Nickie Aiken contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21


Mon 6th July 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Commons Chamber)
Report stage: House of Commons
5 interactions (404 words)
Wed 17th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Eleventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
3 interactions (85 words)
Wed 17th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Twelfth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
5 interactions (247 words)
Tue 16th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Ninth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
3 interactions (73 words)
Wed 10th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Fifth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons
5 interactions (66 words)
Wed 10th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Sixth sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons
7 interactions (219 words)
Tue 9th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Third sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
11 interactions (672 words)
Thu 4th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (First sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
3 interactions (689 words)
Thu 4th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Second sitting) (Public Bill Committees)
Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
14 interactions (618 words)
Tue 28th April 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
3 interactions (792 words)

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Report stage: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Monday 6th July 2020

(5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Home Office
Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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This Bill, as it stood at Second Reading, was a remarkable piece of legislation, but having gone through Committee, I believe it has been improved further. After Third Reading, when it comes, it will be legislation that the whole House can be very proud of.

The Bill sits on a long and impressive list of legislation that successive Conservative Governments have introduced over the past 30 years—the Children Act 1989; the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which created the offence of harassment; the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which created the offence of stalking; and the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) took through the House, which created the offences regarding slavery, servitude and human trafficking and made provision for the protection of victims.

Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)
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My hon. Friend and I served on the Bill Committee together. I completely agree with everything she has said, but does she agree that bringing forward the Bill during the coronavirus pandemic and pushing it forward throughout lockdown is further evidence of the Government’s support for victims?

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Also on the list is the Serious Crime Act 2015, which created the offence of coercive control. In 2017, the Conservative Government doubled the maximum sentence for stalking and a couple of years later passed the Stalking Protection Act 2019, creating stalking protection orders. That leads us to today and the Bill, which I dearly hope we will see become law shortly. That is an impressive history from Conservative Governments, taking strong, decisive and meaningful action to protect those who are unable to protect themselves and giving a voice to the most vulnerable. It is also important to note the notable gap in such laws between 1997 and 2010.

I was honoured to sit on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, my first as a Member of Parliament. It is important to say that on Second Reading and in Committee I highlighted the need to amend the definition of domestic abuse to include children within households where such abuse is present, and to recognise children of the victims of abuse, not just as witnesses. It is estimated that up to 30% of children live in a household where abuse is taking place. Until now, children were seen as the hidden victims of domestic abuse who were never directly affected, but we know that that is not true. Every day, children’s services teams up and down the country, and children’s charities such as Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, see the devastating effects that witnessing such abuse can have on a child’s development, educational attainment and long-term mental health. I saw this myself as children’s services lead at Westminster.

Home is meant to be our place of safety where we are loved and cherished the most, but for some children home becomes a torture chamber. They wake up every morning not knowing whether a tiny mistake will lead to violence and the type of abuse that most of us could never imagine. My campaign to seek this amendment to the definition was sparked not only by my experience in children’s services but by hearing the experience of a constituent of mine who has become a friend: the broadcaster Charlie Webster. Charlie has told me her story of growing up in a home where domestic abuse at the hands of her stepfather had a devastating effect on her, her mum and her brothers. Charlie is a survivor and now a strong campaigner for better understanding of the effects that witnessing domestic abuse can have on a child, and I thank her for helping me to understand why the definition had to be amended.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Eleventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Ministry of Justice
Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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17 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

Diolch, Mr Bone. The protection and inclusion of migrant women in the Bill is vital. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley. She said that this issue is not her hobby-horse, but it is fair to say that she has banged this drum so loudly that it would be impossible for any of us not to hear it—I thank her for all the incredible work she has done.

I also pay tribute to the fantastic charities and organisations up and down the country that have supported work on the Bill, in particular Women’s Aid. Last week, the Committee heard evidence from the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, just one organisation that is focused on and campaigning for the rights of migrant domestic victims. Anyone in the room today would struggle to undermine the power of the evidence that we heard. What really struck me is that the Bill needs to deliver full and equal protection for all domestic abuse victims.

The Istanbul convention is clear that victims of domestic abuse should be protected regardless of immigration status, yet the Bill contains no provision to tackle the multiple forms of discrimination and the often insurmountable barriers to support facing migrant women. Three key measures could be implemented to support those individuals. The first is safe reporting. Migrant women clearly face severe barriers to reporting domestic abuse and seeking help. We have already heard some of the key issues explained so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley.

We heard that perpetrators often use immigration status as a form of coercive control—threatening to inform the authorities, exploiting a survivor’s fear of deportation and destitution, or withholding information or documentation surrounding their status. The hostile environment of the Home Office and its immigration policies only compound the barriers that many migrant women face in leaving their abusive situation. I find it borderline unethical and hugely concerning that more than half the police forces in England and Wales have confirmed, in response to a freedom of information request, that they share victims’ details with the Home Office for immigration control purposes. Surely our duty is to protect victims, and immigration action should not be prioritised.

Hon. Members will be aware of Operation Nexus, the joint operation between the Home Office and some police forces, which aims to tackle offending by foreign nationals. It has led to increasing co-operation between immigration enforcement and forces, including placing immigration officers in police stations and carrying out immigration checks on victims and witnesses of crime. I am shocked and appalled that, at a time of emotional turmoil and often physical trauma, basic human rights seem to be undermined in the name of immigration control.

Indeed, in 2017 it was reported that a victim of kidnap and rape was arrested for immigration offences and referred by the police to immigration officials. It is no surprise that migrant women often justifiably fear the police and other statutory agencies that, in theory, exist to support and protect us all. It is vital that safe reporting mechanisms for survivors accessing vital public services exist. Migrant victims need to be able to safely report abuse to the police, social services, health professionals and others, with confidence that they will be treated as victims and without fear of negative repercussions related to their immigration status.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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17 Jun 2020, 10:51 a.m.

I have experience of Operation Nexus in Westminster, where we have seen an awful lot of trafficking and modern slavery. I would be grateful for the hon. Lady’s thoughts on whether sometimes the immigration officials need to get involved, because women want to go home, or they want to be safe. Rather than being persecuted by the police or being involved in criminal activity, they are victims. If the immigration service is involved, in my experience, they can be treated more safely and sent home.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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17 Jun 2020, 10:51 a.m.

I appreciate the point the hon. Lady makes, and I am glad that she has had such a positive experience of Operation Nexus, but I believe that is an exception to the rule. I think, if we spoke to other hon. Members in this House, they would not have the same experience. Some women in that situation do want to go home, but I think the majority of them just want to be safe and protected from abuse, and that is not the case with anxiety and fear hanging over them from immigration officials sat in the room, especially if they do not speak the same language. It is very difficult.

Colleagues have also spoken about the lack of recourse to public funds that migrant victims of domestic abuse face. That lack of support is a huge barrier for women across the country. We have heard that without recourse to public funds, victims are not eligible for welfare benefits, which are required to cover the cost of stay within a refuge service. Very few refuge services do not face a funding crisis after 10 years of cuts, and they are unable to cover the cost of women’s stays without that funding. Indeed, only 5.8% of refuge vacancies in England in 2017-18 would even consider a woman with no recourse to public funds. That is not because they do not want to help them, but because they are physically unable to do so.

