Debates between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips

There have been 19 exchanges between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips

1 Mon 6th July 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill
Home Office
3 interactions (926 words)
2 Wed 17th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Home Office
30 interactions (9,046 words)
3 Wed 17th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Eleventh sitting)
Ministry of Justice
12 interactions (3,580 words)
4 Tue 16th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Tenth sitting)
Home Office
13 interactions (4,062 words)
5 Tue 16th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Ninth sitting)
Home Office
8 interactions (2,452 words)
6 Thu 11th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Eighth sitting)
Ministry of Justice
5 interactions (1,832 words)
7 Thu 11th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Seventh sitting)
Home Office
25 interactions (4,229 words)
8 Wed 10th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Sixth sitting)
Ministry of Justice
9 interactions (2,053 words)
9 Wed 10th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Fifth sitting)
Home Office
21 interactions (3,927 words)
10 Tue 9th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Fourth sitting)
Home Office
21 interactions (4,871 words)
11 Tue 9th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Third sitting)
Home Office
6 interactions (3,528 words)
12 Thu 4th June 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Second sitting)
Home Office
5 interactions (540 words)
13 Tue 28th April 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (3,695 words)
14 Tue 3rd March 2020 Children and Domestic Abuse
Home Office
3 interactions (1,172 words)
15 Wed 2nd October 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (786 words)
16 Tue 16th July 2019 Domestic Abuse
Home Office
3 interactions (597 words)
17 Wed 30th January 2019 Draft Domestic Abuse Bill: Territorial Extent
Home Office
7 interactions (582 words)
18 Wed 4th July 2018 Commercial Sexual Exploitation
Home Office
7 interactions (457 words)
19 Wed 18th April 2018 Gender Pay Gap
Home Office
3 interactions (402 words)

Domestic Abuse Bill

(Report stage: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Monday 6th July 2020

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

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

It is fair to say there were moments in the past two and a half years where I did not quite believe that I would be able to stand at the Dispatch Box and deliver the winding-up of the Bill’s Report stage, so it is a genuine pleasure to be here doing exactly that.

We have seen extraordinary contributions from across the House, not just in this debate but over the history of this Bill and its progress through Parliament. We have heard from Members who have bravely given their own experiences of the abuse they themselves suffered, whether that was the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), who moved us all on Second Reading in October last year or, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), who brought to the Chamber his own experiences as a child living in an abusive household. Those are but two examples; there are, sadly, many, many more examples we have heard, both through the direct experience of colleagues, but also through the experiences we have all tried to bring into the Chamber.

There are people we know as soon as their names are said—names such as Clare, Rachel and Holly. We know their stories. If one thing can be drawn from today’s debate and the progress of this Bill, it is that we do not just talk about them and the experiences they endured and the experiences that were forced on them, but that we talk about the legacy their lives have had. Their legacy is written throughout this Bill.

As the Minister, I have to, of course, try to respond to the many points that have been made in the debate, and I apologise that I simply will not be able to do so. To give some indication of just how much cross-Government working there has been on the Bill, as well as the work in Parliament, there are now seven Departments—and counting—working on it. During briefing sessions for the Committee sage, the officials briefing me had to have a queueing system because they could not all fit on a conference call. That gives an idea of how many people have been involved in the Bill, and I thank each and every one of them, because I will not have the honour of doing so on Third Reading.

I will jump now to some of the substance of today’s debate. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and many Opposition Members, as well as my right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), raised—understandably and rightly—support for migrant victims. I reiterate the Government’s commitment to helping victims and to the support for migrant victims scheme, which I announced on Second Reading. We expect to make announcements in the summer about this. We will be working with charities. We are working with the domestic abuse commissioner—I spoke to her about this only on Friday. We want this scheme to have the trust and involvement of everyone who is as concerned about migrant victims as we are. We are aiming to publish the framework of the scheme ahead of Lords Second Reading, and we very much hope that everyone will feel able to support it.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

If the approximately 3,630 women who we imagine might want to access this scheme a year breaches the £1.5 million that the Government have allocated, will the Government turn people away, or will they make more funds available?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

The hon. Lady has rather set out the problem we have, which is measuring the number of women. She will know that we already help around 2,500 women under the DDVC. She will also be aware that, alongside the pilot project, we have the tampon tax funding, which is continuing. I very much see the two schemes running in tandem.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh West has tabled new clause 27, which concerns the firewall. She will know that the police are facing a super-complaint relating to police data sharing for immigration purposes and that there is a judicial review outstanding. Obviously, we have to wait for those cases, but in the meantime we are working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to ensure that the guidance it issues does the job that is required, so I ask her not to press the new clause.

Members across the House dealt with new clause 23. We all want to support domestic abuse victims and their children, regardless of where they reside. We must, however, ensure that any new statutory duties are properly considered, costed and robust. The new duty on tier 1 local authorities in part 4 of the Bill is the product of extensive consultation and engagement with local authorities and sector organisations. The same cannot be said of new clause 23. The Government are committed to gathering this evidence, and I am grateful to the domestic abuse commissioner for agreeing to lead an in-depth investigation on this. We have to be able to understand where services are and are not provided, to identify best practice and to consult fully with our charities, local authorities and other important parties before considering any statutory commitments. Any new duty must also be properly costed, taking into account existing provision. We expect the commissioner to set out her recommendations in a report under clause 7, and as those who have been following closely will know, we and others will then have 56 days in which to respond. We will act on this, and we will respond promptly.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Twelfth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:07 p.m.

I very much appreciate the way in which the hon. Gentleman raised that. We have systems in place at the moment. I hope that, particularly on the topic of legal aid, I have been able to provide examples of women who were not eligible for DDVC getting access to legal aid support. We accept that there is more to do. We are coming at the matter with an open mind and an open heart. We want to get the evidence, so that in due course we can put in place the systems that will provide the best support. That, as well as helping people in their immediate circumstances, is the intention behind the pilot project.

I turn now to the matter of immigration control. We believe that lifting immigration controls for all migrant victims of domestic abuse is the wrong response. Successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly funded benefits and services should normally reflect the strength of a migrant’s connections to the UK and, in the main, become available to migrants only when they have settled here. Those restrictions are an important plank of immigration policy, operated, as I have said, by successive Governments and applicable to all migrants until they qualify for indefinite leave to remain. The policy is designed to assure the public that controlled immigration brings real benefits to the UK and does not lead to excessive demands on the UK’s finite resources, and that public funds are protected for permanent residents of the UK.

Exceptions to those restrictions are already in place for some groups of migrants, such as refugees or those here on the basis of their human rights, where they would otherwise be destitute. Those on human rights routes can also apply to have their no recourse to public funds condition lifted if their financial circumstances change. Equally, migrant victims on partner visas can already apply for the destitution domestic violence concession, to be granted limited leave with recourse to public funds.

However, lifting restrictions for all migrant victims would enable any migrant, including those here illegally, to secure leave to remain if they claim to be a victim of domestic abuse. For the reasons I have set out, we believe that the provisions in new clause 35 would be open to abuse and undermine the legitimate claims of other migrant victims and the public support on which our immigration system relies.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:08 p.m.

Will the Minister outline exactly why she thinks the new clause would give everyone indefinite leave to remain? That is certainly not the case, if I may speak so boldly. We are asking for limited leave to remain for a six-month period, with a view to making an application for indefinite leave to remain. Will the Minister just highlight that the Home Office, even in the case of spousal visas, still has every right to refuse indefinite leave to remain to anyone it likes?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:08 p.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for clarifying. I am afraid that that is not the interpretation that lots and lots of officials who have pored over the new clauses have drawn. Perhaps that highlights the complexity of the area and the law. We have to be absolutely clear about our phrasing and intentions when we draft clauses that will have a huge impact on immigration policy, over and above the cases of the immediate victims whom we seek to help.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:09 p.m.

Does the current system of domestic violence destitution and the DV rule guarantee indefinite leave to remain for those on spousal visas? If it were extended to other groups, surely they would live under the same rules.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:12 p.m.

I do not want to labour the point, but the purpose and remit of the DDVC and the domestic violence rule has been misunderstood. The DDVC and the rule were, and are, intended to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas, because they have a legitimate expectation of staying in the UK permanently. That is the nature of their status. That is why we say it is not, sadly, an easy transfer across for people on other types of visas, such as visitor visas—or, indeed, for people who have arrived here illegally. That is why it is a painstaking process to work out what we can do to help such victims with the immediate circumstances of their abuse, so that the immigration system plays its part and takes its course in the way that it would do for anyone on those different types of visas.

I appreciate the sensitivities of talking about illegal immigrants, but it is important to acknowledge that we have to balance the interests of people who apply properly for immigration routes, as well as the immigration interests of individual victims. That is why the Government keep coming back to the argument that the starting point for the process should not be people’s immigration status; it should be the care that they need to help them flee an abusive relationship, giving them the support they need to recover from that and to lead happier and healthier lives.

I talked about the human rights routes. People on human rights routes can also apply to have their no recourse to public funds condition lifted if their financial circumstances change. Equally, migrant victims on partner visas can already apply for the DDVC to be granted limitedly, with recourse to public funds. We are committed to the needs of victims, which is why we have introduced the pilot to help us understand the particular pressures and needs of these vulnerable people.

I started my speech by setting out the Government’s commitment to helping victims. I made the point that victims must be treated as victims and get the help they need. That is absolutely what we are focused on, which is why the next steps in our programme of work in this very difficult area are to publish the results of the review and then conduct the pilot, so that we can assess and implement the practical support that these vulnerable people need.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:13 p.m.

Let me explain to somebody who may never have filled in a domestic violence destitution fund form or have had to apply the DV rule in this or any of its forms. The reality is that even if someone has a spousal visa, it does not guarantee them indefinite leave to remain. They still have to apply through every single one of the same rules through which they would ordinarily apply—unless the Home Office is changing the policy and saying that anyone who applies will automatically be given leave to remain. That is absolutely not my experience.

There is a problem when I stand here representing my experience of years in the field, and with masses of experience of immigration cases in my constituency—more, I feel safe in saying, than any hon. Member present, except perhaps the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. It is very difficult when Ministers say that what I have experienced is not the case, or that all the victims who have given evidence—some of whom are our friends or family, and certainly our constituents—are wrong to say that the system does not work. There are lists of easements, but the reality on the ground is completely different. I understand what the Minister is saying and certainly what hon. Members want to see with regard to evidence gathering. Lord knows we live in a time when policy is made very quickly, and some people will prove that we needed better evidence for some of it. We live in interesting times. I have absolutely no doubt that that is what is required.

I do not see the point of a review if the evidence is not taken up by the Home Office. Even if all the evidence pointed the other way, I cannot see that the Home Office would come up with a different argument. The desire of all of us for the evidence is a sort of moot point. We are trying in this Bill to protect victims of domestic violence—it’s literally what it says on the tin.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:16 p.m.

I think it is. I do not get any uptick in sticking up for this group of people because migrant communities are not allowed to vote. People have seen a problem and they are trying to fix it. It is as simple as that. On the issue of leave to remain, I hear what—

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:16 p.m.

I rise to protect my officials more than anything else. New clause 35(2) states:

“The statement laid under subsection (1) must set out rules for the granting of indefinite leave to remain to any person subject to immigration control who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom”.

That is the hon. Lady’s new clause, and that is how we have read it.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:17 p.m.

Okay. That is absolutely fine. I was about to say to the Minister that I hear what she says about the concern that we might let a few too many in the country. I will take the issue up on Third Reading and speak about it every day until we get to Report and I will ensure that people speak about it in the Lords.

The Minister has probably never taken a call in a refuge and had to tell someone that they could not come because they had no recourse. She can say that I speak with my heart and not my head, but I have had to use my head to turn women away. I have had to have women’s children removed from them.

I do not act as an emotional being; I am emotional about the right thing to do. We are here to protect victims of domestic violence. We do not expect to ask them which countries they have travelled from when they present. I will take away what the Minister says about possible confusion. The amendments that will be laid before the House will be clear that, just as for those on spousal visas, there is no guarantee whatever of indefinite leave to remain, as the Minister well knows, in the scheme.

In fact, not everybody gets indefinite leave to remain. The data collected centrally is widely available. All we ask is that for a period everybody will be able to access support and be given a fair chance to make an immigration application. It is as simple as that. I do not want to stand here and let it pass. The point still stands whether we want to call them illegal or whether we want to talk about which particular visa they might have. If anyone does not have asylum accommodation in their constituency, they are free to come to mine to see whether they would like to put victims of domestic violence in it. It’s really cracking.

There will be people exactly as I have outlined. It does not matter what sort of visa they are on. As I have said, there will be people who we come across every day to whom we are currently saying, “This Bill isn’t for you. This Bill doesn’t help you; I am sorry you got beaten up, but you are on your own.” That is the reality of this law, until it is changed. I will do everything I can to change it and I have a better chance of doing that in front of the whole House—either this one or the other place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 30

Use of bail in domestic abuse cases

“(1) Section 34 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (limitations on police detention) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (5)(a) for the word “applies” substitute “or subsection (5AB) applies”.

(3) In subsection (5)(b) for the word “applies” substitute “or subsection (5AB) applies”.

(4) In subsection (5A) insert after the words “applies if”, “subsection (5AB) does not apply and”.

