Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Debate on Amendment 141 resumed.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames tabled this amendment and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, added his name, as did I.
I will not speak for long—just a few minutes—but I would like to give this amendment some context. Just over a year ago, my noble friend was approached by a concerned mother about the “treatment” of her adult daughter by a person who described themself as a psychotherapist. This treatment would not have been recognised by any professional body and did a disservice to the regulated profession of psychotherapy. Such an individual is able to walk into a stranger’s home after being contacted on the strength of an advertisement in a shop window, local newspaper, magazine or online. Counterfeit certificates, business cards and brass plaques are easily obtained to give undeserved credibility.
The phoney therapist broke no law, but the treatment was unrecognised by any regulating body and did great harm to the young woman. She was turned against her family by coercive behaviour and a catalogue of lies. She was turned inside out emotionally and her family were left distraught. I was somewhat taken aback to receive letters from other families whose adult children had been in receipt of similar coercive treatment, leaving them a shadow of their former selves.
This amendment sets out to right these wrongs and ensure that the therapist would not be able to practise in future. I thank my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, who spoke in that debate, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier. The amendment sets out clearly what is an offence in this context, and how to determine that the perpetrator’s behaviour had a serious effect. It also sets out what would count as a defence for the person purporting to be the therapist, and, if found guilty, what the maximum terms of imprisonment would be.
Having listened to my noble friend Lord Paddick last week at the beginning of the debate, I think it worth mentioning that, although the original case concerned a young woman, there is no reason why it should not apply to a vulnerable young man. The amendment is gender neutral and goes a long way to right the wrongs in the case that brought me to this Bill in the first place. I am delighted to support it. I say to the Minister that the coercion was carried out in the victim’s home. It was abuse in a domestic setting and should have been a crime. This amendment will stop others being controlled or coerced by bogus therapists and, if they are sentenced, the punishment will fit the crime.
I wonder whether, before Report, the Minister would be willing to meet some of those who have spoken in this debate.
My Lords, I welcome the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the opportunity to talk about the role of psychotherapists. As I will be discussing regulatory issues, I declare my membership of the GMC.
I have no doubt about the value of psychotherapists and the beneficial impact of their work for so many people. But there are potential risks, which the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to eloquently when we last debated the amendment. Also, in a Lords debate on 2 March last year, he said:
“We have heard harrowing accounts of victims, often young, brainwashed by unscrupulous and controlling individuals. These charlatans play on their clients’ suffering, deluding them into a false belief in their treatment, often conjuring up in them fake memories about their early years and inducing unhealthy long-term dependence on the therapist and rejection of families and friends.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 477.]
That was reinforced by the case the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, just referred to.
Patients and clients can be vulnerable, and an insensitive, critical or sexually exploitative therapist could increase the risk of the patient having a poor—and potentially damaging—outcome from their therapy. The big problem is that the terms “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected. Any one of us could call ourselves one of those titles and advertise our services to unsuspecting and sometimes vulnerable people. I have long had worries about this, going back to when I was a Health Minister, some 20 years ago.
In 2001, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, introduced a Private Member’s Bill to provide for the regulation of psychotherapists and make provisions to enable the registration of the profession. Since then, we have established workstreams to look into regulation, but, unfortunately, the profession found it difficult to reach a common cause, principally because there were so many different, and sometimes conflicting, schools of thought.
That, I am afraid, was the start of a long and unhappy journey. In 2007, the then Government published a White Paper which included plans to introduce statutory regulation for psychotherapists and counsellors. But, unfortunately, by 2010, this did not import into statute, even though, by then, the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had done a sterling job in pulling the different psychotherapy schools together and getting agreement on the way forward. We then had the coalition Government in 2010, which announced a new approach to regulation and a belief that centralised statutory regulation was not always the most effective or efficient way of ensuring high-quality care. That, essentially, is where it stayed.
The debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, last March, induced the following response from the Health Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell:
“The Government are committed to a proportionate system of safeguards for the professionals who work in the health and care system … Where practitioners pose a direct risk of harm to the health and well-being of patients, legal avenues will and must be explored … However, more rules are not always the answer to every problem. While statutory regulation is sometimes necessary where significant risks to users of services cannot be mitigated … it is not always the most proportionate or effective means of assuring the safe and effective care of service users.”—[Official Report, 2/3/20; col. 480.]
He also referred to the more than 50,000 talking service professionals on the registers accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. That is welcome, but it is not statutory regulation, nor is it protection of title, which means any of us could, if we wanted to, continue to call ourselves a psychotherapist or counsellor.
The big problem here is that the Government are basing this on a risk assessment for which there is little evidence. There is a real lack of hard research in this area. I am grateful to the Library for unearthing a 2019 article, published in Frontiers in Psychology, which provided a potential explanation of why there may currently be a lack of quantitative research. It said:
“Although the broad topic of negative outcomes has been extensively discussed, empirical research on patient safety, directly examining the causes and prevention of harm, is not well established. Because harm … is relatively rare, and not amenable to experimental manipulation, such research is difficult.”
In 2017, the Brighton Therapy Partnership, a continued professional development and training organisation for counsellors and psychotherapists, said:
“There is very little research into the harm that properly executed therapy can cause. This is an unusual anomaly for a medical field, as in every other area research is abundant into both efficacy and failure of all treatment options.”
When the Government say, as I have no doubt the Minister will today, that it is not proportionate to regulate psychotherapists, there is an absence of evidence to base that on. In the meantime, in the absence of statutory regulation, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, is essential. I hope he is prepared to support this all the way in the Bill. There is a dangerous gap, and some action needs to be taken.
My Lords, I speak in support of this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the other noble Lords who have signed it. It seeks to create a new offence of
“Controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services”.
First, I commend the apposite wording—in particular, “persons providing … services,” since these abusive individuals are rarely actually psychotherapists, counsellors or registered practitioners of any kind, but individuals purporting to offer such services. That these charlatans are able to operate beyond the law and act on vulnerable people should be revisited, even if it is not the specific subject of this Bill.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will update our laws to recognise the breadth, and, unfortunately, the subtlety, of the crime. It will now include, among other things, the offence of coercive control. However, while the Bill recognises that such insidious behaviour is punishable within a household, it clearly exists outside the household too. This amendment seeks to address that omission, but it also speaks to the notion of what constitutes “domestic,” namely, the definition of the “connected” person. If one reads the language of the Bill and hears the heartbreaking stories of this abusive practice, there is surely no doubt that this proposed new clause belongs in the Bill.
We are talking about situations where bogus therapists attempt to alienate their subjects from their families and breed dependence on them, the so-called counsellors. False memories are concocted and sown, with happy childhoods replaced with nightmares of abuse that never happened. The symptoms follow a familiar pattern: the self-styled development coach preys on their vulnerable clients and tears them away from their families, to the extent that they break off all contact and become estranged. There are countless such cases. The goal of such therapy is coercion and control, to debilitate and disable—abuse, if ever there was.
The Bill currently defines “connected” persons using the language of intimate personal relationships, among other things. This captures the nature of what occurs in these bogus sessions. Families, friends and loved ones are wilfully alienated by the abuser, who then offers him or herself as a replacement. A dependence is created, and contact and communication of any kind with family and friends are discouraged. This is intimate, yet clearly abusive—exactly the subject of this Bill and exactly why I hope the Government will accept this amendment.
I began by lamenting the lack of legal protection and redress for those who might be duped by unqualified counsellors and psychotherapists, and I believe that this is definitely worthy of more debate and attention from the Government. But what we are talking about now is including such controlling and coercive behaviour by those who cruelly abuse their professional trust. The consequences for the individuals concerned and their families are profound and long-lasting. What goes on in these cases is intuitively and evidentially abuse. It is clearly coercive and controlling, and it is clearly done in the context of the intimate relationships captured by “connected” persons. For all these reasons, I would argue that the new offence belongs in this Bill. I strongly support the amendment.
My Lords, during the Committee discussions last week, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, commented on how helpful the debate on presumed parental consent was, and I agree. I felt that I was back on “Moral Maze”; I was moving around the issue and considering it from all sides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made concrete for us that day, lots of issues thrown up by this proposed legislation are complex and nuanced moral dilemmas. It shows what a difficult task we have here in applying public law in what is usually the terrain of private and intimate relationships.
In some ways, though, that discussion on presumed parental consent focused our minds on the domestic core at the heart of this legislation. My concern is that this amendment shifts our focus away from that domestic core—although the previous noble Baroness tried to suggest that we should now broaden our understanding of “domestic”. It shifts our focus, broadens it too widely and potentially dilutes it. Do not get me wrong; when, at the end of the last Committee day, the noble Lord, Lords Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, spoke passionately and movingly—and we have heard similar testimony since—on the devastating impact of those reaping the bitter winds of recovered memory syndrome, which has been a dogma, sadly, I was cheering them on. I have been following the bitter memory wars since the 1990s, and consequences such as the satanic ritual abuse panics and various other panics. When that was a fashionable theory among trauma therapists, sections of social work professionals and some feminist academics, I argued against it. Now that form of therapy has largely been discredited by modern memory science, and is widely ridiculed, as it has been in this discussion, as pseudoscientific quackery.
I share noble Lords’ frustrations that the practice continues unlicensed and unregulated. I have no doubt that unethically encouraging vulnerable people to interpret their present woes through the prism of abuse, and then unethically planting false memories, is coercive. But my worry is that this amendment stretches the definition of coercive control, in the context of domestic abuse, too far. There is a danger, to quote a noble Baroness from an earlier Committee day, that this legislation will be seen as a Christmas tree on which everyone can hang a different preoccupation or grievance. That makes the definition so elastic that it can be a catch-all, and unintentionally relativises our gaze from the specific and discrete brutality of domestic abuse. I am already worried that this Bill has defined abuse far too promiscuously, and that it might well backfire and not help those it is intended to.
It is not just our focus—our gaze as legislators—that it will shift. How will it affect the police and criminal justice system if we label too many incidents as domestic abuse? Part of the popular frustration with the status quo is that serious incidents, threats or credible risks are not taken seriously, sometimes with tragic consequences. People go to the police and they are sent away. Surely what we do not want is for the authorities and the police to be swamped with endless numbers of complainants citing this Bill and a loose basis of the definition of coercive control, starting to make complaints.
I am all for dealing with, and exposing, the charlatans who call themselves counsellors, who play on the therapeutic culture and wo are only too willing to use the issue of abuse to push their own agendas with the consequence of destroying families. Let them be dealt with. I hope the Minister will look at how to deal with psychotherapists exploiting those who turn to them for help, but this is not the legislation to pursue that. So I will not be supporting the amendment, even though I cheer on those who wish to expose the charlatans.
My Lords, on Wednesday, both the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, put the detailed legal arguments for this amendment, and I have added my name to it as well. I shall not try to repeat what they said, but instead will say something that has, perhaps, been said by all bar the last speaker in this debate, which is that I strongly support this amendment.
As a nation we have been very slow to recognise the way in which the human mind can be coerced and controlled by unscrupulous people without the use of violence. I am not sure that until “The Archers” featured Rob Titchener in its storyline about marital coercive control, and gripped the nation with it, many of us would have been able to describe or recognise it on our own doorsteps. We have been even slower as a nation to recognise and enact legislation to protect those who are its victims in another category, namely those whose vulnerability, whether it is emotional or psychological, renders them a target for the bogus counsellors, the amateur psychotherapists and the self-styled life coaches, usually bent on profit, who may appear to be well intentioned but still often inflict real harm and damage on their so-called patients and their families.
This is not a new phenomenon. Unhappy people often search for explanations and cures, and the unscrupulous offer false promises of help and future happiness. They frequently obtain substantial amounts of money from them and very often, using transference, seek to replace contact with parents and families, sometimes by implanting false memories, which in turn often sever domestic relationships for life. As a pupil barrister in 1970s, I remember cases involving the Scientologists. I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, remembers cases involving the Moonies. Domestic alienation was a common feature then, 50 years ago, as it is today with some of the quasi-healers operating in this country right now with impunity.
I personally am aware of one family whose adult daughter fell into the hands of just such people in London. They were paid substantial sums of money by her. Their methods involved repeated “counselling” sessions lasting six or seven hours at a stretch during which, exhausted, she was persuaded to sever all contact with her parents and her family. It took some years for them even to find her, and eventually get her back. She was one of the lucky ones. These people are untrained, unqualified, unregulated and damaging to the vulnerable on whom they prey. Yet our present law currently provides no adequate protection from their activities.
Our understanding and recognition of mental illness is, thankfully, advancing rapidly today. Yet we are only beginning to understand more about how the power of words, whether they are spoken directly or via the internet, can convince an otherwise intelligent adult to become a jihadi or embrace a coronavirus conspiracy theory and, in so doing, often damage and even destroy their closest domestic relationships. On this form of abuse, we have looked the other way for far too long. We have given protection, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, to other vulnerable categories by law—whether they are children, the mentally ill or the elderly—and it is now surely time to add those who are at the mercy of these bogus healers.
The Government argument is often, “Yes, but it’s not right in this Bill”—but I do not see a better Bill on the horizon to deal with this particular lacuna in the law. I totally understand that members of a Bill team that has produced an excellent Bill, as this team has, will always be reluctant to look at a new amendment that may, they fear, perhaps alter the architecture of the Bill on which they have worked so painstakingly. However, I do not see any other way, in the near future, of tackling something that I believe has not only been overlooked for far too long but I suspect is likely to grow, particularly in these times when so many young people are searching for an explanation of why their lives have changed so drastically from their expectations.
I hope that the Minister will agree to take this amendment away, have a look at it with his Bill team and, hopefully, come back with a solution. If he did so, I believe that he would have support across the whole House.
My Lords, this important amendment seeks to include controlling and coercive behaviour by a psychotherapist or counsellor in the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, clearly laid out the reality of very unscrupulous practices. When working as they should, psychotherapists are generally trained to work over a long period of time with more complicated mental health issues, whereas counsellors are generally trained to work in the shorter term with life issues such as bereavement and relationships—although in practice there is huge overlap.
A problem arises for the person whose world is in tatters, who feels at sea and is desperate for some help. How do they have any idea whether the person they have been referred to or had suggested to them to see is a charismatic charlatan or an excellent counsellor who will help them to restabilise their life? In this process, they are even more vulnerable than prior to the consultation—a vulnerability that is exploited by the unscrupulous and by sects, as we have heard. They go to speak to a stranger, often paying for the privilege, and as they tell their story, they reveal their vulnerabilities and are often retraumatised by remembering the abuse as they relate events. This is psychological intimacy, and the person is certainly profoundly psychologically connected to their victim.
As we have heard, only the titles “clinical psychologist” and “counselling psychologist” are professionally restricted and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. By contrast, the terms “therapist”, “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected; courses in these subjects are unregulated and vary very widely, which leaves unregistered and poorly trained people wide open to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviours.
Reputable employers providing counselling services, such as Women’s Aid, will expect an employee to have undertaken professional training. Often membership of a relevant professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society, is required to ensure continuing professional development and ongoing supervision to enhance practice. All these bodies stipulate certain standards and ethical codes.
Proposed new subsections (1) and (2) set out what constitutes an offence and emphasise that controlling and coercive behaviour can be both physical and psychological. However, given the lack of regulation, I wonder whether this important amendment sets too high a bar, even for registered and well-trained professionals.
Proposed new subsection (4) raises a concern for me, but I am sure that it can be sorted out. It states that it is a defence to show that, when engaging in the behaviour in question, the psychotherapist or counsellor was acting in the person’s best interests. Here I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. As your Lordships know only too well, the term “best interests” is laid out in the Mental Capacity Act.
If a person has capacity to consent freely to whatever is proposed, there seems no rationale to make a best interests decision for them, and no form of controlling or coercive behaviour would be in their best interests. The person must have had the capacity to be able to consent to the counselling session. If the person lacks capacity to consent to a particular decision at a particular time, that decision should be deferred until they regain capacity for that decision. If restrictions of any sort have to be put in place in a person’s best interests because they cannot consent to the proposal, a formal best interests decision-making process, as laid out in statute, must be undertaken. A deprivation of liberty safeguard procedure or safeguarding may be required. I am worried that this defence, as written in the amendment, actually lessens the safeguards of a vulnerable person. I am sure that that is not what it aims to do.
For children and young people under 18, there are specific requirements about consent that would suggest that a child or young person would need to show relevant competence to consent to counselling in any service. If they do not show that, surely only a professional registered with the Health and Care Professions Council—and subject to oversight—should be involved with the child.
