Domestic Abuse Bill

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Report stage & Lords Hansard
Monday 8th March 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Amendment Paper: HL Bill 171-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Report - (8 Mar 2021)
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, Labour is happy to support this group of amendments but recognises the realities of abuse that different communities face. We must ensure that what is in the Bill works in practice for victims of all backgrounds in the UK.

The technical aspects of the amendments have been described powerfully and in detail by other noble Lords. When I came to review them in preparation for today, I was struck by the complexity of the situation surrounding victims caught in these particular circumstances due to religious faith, and the clarity with which these amendments have been written in order to ameliorate the effects and consequences of that faith while unlocking the rights of the woman in that situation and disallowing perpetrators from using the get negotiations as an abusive bargaining chip.

I pay tribute to the noble Lords who have brought forward these amendments for the experienced and knowledgeable way in which they have highlighted this problem, and I am glad of the support across all areas of the House for the amendments, on the grounds of domestic abuse by way of controlling and coercive behaviour. As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, spoke of in her detailed opening speech, this is a defined form of abuse where the victim is treated as chattel. I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Winston’s insights into the uniqueness of Judaism in not having one central authority, as well as my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn’s powerful and cogent arguments about what must be done, and the insight that he showed in his comment about not knowing what is actually going on with people who you think you know.

Inclusion in the Bill provides the opportunity to ensure that its provisions and protections are applicable to all. It specifically recognises the plight of these women by removing the shadow of abuse and control, restoring their right to exercise their faith through their ability to remarry and have children within their faith. The recognition would also offer these women other protections under the Act, once it is passed, if they are 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 retain control of the process as the victims, rather than as a witness in a prosecution, having criminal sanctions as a civil party. It also clarifies that unreasonably preventing the obtaining of a get can include the imposition of unfair conditions, calibrated by reference to being substantially less favourable terms than the civil courts have ordered.

In conclusion, on International Women’s Day, this group highlights what so many noble Lords have said. The Bill needs to work for all victims and to do that it needs to grapple with the reality of how domestic abuse is experienced, in all the different ways that it is, by all of our communities across the UK—whatever their faith or ethnicity—by those living with it and trying to escape it.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Altmann for tabling these amendments. As a number of speakers have said, it is particularly apt that we are debating this on International Women’s Day. The quality of speeches in this debate is a testament to the strength of feeling across the House. Indeed, the standard of speeches has set a very high bar for the rest of Report.

I hope the House will forgive me if I depart from my prepared text to pick up two comments by my noble friend Lord Cormack. He first said that all were equal under the law. I respectfully agree entirely. Towards the end of his short but powerful contribution, he also said, if I took it down correctly, “The rule of law is what makes this a civilised country.” Again, I respectfully agree, and those two propositions guide not only the work of my department but my approach to this matter.

Amendments 1 and 3 would add a sixth limb to the list of behaviours in Clause 1(3) which count as abusive; namely, the unreasonable refusal to agree to the granting of a religious bill of divorce, or get, which is necessary to dissolve a Jewish religious marriage. The threat of such a refusal would also be caught by the amendment. It is undeniable that women who are refused a get by their husbands suffer long-lasting and significant consequences. A woman who has not received a get is regarded in the eyes of Jewish religious law as still married. She is therefore unable to remarry, but that is not the only disability which she suffers. Perhaps more importantly, if she does not remarry but has further children with another Jewish partner, those children will be severely restricted as a matter of Jewish law as to whom they are later able to marry.

The term applied in Jewish law to a woman whose husband refuses to give her a get, being an “agunah” or “chained”, is thus apt and tragic. I know that Jewish religious authorities are concerned about the problem but have not, so far, found a solution to it within Jewish religious law. That is a source of regret to many, but not something which English law alone can solve. While I accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, put it, that this issue goes back to medieval times and may go back further—it is certainly of long standing—it is a matter which ultimately, so far as Jewish law is concerned, the Jewish religious authorities themselves have to deal with. If the undoubted abilities of the mother of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, were insufficient to resolve this problem—I pass on congratulations from the Front Bench to him on his wedding anniversary—and she did not succeed with all her talents, one wonders where the solution will come from.

While English law cannot solve this problem, there is something which English law can and should deal with. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, reminded the House, this is not the first time English law has engaged itself in this area. He reminded the House of the significant work done by the late Chief Rabbi, Lord Jakobovits, of blessed memory, which led up to the legislation at the start of this century. English law can recognise that the refusal to grant a religious dissolution is all too often about the exertion of control by one spouse over the other—almost invariably, in the context of a get, by the husband over the wife—and, as such, may be considered a form of domestic abuse in certain circumstances

However, as my noble friend Lady Williams outlined in her response in Committee, we consider that this would sit better in the statutory guidance on domestic abuse provided for in Clause 73, rather than in the Bill. Again, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, identified, that is because the list of abusive behaviours included in the definition is purposefully drafted to be high level. That definition is therefore to be applied by the courts and other agencies on a case-by-case, fact-specific basis. Including specific circumstances in the Bill, such as a refusal to grant a get, may lead to calls for inclusion of other examples which would have two adverse consequences. First, as a matter of drafting, it would make the definition unwieldy. Secondly, we do not want to give the impression by including specific examples that there is a hierarchy of abuse. We are concerned to capture and prevent all forms of domestic abuse.

