Domestic Abuse Bill

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Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (25 Jan 2021)
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Bill currently defines domestic abuse as involving two people aged over 16. As has been said, the amendment would expand this definition to include a relationship where one person was under 16 and the other over 16. It appears that the definition would apply where the victim was over 16 but the perpetrator was not. We have doubts about the definition in the Bill being changed in this way, but I understand from what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said that this is a probing amendment.

Teenage relationships, and the victims of teenage relationship abuse, have specific needs, which should be addressed through a separate strategy tailored to them and recognised as an issue separate from both child abuse and the abuse that takes place between adults. As I said, we recognise that this is a probing amendment, but our concern is that if the age of the perpetrator in the definition is lowered—as appears to be the effect of the amendment in the circumstances set out in it—we would end up prosecuting and treating some perpetrators under 16 as, in effect, adults, which is not a road we believe we should go down. However, the issue of younger person or teenage abuse raised by the amendment is an important one, which the Government should address through a specific strategy and guidance for this group of victims and perpetrators. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in thanking all the many organisations that have collaborated with us on the Bill to date; communication has been incredibly constructive in virtually all cases. As she said, no one demurs from supporting this Bill; the question for debate is how we get there. I am grateful to her for affording us the opportunity to debate the minimum age of 16 in the definition of domestic abuse.

The amendment would expand the definition of domestic abuse to include a relationship in which person A, the abuser, is aged under 16 and person B, the victim, is aged 16 or over. Clause 1 as drafted provides that the behaviour of person A towards another person, B, is domestic abuse if

“A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and … the behaviour is abusive.”

As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, abuse in relationships where the victim or both parties are under 16 years of age will be treated as abuse of a child and subject to existing criminal offences, and legislation relevant to safeguarding procedures will be followed. In cases where the abuser is under the age of 16 and their victim is over the age of 16, as in this amendment, appropriate safeguarding responses will be followed which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has just pointed out, seek to avoid the criminalisation of children.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I apologise to the noble Lord. Would the Minister like to come back on that particular point?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We might have got the choreography slightly wrong, but I am always amenable to answer questions, even though the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has clearly signalled her intention to withdraw her amendment.

I am not diminishing the seriousness of this compared to children who may involve themselves in terrorism. I will not be dealing with the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, but the noble Lord will know our other legislation—for example, one of the central premises of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 was to ensure that children who took a wrong step in their early years were not criminalised for the rest of their lives. Terrorism has very serious implications on people’s lives—not that domestic abuse does not. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Parkinson, who is sitting beside me, will elucidate further on that when we get to that Bill.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I now apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Would you like to complete your speech please? Do you wish to withdraw your amendment?

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this is a solid piece of legislation and I hope that the process on which we are embarking will make it better. I remind the Committee that I sit as a family magistrate in London, so I regularly deal with all types of family-related cases, including parental alienation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, gave a heartfelt speech; I found it very moving. She has clearly endured the most difficult of circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, gave closely, carefully and well-argued support of the amendments to which she put her name.

In family courts, as everyone has acknowledged, you quite often hear allegations of parental alienation, and a normal scenario is different from what we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer. A more normal scenario is that the parents are separated, the father has not seen the children for a while—too long—and he makes a private law application to see his children. The mother says there has been domestic abuse—or there have been allegations of domestic abuse—and the father makes a counter allegation, almost as a defence, saying that the mother is alienating the children against the father. That scenario is quite common. It is for the courts to try and sort it out, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, got it right when she said that both domestic abuse and parental alienation allegations can be either true or false. It is the job of the court process to sort that out.

I want to add two other observations. First, it is the duty of the court to get the best result for the child; we are not there to get a fair result for the parents. The question that we often ask ourselves is: “How do we get the voice of the child into the court?” One usual way of doing that is through Cafcass; there is an interview with a very experienced Cafcass officer who gives their view about what would be best for the child, and that view can be examined in the court. The way that Cafcass looks at these issues will be examined later in other amendments.

