Domestic Abuse Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 5 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-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2021)
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee has explained, our Amendments 55 and 56 in this group are designed to prevent information about victims of domestic abuse that could be used for immigration control being disclosed by the domestic abuse commissioner. These amendments go further than Amendment 154, as they talk about information provided to the domestic abuse commissioner whether a request for support has been made or not.

The danger is that the information, supplied by either the domestic abuse commissioner or somebody seeking support, is shared with the police. There have been numerous reported examples where the police have passed the details of victims and witnesses of crime to immigration officials, including a case in 2017 of a woman who alleged she was raped and kidnapped. She was first taken to a haven, a centre for victims of sexual assault, but was subsequently arrested and questioned about her immigration status.

In 2015, the last year for which I can find figures, police tip-offs to the immigration service of the details of crime victims and witnesses occurred on over 3,000 occasions—in one year. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, such sharing of information makes genuine victims of domestic abuse less likely to come forward to receive the help and support that they so desperately need. These victims are likely to be even more vulnerable to coercive control than those with regular immigration status.

Amendment 154 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, similarly requires the Secretary of State to make arrangements to ensure that personal data of a victim of domestic abuse that is processed for the purpose of requesting or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes, along with domestic abuse witness and victim data. We support these attempts to prevent the disclosure of this information for immigration control purposes.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Meacher, for setting out the case for these amendments, which seek to prevent personal information about victims of domestic abuse being shared for the purposes of immigration control. I recognise that the effect of Amendments 55 and 56 is more narrowly focused on the sharing of information under Part 2 but, in responding to these amendments and Amendment 154, I will focus my remarks on the broader issue.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, will understand that I will leave the debate on migrant women, who feature in Amendment 148, until we get to it, because this group is about data sharing. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I point out that “hostile environment” was of course coined by the Labour Government back in 2007, not under my right honourable friend Theresa May.

The main purpose of these amendments is to make sure that migrant victims of domestic abuse are not deterred from reporting that abuse or seeking support for fear that immigration enforcement action will be taken against them. I want to be absolutely clear: our main priority is to protect the public and all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status.

A number of noble Lords mentioned guidance on this. In our response to the Joint Committee in July 2019, the Government were clear that all victims of domestic abuse should be treated as victims first and foremost. This is set out in relevant guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council—in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox.

In addition, assistant commissioner Louisa Rolfe, the national policing lead on domestic abuse, in giving oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons, was clear that there will be circumstances where information sharing between the police and immigration authorities is in the interests of safeguarding a victim of abuse. There can be many benefits to sharing information, as it can help to resolve a victim’s uncertainty about their immigration status—referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley—but, most importantly, it can remove the desperate situation in which the perpetrator’s controlling and manipulative behaviour continues because of their status: this too was referred to by the noble Baroness. When victims come forward for support, sharing information can help prevent them facing enforcement action, if they are identified by immigration enforcement in an unrelated setting.

To ensure that victims’ needs are put first, the National Police Chiefs’ Council strengthened its guidance in 2020, setting out a clear position on exchanging information about victims of crime with immigration enforcement to encourage a consistent approach across the country. This gives us confidence that data sharing will operate in the interests of the victim.

Alongside our duties to protect victims of crime, the Government are equally duty bound to maintain an effective immigration system, not only to protect our public services but to safeguard the most vulnerable from exploitation because of their insecure immigration status. The public rightly expect that individuals in this country should be subject to our laws, and it is right that, when individuals with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come forward under our immigration system and, where possible, to regularise their stay. This data exchange is processed on the basis of public interest, as laid out in Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, also referred to the outcome of the super-complaint relating to police data that is shared for immigration purposes. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services published its report into the super-complaint in December last year and made a number of recommendations, which we are carefully considering and to which we will respond in due course. It is right that we properly take account of the recommendations in this report. In response to the report, we have committed to review the current arrangements and to publishing the outcome of the review within the six months set by the inspectorate, which is by June. I expect the outcome of this review to be implemented through further updates to the NPCC guidance or other administrative means, and that primary legislation will not be required. To enable us to complete this review in line with the inspectorate’s recommendations, I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, withdraws her amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, these probing amendments relate to the operation of domestic abuse protection notices. Clause 22 sets out the matters which the police must consider before issuing a notice. Among other things, the police must consider any representations made by the person on whom the notice is to be served. Amendment 61 seeks to probe whether any such representations can extend to the provisions included in the notice.

I agree fully with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that the police should give full consideration to any representations on all parts of the notice, including any of the restrictions, as listed in Clause 21, that they consider imposing.

The draft statutory guidance, published in advance of the Committee stage, covers the considerations that the police must make before a notice is authorised. Although the current draft makes no specific reference to the consideration of representations in respect of individual provisions to be included in a notice, I would be happy to ensure that this point is addressed in the final form of the guidance.

Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seeks to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out before a notice is given by the police to an alleged perpetrator. I fully support the intention of this amendment, which is to ensure that full consideration is given to the risks to victims when deciding whether to issue a notice. I think that probably brings into relief the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Sadly, police enforcement action against a domestic abuse perpetrator can lead to the perpetrator blaming the victim and seeking to retaliate. That is why it so important that these notices and orders do not require the victim’s consent and that victims can therefore distance themselves from police action against the perpetrator. It is why it is extremely important that the notice can be used to provide immediate protection to the victim. In the aftermath of an incident, police can use a notice to evict the perpetrator from the victim’s home and prohibit the perpetrator from contacting the victim for up to 48 hours. Last Wednesday, I inadvertently referred to 24 hours, for which I apologise. This provides the victim with breathing space to consider their options and for police and specialist services to support the victim with safety planning.

The notice is followed by an application for a DAPO which is designed to provide longer-term protection and can be tailored to respond to the level of risk to the victim. Therefore, if police involvement in the case and the giving of a notice to the perpetrator have led to an escalation of risk to the victim, the DAPO can include provisions to address this risk.

Robust risk assessment is central to the police response to domestic abuse. The College of Policing guidance on domestic abuse stipulates that a risk assessment must be carried out in all domestic abuse cases. The importance of risk assessment when using a DAPN or order is also set out in the draft statutory guidance for police which has been published ahead of Committee. This guidance makes it clear that it is essential that police use appropriate specialist domestic abuse risk assessment or screening tools in consultation with partner agencies to safeguard the victim and reduce the risk of further harm by the perpetrator. The guidance also includes information on safety planning action that police should undertake alongside the notice and order.

