Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Jackie Doyle-Price Excerpts
Report stage & 3rd reading & Report stage: House of Commons
Monday 6th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 6 July 2020 - (6 Jul 2020)
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. There have been a lot of interventions, which has extended the time of speeches, so I will have to reduce the time limit to four minutes after the next speaker in order to get as many people in as possible.

Jackie Doyle-Price Portrait Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con)
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It gives me great pleasure to support the Bill, which is the product of input from all over the House, and all the better for it. I particularly welcome the definition of what constitutes domestic abuse and the emphasis placed on sexual abuse in the definition. We all know that sexual abuse is very much in the toolkit of any abuser and, just as domestic violence was a taboo subject in the past, the role of sexual violence has been, too. What is striking about the passage of the Bill is how it has been a game changer on that—the clause that deals with rough sex most certainly is. In that respect, the Bill makes a very clear advance in favour of the victims and against the abusers. We must ensure that we do everything we can to protect those who are most vulnerable and bring the purveyors of evil crimes to justice.

We must also consider how sexual violence can clearly take place in the domestic context not just with partners but with children. I would like to highlight the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), who talked about the sharing of sexual imagery via phones, which again could be considered domestic abuse given that it comes from relationships. That example really highlights how normalised sexual abuse has become in some contexts. I feel strongly that we collectively in this House—male Members as well as female Members—must do all we can to ensure that women feel empowered to have control over their own destiny when it comes to their relationships. I fear that some of the pornography now available and so widely circulating is normalising sexual behaviour that is not in the interests of our women and girls. We must all collectively be vigilant about that.

I tabled two amendments to give added emphasis to the importance of considering sexual violence in the domestic violence context. I did so in consultation with Rape Crisis England and Wales, to which I have the great pleasure of giving so much support. It does so much work and is often considered the Cinderella for the reasons that I have described. The real issue for victims of sexual violence is that it never leaves them. It is one thing to bring a perpetrator to justice, but these women, these girls, these victims are not pieces of evidence; they are people, they are fragile, and they need our support—a lifetime of support. I am pleased that the NHS has recognised that with its lifetime support care pathway for victims of sexual violence, but, as with many things in public policy, we can talk the talk, but we do not always walk the walk.

I am pleased to see that police and crime commissioners regularly step up to the plate to commission sufficient services for victims of sexual violence, but all too often locally I see the NHS not doing its bit, and equally we expect more from local authorities. The amendments in my name are there to reboot the emphasis on sexual violence as an element of domestic violence in terms of the functions of the domestic violence commissioner and local authorities. I hope that the Minister in responding will articulate the very real need for holistic support for victims of sexual violence and an expectation that the domestic violence commissioner will do the requisite thing and encourage good practice throughout our public services.

In view of time being very short, I will say little more than that, but I want quickly to address the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) on abortion. Much criticism has been made of it, which, frankly, is unfair. The real point is that the law is 50 years old and no longer fit for purpose, but, because it is seen as a free-vote issue, Governments do not look at it. I welcome, to a point, what my hon. Friend the Minister has said today, but we need to look more holistically at the safety of our abortion services. It is all very well to say, “Okay, we have had these regulations for covid. Let’s just extend them.”, but I do not think that is good enough. We are told nowadays that as many as one in three people have had access to abortion, so let us look at it more holistically.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price). I wholeheartedly support the sensible and necessary amendments to this Bill brought forward by several of my courageous and learned colleagues. I particularly wish to mention my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), who has spoken courageously on domestic abuse, and my excellent colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), because of her ongoing work to have misogyny treated as a hate crime. I am proud to represent Nottingham East, the birthplace of the movement to recognise misogyny as a hate crime, and I pay tribute to pioneers at Nottingham Women’s Centre, as well as Juno Women’s Aid, and, in particular, to Mel Jeffs.

No recourse to public funds renders many of the most at-risk individuals completely powerless and increases their chances of being preyed upon by abusers or falling into destitution. The choice presented to Members today is whether this Bill progresses with or without leaving migrant women behind. Many migrant women are, in effect, excluded from the protective measures in this Bill as they have no recourse to public funds. What advice has the Minister sought as to whether the Bill, in its current form, is compliant with paragraph 3 of article 4 of the Istanbul convention? We know that migrant women face additional barriers to safety, because abusers commonly weaponise fears of immigration enforcement and separation from their children to control them. The draft statutory guidance to accompany this Bill clearly recognises that migrant women face these additional obstacles to safety and are afraid of reporting. Does the Minister accept that the Government’s current policies in this area, in effect, encode and entrench the abuser-victim dynamic into the system? Will she acknowledge that the legislation, as it currently stands, does not match the facts recognised in the statutory guidance?

It is promising that some key amendments have made the cut, including the recognition that children are victims of domestic abuse in their own right, as well as the expansion of the ban on abusers cross-examining the victims in court. However, as Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, has said:

“The decision 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”.

This invisibility is exacerbated through clause 53, which neglects the commissioning of specialist support for BAME women in the community. There are only 30 specialist by and for black and minoritised women’s refuges for the whole of the UK, with 50% of BAME specialist refuges having been forced to close or been taken over by a larger provider because of Government funding cuts in the past decade. I wish to close with words from the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which has stressed that

“Amending the Bill is the only route to guarantee a fair system to all victims”

and ensure compliance with the Istanbul convention, which this Bill seeks to ratify.