Those deeply traumatised by domestic abuse need to be protected from people who may be exploiting their vulnerability for financial and other personal gain. The issues raised in this amendment are very important. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, laid out the sad story of our attempts to establish registration some years ago. Now, enough is enough. Proper registration processes for those calling themselves counsellors, psychologists or psychotherapists are essential so that anyone providing such services of any sort, whether to victims or to perpetrators of abuse, must be trained against some minimum registration criteria, with ongoing supervision and outcome audits.
My Lords, Amendment 141, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, raises the important issue of controlling or coercive behaviour.
This proposed offence is modelled on the existing offence of coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015. I support the intent behind the amendment, but this appears to be an offence committed by a person who has a relationship with a family member; this is not about families, it is a professional client/patient relationship, so it is slightly different.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath set out the timeline of discussions over the last 20 years. It made quite sorry listening—such a long period has elapsed and so little has been achieved. That in itself should be concerning to all noble Lords.
As we have heard in this debate, it is worrying that potentially dangerous individuals can set themselves up with little or no control or regulation—no standards appear to be adhered to—and seek to offer professional services to people who are vulnerable or have issues. Quite clearly, they are only going to make the situation much worse. My noble friend Lady Mallalieu talked about what she referred to as “quasi-healers” and gave an example of the suffering and damage that these people can cause.
I support the intent behind the amendment and its aim. However, I am not sure that this is the right Bill for it, although I accept the point made by my noble friend Lady Mallalieu that we cannot see a Bill on the horizon that it could obviously slot into, which is itself a problem for us all. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, will set out what the Government propose to do to address this issue and say not just that it does not belong in this Bill but what we are going to do about it, because, as we have heard today, there are clearly some serious problems that deserve to be addressed by Parliament and the Government. I would particularly like to hear what he intends to do between now and Report; I have no doubt at all we will discuss the issue again on Report after the Recess.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate today and on Wednesday evening, when we began it. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for setting out the case for this amendment, which, as he explained, seeks to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to psychotherapists and counsellors providing services to clients.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, was right; we have perhaps as a country been slow to appreciate the scale of coercive behaviour. I am very proud that it was my right honourable friend Theresa May who provided for the offence of “controlling or coercive behaviour” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. That offence applies only to those who are “personally connected”, as defined in the section. It applies to intimate partners, regardless of whether they live together, to ex-partners who live together and to family members who live together. Amendment 141 would extend the offence beyond those who are personally connected, as defined by Section 76, so that it would apply to psychotherapists and counsellors. Most noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have pointed to evidence and indeed to specific harrowing cases suggesting that fraudulent psychotherapists and counsellors—or, as they understandably refer to them in many cases, charlatans—take advantage of their position to supplant friends and families in the minds and affections of their clients for the purpose of turning them against those friends and families. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, suggested that this abuse should be caught by the controlling or coercive behaviour offence because therapists are abusing their position of trust and the dependence of their clients.
We have already had a number of debates in Committee on earlier amendments where my noble friends and I have stressed the importance of preserving the meaning of “personally connected” for the purposes of the definition of domestic abuse and, by extension, for the purposes of the Section 76 offence. The controlling or coercive behaviour offence was created in 2015 to fill a particular gap in the criminal law in relation to a pattern of abusive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. We are not persuaded that what looks like the beguilingly simple act of taking the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour in a domestic abuse setting and applying it to abuses of power by psychotherapists or counsellors should be undertaken without careful and detailed analysis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, has said, the professional/client relationship is a different one.
We have had a thoughtful but not conclusive debate on the definitions of what constitutes a domestic setting and an intimate relationship. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said, these things may take place in the home, but often they will not. My noble friend Lady Finn explored what constitutes a domestic setting, but it is the personal connection that matters. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that we want to maintain a careful focus on the definition of domestic abuse as it is widely understood, and as we want the Bill to draw further attention to. That matters not only for the architecture of the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, said, but in making sure that the police and other agencies are tightly focused on tackling the scourge of domestic abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said. We think, therefore, that without proper study it would not be right to transplant the concept of controlling or coercive behaviour into what is quite a separate power dynamic.
That is not, of course, to downplay the seriousness of this issue or the harrowing examples raised by noble Lords. The Government believe that we should look to other remedies, and it might be helpful to set out some of those that exist through the action that has been taken. A system of accredited voluntary registration with the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care already exists. The authority has a process for quality assuring voluntary registers of health and care professionals in the UK who are not subject to statutory regulation. It currently accredits 10 voluntary registers relating to counselling and psychotherapy, providing assurance to the public on approximately 50,000 talking therapy professionals. The registers can be used by service users to choose a practitioner to meet their needs and to be assured that those practitioners are safe, trustworthy and competent to practise.
To gain accreditation with the Professional Standards Authority, organisations have to meet 11 standards for accredited registers. These standards require organisations to have a focus on public protection, to have processes in place for handling complaints against practitioners, to set appropriate levels of education and training for entry to the register, to require registrants to undertake continuing professional development and to understand and monitor the risks associated with the practices of registrants. Any registrant who is removed from an accredited register for conduct reasons cannot join another accredited register. I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said that these registers are voluntary. We would urge anyone looking to engage the services of a psychotherapist or counsellor to ensure that they are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.
Noble Lords have raised issues which I know have been the subject of separate and indeed long-standing debates in your Lordships’ House. My noble and learned friend Lord Garnier and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, both referred to their experiences and insights from their time as Ministers and set out some of the actions which have been taken since. While there may be a need to legislate on this matter in the future, that is a question for the Department of Health and Social Care. I cannot commit the department one way or the other today, but for reasons of focus on the particular offence of domestic abuse, we do not feel that this Bill is the right place to do that. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I will call them in that order.
My Lords, one salutary and useful aspect of this amendment is that it has focused our minds on false memories and false allegations. It is therefore a reminder that we must challenge what we believe to be the victim mindset that can lead to grave injustices. The amendment should remind the Government that abuse is so emotive that it becomes quite hard to challenge if it has been alleged. The reason why false memories have been so damaging over the years is that once the victims say that they have been abused while under the care, guidance, manipulation or coercive control of said “quack” counsellor, no one can challenge that because it is an accusation of abuse. This legislation bends the stick in the direction of victims far too much, in my opinion, and I urge the Minister to take great care and perhaps investigate some of the harrowing stories of false memory syndrome in order to learn lessons and not make the same mistakes here.
The noble Baroness is right to say that this area needs continued and careful thought, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, who referred to the complexity of the issues and the matters which have to be considered. We will indeed do that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his careful response. He said that this issue goes wider than his own department, and I agree. In the period between Committee and Report, would it therefore be possible for him to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to discuss it? It is clearly a serious issue that demands a cross-government response and that would not necessarily be met only by an amendment to a particular Bill.
I was going to make the same suggestion as my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who made the point that this is an important issue that runs across departments. As he said, I am not sure that this is the right Bill in which to address it, but equally, I am concerned that there may not be a right vehicle at the moment. We have to find some way of dealing with this issue, which has been raised across the House. We have potentially dangerous people treating very vulnerable people and thus only making the situation worse. We should not allow that to happen and we must find a way of dealing with it.
My Lords, I am grateful to all who have spoken in this important and fascinating debate about some terrible behaviour. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, explained, the principle of this amendment has a long history of parliamentary support. It would rightly criminalise quack counsellors, who, as all have said, suborn vulnerable young people and exploit their weaknesses, in a way that amounts to a classic demonstration of how clearly abusive coercive and controlling behaviour is.
The noble and learned Lord, with all his experience as Solicitor-General, set out the tests that, he explained, are appropriate to determine whether a new offence should be introduced. My noble friend Lady Jolly gave a further account of the appalling effect of the behaviour of these charlatans on young people’s lives. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a member of the GMC, lent powerful support to this amendment. He warned us of a lack of any regulation and the danger of unregulated practitioners claiming respectability and abusing the confidence of innocent clients. He also made the important point that, in the absence of regulation, the offence that I have called for is urgently needed to fill the gap. He spoke of the importance of using this legislation to do it, if we can, in the absence of other legislation coming forward.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finn, powerfully demonstrated that this type of abuse is intimate. It is intimate in a way that clearly makes it domestic abuse, so the offence belongs in the Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, supported much of the intent behind the amendment. In her question after the Minister, she gave an interesting insight into false memory implantation, yet she suggested that this amendment shifted the focus of the Bill away from the domestic context. I do not think that is right, for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Finn. If the kind of quackery that amounts to coercive control, which destroys families in the way that this type of abuse does, cannot be outlawed by the criminal law in the context of domestic abuse, the criminal law is failing in its duty.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, also saw the Bill as the proper context for this amendment, showing just how unscrupulous these so-called therapists are in exploiting vulnerable people within family contexts, often for substantial sums of money. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, with her wide professional experience of vulnerability and exploitation, as well as of mental capacity, showed clearly how far these bogus therapists are from genuinely motivated therapists and counsellors. I am grateful for her suggestions on how the defence to the offence in the amendment, modelled on the Serious Crime Act, might be better defined. As she said of this kind of behaviour, enough is enough.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, helpfully supported the intent behind the amendment and was clear that he wanted to know what the Government were going to do, even though he had some doubts as to whether this was the Bill for it. In his careful response, for which I am grateful, the Minister correctly described the amendment as extending the ambit of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act. I accept that that applies to coercive and controlling behaviour in a domestic context, but it is difficult to see how this is not a domestic context, if one is prepared to allow that that context is not always within a family. I join the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in asking what the Government are going to do.
The Minister talked of the necessary study of this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the difficulty of securing evidence in this area; that was his justification for saying that we need an offence in the meantime. The Minister talked of voluntary registration, but this is not dealt with by a question of registration. More importantly, this type of behaviour is not dealt with by the law at all, at the moment. The Minister talked about legislation in futu-re.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, suggested a meeting between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I believe that other noble Lords would be grateful for a meeting between now and Report to discuss how we go forward. With the indication that the Minister gave in response to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I hope that he is amenable to such a meeting. We need to know how we will secure this legislation, and quickly. On the basis that we will talk about how to do that, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment, but I hope to get some progress.
Amendment 141 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 142. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or any other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Schedule 2: Amendments relating to offences committed outside the UK
142: Schedule 2, page 64, line 37, leave out paragraph (b)
My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee that undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft domestic abuse Bill, I know that the extraterritorial jurisdiction provisions of the Bill are intended to fulfil the UK’s obligations under Article 44 of the Istanbul convention. I welcome the fact that these provisions will bring the UK closer to ratifying a convention that we signed in 2012 and which will protect women and girls from violence and abuse.
My amendments concern a very specific issue—marital rape—where I believe the Bill as presently drafted may leave a potential loophole. I recognise that the drafting of the amendments may itself be imperfect, and my noble friend the Minister will no doubt speak to that, but I would like to explore whether the Bill could be strengthened so that people from this country cannot exploit laxer laws elsewhere.
In this country, the common-law presumption of a marital exemption from the offence of rape was overturned by your Lordships’ House in the case of R v R in 1991. Some countries similarly do not have any exemption for marital rape, and in others marital rape is explicitly criminalised, but there is a small minority of countries in which marital rape is not illegal. As drafted, the Bill appears to require that a prosecution for rape and other sexual offences committed against adult victims outside the UK may be brought in the UK only when the offending behaviour is also an offence in the country where it happens, but that requirement could prevent us prosecuting someone for marital rape committed outside the UK, if such behaviour is not included in or is exempt from the equivalent offence in the other jurisdiction.
This may be a small gap. I certainly hope that there would not be many, if any, cases of marital rape perpetrated by a UK person in a country that does not consider such behaviour to be a crime, but I believe that, if there is potential for this to occur, we should act to prevent it. I beg to move.
My Lords, Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence, in England and Wales, for a UK national or resident to commit sexual offences against children outside the UK, in an effort to clamp down on so-called sex tourism. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to this Bill makes it an offence, in England and Wales, for a UK national or resident to commit sexual offences, under Sections 1 to 4 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, against people aged 18 or over at the time of the offence, extending extraterritoriality to serious sexual offences against adults as well as children.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has explained, the idea is to ensure that the Government comply with the Istanbul convention but, as she pointed out, for somebody to commit an offence, it has to be an offence not only in this country but in the country where the offence took place; in some of those countries, marital rape may not be criminalised. Therefore, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has identified a potential loophole. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for tabling these amendments and spotting this loophole in the Bill. It is good to have this debate today. As she has said, marital rape can happen in a country where it is not illegal locally, and we would then not be able to prosecute the offence here in the UK. Nobody in this Committee wants that situation. I hope the Government will confirm that they either accept her amendments, or accept that she has identified a very serious loophole and bring in their own amendments on Report.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bertin has, as she has explained, tabled an amendment which seeks to ensure that UK citizens who commit marital rape in countries where such behaviour is not criminal may be prosecuted in the UK. Such countries are thankfully in the minority. We of course want to prevent any exploitation of more lax laws on marital rape elsewhere.
I hope that the Committee will allow me a moment to put these amendments into context so that we can understand the legal architecture that we are talking about. Schedule 2 contains amendments to various enactments to provide for extraterritorial jurisdiction over certain offences under the law of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Together with provisions in the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill currently before the Northern Ireland Assembly—it gives extraterritorial effect to the new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland—and Clauses 66 and 67, it ensures that the UK complies with the jurisdiction requirements of Article 44 of the Istanbul convention. That article requires the UK to be able to prosecute criminal conduct set out in the convention when that conduct is committed outside the UK by one of our nationals or by a person who is habitually resident here. Part 1 of the schedule covers England and Wales and deals with cases under Sections 1 to 4 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, where the victim of the offence is aged 18 or over. Parts 2 and 3 cover Scotland and Northern Ireland on a corresponding basis.
In keeping with the normal principles of extraterritorial jurisdiction, there is a requirement that a prosecution for one of the relevant sexual offences—which includes rape—may be brought in the UK only where the offending behaviour is also an offence in the country where it happens. That is called dual criminality, which respects the notion that generally it is inappropriate for the criminal law of state A to be applied to conduct that occurs in state B where that conduct does not offend the law of state B. In most circumstances, the dual criminality requirement is not a barrier to prosecution because serious sexual offences against adults are likely to be criminal in most other countries. However, it could mean that, in some circumstances, UK authorities would not be able to prosecute someone for a marital rape committed outside the UK if such behaviour is not included in or exempt from the equivalent offence in the other jurisdiction. As it stands, the Bill applies a dual criminality requirement for the relevant sexual offences committed outside the UK by UK nationals and UK residents. My noble friend’s amendment would remove the dual criminality requirement for UK nationals, but not for UK residents. As explained by my noble friend, and by the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the effect of this would be that the UK could prosecute UK nationals who commit marital rape against adult victims in countries where such behaviour is not criminal, but could prosecute UK residents who commit marital rape of adult victims abroad only if the behaviour is also criminal in the country where it is committed.
In principle, that is the right approach, as the link to the UK is stronger where the offending behaviour is perpetrated outside the UK by a UK national, rather than by a non-UK national ordinarily resident in the UK. Existing law already makes that distinction with regard to extraterritorial sexual offences where the victim is under 18. The amendments extend only to England and Wales and, as my noble friend identified, one would need to alter the drafting if they were to go further. However, I do not want to focus on the drafting issue. I am grateful to her for raising this important issue and possible lacuna in the Bill. Marital rape is abhorrent behaviour, and I agree that we should consider carefully the case for amending the Bill to cater for it. But—it is an important but—as the extraterritoriality jurisdiction provisions are UK-wide, we need first to consult the devolved Administrations to ensure a consistent approach across the UK. To that end, I respectfully invite my noble friend to withdraw her amendment on the clear understanding that we will give this matter serious and sympathetic consideration ahead of Report.
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, for their very thoughtful remarks, and for their support on this amendment. It is a very small gap, but I think it worth plugging none the less. I thank the Minister for his thorough and illuminating remarks, from which I learned quite a bit. I am pleased that they were very warm words as well, and I thank him for his consideration of this amendment. I look forward to further conversations and some progress, I hope. It has been a refreshingly short debate, and I will keep it so. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 142 withdrawn.
Amendments 143 and 144 not moved.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Amendment 145 not moved.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with the question that Clause 69 stand part of the Bill. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or the amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 69: Polygraph conditions for offenders released on licence
Debate on whether Clause 69 should stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, opposition to clauses standing part of a Bill usually arises out of outright opposition, and in my case I said at Second Reading that I shared the view of my noble friend Lady Burt that polygraph testing on the present state of the technology has no place in our criminal justice system. The basic response of most lawyers to polygraph testing is to oppose its use in a criminal context precisely because there is no firm evidence of its reliability. We tend to the view, which I am sure the Minister understands, that a system of evaluating evidence whose reliability is not assured and produces essentially binary results—true or false—is inherently inimical to the approach of common-law lawyers used to a carefully balanced system of gathering, testing, and evaluating evidence.