Some fantastic initiatives have been set up in response to the crisis, but, frankly, this legislation should be there to protect those women in the first place. The destitution domestic violence concession, the DDVC, is just one example of a vital lifeline run by and for BAME women. It provides survivors with welfare benefits for three months, so that they can stay in refuge while applying for indefinite leave to remain under the domestic violence rule.

However, the DDVC and the domestic violence rule are only available to those on spousal visas where their spouse or partner is a British citizen or has settled status in the UK. Many migrant survivors are therefore barred from accessing this protection. Advice can only be provided by an immigration solicitor or barrister or an accredited immigration adviser and, given the legal aid restrictions we have heard about, gaining access to that advice can also be a severe challenge and is pitted with so many problems and issues.

The DDVC provides access to public funds as long as a woman applies for leave to remain within three months, yet for women escaping their abuser and who are experiencing trauma, that timeframe is often too limited. Changes to appeal rights also mean that most women refused indefinite leave to remain under the DVR cannot appeal the Home Office’s decision—a decision that is made without ever even meeting the applicant. That means that women who cannot submit objective evidence for domestic abuse support in their application are at a severe disadvantage.

The experiences of survivors with no recourse to public funds, unable to access refuge, are shocking. Only 8.2% of the women with no recourse to public funds supported by the No Woman Turned Away project in 2017 were able to access refuge—just 8.2%. Many had to sleep rough, sofa surf or even return to the perpetrator while they waited for help. We have already discussed the pressures on the housing sector in England, but for a migrant survivor, the impact is even more severe. Urgent changes to the DDVC and the DVR are required to ensure that migrant women can access those basic protections.

The impacts are felt across the Union. It would be a shame for me not to use the opportunity to briefly mention the impact that the UK Government’s policies have had on migrant women in my constituency. I hope that hon. Members will indulge me as I briefly discuss a case that my office recently worked on involving a migrant domestic abuse victim.

I am sure that other new hon. Members will agree when I say that, since my election in December, I have been overwhelmed in every sense by the number of campaign groups that have been in touch to ask me to support their cause. It is often difficult to choose where to focus my efforts and I am still learning. For me, however, sharing local resources and information aimed at domestic abuse victims has been a priority, especially given the current coronavirus climate.

South Wales police is doing some excellent work with local organisations to encourage a multi-agency approach to processing reports of domestic abuse, and I wanted to do my bit too. I am sure other hon. Members will agree that any social media content that is produced in relation to domestic abuse is usually shared far and wide, and often outperforms any other content. That is an indication of the broad reach that domestic abuse support has.

After one specific Facebook post, in which I shared local helplines and encouraged victims to reach out for support if necessary, my office was contacted by a woman suffering domestic abuse in north Wales. Before hon. Members scold me for not following parliamentary protocol and raising cases only on behalf of my constituents, the woman had no fixed address and was initially afraid to share any specific details for fear of negative repercussions. Her story was one that I have since heard from many on a number of occasions of having no recourse to public funds. It is a story that persists.

There are some fantastic organisations in Wales that operate solely to help women such as that woman, who now lives in my constituency. Bawso is just one group that I know has helped many MPs and Members of the Senedd across Wales with similar cases. As an MP representing an area in Wales, it is often extremely difficult and challenging to marry up the broad help and housing policies that the Welsh Labour Government have implemented that are specific to domestic abuse victims with the often restrictive and hostile immigration policies of the UK Government. I sincerely hope that migrant women, like the ones living in my constituency, will finally have their voices heard and will ultimately receive parity in terms of access to welfare support in future.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Twelfth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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17 Jun 2020, 3:59 p.m.

That is a reasonable point. This definitely happens, so I am more than happy for those issues to be dealt with as we go through this process. One thing about this Bill going through to the Lords is that it has some really keen experts who know an awful lot about housing law; I have been a licensed landlord through running refuges and other things, so I know a little bit about the law in this area, but it definitely bamboozles me. Some Lords know an awful lot about the criminal justice system and housing tenancies, so I feel keenly that we ought to make some assessment of the point the hon. Gentleman has made. I suppose the victim could give their consent by self-declaring—by saying, “I am willing to pay £3 a month until my arrears are paid back”, or “He has kicked out the fireplace; I am happy to get it replaced.” Any Member who has large numbers of council tenancies in their constituency will know that tenants would often much rather pay to have things replaced than wait for the council to replace them. It is not uncommon to hear, “I’ve had my whole kitchen done, because I’ve been waiting four years.”

In the new clause, any notice to quit served by the abuser is of no effect if an application has been made, therefore removing the need for an injunction or to protect the tenancy until the application is decided. The amendment also protects succession rights and right-to-buy rights on the transfer of the tenancy to a sole tenant—another classic casework thing I have to deal with all the time. This is a simplification of the current complex, potentially expensive and risky processes by which a victim of abuse can seek the transfer of a joint tenancy to their sole name. It gives greater certainty about the circumstances in which the court will transfer the tenancy to the victim, and it helps the victim of abuse obtain security in their home, free from the fear of the abuser ending their tenancy.

I will briefly touch on new clauses 43 and 44. Domestic abuse does not end when a relationship ends, and leaving an abuser is statistically a highly dangerous time. A survivor faces ongoing and severe threats to their safety. Anyone who has read domestic homicide reviews will know that very few things consistently crop up—the people involved can be of all races, backgrounds and classes—but the common thread running through them is that people often get murdered when they first escape. It is a very risky time, and therefore many survivors escaping abuse need to leave their local authority area in order to be safe. Women and children escaping to a refuge, in particular, will often need to cross local authority boundaries.

The very existence of refuges depends on those services’ availability, as this Committee has largely covered. The Government homelessness guidance for local authorities makes it clear that the local connection rules should not apply in cases of domestic abuse. It states that all local authorities must exempt from their residency requirements those who are living in a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation in their district, having escaped domestic abuse in another local authority area. However, this is not a requirement and does not apply to women who have not escaped into a refuge—or into another form of temporary accommodation, which I am afraid to say is the most likely place for them to end up nowadays.

In addition, local authorities often use blanket residency tests in allocation schemes without accounting for exceptional circumstances, such as a woman fleeing domestic abuse. This has already been found unlawful. In the case of R (on the application of HA) v. Ealing London Borough Council, the full homelessness duty under part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 was owed to a mother and her five children fleeing domestic violence, but she was disqualified from the housing register because she failed to meet the residency requirements. There was an exceptional circumstance clause in the local authority’s allocation scheme, but this was not used. The High Court found that Ealing had acted unlawfully in failing to apply the exceptionality provision, or to even consider applying it.

