Victoria Atkins debates with Ministry of Justice

There have been 5 exchanges between Victoria Atkins and Ministry of Justice

Wed 17th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Eleventh sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 16 interactions (2,589 words)
Thu 11th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Eighth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 9 interactions (794 words)
Wed 10th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Sixth sitting) (Public Bill Committees) 22 interactions (2,438 words)
Tue 28th April 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill 2 interactions (1,945 words)
Wed 2nd October 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill 7 interactions (2,031 words)

Domestic Abuse Bill (Eleventh sitting)

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

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Ministry of Justice
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 10:24 a.m.

I absolutely do think that, but obviously not all of them, by any stretch of the imagination. We were told that we were taking back control, but the only thing I feel we actually took back control of was the extra quid I have to pay when I have my period. We will not have to pay the tampon tax anymore. Some of the most vulnerable people in our society are relying on the good will of various pilot projects here, there and everywhere, and we are not expressing in our laws that we see those victims. I recognise that that fund has helped lots of people, but we have an opportunity to change this permanently.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard

Just to be careful, the tampon tax funding was to assess the nature and scale of the women who cannot claim DDVC. Of course, women who do claim DDVC—there are about 2,500 of them—are not dependent on tampon tax funding. That is business as usual for the Home Office. It is funded by the taxpayer year in, year out.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

I absolutely agree. I love the DDVC and what I am asking for is business as usual for the people serving coffee. I want the situation to be business as usual for everyone. Business as usual should mean that in this country, if someone, no matter who they are, gets punched in the face, or raped in the evening, we say “D’you know what? We’ll help you.” That is the kind of country that we want to live in.

As I was saying, with both the proposals currently in the pilot projects there is a failure to appreciate the urgency and seriousness of the risk of abuse and destitution that abused migrant women and those on non-spousal visas face. Pilot projects take considerable time—sometimes years—to complete and evaluate, and can be followed by further pilot projects. That simply delays the introduction of the urgent measures that are needed now to protect abused migrant women.

Also, I am not sure why we would not write the pilot project in question into the Bill, because, as everyone knows, there are a number of pilot projects in it. Domestic abuse protection orders are in a pilot project, and so is polygraph testing. The Bill loves a little pilot project. The Home Office has been stalling on addressing the need to implement immediate protection measures for migrant women. It is not good enough just to have an ongoing internal review. We need action.

The internal review has been supplemented by a series of meetings, including ministerial roundtables and periodic calls for evidence, as well as engagement with the sector organisations on a regular basis. I am disappointed that the Home Office has not yet published the outcome of the review, ahead of Committee, so that it could be properly scrutinised, and that it has chosen instead to announced a proposed pilot project.

My position, which reflects the overwhelming views of the sector—the police, the Victims Commissioner, the domestic abuse commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner and social services—is that the domestic violence rule and all the ways in which it works brilliantly should be extended to all migrant survivors. That brings me to new clause 35, which would do exactly that. If I could have anything of all the items in the group—and I recognise that I do not get everything I want—it would be new clause 35.

The domestic violence rule was introduced in 2002. We did not call it that in 2002; it was called the Sojourner project, which I like to say with a Birmingham accent. It was introduced to provide migrants on a spousal or partner visa with a way to apply for indefinite leave to remain when the relationship had broken down because of domestic violence.

In 2012, the destitution domestic violence concession was introduced. It gave domestic violence rule applicants three months of temporary leave and a right to have access to limited state benefits while an application for indefinite leave under the domestic violence rule was considered. The domestic violence rule and destitution domestic violence concession work. Well done to the Home Office. Bravo. It did a great job. It works. It is not perfect, but it does a good job.

That twin-track approach provides a vital lifeline for domestic violence victims on spousal and partner visas, because it allows survivors to resolve their immigration status as well as having access to emergency funding. Ultimately that helps them to become independent of the perpetrator and the state. Yet currently the domestic violence rule and destitution domestic violence concession do not extend to migrant victims on non-spousal visas. That includes victims who are on student or other visas such as work permit holders and domestic workers. We have essentially created a two-tier system. What I find unusual about that two-tier system is that, in my experience of some of the more problematic issues in the visa system and its use for safeguarding, the spousal visa bit is not what I would favour.

Between April 2015 and March 2016, 67% of users who accessed the Southall Black Sisters no recourse fund, supported by the tampon tax, were on non-spousal visas. A survey conducted by Southall Black Sisters between November 2012 and January 2013 found that 64% of 242 women did not qualify for the DDVC and were without a safety net. Similarly, Women’s Aid reported that over a one-year period, two-thirds of its users with NRPF were not eligible for statutory support because they were on non-spousal visas and had no recourse to public funds.

Break in Debate

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:04 a.m.

Sorry, I am just getting over the shock of that!

It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that the Bill is good strong legislation and that its primary focus is on supporting victims of domestic abuse, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or immigration status. We should remember, in all of this, that it could be, at any point, not just someone we do not know, but our sister, our friend or our colleague. It could be any one of us and we should put ourselves in that position and ask ourselves what we would want the Bill to do to defend us.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:04 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I welcome the opportunity to debate this issue in Committee, because very often, with the best will in the world, the very nature of parliamentary questions and oral questions and so on is that they are quick and the next question is heading up and so on. I am pleased that we can spend some time debating this issue today.

I say that because I wish it was as easy as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has painted—I really do. I think she has the measure of me by now; she could not accuse me of not being compassionate, of not understanding or of not wanting to do the very best that we can for victims of domestic abuse. Against that background, I must not be led by my heart alone, but must also use my head to deal with some of the points and suggestions that have been made.

Let us focus first on that about which we all agree: that victims of abuse should first and foremost be treated as victims. Where we differ perhaps is on how we achieve that, the nature of the support and how it is best provided. For the benefit of those who do not have copies of the new clauses in front of them, they do not deal with services, provision of refuge spaces and so on; they deal only with the provision of legal aid and changes to immigration status. I say that because I am painting the journey that we have taken over the last year on the pilot project. It is very important to bear in mind that, even though the new clauses are being debated, the Government have committed to the pilot project to get some data and evidence on which we can create specific and careful policy.

New clause 29 seeks to extend entitlement for legal aid to migrant victims in relation to their immigration and nationality status. The legal aid scheme is targeted at those who need it and the Government have always been clear that publicly funded immigration advice is available to some particularly vulnerable individuals. The destitution domestic violence concession is run by the Home Office and was created because we understood that there is a problem with victims of domestic abuse who came to this country on spousal visas with legitimate expectations about setting up their lives and those of their family here. We were alerted to and saw that there was a problem, and the DDVC was created.

Under the DDVC, victims are eligible for legal aid when applying for indefinite leave to remain or for residence cards, subject to the statutory means and merits tests—that three-month period can be extended. I have looked at the figures myself; indeed, I looked at the form this morning to refresh my memory. It is a simple form—certainly simpler than some of the forms that the Home Office produces—and it is, I would say, a light-touch form, precisely because we appreciate that it may be used by traumatised victims and we want to be sensitive to their states and circumstances. It is a light-touch form just to log them into the system, as it were, and from that, the benefits—legal aid and so on—can flow where they apply.

People who are not on a spousal visa and who are not therefore eligible for the DDVC may still be eligible for help with legal aid through the exceptional case funding scheme, so long as relevant criteria are met. That scheme is specifically designed for cases in which the failure to provide legal aid could risk a breach of an individual’s human rights. In those circumstances, provided that an applicant passes the means and merits test, legal aid must be granted. The Ministry of Justice is making changes to the scheme to ensure that it is easy to follow and accessible to all, including by simplifying the forms and guidance and working with the Legal Aid Agency to improve the timeliness of decisions.

In the situations that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley mentioned, such as leave to enter, leave to remain and citizenship, victims of domestic abuse can already apply for legal aid through the exceptional case funding scheme, if they are not already eligible under DDVC. One of the consequences of new clause 29 would be that domestic abuse victims would be eligible for legal aid for applications under the EU settlement scheme.

The scheme has been designed to be streamlined and user friendly, and the majority of applicants would be able to apply without the need for advice from a lawyer. Indeed, the latest figures, as of 30 April, show that 3,220,000 applications have been completed. Again, it is not an arduous process. We have deliberately tried to make it as streamlined as possible, while ensuring that the requirements are met in terms of years lived in the country, precisely because we want to help people—our friends, our family—stay in the country in January next year.

The Home Office has put in place measures to ensure that people who may have difficulty with the online scheme have help. We appreciate that age or different circumstances may mean that not everybody is as tech savvy as the younger generation, so we have put help in place. Even then, we have legal aid as a safeguard, if it is necessary. While we recognise the importance of providing support to domestic abuse victims, we consider that the current scope of legal aid and the availability of the exceptional case funding scheme already ensure that victims of domestic abuse can access legal aid when they need to.

New clauses 35 and 36 seek to provide at least six months of leave and access to public funds to all victims of domestic abuse who do not fall within the spousal visa DDVC scheme. This would mean that all migrant victims of domestic abuse would have a route to indefinite leave to remain and ensure that they could access publicly funded support.

