All 12 Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay 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 27th Jan 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 1st Feb 2021
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Wed 3rd Feb 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 8th Feb 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 10th Feb 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 8th Mar 2021
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Report stage & Report stage & Lords Hansard
Wed 10th Mar 2021
Mon 15th Mar 2021
Wed 17th Mar 2021
Tue 27th Apr 2021
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Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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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 Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am sorry to interrupt, but could I remind noble Lords of the four-minute advisory speaking limit?

Baroness Greengross Portrait Baroness Greengross (CB) [V]
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I am stopping, my Lords.

Local authorities carry out care needs assessments for people needing care; they also do financial assessments to see what assistance people need to cover the cost of their care. When they do such assessments, there needs to be a duty to report any suspected abuse, because it is a serious failure in our system which needs urgently to be addressed.

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Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the opportunity for the House to consider this Bill, which we now know is even more important than we thought before. We know that it has long-lasting impact, not only on the women who are the principal victims but on their children. The rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic is, quite honestly, frightening, and goes alongside the significant rise in sexual exploitation and abuse of women more widely. This pandemic has been a crisis in more ways than one for too many women and girls.

I welcome the Minister saying that there will be future legislative opportunities, but I do hope that we can make some improvements to this Bill while we have it, because the more improvements we can make, the more women we will be able to protect. I hope that, having now learned some of the difficult lessons of escalation of abuse during the lockdowns, the Government will be open to amendments. As the Minister said, I had the privilege of being a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Joint Committee, which made recommendations that I thank the Government for accepting—but there were some that they did not include, and I hope that they will now, for example, see the importance of strengthening the powers and accountability of the domestic abuse commissioner.

I have been involved in tackling domestic abuse for much of my working life—far too long—having helped to establish one of the very first refuges in the country in the late 1970s in Sunderland. Refuges for women are an important way of helping women who have no option but to flee from home, and I welcome the Government agreeing specifically to support them through the duty on local authorities. However, it is not sufficient. If government support through this additional duty remains the only remedy, it may end up being a perverse incentive. Changing Lives offers supported housing across the north-east of England for those who are unable to access refuges. They may be women with older children, people with substance misuse problems or offending histories, men or transgender people. Ironically, the problem is not one of finding them individual accommodation in the north-east—it is in getting money for support and the capacity to provide that support. I can tell the Minister that the demand is huge and frightening again.

There is also the challenge of supporting women who are at risk of losing custody of their children, where the main need is identified as domestic abuse. The report of the commission that I chaired, Breaking Down the Barriers, looked at the experiences of women who had suffered violence and abuse. The women whom we worked with identified this as one of the main barriers to people looking for help. Changing Lives runs a project in Newcastle that offers supported accommodation for women and their children, and it is primarily for women with substance misuse problems which mean that their children are subject to child protection plans. For most of those women, their addiction started after domestic abuse. Some 60% of the families leave Ridley Villas together, having been taken off the child protection register, to live their lives free from addiction and abuse. Trevi House in Plymouth is another good example. So there are examples of the Government recognising that there needs to be significant support for community interventions, not just refuges—but we need to work on that in the Bill.

The other thing that I want to raise is an issue that I shall follow up with an amendment. The women we worked with—

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Sorry, the noble Baroness has already taken four minutes.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab) [V]
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I am really sorry. Basically, if we can make sure that everyone is trained who sees a woman with domestic abuse in a service, we will do a lot to make sure that they are helped.

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Baroness Hodgson of Abinger Portrait Baroness Hodgson of Abinger (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill, which is a significant step forward in protecting the victims of domestic abuse and bringing their perpetrators to justice.

As we have already heard, domestic abuse affected 2.4 million adults in the UK aged 16 to 74 in 2019. While men do experience domestic abuse, women are disproportionately impacted, making up 1.6 million of that figure. They are more likely to experience repeated victimisation and be seriously hurt or killed than male victims. As my noble friend highlighted, Covid has made the situation much worse, with people being locked down with their perpetrators. Shockingly, last year, during the first seven weeks of lockdown one domestic abuse call was made to UK police every 30 seconds. Sadly, this Covid-19-driven increase has been a worldwide phenomenon.

Conscious of time, I shall focus my remarks on four areas: threats to share photos; CEDAW commitments regarding specialist services; the violence against women and girls strategy; and abuse of older people and parents. I also draw the attention of the House to my register of interests.

The Minister highlighted that domestic violence is not just physical. Concerningly, the 2019 ONS figures showed that recorded coercive control offences nearly doubled. It is often harder to spot coercive and financial control, which may include threats, humiliation and intimidation to isolate victims. However, the effects cause enormous mental suffering.

Refuge has highlighted that technology is being used as an increasingly common tool. I share other noble Lords’ concerns that threatening to share intimate or sexual images has enormous negative impacts on abuse survivors, causing them to live in constant fear and having long-term effects on their mental well-being. Often, such threats continue after they have escaped the abusive relationship. In 2019, 72% of Refuge’s clients reported experiences of such technology-facilitated abuse, with younger women being especially impacted. I understand that, while the actual sharing of such images without consent is a crime, the threat to share is not, and that needs to change.

The UK’s obligations under CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by the UK in 1986, are relevant to this Bill. The CEDAW committee has it made clear that violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse, is a form of discrimination against women and that government has positive obligations to prevent abuse and protect survivors. This includes providing sufficient specialist services to protect them and prevent abuse happening again. Similar obligations are contained in the Istanbul convention, which I understand the Government have committed to ratify following passage of this Bill. While I welcome the introduction of a statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation services, I question whether the duty is too narrow. The EHRC, for example, highlights that the majority of survivors seek help from community-based services. I also seek assurance from the Minister that any guidance issued under this Bill will be required to take account of the cross-government violence against women strategy.

As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, there are too many hidden victims of domestic abuse. When it comes to older victims, in 2017 more than 200,000 people aged 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales, and one in four victims of domestic homicides are over the age of 60. I am sure I need not remind your Lordships of the horrific undercover story of abuse in care homes. Domestic abuse can happen at any age, but Age UK argues that older victims are systematically overlooked, suggesting that an older person being physically or mentally abused by their adult child or grandchild, family member or spouse of 50-plus years is far less likely to be recognised for who they are: a victim. Why do the statistics stop at 74 years old? Will the Minister agree to take steps to ensure the recording of abuse statistics for those over 74?

We need to build a society that has zero tolerance towards domestic abuse—

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am sorry, but my noble friend has exceeded her four minutes.

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Lord Anderson of Ipswich Portrait Lord Anderson of Ipswich (CB) [V]
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My Lords, when I reviewed the terrorism laws I often used to reflect on domestic violence and abuse. They bear no national security label, but they seem to me to be threats on at least a comparable scale. Domestic violence takes far more innocent lives in this country than the 100 or so who have been killed by terrorism since the turn of the century. I suspect that fear of domestic abuse, just as much as fear of terrorism, conditions the behaviour of huge numbers of people. I therefore welcome this important Bill, while bearing in mind another important lesson from the world of counterterrorism: the further reaching the powers we enact and the more universally welcome they are, the more important it is to examine the attendant safeguards.

I am grateful to the Magistrates’ Association for its briefing on domestic abuse protection orders. Among the practical issues it highlights are whether there should be a statutory maximum time limit on DAPOs, subject to renewal; whether the family courts should be able to impose a domestic abuse perpetrator programme on an alleged offender without any conviction or prior finding of fact; whether it is right to impose positive requirements, such as drug rehabilitation, when there has been no opportunity to find out if the subject will engage with them; and whether there need to be processes to deal with the overlap in jurisdictions of criminal, civil and family courts. Some of these issues will, I am sure, be ironed out in the pilot or in guidance, but we may need to consider whether others should be reflected in the Bill.

Finally, a word about the proposed new offence of non-fatal strangulation. I have studied in detail the March 2016 report of the New Zealand Law Commission, which stated a preference for generic crimes and warned against what it called a slide into a chaotic plethora of specific offences. That was also a strong theme of our own Law Commission report of 2015, Reform of Offences Against the Person. However, the New Zealand Law Commission did accept the case for a new offence of non-fatal strangulation. The case for such an offence is a strong one, for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and others have so ably explained.

However, counterterrorism also teaches us that hurried law can be bad law, and we need to be sure that all the necessary thinking has been done. Would a more generic offence, such as aggravated assault or recklessly endangering life, meet the case? If not, how are strangulation and suffocation to be defined, and should personal connection in the language of the Bill be a condition of the offence or not? What is to be the mens rea, and should there be a statutory defence of consent? What are the sentencing implications? These are issues which the report of the New Zealand Law Commission helps us to address but on which it cannot be the last word in the circumstances prevailing here.

I hate to miss a bus as much as the next person, and this Bill is an inviting, indeed overdue, vehicle. If the Government see merit, as so many of us do, in the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, I hope they will start working constructively on it at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps, if necessary, they will do this with the urgent involvement of the Law Commission so that we can be sure that it will be as effective as it needs to be.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, this might be a sensible point in proceedings to take a short break. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn until 7.15 pm.

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Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I think there are some technical problems in reaching the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, so perhaps we should move on to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

Baroness Morris of Bolton Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Morris of Bolton) (Con)
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I call the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.

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Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this is a modest but nevertheless important Bill, which received cross-party support in the other place. It is long overdue. At Second Reading, I will not go into any of the detail but will merely refer to the background. Some concerns were expressed in the other place and I hope that we shall return to them.

The first thing that I want to say is fairly obvious: there is no doubt that domestic abuse occurs and we should improve our system for dealing with it considerably. Secondly, we have become aware of only the tip of the iceberg. I read in yesterday’s Times the concern of the coroner in the sad case of Kellie Sutton, highlighting the lack of a national system to check on reports of those accused of domestic abuse. By Report, I would welcome an account of further progress on improving the system of national intelligence reports.

As a former MP for many years in an industrial constituency, I am deeply conscious of the problems of young mothers with young children living in small flats in high-rise buildings without a garden. I think we have built far too much of this kind of accommodation. I hope that in future city fathers will take our present problems into account and reduce the number of such dwellings.

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Max Hill QC, was right to raise the alarm on one of the effects of the lockdown. He said:

“Lockdown has taken its toll on us all, but it assumes an even darker dimension for those deprived of the temporary respite of going out to work or visiting friends and family.”


I welcome his absolute assurance, as head of the CPS, that no one will be prosecuted for leaving an abusive setting. It is frightening to read that at present the police are making 70 references to the CPS every hour during peak hours. The Early Intervention Foundation, a charity, estimates that 15,000 children were living in a household where violence occurs during the Christmas period. The tragedy of current events was highlighted when the Office for National Statistics revealed last month that one in five crimes reported during the spring lockdown related to domestic violence. I ask the Minister specifically to convey to the Attorney-General my request for an update from the DPP on the situation arising over this Christmas and during this lockdown.

I have been waiting for many years for the opportunity to say that the family, with a mother and father, is the glue that enables society to function, with the mother, as mine did, giving her all to ensure that the breadwinner goes to work and the children go to school every morning, although she might be working as well. I surmise that there is a weakness in the family structure when there is the absence of a father to give guidance, ensure discipline and act as a role model. Family breakdown leads to many problems.

Sitting as a recorder in the Crown Court over many years, from time to time I had to deal with binding over to keep the peace applications, when a weekend family quarrel had become violent. Fortunately, few cases actually came to court. Indeed, if the police had intervened, particularly if a mature and experienced sergeant had been involved, he would have been able to calm the situation and no more would be heard of it. I hope that the Minister will convey to the Home Secretary my approval and appreciation of the work done by the police in this respect.

I want to ask the Minister how the definition of a child—

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble and learned Lord is going considerably over the advisory four minutes, so perhaps he would not mind drawing his remarks to a close.

Lord Morris of Aberavon Portrait Lord Morris of Aberavon (Lab) [V]
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[Inaudible] responsibility of work in practice. I close with those remarks and will come back to some of them in Committee.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

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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)
Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate. In her opening comments the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, echoed a profound sense of solidarity and all our best wishes for this Bill going through this process. We are very honoured to take part.

I wish to put on record my thanks to the many organisations that have so diligently briefed us; I also thank the Minister. As a former domestic violence officer and child protection worker, for decades I worked practically with families of survivors. This is an incredible opportunity to place their needs and well-being at the centre of legal frameworks. Recognition of the effect on children is long overdue.

I wish to address Amendments 6 and 8, and speak also to Amendments 11 and 12. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, whom I claim to be my noble friend, argues that this legislation should encompass matters of forced marriage victims and survivors within the context of the Bill, and I very much agree with her—I support her in her cause. Although I do not claim to have the legal wisdom or expertise of my noble and learned friend, my recommendation, as the chair of the Forced Marriage Task Force, was to ensure that we embed matters of forced marriage and murder—I have distaste for the words “honour killing”; it is murder, primarily of women but of course of some men, too—in mainstream legislation.

Like other noble Lords, I would like to see the eradication of disjointedness and silos in responding to victims, as though the violence that they experience is somehow different. Similarly, on Amendment 11, I am in constant awe of my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who is correct to assert that disabled persons have absolute rights to be heard within the purview of all public and mainstream rights to receive the necessary safeguards, protection and services that this legislation will afford and facilitate to all other victims and survivors of violence and abuse. This was very powerfully reinforced by my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport, and I am really grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, for her insightful recommendations for trained advocacy. I hope that the Government will give their fullest consideration to her request.

I will make some general points in support of this group. Community-based services are a critical aspect of empowering survivors and their children. According to a survey undertaken I think by Barnardo’s, 70% of individuals experiencing violence wish to receive community-based support. Specialist services that may be needed to address their welfare may include housing support, helplines and support for children, as well as programmes for perpetrators. The statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services must not lose sight of the equal status and weight being mandated for community-oriented services, or we may unwittingly miss or discourage many hundreds of thousands of women who could find it prohibitive to seek urgent help and flee their perpetrators.

Postcode lotteries in access to services are well established, and lack of specialist services are well acknowledged. Nicole Jacobs has said that she is mapping current services. I feel that such an exercise will miss the value of all those women-led specialist services which have been shut down over the years, particularly by local authorities which have marginalised the needs of women from diverse backgrounds. I speak with some knowledge. In my own area, two critical women-led services, the Jagonari Women’s Centre and East London Asian Family Counselling, have been shut down, meaning that all the clients that they served over 30 years have nowhere to go. Whatever the excuse or rationale of local male leaderships, the end result has surely been that many women have been further alienated from reporting abuse and seeking urgent support.

Many specialist organisations have been a lifeline for women, particularly those who lack confidence and knowledge of the system and how to report or manage available services. Therefore, this legislative framework must widen its scope to ensure wide-ranging awareness of this law, once it has been passed. Also, leadership across different institutions must explicitly mandate organisations meeting the needs of all victims and survivors who experience additional distress or fears of discrimination. Furthermore, they must be held to account at the local and national levels for the quality and consistency of services for some of the most vulnerable in our society. I am grateful that the domestic abuse commissioner will broaden her reach to communities hitherto beyond the reach of the usual suspects and approved organisations.

I am grateful to have been able to participate in this discussion today. I want to make two final comments. I listened with a great deal of respect and admiration to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, on Jewish marriages. She is right to be very specific. There are issues pertaining to other faiths, including Muslim marriages, some of which are stuck in the sharia councils—not sharia courts but councils, like the Jewish councils—

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but she is now referring to our debate on the previous group.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl) [V]
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Okay. I finish by saying that I am grateful for this consideration and hope that it may be extended to others. Finally, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer. I was deeply moved by her argument and would have taken part in her discussion; I did not manage to do so as I have not been well myself in the last few days. I am very grateful for the patience of the House.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I think the general test for this group of amendments is whether the perpetrator of abuse has some power or hold over the victim and, through abuse, makes the victim feel unsafe in their own home. In that regard, the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Wilcox of Newport, both made the important point about the close connection there often is between a disabled person and their carers, raising similar risks to other vulnerable people in intimate relationships.

I will take these amendments in order. If the victim is 16 or over and subject to abuse by their guardian—someone who has power over them—it seems only right that guardians are included in the definition of “personally connected”, as Amendment 6 suggests.

Similarly, a carer for a disabled person—someone who, to a greater or lesser extent, the disabled person relies on—should also be included, particularly if the care is provided in the victim’s home. Amendment 7 is perhaps too wide, albeit that the intention is to provide a safeguard for disabled people, in that someone who provides care to an able-bodied person would be included in this amendment as currently drafted. The more narrowly drawn Amendment 11 appears more precise.

Amendment 12, to which we have our Amendment 13, is arguably unintentionally too narrow in applying only to cases where the care is provided to enable independent living, rather than, as our amendment suggests, where the care is provided to enable someone to live in their own home, whether independently or not. I accept what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said: this may not necessarily widen the definition but simply clarify what independent living means.

I understand that those involved in coercing someone into a forced marriage may not be parents or other family members. They may be the family of the other party to the marriage, for example, but parents and other family members involved in such practices, as indicated in the Member’s explanatory statement, are already included in the definition of “personally connected”, as they are relatives. The behaviour would also be covered by the definition of “abusive” under Clause 1(3)(c), “controlling or coercive behaviour”, although I accept what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, says: it could also be physical abuse. I wonder whether the Minister agrees.

Amendment 9 seeks to include victims of the offence under Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I understand that such a person would also be a victim of domestic abuse, but I wonder whether they would need the protection of both this Bill and the Modern Slavery Act, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, alluded to.

Amendment 10 reinforces what I have previously said about someone who, as a result of abuse, does not feel safe in their own home. This might easily include someone who is part of the same household as the victim but not covered by any of the other definitions of “personally connected”, such as the victim’s sister’s live-in boyfriend. The sister and the boyfriend may be in an intimate relationship, but the victim is not otherwise “personally connected” to the boyfriend.

Amendment 14 concerns the separate issue of children as victims of domestic abuse who are traumatised as a result of seeing the effect on the victim and are related to the victim or the perpetrator. The example given is where a mother has several transitory relationships with men, who may live with her or visit her but are not otherwise connected with her children.

It is conceivable that such children might be traumatised by the actions of the perpetrator, rather than by experiencing the effects of abuse on the mother, making the amendment necessary. Bullying behaviour by the transitory lover could have a lasting and detrimental impact on the child, even if the mother’s reaction to it does not have any impact. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, this is the first opportunity I have had to speak on this Bill, so I hope that noble Lords will permit me to begin by agreeing with my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the wide range of noble Lords from all corners of your Lordships’ House who have paid tribute to my right honourable friend Theresa May for bringing forward this landmark legislation, as my noble friend called it. I mentioned in my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House more than a year ago that I hoped this Bill would see swift passage to the statute book. I hope this reassures noble Lords that I speak not just as a Government Whip but as an enthusiast for seeing this legislation on the statute book. I hope that we can conduct our scrutiny rigorously and swiftly, including of the nearly 200 amendments which have been tabled to it so far.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and others for introducing these amendments, and all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I will begin with the amendments which seek to expand the definition of “personally connected” in Clause 2 of the Bill.

Amendment 6 seeks to expand the definition to include guardians. The Government have understood this to mean legal guardians of children under the age of 18, but we believe that the existing drafting already covers guardians to the extent that it is appropriate to do so. Clause 2(1) defines the term “personally connected” for the purposes of the definition of domestic abuse in Clause 1. Among those groups of people who are taken to be personally connected are two people who each have, or have at one time had, parental responsibility in relation to the same child. Subsection (2) goes on to define a parental relationship as being one where the person “is a parent of”, or has “parental responsibility for the child”. Subsection (3) then provides that parental responsibility,

“has the same meaning as in the Children Act 1989 … section 3”,

which defines parental responsibility to include legal guardians of children. So, if the two individuals within an abusive relationship are, say, the birth mother of a child and a legal guardian or former legal guardian of the same child, then those two individuals would come within the definition of “personally connected”.

Amendment 8, in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, seeks to expand the definition of “personally connected” to include victims of forced marriage or those in a situation where one person is forcing the other into a marriage with another person. As the noble and learned Baroness said, this affects a large number of people from a wide range of parts of the community. She mentioned, for instance, gay men and women who are forced into marriage by their families and others, and that, sadly, it is often accompanied by violence or so-called honour killings. We are confident that victims of forced marriage are already captured under the existing definition of “personally connected” in Clause 2. Among other things, this provides that a personal connection exists if persons A and B are, or have been, married to each other, or if they are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship.

We are also confident that victims who are being forced into a marriage with another person by a family member will also be captured under the existing definition at Clause 2(1)(g), which provides that a personal connection exists when person A and person B are related. Moreover, the draft statutory guidance clearly signals that forced marriage is one manifestation of domestic abuse.