However, my perception of polygraph testing has now become somewhat more nuanced. A major contributor to a shift in my view was an excellent teach-in organised by the Ministry of Justice last Thursday, very well presented by Heather Sutton, senior policy adviser on polygraphs and sexual offending, and Professor Don Grubin, emeritus professor of forensic psychiatry at Newcastle University. They gave a number of noble Lords a comprehensive outline of the way in which polygraph testing is used in the management of offenders subject to recall from licence under existing legislation. For my part, I have no experience of the use of polygraph testing, and no expertise on the subject. Opposition to its use as part of this Bill was canvassed in another place by my honourable friend Daisy Cooper MP. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk MP, provided a detailed and helpful response to a number of questions which she raised. As a result of his answers and what we were told on Thursday, I accept that there may be some force—subject to a number of questions—to the argument that there is a legitimate place for the use of polygraph testing in necessary cases, where its purpose is to avoid serious harm.
I add one particular proviso, among others, that evidence of polygraph testing must never be relied on as part of the evidence in a criminal case until its reliability is far more conclusively established than it is now. However, as I understood it, we were assured last Thursday—I would be grateful for confirmation of this from the Dispatch Box—that no decisions on recalls from licence can be taken as a result of a test indicating deception. If the result of a test implies that an offender is lying about a breach of a licence condition or about further offences, for example, investigators will ask the police to look further to see what the truth is before taking any positive action. There is therefore no recall, as I understand it, on the basis of a failed test, which will lead only to recall if the police find other evidence establishing that a breach has occurred.
However, I have some concerns about cases where an offender makes a disclosure in a polygraph test confessing to behaviour that is a dangerous breach and might therefore be recalled. It is important in such cases that the veracity or genuineness of the disclosure and its voluntariness can be thoroughly tested before any recall can take place. Our understanding was that such a disclosure would be followed generally by a hearing before a recall was confirmed, but again I seek confirmation of that.
This is genuinely a probing amendment. It is for that reason that our stand part opposition is coupled with Amendment 191, through which I advocate regulations to prevent Clause 69 being brought into force before such a scheme is piloted. I note that the Government propose to pilot these provisions before rolling them out. However, we ask that regulations bringing Clause 69 into force are not made permanent before Parliament has had an opportunity to consider a report from the Government on that pilot and has agreed to regulations being made permanent under that clause.
I appreciate that polygraph testing is used already in the case of high-risk sexual offenders to manage compliance with licence conditions and that it is included in the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill for monitoring terrorist offenders released on licence. As I understand Clause 69 of this Bill, testing will be imposed on adult high-risk offenders who are convicted of serious offences involving domestic abuse, including coercive or controlling behaviour in the domestic context, breaches of restraining orders and of a domestic abuse protection order, who have been sentenced to at least 12 months’ imprisonment. I understand that its application will be limited to offenders released on licence and to monitoring their compliance with licence conditions. However, I understand that it is also proposed to include on a discretionary basis offenders for whom concerns about the risk of reoffending would justify mandatory testing to manage risks posed by the offender to the community.
I pose a number of questions to the Minister in connection with that and other issues. Is there a cast-iron guarantee that the results of polygraph testing carried out under the clause could not be used to secure convictions for a criminal offence? To what extent could an offender be recalled from licence on the basis of a polygraph test in which he made disclosure of a breach of condition of his licence? What would be the procedure for such a recall? What is the effect of a breach of polygraph licensing conditions to be? Could evidence of such a breach be itself based on a failed polygraph test? What are the Government’s proposals for piloting in respect of polygraph tests in connection with monitoring compliance with licensing conditions in domestic abuse cases? Will there be a report of any such pilots back to Parliament? Will Parliament have an opportunity to consider the question of polygraph testing before the regulations make it permanent?
My Lords, this is not the only Bill currently in your Lordships’ House that seeks to extend the use of polygraphs. I am not surprised that lawyers and what I have learned in another Bill to call operational partners have different starting points in their attitudes and expectations of polygraphs. My position is similar to that of my noble friend.
Given that we have more than one Bill proposing to introduce polygraph conditions, is this indicative of a policy change on the part of the Government, with wider use of polygraphs—perhaps wider than just these two Bills? If so, what consultation and evaluation has there been? I appreciate that it is intended that there will be a pilot of the use under this Bill, which my noble friend seeks to be absolutely sure about in Amendment 191.
Last week, during Committee on the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, I asked about consultation with the probation service with regard to the balance between periods of custody and licence—a different point. I have now received a letter from the Advocate-General for Scotland, for which I am grateful, which, inter alia, said:
“The Probation Service is not normally consulted in respect of the creation of new custodial sentences or their licence periods.”
It is, of course, the licence period in which I am interested.
I have a similar question about consultation on the use of polygraphs during the licence period. The provisions preclude evidential use. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—their purpose is to discourage reoffending. I have said before that I would prefer to put effort into training probation officers in spotting small signs of what is the truth, what is editing the facts and what are porkies.
The Home Office fact sheet published in conjunction with the Bill refers to eligibility criteria as if there are criteria beyond what is in the Offender Management Act and the Bill. Another question is whether there are additional criteria. It also refers to high-risk perpetrators. Does that mean more than the custodial sentence, as provided by the Act? Does it mean more than repeat offences? Can the Minister say something about the assessment tools in arriving at the conclusion that someone is high risk?
The Home Office factsheet refers to risk as a test. The briefing last week to which my noble friend referred was very interesting and informative, and clearly those involved with the current use of polygraphs on sex offenders are enthusiastic—one would have expected that. But we were told that, in the US, historically there has been some inappropriate or, one could say, dodgy use. I was interested that the accreditation was to standards set by the American Polygraph Association. Given that our legal systems are not identical, has the Minister any comment on that?
I had understood that it was not possible actually to fail a test, because the examinations are used to point probation officers to an offender’s possible actions and behaviours, but that term is also used in the fact sheet, where it refers to “sanctions for failing”. One step available is the imposition of additional licence conditions. My noble friend mentioned DAPOs, or domestic abuse prevention orders. Can a polygraph test be used to prompt an investigation as to whether a DAPO or, indeed, a domestic abuse prevention notice, has been complied with before custody? Can a court dealing with a DAPO require a polygraph?
I suppose that one could summarise our attitude to Clause 69 as positive but remaining to be completely convinced—so possibly somewhere between yes and no.
I call the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon. We do not seem to have him, so we will go on to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, the opposition to Clause 69 standing part, and Amendment 191, both in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, have enabled us to debate the whole issue of mandatory polygraph tests, and the fact that such tests could be made a licence condition for domestic abuse offenders.
I certainly want to see effective action taken against offenders, and effective punishments given to them. I have some concerns about the use of the polygraph test. If we rely on it further and further, it should be piloted in the way set out in Amendment 191, and we must be convinced of its reliability. As the noble Lord set out in his amendment, a report evaluating the trials must then be laid before Parliament and debated and a positive resolution passed by both Houses. I have had no involvement in this technology and I have no understanding of it—apart from what I have seen on television—so I believe that we must be very careful to get this right.
I was concerned by the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, which seemed to suggest that we would not have our own standards but would import them from another country—America. I would much rather that as a country we had our own standards, in which we had confidence, than import them from elsewhere. But polygraph testing is not widely used in this country and before we go much further, we need to be confident that it is reliable, and an effective and useful tool in the management of offenders.
My Lords, shall we see if we have the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, on the call? I do not think we do, sadly, in which case I call the Minister.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, seeks to strike out—alone among the clauses in the Bill—Clause 69. I will endeavour to persuade him, and the rest of the Committee, that this clause, like others, can play an important part in protecting victims of domestic abuse. Right at the start, however, I join the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in thanking those at the MoJ who provided the presentation made to them. This was a very good example of how that sort of interaction—what one might call a learning session—can help everyone when we debate these matters in Committee.
Clause 69 allows the Secretary of State for Justice to introduce mandatory polygraph examinations as a licence condition for offenders convicted of a relevant domestic abuse-related offence. The relevant offences have included, until now: murder, specified violent offences, and the controlling or coercive behaviour offences set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015.
Polygraph examinations are already successfully used in the management of sexual offenders supervised by the National Probation Service. The clause extends the use of testing to include—in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—high-risk domestic abuse perpetrators: those who have been released from custody having served a sentence of 12 months or more and are on licence.
The polygraph testing is used to monitor an offender’s compliance with other licence conditions, such as those restricting contact with their victim, requiring the offender to notify the probation officer when they form new relationships, or prohibiting entry into an exclusion zone; for example, around their victim’s home. It is also used to monitor dynamic risk factors such as alcohol or substance misuse.
I will try to respond to a number of questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, but if I miss any out, I undertake to write to him after reviewing the Official Report.
The policy underpinning these provisions does not allow offenders to be recalled to custody for failing a test. I use the word “fail” being cognisant of the fact that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, we are not talking here about failing in the normal sense of the word. Indeed, I think the noble Baroness explained her approach to polygraphs as being somewhere between a yes and a no; that might be applicable to the polygraph itself. The clause does, however, enable offenders to be recalled for making disclosures during testing which, when considered with other evidence, suggest that the risk can no longer be managed in the community.
The offender can also be recalled to custody if he or she refuses to take the test or tries to trick it in some way; for example, by controlling their breathing. However, in response to the questions put to me, I draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that disclosures made voluntarily by the offender during the polygraph examination may reveal that they can no longer be safely managed in the community. Those circumstances would also lead to a return to custody. The important point to bear in mind in that regard is that that is no different from a situation in which an offender makes such disclosures without the polygraph licence condition.
Polygraph testing can be required as part of the licence conditions imposed on an offender following their release from custody. It can be imposed only where it is deemed necessary and proportionate to the risk posed. Importantly, in its report on the draft Bill the Joint Committee did not object in principle to extending polygraph testing to domestic abuse offenders; it sought assurance on two issues.
First, it sought an absolute assurance that no statement or data derived from a polygraph test would be used in criminal proceedings. The Joint Committee acknowledged that this appeared to be the effect of the draft Bill. In that regard, the provision in Clause 69 must be viewed alongside the existing provisions relating to polygraph testing in the Offender Management Act 2007. Section 30 of that Act provides unequivocally that any statement or any physiological reaction made by an offender during the polygraph session may not be used in criminal proceedings in which that person is a defendant.
To be clear, however, this does not preclude information derived from a polygraph examination being shared with the police, who may decide to use the information to conduct further inquiries. If, as a result of those inquiries, the police obtain other evidence that suggests that an offence has been committed, charges may be brought against the offender.
The second concern raised by the Joint Committee was that polygraph testing should not become a substitute for careful risk analysis—a point that, I think, was also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I assure the Committee that the use of polygraph examinations will not replace any other risk assessment tools or measures, such as the multiagency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—but will provide an additional source of information that would not otherwise be available.
The evaluation of the pilot mandatory polygraph testing for sexual offenders concluded that offender managers found polygraph testing very helpful. To date, 5,000 tests of that type have been carried out on 2,249 offenders, and 1,449 tests have resulted in the offenders making significant disclosures that led to either a refined risk management plan or recall to custody.
With regard to the qualifications of those carrying out the examinations, I assure the Committee that they are carried out by qualified and experienced probation officers who have completed three months’ residential training to become accredited polygraph examiners, and all polygraph examinations are quality assured by an independent external provider.
However, while the use of polygraph examinations is tried and tested, as I have said, in the context of the management of sex offenders, the Government accept that domestic abuse perpetrators represent a different cohort of offender. That is why we are committed to piloting the provisions in Clause 69. I draw the Committee’s attention to the commencement provisions in Clause 79, which expressly provides for such piloting; we will begin this as soon as is practicable after Royal Assent.
We intend to run a three-year pilot in the north of England, involving about 600 offenders. Half will be subject to testing and half—the control or comparison group—will not. The Cambridge Centre for Evidence-Based Policing, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge, will conduct an independent evaluation of the pilot, and only if the results were positive would we roll out testing across England and Wales. In response to the specific question put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in conjunction with his Amendment 191, I am happy to commit that the Government will lay a copy of the evaluation report before both Houses prior to any decision on wider rollout, enabling noble Lords to consider the findings in full. I hope that that is helpful in response to his question.
Given the benefits that we have seen with the use of polygraph testing to help us to manage the risk posed by convicted sex offenders, I apprehend that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, now sees the merit, at least in principle, of analysing the question of whether we can use the same procedure with regard to serious domestic abuse perpetrators. Indeed, last week, we heard calls for the more efficient and effective use of technology to protect victims of domestic abuse—Clause 69 does just that.
With the repetition of the point that I will go through the Official Report, because there may be one or two questions that I have not directly answered but which deserve and will get a written answer from me, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his challenge to Clause 69, which I commend to the Committee.
My Lords, I am afraid that we have had no luck getting in contact with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and to the Minister for his careful response. I echo both his thanks to those in his department who organised the learning session last week and his view that it sets a good example; it would be very good to hear more often from experts in the department—particularly about the use of technology, where Members of this House perhaps have less expertise than they do in other legal areas.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee asked a number of questions, some of which were answered by the Minister. I am not sure that he addressed the question of what is meant by, and what the criteria are for, “high-risk” perpetrators. She also wanted to know what exactly is meant by “failing” a test; I understand, as did the Minister, the concept of evaluating a test, but there is a problem with our general understanding of results of polygraph tests as binary and with the use of the term “failed test”, which frequently figures in discussions around this issue. Given his echo of the description of answers as “somewhere between yes and no”, as expressed by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, the Minister clearly appreciated that these tests cannot provide definitive answers. Will he and others give consideration to how far they should be treated as more indicative than binary?
I am less concerned about the use of information, as described by the Minister, that is derived from polygraph testing and used to submit information to the police for further investigation, which would then come up with real evidence. I am, however, a little concerned about recall based on disclosures. I understand the point that there is some similarity between disclosures that arise as a result not of polygraph testing but of, for instance, discussions with probation officers; however, I still think that there need to be safeguards. The Minister may like to consider those and put out some guidance as to how they are to be dealt with.
I join my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, in questioning how far it is appropriate to use US systems of accreditation for testing in this country. I take the point that there is proper training for polygraph operators in this country, but I am not sure that the Minister answered the point about the origin of the accreditation system.
I understand what the Minister said about piloting and the role of Parliament in considering polygraph testing. I understand that he will lay a report on the rollout before Parliament so that it can consider it, but I would like to know if it is proposed that there will be further regulations before the clause and system are made permanent, which will need parliamentary approval—perhaps he could tell us that in due course. However, on the basis of what he has said, I withdraw my opposition to the Question that Clause 69 stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, I regret to say that I have had a late request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I apologise: there is often a delay when the clerk sends a message to the Woolsack. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
Thank you. I apologise for throwing the proceedings. I have just received an email saying that I am about to be called.
My question concerns how the Minister dealt with the fact that information—I hesitate to use the term “evidence”—obtained during a test cannot be used as evidence in legal proceedings. It has only just occurred to me that, of course, family proceedings in particular—as well as civil proceedings—are very important in respect of domestic abuse. I am unclear as to the status of what is learned during a polygraph test for family proceedings. If the Minister cannot answer that now, could he add it to the questions that he will reply to after today?
Clause 69 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group consisting of Amendment 146. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate and that anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 70: Guidance about the disclosure of information by police forces
146: Clause 70, page 54, line 8, at end insert—
“(2A) The Secretary of State must issue guidance under this section which takes account of evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and offences involving hostility based on sex.(2B) In preparing guidance under subsection (2A) the Secretary of State must require the chief officer of police of any police force to provide information relating to—(a) the number of relevant crimes reported to the police force; and(b) the number of relevant crimes reported to the police force which, in the opinion of the chief officer of police, have also involved domestic abuse.(2C) In this section—“relevant crime” means a reported crime in which—(a) the victim or any other person perceived the alleged offender, at the time of or immediately before or after the offence, to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on sex, or(b) the victim or any other person perceived the crime to be motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility or prejudice towards persons who are of a particular sex;“sex” has the same meaning as in section 11 of the Equality Act 2010 (sex).”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 146 in my name, supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. I will explore this relatively fully because it is, I think, the first time that misogyny, per se, has reared its ugly head in this Bill, so I hope that the House will forgive me if I go into detail to explain why I think it is important to consider it.
What, then, is the issue? What is this about and why on earth would anyone want to open what some might consider the Pandora’s box of recognising the link between misogyny and domestic abuse? Indeed, is this the “woke police” on the march, or is there actually a reason behind it?
