Theresa May contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21


Mon 6th July 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Commons Chamber)
Report stage: House of Commons
15 interactions (845 words)
Tue 28th April 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
3 interactions (807 words)

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Report stage: House of Commons)
Theresa May Excerpts
Monday 6th July 2020

(7 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Home Office
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Order. We move on to the seven-minute limit.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con)
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6 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

May I say how much I welcome the fact that the Bill has returned for its Report stage and Third Reading? This is a very important Bill. I will not be able to speak on Third Reading, so I shall take this opportunity to thank the Ministers who have shown their significant commitment to the Bill in taking it through the Committee and the House. I thank all the officials in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, who I know, from my time in the Home Office, also have a very real commitment to seeing that we have improved legislation to help the victims of domestic abuse. I also thank all Members of this House, because this is truly a Bill where there has been cross-party support and where every effort has been made to ensure that the Bill can go through in the best shape that it can. I will come to an area where there is obviously, as we have seen, a difference of opinion across the Chamber, but I think that this has been an excellent example of the House at its best, working with Government to improve the lives of victims up and down the country.

I want to welcome, particularly, two of the amendments that the Government have put forward—first, new clause 15, which relates to children. I have said before in the Chamber that this is, as my hon. Friend the Minister referenced, an important area. For too long, we turned a blind eye to the impact that domestic abuse had on children in a home in which that abuse was taking place. It is absolutely right that we should now recognise that those children are also affected. Their lives are affected and for so many, their whole future adulthood has been affected by what they have experienced, seen or heard within their home, where domestic abuse is taking place.

I also particularly welcome the way in which the Government have dealt with the issue of the rough sex defence. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) for the campaign that they have fought to keep this at the forefront of thinking and ensure that some changes could be made in relation to the Bill.

I want to pick up on what is—as is clear from what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), has just said—an area of disagreement across the Chamber in relation to migrant women. I and others across the House will of course have dealt with cases of constituents who have come to this country, very often with the hope and expectation that they would marry and have a happy and settled life here in the future, only to find themselves the victims of domestic abuse and to find that their immigration status, or their uncertain immigration status, is used by their abusers as a further way to abuse them and keep them within that abusive relationship. Obviously the DDVC acted in relation to those who are here on partner visas, but there is concern that there are those who still fall through the net and find themselves unable to access the support necessary for them.

I take the Minister’s point that those who have come on other visas have generally, if not in all cases, had to show that they have independent financial support, but it is perfectly possible that they might find themselves in a relationship where the removal of that financial support is part of the abuse they are suffering. We have to take account of that as we look at this issue.

Break in Debate

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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I am afraid I am on a strict time limit.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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You get an extra minute.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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It has been so long that I had forgotten. I will give way.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes
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I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Does she agree that some of the posters we have seen during the course of covid, emphasising that domestic abuse is something that always works at home, have been incredibly compelling in getting across the message that she is seeking to make?

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. I would also say that some of the local health trusts in my area in Berkshire have put together small videos getting out important messages about the support that is available and the fact that that support is there for people who are the victims of domestic abuse.

I hope the Government are going to publicise this Bill. It is important that victims and perpetrators know the implications of the Bill, particularly the fact that for domestic violence protection orders and notices, for example, it is not up to the victim to apply—others and third parties can apply for those things. Perpetrators need to know that.

Overall, this is a very important Bill. I welcome the cross-party support for it. I hope it will have a swift passage through the other place, because the sooner this Bill is on the statute book, the sooner we can provide extra support and help to the victims of domestic abuse. We will be able to say to them, “We are on your side. We understand. We want to help. It is not your fault”. The sooner the Bill is on the statute book, the sooner we can say to perpetrators, “This has got to stop.”

Yvette Cooper Portrait Yvette Cooper
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6 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

May I begin by welcoming the work that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) has done on domestic abuse over many years, the personal interest that she has taken in the issue, and her work on coercive control and on getting this Bill started in the first place?

I welcome the Bill and the amendments that the Government have tabled, particularly those around strengthening protections for children, strengthening protections in court and ending the appalling rough sex defence. I welcome the Government’s response to Members right across the House, who have been campaigning so powerfully for added measures and for changes to protect people from this awful crime—this torture in the home. The importance of this Bill and these measures has only grown during the coronavirus crisis, as perpetrators have exploited lockdown to increase their control and abuse, and calls to helplines and concerns have increased. Since the beginning of lockdown, 35 women and children have been murdered by a partner or ex.

I particularly want to speak to new clauses 32 and 33, which have cross-party support. I pay tribute to Laura Richards at Paladin who was behind a lot of this work, and encourage the Government to look at the report that she has published today which shows that there is a serious gap in the way our system responds to the risk from serial perpetrators of abuse. There are systems in place, such as multi-agency risk assessment conferences, to manage the risks to repeat victims, but there are no proper systematic approaches in place to monitor or tackle repeat perpetrators. These are dangerous people—predominantly dangerous men—who may go on to become ever more dangerous.