Amendments 65, 66 and 67 deal with breach of a notice. Clause 24 provides that, where there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person is in breach of a notice, they can be arrested without warrant, held in custody and brought before a magistrate’s court within 24 hours, or in time to attend the scheduled hearing of the application for a domestic abuse protection order—whichever is sooner.

Amendment 65 would make the process of holding the perpetrator in custody following arrest for breach of a DAPN an optional matter for the police. Although I understand noble Lords’ concerns regarding the blanket nature of this provision, this amendment could put a victim at increased risk of harm, coercion or retribution once an alleged perpetrator is released. The amendment could lead to further breaches occurring while the court hearing is pending and increase the need for protective measures for victims during that period.

Clause 24 also provides that if the court decides to remand the person on bail, it can attach any conditions that are necessary to prevent the person obstructing the course of justice, for example interfering with witnesses. These are standard provisions, which largely replicate the approach taken for remand following breaches of protective orders, such as non-molestation orders, occupation orders and anti-social behaviour injunctions.

Amendment 66 seeks to test whether a notice would continue in force following the court imposing bail conditions under Clause 24. I can advise the noble Lord that if a court were to remand a person on bail under Clause 24, the notice would continue in effect until the application for a domestic abuse protection order had been determined or withdrawn.

Amendments 67 and 70 seek to probe what constitutes interference with a witness. The term “interference”, which is used in other legislation relating to bail requirements, would capture direct or indirect contact with the witness and is intended to protect against someone influencing a witness’s evidence, or dissuading a witness from giving evidence, for example.

I hope that those two explanations satisfy noble Lords and that consequently the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, these are indeed probing amendments. With our amendment to Clause 24, by using the term “may” rather than “must” about custody, we were proposing discretion, not precluding custody.

I am grateful to the Minister for her confirmation of various points and for her suggestion that the guidance is adjusted to cover the point made at the start of the debate. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 61.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Amendment 71, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, would make the very sensible change from the vague requirement to allow the alleged perpetrator to make representations about the issue of a domestic abuse protection order from

“as soon as just and convenient”

in Clause 32(4)(a) to the more usual and precise “as soon as practicable”—or perhaps it should be “as soon as reasonably practicable”—to which Amendment 71 would add, “within five working days.” In addition to the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I would say that such orders can have profound, and not immediately obvious, unacceptable consequences for the perpetrator, alleged or otherwise—as my noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned when she said that the process needed to be fair to both sides.

Amendments 72 and 73 limit conditions imposed by a domestic violence protection order granted without notice to only negative or prohibitive requirements, not positive ones. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, drew the comparison with TPIMs; I shall draw a different comparison. This legislation appears to be similar to that governing knife crime prevention orders made under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. In the absence of the defendant, when an order is made without notice, only an interim knife crime prevention order can be granted, under Section 16(3)(a) of the 2019 Act, with proceedings on the knife crime prevention order itself being adjourned. The interim order can impose prohibitions that may be imposed under a full order, but none of the positive requirements. Why not here?

I ask the Minister, in support of this amendment, why such a distinction between, say, an interim domestic violence protection order and a full order is not part of this Bill. Consistency in legislation, particularly in the criminal law, where people must be able to understand clearly what is expected of them—an important part of the rule of law, to which this Government appear to be paying scant regard, judging by recent form—is important. It is not inconceivable that someone who is or has been subject to a knife crime prevention order may, at some stage, be subject to a domestic violence prevention order. Inconsistency such as that between this Bill and such recent legislation as the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 is unhelpful and unwelcome.

As the amendments have the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, of an active magistrate, of a former Crown Court recorder and of a former Home Secretary, it would, at least in normal times, be difficult for the Minister to disagree. But I am sure he will.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in response to that last comment, it is almost impossible for me not to rise to the occasion. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for setting out his case for the amendments. Of course I have listened carefully to everything in the debate, particularly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said, the points have been put in a constructive spirit. I take on board, of course, the point made by a number of speakers, including in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that the amendments have the support of the Magistrates Association.

Clause 32 sets out when the court can make a domestic abuse protection order without prior notice of the proceedings having been given to the alleged perpetrator. Typically, as is also the case with existing protective orders, the courts will provide the alleged perpetrator with prior notice of an application for a domestic abuse protection order and of the hearing. However, like existing protective orders, a DAPO can be made without prior notification if there is an urgent need. Clause 32 sets out that a court may make such an order without prior notification

“where it is just and convenient to do so”.

That is in subsection (1).

Clause 32 also specifies, in subsection (3), that before making an order without prior notice,

“the court must have regard to all the circumstances”

of the case. Without limiting the breadth of that requirement, the clause then goes on to list a number of specific factors, three of which I will draw attention to. The first is

“any risk that, if the order is not made immediately,”

the alleged perpetrator will cause significant harm to the victim. The second is whether the victim is likely to be

“deterred or prevented from pursuing the application if an order is not made immediately”.

The third is

“whether there is reason to believe that”

the alleged perpetrator

“is aware of the proceedings but is deliberately evading service”.

Those provisions are crucial for ensuring that the victim can obtain the protection they need in all circumstances.

However, we agree, of course, that the alleged perpetrator should be able to exercise their right to make a representation to the court after such an order—an order without notice—has been made. That is a basic principle of justice: courts normally operate on what has traditionally been called audi alteram partem—it is a pleasure that one can still use Latin in the court of Parliament, even if you cannot use it in the courts of justice any more—which obviously means “both sides must be heard”. Where that has not been the case, for reasons of urgency or otherwise, a hearing where both or all parties are present is then convened. Therefore, Clause 32 already specifies that, when the court makes an order without prior notice, a return hearing must be scheduled

“as soon as just and convenient”.

I recognise that the noble Lord’s Amendment 71 sets a time limit of five working days; I understand his reasons for doing this, but there are a number of problems with this approach, and I shall set out three. First, the amendment would make our approach inconsistent with other protective orders, which require return hearings to take place as soon as is just and convenient. We do not see reason to take a different approach on that point for DAPOs.

Having said that, each sort of protective order must be looked at in its own circumstances, along with the mischief and harm that the order is seeking to address. Therefore, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—that there should be a direct read-across from knife crime prevention orders as to positive and negative factors or the phrase “as soon as practicable”—the problem with such analogies is that they are different. One must look at each sort of order on its own terms.

Secondly, the period of five days is somewhat arbitrary. As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, in the current circumstances five days might or might not be realistic. I will resist the opportunity to respond to his points about backlogs in the justice system in this short debate; I have done so elsewhere. I will also resist responding to my noble friend Lord Cormack’s point about the article in the Times, which I have only skimmed and have not had a chance to read in detail. I suggest that it is better to have a just and convenient timescale.