Violence against women does not occur in a vacuum. Hostility towards them generates a culture in which violence and abuse are being tolerated, excused and repeated. Changing that means challenging not only individual acts of abuse but the very roots of the culture that enables it. Gathering the evidence about the extent, nature and prevalence of hostility towards women, and how these interplay with the experience of domestic abuse, is crucial to recognising these connections.
At Second Reading I mentioned the dreadful case of Kellie Sutton, a mother of three children under 15 who killed herself in 2017 after suffering five months of psychological and physical abuse from her partner, who was subsequently jailed for four years and three months and, in addition, given a 10-year criminal behaviour order requiring him to tell the police of any sexual relationship lasting more than 14 days that he enters into. Why is this case relevant to the amendment? It is because the perpetrator had already been reported to the police in previous years by three different partners. In his regulation 28 report to prevent future deaths, the senior coroner for Hertfordshire highlighted the fact that police records failed to flag up that this was a repeat domestic abuse perpetrator. The previous three complaints had been filed away as non-crime reports, which meant that the police would have found a link to the perpetrator only if they had searched for the victims, since no reports at all had been filed against the abuser. The coroner concluded in his report:
“This sort of information is clearly of value to inform officers’ decision making, when dealing with a report of potential domestic abuse and clearly of value when seeking to safeguard more widely the vulnerable parties in abusive relationships.”
The amendment seeks to do that by learning from the experience of the police forces around the country which have started to record misogyny as a hate crime. By requiring all police forces to do that and to assess how it influences incidents of domestic abuse, the amendment seeks to add to our understanding of the nature of violence against women and so the work on how to end it.
We are all aware that police forces are very stretched in their manpower resources, and that they approach domestic abuse incidents with great caution. Given the pressures that the police are under, why have some forces voluntarily taken on what some might regard as just more form-filling or box-ticking? The evidence of where misogyny has been identified as a hate crime to date by police forces in their recording of crime has been that it helps increase the understanding of the causes and consequences of violence against women. It is critical that every case of domestic abuse should be taken seriously and each individual given access to the support they need.
Both men and women may experience incidents of interpersonal violence and abuse but women are considerably more likely to experience repeated and severe forms of abuse, including sexual violence. They are also more likely to have experienced sustained physical, psychological or emotional abuse, or violence that results in injury or death. There are important differences between male violence against women and female violence against men; namely, the amount, severity and impact. Women experience much higher rates of repeated victimisation and are much more likely to be seriously hurt or killed than male victims of domestic abuse.
In one study of 96 cases of domestic abuse recorded by the police, it was found that men are significantly more likely than women to be repeat perpetrators and to use physical violence, threats and harassment. Over a six-year tracking period, the majority—83%—of recorded male perpetrators had at least two incidents of recorded abuse, with many having a lot more and one man having no fewer than 52 repeat incidents, whereas in cases where women were recorded as the perpetrator, the majority, 62%, had only one incident of abuse recorded, and the highest number of repeat incidents for any female perpetrator was eight, compared with 52.
In 2016 Nottinghamshire Police became the first police force in the country to enable women and girls to report cases of abuse and harassment as misogyny under their misogyny hate crime policy. Misogynistic hate crimes recorded by the police since Nottinghamshire adopted that policy include stalking, groping, indecent assault and kidnapping. While they initially did not include domestic abuse in that reporting as it was already being recorded as a form of crime, those involved in the scheme now say:
“Our experience of delivering training to the police tells us that, even though domestic abuse is not included within the hate crime policy, officers are often able to recognise that misogyny is likely to be at the root of this too. Similarly, we are aware that misogyny hate crime can act as a bridge to women talking about (and recognising) other forms of violence against women. Where women may feel that domestic abuse is something that happens to other women and is not linked to inequality, they are more readily able to recognise this with misogyny hate crime.”
Following Nottinghamshire’s example, the police forces in North Yorkshire, Avon and Somerset, and Northamptonshire have also made misogyny a hate crime, and are therefore already recording these figures to enable such an approach. The amendment would require other police forces to follow suit. Women’s Aid reports that police forces that are recording misogyny have not seen an influx of reporting of wolf-whistling but instead have received a growing number of reports of serious sexual harassment and assault. Making misogyny a hate crime would mean simply that police forces logged and monitored such incidents and thereby enabled to create a fuller picture of the problem, support victims and make them aware of where incidents were recurring. Indeed, women and girls need to feel that their concerns are being taken seriously by the police and that misogyny is not normalised. Categorising and calling out misogyny wherever it occurs would send a clear message that such behaviour was not acceptable, and should prevent more serious offences in the long term.
As we all know, domestic abuse cases have risen dramatically during the pandemic crisis, with cases of domestic homicides doubling in the UK. The Bill states that the Secretary of State must give guidance on the kinds of behaviour that amount to domestic abuse. The amendment states that the guidance should further take account of
“evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and offences involving hostility based on sex.”
While there is no legal definition of “hostility”, the Crown Prosecution Service uses the everyday understanding of the word, which includes ill will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike. The amendment seeks to build on that concept. It would ensure that all police forces in England and Wales recorded any crimes where the victim or any other person perceived the crime to be motivated by this hostility or perceived the perpetrator to have demonstrated hostility in committing the crime. The police would then also be required to assess how that interacted with domestic abuse by making an assessment of how many of those crimes met the definition as set out in this legislation.
Proposals to recognise misogyny as a category of hate crime would therefore not make anything illegal if it was not illegal already. Instead, the amendment would help build our understanding of the forms of violence and abuse that women experience by ensuring that all were recorded. Those working in areas where this approach is being taken have reported the transformative effect that it has had on safety. As Helen Voce, CEO of the Nottingham Women’s Centre, pointed out:
“Misogyny is the soil in which violence against women grows.”
That is why we need to tackle it.
Following an amendment to the upskirting Bill, Her Majesty’s Government instructed the Law Commission to carry out a review of all hate crime and to consider incorporating misogyny as a new category of hate crime. The commission notes that there were 67,000 incidents of hate crime based on gender in 2018, 57,000 of which were targeted at women. Without recognising the role of misogyny in the experiences of women, our legal and criminal justice system masks the true extent of hostility based on gender.
This review is ongoing as it has been delayed due to the crisis. It is now due to report in July this year on how it will consult on recognising misogynistic crime within our legal system. In its interim report, the Law Commission said:
“Given that hate crime laws apply to existing criminal offences, the addition of sex and gender characteristics as a protected category would implicate any criminal offence committed in the domestic abuse context. Part of our consultation paper must therefore carefully consider how sex/gender-based hate crime protection might operate in overwhelmingly gendered contexts such as domestic abuse.”
While it is absolutely right to await the outcome of this review for the new legislation required to recognise misogyny within our criminal justice system as an aggravating factor, this amendment complements this work by gathering data about these crimes in a consistent fashion across England and Wales ahead of any legislative proposals. I beg to move.
My Lords, my normal reaction to an invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, to sign an amendment on social reform is to reach for my pen, but on this occasion I confess I hesitated—not of course having heard the compelling and moving speech he has just made. This is because, while a member of the other place, I spent 30 days with the Hampshire Constabulary, and a constant complaint was about the number of forms they had to fill in, regarding it as an unwelcome diversion from the prevention and detection of crime.
Amendment 146 would require the chief officer to provide information, presumably on a form, about domestic abuse crimes where the offender demonstrated hostility or prejudice based on sex. A strong case needs to be made for this, to which I will come in a moment. In addition to the requirement to fill in a form, the amendment raises the question as to how a chief officer might judge whether a crime involving domestic abuse might have been motivated by hostility or prejudice based on sex—given that there are varying motives for domestic abuse, as we have heard during earlier debates on the Bill, and often no witnesses.
To get a better understanding of the complex issues behind domestic abuse and hate crime, I went to the Law Commission document referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, called Hate Crime Laws: A Consultation Paper. This is not light reading, weighing in at 544 pages, with a glossary and a foreword but no executive summary. But it did look, as the noble Lord has just said, at broadening the range of hate crimes to other categories, of which sex was one.
The relevant chapter for this debate is chapter 12, which looks at extending existing protected characteristics to gender or sex. It is 48 pages of closely argued and sympathetic analysis, which ends with a provisional recommendation, followed by a question:
“We provisionally propose that gender and sex should be a protected characteristic for the purposes of hate crime law. Do consultees agree? We invite consultees’ views on whether gender-specific carve-outs for sexual offences, forced marriage, FGM and crimes committed in the domestic abuse context are needed, if gender or sex is protected for the purposes of hate crime law.”
I appreciate that, as the noble Lord has just said, the amendment does not propose extending hate crime to gender or sex. However, the issues raised by the amendment are similar to those in the Law Commission’s document and, as I shall argue, the amendment offers the opportunity to shed light on the provisional conclusions of the Law Commission, and indeed helps to answer their questions.
To summarise the document, the commission identified three relevant criteria before extending hate crime. The first is demonstrable need—evidence that targeting based on prejudice or hostility towards a group is prevalent. The second is additional harm—evidence that that targeting causes additional harm to the victim, members of the targeted group and society more widely. The third is suitability—whether protection of this group fits within the framework of criminal law, is workable in practice, and is an efficient use of resources.
Again, to summarise, the first two boxes were ticked. On demonstrable need, the commission concluded that there is
“overwhelming evidence that women and girls are targeted for certain crimes”
because of hostility to their gender. On additional harm, it concluded that hostility causes
“harm to the social value of equality and can prevent women’s equal participation in society”
and so causes wider harm to that society.
On suitability, the commission is frankly more cautious. It points to the risk of dividing offences into misogynistic and non-misogynistic, and creating a hierarchy of offences. It also mentions the difficulty of proof. Proof is often difficult enough in domestic abuse cases, but having to prove that the offence was aggravated by prejudice against women could provide an additional hurdle.
The commission also touched on issues relating to resources. Hate crime resources are limited, prosecutions and convictions are down and, as we have heard in earlier debates, support services are under strain. I quote from the Law Commission report:
“In this light, one argument might be that resources for tackling violence against women and girls would be more efficiently spent on increasing access to all survivors, particularly survivors who encounter additional barriers to access such as BAME survivors or migrant survivors.”
This then led the commission to discuss the possibility, if hate crimes were to be extended to gender or sex, of carving out domestic abuse and sexual crimes from gender-based aggravation, as already happens in certain states in America. It conceded that this would lead to a certain incoherence in the law and stated:
“This raises much wider questions as to whether hate crime is the right framework for the criminal justice system to deal with gender-based crimes.”
On balance, the commission proposes that gender should be a protected characteristic, but qualifies this by making it provisional and subject to consultees’ agreement.
Why is this relevant to the amendment, which I support? Because I believe that not going outright to make gender-based crime a hate crime, but suggesting this interim step, helps to answer the questions posed by the commission and provides key information on practicality and suitability. As the noble Lord has just said, the amendment would secure the evidence about the extent, nature and prevalence of hostility towards women and girls, how these interplay with the experience of domestic abuse and the practicality of this proposed extension.
A better understanding of these issues is crucial. As we have heard, 11 out of the 43 police constabularies in England and Wales have made misogyny a hate crime, trialled the policy or are actively considering implementing it and voluntarily filling in the necessary forms—dealing with my initial reservation. The amendment would broaden the base by requiring all police forces to do this and so it would add to our understanding of the nature of violence against women and so how work to end it might be accelerated. If we go down this path, I hope the Minister will do this sensitively and cautiously, taking on board the points in the Law Commission reports. If carried, the amendment would be an important addition to this progressive piece of legislation.
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of this amendment, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for his comprehensive introduction. It may be hard for some people to fully comprehend the role that misogyny and sexism play in the lives of women and the extent to which it permeates our every day: from offhand pejorative language that belittles feminine characteristics and female achievements, through lazy gender-based assumptions about preferences, capability and behaviours, to uniquely gendered insults and slurs.
At one end of the spectrum are behaviours and attitudes that might be considered by their perpetrators to be gallant or even protective of the “fairer sex”—what some researchers characterise as “benevolent sexism”. At the other end is the hostile sexism of overtly negative stereotypes and antagonism towards women; the kind of sexism that sees gender equality as attack on masculinity and the kind of sexism that is known to represent a significant danger to women.
We worry, with good reason, about social media platforms creating environments for this kind of misogyny. Indeed, research from the University of Pennsylvania on just one social media platform located more than 2.9 million tweets in one week containing instances of gendered insults. That averages 419,000 sexist slurs per day. That data is from 2019; we can only imagine that today’s figures might dwarf that number.
But perhaps we should worry more about the fact that this online aggression simply mirrors traditional stereotypes and attitudes towards women—a hostility based on sex that women experience everywhere: at school, at work, on public transport, in taxis, on the street and of course at home.
Research from Brazil and Turkey into the connection between sexism and domestic abuse shows a positive correlation between sexism and attitudes that legitimise abuse in intimate relationships. Put simply, men who hold sexist beliefs are more likely to translate them into actions through the use of coercion and force. The researchers make the point that, although benevolent sexism might be thought to promise some kind of protection for women as the perceived weaker sex, in fact this promise rings hollow. It found that benevolent and hostile sexism acted in a carrot-and-stick combination, with protective affection a reward for compliance, and abuse and violence the stick employed should the woman fail to fall into line.
Of course, the impact of sexism and misogyny within the home is doubly worrying. Not only does it have a grave impact on the abused partner; it is also likely to be witnessed and internalised by children, influencing their behaviours and expectations in their adult lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell, talked about the lack of knowledge about the experience of victims—the wisdom from their perspectives. This lack of focus is evident in the literature. There is a significant gap in our knowledge about how women experience misogynistic hate crimes. A Swedish study from September 2020 aimed to fill that gap, drawing from a sample of 1,767 female students. It showed that women with experiences of misogynistic hate crimes are more likely to be subjected to sexual harassment and repeat victimisation. They consistently report higher levels of a fear of crime and higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress.
The research supports the thesis that misogynistic hate crime is what is often called a “message crime”. Its negative effect extends far beyond the direct victim, because the offences spread fear and insecurity within entire minority communities and contribute to the marginalisation of particularly vulnerable groups.
As we have heard, this amendment would lead to the gathering of more data about the extent, nature and prevalence of sex-based hostility towards women and girls, and this would improve our understanding of how this intersects with domestic abuse. The very act of collecting this data would likely have benefits in itself.
As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said and as we have heard, 11 out of 43 police constabularies in England and Wales already identify misogyny as a hate crime or are considering doing so. The increased rate of reporting in those areas suggests overall improvements in the ability of officers to identify these crimes but also increased confidence levels among women to come forward and report them. Requiring all police forces to follow their example would allow the capture of data on a national scale, supporting the gathering and analysis of evidence, revealing the patterns and extent of women’s experiences, and, ultimately, enabling the development of strategies that would protect women and girls from being targets of crime on the basis of their sex.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for his very clear introduction and explanation, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, for her description of misogyny.
As we have heard, the amendment would require guidance to take account of the role that hostility against a particular sex plays in domestic abuse cases. It would also require the police to collect data on the number of relevant hate crimes based on sex and on how many of them are misogyny or misandry related. As the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said, the picture is patchy to say the least.
The problem is that currently all but four police forces do not record crimes based on misogyny or misandry, although I totally accept the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, about how the picture needs to be built up. As the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, another seven forces are thinking about recording such crimes, but there are 43 police forces in total, so we can hardly get a picture of what is happening and of the contribution that these crimes make to domestic abuse in particular. In order to be able to measure and interpret trends in hate crimes, we must have the information; otherwise, how can we know what we are dealing with and how can we build that picture?
So far, I totally support the amendment and agree that recording cases of misogyny can really help the police to build up a picture of abuse. But I just wonder why, in the last line of the amendment, a definition of “sex” has been considered necessary. The terms “sex” and “gender” are interchangeable across English law, so why have the drafters of the amendment seen fit to throw in a definition of “sex”? I have just a twinge of anxiety that the trans community might feel excluded, and this legislation must be inclusive. After all, trans women can be victims of misogyny just as much as any other type of woman, so any definition of sex for the purposes of this clause must be trans inclusive, which is the default position for all our laws. Therefore, although I totally agree that misogyny should be recorded as a hate crime, as that would play a very valuable role, I hope that that anxiety will be assuaged; otherwise, I may not be able to support the amendment.
My Lords, I am absolutely delighted to be a signatory to this long overdue amendment, which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the other co-signatories for bringing forward. It relates to a policy that I have advocated for years—that we should make misogyny a hate crime.
