All 6 Baroness Watkins of Tavistock contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

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Tue 5th Jan 2021
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 25th Jan 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Wed 3rd Feb 2021
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Mon 8th Mar 2021
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Wed 10th Mar 2021
Wed 17th Mar 2021

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Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as outlined in the register. I welcome this Bill, which has a great deal to recommend it and was subject to some excellent development and changes in the other House. I particularly value the recognition of children as victims of abuse when they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse on others in the household where they live. The effects are usually long-term and severe on both the mental and physical health of young people, yet there is no mention in the Bill of a requirement to provide a whole-health model response for both children and adults experiencing domestic abuse. Can the Minister explain this apparent omission and, in particular, whether this is because such a statutory requirement would demand substantial investment and involve accountability through central government, as the Department of Health and Social Care would be responsible?

I will support any amendment brought in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, concerning the separate recognition of the offence of non-fatal strangulation. She outlined the terror experienced by those women, and occasionally men, who are held round their necks, often resulting in their experiencing gasping for breath, temporary blackouts due to oxygen depletion and the fear that they are about to die. Having worked in an accident and emergency unit, I have seen some of these victims, yet their perpetrators are so skilled at this kind of abuse that they leave no physical marks, such as bruising, for others to witness or to confirm that the events took place. However, 20,000 people report being abused in this manner each year and there is a sevenfold increase in the risk of death from non-fatal strangulation in comparison to other forms of domestic abuse.

Not surprisingly, the mental health challenges experienced by victims of this form of abuse are usually long-lasting and severe. I welcome the inclusion of increased support for victims enshrined in the Bill, particularly in Clause 71, which will amend the Housing Act 1996 so that victims who become homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse will be given priority-need status for accommodation secured by local authorities, without needing to fulfil the vulnerability test.

I recently visited a large refuge where, for example, one woman was living in two rooms with five children, waiting for further housing. Safe housing is essential to promote well-being and rehabilitation for victims of domestic abuse and their children. Clause 72, which encourages local authorities to grant new lifetime secure tenancies to victims in certain circumstances, will promote feelings of safety and security for some of the most vulnerable victims. There is concern, however, expressed in many of the excellent briefings provided by a range of charities and stakeholders ahead of today’s Second Reading, that local authorities may divert funds from community-based support services to housing if the former are not also made statutory. Will the Government consider amending the Bill to contain a duty on local authorities to provide community-based services for victims of abuse in the way so successfully outlined for housing?

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I support the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, and others. She spoke very powerfully from her own experience, but it is obvious even to those with only limited experience, drawn from those they know are going through divorces, that how a parent speaks of and encourages their children to speak of the partner from whom they are estranged is one of the challenges facing a divorcing couple, if not the major one.

A parent who loves their child wants not only to keep their child’s love; in return, they want that child to think and speak well of them. There must be a severe temptation, even for the most altruistic parent, if they believe their partner has terrible faults, to draw these to the attention of their children. Thank goodness there are very many divorcing couples who resist that temptation. They want good parenting to continue after the divorce by both parents; whatever they feel, they try not to let this influence their child in their relations with the other parent. However, the temptation to speak negatively about the estranged partner to their children must be severe in some cases, and sadly some actively encourage hostility. We know that a child’s expressed wishes can sometimes be the result of indoctrination by one parent against the other to sever the child’s relationship with the targeted parent.

I have read the evidence of Women’s Aid and listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. They have worries about these amendments. They are properly concerned that such amendments, if passed, might result in allegations of child abuse not being taken as seriously as they should, and clearly that argument needs to be weighed with due seriousness during the passage of this Bill. However, it seems to me that what is put forward in Amendments 2 and 4 does not in any way depend on evidence that something is discredited, but on a realistic recognition of how embattled couples too often operate. I believe that, difficult though it is, specialists in child abuse, who could be called into court if necessary, would be able to distinguish this from a situation where one parent is clearly using their child as a weapon. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has said, if the judges are given adequate training, they too would be able, in their wisdom and experience, clearly to distinguish the one from the other.