This leads me to my third point: we would not want a court to be, or to feel, forced to hold a hearing within the five-day period if a slightly longer period might be more suitable—for example, if the respondent’s preferred counsel were available on the sixth day but not the fifth. Another example might be the judge who granted the initial order being available on the sixth day but not the fifth, when it might well be in the interests of the parties and the justice system for the same judge to hear the matter on an all-parties basis. Therefore, for those reasons, while recognising the reasons behind the amendment, we are not persuaded that it is required.

I now turn to Amendments 72 and 73 to Clause 33. The existing provisions in Clause 33 enable the court to impose “any requirements … necessary” for the protection of the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse. This includes both prohibitions and positive requirements. Any order the court makes must be necessary and proportionate to protect the victim. Although I, of course, respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, while sitting as a recorder, that one would not normally make a positive order in the absence of a perpetrator, it may be important to do so in certain circumstances, and the courts should have the flexibility so to act.

I agree with the noble Lord’s view that, while it is important that the court can impose the necessary requirements by making a DAPO, we must ensure that the alleged perpetrator is not punished for breaching any requirements they were not aware of. This is especially the case as a breach of positive or restrictive requirements may be a criminal offence. In this context, it is important to take on board the point of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that we must not, if I may adapt his phrase, be taken for a ride in this important area.

For this reason, Clause 37 sets out that, where an order is made in the alleged perpetrator’s absence, the person does not commit an offence as regards breach of any of the requirements imposed by the order, whether restrictive or positive, until that person is aware of the existence of the order. This approach is consistent with other orders in this area. I assure all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who made this point, that these are serious amendments, as has been said. We have considered them extremely carefully.

In the light of the explanations I have given this afternoon, I hope that the noble Lord is now content to withdraw his amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his application, but I have to confess to being slightly confused or, at least, lacking some detail from his arguments. At one point, he said that the wording in the Bill is similar to other protective orders and that is why the Government do not support the amendments; yet, at others, he said that the reason why it is not consistent with other protective orders is that they are different.

I do not expect the noble Lord to be able to give me chapter and verse here and now as to why knife crime protection orders are different from domestic abuse protection orders, but I would be very grateful if he could write to me to explain why, on the one hand, the Government argue that the wording needs to be the same as other protective orders, while on the other, they argue that the amendments are faulty because they are different from other protective orders.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there will be correlations and differences between various orders in this context. I can certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord on this point, but I hope I can go one better: if, in addition to a letter, a conversation would be helpful, I am very happy to offer that as well.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will start with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has just made about the read-across between knife crime prevention orders and DAPOs. I would certainly be very interested in attending the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has just offered because the earlier point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made was strong: that it is reasonably likely that perpetrators might be subject to both of those orders, so there is merit in having a similar approach, whether it is a knife crime prevention order or a DAPO. I would be very happy to join the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has offered.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. I was interested in the comparison made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, between these orders and TPIMs. He said that these are much more widely drawn, which was an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, sought to contrast treatment and punishment, which, I suppose, is a theme here—although we are not dealing with convicted criminals but prevention orders. The point I invariably make when I am sentencing in court or making an order like this is that, even if it is a punishment, it is for the benefit of the people who have positive requirements made of them in whatever that sentence might be. When I make that point, I invariably get a nod from the person I am sentencing, so people understand that point, in my experience.

I listened carefully to the explanation and summary given by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, but I think I have quite a strong pack of cards, if I can put it like that, and although I will withdraw my amendment I may consider coming back at a later stage.

--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
75: Clause 33, page 20, line 39, at end insert—
“(c) may not come within a specified distance of any other specified premises, or any other premises of a specified description, in England or Wales.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment enables a court making a domestic abuse protection order to prohibit the person against whom it is made from coming within a specified distance of other premises, in addition to those where the person to be protected by the order lives.
--- Later in debate ---
Moved by
78: Clause 34, page 21, line 12, leave out from “with” to “an” in line 13 and insert “the person’s work or with the person’s attendance at”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that requirements imposed on a person by a domestic abuse protection order (such as, for example, requirements prohibiting the person from coming within a specified distance of particular premises) must, so far as practicable, not interfere with the person’s work or with the person’s attendance at an educational establishment.
--- Later in debate ---
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. Perhaps I may be forgiven for taking up the invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to write to him. He is, with respect, entirely correct that there are a number of issues here. He asked specific questions to which he is entitled to receive specific answers. While I will do my best to answer some of his questions in my remarks, I will need to go through Hansard to pick up others and write to him.

These amendments relate to different aspects of how the domestic abuse protection order will be made. To be clear, and in response to a point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, these amendments relate to how DAPOs will operate when they are made normally, not only in the exceptional case when they are made on a “without notice” basis. I hope the Committee will permit me to go through the amendments in turn.

I hope that nobody understood my comments in the last debate to be dismissive, to use the word of my noble friend Lord Cormack. I referred to the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, as a recorder, the vast experience of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the fact that the amendments are supported by the Magistrates’ Association to underline that we have given these amendments the most careful consideration. I am sure that all noble Lords who have had significant engagement with my noble friend Lady Williams and me will accept we have gone out of our way to hear their concerns and engage with them.

On Amendments 80 and 81, Clause 34 sets out that a responsible person must be specified for each positive requirement imposed by a DAPO. The responsible person will have a duty to make the necessary arrangements to deliver the requirement, promote compliance and inform the police of any breaches.

Clause 34 also sets out that the courts must receive evidence about the suitability and enforceability of positive requirements from the responsible person before making an order. The responsible person will typically be a representative from the organisation delivering the particular programme that the person subject to the DAPO is required to complete, such as an organisation that delivers a perpetrator behaviour change programme or a drugs or alcohol treatment programme.

Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, would require the court also to consider evidence from probation or youth offending teams as appropriate, alongside evidence provided by the responsible person. While I agree with the noble Lord that the court should consider all the evidence necessary prior to making an order, I consider that the evidence provided by the responsible person will be sufficient to establish the suitability and enforceability of positive requirements without the specific requirement for further evidence from probation or youth offending teams. We do not consider it appropriate to require evidence from youth offending teams, as a DAPO cannot be made against a person below the age of 18.