There is another way of doing it, which happens very rarely. I have not done it myself, but I have done it in public law cases, and that is where the child tells the court what they want. In the scenario where I was involved, a child was going to be taken into care by social services, and I have to say, it was extremely moving. The children whom I have done this for were well aware of the realities of the situation, and they were very aware that they were saying different things to the court—to me as the magistrate—than they had been saying to their parents. My experience is that children understand these situations; they can be toxic and extremely difficult, but nobody should underestimate children’s ability to understand the difficulty of their family situation.

I do not come down for or against these amendments, as such. It is a difficult situation. Other noble Lords made the point that there are many ways that parents can undermine and be unpleasant to each other that are not to the benefit of the children. One noble Baroness referred to the Bill as a potential Christmas tree of abusive relationships, and this does not help, because there are many varieties that one sees in court. Nevertheless, the central point I make to the Committee is that it is the court’s role to come up with the best solution for the child, not what is fair for the parents.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Meyer, who is right to highlight the protection of children. I acknowledge, empathise and sympathise with her terrible experience of parental abduction, which, as she said, led to her being alienated from her children for years. We know that domestic abuse has devastating consequences, not only for adult victims but for their children, which is why the Bill rightly recognises children as victims in their own right. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, pointed out, this is very much part of the court proceeding, as has also just been articulately outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Some of the protections that have been outlined in the Bill, such as preventing cross-examination in courts, mitigate this in some ways.

I also agree with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in questioning the judicial training that must support the outcome of such proceedings, whatever it is. We know that child arrangement cases involving domestic abuse or allegations of abuse often include allegations of alienating behaviours, where one parent seeks to undermine or frustrate the other parent’s relationship with their children, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, also outlined. These actions, as my noble friend highlights in her amendment, are often referred to as “parental alienation”.

My noble friend Lady Helic, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, pointed out how the term has so often been used to sidetrack from the issue of domestic abuse. She pointed out that the pro-contact culture of the courts quite often leads to the wrong decisions being made.

To answer my noble friend Lord Polak, there is no widely accepted definition, nor a commonly held framework, for parental alienation. Instead, views are wide-ranging: some focus on the parent’s behaviour, some focus on the child’s behaviour and others focus on the impact or outcome of the behaviour. For these and other reasons, I refer instead to “alienating behaviours”. That phrase is used in the guidance, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Bennett, point out. The guidance will be subject to consultation after Royal Assent. The beauty of the House of Lords is of course its scrutiny of Bills. To that end, we very much welcome views on how to deal with this issue.

Alienating behaviours can include a range of attitudes and actions. Some are subtle, such as drip-feeding negative views, while others are more obvious, such as deliberately flouting child arrangement orders. I am clear that these behaviours are wrong and problematic, but they are not limited to cases involving domestic abuse. They occur in the context of acrimonious separation and other high-conflict cases, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I have sympathy with my noble friend’s wish to address these behaviours, but I submit that the definition in Clause 1 for the purposes of the Bill is not the right context in which to do so.

Alienating behaviours should be considered primarily in terms of the impact on the child. Most noble Lords referred to that and to the potential emotional and psychological harm to the child that can result, for example, from repeatedly hearing negative views about a parent or being prevented from spending time with a parent. From the perspective of risk of harm to the child, the relevant legal framework is provided for in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989, together with the Section 31(9) definition of harm in that Act.

I accept that alienating behaviours can, in some circumstances, be indicators or manifestations that point to a wider pattern of psychological or emotional abuse. To be absolutely clear, I do not accept that alienating behaviours should be defined as domestic abuse in their own right. However, in circumstances where such behaviours are indicative of a wider pattern of emotional or psychological abuse, we can be confident that the Clause 1 definition already applies and renders the proposed amendment unnecessary.