We need to make sure that when the call comes in about domestic abuse by someone who has been convicted before for abuse against someone else, it is not just treated as a new or one-off offence. We need to ensure that there are systems in place to join up the dots to link police, probation and support services together and to monitor people who have a series of previous domestic abuse or stalking convictions so that if they start a new relationship, the police and local services know that a new family are at risk and can take action. Too often, that does not happen. Clare’s law does not solve the problem because it relies on an individual asking about an offender’s history. What if they do not know to ask? What if they are too scared? Why is it still left to victims to ask for help, rather than having a proper system in place to monitor serial abusers and offenders? As Laura Richards points out,

“professionals load the victim up with actions and a safety plan and rarely do any multi-agency problem solving and risk management regarding the perpetrator.”

New clause 32 calls on the Government properly to review the way in which serial abusers are monitored and managed, and to publish that review swiftly. New clause 33 sets out a stronger way to respond to serial abusers, by bringing them into the process for managing serious offenders—the multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPAs—so that serial domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers can be properly addressed. So far, the Government have resisted this.

In response to the recommendation in our Home Affairs Committee report on this subject a few years ago, they said, “Well, we will work with the police and with existing information systems.” Those information systems are not working. The police national database is far too sporadic and patchy with regards to the way in which police officers respond to this issue across the country. The Government have said that they do not want a stand-alone register, but this does not have to be a stand-alone register. The whole point is to bring this into the existing MAPPA and violent and sex offender register—ViSOR—processes that are currently used for sex offenders and the most serious violent offenders. We have processes that can work. Why not use them for serial domestic abusers who can escalate that abuse?

Nor is it good enough for the Government to simply say, “Well, there’s a lot of good work under way. We’ve got to respond to pilots.” We have already heard them say in response to the powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), on the need to address the issue of no recourse to public funds for migrant women, that we need to wait for pilots. In that case, it is not enough to respond to pilots. We should be taking some action while we wait for those pilots to conclude.

Similarly, on serial domestic abusers, by all means let us have pilots and different measures in place on how best to respond to perpetrators, but let us get on with having the systems that can join up the information so that the police and probation can work together and know who those dangerous serial abusers are. The tragedy is that Laura Richards’s report lists case after case where that did not happen, where someone has been murdered and the killer had a history—the killer had abused many times before—and the police, probation services and others did not have a system in place to identify that and to respond. It has happened too many times.

If Ministers will not listen to me and will not listen to the Select Committee when we make these recommendations, perhaps they will instead listen to the calls from the families of victims. Perhaps they will listen to the words of John Clough, the father of Jane Clough, who said,

“It’s way past time serial abusers and stalkers were treated with the same gravitas as sex offenders and managed in a similar fashion”,

or those of Celia Peachey, daughter of Maria Stubbings, who said,

“My mum was failed and the lessons have not been learned. Our current system is failing women and children—violent men must be made visible. Men with violent histories must be checked and joined up.”

I urge the Minister not to simply reject these amendments out of hand. Even if the Government are not yet able to accept new clause 33, which would set up the system and process to manage serial offenders, I urge them to at least accept new clause 32, to urgently review the risk management of these serial abusers and offenders across the country and report back, so that we can keep more women safe.

Break in Debate

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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6 Jul 2020, 12:03 a.m.

My right hon. Friend he tempts me into new territory. As the Government and I develop a White Paper on sentencing reform that will be published later in the year, we will have ample opportunity to engage properly on such issues. My right hon. Friend knows that I come to this role with, shall we say, a little bit of form on the issue of sentencing and a long experience in it, and I want to use that White Paper as the opportunity to set something clear, firm and understandable that will only increase public confidence in the sentencing system in England and Wales.

Before I move on to the question of migrant victims, I pause to pay warm tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) and, indeed, to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who is part of my ministerial team at the Ministry of Justice. Together, they did not just do their duty, but did it with zeal, passion and a deep commitment to the issues. I know that that commitment is shared by Opposition spokesmen, too, and pay tribute to them for their assiduous work on this issue. True cross-party co-operation can move mountains, and this Bill is an emblematic example of that important principle.

Let me return to the important issue of migrant victims of domestic abuse and the review that has been conducted. We acknowledge that more needs to be done to support migrant victims who do not qualify under the destitute domestic violence concession or other mechanisms—that is very clear—but we do need to assess precisely that need, as outlined by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle. That is why the £1.5 million pilot scheme that is to be launched later in the year will provide support additional to the mechanisms that have already been discussed. It will also provide the evidence necessary to help to inform decisions about a long-term solution.