If I understand the objective of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley correctly, she wants to extend the DDVC scheme and the domestic violence rule to cover all migrant victims of domestic abuse, to place the DDVC in the immigration rules, and to lift immigration restrictions for any migrant victim of domestic abuse. I will try to break down the figures and I will go into them further in a little while. I appreciate the help from the sector. The hon. Lady was a little unkind to me when she described the way in which we have used the sector. We appreciate the help that the sector has given us on this, but we want to consolidate it and build on it, which is why we are investing in a pilot project later this year.

Southall Black Sisters responded to the Home Office as part of our work over the last year. Again, I will go into that more in a moment. Of the people that they helped in 2019-20, 43% of the women had a spousal visa on arrival and/or upon their contact with services. In Southall Black Sisters’ assessment, the next most frequent category of immigration status among people they helped was right down at 8%. That gives us an idea about how many immigration statuses and routes there are, which is a factor that the Government must take into account.

The next most common category of women that they helped, after those on spousal visas, was those who were seeking asylum. Happily for people who are seeking asylum, there is a whole network of support for them. It goes without saying that not every person who applies for asylum is a victim of domestic abuse, but, again, we have listened to the sector. We have changed the system for people who are in the asylum system and are experiencing abuse, so that they get a few top-up payments to help them access the specialist support services they need, including safe accommodation.

After the category of asylum seekers, which was 8%, there are three categories with 5% in each. Those categories are EU dependants, people who had overstayed on their visitor visas and people who were described as overstayers on unspecified visas. I say that to give context to the variety of circumstances that victims may find themselves in, but I am afraid that treating them in a blanket way gives us cause for concern.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:15 a.m.

Personally, Minister, I do not care how people came into the country if they have been beaten up.

Anyway, with regard to asylum, when the Minister states here in front of the Committee that we give specialist support to victims in the asylum system, I would absolutely love to hear about some of that specialist support. For example, if someone was a victim of domestic abuse and they entered into National Asylum Support Service accommodation in my constituency, what is the specialist support they would get in that accommodation?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

Members will no doubt allow me just to flick through the timeline; for those who are not in the room, it is a thick document, so it may take me some time to find the—

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:15 a.m.

If the Minister would like me to intervene again, and tell her what support is—

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:16 a.m.

May I record my thanks to the Chair, and also acknowledge the work that he has done on this topic, and the difficult questions that he asks me on occasion during Home Office oral questions? I am extremely grateful to him.

There is a Home Office policy entitled, “Domestic abuse: responding to reports of domestic abuse from asylum seekers”, which is dated 16 July 2019. I am told that the policy changes set out in that document provided a concession whereby victims of domestic abuse in asylum support accommodation can apply for top-up payments to cover the cost of transferring to a specialist domestic abuse refuge.

We are listening and we are very much trying to be led by the evidence. However, I will make the point that we need a firmer evidence base. That is not a criticism of the charities involved, but we need to understand this very diverse group of people, who are diverse in terms of their experiences; we need to understand the nature of the abuse and the ways in which they have come to be in our country. That is relevant because—[Interruption.] It is relevant, and I will go on to say why in a moment. We also need to understand the experiences that they may have at home with their family members, and so on. Understanding all of that is important to ensure that public money is spent in the best way possible under our policy.

The Joint Committee that scrutinised the Bill considered similar changes to the DDVC and domestic violence indefinite leave to remain, or DVILR. I have to say that its recommendations fell short of the proposals to incorporate the DDVC scheme within the immigration rules. I also have to say that we are not attracted to the approach being set out today either. The DDVC scheme is an administrative scheme and it has worked successfully on that basis since its introduction in 2012. As a concession operated outside the rules, it can be applied flexibly and can readily be amended as the need arises. Placing the scheme within the rules would remove this flexibility.

In response to the Joint Committee’s recommendation, we undertook a review into the overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse, and we intend to publish the findings ahead of Report. Just to give an idea of the lengths we have gone to with this review, we examined 100 cases in which the claimant had applied for indefinite leave to remain on the grounds of domestic violence. We specifically looked at the length of time spent in the UK, and at whether the claimant had arrived on a partner visa or had formed their partnership after arrival in the UK. We also looked at the main providers of third-party evidence in these cases and whether or not they were being accommodated in a refuge with access to public funds. Gender and other characteristics were also recorded.

We gathered evidence from a range of stakeholders and held a number of workshops and discussion sessions, to obtain more detailed information and views about the difficulties that migrant victims face. Indeed, some of those meetings and the submissions from the organisations concerned are in the body of work from the past year.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley mentioned Women’s Aid. It was not excluded from the review or any of our work on the matter. Indeed, it was warmly invited and welcomed. Those Welsh colleagues who are concerned that Wales should not be under-represented will be pleased to know that dial-in details were sent to Welsh Women’s Aid as well. In those workshops, with all the organisations that we would expect, including Bawso, Amnesty, Southall Black Sisters and Step Up Migrant Women, we have had frank discussions about what they experience on the ground and what the women they look after face. The results of the review will be published before Report, but I want to set out that the Government have prepared, and continue to prepare, an intensive and detailed piece of work.

I fear that new clause 35 is based on a misunderstanding of the purpose and rationale for the DDVC and the domestic violence rule. They were and are intended to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas. They were designed in that way because the victims in question would, had the relationship not broken down as a result of domestic violence, have had a legitimate expectation of staying in the UK permanently. To compare that with the situation of someone on a visitor visa, such a person comes to the country without a legitimate expectation of staying in the country. I am afraid that the head has to rule the heart in this instance. We have immigration policies and, indeed, the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill is being debated in the Committee Room next to this. We have to try to ensure that immigration policy is maintained. None the less, we need to ensure that there is support for victims when they require it, to help them escape their dangerous relationship.

Neither the DDVC nor the domestic violence rule was designed to support those without the legitimate expectation of remaining in the country. We are concerned that expanding the scope of both provisions would undermine the specific purpose that gave rise to them and introduce a route to settlement that might lead to more exploitation of vulnerable migrants or, indeed, of our immigration system.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:23 a.m.

I do not expect the Minister—or even you, Mr Bone—to be able to filibuster long enough to answer this question, to be perfectly honest, but what evidence is there under the current system, in whatever form and in relation to whatever visa, of women lying about domestic violence to get immigration status? Can I have that evidence, compared with the evidence for those who are turned away? My experience recently—and I respect the point that people sometimes use domestic violence legislation to break the rules—is that sometimes they use it to drive to Barnard Castle. [Interruption.] It is the truth, then. I understand why she thinks people lie.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:24 a.m.

No. I am sorry—can I just try to bring the tone down? Thus far, we have managed to discuss this incredibly emotive subject in a responsible and constructive way. I shall try to continue to do that. I do not for a moment say that people who apply are lying. I absolutely do not say that. What I am worried about, and what I see with modern slavery, for example, is that the people who manipulate, exploit and take advantage will use every way they can find to do it.

Fay Jones Portrait Fay Jones - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:24 a.m.

rose—

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:24 a.m.

rose—

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 11:24 a.m.

I will give the hon. Lady an example, and then after I have developed this point I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, and then to the hon. Member for Edinburgh West.

I recently had one of my regular meetings on the topic of serious violence and county lines gangs. Predominantly young men and boys are targeted by county lines gangs in what we call exporting areas—big cities—to go out to the county to sell drugs.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Thursday 11th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Ministry of Justice
Julie Marson Portrait Julie Marson - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 2:24 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman makes a really important point. Long before I ever see a victim in court, there has been a huge process to get there and to provide the right support. Independent domestic violence advisers and different support mechanisms are in place; there are supporting people who come in and sit with the victim in court, but it is a hugely traumatic experience and support is needed throughout that process.

I would add a point about a common theme among perpetrators. When, in normal criminal cases, shoplifters or burglars or other violent offenders are convicted and sent to prison, there is a shrug of the shoulders—it is a part of their life; a general hazard of the criminality that they are involved in. When I have had—I will use the phrase—the pleasure to convict a perpetrator and send them to prison, it is noticeable that all the power has all of a sudden been stripped away. Their indignance and fury is palpable; you can sense it and see it. That is what makes it a different crime and a different experience, and that is why special measures are important. I speak to that experience.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard

Will my hon. Friend indulge me for a moment? I take the point that the hon. Member for Hove made about the geography and layout of court buildings. Some we cannot change because they are very old. Has my hon. Friend seen the measures that clever judges can introduce to control when defendants are permitted to turn up according to the conditions of bail? For example, the defendant is not permitted to arrive at court until 20 minutes before the court case starts, so that the victim has time to get into the building and into the witness room, or wherever she will be based, and there is no risk of crossover. Does my hon. Friend agree that little tweaks such as that can make a difference?

Julie Marson Portrait Julie Marson - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 2:25 p.m.