Before I provide further reassurance on the matter of statutory guidance, which a number of noble Lords have referred to, it would make sense to respond to Amendment 79 first. That amendment seeks to ensure that both the guidance I have just referred to and the statutory guidance issued under Section 77 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 include the unreasonable refusal to grant a get within their discussion of controlling or coercive behaviour. While we would not want to prescribe in statute what statutory guidance must contain, the House will have heard my own and my noble friend Lady Williams’ previous commitments during Committee and subsequent discussions to address this issue in the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73.

I am pleased to have met with my noble friend Lady Altmann, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lords, Lord Mendelsohn and Lord Palmer, recently to discuss this matter and share our progress on including the issue within the statutory guidance. Home Office officials have been working closely with my noble friend Lady Altmann, with Jewish Women’s Aid and others to shape the reference to this issue in the statutory guidance. I was particularly pleased to hear my noble friend refer to the work done by my department’s officials in this regard as well.

I am pleased that we have now included specific reference to refusal to grant a get within the draft guidance. We have also included a specific case study on get refusal, provided by Jewish Women’s Aid—to whom I pay tribute, as my noble friend Lord Polak did—to bring the issue to life for those reading that guidance. Let me say this clearly and unambiguously: there are, and no doubt will be, cases in which the refusal to give a get may be considered a form of domestic abuse. As my noble friend Lady Deech reminded the House, that is especially the case if refusal to grant a get is used as a method to undermine a financial settlement imposed by the civil court. As the noble Lord, Lord Mann, reminded the House, the issue here is that that power affects all the negotiations which surround the issue of separation.

Turning back to the statutory guidance, we have also added a new section on spiritual abuse, a particular form of abuse where perpetrators use the victim’s faith or other belief system to control them. We have worked closely in this regard with the Faith and Violence Against Women and Girls Coalition, drawing on its expertise. The new section is now comprehensive and takes up a few pages within the guidance.

I respectfully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, that this applies to all faiths. Spiritual abuse is not faith specific, and I assure the noble Lord, Lord Mann, that the Government’s approach is to be absolutely inclusive of all communities within our country. We will continue to work closely with the experts as we develop the guidance, and we will be publishing an updated version of the draft guidance shortly after Royal Assent for a formal consultation, where there will be a further opportunity for interested parties to contribute. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, because what we are dealing with here are ultimately issues of power and control, I hope that that will enhance the nature and quality of the consultation.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I remind the House that I sit as a family magistrate in central London and regularly deal with these types of cases. I have to say that this has been a better debate than the one we had in Committee. The reason is that many of the speakers showed a greater appreciation of the complexity of these types of cases, which we hear in court. A number of speakers, including those who put their names to this amendment, stated that if the Minister were to make it crystal clear that the term “parental alienation” will be dealt with fully outside of the Bill, then they would think that a good solution to the issue in the amendment. We have also had a number of very eminent lawyers—the noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay and Lord Morris, and my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—clearly say their view is that the amendment is not necessary, as long as the issue itself is addressed elsewhere.

We have had a lot of contributions and I will not go through all the speeches. However, I want to pick up a couple of points noble Lords have made, in particular a contribution by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth. He spoke about the distressing and polarising effects of the issue being debated in Committee; I think we have all received a huge amount of lobbying material since then. He also said that he had no doubt that parental alienation exists and that professional organisations such as Cafcass, through its child impact assessment, and the court system try to address the whole range of domestic abuse, including parental alienation.

I want to make one point, which has not been made by any other speaker, and stems from that made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. She summarised it, in a typically succinct way, by saying that the effects on the child are twofold: first, the witnessing, either directly or indirectly, of domestic abuse, which is clearly extremely bad for the child; and secondly, the malicious attempt by a parent to turn the child against the other parent. She has characterised that issue accurately, but I have been sitting as a family magistrate for about eight years now and have seen many cases where a parent has admitted, perhaps through a conviction, that their behaviour means they have committed such abuse. I have seen that many times but never seen a parent admit trying maliciously to alienate the child from the other parent. I have simply never seen a parent acknowledge that they have indulged in such a course of action. The court is of course in a very difficult position, so we move on to the possible use of experts, training for the judiciary and the life experience of magistrates and judges who are dealing with these cases.

I come back to where I opened: there has been a greater acknowledgement by the contributors to today’s debate of the difficulty in making these decisions. Of course, I am in favour of more training—magistrates, lawyers and judges are trained in any event, but more training would be welcome. I hope that the Minister will manage to convince the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, that it is not necessary to press her amendment. I personally believe that the issues she has raised and the intensity of the speeches she has given can be properly met through regulations under the Bill.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, on this International Women’s Day, I pay tribute to the courage of and thank my noble friend Lady Meyer, and other noble Lords, for their continued engagement on this issue. As pointed out by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, parental alienation clearly proved to be one of the most polarising issues in Committee. He challenged us to focus on the areas of agreement and I will try to do that. It was apposite that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, referred to the comments of the noble and right reverend Lord and said that we had a better debate today than we did in Committee. I agree. We are beginning to develop a shared understanding on where we are trying to get to on this, and to understand what points the amendment is driving at.

