportionate.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, we were told that increasing the use of Section 60 powers was necessary to suppress levels of violence and knife crime, yet, according to this report, of all Section 60 searches in 2019-20, only 3.7% found a knife or a weapon. Meanwhile, disproportionality has increased, with black people 18.1 times more likely to be searched under Section 60 than white people. Given the damage that Section 60 searches can cause to community relations and in the light of the very low find rates, can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether there are any plans to review this policy?

Operation Midland

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Thursday 11th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I do not undermine the suffering of Lady Brittan but, with regards to the individual to whom the noble Lord refers, a remedy was sought. That individual was convicted of perverting the course of justice, and now sits in prison.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests as set out in the register. There is little doubting the terrible damage done to all those targeted by Operation Midland, but I make the point that these false allegations also harm the real victims of child sexual abuse, of which there are many. How many convictions have there been to date for historical child sexual abuse?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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First, I totally agree with my noble friend about false allegations harming the actual victims, which has never been raised in your Lordships’ House before. On historic convictions for non-recent child sexual abuse allegations, since 2015 there have been almost 5,000. Those are the victims we should really be thinking about.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Featherstone Portrait Baroness Featherstone (LD) [V]
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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.

Baroness Sanderson of Welton Portrait Baroness Sanderson of Welton (Con)
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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.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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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.