All 8 Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 5th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 25th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Mon 1st Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 3rd Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 8th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
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
Wed 10th Mar 2021
Mon 15th Mar 2021

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 6 July 2020 - (6 Jul 2020)
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I welcome the Bill and hope that we can make it even better in delivering the Government’s laudable aim of ensuring that survivors of domestic abuse have access to the safety and support they need in order to keep themselves and their children safe and to live lives free from abuse.

The newly appointed commissioner-designate, for whose work the Bill provides a statutory framework, has indicated some changes that might helpfully be made to assist her work. I hope that the Government will look benignly at amendments to achieve this. The Lord Chancellor said on 28 April:

“Tackling domestic abuse needs to be everyone’s business.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/4/20; col. 237.]


I was very struck by the comment from Refuge that domestic abuse is not a niche issue. It is an astonishing and sobering fact that one in four women in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and 2.4 million people experienced domestic abuse last year. The reality of this crime is that women make up the majority of victims and survivors, and men the majority of perpetrators.

I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. The social housing sector has a crucial role to play in identifying and supporting victims of domestic violence, both in general-needs housing and in specialist provision. Housing staff and other contractors can often spot the signs of domestic abuse, or behaviour such as antisocial behaviour or financial difficulties that might mask domestic abuse.

The sector has witnessed a dramatic increase in the incidence of domestic violence during the restrictions resulting from the pandemic and has been at the forefront of innovating responses to abuse when normal service has been difficult to deliver. It has prioritised domestic abuse survivors in new lettings and transfers, and has worked with refuges to target move-on, as well as working to keep survivors in their homes safely. The focus has been on partnership with other organisations such as local authorities and specialist agencies.

In May 2020, the NHF asked government to implement a targeted approach to accommodation provision for rough sleepers and those fleeing domestic abuse. Housing associations stand ready to help local authorities fulfil the new duty to provide support and accommodation for survivors. The sector is working with the domestic abuse commissioner to map accommodation and community-based services, and it supports the commissioner’s priorities for the Bill, particularly the immediacy of the need for community-based provision.

There is much in this Bill to support. However, it is clear from the experience of housing associations at a local level, as well as other national campaigning organisations, that it needs improvements if it is to achieve the significant contribution that the Government want.

I echo many other noble Lords: changes are required to universal credit to prevent sufferers of abuse remaining financially dependent on their abuser. New powers are required to transfer tenancies to survivors following abuse. The Bill does not provide protection for abused migrant women, who have no access to public funds, and it needs to go further for BME and migrant women in providing support for skills and employment, English classes, and mental health and well-being support.

I hope that the Government will consider again the position of carers and potential domestic abuse raised in another place. Vital, however, is the provision of greater funding to increase the services available and a fair national distribution of resources. The resource promised by the Government is welcome, but all those organisations that sent us such excellent briefings make it clear that it is not enough to deliver what the Government want and if we are truly to protect and support all survivors, including children, and to deliver the societal shifts we need to end violence against women and girls.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (25 Jan 2021)
Lord Shinkwin Portrait Lord Shinkwin (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top. I am delighted to speak in support of these amendments and join previous speakers in praising For Baby’s Sake. I will keep my remarks brief.

These amendments go with the grain of this widely welcomed Bill, and this visibility in public policy is essential if action is to follow. It follows that babies, both before and after birth, must figure in the Bill in the way that is specified in these amendments if their vulnerability to domestic abuse is to be taken into account. As my noble friend Lady Stroud and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, both made clear, the statistics on the percentage of women who experience domestic abuse during pregnancy throw the importance of addressing this issue into sharp relief. As a lay person, it strikes me as entirely logical that the added stress resulting from domestic abuse of a mother instinctively desperate to protect her child—especially when it is at its most vulnerable in her womb—will be communicated to the baby and have a negative impact on its physical and neurological development. As we have heard, this has lifelong consequences for physical and mental health, and economically.