(5) After subsection (5A) insert—

“(a) This subsection applies if—

(i) it appears to the custody officer that there is need for further investigation of any matter in connection with which the person was detained at any time during the period of the person‘s detention; and

(ii) the offence under investigation is an offence that amounts to domestic abuse as defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020;

(b) save that the person shall be released without bail if the custody officer is satisfied that releasing the person on bail is not necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances (having regard, in particular, to any conditions of bail which would be imposed and to the importance of protecting the complainant);

(c) before making a determination to release without bail or a determination as to any conditions of bail to impose, the custody officer shall conduct an assessment of the risks posed by not releasing the person on bail (including, in particular, to the complainant);

(d) before making a determination of a kind referred to in paragraph (c) the custody officer must inform—

(i) the person or the person’s legal representative and consider any representations made by the person or the person‘s legal representative; and

(ii) the complainant or the complainant’s representative and consider any representations made by the complainant or the complainant’s representative; and

(e) an officer of the rank of inspector or above must authorise the release on bail (having considered any representations made by the person or the person’s legal representative and by the complainant or the complainant’s representative).””.—(Peter Kyle.)

This new clause reverses the presumption against use of bail in the 2017 Act for these categories of offences, and introduces a risk assessment with prior consultation with the parties.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

I say at the outset that I have sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s position. We are conscious of the unintended consequence of the well-intentioned reforms to pre-charge bail in 2017. We are committed to ensuring that the police have the powers they need to protect the public, and that our criminal justice system has at its heart the welfare and best interests of victims.

Over the past few years, crime has become more complex, and the police are dealing with more digital evidence and new challenges. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 introduced a number of reforms to pre-charge bail to address legitimate concerns that suspects were spending too long under restrictive conditions, with no oversight. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman gave an example of that. The 2017 reforms allowed individuals to be released under investigation and introduced a presumption in favour of release without bail, unless its use was considered necessary and proportionate. They limited the initial imposition of pre-charge bail to 28 days. I must emphasise that the police can still use pre-charge bail when it is necessary and proportionate to do so, and they have our full support in that.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council has issued guidance highlighting that police should use pre-charge bail when there are risks to victims and witnesses, and the need to regularly review cases where such suspects are released under investigation.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

On risk, the new clause seeks to amend the Bill to ensure that a proper risk assessment is done. Somebody in a case involving me was recently released under investigation, and no risk assessment of my safety was done.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

Obviously, I am concerned to hear that. I take the point about risk assessment and will raise it with the NPCC lead. The hon. Member for Hove referred to the forthcoming police powers and protections Bill, but in the interim I very much want that to be considered.

We have worked closely with policing partners and other partners across the criminal justice system to track its implementation and monitor its impact, and we know that the use of pre-charge bail has fallen significantly. We have listened carefully to these concerns, and in November, as the hon. Gentleman said, we announced a review of pre-charge bail to address concerns raised about the impact of current rules on the police, victims, those under investigation and the broader criminal justice system. We launched a public consultation in February, which closed on 29 May. We received more than 1,000 responses, which we are analysing before deciding how best to proceed.

However, I very much take the point about the needs before the police powers and protections Bill is introduced, but our concern is that we cannot deal with this in a piecemeal, offence-specific manner; we have to take a holistic approach to changing the pre-charge bail system. This Bill is not the correct vehicle for that but, as the hon. Gentleman said, the police powers and protections Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech may well be.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:44 p.m.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause arose out of cases that occurred a number of weeks ago, which highlighted something frightening. Specialist domestic violence refuges have supported hundreds of thousands of people over many years. They are life-saving, provide sanctuary, and are established specifically to meet the needs of women and children who need refuge. In most cases, the confidentiality of a refuge is crucial for the safety and wellbeing of those who stay there, and I cannot express to Members how seriously refuges take their confidentiality. Every single person who lives in a refuge signs a licence agreement that says that if they tell somebody, they have to leave, and enforcing that rule when it is broken is heartbreaking.

The Bill offers a golden opportunity to ensure that there is legal clarity about the nature of refuge provision, including the key elements that are necessary to preserve their integrity. At present, it is not explicitly clear that refuge residential addresses and the identity of those who work for a refuge must remain confidential, so that must change. Service of family court orders on families in refuges, particularly location orders, is often applied for by fathers when mothers and children have fled the family home to refuges following allegations of domestic abuse. The family courts use tipstaffs and the police to locate the mother and children in refuges, even though the address of those refuges is not publicly available.

Once they are located, the refuge is usually ordered to provide its address directly to the court to facilitate the service of court orders on mothers. Often the court order explicitly names the refuge and its manager, which is intimidating and could result in them becoming identified. Family courts usually order the police to attend the refuge’s residential address to serve the order on the mother. This causes upset, anxiety and distress to the mother who is served with a court order, and to the other women and children living in the refuge, who have reported feeling retraumatised by the process. Women who experience a number of intersectional inequalities, such as race, language barriers and insecure immigration status, have reported receiving a heavy-handed response from the police, being unable to understand what the police are saying, and feeling that they are being treated as criminals.

In at least one case that I have heard of in the past few weeks, a mother and child were located and stalked as a result of their refuge’s residential address being disclosed to the court. They had to move to two different refuge addresses, and then the father abducted the child and took them abroad. In another case, the police served a family court order on a vulnerable mother who does not speak English and sought safety with her two children. The mother found the experience degrading and humiliating. Concerns arose in that case that the father had discovered the family’s location, and as such the mother and children had to be moved on to another location.

It is acceptable that family court orders must be served on mothers, but the current family judicial practice is not acceptable, as it breaches women and children’s rights to a safe family life and a private life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The approach adopted by family courts is haphazard and inconsistent, with much depending on the judge’s approach to the case before them. Many judges have had no training on domestic abuse.

The situation I have outlined could easily be avoided by ensuring that refuge addresses are always confidential and that family court orders are served by alternative means, as per the family procedure rules 2010. A simple amendment to those rules would ensure that a consistent approach is adopted by all family judges. If such an amendment is not made, the same poor practice will continue.

It is imperative that this situation is addressed urgently, before irreparable harm is caused. I have therefore tabled this new clause, to prevent the service of family court orders at refuge residential addresses, and to ensure that refuge residential addresses and the identity of refuge workers remain confidential.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:46 p.m.

I apologise to the Committee; I am stepping into the shoes of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, as he is about to appear on the Floor of the House, so please spare me particularly detailed questions and I will do my best.

We absolutely recognise the life-saving sanctuary that refuges provide for victims and their children, and we believe that existing legislation and court procedure rules state clearly that parties actively engaged in family proceedings are not required to disclose their address or that of their children, unless directed to do so by the court. Furthermore, parties may apply in any event to withhold such information from other parties.

When adequate information about the location of a child is not known to the court, the court can order any person who may have relevant information to disclose it to the court. In the first instance, details of the child’s address and who they are living with are disclosed only to the court and not to other parties. The court determines how this information should be used, based on the case details. Where there are allegations of domestic abuse, the court can and does treat this information as confidential, and holds it. We therefore believe that subsection (2) of the new clause is not required.

Subsection (1) would prevent the service of a court order at a refuge’s residential address, other than with the permission of the court following an application made under subsections (3) and (4). I fully appreciate that victims living in a refuge are fearful for their safety, and that their experiencing or witnessing the service of an order at a refuge would be very distressing. However, where courts are concerned about the welfare of a child, they must be able to take rapid and direct action to locate them. Direct service of an order at a refuge’s residential address may sometimes be necessary, for example when urgent concern about a child’s welfare demands it. Therefore, provisions to limit how documents may be served in specific places could have the unintended consequence of endangering a child.

I would like to reassure hon. Members that the courts may already direct completely bespoke service arrangements, based on the facts of a case. The family procedure rules 2010 provide clear powers for the courts to order service at alternative places, such as at an address other than a refuge’s residential address, and set out the procedure for making such applications.

In summary, we believe that the important outcomes sought by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley are already provided for in existing legislation and court rules. However, I want to reassure the Committee that we are committed to protecting vulnerable victims of domestic abuse who live in refuges. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham met the deputy president of the family court on Monday and raised these concerns, among others, and we will work with the deputy president to explore whether amendments to the family procedure rules 2010 could strengthen safeguards for victims and their children who live in refuges. On that basis, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clause.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 2:49 p.m.

I will withdraw the new clause, and I am heartened by the fact that the hon. Member for Cheltenham, who is no longer in his place, has spoken to the divisional lead in the family court. This is one of those situations where there may very well be regulations in place to allow the outcomes we want, but something is still going wrong, and an assessment and a change in this area is needed.

I understand the deep concerns that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle, has needing to think through the potential for harm to come to a child, although I would argue that, in refuge services, there would be somebody there in the vast majority of cases. There are quite strict and stringent safeguarding measures in place in refuges to ensure that children come to no harm. However, I am pleased to hear what she said and will speak to the other Minister about it another time, when he is not debating the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 33

Reasonable force in domestic abuse cases

‘(1) Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection 76(5A) after “In a householder case” insert “or a domestic abuse case”.

(3) In subsection 76(6) after “In a case other than a householder case” insert “or a domestic abuse case”.

(4) After subsection 76(8F) insert—

“(8G) For the purposes of this section “a domestic abuse case” is a case where—

(a) the defence concerned is the common law defence of self-defence;

(b) D is, or has been, a victim of domestic abuse;

(c) the force concerned is force used by D against the person who has perpetrated the abusive behaviour referred to at subsection (8G)(b);

(d) subsection (8G)(b) will only be established if the behaviour concerned is, or is part of, conduct which constitutes domestic abuse as defined in sections 1 and 2 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020, including but not limited to conduct which constitutes the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship as defined in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015.”

(5) In subsection 76(9) after “This section, except so far as making different provision for householder cases” insert “and domestic abuse cases”.’ —(Peter Kyle.)

This new clause seeks to clarify the degree of force which is reasonable under the common law of self-defence where the defendant is a survivor of domestic abuse.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

Definitely not, Mr Bone; I checked with all those involved in the case, and it is done—worry not. I have just been sending wild WhatsApp messages to that very effect. Also, I shall not mention anybody’s names or those of the courts.

The allegations were that the father had exposure his genitals to his daughter and that he had been sucking her toes and fingers while she was asleep. The judge said that if the father stopped doing this he could continue to have unsupervised contact with his daughter. The judge commented that when he was a barrister he had successfully ensured that a convicted paedophile could have unsupervised access to his children. The mother tried to tell the judge that the father has a history of domestic abuse, but the judge replied that she did not look like a victim of domestic abuse. He said that the father’s behaviour sounded more like a man losing his temper, rather than domestic violence. The judge dismissed the request for supervised contact between father and daughter.

In January 2020, allegations were made about the father’s sexual assault on his daughter. A criminal investigation into child sexual exploitation is ongoing but unsupervised contact is still ordered. This woman has no legal representation. She is not eligible for legal aid due to the means test. She has joint property ownership but no financial means to instruct a solicitor. Solace has described the severe impact this has had on the survivor: a complete distrust of the justice system—she felt like she was the one on trial even though she was there as the survivor and a mother trying to protect her daughter from her predatory father. She was met with disdain and not believed, whereas the father was met with sympathy.

I am almost certain that the Minister will refer to—the hon. Member for Cheltenham would have referred to it—practice direction 12J, which is meant to deal with this so that it does not happen in courts. It is routinely ignored in many cases. In this example, where presumption overrules even the child’s best interests, it is clear that there is a serious problem in our current system.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 3:21 p.m.

The hon. Members for Hove and for Birmingham, Yardley have set out fully the legal frameworks that exist, and I will not repeat them. I will bring to the Committee’s attention the fact that the current legislation places absolute primacy on the welfare of the child and does not seek to fetter judicial discretion regarding the factors they can take into account when making an order under the legislation.

I appreciate that this is a sensitive and complex issue. That is why the Ministry of Justice last year established an expert panel on how the family courts deal with allegations of risk of harm in private law children proceedings. The panel has considered the issue of parental contact, informed by the over 1,200 submissions of evidence it received. Its recommendations will be published in the coming weeks.

I have no doubt that the hon. Members for Hove and for Birmingham, Yardley, and other members of the Committee, will want to return to this matter once they have had the opportunity to consider the expert panel’s report. On that basis, I invite the hon. Member for Hove to withdraw the new clause.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 3:39 p.m.

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. It is the balancing act that the Government must employ, and not just on this subject matter. Where there are competing interests, we have to try to find that balance and we take that very seriously. We listen very carefully to concerns that are raised—I am very happy to discuss individual cases outside the glare of the Committee—but we have to abide by our duty to ensure that there is an effective immigration system. We have to balance that against our duties towards the victims.

The data exchanged between the police and law enforcement are processed on the basis of it being in the public interest, as laid out in articles 6 and 9 of the General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.

The problem with consent is that it can be withdrawn at any time—that is the point of consent. As such, it cannot be the basis on which public bodies, such as the Home Office, discharge their duties in the interests of all of the public. To require consent would, we fear, undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control.

I emphasise that we must, of course, keep the NPCC guidance under review, and we work with it to do just that. There are other ways of scrutinising the conduct of the police and, indeed, the Government. We know that there are two forms of legal action on this subject at the moment. Clearly, we will reflect on the findings of those cases when they are delivered.

I very much understand the motivations of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley in tabling the new clause, but I must balance the interests of victims with the need to ensure that our immigration system works as effectively as possible.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 3:43 p.m.

I do not doubt the Minister’s sincerity in wanting to ensure that this matter is sorted out. She invoked the public, and she is right that the public would expect people to live within the rules. However, I think if we asked the general public, “Would you rather a rapist was not reported or that somebody got to stay in the country a bit longer?”, they would be on the side of ensuring that crimes are properly investigated and that people come forward to help deal with those crimes.

All I am trying to do is send a clarion call to victims: “You will be safe and you will be supported if you come forward.” All we are ever trying to do in the field of domestic abuse is to increase the number of people who come forward. That is why we would never ever criticise when domestic abuse figures go up, although it would be easy to use it as a blunt tool and do that; in fact, we all celebrate the idea that more people are coming forward. That is all I seek to do with the new clause. I do not doubt that the Minister agrees and wishes to ensure that that is always the case.