My noble friend Lady Meyer has lived experience of this very difficult, deeply distressing and personal issue, and 19 years of campaigning experience to boot in the area of alienating behaviours. I pay tribute to her; in no way do I seek to deny or to minimise the devastating impact that alienating behaviours can have on family life. But we must carefully consider the suggestion that legislation in the form of my noble friend’s amendment is the appropriate response here, and I hope that I can give her comfort on that. I will now outline the aspect of things that I think go to the heart of the Bill and the nub of the point that she is trying to make.

Our approach in Clause 1 is to define domestic abuse by reference to types of abusive behaviours, as pointed out by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle—although he agrees with the amendment—and not by reference to the form in which those behaviours may be manifested. We are fearful of creating a hierarchy of behaviours by appearing to give more weight to one manifestation than another, and do not—as my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay said—wish to inadvertently narrow the Clause 1 definition by giving specific examples such as that proposed by my noble friend in her amendment to Clause 1(5), as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, pointed out. The behaviours to which my noble friend Lady Altmann referred would be in scope; whether the examples she cites would be covered would clearly be a matter for the courts to decide.

As I indicated in Committee, I accept that there are circumstances where alienating behaviours indicate a wider pattern of emotional or psychological abuse. However, where this is the case the definition of domestic abuse in Clause 1—subsections (3)(e) and (5) are particularly relevant, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the noble Baronesses, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Brinton, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, said—already applies and, as such, does not need to be further expanded.

To answer the question about statutory guidance asked by my noble friend Lady Meyer, and almost all noble Lords who spoke in this debate, the draft statutory guidance covers alienating behaviours. I am very grateful to noble Lords who have already shared their views on the guidance and we welcome further feedback and suggestions for improvement. There will then be a further opportunity to comment on the guidance when we formally consult following Royal Assent.

One of the strengths of the Bill is that it recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children, considering them as victims in their own right. 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 definition of harm in that Act. My noble friend Lady Meyer and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referenced the Cafcass definition of parental alienation. Although that definition supports our shared understanding of the impact of alienating behaviours on the child, it is an important point of clarification that the Cafcass definition is not one of domestic abuse—we need to be clear about that. Cafcass is clear that there are a number of reasons why a child might resist time with, or be hostile towards, one parent following separation or other breakdown of a parental relationship.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I speak in support of this group of amendments. It is humbling to add my name and be among such a campaigning and dynamic group of Peers. The clause as amended would bring the relationship between a disabled person and their carer within the definition of “personally connected” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, in line with the amendments to the definition in Clause 2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton—who has so powerfully lobbied for this amendment—so that controlling or coercive behaviour by carers is covered by the Section 76 offence.

On the definition of “personally connected”, at Report we continue to believe that the Bill should reflect the realities of all domestic abuse victims who need to be able to access services, justice and support and that no victim should be left behind. These amendments would ensure that “personally connected” also covered a person’s relationship with their carer, whether paid or unpaid.

I spoke of this in Committee and, despite frank and helpful discussions with the Minister and her officials, I remain convinced that these are necessary amendments. They reflect the lived experiences of disabled victims of domestic abuse, where a significant personal relationship in their life is with a person who provides care.

This is a Bill for all victims, and we believe that these amendments would help to ensure that disabled victims are represented in the legislation. We have heard the Government say that the abuse of disabled people by their carers is already covered by existing legislation—Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 places such a duty on local authorities. However, the Bill is flagship legislation—we hear the term time and again—and it should not be the case that disabled victims have to be provided for elsewhere. The unamended clause does not recognise disabled victims of domestic abuse, who are among the most vulnerable.

This type of abuse often goes unnoticed. Disabled victims are more likely to experience domestic abuse for a longer period of time, and the Bill should make it easier for such victims to be recognised. There has to be an understanding and an acceptance of the reality of disabled lives. Significant relationships can be different from those of a non-disabled person with an unpaid carer. This close relationship has the ability to become a difficult relationship that is the same as family or partner violence. Trusting someone enough to let them provide either personal care or support with day-to-day tasks or communication is in itself an emotionally intimate act that creates a close bond but also runs the risk of abuse. It is not infrequent for abusers to target the disabled person and befriend them, and persuade them that this is done from an altruistic motivation, while at the same time exploiting and abusing the disabled person. Unfortunately, the news racks are full of such stories. The victim will experience the same ambiguity about power and control versus emotional attachment as any other victim of domestic abuse.

My noble friend Lord Hunt mentioned the organisation Stay Safe East in his authoritative speech. Ruth Bashall, chief executive of that organisation, said of this Bill:

“If this landmark piece of legislation is to protect disabled victims as well as non-disabled victims, we must ensure that abusers are not provided with a cause to claim ‘best interests’ as justification for abusing us … Every year, disabled people are victims of abuse by paid and unpaid carers or personal assistants with whom they have a close relationship but are not family members, and there is very little legislation to protect us.”