These amendments are entirely logical and add to the beneficial impact of this important Bill. I very much hope that the Minister will see fit to respond positively to them.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, the Domestic Abuse Bill offers an opportunity to deliver substantial improvements to the way we respond to domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls. In preparing for this Bill, we have received a great deal of excellent briefing, and some very brave women have shared their horrendous stories of violence against them and of the impact that it has had on their children. Too often, children are the hidden victims of domestic abuse, and I was particularly struck when I read the briefing from For Baby’s Sake and the Institute of Health Visiting arguing that there are baby “blind spots” in policy, planning and funding which we, in this Bill, could do much to address.

I am no expert in this area, and I was startled to discover that about 30% of domestic abuse begins during pregnancy, although perhaps not so surprised that of those women who suffer abuse, 40% to 60% continue to experience abuse while they are pregnant. The consequences for those children later in life, and for public policy and expenditure as a result, are incalculable. The Covid pandemic has exacerbated this situation dramatically. The December 2020 survey by the Institute of Health Visiting found that 82% of health visitors reported an increase in domestic violence and abuse. In an earlier survey, 83% had perceived an increase in perinatal mental health issues.

As others have said, the first 1,001 days of a child’s life from pregnancy are crucial in safeguarding and nurturing babies’ development. Domestic abuse during this period increases the risks of poor outcomes and has an impact on long-term life chances. It is linked with poor mental and physical health, impaired social development and lower academic achievement, so it is really important to ensure that in the Bill, the definition of “children” includes babies to ensure that they can specifically benefit from targeted interventions to support parents, that the impact on them is recognised in the collection of data, and that they can be highlighted in the domestic abuse commissioner’s encouragement of good practice.

When she concluded at Second Reading, the Minister said, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, reminded us:

“No age group has been left out of the debate, including the unborn child and the foetus.” —[Official Report, 5/1/21; col. 124.]


I am glad to support the spirit of these amendments to ensure that this is reflected on the face of the Bill.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I call the next speaker, Lord Cormack. Ah, we have lost Lord Cormack, but we will try to bring him back. I call Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2021)
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I welcome these amendments and support very much what has been said by other noble Lords before me. My particular interest is in data, and I am delighted to see in Amendment 89—in proposed new subsection (1B)(c), for instance—a really detailed enumeration of the sort of level of data that we should be collecting. The basis on which this data is collected should be specified nationally, so that it is coherent and comparable and we can really start to understand what is happening and, from that understanding, move continuously to improve matters.

A very good example of what happens when you do not do this has been provided by the recent statistics on sexual abuse. The figures for the UK show that in 2019 there were 2,300 reported cases of children being abused by women in England and Wales, which is about twice what it was four years before. The first question we should ask when faced with a statistic like that is: what is going on? Unfortunately, we have no clue, because the police have stopped collecting data on sex as a characteristic when recording reports of abuse. They now record only self-reported gender. So we do not know whether this is something happening to women that we really ought to be paying attention to—an extraordinary rate of increase to which we ought to be preparing a policy response—or whether it is just a fiction due to the way the police have changed their reporting; in other words, whether this reflects the number of male offenders who are now declaring themselves to be women. Either way, we want to know; we absolutely should know. Apart from anything else, when it comes to the subject of the Bill, there will be trans women in relationships with men who are being abused and need looking after. We need to know how to provide for them properly. We may perhaps need specialist arrangements; we need to know the right level of any such arrangements that we should be providing.

If we do not have detailed statistics on sex and gender—and, in other circumstances, on a whole range of other characteristics—we will not be providing what is needed. So, I really support that part of these amendments, and these amendments in general.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support this amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, as well as other amendments in this group in their names. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I congratulate my noble friend on the comprehensive way in which he set out the large number of issues at stake if these amendments are not included in the Bill. I found it a very effective and moving speech.

Housing associations are in a unique position to help survivors of domestic abuse and have been at the forefront of innovative responses during the pandemic, when it has been so difficult to deliver normal services. They have prioritised domestic abuse survivors in new lettings and transfers and worked with refuges to support move-on as well working to keep survivors in their homes safely. It is a further tragedy of the pandemic that we have seen such a surge in instances of domestic abuse.