We need a clear marker in law that some ways of alienating children from the other parent are totally unacceptable and need to be shown to be clearly illegal. I believe this is best seen not as a form of child abuse but as an aspect of domestic abuse. There may be child abuse in some cases, but this does not take away from the fact that some parents, while not guilty of abuse, alienate their children from the other parent.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I warmly congratulate the Government on this Bill, particularly the recognition that children are also victims of domestic abuse when witnessing abuse, often between parents. I support Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, and her supporters, and Amendment 4, to which I have added my name.

In briefings from some quarters, there is disagreement on the inclusion of parental alienation in this Bill. It is argued that this is because there is as yet no clear definition of the term. The issues have been very ably outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. However, I believe that a lack of definition merely means we are in the process of making much greater—[Inaudible.]

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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Lady Watkins, we have lost you—we can see you, but we cannot hear you. I think we will carry on and hopefully come back to the noble Baroness later, if she will forgive us. I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Helic.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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My Lords, I think we may have the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, back again. Perhaps she would like to continue with what she was saying.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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Taking this into consideration, it is clear that these amendments are designed to ensure that, if one parent alienates a child from the other, this may be treated as a form of domestic abuse based on a clear definition of parental alienation. The amendments have at their heart the prime consideration of the child’s welfare, consistent with the Cafcass definition. However, such an allegation must take into account the child’s perspective of the situation, not just that of both parents. Children’s voices of concern for, or fear about, a parent must be considered when making arrangements for access with either parent.

Sometimes it is appropriate to cease access between a child and parent for the child’s protection and well-being. However, should that parent receive help and become more stable—perhaps in their personal health and well-being—access to their children should be reconsidered and attempts made to establish some level of relationship, subject, of course, to the child’s welfare being paramount.

These amendments are designed to enable such an approach. The UK Parental Alienation Study of 2020, conducted by Good Egg Safety CIC, involved 1,500 parents, almost half of whom had not seen their children in the previous six months. It is quite a sobering thought for many of us who are parents that, in some instances, family separation can be deeply harmful and could cause significant long-term harm to children. For these reasons I support the amendments.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Clause 65 agreed.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 137. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or the other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 137

Moved by
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Both these issues are about perpetrators really being victims. I am delighted to support them.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has withdrawn, so I call the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 139 and 140, to which I have added my name. I draw attention to my interests set out in the register. It is an immense privilege to support the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy; I am grateful for her immense wisdom, knowledge and experience. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her excellent and candid laying out of the issues. It is a privilege to follow her.

In my role as Anglican bishop for women’s prisons and my recent appointment as Anglican bishop for the whole prison estate in England and Wales, I have made prison visits and spoken with prisoners, volunteers and staff, including governors and chaplains. As president of the Nelson Trust, I have heard first-hand the positive impact of trauma-informed practice in its excellent work with women serving their sentences in the community and women leaving prison.

Over the past few years, I have spoken with charities, organisations and community workers. In all those conversations, common themes emerge. One is the so-called revolving door of short custodial sentences, leading to catastrophic consequences for a woman and her family and often exacerbating a downward spiral into more serious offences and an inability to secure employment. A second theme is the number of women coming into contact with the criminal justice system who have experienced domestic abuse and previous trauma, and how this becomes a driver for their offending—in some circumstances, defending themselves against their abuser, as we have heard.

Women become trapped in a vicious cycle of victimisation and criminal activity. Their situation is often worsened by poverty, substance dependency or poor mental health; almost 60% of women supervised in the community or in custody who have an assessment have experienced domestic abuse. The true figure is probably much higher.