I agree with the general aim of Amendment 81, which is to maximise the effectiveness of the requirement to attend drug, alcohol or mental health programmes. However, as I have just mentioned, Clause 34 already specifies that the court must consider the evidence provided by the responsible person in relation to the suitability and enforceability of the requirements prior to making a DAPO that imposes positive requirements. I understood that to be a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The court will also be able to take into consideration any representations made by the person against whom the order is to be made, which I hope that responds to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. Given these provisions, I do not believe that the specific agreement of the alleged perpetrator is also required to maximise the effectiveness of such programmes. I hope that that responds to one of the points of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich.

Amendment 82 relates to Clause 36, subsection (1) of which provides:

“A domestic abuse protection order takes effect on the day on which it is made.”


Clause 36(2) provides that where a DAPO already exists, the courts may make the new DAPO take effect when the existing DAPO ceases to have effect. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that there should be no gap in the protection provided where there is a transition from an old to a new DAPO. However, as Clause 36 already provides for this, we do not see reason to make the change proposed in Amendment 82.

As for the explanatory statement to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on whether the same provisions could be imposed under both orders, that is a matter for the court, which would look at all the circumstances of the case. One must remember in this context that the two orders might be sought and obtained by different applicants. I hope that that also answers the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but if, on a reading of the debate, it does not, I will, if I may, write to her with any additional points.

On Amendments 83 and 84, Clause 36 also provides that the DAPO can be flexible in duration, so that longer-term protection can be provided to victims if needed. I understand the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and other noble Lords about DAPOs being applied indefinitely, but the flexibility of the DAPO, including its duration, is central to its effectiveness, particularly when compared to existing orders. By contrast, the two-year limit proposed by the noble Lord is both hard-edged and somewhat arbitrary.

It is vital that victims can be provided with longer-term protection when needed. Clause 36 gives the court several options so that it may determine the duration of each DAPO based on the facts of the case before it. The order can therefore be in place for a specified period until the occurrence of a specified event or further order of the court. To give noble Lords a simple example: the victim is attending a course of study, which has two years and three months to go. Is she to be required to obtain a two-year order, which might prevent the perpetrator going near that place of study, then have to come back to obtain a further order for three months? If that were to be the case, one would ask, rhetorically, why it should be so.

As set out in Clause 36, the court may specify within the DAPO itself different durations for different requirements imposed by the order. The courts may also vary or remove certain requirements or discharge the order entirely where it is satisfied that the order is no longer necessary for the protection of the victim. It is important to note that the Bill already contains various mechanisms to protect the right of the person subject to the DAPO. Under Clause 33, the court can only impose requirements that it considers necessary to protect the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse. Clause 34 requires the court to avoid, so far as is practicable, imposing any requirements that conflict with the person’s religious beliefs or interfere with their work or attendance at an educational establishment. Clause 36, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, noted, provide a maximum duration for any electronic monitoring requirements of 12 months.

I move on to Amendments 85 and 87 to Clause 37. The clause provides that failure to comply with any requirement imposed by a DAPO without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both. That sends a strong message to perpetrators that non-compliance will not be tolerated. As specified in Clause 37, where a DAPO has been made without notice, the behaviour of the perpetrator can be considered a breach only if, at the time of the behaviour, the alleged perpetrator was aware of the existence of the DAPO.

I agree with the general aims of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord to Clause 37, which are to ensure procedural fairness so that criminal liability and punishment for breach of a DAPO will occur only where the breach is proved to the criminal standard of proof and where the perpetrator knows of the order’s existence. However, I do not believe that the amendments proposed are necessary. The criminal standard of proof—I am afraid that I do not have a Latin tag here for the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—will apply automatically in any criminal prosecution for breach of a DAPO. As already mentioned, Clause 37 already specifies that the behaviour of the perpetrator can be considered a breach of the DAPO only if the perpetrator is aware of the order at the time of the relevant behaviour.

Let me say an extra word about each of those points. First, we believe that the civil standard of proof is appropriate for making what is a civil order. This is the position taken with a number of existing protection orders of this kind. I recognise that those on the now somewhat virtual Liberal Democrat Benches do not support this approach as a matter of principle and I understand their reasoning, but I do not agree with it. The principle that I have set out that a civil standard of proof is appropriate for such orders is now firmly established as part of our legal framework.

It is worth noting in this context that to the extent that the Joint Committee considered this question when examining the draft Bill, it is evident from its report that it had no issue with applying the civil standard of proof. For example, at paragraph 84 of the report, the Joint Committee said:

“The standard of proof required for a DAPO is the civil standard (balance of probabilities) which means a DAPO may be made in criminal proceedings even if the perpetrator has been acquitted.”


A similar point was made at paragraph 107. I have no doubt that if the Joint Committee had any concerns about applying the civil standard it would have made that clear.

One of the strongest elements of a DAPO is that it is a civil order, made on the civil standard of proof. That means that if a victim is not able to, or chooses not to, seek remedy through the criminal justice system, they can still access protection from the court. At the same time, we want to send a clear message to perpetrators that breach of an order will be acted on, which is why we have provided that breach of an order will be a criminal offence. As noble Lords will know, that is already the case with many existing civil orders, including restraining orders, non-molestation orders, knife crime prevention orders and serious crime prevention orders.

Breach of a DAPO does not lead automatically to criminal sanctions. The breach would need to be reported to the police, who would then investigate and refer to prosecutors for a decision on whether to pursue a prosecution. Criminal sanctions would be imposed only following a conviction for the breach offence in the criminal court, which would need to be proved to the criminal standard in the usual way.

The second point is the requirement proposed by the amendment that a perpetrator must be aware of “the requirements” of a DAPO and not only of its existence. I hesitate to disagree with a point that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said was unanswerable. However, I am sure that the noble Lord will not take it amiss if I do, and I will explain why. Adding “the requirements” of the DAPO is likely to lead to a lot of uncertainty, much litigation, and less protection for victims. What are the “requirements” of a DAPO? What would that mean? Is it the terms of the DAPO or what the terms require you to do in practice? They are different things. What does it mean to be aware of the requirements of a DAPO? Is it to have read them, to have understood them, to have understood their legal effect or to have understood their practical effect? They are all different things. Therefore, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and to a similar point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I say that we generally require people to obey orders of the court once they are aware that an order has been made, and that a DAPO should be no different.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) (V)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister’s reply will obviously take some reading, which we will do. As regards the point on contempt, my question was about the experience of the model. I quoted a ministerial letter—not a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson—about the why, or at least partly why. In any event, I thank him for responding to that.