One of the most important things that the Bill can do is to ensure that all its provisions are underpinned by secure funding, so that no survivor is turned away from the specialist support that they need and there is fair, national distribution of resources. There must be an acknowledgement of the specific challenges faced by BME survivors and migrant women—this has come up so many times in our debates on the Bill. For example, many housing associations provide English classes and support for skills and employment as well as mental health and well-being support. I particularly thank Women’s Aid and Imkaan, together with Stonewater and other housing association providers of specialist support, for their invaluable briefing on these amendments.

I do not want to repeat the details and statistics already given by many noble Lords about the increasing level of need and the reality of the cuts in funding and the inevitable reduction in services and support that results. These amendments reflect what needs to be done to make the Bill the step change in provision that I know the Minister and, I believe, the Government want to see.

In that spirit, I hope the Minister will heed the call for a number of additions. I highlight the need for a tighter definition of “relevant accommodation”, the need to ensure that the support provided is specialist and sufficient to meet demand and the need to make arrangements for the provision of accommodation for all victims, regardless of their immigration status. I also highlight the need to ensure that local specialist services are adequately represented on partnership boards and that a national oversight group, involving all relevant interests, is recognised in the Bill to ensure robust evaluation of the delivery of these life-saving services.

My organisation, the NHF, wants to work together with government to build models that are cost-effective for local authorities to enable the safe removal of perpetrators of domestic abuse from the home, prevent the homelessness of survivors and enable them to live independent lives. In May 2020, the NHF asked the Government to implement a targeted approach to accommodation provision for rough sleepers and homeless people fleeing domestic abuse. Housing associations stand ready to help local authorities fulfil the new duty to provide support and accommodation for survivors.

Amendment 89 and others in this group seek to ensure that there is provision of a variety of housing options for people experiencing domestic abuse, based on choice. Some will certainly need and want a refuge space, and it is vital that these are funded and come with adequate support services to help survivors achieve better health, well-being, employment and housing options.

I echo my noble friend’s concluding remarks on funding: we need to ensure, together with other provision of supported housing for rough sleepers and older people, an annual £1.6 billion of ring-fenced funding, which is needed to allow local authorities to provide these life- saving services. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the Committee that there have been discussions with Treasury colleagues about a specific ring-fenced investment in supported housing in the upcoming Budget.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 3rd February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (3 Feb 2021)
My final point comes from what my noble friend Lady Newlove said: we must not disempower people. When they take the step to stand up and see people in court, that is the time for us to put all systems behind them to give them the power to get justice and to live a life as a normal, ordinary human being should live their life, with their own human rights.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will speak briefly on these amendments. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and indeed all the speakers in this thoughtful and very practical debate.

I support Amendments 131 and 133 in particular. On Amendment 131, the Minister has already said that under no circumstances should the address be disclosed of the refuge in which the sufferer of domestic abuse resides, but we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, of the extraordinary lengths to which perpetrators will go to stalk or otherwise pursue their victims. We have also learned of not only the physical danger to which this exposes the sufferer but the mental fear and anguish that it perpetuates.

The Government accept the principle that an address must not be disclosed in any circumstances because of the potential appalling consequences, but unless non-disclosure is a legal imperative captured in the Bill, embedding this principle and maximising compliance with it will be weakened. Ambiguity and thoughtlessness in releasing a victim’s address will be allowed to prevail, with all the potential consequences we know that could reap.

The formal procedures of a court are intimidating enough for any citizen to think at least twice before embarking on a judicial case. How much more intimidating it must be for those who know that their very life might depend on the anonymity of their whereabouts. If they have any doubt that they can rely on the court to protect them, that in itself could be a deterrent against proceeding with their case. Putting this amendment in the Bill would be an enormous reassurance to a victim, and a greater discipline and constraint on those who could potentially release their address.

On Amendment 133, it is worth reminding ourselves of the amount of evidence we have heard about just how traumatic survivors of domestic abuse find the court process. One cannot help thinking that some of those procedures were designed, even if not intentionally, to daunt or dishearten those who did not have the greatest confidence either in themselves or in the merits of their case being understood and accepted, especially as waiting times are as long as they are. Those who have had their confidence and courage systematically beaten out of them might be forgiven for thinking that the courts are not there to help them.