Part of the problem is that misogyny and sexism are deeply embedded in our society. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about a protective kindness from men towards women. Quite honestly, we do not need that. Misogyny and sexism can be covered up by teasing and even flattery, but it is totally inappropriate and it is time that men learned that. We have enshrined our condemnation of racism and homophobia in law, but we are not treating sexism as the same kind of priority and it is time that we did.
According to statistics, 90% of British women experienced street harassment before the age of 17. Street harassment is being shouted at. We are not talking about wolf-whistling; we are talking about men shouting at women, making them embarrassed and perhaps making them feel less free to walk down a street. Eighty-five per cent of women aged 17 to 24 have been subjected to unwanted sexual advances. Can your Lordships imagine that—that 85% of women have been groped by people whom they do not want to be groped by? Therefore, it is time to make misogyny a hate crime.
The amendment is long overdue and I hope that the Minister will say that she accepts it completely. Several noble Lords have talked about Nottinghamshire Police being trailblazers on this. It has seen a 25% increase in the reporting of misogynistic crime and a very high level of satisfaction among the people—mainly women—who have reported those crimes, because finally they have been taken seriously. As noble Lords have also said, only 11 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales have made misogyny a hate crime, have trialled it or are actively considering implementing this.
Part of the problem is that, just as the police are representative of society, there will be police officers who are sexist and misogynistic. This means that they need training. I have in the past mentioned the sort of domestic abuse training that some police forces are already getting. It makes the officers aware of exactly what happens and creates more empathy for the people who are being abused. For me, domestic abuse training is part of what will help to solve this problem that we have of misogyny. I hope that standing up and talking about it here will also help.
It would be a real shame for this amendment not to be accepted on to the statute book, but will the Minister at least promise to open a debate on this issue among police forces? It is in her power to do that. I would be very pleased if she accepted this amendment but, if not, could she take it forward in any way that she can?
I call the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
We cannot hear you.
It will be immensely helpful to have a process of gathering information ahead of the Law Commission report on whether extension of hate crimes to embrace misogyny will work, and how. At present, we do not have good information. This is a really difficult area; I do not think that any of us has trouble with the concept of hate crimes, but the Scottish Parliament is currently undergoing extreme difficulty with the concept of hate speech. Many police forces in the UK are doing some very strange things with “hate incidents”, where these can be recorded just on the say-so of one person and then appear in another person’s DBS check. There are some difficult things happening around hate crimes and hate incidents generally; having good data must, surely, be at the core of reaching good conclusions.
Here, we have a difficulty in that the police have changed their recording of crimes and reports so that they record only the reported gender of a person and not their natal sex, as is the protected characteristic under the Equality Act. Recently, we have seen extraordinary rises in the reported level of sexual abuse by women. Is this real? Is there something happening to women in our country that we really ought to understand, or is this a fiction of the change in the police reporting method? Not having accurate data disables us in understanding what to do.
I very much hope that, if something comes of this—I hope it will—the police will not only record the natal sex but will record the gender of all the people concerned so that we can understand exactly what is happening. It really does not help trans people that the hate they are subject to is subsumed under misogyny if they are trans women. We need to know whether this is happening to them because they are trans. We are trying to gather data and understanding; the better the data we have, the better our response.
I support, but would like to see extended, the definition at the end of this. It is really important that we have clarity and completeness. Let us record sex as per the Equality Act definition because that is, as my noble friend on the Front Bench has confirmed to me on previous occasions, the basis on which the Government are working. Let us also record self-identified gender or whatever other formulation works best—we could perhaps adopt the one from the forthcoming census—so that we have a complete picture of misogyny and trans misogyny and can, when the time comes, craft effective laws about it.
I am very pleased to support the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. Members may have seen recent reports in the media covering the experience of elite female athletes being subject to harassment and intimidation when doing training runs in the street. They cannot go to their athletic tracks to train at the moment because of lockdown. As has been said, this is not about wolf-whistling; it is about violence and harassment, mainly against women. If those athletes were competing in an Olympic stadium, they would be cheered to the rafters for their success, but because they are training on the streets and are anonymous, somehow they are objectified and are easy prey.
During White Ribbon Week, I asked the Minister to accept the two year-old Law Commission’s report recommending that misogyny be made a hate crime. This is now a matter of increasing urgency. The police forces that have been adopting policies to record gender hate crimes are to be congratulated, but this needs to be adopted generally. Superintendent Andy Bennett of Avon and Somerset Police said:
“We know women are less likely to report hate crime committed by strangers in public, which could be because discrimination is normalised for many women.”
As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, Nottinghamshire Police was the first force in England and Wales to start recording hate crimes against women and girls. Sue Fish, the former chief constable of Nottinghamshire Police, said:
“Some of the feedback we had was that women, for the first time, described themselves as ‘walking taller’ and with their ‘heads held high’.”
According to the White Ribbon Campaign, one in five British men thinks that feminism has gone “too far”. Online misogyny can also be a gateway to wider divisions in society. A HOPE not hate report shows that some young men who interact with men’s rights activists online are on the first step to more extreme racist or far-right groups and regard more rights for anyone—such as people of colour, the LGBT community and people with disabilities—as a threat to their status. The chief executive of HOPE not hate supports this amendment. He states that misogyny is a recruiting tool for hate groups and a means to radicalise, especially among the very young. These online groups radicalise young men who go on to commit acts of aggression designed to intimidate, humiliate and control women.
Having better-quality information throughout all police forces is not just another paper exercise. It helps to increase understanding of the causes and consequences of violence against women and girls, and it gives women more confidence that their issue will be taken seriously. It may even go on to protect more women from violence and intimidation. I hope that the Minister will accept this amendment.
My Lords, this afternoon, many noble Lords have described misogyny outside the scenario of domestic abuse—such as elite athletes training in the street, as the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, just said. I hope to explain that, while I agree that the recording of misogyny as a hate crime is a good thing, it may confuse things when it comes to domestic abuse.
As has been explained, Clause 70 requires the Secretary of State to
“issue guidance to chief officers of police about the disclosure of police information by police forces for the purposes of preventing domestic abuse.”
This amendment is about including in that guidance that the police should record any crimes where the offender demonstrated hostility or prejudice based on sex, or where it is perceived that the crime was motivated by hostility or prejudice towards persons who are of a particular sex. This, in effect, would require police officers to record misogyny as a hate crime, although as it is worded in gender-neutral terms it would also require them to record misandry as a hate crime. I am confused about why misandry would be a hate crime, but we will move on. It then tries to bring this within the scope of Clause 70, which is about preventing domestic abuse, by mentioning taking account of evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and misogyny and recording misogynistic crimes that, in the opinion of the police, have also involved domestic abuse.
As my noble friend Lady Burt said, the amendment defines “sex” as having the same meaning as in Section 11 of the Equality Act 2010.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, referred to a tragic case of repeat domestic abuse that resulted in murder. The failure to identify repeat domestic abuse perpetrators, as we will hear on a later group, is believed to be the result of a failure to include serial domestic abuse perpetrators in multiagency public protection arrangements, not a result of failing to record misogyny as a hate crime.
This amendment presents a series of challenges. It appears to extend the definition of hate crime beyond what currently exists. The CPS describe a hate crime as when someone is hostile to another person because of their disability, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. Section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, as amended, which deals with hate crime offences, talks about the offender demonstrating hostility or being motivated by hostility. It makes no mention, as this amendment does, of demonstrating prejudice. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, can explain how prejudice can be demonstrated in a way that does not involve hostility. This amendment also makes no change to the penalty for an offence motivated by misogyny in the way that existing hate crimes create aggravated offences. As such, the amendment simply requires the police to differentiate and record crimes motivated by misogyny to plug a gap in the intelligence picture of offender behaviour.
Misogyny has been described as rewarding women who uphold the status quo but punishing those who reject the subordinate status of women in a patriarchal, male-dominated society; the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, alluded to that. Misogynists effectively differentiate between “good women” who accept a subordinate role to men, who they are loving towards and admiring of, and “bad women” who challenge the status quo or otherwise fail to comply with misogynists’ distorted expectations of how women should look or behave. I wonder whether that reminds noble Lords of any former Presidents.
In my personal and professional experience, this failure to accept domination—to accept a subordinate role—is the essence of domestic abuse, but it is equally true whatever the sex of the perpetrator or the victim. My abusive male partner was loving towards me when I complied, and violent when I stood up for myself. This is typical of a misogynist’s behaviour towards a woman. In my personal experience of domestic abuse, it was motivated by neither misogyny nor misandry but was typical of coercive and controlling behaviour. There is a real danger of confusing misogyny with other forms of domestic abuse that are not motivated by hatred of women. I welcome the cautious approach recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham.
However, there is merit in collecting intelligence to identify patterns of criminal behaviour, by individuals or within communities, or within society as a whole. That is why intelligence is already kept and shared about those who perpetrate domestic abuse. It would therefore be helpful were the police to collect information on crimes that were likely to be motivated by misogyny outside the domestic abuse arena but beyond the scope of the Bill. Intelligence to protect victims from serial perpetrators of domestic abuse is already collected, although imperfectly, as we will hear on a later group.
What would the purpose of this amendment be? As the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, it would be to identify assailants committing crimes motivated by hostility towards women, or that society or a section of society is demonstrating hostility by committing crimes against women. This is something the police, politicians and wider society need to be aware of. I have no problem with the Home Office issuing instructions to the police service requiring it to record such intelligence, but I am not sure that this needs to be in primary legislation, and I have doubts, for the reasons I have explained, that it needs to be in this primary legislation.
Again, on a later group we will debate whether, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, claimed, domestic abuse is a gendered environment. There is also a danger of confusing the recording of domestic abuse. Currently domestic abuse is not recorded as racial domestic abuse, homophobic domestic abuse, or any other type of intersectionality. I therefore ask why domestic abuse should be characterised as misogynistic domestic abuse. To clarify, I say that my understanding is that only four police forces currently record misogyny as a hate crime, but they also record misandry as a hate crime, and that seven other police forces are piloting or considering doing so.
Finally, I am concerned that we do not get embroiled in the debates between those with entrenched views in relation to trans women. In spite of my noble friend Lady Burt’s concerns, and despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, we clearly do not need to go there in relation to this amendment. Existing hate crime legislation is quite clear, as is this amendment, that a relevant crime means a reported crime in which the victim or any other person perceived the alleged offender to demonstrate hostility or prejudice based on sex, or to be motivated by it. In other words, if the victim or anyone else believes it is misogyny, it should be recorded as such. Furthermore, Section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 talks about,
“hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial group”,
where “presumed” means presumed by the offender. If the offender presumed the victim to be a woman, it is, and should be, recorded as misogyny.
We support misogyny being recorded by the police to fill a gap in the intelligence picture outside the domestic abuse setting, but we are not convinced that it should be an amendment to this Bill.
My Lords, I fully support Amendment 146, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. The noble Lord set out in detail the issue of violence against women; he seeks in his amendment to make effective use of data to secure evidence, in order to help our understanding of the offence and our ability to prevent it. That is the whole point of data; the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made reference to that. By collecting data we can understand the issue, and that can then help us to find solutions. This is why data is so important to everything we do and what is so good about the amendment.
The amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish guidance that took account of evidence about the relationship between domestic abuse and other offences involving hostility based on sex. It would require all chief police officers to collect and provide data on relevant crimes reported to police forces which they believe have also involved domestic abuse. Sadly, there are some men around who hate women for no other reason than that they are a woman. I do not know what the issue is; perhaps they feel that the woman somehow threatens their identity as a man—that she might be smarter than them or know a bit more about something. I do not know what it is, but there are men who absolutely hate women. We have to ensure we understand that more so that we can provide solutions. It is horrific when you think about it, but it is the case.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, made reference to social media, which has shone a light on this. We think of the abuse received by our colleagues in the other place—on all sides of the House—if they dare to suggest anything that some people do not like. They have been threatened with all sorts of acts of violence, called names and generally abused. Some really offensive and disgusting remarks have been made about them, which are absolutely appalling and should be highlighted, but those are just the tip of the iceberg. Social media has allowed this to be brought into the sunlight and in that sense it is good, although I am sure we will come back to social media companies and their responsibilities another time. It is a dreadful situation.
As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, it is important to note that nothing in this amendment makes anything an offence that is not already an offence. It is merely about collecting information, and understanding the issue in order to help us understand the problem. Many noble Lords have heaped praise on Nottinghamshire Police for their work. I used to work in Nottinghamshire many years ago so I have dealt with the police there on different matters. They are an excellent police force. I am looking forward to my honourable friend Vernon Coaker coming to join the House next month. In his roles as a teacher, a councillor and a Member of Parliament in the other place for 23 years, he had lots to do with Nottinghamshire Police; I am sure that we will benefit from his experience.
I agree with all the contributions of noble Lords who have spoken—the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull, Lady Burt of Solihull, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others. In particular, my noble friend Lady Donaghy talked about the risk of young men caught in this horrible tide of misogyny who are being dragged into other dreadful crimes. We should be very worried about that as well—about people who get dragged into other dangerous, illegal and criminal activity. We need to understand that.
I am very lucky in that my mum, my sister and my wife are all much smarter than me; I have been lucky to have them in my life to help me out. When I came into this House, my two sponsors were my two previous bosses in the Labour Party, both women—Baroness Gould and my noble friend Lady McDonagh. Lots of women in my life have helped me out on a whole range of things, and I am very grateful for that. This is a very important amendment. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, which has been excellent. I can categorically attest to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is not a misogynist. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about how the behaviour of parents has almost a direct correlation with how their children might behave when they grow up. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, talked about the trans community; the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, might have looked at my notes because the words I have written in response to her remarks are almost identical to what he said: that hate crime laws in England and Wales protect identity characteristics such as race, religion or sexual orientation, or groups such as trans or disabled people.
I thank noble Lords for all their comments, including the very thoughtful comments of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about the abuse of parliamentarians—it is horrific to see the comments that people have made—much of which is misogynistic. The opening gambit of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, was the tragic case of Kellie Sutton, which shows two things, one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It shows the failure to include domestic abuse in the MAPPA arrangements and the need for more effective use of Clare’s Law; the Bill remedies that, as it puts the guidance on a statutory footing. Noble Lords have talked about police forces that record misogyny. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, rightly pointed out that those which record misogyny also record misandry.
I will be quite clear about the Government’s position on hate crime. All crimes that are motivated by hatred are totally unacceptable and have no place in this society. That is why, in 2018, as part of our updating of the Government’s hate crime action plan, we asked the Law Commission to undertake a review of current hate crime legislation, including considering whether other protected characteristics such as sex, gender and age should be included. We asked it to review both the adequacy and the parity of protection offered by the law relating to hate crime and to make recommendations for reform. This review began in 2019; over the course of that year and last, the Law Commission tried to meet as many people as possible who had an interest in this area of law, organising events across England and Wales to gather views and, of course, evidence, which the noble Lord so often talks about.
The noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Kennedy and Lord Lucas, stressed the importance of data in our considerations. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about opening a debate with the police; I am sure that, following the Law Commission’s findings, such a debate will be opened up. However, we have specifically asked the commission to consider the current range of offences, aggravating factors and sentencing, and to make recommendations on the most appropriate models to ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection from conduct motivated by hatred towards protected groups or characteristics.
The review also took account of the existing range of protected characteristics, identifying any gaps in the scope of protection currently offered under the law and making recommendations to promote a consistent approach. The consultation to support the review closed on Christmas Eve of last year. That consultation focused on whether sex or gender should be added to hate crime laws, noting that misogyny by itself might introduce inconsistency to hate crime laws—as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also pointed out.
We will respond to the review when it is completed. Given the range and depth of the work undertaken by the Law Commission, we do not think it would be appropriate to prejudice the outcome of its work, including by issuing guidance or requiring the collection of statistics along the lines proposed by the amendment. As I have said, the noble Lord rightly wants to see evidence-based policy. The work of the Law Commission will add significantly to that evidence base. I hope the noble Lord will agree that we should allow it to complete that work rather than pre-empting it. We will consider what changes need to be made once we have had the opportunity to fully consider the Law Commission’s final recommendations. On the basis of these comments, I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank everybody who took part in this wide-ranging debate. I thought it was appropriate for it to be introduced by a member of the weaker sex, but I thank everybody of whatever sex for their contributions. I thank my colleague in the other place, Stella Creasy. She and I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time together at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where I got to know her. She has been a doughty champion of trying to get misogyny recognised as a rather pervasive element in modern society and I applaud her for her efforts, which have been supported across the Chamber in another place.