That leaves one potential situation arising from Amendment 8, in the name of the noble and learned Baroness, namely where a victim is being forced into a forced marriage by somebody to whom he or she is not related. In this situation, the victim would not be considered “personally connected” to the perpetrator, and it would not be considered domestic abuse in the context of the Bill. Similarly, with reference to Amendment 9, victims of domestic servitude who are suffering abuse would not be considered victims of domestic abuse unless they were personally connected to the perpetrator as defined in Clause 2. That is because the definition of “personal connection” is key to the approach we are taking in this Bill.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister has given quite a long reply, which will bear reading. However, it sounded somewhat circular: the various groups referred to in the amendments are not within the definition. But that, of course, is why this long list of amendments was tabled. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, really nailed my concerns. I am not speaking from the point of view of someone who feels that their concerns have not been picked up, but I was unclear whether the Minister was saying that there were adequate remedies and protections for every one of the people covered by the amendments. I certainly did not feel that the Government accepted that being in the same household is very close to a personal connection—it is, after all, a domestic situation. I wonder whether the Minister can help further.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right: it was a lengthy response, which I hope set out why the wide range of examples given by noble Lords are, we believe, already covered either in the drafting of the Bill or in existing statutes. She is also right to say that the debate will repay reading—for me, as well as for others—to make sure that we have indeed covered all the examples.

In brief, the dilemma, as encapsulated by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, is to make sure that, in seeking to cover the wide variety of relationships, we are not diluting the unique character of domestic abuse. A person coming into somebody’s household as a friend or as a temporary flatmate who may be there only a short time is in a different category from some of those other examples. I am sure that we shall return to this point throughout the scrutiny of the Bill.

Lord Bates Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Bates) (Con)
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Finally, I call the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to respond to the debate on her amendment.

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But I am talking about when men come into a household, live with the mother of the children, abuse her, and the children hear it and suffer. This is the whole purpose of this part of the Bill. That man is not related to the child; he is not a parent, and my understanding of parental responsibility—I had some part in this as President of the Family Division when it came into the Court of Appeal—is that it is carefully defined in the Children Act and does not include the casual or long-term partner who is not related and has not been granted parental responsibility. Would the Minister please go back and talk to his lawyers? I see this as one of the most important and serious aspects—where women have more than one partner and the partner is not a relative or does not have parental responsibility for the child. Please, would he look at it again? With that, I seek leave to withdraw Amendment 6.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I would be very happy, in deferring to the great experience of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to undertake to make sure that we have the same understanding of Clause 3. I am very happy to give her that reassurance as she withdraws her amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.
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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for setting out her reasons for tabling these amendments and all noble Lords who took part in the debate on them.

Amendment 16 would mandate that the commissioner role be a full-time appointment. We do not think it is necessary to add that to the Bill. As has been noted in the debate, many statutory officers operate on a part-time basis, in line with similar commissioners, for instance, the anti-slavery commissioner and the lead commissioner for countering extremism—two other subjects which we take very seriously.

On advice from executive search specialists, we advertised for a part-time designate commissioner so we could attract as wide a range of suitably qualified and high-profile candidates as possible. As a result of that exercise, we found one such person, Nicole Jacobs, who was appointed initially on the basis of three days a week. We said at the time of her appointment that that time commitment would be reviewed after six months, and following that review, it was increased to four days a week with her full agreement. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, we will look again at that time commitment before commencing Part 2 of the Bill and keep that matter under review. But we would be denying ourselves the opportunity to appoint a highly suitable and qualified candidate in future if the legislation insisted this had to be a full-time appointment.

If I may say so, there is a slight tension between the amendments brought forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She wants to underline the independence of the commissioner by changing her title, but then setting out more clearly in the Bill how she ought to fulfil that role. That seems to be slightly inconsistent. It is also important to note that the commissioner is not a one-woman operation; she will be supported by an office comprising around a dozen full-time equivalent staff. Reflecting modern ways of working, that will be a mixture of full and part-time appointments.

Turning to Amendment 17, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that nomenclature can be important, and symbolically so. But I do not think we should get into the habit of labelling every commissioner or other statutory office holder in law as independent. Granted, as she mentioned, we have the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, but we do not have an independent victims commissioner, an independent children’s commissioner or, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, mentioned, a new independent commissioner created under the Medicines and Medical Devices Bill. I do not think any noble Lord would suggest that holders or previous holders of this office, such as my noble friend Lady Newlove, were any less independent because the word did not appear in statute in their job title.

Nicole Jacobs has amply demonstrated her independence from the Government—not least, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, pointed out, in the way she is campaigning for changes to the Bill. Her independence will come from the statutory framework provided for in Part 2, boosted by the provisions in the framework document, but also by the way she conducts herself once she is formally appointed in the role after this Bill receives Royal Assent. To add a word to her title in the Bill would in no practical terms augment her independence, so we do not think that amendment is necessary.

Amendments 18 and 19 would mean that the commissioner, rather than the Home Secretary, would be able to appoint staff for her office. Clause 6 provides for the staffing of the commissioner’s office by the Home Secretary, as well as accommodation, equipment and other facilities. It does so for a simple practical reason. We are creating here a statutory officeholder, not a body corporate. The commissioner will have no separate legal persona and therefore cannot, as a matter of law, appoint her own staff or otherwise enter into other contracts. To answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the accounting officer function therefore rests with the Home Office. We will write to set out that position more fully, not least because several noble Lords were interested in it and picked up on it.

Consequently, as a matter of form, the commissioner’s staff will be Home Office civil servants. Crucially, however, Clause 6(2) provides that the commissioner must approve the appointment of all her staff. To address the point raised by my noble friend Lady Newlove, one of the contracts that she cannot sign is for office space. Obviously, she does not exist in law until the Bill is passed, but the Home Office is looking for suitable office space for her—not located in Marsham Street, where the Home Office is, to illustrate her independence. At the moment, like so many other people, she is working from home because of the pandemic.

In addition, we have made further provision in the framework document provided for under Clause 11. This sets out how the commissioner and the Home Secretary will work together, including on matters such as governance, funding and staffing of the commissioner’s office. The draft framework document makes it clear that, while the commissioner’s staff will be provided by the Home Office, the commissioner will have day-to-day direction and control of staff in support of her work. Moreover, as I said, appointments can be made only after consultation with, and with the approval of, the commissioner. In fact, the commissioner or her chief of staff will conduct recruitment campaigns and the commissioner will be responsible for deciding whom to appoint. I hope that these reassurances are sufficient for the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have weighed in on this subject. Committee stage is the opportunity for us to make our views known, even if we do not really think that something should be in the statute. I am not the first, and I shall not be the last, to have used that opportunity.

I hope I have not given the impression that we are anything other than extremely impressed by the job that Nicole Jacobs has done and is doing. I mentioned her energy and determination, and could go on about her grasp of the subject and so on. I would be pleased if noble Lords took all that as read.

I hope it is not really inconsistent—is that what I heard the Minister say?—to call for independence but suggest that the job should be full-time or, to put it another way, not part-time. I do not think it is at all inconsistent. I cannot believe the Minister is suggesting that, in the other bit of time that might be available, the postholder would take up a position in any way in conflict with acting as domestic abuse commissioner. That would clearly not be appropriate.

Independence is in more than the title, of course, and the question from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was very good. The answer has rather confirmed much of what noble Lords have been saying. I looked at the titles of the other commissioners but, as I have said, it very much exercised the House at the time of the 2015 Act. I did not read independence, in the way we have been talking about it, into the draft framework document.

I liked the reference to giving you armour when dealing with the Home Secretary that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, made. She is right to point to the—“loyalty” may suggest something I do not want to suggest, but the buy-in from the team. This is teamwork led by the commissioner.

I still feel that being seen to be independent is important, but most important of all is having the tools. Noble Lords have talked a good deal about the ability to hire one’s own staff. Coming out of this group of amendments, that may be the issue we will want to return to at the next stage, but at this moment I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 16.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am glad to have put my name to these amendments and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for outlining the complex and troubling relationship between alcohol and domestic abuse. I also fully endorse my noble friend Lord Brooke’s wise remarks. He has been a tireless campaigner on this for more than 20 years in your Lordships’ House. I am sure that he, like the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is looking for a strong response from the Government, as I am.

The deep cuts made to addiction services since 2013-14 mean that the estimated 8.4 million high-risk drinkers and the hundreds of additional people with an opiate addiction needing help could miss out on life-saving treatment. No wonder the Royal College of Psychiatrists is calling for the Government to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to invest £374 million into adult services so that they can cope with the increased need for treatment.

Professor Julia Sinclair, chair of the Addictions Faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has pointed to Covid-19 showing

“just how stretched, under-resourced and ill-equipped addiction services are to treat the growing numbers of vulnerable people living with this complex illness.”

There are only five NHS in-patient units in the country and no resource anywhere in her region to admit people who are alcohol dependent with coexisting mental illness.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, chair of the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, has warned of the hidden alcohol harm crisis in this country. Before the pandemic, only one in five harmful and dependent drinkers got the help they needed; that proportion will now be significantly lower.

Before we even consider the link between alcohol and domestic abuse, we see that the services to help people suffering from substance and alcohol abuse have been severely limited and stretched. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, gave very graphic details indeed of a direct link between domestic abuse and substance abuse. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, survivors of domestic abuse can use alcohol or drugs themselves. Research has shown that women who have experienced extensive physical and sexual violence are more likely to use alcohol or drugs harmfully, compared to women who have not experienced extensive abuse.

Despite the close relationship between domestic abuse and substance use, very few survivors access specialist support. This is due, in part, to the lack of services that respond to the multiple needs of people experiencing both domestic abuse and substance use. Research has shown that the lack of integrated or co-ordinated services can see survivors prioritising one need over another—in other words, domestic abuse or substance abuse. Yet even accessing either one service can prove very difficult. People can find themselves turned away from refuges when accessing domestic abuse support due to their substance use. Research in London found that only about a quarter of the refuges reviewed always or often accept women who use alcohol or other drugs.

Likewise, survivors can struggle to find alcohol treatment services that meet their needs and adequately consider their trauma. Women who have experience of violent male partners may be reluctant to engage in mixed-gender services, but women-only provision for substance users is available in fewer than half of local authorities in England and Wales.

It is of course important and welcome that the Bill puts an obligation on local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse. For the reasons that I and other noble Lords have just outlined, it is vital that this support includes substance use, addictions and mental health support where necessary. I too hope the Government will be able to come back with a strong response.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid that we will have to leave our deliberations there for this evening. I beg to move that debate on this amendment be now adjourned.

Debate on Amendment 21 adjourned.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(3 years, 2 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)
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, first, I draw the attention of the Committee to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. These Benches welcome and support all the amendments in this group.

Amendment 22, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, seeks to put a clear statement in the Bill that, in encouraging good practice as required by Clause 7, the domestic abuse commissioner must include identification of and response to any speech and communication needs that people have. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, using his extensive experience of work in the criminal justice system, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, gave us a clear example of why this is so important. My noble friend Lady Andrews made a point about how important it is to be able to use language to express and defend yourself. My noble friend also made the point that children witnessing abuse of a parent by another parent or partner is a horrific form of abuse. We have heard from other noble Lords that lifelong damage can be caused to a child who witnesses that form of abuse.

The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, in an important and thoughtful contribution, explained to us the difficulties that he suffered 25 years ago and the effect that they had on his speech at the time. His contributions are always valued and respected in the House, and I am very sorry to learn that he feels that that is not the case.

I cannot see who would not agree with any of the amendments in this group. The first, Amendment 22, seeks to ensure that support is available and generally accessible to every victim. We may be told in a moment by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, that this amendment or these amendments are not needed, and that support is implied anyway. That may be so, and I am sure the noble Lord will set out his case shortly, but I think he needs to go further and that the Government have to provide every reassurance necessary. It may be that the noble Lord thinks that the provisions are adequately covered under Clause 7(2)(a) and (b), along with the powers set out in Clause 9. If that is the case, can the noble Lord make that expressly clear in his reply to this debate?

Amendment 92 seeks again to put a commitment in the Bill that a local authority will identify and respond to speech, language and communication needs when preparing its strategy for the support of domestic abuse victims—something that I and many other noble Lords fully support. Again, when responding to the debate, if the noble Lord thinks that this amendment is unnecessary and is going to rely on the powers set out in Clause 55(8) and (9)(b), and/or the powers contained under guidance in Clause 58, can he confirm than the Secretary of State will address the issue specifically through one of these routes?

Amendment 110 seeks to address the same issue as the previous amendments, this time in respect of providing proper support for victims during court proceedings. Again, if we are to be told by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, that this amendment is also not necessary, it would be helpful to have reassurances on the record that these important issues will be fully addressed by the rules of the court or other provisions.

Finally, Amendment 187 seeks to put points in the section related to guidance in the Bill that have been raised in previous amendments, along with the important issue of children witnessing domestic abuse and the effect that has on speech, language and communication needs, which many noble Lords raised in this short debate, including my noble friend Lady Andrews and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response to this short debate.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his work as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, as he set out in opening this debate. The ability to communicate is a crucial life skill, so I welcome all the work that he and my noble friend Lord Shinkwin do in this area. He brought passion and personal insight to his contribution to the debate today. We are all extremely glad to have his voice, and the benefits of his experience and extensive work, in your Lordships’ House.

We all know that domestic abuse has a devastating impact on all its victims, and recognising the specific needs of individual victims is essential. Those facing communication barriers are, arguably, some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, given the added difficulties that they have when it comes to speaking out or asking for support. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, gave two powerful examples in his speech from his experience as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank noble Lords for their brevity on this short but important group, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his commendable example. All the amendments in this group are to Clause 7(2), which I am happy to confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is a non-exhaustive list of the things that the commissioner may do in pursuance of her general duty under subsection (1). To be clear, subsection (1) sets out the parameters of the commissioner’s functions, not subsection (2).

Among the commissioner’s functions is encouraging good practice in relation to the prevention of domestic abuse and

“the identification of … people who carry out domestic abuse”.

That being the case, I have no doubt that monitoring and assessing perpetrator behaviours falls within the sphere of the activities that the commissioner could undertake in her pursuance of a general duty. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, that is a relevant and important facet to consider.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, said, we will debate later an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin relating to the need for a perpetrator strategy, so I will not dwell on that issue now. The question is whether the indicative list of activities in subsection (2) is the right one. It is the nature of an indicative list that it is illustrative, as it is here, so I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that there is sufficient latitude in the commissioner’s general duty to enable her to undertake work in relation to addressing the behaviour of perpetrators.

On Amendments 25 and 26, I again make the point that subsection (2) is an indicative list of activities. It does not preclude the commissioner making recommendations to voluntary bodies if she wishes to do so. However, Clause 7(2)(b) needs to be read alongside Clause 16, which requires Ministers and public bodies specified in Clause 15 to respond to the commissioner’s recommendation within 56 days. We believe it is appropriate to limit this duty to respond to certain public bodies, given that it clearly puts demands and expectations on them.

Clause 7 does not preclude the commissioner making recommendations to voluntary organisations and others, but as there is no corresponding duty on them to respond to such recommendations the focus of Clause 7(2)(b) is properly on public authorities alone. I hope that assures the noble Baroness that Clause 7 already allows for the matters she wanted to explore with her amendment, and that on that basis she will be willing to withdraw it.

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This has been a short but important debate about the architecture underpinning the domestic abuse commissioner. I think noble Lords need to come together to reflect on whether the Bill is right and whether, on Report, we need to look again at ensuring the robust independence of this postholder.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt of Solihull and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out these amendments so clearly.

Clauses 8 and 14 of the Bill provide for the domestic abuse commissioner to report to the Home Secretary on any matters relating to domestic abuse and for the preparation and publication of an annual report. These reports could cover a range of different issues about domestic abuse. While it will be for the commissioner to determine what aspects of domestic abuse to examine and report on, it is likely that reports published under Clauses 8 and 14 will emerge from the commissioner’s strategic plan, which we will be debating later in Committee.

We think it is entirely proper for the domestic abuse commissioner to report to the Home Secretary. That is the case with other public bodies and officeholders who report to Ministers rather than Parliament. The domestic abuse commissioner will have day-to-day operational independence from Ministers, with responsibility for setting her own work plans and reaching her own conclusions. A number of noble Lords, understandably, wanted to probe this point and talk about the role of Parliament.

Although the commissioner will not be directly accountable to Parliament under the Bill, she will need to develop an effective relationship with Members in another place and your Lordships’ House. As my noble friend Lord Cormack said, she is therefore very likely to be asked to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in another place and to other committees of both Houses. To reinforce the commissioner’s direct link to Parliament, the commissioner must arrange to lay her reports and strategic plans before Parliament—as my noble friends Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lord Randall of Uxbridge both noted—rather for this to be done via the Home Secretary. It is therefore open to Parliament to debate those reports, if it so wishes. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, rather proved the point about the vigilance of your Lordships’ House by noting and listing the large number of reports which it is open to Parliament to examine and debate, if it so wishes.

The fact that the commissioner is accountable to the Home Secretary in no way compromises her independence. The independence of a statutory officeholder is assured by both the terms of the legislative framework under which they operate and the way that they conduct themselves in office. I am sure noble Lords would agree that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, was no less independent when he was the reviewer of terrorism legislation by virtue of his being accountable to the Home Office; nor was the independence of my noble friend Lady Newlove compromised by being accountable to the Secretary of State for Justice when she held the office of Victims’ Commissioner; and nor was that of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he was chairman of the Youth Justice Board. Happily, there are many such examples in your Lordships’ House that one could cite.

More pertinently, I refer noble Lords to the comments made by Nicole Jacobs when she gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee in another place. She was asked about this issue by the honourable friend of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the Member for Kingston upon Hull North. Nicole Jacobs said:

“I feel confident about the hosting at the Home Office … I fully intend to be independent … I do not feel hindered in any way in the process to date, in terms of my independence.”––[Official Report, Commons, Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, 29/10/19; col. 9.]


Given that commitment from the commissioner herself, we expect the thematic reports produced by her to provide robust, challenging advice and recommendations. These reports will form a fundamental part of her work and play a central role in discharging her functions under Clause 7. These include encouraging good practice in the prevention of domestic abuse, and protecting and supporting victims and their children. As well as identifying and publicising good practice, the reports will, importantly, be a means for her to highlight areas where improvement is needed.

Clause 8 requires that the commissioner’s reports made under this section must be published and that, before publication, the commissioner, under subsection (3), must send a draft to the Home Secretary. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, the reason for sending these drafts is so that the Home Secretary can consider whether she needs to exercise her very limited power to direct the removal of material that could risk someone’s safety or which might prejudice any investigation or prosecution of an offence.

Clauses 9 and 14 contain similar provisions about redacting sensitive material from any advice published under that clause. There are only very restricted circumstances under which the Home Secretary can direct that material be omitted from a report. The power is both limited and very narrowly focused. It is not right to say, as my noble friend Lord Cormack characterised it, that the Home Secretary would have the power to censor reports. The Home Secretary can require information to be omitted only where its publication could jeopardise the safety of any person or where the information might prejudice an ongoing criminal or civil investigation or prosecution.

We have also included further safeguards in the draft framework document, which we have agreed with the commissioner and published alongside the Bill. This sets out, at paragraphs 4.8 to 4.11, a clear process and timelines for resolving any disputes about the need to redact material from a report. To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, about legal advice, Home Office legal advisers could not provide advice to the commissioner, because that would be a conflict of interest as they also advise the Home Office. So, yes, it would be for the commissioner to use her budget to pay for her legal advice.

In addition, following recommendations by the Joint Committee to protect the commissioner’s independence —and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that that area has rightly been given a lot of attention in Committee so far—we have also placed a duty on the Home Secretary to consult the commissioner before directing her to remove any information from a report. I hope that answers the question from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about what would happen if there was a difference of views. Certainly in my experience as an adviser in Government, if independent commissioners disagree with the Government, they find a way to make sure that that is publicly known. As my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge says, the calibre of candidates whom we attract assures this. But we would be happy to take a fresh look at the relevant provisions of the framework document to see if they could be further tightened. I hope noble Lords will welcome that commitment.

I should stress that, apart from this narrow provision, the content of any report, including the judgments contained therein, is entirely a matter for the commissioner, however challenging her findings and recommendations may be for the Government. We want these reports to be hard-hitting where they need to be, as well as celebrating and sharing good practice wherever that is to be found. In short, these narrow provisions do not in any sense compromise the independence of the commissioner.

Amendment 35, in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt of Solihull, would require that any advice given by the commissioner to the Secretary of State be published, in the same way that the commissioner is required to publish advice given to any other person following a request made under Clause 9(2).

To answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, Clause 9(4) is drafted as it is for a reason. In the interests of transparency and spreading good practice, we think it is right that any advice from the commissioner to a person other than the Secretary of State should be published. The commissioner would, of course, have to frame that advice accordingly, knowing that it was to be published.

However, the relationship between the commissioner and the Secretary of State is of a different kind. The Home Office, as the sponsoring department, will be in regular contact with the commissioner and her office, and there is likely to be a steady and regular flow of what could be taken as requests for advice; for instance, in relation to things such as staffing and budgetary matters, as well as policy questions. We do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate for all the responses to requests such as those to be published.