Despite that case and the Government guidance, there remain clear inconsistencies between local authorities across England. I am sorry; I do not mean to exclude Wales, but I have no idea—I presume there are inconsistencies there.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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I am slightly confused about what the hon. Member seeks to improve with new clause 43. I am happy to be corrected, but I understand that local authorities, as the hon. Member said, already have the ability to prioritise domestic abuse cases for rehousing. I believe that, on Second Reading a couple of weeks ago, the Minister quoted the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who said that he was making this a priority. The statutory guidance also states that local authorities should find a local connection, and that it is okay if it is in another district or local authority, so long as there is no threat to the family or the woman. I am just trying to understand what the new clause would do that is not already in the statutory guidance or the Bill.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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I am more than happy to answer that. I am quite fond of the particular bit of statutory guidance she refers to, because it did not actually exist until a woman who lived in the refuge where I worked took a case against Sandwell Borough Council regarding her local connections. Currently, the statutory guidance is explicit about refuge accommodation. This woman was living in a refuge, many years ago now, and Sandwell Borough Council said she did not have the local need that meant it had to pay her—what we call—housing benefit-plus, so it contested her application on the basis of local need. With the help of the Child Poverty Action Group, that was challenged in the courts in two cases specifically around refuge accommodation. All the new clause really seeks to do is extend that beyond being only about refuge to being about other forms of temporary accommodation.

Councils imposing local connection restrictions on their refuge funding contracts—exactly what I was just talking about—such as capping the number of non-local women able to access the refuge or requiring a specific proportion of the women in a refuge to be from the local authority area, has been one fall-out of that particular incident, because a refuge just cannot be run like that. We cannot know who will turn up. By and large, refuges will have people in who are from the local area, but it is not like a school, where someone has to live within a certain radius and has their needs assessed based on other things. People deal with the situation as it arises.

Homelessness teams are refusing to support women escaping abuse because they are not from the local area. Nearly a fifth of women supported by Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project in 2016 and 2017 were prevented from making a valid homelessness application on the grounds of domestic abuse—outside of refuge; just rocking up to the homelessness services—for reasons including that they had no local connection and that local housing teams were deprioritising survivors who did not have a local connection within their housing allocation policy.

As Members may know, the Government already require local authorities to make exemptions for certain groups from these local connection requirements or residency tests, including members of the armed forces and for those seeking to move for work. Nobody would argue with that. We just wish to add domestic abuse victims to that roster. Therefore, to tackle continuing inconsistent and unacceptable practices, a statutory bar on local authorities imposing local connection restrictions on refuges or any temporary or permanent accommodation should be included in the Bill, and needs to sit alongside the proposed statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in refuges and other forms of safe accommodation. The Government are essentially going to be paying for some of this from central funds. We look forward with bated breath to that big cheque, Minister; we should have a big-cheque moment.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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17 Jun 2020, 4:09 p.m.

I want to get to the bottom of this. Is the hon. Lady saying that there is a lack or a vacuum in the Bill or in statutory guidance full stop, or are local authorities not complying or doing what they should under existing legislation or statutory guidance? If they are not doing what they should be doing—if Sandwell, which is a Labour council, or Ealing, which is a Labour-led council are not doing what they should be doing—surely it is possible to go to the ombudsman? Surely there is a way to hold local authorities to account if they are not carrying out their statutory duty?

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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17 Jun 2020, 4:07 p.m.

No, they absolutely are carrying out their statutory duty, but the statutory duty is only about refuge—unlike the statutory guidance regarding servicemen and women, which is that they are allowed to move without local connection, recognising that base life does not necessarily mean that they are based in a place, so they might not have a local connection, as well as tipping the hat to people who deserve a break when they are presenting to homelessness services. It is essentially the same thing—recognition that people living in certain circumstances might need extra help. I am sure the hon. Lady does not wish to be political about this, but I could list lots of Tory councils that turn away victims of domestic abuse, and many that have no current provision for refuge, but send their victims to a neighbouring local authority; that is not uncommon. The way some councils choose to fund this is to fund it elsewhere, which I think is problematic and will certainly be furthered by the new statutory duty.

The Government will pay for this statutory duty, which may lead to people having to present to homelessness teams in different areas when they do not have a connection to the local area. That is the problem I am trying to overcome. Together, the new clauses will help to ensure that all women and children fleeing domestic abuse can access safe housing where and when they need to. I urge colleagues to support new clauses 43 and 44 to bar local authorities from imposing dangerous local connections restrictions on survivors of domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Ninth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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16 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her powerful speech and for setting out the case for the amendment.

We know that domestic abuse in teenage relationships has the potential to shape adult lives. We know that it can be severe and can have many consequences outside the two people in the relationship. We are clear that the impact of domestic abuse on young people, including those in abusive relationships, exists and that we need to ensure that agencies are aware of it and of how to identify and respond to it.

The Bill’s definition states that behaviour is domestic abuse if parties are aged 16 or over. I note that that was supported by the Joint Committee and, indeed, by the evidence we heard from Lucy Hadley of Women’s Aid and Andrea Simon of the End Violence against Women Coalition at the evidence session of this Bill Committee. We are of the view that having a minimum age of 16 years does not deny that younger children are not impacted or affected by domestic abuse, including in their own relationships.

I have no doubt that the amendment is well intentioned. However, having established that minimum age as the threshold in the definition of domestic abuse, it follows that any statutory guidance issued under clause 66 of the Bill, which relies on the definition in clause 1, cannot and should not as a matter of law, address abuse between people who are aged under 16.

That is not to say that the guidance issued under clause 66, which addresses abuse between older teenagers, cannot have wider application. There are other sources of guidance for younger age groups. We intend to publish a draft of the guidance ahead of Report and, in preparing that draft, we have worked with the children’s sector, among others, to include the impacts of abuse in older teenage relationships within the guidance. Clearly, we will continue to work with the children’s sector to ensure that the guidance is as effective, thorough and accessible as it can be before it is formally issued ahead of the provisions in clauses 1 and 2 coming into force.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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As the Minister knows, I have concerns about this—I spoke to her when in listening mode. At the evidence session two weeks ago, for me the powerful evidence was from the Local Government Association spokesperson, the leader of Blackpool Council, whom I questioned specifically. He said that he felt that under-16s were dealt with under the Children Act. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are other ways of dealing with the matter?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins
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I thank my hon. Friend for her contributions, her canvassing of views sympathetic to the situations faced by teenagers under 16, and her work on that. She is right to point out the evidence of Councillor Simon Blackburn. He is an experienced councillor and also, in a previous life, was an experienced social worker. He contributes on behalf of the Local Government Association in all sorts of forums on which he and I sit—not just on domestic abuse, but on other areas of vulnerability.

I appreciate that it sounds rather lawyerly to focus on the age range, but we are careful not to tamper inadvertently, albeit with good intentions, with the strong safeguarding mechanisms in the Children Act. That is why we are not able to accept the amendment to the guidance, given that the guidance is based on the definition in clauses 1 and 2. However, other forms of information are available and as of September relationships education will be introduced for all primary pupils, and relationships and sex education will be introduced for all secondary school pupils. That education, particularly for primary schools, will cover the characteristics of healthy relationships, and will help children to model the behaviours with knowledge and understanding, and cover what healthy relationships look like. Of course, as children grow up and mature, the education will grow and develop alongside them, to help them as they are setting out on those new relationships.

In addition, the important inter-agency safeguarding and welfare document produced by the Department for Education called “Working together to safeguard children” sets out what professionals and organisations need to do to safeguard children, including those who may be vulnerable to abuse or exploitation from outside their families. It sets out various scenarios, including whether wider environmental factors are present in a child’s life and are a threat to their safety and/or welfare.