Absolutely; I completely agree. We cannot legislate for everything you can do in a court—every courtroom is set out differently. I have seen a lady with two teenage daughters, with the husband, and some really clever dynamics were needed to keep everyone separate, including in the toilets. In my experience, such measures have been very positive. There have been specialist domestic violence courts. Everyone is keenly aware of what is needed and is trying to think ahead for the kinds of measures that can make justice effective and make sure that justice is done. Such measures are all part of that.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 3:36 p.m.

The domestic violence disclosure scheme, which I will refer to from this moment forward as Clare’s law, was introduced in 2014 after Clare Wood was murdered by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton. For those who are unfamiliar with the case, Clare Wood had made several complaints to the police about George Appleton before her death. Those complaints included criminal damage, harassment, threats to kill and sexual assault. A panic room had been installed in her house following an attempted rape.

Clare was unaware that George Appleton had a history of violence against women and had been jailed for three years in 2002 for harassing another woman, and for six months a year earlier after breaching a restraining order. However, he was still able to enter Clare’s home, strangle her and set her on fire. The Independent Police Complaints Commission concluded that Clare had been let down by individual and systematic failures by Greater Manchester police.

Clare’s law was designed to set out procedures that could be used by the police in relation to disclosure of information about previous violent, abusive and offending behaviour by a potentially violent individual towards their partner where that might help to protect that partner from further violent and abusive offending. There are two procedures for disclosing information: the right to ask, which is triggered by a member of the public applying to the police for a disclosure, and the right to know, which is triggered by the police making a proactive decision to disclose information to protect a potential victim. Disclosures are made when it is deemed that there is a pressing need for the disclosure of the information to prevent further crime.

While there is no doubt that Clare’s law was introduced with entirely good intentions—I am not here to challenge that at all—there is some concern that this well-intentioned piece of legislation is currently not operating as it should be, and concern about some alarming instances where, as it operates currently, it could be causing more harm.

First, Clare’s law has had limited use since its creation in 2014. According to data from March 2018, there were 4,655 right to ask applications, resulting in 2,055 disclosures, and 6,313 right to know applications, resulting in 3,594 disclosures, so it can be seen clearly that disclosures are not made in every case. In comparison, in the same time period there were just shy of 1.2 million recorded domestic abuse cases in England and Wales, so we are talking about a very small number of cases that seem to be using the scheme. That in itself is not necessarily evidence that it is not working, but I think it is descriptive of where it may work in some places and not others.

In addition, there appears to be a postcode lottery regarding disclosures. It is assumed that that variation is due to the vague nature of the pressing need test that currently exists in the law. For example, in 2019 Kent had an 8.5% disclosure rate for right to ask disclosures, while Hampshire had a 99.5% rate. That is worrisome, but what is of even greater concern is that the average time taken for each disclosure is 39 days. I imagine all will agree that in cases of domestic abuse, that mitigates quite a lot of the potential prevention and could potentially heighten a victim’s risk.

In addition, while there was a review of the initial pilot phase of Clare’s law and a review one year on, those reviews were procedural and did not consider the impact of the scheme on domestic abuse or analyse the scheme’s value for money. There is therefore no evaluation of whether the disclosures made have any benefit to the person they are made to. In fact, one survey indicated that 45% of early-wave recipients of information went on to be victimised by the partner they warned about. In normal language, that means that 45% of the people who have been given the information following one of the variety of requests under this law went on to be victimised and abused by that person.

One such example is Rosie Darbyshire, who was murdered with a crowbar by her partner Ben Topping. Having made an application for information under Clare’s law on 28 January, she was killed just over a week later on 7 February. She was left unrecognisable after sustaining more than 50 injuries.

Other concerns include the impact of coercive and controlling behaviour where women are unable to contact the police or where contact from the police would only serve to make matters worse. At the beginning of a relationship—I think we can all understand this, and it applies not just to women but anyone—women are often not alive to the risk of domestic abuse. Only when it is too late are they advised of their partner’s past.

Gemma Willis from Teesside, reporting to the BBC, was only advised of Clare’s law after her partner was arrested following smashing her head into a window, slashing her neck with a trowel, hitting her with hammers and threatening to kill her family. Also reporting to the BBC, Dr Sandra Walklate from the University of Liverpool said of the scheme:

“We have no real way of knowing whether it’s working or not”.

While clause 64 operates to place Clare’s law on a statutory footing, the proposed amendments are designed to safeguard against circumstances and the case studies outlined above. The amendments would mean that police should evaluate whether disclosures made under Clare’s law are having a positive impact on the safety and empowerment of victims. I am not seeking for police forces just to do a paper-shuffling exercise: “A request has come in. What will we do with this request? Does it meet the tests as set out in the law?” I am rather seeking for police forces to run some manner of risk assessment on the impact of this disclosure being made, not on the perpetrator but on the victim.

The amendments would also require police to undertake an exercise to establish the efficacy of the disclosures that have been made in the past few years, to simply have a look over how well it is working. The pressing need test, which I have already referred to, would be refined and clarified to create uniformity with future disclosures. Based on information set out, it cannot be argued that my amendments are anything less than essential for the Government, if they want to ensure that Clare’s law is as good as it could be and that the protective effect it was intended to have does not, in some cases, cause harm.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 3:44 p.m.

I would like to take a moment to reflect on the extraordinary campaigns, charities and local efforts, through which families, such as the Wood family, often find the strength and resilience somehow to campaign and carry on when they have suffered a devastating loss in their family. We have heard why Clare’s law is called Clare’s law: her family felt that had she been aware of her murderer’s background, she would have been able to stop the relationship earlier.

There are so many efforts in the world of looking after and helping victims of domestic abuse, both at the national and local level, where people have done the most extraordinary things. I want to put that on record, because I am very conscious of it as we work through the Bill and our non-legislative work.

We absolutely acknowledge that there is much more to be done to raise awareness of the scheme, primarily with the public, but also with the police. We want to increase the number of disclosures and ensure that the scheme is operated consistently across all police forces.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 3:54 p.m.

I am indeed content. I look forward to working with the Minister to ensure that the law—it bears somebody’s name and is their legacy—truly does what Clare’s family wish it to do. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 64 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 65

Grant of secure tenancies in cases of domestic abuse

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

Part 7 of the Bill is a collection of important measures, although there is perhaps not a common theme running through them other than that. The clause relates to secure tenancies and contributes towards the Government’s wider aim to support victims of domestic abuse to leave their abusive circumstances, and to ensure that they and their families have the stability and security they need and deserve.

Clause 65 does two things. First, it will ensure that victims of domestic abuse who have or had a lifetime social tenancy, and who have had to flee their current home to escape abuse, will retain the security of a lifetime tenancy in their new social home where they are granted a new tenancy by a local authority. The provisions apply to all local authorities in England and protect all lifetime social tenants in such circumstances, regardless of whether they hold a secure local authority tenancy or an assured tenancy with a private registered provider of social housing—usually a housing association.

Secondly, the clause will safeguard domestic abuse victims who hold a joint lifetime tenancy and who want to continue living in their home after the perpetrator has moved out or been removed from the property. It does this by providing that, if the local authority grants them a new sole tenancy, it must be a lifetime tenancy. The provisions apply when the tenant is a victim of domestic abuse, and they extend to situations where a member of the household—for example, a child—has suffered domestic abuse. In the year to the end of March 2019, nearly 1,500 local authority lettings were made to social tenants who cited domestic violence as the main reason they left their former social home. Although that is a small proportion of new tenants overall, the provisions would protect more than 1,000 households affected by domestic abuse.

The measures largely mirror current provisions in the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act 2018. That Act, which delivers on a 2017 manifesto commitment, ensures that when the mandatory fixed-term tenancy provisions in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 are brought into force, the security of tenure of victims of domestic abuse will be protected. After listening carefully to the concerns of social housing residents, the Government announced in August 2018 that we had decided not to implement the mandatory fixed-term tenancy provisions at that time. In order to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are protected, we also announced that we would legislate to put in place similar protections for victims of domestic abuse where, as is the case now, local authorities offer fixed-term tenancies at their discretion; the clause gives effect to that commitment. The clause also amends the definition of “domestic abuse” in the 2018 Act to bring it in line with the definition in this provision.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 65 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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

Domestic Abuse Bill (Sixth sitting)

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

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Ministry of Justice
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 2:04 p.m.

I was just discussing the issue of a notice being breached on behalf of the victim. I had started to say that in the case of Caroline Flack, who sadly took her own life, there was a notice between her and her partner that they had not breached. In that instance, the partner would be considered the victim in the context we are discussing. That case has highlighted in the public’s mind the fact that when a victim is told not to contact somebody, there will always be pressures, for lots of different reasons, and certainly if the victim shares children with the perpetrator.

In a case where somebody is struggling with their mental health or wishes to reach out, I just want some assurance about how it might play out in court if a breach of these notices occurred on the side of the victim—that is, if a victim breached a notice for pressure reasons, or even for humanitarian reasons. I have seen lots of cases in the family courts, for example, where the fact that orders have not been kept to has been used against victims. I wondered what we might think about breaches of these particular notices from the victim’s point of view.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 2:04 p.m.