The Nelson Trust recently shared with me a painful example of this complex issue and how important it is to have a trauma-based approach. During the first lockdown, the Nelson Trust was called on a point-of-arrest referral scheme; if a woman is arrested and identified as vulnerable, she can be referred to organisations such as the Nelson Trust for support. A woman had been arrested as a perpetrator of domestic abuse and was very distressed. At the women’s centre, they found she was covered in bruises; she had experienced horrific sexual and physical violence during lockdown. She had taken to alcohol to cope with the abuse, and then retaliated against her abuser and ended up in custody. In this case, the Nelson Trust was able to help the woman access a refuge and enabled her to leave her abusive partner.

Another story I heard was of a woman serving a sentence for murder after retaliating against her abusive partner who had assaulted her for many years, including when she was pregnant with their child. Recently, the Nelson Trust advocated for a vulnerable woman who had retaliated against her partner after years of psychological abuse. She was acquitted, but many like her are not.

These amendments provide an opportunity to extend much better legal protection to the victims of domestic abuse whose experiences lead them to offend. At the moment, there is very little legal protection within the system to allow those victims to be diverted away from the criminal justice system to vital support. There is much overlap in the criminal justice system between the victims of crime and those who are the perpetrators.

Last year, a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in the Penal System, of which I am an officer, uncovered cases of women contacting the police to report domestic incidents, only to end up being arrested themselves. The Howard League for Penal Reform asked one police force to analyse its data on arrests of women and girls over a two-year period. It turned out that almost three-quarters of the women who had been arrested had previously come to the attention of the police as victims of violence or sexual violence. More than half of them had been victims of domestic abuse. Obviously, much more needs to be done with police forces and diversion work, as well as changing the law.

I am not a lawyer, but I am a passionate supporter of trauma-informed interventions and doing all we can to recognise the root causes and drivers of criminal behaviour. As a Christian and as a Lord Spiritual, I am committed to a legal framework that emphasises restorative and reparative justice. I wholeheartedly support these amendments and I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate.

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To conclude, the Government remain unpersuaded of the need to create a new defence of reasonable use of force or a new statutory defence for victims of domestic abuse. A number of defences already exist and, given that the courts are able to interpret and take account of such matters in their consideration of a case before them, this enables the common law to develop quickly and more flexibly than any statutory defence would. I fear that I will not have persuaded the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, that my position is correct, but I hope I have persuaded her that I have listened very carefully to the points she has made this evening and in prior discussions. In those circumstances, I invite her to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the House for the opportunity to ask this question, which applies to all these amendments but particularly to Amendment 139, to which my noble friend Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb is a signatory. She was unfortunately unable to take part in this debate.

My noble friend would have referred to the fact that the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill allows blanket legal protections for undercover police and informants. The forthcoming overseas operations Bill creates similar new protections against prosecution for military personnel acting overseas. The Government have fought intensely for these protections against prosecution for the police and the military; they have fought against many attempts in your Lordships’ House to reduce or check these protections. In that context, how would the Minister explain—having granted such broad protections to the police and military, even in cases of fundamental wrongdoing—why the Government should refuse what are comparatively far more limited legal defences for survivors of domestic abuse, particularly with such well thought-out and well drafted amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws?

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, who is next on the list, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I support this amendment in the name of noble Baroness, Lady Meyer. I thank her for all the work she has done to try to minimise the amount of involvement in the Bill necessary to make us all aware of this important issue. The amendment is designed to explicitly ensure that parental alienation is properly defined in the Bill. We have, of course, had indications today that it may be in statutory guidance, and that may be sufficient to ensure that the rights of children to see parents when it is appropriate to do so are adhered to. The amendment is not gender biased. It recognises that either parent, mother or father, may deliberately behave in such a way as to damage the relationship between a child and the other parent.