Finally, of course, the courts and other agencies should also take into account relevant youth justice guidelines when responding to cases of teenage relationship abuse, avoiding the unnecessary criminalisation of young people, and helping to identify appropriate interventions to address behaviours that might constitute or lead to abuse. As I have said, I appreciate the intentions underlying the amendment, but I return to the point that the age limit was on careful reflection set at 16 in the definition, and so the statutory guidance must flow from that.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Fifth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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I appreciate that. In our debates yesterday, during an exhaustive set of speeches about the independence of the role of the commissioner, the case was made that it is extremely important that the link between independence and effectiveness is categoric. That has been exhaustively investigated by two previous inquiries by the Home Affairs Committee and by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. The direct link between effectiveness in that role and where it reports—its independence—comes from a central role of the commissioner: to give voice to people who have, for too long, been shut out of public debate. Victims and survivors of domestic abuse are some of the most disempowered people in our society.

The reason that independence is important is that there will be times when the commissioner needs to give voice to people who are suffering abuse but comes into conflict with current Home Office policy. That area is never more acute than on the issues of migrant women, legal aid and the experience of women at the hands of law enforcement agencies. Overwhelmingly, there will be a constructive relationship between the Home Office, the Home Secretary and the commissioner—there is already a good and fruitful working relationship between the Home Office and the commissioner designate—but there will be times when we need the commissioner to be an unflinching advocate for survivors and victims and to be 100% focused on the needs of those individuals, and not even 1% focused on the delicacies of managing a complex set of relationships within the Home Office.

There are also technical reasons why that is seen as more effective. As we heard in evidence, reporting to the Home Office is a complex relationship. The Home Office is a complex organisation with numerous officials and various levels that can have direct relationships with the commissioner. The commissioner will have a handful of staff, while the Home Office will have thousands, and although those thousands will not all report directly, dozens will—that is a very high-maintenance reporting line.

We will not push the amendment to a vote, but I urge the Minister to assure us that she will use her influence at the Home Office to ensure that the reporting line is effective and efficient and that the commissioner is not overwhelmed with different people asking for different things. As we all know, the civil service rightly needs to protect taxpayers’ money, and people’s liberty and safety, so it can sometimes overwhelm small organisations with bureaucracy. We want to ensure that the commissioner has all the freedom to act in a way that fully represents the victims and survivors for whom she is there to give voice.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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I understand the concerns that you raise about effectiveness and independence. We have a Children’s Commissioner and a Victims’ Commissioner, and they are both very independent. What makes you think—

Order. It is not supposed to be “you”, because I am “you”—you are supposed to speak through me.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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8 Jun 2020, 6 p.m.

Yes, Mr Bone.

What does the hon. Gentleman think? Why would this commissioner be any different in independence and effectiveness compared with the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner or any other commissioner that the Government may have?

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jun 2020, midnight

I welcome the hon. Lady’s intervention. As I said yesterday, I remember my first Bill Committee well. I assure every Member sitting on a Bill Committee for the first time that they are in the safest of environments if they want to stand up to speak—and, like me, to make mistakes in an honest, open and sincere way. Believe me, it is much better to do so here in Committee than over there in the Chamber.

The hon. Lady is completely right about other commissioners, including the two she named. In fact, the Victims’ Commissioner reports directly to a Department. The Children’s Commissioner has a slightly different reporting line, because more aspects of her role involve reporting directly to Parliament. What those commissioners have in common, however, is that they have both given evidence to the Joint Committee and to the Select Committee on Home Affairs, and one commissioner gave evidence in our evidence session only last week.

Both those commissioners believe that greater independence for the domestic abuse commissioner is desirable. Based on their experience of being commissioners, they believe that that is more desirable, and they have both said so on the record in the firmest possible terms. That reflects on their own positions—they would like more freedom in their roles—and they are generously willing to share their experience with this Committee so that we can get it right for the new commissioner. We got it mostly right in previous times, but there is always room for improvement and, given on their experience, the issue of independence is something they would like to see improved.

With that, Mr Bone, I conclude my remarks.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Ministry of Justice

I will call Nickie Aiken in a second, but I am aware that there will be a Division at about 4.36 pm. I am afraid that if a Division is called and the Committee is still sitting, I will have to suspend for at least 45 minutes. Members might want to bear that in mind.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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10 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I just want to provide my experience of being a council leader with responsibility for commissioning perpetrator courses and services, which does not mirror what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley outlined. I have always found commissioners to be excellent, to really understand the process and to appreciate that this is public money.

For our commissioning services, we worked with the former Mayor of London, who really understood how important perpetrator programmes are, as did the then deputy Mayor for policing, who is now Lord Greenhalgh and is a Minister. I supported their view that it was about payment on results. That is one of the main issues in perpetrator services, children’s services and public protection services: they should be about results.

I am extremely proud of this Bill and this clause, because it takes to heart the fact that, although we have to support victims, if we are ever going to bring domestic abuse to an end, particularly in families, it has to be about the perpetrator too.

There are many brilliant services today, such as SafeLives—which I think is based in the south-west—that take a family view on this. I welcome the clause and I do not support the amendment. I think the Bill is outstanding, and that it will bring perpetrators to book while also supporting victims.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk
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10 Jun 2020, 3:29 p.m.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend’s contribution, and I entirely agree with its content. I think there is agreement across the House that we want credibility and consistency for perpetrator programmes to ensure that individuals who have been led into error by their behaviour do not continue to do so, at dramatic cost to both individuals and society more widely. We are absolutely clear that if we do not hold perpetrators to account for their actions, we will not be able to tackle the root cause of domestic abuse. We agree that it is essential for any perpetrator programme imposed as part of a DAPO to provide a high-quality, safe and effective intervention.

Although we support the aim of the amendments, we respectfully think that there is a better way of achieving the end result that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley seeks. At the heart of our response is the idea that quality assurance needs to be looked at in the round, in relation to all domestic abuse perpetrator programmes, not just those imposed by a DAPO, as is provided for in the amendments. Before I develop that point, I will say that consistency and credibility are important not just for the perpetrator or the victim, but for the courts themselves, so that they have confidence that when they impose orders, they will get results. Also, courts may not feel the need to lock someone up if they can reach for an order—whether a DAPO or a community order—in which they have confidence.

It is really important to note that not all domestic abuse perpetrator programmes come via a DAPO. First, a family court could make a referral into a perpetrator programme by, for example, imposing an activity, direction or condition in connection with a child arrangement order. Secondly, the police, probation service and local authorities could work together to impose a programme as part of an integrated offender management programme. Thirdly, there could even be self-referral: there may be individuals who have had a long, hard look at their behaviour and thought, “I need to address this. I am, off my own bat, going to seek a referral into such a programme.” Respect runs a helpline offering information and advice to people who have perpetrated abuse and want to stop.