For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has amendments on the Order Paper which relate to the duty to co-operate with the commissioner. I understand that those have been proposed by the commissioner. To help us understand the case for these amendments, officials have asked for further information about them. I hope the noble Baroness will agree that that is a sensible exchange for the Government to have, but regular exchanges of advice such as this, between the Home Office and the commissioner’s office, are of a different kind from the advice that might be requested by a third party under Clause 9(2).

There will, of course, be occasions where the commissioner is providing set-piece advice—if I might call it that—to the Secretary of State. In such cases, she can set that out in a Clause 8 report, which must be published, so that discretion lies with the commissioner if she judges it important.

We believe that the Bill strikes the right balance between transparency and the efficient conduct of business between the commissioner’s office and the government departments that she needs to interact with. I hope that, in the light of that explanation and the commitment to look again at the terms of the framework document, the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am glad to have answered the initial question from the noble Baroness. On her second, I think the semantics are probably best considered between now and Report. It is a role of the commissioner to publicise and share best practice, which is why the advice that she gives under these clauses should rightly be made public, and why her criticisms should also be aired publicly. I am sure it will be at her discretion not to include any information which could be harmful, and not to publish a report if she thought that that was the case. As the noble Baroness said, the semantic difference between “advice” and “assistance” can be pondered between now and Report.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. It never ceases to amaze me, when I read an amendment which sounds like a simple matter, that other noble Lords come at it from different angles, with different issues and perspectives. All of a sudden, we are in a whole different ball game, so I am grateful to everyone who has managed to confuse me this evening.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who emphasised the independence of the commissioner from the Home Office. On the whole issue of reports to the Secretary of State and reports and advice to other individuals, I agree with my noble friend Lady Hamwee that we should take that away and, in conjunction with the Minister, think about exactly how that should be written into the Bill to the best effect for everyone.

Other noble Lords have raised too many issues to go into this evening, so I will finish with the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack: we should listen to what the Minister has said, digest it and take it away, because at Report, we will be in a better position and will have rehearsed and discussed the arguments. We may well reserve the right to come forward with an amendment at that stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, in the debate on the last group of amendments, I referred to the draft framework document, which, with regard to the advisory board, says more or less what is in the Bill. The draft document does not in fact cover a great deal beyond what is in the Bill, although it uses more informal language. But one thing it does say is this. At paragraph 5.19, it refers to the strategic plan and the commissioner’s duty to consult the Home Secretary, among others, stating that:

“Although not prescribed by the Act, the Home Office will provide a response to the Commissioner’s consultation on the strategic plan within 28 calendar days of receipt.”


It is not prescribed by the Act, but we think that it could be. I wonder why this is one of the very few items in the draft framework document that is not in the Bill. Are the Government concerned that, over time, this might slip? I hope not.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, we agree in principle with the spirit of this amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has indicated, the draft framework document already requires the Home Secretary to respond within 28 days. We agree that such a response needs to be provided promptly, so that the commissioner can finalise and publish her strategic plan. Where we disagree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt of Solihull, is on whether this level of detail is appropriate to put on the face of the Bill.

We submit that it is more properly a matter for the framework document, which must be agreed with the commissioner. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quoted from paragraph 5.19 of that document, which says that the Home Office will provide a response within 28 calendar days of receipt.

I do not intend to be flippant, but sometimes things take longer than expected. In debating this amendment, we have only now reached the target that we set for the first day of Committee. If things are to be done thoroughly, as they always and rightly are in your Lordships’ House, they sometimes take longer than anticipated. I am happy to give an assurance from the Dispatch Box to the same effect as that set out in paragraph 5.19 of the framework document: the Home Office will provide a response within 28 calendar days of receipt. I hope that, with that assurance, the noble Baroness will be willing to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I and, I am sure, my noble friend Lady Hamwee are very grateful for the Minister’s response and assurances. Obviously we will take that back, and I assume there is nothing to come back on. Certainly, for the time being, we are very happy with that, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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Amendment 52, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, would provide that NHS trusts must co-operate and work with the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that when a child has to relocate due to being affected by domestic abuse, they can still

“receive any NHS treatment they had been referred for no later than if they had not moved.”

This issue was raised in an amendment by the shadow Minister in the Commons debates on the Bill, and we agree with its objectives. Children who are forced to relocate because of domestic abuse ought to be prioritised to the extent set out in this amendment because, as the evidence shows, they are vulnerable victims in need of urgent support.

However, in order to receive support from health professionals, children need a diagnosis, and the reality is that, at the moment, people can wait for considerable periods of time—up to 18 months or more—between referral and the start of an assessment. If a child is forced to move to a different NHS trust or clinical commissioning group, they may have to repeat that wait all over again. The cost of the long-term effects of exposure to severe domestic abuse is estimated at between £500 million and £1.4 billion per year, including on education and health services. Providing resources to children in the way and in the circumstances proposed in this amendment could help to reduce that figure.

The Government’s response in the Commons was that access to the NHS is based on clinical priority and that a child’s need to access and receive health services will be assessed and services provided according to clinical need. However, the difficulty is that, in the case of children forced to relocate because of domestic abuse, if the forced move is from one area where the wait following referral can be 18 months to two years to another area where the wait following referral is for a similar period, a clinician might not see that child for a lengthy period of time, literally years, and any decisions made are not being made by clinicians. There should be a way to prioritise the needs of a child who has been relocated because of domestic abuse and has already been on a waiting list somewhere, and that is what this amendment seeks to do.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has set out, the amendment would ensure that when a victim of domestic abuse was compelled to move to a different area with their children, the children would receive NHS care or treatment no later than they would have done if they had not moved. I certainly agree that it is important to recognise the impact of domestic abuse, and the trauma it can cause, on the health and well-being of children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out with some powerful examples, the impact can be both physical and mental. I appreciate her recognition of the approach that we are taking in the Bill to children as victims of domestic abuse.

It is a key principle that access to NHS care is in on the basis of clinical need. When patients move home and change hospitals, the NHS should take previous waiting time into account and ensure, wherever possible, that these patients are not put at a disadvantage as a result. As noble Lords will be aware, waiting times may vary across the country and between services. Different services experience different challenges in terms of local demand, which can affect waiting times in those areas, and it is important that there is local flexibility to manage this.

Decisions about clinical prioritisation must consider a patient’s needs in the context of all the other patients who are in need of the same service. Patients with urgent conditions should of course be seen and receive treatment more quickly. Regardless of circumstance, clinical commissioning groups and providers have a duty to provide services within the maximum waiting times set out in the NHS constitution.

To summarise, all patients should receive high-quality care without any unnecessary delay. Patients can expect to be treated at the right time and according to their clinical priority.

The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, was right to point out the challenges posed by devolution and the fact that we have a number of national health services. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was also right that people fleeing domestic abuse might be doing so internationally, both to and from the United Kingdom. In England, under the NHS constitution, patients

“have the right to access certain services commissioned by NHS bodies within maximum waiting times, or for the NHS to take all reasonable steps to offer … a range of suitable alternative providers if this is not possible.”

All bodies commissioning healthcare services must assess the health requirements of the populations they serve, take account of inequalities in access to and outcomes from healthcare services, and commission the services they consider necessary to meet the population’s need. Where the systems or processes of the NHS are an impediment to equitable treatment for this group, it will be important for the NHS to work to ensure that such impediments are removed, and we will support and encourage that.

As noble Lords may know, the NHS Long Term Plan sets out a number of measures to improve access to services—for example, creating an extra 50 million general practice appointments a year within the next five years as part of the 2020-21 GP contract. In children and young people’s mental health services, we have committed, through the long-term plan, that by 2023-24 at least an additional 345,000 children and young people aged from birth to 25 will be able to access support via NHS-funded mental health services and school or college-based mental health support teams.

We have introduced two waiting time standards for children and young people: one regarding treatment for eating disorders and one for those experiencing a first episode of psychosis. We were on track to meet both those standards before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. The recent spending review included £1 billion to address backlogs and tackle long waiting lists by facilitating up to 1 million extra checks, scans and additional operations. Those are just some of the actions that the Government are already taking in this area.

To conclude, I reassure the noble Baroness that a child’s need to access and receive health services will be assessed and services provided according to clinical need, which will consider the individual needs of the child. It is right that we trust clinicians to take decisions about a patient’s treatment, and the NHS long-term plan, as I have set out, includes a number of measures to improve access to services. I hope, in light of all that, the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

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Amendment 54 not moved.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the deliberations today.

House resumed.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 2 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 Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Clause 21 sets out what provisions can be made in a domestic abuse protection notice. Clause 21(1)(b) allows that a person may not come within a specified distance of where the victim lives. However, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee explained, this means that the perpetrator could abuse the victim at work, at the school where their child is a pupil or at a place of worship, to give but a few examples. Our Amendment 57 allows for the prevention of coming within a specified distance to apply to any specified premises in England and Wales. As such, I believe that our amendment also covers the circumstances covered by Amendments 58, 59 and 60, which refer to the victim’s place of work. I will return to that in a moment.

The Government’s Amendment 75 makes similar provision to our amendment for domestic abuse protection orders in that our Amendment 21 applies to domestic abuse protection notices and the Government’s amendment applies to domestic abuse protection orders. As such, I believe that the Government’s amendment covers the circumstances addressed by Amendments 74, 76 and 77.

Contrary to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I am not convinced that specifying “workplace” is stronger than Amendments 75 or 57. It is certainly more restricted than “any specified premises”. I understand trade unions focusing on workplace protections but the issue is wider than workplaces. In future groups we will come to duties being placed on employers. We have to broaden our outlook here. What about unemployed victims, victims in full-time education or victims whose main support comes from a religious community in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple? Protection in the workplace is important but it is not the only place that should be a place of safety for victims of domestic abuse.

Government Amendment 78 means that the requirements imposed by a domestic abuse protection order must, as far as practicable, be such as to avoid interfering with the perpetrator’s work or the person’s attendance at an educational establishment. It will be a fine judgment in some cases whether to make the person covered by the order unemployed or unable to continue a course of education, as well as potentially homeless, but the safety of the victim of domestic abuse must be paramount.

Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, seeks to ensure that this is the case by removing the requirement contained in government Amendment 78 to avoid interference with the perpetrator’s work or education if the victim works at the same place as the perpetrator, or, potentially, works at a place where the perpetrator is studying.

The seriousness of domestic abuse, the impact it can have on the victim, and the very serious consequences for the perpetrator if it is reported, beyond any criminal sanction, need to be made clear to perpetrators. It could result in you losing your job or your place in education, as well as your home.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, the provisions in Clause 33 provide that a domestic abuse protection order—DAPO—may impose any requirements that the court considers necessary to protect the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse, including requirements that prohibit the perpetrator coming within a specified distance of any premises in which the victim lives.

However, as noble Lords have, rightly, pointed out again today, we recognise that perpetrators of domestic abuse commonly target victims outside the home intentionally to cause distress, exercise coercive control and, in some cases, even to harm their victim physically. As has been noted, during the Bill’s passage in another place, the honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley tabled amendments seeking to strengthen the protection afforded by a DAPO against workplace abuse, and my honourable friend the Minister for Safeguarding undertook to consider those amendments. She has done so, and government Amendment 75, which comes from that, would make it explicit that a DAPO can include a requirement prohibiting the perpetrator coming within a specified distance of any other specified premises, or premises of a specified description, such as the victim’s place of work.

Much of the debate today has revolved around whether it is right to put the workplace, and the definition that we have chosen, specifically on the face of the Bill. The government amendment is deliberately broad so that it covers not only the victim’s place of work—in response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I want to be very clear that the amendment does include a person’s place of work—but other places where the victim might regularly be found, such as their place of worship or their children’s school. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned the importance of training colleges in enabling victims to re-establish some independence, to get out of the house and to find support, whether that involves going back to work, going into training or finding support through religious institutions. Those are all hugely important to people as they rebuild their lives.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is right that we need to look more broadly and not just at places of work. Of course, people’s patterns of work are very variable. Some people have one static work location but many are peripatetic—perhaps supply teachers, cleaners or carers visiting people in their own home. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, gave an example of someone who works in multiple locations. My noble friend Lord Cormack said that he wants the Bill to be unambiguous, and that is what we are trying to achieve in the breadth of the government amendment—to give the power to specify whatever that location might be. To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, we will also make it clear in the guidance that places of work should certainly be considered.

As a consequence of the amendment to Clause 33, Amendment 78 to Clause 34 makes it clear that any requirements imposed on a person which prohibit the person from coming within a specified distance of any specific premises should not, as far as practicable, interfere with the person’s work or their attendance at an educational establishment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, agrees that these government amendments achieve the same outcome that he seeks with his Amendments 74, 76, 77 and 79.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, asked about the duties of employers. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted, we will debate that more fully when we come to Amendment 174. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the pilot of the DAPO scheme. We are developing plans for a pilot of the DAPO, which will start as soon as practicable. We will address the training and guidance points before it begins, and of course the pilot scheme will inform the wider implementation of the policy.

With regard to the domestic abuse protection notice—the subject of Amendments 57 to 60—Clause 20 sets out that a notice automatically prohibits the perpetrator from being abusive towards the person to be protected by the notice. Additionally, Clause 21 provides that a notice may prevent the perpetrator contacting the victim. Both those provisions can include the victim’s workplace, or any other non-residential property or location. We believe that these provisions in the Bill are sufficient to protect victims at their place of work and are appropriate for a police-issued notice, pending the making of a substantive court order.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this important issue today. I trust that the two government amendments, along with my explanation of them and of domestic abuse protection notices, will provide the clarity they are seeking and that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, Clause 26(3) states that if a domestic abuse protection notice is given by the police under Clause 20, the chief police officer must apply for a domestic abuse protection order. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, just said, what if it transpires that the circumstances have changed or that the police officer who gave the notice, for example, made a mistake? What if further evidence becomes apparent that means a domestic abuse protection order should not have been given or is no longer required? Can the Minister explain why the issuing of a domestic abuse protection notice is discretionary, but the application for a domestic abuse protection order, once a notice has been served, is mandatory? Hence our Amendment 68. As my noble friend explained, Amendments 64 and 69 are consequential.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, explained, these probing amendments explore whether an application for a domestic abuse protection order should be an automatic consequence of the police issuing a domestic abuse protection notice. Although I fully understand the motivation behind this—namely, to build further flexibility into these provisions—these amendments would remove a key strength of the process as we envisage it. The domestic abuse protection notice is designed to give victims immediate protection and breathing space from the perpetrator following a crisis incident. If it has been judged necessary to issue a notice, it will be evident from the situation that the victim needs longer-term protection. Consequently, it is right that, once a notice has been issued, an application for an order should follow automatically within 48 hours.

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Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this is a small amendment but nevertheless it is definitely a point worth making. I was not privy to the debate last week, but my reading of the amendment was that it piggybacked on Clause 55(1)(b), on the requirement to prepare and publish a strategy for providing support. I read it as requiring the local authority to communicate the support available, as opposed to the strategy itself—so I was right there.

“Accessible and inclusive” is important too for people with communication difficulties. It is obvious that to have support available, you have to have potential recipients actually know about it. That means putting notices in accessible, everyday places where potential victims will see them. I have seen them on the back of toilet doors, and I would like to see them on workplace notice boards, buses, Tubes and billboards, and in shops and myriad other places. They must be accessible for everyone: in Urdu, Romanian, Greek, African—you name it. In order to be able to read or see a notice, people need it to be there in front of them.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said, as well as ease of reading, it is important that we consider all kinds of disability and use more innovative, technical methods of communication. The message must be clear. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also mentioned books without words, which is a very useful idea. That message, “you are not alone”, “help is at hand”, “dial this number”, “go to your pharmacist and ask for ANI”, and so on, could literally be a life saver.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, this short but important debate follows on from the similar issues we debated earlier in Committee on Wednesday. As I said then, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that victims of domestic abuse and their children get the right support to meet their individual needs. People facing communication barriers are, arguably, some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse given the added difficulties and barriers they face in asking for help and accessing the support available, so it is welcome to have this opportunity to explore that further through this amendment.

I share the concerns of all noble Lords who have spoken and can, I hope, reassure them by saying that local authorities’ strategies will be published in line with the regulations on accessibility or, to give them their full title, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018. These regulations provide guidance and accessibility requirements for public sector websites and apps for mobile telephones. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, said, it is important that public sector bodies keep pace with changing technologies and the variety of ways in which people can seek assistance.

Local authorities will also want to ensure that the information they provide is accessible in other formats for people unable to use websites or mobile devices, including providing information in languages other than English to reflect their local population, as noble Lords mentioned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, made a valuable point: it is all very well providing support for victims of domestic abuse with safe accommodation and all the rest of it, but some victims may not fully benefit from that support if they face communication barriers in accessing it. It is incumbent on tier 1 local authorities in exercising their functions under Part 4 to ensure that information about the support available is accessible to everyone who needs it. I am very happy to say that we will consider how the issues raised in this debate and earlier in Committee can be properly addressed in the guidance issued.

Having said that and given those reassurances, I hope the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 3rd February 2021

(3 years, 2 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)
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I am afraid we cannot hear the noble Baroness. She might still be on mute.

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Clauses 66 to 68 agreed.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, it has been agreed that a short break of 15 minutes would be welcome.

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Lord Garnier Portrait Lord Garnier (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I apologise for not taking part on Second Reading, although I have read the Official Report. I also apologise for keeping my noble friend the Minister, new to his job, a bit longer at the crease.

Amendment 141 proposes a new clause that is within the scope of the Bill, but its value is not dependent on the Bill. The wording and effect of Amendment 141 is self-explanatory but, if it needed any further elaboration, the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, has just provided it in his excellent speech. I cannot improve on what he said, but now is the moment when Parliament must at last legislate to outlaw the quack counsellors who predate on vulnerable people through controlling or coercive behaviour, and to provide some sort of protection to their victims or intended victims.

I have been concerned about these quacks and trying without success to get the Government to legislate for some years. I worked with Oliver Letwin and Tom Sackville, two former Ministers, as well as parliamentary counsel and Ministry of Justice officials with the support and encouragement of David Cameron, who had a constituency interest in the matter. I spoke about these quacks at Report on the Modern Slavery Bill in November 2014 and the Serious Crime Bill in February 2015 when I was a Member of Parliament, and then again in your Lordships’ House on 2 March 2020 in the debate on the unregulated treatment of mental health, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. Now, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, again, and the other contributors to this debate—as well as my noble friend Lord Astor of Hever, who spoke in the debate last March about the Serious Crime Act—we are making real progress.

We have laws to protect children and those under a mental incapacity through intellectual impairment, disability or the effects of old age. We can prosecute those who dishonestly take old and frail people’s money, but we leave unprotected adults who may succumb to pressure exerted on them by others of malevolent intent because their exploitative activities currently do not come within the criminal law.

From the outset, I have had in mind some young, adult women whose experiences were brought to my attention by their parents and families. In essence, they had been brainwashed or suborned by quack counsellors. They persuaded these young people to break off all contact with their families, infected them with false memories and got them to pay fees for the so-called counselling. Some of these young women were well-off and suggestible but all of them, for no apparent reason, broke off all contact with their families.

As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has just said, France, Belgium and Luxembourg have laws to criminalise the behaviour of predatory charlatans who exploit others in a state of emotional or psychological weakness for financial or other gain. It must be assumed that their laws do not conflict with those articles of the ECHR that protect the right to private and family life, the right to freedom of expression and association, and the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. To take the French example, in that jurisdiction it is an offence punishable by imprisonment and very heavy fines to abuse the ignorance or state of weakness of a minor or of a person whose particular vulnerability due to age, sickness or infirmity, to a psychological or physical disability or to pregnancy is apparent or known to the offender. It is also an offence to abuse a person in a state of physical or psychological dependency resulting from serious or repeated pressure or from techniques used to affect his judgment in order to induce the minor or other person to act, or abstain from acting, in a way seriously harmful to him.

Amendment 141 is clearly different but, I believe, as useful. One way of considering whether the proposed defence in Amendment 141 would work is to ask oneself the following questions. Would it be prosecutable in theory and in practice? Could each of the elements of the offence be proved in a real-life example? Would the measure deal with the mischief that was identified, and would it catch no one else? The answer to those questions is yes. How would it affect partners, husbands, wives, teachers, gurus, salesmen, priests and employers, all of whom are likely to have power and influence? It need not do so. Would it allow the mentally capable who want to give away their fortunes and leave their families to do so? Of course it would. Would it make sufficiently clear what was criminal behaviour and what was not? Would it comply with the European Convention on Human Rights? Yes, it would. What effect would it have on religious freedom, or freedom of expression or association? In my view, none at all.