What I would ask, as the situation is reviewed and as we work with the NPCC, is for some sort of evidence—once again, we are calling for an evidence base—that when these matters are passed on to immigration control, it is less about enforcement and more about safeguarding. I am sure that, over a period of time, that data could be collected.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 42

Joint tenancies: removal of a tenant

“(1) This section applies where there are two or more joint tenants under a secure or assured tenancy and the landlord is a local housing authority or a private registered provider of social housing.

(2) If one joint tenant (“A”) has experienced domestic abuse from another joint tenant (“B”) then A may apply to the county court for an order B is removed as a joint tenant.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) it sufficient that the domestic abuse was directed at A or to anyone who might reasonably be expected to reside with A.

(4) On such an application, the court must take the following approach—

(a) the court must be satisfied that the tenancy is affordable for A, or will be so within a reasonable period of time;

(b) if the court is so satisfied, then—

(i) if B has been convicted of an offence related to domestic abuse as against A or anyone who might reasonably be expected to reside with A, the court must make an order under this section;

(ii) if B has been given a domestic abuse protection notice under section 19, or a domestic abuse protection order has been made against B under section 25, or B is currently subject to an injunction or restraining order in relation to A, or a person who might be reasonably expected to reside with A, the court may make an order under this section.

(c) for the purposes of subsection 4(b)(ii), the court must adopt the following approach—

(i) if B does not oppose the making of such an order, then the court must make it.

(ii) if B does oppose the making of such an order then it is for B to satisfy the court that – as at the date of the hearing - there are exceptional circumstances which mean that the only way to do justice between A and B is for the order to be refused.

(d) if the application does not fall within subsection (b), then the court may make such an order if it thinks it fit to do so.

(5) Where A has made such an application to the court, any notice to quit served by B shall be of no effect until determination of A’s application or any subsequent appeal.

(6) Notwithstanding any rule of common law to the contrary, the effect of an order under this section is that the tenancy continues for all purposes as if B had never been a joint tenant.

(7) For the purposes of this section, an “offence related to domestic abuse” means an offence that amounts to domestic abuse within the meaning of section 1 of this Act.

(8) In section 88(2) Housing Act 1985, after “section 17(1) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 (property adjustment orders after overseas divorce, &c.)” insert “, or section [Joint tenancies: removal of a tenant]Domestic Abuse Act 2020,”.

(9) In section 91(3)(b) Housing Act 1985, after subsection (iv), add “(v) section [Joint tenancies: removal of a tenant] Domestic Abuse Act 2020.

(10) In section 99B(2) of the Housing Act 1985 (persons qualifying for compensation for improvements) paragraph (e), after subsection (iii) add “(iv) section [Joint tenancies: removal of a tenant] Domestic Abuse Act 2020.””—(Jess Phillips.)

This new clause would facilitate occupiers of social housing removing one joint tenant from the tenancy agreement where there has been domestic violence. The tenancy would then continue (so preserving existing rights). The court must be satisfied that the applicant can or will be able to afford the tenancy.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

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

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

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

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 4:07 p.m.

I apologise at the start because, just as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley went into the fine detail of housing law, so, sadly, will I. I will try to cut it down.

We understand the motivation behind new clause 42. Abusers seek to control their victims in many different ways, and threatening to make their victims homeless or actually making them homeless by ending a tenancy is a particularly pernicious form of control. However, we have concerns about the drafting of the new clause, as it would apply only to local authority and housing association periodic tenancies, whereas most social tenants have periodic tenancies that are often known as lifetime tenancies, which generally mean that they can stay in their home for the rest of their life, provided they comply with the terms of the tenancy. A social tenancy with lifetime security of tenure is a valuable asset, which is why the Bill includes provisions designed to protect the security of tenure of victims of domestic abuse when granted a new tenancy by a local authority.

Notwithstanding the general position on security of tenure, current law provides that if any joint tenant of a period tenancy serves a notice to quit, it brings the whole tenancy to an end and the landlord can seek possession. The rule is of long standing; it has been established in many cases over the years and was recently upheld by the Supreme Court. It aims to balance the interests of each joint tenant and the landlord. For example, it would allow a victim of domestic abuse who has had to flee her home to ensure that she is no longer bound by the full obligations of the tenancy, which she is no longer able to enjoy. We recognise that the rule may be problematic in some cases of domestic abuse where the perpetrator can use it to exert control. I appreciate that the aim of the new clause is to find a way around that, to enable victims of abuse to remain in their current home, without fear that the abuser may seek to terminate the tenancy.

We are concerned about a number of areas of the new clause. It would allow the victim to apply to the court to remove the perpetrator from the tenancy, which is intended to effectively transfer the tenancy into the victim’s name. Where there are other joint tenants, it would have the effect of transferring the tenancy into the names of the victim and of those other joint tenants. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington pointed out so eloquently—perhaps he should have declared an interest as a long-standing solicitor, as he was bringing his expertise into this—it means that victims may face the prospect of unresolved or remaining debts and costs because of any damage that the perpetrator may have caused to the property. The perpetrator will not be liable, as they will have been removed from the tenancy.

The new clause also fails to provide for how the interests of third parties may be taken into account by the court, including those of the landlord, any other joint tenant or any children in the relationship. A decision to grant a tenancy lies with a landlord. Where a landlord has decided to grant a tenancy to two or more individuals jointly, this new clause means that the number of tenants may be changed without reference to the landlord as the property owner.

It is important to bear in mind that landlords may have other reasons, outside of affordability, for deciding to grant a joint tenancy. In addition, this could amount to an interference with a housing association landlord’s own rights under the human rights legislation. Since this engages other parties’ human rights, we need to consider carefully what is the right approach in order to balance those rights, and ensure that any interference is proportionate and justified.

I understand that officials from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government are engaging with the domestic abuse sector and other relevant stakeholders on these issues, regarding the termination of joint tenancies. I am happy to give a commitment that we will continue to consider the issues with the sector, with a view to arriving at a workable solution.

Turning to new clause 43, this seeks to amend section 199 of the Housing Act 1996, which defines local connection. Local connection relates to how local housing authorities establish and carry out their statutory homelessness duties under part VII of the Act. If an applicant does not have a local connection, as defined by section 199, a housing authority can refer that applicant to another housing authority where they do have a local connection and can access this support. However, under that legislation, the authority must ensure that the conditions for referral are met. This means that a housing authority cannot refer an applicant to another authority if they, or anyone who might reasonably be expected to reside with them, would be at risk of violence.

The homelessness code of guidance makes clear that a housing authority is under a positive duty to enquire whether the applicant would be at such a risk, and stipulates that authorities should not impose a high standard of proof of actual violence in the past when making its decision. The changes the Government propose to make in this Bill, in order to ensure that domestic abuse victims are considered to be in priority need for homelessness assistance, will be strengthened further by amending section 198 of the Housing Act 1996, so that a local authority cannot refer an applicant if there is a risk of not only violence but domestic abuse, as defined in the Bill.

Local connection is also a factor in how many local authorities determine priority for social housing. The allocation of social housing is governed by part VI of the Housing Act 1996. Local authorities must give reasonable preference for social housing to certain groups of people, including those who are homeless or who need to move for medical or welfare reasons. To help them determine the relative priority of applicants who fall into these groups, they may, but are not obliged to, use local connection as defined in section 199. Existing statutory guidance, to which authorities must have regard, makes it clear that they should consider giving additional preference within their allocation schemes to people who are homeless and require urgent rehousing as a result of domestic abuse. Existing legislation and guidance should therefore ensure that the intended purpose of new clause 43 is already in effect. It is not correct to say that a victim of domestic abuse needs to have a local connection for the purposes of a homelessness application, and lack of local connection should not prevent victims of domestic abuse from getting priority for social housing.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
17 Jun 2020, 4:35 p.m.

May I take a moment to thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine for his non-point of order? It is right that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) be mentioned in Committee. Ministers are always encouraged by the Whips to engage with Back Benchers. It is an important part of the job to listen, consider views and try, where possible, to accommodate them. At the best of times that can be, depending on the Back Bencher, an interesting exercise, but Members can imagine what it is like to try to do Back-Bench engagement with a former Prime Minister who introduced the Bill that is the subject of that engagement: it is on a whole new level. I am delighted that she was mentioned again in the scrutiny of the Bill.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley for raising the point covered by the new clause. As she said, it stems from a campaign by the Prison Reform Trust. I note that my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State for Justice met trust representatives, the designate domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims Commissioner recently, to discuss the issue, among others. It has very much had his attention, as it now has mine.

We of course recognise the harm that is suffered by victims of domestic abuse. That is why the aim of the Bill is specifically to target it and raise awareness and understanding of its impact. It seeks to raise the profile of domestic abuse in all its forms, particularly given its pernicious nature, and to improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. It also seeks to strengthen the support for victims and survivors provided by statutory agencies. The definition should help further in clarifying the wide-ranging nature of domestic abuse for all those involved in the criminal justice system, at every level.

There are several defences that are potentially available under the law. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised some cases in her speech. I have to deal with the fact that we have these defences. The hon. Lady herself acknowledged that there will be occasions where those involved in the system do not apply the law in the manner that Parliament intended. None the less, we still have to respect the independence of the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police in ensuring that our criminal justice system works. She mentioned the defences of duress and self-defence, which are full defences. In homicide cases we have the partial defences of loss of control and diminished responsibility.

I recognise that legal representatives and the CPS should be made aware, as soon as possible, of domestic abuse histories and their impact, in the course of making charging decisions and when considering guilty pleas. That needs to be balanced alongside the recognition of the harm done by the perpetrator of a crime and the impact on the victim, in order to ensure, wherever possible, that people do not revert to criminal behaviour. That is reflected in the law, which continues to evolve and aims to strike the right balance between these factors.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley relies on the model set out in section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. We have concerns that that model would create anomalies with other offences. For example, there is a range of offences, mainly serious sexual or violent offences, to which the section 45 defence does not apply, in order to avoid creating a legal loophole for serious criminals to escape justice. The offences that are excluded are set out in schedule 4 to the 2015 Act, which schedule 1 seeks to replicate. Identifying the trigger point resulting in the behaviour that caused the offence remains problematic. If that defence is to be raised, the issue would become at what point in time and in relation to which type of level of domestic abuse the defence became available. Establishing such a threshold would be incredibly difficult. To clarify the circumstances in which the defence would be permissible would likely reduce the applicability or effect of the new defence to the parameters already set out in existing defences. Additionally, a full defence for a defendant subject to domestic abuse would create anomalies with defendants subject to other forms of harm, such as sexual harassment from strangers. Those are anomalies I am sure that none of us would want to see.

Let me deal with the point about the Modern Slavery Act. In earlier debates I talked about the evolving methodology of gang leaders and their efforts to ensnare young people into their gangs. We have in mind that we hear from law enforcement partners that the statutory defence for victims of modern slavery is being misused, primarily by the gang leaders, to persuade the young people they are manipulating and exploiting that it does not matter if they are caught, because they will get off anyway. That will not be the case, particularly for the sorts of serious offences that are not set out in the schedule. This comes back to the point about the ability of perpetrators and those who would exploit and manipulate other human beings, and their never-ending capacity to find new ways to do so—we are concerned about that aspect as well. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley mentioned a female victim of a gang being instructed to have sex with members of that gang—sadly, that is a factor that we know happens in gangs. Gang leaders find many ways to exploit vulnerable people in all walks of life, but particularly in those very hard-edged crimes. We are working with criminal justice partners to assess how the modern slavery defence is used in practice and the repercussions of that.

Existing full and partial defences cover circumstances in which a defendant is also the victim of domestic abuse. Indeed, full defences, including duress and self-defence, are defences to any crime, which, if pleaded successfully, result in acquittal. I refer to the debate that I had with the hon. Member for Hove about the decision-making process that the CPS must go through before the decision to charge is taken. At every stage of the criminal justice process, there are checks and balances. For example, at half-time, when the prosecution has closed its case, if the prosecution has failed to establish a case such that a judge feels confident to leave it to the jury, the judge will stop that case there and then. The jury will not be asked to deliver a verdict because the judge has ruled that, at the half-time submission, the evidence is insufficient and the prosecution has not done their job.

We have those checks and balances all the way through to the closing speeches. When I used to prosecute cases, I would always say to the jury, “If you find yourself using the words, ‘Possibly,’ ‘Likely,’ or ‘Probably,’ I have not done my job proving the case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt.” Those are the sorts of checks and balances that have been worked out over time to ensure that the guilty are convicted and the innocent are acquitted.

Partial defences, such as diminished responsibility and loss of control, reduce a charge for murder to manslaughter. Very recently, the incredibly moving case of Sally Challen not only demonstrated that partial defences can be employed, but showed the improvement in our understanding over a matter of years. Ms Challen was convicted in 2010 and a matter of years later, we have a better understanding of domestic abuse, and her appeal was successful.

Those checks and balances are important to ensure that, wherever possible, victims make their background and circumstances known. I very much hope that the Bill’s success in raising awareness about the sorts of things that the Committee has debated in such depth and degree will ensure that the justice system is as effective as it can be in providing victims and survivors with as much protection as possible—I am sure that I will work on that with colleagues from across the House. On that note, I will conclude.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

It seems almost unfair on the Minister that I get the last word on a Bill that she introduced, but that is the system. I welcome what she said, and I will take up that issue with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Cheltenham, and with the Prison Reform Trust.

I am very interested in—but unsurprised about—the idea that, in the Modern Slavery Bill, there is potential to say, “You are going to get away with it,” without recognising that what we are talking about here is mostly minor crimes—nothing that causes harm to others, no sexual abuse and no domestic abuse. However, it is very much the case that in patterns of abuse, people end up abusing other people. That is a complex area and we want fairness both for those who are accused and for those who are suffering. I will withdraw the new clause, and everybody can finally be done with the millions of amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Eleventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Wednesday 17th June 2020

(3 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Bill Main Page
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

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.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Tenth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 3:19 p.m.

I thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley for tabling the new clause. I hope that she knows that I always enjoy debating the issue of gender with her, because those debates draw us out of the nitty-gritty of the Bill’s text and make us think about wider and bigger topics. I very much accept that she will get all sorts of abuse tonight on Twitter, but may I gently remind her that Twitter is not the real world? I say that as someone who came off Twitter a few years ago and I have not missed it for a second.

My bigger concern when it comes to raising awareness of domestic abuse relates to a more common misunderstanding. It is not necessarily that women are disproportionately victims and survivors, because from my experience, I think that that is pretty well understood. What worries me is the idea that “She must leave him.” I hope that, through the Bill, and the work that we are all doing, we are beginning to change that conversation, but I absolutely understand why the hon. Lady has raised this issue.

The hon. Member for Pontypridd took the words out of my mouth: anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of their age, gender or ethnicity. We have had to reflect that fact in the definition. We have followed the lead of the drafters of the Istanbul convention in adopting that gender-neutral stance. There is no reference to gender in their definition of the act of domestic violence. The explanatory report published alongside the convention expressly states that the definition is gender neutral and encompasses victims and perpetrators of both sexes.

However, we very much want to reflect the fact that the majority of victims are female, which is why we set out in clause 66, following careful consideration by the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, the requirement on the Secretary of State regarding the guidance; the guidance reflects that fact. I appreciate that the definition is incredibly important, but the people commissioning services, training and looking at how their local services are working will be drawn to the guidance, in addition to the Bill, and will want practical help with it. That is how we adopted the definition.

We have made it clear that the definition has two fundamental elements: the first deals with the relationship between the abuser and the abused, and the second deals with what constitutes the categories of abusive behaviour. If the definition is to work for victims and survivors, it must work for all, regardless of gender or other characteristics. Interestingly, we have not been able to identify any other English-language jurisdiction that adopts a gender definition in relation to domestic abuse.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Other than Wales.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:03 a.m.

Other than Wales—forgive me. Gosh, that was probably a career-ending slip. I take the hon. Lady’s point about Wales. Apart from England and Wales, we have not been able to find other examples, although it may be that the hon. Lady’s Twitter feed will be inundated with them tonight. We place the emphasis on the draft statutory guidance. Believe me, I am under no illusions: hon. Members in the Committee and outside will be paying close attention to the guidance. I very much hope that, at the end of the informal consultation process, the guidance will be in a shape that meets with the approval of members of this Committee.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 3:35 p.m.

I thank the Minister. I know that she fundamentally wants a system in which commissioning is gendered and recognises the fact that the vast majority of these crimes happen to women. I agree with that.

If I read all the things that were tweeted at me in any one day, I would lose the will to live. It is important, on today of all days, to remember that the aggression towards Members sometimes features in real life, and that anyone who is willing to stand up and say what they feel about something can pay a heavy price.

I recognise what the Minister has said, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 22

Children affected by domestic abuse: NHS waiting lists

“The Secretary of State must by regulations ensure that children who move to a different area after witnessing or being otherwise affected by domestic abuse as defined by section 1 of this Act are not disadvantaged in respect of their position on any NHS waiting lists.”—(Jess Phillips.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:15 p.m.

There is absolutely no doubt about it, and a good jobcentre worker is worth their absolute weight in gold. I have a gold star system for the ones in my local jobcentre, who are excellent in lots of circumstances. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. However, when we are talking about domestic abuse and universal credit, we have put in a huge amount, and maybe that could have been avoided if we had looked at some of the impacts of how this policy was going to be rolled out. For example, on the issue of split payments in universal credit, we are now asking jobcentre staff potentially to intervene directly when two people are sitting in front of them, saying, “So, would you like split payments?” It is rocky terrain for a jobcentre worker to have to try and deal with that.

In fact, if we look at the take-up of split payments, we see that it remains persistently low, compared with the number of victims of domestic abuse who are claiming universal credit. That situation means that there is potentially a need for the complete redesign of jobcentres, so that there are permanent private spaces for every single person who might need one, and so that people can be talked to separately. There are all sorts of things that can be done to make the situation better, and training at the frontline is absolutely key in that.

However, that roll-out of universal credit was not done in my own area; I had to go and ask what was being done. I have sat in the Department for Work and Pensions with Ministers and asked them what they are going to do about these issues. The issue of split payments was very much an afterthought, and I suppose that all I am asking for in new clause 24 is that it is not an afterthought but is built into the system from the very beginning. However, the hon. Lady is right—frontline staff are worth their weight in gold.

The way that universal credit has been designed means that women are forced to choose between staying with a perpetrator or being unable, in lots of cases, to feed themselves and their children. That cannot be right and cannot be allowed to continue. Although the reasons why a woman might return to a perpetrator can be complex, it should not surprise anyone in this room that their not having enough money to provide for themselves and their children is the most common factor. In a survey for Refuge, one refuge worker said,

“the changeover to Universal Credit has caused a significant delay in accessing benefits when women arrive at the refuge. The five- week waiting time means women have to survive with their children with no income, and only a few food bank vouchers. This means that many struggle with whether they’ve made the right decision to leave, if they can’t even feed their children on their own.”

Of course, the Government response is that advance payments are available for those who experience hardship during the minimum five-week wait. That is true, but the crucial thing about advances is that they are loans, which must be paid back immediately from the very first payment, at the rate of up to 30% of the person’s payment. In offering such loans, we are offering women the choice of having no money now or not having enough money for many, many months afterwards.

We must remember that this is often the period when women are traumatised, and supporting their traumatised children, while trying to rebuild their lives in a new place without their support network. They might well be going through the criminal justice process, or the family courts, or both. The system requires them to do that either without a penny, or with some money but in the knowledge that they will spend at least the first year of their life away from their perpetrator struggling to make ends meet, as they have to pay that loan back.

Specialist services supporting survivors tell me that many women they support do not take advantage of the advance payment, even though they desperately need it. Those women are frightened about the consequences of taking on debt at the very beginning of their life away from the perpetrator. Those who have experienced years of economic abuse might have thousands of pounds in debts that they were coerced into taking, with their perpetrator fraudulently putting their names against a variety of debts. That is very common. They know that they will likely spend the next decade paying that debt off and they do not want to start their new lives by volunteering for even more debt.

Those fears are often well founded. Research from Citizens Advice shows that people who take out an advance loan from the Department for Work and Pensions are more likely to get into further debt as they struggle to pay the loans back. The answer to this is to get rid of the five-week wait—some well-trodden evidence regarding everybody, but there we go. In the case of domestic abuse victims, the answer is to pay benefit advances to survivors of domestic abuse as grants, rather than loans.

It is hard to overstate how much of a positive difference that would make to women and children up and down the country. It is the difference between a woman in a refuge hoping the food bank has not run out of baked beans and a woman in a refuge being able to treat her child to a yoghurt or some sweets after dinner on their first day in a new school. It is the difference between a woman feeling hopeful that she made the right decision and can look forward to a life without abuse or a woman feeling that she has no choice but to go back, because she simply cannot afford to live away.

When I explain to Ministers the impact of the five-week wait and repayment of advances for survivors, they often tell me that they cannot treat different groups differently under universal credit or that it is impossible because people would lie and pretend to be victims—usually they say both. In fact, last week the Ministers wrote to me saying that paying advances as grants to survivors includes significant fraud risk.

On treating people differently, there are many exceptions in our social security system. The Minister herself already referred to the shared accommodation exemption for victims of domestic abuse, which is a recent change. It is a strength that there are differences for different people. It makes our system work better and better protect people.

There are already exemptions for survivors of domestic abuse in the benefits system. For example, the domestic violence easement means that survivors do not have to comply with job-seeking conditions of benefits for a few months while they focus on their safety. The destitution domestic violence concession, which we will no doubt discuss at length tomorrow, is a crucial example from immigration rules, which provides a lifeline to survivors on spousal visas. Exempting survivors of domestic abuse from repaying benefit advances would be another important difference for survivors of domestic abuse that ensures the system works as a safety net for them and not as a barrier.

On the point of making it up, as someone who has worked in specialist domestic abuse services, I can tell you that it is a thousand times more likely that a woman will minimise the abuse that she has suffered, or think it is not abuse because they have started to believe what the perpetrator is telling them—that it is their fault and they are making it up. I understand, however, the Government’s desire to ensure that public money is not received fraudulently and therefore accept that some level of evidence is needed.

The best model for providing evidence is the legal aid gateway, which sets out the evidence requirements for survivors of domestic abuse to access legal aid. The same framework can be used here. This is an affordable policy that would make an extraordinary difference. I urge the Committee to support new clauses 38 to 40, which would ensure that benefit advances are treated as grants and do not need to be repaid.

I will now briefly turn to new clause 41, which would exempt survivors of domestic abuse from the benefit cap. The benefit cap limits the total level of benefits that a household can receive. It was introduced in 2013 and has impacted 250,000 households since the limit was lowered in 2016. While the cap was one of a number of policies intended to reduce our deficit, the Government’s own evaluation shows that only 5% of households moved into work because of the benefit cap; 95% did not.

Instead, the cap largely impacts lone parents and those with an illness or disability. Seven out of 10 capped households are single parent families, of which 69% had at least one child under the age of five and 24% had a child under two, according to figures from May 2019. Around 90% of single parents are female, so it is unsurprising that single female parents make up 85% of all households whose benefits have been capped, but the cap is having a particularly devastating impact on survivors of domestic abuse and increasing the barriers that women face in leaving an abuser. There is no free childcare before the age of two, meaning that lone parents with young children often do not work enough hours to avoid the impact of the cap. The issue is particularly acute where a women has fled domestic abuse and is far from her support network, so is unable to rely on friends or family for childcare and is perhaps unable to work due to the abuse she has experienced.

Although survivors are exempt from the cap while living in refuges—another exemption that has been put through—they are not exempt as soon as they leave. That is severely restricting survivors’ ability to find a safe new home and move on from refuge, as their benefits might not cover the cost of housing, either in social housing or in the private rented sector. It is leading, essentially, to bed-blocking, where women who are ready to leave a refuge are stuck in the service, blocking spaces that other survivors fleeing abuse desperately need.

The impact of the cap on survivors was made starkly clear in the case of R v. the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, which considered the legality of the benefit cap. Two of the claimants in the case were survivors. One was living in statutory overcrowded housing and was unable to move herself and her family anywhere suitable and safe due to the cap. Another was stuck in a refuge because the cap meant that she could not afford any move-on housing, and she was therefore blocking a much-needed space for another survivor. They told Women’s Aid that they felt financially penalised for escaping domestic abuse.

I know that the Department for Work and Pensions states that discretionary housing payments, which are paid by local authorities, are available for survivors in such circumstances. However, DHP allocations remain inconsistent, short term and dependent on different councils’ policies and practices—it is yet another postcode lottery. They are not monitored by the Government centrally, so it is impossible to know whether they are providing an effective solution.

The Department for Work and Pensions has repeatedly claimed that the benefit cap is saving money. As I have highlighted, however, the cap creates significant hardships, and the Department therefore gives back a significant proportion of the money it takes from claimants by providing funding for discretionary housing payments to local councils in order to help them support capped claimants. The circular process of transferring public money from one budget to another fails to consider the impact that has on families, particularly survivors, who rely on less stable support and are certainly under somebody’s “discretion”.

The Department does not include in its figures the cost of DHPs included in administration costs, nor does it consider the increased cost to local authorities through temporary accommodation or the wider cost that the hardship created by the cap might have on other public services. Women’s Aid is concerned that the DHP allocation remains inconsistent, short term and dependent on different councils. The DWP confirmed that it has not carried out a full cost-benefit analysis of the cap. In 2018-19, however, the DWP allocated £60 million of DHP funding for local authorities in Great Britain to support capped households.

For those reasons, I urge colleagues to support new clause 41 in order to exempt survivors of domestic abuse from the benefit cap. To summarise, the Bill must do more for survivors of abuse, including those suffering economic abuse, than merely define what is happening to them. The new clauses would ensure that the Bill has a legacy of not only recognising that money is used to control and abuse, but making significant changes to reduce the number of women who are forced to stay with their abusers because they cannot afford to leave.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

With regard to new clause 24, the Department is already obliged to consider the impacts of its policies through existing equality assessments, in accordance with the public sector equality duty. Moreover, the Department reviews, and is consistently striving to improve, services, working with partners who are experts in the areas that they support. This has included the roll-out of a significant training programme and the implementation of domestic abuse points of contact in every jobcentre.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:39 p.m.

Can the Minister not see the problem with a woman going in and asking for a split payment, and then returning home that evening?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, midnight

That is why we do not have it as a default. We are sensitive to that precisely because it will not work for some women. It has to be done led by the victim—led by the survivor—and not imposed universally. I will come on to our concerns about the default position in a moment but, if I may, I will carry on building the argument towards that.

The Department will also signpost individuals affected by abuse to specialist support and will work with them to ensure that they are aware of the other support and easements available under UC. Those include special provisions for temporary accommodation, easements to work conditionality and same-day advances. That approach ensures that victims are supported, while simplicity is maintained for others.

In July last year, the universal credit digital claims system was changed to encourage claimants in joint claims to nominate the bank account of the main carer for payment. We continue our support of payment of universal credit to the main carer through that messaging. This strikes the right balance between encouraging positive behaviour and allowing claimants to choose how best to manage their finances.

The proposed change in approach would be inappropriate for some vulnerable people who struggle to manage their money—for example, if one partner has addiction issues or is a carer for the other. A number of practical issues would present further challenges to vulnerable people. For example, 1.3 million adults in the UK do not have a bank account—most of them are on low incomes or unemployed.