The hon. Lady’s question relates to clause 23, but my answer will be given on the basis that we are debating clause 21. Before I answer, I want to clarify that when I said the perpetrator could not make representations, I was thinking of court representations. I suspect that the officer can take representations into account if they arrive at the scene and the perpetrator says something to that officer, or whatever.

In relation to breaches, again, we need to be careful about the language we use. The notice will be between the police, who issue it, and the perpetrator; it does not place any restrictions on the victim. However, with other types of orders, there are of course circumstances in which non-contact orders have been made and the person being protected by that non-contact order contacts the person on whom it is placed.

That must be a matter for the court. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has set out, the person being protected may well have had perfectly reasonable grounds for making contact, but that must fall into the arena of the court. I do not think we could interfere with that, because the judge will have to engage in that balancing exercise when considering the orders, as opposed to the notices we are debating at the moment. I am sorry that I cannot provide the hon. Lady with more information than that, but in those circumstances I recommend to the Committee that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 22 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 23

Breach of notice

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 2:04 p.m.

I will address this clause briefly, because the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has raised a query about it. Clause 23 relates to a perpetrator who is alleged to have breached the grounds of their notice. If a constable has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is in breach of a notice, they can be arrested without warrant, held in custody and brought before a magistrates court within 24 hours, or in time to attend the scheduled hearing of the application for a domestic abuse protection order—whichever is sooner. It is fair to say that these are very strong powers, which I hope shows the seriousness with which we believe the alleged perpetrator should be viewed, but also the seriousness with which the police and the courts view these notices.

The Bill also provides the police with a power of entry when they are arresting someone for breach of notice, and that is stronger than the current domestic violence protection notice provisions, which do not go quite that far. This additional power of entry will improve the police’s ability to safeguard victims and to gather vital evidence at the scene of an incident.

Peter Kyle Portrait Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab) - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:49 p.m.

One of the most striking features of the clause is set out in subsection (2), which states:

“A person arrested by virtue of subsection (1) must be held in custody”.

These are indeed strong powers, but they send a very clear signal that the law and law enforcement are on the side of the alleged victim at such times. It is a very welcome move and will give confidence and respite to any alleged victims in future, so we thank the Government for delivering it.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:49 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I am pleased that he sees what we are trying to achieve with this clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 23 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 24

Meaning of “domestic abuse protection order”

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:49 p.m.

Sorry. Just to explain, I am obviously very keen that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, plays his part, but this shows that there is real interaction between both our Departments on the Bill, so we have had to do a certain amount of carving-up between us.

It is my pleasure to introduce clause 24. We are moving now from the provisions in the Bill about notices to those about domestic abuse protection orders. Clause 24 defines a DAPO for the purposes of part 3 of the Bill and signposts the subsequent provisions in this chapter relating to the making of an order.

The definition in subsection (1) provides that a DAPO is

“an order which…places prohibitions or restrictions or both on the subject of the order, namely, the perpetrator for the purpose of protecting another person, namely, the victim from abuse and in accordance with Clause one, the victim must be aged 16 or over”

and “personally connected” to the perpetrator.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 25

Domestic abuse protection orders on application

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 4:49 p.m.

One key advantage of the DAPO over other existing orders is that it can be obtained via a range of different application routes. Unlike the current domestic violence protection order, which can only be applied for by police to a magistrates court, or the non-molestation order, which can only be applied for by victims to the family courts, the DAPO provisions allow far greater flexibility in who can apply for an order, and to which court the application may be made.

Clause 25 sets out who can apply for a DAPO: namely, the victim, the police, a relevant third party specified in regulations, or any other person with the leave of the court. The provision for relevant third parties, which is to be set out in the regulations, ensures that such parties would be able to apply for an order directly without first obtaining the leave of the court. We will use the pilot of the orders to assess whether the current provisions for anyone to apply with the leave of the court are sufficient, or whether it would be beneficial to enable local authorities, for example, to make an application without first having to seek leave of the court. If there is a case for expanding the list of persons who can apply for a DAPO as of right, we can provide for that in regulations at a later stage.

Subsections (3) and (4) set out which police force, including the British Transport police and the Ministry of Defence police, should lead on an application for an order in different circumstances. Where a notice has already been given, the application must be made by the police force that gave the notice. Where the police wish to apply for a stand-alone order without a notice having been given, the application should be made by the force for the police area in which the perpetrator resides currently or intends to come into. The purpose of the provision is to make it absolutely clear which police force has responsibility for applying for a DAPO in order to avoid any confusion, duplication of effort or delay in putting protective measures around the victim.

The clause also sets out to which courts applications can be made. Police applications are to be made to a magistrates court, as is the case for domestic violence protection orders, and other applications are to be made to the family court. To ensure that DAPOs are widely accessible in other circumstances where they may be needed, the clause also allows for applications to be made by a victim during the course of certain proceedings in the family and civil courts, as specified at clause 28.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

The clause is very robust and replaces an incredibly confusing picture of which orders one can get where. As somebody who has filled in the paperwork for pretty much all of these orders, I do not think I could explain it right now. It is very complicated, but we have a clear listing of exactly who can do what. What the Minister has said about regulations being laid around relative third parties is an important point. I know that the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill and also anyone who works in this building will have potential concerns about the misuse of third parties applying for DAPOs. I cannot imagine many circumstances in which they could be misused, but unfortunately perpetrators are particularly manipulative and can sometimes find ways to do that, so I will be interested to see the regulations on third parties when they are laid and how much that will be in consultation with the victim and, in fact, the perpetrator. We are infringing on people’s rights. Although I want to see those rights inhibited in lots of cases, they are none the less rights that we are here to fight for.

The Minister has outlined the police force area in which the DAPO is filed. This is always a complicated thing, but does she foresee any problems with resource in the police force area? I raise this because of personal experience in having orders in my own cases. I am not very popular in Manchester for some reason. I feel desperately sorry for Greater Manchester police. When coming to take statements from me to look at options around protections for me personally, it takes a whole day out of a police officer’s time to come all the way to Birmingham and sit in my house, sometimes for nine hours.

Is there a plan that could be put in guidance around police force partnerships where there is a big geographical spread? In these cases, most likely people will be close by, but when women go into refuge they can move across the country, often from Birmingham to Wales, for some reason—I do not know why, but it is close and we like the water. I have concerns about victims feeling, “Oh, that’s really far away,” or, “Gosh, I’m bothering the police.” I have certainly felt myself that I am bothering Greater Manchester police and that I might just give up on this because it is such an effort for them to drive there.

Those are not reasonable things, and we cannot mitigate people’s feelings in the law. As the Minister said, we do not try to put people’s feelings into the law, because we would never be able to represent them properly, but I think this has to be considered. The clause is well written and substantive in its detail.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

On the potential for conflict between the different areas for the victim and perpetrator police forces, we absolutely understand that. We very much expect those sorts of issues to be drawn out through the pilot. Interestingly, any police force can issue a notice to the perpetrator in response to a crisis incident, whether or not it is the police force where the perpetrator resides. That prevents any delay in protecting the victim and means that the forces do not have to reach a decision in each case on who should issue the notice. Clause 25(3) provides that whichever police force issues the notice to the perpetrator must then apply for the order against them.

We are very alert to the issue of distances. That is why in subsection (8)(b) we have ensured that a victim cannot be compelled to attend the hearing or answer questions unless they have given oral or written evidence at the hearing. That means that the police and other third-party applicants can make evidence-led applications that do not rely on the victim’s testimony. Of course, where the application is supported by evidence provided by the victim, the court should have the opportunity to hear from the victim in person. We will ensure that there are guidance materials for victims to make it clear what they can expect from the DAPO process and to address any concerns they may have about the DAPO application hearing.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 26

Applications where domestic abuse protection notice has been given

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

Clause 26 covers the steps that the police must take to apply for a DAPO following the issuing of a domestic abuse protection notice. Subsections (2) and (3) set out that the application for a DAPO must be heard in a magistrates court within 48 hours of the notice being given. That 48-hour period gives the police time to make the application for the order while giving the victims breathing space from the perpetrator until more comprehensive and longer-term protective measures can be put in place through the DAPO.

Clause 22 requires the police giving the notice to ask the perpetrator to provide an address at which they may be given notice of the hearing of the application for the order. Clause 26 provides that if the notice of the hearing is left at this address or, in cases where no address is given, reasonable efforts have been made by the police to give the perpetrator the notice, the court may hear the application without notice to the perpetrator. That is to ensure that the sorts of manipulative individuals that we have heard about cannot try to frustrate this process by simply not turning up.