The victims of these bogus therapists have been waiting far too long for Parliament to help them. The amendment is humane and practical, and it has nothing whatever to do with party politics. If the laws of France, Belgium and Luxembourg can protect the people that this amendment seeks to protect, the law of England can and ought to do so as well. Amendment 141, or something like it, should be added to the Bill.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid we have to leave it there for this evening.

Debate on Amendment 141 adjourned.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 2 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 Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 141, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, raises the important issue of controlling or coercive behaviour.

This proposed offence is modelled on the existing offence of coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015. I support the intent behind the amendment, but this appears to be an offence committed by a person who has a relationship with a family member; this is not about families, it is a professional client/patient relationship, so it is slightly different.

My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set out the timeline of discussions over the last 20 years. It made quite sorry listening—such a long period has elapsed and so little has been achieved. That in itself should be concerning to all noble Lords.

As we have heard in this debate, it is worrying that potentially dangerous individuals can set themselves up with little or no control or regulation—no standards appear to be adhered to—and seek to offer professional services to people who are vulnerable or have issues. Quite clearly, they are only going to make the situation much worse. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu talked about what she referred to as “quasi-healers” and gave an example of the suffering and damage that these people can cause.

I support the intent behind the amendment and its aim. However, I am not sure that this is the right Bill for it, although I accept the point made by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu that we cannot see a Bill on the horizon that it could obviously slot into, which is itself a problem for us all. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, will set out what the Government propose to do to address this issue and say not just that it does not belong in this Bill but what we are going to do about it, because, as we have heard today, there are clearly some serious problems that deserve to be addressed by Parliament and the Government. I would particularly like to hear what he intends to do between now and Report; I have no doubt at all we will discuss the issue again on Report after the Recess.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today and on Wednesday evening, when we began it. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for setting out the case for this amendment, which, as he explained, seeks to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to psychotherapists and counsellors providing services to clients.

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was right; we have perhaps as a country been slow to appreciate the scale of coercive behaviour. I am very proud that it was my right honourable friend Theresa May who provided for the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. That offence applies only to those who are “personally connected”, as defined in the section. It applies to intimate partners, regardless of whether they live together, to ex-partners who live together and to family members who live together. Amendment 141 would extend the offence beyond those who are personally connected, as defined by Section 76, so that it would apply to psychotherapists and counsellors. Most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have pointed to evidence and indeed to specific harrowing cases suggesting that fraudulent psychotherapists and counsellors—or, as they understandably refer to them in many cases, charlatans—take advantage of their position to supplant friends and families in the minds and affections of their clients for the purpose of turning them against those friends and families. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, suggested that this abuse should be caught by the controlling or coercive behaviour offence because therapists are abusing their position of trust and the dependence of their clients.

We have already had a number of debates in Committee on earlier amendments where my noble friends and I have stressed the importance of preserving the meaning of “personally connected” for the purposes of the definition of domestic abuse and, by extension, for the purposes of the Section 76 offence. The controlling or coercive behaviour offence was created in 2015 to fill a particular gap in the criminal law in relation to a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. We are not persuaded that what looks like the beguilingly simple act of taking the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour in a domestic abuse setting and applying it to abuses of power by psychotherapists or counsellors should be undertaken without careful and detailed analysis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has said, the professional/client relationship is a different one.

We have had a thoughtful but not conclusive debate on the definitions of what constitutes a domestic setting and an intimate relationship. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said, these things may take place in the home, but often they will not. My noble friend Lady Finn explored what constitutes a domestic setting, but it is the personal connection that matters. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that we want to maintain a careful focus on the definition of domestic abuse as it is widely understood, and as we want the Bill to draw further attention to. That matters not only for the architecture of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, but in making sure that the police and other agencies are tightly focused on tackling the scourge of domestic abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said. We think, therefore, that without proper study it would not be right to transplant the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour into what is quite a separate power dynamic.

That is not, of course, to downplay the seriousness of this issue or the harrowing examples raised by noble Lords. The Government believe that we should look to other remedies, and it might be helpful to set out some of those that exist through the action that has been taken. A system of accredited voluntary registration with the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care already exists. The authority has a process for quality assuring voluntary registers of health and care professionals in the UK who are not subject to statutory regulation. It currently accredits 10 voluntary registers relating to counselling and psychotherapy, providing assurance to the public on approximately 50,000 talking therapy professionals. The registers can be used by service users to choose a practitioner to meet their needs and to be assured that those practitioners are safe, trustworthy and competent to practise.

To gain accreditation with the Professional Standards Authority, organisations have to meet 11 standards for accredited registers. These standards require organisations to have a focus on public protection, to have processes in place for handling complaints against practitioners, to set appropriate levels of education and training for entry to the register, to require registrants to undertake continuing professional development and to understand and monitor the risks associated with the practices of registrants. Any registrant who is removed from an accredited register for conduct reasons cannot join another accredited register. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that these registers are voluntary. We would urge anyone looking to engage the services of a psychotherapist or counsellor to ensure that they are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.

Noble Lords have raised issues which I know have been the subject of separate and indeed long-standing debates in your Lordships’ House. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, both referred to their experiences and insights from their time as Ministers and set out some of the actions which have been taken since. While there may be a need to legislate on this matter in the future, that is a question for the Department of Health and Social Care. I cannot commit the department one way or the other today, but for reasons of focus on the particular offence of domestic abuse, we do not feel that this Bill is the right place to do that. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one salutary and useful aspect of this amendment is that it has focused our minds on false memories and false allegations. It is therefore a reminder that we must challenge what we believe to be the victim mindset that can lead to grave injustices. The amendment should remind the Government that abuse is so emotive that it becomes quite hard to challenge if it has been alleged. The reason why false memories have been so damaging over the years is that once the victims say that they have been abused while under the care, guidance, manipulation or coercive control of said “quack” counsellor, no one can challenge that because it is an accusation of abuse. This legislation bends the stick in the direction of victims far too much, in my opinion, and I urge the Minister to take great care and perhaps investigate some of the harrowing stories of false memory syndrome in order to learn lessons and not make the same mistakes here.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right to say that this area needs continued and careful thought, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who referred to the complexity of the issues and the matters which have to be considered. We will indeed do that.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his careful response. He said that this issue goes wider than his own department, and I agree. In the period between Committee and Report, would it therefore be possible for him to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to discuss it? It is clearly a serious issue that demands a cross-government response and that would not necessarily be met only by an amendment to a particular Bill.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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That is a sensible suggestion from the noble Lord and I am happy to commit to speaking to my noble friend about it.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I was going to make the same suggestion as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who made the point that this is an important issue that runs across departments. As he said, I am not sure that this is the right Bill in which to address it, but equally, I am concerned that there may not be a right vehicle at the moment. We have to find some way of dealing with this issue, which has been raised across the House. We have potentially dangerous people treating very vulnerable people and thus only making the situation worse. We should not allow that to happen and we must find a way of dealing with it.

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Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con) [V]
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My Lords [Inaudible.]

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid we are having difficulty hearing my noble friend. I wonder whether she might give it another go; otherwise, we will have to move on and revert to her when the problem is sorted.

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Amendment 148 withdrawn.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, we still have a number of amendments to get through this evening, but I think now might be an opportune moment for a short break. I beg to move that the Committee do now adjourn until 8.23 pm.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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My Lords, the Committee will now adjourn until 8.23 pm, and we will return to deal with the group beginning with Amendment 149.

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The Government acknowledge that there is a real problem here. Their arguments against using this legislation to solve the problem are unconvincing. I do not understand why they are so reluctant to accept an amendment that is very much in the spirit of the Bill and without which the milestone step represented by its recognition of economic abuse could be seriously hobbled. The amendment is supported by the domestic abuse commissioner designate and a wide range of organisations on the ground. I beg to move.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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A large number of noble Lords wish to speak on this group. We have a number of amendments to get through before the Committee rises at midnight. While of course there are no speaking limits, perhaps I may appeal for conciseness and brevity from noble Lords. That will assist us in making as much progress as possible before we rise later tonight.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, before speaking to my Amendment 157 in this group, I want to express my strong support for my noble friend Lady Lister in her Amendment 149, which she has argued for so persuasively just now. My amendment is concerned with family abuse, particularly that suffered by elderly people and disabled victims. I am glad to have the strong support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt, Lady Mansoor and Lady Greengross. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has been an extraordinary campaigner for older people and years ago was bringing the problem of abuse being suffered by older people to national and international attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Mansoor, cannot be with us today because of a pressing engagement, but she is a strong and enthusiastic supporter of the amendment.

Our concern is that when it comes to domestic abuse, family victims are repeatedly, even continually, being forgotten. The only explanation I can think of is that elderly and disabled victims of family abuse who are dependent on their abusers are in general unable or afraid to speak out. To my mind, this should make the coverage of family abuse by Section 76 a high legislative priority. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour under Section 76 covers such behaviour by a family member, including financial abuse, but only when they are living with their victim. According to research, most perpetuators of financial abuse against elderly people were family members rather than partners, and only 25% actually live with their victims. I believe that the UK criminal law must afford victims equal protection, irrespective of their place of residence. As Gary FitzGerald, the former CEO of Action on Elder Abuse for 18 years, has stated:

“Older women can have a higher level of physical, emotional and particularly financial dependence on perpetrators, and will often have experienced the abuse for a much greater period of time. It is those psychological and emotional relationships that are crucial in considering coercive control, much more so than whether or not the victim is living with the perpetrator.”


Material published by Action on Elder Abuse shows that financial abuse can involve victims’ houses being sold or taken without their consent, or victims giving their property away under pressure or without full awareness.

The outcome of financial abuse on older people can be devastating. Many lose large sums of money, lose property that they have lived in for years, do not receive benefits to which they are entitled, incur large debts, or simply do not have enough money to live on. Many of the alleged perpetrators of large-scale financial abuse do not deny having access to or spending large amounts of money belonging to a particular older person. They merely contend that the older person gave them permission to spend the money in question, but the vulnerability of the victims means that they are often unable to categorically deny that such permission was given. The likelihood of such cases being progressed through to a satisfactory outcome, full recovery of assets and a criminal prosecution of the perpetrator remains low. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, has urged the Government,

“to give serious consideration to any amendment that will improve outcomes for older victims and survivors.”

Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives, the national user-led organisation for disabled people, has said:

“The high incidence of violence and abuse among disabled people is related to being dependent on their family and informal networks for care and support. These caring relationships provide additional opportunities for perpetrators to abuse and coercively control. The perpetrator can coercively control the disabled person by withholding essential support such as food, medication or prevent them going out independently. This type of abuse can be done by a family member wherever they live and this type of coercive control would not be easily recognised by the legislation around stalking”


and harassment.

In her opening speech, my noble friend Lady Lister argued that it is wrong to say that post-separation economic abuse can be covered by stalking and harassment legislation, as the Government have done both in Committee in the Commons and at Second Reading. I agree with my noble friend that this is by no means sufficient.

We really need to take action on this now. Controlling or coercive behaviour, including financial abuse, does not become stalking or harassment simply because the victim does not live with their abuser.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support both these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has had a long-standing interest in these matters, as he explained to the Committee, and he spoke with great authority, as he usually does. He also explained that he had had recent conversations with the Minister, Victoria Atkins, and I was pleased that he explained that she is taking this problem very seriously.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, gave a very sobering medical explanation of brain damage and brain injury. In my understanding, she said it is a difficult thing to assess, but it is a very real issue. I too got the review of the Disabilities Trust report on Drake Hall from 2016-18, and we have heard a number of the statistics from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

One particular statistic that was not repeated, and which I thought was particularly revealing, was that 33% of women with a brain injury sustained their injury before committing their first offence. That shows that brain injury can, and often does, lead to life-changing behaviours, which can and do mean that, disproportion-ately, people with brain injuries end up in prison—both women and men.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, did not actually say that this was a probing amendment, but whether or not it is, I am happy to support it. I hope to hear from the Minister that the Government are taking these sources of injury and changes in behaviour very seriously within the prison estate.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for setting out the case for these amendments, which, as he explained, follow similar suggestions from Chris Bryant MP when the Bill was debated in another place. I am pleased that my honourable friend the Minister for Safeguarding was able to meet Mr Bryant and the noble Lord, and that their discussions were—as the noble Lord said—helpful.

Amendment 155 seeks to introduce screening for acquired brain injury for female victims of domestic abuse within two weeks of a domestic abuse charge being made, including those victims to be protected by a domestic abuse protection order. Amendment 156 seeks to introduce screening for brain injury for all female prisoners within two weeks of starting their sentence, with a subsequent assessment to take place if an injury is found.

I say from the outset that we want to make sure that we provide healthcare and support that meets the specific needs of all victims of domestic abuse, and female offenders too, including those with acquired brain injury. We have carefully considered these amendments, and while we appreciate their overarching intent, we feel that legislating would not be the appropriate course of action. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, set out clearly the clinical difficulties that would be involved if we were to put this in the Bill.

The National Health Service is there to provide appropriate care and treatment for everyone who needs it, based on clinical need. This key principle on which the NHS operates means that anyone who needs a certain diagnostic test based on clinical need should receive it. The healthcare needs of victims of domestic abuse will vary greatly based on their individual circumstances and experiences but, if they need urgent assessment or treatment, they will receive this from the National Health Service.

Moreover, as we have heard throughout the scrutiny of the Bill so far, domestic abuse can manifest itself in many ways, including—as in the group of amendments we have just discussed—through coercive control or financial abuse, and it would be inappropriate to invite victims of these forms of domestic abuse for brain injury screening. That is why we do not consider that testing all female victims of domestic abuse, as this amendment suggests, would be an effective use of NHS resources or provide the personalised care they need.

Nevertheless, we believe that improvements can be made to existing screening processes through non-legislative measures. I will provide some background to that. All people entering prison receive an early health assessment within the first 24 hours. This initial assessment is comprehensive so that their health needs can be identified and addressed at an early stage. It includes a standard requirement to undertake a screening questionnaire for head injury and loss of consciousness, which focuses on issues with memory or concentration. As noble Lords have said, these can be important signs.

We acknowledge that more could be done during this screening process to identify and address specific circumstances where head injury or loss of consciousness has resulted from domestic abuse. I am pleased to say that NHS England and NHS Improvement have confirmed that they would be happy to add further questions to the existing screening tool to ascertain, where an acquired brain injury has been identified, whether that acquired brain injury occurred as a result of physical injury related to domestic abuse, sexual violence or another form of abuse.

The national screening tool is reviewed and updated by NHS England and NHS Improvement on an annual basis to allow for any changes in NICE guidance or any recommendations arising from a coroner’s report to prevent future deaths. To amend the existing screening tool, NHS England and NHS Improvement will need to agree the precise questions to be asked and how these will be reported. I am pleased to say that the initial screening questions on domestic violence and the coding that is required have already been agreed and will be implemented by April this year.

Alongside this, NHS England and NHS Improvement are continuing to work with the Disabilities Trust on a training package for healthcare practitioners to increase effectiveness when supporting people with impaired neurological functioning, either as a result of domestic abuse or for other reasons, and also to support them by providing practical steps to those working with patients and self-help tools for the patients themselves to reduce and overcome the impact of any brain injury.

In so far as Amendment 155 seeks to link screening to the making of a domestic abuse protection order, it is important to recognise that, like other protective orders, these are designed to impose requirements on the perpetrator. They cannot impose requirements on the person to be protected by the order, such as requiring them to undertake a screening for an acquired brain injury.

We will, however, use the statutory guidance to the police to recommend that they refer victims to an independent domestic violence adviser, or another specialist advocate, who will be able to advise victims of their options on a whole range of issues, including healthcare. In addition, we will include information on where to go to seek medical attention in the advice materials provided to victims which we will be producing ready for the pilots of the orders.

I hope that these non-legislative measures reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that we are acting to support women with acquired brain injury and that putting this in the Bill is therefore not necessary. I am glad to repeat our thanks to him and to Mr Bryant for the discussions we have had on this important issue. I hope that the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ramsbotham Portrait Lord Ramsbotham (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that considered response and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for their support. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Finlay of Llandaff for drawing on her considerable medical expertise to point out the practical medical difficulties with the timeframe proposed in Amendment 155. I majored on Amendment 156 and the assessment of victims of domestic abuse when they are received in prison, which has been proved to be so important. I will examine in detail what the Minister and my noble friend Lady Finlay said and decide what to do on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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Amendment 158 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the Child Maintenance Service to tackle the problem of abusers continuing economic abuse by withholding or reducing child maintenance payments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, we have just had a debate on the issue of economic abuse post separation, and one of the examples given of such abuse was through the perpetrator failing to pay child maintenance.

Child maintenance is an essential source of income for many single parents in enabling them to meet their children’s basic needs, including food and clothing, and is of particular importance to victims and survivors of economic abuse, who often rely on such payments for economic stability after leaving a perpetrator. Perpetrators of economic abuse are only too aware of this, however, and withholding or unreliably paying child maintenance can be a way in which they continue to control victims and survivors, including post separation. This issue does seem to highlight the importance of agencies such as the Child Maintenance Service that provide front-line services carrying out training to recognise and respond to economic abuse, as a means of domestic abuse, as part of how they operate.

Economic abuse perpetrated through child maintenance is not new, of course; it has been used by perpetrators for some time. However, the coronavirus seems to have exacerbated the situation through providing perpetrators with increased opportunities to interfere with child maintenance payments. During the present pandemic, it has been reported that the Department for Work and Pensions has redeployed a number of Child Maintenance Service staff in order to deal with the spike in universal credit claims. It has been said that this included staff tasked with enforcing or following up child maintenance.

The media have additionally reported that the Child Maintenance Service was accepting verbal evidence from paying parents seeking to stop or reduce payments in relation to their income decreasing during the pandemic, when this would usually require evidencing through documents such as payslips. In their response, could the Government indicate whether there is validity in these reports and what guidance has been issued by the Government to the Child Maintenance Service on tackling the problem of abusers continuing economic abuse by withholding or reducing child maintenance payments—not only prior to but during the pandemic?

We support the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, in raising this issue and await the Government’s response.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for outlining her amendment. I certainly agree with her and all the noble Lords who have spoken that guidance for front-line staff on tackling economic abuse through the withholding or reduction of child maintenance payments is extremely important. I assure her and, I hope, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the Child Maintenance Service takes the issue of domestic abuse extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring that victims of abuse get the help and support that they need to use it safely.

The service has recently substantially strengthened its procedures to support people who are experiencing domestic abuse: in particular, a new programme of domestic abuse training is currently being delivered to all Child Maintenance Service caseworkers. However, before that, the service had already implemented training in this area, designed with input from Women’s Aid. That included: recognising that domestic abuse can take various forms, including physical, psychological, emotional and financial abuse; appropriate signposting to domestic abuse support groups; and advice on contacting the police and, if people did not feel able to do so, asking whether they were content for the Child Maintenance Service to call the police on their behalf. The service has also introduced a complex needs toolkit for its caseworkers which includes clear steps to follow in order to support people who are experiencing abuse. It is regularly reviewed and strengthened on the basis of feedback. The Child Maintenance Service will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of its guidance and training in this area.

Beyond that guidance and training, there are a number of ways in which the Child Maintenance Service responds to cases involving domestic abuse. It might be helpful to outline some of them. They include waiving the application fee for victims of domestic abuse; providing appropriate advice and support to help victims use the service safely and to ensure that there is no unwanted contact between separated parents; acting as an intermediary to facilitate the exchange of bank details and ensuring that no personal information is shared; providing advice on how to set up bank accounts with a centralised sort code, which does not allow victims of abuse to be traced; and providing advice and directing people to a number of specialist domestic abuse support organisations as well as providing advice and information on how they can stay safe.

The Child Maintenance Service also has a range of strong enforcement powers, which can be used against people who consistently refuse to meet their obligations to provide financial support to their children. First, it can make deductions directly from earnings and seize funds directly from a paying parent’s bank account, either as a lump sum or regular payments. We have extended this power to cover joint and certain business accounts, thereby removing the opportunity for paying parents to put their money out of reach. Secondly, it has the capacity to seize goods or force the sale of a non-paying parent’s property. Thirdly, it can seek to have those who wilfully refuse to recognise their obligations either committed to prison or disqualified from driving. Finally, we have also introduced the ability to disqualify non-compliant parents from holding or obtaining a UK passport, which we believe acts as a strong deterrent.

We are therefore confident that the Child Maintenance Service already has sufficient enforcement powers and that it has further strengthened its procedures for supporting people who have suffered domestic abuse. I assure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who have spoken in this brief but important debate that we will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these enforcement powers and the support that they give. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the speakers who have contributed to this short but, as the Minister says, important debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke very supportively about the importance of child maintenance to the family and how it is abused as a tool of control. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made an interesting contribution about the role of coronavirus and the redeployment of CMS. Obviously that is a concern.

The Minister talked about further strengthening procedures and training, which is what the Minister Alex Chalk said in the other place. I am reassured that the evaluation of the effectiveness of the guidance is continuing, and I hope that the success rate continues to rise so that more families have the wherewithal to survive economically. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment 162 withdrawn.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have enabled us to cover all the amendments listed for today.