My question is about the criminal standard for breach of an order. The Minister said that it applied automatically; he then used the phrase, “in the usual way”. When he writes his letter, perhaps he could add a paragraph explaining how it is automatic and where that comes from, so that we can understand its application. He referred to other civil orders and he might want to refer to whether those are silent in legislation as to the standard of proof when breached or whether they deal with the standard explicitly.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for explaining the contempt of court point in more detail and for setting out the question of the standard of proof. I will be happy to include a paragraph on that in my letter as well.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) (V)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging debate with a lot of legal detail. I will respond to the fellow laymen who have taken part in the debate. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I should say that I have found the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to be very helpful and I certainly have not found him to be dismissive in any way. In fact, before this debate he went out of his way to help me and other colleagues.

I turn to my Amendment 81, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Although it is my amendment and it does say that there should be agreement to any drug, alcohol or mental health treatment, perhaps I may say a word against it. I believe that this should be a judicial decision. It is a difficult one and obviously it is better if the participants in the courses agree and sign up to them. Nevertheless, there are occasions where it is helpful to make this part of a court order. If there is some ambivalence, it can be made very clear that they should go on the courses. So, even though I moved the amendment, I believe that the decision on whether to make it compulsory should be a judicial one.

As I have said, this has been a wide-ranging debate and I too will read the response of the Minister and the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, very carefully. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this has been a thorough and wide-ranging debate. I support all the amendments under consideration in this group. Part of the downside of speaking last is that most of the arguments I was going to make have been made so I will not detain the Committee by repeating him—at least, not wittingly.

This is a welcome set of redefining measures aimed at beefing up the statutory duty the Bill imposes on local authorities to provide accommodation support and to widen the definition of what information should be considered in identifying trends and which groups of individuals should be included. They make the Bill more specific and spell out in an inclusive way who local authorities should be aiming to help. Nobody can accuse the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, of overlooking anyone. However, if we are not careful, we can make assumptions about who our typical victim is. Had my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece been well enough to speak tonight, she would have spelled out the plight of women from BAME communities, 70% of whom are unable to access accommodation-based services and rely specifically on specialist community-based services. I particularly support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in this respect. The little phrase “regardless of status” means that no one should be left out and that all victims are helped and treated according to need, not immigration status or anything else.

The amendments spell out the parameters of the assessment, not just what the local area considers they should be. Amendment 108 refers to a national needs assessment and a national strategy. For the first time, we could get a national picture of provision to see where is performing well and where is not in relation to a national yardstick of needs.

However, accommodation is expensive, so Amendment 89 makes clear that the relevant local authority must make sufficient resources available. The Government need to rethink the financial provision for these services. It is woefully inadequate, as many noble Lords have already pointed out. The quality and variety of accommodation is also important, as is who it is for. The injustice of the victim having to move out is also tackled, depending on the wishes of the victim.

Amendment 89 also requires authorities to publish the outcome of their monitoring and evaluation of the strategy of support provision. Data is so important, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. Otherwise, how are we going to know how individual authorities are doing or whether the service they are providing is meeting the need? We do not know how far the provision of services varies by area and, as things stand, we do not know how they are fulfilling local needs. This amendment would help greatly.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out the purpose of these amendments, which, as he said, seek to strengthen the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill. I welcome the strong support for the provisions in this part, which will place a duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. We all want these provisions to work as effectively as they can in delivering much-needed support. The issue before us is whether the framework provided for in Part 4, which would include the accompanying regulations and statutory guidance, is up to the task. I think it is and I will endeavour to persuade the Committee of that.

I will start with Amendments 89, 93, 95, 97, 98, 99 and 100 to Clause 55. This clause places a duty on each relevant local authority in England to assess the need for domestic abuse support for all victims and their children in relevant accommodation. As my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham said, this will be specified by the Secretary of State in regulations. If I were standing here before your Lordships tonight saying that national Government would assess the needs of local areas, there would have been a bit of an uproar. Local authorities are best placed to assess the particular needs of victims and their children in their local area, and in assessing needs, relevant local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims, including those with protected characteristics as well as victims who may come in from outside the local authority area. That last point is an interesting one because, as was pointed out by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, many victims of domestic abuse will come from outside the local authority area because they will be fleeing their abusers.

My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham also talked about—I do not know in relation to what—the question of refuge addresses never being disclosed. If he has any evidence in that regard, I would really like to know. I have been to see many refuges and, while I have been told their general area, I have never been told the address. This is quite a concerning point, if indeed it turns out to be the case. He and other noble Lords also talked about funding. I agree that funding has to be sustainable and has to be enough. Regarding the £125 million that has gone towards this, MHCLG considered two areas: first, the cost of and need for support in safe accommodation; and, secondly, the administrative cost of delivering new functions. MHCLG engaged with local authorities and service providers to reach this new burden estimate.

Local authorities will then need to prepare and publish a strategy for provision of the support, as identified by an assessment of the needs within their area; give effect to the strategy; and monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. The statutory guidance issued under Clause 58, which we have now published in draft, will set out the Government’s clear expectations and requirements regarding the delivery of the duties. Local authorities should ensure that the strategy clearly sets out a holistic approach to delivering the tailored support required by all victims in safe accommodation in their area. This guidance will be clear that local authorities should give effect to their strategies by meeting the support needs of all victims of domestic abuse and their children, based on a robust local needs assessment.

I share the concern of the noble Lord that some particularly vulnerable victims of domestic abuse face barriers to accessing support. As set out in the Equality Act 2010, local authorities are already subject to a public sector equality duty and must already have due regard to how to reduce disadvantages faced by people with protected characteristics and how to meet their particular needs in all the services they provide. However, to further underline the importance of supporting vulnerable victims, we intend to make it clear through guidance that local authorities should consider all the additional barriers that may prevent victims with relevant protected characteristics accessing support in refuges and other safe accommodation when they need it.Local authorities should set out in their strategy an agreed approach to address those barriers, and will need to take the advice of their local partnership board as they do that, working with partners including tier 2 local authorities in their area, specialist domestic abuse providers, PCCs and health bodies.

The guidance will also make it clear that local authorities should set out the different support needs identified through the local needs assessment, and the current provision of support for victims in the local authority area, highlighting any gaps identified. This includes setting out the identified support needs of children within safe accommodation and how they will be adequately met.

We will recommend in the guidance that local authorities have a clear approach to monitoring and evaluating local delivery against their local strategies, and they will need to undertake full evaluations at least on an annual basis to comply with the reporting requirements in Clause 57. We will also recommend that local authorities should publish their evaluation and monitoring approaches and outcomes. My noble friend Lord Bourne asked about Wales. Part 4 deals with devolved matters, so it is up to the Welsh Government to make the appropriate provisions for Wales.