To ensure that the victim remains protected if the hearing of the DAPO application is adjourned by the court, subsections (7) and (8) ensure that the notice continues to have effect until the application for the DAPO has been determined or withdrawn. The perpetrator can be remanded if they have been brought before the court after breaching the notice. Again, these are very powerful measures, and I hope that assures the Committee about the strength that we want to give to the police, the courts and those who are trying to stop perpetrators and protect victims, and about our determination to support them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27

Remand under section 26(8) of person arrested for breach of notice

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

On coronavirus, we have been in constant contact with charities and the police locally to understand how DVPOs are working. Where there have been problems, as in the hon. Lady’s point about homelessness, we have sent out guidance repeatedly to local authorities to say that they must include perpetrators in their rehousing programmes, precisely so that DVPOs can be enforced.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

It will be a very thin silver lining to what has been an enormous cloud over our country. The Minister is absolutely right: we have been learning some things in this period. Because of the availability of resource in our police forces as a result of the reduction in other areas of crime, this will in some regards be a high point—a gold standard—in terms of how we act in domestic violence cases. If there was certainty in a police force area, built in partnership with a local authority, that there would absolutely be a place for a perpetrator to stay, I can almost guarantee that the police would be much more active in the DVPO area, because that is what we have seen during the coronavirus crisis.

There should be five elements of a perpetrator strategy. We need criminal justice systems and other public and voluntary services, such as housing, health and education. We need training, and clever and tough working, to hold perpetrators to account. We need proven interventions and behaviour change programmes for all perpetrators available everywhere, and we need education to prevent and raise awareness of abusive behaviours. We need regulation to end poorly run programmes, some of which are actually dangerous. And we need ongoing research to ensure that we know what stops abuse, particularly within groups that are currently under-served by these kinds of preventive interventions, such as LGBT groups.

Essentially, money is needed. A sustainable and predictable source of funding would save millions in policing, justice and health costs—perhaps even billions, given the Home Office costings on the cost of domestic abuse. Leadership is ultimately needed to make it happen. It is pleasing to see that the domestic abuse commissioner is taking a proactive stance on this. She will need backing from Ministers in all Departments to look beyond their important response to victims to the other side of the coin: the people causing the harm.

Break in Debate

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 3:50 p.m.

Clause 37 relates to arrest for breach of order and it makes provision for breach of a domestic abuse protection order to be dealt with as a civil matter— that is, as a contempt of court. A breach of an order is a criminal offence under clause 36, which we did not debate, whereby a police officer can make an arrest without a warrant under powers in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

However, we understand that some victims may be concerned about their partner or ex-partner being convicted of a criminal offence for breaching the order. Where an order is made by the High Court, the family court or the county court, clause 37 makes provision for the victim—the original applicant for the order—or any other person with leave of the judge to apply to the court for a warrant of arrest to be issued. That means that the court can then deal with the breach as a civil matter as a contempt of court. We consider that this allows effective action to be taken by the court following breach of an order, while still providing an option for victims who do not wish to criminalise their partner or ex-partner.

Schedule 1 makes further provision regarding remand under clause 37, where breach of a DAPO is being dealt with by the court as a civil matter. It sets out the procedure whereby the court may remand the person who has been arrested for breach. The process set out is consistent with existing law and replicates the approach the court already takes in regard to remand in such cases. It is sometimes necessary for the court to adjourn the hearing in order to allow for evidence to be prepared. In such cases, the court may decide to remand the person in custody or on bail.

Remand would usually only be used in cases where the court considers that the person arrested for breach is at a high risk of either committing further breaches or evading the return hearing. That may include, for example, if the court considers that person a flight risk.

Clause 37 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 38

Notification requirements

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 3:52 p.m.

Clause 38 provides that all DAPOs will impose notification requirements on the perpetrator, requiring them to notify the police of certain personal details within three days, beginning with the day on which the order is made. The perpetrator will have to provide details of their name, together with any aliases that they use, their home address and any changes to those details. This will help to ensure the police have the right information at the right time in order to monitor the perpetrator’s whereabouts and the risk posed to the victim.

These provisions have been drafted to capture a number of different scenarios, including if the perpetrator has no one fixed address, leaves and then returns to the UK or becomes homeless, helping to ensure their compliance with the notification requirements. There is also a power for the Home Secretary to specify by regulations further notification requirements, which a court may attach to a DAPO on a case-by-case basis, as appropriate. For example, details of the perpetrator’s work place, whether they hold a firearms licence and details of new applications for a spousal visa.

We will use the pilot of the orders to assess whether the current provisions are sufficient or whether it is necessary for the police to be notified of additional information by the perpetrator in order to protect victims. If so, this can be set out in regulations at a later stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 38 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 40

Offences relating to notification

Amendment made: 34, in clause 40, page 26, line 22, leave out “section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003” and insert “paragraph 24(2) of Schedule 22 to the Sentencing Act 2020”.—(Alex Chalk.)

See the explanatory statement for amendment 31.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

Clause 40 simply provides that breach of the notification requirements without reasonable excuse is an offence carrying a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. Again, this sends a very strong message to perpetrators that the Government, as well as the courts, the agencies, the police and so on, take any breaches of these orders very seriously indeed.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 40, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 41

Variation and discharge of orders

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard

Clause 41 is about the variation and discharge of orders. Another example of the DAPO’s flexibility is that the requirements imposed by the order can be varied so that the courts can respond to changes over time in the perpetrator’s abusive behaviour. That is important for the complainant, so to speak, as well as for the person who is subject to the perpetrator order. It is important that he—it will usually be a he—can come back to the court to seek to vary it if appropriate. That is why the clause is drafted as it is.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 41 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 42 to 44 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 45

Nature of certain proceedings under this Part

Amendment made: 35, in clause 45, page 31, leave out line 15 and insert

“sections 79, 80 and 82 of the Sentencing Code”—(Alex Chalk.)

See the explanatory statement for amendment 31.

Clause 45, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46

Special measures for witnesses

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:05 a.m.

Clause 47 requires the Government to issue statutory guidance on the new notices and orders to the police, and to any third parties specified in regulations who may make a standalone application for an order. The recipients of that guidance must have regard to it when exercising their functions. The Government are also required to consult the commissioner before issuing or revising any guidance under the clause. This provision is crucial to help to ensure that frontline practitioners have the knowledge, understanding and confidence to use DAPOs effectively and consistently, in order to help victims and their children.

Topics to be covered by the guidance include how the different application pathways for a DAPO operate, when to consider applying for a DAPO and how to prepare robust application conditions, which may be included in a DAPO, and how to work with victims effectively, highlighting the importance of robust safety planning and referral to appropriate victim support services. We will develop the guidance in collaboration with the police and sector experts, ensuring that it is of high quality and relevant to the frontline practitioners using it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 47 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 49

Powers to make other orders in proceedings under this Part

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Alex Chalk Portrait Alex Chalk - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:07 a.m.

The clause relates to powers to make other orders in proceedings under this part. I will speak briefly on this, because it is important. Clause 49 makes provision for DAPO proceedings to be included in the definition of family proceedings in the Children Act 1989 and the Family Law Act 1996, if they are taking place in the family court or the family division of the high court. In practical terms, that will ensure that family judges have access to their powers under the Children Act and the Family Law Act in the course of DAPO proceedings.

For example, if a family judge is hearing an application to make or vary a DAPO, and concerns around child contact arrangements are raised, the judge will be able to make an order under the Children Act without a separate application having to be issued. We consider that that will provide clarity and flexibility to the court, as judges will be able to use their powers under the Children Act and the Family Law Act in any DAPO proceedings to best protect victims of domestic abuse and their children.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 49 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 50 to 52 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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

Domestic Abuse Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Tuesday 28th April 2020

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
Ministry of Justice
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
28 Apr 2020, 12:08 a.m.

I want to thank everybody who has spoken in this debate. In a rare moment, I agreed with almost all of it. I think I will have a chat with the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) another time; we like our little chats. I want to pay a special tribute to the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), who appears on the call list as a virtual maiden, which I just think is an absolutely brilliant thing to be called. Her speech was full of heart—it is very odd that I cannot look at her—but from one bloody difficult woman to another, I am sure she will have an impact in this place.

I want to thank Ministers and the officials of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, who have always been co-operative. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris); I have worn leopard print in her honour today. She was my predecessor, and she acted with characteristic tenacity in the brief. Ministers will know how often I have fought for this Bill to progress. However, there is still such a long way for it to go for it to be truly groundbreaking. It wants to be that groundbreaking, and we have to allow it to be that.

Covid-19 has laid bare the lack of protection for women and girls from violence. The lockdown has allowed the public to imagine what it would be like if their home, a supposed place of safety, contained the danger they feared most. The Bill is of course about the long term, but we cannot ignore the crisis facing millions of people in this country today—a crisis that is threatening our precious domestic abuse sector. To all those working with victims of violence and abuse and with victims of coercion, both adult and children, I pay tribute. They deserve access to extra, emergency, ring-fenced funding, as laid out by my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, and they deserve it now.

So far, the sector has not received a single penny. Not from the £2 million that was announced, or from the proposed £750 million. That money was needed weeks ago. That issue was highlighted today by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and I could not agree more that the Minister must listen to the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner on this issue. We need a ring-fenced fund, and we need it now.

I pay tribute to the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for their dogged campaign to end the rough sex defence and post-mortem abuse. I have heard some of the worst cases, and it never stops being alarming to listen to stories such as those we have heard today. They have my full support, and from this House I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pass on our love to Natalie’s family.