House resumed.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th February 2021

(3 years, 2 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 Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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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.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, set out, Amendment 163 seeks to allow victims of domestic abuse who have a joint social tenancy with the perpetrator to transfer the tenancy into their own name and to prevent the perpetrator from unilaterally ending the tenancy.

We certainly recognise and sympathise with the motivation behind this amendment, as expressed very eloquently by all noble Lords who have spoken. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, abusers who seek to control their victims by threatening to unilaterally end a tenancy and make their victim homeless—or indeed who actually do make them homeless in this way—are exercising a particularly cruel form of control.

The amendment would apply to local authority and housing association tenancies. By way of background—as I am sure noble Lords will know—these social tenancies are usually in place for a tenant’s lifetime, as long as the tenant adheres to the terms of the tenancy and, as such, a lifetime security of tenure is a valuable asset. That is why we are including provisions in the Bill which seek to protect the security of tenure for victims of domestic abuse when they are granted a new tenancy by a local authority for reasons connected to that abuse.

The current legislation means that, where any joint tenant of a periodic tenancy serves a notice to quit, it ends the whole tenancy and the landlord is able to seek possession of the property. This is a long-standing rule, which has been established in case law and was upheld by the Supreme Court in the 2014 case of Sims v Dacorum Borough Council. The rule seeks to balance the interests of each joint tenant, as well as those of the landlord. For example, a victim of domestic abuse who has a joint tenancy with the perpetrator, and who has fled their home to escape abuse, would be able to end the tenancy to ensure that they are no longer bound to it with their abuser.

We do recognise that, in some cases of domestic abuse, as noble Lords have pointed out today, a perpetrator could use this rule to exert control. We understand how this proposed new clause seeks to overcome this important issue. The victim through it would be able to apply to the court to remove the perpetrator from the tenancy, which would effectively transfer the tenancy into the victim’s name. The perpetrator would also not be able to end the tenancy unilaterally.

We have certainly looked carefully at it and I am afraid we have some concerns with the effect of the amendment as drafted. One is that the amendment does not consider how any liabilities that might have occurred during the course of the joint tenancy, such as accrued rent arrears or damage to the property, would be apportioned between the tenants. As the perpetrator would no longer be a tenant, they would no longer be liable. That certainly ought to be considered. As a result, the victim and any remaining joint tenants would be left responsible for any liabilities, even if they were not fully responsible for contributing to them. We need to ensure that the victim and any remaining joint tenants are not put at any disadvantage by changes to the law in this area.

Another concern, picking up the point raised by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham is that the amendment does not provide for how the interests of third parties—including the interests of any other joint tenants, children, or those of the landlord—might be taken into account by the court.

It is for landlords to decide whether to grant a tenancy for their property, and on what basis. This amendment would mean that, where a landlord grants a joint tenancy to two or more individuals, the number of tenants could be changed without consideration or consent from the landlord as the owner of the property. Landlords may decide to grant a joint tenancy for a number of reasons, including affordability and because joint tenants are jointly and severally liable for paying rent or looking after the property. In addition, this could result in interference with a housing association landlord’s own rights under human rights law. Since this engages other parties’ human rights, including those of the perpetrator, we need to consider very carefully the right approach in order to balance those rights, and to ensure that any interference is proportionate and justified.

It is important that we carefully consider the practical and legal issues, such as these, before we decide what the right approach is to protect victims in this situation, and whether that includes making changes to legislation so that we can ensure that any proposals have the outcomes which I am sure all noble Lords intend them to have.

Today’s debate has certainly contributed to that process. We would welcome further evidence on the scale of the issue, including how many victims wish to remain in a property where the perpetrator knows where they live. I understand that officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are continuing to engage with the domestic abuse commissioner and her office, as well as the domestic abuse sector more widely, on the termination of joint tenancies in order better to understand this issue.

We understand how important this issue is as part of a whole housing approach. I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the work that is being done by the domestic abuse and social housing sectors together in supporting victims of domestic abuse. I am aware that many landlords are already committed to taking action through sector-led initiatives such as the Making a Stand pledge.

I am very happy to underscore our commitment to continue working with the sector in considering these issues, with a view to arriving at a workable solution. I repeat my thanks to the noble Lords for their contributions today, which have contributed to that important debate. We will certainly continue to consider it, but in the meantime I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Barker Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Barker) (LD)
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I have received a request to speak from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Yes, we certainly will. I hope equally that the noble Lord listened to the points where I outlined some of the complexities, which have to be considered in the law. But we certainly want to continue to engage on this and arrive at the right place.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have made extremely knowledgeable contributions. I thought that there would be experts on the Benches on all sides of the House, and I have certainly not been disappointed this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, talked about the balance that must be struck and the role of the courts in that; the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, used their professional experience and knowledge of human rights law; and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, had two bites of the cherry—and very welcome they were too, because he embodies the spirit of what we seek to achieve.

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Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is pretty hard pressed and overloaded, so it is interesting that it chose to work on the subject of domestic abuse at work in conjunction with the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development—the human resources professional body—from which we had a helpful briefing.

We spoke earlier about the impact of domestic abuse at work, about the workplace being a haven, about workplace culture and the importance to both employer and employee of dealing sensitively, appropriately and helpfully with domestic abuse. I regard this as part of occupational health and safety. As has been said, neither amendment seeks direct legislative provision.

Proposed new subsection (2) in Amendment 174, with regard to a code of practice, uses the terms

“appropriate care and support from their employer.”

It is not looking for the employer to solve the problem but to enable access to professional support and give flexibility to accommodate the needs of a victim or survivor. As the CIPD says in respect of its guide, Managing and Supporting Employees Experiencing Domestic Abuse, what employer support could look like includes

“recognising the problem, responding appropriately to disclosure, providing support, and referring to the appropriate help.”

One good outcome of the pandemic is the greater alertness to the various situations in which employees find themselves. I include in that senior staff right up to the top. We sometimes talk as if “the employer” is not made up of human beings. We will all be aware of, or work with, organisations that have a huge range of policies applying to employment and the workplace. They are, in effect, codes of practice. Both amendments identify a gap that should be filled.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and I join those who have already wished the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, a happy birthday. She has had a busy birthday in your Lordships’ House today. I hope that we will finish in time for her to celebrate before the day is over. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for setting out their amendments in the way they did. They bring us on to the role that employers can and should play in supporting employees who are victims of domestic abuse.

The Government agree that employers can play an important role, and that there is more that can be done in this area by working with them to help lift the lid on this often-hidden crime. However, as noble Lords have noted, this is a sensitive area and it is vital to ensure that we have the right approach. That is why, in June last year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched a review into support in the workplace for victims of domestic abuse. This comprised a call for evidence, a literature review and discussions with interested parties and groups to explore the issues in greater depth. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull noted, we published the report from this review last month, on 14 January.

The findings in this report show that, for people experiencing domestic abuse, the workplace can be a place of safety and respite. As my noble friend Lady Newlove said, it is somewhere where they might have a trusted mentor or confidant. They can make the arrangements that they need there and perhaps use a work telephone to contact refuges or other services, which can help them escape their abuser. The review also highlighted the importance of employers responding with empathy and sensitivity to disclosures of domestic abuse, asking the right questions and ensuring that the workplace is a safe place for people to come forward.

The evidence provided to the Government made it clear that victims may also need flexibility to engage with services such as refuges, healthcare, the police and the courts, during their regular working hours. Sometimes that might mean changes to their working location or the type of work that they do in order to ensure their safety. We expect employers to respond with empathy and flexibility to such requests. No victim should need to worry about their employment while they are seeking to leave an abusive situation.

Where victims of domestic abuse need to change their working patterns or locations, they may be able to make use of the existing right to request flexible working, which noble Lords noted. Our review into how employers can support victims of domestic abuse generated some valuable insights, which will be considered when we take forward the commitment that we made in our manifesto to consult on making flexible working the default.

The Government recognise that there is much merit in providing guidance and support to employers on how to support victims of domestic abuse. The review that I mentioned found that, while employers want to support their staff, they may lack the awareness, understanding and capacity to do so. My noble friend Lady Newlove gave an example of an employer who, sadly, got it wrong. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, companies are made up of people; this is first and foremost a human interaction. People want to get it right, but they need to be given the right advice on how to do so. It is also clear that domestic abuse can bring difficult challenges for employers, for example where victims and perpetrators work together in the same place.

The Government want to ensure that employers have the tools and support that they need to support their staff. As set out in our report, therefore, we will work with representatives of victims, employers and workers alike to bring forward proposals in this area. We welcome the positive action that we have already seen across the country. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, mentioned Vodafone, which is one of many employers, including Lloyds and many more, which are showing the way by adopting policies that support victims in the workplace and by raising awareness of domestic abuse as a workplace issue. We will continue to encourage employers to follow suit wherever possible.

In doing that, we recognise and value the good work being done by a variety of organisations, some of which have been mentioned in our debate, to provide support and guidance for employers: for example, the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, Hestia, Public Health England, Business in the Community, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development all provide resources for employers free of charge. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, said, they are all over this, and trade unions are doing important work in this area, as well.

Through our review, the Government have set out a clear course of action to help employers to support victims of domestic abuse. It creates a firm basis on which to make progress. Given that commitment and the findings of the report from last month which I mentioned, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this brief but very important debate today. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, made the point that paid leave is guidance only. That is a very helpful thing; at this incremental stage we are seeking to win over employers rather than beat them down and require them to pay employees who are suffering from domestic violence.

I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, put it very elegantly when she said that we have a code to make the work environment safe and happy, so the code we are talking about would create a good emotional work environment to go with the good physical one. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, made many very good points. He said that domestic abuse is a work issue. It crosses over. As I said in my earlier remarks, you have to be able to bring your whole self to work; you cannot just leave the sad and difficult bits at home.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, raised the need for flexible working in these difficult circumstances. I was pleased by the Minister’s comment that the Government will be bringing forward proposals and are consulting on making flexible working the default. I will be delighted when that day comes and I hope it will not be too far away. My noble friend Lady Hamwee said that these two amendments have identified a gap that should be filled.

I am delighted with the cautious comments of the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, saying that the Government are working with bodies to bring forward proposals. I hope that progress will be forthcoming and less than glacial. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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Amendment 175, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, would extend the duty on local authorities to provide school places for looked-after children to children who are forced to change schools as a result of domestic abuse. We support this amendment and its objective, which was raised by Jess Phillips MP, the shadow Minister, during the Commons proceedings on the Bill.

The average wait for children who move to obtain a new school place is between four and six months in cases of domestic abuse. That is four to six months away from their peers, without the routine and safety of school, while living in an unfamiliar house or refuge. The alternative would be to continue to attend the school, which is quite possibly an impossible distance away in a location deemed too dangerous for that child to live in. Many parents of such children do not have the required resources or technology to home-school their children—particularly not when they are in a domestic abuse situation, living in temporary accommodation, where children of varying ages and needs can be sharing one room, as may well be the case in a hotel, for example.

The impact of Covid-19 has also demonstrated the importance of schools for not only education, but the provision of food. It is estimated that some 1.3 million children are now dependent on food parcels from their school. Children not enrolled in school cannot access the food parcels provided by them. Schools have remained open for children with special educational needs and those with an education, health and care plan. Schools are integral to referring those with special education needs to the local authority so that they can receive an EHC plan. However, children who are not enrolled in a school do not have access to that safety net and the support that can be provided by schools.

Children who are impacted by domestic abuse and have to move because of it already face enough trauma without also losing out on their education or the safety and security of being in school. I hope we will find from their response that the Government agree.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for taking part in this short but important debate. We firmly believe that all vulnerable children, including those who have been affected by domestic abuse and are currently receiving care or who have had to move home as a result of domestic abuse, should be able to access a school place quickly. We believe that any gaps in their education must be kept to an absolute minimum.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, previously raised the issue of NHS waiting lists where children are compelled to move area as a result of domestic abuse. Amendment 175 seeks to address the issue of changing schools by focusing on the application process for a school place in the normal admissions round—for instance, at the start of reception or year 7. However, children fleeing domestic abuse are more likely to be applying at other times, which, in the current drafting—with the usual caveats about this being a Committee amendment—Amendment 175 does not currently provide for.

The Department for Education has recently consulted on changes to the School Admissions Code to improve the in-year admissions process and fair access protocols to ensure that vulnerable children, specifically including children on a child in need plan or a child protection plan, and those in refuges or safe accommodation, can secure a school place quickly and keep the disruption to their education to an absolute minimum. The new School Admissions Code will provide detailed requirements and guidance for all, particularly vulnerable children moving in-year. The Department for Education proposes to publish this new guidance on fair access protocols, which provide a safety net for the most vulnerable children moving in-year.

We think that these changes and this action, rather than giving joint-highest admission priority alongside looked-after children for the main admission round, will have the greatest impact in achieving what I think lies behind the amendment: ensuring that all vulnerable children can access a school place as quickly as possible, including those who have been affected by domestic abuse. Given the work being undertaken in this area, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for rounding out some of the information as to why we need this small amendment. The average waiting time of four to six months for a child who has fled with a parent from domestic abuse is not acceptable. He outlined very clearly all the reasons why that is the case.

I was quite pleased with what the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, said regarding the new School Admissions Code on fair access protocols. I think he is reasonably confident that this will have the required effect; I very much hope so too. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Mindful of this, I find the Government’s response to the point that I and others made at Second Reading completely unacceptable. This House passed legislation four years ago requiring that under-18s are protected from accessing pornography on pornographic websites—much of which, as we have seen, is violent—through the introduction of statutory age verification. The only reason why the decision of your Lordships’ House has not been given effect is that the Government have refused to implement it. Moreover, they expect us to wait for what will probably be another three years, at least, for what they have now confirmed will be a weaker protection in relation to commercial pornography.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but I would point out that all the speakers in this group so far have spoken for considerably over 10 minutes. Noble Lords would appreciate brevity, so that they can all have an opportunity to take part.

Lord McColl of Dulwich Portrait Lord McColl of Dulwich (Con) [V]
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[Inaudible]—rough sex and domestic violence and implement Part 3 as quickly as possible.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
May I say that I also wanted to speak to the group beginning with Amendment 2, but I mistakenly was unable to put my name down? But it was an honour to be present in the Chamber to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, as she powerfully addressed the Chamber and courageously stated her personal experience. I recognise the point that she has argued, and accept that there are certainly many complexities which become part of the continuous battle over children in separation and divorce. Regrettably, I am not in support of her clause. I worked with women’s NGOs and refuges—
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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The noble Baroness is now speaking to the amendment that comes in the next group. If she would constrain her remarks to the amendments in the first group, that would be appreciated.

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Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, I have no hesitation in supporting the aims of this amendment standing in the name of my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, and others. I feel very strongly that we will listen—I certainly will—to what the Minister is going to say, because there are difficulties. I have listened to some of the opposition to the amendment, although there seems to be a very general agreement on the principles. It has now become a very wide-ranging Domestic Abuse Bill, so I really need to be satisfied that the aims and principles of what we are trying to do in this amendment, and what the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, is trying to do, will actually be satisfied without the amendment.

I believe that we should use the Bill to protect children and their victim mothers or fathers from psychological abusive and coercive control. During my 30 years as a Member of Parliament, I had many cases of parents, male and female, coming to see me and telling me in harrowing tones what was happening. They did not use the words “parental alienation”—it is a very Americanised term, which I personally do not like. But I listened to the some of the ways in which they talked, very simply—[Inaudible.]

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I think we might have lost the connection to the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, so we will go to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I understand and sympathise with those who have been the victims of a spouse or partner who has turned the children of their family against them—of course it takes place. It is an intensely sad situation, deeply unfair to the children as well as to the victim parent.

As a family judge, I tried a number of such cases, and I have to tell noble Lords that I very nearly wept in court when all efforts to change the children’s attitude had failed. I remain with a vivid recollection of some of those cases. But we need to recognise that there are two different situations: there are the children who witness the abuse of a parent against the other parent or have suffered from hearing it, and there are the children who suffer from the parent who is alienating them from the other parent. That is the background, and it is important that judges understand the context and can differentiate between the absent parent, who by his or her actions has forfeited the right to have a proper relationship with the children, and those who have been wrongly and unjustly deprived of such a relationship.

As I said in Committee, this requires judicial training. I have reflected since Committee on what the training should be and the extent to which it is already carried out, and I have done a little research. In my view, it is already very well provided by the Judicial College, which is chaired by a Court of Appeal judge. It is divided into different committees, and one such committee deals exclusively with family issues.

When I was a High Court judge, I was for several years the chairman of the family committee of the predecessor of the college. Newly appointed judges have mandatory training before they can try family cases, and there is regular, continuing training for family judges and magistrates.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am terribly sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Baroness, but I think she may be speaking to a later amendment, which we will reach in the ninth group. We are currently speaking to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, on parental alienation.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, we still have another nine groups of amendments to cover if we are to hit today’s target for the first day of Report. Given that we will need to sit late in order to try and do that, I suggest that now might be an appropriate time for a short break.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for setting out why she has tabled this amendment again, which would remove the upper limit of 10 advisory board members to be appointed by the domestic abuse commissioner. It is certainly important that the advisory board should be representative of a broad range of different groups and experts who have responsibilities for responding to domestic abuse. However, the Government submit that we need to limit the numbers of the board, not because we want to fetter the discretion of the commissioner but to ensure that the board is sufficiently large to be representative but not so large that it becomes unwieldy.

We consider that the maximum membership of 10 is the right number to ensure that the board can discharge its functions efficiently and effectively. I appreciate the acknowledgement by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that 10 is a reasonable number, even if he supports the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. This upper limit does not, of course, stop the commissioner from also seeking advice from other experts, but the advisory board itself needs to be of a manageable size and small enough to provide focused support to her. To answer the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, others could of course attend the advisory board meetings if the commissioner so wished, even if they were not members of it.

As I indicated in Committee, a member of the advisory board could represent the interests of more than one group, ensuring an even wider range of representation. For example, she or he could represent the interests of victims of domestic abuse while also representing the interests of specialist charities.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, noted, in addition to the board, the commissioner will be required through her terms and conditions of employment to establish a victims and survivors advisory group to engage directly with victims and survivors in its work. I hope noble Lords will appreciate the importance of putting victims and survivors at the centre of that work. The commissioner may also establish any other groups as she sees fit, so could—as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asks—seek additional advice if she wanted to do so.

So the Government remain of the view that Clause 12 strikes the right balance between setting out certain minimum requirements regarding the membership of the advisory board while affording sufficient latitude to the commissioner to appoint one which can support her in the exercise of her functions. However, we would certainly be happy to keep this under review. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who have supported this amendment. As my noble friend described, circumstances can change. She put the position very clearly.

The noble Lord has just said that the matter will be kept “under review”. I realised as this short debate went on that this was one of the very rare occasions when I wished that the matter was dealt with in regulations rather than in primary legislation, because it would have been so much easier to change the numbers through secondary legislation.

Despite comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and by me, the Minister used the terms “representative” and “represent” throughout his response. This is precisely something that continues to concern me—and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as he said. The Minister said that the Government do not want to fetter the commissioner’s discretion, but, of course, that is exactly what the clause does.

The dynamics of groups is something which interests me—how a group develops ways of working and works most creatively. Other experts who may be asked to give advice would not be part of a cohesive unit. I think that a cohesive unit where members are able to spark off one another and bring to the table various parts of experience—including of life, as well as of the direct subject matter—makes for the most effectiveness. Sometimes disagreeing makes for effectiveness, too. Of course, a huge group will function in a different way. I am not anticipating a very big group. I have chaired for quite a long time a group of 25; that was too many, but it was too many for the particular task rather than too many, period.

I am actually more gloomy about this than when I started, particularly having heard the emphasis on representation. I can see that we are not going to change the Government’s mind, but perhaps I might ask: after keeping the number under review, if the Government think they have got it wrong, what mechanism—other than a new Bill, or finding a slot in a Bill within which it could be in scope—could they use to implement what they might think was a better number? I do not think I ought to ask the Minister to respond to that now, but a letter following today’s debate would be welcome. I can see he is not leaping up, which is probably wise—oh, he is.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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For the benefit of other noble Lords as well, I am happy to provide a quick response. We will certainly take that point away and discuss it further. The noble Baroness is right that as it is in primary legislation then primary legislation would be needed. The Government submit that the number we are putting forward is reasonable. If the experience of this and future commissioners suggests that it is not then we would of course discuss that with them, and it would be a matter for Parliament to change the primary legislation if it so wished. Still, for the reasons that I set out, the Government consider that the number that we are putting forward, 10, will not bring about the problems that noble Lords have anticipated.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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I thank the Minister for that. I hope we do not feel an urgent need to review this issue. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, that we share her objective that children should not be put at a disadvantage if they are compelled to move home as a result of domestic abuse. It is, of course, right that they should be able to access the medical attention that they need and to secure a new school place quickly, and that any gaps in their education must be kept to an absolute minimum.