From reading the debate in the other place on the Bill, I was struck in particular by a comment from Peter Kyle MP, a long-time campaigner on these issues. Having recounted the awful experiences of some of his constituents, he went on to say that in his lobbying for change

“Minister after Minister told me that a cultural change was needed in the … justice system.”—[Official Report, Commons, Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, 11/6/20; col. 271.]

The evidence submitted to us in the briefings from Refuge and other organisations suggests that there are too many such instances of judges and other professional workers in the judicial system failing to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse and so failing the survivor, who has often made a brave and fearful decision to make the accusation and come to court in the first place.

Most organisations and systems must at some time accept the need for cultural change, and it is never easy. I hope that this proposal is not dismissed on the basis that such soft skills do not belong in a court of law. The courts have come a long way but, on the evidence of the many cases that we have been told about in letters and briefings, they clearly have further to go. Putting this requirement in the Bill would be a real signal of intent to make that change. I noted what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, and if the Minister is inclined to agree with her, I hope that he will take personal responsibility for ensuring that the necessary training is undertaken.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I broadly welcome this group of amendments. Although I have concerns about some of them, which I will explain, and it may be that the precise drafting of some would benefit from revision before Report, it is clear that they are drafted and tabled with a view to responding to the harsh plight of victims of domestic abuse as they go through the court system. If they have a common thread, it is about understanding and responding to the vulnerability of victims and the trauma of the abuse that they have suffered.

I will make a few points on each of the six amendments. On Amendment 131, it is plainly right that the addresses of refuges should be kept confidential. The whole point of a refuge is to enable victims of domestic abuse to feel safe from their abusers. It is of the essence that victims should feel confident that they will not be sought out and found by abusive former partners. Often such victims are with children, and the trauma that they have suffered at the hands of their abusers has left them not only protective, but scared for their own futures and those of the children who have come with them to the refuge. Courts must guard against giving refuge addresses away.

We have heard that abusers have traced victims to refuges as a result of carelessness within the court system, which has sometimes had serious results. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, gave us a harrowing example. It may be that the provisions of the amendment are slightly too wide, and that the assumption that refuges can be expected to have both an office and a residential address is too optimistic, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee pointed out, but the principle is one that I hope the Government will welcome.

Amendment 132 is designed to ensure that courts dealing with different cases of domestic abuse involving the same victims share information with each other. This is to enable greater co-operation between courts and to ensure that where, for example, criminal proceedings and family proceedings concerned with the same victim are continuing alongside each other, each court will know about the proceedings in the other. Again, the amendment may need some redrafting to achieve clarity, but the principle is right. However, I wonder whether an enlarged or parallel provision should be introduced requiring a similar exchange of information between courts involving the same abusers, as this amendment deals with information about the same victim.

Amendment 133, concerned with training for the judiciary and professionals in the family court, is the most important of these amendments, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and others, have reflected, though I share the hesitation of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, about enshrining this in primary legislation. Judges generally try to keep up to date with evidence about domestic abuse and try hard to apply the law in accordance with the evidence that they hear, putting aside, as far as they can, their own prejudices. However, we must recognise that most judges and legal professionals come from a world that differs dramatically from the world that is home to many of the litigants who come before them: victims, abusers, witnesses and others. The more training that judges and professionals receive in understanding domestic abuse, the better.

The amendment as drawn does not define how the training is to be established, except that it is to be in consultation with the domestic abuse commissioner. On reflection, I think that is right. We have a commissioner- designate who is genuinely expert in this field and dedicated to achieving an improved response to domestic abuse. I believe that training should also encompass learning to recognise and respond to vulnerability and to take into account the effect of abuse-related trauma on the ability of witnesses and parties to give evidence before the court, and the quality of the evidence likely to be received. I would go a little further than the amendment and require that, before any circuit or district judge sits to hear a family case, they must have completed mandatory training in domestic abuse, as arranged pursuant to the amendment.