I welcome the important issues raised by noble Lords in this group of amendments. I urge the Government to listen to the lived testimony expressed throughout this debate. I support the amendments for inclusion in the Bill.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, for introducing these amendments that seek to expand the definition of “personally connected” in Clause 2. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet them ahead of Report to discuss their amendments.

To answer the question that a number of noble Lords have asked: 3,200 responses were received to the consultation on the Bill and 85% of those responses agreed to our definition in the Bill. We consulted a wide variety of focus groups, which included disability groups; I do not have the list today, but I can try to get it.

These amendments seek to bring all carers under the definition of “personally connected” in the Domestic Abuse Bill. This would include carers who are unpaid, such as neighbours and friends, as well as paid carers and people in a position of trust who care for disabled people.

Let me be absolutely clear: the Government fully recognise that abuse can be perpetrated by carers on the people they care for and that these victims can be especially vulnerable. However, extending the definition of “personally connected” in the context of domestic abuse would have detrimental effects on the overall understanding of domestic abuse and the complexities of the familial and intimate partner relationships that domestic abuse is understood to encompass, where the affectionate emotional bond between the victim and the perpetrator plays a very important role in the power dynamics. By extending the definition to include carers, we would be broadening the definition of “personally connected” to include a much wider range of connections within health and social care settings, which are covered by other legislation, and would confuse the meaning of domestic abuse.

Noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and other proponents of these amendments argue that the relationship between the carer and the person being cared for is an intimate relationship because of the often intimate nature of caring. However, it is important to recognise that different degrees of care are required by different individuals and that not all care relationships can be classed as intimate. Additionally, many care relationships are affected by different power dynamics due to the paid nature of the work that many regulated carers undertake. This would make it inappropriate to class these relationships as domestic abuse, where the emotional interdependency and sometimes financial dependence make it very difficult for a victim to leave a domestic abuse situation.

This would be detrimental to one of the Bill’s overarching aims, namely to raise awareness and understanding of the devastating impact of domestic abuse on victims and their families. This is a domestic abuse Bill and should not be confused with a Bill on abuse in general, or abuse that takes place in a domestic setting. The explanatory report to the Istanbul convention makes clear what is intended by domestic violence or abuse. In its commentary on the term “domestic violence” it says:

“Domestic violence includes mainly two types of violence: intimate-partner violence between current or former spouses or partners and inter-generational violence which typically occurs between parents and children.”

What is proposed by these amendments—however worthy their intent—would mark a fundamental shift away from the objectives of this Bill, necessarily diluting and stretching the focus of the domestic abuse commissioner. We would also have to reset and reassess much of the work we are doing to prepare for implementing the Bill and developing a new domestic abuse strategy. By fundamentally expanding the concept of domestic abuse as used in the Bill we risk a significant delay in its implementation, and I am sure that is not what the House would want.

The Government recognise abuse of disabled and elderly people by their carers. This type of abuse should be called out and tackled, and existing legislation covers it. The Health Survey for England 2019Providing Care for Family and Friends, which has been mentioned, shows that most unpaid carers were caring for family members. As such, a wide portion of informal care is already covered by the Bill and by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015, where the abuse amounts to domestic abuse.

The Care Act 2014 placed adult safeguarding on a statutory footing for the first time. Under Section 42, local authorities have a duty to carry out safeguarding inquiries if they have reason to suspect that an adult in their area with care and support needs is at risk of abuse or neglect. Importantly, this is the case irrespective of whether that individual’s needs are being met by the local authority.

The care and statutory support guidance defines the different types and patterns of abuse and neglect and the different circumstances in which they might take place. The list provided is not exhaustive but is an illustrative guide to the sort of behaviour that could give rise to a safeguarding concern, such as physical abuse, including domestic violence, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial or material abuse, modern slavery and discriminatory abuse.

In the almost six years since the Care Act was introduced, we have seen a steady increase in the number of concerns raised, as well as the number of inquiries made under Section 42. This demonstrates that the legislation is having an impact. Data from 2019-20 covering concluded Section 42 inquiries where a risk was identified showed that, in nearly 90% of cases, the outcome was reported to have either removed or reduced the risk to the individual.

Additionally, the Government have made clear in the accompanying statutory guidance that, under the Care Act regarding the duty on local authorities, they must ensure that the services they commission are safe, effective and of high quality. All relevant professions are subject to employer checks and controls, and employers in the health and care sector must satisfy themselves regarding the skills and competence of their staff. Furthermore, the Care Quality Commission plays a key role, ensuring that care providers have effective systems to keep adults safe and ensure that they are free from abuse and neglect. They have a duty to act promptly whenever safeguarding issues are discovered during inspections, raising them with the provider and, if necessary, referring safeguarding issues to the local authority and the police. Lastly, safeguarding adults boards provide assurance that local safeguarding arrangements and partners, including police, councils and the NHS, are acting to help and protect adults who may be at risk of abuse or neglect.