The noble Lord, Lord Young—with his usual erudition and from his commanding height—laid out just how extensive the Law Commission’s interim report is. I, too, waded through 40-odd pages, and I confess that I did not look at about 500 footnotes in detail, but it is very impressive and goes very deep. What comes out of it very clearly is that the case for the prosecution is proven: misogyny is something that actually exists, is tangible and has a very unpleasant effect on a lot of people. However, finding out that it is bad is the easy bit; the difficult bit, which is what the Law Commission is trying to do now, is translating that knowledge—that truth—into legislation in a form that will have a materially beneficial effect on the very large number of victims of misogyny. That is the difficult piece to try to get right. Frankly, the more data that we have to help us try to understand how to do that effectively, the better.
My noble friend Lady Bull laid out some of the international context. This is not something that takes place only in our disunited kingdom, it is an international syndrome and a shameful one. The existence of gender-based hostility is a fact of life and it has probably always been with us from Neolithic times. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, quite rightly made the point that we must have the right information. I am to some extent agnostic on the technical issues of sex versus gender and all the rest of it. That is not a battle that I am going to fight. I do not feel qualified to do so, but I am quite sure that the Law Commission will look at that in detail as it is looking at all the other elements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about the pervasiveness of misogyny, based in part, I suspect, on her own experience and that of others that she has seen. It is shameful. She also made an extremely good point about the value of really good police domestic abuse training. I do not know to what extent there is a template for best practice and what good really looks like. I suspect that, as ever, some police forces are doing it infinitely better than others. Can the Minister tell us how much knowledge the Home Office has of where best practice is in existence or being evolved and, if so, what is it doing, or what does it aspire to do, to try to make sure that that is applied everywhere, not just in those police forces that are ahead of the game?
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the importance of enhanced information, but he rightly made the point, as a lawyer, that hate crime is a difficult and very sensitive area, and data really will be king. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, I saw the reports about the way in which female athletes have been tormented and abused because they cannot go to the normal stadia and places to exercise. It is absolutely deplorable that one should be trying to do what one loves and has a passion for—indeed, what one may be representing one’s country for—and is subject to abuse on the street. I cannot even imagine what that would be like. I hope that if I witnessed someone doing something like that, I would give them a piece of my mind—not that they would probably take much notice.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, also pointed out that misogyny is a recruiting tool for hate groups. In doing research for this debate, I went down one particular rabbit hole that I found on the internet: a very bizarre male forum in which feminism is regarded as the root of many of modern society’s ills and as a conspiracy to belittle men and reduce their role. It was eye-closing, rather than eye-opening, to try to read it, but it exists and we cannot ignore it. We have to try to do something about it.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, quite rightly, with his extensive experience, laid out some of the heffalump traps that exist legally and in the way in which the police might try to apply this. He knows far more about it than I do, but I would defer to the Law Commission to try to work its way through some of the complexities that he outlined. I probably agree that they do not necessarily need to be in primary legislation; that is not the object of this probing amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, again, referred to the importance of data and the role of social media. Like him, I greatly look forward to the arrival of our new colleague: his friend and mine, Vernon Coaker. When he arrives, he will be a sterling addition to your Lordships’ House. I also—since I am married to one—agree with the noble Lord on the very important role of powerful women.
The Minister quite rightly mentioned the pervasive influence of the home that one is fortunate or unfortunate enough to grow up in, and how that influences one’s views. We both have shared history in the importance of timely, accurate and informative data. I think we all agree that although we know this is here, we still do not really understand its full complexity, how to record it accurately or how to respond to it. I hope that the Law Commission will come up with some answers, but the pandemic has acted like a pressure cooker on an awful lot of what is going on. Many women and children are suffering unspeakable oppression at the moment and I am very conscious that, while it is neat and tidy to say that we will wait for the Law Commission findings to come out, there is a feeling among most of us who have spoken that it would be good to do as much as we can in the interim to acknowledge that this is a live and shameful issue, rather than just sit on our hands hoping that the Law Commission will pull a rabbit out of the hat.
On that basis, I thank everybody who has taken part. I thank the Minister for listening so politely and answering as I expected she might, but I hope that she and her colleagues will consider whether more could be done, given the circumstances that so many of these women and children are in, to try to send some message to police forces about the benefits that other police forces which have trialled this are having from it, and to encourage them to look at it seriously. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 146 withdrawn.
Clause 70 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 146A. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
Clause 71: Homelessness: victims of domestic abuse
146A: Clause 71, page 55, line 15, after “abuse” insert “, or
(ii) resides or might reasonably be expected to reside with a person who falls within sub-paragraph (i) and is not the abuser”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment allows the applicant for homelessness assistance to be either the survivor or someone who resides with the survivor or might reasonably be expected to reside with the survivor. However, the applicant cannot be the abuser.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Naseby for their support for Amendment 146A in my name.
I welcome Clause 71, which builds on the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, piloted through the other place by Bob Blackman and through this House by the noble Lord, Lord Best, in providing a better deal for those confronted with being homeless. As the Explanatory Notes say, the clause gives those who are eligible and are homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse priority-need status for accommodation provided by the local authority. Crucially, it removes the need for the person who is homeless as a result of domestic abuse from having to fulfil the vulnerability test of the 1996 Housing Act.
This change is needed because of examples such as that of Danielle, who was made homeless when her relationship ended, after a neighbour called the police following a two-day beating. Despite visible bruising and a letter from her partner admitting abuse, she was told by the council that she needed to provide further evidence of her vulnerability and that she was not a priority. She ended up homeless, sofa surfing for two years. Hopefully, the clause will mean that there are no more cases like Danielle’s.
Access to suitable housing is often the critical barrier to survivors fleeing domestic abuse. Inexcusably, some victims are forced to choose between returning to live with a perpetrator—a dangerous or potentially life-endangering situation—or facing homelessness because they cannot access housing. That is why I, along with many of my parliamentary colleagues and organisations across the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, including Crisis, Women’s Aid, Refuge, St Mungo’s and many others, supported the “A Safe Home” campaign of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, which urged the Government to extend automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse through an amendment to this Bill. In May 2020, the Government listened to the expertise derived from the work of the group and amended the Bill, which I welcome.
However, the detail of that amendment as currently drafted concerns those same organisations, as the Government’s amendment on priority need fails to entirely protect survivors of domestic abuse. Critically, as it stands, the Bill does not give a legal assurance to allow anyone else in the household to apply for homelessness assistance on a victim’s behalf. This is only stated in guidance, which falls short of a legal guarantee and means that some victims are likely to fall through the gaps between the different practices of different local authorities. Although the circumstances may be rare in which this additional provision is necessary, they can occur. For example, an adult child living with the abused and the abuser may be able to help the victim by filling out the forms and formally making the application, particularly where the victim does not speak English or has difficulty with form filling. This situation could occur in a multigenerational household, perhaps in a BAME community.
It is clear from front-line services supporting survivors that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make the application for homelessness assistance themselves. This could be, for example, because it too dangerous for them to leave their home until they know that they have somewhere safe to flee to. It might also be the case that they are unable to attend in person because they are receiving hospital treatment as a result of the abuse that they have experienced.
Furthermore, this is not the case in other areas of homelessness legislation. For example, Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 allows for another member of a household to make the application for housing assistance, such as when a woman is pregnant or when an individual is vulnerable through old age or physical disability. The Government have argued that the requirement for survivors to personally make an application is to stop further abuse from a perpetrator. However, experts in the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors firmly disagree. In response to a possible objection, I understand that there is no known case where the individual for whom the application has been made has come forward to say that they did not support it.
I support the call of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, which is also supported by Women’s Aid, for survivors in England to have the same support and legal protections as survivors throughout the rest of the UK and for the Government to address this anomaly or gap in the Bill. This change would not result in additional significant burdens on local authorities but would have a significant impact on survivors of domestic abuse, giving them an absolute, clear and guaranteed right to housing when they need it most. Given that we know that survivors are most at risk of homicide when they flee a perpetrator, it is vital that the Government look again at priority need and provide vulnerable survivors with a legal assurance of a clear, safe route out of abusive and life-threatening situations. This change will provide a vital safeguarding mechanism and a powerful lifeline for those in need. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, whose amendment I support. I will speak to my Amendment 147—I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for adding his name to it. I also thank Women’s Aid for pointing out the problem that I aim to solve with this amendment.
Women and men experiencing domestic abuse face long-term and often lifelong risks from the perpetrator. Domestic abuse does not end when a relationship ends and research has consistently found that women are at significantly high risk when leaving the relationship. Often a woman can access safety only when she moves far away from the perpetrator. However, in recent years, Women’s Aid has seen a worrying trend in local authorities introducing “local connection” rules to tenders, with local refuges being capped on the number of non-local women whom they are able to accept. The very existence of refuges depends on these services’ ability to accept women from out of the area, as women will often need to flee from their local area to be safe. Data from Women’s Aid’s annual survey in 2017 shows that over two-thirds of women in a refuge on one day crossed local authority boundaries to access it. Women often cannot access a refuge in their local area due to the severe and ongoing risks faced from a perpetrator.
Women fleeing to a refuge rely on these services being able to accept them and their children from outside their local area, with no “local connection”. Government guidance makes it clear that locality caps and restrictions should not be written into tenders or contracts relating to domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. However, this guidance is not consistently applied across England, leading to something of a postcode lottery of access to refuges and a major risk to the safe operation of this national network of services.
Similarly, there are real concerns about the inconsistencies between local authorities across England in meeting their obligations to house those from another area fleeing domestic abuse. I agree with Women’s Aid and many other NGOs that the ban on “local connection” rules and residency requirements must extend to wider homelessness duties and housing allocations, to ensure that all survivors can access safe housing.
Homelessness teams refusing to support women who are escaping abuse because they are not from their local area must also be included. Nearly a fifth of women supported by Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project in 2016-17 were prevented from making a valid homeless application on the grounds of domestic abuse for reasons that included having no local connection to the area, with local housing teams deprioritising survivors who do not have a local connection within their housing allocation policy.
Guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government currently encourages
“all local authorities to exempt from their residency requirements those who are living in a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation in their district having escaped domestic abuse in another local authority area.”
However, this is not a requirement and does not apply to women who have not escaped into a refuge or other form of temporary accommodation. Local authorities often use blanket residency tests in allocation schemes, without accounting for exceptional circumstances, such as for a woman fleeing domestic abuse.
The Government already require local authorities to make exemptions from local connection requirements or residency tests for certain groups, including for members of the Armed Forces and those seeking to move for work. My Amendment 147 would include a specific bar on local authorities from imposing local connection restrictions on survivors of domestic abuse when accessing refuges and, importantly, longer-term housing. This is needed to sit alongside the government department’s proposed statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in refuges and other forms of safe accommodation. This will ensure that all women and children fleeing domestic abuse can access safe accommodation where and when they need to.
Women’s Aid has given me a real example that highlights the urgency and importance of why this amendment is needed:
“A has experienced domestic abuse for the last 10 years from two partners as well as witnessing domestic abuse perpetrated by her father against her mother growing up. She has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD. After fleeing her abusive partner with three children, she moved into a refuge in a London borough to be near her mother, who was her main source of support. She was only able to find a refuge in a different borough to her mother, and after six months she was required to leave that refuge. She presented to the borough her mother lives in, but she was informed she was not entitled to be housed there as she did not have a local connection. The local authority stated she had a local connection to the borough she had been living in for six months. This is despite her being a survivor of domestic abuse, having no option other than to live in the first borough where a refuge space was available at the time of fleeing and the fact that she felt at risk from the perpetrator’s extended networks there.
The borough her mother lived in then housed A and her three children, who were all under 14, in one room in mixed-sex temporary accommodation. This was extremely distressing for her. She describes feeling retraumatised from the experience of being forced to live alongside men she did not know. She also felt scared for her children, who did not feel safe in the mixed-sex hostel. The room was highly unsuitable as the entire family lived in it and were required to cook in it, which is of course unsafe for a toddler. Another child had ADHD, so A struggled to provide them with any quiet time and appropriate support. This experience also exacerbated her PTSD, depression and anxiety, and she reported feeling low and stressed regularly due to feeling unsafe in the accommodation. She is now having to live there indefinitely while the boroughs have been assigned an arbiter to decide who has a duty.”
I would also like this to apply to victims of modern-day slavery who can equally fall foul of this problem, as I, as a deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation, am only too aware. While I am aware that this Bill deals only with domestic abuse, I would ask my noble friend to look into this, whether people are the victims of domestic abuse or, indeed, of modern slavery. I ask that this should be done because housing has to be looked at seriously as a way of addressing the abuse that these victims suffer.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 146A, to which I have added my name. We know about the strong link between domestic abuse and homelessness, with access to housing often presenting as a critical barrier to survivors fleeing abuse. For example, in Wales, between 2018 and 2019, nearly 2,500 households were provided with assistance by their local authorities following homelessness caused by the breakdown of a relationship with a partner. Almost half of those relationship breakdowns were violent. In May 2020, the Government listened to the expertise of organisations across the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, and the views of women who had experienced domestic abuse. In response, the Government amended this Bill to extend automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse in England, as was already the case in Wales. This welcome amendment will provide a vital lifeline for many survivors of domestic abuse.
In Wales in 2018-19, over 300 households were owed a duty to secure settled accommodation as they were in priority need after fleeing domestic violence or being threatened with violence. However, organisations across the domestic abuse and homeless sectors have raised concerns that the government amendments will not adequately guarantee clear access to housing for all survivors of domestic abuse. Critically, it will not enable other members of a household to apply for this assistance on the survivor’s behalf, as is the case in other areas of homelessness legislation. For example, when a woman is pregnant, a partner is allowed to make the application for them. This sounds like a small distinction, but front-line services that are supporting survivors every day know that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make an application for homelessness assistance themselves. Allowing other household members to be the lead applicant provides a vital safeguarding mechanism which could give a vulnerable survivor a route to safety when they need it most.
The Government have argued that requiring survivors to make an application personally will help to prevent further abuse from a perpetrator. However, experts in the domestic abuse and homelessness sectors, who are, sadly, experts from experience, disagree. In Wales, where survivors of domestic abuse already have automatic priority-need status for housing, another member of a household is allowed to make the application for housing assistance on the survivor’s behalf. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness sought views from domestic abuse and homelessness organisations in Wales. It found no evidence that this had ever led to further abuse from a perpetrator. The chair of the national housing network reported that he had not come across further abuse in this way while working with the 22 local authorities across Wales. He went further when he said that he did not understand the logic behind the Government’s position.
What is clear from the experience of services working on the front line in Wales is that it is not always safe for survivors of abuse to make the application for homelessness assistance themselves. Restricting the ability of other household members to do this on their behalf puts another barrier in front of someone trying to flee a dangerous and potentially life-threatening situation. Given that we know that the greatest risk of homicide is when the victim flees the perpetrator, I ask the Government to take this opportunity, as the Bill passes through the Lords, to look again at priority need and remove this unnecessary barrier to accessing support by allowing other household members to apply for settled housing on a survivor’s behalf.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 146A and I support Amendment 147, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Like others, I welcome the provisions in the Bill, but this is rather typical of the pattern of responses to many aspects of the Bill: the amendment seeks to tweak the provisions to ensure that the Bill works as I believe is intended.
There is an assumption that refuges are the answer to abuse, but that they should be only temporary for reasons relating to the individuals who occupy them and because people who get stuck in them become, to use an unpleasant term, bed blockers, which is not how anyone would like to see themselves. Refuges are certainly not a permanent solution. There are not enough refuge spaces even for temporary provision, and it is very natural for victims to want the security of their own home for themselves and their children.
Like others, I am indebted to the organisations which know their way around the legislation that relates to their own services, as is the case here. Of course, domestic abuse is by no means the only cause of homelessness, which is why one has to look at priority need. But, given that the Government have addressed this, the Bill should be complete and replicate the provisions allowing applications to be made on behalf of vulnerable individuals, as other noble Lords have said. It must be safe for the survivor to access the housing.
As regards Amendment 147, there is no need to repeat the debate about why it may be essential for someone to get right away from her or his local area. No one with children would contemplate that; you only have to think about school and social connections. I have to say I am not entirely sure how one would administer “likely to become” a victim. I remember from my days as a local councillor the difficulties related to the size of a family, because you cannot take account of a child who is not yet born. But the importance of enabling someone to get away before there is too much harm is obvious, and the need to get away demonstrates how extreme the situation must be, because often you want the support of your community for yourself and your children.
The scope for more joint working between local authorities is outside this Bill, but the use of reciprocal arrangements has a very helpful, if not very big, place in this scene. But the real issue is the need for more support and, overall, more housing supply. Not for the first time, it is a matter of resources. For every housing offer to one person, someone else is not receiving an offer.