I regard the training Amendment 133 as more likely to be effective than Amendment 134, which would require the court to consider the vulnerability of victims of domestic abuse, who are witnesses and parties to proceedings, and the impact of trauma on the quality of the evidence that they give. This is in tune with the objects of the Bill and no one could disagree with the motivation behind it but, generally in domestic abuse cases, judges try to consider the vulnerability of witnesses and parties, and the effect of trauma. Many, even most, succeed in so doing. I hope that the view I have just expressed does not reflect complacency. It reflects the general view that judges are trying to do justice, with regard to vulnerability, sensitivity and the circumstances of particular cases. Such judges benefit enormously from training but, for them, I expect the amendment is unnecessary.

Secondly, if judges fail properly to consider vulnerability and the impact on evidence from the trauma of abuse, that stems from a lack of understanding or training to which the training amendment is directed. It cannot be properly addressed by a bare statutory requirement imposed on judges to consider these matters.

Finally—and I hope I will be forgiven some cynicism—there is the problem well known to lawyers that, if a statute requires a judge to consider two or more factors, call them A and B, the judgments of the less good judges will always state, boldly but sadly inaccurately, “I have fully considered factor A and factor B. In the circumstances, I have concluded”, and the conclusion follows, however flawed it may be, in its unappealable compliance with the statute, which is matched only by its lamentable lack of understanding.

I agree with the principle of Amendment 135 on the transparency of court arrangements, which is that every litigant who is unhappy with the result of a court hearing should leave court with full information about the appeal process. However, I do not believe that that should go into the judge’s ruling. Often, although not always, rulings in family cases are given in oral judgments delivered at the end of hearing the case. They are very important in setting out the judge’s reasoning, particularly for the Court of Appeal, but also for the parties. I have never been completely confident that the parties, who are generally shell-shocked by the proceedings, listen to every word that the judge says.

It should be incumbent on the court administration to ensure that a document setting out the appeal process, in clear terms, is given to every party and possibly others who want it, on departure from court at the end of the day. It should contain details for the court and a helpline equipped to assist with the relevant information. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said in his introduction, this is a probing amendment and it could easily be met by ensuring that this information is available through administrative functions in the court.

Amendment 136, the final amendment in this long and diverse group, would impose an absolute rule on costs of contact. I find this difficult because it appears to be a provision dealing with extraneous financial matters in the context of contact, and that is something that the courts try not to do. I cannot see, for example, why a court that decided that contact between a parent and child was appropriate in the particular circumstances of a given case should be forbidden in some circumstances, though they may be rare, from directing that the other parent pay for or contribute to the cost of arrangements for that contact on the sole ground that the other parent has made an allegation of domestic abuse, or even on the ground that the parent with whom the child is to have contact has in fact been found guilty of domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (8 Feb 2021)
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for three outstanding speeches introducing their amendments. The clarity and passion with which they speak should influence all of us but also, I hope, influence the Government too.

My late mother was a great believer in things coming along in threes, both good and bad, so I was delighted to hear on the radio this morning a government Minister confirming that the Government had decided to make sure that the Covid-19 vaccine is available to everyone regardless of their immigration status. This establishes a very good principle, just in advance of our debate here this evening: that things should be equal. I was also delighted to hear earlier in our debate the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, agree on behalf of the Government to look at Amendment 142 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and discuss with the devolved Governments the potential for a UK-wide amendment to the legislation that might improve the Bill in front of us, which is primarily for England and Wales. Thus, I hope that things do come along in threes, and that this evening we might have a combination of equality regardless of immigration status on the one hand and a UK-wide measure, which would make this Bill far better, on the other.

In recent years, I have had considerable experience of the daily reality of women facing domestic abuse in some of the asylum and refugee communities in Glasgow and the surrounding area. In your Lordships’ Chamber, we regularly praise the work of the Violence Reduction Unit, which was originally in Glasgow but is now across Scotland, and its successful strategy to reduce violence in the city and now across the nation. But its work on domestic abuse is made far more difficult by the restrictions placed on the rights of many migrant women living in the city and facing daily abuse, which has escalated during the Covid-19 lockdowns of the past 12 months.