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Division 1

Ayes: 318

Labour: 135
Crossbench: 77
Liberal Democrat: 72
Independent: 14
Democratic Unionist Party: 5
Bishops: 5
Conservative: 4
Green Party: 2
Plaid Cymru: 1

Noes: 234

Conservative: 213
Crossbench: 11
Independent: 8
Ulster Unionist Party: 1
Liberal Democrat: 1

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, when, initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, these issues were debated in Committee, the Government argued that the need for statutory agencies to recognise and respond to the impact of domestic abuse on children of all ages is already embedded in the Bill and the associated statutory guidance. The Government said that they recognised that pregnancy can be a trigger for domestic abuse and that existing abuse may get worse during pregnancy or after giving birth.

The Government went on to say in Committee that the statutory guidance made clear that local authorities, with their partners, had a responsibility to develop clear local protocols for assessment, and that these protocols should reflect where assessments require particular care and include unborn children where there are concerns. Further, the Government said that if there are concerns relating to an unborn child, consideration should be given to whether to hold a child protection conference prior to that child’s birth, with decisions regarding the child’s future safety, health and development made at that conference.

The Government concluded their response in Committee by saying they were committed to protecting all children, including the very youngest, from the heinous crime of domestic abuse. There have since been further discussions. We agree that pregnant women, unborn children and young children need access to support and protection. I look forward to the Government, in their response, giving further meaningful assurances that this will be the case.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Stroud for affording us the further opportunity to debate the impact of domestic abuse on very young children and unborn babies. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, made an important point about alcohol as a trigger for domestic abuse and the effect of alcohol on an unborn child, which is part and parcel of this. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, made a point about preventive measures being so important in our aim of protecting victims or potential victims of domestic abuse.

Amendment 7 to Clause 3 seeks to recognise unborn babies exposed to domestic abuse in utero as victims of domestic abuse. Amendments 8 and 9 to Clause 7 seek to explicitly provide for the domestic abuse commissioner to encourage good practice and provide protection and support to children under the age of two, including unborn babies, affected by domestic abuse. Amendment 78 seeks to make provision for publicly funded therapeutic services for expectant parents and parents of children under the age of two who are victims of domestic abuse. Finally, Amendment 90 seeks to make explicit reference to unborn babies and children under two in the statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 73.

Under Clause 3, children of all ages, from birth to the day that they turn 18, are considered victims of domestic abuse in their own right if they see, hear or experience the effects of domestic abuse and are related either to the targeted victim of the abuse or to the perpetrator. As such, all children will benefit from the provisions in the Bill. For example, Part 2 expressly recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children in the statutory functions of the domestic abuse commissioner. Part 4 of the Bill places a new duty on tier 1 local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. This would include the kind of support referred to in Amendment 78. In addition, Clause 73(2) provides that the Secretary of State must issue guidance on the

“kinds of behaviour that amount to domestic abuse”

and on the effect of domestic abuse on all children.

Separate to the provisions in the Bill, there are important existing measures in the Children Act 1989 to protect children at risk of harm. These include Section 8 of that Act, which makes provisions for child arrangement orders regulating arrangements relating to when a child is to live, spend time with or otherwise have contact with any other person, and whom. Section 17 sets out the provision of services for children in need, their families and others. Part V sets out measures for the protection of children, including in Section 43 on child assessment orders; Section 44 on orders for the emergency protection of children; and Section 47, which sets out the local authority’s duty to investigate when it suspects that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

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Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Lister for her superb introduction and to all noble Lords who have spoken.

Amendment 10 relates to single payments of universal credit. The case has been made overwhelmingly clearly that the system of single payments facilitates financial abuse by allowing perpetrators to control the entire household income. Ministers only seem to have three arguments against acting on this: first, that claimants can ask for split payments, although, as my noble friend pointed out, that just puts survivors at risk; secondly, that most couples keep and manage their finances together, although, as Refuge points out, the finances of those experiencing economic abuse are not managed jointly but controlled by their abuser; and thirdly, that it would undermine the nature of universal credit and be a bit difficult. These are pretty weak arguments. All this amendment does is say that the commissioner will look into the matter further and report to Parliament. If the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, and the Government do not want the commissioner to look into it, can I suggest that they simply sort it out themselves? That would save our having to do so.

Amendment 69 would exempt domestic abuse survivors from repaying benefit advances made to mitigate the five-week wait. There is a real risk that survivors wanting to flee will be deterred because they know it is five weeks until they get paid—many are already in debt and do not want to take on more—and if they take an advance on, their monthly income falls below survival level, yet they have other debts to service. Does the Minister accept that this is a genuine barrier? I would be really interested to know the answer.

Amendment 72 would disapply the benefit cap for 12 months for survivors who fled and claimed universal credit. I am not going to repeat the devastating critique made by the noble Lord, Lord Best, but I do think Ministers owe it to this House and to survivors to engage with those arguments properly. Normally, Ministers argue that people can escape the cap by moving to cheaper housing or by getting a job, but those are not practical for someone fleeing abuse. There are already exemptions for those in refuges, so why not for those in any accommodation? There is already an exemption from the work requirement of universal credit for someone who has fled abuse in the previous six months, but what use is that exemption if survivors cannot afford to take advantage of it because they would still be hit by the benefit cap and so could not afford to pay their rent?