I am at pains to emphasise that while we want to make sure any programmes delivered via the gateway of a DAPO achieve high standards and are consistent and credible, we should not forget that other programmes are being delivered outwith DAPOs, via different gateways, and we want to ensure that those programmes meet the same standard. Otherwise, we would end up in the perverse and unsatisfactory situation of having a DAPO gateway programme that is great, but other ones that are not.

We propose to take this work forward by using some of the £10 million announced by the Chancellor in this year’s Budget for the development of new interventions for domestic abuse perpetrators. We will work with the domestic abuse commissioner and specialist domestic abuse organisations—along the lines that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley indicated—to undertake mapping and evaluation of the range of perpetrator interventions currently available, and explore what works for different models of quality assurance for domestic abuse perpetrator behaviour change programmes.

By the way, there is already a wealth of promising evidence that we can draw on as part of this work. For example, the Government have already invested through the police transformation fund in a number of innovative approaches to managing perpetrators, including the Drive project led by Respect and SafeLives, to which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley alluded, as well as the whole-system approach to domestic abuse in Northumbria and the Women’s Aid “Make a Change” programme. There is a lot out there, and we need to draw the threads together.

We continue to support the important work of Respect, which is helping to ensure through its service standards that programmes targeted at a range of perpetrators are delivered safely and effectively. We will also draw on the ongoing work of the Ministry of Justice’s correctional services accreditation and advice panel, which accredits programmes for perpetrators who have been convicted of an offence.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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I recognise what the Minister says about the fact that perpetrator programmes are used elsewhere. Very often in children’s services, I have seen people sent on perpetrator programmes that, I am afraid to say, are useless. If only everything was as perfect as it is in Westminster.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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If only.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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10 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I apologise if I did not cover all the boroughs in London. I did not come up with the amendments all by myself; the specialist sector is working with us to ask for these things, and the reality is that, as sometimes happens in this place, we will say how something is on the ground and we will be told that that is not the case. We will be told, “Actually, no; it’s going to be fine because we are going to have a whole-system approach.”

What the Minister says about a whole-system approach is needed wherever perpetrator programmes are issued, rather than just in DAPOs. I could not agree with him more on that point. I shall allow him as many interventions as he likes, and I will speak for as long as it takes for him to get the answer. If he is saying to me that, at the other end of this very notable approach and funding that the Home Office and the Government are putting in place, we will end up with an accredited system that stops the bad practice and the poor commissioning of services, of course I will withdraw the amendment.

Is the Minister saying that we will work towards a standard that will have to be met and that will be compelled—not dissimilar to the standard that we will hopefully come on to tomorrow, where we compel local authorities with a duty? There, I believe, we will be writing a set of standards that the local authority in its commissioning process has to live by, so that it cannot just say, “We’re doing any old domestic abuse services.” There has long been talk at MHCLG about having standards to go with any duty. Is the Minister telling me that we will end up with an accreditation system, which is essentially what I seek?

Domestic Abuse Bill (Third sitting)

(Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(5 months, 4 weeks ago)

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Home Office
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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9 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I am not. Often, the two issues that the children’s sector mainly campaigns for in this regard become conflated. One is the issue of teenage relationship abuse and the age limit of 16, at which the definition that we are discussing currently sits. There is some divergence of opinion about whether the way to include children in the Bill is to remove age limits. For very obvious reasons, there are concerns about that. As somebody who has represented and worked with child victims in the past, I would not wish to see them criminalised—that is one issue. On the issue of whether a child should receive in the definition the status of victim rather than witness of domestic abuse, I have heard no divergence—my hon. Friend is absolutely right.

As somebody who worked in the women’s sector, I have to say that if the Government want to take some real credit for what they have done for the domestic violence sector, the greatest thing that they have done— I do not mean this in a glib way— is to genuinely unite charities, which now work in a way that was certainly not always the case when I worked in the field. On this matter, they are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

As always, I want to give voice to some of those who have suffered in childhood. Charlie Webster, the Sky Sports presenter, who sits on the victims’ board at the Ministry of Justice to advise the Government, has expressed real frustration that there seems to be little to no movement on this issue. She has talked about her experience of living with domestic abuse as a child. She said:

“Home is supposed to be your safe, loving space. As soon as I walked in the door from school I wouldn’t know where to put my feet in case I made a noise. I would chew quietly and make sure my teeth wouldn’t touch my knife and fork, not making any noise, trying to keep the peace to protect my mum. Anything would make him angry, even the sound of me eating. Hearing that, he would smash the table with his fists near your face. I was constantly on edge.”

Charlie admits that growing up feeling worthless and unloved has affected her adult relationships. Lasting effects include an inability to accept praise. Charlie said:

“I was traumatised and had a lot of nightmares. If I got close to somebody, it would trigger a feeling of a lack of safety and stability.”

She said that her situation was a factor in her being sexually abused by her former running coach in her teens, and added that,

“People like that coach are predators who prey on vulnerable people for the power. It was easy to have power over me.”

I wish I could say that Charlie’s case was an unusual one in which domestic abuse in childhood had not laid in step the trap of both domestic abuse and sexual violence and exploitation in adulthood.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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I would like to say that Charlie Webster is a good friend of mine. I have lived through her testimony and it is harrowing, to say the very least. There are many reasons why she was let down by local authorities and by the police. To go back to what you were saying, Jess, as the children’s services lead for a London borough, I have seen at first hand that the trauma of domestic abuse runs through all families and all relationships.

I would like to ask what you think the Domestic Abuse Bill will achieve by adding that definition of children, compared with what the definition does in the Children Act, where children are protected. Also, from the point of view of CAFCASS, there is the importance of family courts and of listening to children. I have sat on the board of CAFCASS and know that they have a huge part to play.

Order. I remind Members that interventions need to be short. Also, may I make a gentle reminder that the speaker is addressing the Chair, and therefore not referring to other Members by their first name?

Break in Debate

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab)
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9 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on amendment 50, which would include children in the definition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley set out very fully the framework and the background to the need for this amendment to be made to include children in the statutory definition of the abuse. Why? We speak calmly about children observing—a very calm word here—domestic violence. What that means is that children experience violence—violent behaviour, abusive behaviour, shouting, fear and dread. They are not just observers but victims, affected emotionally and physically by that abuse. They feel the violence and danger. None of us in this room, I think, would disagree with that.

Why should we amend the definition to include children? Because they need to be recognised formally as victims in order to be sure that they can access the support and services that they will really need at the time they need them. Their needs would therefore be addressed specifically when dealing with domestic abuse. That needs to be set out in law, so that they have that beyond any doubt.

On Thursday, in the evidence sessions, we heard about the substantial support for the inclusion children in the definition of domestic abuse. We heard from the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner, both of whom gave evidence and believe that it is hugely important to include children.

Last Friday, the Minister kindly met me virtually, along with the children’s charities Action for Children, the NSPCC and the Children’s Society. We specifically discussed including children in the definition. We talked about the age 16 limit, which appears in an earlier subsection. The charities told the Minister that they and the wider sector were agreed in their wish not to change the reference in the Bill to age 16, but rather to support this amendment to include a wider description of children.