The current process does not require both claimants to have bank accounts. The Government are working to improve financial inclusion, but it remains the case that the introduction of split payments by default could result in unnecessary payment delays for joint claimants when one partner does not have a bank account. It is necessary, therefore, to retain a single payment option.

Moreover, a move to split payments by default does not eliminate risk. Sadly, we know that, irrespective of how someone receives their money, perpetrators use a broad spectrum of abusive tactics to dominate and control their partners. That is the point about split payments being rolled out as a default.

The DWP has rolled out a significant training programme and implemented domestic abuse single points of contact in every jobcentre. That means that jobcentre customer service managers and work coaches have the right knowledge, tools and local relationships to support customers who are experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse. The Department continues to support survivors of domestic abuse through a range of measures, including signposting to expert third-party support, special provisions for temporary accommodation and other measures that I have mentioned, including easements to work conditionality.

We are achieving positive cultural change in jobcentre sites and, while we accept there is always more to learn, our departmental awareness of and support for those who have suffered or are suffering domestic abuse is better than it has ever been. I appreciate that the hon. Member feels strongly about her proposed measures, but I hope that I have reassured other colleagues about the steps that the Department for Work and Pensions is taking to support those who receive benefits, whether legacy benefits or universal credit.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Often the words that get read out bear no relation to the experience that we feel on the ground, whether as a benefit claimant or and as somebody supporting benefit claimants. With that idea that single payments are somehow safer and better, it is noble of the Minister to try to argue that universal credit going to one person in the household is better for victims of domestic abuse, but it is genuinely—

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:45 p.m.

I chose my words very carefully. What I said was that this must be led by the victim herself. I fully accept the point that the hon. Member made when she intervened on me. For some victims, walking in at the end of the day and saying, “I’m getting my UC separately,” may be a trigger. That is why we have to be led by the victim/survivor, rather than having split payments by default.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 4:44 p.m.

I understand, but about a year ago, I asked how many people had asked for split payments, and obviously the answer was, “We don’t collect that data”—the Government literally were not collecting the data nationally. When I asked them to collect that data, please, we saw that very few people are currently asking for split payments. That is not because people do not want some of their own money coming into their own hands; it is because the current system is not safe for having split payments. Split payments by default is a way of protecting people.

On the other equality areas that the Minister talks about, I totally take the point that saying that victims of domestic abuse do not have to repay the loans opens things up to care leavers. I am okay with that. If care leavers think that they cannot cope when we think about the universal credit five-week-wait loan, I would live with that. I think we need to look at all vulnerable groups. We are here to talk about the Domestic Abuse Bill, so I am leading chiefly in regard, but I am okay with other vulnerable groups not having to repay the universal credit loan. If anything, covid-19 has proved to us that the five-week wait is too much.

We can sit here and say that there are more than ever, but the reality on the ground is that victims are telling us that they cannot move out of refuge—they cannot afford to become free. We have to listen to them. There have been times in the Department for Work and Pensions—I really hope that that era will break out again under the current Secretary of State—when their voices were heard. I truly hope that that will happen, so we will continue to push this.

I shall not bother pushing a Home Office Minister into a vote to change the policy of the Department for Work and Pensions. I recognise all our limitations in that regard. However, we will continue to focus on this. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Domestic Abuse Bill (Ninth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Tuesday 16th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:46 a.m.

The Minister used the term “all victims”. Does the new clause cover those victims who are working in this country but have no recourse to public funds?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:47 a.m.

We will come to debate that set of circumstances tomorrow. In terms of homeless applicants, including victims of domestic abuse, we are dealing with this within the confines of the regulations as they apply at the moment.

Amendment 40 agreed to.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 9:47 a.m.

I beg to move amendment 55, in clause 66, page 49, line 42, after “children” insert “;

(c) the support employers should provide to victims of domestic abuse, including through the provisions of paid leave.”

This amendment would ensure that employers are provided with guidance about the support they should provide to victims of domestic abuse, including provision of paid leave.

I did not do this last week, but I just want to say a massive thank you to the people in the Public Bill Office. The amount of work that has gone into these amendments might be clear from the number of times that I stand on my feet. It is important to thank the people who sit in the background doing all that work, having an argy-bargy with all of us as we try to table amendments. They are a godsend, so I want to say a massive thank you to them.

This amendment goes back to the Committee’s conversations last week about workplaces. In part, the Government’s announcement of a review of domestic abuse in the workplace potentially covers what this amendment seeks to do. It did not exist when I tabled the amendment.

This amendment is about workplace guidance, which would ensure not only that a victim is supported, but that secondary benefits are offered to other employees, who would be indirectly affected by the abuse happening at their workplace. Without guidance, we expect employers just to know what to do. In many cases, which I spoke of last week, they have considered terminating employment in order to protect their business and their employees, removing the only lifeline that a victim might have. Often, when we try to change things in the workplace—certainly in relation to an equalities framework—the argument we get back is, “This will be too onerous on big and small business.” Over the past couple of years, however, I have seen that businesses are truly interested in trying to do something about this.

I was called to one of those fancy things where lots of businesses sit around a table in a fancy building. It was so fancy that I saw Anna Wintour from Vogue in the lift—she was exactly as Members might imagine. Businesses from all over the country came to listen to me talk about what they might be able to do to help domestic violence victims in their workplaces. Various companies, such as Lloyds and Vodafone, have offered two weeks’ full pay to victims of domestic abuse.

Studies by those organisations—EY, for example, has done a specific study, such is the nature of its business—show that although that right was appreciated and used when needed, no employee had taken the full two weeks off as part of their paid employment. Those organisations are trying to be proactive. We have to make sure that that is available for everybody.

During my work on sexual harassment at work, I was often on the phone to fancy people in Los Angeles who ran the Time’s Up campaign. I constantly used to say, “We mustn’t forget about Brenda in Asda. We mustn’t forget that the person we are talking about is actually a woman called Brenda in Asda.” The same applies to the amendment, which seeks an element of paid leave as well as guidance for employers who want to do more than simply step forward and be the goodies and go to fancy lobby lunches to talk about these issues. We have to truly seek to change that.

The Government have suggested that they are going to hold a consultation and review what exactly that will mean. I have absolutely no doubt about what the findings will be. They will be the same as those reached over a number of years by different groups, including the all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and abuse, working alongside the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse and the TUC. An unusual group of people have been working on this for a while. There are rabble-rousing union stewards working alongside some of the poshest organisations I have ever worked with. Those meetings are always a delight. We have taken evidence from New Zealand, for example, where that right already applies.

I will not press the amendment to a vote. It was tabled before the Government announced any sort of action in this area. It is merely a probing amendment, given that businesses have told us that they would not find onerous.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:06 a.m.

The amendment brings us to the role that employers can and should play in supporting employees who are victims of domestic abuse. The Government expect all employers to show compassion when faced with cases of domestic abuse. It is important that the Government help employers to support victims. We recognise the excellent work of organisations that provide guidance to help employers to do more. The Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, for example, does great work and has increased the services that it can provide employers during covid-19, because it recognised its ability to send messages through its network of support. We very much support and applaud that sort of work.

Public Health England, in partnership with Business in the Community, which is a business-led membership organisation, provides an online domestic abuse toolkit, including advice on developing a workplace policy and guidance on practical workplace support. Although not specifically designated for victims of domestic abuse, some existing employment rights can help to support victims who face particular circumstances. For example, statutory sick pay may be available where the employee is suffering from physical injury or psychological harm. The right to request flexible working may also help in circumstances where working patterns or locations need to change. We committed in our manifesto to taking that further and consulting on making flexible working the default. In addition to the statutory right, many employers offer compassionate leave or special leave to their employees to enable them to take time to deal with a wide range of circumstances. That leave is agreed between the employer and the employee, either as a contractual entitlement or on a discretionary basis.

We accept, however, that that framework of rights may not work for every circumstance faced by victims of domestic abuse. There may be more that the Government can do to help employers better support those who are experiencing abuse. That is why the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last week launched a review of support in the workplace for victims of domestic abuse. I always like to give the end date of such consultations so that colleagues are nudged into responding if at all possible: the end date is 9 September 2020. I ask colleagues to please submit their views and those of their networks of contacts, charities and businesses.

The review invites contributions from stakeholders, covering the practical circumstances that arise in relation to domestic abuse and work, best practice by employers, and where there is scope for the Government to do more to help employers protect victims of domestic abuse. We will also host events to build the evidence base further, before publishing the findings and an action plan by the end of the year. Our view is that the Government review provides the right framework for identifying how the Government can best help employers to support victims of domestic abuse. It creates a firm basis on which to make progress.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has indicated that this is a probing amendment, so I invite her to withdraw it.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
16 Jun 2020, 12:07 a.m.

I thank the Minister. If anyone in this room were faced with an employee—and I have been in this situation a number of times—going through a court case, I cannot imagine that anybody, no matter whether they were working here or elsewhere, would expect that person not to be paid or even to be paid statutory sick pay for that period. However, that is the reality for the vast majority of people. Victims of domestic abuse need access to a specific sort of leave. That would change the culture in an organisation, and including information about it in the big pack that people receive on their first day would be a real sign that they could speak to their boss about it.

Asking for sick leave or compassionate leave because you have been raped is completely different from doing so because your mother has died. It is much easier for someone to ask their boss for leave because a relative has died than to do so because they might have been raped the night before. If someone’s house was broken into, they would ring their boss in the morning and say, “My house has been broken into. I can’t come in today because the police are coming.” That is a different conversation from, “My husband beat me up last night. I’m sorry I can’t come in, but the police are coming over.” It is not the same. We need to change the culture from the top down, to make sure there is a marker that shows people that if they have to go to court—which can take weeks and weeks—and if they need to flee, something can be done.

The Minister mentioned different guidance. The TUC says that its guidance on domestic abuse is the most downloaded piece of guidance ever from its website. Let us hope that culture is changing and that the review mentioned by the Minister shows real courage on what needs to change in the workplace. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

I would like to speak to this, as I have a sense of mischief today. The clause provides for the short title of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 73 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 15

Consequential amendments of the Sentencing Code

‘(1) The Sentencing Code is amended as follows.

(2) In section 80 (order for conditional discharge), in subsection (3), at the end insert—

“(f) section36(6) (breach of domestic abuse protection order).”

(3) In Chapter 6 of Part 11 (other behaviour orders), before section 379 (but after the heading “Other orders”) insert—

“378A Domestic abuse protection orders

(none) See Part 3 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020 (and in particular section 28(3) of that Act) for the power of a court to make a domestic abuse protection order when dealing with an offender for an offence.”” .—(Alex Chalk.)

This New Clause makes two consequential amendments to the Sentencing Code as a result of Part 3 of the Bill. The first adds a reference to clause 36(6) to the list of cases where an order for conditional discharge is not available. The second inserts a signpost to Part 3 of the Bill into Part 11 of the Sentencing Code, which deals with behaviour orders.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 16

Homelessness: victims of domestic abuse

‘(1) Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 (homelessness: England) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 177 (whether it is reasonable to continue to occupy accommodation)—

(a) in subsection (1), for “domestic violence or other violence” substitute “violence or domestic abuse”;

(b) for subsection (1A) substitute—

“(1A) For this purpose—

(a) “domestic abuse” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020;

(b) “violence” means—

(i) violence from another person; or

(ii) threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out.”

(3) Omit section 178 (meaning of associated person).

(4) In section 179 (duty of local housing authority in England to provide advisory services), in subsection (5)—

(a) for the definition of “domestic abuse” substitute—

““domestic abuse” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020;”;

(b) omit the definition of “financial abuse”.

(5) In section 189 (priority need for accommodation)—

(a) in subsection (1), after paragraph (d) insert—

“(e) a person who is homeless as a result of that person being a victim of domestic abuse.”;

(b) after subsection (4) insert—

“(5) In this section “domestic abuse” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020.”

(6) In section 198 (referral of case to another local housing authority)—

(a) in subsection (2), in paragraph (c), for “domestic violence” substitute “domestic abuse”;

(b) in subsection (2ZA), in paragraph (b), for “domestic violence” substitute “domestic abuse”;

(c) in subsection (2A), in paragraph (a), for “domestic violence” substitute “violence that is domestic abuse”;

(d) for subsection (3) substitute—

“(3) For the purposes of subsections (2), (2ZA) and (2A)—

(a) “domestic abuse” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020;

(b) “violence” means—

(i) violence from another person; or

(ii) threats of violence from another person which are likely to be carried out.”

(7) In section 218 (index of defined expressions: Part 7), in the table, omit the entry relating to section 178.

(8) In article 6 of the Homelessness (Priority Need for Accommodation) (England) Order 2002 (S.I. 2002/2051) (vulnerability: fleeing violence or threats of violence)—

(a) the existing text becomes paragraph (1);

(b) after that paragraph insert—

“(2) For the purposes of this article—

(a) “violence” does not include violence that is domestic abuse;

(b) “domestic abuse” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2020.”

(9) In consequence of the repeal made by subsection (3), omit the following provisions—

(a) in Schedule 8 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004, paragraph 61;

(b) in Schedule 3 to the Adoption and Children Act 2002, paragraphs 89 to 92.” .—(Victoria Atkins.)

This New Clause makes two key changes to Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 in relation to homelessness in England. First, it amends section 189 to give homeless victims of domestic abuse priority need for accommodation. Second, it amends Part 7 to change references to “domestic violence” to references to “domestic abuse” within the meaning of clause 1 of the Bill.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 4

No defence for consent to death

‘(1) If a person (“A”) wounds, assaults or asphyxiates another person (“B”) to whom they are personally connected as defined in section 2 of this Act causing death, it is not a defence to a prosecution that B consented to the infliction of injury.