These issues are all examples of social security policy or practice which have a differential impact on survivors of domestic abuse. If Amendment 68 were accepted, government departments would have to assess the impact of any social security reforms on victims or potential victims of domestic abuse before making changes, rather than afterwards. It would stop us being here over and over again, trying to point out the problems of systems already changed, by trying to address them beforehand. Had that been done before creating universal credit or imposing the benefit cap or the bedroom tax, these problems could have been designed out at an earlier stage.

The survivor quoted by my noble friend Lady Lister was right: you need money to escape. Our social security system should enable survivors to flee abuse, but it does not. As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, this is a failure of joined-up government. The sad reality is that problems do join up, and at the level of the individual survivor, but the Government response fails to address that. There is no point in the Government legislating to support survivors of domestic abuse while steadfastly ignoring problems in their own systems, which risks exacerbating or even enabling abuse and making it hard or sometimes impossible for survivors to flee and rebuild their lives. I say to the Minister, whom I know cares about these issues, a lot of work has gone into researching, evidencing, and debating the issues, and the fact that the noble Baroness is a Home Office Minister is not a reason not to engage with them. The House, the country and survivors deserve to have these arguments taken seriously. I look forward to her reply.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, for explaining their amendments, which relate to the operation of the welfare system, including universal credit and the benefit cap, and their impact on victims of domestic abuse. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, is absolutely right: just because I am a Home Officer Minister does not mean that I should not and do not engage on these matters.

Amendment 10 seeks to place a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to investigate universal credit single household payments and lay a report before Parliament within a year of Royal Assent. As I indicated in Committee, and as my noble friend Lady Sanderson said, as an independent officeholder, it should be for the commissioner to set her own priorities as set out in her strategy plan, as provided for in Clause 13. I understand that the commissioner has no current plans to examine this issue in the next year. If this amendment were to be made it would necessarily mean that other issues which she might have regarded as more pressing would fall by the wayside. Moreover, the way the amendment is drafted arguably prejudices the conclusions of the commissioner’s report and makes it difficult or impossible for her to comply with the duty if those conclusions do not then come to pass. If the aim of this amendment is to secure a particular preordained outcome, I see no benefit in asking the independent commissioner to investigate the matter. She has already embarked on the mapping exercise in relation to community-based services, so there is no contradiction between government Amendment 17 and the concerns we have about Amendment 10.

DWP is committed to doing all it can to support victims of domestic and economic abuse, including giving split payments when requested, easements to benefit conditionality and referrals to local specialist support. However, by default, a core principle of universal credit is that it is a single household payment. Where a claimant is part of a couple and living in the same household, they will need to make a joint claim for universal credit. Many legacy benefits, including housing benefit, child benefit and child tax credit, already make payment to one member of the household, so the way universal credit is paid is not a new concept. Instead, we believe that this reflects the way that most couples can and want to manage their finances—jointly and without state intervention. We have therefore taken a proportionate response, ensuring that universal credit meets both the needs of the many and the most disadvantaged, including victims of domestic abuse.

Recognising that there are circumstances in which split payments are appropriate, we have made them available on request to anyone at risk of domestic abuse. As part of that, it is important that we allow the individual who is experiencing domestic abuse to decide whether they think that split payments will help their individual circumstances. Once that choice is made, the request for such payment can be made in whatever way works best for the claimant, including during a face-to-face meeting or a phone call. Once paid, the larger percentage of a split payment will be allocated to the person with primary caring responsibilities, such as childcare. This is to ensure the health and well-being of the majority of the household. We can also arrange for any rent to be paid directly to the landlord to protect the family tenancy. No information relating to why a split payment has been requested or granted will be notified to the claimant’s partner. In addition to the right to split payment on request, we have also taken measures to encourage payment to the main carer in the family. Evidence suggests that 60% of universal credit payments are made to women, who are usually the main carer. Given this, we have changed the claimant messaging on the service to encourage claimants in joint claims to nominate the bank account of the main carer to receive their universal credit payment.

I hope that noble Lords will see that, although universal credit’s single household payment mirrors the model of the legacy benefits it replaces, much has been done to offer alternative payment arrangements to victims of domestic abuse. However, universal credit cannot solve all the problems of domestic abuse and split payment is not a panacea. It is crucial to acknowledge that abusive partners may still take money from their victims, whether that is payment of universal credit or any other source of income, including through intimidation, coercion and physical force. Payment to the victim’s individual bank account is no guarantee, with such people capable of learning passwords and taking control of bank cards.

The Government therefore view calls for split payments to all couples claiming universal credit as disproportionate. This would be a fundamental change to the payment structure of universal credit, from a single household payment made to one individual of the benefit unit to payments split between joint claimants by default, rather than made available to those who need this method of payment. It would add very significant cost and complexity. For example, split payments are currently a manual process. To introduce them by default they would have to be automated, at considerable cost and disruption. This would also deflect limited resource from the improvements already prioritised for the universal credit system. Such fundamental change from a single to a multiple-payment model for all, regardless of need, may also put the stability of the system at risk for all 6 million current universal credit claimants, and at a time when numbers have grown significantly in response to the pandemic.