I praise my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock) for her nominatively determined wallpaper background, and for her effort to continue the campaign of our friend, Gloria De Piero, to end the asset grabbing of attempted murderers. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) was as moving this time as she was last time, and I repeat the praise to the new hon. Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher). It helps so much for people watching these debates when people like them speak out.

In a strange moment today my hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), a firebrand union activist, joined forces with a Conservative ex-Prime Minister to call for better workplace measures and rights for workers. I am sure Ministers will be delighted to join in that union with them.

There is much to cheerlead in this Bill. I welcome proposals for a dedicated commissioner, not just in theory but in practice, and Nicole Jacobs is already breathing life into that position. I also welcome the long fought for statutory duty to ensure future sustainable accommodation-based services. I shall not retire just yet, even though we might have got that, but it is a change I have championed since I worked in refuge, let alone since I have been in this place. Finally, being able to stand here after four years and say that no perpetrator will be able to cross-examine a victim is a welcome relief.

As the Bill progresses, however, I do not want to give the impression that there are not areas that will be contentious. There are currently huge gaps in what the Bill proposes. Members across the House, including the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), and, movingly, the hon. Member for Bolsover all highlighted gaps in the Bill regarding children. The Bill cannot simply be words written on goatskin in some attic in Parliament that Ministers lean on to prove how much they are doing.

For every part of the Bill I will ask how it would have helped or hindered the victims and their children whose hands I have held over the years. Which of those victims have we forgotten? The only qualification for access to support, housing, refuge, social security, and police protection for victims of domestic abuse in this country should be this: are you human? The issue of migrant women’s access to support was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), my hon. Friends the Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), and for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), and by no means only by Labour Members. Across the House, the issue of no recourse to public funds was raised again and again. We cannot pass a Bill that discriminates against migrant women, or that has a blind spot about the effect of domestic abuse on the children who live with it. Currently, the Bill would not change the lives of those groups for the better.

The past few weeks have shown that we are a community. How can it be that there are care workers, NHS workers and key workers serving the public right now in this crisis who would not be equally protected if they needed to escape abuse? Surely it is about all of us, or it is about none of us. Let the new Bill reflect that.

I am troubled that in this area the Home Office is currently in the middle of a review into migrant women. The gaps are already well known. The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) spoke about how migrant women were an issue raised in the report by the Joint Committee, and they remain an issue today. Yesterday, a report by the Home Affairs Committee stated that migrant women are still an issue. This is not something new that we do not know about, or that needs to wait for a review. We need to act now. How can this House or the other place possibly scrutinise and seek to change the Bill without the outcome of this review or the Family Justice Board review? Surely the Minister can see that this seems back to front and that, actually, political will says that she can act today.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) made eloquent cases for the priority housing need, and I hope that Ministers heard their calls, because I am certain that they will only get louder as we head to Committee.

Although we welcome the statutory duty on housing support, 70% of known victims of domestic abuse accessing support do not receive it in a refuge setting. The vast majority of support for domestic abuse victims and their children happens in the community, and the Bill is currently not addressing those needs. These are the women whose names I read out each year. The high-risk women on that list are served by our community services and our independent domestic violence advisers. The domestic violence protection orders regime proposed in the Bill, which seeks to place more of the burden on the perpetrator rather than the victim, is incredibly welcome. However, there must be an agreed set of standards in this area and a proper Government strategy on how we manage perpetrators. It has been done in a wild west fashion in the past, and that needs to change. Without that, these orders will, at best, not change people’s lives, and, at worst, place them in further danger.

The Lord Chancellor and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who we could actually hear when she thought we could not, mentioned Claire Throssell, and I am grateful that they did. I have to ask: what does this Bill offer to Claire Throssell and the mothers of the other 19 children murdered by known violent perpetrators following decisions in the family court? For three years, Claire has told her story to us policy makers, yet I do not see the loss of Jack and Paul reflected back at me in this Bill. I hope that I will. Many Members spoke ably about their experience of the family courts, but, alone, the changes to cross-examination are not enough to make it better. They would not have saved Jack and Paul.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North did a great job of giving voice to victims. I ask the Minister to ensure that, during the Bill Committee evidence sessions, we can hear the voices of victims such as Claire Throssell. I ask her to assure me that that will be the case.

Standing at the Dispatch Box in this Chamber, making my closing speech to a handful of people and a few more on computer screens, I am reminded more than ever that the decisions that we make in this room have huge consequences on the lives of the British public. Sometimes the decisions that we make here determine who lives and who dies. This is one of those moments. I hope that Ministers will work with us to make this Bill everything that it can be. This is the first major legislative Bill of a post-covid-19 world. Let it help all those who need it. Let it reflect who we want to be.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
28 Apr 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I thank all Members who have contributed to today’s debate. I also thank those Members who tried to contribute but, because of the new procedures, were unable to speak. I thank each and every one of the 87 Members who put their names forward.

The harrowing stories that we have heard today underline the horror of domestic abuse and the devastation that it leaves in its wake. Time after time—not just today, but in debating previous iterations of the Bill—we have heard stories of families shattered and of lives torn apart or even ended by this terrible crime.

One of the most moving speeches today was, of course, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), who talked incredibly emotionally about Natalie and her family, and the experiences that Natalie had before she died. I went to his constituency to meet Natalie’s family, the Andrews, and they set out to me very clearly the journey of domestic abuse that Natalie had suffered before that fateful night. I know that my hon. Friend wanted to include in his speech the sentence that this perpetrator got for his behaviour—a mere three years and eight months for that course of conduct. It was a case that I am sure will live with many of us for a very long time indeed.

Another speech that I would like to highlight for its power was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), who brought to the Chamber his perspective as a child living in an abusive household. Many Members have raised the plight of children living in abusive households, which I will deal with in more detail in due course, but I want to thank him for being brave in laying those experiences before us in the Chamber. It does help victims; I know that for a fact.

The speech made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) on the Bill’s last Second Reading was one of those parliamentary moments that those of us who listened to it will remember for a great deal of time. One of the most moving aspects of her speech today was setting out the wall of support that she has received and the network of women who have risen to support her. I wish her and that network all the very best.

Other Members set out the experiences of their constituents most eloquently. My hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) and the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen) really did justice to their constituents. If these stories are difficult to listen to, they are unimaginable to live through. In all their stark horror, those stories and all the stories that we know through the experiences of our families—or, indeed, in our own families—and of our friends, colleagues and constituents show us why this Bill is so urgently needed.

We all understand this. It is to the credit of all the parties that the Bill enjoys cross-party support. I know that there will rightfully be discussions about various aspects of it in due course, but it is to our collective credit that the parties can unify around this Bill. I would like to thank the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for her work in her previous role, and I welcome the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) to her position. I spoke to her this week, and she said that it was the only job she would accept— I absolutely believe her, so I am delighted for her.

I am conscious that I have to sit down by 6.34 pm, otherwise the Bill falls. We do not want that to happen, so forgive me if I do not address all the points that have been raised. I will write and put a copy in the Library to answer the detailed points that Members have raised.

I must take the trouble to mention the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe). It is a rather extraordinary experience to want to pay tribute to colleagues but not be able to see them in the Chamber. She described herself as the youngest MP, the first female MP for her constituency and the first Member of Parliament to make a virtual maiden speech—what an extraordinary set of achievements. I was so grateful for her speech, because she told us movingly about the struggles that her mother had with substance misuse and the terrible loss that she endured as a child. I can only say to her that I think any mother watching her today would have been extraordinarily proud. I also pay tribute to her father, who had to step into the role of sole parent in such difficult circumstances, and wish him a very happy birthday, which he is having to celebrate alone in these circumstances.

I thank the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) for his steadfast support for the Bill. We have had to remove some sections from the Bill because the Assembly is back, but I pay tribute to him for his contributions to the Bill thus far, and to the Northern Irish Assembly and the Minister there, who I hope will be bringing legislation forward quickly.

We have worked tirelessly to ensure that the risks of domestic abuse in the covid-19 crisis are understood and met. We must be clear with anyone contacting us regarding domestic abuse cases that social distancing does not prevent people from leaving their homes for a place of safety if they need it because they live in an abusive household. Since social distancing came into force, we know that domestic abuse charities have reported a surge of activity in people contacting helplines and accessing web-based services, and we are working closely across government and the charitable sector to ensure that vulnerable people can access the support they need.

Local authorities have access to a £3.2 billion support fund to bolster their services, and the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) both raised a point about refuge accommodation in the circumstances. The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), wrote to local authority leaders yesterday about domestic abuse services and has suggested help with additional accommodation sources, should local authorities require that.

Other colleagues have mentioned the report by the Home Affairs Committee on that topic, and I very much thank the Committee for its report. I want to reassure Members about the actions we are taking. We have been working closely with the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that frontline charities will receive a share of the £750 million charitable support package announced by the Chancellor. I cannot go into details at this point, but we are actively working on it. Of course, we have also announced £2 million in addition to that to support technological capability for domestic abuse services, and a further £600,000 from the Ministry of Justice to allow victim helplines to stay open longer. The national campaign, which I know many hon. Members have been kind enough to join, was launched by the Home Secretary earlier this month to raise awareness of domestic abuse and help victims to access support.

