There have been 19 exchanges between Victoria Atkins and Jess Phillips
|1||Mon 6th July 2020||
Domestic Abuse Bill
|3 interactions (926 words)|
|2||Wed 17th June 2020||
Domestic Abuse Bill (Twelfth sitting)
|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)
|13 interactions (4,062 words)|
|5||Tue 16th June 2020||
Domestic Abuse Bill (Ninth sitting)
|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)
|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)
|21 interactions (3,927 words)|
|10||Tue 9th June 2020||
Domestic Abuse Bill (Fourth sitting)
|21 interactions (4,871 words)|
|11||Tue 9th June 2020||
Domestic Abuse Bill (Third sitting)
|6 interactions (3,528 words)|
|12||Thu 4th June 2020||
Domestic Abuse Bill (Second sitting)
|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
|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||
|3 interactions (597 words)|
|17||Wed 30th January 2019||
Draft Domestic Abuse Bill: Territorial Extent
|7 interactions (582 words)|
|18||Wed 4th July 2018||
Commercial Sexual Exploitation
|7 interactions (457 words)|
|19||Wed 18th April 2018||
Gender Pay Gap
|3 interactions (402 words)|
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?
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.
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.
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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—
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.
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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.
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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.
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
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.
Break in Debate
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
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.
Break in Debate
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.
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.
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
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?
If the Minister would like me to intervene again, and tell her what support is—
Break in Debate
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.
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
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.
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Can the Minister not see the problem with a woman going in and asking for a split payment, and then returning home that evening?
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—
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.)
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?
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.
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.
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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.
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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.
Grant of secure tenancies in cases of domestic abuse
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
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.”
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.
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.
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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.
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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?
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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?
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.
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?
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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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?
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?
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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.
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.
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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.
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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.
Matters to be considered before giving a notice
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
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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—
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
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