Lastly, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, advocated split payment by default, pointing to the Scottish Government’s wish to adopt this method of payment. For the reasons I have set out, that is not the Government’s position. It is also noticeable that the Scottish Government are yet to come forward with firm proposals. I say this not to criticise, but merely to illustrate to the House that this is a complex area in which to design a workable policy. Nevertheless, we will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government to establish the practicalities of delivering split payments in Scotland. Should they come up with a policy capable of being implemented, we will observe their implementation to further understand the impacts, any potential advantages and disadvantages. We would ask advocates of split payment by default to do the same, in a “test and learn” approach, so that future debate on this may be based on practical evidence.

Amendment 68 would require the DWP to assess the impact of welfare reform on victims, and potential victims, of domestic abuse. The DWP already does this, in accordance with the public sector equality duty. An equality impact assessment to support the introduction of universal credit was published in November 2011, and an impact assessment was published in December 2012. Equality impacts have been further considered in developing subsequent plans surrounding the implementation of universal credit. I appreciate the noble Baroness’s intention in proposing the amendment, but I do not think that the additional duty is required.

Finally, Amendment 69 seeks to make victims of domestic abuse exempt from repaying universal credit advances. It is important to note that there can be no such thing as an advance that is never intended to be recovered. Advances are simply an advance of a claimant’s benefit, paid early, resulting in the same amount of universal credit being spread across more payments. It is, therefore, more appropriate to say that this amendment would effectively create grants or additional entitlement to universal credit solely for victims of domestic abuse. While the Bill demonstrates the Government’s commitment to supporting victims of domestic abuse by introducing additional benefit entitlement, we would effectively be unfairly discriminating against all other vulnerable cohort groups who may be facing substantial challenges.

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Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester [V]
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response to this group of amendments, in particular to Amendments 72 and 102, to which I have added my name. I also thank her for her reassurance that local authorities will be given clear encouragement to prioritise the needs of domestic abuse victims, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, requested. Can she ensure that national statistics on the number of such cases accepted and rejected in each year will be counted and made public? Visible success for the Government’s preferred approach may serve as encouragement to those facing the unenviable decision of whether they can afford to flee their abuser’s home.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Yes, I can certainly request that on behalf of the right reverend Prelate.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and also the Minister. Noble Lords have enriched the arguments but, given the time, I will not go over what they said. I will not try to come back on the Minister’s arguments because it feels a bit like Groundhog Day. I am disappointed, however, that the noble Baroness did not acknowledge the point that I and my noble friend Lord Rooker underlined, as did others: there is a real tension between social security policy and domestic abuse policy. The policies that she is so committed to in this Bill will be undermined by DWP policies. I hope that at the very least she will take back to the DWP the concerns that have been raised today.

I thank the Minister for saying she will try to arrange for Women’s Aid to meet the DWP Minister to talk about training. As for panic rooms, will the noble Baroness have words with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about what has happened and why no action has been taken in response to that judgment? Time is ticking past—we really should have action by now.

My noble friend Lady Sherlock asked a couple of very specific questions about the Minister’s position, and I wonder whether she could write in response. I think I will leave it at that.

I take the point of my noble friend Lord Rooker that it would have been good to have been able to vote on this issue. However, there are so many amendments that noble colleagues want to vote on that I realise it was not possible. That should not mean that Ministers think we do not attach great importance to the arguments that have been made today. I just hope that the Minister will take those arguments to the DWP and see, behind the scenes, if something can be done. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have added my name to and speak in support of Amendment 12, which would extend the list of public authorities with a duty to co-operate with the domestic abuse commissioner. Amendment 14 would place a new duty on public authorities that carry out reviews and investigations into deaths in which domestic abuse has been identified as a contributory factor to notify the Secretary of State for the Home Office and the office of the domestic abuse commissioner upon completion and to provide them with a copy of their findings.

This oversight by the domestic abuse commissioner is intended to ensure a more systematic collection of investigations into suicides and homicides in which domestic abuse is identified as a contributory factor, together with a robust accountability framework to ensure that individual recommendations are acted upon and key themes across investigations are identified to help target the key policy changes needed to prevent future deaths.

The pandemic has created so many problems for our society, notwithstanding the area of domestic abuse. Coronavirus may exacerbate triggers and lockdown may restrict access to support or escape; it may even curtail measures some people take to keep their own violence under control.

In 2011 domestic homicide reviews were established on a statutory basis under Section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act. It was one of the most difficult and disturbing aspects of my role as a councillor when I had to take part in such a review following the death of one of my constituents. It was a devastating time for the community and left long-running consequences as we searched our souls to see what more anyone could have done to prevent such a tragedy. In hard terms, what can be done by agreeing these amendments is to establish a clear oversight and accountability mechanism, led by the independent domestic abuse commissioner, which would help to drive effective implementation and share lessons nationally in the long as well as the short term.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, we return now to the debate we had in Committee about the role of the domestic abuse commissioner in helping all relevant agencies to learn the lessons from domestic abuse-related homicides and suicides so that we can avoid such deaths in future.

In Committee I undertook to consider further amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt. We agree that the commissioner has an important oversight role to play in this area, and government Amendment 14 will support it by placing a duty on those responsible for carrying out a domestic homicide review under Section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 to send a copy of the report of the review to the commissioner.