Many colleagues have raised the topic of migrant victims. We understand the problems that such victims face, and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims, regardless of their immigration status. As part of our response to the Joint Committee’s report, we undertook to complete a review. We have now completed the evidence gathering phase of the review, including focus groups and a final call for evidence from the sector, but if we are to put in place new support mechanisms, we need a clearer evidence base so that it can be targeted properly to meet the needs of those for whom it is intended. That is why today I am announcing that later this year we will invite bids for grants from a £1.5 million pilot fund to cover the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation. We will use the pilot to assess better the level of need for that group of victims and to inform spending review decisions on longer-term funding. We aim also to publish a full response to the Joint Committee’s recommendation ahead of Report, and we will of course take into account the comments made during this debate.

Another large topic for discussion was that of children. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who did so much in her previous role to spearhead this legislation, my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), and the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Sam Tarry), all described the impact that domestic abuse can have on children. It is vital that we recognise that in the statutory functions of the domestic abuse commissioner. Indeed, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (David Johnston) both explained about ACEs and the impact that domestic abuse has on them. One of the key functions of the commissioner will be to encourage good practice in the identification of children affected by domestic abuse and the provision of protection and support. Clause 66 places a duty on the Home Secretary to issue guidance on the effect of that.

I wanted to move on to the gender definition and mention my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Lilian Greenwood), but I think I will be denied the time to do that. So, in closing, this debate has shown the House at its very best. Across the country, far too many people are experiencing the awful reality of domestic abuse. There is not a single constituency untouched by this terrible crime. Bringing an end to this awful crime is our collective responsibility. Legislation alone cannot provide all the answers, but where it can, the Government are steadfast in our determination to see this Bill enacted and implemented as quickly as possible.

To those suffering today, I can say only this: you are not alone. Help is available, and we will do everything in our power to protect you. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Domestic abuse bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Domestic Abuse Bill:

Committal

1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 25 June 2020.

3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

4. Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

7. Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

Question agreed to.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Victoria Atkins Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd October 2019

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text
Ministry of Justice
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 6 p.m.

I pay massive tribute, as everybody has done, to those who have spoken, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), and the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), whose contribution was so moving. When we in this place talk about these things, people really are watching. Victims of domestic abuse will today feel that we care about them, and even if that is all we achieve today, that is a good thing to have done.

I notice that during this debate, Prorogation 2.0 has been announced. Somebody sent me a tweet saying that there is a view that Parliament will prorogue—sorry, shut down—again. I want assurances from the Minister, when she sums up, that we will use Standing Order No. 80A—

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 6:01 p.m.

I am delighted to be able to confirm that. Indeed, the carry-over motion is on today’s Order Paper. The Bill is carrying on.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 6:01 p.m.

Super-duper. I am delighted to hear that.

As everybody else has said, it has been an honour to work on the Bill over the past three years—I wish it had been only one or two—not only with Front Benchers on both sides on the Chamber, but with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and others who are no longer on the Front Bench, including the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes). She spoke of having listened; I feel delighted to have been in the meeting about migrant women under the Bill that she spoke about so eloquently. Also, I should mention the people sitting in the Box—the civil servants we have worked with to get the Bill in front of us today, and to carry it over. It has been a real privilege to help ensure that this place recognises the effect of domestic abuse on our communities.

For the past three weeks, I have been fighting for us to come back to this place just for the sake of this moment, this day—just so that we could get this Bill back into this place. I found myself in the treasured position of defender of the Domestic Abuse Bill, as though it were mine. It is not mine; it is a Government Bill, and that needs saying. However, as a defender of the Bill, I will defend the point that improvements certainly need to be made to it.

As the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North stated, in the Bill’s next stages, we absolutely must aim for it to be for all victims and all women—I am not afraid to say “all women” in this context. I truly mean that. It does not matter what a person’s status is; if my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has taught us anything today, it is that it does not matter who someone is; the primary thing we should see when they first disclose abuse is what happened to them. It should not matter if they were born in this country, if they are here on a spousal, student or refugee visa, or if they are an EU citizen. What we should see in front of us is the person, and we should ask what we can do to help them. The Bill needs a huge amount of work in that area—not just around migrant women, but around disabled and older women and LGBT people.

With all the good work being done in here and across Departments we still need to stop essentially just seeing a benefit-dependant woman with a couple of kids in a refuge. Disabled women are being turned away. I ran refuges and I think we had two disability access beds out of hundreds of beds. It is simply not enough any more. We live in a society where we have to take need into account, no matter what. We have to take into account the likelihood of someone being abused if, for instance, they are a carer or have someone caring for them who can easily control them.

I want to say one final thing—I could speak for weeks and weeks, but I won’t. The statutory duty on refuge accommodation is so welcome. I had to explain to my husband what it was when the Ministers rang to tell me they were going to do it. I was not allowed to tell anyone, but I really wanted to tell someone. My husband was slightly nonplussed. We were promised at the time of that brilliant step forward that there would be £90 million in the next comprehensive spending review. We have now had that comprehensive spending review and it was not in there. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us where the cash will come from.

Break in Debate

Nick Thomas-Symonds Portrait Nick Thomas-Symonds (Torfaen) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 6:38 p.m.

It is a privilege to reply to the debate this evening, which has shown the House of Commons at its very best. I wish to start by paying tribute to the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who made what I believe to have been her first speech from the Back Benches since leaving office as Prime Minister. She set the tone of the debate and said that domestic violence was not something that should ever be viewed as being “behind closed doors”. That attitude was prevalent in the past and we must do all we can to ensure that it is not prevalent in the future.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) for making a courageous and extraordinarily moving speech. Not only did it have a considerable impact on everyone in the House who heard it, but it will have an extraordinary impact on everyone outside this House and give them extraordinary confidence about speaking out in the dignified way she has done today.

I also pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), and to the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), for their remarks about the harrowing Natalie Connolly case. I am sure that amendments will be tabled in Committee that relate to the issues that were identified in that case.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) for her remarks about serial perpetrators; to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who drew on her experience of working in the domestic violence field in the past; to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), who spoke very well about the Bill’s potential impact; and to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), who spoke very well about an issue to which I shall return—the cross-examination of victims in the family courts by their perpetrator.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones) spoke about the various people who have had an impact on the Bill’s coming into being. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), for her extraordinarily moving contribution, both about her mother and her experience as a survivor. Her speech, too, will reverberate far beyond this House. Her achievements are an inspiration to others.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who spoke about controlling behaviour; my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), who spoke about refuge funding; my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), who also mentioned the need for reform of the family courts; my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Jo Platt), who spoke very movingly about the experiences of Leanne and Nikita; my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), not just for her speech but for all her extraordinary work in this area; my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who spoke very movingly about experiences in prison; my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), who talked about the importance of a whole-society approach; my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), who spoke about the impact of domestic violence on children, and my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Ruth George), who spoke about reform of universal credit. It was fitting that my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) ended with a tribute to charities in this area, who do so much across all our constituencies to make lives better.

The Bill has produced a remarkable degree of welcome consensus in the House today, but it will clearly need work in Committee. I will start with the definition of domestic violence. I agree with the former Prime Minister, who said that it was clearly a step forward to have a statutory definition. Reading clause 1, though, it seems to me not to include abuse perpetrated by a person in a position of trust. I believe the hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) mentioned an example of it, but there may be other examples in the domestic context that are not quite covered by clause 1. I ask the Minister to go away and look at that issue. Hon. Members across the House have picked up other issues, including the impact on children and the gendered nature and impact of domestic abuse, that need to be considered as the Bill progresses.

I welcome the appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, although I consider that person should be full time. The commissioner must obviously have the powers to provide the strategic oversight that we need, and to hold public authorities in this area properly to account.

I welcome the domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders, and the extension of special measures for complainants mentioned both by the Lord Chancellor and the Chair of the Justice Committee in their opening speeches. I consider that the domestic violence disclosure scheme should be on a statutory footing, and I am pleased to see that in clause 55. As many hon. Members have mentioned, one of the issues with domestic violence is that it is often the victim who ends up homeless. I welcome in the Bill the suggestion of new secure lifetime tenancies in England, which is a step forward.

I return, though, to the issue of cross-examination in the family courts. It has been the case for some time in the criminal courts that perpetrators of domestic abuse could not cross-examine their victims in person. It is high time that that protection was extended to the family courts. However, as I think the Joint Committee picked up, it does not seem to be mandatory; it still seems to be at the discretion of the court. The last thing we would need is for that to be inconsistently applied; it should be consistently applied across the system. That point that has been picked up already.

There are other issues, of course, that are not a part of the Bill as it currently stands. There is, for example, no statutory duty to fund refuges, but we all know that refuges are in dire need of more funds. There also needs to be a whole look across Government at other policies that have a huge impact in this area, including, for example, to whom universal credit is paid and the five-week wait, just to mention two particular issues that clearly have an enormous impact on domestic violence that the Government need to consider.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), in an intervention, mentioned migrant women, which is a very important issue. They are too often denied the chance to apply for indefinite leave to remain and prevented from accessing the public funds and the services they require. I urge the Government once again to go away and look at that situation.