Our approach in Clause 1 is to define domestic abuse by reference to different types of abusive behaviours and not by reference to the form in which those behaviours may be expressed or manifested. If we were to include within the Clause 1 definition a list of possible indicators under each type of abuse, we would risk appearing to give more weight to one form of behaviour and therefore creating a hierarchy of behaviours. Should a particular indicator or manifestation of psychological or emotional abuse not be listed, it may be deemed to be less serious or, worse, not a form of abuse at all.

The arena in which we can most effectively address alienating behaviours as potential indicators of a recognised type of domestic abuse is the statutory guidance under Clause 73, which has been published in draft. I have gone through how that will be consulted on. It has been created and continues to be edited in consultation with the sector. As I said earlier, we welcome further suggestions on how the guidance can be further strengthened, including in the area of alienating behaviours. Once the Bill is enacted, the Home Secretary will formally consult the domestic abuse commissioner and other key stakeholders before the guidance is promulgated.

I note the points by my noble friends Lady Gardner of Parkes and Lady Chisholm that the unintended consequences might be to swing the pendulum of this good Bill the other way. My noble friend Lady Newlove warns of parental alienation creating a loophole in which to perpetrate abuse. I give the final word to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, who warns that, if these amendments are accepted, victims might be painted as abusers.

I hope that, in the light of this explanation and our commitment to address alienating behaviours in the statutory guidance, my noble friend Lady Meyer can withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to speak after the Minister. I did not submit my name for the speakers’ list for this group because I could not rely on the train from Scotland getting me here on time, but I am delighted that I managed to make it in time to hear the powerful and important speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer.

When I first saw this amendment at the end of last week, unaware as I was then that it would become perhaps the most controversial and debated issue of our first day in Committee, I flinched. I understand the motivations behind it and there have been powerful speeches on both sides of the debate, but I fear that the Bill’s purpose, which we celebrated earlier this month at Second Reading—to empower victims of domestic abuse to be confident enough to deal with their circumstances, and to ensure that perpetrators are properly punished—would be undermined by the amendments. These amendments could disempower victims of domestic abuse and therefore run contrary to the rest of the Bill.

On reading the amendment on Friday morning, I immediately imagined a situation where a woman is about to flee the home, even temporarily, and the man says, “But under the Domestic Abuse Act I will pursue you for alienation.” A very high proportion of women facing that situation would stay where they were out of an additional fear, on top of all the fear they already experience. I will not tell my personal story here, but I can absolutely assure noble Lords that this happens and this would happen. We should hesitate and think very carefully about this issue in advance of accepting an amendment of this sort.

I was persuaded by the powerful cases made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Helic, but particularly by the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, spelling out the need to take time over this issue, to consider it carefully, and to do the right thing for the victims of domestic abuse and the children who might be affected. For that reason I think the Government have the balance right by not including alienation in the Bill, but by referring to it in the draft statutory guidance. I therefore support the Minister’s submission.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord’s very balanced view. It is absolutely right that we do not undermine what is very good legislation by acting in haste and regretting at leisure. The case study the noble Lord outlined was in the back of my mind as well.

Baroness Meyer Portrait Baroness Meyer (Con)
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My Lords, I have made so many notes that I do not know where to start. I thank all those who spoke very kindly, particularly those who support my amendments. Listening to the people who oppose them was really interesting. It made me realise how some people are quite misinterpreting their purpose. They are not about disarming women confronted by abusive men—quite the opposite; I am such a woman. False accusations are quite a different issue.

As I mentioned, it is for the courts to decide in their investigation or fact-finding hearings whether a situation is parental alienation, purposefully done by one parent using the child as a tool against the other. I do not know whether noble Lords can imagine how that feels. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said that she was in a situation like that, but it probably was not very much; it was probably a grandmother telling her that her mother was not very nice. However, many children are indoctrinated. Some people talk about children being in a cult, being constantly and continuously indoctrinated by being told that the other parent and the other family are bad. Those children live in fear of the disapproval of the parent who is alienating them.