In relation to Amendment 11, as the noble Baroness acknowledged, it is a key principle of the National Health Service that access to healthcare is on the basis of clinical need. When patients move home and between hospitals, the NHS should take previous waiting time into account and ensure, wherever possible, that these patients are not disadvantaged as a result. Clinicians have the training and expertise to make decisions about clinical prioritisation so that patients who require urgent treatment can expect to be seen more quickly. Of course, waiting times may vary across the country and between services. Different services experience different challenges in local demand, which can affect waiting times, and it is important that there is local flexibility to manage this. However, regardless of circumstance, clinical commissioning groups and providers have a duty to provide services within the maximum waiting times set out in the NHS constitution, as I set out in Committee and as has been noted again today.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Brinton, asked about the Armed Forces covenant. The framework of the Armed Forces covenant sets out society’s obligation to members of our Armed Forces and their families, with an aim to prevent disadvantages that they face due to the unique nature of service in our Armed Forces. As part of this promise, families of serving personnel

“should retain their relative position on any NHS waiting list, if moved around the UK due to the service person being posted.”

As I set out earlier, the decision still rests with the clinician to make decisions about their clinical priority in relation to the local population and services available. That is the core principle throughout NHS services.

Local healthcare services are commissioned based on an assessment of the needs of the population they serve, and tackling health inequalities is a core part of those considerations. It will be important for the NHS to learn from experience, including the concerning accounts that have been highlighted by noble Lords both in Committee and this evening, so that barriers to accessing services are removed. We will certainly support and encourage that.

I should say at this point that NHS England is developing an action plan to tackle domestic abuse that will raise awareness among NHS staff. I am sure that staff have the skills to identify and refer and, indeed, to address the issue of NHS staff who are themselves victims or perpetrators. One of the tenets of the action plan will be that any and all victims and survivors of domestic abuse and their children will not be unduly disadvantaged in accessing physical and mental health services when they are forced to move to new accommodation in a different area.

Moreover, at a national level, the NHS long-term plan sets out a number of measures to improve access to services, about which I spoke in Committee, such as extra GP appointments, and new waiting time standards for children and young people for eating disorders and for those experiencing a first episode of psychosis. On top to this, at least 345,000 additional children and young people aged up to 25 will be able to access support via NHS-funded mental health services and school or college-based mental health support teams by 2023-24.

Furthermore, at the spending review in December, the Government announced £1 billion of public money to address backlogs and tackle long waiting lists by facilitating up to a million extra checks, scans and operations. On Friday, the Government announced how millions more children and young people will have access to significantly expanded mental health services, backed by £79 million of public money. This announcement means that nearly 3 million children in England will be supported by mental health support teams in schools, around 22,500 more children and young people will be able to access community mental health services, and 2,000 more children and young people will have access to eating disorder services.

Unlike Amendment 11, Amendment 76 seeks to make provision for both England and Wales, and as education is a devolved matter in Wales, we should not be legislating in your Lordships’ House without the consent of the Senedd. My comments therefore address Amendment 76 as it applies to England only.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has again eloquently explained how children fleeing with a parent from their abuser should not be put at a disadvantage and should not have to wait a long time for a new school place. We agree, which is why the Government are embarking on reform of the English School Admissions Code, which makes better provision for in-year applications and introduces new requirements, including mandatory deadlines for decision-making in relation to in-year admissions and in respect of local authorities’ fair access protocols, helping to ensure that vulnerable school children are allocated a school place as soon as possible. Under the revised code, children fleeing domestic abuse will be eligible to be placed in a school through the fair access protocol if they are struggling to find a school place via the in-year admissions system. These changes should make this process faster and more transparent, and provide a safety net for the most vulnerable children moving school in-year. The Department for Education also proposes to publish new guidance on fair access protocols in England.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asked when the changes to the School Admissions Code will come into force. They are subject to a full public consultation and, of course, to parliamentary approval, but, subject to that approval, we expect the changes to come into force later this year.

The noble Baroness also asked about the numbers affected on free school meals, and I will take up her offer to write with that information.

The noble Baroness suggested the School Admissions Code should change to give children fleeing domestic abuse, or who have had to move home because of domestic abuse, the same priority as looked-after children when there is a waiting list for school places. This proposal and Amendment 76 focus on the application process for a school place in the normal admissions round—that is, at the start of reception or year 7—rather than in the in-year process, which is when children fleeing domestic abuse are more likely to apply. So this amendment would perhaps not help all the people the noble Baroness and all noble Lords, I am sure, have at the forefront of their minds. Although all mainstream state-funded schools in England must maintain a waiting list, they are required to maintain that list only until the end of the first term of the academic year of admission for the school.

We believe that the changes I have outlined to reform the English School Admissions Code to support in-year admissions will have the greatest impact in ensuring that all vulnerable children are able to access a school place as quickly as possible, including those who are affected by domestic abuse. I hope that the changes I have outlined, and the other positive steps to which I have referred, reassure the noble Baroness and, on that basis, she will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and indeed to the Minister. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, gave us another real-life example, this time a personal one. It highlights so clearly the importance of the work that we are doing in this place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, talked about mental health issues and long delays. Think about the life of a child; 12 months in the life of a five year-old seems a lot longer and more important than 12 months to an adult. It is really helpful that the Minister has elaborated on the additional mental health help that is being planned for young people. Particularly with Covid, it will be greatly needed. I just worry whether we have got the resources and the clinicians to be able to populate the services that we are planning.

The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, talked about the health and social care Bill this year and whether we might be able to incorporate some of the health amendments into that. This is something the Minister did not refer to. Perhaps he might write to the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, and other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. She also talked about the importance of school for all kinds of reasons, including building relationships and getting settled after being in a very disturbed and distressing situation.

My noble friend Lady Brinton talked about plummeting to the bottom of waiting lists at the precise moment that children are at their most vulnerable. The Minister gave soothing words that clinicians are required to take these problems into account. But I hope we can get some reassurance—a protocol—that even if you are not desperately ill, those with a mild condition can still get the treatment they need in a reasonable time, given the vulnerability of these young individuals.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, gets to the nitty-gritty, as he always does, and the extent of the problem whereby children lose places on NHS lists. I have started to think that maybe I have not been strong enough in these amendments, when I listen to all the valuable knowledge and the examples that we have had.

My noble friend Lady Brinton also talked about the Armed Forces covenant again. I was struck by the Minister saying that we have an obligation as a society to look after the families of the Armed Forces, but surely we have an obligation as a society to look after these very vulnerable and damaged children as well.

I am very grateful to the Minister for the elaboration and the explanations that he has given. It has been extremely helpful. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Amendment 45 agreed.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, we have completed scrutiny of 10 groups of amendments and have a further seven to cover today, so I suggest that this might be a sensible moment for a short break.

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It is not one size fits all, which was a concern expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. This is very much about looking at the evidence in a particular case and creating a nexus between the history of abuse and the compelling of someone to commit a crime. The question will arise: what is wrong with duress? Is duress not a defence in law? I should say that duress rarely avails itself to any defendant because it sets such a high bar. It is particularly hard for women who have been abused. Again, the tests are unsuitable for this situation because, of course, they turn on questions such as, “Was the threat such that it would overbear the will of an ordinary person?” There is also what used to be called the reasonable man test, although we now call it the reasonable person test, as though that cancels out the problems. However, it does not do that because you have to weave in aspects of the woman’s experience. The threat must be of death or of serious harm. The question is asked, “Did he actually say that he was going to kill you if you did not hide his gun?” But he does not have to say the words because she will know that that threat was persistent while they were living together.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. I appreciate that she has three amendments to introduce—

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab) [V]
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The third one does not count.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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She has taken 20 minutes to do so already and the House is keen to debate the amendments she is putting forward. If she could do so briefly, it will give noble Lords the opportunity to do just that.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab) [V]
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I feel that that was unnecessary, but I was coming to my conclusion anyway. There must be a causal link between the threat and the decision of the defendant to break the law, and that is a high bar. I strongly urge the House to support this new statutory defence for women who are compelled to commit crimes so that they can put it before the court where it can be tested and measured evidentially. If it passes the test, she can be acquitted.

Amendment 66 is a list of the offences to which this would not apply because of their gravity. I hope that the Crown does not think that there are two kinds of victims: those who are somehow deserving and those who are undeserving. The end of the road is when women are forced to do things that take them into the criminal ambit because of a history of abuse. I beg to move.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and all other noble Lords who have supported this amendment, for again setting out the case for it. The amendment seeks to create an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour for psychotherapists and counsellors providing services to clients.

Amendment 52 seeks, in effect, to replicate the coercive or controlling behaviour offence under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. This offence was created to close a gap in legislation regarding patterns of coercive or controlling behaviour in a domestic abuse context; that is, during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners or family members. As such, the offence applies only to those who are “personally connected” as defined within Section 76 of the 2015 Act. The amendment would extend the offence beyond those who are personally connected as defined by that Act so that it applied to psychotherapists and counsellors.

In Committee, and again today, the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and others have strongly made the point that unregulated and fraudulent psychotherapists are able to take advantage of their clients’ vulnerability by supplanting parents and families in the affections and minds of their clients, with the purpose of turning them against their friends and families through a process called transference. The noble Lord has suggested that this abuse should be caught by the controlling or coercive behaviour offence because therapists are abusing their position of trust and the dependence of their clients.

As my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier noted, we have had a number of debates on this issue and on the importance—in the Government’s submission—of preserving the meaning of “personally connected” in relation to domestic abuse, both in this Bill and, by extension, for the purposes of the Section 76 offence. The Government recognise that noble Lords have raised an important issue and have made some spirited and cogent arguments in favour of doing something now. However, we still feel it is important to acknowledge that domestic abuse, including controlling or coercive behaviour, is a unique type of abuse underpinned by an emotional and affectionate bond between the victim and the perpetrator, as well as a complex power dynamic. The paid-for or commercial nature of the psychotherapist-client relationship represents a fundamentally different power dynamic from that of domestic abuse. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and others, that is why we do not believe that it is appropriate to replicate the Section 76 offence in other contexts such as this. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for recognising that this might not be the right Bill in which to do it.

As I mentioned in Committee, this is a matter for consideration by the Department of Health and Social Care. I am pleased that a number of noble Lords who have spoken in Committee and again tonight had the opportunity to discuss it in more detail with my noble friend Lady Penn, on behalf of that department, and with me. I am glad they found the discussion productive, as we did. I am grateful to those noble Lords for their time and engagement with us and with officials from both the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Care.

As noble Lords noted, there is at present a system of accredited voluntary registration by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care. The authority has a process for quality-assuring voluntary registers of health and care professionals in the UK who are not subject to statutory regulation. It currently accredits 10 voluntary registers relating to counselling and psychotherapy, providing assurance to the public in relation to around 50,000 talking therapy professionals. These registers should be used by service users to choose a practitioner to meet their needs and to be assured that they are safe, trustworthy and competent to practise. To gain accreditation from the authority, organisations must meet 11 standards for accredited registers. I set those out in Committee so will not do that again now, but any registrant who is removed from an accredited register for conduct reasons cannot join another accredited register.

I recognise that these registers are voluntary, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, but they provide assurance that practitioners who are on the registers are safe, trustworthy and competent. The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, is right that more can be done in this area, and the Department of Health and Social Care is working with the Professional Standards Authority to improve awareness of the accredited registers programme and to encourage service users and providers—people such as GPs, as she says—to seek out the services of practitioners on an accredited register rather than unregistered individuals.

The Government are committed to a proportionate system of safeguards for the professionals who work in the health and care system, and from time to time we bring new professions into regulation. It is important that decisions to regulate a profession are evidence-based and consider the risks posed by the profession in the round, not just the risks posed by unscrupulous practitioners. The Professional Standards Authority has developed its “right-touch assurance” tool with the aim of providing advice on how best to regulate different groups in health and care. Where the Government are satisfied that the conditions for regulation of a profession are met, that can be taken forward through secondary legislation using powers in the Health Act 1999, a point that, as noble Lords mentioned today, we have explored in our helpful discussions since Committee.

The Department of Health and Social Care is currently conducting a programme of work to reform the professional regulation framework for healthcare professionals. That will provide an opportunity to consider whether the professions protected in law are the right ones and to ensure that the level of regulatory oversight is proportionate to the risks to the public.

I am conscious, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, set out in his contribution, that this is an issue that has been around for a very long time—since 1971, in some form—and he has been working on it for many years. I hope that reassurance and the points that have been raised, both in these debates and in our meeting since Committee, will be fed into that work. Perhaps this will provide further reassurance: as a couple of noble Lords have alluded to, one person who spoke in Committee but is not speaking today is my noble friend Lady Finn. If nothing else, I hope noble Lords will note that they have another person on the government side who is fully sighted on these issues.

The noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the amendment have once again underlined this important issue, but I hope they will accept why we believe this is not the appropriate Bill in which to pursue the regulation of psychotherapists and counsellors. I have no doubt that they will take the further opportunity to debate this issue soon in the context of Department of Health-led legislation and, moreover, as I have indicated, the issue of regulation can be considered afresh in the context of the forthcoming review of the regulation of healthcare professionals.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, spoke of a pathway. It may not have as many paving stones as noble Lords might wish but I hope that they can discern one, and that on that basis the noble Lord, Lord Marks, will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, it is late in the evening and I shall be brief. We have heard a detailed argument from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and my noble friend Lord Alderdice as to why this amendment fits so clearly within the ambit of the Bill. From my noble friend Lord Alderdice we also heard how close is the link between therapy and domestic abuse, and from all around the House we have heard how overdue this measure is and that it is not a recent problem that we are seeking to address.

It is also significant that this amendment attracts support from doctors and lawyers and Members of your Lordships’ House who are neither. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said how common and how wrong it is that bogus therapists can take advantage of their clients, causing them real harm. The noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, was one of many Peers who know families who have been victims of this abuse, and he also powerfully argued for an end to inaction on the part of government. My noble friend Lady Jolly was another, who described graphically the behaviour of these charlatans as unethical and without shame. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, described our case on the amendment as a powerful case for change and called for action. So let us, please, not miss yet another opportunity, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, put it. As the noble Baroness said, compulsory registration must sit alongside criminal sanctions, in just the way as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, pointed out. An offence of coercive control modelled on the Serious Crime Act may not be the only way to achieve it, but it is a good one.

Whatever form an amendment of the criminal law takes, the House and the Government know clearly what it is that we are trying to achieve. They really ought now to be implementing change, rather than closing the road to change. The Government need to get over the temptation to insist on drawing the distinction between what the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, described as the emotional and affectionate bond that characterises domestic abuse and the type of abuse that these charlatans and quacks perpetrate on their victims. It will be interesting to see whether the Government can move away from insisting on that distinction. I described it earlier as a precious distinction, but it is purist at best.

“Not this Bill, not now” is no answer to the suffering of victims. We need the Government to be prepared to say, “Yes, this Bill and now”. At the very least, if they cannot say that, “The very next Bill, and soon”. We will take such opportunities as we can to bring about change. I accept that there will be opportunities to come, as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, indicated, and they may well be in health-driven legislation. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment tonight, but we will be back seeking change in due course.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I first declare that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway housing association and a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd.

I am pleased to offer my support for Amendment 66B, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. As the noble Lord set out, victims of domestic abuse can often endure lifelong risk from perpetrators, even when a relationship comes to an end. The noble Lord is doing a good job of highlighting that, where victims want to get away from their perpetrators, the actions of some local authorities can make that difficult or impossible and that that should not be the case. The noble Lord has highlighted a very important issue.

I was delighted to add my name to Amendment 87C, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and if she is minded to divide the House, then these Benches will support her. In many ways, the amendment deals with the other side of the coin in respect of tenancies. Where a victim wants to stay in their home and a landlord is either the local authority or a private registered provider of social housing, the amendment would give the victim the power to apply to the county court for an order to remove the abuser as a joint tenant, and clearly sets out the approach the court must take.

Both these amendments are about enabling the victim to make the choice they want to, putting the power of choice in their hands—the choice that affords them and their children the protection they need and want. We all know that domestic abuse is all about power and control, and these amendments are about taking steps to address the balance and support victims, so that they can start rebuilding their lives. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, for his engagement on the issue; it is very much appreciated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, set out carefully why the option to wait and see what happens in Scotland is not particularly attractive to us. If we are going to accept the offer of consultation, we will need very clear timescales. I have raised many times before the whole range of government consultations that we never seem to get to the end of, so I do not think a consultation in itself is sufficient; we need very clear timescales. I will wait to hear the noble Lord’s response, but I repeat: if the noble Baroness wants to test the opinion of the House, then these Benches will support her.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, these two amendments deal with two separate aspects of housing law. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, asked why they have been glued together and why we could not take Amendment 66B with 66A. The simple reason is that it was tabled too late to do so, as my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge accepted in his speech on the previous day of Report, but I am very glad that we are able to take it as first business today, on the third day of Report, and pick up where we left off.

As my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge explained, his Amendment 66B seeks to prevent local authorities applying a local connection test to victims of domestic abuse when applying for social housing. Since 2012, local authorities have had the power to decide who qualifies for social housing in their area. Many local authorities use their qualification power to apply a local connection test to social housing, and statutory guidance published in 2013 generally encourages them to do so. However, the guidance also advises local authorities to consider making appropriate exceptions, including for people moving into an area to escape violence or harm. Additional statutory guidance was published in 2018 which strongly encourages authorities not to apply a local connection test to victims of domestic abuse who have escaped to a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation.

Despite this, as my noble friend pointed out, there is anecdotal evidence from the domestic abuse sector that some local authorities continue to disqualify victims of domestic abuse from social housing where they do not have a local connection. I understand and sympathise with the motivation underlying the amendment, which is to put that matter beyond doubt. However, the Government have some concerns with my noble friend’s amendment as drafted. A key concern is that the new clause it proposes would prevent a local authority considering the location of the abuser. We believe that that is an important consideration which the local authority should be able to take into account to ensure that the victim does not inadvertently end up living close to their abuser, which of course would undermine the purpose of the amendment and what my noble friend is seeking to achieve.

We have, however, listened carefully to and reflected on the points put forward by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge on the use of a local connection test. We want to make absolutely sure that victims and survivors of domestic abuse who need to move to another local authority area are not put at a disadvantage when seeking a social home. I am pleased to be able to give a commitment today that we will consult on regulations to prevent local authorities applying a local connection to victims of domestic abuse applying for social housing. The consultation will consider the scope of regulations and the circumstances in which the exemption would apply. We believe that this level of detail is best left to secondary legislation, and we have existing powers to make such regulations.

Consultation will provide the opportunity to engage with the domestic abuse sector, survivors and local authorities, to follow up on the anecdotal evidence which my noble friend has outlined, and to ensure that all their interests are considered and that the regulations achieve the desired aim of improving the protections for victims of domestic abuse.

Turning to Amendment 87C, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has explained, this seeks to allow victims of domestic abuse who have a joint social tenancy with their perpetrator to transfer the tenancy into their own name. It also seeks to prevent the perpetrator ending the tenancy unilaterally. I am grateful to the noble Baroness and other noble Lords for bringing this issue to our attention again, and for the constructive conversations and engagement that we have had on this issue since Committee. We recognise and are sympathetic to the concerns which lie behind this amendment. We understand that, in the case of domestic abuse, the rules on terminating periodic joint tenancies may have the potential for perpetrators to exert further control over their victims. The amendment is intended to address this problem and enable the survivor to remain in the family home.

The proposed new clause would apply to social tenancies—both local authority and housing association ones. Most social tenants have lifetime tenancies, meaning that the tenant cannot be evicted provided that they comply with the terms of the tenancy. For this reason, a social tenancy can be an extremely valuable asset. That is why we are including provisions in the Bill which seek to provide security of tenure for victims of domestic abuse who have a lifetime tenancy and are granted a new tenancy by a local authority for reasons connected to that abuse.

Currently, where any joint tenant of a periodic tenancy serves a notice to quit, the law provides that the whole tenancy ends and that the landlord can seek possession of the property. This is a long-standing rule, established through case law and recently upheld by the Supreme Court in the 2014 case of Sims v Dacorum Borough Council. The rule seeks to balance the interests of each joint tenant as well as those of the landlord. This means that if a victim of domestic abuse has a joint tenancy with the perpetrator and has fled their home to escape abuse, they would be able to end the tenancy to ensure that they are no longer bound to a tenancy with their abuser.

When we debated this issue in Committee, I explained that the Government had several concerns with the amendment that had been tabled. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and all the other noble Lords who have spoken today for meeting me to discuss those concerns in greater detail with officials—I thank them too for their time and work on this. I note that the new amendment seeks to address some of the concerns that we outlined and discussed. In particular, the amendment now provides for notice of the application to be given to the perpetrator, the landlord and any other tenant. In addition, it deals with the issue of joint and several liability by providing that the perpetrator remains responsible for any rent arrears or other liabilities accrued before the court order for transfer is made.