Yesterday, I was pleased to see, circulated by the Clerk, evidence submitted by the sector on the age 16 issue—DAB 44—including the people we heard from last Thursday, such as the Women’s Aid Federation and other organisations. No one wants to see children criminalised as a result of relationships between each other, and it is really helpful that yesterday that statement was circulated making the sector’s unequivocal support for the amendment absolutely clear.

I have talked to constituents about this issue, and to some excellent local organisations in the north-east, such as Children North East, which provides support for children affected by domestic abuse. They tell me about the difficulty of ensuring that they have funding and commissioned services for children. They are doing a great job, but there is so much more that we need to do to ensure that children have support when they are victims of domestic abuse.

In the Westminster Hall debate that I was fortunate to secure earlier this year, I spoke about my constituent Christine, who had been a victim of domestic abuse. She has come through that and now wants to change things. She talked to me about the need for children to be properly supported.

Christine’s daughter, who is now an adult, is still dealing with the trauma of the domestic abuse suffered by Christine and living in the home where that took place. Her daughter contacted me after the Westminster Hall debate—she sent a very nice card—to say how much she appreciated the fact that finally people were taking notice of the needs of children and recognising them as victims in their own right. She was so pleased that there might be a glimmer of hope that things might improve for children.

Again, why should this be in the definition rather than the guidance? Inevitably, people looking at what service they need to provide, especially in times of financial constraint, will ask, “What does the law require us to do?”. That is why it is important to have the amendment in the Bill. It will mean that statutory authorities must address the needs of those children. Statutory guidance is not enough and in any case, as we know, it is not yet ready. I support the amendment and hope that the Government feel able to accept it.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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9 Jun 2020, midnight

I am delighted to hear that the Minister is certainly in listening mode. Having heard from the hon. Member for Blaydon that the Minister met with children’s charities on Friday, it is clear that she is in listening mode.

I would like to make the point that there is a lack in the role that local authorities should be playing under the Children Act, which I mentioned earlier. I led a council and was the children’s services lead at a time— 2010 onwards—when it got quite difficult. We were innovative and put children first. That was responded to by Ofsted, which awarded Westminster City Council the outstanding grade in children’s services. Again, last year, that was repeated—the first time any local authority had received an improved Ofsted outstanding grade. That was a brilliant example of how social workers and children’s services experts put the child at the forefront of all that they do.

Domestic abuse runs through so much, as we have heard today. Having launched the first ever domestic abuse strategy for Westminster back in 2012, I know that we put children at the heart of that.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
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The hon. Lady cited the example of Ofsted, which I think is a good example, because schools have a legal duty to improve; if they do not, Ofsted has the power to intervene. She is not making the case that it is important for children to have a legal footing in the Bill. Does she see the similarities in the argument, and is she open to the idea that it might be worth exploring the concept of having a statutory definition of children in the Bill?

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I think it is down to the Minister to decide that, but, as I said, from the commissioner’s point of view, it is important to encourage and to be part of the whole system. There is a lack in the involvement of local authorities, which already exists.

Having sat on the CAFCASS board for several years, as I said earlier, I was appalled when we had a briefing from experts who had been sent to Birmingham City Council to do the quality assurance, because the council was letting down its children. What I took away from the briefing, and what I have taken away from the evidence we heard last week, is that local politicians have to play a part and ensure that they put their children at the heart of their children’s services strategy. There is still a lack of that approach. In Rotherham, for example, where were the local politicians holding their services to account?

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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I speak as a local politician in Birmingham. If we would like a tally of who can slag off Birmingham City Council more, I would definitely win. The hon. Lady is talking about the children who might interact with Birmingham City Council or Westminster City Council. The reality is that they represent a tiny fraction of child victims of domestic abuse. The vast majority the children we are talking about will never interact with any children’s social worker ever. It is the duty of the council to fund services beyond that. While I could definitely take pot shots at Birmingham City Council, it is fair to say that, in reality, it would not be able to afford most of what we might be suggesting here.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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Having been a local politician for over 15 years, I have always taken the view that it is not always about the money. It is usually about the attitude of local authorities and the innovation that they can bring. Westminster City Council achieved two outstanding Ofsted grades at a time when we saw about 50% of our funding cut.

Let me end with the words of Charlie Webster, a victim whom the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley quoted today. I spoke to Charlie this morning and, when I told her I was hoping to speak today, she said:

“Thank you so much for validating the many times I’ve had to convince myself my life is worth living both as a child and an adult. I’m praying that this will make a difference to actually start to tackle the root cause and allow children love and to reach their potential because they’re absolutely deprived of it in Domestic Abuse.”

That is where I would like to end. I am delighted that we are debating the Domestic Abuse Bill in Committee today.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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I, too, am a new Member of Parliament and this is the first time I have sat on a Bill Committee.

Since I started as a Member of Parliament, I have been inundated with casework, as Members can imagine, given what has happened in my constituency. We have had terrible flooding, the coronavirus pandemic, and the comings and goings of a certain political adviser, but I have also had lots of casework relating to domestic abuse and domestic violence. It has mainly been from women, with some from men, and, more often than not, it includes children in the family units, all of whom are victims who need equal protection. As it stands, the Bill does not fully address the needs of children affected by domestic abuse.

As we have heard from other Members, this Bill has the opportunity to change things and to save lives. Lives are not saved through encouragement, guidance or attitude; they are saved through funding services and by putting children in the definition in the Bill. That is how lives will be saved. Given that the Bill will inform the Government approach to tackling domestic abuse, it is vital that we understand the impact on children. We have heard many harrowing tales; as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley said, we have all heard such tales.

Children need our protection and our support, and that needs to be fully reflected in the Bill. As a new Member and somebody who has already had people come to me about the issue, I cannot see how we would not include children, in order to save lives. It seems unconscionable to me that we would not do that. Members might say that legislation in the Children Act may save children, but what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley said really hit me. There is legislation for everything now. We have legislation that will stop people from abusing people, but just include children in the Bill to save their lives.

Domestic Abuse Bill (First sitting)

(Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Thursday 4th June 2020

(6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Q Would it be pointless to have a Bill that makes ways for domestic abuse protection orders to exist if, in your local area, there is not a service that would be accredited, by some standard that does not currently exist?

Nicole Jacobs: I have always understood that the DAPO is in the Bill to pave the way, through its two-year piloting. There is no doubt that it will prompt many questions: the implementation, the way we should be working together, the thought we need to give to how victims and survivors are communicated with in courts, and any number of other things.

Because I am an optimistic person, I always thought that while things are not covered off completely—there is a huge gap with the idea of the perpetrator and where all the constant requirements are coming from—the general strategy is for people to learn in the process of the DAPO. I guess my plea is for you to strength the evaluation of that pilot any way you can in the Bill. It needs to be implemented and resourced properly, including the voice of victims, and my other plea would be for the Victims’ Commissioner and I to be included in the learning for the DAPOs.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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Q I want to comment on a few things that you said in response to Jess’s questions. A lot of the things you are saying about the DAPOs will obviously come into the statutory guidance. It is important to remember that there are things in the Bill, but the statutory guidance will be the backup, and I suspect a lot of your concerns will be addressed by that guidance. When you talk about community-based services, are you talking about the charitable sector—the third sector—or are you talking about local government? In local government, there is an ability to offer a lot of domestic abuse services, but some councils do not choose to. What is your definition of community-based services?

