All 2 Lord Dholakia contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

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Tue 5th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Wed 27th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Dholakia Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(3 years, 5 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)
Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome any legislation which is designed to increase awareness of domestic abuse and provides strengthened support for victims with an effective justice system. The problem is more acute now, during the lockdown, as demonstrated by repeated Questions in your Lordships’ House—and we must add to this the online-facilitated child sexual abuse and exploitation that is an ugly feature of life in our society.

The problem is further supplemented by the recent disclosure about crime statistics in our police forces. I will quote some figures. We were shocked to hear that in the past 12-month period reviewed by inspectors, the Manchester police force had recorded 77.7% of reported crimes, a drop of 11.3% from 2018. The report further stated that about one in five of all crimes and one in four violent crimes were not recorded. In real terms, England’s largest force failed to record 80,000 crimes in a year. This must be shocking.

Public confidence is shaped by the quality of service we provide in our community. This is a matter of serious concern. If there is a gross non-recording of crime in one police force, what is happening in the other forces? Will the Minister investigate practices in the remaining forces around the underreporting of crimes? How can we put any faith in crime statistics when we are told that crime is down?

One idea behind setting up the Crown Prosecution Service was to determine whether it was in the public interest to prosecute. Was the CPS brought into discussions or was this a unilateral action by the police not to record? We have repeatedly commented on the low levels of prosecution for crimes such as rape and violence; it is obvious that such cases never reached the stage where courts could determine innocence or guilt. We are aware that the chief constable has stepped down, but we must question the role of police and crime commissioners. Surely, they must have taken their eyes off this unacceptable practice. We must accept that victims of violence have often missed counselling and support services because their complaint was not recorded. How can we put any faith in British crime statistics if this is how matters are being dealt with?

My plea at this stage is to recognise that domestic violence is often perpetrated in communities with different cultural practices. Britain is a multicultural, multiracial and multireligious society. We took some time to recognise that Covid has impacted rather harshly on our BAME communities. We need to ensure that local authorities and other agencies are aware of specific and special issues affecting some members of our communities.

I am aware of the impact of alcohol and gambling on some families, which is a root cause of violence against family members. Very few such problems are reflected publicly and individuals suffer in silence.

There is also the question of marriages which lack legal status in this country. Authorities must be aware of the need for public education in such matters. This is vital. Let us hope that probation and social services are adequately staffed and trained to recognise such practices in our communities.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Dholakia Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 27th 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-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (27 Jan 2021)
I appreciate that this is rather technical but, given the current failures in the system, we need to use all the ammunition we can. I hope the Minister might be able to respond sympathetically to the amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, I am pleased to contribute on my Amendment 50, which is supported by my noble friend Lord Paddick, who brings with him his vast experience in policing matters.

The amendment would ensure that a specified public authority complied so far as reasonably practical with a request made to it, including by the provision of information. The wording proposed is essential and further strengthens the power of the commissioner. “Specified public authority” is clearly defined in Clause 15(3).

I mentioned at Second Reading my serious concern about the way some agencies, including the police and local policing bodies, have dealt with serious crimes. The position is more acute now during the lockdown. A number of pieces of research point to increasing violence and online-facilitated child sexual abuse, which is an ugly feature of our society.

We are aware of how easy it is to ignore these problems through lack of action, as clearly demonstrated by the Manchester police force. In the 12-month period reviewed by inspectors, the Manchester force had recorded 77.7% of reported crimes, a drop of 11.3% from 2018. The report further stated that one in five of all crimes and one in four serious violent crimes are not recorded. The force is probably the second largest in the country and it failed to record 80,000 crimes in that year. This is shocking. We do not know the background to those serious crimes. How many involved rape and serious domestic assault? Of course, I do not refer to the CPS at this stage, because a review is ongoing.

Has the Home Office asked the remaining police forces to provide information on non-recording of crimes? We will never know. Our amendment would ensure that it would be for public bodies not only to comply with a request but to provide a breakdown of such information, which would help victims with counselling and other services provided in local areas.

I have never quite understood why we need to be so secretive. One should not have to rely on the Freedom of Information Act to obtain such information. It should be provided by all agencies listed in Clause 15(3). Our amendment would ensure that all agencies recorded complaints, with those of domestic abuse being a top priority for the commissioner.