Parental Alienation UK has outlined a range of behaviours from one parent to another and I want to focus on one: when a parent makes false allegations of abuse, fitness to parent, substance abuse or mental health problems. I have worked with people with severe, enduring mental health problems where, when they have been severely ill and psychotic, it has been inappropriate for them to see their children. However, it is absolutely clear that, with modern treatment and access to supervised contact, most parents at some point should be able to see their children. That is not because of the rights of the parents. It is about the child’s right to know that the parent loves them and wants to see them, even if they are not in a position to look after them on a permanent basis. I believe that, as soon as is practicable, supervised access should be organised for children if they want to see the parent—the one they do not live with—if that parent is well enough to see them.

It is important that children know that both their parents want to stay in contact. If this is the case, the child is in a position, when they become an adult, to decide for themselves how much contact to maintain with each parent. I have heard other noble Lords oppose the amendment and I equally believe that no child should be made to see a parent without supervision if the court has decided that this would be inappropriate. I completely agree that we should recognise the vital role of Cafcass in this situation, but it is demeaning if the other parent of your child destroys letters, mementoes and gifts that you have sent, perhaps while you are too ill to see the child. These kinds of behaviour should be deliberately excluded and parents should be encouraged to try to work together through mediation. It should obviously be for the courts to decide and to determine whether parental alienation is occurring and to make decisions for access between a child and a parent, based always on the best interests of the child.

I believe that those who do not agree with this amendment have the same focus as I and others who are supporting it: to try to ensure that children grow up knowing that they have been loved, where this is so, and that they have been able, where it is safe to do so, to be in contact with both parents. I understand that the amendment may be better written within the statutory guidance and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s opinion on this matter.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Meyer for the work that she has done and, as my noble friend Lord Cormack said, the effort that she has put in to trying to make sure that the suffering that she has been through is not repeated or, should it be, that the victims have proper protection under the law.

I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could confirm what my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay asserted: that the deliberately broad definitions in the Bill, which I know my noble friend has explained to the House, are ground-breaking and deliberately so and provide the widest possible access to justice for victims by having broad definitions under which others can fall. Will “controlling or coercive behaviour” in Clause 1(3)(c),

“psychological, emotional or other abuse”

in Clause 1(3)(e), and “conduct directed” at their child in Clause 1(5) cover situations where a parent deliberately damages the relationship between their child and the other parent in order to alienate that child?

For example, a father of African origin wrote to me about his partner, who had been turning their four year-old child against him since they had decided to divorce. The child, previously loving, suddenly did not wish to spend time with him. He said: “My ex made several unfounded allegations of domestic abuse to stop me from seeing my child. Not a single allegation was proven, or true, but she constantly and unjustifiably obstructed my contact with my child. I recall that a year ago my child refused to have a bath that I had run for him. He said his mother told him, ‘Daddy puts witchcraft in the tub’.” He said that the alienation built up over time so that the child now refuses to see him. Can my noble friend confirm that that father would have protection under the Bill?

I have personal experience of other situations where parents were cut out from the lives of their children. The children were being manipulated or weaponised and the wider family cut off from grandchildren and nieces and nephews. I would never want a child to be forced to be with an abusive parent. However, the ex-partner of a friend of mine, who met a new partner from Australia and wanted to move there, decided to try to break the children away from their parent. In that instance, they were told: “Daddy does not love you, because you look like me and Daddy hates me. If you see Daddy, I will get sad. If you see Daddy, he will kidnap you, because he does not want me to be with you any more. If you say that you hate Daddy and you don’t want to see him, I will buy you a bike or take you on holiday.” This is something that has really happened. I hope that my noble friend will confirm that victims of such alienation will automatically be covered under the broad definitions, so that we will not need to press this amendment to a vote.

I hope that the controversy that seems to have been caused by the term “parental alienation”, which has driven the different wording of this amendment, can be settled by being tested in court. I fully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, when she says that the child needs to be listened to and assessed by professionals. The key is for the courts to be aware that alienation such as in these examples may happen and, sadly, is not a rare occurrence. As my noble friend Lady Meyer said, we have had well over a thousand signatures in a short space of time from parents who themselves have suffered this form of abuse. If the courts are looking for this situation and can bring in experts to assess whether what the child is saying has been driven by fear instilled in them by the other parent unnecessarily, unreasonably, or deliberately to rupture the relationship with that parent, the justice system will be able to differentiate between the genuine cases, where a domestic abuser or abuser of children should not have unsupervised contact with their own child, and cases such as have been described.