Nicole Jacobs: In general, I am talking about the ones that are commissioned for domestic abuse services, usually—although not solely—by the local authority. Sometimes those are outreach workers or independent domestic violence advocates; at one point, I was one of those. All aspects of the local authority are highly dependent on those services—housing officers, social workers, teachers—and a whole breadth of referrals come into those types of services. Just to give you an example, in the area of west London where I worked the year before I took on this role, they had 4,000 referrals of people into those community-based services, so we are talking about quite high volumes of cases. Each worker will be supporting 30 to 40 people at any given time. That is on a rolling basis over the year, so by the end of that year, just that one worker will have probably supported well over 100 people, if not more.

There are a few places where that team will be employed within the local authority, but those are few and far between; the commissioning-out of that service is much more common. I prefer the commissioning-out of the service, because people who experience domestic abuse have such a lot of fears about seeking help because they worry about the consequences. They do not know for definite what the police, particularly, are going to do, or social workers or anyone else, and they really value the independence of that role. It is not that they would never share information: if they have safeguarding concerns, for example, they have a duty to share those, but there is a level of independence that gives them a bit of safe space to think through the complexities of their situation, and it is fairly well evaluated that these are critical services. They are also quite cost-effective. It is incredible what these individual workers will do over the course of the year. If you shifted that into a local authority, they would cost more and the relationship would change, so the case I am making is for us to recognise how critical these services are.

My worry is that if we go ahead with the statutory duty for refuge-based or accommodation-based services, local authorities that are cash-strapped or concerned about budgets will obviously prioritise that duty, and the unintended consequence could be that these community-based services are curtailed or cut. They are not in main budgets, but have to fight year in, year out or in each commissioning cycle, which are relatively short: two years or sometimes three. I worry that because they are not part of a duty, they will be cut or curtailed, when even now they are barely covering the breadth of support that they should. There could be some serious unintended consequences from the implementation of the duty.

If it stays that way, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government should include in the current set-up of the statutory duty for accommodation-based services a firm responsibility to understand what the consequences could be for community-based services. In practice, the pattern is that it is hard to see the expansion in these services that you might think there would be, considering the prevalence rates. I think that surprises many people. It might not surprise you, but it does surprise many people when they realise how these services have to survive on a shoestring with such a lot of cobbling together of funding.

We will now have Peter Kyle, followed by Virginia Crosbie and Liz Twist. The Ministers have indicated that they want to ask you some questions, but I will try to save them to the end and get the Back Benchers in first.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Second sitting)

(Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Thursday 4th June 2020

(6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees

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Home Office
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Thank you for sharing your story with us.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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4 Jun 2020, 2:30 p.m.

Q Thank you for sharing your story. I am sure it is very difficult having to keep repeating your story, but thank you. It is very powerful.

You have obviously been getting help from the Southall Black Sisters, which is good to hear. Have they or anybody else referred you to the national referral mechanism, which is for victims like you?

Somiya Basar: From what I understand, it takes forever for that system to work, and I don’t think that system works as efficiently as the pilot scheme by Southall Black Sisters. I don’t think I am an expert here and I do not understand the terminology, but what I understand is that the other system that you are referring to takes forever. It is not a system that works efficiently to the full benefit of the victim.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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4 Jun 2020, 2:31 p.m.

Q But you do not think you have been referred.

Somiya Basar: I am not aware of it.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab)
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4 Jun 2020, 2:31 p.m.

Q Thank you for coming today. As an individual, as a mother to British children and as a victim, have you at any point felt that the British Government and the British state is on your side?

Somiya Basar: I really felt abandoned, even by the British state. I think they have failed me. Had there been any other channel of being here, I would have been notified by the embassies, because the embassies in the different countries that we lived in knew exactly what was happening with myself, with my children. At some point the father had abandoned the children with me in South Africa with no immigration status. The British embassy knew full well that we were in dire straits, and not much help was available, so I think I have been failed.

Break in Debate

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

4 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Q So we need something that is unignorable? Part of that is about creating the opportunity for it, and part of it is making sure that the vehicle that is created is filled by the right person—not just now, but into the future.

Lyndsey Dearlove: Yes, and the domestic abuse definition is incredibly important. That is used so much either to enable people to access services, or sometimes as the gatekeeper. It is vital to have the right definition that speaks to all the people who experience domestic abuse and understands those experiences. Including economic abuse within that is absolutely imperative.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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4 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

Q I was interested in what you said about the MARACs, having been responsible for MARACs in a previous life. What do you think the Bill will do, if anything, to strengthen MARACs and the ability to work across agencies?

Lyndsey Dearlove: The Bill talks around MARACs quite efficiently and gives additional powers to the police and the criminal justice system. However, it does not look at the third sector’s involvement in MARAC, or at making it a statutory obligation for people to be at that table and ensuring that the people who come to the table bring the right information and act on it.

In a way, the Bill will be great because we will see a resurgence in attention, but the reality is that in a couple of years’ time we will be saying the same things. We cannot let that happen. MARAC, and attention to detail around victims of domestic abuse and safety planning, must remain an incredibly important and prioritised issue in all agencies.

Does anyone else have any questions? In that case, thank you very much for your evidence this afternoon.

Examination of Witness

Dame Vera Baird QC gave evidence.

Break in Debate

We have two minutes. I know Nickie wanted to come in.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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Q There has been a lot of discussion today about whether children are direct or indirect victims of domestic abuse if they are within a family or household where domestic abuse is taking place, but they are not actually being abused physically themselves—but they are witnessing a parent. How do you feel—I am speaking particularly to you, Councillor Simon, with your local government hat on— about whether children should be considered victims, whether they are indirectly or directly affected?

Simon Blackburn: Children are direct victims—

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
- Hansard - -

Should they be considered victims?

Simon Blackburn: When I was a social worker—I used to be a child protection social worker—I had numerous arguments with my bosses and the police along the lines that even if the children were not present in the house, and were staying at grandma’s, for instance, and there was an altercation and their mother was hurt by their father or her partner, the children were none the less victims, because when they returned home the trauma, whether physical or emotional, is there, and it impacts on Mum’s ability to parent and her ability to manage relationships with the children. So it does not even matter if they are physically present. They are direct victims, in my view.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
- Hansard - -

Q How do you think councils could deal with that if the definition covered children?

Simon Blackburn: The Children Act, the legislation under which all social workers operate, is clear that children are at the front and centre of every assessment that is completed, so I am not sure that there is a need for anything. There may be a need to emphasise that. There may be a need for Ofsted and the Department for Education to remind local authority social services departments of that, but I think that is already very clear in legislation.

We have run out of time for this sitting. I thank our last two witnesses very much for coming along.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Rebecca Harris.)