The point I am trying to make is that parental alienation is about control; it is about one parent wanting to control the other. This is coercive behaviour. We might regret refusing to include parental alienation in the Bill because we would put children most at risk. My noble friend Lady Helic said that there is no data to prove parental alienation. I believe that there is, because many people are talking about it and are worried about it being used in some cases. Thousands of studies have been done, and I can gladly send them to the Minister. Noble Lords talked about Dr Gardner, who has been dead for 20 years. He was talking about parental alienation syndrome, but things have moved on since then. The fact that he came up with one idea that was then, properly, rejected does not mean that all the other research done afterwards is invalid.

I understand that some people feel very strongly that this is misused, but I go back to the point that it would be up to the courts. That is why we have courts and why, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, it is very important for more judges to understand what parental alienation is about. This is why we have Cafcass, and why this is recognised and in law in many countries. I do not know why we are having such a strong debate against it here. It fits in the Bill because it is used against one parent. Imagine being the parent against whom it is used: you are in a terrible position because your child dislikes you, he objects to seeing you and you cannot force the situation because you will upset him even more. It is a very efficient way to control one parent.

Lastly, the guidance will not help judges because it is not statutory. If parental alienation is just in the guidance it will not help to solve the issue earlier on.

I hope that the Minister and her department can talk with me about parental alienation to find another way to include it somewhere in the Bill—not in the guidance, but somewhere more prominent—and to make it clear that this is not anything to do with gender. I very much fear that this whole debate against parental alienation and a lot of stuff in the Bill are gender biased; there are male victims. I am talking here about children. I hope the Minister will accept discussing this further, so that we can find another way to include it in the Bill.

At this time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I look forward to coming back to it at the next stage.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as noted in the register. We very much want the Bill to recognise the realities of abuse that different communities face, and to make sure that it will work in practice for victims of all backgrounds, religions, disabilities and so forth. We hope that the Minister will work with the Peers raising issues and look into their concerns.

I pay tribute to the noble Lords who tabled the amendments for the very experienced and knowledgeable way in which they have highlighted this matter, to ensure that the rights of Jewish women to end their religious marriages and secure a get are included as part of the statutory definition of domestic abuse. This would be on the grounds of domestic abuse by way of controlling and coercive behaviour and psychological abuse, and of economic abuse where that is a factor.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said in her detailed opening speech, the amendment is intended to help women who are unable to leave a failed marriage, and is specific only to Jewish religious laws; there is no intention to undermine the Jewish courts. Including it in the Bill would provide the opportunity to ensure that its provisions and protections were applicable to all, and that it specifically recognised the plight of those women, removing the shadow of abuse and control, and restoring their right to exercise their faith through their ability to remarry and have children within their faith. That recognition would also offer them other protections under the Act, once the Bill is passed, if they were specifically included.

It is in line with a key objective of the Bill to raise awareness and understanding of domestic abuse and its impact on victims. Key is the ability of women to bring a case where they can retain control of the process as the victims, rather than as a witness in a prosecution having criminal sanctions as a civil party. Through tabling such an amendment, the issue can be usefully raised, and seeking legislative change could be ground-breaking for chained women.

This group highlights what so many noble Lords have been saying. The Bill must work for all victims, and to do this, it must grapple with the reality of how domestic abuse is experienced in all the different ways that it is by those living with it and those trying to escape it. I sincerely hope that the Minister can work with the noble Lords sponsoring this group of amendments to review this important issue and achieve a positive resolution.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments, particularly my noble friend Lady Altmann for her very good introduction. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, that it is not his noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar responding, but I know that he will be listening to every word I say and will correct me where I am wrong. I also thank him for some of the compelling stories that he outlined—some absolutely tragic cases which I know that all noble Lords will sympathise and empathise with. I thank all noble Lords who have engaged with me on this subject. It has been a real education for me, outlining the situations that some women find themselves in.