I strongly urge the Government to look positively at this measure. Surely the objective outlined so clearly in Amendment 160 of equality for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse should be at the heart of the Bill, and support for these amendments would be a critical step in that direction. We have spoken often, and I have spoken in all my contributions, not just about the legal technicalities of the Bill but of its human impact. However hard it is for a woman to leave an abusive relationship or household when she does have access to finance, housing and rights outwith that home, how much more difficult is it to make that choice when she does not have those rights? Whatever access to funding or pilot projects the Government are willing to provide is no substitute for rights. Rights are at the core of the Bill and they should be available to these migrant women too.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I support the cogent arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Rosser and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I thank Women’s Aid and Refuge for their comprehensive and helpful briefings on these amendments.

When the Bill was introduced in the other place by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, it was said that, among other things, the Bill

“aims to improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse”.

There can be no more gaping hole in the effectiveness of the justice system than when a group with particular characteristics is deprived of its protection. These three amendments deal with one such group.

The Bill does not tackle the multiple forms of discrimination facing migrant women—at all. This was identified as an omission by the Joint Committee that preceded the first iteration of the Bill. The Government resisted attempts to change it in the other place, arguing that more evidence was needed to identify the groups of migrants most in need of support. Since then, domestic abuse campaigners, such as the Step Up Migrant Women coalition, have expressed concerns, and Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that

“to leave migrant women out of this bill sends the message that their lives are not valued, they are disposable, they are second-class people, they are invisible”.

Women’s Aid questions the Government’s proposals for a pilot scheme, as indeed have many noble Lords, arguing that evidence of need was there but was being ignored. It and other organisations are concerned that the findings of the Government’s migrant women review show

“a lack of meaningful engagement with the evidence that was submitted by key specialist organisations, resulting in inaccurate, poor and misleading analysis and conclusions”.

So the Government have a problem. They are not convinced by those organisations working most closely with migrant women and most likely to understand their problems, or that there is, as former Prime Minister Mrs May argued, a common intention between the Government’s view and those in favour of the new clause. It is clear that these organisations have difficulty believing that the Government are sincere in their stated commitment to support all migrant victims of domestic abuse. I hope that the Minister’s response convinces them otherwise.

The issue is very clear; it has been spelled out so well this afternoon. A large proportion of migrant women have no recourse to public funds. There is even an acronym for that category: NRPF. It means that they cannot seek certain types of financial support from the state, including homelessness assistance and other welfare benefits, so they do not have the means to secure a stay in a refuge. There are some exceptions, but those are on a limited number of visa types which allow access to something called the destitution domestic violence concession—DDVC. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated just how precarious the position of migrant survivors is without access to financial support from the state. They cannot keep themselves or their children safe.

All the organisations involved in fighting violence against women and girls are united in their view of the weight of evidence that NRPF should be abolished—or failing that, the eligibility for the DDVC should be extended to all migrant survivors. I hope that the Government will listen to these informed voices and to the powerful arguments made by noble Lords today in this debate and think again about supporting this change.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (8 Feb 2021)
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

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.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
No matter how far back I look—I have lived for 61 years—I can recall the suffering only of women in these contexts and circumstances. I agree that men suffer too and may have once been the sons of women who endured violence. I hope the Bill will ensure and enshrine that women receive a seamless service which is well co-ordinated, financially backed and underpinned by guaranteed services and law so that the next survivors can receive justice.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the trade body for housing associations.

I do not need to repeat the statistics so vividly described by my noble friend Lady Lister and others on the use of coercive control after separation. Suffice it to say that they are clear and troubling enough for the Government to acknowledge both that economic abuse is linked to physical safety and that something must be done swiftly to protect these women. I support all the points raised by my noble friend so powerfully in introducing this amendment; I also pay tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, whom I would have supported. I hope the Minister can respond positively to the dilemma in which they have so troublingly found themselves.