Domestic Abuse Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Tuesday 28th April 2020

(7 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber

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Ministry of Justice

On resuming—

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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The measures outlined in this Bill send a clear message both to survivors and perpetrators: domestic abuse should not and will not be tolerated. Domestic abuse is a heinous, horrific crime, not just because of the lasting damage it will do to its survivors but because it strikes at the heart of what most of us hold so dear: our family; our home. The place where we are meant to feel safest, most loved and cherished becomes a prison—a dark and frightening place, and, in the very worst cases, a mental and physical torture chamber. Domestic abuse does not discriminate. It can occur in any relationship, gay or straight, in any family behind any closed door. There is not a single community or socioeconomic group that is unaffected by this crime. Its victims, its survivors and its perpetrators are our friends, family members, neighbours and colleagues.

In the past month, all our lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis, and covid-19 has shone a dark light on domestic abuse. For some families, things are incredibly hard, trapped at home for most if not all of the day, creating the perfect storm that makes domestic abuse much more likely. I welcome the Government’s recently launched domestic abuse campaign, You Are Not Alone, as part of their corona emergency response.

When we talk about domestic abuse, we generally think about adults. However, children and young people are often the hidden victims of domestic abuse, simply considered to be witnesses and not directly affected. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Barnardo’s for the help it has provided me with preparing for this speech. It is an outstanding charity, one among many, whose phone line and policy work help thousands of children and young people experiencing domestic abuse directly or indirectly. It is estimated that one in five children aged under 18 experience domestic abuse at some point in their childhood. Three quarters of Barnardo’s frontline staff are working with children impacted by domestic abuse.

The damage and devastating impact that witnessing domestic abuse can do to a child’s development, their educational attainment and their long-term mental health can have a lasting effect on their life. It affects their ability to form happy, healthy relationships, and often leaves them trapped in a lifelong cycle of violence, either as a victim or even as an abuser themselves. Can you imagine the effect on a child who has had to endure watching and listening to a parent, often a mother, being screamed at, beaten, their every moment controlled by their abuser, day in and night out, for many, many years? Imagine growing up in a home that is meant to be your sanctuary—your safety net—where every morning you wake up and dread going downstairs, not knowing whether a wrong word or look will start the abuse off again.

I would like to pay tribute to a constituent of mine, the broadcaster and journalist Charlie Webster, who is a domestic abuse survivor herself. She has told me her story of the systematic physical, emotional and coercive abuse that she suffered from the age of seven at the hands of her stepfather. It is hard to believe that she is still alive when you hear her story. She told me last week that she is convinced that if her abuse occurred today, during lockdown, she and her mum would not have survived. It is Charlie’s experience of Barnardo’s policy work that has led me to conclude that a desperately needed amendment to this Bill is required if we are going to help children through the trauma of growing up in a domestic abuse home.

The Government have added a welcome clause, clause 53, putting a duty on public authorities to ensure support for victims who live in safe accommodation, usually a refuge. My fear is that, as currently drafted, the Bill risks creating a two-tier system, helping those in supported accommodation, but not those still at home, and we already know that the majority of adults and child victims remain in their family home or elsewhere in the community. It is therefore vital that we fix this anomaly in the Bill so that all victims of domestic abuse can expect and receive the support they need to recover from harm and move on with their lives. I hope that Ministers will accept that clause 53 should be amended. Domestic abuse does not discriminate and neither should the law.

I commend the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, and I pray that when it finally does become law, it will lead to a better understanding of domestic abuse among the public and public agencies, and that it will ensure that no vulnerable child or adult will be left to suffer.

Rosie Duffield Portrait Rosie Duffield (Canterbury) (Lab)
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I would like to thank all those who have made this possible—in particular the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), whom I also thank for her kind words earlier.

A few months ago, when I rose to speak on the Domestic Violence Bill, I had no idea just how much of an impact those eight minutes would have on my life. Within a couple of hours my speech had gone viral on social media, it was all over the globe, in the press and on television and radio. I chose to speak about something extremely personal because I felt it was important to remind others, the vast majority of whom are of course women, that they are not alone, and to make the point that they have not been singled out because of who they are, their social or financial status, their profession, their lifestyle or their physical appearance.

Anyone can find themselves in a situation like I did, and nobody attracts another person with the truth about their brutal temper or their ulterior motives. A witty description of their controlling behaviour will not feature on their dating site profiles, and their work colleagues will have absolutely no clue that, when they return home from work, they do so to an extremely anxious partner, who will have spent their day trying to anticipate any bear traps or tripwires that could trigger the familiar pattern of a night that then spirals downwards through an exhausting routine of aggression, accusation, rage, threats and pain.

I wanted to speak directly to those women, like me, struggling to make sense of the conflicting message of words of endless love dished out with actions of brutal hate. That simply is not love. Love should never hurt like that. We can spend years trying to make excuses for our abusers, justifying their terrible behaviour and blaming ourselves, just as they do, but it is not your fault: it is never your fault. The only person to blame is the person who uses their fists or their physical power as a weapon.

After my speech, I received hundreds of emails. They still arrive every day as reminders of the grim reality in many households across the UK. The stories are often shocking and provoke reactions of horror and sorrow, but also relief because, mostly, these are survivors’ stories, told to me from their past. The ones I do not hear from as much, however, are those who are right in the middle of this reality right now. They are living locked down, locked in, locked away: threatened and terrorised by someone who thinks it is okay to use his wife, partner or family as an emotional or physical punch bag. What almighty cowards they are—bullies who seize the opportunity of a global crisis to show those smaller and weaker than them that they are in control. Whether you are a manual worker or a magnate with millions, if you use your fists or your fury to frighten those closest to you, you are certainly not in control, and you need to stop.

During these extraordinary last couple of months, we have rightly come to recognise those in our communities who carry out the vital services that we mostly take for granted. From refuse collectors to surgeons, and from teachers to council officers, all have played an incredibly important role in ensuring that things still work while all that we know is upside down. Those people have shown such dedication and love for our country when we need them the most. They have worked under enormous pressure, and above or beyond their pay grade or basic training.

Our police forces are not only upholding brand new emergency legislation, but keeping an eye on the most vulnerable in our communities, which includes those at risk of or suffering from domestic violence. They are dealing with a huge increase in incidents and doing their utmost to protect those who need to be protected. Likewise, there are wonderful people who work as counsellors, run helplines, or organise emergency refuge and shelter for those who need to flee from a situation in their home that poses more of a threat than a potentially deadly and incurable virus.

I thank the incredible women who have come into my life over the past few months and worked tirelessly to campaign for recognition of, and desperately needed funding for, the services that put women’s lives back together. They include women such as Elaine from my local domestic violence refuge, Rising Sun. She is listed on my phone if I need to talk to her for a bit or to have a boost, just as she is for many other women in my part of Kent. However, services such as Rising Sun, and national services such as Refuge, Women’s Aid and SafeLives, have had their funding cut. At a time when calls on such services have doubled, it is essential that the Government listen to Labour Front Benchers today as they explain what funds are urgently needed. I join them in urging the Government to ringfence 10% of the £750 million fund for domestic abuse charities.

The coronavirus is devastating lives, families and professionals, and we know that it will damage our economy for many years to come. It is, however, a false economy not to invest in the women and families whose lives are stunted and stifled by domestic abuse. Given the right support, those people can and will grow and soar. They will help to stop the cycles of violence surrounding them, and they will probably give back to society far more than they have taken out at their time of greatest need.