Cases have been clearly identified in academic studies and evidence where parents who would otherwise be able to enjoy a relationship with their child are denied that opportunity and the child is denied access to that parent and their family. That can cause lifelong mental and emotional damage to the child and, indeed, to the parent. In some cases, the distress of being broken away from one’s children or grandchildren has caused suicide. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to confirm that this is indeed covered by the Bill and I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

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This is a good cause. I hope my noble friend will be able to reassure us and, most of all, disabled people up and down the land when she comes to reply.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow so many eminent speakers. I support these amendments, which have been carefully designed and described by my noble friends Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, together with the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport.

We have heard three moving and compelling speeches from experts with lived experience. I thank my noble friend Lady Campbell for the bundle of information she sent ahead of this debate, for her rigour in representing the interests of disabled people and for highlighting that their relationships with non-family caregivers are analogous to the other relationships that fall within the definition of “personally connected” for the purposes of Clause 2(1) of the Bill.

Legal advice has suggested that a failure to bring the relationship between disabled people and their carers within the scope of Clause 2(1) could result in unlawful discrimination against disabled people, contrary to Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights when read with Articles 3 and 8. Could the Minister address that point when summing up? I am certain that all Members of the House would wish any anticipated discrimination to be avoided in the drafting of the Bill.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle Portrait Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins. I declare an interest as vice-president of Livability.

I very much support the intent in this group of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who presented the case so ably at the beginning of this debate. As the parent of a child with a severe learning and physical disability, I know from personal experience the potential risks associated with those who are responsible for the care of disabled persons. In addition, having established a charity responsible for providing care for adults with learning disabilities in the north-east of England called At Home in the Community, I know how sensitive and tense the relationships can be between parents and a disabled son or daughter, between carers and the disabled person and between carers and parents. The frustrations of providing care for a disabled person whose behaviour can be immensely challenging and demanding can boil over, no matter how much they are loved. They can become the innocent third party in abusive relationships and suffer abuse themselves as a consequence.

Sadly, multiple reports over the years have shown that disabled people are much more likely to suffer abuse for longer periods of time. Many individuals are unable to communicate verbally, so identifying abuse can be difficult. Often unable to protect themselves, they can become very isolated and introverted. The vulnerability of their situation can lead to reliance and dependency on the very person being abusive. We had a case within a managed care home of abuse by a hitherto trusted member of staff who manipulated residents over a number of months before detection.

For many residents of care homes, the home they live in is their home. We had cases of individuals whose parents had both sadly died, so their carers and fellow residents were their family. Support in the care sector, whether in a family home or residential care home, relies on the dedication and integrity of mostly—one has to say sadly—low-paid care staff, most of whom are brilliant and support their vulnerable people marvellously. Sadly, however, some do abuse. Drawing attention to this and making provision for it in the Bill is an important step in mitigating it and preventing it from continuing. I hope that the Minister supports this amendment.