However, we continue to have some concerns about the amendment, even as redrafted. It cuts across a number of long-established principles of common law—for instance the principle that an individual cannot be “removed” from the joint tenancy or cannot relinquish their share, as well as the rule on the termination of periodic joint tenancies, which I mentioned a moment ago. Given that these rules have wider application, we believe that it is important that any changes be considered in the round.

The amendment would introduce some new concepts to an already complex area involving not just common law, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, mentioned, but housing law, contract law, family law, and matrimonial law. The history of litigation in the field of housing in particular means that we would want to consider very carefully the introduction of concepts of removal from a tenancy and a tenancy continuing as if one joint tenant had never been a party to it in order to think through the possible implications fully. I hope noble Lords will understand how important it is that any changes do not have unintended consequences in this complex area of legislation.

A key concern is that the amendment still fails to provide for how the interest of third parties might be taken into account by the court, including the landlord, any other joint tenant, or any dependent children. It is for landlords to decide whether to grant a tenancy for their property and on what basis. They may decide to grant a joint tenancy for a number of reasons, including affordability and because joint tenants are jointly and severally liable for paying rent or looking after the property. However, the amendment would mean that the number of tenants could be changed without consideration or consent from the landlord as the owner of the property.

We absolutely concur that it is essential for survivors of domestic abuse to have access to a safe and stable home. However, social landlords have to balance difficult decisions. In some cases where a property may no longer be suitable, or indeed safe, for a survivor to remain it might be more appropriate for a social landlord to offer a survivor of domestic abuse a tenancy on a different property.

In addition, the amendment could result in interference with a housing association landlord’s own rights under human rights law. Since this engages other parties’ human rights, including those of the perpetrator, we need to carefully consider the right approach to balance those rights, and to ensure that any interference is proportionate and justified. We also have some concerns about whether the proposals are sufficient for the purposes of the perpetrator’s Article 8 right to respect for home and family life. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the victim’s rights should be uppermost in our minds, but these are considerations that a court must take into account in possession proceedings. In addition, the requirement for the court to make an order “if not opposed” is unusual.

We have listened carefully to and reflected on the points raised by this amendment and during our previous debates. We want to consider the different issues and interests carefully, including the human rights case law that the noble Baroness mentioned, to ensure that any solution has the intended outcomes for all parties concerned. That is why I am pleased to give a further commitment today, as I did in my letter to noble Lords, that we will carry out a public consultation on this issue to help us better understand the complex legal and practical issues involved. Consultation will provide the opportunity to engage with the domestic abuse sector, survivors and victims, and local authorities to ensure that their interests are all considered, and that any changes to the law achieve the desired aim of improving protections for victims of domestic abuse.

The public consultation would also allow us to consider other solutions that have been put forward to this problem. For example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham mentioned, the Scottish domestic abuse Bill seeks to introduce a new ground for eviction that would enable social landlords to remove the perpetrator of domestic abuse from the property and transfer it into the survivor’s name. That has not yet been enacted by the Scottish Parliament, but if and when it is we will want to see how it works, albeit that I acknowledge the point correctly put by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, about doing that swiftly.

I understand that noble Lords will be concerned about the extra time that this consultation will take, so I will say something about timing. We would seek to issue the consultation this summer, following Royal Assent to the Bill. We would expect to carry out a standard 12-week consultation to allow for proper consideration of these complex issues, then consider the responses and publish a government response as soon as possible in the new year. Thereafter, we would seek to legislate, if appropriate, at the earliest available opportunity. I am happy to provide that answer.

I hope that provides sufficient reassurance to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on how seriously we take these issues. We are committed to consult on both of them and to take forward the outcome of those consultations as soon as practicable thereafter. I hope that, having given those commitments, they will be content not to press their amendments.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I make it clear at the outset that, if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House, the Opposition Benches will strongly support her amendment. The amendment calls for the Secretary of State to ensure that the personal data of a victim of domestic abuse in the UK is processed only

“for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance related to domestic abuse”

and not for immigration control.

Government policy is clear: victims of crime should be treated without discrimination. Therefore, the separation of immigration enforcement and protection of domestic abuse victims who are migrant women must be delineated. A failure to do this puts migrant women at risk of the double jeopardy of both danger from their abusers and fear of deportation.

The Istanbul convention, the landmark international treaty on violence against women and girls which the Government have signed and are committed to ratifying, requires in Articles 4 and 59 that victims are protected regardless of their immigration status. Still, FOI requests reveal that 60% of police forces in England and Wales share victims’ details with the Home Office—prioritising immigration control over victims’ safety and access to justice.

While some services may need to share data to ascertain an individual’s immigration status and right to access the service—for example, some NHS services—there is no legal requirement for any data sharing with the Home Office related to domestic abuse victims. Without any national policy guidance on this practice, the police approach to safeguarding migrant victims of crime will remain inconsistent.

The blind spots contained in this Bill are resolved by this amendment. I fear that this blind spot enables offenders and abusers to use police involvement as a threat to their victims, rather than the source of protection that it should be. Various countries around the world have demonstrated that firewalls can be and are being implemented in different ways to create a separation between public services and immigration enforcement. It is entirely possible that the training and cross-sector relationships we are calling for through this Bill can establish safe reporting pathways that include access to specialist support services and legal advice to address a victim’s immigration status, as necessary.

Another consequence of putting immigration control above the safety of victims is that perpetrators can commit these crimes with impunity—a risk not only for survivors but for wider communities. Better trust in the police to protect victims of abuse and investigate crime for migrant women will improve responses for all survivors and the public.

I challenge the Government to establish safe reporting pathways by incorporating a clear statutory obligation preventing public authorities and other support services sharing data with the Home Office for the purpose of immigration control, to ensure that safe reporting is available to all women, regardless of their immigration status.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the other signatories of this amendment for setting out their case for a firewall so that the personal data of domestic abuse victims which are given or used for seeking or receiving support are not used for immigration control purposes. I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss the issue with the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Wilcox of Newport, and others after Committee.

While I appreciate the case they are making, the Government remain of the view that what is provided for in Amendment 67 would hinder the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse and that it is premature given the process set out by the policing inspectorate following its report on the recent super-complaint about this.

I fully understand the sentiment behind the amendment, which is to ensure that migrant victims of domestic abuse come forward to report that abuse to the police and are not deterred by concerns that immigration enforcement action might be taken against them. As my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford made clear in Committee, our overriding priority is to protect the public and all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status. Guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which was updated last year, makes it clear that victims of domestic abuse should be treated as victims first and foremost.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council remains clear in its view that information sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement is in the interest of the victim. Sharing information can help prevent perpetrators of abuse coercing and controlling their victims because of their insecure or unknown immigration status. In such circumstances, bringing the victim into the immigration system can only benefit them. This amendment would prevent that and could cut against other assistance that can be provided to domestic abuse survivors.

It might assist the House if I give one example of the possible unintended effects of this amendment. We will shortly be debating Amendment 70 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. That amendment seeks to expand the destitute domestic violence concession so that any migrant victim of domestic abuse can apply for temporary leave to remain while making an application for indefinite leave to remain. I will leave the debate about the merits of Amendment 70 to my noble friend and the debate which will follow. For the purposes of this debate, I submit that an application under the destitute domestic violence concession is, in the words of Amendment 67, a request for

“support or assistance related to domestic abuse”.

Under this amendment, the Home Office could not lawfully process any application under the DDVC because the applicant’s personal data could be used for an immigration control purpose. I fully accept that that is not what the sponsors of this amendment have in mind but, were it to be added to the Bill, I fear that would be one effect.

More broadly, I hope that noble Lords will understand that the Government are duty-bound to maintain an effective immigration system, not least because of their obligations under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which permits the Home Office to share and receive information for the purposes of crime prevention and detection and effective immigration control. As such, it was particularly disappointing to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, say that the Labour Benches would vote in favour of this amendment, were it put to a Division. We have an obligation to protect our public services and to safeguard the most vulnerable people from exploitation because of their immigration status.

The public rightly expect that people in this country should be subject to our laws, and it is right that, when people with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come in line with the law and, where possible, to regularise their stay. Immigration enforcement staff routinely help migrant victims of domestic abuse and other crimes by directing them to legal advice to help regularise their stay.

Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 provide the statutory framework within which this information is exchanged. I remind noble Lords that the Government are committed to reviewing the current data-sharing arrangements in relation to victims of domestic abuse.

It was not very long ago that, in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, your Lordships’ House approved legislation establishing a system of police super-complaints. The first super-complaint to be considered under this new system was on this very issue. The outcome was published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in December 2020. It made eight recommendations in total: five for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, two for the Home Office and one jointly shared between them. HMICFRS said that the Government should respond within six months—that is, by June—and we are committed to doing just that. However, having legislated for the super-complaint process, we should not now undermine it by not allowing it to run its proper course.

It is only right that we take account of the recommendations in the report in proper detail. In response to the report, we have committed to reviewing the current arrangements, and, as I have said, we will publish the outcome of the review by June. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London lamented the fact that this would be too late for this Bill, but I reassure her that it is highly probably that the outcome of the review can be implemented through further updates to the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance or other administrative means—so action can be taken swiftly.

We understand the concerns that have been raised about migrant victims who do not feel safe in reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has proposed undertaking further research into the experiences of this cohort of victims, which we are committed to doing. We will engage with domestic abuse organisations to understand those concerns and assess what more we can do to allay those fears. We welcome the input of all noble Lords as we conduct this research.

In conclusion, while we understand the concerns that lie behind it, we respectfully believe that this is the wrong amendment and at the wrong time. If adopted, it would prevent victims of abuse from obtaining the support that they need, whether under the DDVC or other routes, and it prejudges the outcome of the super-complaint process, which was endorsed by your Lordships’ House just four years ago. I would be glad to undertake to keep the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and others informed about the progress of the review and to discuss its conclusions with them. On that basis, I hope that they might yet be willing to withdraw their amendment today.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank most of all the many noble Lords who have contributed so powerfully in support of Amendment 67. I also thank the Minister for his response, but I do not accept at all his view that it would reduce the support or protection for victims of domestic abuse. It very clearly talks about the information process

“for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance”.

Obviously, that information being passed from the police to the immigration officials would be unacceptable under this amendment. On the other hand, if the victim were to go to the immigration officials with a representative and with their information, saying, “I want you to sort out my immigration status”, the immigration officials could of course proceed absolutely without any problem. As such, this is a bit of dancing on a pin, if I may put it that way. Basically, I do not accept that at all.

The Minister referred to working to allay the fears of victims of domestic abuse. This is not about allaying fears; it is about removing a very real risk for these very vulnerable victims of domestic abuse. As such, simply trying to allay fears really does not deal with the problem at all.

The Minister suggested keeping us informed; certainly, that would be helpful, and I hope that Ministers would do that. However, in view of the very disappointing response of the Minister, I want to test the opinion of the House.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for her commitment on this issue—a commitment that all speakers in the debate share. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, all Peers who have spoken have acknowledged the link between pornography and violence against women.

Of course, we strongly agree that there needs to be a mechanism to prevent children accessing pornographic material. We also believe that the Government have failed to show leadership on that matter and have dragged their feet. They should already have brought the online harms Bill forward.

As Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act was going through, we in the Labour Party criticised it as inadequate because it failed to focus on where some of the most serious harm was caused—for example, by not tackling social media sufficiently. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also made that point.

My understanding is that we now have a timeline for the online harms Bill, with pre-legislative scrutiny expected immediately after the Queen’s Speech—before the Summer Recess—and that Second Reading would be expected after the Summer Recess. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that my understanding of the timetable is correct.

We think that there are real inadequacies in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, and that the best way to deal with this matter is in full, and as a priority, in the online harms Bill. That will give time for the Commons to consider the amendments to this Bill that we have already sent back to it, including the supervision of dangerous perpetrators, ensuring that all women have access to life-saving services, and ensuring that child contact centres are regulated to protect our children.

I freely acknowledge that the decision we have taken to abstain on this matter has been a difficult one—but I think it would be wrong to give a misleading sense of certainty by passing this amendment, when that certainty is not merited by the Digital Economy Act. For that reason, we shall abstain on this vote.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, outlined on Monday when we began this debate, her Amendment 87A would require the Government to undertake an investigation of the impact of children’s access to online pornography on domestic abuse, and to review the commencement of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017.

Her Majesty’s Government are committed to ensuring that the objectives of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act will be delivered by the online harms framework. Children will be at the heart of our new online safety Bill, which will bring in a new era of accountability for online services. I am afraid I cannot comment on the timings that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about, as announcements about the Queen’s Speech and other things have not yet been made. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord on that.

We are confident that the online safety Bill will provide much greater protection for children than would have been the case with Part 3 of the 2017 Act. Unlike that Act, the online harms regime will capture both the most visited pornography sites and pornography on social media, thereby covering the vast majority of sites where children are most likely to be exposed to pornography.

One of the criticisms of the 2017 Act was that its scope did not cover social media companies, where a considerable quantity of pornographic material is available to children. Research by the British Board of Film Classification published last year found that across a group of children aged between 11 and 17, 44% intentionally accessed pornography via a social media site, compared to 43% for dedicated pornography websites and 53% via an image or video search engine.

Crucially, however, just 7% of children accessed pornography only through dedicated pornography sites. Most children intentionally accessing pornography were doing so across a number of sources, including social media, as well as video-sharing platforms, fora, and via image or video search engines, the majority of which would not fall within scope of the Digital Economy Act, but will fall within the scope of online harms legislation.

Implementing Part 3 of the 2017 Act would therefore leave a significant gap in meeting the Government’s objective of preventing children from accessing pornography —an objective that has also been raised by noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. Our online harms proposals will achieve a more comprehensive approach and allow us to address children’s access to pornography in the round, and avoid children moving from one, more regulated, area of the internet to another, less regulated, area to access pornography.

In addition, recent technological changes could render Part 3 of the 2017 Act ineffective in protecting children if it were introduced as an interim measure. One of the Act’s enforcement powers was the power to require internet service providers to block access to material on non-compliant services. Internet service providers themselves have made it clear that they are no longer the sole gatekeepers to the internet. Current and future developments in the way the architecture of the internet functions mean that they may not always be able to offer effective blocking functions, which might make this power obsolete. These potential enforcement challenges could make age-verification very difficult to enforce via the 2017 Act, even as an interim measure.

The most recent prominent change is the introduction of DNS over HTTPS—that is a bit of a mouthful; it is also known as DoH—which, in specific implementation models, could provide an alternative route to access online content that bypasses the current filtering function of internet service providers. Other proposed internet encryption standards may in future limit even further the ability of providers to filter. The Government are actively engaging with the industry to ensure that the spread of DoH and future internet encryption standards do not cause unintended consequences. For example, specific implementation models of DoH could circumnavigate the current filtering mechanisms of internet service providers, which are used to block access to child abuse content.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Belmont, raised the definition of internet service providers in the Digital Economy Act. A reference in legislation to internet service providers or similar is usually applied in the traditional sense, requiring the major internet service providers to block access to certain websites. The Secretary of State would have to prepare revised guidance to the regulator to implement Part 3 of the 2017 Act. As the noble Lord has said, this guidance, coupled with the broader terminology of an “internet access service”, as used in European Union legislation, might offer sufficient flexibility to extend the duty for internet service providers to cover other means of accessing the internet, where technically feasible. However, the key point that my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford set out in her letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, was that, given the evolving nature of how internet services are provided, this approach lacks the necessary certainty.

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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?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that my noble friend in her letter, and I in my contribution, explained the reasons why we think it would take so long, because it has been de-designated. As the noble Lord will know, work is already going on in relation to Ofcom in preparation for the online safety Bill which, for the reasons I have outlined, we think better addresses the concerns that he and other noble Lords have raised in this debate.

Lord Morrow Portrait Lord Morrow (DUP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My question is quite similar. Why is it more important not to have the BBFC and leave women and children with no protection at all for three years? As has already been said, if you used the BBFC, it would just take over three months to have that.

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Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I hope that in my contribution I covered the points about the role that Ofcom can and will play in the new online harms framework, including the point I made at the end of my speech about the enforcement action that it will be able to take, not just in the UK but overseas as well.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

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If noble Lords or Members of the other place do not think we should wait for the Law Commission’s report, there is an imminent legislative opportunity to make sure that hatred of women is treated in every way as a hate crime. We could work cross-party to amend the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is being debated in the Commons, to make misogyny a hate crime in every sense of the term. Even if the noble Baroness is not convinced by the Government’s concession, we do not need to rush this amendment through now when the ideal legislative opportunity is at our fingertips.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, we are clearly not going to finish our scrutiny of this Bill before 6 pm, which is the time on the Order Paper suggested for the Statement which follows. Given that there is quite a lot of business still to get through, I gently appeal to noble Lords for brevity in their contributions.

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Moved by
89: Clause 73, page 58, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) section (Strangulation or suffocation),”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the proposed new Clause in the name of Baroness Newlove that provides for an offence of strangulation or suffocation.
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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The speech, language and communication needs of victims of domestic abuse have to be properly addressed. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for bringing this issue to the Floor of the House, as he did in Committee. He is absolutely right to do so.

The noble Lord’s amendment is important. If we are to have effective domestic abuse support for disabled people, it must be barrier-free and truly accessible. As the noble Lord told us, the ability to communicate is a vital skill. Those with communication difficulties are particularly vulnerable, which is why we need to ensure that local authorities, the police and all other agencies are able to address and ensure that they have provisions in place to make sure that people can make their points effectively and be understood, having their concerns met and needs addressed.

Today and in our previous debate, my noble friend Lady Andrews made the case for providing that extra support and ensuring that it is properly addressed in the guidance. I endorse my noble friend’s call for the guidance to be explicit, and I hope that the Minister can be absolutely explicit on that. The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, drew our attention to the needs of disabled people, which can be multiple and complex, and how effective communication plays such an important part, including the ability to communicate to public authorities. As the noble Lord said, just think if we could not communicate—how could we get anything done? It is not right that a victim of abuse is not listened to or heard.

My noble friend Lord Mann made very important points from his experience as a Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw of failings of schools and the social services in north Notts. I am sure that those failures are going to take place all over the country, and that is just one example. That is why we need to ensure that those issues are addressed. My noble friend Lady Whitaker drew attention to the particular risk that children find themselves in.

I hope that the Minister can address those issues; I am sure that he will be very aware of the potential of a vote on this amendment. He will not want to tempt the noble Lord to do that.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short but powerful debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said in opening it, noble Lords bring a wealth of experience to the scrutiny of Bills and, in a short number of contributions, they have done that tonight—whether it is the noble Lord himself through his work as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her role as chairman of the National Mental Capacity Forum or my noble friend Lord Shinkwin and the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, who speak from first-hand experience. Then there is the noble Lord, Lord Mann, with his constituency experience, and others. The noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, reminded us that she speaks as a stammerer, just like the new President of the United States of America—and, as it is his birthday today, like my uncle, who is also a stammerer. I hope that people watching this debate will be inspired by their examples as well as by the content of what they have said.

As noble Lords have all rightly said, people with speech, language and communication needs can be especially at risk of harm and, of course, domestic abuse, as well as facing additional barriers in accessing services. As we said in Committee, we know that this is not a niche issue, nor should it be treated as such, especially in the context of domestic abuse, so we are grateful for the opportunity to continue the debate today.

In July 2020, the Government published the draft statutory guidance that will accompany the Bill, which made specific reference to special educational needs and disabilities. The Government have engaged widely on this already, including through a specific working group focusing on disability, deafness, and learning disabilities. I am pleased to say that, thanks to that engagement and the further engagement that we have had, including that which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has had directly with officials involved in drafting, we will revise the guidance to make further express reference to speech, language and communication needs, in relation to not just those with special educational needs but the links between domestic abuse and those with communication needs, specifically children and young people. I am pleased to say that we will cover the points on which noble Lords have rightly pressed me again this evening.

We recognise the impact that domestic abuse can have on the development of children’s speech and communication. We know that children can express themselves in a variety of ways, and it is important, as noble Lords have said, that we are all mindful of that —especially in the context of domestic abuse. For instance, children may display behaviour that might seem aggressive to mainstream professionals when, really, their communication needs are not being tailored appropriately. We are very clear that it is important that we give children and young people the right support as and when they need it because of their vulnerabilities. That is why the guidance issued under Clause 73 includes specific sections on children and how best to support what we know can be their unique needs.

We know that domestic abuse has a devastating impact on all its victims, and that recognising the needs of individual victims is essential, which is why the statutory guidance goes into this particular detail. The guidance also details how perpetrators can exploit these communication needs and requirements. Whether it is through a perpetrator insisting that they are the only person to interpret, preventing access to an external interpreter or removing the victim’s hearing aids, these are horrific tactics, which we know are used to perpetuate abuse, and they will be covered in the guidance.