This Bill before us today clearly contains a series of measures that will be welcomed across the House, but I urge the Government to keep an open mind in Committee about various issues that will arise in the course of this Bill. If the Government are willing to be constructive, we can, together, make it a much better Bill. I do pay tribute to those on the Government Front Bench and, indeed, to my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for the work that they have done so far. I urge them to continue working together to make this a truly historic Bill of which we can all be proud.

Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Parliament Live - Hansard
2 Oct 2019, 6:48 p.m.

I hope that colleagues will forgive me if I depart from what Ministers normally do in winding up—which is to look at our files and the prepared speeches that our wonderful officials write for us—and speak from my heart because this has been an extraordinary debate. We have had the most compelling, the most heartfelt, the most heartbreaking examples of domestic abuse laid out before us. I cannot hope to do justice to those accounts in the short time that I have, but I will do my best. Any points that I have not been able to cover, I will, of course, write to hon. Members and put letters in the Library.

There have been 38 Back-Bench speeches in this debate and every single one has had an extraordinary contribution to make to the Bill. I should say that I am particularly grateful to the Lord Chancellor, who joins me on the Front Bench. I also want to record my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), who is replacing—if he can be replaced—my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) in working through this Bill. I want to record my thanks to them.

In those 38 speeches, many, many experiences—horrific experiences—have been put before us. Hon. Members have very much drawn us into the lives, the suffering and, as I have said, the heartbreak of millions of our fellow citizens, whether constituents or not.

There are a few names out of an incredibly long list that I will mention because they have caused such an impact in the Chamber and, indeed, outside the Chamber. The first is that of Natalie Connolly. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and, indeed, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the Mother of the House, set out the agony that the Connolly family have gone through in the case coming before the court concerning their dear daughter, Natalie, the facts of that case and of similar cases. I cannot help but be horrified by some of the experiences that victims of sadomasochistic sexual acts, which defendants then claim as a defence in court, have gone through. It is extraordinary and I will very much go away and reflect on the matter. It may not be this Bill that deals with that, but I do think that we must look at it very carefully and see what more can be done.

The next set of names that I think the House was touched by—I am very mindful that Claire is here in the Gallery—are those of Claire, Jack and Paul Throssell, represented very ably by their Member of Parliament, the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith). I have had the privilege of meeting Claire and listening to her experiences at first hand. I would challenge anyone not to be incredibly moved by Claire’s story and not to be haunted by her story for many, many days after they have heard it, so I thank and salute Claire for being here today and working on behalf of other victims.

The hon. Member for Leigh (Jo Platt) mentioned Leanne and Nikita. I thank her for bringing their experiences into this debate.

Then we move on to our friends and colleagues who have themselves been incredibly brave in describing their own experiences. My friend, the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), talked about her mother Zoora, and of course about her own experience of forced marriage. I am very keen that we all understand that although the words “forced marriage”, “FGM” and so on are not in the Bill, they are examples of the categories of behaviour that we have set out in the definition, and they will be in the statutory guidance, so people should be under no illusion: we consider those acts within intimate relationships to be examples of domestic abuse.

Then, of course, there was the account of our friend, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield). I sat here listening and thinking, “She is doing a very good job of representing her constituent. This is a terribly sad tale.” It was not until she said, “and then you introduce him to the leader of your party” that I shook myself a bit and thought, “My goodness—are we on a journey different from the one that I had anticipated?” She used words that every person who works in the field of domestic abuse will recognise, such as “hyper-alert” and “abject rage”. She spoke of bills piling up and finding out months later that they were unpaid. And then there was the final phrase: “emotionally exhausting”. The hon. Lady has done more to further the cause for victims of domestic abuse today than we have seen in a very long time, and I thank her sincerely for her contribution.

This Bill is truly groundbreaking, and I am delighted that we have agreement on that. I fully accept and acknowledge that we are not all agreed about parts of it, and of course that will come through in the scrutiny of the Bill. But we have this Bill before us today because of the determination, commitment and grit of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I think it is extremely telling that, after some 20 years on the Opposition and Government Front Benches, she has chosen as her first contribution to speak in this debate about a cause that is very close to her heart. I am extremely grateful to her not just for her contribution today, but for the fact that we have this Bill and are driving this work forward in Government.

There are other colleagues I feel obliged to mention, because I see this as a Bill that is owned by the entire House. I must thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who started the journey by bringing in, with the Lord Chancellor, the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), who was my predecessor in this role and who insisted on the terminology of economic abuse being included in the definition, because our understanding of it is so much better than it was even a few years ago. At the risk of sparing the blushes of a member of the Whips Office, I must also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) because when he was on the Front Bench in another guise, he worked hard on the secure tenancies provision that we now see in the Bill.

As I say, I consider this to be a Bill that is owned by the whole House, and I thank colleagues across the House for their work not just today, but in the run-up to Second Reading. That includes, of course, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris). I tried to learn some Welsh before I got to this part of my speech, but I am afraid that it is beyond me. I also thank the “professional feminist”, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), who does so much work —work that we are now much more comfortable talking about—tackling the perpetrators, including serial perpetrators, to stop the cycle of abuse.

I also thank the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) for his work on cross-examination—it is always a pleasure to work with him—and, of course, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who has been and continues to be a staunch advocate for victims of domestic abuse. I look forward to grappling with some of the more difficult issues with her in due course.

I am delighted that the Bill received the level of pre-legislative scrutiny that it did through the Joint Committee, which was chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller). Her leadership and that of others on the Committee has meant that the Bill is in a better place than it was before they scrutinised it. We have accepted many of the Committee’s recommendations and there are still recommendations that we are working on and may add in Committee. I thank every member of the Committee and its Chair.

The hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) asked Ministers to be open hearted. We are absolutely open hearted in admitting that this Bill is not yet in the place that it should be. It has to be perfected through scrutiny. In particular, hon. Members have rightly raised the issue of refuges. Hon. Members may recall that, when the Bill was introduced, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s consultation on refuge accommodation was still live, so by definition we could not make amendments to the Bill or add clauses at that stage. However, we are working through the consultation responses and I am confident that we will be able to move amendments in Committee, which I very much hope will meet with hon. Members’ approval.

I am conscious, too, of the comments made by the hon. Member for Bradford West and others about specialist services. I myself have been on a learning curve when it comes to the particular requirements of women who are perhaps suffering cultural difficulties as well as abuse, in the more conventional sense that we would understand, in the home. That will very much form part of our review of those services.

Colleagues have also rightly been holding me to account on funding. This year’s spending review, being a one-year review, is unusual, but we are clear that funding will be a priority in the 2020 spending review and we will push for appropriate funding for all the important services that hon. Members have mentioned.

I also acknowledge the concerns about migrant women. Women—all people who are suffering domestic abuse—must be viewed as victims first and foremost. We have not got it right yet with migrant women, but we are conducting a review, as we told the Joint Committee we would. We are looking at everything and will do our very best to bring forward those proposals in Committee. There might be things that we can do that do not need to be in primary legislation. The House should bear with us while we work through the review and we will see what more we can do.

Colleagues have rightly mentioned the definition. There have been many thoughts about whether it goes quite far enough. I am very conscious of the contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), who raised the impossible situation that a constituent and their family found themselves in with a person—a therapist—in a trusted position. There are concerns about positions of trust. [Interruption.]

I have just had my dress tugged, because if I do not sit down before 7 o’clock, the Bill will fall, so forgive me if I stop mid-sentence, Madam Deputy Speaker. I very much hear colleagues’ concerns about the definition and, if I may tackle the gendered point, we absolutely acknowledge that domestic abuse predominantly affects women. However, we are conscious that, of the estimated 2 million victims in our country, about a third are male. We cannot ignore those victims. In fairness, I do not think that anyone is suggesting that we should, but we are going to make the gendered nature of the crime apparent on the face of the statutory guidance, which I think will be significant.

To sum up, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead said, this statute is only part of the solution. There is consensus that we all have to ensure that people begin to understand what domestic abuse entails, that the relationships that they are entering into are not healthy and that girls growing up can expect much better from relationships in their adulthood. That is absolutely what this law and the non-legislative measures are directed at. The Bill is vital, but there is so much more that we need to do to ensure that everybody understands that domestic abuse is everyone’s business.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

Thank you. What an excellent, thoughtful, constructive, calm debate. I sincerely hope that those who observe our proceedings will see just how well Members of this House behaved when we were bringing about an important piece of legislation that actually affects the lives of millions of people.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Domestic Abuse Bill:

Committal

(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 21 November 2019.

(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.

Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.— (Mr Marcus Jones.)

Question agreed to.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Money)

Queen’s recommendation signified.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Domestic Abuse Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of:

(a) any expenditure incurred by virtue of the Act by a Minister of the Crown; and

(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable by virtue of any other Act out of money so provide.—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

Question agreed to.