My Lords, Amendment 146A, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, is one I fully support. I would have signed it if there had been a space, but people got there before me. The amendment ensures that someone made homeless as a result of domestic abuse will have priority need for housing support. It cannot be right that a victim is left with the choice of staying with an abusive partner or becoming homeless. That is no choice at all. The amendment would allow the applicant for homelessness assistance to be either a survivor or someone who resides with the survivor—but, of course, not the abuser. Again, enabling somebody else in the household to make an application could be an important protection.
I was delighted to sign Amendment 147, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, which would ensure that local connection cannot be used as a restriction when someone applies for housing, either in a refuge, in other temporary accommodation or in longer-term accommodation. This is very important to enable someone to get the help and support they want, to get them near to friends, to get them away to a place where they are not known or to get them wherever they want. It enables those in difficult, dangerous situations to get somewhere where they can rebuild their lives.
I want to thank Women’s Aid and other organisations for the help they have given all noble Lords on this Bill and for their general work. I have always been grateful to Women’s Aid for its advice on a number of issues. The example that the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, gave from Women’s Aid highlights the reason his amendment needs to be agreed—or, if the noble Baroness cannot agree the amendment, I hope she recognises the problem and will try to resolve it by bringing something back on Report.
In our discussion last week, we looked at the risks to victims, at home or at work, of being murdered. We have to ensure that, if somebody leaves a relationship, they can get somewhere they are safe and can rebuild their lives. It might be that they want to move to a completely different part of the country where no one knows them at all. Some victims have to completely cut off contact with abusers, because some abusers would do their damnedest to find somebody. We know people can choose not to be on the electoral register and that there is anonymous registration, but what shops they go to and where their families and friends are will still be known, so we have to ensure that people who want to can get away completely and start life afresh. That is why the noble Lord’s amendment is so important—so that no local authority can suggest, “Oh, you can’t come here because you’ve got no connection”. “That’s exactly why I want to come here—I’ve got no connection.” That is a really important issue. I look forward to the response from the noble Baroness at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I rise to speak briefly in support of Amendment 146A, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. Like him, I welcome the extension of automatic priority-need status for housing to survivors of domestic abuse, but I share his regret that there is no current right for anyone who lives with the survivor, or might reasonably be expected to live with them, to apply for this assistance on their behalf. This amendment aims to address this and to ensure that survivors have access to what one has been described as the first and most important priority for anyone escaping domestic abuse—a safe roof over their head.
Domestic abuse is often about control. There is a horrible, perhaps inevitable, consequence when that control is challenged, which is that abusers are likely to become even more violent as they seek to reinstate or retain their dominance over their victim. My noble friend Lady Finlay has already said the risk of domestic homicide is at its highest during separation. Research studies show that the worst incidents of abuse are triggered by the victim having left the abuser, and the abuse is even more extreme if the victim has left for another partner. In such cases, the risk of femicide increases fivefold. Interviews with men who killed their wives in the United States pointed to separation or a threat of separation as the most common trigger for the murder. This means that the difficult decision by a victim of domestic abuse to leave their abuser and seek out support may well result not in the provision of a safe haven but in further victimisation, physical risk and even risk to life.
Front-line services in both the domestic abuse and the homelessness sectors are clear about the potential risks to survivors of abuse in making an application for homelessness assistance themselves. They know that abusers will employ the most varied and creative tactics to track their partner, from using GPS locators in their partner’s phone to calling around women’s shelters or even filing a missing persons report. Front-line workers know that in some cases a call for help may become a death sentence.
This amendment addresses this risk and provides an important safeguarding mechanism by allowing an ally to fill in the application, thus allowing victims of abuse to make plans without running the risk of those plans, or the location of their future home, being discovered by their abuser. It has the backing of Women’s Aid and of the APPG for Ending Homelessness. I urge the Government to listen carefully to their arguments and to the arguments in your Lordships’ House and to adopt this amendment so that survivors of domestic abuse have a clear legal route to that most basic of needs—a safe roof over their heads.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I agree with all she said and give my unreserved support to both these amendments.
In a long Committee stage, some amendments are, very properly, probing amendments. Others stand out as improving amendments. I really hope that this amendment, so eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, will be incorporated into the Bill. Perhaps there will have to be the odd change of word, but I have referred to the Bill on a number of occasions as a landmark Bill, and a landmark Bill, in this area, has to be able to deliver as near perfect, total security as it can.
In common with many constituency Members of Parliament, I saw young women—they were mostly young women—who had been harassed, bullied, tormented and beaten, who needed somewhere to go. They needed a safe and secure refuge. In the immediate future that was often a home of refuge, where others were similarly placed. But what they needed most of all, as they came out of the trauma they had suffered, was a secure permanent home. Very often, for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, that had to be some distance from where they had suffered.
Between them, these two amendments close a gap in the Bill. It needs to provide a safety net, and a safety net is no use if it has holes in it. I appeal to my noble friend on the Front Bench who will reply to this debate to accept the thrust and spirit of these amendments, and to say that they or something like them will be incorporated in the Bill on Report. I give my wholehearted support.
My Lords, the next speaker on the list, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Young, and Amendment 147. Both deal with being clear about what the Government have sought to do in Clause 71 to extend to survivors or victims of domestic abuse the priority need for homelessness. It is very clear that women who are leaving or seeking to leave an abusive relationship need to be seen as a priority. I am delighted that the Government acknowledge that.
I am concerned that, with both these amendments, the Government are undoing some of their good intent by not making sure that those who live in a multigenerational household are not able to ask someone else to be their advocate in front of the housing department or homelessness unit. Someone is fleeing the locality that they live and are well known in to escape their abuser, but they are not automatically seen as being in priority need when using either of those routes.
I understand that the Government are reluctant to keep opening the category of priority need, because there is not enough housing and because waiting lists for social housing are getting longer, not shorter. But I think that they need to be clear in their will to support women who have experienced domestic abuse in both Amendments 146A and 147. I know that they will want to move words and so on, but I feel that they need a general acceptance that women who experience domestic abuse should be treated by the local authority homelessness unit as being in priority need. They need to make sure that that happens in the two cases that these amendments deal with.
It is very straightforward to accept this sort of amendment. I just hope that the Government recognise what the APPG is saying and what the Welsh Government have achieved in their legislation. We need that acknowledgement in our legislation in England. The sooner they do this, the more it will reassure people that they are going to get the sort of priority need that they are looking for, if they have been abused. The trauma of being abused is one that most of us can only imagine. I have met many of these women and this issue has been raised with me, on numerous occasions. I hope that the Government find a way to meet the aspirations of these women, so that they get the independent housing that they require of their local authority.
My Lords, these are two good rounding-out amendments, well argued for by all speakers, and I fully support them both. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would have signed Amendment 146A too, if I could have.
Clause 71(5) deals with priority need for victims, as we have heard. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, introduced Amendment 146A, which seeks to extend the application of priority need for housing for homeless victims of domestic abuse to those who live with, or might be expected to live with, the victim. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, explained that this already works perfectly well in Wales. I am sure that the Government have looked at that and seen it for themselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, described the lengths to which an abuser will go to find out where the victim has gone, which is why it may not be possible for the application to be made in person. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reinforced the need of so many victims to get right away. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, there is a great shortage of housing, which causes a lot of consternation. It is much better on every level for the perpetrator to move. I am just trailing my amendment that tries to achieve this, which is Amendment 163, coming on Wednesday.
Amendment 147, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, tackles the local connection issue for a victim fleeing an area. It would ensure that, even if the victim were not from that area, this would not count against them for housing priority, hence them being designated with a local connection. It stops local authorities from refusing survivors on the grounds of no legal connection. The example from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, shows exactly why this is needed. Both these amendments make a great deal of sense, and I hope that your Lordships’ House is minded to support them.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I come first to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. He explained that Amendment 146A seeks to amend Clause 71 to allow those who are not experiencing domestic abuse themselves, but are in the same household as someone who is, to be given priority need status. I share his ambition to make sure that all victims of domestic abuse and their household are supported by ensuring that they have access to a suitable offer of safe and secure accommodation. I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, are supported to find an accommodation solution that is safe, meets their needs and reflects their individual circumstances. We think that this amendment is unnecessary because, when an applicant has priority need, the Housing Act 1996 already requires local authorities to provide accommodation that is available for occupation and is suitable for the whole household.
We see several risks with this amendment. We know that victims of domestic abuse may be vulnerable and at risk of being exploited, manipulated and controlled by those in their lives, including family members, the perpetrator or a new partner who may also be abusive. Allowing someone else in the victim’s household to be in priority need would mean that that person, not the victim, would be the primary contact with the local authority. They would receive all correspondence and the offer of accommodation would be in their name. For this reason, it is important that the victim of domestic abuse alone has the priority need for accommodation, guaranteeing the victim control of the application and the rights to secure the accommodation as it will be in their name. I recognise and share my noble friend’s intention to ensure that all victims are able to access accommodation, and that the process of making an application for homelessness assistance should not be a barrier to accessing support. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I disagree with him on how best to achieve that intended outcome.
I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims can be supported to make a homelessness application. That is why the Government have made clear in the published draft Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities that they should be flexible in their approach to taking homelessness application from victims, by enabling victims to be supported in making that application by a family member, friend or support worker if they wish to be. The guidance also reinforces that local authorities should facilitate interviews by phone or online, where this is most appropriate for the victim, and make sure that translation services are available. Lastly, the guidance highlights that local authorities, where appropriate, should accept referrals from concerned parties, allowing someone else to make the initial approach on behalf of the victim, provided that they have the victim’s consent and the application can be safely verified with the victim. In short, we believe that there is already provision in place to achieve the outcomes sought by my noble friend in his Amendment 146A.
Amendment 147 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996 to give victims of domestic abuse a local connection to all local authorities in England when seeking homelessness assistance under Part 7 of that Act. The existing legislation and guidance on this matter is clear that a housing authority cannot refer an applicant to another housing authority where they have a local connection if they or anyone who might be reasonably expected to reside them would be at risk of domestic abuse in that area. The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities makes clear that a housing authority is under a positive duty to inquire where the applicant would be at risk of actual or threatened domestic violence. It stipulates that authorities should not impose a higher standard of proof of actual violence in the past when making their decision. If an applicant is at risk, they can present at another local authority.
As such, protections are already in place for victims of domestic abuse that ensure they are not housed in a local authority area where there is any risk of violence or abuse. The local connection test seeks to keep a degree of fairness to ensure that those who live locally are prioritised and that no one authority gets oversubscribed. The current provisions in place under Section 198 of the 1996 Act strike the right balance to support victims.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, talked about when women often flee to other local authorities, and the situation with social housing need. They are absolutely right that many victims of domestic abuse are forced to flee their homes to seek that safety and support in a refuge or other form of temporary accommodation. It is often in another local authority area because, of course, why would you stay where you were in danger? In November 2018, the Government issued statutory guidance for local authorities to improve access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse who are in refuges or other forms of safe temporary accommodation. The guidance here makes absolutely clear that local authorities are expected not to apply the residency test for victims who have fled to another district. I hope, with the points I have made, that my noble friend would be content to withdraw his amendment.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell.
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity, having listened to a very interesting debate. At Second Reading I raised the issue of cross-border co-ordination within the United Kingdom—at that time, particularly in connection with European protection orders and how to ensure that an appropriate system would be in place within the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. It strikes me that it is also an ongoing issue with those that flee across one of the internal borders of the United Kingdom and then seek housing. I would be grateful for any reflections that the Minister might have on what implications these amendments—or their rejection, as she is recommending—would have for women who have flown across borders, and for the internal arrangements that are in place between the local authorities of the whole United Kingdom, not just England.
Clearly, this Bill does not extend to the jurisdiction in Scotland, but I absolutely understand the point that the noble Lord is making. I will write to him with any updates on that because, of course, a woman should not be prohibited or stopped from receiving support just because she has crossed a border. I will write to him further on that and I thank him for raising the issue.
My Lords, I am grateful to all of those who took part in this debate and particularly to the Minister for her reply, which I will come to in a moment. The initial speech was made by my noble friend Lord Randall, who made a forceful speech about the importance of flexibility on local connection. He referred to the postcode lottery due to the different local authorities interpreting the guidance in different ways. In a sense, his plea was the same as mine, namely that it is not enough to leave this to guidance; one wants a legal assurance on the face of the Bill. My noble friend, and others who supported Amendment 147, will want to reflect on the Minister’s reply to that section of the debate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, reminded us that in Wales the amendment is, in effect, already in place, and that there has been no abuse of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put our debate in a slightly broader context, and reminded us of the need for move-on accommodation in order to free up capacity in the refuges, and she is absolutely right. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for Front-Bench support for the amendments and I am sorry that he was not quick enough off the mark to add his name to my amendment. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who rightly pointed out that the application for housing, if it is known to come from the survivor, can be a trigger point in a relationship and provoke a violent reaction. This is why it is important that somebody, who she referred to as an ally, should be able to make the application on behalf of the victim to avoid exactly that risk. My noble friend Lord Cormack said that, unlike the previous amendment that was a probing amendment, these amendments meant business. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, was too modest to say that she spoke with the authority of a former Housing Minister, which of course adds weight to the representations that she has made. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for Front-Bench support from the Liberal Democrats. She used the opportunity to trail an important amendment later on, which puts the emphasis on the perpetrator moving out of the building rather than the victim.
The Minister, my noble friend Lady Williams, is of course a former Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government as it then was, and so she will have a first-hand knowledge of the issues that we discuss. I am sure that she remembers the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, if not always with happy memories.
I was grateful to my noble friend for saying she entirely shared the objectives of those behind the amendments. She made two points in rebuttal. She referred to the Housing Act 1996, requiring that the accommodation should be suitable for the whole household; however, the whole household may not want to move—it may just be the victim. She did not quite address the point that in Wales and Scotland they have already resolved the issues she described and enabled an application to be made, as I understand it, on behalf of the primary victim.
I very much hope there can be a way through. My noble friend said the guidance says that the initial approach can already be made with consent by a third party. If the initial approach can be made with the consent of the victim, it is not absolutely clear why the substantive approach could not also be made. While I am happy to withdraw the amendment, I very much hope we can have some discussions to see whether we can give the assurance that I think the whole House wants and avoid the issues my noble friend raised in her response. In the mean time, I repeat my thanks to those who have contributed and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 146A withdrawn.
Amendment 147 not moved.
Clause 71 agreed.
Clause 72 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 148. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
148: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors
(1) The Immigration Acts are amended as follows.(2) In section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (exclusion from benefits) after subsection (10) insert— “(11) This section does not apply to a person who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom who provides evidence in one or more of the forms set out in section (Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.”(3) In paragraph 2(1) of Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 after sub-paragraph (b) insert—“(ba) to a person who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom who provides evidence in one or more of the forms set out in section (Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, or”.(4) In section 21 of the Immigration Act 2014 (persons disqualified by immigration status or with limited right to rent) at the end of subsection (3) insert “or if P is a victim of domestic abuse”.(5) In section 3 of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control) after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The Secretary of State may not make or maintain a condition under subsection (1)(c)(ii) on leave granted to a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom who provides evidence in one or more of the forms set out in section (Recourse to public funds for domestic abuse survivors) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; and it is not a breach of the immigration laws or rules for such a victim to have recourse to public funds.”(6) For the purposes of this section, evidence that a person is a victim of domestic abuse may consist of one or more of the following—(a) a relevant conviction, police caution or protection notice;(b) a relevant court order (including without notice, ex parte, interim or final orders), including a non-molestation undertaking or order, occupation order, domestic abuse protection order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction;(c) evidence of relevant criminal proceedings for an offence concerning domestic violence or a police report confirming attendance at an incident resulting from domestic abuse;(d) evidence that a victim has been referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference;(e) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic abuse;(f) a medical report from a doctor at a UK hospital confirming injuries or a condition consistent with being a victim of domestic abuse;(g) a letter from a General Medical Council registered general practitioner confirming that he or she is satisfied on the basis of an examination that a person had injuries or a condition consistent with those of a victim of domestic abuse;(h) an undertaking given to a court by the alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse that he or she will not approach the applicant who is the victim of the abuse;(i) a letter from a social services department confirming its involvement in providing services to a person in respect of allegations of domestic abuse;(j) a letter of support or a report from a domestic abuse support organisation; or(k) other evidence of domestic abuse, including from a counsellor, midwife, school, witness or the victim.(7) For the purposes of this section—“domestic abuse” has the same meaning as in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021; “victim” includes the dependent child of a person who is a victim of domestic abuse.(8) Within 12 months of this Act being passed, the Secretary of State must commission a review into the operation of the provisions in this section.(9) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report setting out the findings of the review.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause seeks to ensure that certain provisions under the Immigration Acts – including exclusion from public funds, certain types of support and assistance and the right to rent – do not apply to survivors of domestic abuse. There will be a review into the operation of this provision.