We have heard repeated questions in your Lordships’ House about the serious crimes of rape and domestic violence. We are thankful to a large number of charities which provide shelters for victims and for the valuable work done by volunteers, but that is not enough. We need to do more. We want police and crime commissioners to set out objectives for their areas as identified by the domestic abuse commissioner.

Any administrative system which is not properly monitored is bound to fail. Monitoring is the outcome of any policy adopted. It is not good enough to say that we have legislation to tackle domestic abuse. We must ensure that we look systematically at outcomes and take measures to address any anomalies identified.

We have lots of past examples involving similar issues to reflect on: stop and search is one. The Scarman report following the Brixton disorders of the 1980s clearly identified excesses. We now ensure that all incidents are recorded and that measures taken are proportionate and intelligence-based. Let us hope that our amendment will go some way in building the confidence of the community in this legislation.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

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Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who is next on the list of speakers, has withdrawn her name, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
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My Lords, I wish to speak on Amendment 39, which is grouped with Amendments 37, 38, 40 and 43. Before I start, I just say how good it was to listen to the contribution that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has just made.

I intend, in effect, to identify some of the issues that have been taken up previously. I am pleased to say that my noble friend Lord Paddick spoke about this matter at Second Reading, and he is backed up by my noble friend Lady Featherstone. At Second Reading, he was able to identify why such a provision in the Bill is necessary. The amendment seeks to ensure that at least one person on the advisory board has experience with regard to the interest of male victims and those in same-sex relationships. My noble friend Lady Featherstone was responsible for equality issues during her time at the Home Office, and her ministerial experience is very useful in contributing on this matter. Of course, I always bow to the knowledge of my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt.

This legislation makes considerable improvements to the way in which we deal with female victims. That must never be underestimated, and rightly so, but we have the opportunity to ensure that male victims of domestic abuse, who, according to ONS statistics, make up 35% of victims, have the same opportunity to pursue their grievances. In any gender-neutral legislation, a programme of public education on this point is vital.

I am surprised that only 1% of funding is allocated to male victims, according to the briefing I have received. I am told that male victims are three times less likely to report their abuse to police. I was engaged in the work of the former Commission for Racial Equality and firmly believe that support should be granted to all victims regardless of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, age and ability. Perhaps the Minister could look at this issue. We should not give an impression that the Bill has less focus on male victims. Some of the suggestions I have made clearly point towards this interpretation which should be avoided. I urge the Minister to support a gender-neutral approach in the guidance on the Domestic Abuse Bill, which so far seems to lack such an explanation. I will go further. We need to build the confidence of people who may want to use this legislation to advance their cause by giving them confidence to do so by making sure that gender includes men, so I make that suggestion to the Minister.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I strongly support Amendments 37 and 38. I like the idea of the commissioner establishing an advisory board. I am sure it will be helpful, although it is puzzling why the membership has been restricted to not fewer than six and not more than 10. It is interesting that the membership has to comprise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, representatives of victims of domestic abuse, charities and other organisations, healthcare services, social care services, police and criminal justice and academic expertise. I have no problem with that range of expertise, but the membership surely needs to be wider. We have already had, or will have, amendments suggesting that we should have experts in children and young people, substance abuse, psychological therapy and speech therapy. I would welcome giving the commissioner a little more discretion and allowing her to appoint more than 10 people if she wishes to do so. As it is entirely in her own hands, she clearly will not want a huge number of people, but having a little more flexibility would be helpful.

I support Amendment 38 very strongly. It is surprising and highly unusual that members of an advisory board should be described in legislation as representatives of the interest described in the clause. Surely we have moved on from representative bodies such as that. In my experience—I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—committees that are made up of representatives of certain interests find it very difficult to act corporately because they feel the need to fight the corner of their own interest. That goes against all good governance. I know this is an advisory committee, rather than a corporate governance body per se, but the principles of good governance surely ought to remain none the less, so the last thing the commissioner needs is a body where people are too busy protecting their own perceived interest and are not thinking about the integrated approach that is necessary. I strongly urge the Government to revisit this. They will find that in public organisations—and I am sure it is the same in other sectors—the idea that today we appoint people to be representative rather than to bring a breadth of experience and work together is not right, and I hope the Government will agree to reverse this.