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Lord McColl of Dulwich Portrait Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 7, 8, 9, 78 and 90, which I support. Naming babies and the unborn in the Bill should lead parents to get the help that they need at a crucial time; otherwise they are in danger of remaining invisible when it comes to public policy. In the lockdown, as has been said, the hidden harms experienced by those under two years were sadly extensive. It should be stated that the definition of children does not recognise the unborn as victims. The amendment to Clause 3 is necessary to have in the Bill that a victim of domestic abuse includes a child who experiences the effects of the abuse, including in utero exposure, as there is good evidence for this latter harm, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, mentioned. The amendment to Clause 7 is important to stipulate comprehensively the duties of the commissioner to avoid any doubt whatever. The new clause after Clause 72 is required to ensure provision for all expectant parents and parents of children under two years where those children are victims of domestic abuse.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, for leading on these amendments, with the aim of highlighting the impact of domestic abuse on babies, including exposure in utero, and to meet the needs of babies and parents in the first 1,001 days before babies reach the age of two. We know that domestic abuse often starts or escalates during or soon after pregnancy and that it is correlated with other risk factors for babies and their families. Domestic abuse during pregnancy is associated with poor obstetric outcomes and is a strong risk factor for ante-natal and post-natal depression. We now know that a mother’s emotional state can have a direct influence on foetal development. I remember being shocked the first time that I saw the brain scans of such children, only visible to us as researchers in the last 20 years. The ongoing stress of domestic abuse can disrupt babies’ neurodevelopment, which in turn can adversely affect behaviours and emotional outcomes.

My noble friend Lady Finlay has outlined the issues relating to alcohol and domestic abuse so ably that I will not repeat her arguments, but I declare my support for her analysis. Early intervention is crucial for babies born into such circumstances, to support and work with families to break traumatic development cycles. The Institute of Health Visiting is strongly supportive of these amendments, to safeguard against, prevent and address the traumatic impact of domestic abuse on babies.

My noble friend Lord Bird often reminds us that investment of the public pound early in any abused child’s development is a far better investment than significant input in later life. These amendments are designed to address what has been described as the “baby blind spot”. I urge the Minister to seriously consider these amendments and support their incorporation into the Bill. They are designed to safeguard the early development of all babies and to provide therapeutic intervention to empower parents who have experienced abuse themselves to break the cycles of domestic abuse, surely something that we would all support.

Baroness Meyer Portrait Baroness Meyer (Con)
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My Lords, I support Amendments 7, 8 and 9, tabled by my noble friend Lady Stroud. Why? Because unborn children and small babies are as much at risk of domestic abuse as any other child, yet they have been largely excluded from this Bill. There seems to be no specific reference to them.

A very recent research paper published by the First 1001 Days Movement highlighted the fact that there are “baby blind-spots” in policy, planning and funding, where protections for children often do not work for babies. As my noble friend Lady Stroud mentioned, 30% of domestic abuse cases begin during pregnancy. That is a big number, but it is hardly surprising.

The prospect of having a child radically changes the dynamic in a relationship. The partner is suddenly faced with new responsibilities, both financial and emotional. Maybe the pregnancy was never discussed and comes as a complete surprise. The partner may feel duped or resentful, trapped in a relationship he never intended.

As we have heard throughout these debates, domestic abuse can take many forms. But just imagine how it feels when, at your weakest and most vulnerable point—which is how most women feel when pregnant—you are confronted by a partner intent on abusing you. When I was pregnant with my sons, I remember worrying that somebody would bump into me on the tube or I would fall and somehow injure that little being growing inside of me. I used to walk with my arms in front of me, shielding my stomach and my unborn child; it is a mother’s natural instinct. Imagine how frightened and helpless a mother must feel if her partner is a constant threat, not only to her but to her baby.

I remember my mother telling me when I was pregnant that I should only read happy stories, watch cheerful movies and listen to soft music. She strongly believed that the child absorbed everything its mother experienced and that this would affect the child’s development. Today it is an established fact that a baby’s development is as much affected by the mother’s emotional state as by what she eats and drinks, as we heard earlier.

As the First 1001 Days Movement attests, these are decisive moments in the life of a baby. Emotional abuse of the mother can damage the mental or physical health of the child, while physical or sexual abuse can lead to miscarriage. These soon-to-be-born human beings cannot be consigned to the category of “out of sight, out of mind”. If this is to be a piece of landmark legislation, our duty is that much greater to ensure that it recognises babies, the very young and the unborn. That is why I support the amendment.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as outlined in the register. I am pleased to follow other noble Lords who have made such cogent cases for both amendments in this group. They are designed to ensure that children who move home, away from their current school and health service area because of domestic abuse are not disadvantaged in access to relevant schooling close to their new residence and, as far as is practicable, receive NHS treatment no later than they would have done had they remained at their previous address. This is not about queue jumping, it is about staying at the same level in the queue when you move.