(2) Subsection (1) applies whether or not the death occurred in the course of a sadomasochistic encounter.”—(Jess Phillips.)

This new clause would prevent consent of the victim from being used as a defence to a prosecution in domestic homicides.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Eighth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Thursday 11th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Ministry of Justice
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 (Seventh sitting)

(Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Thursday 11th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

Hope springs eternal for what I am covering here being in the regulations. Had we seen the regulations, we would not have to debate whether it is going to be in them. Unless the regulations are drawn according to clearly defined grounds, I fear that there is a real risk that people will just say, “Yes, I am a provider for victims of domestic violence.”

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

I just draw the hon. Lady’s attention to subsections (9) and (10). Subsection (9) reads:

“The power to make regulations under subsection (8) may, in particular, be exercised to make provision about—

(a) the procedure to be followed by a relevant local authority in preparing a strategy;

(b) matters to which a relevant local authority must have regard in preparing a strategy;

(c) how a relevant local authority must publish a strategy;

(d) the date by which a relevant local authority must first publish a strategy;

(e) the frequency with which a relevant local authority must review its strategy.”

Subsection (10) states that, in making the regulations,

“the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner,

(b) relevant local authorities, and

(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

We are trying to be as open and transparent as possible in drawing up these regulations.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

I absolutely agree, and I have no reason to doubt that there will be transparency in drawing up the regulations. However, I am not entirely sure why we cannot include in the Bill our opposition to that sort of accommodation. The amendment would require that the relevant accommodation, as defined in regulations, must be safe for survivors and their children and that the definition must include refuge services. All I am seeking is assurances that that will be included in the Bill. What is the point of making laws unless we are going to lean on them when things go wrong? We need a document that states that.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, midnight

Again, by way of safeguarding, the local authorities are doing what is intended by the Bill. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to clause 55, which states that the local authority

“must submit to the Secretary of State an annual report in relation to the exercise of the authority’s functions under this Part during the year.”

That is how the Secretary of State can ensure that individual local authorities are doing what they should be doing and meeting the expectations of the Bill.

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

I again thank the Minister, but with the greatest respect to the Secretary of State, unless something is written into the Bill, I do not know whether she will agree with what I am saying about what determines safe accommodation. All I seek to do in amending the Bill is a belt-and-braces job to ensure that that is the case—that what is perceived as good refuge accommodation is written into the Bill.

Break in Debate

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady from Scotland, which is not currently covered by the Bill. The Home Office is, of course, in charge of the policy that covers Scotland with regard to this area of immigration and the destitution funding that is put in place in those circumstances. She is right that there are hundreds of voices—nay thousands, according to the petitions on this—on one side of the argument, with regard to the need for access to support for all migrant victims of domestic abuse. It seems that there are some in this place, on the other side of the House, who do not agree. However, on Second Reading and in the Joint Committee, every specialist agency, all the commissioners and every expert involved—I have not asked Chris Whitty, but I imagine he might fall on my side about this—stated that the Bill needs to do more and that it needs to look at specific issues around migrant women.

This is not some radical left-wing approach, unless the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) could be considered a radical left-winger. Indeed, the issue was raised by the onetime Immigration Minister on Second Reading. We will speak to the issue in far greater detail next week, but without such provision the ability to ratify the Istanbul convention is null and void. I cannot understand why we would put together a Bill about domestic abuse victims that did not explicitly support every single one of them. That is the simple fact about what we have at the moment.

Throughout the amendment runs the thread of non-discrimination, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh West pointed out. We cannot pass a Bill that discriminates or has a blind spot on the effects of domestic abuse on young children. By providing an inclusive and holistic approach—by working with all those affected—we can truly tackle domestic abuse. These new clauses provide an opportunity for us to make changes now, not in 12 months’ time, and ensure that all victims of this horrific crime are supported.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, midnight

If I may, I will first explain the duty in clause 53, because the amendment is relevant as it is key to what is intended. I want to be sure that everybody understands what clause 53 does.

We are clear that it is critical that victims of domestic abuse are able to access specialist support, in safe accommodation, when they need it. At the moment, nobody has responsibility to provide this support and, as a result, coverage is patchy, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley set out. That is why I am pleased that we have included part 4 in the Bill, which will put in place duties on tier 1 local authorities in England to ensure a clear framework for needs assessment, commissioning and reporting on outcomes, so that everyone has a chance of accessing the support that they need within safe accommodation.

Clauses 53 to 57 will together ensure a consistent approach to support in safe accommodation for victims and children who are forced to leave home to escape domestic abuse, with national coverage across local authorities. Clause 53 places a duty on each relevant local authority to assess the need for domestic abuse support for victims and their children within its area. Local authorities are best placed to assess the needs of victims in their area, considering the different requirements of all victims, including those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, as well as victims and their children who may come in from outside the local authority area. The local authority must then prepare and publish a strategy for the provision of support within its area, give effect to that strategy, and monitor and evaluate its effectiveness.

Break in Debate

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

Thank you, Mr Bone. That is very helpful.

Clause 53 defines “domestic abuse support” as

“support, in relation to domestic abuse, provided to victims of domestic abuse, or their children, who reside in relevant accommodation”.

Such support may include the overall management of the service, the provision of emotional support and practical advice such as on housing options, specialist support for victims with protected characteristics, and children’s support.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised the spectre of Ibis and other hotel chains. To be clear, the duty only covers support within safe accommodation services. In the majority of cases, the costs of rent and eligible services charges will be met through welfare benefits, housing benefit in particular, so this measure is very much focused on the specialist services within safe accommodation.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

How do we stop—I quote someone’s email—an “HMO daddy”? How do we stop them claiming to offer all of those things? What will we put in place that is beyond what is currently in place to assess use of the housing benefit system, which, I hasten to add, is not working?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Part 4. I will take the hon. Lady through it carefully, so that she understands how we have cross-checking systems in this part, in addition to all the checks in the rest of the Bill, including the commissioner and local authorities.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will specify in regulations a description of “relevant accommodation”. That is intended to be a broad definition in recognition of the diversity of housing in which the victims of domestic abuse and their children may live, from refuges to dispersed housing units. That is one of the complexities that we have had to deal with during the covid-19 crisis.

Clearly, people at the beginning stage of fleeing their accommodation will be in a different state of mind, different physical states and a different state of trauma after receiving specialist support in safe accommodation and when looking to enter the next stage of their life. Therefore, that diversity of accommodation must be reflected in the regulations. That will help to ensure that victims get the right support in the right place for them, which includes refuge accommodation, specialist safe accommodation, dispersed units of accommodation, sanctuary schemes, and move-on or second-stage accommodation.

The duty will require each relevant local authority to give effect to its strategy in carrying out its functions. Before publishing the strategy, the local authority must consult the domestic abuse local partnership board established under clause 54. Looking at the membership of that board, the hon. Lady understandably expressed concerns such as whether we were collecting or aware of data from A&E departments, but we have set out that not just tier 2 local authorities should be represented on the board, if appropriate to the local area, but victims of domestic abuse, children of domestic abuse victims, voluntary organisations and charities that work with victims of domestic abuse, persons who have responsibilities in relation to healthcare services in the area, and policing and criminal justice representatives.

We have very much taken on board the requests in the consultation and elsewhere for a multi-agency approach to this problem. That is very much the direction of travel at national level. Through clause 54, we are insisting that it is the direction of travel at local level.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:50 p.m.

Of course, it will respect the devolution arrangement. I like the phrase “jagged edge”; it describes it well. The group will work within the devolution arrangement. As has been the case throughout the Bill’s passage, we are happy to compare and work with our Welsh partners to ensure a consistent approach and to ensure that there is learning, and so on. We have taken an open approach throughout the Bill.

The group will review the operation of local needs assessments and the provision of domestic abuse support in safe accommodation across the country, specifically considering specialist provision for those who share relevant protected characteristics and services that serve a national rather than a local need. That will allow best practice to be shared and will highlight areas that may need further support to provide the consistent coverage expected by victims and the Government.

Clause 56 deals with guidance in addition to local partnership boards and the annual reports. The Secretary of State will also issue guidance to local authorities in England on exercising their functions in part 4. The clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult with the domestic abuse commissioner, local authorities and other persons considered appropriate by the Secretary of State. Subsection (2) requires local authorities to have regard to the guidance when exercising a function to which it relates. We are pleased to say that the guidance —which has been welcomed by local authorities—is to help them to deliver these vital services at local level. It will clearly outline the Government’s expectations for local authorities in delivering this duty.

We recognise that there is a balance between giving local authorities the flexibility to meet particular local needs and the requirement for a consistent approach to the provision of support within safe accommodation across the country. The guidance will help to provide a standardised approach to enable that to happen. We will make it clear in the guidance how that duty interacts with other duties and requirements on local authorities, such as those relating to homelessness.

I hope that colleagues with particular expertise will understand that the guidance will, I suspect, be quite a weighty document in its own right. It will sit alongside the statutory guidance that we have talked about for the Bill as a whole, precisely because we want it to be a working document for practitioners on the ground. We aim to have the draft guidance published in time for the Lords Committee stage. The report stands to be reviewed as necessary, of course. That sets out the framework of the clauses, and I will go into more detail on some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham Yardley and her colleague the hon. Member for Blaydon.

Once again, I emphasise that the statutory duty is to provide support to victims and their children within safe accommodation. Our concern is that new clauses 19 and 20 would apply more broadly to local and other relevant public authorities. The Committee may not be aware that responsibility for the provision of victim support services—including services targeted at perpetrators in order to support victims—has sat with police and crime commissioners since 2014. Local authorities will be bound by the new statutory duty to provide support to victims of domestic abuse residing in safe accommodation within their areas, but responsibility for wider victim support and perpetrator programmes will remain with police and crime commissioners.

Since 2014, PCCs have been funded by the Ministry of Justice to support victims of crime in their local areas and to address the specific needs identified in their local communities. That funding totalled some £68 million in 2019-20. PCCs have unique insight into the crime profiles and demographics of their local areas and thus the ability to allocate funding to those victims in need. Their autonomy to fund victim support services to meet local need should be preserved.

To create a duty that is workable and takes advantage of the considerable knowledge of local and public bodies, it must be placed on the specific authority that holds responsibility for particular services. Just as the new duty in part 4 will apply only to tier 1 local authorities, the commissioning of support for victims in the community must remain with PCCs and, in some cases, clinical commissioning groups. Interventions with perpetrators in the community must remain with PCCs, local authorities and, in some cases, CCGs. There is a variety with community-based services that there is not so much with refuge accommodation.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:51 p.m.

Will the Minister give way?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

I know that the hon. Lady cited the fact that 13% of refuge accommodation is not commissioned by local authorities. We accept that. We are looking, as I have said, at the overwhelming majority of refuge accommodation.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:51 p.m.

I thank the Minister for picking up that point. The point that I wanted to pick up on was her two uses of the phrase “in some cases CCGs”. Would it not be nice if it were “in all cases”? Does the Minister think there are CCGs in the country that do not have victims of domestic violence living in their areas?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:51 p.m.

Sorry, I am not quite clear. Every single police and crime commissioner has victims of domestic abuse in their area, clearly, as do local authorities and, where appropriate, CCGs. To my mind, this is part of the diversity of provision of services. In some cases, it will be appropriate for CCGs to provide services, but I would not say it should be CCGs exclusively.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:52 p.m.

Will the Minister elaborate on that point and say in which CCG areas that would not be appropriate? She is saying that certain CCGs, for whatever reason, would not have to provide services for victims of domestic abuse.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:53 p.m.

I am not going to cite, out of the hundreds of CCGs, the ones that are appropriate and not appropriate. I assume that what the hon. Lady is trying to get to is that this should be viewed as a medical issue as much as a policing and crime issue. I welcome both approaches. That is precisely why we are introducing the multi-agency approach at local level, through local partnership boards, whereby health services will be represented, whereas they are not at the moment. Policing and criminal justice will be represented, whereas they are not at the moment. Children will be represented, whereas they are not at the moment. This is the multi-agency approach that we are trying to achieve.

The Government do, however, recognise the need to explore the provision of community-based services to domestic abuse victims to ensure that those victims are receiving the right support to cope and recover from this terrible crime. Equally, we are clear that if we do not hold perpetrators to account for their actions and challenge them to make real sustainable changes to their behaviour, we will not stop the cycle of violence and abuse.

Before establishing the new statutory duty in relation to accommodation-based support, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consulted at length with local authorities, the domestic abuse sector and other organisations involved in supporting victims, to identify the barriers to provision of safe accommodation. That identified the lack of accountability and sustainable funding for the provision of support in safe accommodation as the key issue. Through that detailed engagement, it was possible to design a statutory duty that would tackle that. I am delighted to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has confirmed that the new statutory duty will be appropriately funded.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 12:54 p.m.

I thank the Minister for allowing me to intervene again—this is almost greedy on my part. She was talking about all the organisations that took part and what they said about what the barriers were. Could she enlighten us on what they said the barriers were in relation to migrant women?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

I will deal with that later in my speech. The hon. Lady took some 55 minutes—it is not a competition, but I have to do this justice by drawing out the points as we develop the argument. As with clauses 1 and 2, I want to explain the journey that we have taken to arrive at the statutory duty.

I think we would all acknowledge that the current funding arrangements for community-based services are complex. Although responsibility sits with PCCs, services are funded from myriad routes, including PCCs, local authorities, health partnerships and community safety budgets. That is true of both services for victims and programmes targeted at perpetrators, particularly those who have not been convicted. It would not be right to define what should be available by way of services for community-based support, without conducting a similar investigation as took place for support within safe accommodation and consulting the sector on any proposals.