The Government continue to prioritise improving speech and language outcomes, based on early identification and targeted support. I have previously referred to Public Health England’s excellent guidance, drafted in conjunction with the Department for Education. The guidance outlines the system-wide approach for commissioning early years support on speech, language and communication services. Additionally, speech, language and communication services for children and young people are covered by joint commissioning arrangements set out in the special educational needs and disabilities code of practice. Education, health services, local authorities and youth offending teams can come together to assess needs and agree a local offer. Joint commissioning gives agencies the opportunity to consider the wider factors and interdependencies, such as domestic abuse, and design services accordingly.

In conclusion, we recognise that speech, language and communication needs are extremely important, which is why they will be expressly covered in guidance. There is a wealth of guidance already available, and we intend to augment this with the statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 73. That guidance will be subject to formal consultation following Royal Assent, and I shall ensure that the all-party group which the noble Lord jointly chairs has an opportunity to take part in that process. The forthcoming domestic abuse strategy will afford a further opportunity for us to ensure that we are adopting a whole-system approach when tackling this crime and these unique needs.

I hope that in the light of my reassurances and with my renewed thanks for his and other noble Lords’ engagement on this important issue, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

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Moved by
94: Clause 74, page 59, line 23, after “section” insert “(Threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress) or”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the proposed new Clause in the name of Baroness Morgan of Cotes, which extends the offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films.
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Moved by
97: Clause 75, page 59, line 35, after “section” insert “(Threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress) or”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the proposed new Clause in the name of Baroness Morgan of Cotes, which extends the offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films.
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Moved by
103: Clause 79, page 61, line 23, after “Sections” insert “(Threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress),”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the proposed new clause in the name of Baroness Morgan of Cotes, which extends the offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films, to come into force two months after Royal Assent.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Excerpts
Moved by
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
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That this House do not insist on its Amendment 9B, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 9C, 9D and 9E in lieu.

9C: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Contact centres
Report on the use of contact centres in England
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals, when they are using contact centres in England, are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm.
(2) “The relevant period” means the period of 2 years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(3) In this section “contact centre” means a place that is used for the facilitation of contact between a child and an individual with whom the child is not, or will not be, living (including the handover of the child to that individual).”
9E: Page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Report on the use of contact centres in England);”
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar much regrets that he is not able to move this Motion himself; he is giving evidence to the Justice Select Committee in another place. As I am sure noble Lords will appreciate, this is another important part of his work and accountability to Parliament. He is very grateful to noble Lords who have engaged with him on this issue since our last debates on the matter.

Since then, the elected House has disagreed with Amendment 9B—as it did with the previous Amendment 9 —by a significant majority of 133. Noble Lords will recall that Amendment 9B would require the Government to introduce a set of national standards for child contact centres and services to which organisations and individuals would be required to adhere. This would, in effect, be a form of indirect accreditation which the previous Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and debated on Report, explicitly sought to establish.

When we debated Amendment 9B last Wednesday, my noble friend Lord Wolfson was very clear that there is nothing between the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and other noble Lords who have supported these amendments, and the Government when it comes to our commitment to the protection of vulnerable children and the victims of domestic abuse. These are absolute priorities for Her Majesty’s Government. That is why we have listened intently during the passage of this Bill to the arguments made both in your Lordships’ House and in another place and have acted to strengthen the Bill in a significant number of ways. That is also why we have established the expert panel on harm in the family courts, and why we are now acting on its recommendations better to protect domestic abuse victims in the family courts. Where we have been persuaded of the case for change, we have acted, and will continue to act, in the interests of victims.

In this instance, the problem we face is one of evidence, as we have stressed previously. We have explained in detail the safeguards that are in place in relation to child contact centres and services in both public and private law and the steps that are being taken with the President of the Family Division and the chief executive of Cafcass to reinforce existing expectations. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for not repeating the detail of those safeguards again on this occasion, as I hope my noble friend has covered them in adequate detail previously and I believe that our time would be better served by outlining the steps the Government now propose to take.

As I say, my noble friend is very grateful for the constructive way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and other noble Lords have engaged with him and others on this matter. We are also grateful for the evidence provided to the NACCC in support of Amendments 9 and 9B. While we remain of the view that the evidence provided so far is insufficiently robust to justify new statutory requirements, we are also keenly aware of the limited time which has been available to investigate this matter systematically in order to build a more convincing evidence base—a point made last week by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in her concluding remarks.

We are also drawn heavily towards the comments made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh last Wednesday, when she suggested that the Government might investigate the evidence available themselves rather than the NACCC which, as she rightly said, should focus its efforts on the protection of children. We agree. We accept that if there is a demonstrable problem here, the risks to children are real. But if a demonstrable problem does exist, we would also need to understand fully how prevalent it is and how it manifests itself in order to understand how we can address it effectively and proportionately. Without this research, any measures seeking to address the perceived problem may not be effective and may have unintended consequences. It is for this reason that the Government have tabled their Amendments 9C to 9E, which were agreed by another place yesterday, in lieu of Amendment 9B.

Amendment 9C would place a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals are protected from the risk of domestic abuse when they use a contact centre or, in the case of children, other harms. The amendment draws the definition of a “contact centre” widely to include any place used to facilitate contact between a child and an individual with whom they do not or will not live. The scope of the amendment goes beyond a formal child contact centre accredited by the NACCC to include more informal arrangements, in order to address the issues at the centre of noble Lords’ concerns.

The amendment requires that the results of the review be published within two years of the Bill being passed. I want to make it categorically clear that this timescale, which some might argue is too long, does not mean that the Government are not serious about this review. It is already clear that it is not easy to gather evidence in this area, and it is important that we take time to investigate thoroughly in order to reach meaningful and robust conclusions. We will proceed with the review as quickly as possible after Royal Assent and publish its findings. I also give the Government’s commitment to act appropriately in response to those findings.

I am sure that noble Lords will understand that, before the review is launched, there is more work to do on establishing its precise terms of reference, scope and exact timescales. We will want to consult with experts in this area—including, for example, the NACCC, the judiciary, Cafcass, local government and victims’ groups—before reaching final decisions on these points.

However, I reassure your Lordships, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh, that the scope will be sufficiently broad to cover both private and public law and circumstances where parents may decide to approach those providing child contact services outside court proceedings. It will also include an external consultation to gather information from key parties.

I repeat the commitment my noble friend Lord Wolfson gave in our debate on 21 April: that we are ready to explore, as part of the review, whether there is a case for ensuring that appropriate arrangements are in place whereby anyone who seeks to set themselves up as a provider of child contact centres would be subject to criminal record checks. Indeed, the Home Office and Ministry of Justice are already exploring the feasibility of extending eligibility for higher-level criminal record checks to the self-employed.

In developing the terms of the review, I also commit explicitly to engaging further with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh. The Government would welcome the noble Baronesses’ input in establishing the review, given their commitment and interest in this area, and I am sure that they will have valuable evidence to contribute—all the more so, given the additional time that the review will afford.

In conclusion, I hope your Lordships’ House will agree that in bringing forward our amendments in lieu, the Government have shown their commitment to giving this important issue the detailed consideration it deserves. We can build a robust evidence base concerning the scale of any problem with regulating those providing child contact centres, so that we can reach a fully informed decision on any further steps which may be necessary. I put on record again our appreciation of the dedication shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh on this subject. I ask them and the rest of your Lordships’ House to accept the Commons amendments in lieu and to agree Motion A. I beg to move.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 9C and its consequential Amendments 9D and 9E, which the Government have tabled in place of my original Amendments 9 and 9B, which had support across this House.

I am most grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, who has met with me and colleagues across the House and spoken with us on several occasions about this issue. He clearly has listened to our concerns. We are of course disappointed that our amendments have not been accepted but appreciate that this is such an important Bill that we must not jeopardise its passage at this stage in the Session. I have the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, ringing in my ears from an earlier meeting at which she expressed just this fear.

I have three questions for the Minister. First, can he confirm that the term “contact centre” means the people who work in a place or use a place for facilitating contact between a child and the person they are not living with? A place could be an empty building or open parkland. It is the way that a place is used by people that matters—and it was the people involved who were the subject of my Amendment 9B.

Secondly, can the Minister confirm that the spirit of Amendment 9B is encapsulated in proposed new subsection (1) of the government amendment, where it is stipulated that a report must explicitly tackle the extent to which individuals are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm. All we have asked is that, as outlined by Sir James Munby in his statement in support of our previous amendment, the

“standards in child contact centres and services are consistent and high, and domestic abuse and safeguarding is appropriately handled through high quality staff training to protect those children and families who find themselves involved with the family justice system.”

These vulnerable children must have the same standard of safeguarding as other children, such as those going to childminders, those in nurseries and those aged 16 to 19 in education.

Thirdly, can the Minister confirm that the judicial protocol on child contact will be actively promoted across all family courts to ensure that it is properly used in practice?

Jess Phillips MP, shadow Minister with responsibility for domestic violence and safeguarding, recounted in the other place yesterday that she has heard of case after case where there is poor practice, bad handovers and perpetrators can access victims. Now, all this evidence must be gathered in one place. It must be clear and publicised to whom such evidence is to be addressed, as some people reporting may feel intimidated at drawing attention to a problem, particularly in small and somewhat closed communities.

All those involved in this debate will, I am sure, be entering a date in our diaries two years hence when we expect the report to be published. We all hope sincerely that no disasters will happen between now and then. We all believe that there is a loophole that must be closed. Let me be clear: I welcome the proposed investigation by the Secretary of State and greatly appreciate all the work the Minister has put into this to date. In the meantime, we appreciate the government Amendments 9C to 9E.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I too pay tribute to the tenacity of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady McIntosh of Pickering. Although I have experience in the family courts and was aware of the child contact centres, I was not as well briefed on this issue as I am now, given the noble Baronesses’ backgrounds on this matter, particularly the legislative history of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.

I should also pay fulsome tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, who is relatively new to our House. We met him a number of times; he has properly engaged on the issues and expressed scepticism, which is sometimes helpful to people moving amendments. He has come up with a solution. Although, as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, said, it may fall short of what we were hoping for, it nevertheless provides a road ahead for addressing the concerns that he expressed. He has potentially come up with a proper solution for the various loopholes in the child contact centre system, if I can put it like that.

As the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, said in his introduction, the Government’s problem was one of evidence. As we repeated in numerous meetings, it is very difficult to get evidence of contact centres that come and go, perhaps operating in particular communities and essentially functioning under the radar. I am glad that the Government appreciated that point to the extent that they are willing to take on the responsibility of seeing whether this is a real problem and whether appropriate measures can be put in place to protect children who go to these child contact centres.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked three good questions for the Minister to answer. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, went on to quote Sir James Munby’s support for the earlier amendments. Sir James Munby has unequalled experience in these matters, so the Government should listen to what he says.

In conclusion, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and I have sat on a lot of committees together over the last couple of years and she has always been sensible in her support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady McIntosh. As she said, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, accepts the Government’s amendments and that we continue to work together for the next couple of years to ensure that the Government follow through on their promise to review the existing provision.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank and agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh for their tenacity in pursuing this issue in the interests of vulnerable children. We have all been mindful of that throughout these discussions and are grateful to them. I am also grateful to noble Lords for their tributes to my noble friend Lord Wolfson. I will pass on their thanks and appreciation, and I know that he would have liked to have been here to see the conclusion of this important matter. But I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for saying that my noble friend went the extra mile. That has been the Government’s approach to the Bill throughout and, even those provisions that will not be in the Bill have launched some important work, which will continue to bear fruit and help victims of domestic abuse, whether legislatively or not.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked three questions on which I hope I can provide reassurance. Her first was about whether contact centres mean the people who work in the place. Yes, we are going to review the way that a place is used, rather than a building, which may be empty. Her second was about the spirit of the amendment. Again, yes, we want to build an evidence base through the review that assesses the need for regulation, along the lines that the noble Baroness proposed. Her third was about promoting the judicial protocol. That protocol is being updated and will be communicated by the judiciary, not Her Majesty’s Government. That will provide an opportunity for its promotion but, as I am sure she and other noble Lords understand, that is a matter for the judiciary.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh asked some questions about the review. As I say, we want to establish a robust evidence base about the scale of the problem, so that we reach a fully informed decision about any further steps necessary. We would welcome her input and that of others into establishing the terms of the review. We will also be engaging the judiciary, among others, so the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about Sir James Munby is well heard.

That has answered all the questions raised. Again, we are very grateful to all noble Lords for their engagement on this and hope that it is a sensible resolution. I hope that noble Lords support Motion A.

Motion A agreed.
Moved by
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay
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That this House do not insist on its Amendments 40B and 40C, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 40D, 40E, 40F, 40G, 40H, 40J and 40K in lieu.

40D: Page 57, line 36, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Data processing for immigration purposes
Review of processing of victims’ personal data for immigration purposes
(1) The Secretary of State must before the end of the relevant period—
(a) review the processing of domestic abuse data carried out by specified public authorities for immigration purposes,
(b) prepare and publish a report setting out the findings of the review, and
(c) lay a copy of the report before Parliament.
(2) In carrying out the review, the Secretary of State must have regard to the recommendations of the HMIC Report.
(3) In subsection (1), the “relevant period” means the period beginning with the day on which this section comes into force and ending with 30 June 2021 (but see subsection (4)).
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations extend the relevant period by a further period of up to 6 months.
(5) The power conferred by subsection (4) may be exercised only once.
(6) In this section—
“domestic abuse data” means personal data obtained for the purposes of, or in connection with, the provision of support in relation to domestic abuse to victims of domestic abuse or their children;
“the HMIC Report” means the report on Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ super-complaint on policing and immigration status published by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary on 17 December 2020;
“immigration purposes” means the purposes of—
(a) the maintenance of effective immigration control, or
(b) the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control;
“immigration officer” means a person appointed as an immigration officer under paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971;
“personal data” has the meaning given by section 3(2) of the Data Protection Act 2018;
“processing” has the meaning given by section 3(4) of that Act; “specified public authority” means—
(a) a chief officer of police of a police force maintained for a police area in England and Wales;
(b) the chief constable of the Police Service of Scotland;
(c) the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland;
(d) the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Force;
(e) the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence Police;
(f) an immigration officer or other official of the Secretary of State exercising functions in relation to immigration or asylum.”
--- Later in debate ---
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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Noble Lords are aware that Amendment 40B seeks to create a data-sharing firewall, so that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purposes of their seeking or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes. Amendment 40C introduces a conditional commencement procedure, so that the firewall comes into force only once the review into current data-sharing procedures has been completed and following a vote in both Houses.

While I appreciate the case that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and other noble Lords have been making, the Government remain of the view that Amendments 40B and 40C are premature, pending the outcome of the review of the current data-sharing arrangements, as recommended by the policing inspectorate following its December report on the super-complaint from Liberty and Southall Black Sisters.

In an effort to meet the noble Baroness half way, the Government tabled Amendments 40D, 40E, 40F, 40G, 40H, 40J and 40K in lieu to which the Commons has agreed. Amendment 40D places our review of data-sharing arrangements on to a statutory footing, with a duty to lay a report before Parliament on the outcome of the review by 30 June, a little over two months away.

In addition, Amendment 40E confers a power on the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration control purposes by specified public authorities. Persons to whom the code is issued, notably the police and Home Office immigration staff, would be required to have regard to that code. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that although the new clause provides for a power rather than imposes a duty to issue a code, it is the Government’s firm intention to issue such a code, following the completion of the review. Noble Lords will note too that Amendment E also places an obligation on the Secretary of State to consult the domestic abuse commissioner, the Information Commissioner and others before issuing the code.

We are on track to publish the outcome of our review by the end of June. As part of our review, we have given a commitment to engage with domestic abuse sector organisations and the domestic abuse commissioner to better understand concerns about why migrant victims might not feel safe in reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. We have tabled amendments, now agreed by another place, to place the review on to a statutory footing and to provide for a statutory code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.

I hope noble Lords will see that we have listened and acted. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the whole of your Lordships’ House to support Motion B.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I shall respond to the Minister and the Government’s amendment on the safe reporting of crimes by domestic abuse victims who have uncertain immigration status. I am very grateful to our Ministers for their sympathetic handling of this Bill and for the incredibly helpful meetings that we have had with all of them in previous weeks, and to the Government for tabling the compromise amendment. Of course, it does not achieve the reassurance that we sought with our original amendment, but it paves a way forward that could help these most vulnerable of women.

I welcome the fact that the report on the government review of this issue will be laid before Parliament and that this is put in statute by the Government’s amendment. That is definitely a step forward. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the review will seek to identify the depth of fear of many of the victims of concern here. That is important—about half do not report crimes because they are too frightened, in particular in situations of modern slavery, for example. A concern in the field is that the six-month possible extension for the publication of the review could be used by the Government to prevent anyone making progress in the meantime. Three months would be greatly preferable. Does the Minister have any comment on that? Do they really need six months to complete this? If it means that they will do a more thorough job, I suppose we must be grateful.

Turning to the code of practice, I am concerned about subsection (1) of the proposed new clause, which says that the Secretary of State

“may issue a code of practice”

rather than that they “shall” issue such a code. Again, I am grateful to the Minister for emphasising in his remarks that the Government have a clear intention to issue such a code. It would also be helpful if he could indicate in his closing comments a timeline for the code of practice and confirm its purpose—again, this is an important point—to provide protection from the immigration system for vulnerable victims of domestic abuse whose immigration status is uncertain.

The amendment makes it clear that the domestic abuse commissioner, the Information Commissioner and

“such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”

must be consulted in relation to this code of practice. I put on record the importance of consulting survivors and specialist organisations such as the Step Up Migrant Women campaign, which, incidentally, apart from doing a huge amount of work to support these women, has been a pillar of strength in the background, behind these debates in this House. It would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that those survivors and organisations will be consulted. With the hope that the Minister can provide some assurance on these points, I will not oppose the Government’s Motion.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has received strong support from the Opposition Benches throughout the progress of this important Bill, and that support is not diminished at this final stage. We will continue to press the Government on this very serious issue, to make sure victims can feel safe coming forward to report abuse. It has been a pleasure to learn from her and work with her on this amendment. The noble Baroness’s amendment provided for the circumstances where victims’ data cannot be shared for immigration purposes if they come forward to report abuse. She is content to agree the important concessions that she has obtained from the Government on her amendment and, to that end, it just leaves me to thank her and all noble Lords who have spoken so eloquently and with passion throughout the passage of the Bill.

In the other place yesterday, the shadow Minister spoke movingly about her own experiences and reiterated her thanks for some movement by the Government on this amendment. But I echo her remarks of concern by asking the Minister if we can ensure that there are buy-in services for the very victims we are talking about, that they are consulted throughout the process, and that the whole point of the code is explicitly there to ensure that data can be shared only to enable victims to receive protection and safety. We now have mention of a victims’ code, so what happens when there is a breach of the code? We need clarity; we seek to have things written into primary legislation so that there is no doubt when barriers are crossed.

I eagerly await the translation into law of this landmark legislation. I thank my Opposition Front Bench colleagues and the staff team who have so ably guided me through my first major Bill in this House; what a maiden Bill it has been to have contributed to. My thanks go to the Minister and others who have listened and acted upon amendments to make better laws alongside our charities, support organisations and, indeed, the brave survivors whose lived experiences and testimonies have spoken out loudly and clearly throughout the course of the Bill: stand up to domestic abuse.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I again applaud and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her tenacity on this point in standing up for another vulnerable group of victims. I thank her for the time that she has spent engaging with me on this point since your Lordships last debated it. I am grateful that she sees the amendments that we have put forward in lieu as a step forward, and want to reassure her on the points that she raised; as I said previously, one of the frustrations in this area is not knowing what we do not know about the depth of fear among those who may be reluctant to come forward. That is why we are engaging with domestic abuse sector organisations to better understand the scale of that problem and to allay any concerns that people have. I am pleased to say that engagement with those groups is beginning next month.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked about the timeline for the code; we would seek to have that in place as soon as is practicable after the completion of the review. We would of course need time to consult the domestic abuse commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s Office. The power to extend the deadline is purely precautionary, as, alas, the experience of the pandemic over the last year or so has shown the need to expect the unexpected, but it is our intention to proceed swiftly on this. As the noble Baroness noted, despite the word “may” rather than “shall”, it is our firm intention to issue such a code, so I reiterate that for her reassurance. We will look at enforcement issues when drawing up the code.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, suggested that we are approaching these issues the wrong way round. I hope people appreciate that the Government have a statutory obligation under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 to maintain an effective immigration system, but we have been clear throughout that both the police and immigration enforcement officials deal with victims as victims first and foremost. We are very mindful of that. With those answers, and in reiterating my thanks in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, I urge noble Lords to support Motion B.

Motion B agreed.