The provision of better protection and support for victims of domestic abuse and their children is at the very heart of the Bill. In the first Second Reading debate —on the previous version of the Bill—I told my own story about being a young barrister dealing with a domestic abuse case, one of many that were dealt with somewhat differently, shall we say, in those days from how they are dealt with now. That does not necessarily mean that we should be complacent about where we have come to with regards to how we deal with domestic violence, but it is right to say that if the phrase “It’s only a domestic” has not previously been consigned to the history books, this Bill will make sure that it is. We owe it to the 2.4 million victims a year to ensure that the justice system and local support services work better for them.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs May
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I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for the kind remarks he made earlier. He has just outlined the importance of this Bill. Will the Government do everything they can to ensure that, in timetabling it through the other place, it is given the priority it needs to ensure that we can get it on the statute book as soon as possible?

Robert Buckland Portrait Robert Buckland
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6 Jul 2020, 12:05 a.m.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and with alacrity I give her that undertaking. I know that my colleagues in the other place will share the same ambition that we have here, and I will work with them to make sure that the Bill makes its proper passage through that House so that we can give it the Royal Assent that we all want it to attain.

Ultimately, we all just want the abuse to stop, but in the meantime we must, and we will, do everything we can to protect vulnerable people, to protect victims and their children, and to offer them the safety and support they so desperately need and deserve. I commend this Bill to the House.

Domestic Abuse Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Theresa May Excerpts
Tuesday 28th April 2020

(10 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Ministry of Justice
Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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As you can imagine, a lot of people have put in to speak in this debate, so we are introducing a five-minute limit, apart from for the SNP Front-Bench spokesperson. Those contributing from outside the Chamber will not be able to see the clock, so I hope they have their own timers visible to them, because we have to be strict in order to get as many people in as we possibly can. I call Theresa May.

Theresa May Portrait Mrs Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con) [V]
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28 Apr 2020, 12:01 a.m.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

May I add my thanks to all those who have made this hybrid debate possible, because this Bill is hugely important? Domestic abuse damages lives. It can cost lives and it can scar adults and children for the rest of their lives. Of course, it also costs our society and economy dear. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have had courage to speak out about their experiences. I would also like particularly to commend the hon. Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for their contributions to the debate on 2 October.

This Bill is an incredibly important opportunity for us to ensure that we improve the legislative environment for dealing with domestic abuse and that, by doing so, we improve the response of Government and other agencies. If we get it right, it will not only improve people’s lives; it will save lives.

It is important, as those on the Front Benches have said, that we are debating this Bill during the covid-19 crisis, because as covid-19 has required people to stay at home, to be locked down in their homes, it has set an environment where perpetrators have greater freedom to act, where victims find it harder to leave an abusive situation. The figures are clear: domestic abuse increases during lockdown.

We know, as the Justice Secretary told us, that the services are still there. The police are still there to respond to reports of domestic violence. We must reiterate today that the lockdown legislation specifically allows people to leave home to escape the risk of harm, so those who are in a domestic abuse situation can leave and seek the support they need. What we must also recognise, however, is that it is much harder for them to leave and to report domestic abuse, because perpetrators have been given greater control of them in the lockdown situation. They can take their mobiles away and stop them walking out of that front door.

I urge police officers and local authorities to look at the past experience of the New York Police Department, and to consider, as I know some already are, the random contact with or visiting of homes where there are known perpetrators or where there have been reports of domestic violence. It must be done carefully to ensure that it does not exacerbate a situation, but it can help those victims.

I also urge Government, as they consider the exit strategy from lockdown, to think of the impact that lockdown has had on domestic abuse. I want Government to look not just at the impact of relaxing restrictions on capacity in the national health service, although we must all have a concern for our wonderful NHS staff and care workers and for those who contract the disease, but at the impact of lockdown on our overall health and wellbeing as a nation. That of course includes the economy, but it must also include the impact on domestic abuse and mental health. We cannot have a situation where the cure for the disease does more damage than the disease itself. When it is in place, this Bill will help victims and improve the criminal justice response, but as lockdown is eased the Government also need to ensure that the criminal justice system and services for victims can cope with what could be a significant increase in reports of domestic abuse.

On the detail of the Bill, I welcome the important step of setting a clear definition of domestic abuse. I just want to touch on three quick points. We need to ensure that the Bill properly recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children. Just because they are in a different room from the abuse does not mean that they will not be affected by it.

The role of employers is important. A good employer can set the scenario where their employees are able to report and speak about the domestic abuse that they are the victims of and to know that they will be supported. I commend the work of Elizabeth Filkin and the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse. I have tried to find a way of recognising employers’ work in the Bill. I am not sure it is possible, but I hope the Minister will be able to recognise it in winding up.

Thirdly, as well as supporting victims, we need to stop perpetrators. We need to ensure that perpetrator programmes can be properly accredited. It is a difficult area, but we need to give it far more attention than we have in the past. So this is a hugely important piece of legislation. Too many lives are damaged and too many lives are lost because of domestic abuse. If we get this Bill right, it can help to achieve our ultimate goal, which is eradicating domestic abuse.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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Thank you very much. I call Joanna Cherry, Front-Bench spokesperson, with a 10-minute limit.