Amendment 96 relates to consultation. This is already required by Clause 55(4), and the duty to consult applies not only to the initial strategy issued under that clause but to all subsequent iterations of the strategy. We will also make clear in the guidance that local authorities must consult the local partnership board, tier 2 authorities within the area, and such other persons as they consider appropriate, before publishing their strategy and any subsequent revised versions of the strategy.

The draft guidance recommends that local authorities should provide a clear consultation mechanism providing an up-to-date version of the strategy, as well as adequate time and a clear timeframe for organisations to review and feed back. In addition, the guidance is clear that local authorities should set out a clear process that organisations and individuals can use to raise concerns about the local strategy and authorities’ approach in addressing the needs identified.

I recognise that there is a balance to strike between providing local authorities with flexibility to meet particular local needs while ensuring a consistent approach to the provision of support within safe accommodation across the country. I believe the clauses as drafted, supported by regulations and comprehensive statutory guidance for local authorities, will provide that balance.

As I have said, we have recently published the guidance in draft, and in doing so consulted Women’s Aid, Imkaan and Refuge. I appreciate that noble Lords, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, local authorities and others will not yet have had an opportunity to examine it in detail. We would welcome feedback and will consider any suggestions for improving the guidance. Once the Bill is enacted, we will then formally consult on the final form of the guidance, as Clause 58 requires, before promulgating it alongside the coming into force of the provisions in Part 4.

I appreciate the intention behind Amendment 102, but I have concerns that we risk building in far too much rigidity and bureaucracy into the composition of the local partnership board and unduly constraining the flexibility that local authorities have to appoint and run their local boards in a way that meets their particular needs.

Clause 56(2) sets out the minimum required members of the board. In addition to a representative from the relevant local authority, the board membership must include at least one person representing the interests of each of the following: tier 2 local authorities in the relevant local authority area; victims of domestic abuse; children of domestic abuse victims; charities and other voluntary organisations that work with victims of domestic abuse in the area; persons who provide or have functions relating to healthcare services in the area; and policing and criminal justice agencies in the area. That list is the minimum requirement, but local authorities will have the freedom to invite on to the board additional members, such as those the noble Lord has suggested in his amendment—accepting that there is considerable common ground between the list in Clause 56(2) and that in Amendment 102.

We think that Clause 56 as drafted adopts the right approach, specifying the minimum required members of the board to ensure the right expertise, but providing local authorities with flexibility to best meet local circumstances, including if appropriate by setting up reference groups to support the board. Relevant local authorities must have flexibility to decide whether an existing board, expanded or reconstituted, can fulfil these requirements, or whether to create a new dedicated board in order to fulfil this duty.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I should be very grateful if the Minister would provide details of the information that the Government anticipate will be collected by local authorities, as illustrated in some of the provisions proposed in Amendment 89. I would be very happy for her to do that by letter but I should very much appreciate having that before Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am happy to provide my noble friend with that information.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

First, I thank the Minister for her very full reply. I also thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate.

I suppose that, in summary, the issues we have been talking about have related to definitions—for example, of “relevant accommodation” and “specialist domestic abuse support”—and to non-discrimination against, for example, specialist refuge services and the need to support all victims, not least those with protected characteristics. There is then the issue of refuges being a national network of services and not just being about local needs and what local authorities are doing. There is also the issue of resource, including funding. The point was made very powerfully by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath that we will not achieve very much with the Bill if the necessary money is not provided to make sure that the Bill’s intentions can be delivered properly and in full.

I rather got the impression from the Government’s reply that, basically, none of the amendments have any merit with regard to being put into the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister said that the Government agree with the thrust of a number of them, but what slightly concerned me was that one or two of the points made in the debate, and I think that I was among those who made them, indicated that there is a feeling that the guidance that has been issued so far—for example, on definitions—does not exactly deliver. The reasons why we felt that were set out in some detail, but I do not think that we have had a response to that point this evening.

If I did not misunderstand the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, I think she said that there would be consultation on the statutory guidance once the Bill got Royal Assent. Many people would like to see some discussion on the guidance at a point when some changes can be made, before the Bill gets Royal Assent. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to have some discussions about this group of amendments before Report, perhaps indicating what the Government’s intentions are in respect of the statutory guidance that has been issued—whether they see any areas for further change and amplification of what is in there, in line with some of the comments made in this evening’s debate.

I will obviously leave things at that. I have a feeling that we will return to these amendments on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I too was delighted to add my name to this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has already made an excellent case for why all child contact centres should be accredited, and I will not detain the House by repeating those arguments.

I have some difficulty understanding why the Government are reluctant to accept the case for all child contact centres to be accredited. It is not a cost to them, after all, and even if there were a cost attached, I would argue it would be worth it. This is the only example of a child service that does not require universal accreditation or regulation. But it places the child in a potentially dangerous and damaging situation because they may not be supervised by trained staff in an appropriate and consistent environment.

The Government, in a letter to the National Association of Child Contact Centres, confess to not knowing about the nature and extent of unaccredited child contact centres. So, they do not know the size of the problem or the standards that these centres are operating at. Of course, accreditation does not guarantee a child’s or a parent’s safety, but it would ensure safeguarding risks are accounted for. There would be quality and consistency in all child contact centres. We know that children, as well as mothers, get killed. Why on earth would we take the risk of having untrained staff manning unaccredited child contact centres?

The courts and Cafcass should refer children to accredited centres. We have the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to thank for that. If an accredited centre is good enough for these children, why should it not be good enough for every child? Would the Minister reflect, before he responds, on whether he is willing to take the risk?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for introducing this amendment and I recognise, of course, the reasons why she has tabled it. This has been a short but extremely valuable debate on a crucial part of the architecture of the law in this area. I am afraid that I cannot confirm to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that I came across cases like this in my practice but I can confirm that, when he sat as a judge, my father always told me that family law cases, which raised issues such as we have been debating this evening, were the most important and often the most difficult that he came across.

I suspect that there is a broad measure of agreement across the Committee. We all agree that the provision of child contact centres is extremely important in supporting families and enabling parents to have contact with their children, while providing a safe environment that protects children and adults from potential harm. When moving her amendment, the noble Baroness made three points of principle from which I do not demur at all: first, the courts must always give careful consideration to the circumstances of each case; secondly, the child must be at the centre of the debate and the focus of what is going on; and, thirdly, we must have high standards. There is nothing between us on any of those points. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, set out from his personal experience—magistrates are not professional but, given the amount of time that the noble Lord puts into it, I ought perhaps to have said his professional experience—and, as we accept and know, the National Association of Child Contact Centres, the NACCC, as the sole accreditor of such services in the private law sector, provides an invaluable service, and the same high standards are required in the provision of services in the public law sector.