It is intended that there will be a new health and social care Act this year. Is it feasible not only to enshrine Amendment 13 in this Bill but to reflect the principle in the revised health and social care Act? This would enable the Secretary of State for Health to request that all NHS providers aim to meet standards of fair access for children who move home if they have suffered abuse.

With regard to schooling, it is very hard for children to move out of the area to a new school, losing their previous friends, as a result of abuse. If they then have to travel long distances from their new home to a new school, it makes it very difficult to attend after-school clubs and make local friends if their neighbours are attending more local schools. I have seen this happen all over the country.

For this reason, I support Amendment 76 unreservedly. It is essential that children make new friends and study locally to their home to promote social interaction with other local children and access to clubs and out-of-hours activities associated with schools. These networks are essential to promote children’s mental health, particularly those who have suffered abuse.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Burt and the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove, Lady Meacher and Lady Watkins, for their careful and thoughtful introduction to, and support for, both the amendments. I also thank the Minister for his comments at the end of Committee on the Bill, but, as others have said, it is certainly easier for the Government to work with Amendment 13, because the responsibility falls on the commissioner to work with the NHS—whether it is CCGs or hospital trusts.

The key point for me is that there is already the ability to choose your hospital, which we do through NHS e-referral services. For these children, fleeing domestic abuse and probably being moved on at extremely short notice, the real crisis is that they will plummet to the bottom of a long waiting list at exactly the crisis moment when they will need support.

I urge the Minister to consider that particular problem. I appreciate all the arrangements that the Government have made. We shall see what is in the NHS Bill, as and when this is published, but this very small, particular group of children need very particular support. This is absolutely the case for children applying to child and adolescent mental health services, where we know that there is already an extreme shortage of access to these services. The one thing that is true about children fleeing domestic abuse is that they are likely to be traumatised. Delaying their treatment further will give them very serious problems.

On the schools issue, I think it is an excellent notion to use the same duties as for looked-after children. I also want to make the point that I made about NHS services in Committee. Military children should also be prioritised for school places when they move. This should apply also to children fleeing domestic abuse.

In certain areas where schools are full, a six to eight-month gap to find a school place is not uncommon. This exacerbates the problem of the children not getting any part of their lives back to normal. I appreciate that processes and protocols take time, but there must be some interim measures to help these children. There is no doubt that this Government understand the importance of getting children back into school. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said, the impact of Covid and the pressure on schools to reopen as quickly as is safe is completely understandable. These children’s lives are being traumatised by the pandemic—although perhaps not as severely as those of elderly adults. They need a transformation. They need access to school and medical services.

So I urge the Minister to agree to these amendments and ensure that the processes which need to be set up behind the scenes between the commissioner, NHS services and the DfE can happen.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
Amendments 30 and 31 not moved.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 32. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Clause 62: Special measures in civil proceedings: victims of specified offences

Amendment 32

Moved by
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Amendments 33 to 40 agreed.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 41. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 41

Moved by
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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to Amendment 42. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 42

Moved by

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
We will be able to deliver the strongest possible protections for children through the online harms framework, rather than Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. I hope that I have provided some further reassurance that Amendment 87A is not necessary. The Government have demonstrated their strong commitment to protecting children online, a point which ran through all the contributions in this debate. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, will be willing to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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My Lords, I have received requests to ask a short question from the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Morrow. I call the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, to ask a short question for elucidation.

Lord McColl of Dulwich Portrait Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con) [V]
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The Minister has continued to suggest that it will take a long time to implement Part 3. Why would that be the case if the Government used the BBFC as the regulator, as everything is in order in that regard, save the need to formally redesignate it, which Section 17 of the Digital Economy Act defines as needing only 40 days?

