All 4 Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay contributions to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Tue 5th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 25th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
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Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Mon 8th Mar 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
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Report stage & Lords Hansard
Tue 27th Apr 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

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

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Act 2021 - Government Bill Page 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

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Act 2021 - Government Bill Page Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-II(a) Amendment for Committee (for Third Marshalled List) - (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

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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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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)
- Hansard - -

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.