I will take these amendments one by one to address them properly. Amendments 3 and 5 would add a sixth limb to the list of behaviours in Clause 1(3) which count as abusive, namely the unreasonable refusal, or the threat thereof, to agree to the granting of a religious bill of divorce, or a get, which is necessary to dissolve a Jewish religious marriage. I am all too aware of the real hardship suffered by women refused a get by their husbands. As already outlined, such a woman is unable to remarry under the auspices of Orthodox Judaism. Furthermore, as a woman regarded in Jewish law as still being married, any children she goes on to have with another Jewish partner will themselves be severely restricted, as a matter of Jewish law, in who they are later able to marry. The term applied in Jewish law to such a woman, “agunah” or “chained”, is, as my noble friend Lady Altmann pointed out, both apt and tragic. I know that Jewish religious authorities are concerned about the problem, but they have not so far found a solution to it within Jewish religious law.

All too often this will be about the exertion of control by one spouse over the other, as noble Lords have pointed out. There could well be situations where the refusal of a get might constitute controlling or coercive behaviour, depending on the facts of an individual case, and this would sit better in the statutory guidance on domestic abuse provided for in Clause 73 than in the Bill.

The list of abusive behaviours in Clause 1(3) is deliberately drafted at a high level, to provide a clear and easily understandable summary of what constitutes domestic abuse. Including very specific circumstances in this list could lead to pressure to include other such circumstances, which would make the definition unwieldy. It could also create the impression that there is a hierarchy of abuse, which of course there is not. It is these more specific circumstances that the statutory guidance is designed to address, and I am more than happy to work with noble Lords to discuss what such content might look like.

Amendment 169 seeks to ensure that this guidance and the statutory guidance issued under Section 77 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 include in their discussion of controlling or coercive behaviour the unreasonable refusal to grant a get. We wish to avoid, as far as possible, prescribing in statute what statutory guidance must contain, which can arguably defeat the purpose of producing that guidance. My noble friend will be aware that, in response to significant concern from a large number of parties, Clause 73(3) does provide that guidance issued under the Bill must recognise

“that the majority of victims of domestic abuse… are female.”

However, including the specific issue of Jewish religious divorces similarly in the Bill would lead to pressure for a large number of other topics to be so included—as beautifully illustrated by my noble friend Lord Moylan—which could in practice end up reproducing much of the substance of the guidance in the Bill. My noble friend will have just heard my commitment to referring to this subject in the guidance.

Amendment 168 seeks to amend Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 to ensure that the person who unreasonably refuses a get, and their spouse, are regarded as being in an intimate personal relationship with each other, and therefore count as personally connected, which is a prerequisite for the application of the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, as noble Lords have pointed out. I understand the intention behind this amendment. My noble friend may be aware that in our White Paper on domestic abuse, published in January 2019, the Government committed to undertake a review into the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. That review, which has considered evidence surrounding the effectiveness of that offence, will be published before Report, and the Government will consider their position in relation to that offence after its publication, in the light of the content of the review and any other information brought to our attention. Therefore, my noble friend’s amendment may be slightly premature.

Amendment 170 seeks to ensure that the unreasonable refusal to consent to a get be regarded as a significant factor in the consideration of whether a person has suffered domestic abuse, particularly whether the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour has been committed; whether a domestic abuse protection order should be issued; and the production by relevant local authorities of strategies for the provision of domestic abuse support, as required by Clause 55. On the first limb of that, the determination of domestic abuse, my remarks about what it is appropriate to include in the Bill and what to include in guidance apply equally.

On the two limbs which refer to court proceedings, it would not be appropriate for the Government to direct the judiciary in this way as to what it might or must consider, and nor is it necessary. The conditions which must be satisfied before a court can make a domestic abuse protection order will already enable a court to make one in relation to this behaviour, if it amounts to abusive behaviour under Clause 1(3). It is therefore unnecessary to make specific provision that a court must consider this sort of behaviour. It would also be the first provision of its type in the Bill, and lead to pressure for other considerations to be included in the Bill as factors courts must consider.