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Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, both on Monday night and today, and the Minister for his response. Today, we are confronted with another pandemic, one that ruins lives and for some is the cause of death. That pandemic is violence by men against women. I am very grateful to all those who have spoken in support of my amendment, which attempts to deal with this pandemic. I am also touched and encouraged by the huge amount of support I have received from NGOs and members of the public. I am grateful to them.

I am, of course, very disappointed by the Government’s response, especially as the Minister cannot confirm that the online harms Bill will be debated soon. I am disappointed that, even though those who spoke so passionately in support of my amendment made it clear that we are not opposing the online harms Bill—I want it to come to the House as soon as possible—so much of the Minister’s response was devoted to that issue. I am also disappointed the Minister’s response addressed Part 3 as though it was narrowly concerned with child protection. Of course it is about child protection, but it is also very relevant to stopping domestic violence, because it would make it less likely that children are exposed to pornographic websites as they move into adulthood with the expectation that violence is a normal part of sexual relationships.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and speaker after speaker have highlighted the fact that, if Part 3 had been implemented, we would today have a regulator that would take robust action against any website showing illegal, violent, extreme pornography in the UK. As we contemplate what is happening in our country at the moment and the concerns about violence against women, the very least the Government could do would be implement Part 3 so that we can create an environment that is less hostile to women by tackling illegal, violent, extreme pornography on pornographic websites.

The Minister also said that it would take far longer than I have suggested to implement Part 3. Apart from the fact that it would take less time to implement primary legislation that has already been passed than primary legislation that has not even been published, the Minister failed to engage with the very serious point that I, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, and others made that Part 3 could be in place in months if the BBFC was used as a regulator. It is capable of doing that. It is all set up to do that.

At the present time, the argument that the Government do not want to use the BBFC because they prefer Ofcom is not convincing. Nor is the argument about changes in technology; this does not hold water. The Government can use Ofcom as a regulator for the online harms Bill legislation when it is implemented, but, as a powerful open letter to the Prime Minister published today by women’s organisations makes clear, if the Government try to suggest that the safety of women should be needlessly compromised over the next few years just because they do not want to designate the BBFC as an interim regulator, that will go down very badly with the public. The public have told me that, and Members across the House have seen what the public feel about that.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Finlay, reminded us of the evidence of how the compulsive use of pornography can affect the brain and the decision-making process of the user over time. This is something we have to take very seriously indeed.

The Prime Minister quite rightly says he wants to protect women and children from violent attacks. My amendment will allow him to do so immediately, by enforcing legislation that has already been passed. Waiting on the online harms Bill means we will continue to create a conveyor belt of sexual predators who commit violence against women because of the porn they watch as boys and men.

There are times in life when we have to do the right thing, especially in the context of the current outpouring of concern about women’s safety. I believe that, regardless of what great protections an online harms Act eventually provides, history will judge that, from the perspective of the best interest of the safety of women and children in the second half of 2021, and 2022 and 2023, the non-implementation of Part 3 was a grave mistake. This is why I simply cannot let this matter go. I would be failing in my duty as a parliamentarian whose life has been devoted to promoting the best interests of women and children. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I wish to test the opinion of this House.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I will now put the Question on Amendment 87A. We heard a Member taking part remotely say they wished to divide the House in support of this amendment, and I will take that into account.

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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 87B. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Amendment 87B

Moved by
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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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I call the Minister to respond. Are you there?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con) [V]
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My host muted me and I could not unmute—I apologise for that temporary blip that delayed my response.

On the question about whether it will be explicitly referenced, I say that the two are so closely interlinked. The noble Baroness asked that question in all good faith, so I will write to her, telling her and giving detail on how one will reference the other.

Amendment 91 withdrawn.
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Watkins of Tavistock) (CB)
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We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 92. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Amendment 92

Moved by