As I indicated in Committee, we are not persuaded that it is necessary to extend this requirement to the other homicide reviews listed in Amendment 16. Given that the bodies involved are required to engage and feed into domestic homicide reviews, we think the lessons will be captured through this process. Where necessary, the commissioner can also use her powers under Clause 15 to request relevant information from the public authorities subject to the duty to co-operate.

Amendment 12 seeks to add to the list of public authorities subject to the duty to co-operate. We agree in principle that the IOPC, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, should be added to the list. Clause 15(4) includes a power to add to the list of specified public authorities by regulations, and we propose to exercise this power in relation to the IOPC. The IOPC has come late to the party, as it were, so we consider it preferable to use the regulation-making route to allow time for the IOPC and the commissioner’s office to work through the implications for the IOPC of adding it to the list of specified public authorities.

As for the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, I must point out that it is not a statutory agency, and therefore there are difficulties with referring to it in statute. On a more practical level, the ombudsman routinely publishes its fatal incident investigation reports, so they are accessible to the commissioner and others. That said, there is scope for discussions between the commissioner and the ombudsman about how the flow of relevant information might be improved.

As I indicated at the start of my remarks, we consider tackling domestic homicides a top priority and we intend to work closely with the commissioner on this issue. The changes being made through Amendment 14 and our commitment to add the IOPC to the list of relevant public authorities by regulations are only part of the wider programme of work taking place to tackle domestic homicides. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, would agree that these are important advances and that accordingly she would be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and to the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Wilcox, for their very knowledgeable contributions, particularly the poignant case of Anne-Marie Nield, provided by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, which just illustrates how important it is that we learn the lessons.

I am very grateful to the Minister—she is clearly a Minister who listens and works out what is logically possible and what is not. It perhaps would not have been realistic for her to say, “Oh yes, we’ll do all of that, that’s no problem at all”, but what she has said is extremely encouraging, particularly regarding the IOPC. I am very grateful to her particularly for the way that she has gone more than half way, and her actions, I am sure, will make a very big difference to the ability of the domestic abuse commissioner to do her job—and, indeed, to the Secretary of State. I have great hopes for what the commissioner is going to achieve with all of this. We have certainly loaded on her enough information, so I hope that it is not going to overwhelm her, but I really feel heartened that she is going to have the tools to do the job, and I am very grateful. I respectfully wish to withdraw the amendment.

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Moved by
14: After Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to send conclusions of domestic homicide review to Commissioner
(1) Section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (establishment and conduct of domestic homicide reviews) is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (3A) insert—“(3B) A person or body within subsection (4)(a) that establishes a domestic homicide review (whether or not held pursuant to a direction under subsection (2)) must send a copy of any report setting out the conclusions of the review to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.(3C) The copy must be sent as soon as reasonably practicable after the report is completed.””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires a person or body carrying out a domestic homicide review in England and Wales to send a copy of the report of the review to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I am conscious of the time, so the House does not need 15 minutes from me on why we should support these amendments. I will make a few quick points to enable the Minister to respond fully to the debate.

I support both amendments. We have heard some excellent speeches this evening. I hope the Minister can give a detailed response to my noble friend Lady Armstrong. She has amended her amendment to take on board the comments made by the Minister in Committee.

I hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, may divide the House on Amendment 44 when we reach it. I can offer the support of these Benches if she decides to do so. This may focus the minds of some noble Lords in this debate. I shall leave it there and look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for the parting shot. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and my noble friend Lady Helic for raising the issue of training for front-line professionals in relation to domestic abuse. Quality training is important to equip practitioners with the knowledge and skills they need to protect and support victims of domestic abuse, including children, in an appropriate manner.

We can also agree on another aspect of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt articulated, professionals need to have the skills and confidence to ask the right questions about domestic abuse, and then take the right course of action. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has served to further highlight the importance of professionals across a wide range of disciplines recognising the signs of domestic abuse and responding accordingly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, talked about relationship and sex education in schools. Healthy relationships in this area are more important than ever.

In January, we launched “Ask for ANI”, the code word scheme that is now in operation across thousands of pharmacies. The scheme provides a clear process to follow. Working closely with the sector, we have developed bespoke training and guidance to support it to deliver this additional assistance. We have ensured that victims have a means to access potentially life-changing support, and have seen more than 45 uses of the scheme already. This is excellent news.

Those working in vaccination centres are also being provided with bespoke training to ensure that they pick up any signs of domestic abuse and can respond to disclosures should they be made in such safe spaces. I am sure we can all agree that the response and approach to identifying domestic abuse in a pharmacy and in a vaccination centre is very different from how one might respond in a school or a job centre. That is why reporting protocols and training are best developed and delivered by the appropriate responsible agency in each sector. Therein lies the expertise, so we should not adopt a one-size-fits-all approach. The training needs to be tailored to the circumstances of each professional group and will, therefore, take many different forms.

While the domestic abuse commissioner and her office may support organisations in the development of their training, and may deliver some training itself—as Clause 7(2)(d) envisages—it is not appropriate, or indeed realistic, to expect the commissioner to be specifying training or reporting standards for the diverse range of public authorities specified in Clause 15.