To that end, the domestic abuse commissioner has agreed to lead an in-depth investigation into the current community-based support landscape, and the Government are committed to addressing its findings. We believe that that work needs to come to fruition before we can properly understand how any wider duty should be framed, on whom it should be imposed, and at what cost. It is also right that we fully consult on any expansion of the duties in part 4. I should add—in trying to describe the interlocking and interweaving web of accountability that runs through the Bill—that the commissioner will publish her report under clause 8, and we are required to respond to it within 56 days. The Bill therefore sets a time limit by which the Government are to respond.

In addition, a number of other areas of work across Government are already taking place to improve the experience of victims who seek help, such as the refresh of the national statement of expectations that is due to be published later this year. That will set out the best practice for commissioning all violence against women and girls services. We are also developing a cross-Government victim funding strategy, which is due to be published by the end of the year. Those developments are part of a cross-Government drive to ensure that domestic abuse victims in the community are receiving the support that they need, and that good-quality work with perpetrators is the norm.

I am afraid that I am not persuaded that the general duty on the Secretary of State set out in new clause 19(1) is necessary or helpful at this time. As we have already debated, the Bill establishes in law that the domestic abuse commissioner’s statutory remit will include the encouragement of best practice in the prevention of domestic abuse and the provision of protection and support to victims and others affected by domestic abuse. As part of her remit, she will necessarily look at the availability and quality of perpetrator programmes and make recommendations based on her findings.

On new clauses 19 and 20, it is worth pointing out the jagged edge, as I have called it: the new clauses do not reflect the devolution settlement in Wales. A number of relevant public authorities listed in new clause 20 operate in the devolved sphere, and we would not normally legislate on devolved matters in Westminster without the consent of the Senedd.

The other amendments in the group relate broadly to the existing provisions in part 4. Again, although I appreciate the intention behind the amendments, they would add more detailed requirements to the Bill, thereby reducing the flexibility of local authorities to meet particular local needs and set up a local partnership board in line with local needs and existing partnership arrangements. I do not believe that they are necessary because much of what they seek to achieve will be in the statutory guidance and laid down by regulation.

Clause 53 places a duty on each relevant local authority in England to assess the need for domestic abuse support for victims and their children within its area. In assessing needs, relevant local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims, including those with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, as well as victims and their children who come in from outside the local authority area. The local authority will then be required to publish a strategy, which will take effect as I have set out.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 1:05 p.m.

Sorry, I had thought that we might go on until 2 pm. In that case, I will be very quick; I hope I have set out the framework of the guidance. I am extremely grateful to Mr Bone for that clarification.

We recognise the concerns that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley has set out. I emphasise in relation to new clause 48 that the importance of national oversight is accepted, as can be seen from the setting up of the Minister-led expert steering group. We very much hope that those who are involved in that group will be able to make their views clear and look at the reports with all of the interlocking safeguards we have.

I will sum up by saying that we believe amendment 67 and new clauses 19 and 20 are at best premature, and that the other amendments are unnecessary. We recognise the importance of community-based services for those affected by domestic abuse and the need to address offending behaviour. As I have said, we are committed to investigating, in collaboration with the commissioner, what needs to be done to ensure that victims who stay in their own home, together with their children, are receiving the support they need, and that perpetrators are appropriately challenged and supported to change their behaviour.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
11 Jun 2020, 1:05 p.m.

I will not keep Members for a long time, and I recognise the Minister’s generosity towards other members of the Committee. She has not covered some of the issues that she said she would cover, whether those raised in my speech or through interventions on myself or her. I recognise the reason for that; no doubt we will have plenty of time to debate those issues as the Committee progresses.

I will just pick up on a few small things. The Minister has clarified that the regulations she mentioned will be laid at Lords Committee stage, as opposed to the guidance that she has promised will be laid before the House on Third Reading. As regards the guidance about local authorities’ commissioning of specialist refuge accommodation, the Minister has suggested that some of the things we are suggesting may be premature. I have been having meetings and conversations about these regulations for six years, beginning before I was elected, in the days when MHCLG was still DCLG. I have met with pretty much every housing Minister or MHCLG Minister about this issue, so it does not feel particularly premature to me. However, I look forward to the regulations coming before the Lords Committee.

So much of this regulation is based on trust, and all I was saying to the hon. Member for Cheltenham was that although I like part 4 of the Bill, I think there are areas in which it could be better, clearer and more robust to future-proof it. I will not press amendment 67 or new clauses 19 and 20 to a vote now, because I think the duty on community services is something that the whole House would wish to discuss—and the Lords would certainly wish to see discussed—on Report, and then maybe at the amendment stages in the Lords. I thank the Minister for responding to many of the issues I have raised, which has allayed some concerns, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Sixth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
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.

Break in Debate

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.

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.

Domestic Abuse Bill (Fifth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Wednesday 10th June 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Home Office
Victoria Atkins Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Victoria Atkins) - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

I thank the hon. Member for Hove for emphasising yet again the exhaustive scrutiny that the Bill has received. When we look over the history of the Bill and its scrutiny, we see that he is right to say that few other pieces of legislation in recent history have received such scrutiny. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said that we had “got away with it” this time with the appointment of Nicole Jacobs, but, on behalf of the commissioner, I should say that it is not a question of getting away with it.

We had a recruitment process in line with the public appointments process, which is carefully managed and objective. I interviewed Nicole myself, and she was the stand-out candidate. That is why I advised the Home Secretary to appoint her. I know that the hon. Member for Hove does not mean to do this, but the more it is suggested that Nicole, the designate commissioner, will somehow not be independent, the more I fear that that risks undermining her. We have to accept that Ms Jacobs is a professional, highly qualified and highly experienced person in the world of domestic abuse. We should welcome her appointment, which shows that the system has worked.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 9:49 a.m.

I absolutely echo the Minister’s words about Nicole Jacobs—and, I am sure, anyone who had been given the position.

May I ask if that same process was followed in the appointment of Kevin Hyland as the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner? Where does the Minister feel that that relationship broke down, to the point that his evidence on this Bill led to concerns that are now shared by me, Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, the Home Affairs Committee and so on?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 9:49 a.m.

I cannot speak to that appointment process, because I was not the Minister at the time, although I know that, personally, I had a good relationship with Mr Hyland at the tail end of his tenure.

Clearly, however, I was involved in the appointment process for the current Anti-slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton. I asked officials to double-check this: I do not believe that she has voiced any concerns about her independence in the year—it must be at least a year—that she has been in role. I remind the Committee that Dame Sara is a former chief constable and was chair of the Association of Chief Police Officers before the National Police Chiefs Council was set up. She is, again, a very highly qualified, highly experienced professional with decades of public service under her belt.

In exploring these issues, I would not for a moment wish to risk undermining the work or reputations of Dame Sara, Ms Jacobs or any of the commissioners that we have heard reference to.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

There is absolutely no sense that anybody here wishes to undermine the commissioners—we also work with those commissioners. We wish to empower them. We are concerned about relationship breakdown, and not necessarily with the current commissioner. Can the Minister speak more to the relationship with the previous Anti-slavery Commissioner, which definitely broke down?

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

Forgive me, but I am returning to the Bill, which is what we are concerned with now.

I am very happy to talk about the Children’s Commissioner, who is sponsored by the Department for Education. I do not know whether anyone has been listening to the news recently, but I do not think anybody could accuse Ms Longfield of not being independent or not expressing her views pretty forcefully and vehemently. Only yesterday there was a statement in the House about the issues she has raised.

Break in Debate

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

Clause 14 is about the duty to co-operate with the commissioner. We addressed parts of it yesterday. It is an absolutely crucial part of the commissioner’s powers. The commissioner may specify public authorities as laid out in subsection (3) to co-operate. We can add to the list in due course by regulations, but the public authorities listed in subsection (3) may not be removed. In this case I would recommend the clause to the House, although I appreciate that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley might have some things to say about it.

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

We went over this extensively yesterday. I just want complete clarity for the record—don’t worry, I will not go on for 50 minutes, although I could. I want to feel absolutely certain about this issue. When the commissioner says something to any one of the authorities—the list is absolutely fine—and they have the duty to respond, where in the system does the duty to act come in? Does that fall within the reporting line to the Home Secretary, who will then help the commissioner to ensure that action is taken? As somebody who often seeks a response from the Government, what I am actually seeking is action.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 10:02 a.m.

Yes, of course. There are organisations on the list that are directly accountable to the electorate, such as local authorities, or are accountable via elected officials such as police and crime commissioners. We expect those bodies to be mindful and act on what the commissioner recommends. There will be consequences for them at the ballot box if they do not do so, which is the case for Ministers as well as any other Member of Parliament.

As for the other bodies, we are mindful of the independence of the police, the British Transport Police and organisations such as the Criminal Cases Review Commission, so there will be a delicate balancing act between what Ministers can do and the independence of those organisations. As with other commissioners, where a public body is given fully reasoned recommendations by the commissioner in her report, they would be expected to respond to that, and that includes action.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19

Power to give a domestic abuse protection notice

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

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

Clause 19 signifies the beginning of part 3 of the Bill, which introduces domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders. These are very important aspects of the Bill. It may help if, before turning specifically to clause 19, I recap why we are creating the new protective orders, and the significant value that they will provide to victims and to agencies in holding perpetrators to account.

Responses to our public consultation in 2018 emphasised that the multitude of orders currently available in domestic abuse cases, which include non-molestation orders, occupation orders, restraining orders and domestic violence protection orders, can be confusing for victims and, indeed, practitioners. Each of those orders is available in different circumstances, does different things and has different consequences for breach. No single order provides victims with the comprehensive protection that they need to rebuild their lives. Our intention, in creating the new DAPOs, is to bring the strongest elements of the existing protective order regime together in one comprehensive and flexible order, and for DAPOs to become the go-to order in domestic abuse cases.

Clauses 19 to 23 create the new domestic abuse protection notice, which is designed to provide victims with immediate protection and breathing space from the perpetrator following a crisis incident. The notice will be issued by the police and could, for example, require the perpetrator to leave the victim’s home for up to 48 hours. Issue of the notice triggers an application by the police to a magistrates court for a DAPO, an order, which, if made by the court, provides the victim with longer-term protection.

Unlike the current domestic violence protection notices and orders, the new domestic abuse protection notice and order can be used to protect victims from all forms of domestic abuse and not just from violence or the threat of violence. However, it will not always be the case that there is a single crisis incident that necessitates the issuing of a notice by the police. Furthermore, we know that some victims do not want to involve the police in their case at all; they just want the abuse to stop. That is why the Bill provides for a range of flexible application routes to obtain an order, enabling not just the police but victims themselves or any other person, with the leave of the court, to apply for a DAPO. In addition, it is open to a judge or magistrate to decide to make a DAPO as part of existing proceedings in the criminal, civil or family courts.

The DAPO is designed to be fully flexible, so that it can be tailored by the court to meet the needs of the victim, based on the specific facts of each individual case. That is one of the order’s most important characteristics. Unlike the existing domestic violence protection orders, which have a maximum duration of just 28 days, DAPOs can be flexible in duration and can therefore provide victims with longer-term protection if needed. It will be for the court to determine the duration of an order or, if necessary, to decide that it should be open-ended until such time as the court makes a further order.

The Bill also provides courts with the flexibility to attach to the order not only restrictions but positive requirements, depending on what is necessary in each case to protect the victim from abuse. For example, the conditions attached to a DAPO could range from basic non-contact requirements and an exclusion zone, right up to requirements to wear an electronic tag or to attend a behaviour change programme. Crucially, breach of an order will be a criminal offence, subject to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

We know how important it is to get the implementation of the new orders right and to ensure that the whole process is as simple as possible for victims, the police and others to navigate. That is why we will issue statutory guidance on the orders and also pilot them in a small number of areas prior to any national roll-out. The Bill expressly provides for that.

We must acknowledge, however, that the creation of the new protective order will not by itself deliver a better response to domestic abuse. The success of DAPOs will rest on a strong, multi-agency approach to ensure that these orders are the protective tool that they are intended to be. Everyone will have a role to play in this: the justice system, other statutory agencies, and specialist domestic abuse organisations will be expected to work together to manage those who are subject to an order and, most importantly, keep victims and their children safe.

Clause 19 confers a power on a police officer to issue domestic abuse protection notices. It sets out the two conditions that must be met in order for the police to issue a notice. The first condition is

“that the senior police officer has reasonable grounds for believing that P”—

the perpetrator—

“has been abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom P is personally connected”,

in line with the definitions we discussed yesterday, contained in clauses 1 and 2.

As I have mentioned, unlike with the current domestic violence protection notice, this clause provides that the new notice can be used to protect victims from all forms of domestic abuse, not simply from violence or the threat of violence, which the Joint Committee commented

“removes a key weakness of the previous scheme.”

Furthermore, it does not matter if the abusive behaviour that provides grounds for the issue of the notice took place outside England and Wales.

The second condition is that the police officer

“has reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to give the notice to protect that person from domestic abuse.”

The requirements imposed by the notice, which are provided for in clause 20, have effect in all parts of the United Kingdom, not just in England and Wales. For example, if a notice required the perpetrator not to make contact with the victim in any way, the perpetrator would breach the notice by sending a text message or email to the victim from Scotland. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

I feel I have been remiss in not having yet said that it is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bone, as others have. I will not start with an inspirational quote, though I am sure you have given plenty in your time.

I thank the Minister for a detailed and forensic walk through the new DAPO system. It can sometimes feel like we say all these things in all these different scrutiny bodies, but absolutely nothing comes of it; however, from what the Minister has walked us through, I can see how different systems have evolved over time and over the course of lots of conversations. For people who love scrutiny, worry not: it does sometimes get heard.