That said, I question whether statutory accreditation of all child contact centres is, in fact, the best mechanism to achieve the objective of the amendment: namely, to ensure domestic abuse protections as well as the maintenance of safeguarding for children and families. The family court cannot refer families to a non-accredited child contact centre as part of a child arrangements order. In private law cases, a traditional protocol has been in place for nearly two decades, guiding courts to refer families to child contact centres and services which are members of the NACCC and therefore subject to agreed national standards and an accreditation process.

Since 2018, Cafcass and the NACCC have established a memorandum of understanding under which Cafcass will refer to and commission only NACCC-accredited centres and services. Cafcass will therefore not advise any parent to attend a non-accredited centre or use non-accredited services. As set out by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, the Government are keen to work with the NACCC to improve information and signposting to accredited child contact centres as part of an improved range of information and support for both separating and separated parents. In so far as local authorities are concerned, in discharging their statutory obligation under Section 34 of the Children Act 1989—to promote contact between children and their parents and other family members, including siblings and grandparents—local authorities are already subject to legal, inspection and accountability frameworks to protect and safeguard children in their care.

I recognise that local authorities increasingly outsource to external providers to deliver the service on their behalf. This is particularly the case when a local authority child contact centre might be in one location while the child has a foster care placement some distance away. Rather than requiring the child to travel a significant distance to undertake contact, the local authority may consider it to be in the child’s best interest to remain at a location closer to their home. This means that the local authority may outsource a provision to an external provider to deliver the contact on the local authority’s behalf. I hope that provides one answer to the question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, as to why the Government do not accept the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. It was not my intention to be specious. I was trying to be accurate and constructive. I have already said that I will engage with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, if she provides evidence that there is a systemic problem with the current arrangements that cannot be resolved by the existing mechanisms. That was a genuine offer. I am sure that the noble Baroness will take me up on it. I will be very happy if she does.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister has invited comments about potential systemic problems. I draw his attention to one group of cases which he did not refer to: people who self-refer to contact centres. They are not sent there by social workers or by the courts, but are self-referring for their own reasons—trying to sort out the issues themselves. They could easily end up at unregulated contact centres, which may well be cheaper, so if the noble Lord is looking for systemic problems, I suggest that this may well be one.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for that point. As I said in my response to the main debate, even unaccredited centres are still subject to the various requirements that I set out, but I am very conscious of the noble Lord’s expertise in this area. In a previous answer, I committed to writing a long letter to him. I do not want to add to it now, but perhaps he and I can have discussions, with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, which include the point he raises. I hope that is helpful.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am most grateful to the Minister for his response, and for saying that he will meet me and, I hope, the other noble Lords who have put their names to this amendment and whose experience is extremely important. I find it difficult to understand why the Government do not want to close this loophole. It seems terribly important to ensure that there is adequate safeguarding of children. I have a real worry that the commissioning process is more likely to fail now that there are increasing pressures on local authorities, and that the need to ensure accreditation has become even greater. Sadly, in some areas, the local authority does not have a great deal of choice as to the services that are there, so I would question the flexibility to pick and choose implied in the Minister’s response. I will certainly make every effort, with those who have co-sponsored the amendment, to get as much data as we can for him.

As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who certainly knows more about this than any of the rest of us, highlighted, this is the only service which is not nationally accredited. This seems remarkably dangerous. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, rightly pointed out that it is self-referrers who may use centres that are not accredited, and they will quite often have alcohol, drug or other problems they are trying to sort out. How they behave towards the children there must be observed carefully by people who know what they are looking for and have been properly trained, and where the whole service has been assessed against some standard criteria. In terms of the commissioning process, I would have thought that it would help local authorities to have those standards against which to check the services that they have on their patch and that they may be putting money into.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, pointed out, in a way it is completely at variance with the whole principle of the Bill if we do not include an amendment, with either this wording or something similar, in the Bill. The whole Bill is aimed at decreasing domestic abuse and protecting people from further abuse. It is not meant to be a straitjacket; it is meant to be a really supportive framework. However, if we do not have high standards in that framework, I fear that some of the most vulnerable—that is, the children—will drop through the gaps and we will see more children getting killed.

While for the moment I will withdraw the amendment —I am grateful for the support of everyone, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—I think we will need to come back to this at a later stage. I look forward to meeting the Minister. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, my noble friend Lord Polak, and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have spoken to one of the core aims of this Bill, which is the provision of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children and, in particular, the provision of community-based support.

I am going to start with Amendment 176, because it has been the most spoken about and most clearly addresses this objective. If there is one thing on which we are all united—the central tenet of this Bill—it is that domestic abuse victims receive the support they need. This can be seen in the new statutory duty, included in Part 4 of the Bill, to provide support to domestic abuse victims and their children within safe accommodation. However, extending the duty in Part 4 is not without its challenges, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said.

The duty as it stands applies to tier 1 local authorities in England, and as such there is no ambiguity in where responsibility and accountability lie. Amendment 176 proposes something rather wider, applying to local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. The drafters of the amendment are to be commended for seeking to navigate the devolution settlement in Wales, and I suspect that Amendment 177 is intended to complement Amendment 176 by addressing the position in Wales.

In placing a duty across three categories of public authority, the amendment could risk creating uncertainty about where the responsibility for discharging the duty actually resides. To that extent it lacks the clarity of the Part 4 duty, although I note the provision in the new clause for conflict resolution. I do not suggest that this is an insurmountable problem with the amendment.

It is important to recognise that there are already significant community-based support services available to victims of domestic abuse and other crime. Since 2014, Ministry of Justice funding has helped police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime within their local areas, addressing the specific local needs identified within their communities. This funding totalled £68 million in 2019-20. The strong knowledge held by police and crime commissioners about demographics and crime in their local areas allows them to allocate funding to those victims in need.

Clearly, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups also have a role to play, as have others. I recognise, however, that the current commissioning landscape is complex. I understand the need to ensure that whatever arrangements are in place, they are delivering comprehensive service provision and that the needs of victims are being met. It is essential too that perpetrators are held to account for their actions and challenged to make long-term, meaningful changes to their behaviour.