In my brief contribution I will highlight just three things, focusing on what further action is needed once the amendment is incorporated into the Bill and implemented. First, there has been in the past a missed opportunity to see patterns of behaviour which should have led to greater awareness of coercive control behaviours, so it is vital to create greater awareness and understanding of these patterns of behaviour and how economic abuse fits into them. That can be done only through training of professionals right across the police and criminal justice system. This has come up on other parts of the Bill, including very recently, and I hope the Minister will address it in her response.

Secondly, when legal aid is sought, survivors could be unfairly assessed as failing the means test due to money or assets they appear to own but which they are unable to access or control due to economic abuse. Will the Minister acknowledge this and undertake to refer it to her MoJ colleagues to ensure it is taken into account in the legal aid inquiry? In that context, I very much support Amendment 71 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy.

Thirdly, the SEA charity, whose briefings on this—as every contributor to this debate has said—have been invaluable, highlights the inadequacy of data collection on controlling or coercive behaviours in both the Crime Survey of England and Wales and ONS reports. Can the Minister, in taking forward this legislation, undertake to ensure that this is brought to the attention of the relevant government department so as not to undermine the effectiveness of this excellent piece of legislation, which she has so ably steered through this House?

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 45 is crucial and unreservedly welcome. It is awful to see someone subject to coercive control; to see how the woman—I have seen only women subject to it—is made mentally and physically ill by such passive-aggressive behaviour. Sometimes it is more active than passive. By adding her name to this amendment, the Minister has shown her understanding of this.

Amendments 46 and 47 are similarly essential. Coercive control can be very difficult to pick up under safeguarding. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, stated, disability applies to those with profound learning difficulties as well as serious physical difficulties, but their communication difficulties can make it very hard to detect what is going on. As the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, described, the terrible fear induced in the victim is something that feeds the controlling coercive behaviour from the abuser.

None of us wants to delay the Bill. I hope the Minister will take to heart and address the difficulties that my noble friends Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson have been put in, and will seek to ensure that the statutory guidance relating to the Bill recognises that there is true domestic violence occurring from personally connected intimate care providers.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Excerpts
Given the complexities of getting the drafting absolutely correct, especially as regards third-party and property interests, the path through consultation is acceptable, provided that the Minister will give absolute guarantees that this is to be completed within months and that the opportunity is seized in the next appropriate Bill to insert this amendment. I believe that a renters Bill is on the horizon which would provide a good vehicle. I understand also that the consultation can take place swiftly, but so often it is the response from the Government that drags these things on. We do not consider it a good idea to wait to see how a similar provision is working in Scotland. I have heard the “Let’s wait for Scotland” excuse so often in relation to other proposed reforms that it always puts me in mind of “Waiting for Godot”. I hope that the Minister will accept this way forward and put strict time limits on any consultation. I will seek to divide the House on this amendment.
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 87C and to support all the arguments made so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation, which is wholeheartedly behind this amendment as a means of protecting families and providing survivors with a choice to determine their own future.

Some very strong arguments were made in Committee on joint tenancies and those of us supporting this amendment were grateful for the opportunity to discuss the arguments with the Minister. I know that he is sympathetic to what we are seeking to achieve. I hope that he will focus on the need for what is called a “whole housing approach” to improve the housing options and outcomes for people experiencing domestic abuse so that they can live independently in a safe and stable home as a first step to overcoming abuse and its devastating impact.

Rather than repeating the points I made in Committee, I want to focus on what can be done by housing associations and social landlords to support those suffering abuse, since they are well placed to recognise the signs in their residents, including economic abuse, which create pressure on their tenancy. Case studies gathered by the National Housing Federation show the impact that housing officers with the right training can have in identifying domestic abuse. I will give just one case. During a meeting to discuss rent arrears, a housing officer adopting what is called a “trauma-informed approach” was able to identify the signs of abuse and became the resident’s main source of support, including during a police investigation, working with adult and child social care to ensure that the resident had access to all the help they needed. The resident was able to retain their tenancy, and in this case the abuser did not resist the change. In fact, they chose to relocate from the property linked to the abuse and, 18 months later, the housing officer continues to support the resident. In this instance, the survivor was successful in achieving what she needed and had a choice. In so many instances where there is a joint tenancy, this is not possible. As was said in Committee, the perpetrator must agree to the transfer of the tenancy if the survivor wishes to remain in the family home as the sole tenant. There are so many instances where he—and it is usually he—refuses.