I feel very hopeful about the new system of DAPNs and DAPOs. The Opposition, along with most witnesses who reported to the Joint Committee, strongly support any tool that gives the police and courts greater powers to protect victims of abusive relationships. We very much welcome the fact that the new orders just require abusive behaviour—rather than violent behaviour—as a precondition, although time will tell how that plays out on the ground. For too long, judges have looked for evidence of scars and bruises, rather than the emotional pain that victims suffer, so this is a real step forward, and one of which the Government should be proud.

The Opposition are also pleased to see the introduction of criminal sanctions—I believe that another amendment on this topic will be debated later—with the power of arrest for a breach of the order. For too many years, I have worked with women and children for whom the orders in place to protect them were not worth the paper they were written on. For far too long, victims have been left to argue with police forces about what constitutes a breach.

As modern technology has advanced—certainly since I started working in the field of domestic abuse—we have seen a host of new ways in which a perpetrator, or those connected with one, can breach an order. Sending posts through a family member on Facebook, for example, is a very common one that I have seen time and again. When the victim has highlighted that as a breach of an order with the police, it has not been acted on. This is not necessarily just a complaint about the police. I am not suggesting that they can act on literally everything; they have their own set of circumstances.

Break in Debate

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

Forgive me, Mr Bone, but I should explain that, because we do not have box notes, I am having to use my phone. If I may, I will deal with a couple of points that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised. A lot of the questions that she posed sit with other clauses in the Bill, and I do not want to detract from the magnificent occasion that will be my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice getting to his feet and talking through some of those clauses, so I will defer to him.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of police fees and recognised that the Government have accepted the Joint Committee’s recommendation, which means that, for the two-year pilot, we will cover the police’s court fees for applying for the orders. We very much want to use the pilot to understand the resource implications of the new orders for the police and other agencies, and to use that to inform our considerations in future.

When she spoke to the Public Bill Committee in 2019, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs Council lead on domestic abuse, said:

“The cost of the DAPO would be the least of our concerns. There are many positive aspects to the DAPO…Policing is not deterred by cost and I have some examples of that. We have a strong record of sometimes stepping in where other agencies are not able to.”––[Official Report, Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee, 29 October 2019; c. 27, Q47.]

In any event, as I say, we have said that we will cover the cost in response to the concerns raised by the Joint Committee.

In terms of training, we will provide statutory guidance on the new orders, to ensure that the police and other frontline practitioners use them effectively and consistently to protect victims and their children. We will consult with the commissioner, the police and others on the guidance before it is issued, and we will ensure that the police and other frontline practitioners have enough time to prepare for the introduction of the new orders.

The Judicial College has a regular training programme for all judges and magistrates, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service provides training for court staff. We will work with both those partners to assess how to incorporate training on DAPOs into their ongoing training programmes.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard

I do appreciate the back and forth of this forum. I am pleased to hear that about the guidance. Will there be some overview to check whether that training has been done? What body might that sit with? I understand that the Minister may have to get the answer from somebody else.

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Obviously, in relation to the judiciary, it will be the Judicial College. The College of Policing plays a vital role in training constabularies across the country to ensure consistency, as do chief constables.

To move away from the Bill momentarily and reflect on the last couple of months, the Home Secretary, I and others have had daily operational calls with the NPCC and other chief officers, and I have been struck by how much domestic abuse has been absolutely at the top of every chief constable’s mind in the last month or two. Some innovative policing practice has been going on, precisely because we are worried about the effects of lockdown.

I know that chief constables take that training responsibility very seriously. Of course, the Home Office has a role to play as well. The hon. Lady said that training is a constant theme in these discussions, which it is, but we should acknowledge that we are in a better place than we were, certainly 10 years ago and, actually, five years ago. I hope that I will be saying that in another five years as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Break in Debate

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

I welcome the Minister’s comments. I am happy about the announcement of a Government review, although a number of reviews about workplace violence against women and girls are outstanding after a number of years. That is not the Minister’s responsibility, but the issue of non-disclosure agreements, for example, has been raging, as part of a review and consultation, for three years since the Weinstein affair.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment to this particular issue. I do not think that anybody wants victims to be controlled in that way in their workplaces. I recognise the concerns about when people work together and that, in those instances, it will potentially be much easier to have that conversation in court. I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the proviso that the Government have given, having said that they will listen and try to take that on board and see how it could work. I welcome that, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21

Matters to be considered before giving a notice

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

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 12:04 a.m.

Clause 21 relates to matters that must be considered by the senior police officer before giving a notice. Again, I emphasise the difference between a notice and an order. First, the police officer must consider the welfare of any child whose interests the officer considers relevant to ensure that any safeguarding concerns are addressed appropriately. The child does not have to be personally connected to the perpetrator for their interests to be relevant and could therefore be the victim’s child from a previous relationship.

The police officer must also take reasonable steps to find out the opinion of the victim as to whether the notice should be given. However, as set out in subsection (4), the police officer does not have to obtain the victim’s consent to give a notice, which I think the Committee—I observe the nodding heads—is in agreement with. That enables the police to protect victims who may be coerced by the perpetrator into expressing the opinion that a notice should not be given or who are fearful of the consequences should they appear to be supporting action against the perpetrator.

Where the notice includes conditions in relation to the premises lived in by the victim, reasonable steps must be taken to find out the opinion of any other person who lives in the premises and is personally connected to the perpetrator, if the perpetrator also lives there. For example, if the perpetrator had caring responsibilities for a family member with whom they shared the premises, it would be important for the police to be aware of that. Consideration must also be given by the police officer to any representation that the perpetrator makes in relation to the giving of a notice, although that is not a formal process as with the courts.

I want to be absolutely clear that the primary consideration in determining whether notice should be given must be the protection of the victim and their children. We will ensure that that is set out clearly in the statutory guidance.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 11:23 a.m.

That is not the case with all senior officers. Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, who is the NPCC lead on domestic violence, is a very senior officer and an absolute expert. I take the point that officers at different stages in their career will have different levels of experience and training. I am sure the guidance will help address that so that we have a wealth and diversity of experience in the decision-making process.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
10 Jun 2020, 11:25 a.m.

I will be brief. I have a number of concerns about the notice, some of which have, quite rightly, already been raised. Louisa Rolfe is currently a West Midlands police officer—she is just about to leave that post—and an excellent one at that, but I get the point that has been raised.

Last night, a journalism award was given to someone who investigated what happens when there is domestic abuse within the police force. In this instance, we are putting so much of the onus on the individual police officer. If a social worker suffers domestic abuse or is accused and convicted or perpetrating domestic abuse, or any other type of abuse, the LADO process—the local authority designated officer—is followed. They go through that process at work and are not allowed to work on certain areas. I just want to make sure that something similar applies in this case. Individual police forces are huge; a variety of people work for them. If issues were raised in an officer’s case, that kind of process would ensure that they were taken into consideration when deciding who within the force gives out notices. I imagine that that sort of situation would be vanishingly rare, but it is worth noting.

On breach of a notice, we are talking about victims who do not give consent. As the Minister said, I nodded—I totally agree—but if a victim breaches a notice, I do not want that to end up being used against them in court. A lot of issues came up in the sad case of the suicide of Caroline Flack—

Domestic Abuse Bill (Fourth sitting)

(Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

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

Just to recap, I was setting out to the Committee that there are many forms of exploitation that can take place in all walks of life. I was giving the example of county line gangs grooming and recruiting young children with, frankly, paltry offers given the price they pay for the items they receive, such as food or a new pair of trainers. The police have been imaginative in dealing with gang leaders, including through prosecution under modern slavery legislation, because they draw out before the court that element of grooming and long-term exploitation and manipulation. I give that just as an example.

I completely understand where the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley is coming from, but we have tried to guard against addressing all forms of exploitative behaviour in the Bill, because we do not want inadvertently to dilute that central golden thread that runs through all of our understanding of domestic abuse: namely, that it is focused around a significant personal relationship, whether as a family member or as a partner. That is the core of the definition. If an unpaid carer is a family member, they will be caught by the definition. If they are a partner—as she said, many people have taken on caring responsibilities in the last couple of months because of the covid-19 crisis—they are covered by the Bill. I would not want anyone to think that carers per se are excluded from the Bill, but we have focused the definition around the central point of the personally connected relationship.

Abuse of disabled people by their carers can be covered by existing legislation. Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 places a duty on local authorities to carry out safeguarding inquiries if they have reason to suspect that an adult in their area with care and support needs is at risk of abuse or neglect. There have been steady overall increases in the number of concerns raised and inquiries conducted under that section. In 2018-19, for concluded section 42 inquiries where a risk was identified, the reported outcome was to have either removed or reduced the risk to the individual in 89% of inquiries, which is an increase of 63% from 2017-18.

The statutory guidance supporting the Care Act also places a duty on local authorities to ensure that the services they commission are safe, effective and of high quality. The Care Quality Commission plays a key monitoring role to ensure that care providers have effective systems to help keep adults safe from abuse and neglect. The offence of ill treatment or wilful neglect provided for in section 20 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 was introduced specifically to tackle the abuse of people who are dependent on care services. In addition, we have introduced tougher inspections of care services by the CQC and made sure that the police, councils and the NHS work together to help vulnerable adults.

The plight of disabled victims of domestic abuse will feature in the statutory guidance. Indeed, there is the national statement of expectations document for local commissioners—we have not discussed it much because it is not strictly on the Bill—through which specialist needs are and will be addressed.

I hope that we have reassured the Committee that we are alive to the risks to people who are disabled. Some carers who fall into the “personally connected” definition will fall foul of the Bill, but for those carers who do not, there is already existing legislation to tackle exploitative behaviour where it transpires. With that, I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab) - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I thank the Minister for her thoughtful response. I appreciate what she said about the Care Quality Commission and its coverage, but it would have had absolutely no jurisdiction in the cases I outlined. Disabled victims are telling us that they are experiencing domestic abuse and feel that they are not in the definition. I look forward to the statement of expectations very much; I am pleased to hear that there will be expectations on commissioning in this area, but we want to get these people in the Bill. We will push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Victoria Atkins Portrait Victoria Atkins - Hansard

I do not think that anyone read into the hon. Gentleman’s constructive comments about this appointment anything other than that he was doing his job of scrutinising the wording of the Bill, and I am pleased that the designate commissioner has managed to gain such support in such a short period of time.

I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Funding

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

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips - Hansard
9 Jun 2020, midnight

These clauses all relate to the powers of the domestic abuse commissioner; there is a huge area of the Bill about her powers and how this role is going to work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove and the Minister have said, we all welcome the commissioner.

I want to make some brief comments about the issue that clause 4 deals with, which is funding. It arises from a constructive concern that I had during the evidence sessions and on Second Reading, which is that it appears that if there is something that the Government have not yet got an answer for, possibly for a completely good reason, there is a tiny bit of a willingness for them to say, “We’re going to ask the commissioner to do this thing for us.”

For example, on Second Reading, there was a push from all sides of the House, as there was from the sector and from the commissioner herself, around the provision of community-based services. Off the top of my head, the statistic is that 70% of all domestic violence victims are supported in community-based services. The vast majority of people will never end up in refuge accommodation, and that is something that we should continue to facilitate; refuges are absolutely not for everyone.

What concerns me and what we heard from some in the sector—I think it came from the voice in the room that was Suzanne from SafeLives—is that what was announced on Second Reading related to a mapping exercise rather than a duty. In the Bill, we see—it seems like we will see it in many weeks’ time—a duty on refuge accommodation, which we certainly all welcome, but there is definitely a desire, which I share, to see a similar duty on community services.

It seems that rather than a duty, the Government are proposing a mapping exercise—they proposed it on Second Reading—by the commissioner, to understand what community-based support exists. As Suzanne told the Committee in her evidence—I have to say, I think I could probably do it here now. If I did not come to the Committee tomorrow, I could probably map out community services, because droves and droves of evidence have been gathered about what community-based support services exist. I feel for the Government, because people like me put in questions such as, “How many bed spaces are there?”, when I know full well what the answer is. I understand the concern and the need to map services, and to make sure that we are funding things.

What concerned me a little on Second Reading and in the evidence sessions was that there were a huge number of questions from Members asking the sector what they felt the commissioner should be doing: “What is the commissioner going to do for my group of women? What is the commissioner going to do about this and that?”. They were completely reasonable questions to ask, although largely they were asked not of the commissioner, but of the voluntary sector aides and the victims. With the greatest respect to Nicole and her position, I am not sure most victims of domestic violence are too concerned with who the commissioner is, but the sector is.

What concerns me is the commissioner’s funding model. I know that there was some argy-bargy and push and pull about the number of days, which letters presented to the Committee on the previous Bill said would be increased. What worries me on staffing, which is dealt with in the next clause, and funding is that the commissioner will end up with all these jobs because, rather than taking direct action, we do another review or more mapping. It starts to ramp up the amount of funding that somebody will need to take on all this extra responsibility.

I want to be absolutely certain and to understand from the Minister what the mechanism is if the commissioner says: “I cannot afford to do this exercise that you have said I should do because I no longer have the funding.” What I do not want to see is Parliament scrutinising the domestic abuse commissioner—she and whoever takes the role after her will undoubtedly many times in their career sit in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee—and her being forced to answer: “I couldn’t afford to do this exercise or this report into x because we just didn’t have the budget.”

There seems to be a tendency to push things on to the commissioner that would once upon a time have sat with civil servants in the Home Office. I want an understanding of how the review process and funding will be taken forward and what grounds it will take to make a case to increase the budget, including increases that might be needed for the local boards that are associated with this part of the Bill. I therefore seek reassurance from the Minister.

There is a game that gets played—although certainly not by the Ministers in this Committee—of the devolution of blame. We devolve power, whether it is to Wales or Scotland or to local authorities, whereby the Government hold the whip hand. I am certain that all Governments of all