On the final limb, relating to local authorities, we are not otherwise specifying what local authorities must consider when drawing up their strategies. Strategies will relate to general provision in the local authority area, and it would be very odd for the only such provision to refer to a situation which relates to a very small number of people at most. However, again, I reassure my noble friend that this issue will be considered in the statutory guidance, to which local authorities will refer. I hope that in the light of this explanation, my noble friend is happy to withdraw her amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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Amendment 15 would add an unborn child, from conception onwards, to the definition of a child under Clause 3 of the Bill, which addresses the issue of children as victims of domestic abuse. Clause 7 provides that the domestic abuse commissioner must encourage good practice in identifying victims of abuse, including affected children. Amendment 20 would specifically add

“babies in utero, infants and young children aged under two years”

to the definition of children affected by domestic abuse.

Amendment 172 provides that:

“The Secretary of State must make provision for publicly-funded trauma-informed and attachment-focussed therapeutic work to be made available to all parents of children aged under two years old where those children are victims of or otherwise affected by domestic abuse.”

Amendment 179 states that, where the Secretary of State issues guidance on the effect of domestic abuse on children, it must include,

“in particular babies who were in utero at the time of the abuse, and … babies and young children aged under two years old”.

We fully agree that there is a need to consider the impact of domestic abuse on young babies and the importance of protecting pregnant women and the child they are carrying, and, likewise, with the fact that trauma from domestic abuse at a young age can have long-term consequences.

Clause 3 now recognises children who witness or are impacted by abuse as victims of that abuse—that is children of any age, including babies. I noted with interest the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, based on her experience of how officials react when resources are limited and there is any doubt about what legislation requires them to do. Adequate resourcing will be crucial to delivering the objectives of this Bill.

I appreciate that this has already been said more than once, but I repeat that it has been estimated that 30% of domestic violence begins during pregnancy. It often escalates during this time as well, and represents a real danger to women. We know that domestic abuse during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, infection, premature birth or injury to the child once born, and it is also a major factor leading to complications and death in, or related to, pregnancy.

The impact of domestic abuse during pregnancy does not end at the birth, and is associated with long-term harms to both women and children. Domestic abuse during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of perinatal and neonatal mortality, higher rates of depression among women, low birth weight and a range of long-term emotional, behavioural and traumatic impacts on children.

However, we do have concerns about the possible impact of the inclusion of babies in utero in the Bill. Despite the risk of harm and attack faced by pregnant women, the current long-standing offence of child destruction is rarely used and the need to prove the perpetrator’s intention to kill has made securing convictions difficult. Yet a national inquiry found that some 24%, I think, of 295 maternal deaths over a three-year period were women who had experienced domestic abuse. Of these 70 women, 19 had been murdered. This is an area that the Government should review. In the meantime, it would not be helpful to have references to babies in utero in the Bill without consultation or wider consideration of the impact this could have on legal principles of bodily autonomy.

This issue with the amendment as presently worded is one that the movers—the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top—have recognised, and I am sure it can be addressed.

Finally, I reiterate that we recognise the importance of the general issue that is raised by the amendment about early intervention to break the cycle of violence and ensure support for mothers and babies.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and particularly my noble friend Lady Stroud for tabling these amendments. She and I—as well as every noble Lord who has spoken—share the commitment to protecting all children who are victims of domestic abuse. I noted that she and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and indeed my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, outlined the very different developmental journeys that a traumatised child will take through their life compared to his or her non-traumatised counterpart.

These amendments seek to recognise the impact of domestic abuse on very young children, including unborn children. Amendment 15 would make explicit reference to unborn children as part of the definition of a child under Clause 3. Amendment 20 is similar in that it would make explicit reference to babies in utero, infants and children under two years old in Clause 7(1)(c)(iii), which provides for the function of the domestic abuse commissioner to encourage good practice in the identification of children affected by domestic abuse. Amendment 172 seeks to make provision for publicly funded therapeutic services for parents of children under the age of two who are victims of domestic abuse. Amendment 179 would make explicit reference to unborn babies and children under the age of two in the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73.