However, I put it to noble Lords that Amendment 176 is putting the cart before the horse. We cannot and should not legislate before fully understanding the current landscape of provision, knowing where the gaps are, how best to fill those gaps and what it is going to cost, as my noble friend Lady Sanderson said. This is the methodical process we went through before introducing the provisions in Part 4, backed up by £125 million in new funding. We need to adopt a similar process to community-based support.

For this reason, I welcome the domestic abuse commissioner’s commitment to leading a detailed mapping exercise into the current community-based support landscape, the pilot of which has already commenced in four local authority areas. That work is due to be completed towards the end of this year. The Government are committed to addressing the findings of this review and, should we find that there is a need for legislative changes, it is right and proper that we should consult on those so we can consider the views of the affected public authorities. In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, there will be further opportunities to legislate in this area, including the upcoming victims’ law.

This exercise will do for community-based services what the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government did for accommodation-based services in significant depth before establishing the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill—I was a Minister in MHCLG when the whole process began. It held lengthy consultations with local authorities, the domestic abuse sector and victim support organisations before committing to the best course of action. Only through thorough engagement and investigation was it possible to understand whether legislative change was truly necessary and design a statutory duty that would appropriately address the needs of victims.

I recognise the concerns that the statutory duty in Part 4 may affect the existing provision of community-based services. As I have indicated, we are allocating £125 million to local authorities in 2021-22 to fund the new duty. As my noble friend Lord Polak said, the recent spending review has also secured an additional £40 million to victims of crime, including domestic abuse, in the community. Those details were announced today. This is on top of the additional funding we have provided to meet the immediate needs arising from the pandemic. I hope this provides reassurance that the Government take seriously their commitment to supporting all victims.

Of course, the argument can be made for more investment, but noble Lords will understand that we cannot make the case to the Treasury without the evidence to back it up. The commissioner’s mapping work is central to having that knowledge and understanding to enable us to make the case for more money. I know that Nicole Jacobs takes a different view, and it is an area where we will respectfully just have to agree to differ. It is her role to advise the Government and it is our clear responsibility to back up any new statutory duties with clear evidence of unmet need and a full understanding of the costs involved.

Additionally, the new domestic abuse strategy, complementing the refreshed violence against women and girls strategy, will further focus government attention on the needs of domestic abuse victims and perpetrators. Alongside this, the refresh of the national statement of expectations, due to be published later this year, will set out best practice for commissioning all violence against women and girls services. Finally, we are launching a victim funding strategy, to be published this year, to ensure that funding and commissioning practices for all victims are as effective as possible. I agree with my noble friend Lady Sanderson on the need for sustainable funding.

Amendment 101 seeks to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse have access to a local welfare assistance scheme in any locality across England. We understand the importance of local welfare and assistance to provide an emergency safety net at times of unexpected need. Local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities. That is why changes were introduced in 2013 to give local authorities the maximum flexibility to deliver emergency support as they see fit, according to local needs. The 2014 local welfare provision review found that local authorities were able to effectively target support at those who needed it most, joined up with wider social care.

The Government have provided local authorities with £131.7 million for local welfare assistance through the local government finance settlement in 2020-21. It is for local authorities to decide how best to use that funding, but in doing so they should ensure there is support for those most in need, including domestic abuse survivors.

We are committed to ensuring that people experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse have the local support they need. In particular, economic hardship should not be a barrier to someone leaving an abusive partner. In addition to local welfare support, those escaping domestic abuse can seek financial support through the welfare system.

Finally, on Amendment 177, I recognise the need for effective partnership working across the reserved-devolved demarcation line in Wales. I put it to my noble friend that the mechanisms are already in place to enable PCCs to co-operate with local authorities and health boards in Wales, including through community safety partnerships and the forthcoming new serious violence duty. While PCCs will not be subject to the serious violence duty, as with their existing functions in relation to community safety partnerships, PCCs may choose to collaborate with local partnerships and take a convening role to support the development and implementation of the local strategy.

Given these considerations, the amendments are, I suggest, premature. The Government recognise the importance of community-based services for those affected by domestic abuse. As I have said, we are committed to investigating, in collaboration with the domestic abuse commissioner, what needs to be done to ensure that victims who stay in their own home with their children are receiving the support they need. So that this work can go forward, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s response, particularly on Amendment 176, for which I thank her. None the less, does she not accept that favouring accommodation-based services, as set out in Part 4, is bound to impact on local authorities’ spending decisions and make them move funding towards accommodation-based services at the expense of community-based services? How will the Government ensure that a proportion of the additional £125 million goes to community services? Will it not be possible for us to give Ministers regulation-making powers to bring in a duty on community services after the mapping exercise has been completed? That would at least give us some way to ensure that the Government have statutory provision in the light of the mapping exercise.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Part 4 duty in the Bill does not preclude the provision of community-based services. I understand what the noble Lord is saying: because local authorities have the duty to provide accommodation-based services, that means they will not provide community-based services. However, I do not think it does. There is a recognition that we need to explore this further, hence we have committed the domestic abuse commissioner to doing this mapping exercise. That work clearly needs to be explored, but it is very hard to make a bid to the Treasury without knowing exactly where the gaps lie. That is not to say there are no gaps—I am sure there are— but we are just not clear on what the actual ask of the Treasury will be.

As to whether we can ensure that some of the money given to local authorities goes to community-based services, local authorities clearly know the needs of their area, and I hope that they would allocate the money accordingly.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Minister gave the arguments that were given when the Social Fund was replaced by local welfare assistance schemes. Can she explain how the one in seven local authorities that do not have a local welfare assistance scheme will assess and meet the needs of domestic abuse survivors through such schemes when they do not exist in their area?

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Baroness asks a very pertinent question. If those schemes do not exist, how are they going to be provided for? I will do some digging before Report and perhaps I can get back to the noble Baroness with some of the fine detail.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank all noble Lords for this wide-ranging and well-informed debate. I promise not to detain noble Lords, but I sense a groundswell of support from all sides of the House and from outside the House, including from the commissioner herself, for this issue of community- based services, and concern about the unintended consequences of decoupling community-based services from accommodation-based services.

I know that the Minister is doing her absolute utmost to make this Bill the best that it can possibly be, but I do not recognise her comment that local authorities are utilising local welfare funds effectively—the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, came back on that point after the Minister’s response. The Minister raised the practicalities of implementation and asked for evidence to back this up if she is to go back to the Treasury and ask for some more money. We might well get our heads together and see if we can give it to her. That would be a great solution on all sides.

In the meantime, we will reflect carefully on what the Minister said and, of course, reserve the right to return to the issue at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.