Social housing providers have no legal mechanism to evict the perpetrator. This amendment, carefully crafted, allows the joint tenancy to be transferred in a simplified way to a sole tenancy. As we have heard, it is a more modest measure than that already proposed in Scotland, and I hope the Minister will consider that when he comes to reply. I know that he will listen carefully to this debate. We know that he is sympathetic to what we want to achieve and I hope he will accept this modest but far-reaching amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I agree with everything she and the previous speakers, particularly the right reverend prelate Bishop of Gloucester, have said. These two amendments follow on from Amendment 67, and it really is time that the Government at last implemented the Istanbul convention without reservations, treated all victims of domestic abuse equally and made provision for those subject to immigration control to have a route to make the appropriate applications. The Government would retain control, but it would at least give these people, who are not married, or not treated as married, a possible route to remain in this country—without having certainty of it, which would remain in the hands of the Government.

Without these amendments, like with Amendment 67, there is a danger of serious discrimination against groups of victims and the creation of a flawed piece of legislation negating much of what would otherwise be, as so many people have said, a landmark Act. I add that the pilot project is just delaying an important and necessary decision.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I will not repeat what I said in Committee on this issue. Suffice it to say that migrant women are particularly vulnerable in an abusive situation because their insecure immigration status can be used as a tool against them. They often cannot access refuges or other safe accommodation because they have no recourse to public funds.

Women’s Aid, whose excellent briefing I acknowledge, considers that the Government may be in breach of several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and in breach of the Istanbul convention obligations because they have failed to ensure that survivors with insecure immigration status can access equal support for and protection from domestic abuse. Assurances by the Minister in Committee that

“the Secretary of State is taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 99.]

have not convinced anybody. Amendment 70 provides a way through by regularising survivors’ immigration status irrespective of whether or not they are on a spousal visa, and by extending the destitute domestic violence concession from three months to six months to underpin that.

In Committee, the Minister was reluctant to extend the rules in this way because it would undermine their original purpose. That rather begs the question of whether the original purpose was sufficient, and the trenchant points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and all the evidence from migrant survivors suggest that it is not. It also begs the question: how do the Government otherwise propose to assure the International Agreements Committee that they are fulfilling their obligations under the Istanbul convention, when all those most closely involved can show quite clearly that they are not? I would appreciate it if the Minister would address both these points directly in her response.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, who referred to the International Agreements Committee, on which I have the privilege to serve. We considered the question of the ratification of the Istanbul convention. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the chairman of that committee, will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate in a few moments, so I will not pre-empt what he has to say by way of an authoritative description of the committee’s views.

I want to add just three points. First, the Istanbul convention was signed by the coalition Government in 2012, a Government of which I was then a member. We would not have anticipated then that it would have taken so long for it to be ratified or that there would have been any difficulty in respect of non-discrimination in achieving that. I am glad the Government are bringing forward Clauses 66 to 68 to enable the extraterritorial jurisdiction measures to be dealt with. Surely now is the time and this is the Bill to take ourselves to the point where we can ratify.

Secondly, a number of us in your Lordships’ House served in the other place and realise what it takes to get as many as 135 Members of Parliament to turn up on a Friday morning to support a Private Member’s Bill, but that is what happened on 24 February 2017 to support what is now the Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017. There is a tendency in government to say, “Well, that was just a Private Member’s Bill.” No, it is an Act of Parliament that requires Ministers to set out in a Statement to the House when they have a timetable for ratification and, in the absence of such a timetable, to report annually on the situation. Back in 2017, the 135 Members who turned up on a Friday morning to support that Bill and turn it into an Act would not have expected that there would have been four annual reports, with no resolution yet in sight and no timetable published by the Government. The evidence from this House and, indeed, the other House, is that Parliament expects that to happen.