My Lords, this group of amendments is on the key issue of protections for migrant victims of domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds, an issue which has been raised by Members across all sides in both Houses. I will speak in particular to Amendment 148 and thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for adding their names to it.
Amendment 148 provides for a new clause in the Bill which seeks to ensure that certain provisions under the Immigration Acts, including exclusion from public funds and certain types of support and exclusion from right to rent, do not apply to survivors of domestic abuse. The amendment also provides for a review into the operation of this change to be commissioned by the Secretary of State.
There are currently no provisions in the Bill for migrant women facing domestic abuse who have no recourse to public funds. This is despite their abusers being able to use the immigration status of a victim and their consequential inability to have any access to public funds as a means of control. It can be almost impossible for migrant women to escape from their abusers if they have no money to gain access, for example, to a refuge or other accommodation. They are often fearful too of any perceived or actual threat of action by their abusers, or their own actions, that would bring them to the attention of the immigration authorities and possible subsequent immigration enforcement and separation from their children.
The situation is not helped by the fact that it is the same department—the Home Office—that deals with immigration issues, including deportation, and support for victims of domestic abuse, which gives rise to our concern that a victim should always be treated as a person in need of support and not first and foremost as an immigration case.
The Commons Home Affairs Committee stated:
“Insecure immigration status must not bar victims of abuse from protection and access to justice”
and the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill said:
“We recommend that Government explores ways to extend the temporary concessions available … to support migrant survivors of abuse.”
The Sun also, I believe, gave its support to protecting migrant women in this Bill when it said:
“Domestic abusers don’t discriminate, so why should the law discriminate against their victims?”
No recourse to public funds, NRPF, is a legal restriction that bars people on certain visas from claiming most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance paid for by the state. This would apply, for example, in respect of someone on a student visa. It also applies when migrant women, including their children, become a victim of domestic violence, when the restriction hinders their ability to access life-saving refuge support and other necessary welfare provisions.
Amendment 148 would remove the statutory exclusion that prevents migrant survivors accessing the support and assistance they need and would ensure that no survivor, whatever their immigration status, was treated as being in breach of immigration laws or Immigration Rules by accessing that support or assistance. Without recourse to public funds, migrant victims of domestic abuse are not eligible to welfare benefits needed to cover the cost of a stay in a refuge service. Very few refuge services do not face a funding crisis after 10 years of cuts, and they are unable to cover the cost of a woman’s stay without that funding.
Research by Women’s Aid found that only 5.8% I think it was of refuge vacancies in England in 2018-19 could accept a woman with no recourse to public funds. Three out of every five referrals to a refuge were refused because of a lack of availability and 64% of all referrals to a refuge were declined. That rises to 80% for black and minority-ethnic women. The chances of a migrant woman being able to access a refuge are slim, bordering on impossible.
The experiences of survivors with no recourse to public funds, unable to access a refuge, are grim. Only 8.2% of the women with no recourse to public funds, and supported by the No Woman Turned Away project in 2017, were able to access a refuge—about one in 12. Many had to sleep rough, sofa-surf or even return to the perpetrator while they waited for help. To escape abuse, an individual and their children need to have somewhere to go that above all is safe, providing a bed and food, and to have the resources to be able to get there and stay there. We should not be turning away victims of domestic violence from refuges because of what it does or does not say on their passport, and we should not leave survivors with the only option of sleeping on the streets, with any children, if they are desperate to leave an abusive relationship.
Migrant survivors are often too scared to report domestic abuse as they could then be investigated and even detained. They cannot access safe accommodation and their abusers use their immigration status as a tool of coercive control over them. Women without access to public funds can find it hard to support themselves and their children independently from the perpetrator. It is often the case that the perpetrator is in control of the incomes and the bank accounts.
Women without secure immigration status are prevented from renting accommodation, which also means that refuges can find it difficult to take them. A refuge will always want to provide support, but if a person cannot move forwards into rented accommodation, refuges are left knowing that the move-on options are very limited.
According to the estimates of Southall Black Sisters, we are talking about a group of individuals numbering in the low thousands a year. We are not talking about a large sum of money, but for each of these women the impact on their lives would be enormous.
At the most vulnerable point in their lives, these migrant women need to be believed and to be told that they can be helped. When the abuser tells them that they cannot leave, they have no access to public funds, there is no one to help them and they will be on the streets, they need to know that he is wrong. The trouble is, at the moment he is right. Migrant women are not migrants first and foremost; they are mothers, neighbours, and colleagues in workplaces—for example, care workers and NHS workers. Surely, the solution to the problems many migrant women who suffer domestic abuse face is to give them access to housing benefit, ensure that they can access welfare support and allow them to rent accommodation.
Amendment 151, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, and to which my name is one of those attached, is a specific remedy to some of these issues. It would extend the domestic violence rule and destitution domestic violence concession to more victims and extend the timeframe for the concession from three months to six months. This would build on existing practice to ensure that more victims get the often lifesaving support they need. We strongly support it and look forward to hearing from the right reverend Prelate.
Amendment 160, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and to which the name of my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport is attached, would put on the face of the Bill that all victims of domestic abuse must receive equal and effective specialist services and support to protect them and prevent abuse happening again. We also give our very strong support to this amendment and look forward to the speech from the noble Baroness.
I beg to move Amendment 148.
My Lords, I am again glad to speak in this Committee and draw attention to my interests in the register. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I thank him for his excellent speech.
Amendment 151, in my name, seeks to ensure that migrant victims of abuse have access to refuge spaces and essential support services, as with other victims of abuse. I thank all noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who have added their names in support of this amendment.
The existing domestic violence rule, or DV rule, is a proven route for a limited group of survivors, including those on certain spousal or partner visas, ensuring that they are able to regularise their immigration status independent of their perpetrator, and can access public funds for a limited time while the application is considered. Since 2002, this has given migrant women a lifeline—an escape route out of abuse, removing the power from abusers who threaten detention, deportation, destitution and separation from children.
However, the current rule excludes survivors who for one reason or another are dependent on their perpetrator for their status, or who have other expectations of staying in the country, such as having settled or British children, or being unable to return to their country of origin due to risk of further harm on return. Extending the DV rule to a slightly larger category of migrant survivors of abuse offers them security in what are often highly complex and challenging situations. As we have heard, the number of additional applications likely to be made each year under an extended eligibility criterion is estimated, on the basis of data from Southall Black Sisters and Women’s Aid, to be in the low thousands. But for those highly vulnerable individuals, the impact would be immeasurable. At this point, I add my own thanks to SBS for its excellent and tireless work.
The Istanbul convention has been mentioned previously in Committee, and I draw attention to Articles 4 and 59, which, as we have heard, the Government have signed and are committed to ratifying. They require victims to be protected regardless of their immigration status. This amendment and others presented to your Lordships provide an opportunity for the Government to take steps in the right direction.
Women without secure immigration status find it virtually impossible to access refuge and other welfare support to escape abuse. As we have heard, with no recourse to public funds or housing support, they are routinely denied access to safe accommodation and welfare refuge spaces. Only about 5.8% of refuge beds are available to women without recourse to public funds. They are therefore faced with the impossible decision of becoming destitute and homeless and separated from their children or returning to their perpetrator. This traps many women in abuse that often escalates, creating greater risks and vulnerability. Perpetrators regularly weaponise women’s lack of secure immigration status and economic independence to exert absolute control and keep them in a state of fear, often providing false information, withholding essential documentation, and interfering with applications such that women become overstayers and undocumented as a direct result.
As has been repeatedly said across debates, behind every statistic is a unique individual—so just one story. Last year, Hamida—not her real name—went to Southall Black Sisters seeking safety and help regarding the return of her child, who remained with her abusive partner, and assistance in regularising her immigration status. She had no money to support herself or to seek legal advice. She had originally entered the UK from Morocco on a tourist visa, having been persuaded to do so by her British partner. Soon after arriving she was abused, and her partner began to control every aspect of her life and forbade her even to speak to anyone. He also put her to work as a carer for an elderly lady and demanded that she give him all her earnings. She was subjected to sexual violence and rape. When she discovered that she was pregnant, her visa had expired and she could not return home, as her family had made it clear that her single mother status would bring disgrace and shame on them.
Hamida stayed. She had an Islamic marriage, but continued to be subject to abuse. She had no door key and no phone; her husband told her that he would never register the baby as British, as it would give her a route to resettlement in the UK. In the final weeks of her pregnancy, she was kept locked in a store cupboard at his workplace without food. Eventually, she made a disclosure to social services after her husband took the child away from her; as a result, her child was placed on a child protection register and Hamida was referred to Southall Black Sisters.
This brief portrait illustrates the immense challenges that Hamida has faced. Due to her exclusion from the DV rule, she has endured more than nine months of anxiety and uncertainty since escaping violence. She is dependent on donations for her survival and has no security about her future. She is unable to process the trauma that she has faced and remains in ongoing child contact proceedings to reunite with her baby. No survivor deserves to face such trauma and hardship after fleeing violence.
That is just one story. Research has shown that most women on non-spousal visas require assistance for periods of three to eight months and some even longer, because they have often had long and complicated abuse and immigration histories. With this Bill, we have an opportunity to intervene and relieve these women of their suffering, and we must take it.
In response to this clear gap, the Government announced a one-year pilot scheme to assess better the level of need for this group of victims and inform spending review decisions on longer-term funding. However, the £1.4 million offered to run the pilot project is inadequate to meet the needs of all vulnerable migrant women who need crisis support. As an example, the pilot project has set a financial cap on the rent payable for each woman, based on local authority housing allowance rates, which can be as low as £70 per week. There is also a cap on the subsistence payments that can be made to each woman to meet other basic needs, which cannot exceed £37 a week. These rates are inadequate to avert destitution, not least in even being able to pay for refuge accommodation. Furthermore, as we have heard, it is estimated that the number of migrant survivors who require support is probably between 3,000 to 5,000 a year. The pilot project is likely to provide only minimal support for up to 500 women for a maximum period of 12 weeks.
My next objection is that if this pilot is aiming to collect more data, I highlight that that has already been submitted by key specialist organisations during the review process. SBS and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service published a formal and detailed response to the Home Office’s migrant victims of domestic abuse review in September 2020. As far as I am aware, there still has been no response.
The pilot project has failed to allow for the impact of Brexit, which is expected to lead to a significant increase in the numbers of women who will be excluded from protection as they will now be subject to the same immigration rules as non-EU nationals, including restrictions on recourse to public funds.
Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the pilot scheme does not guarantee that any lasting change will follow when the scheme is ended. Running a pilot that gives no long-term assurance of anything in the Bill at the end of it is not an option. Only legislative protection for this vulnerable cohort of women will ensure that the Bill delivers its promise as landmark legislation that can deliver protection for all survivors in the UK.
The Bill provides the Government a significant opportunity to address the gaps in protection for migrant women with insecure immigration status. As a Christian, I am called to love my neighbour and welcome the stranger. This includes showing mercy and justice towards refugees and immigrants, perhaps especially so for those whose hope has been extinguished by abusive partners. I urge the Government to support the amendment.
I think we must move on. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
My Lords, my sympathy to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic; that is a very disconcerting situation.
I have added my name to Amendments 148 and 151. I would have added it to Amendment 160 but it is one of those amendments where the slots for adding one’s name fill up very quickly. I am particularly sorry about that because it puts the point very succinctly, and I would have liked to have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, before I spoke.
This is a matter of equality, of principle as well as a practicality. Last week we debated amendments relating to immigration status. I do not want to repeat too much of that debate but one cannot say too often that what we do must be rooted in equality and humanity. A victim may believe that she has no status. That very situation can be and is used for coercion and control. She—usually “she”, though not invariably—may in effect go underground or find herself in a very perilous situation while her abuser goes unpunished, and noble Lords will understand what all that entails, or of course she may remain with her abuser since she may have nowhere to go “back” to. As I recall, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, talked about this last week.
I was struck by a representation made by Southall Black Sisters that was quoted in the report by the committee on the draft Bill, which I will repeat:
“Abused migrant women are at risk of the most serious and prolonged forms of abuse, slavery and harm but cannot access justice or protection if they have unsettled immigration status; they are effectively excluded from the few protective measures contained in the Bill. The Bill does nothing to remove immigration and other barriers, including providing safe reporting measures to encourage abused migrant women to access necessary protection.”
I regard protection as including access to resources. These reasons apply to all the amendments in this group, which are among the priorities of the domestic abuse commissioner designate.
Can the Minister tell the Committee the timetable for the support for migrant victims pilot? The matter is urgent; the Minister will not be surprised to hear that. She will also be aware of the concern of some of the specialist organisations that they have not been involved in providing evidence. If you are caught up in this situation, I am sure that you feel no less abandoned because there is a pilot scheme that does not apply to you. It is a pilot, which is by definition limited. The Committee will be glad to hear whatever information about that that the Minister can share with it.
The Committee would also be interested in the Minister’s comments on the effect of the recent change in the EU settled status scheme, though I appreciate that it is very early days for that. The destitution domestic violence concession is limited in scope, as is the domestic violence rule, as we have heard. I recognise that the DDVC is outside the rules and does not require legislation to make changes to it, but then no rule changes need primary legislation.
It is hard, when one reads or hears of the experiences of victims caught up in the situations that these amendments address, not to feel—bluntly—that the state is complicit in their situation.
My Lords, it is hoped to get the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, on the telephone. In the meantime, I call the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
My Lords, I refer to my interests on the register. I have put my name to Amendments 148 and 160, and I support Amendment 151, to which I would have liked to add my name. I agree with what has already been said, and I do not propose to go through it again. I would, however, like to mention the powerful speech from the right reverend Prelate, with which I strongly agree.
I have a concern for several groups of women, about whom I have spoken earlier in this debate. One such group is migrant women who have been subjected to modern slavery. Very often the woman comes over with a man who she thinks is her boyfriend but who then turns her into a slave to make money for him. She is a victim and has irregular immigration status, if any.
I am particularly concerned about a group of women who are married according to the customs of their religion but whose marriages have not been registered and are therefore not recognised in English law. If such a woman leaves—either with her children or on her own—having suffered domestic abuse, she will not be recognised as a wife, her immigration status will not give her any of the support she needs, financial or otherwise, and she will be in danger of being deported. This is a huge injustice inflicted on a small but significant group of women, many of whom have suffered as the victims of forced marriage.
I will refer briefly to Amendment 160. The support that it proposes is urgently needed by victims of both forced marriage and modern slavery.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in regretting that we have not yet heard the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, introduce Amendment 160. On the assumption that we will do so eventually, I shall contain myself to simply offering support for Amendments 151 and 160. I join others in saying that, had there been space, I would have been very happy to attach my name to them.
I shall speak chiefly to Amendment 148, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. He has already provided an eloquent and powerful introduction, so I shall briefly add some further points.
I start with a reflection on the overall status of no recourse to public funds. This applies to some 1.3 million people who are part of and contribute to our society. We should ask ourselves some very tough questions about why we ask people to contribute without offering them protection.
However, today, with Amendment 148 we are specifically addressing the issue of victims of domestic abuse. I very much hope that every Member of your Lordships’ House will agree with the statement that the state must not be the facilitator of domestic abuse and that it must not act in ways that trap victims in abusive relationships. It is very clear that that is currently happening, and the amendment would seek to ensure that it does not.
Over the past year, I have been doing quite a bit of work on no recourse to public funds from a number of angles. I have spoken to Green Party councillors and asked them to share with me cases that they have dealt with. Of course, at that very distressing local level, very often it is local councillors, who have very few tools and resources at their disposal, who are forced to rush around trying to help and provide support in any way they can.
I want to quote one person who has been stuck with no recourse to public funds during the Covid pandemic. She had just about cobbled together the circumstances in which to survive, but then the pandemic pulled those apart. I ask your Lordships to reflect on this woman’s words. She said, “The citizens advice bureau is a vicious cycle of being referred to the same departments that have already said no.” We should think about what that must be like and the circumstances in which that leaves people. I note from information provided by Women’s Aid what it means practically. It noted that women with no recourse to public funds who care for children are, theoretically, entitled to continued support for their children under Section 17 of the Children Act, yet under the Women’s Aid Federation of England’s No Woman Turned Away project, of 20 women with no recourse to public funds who were fleeing with children in 2017-18, social services refused outright either to fund a refuge space or to provide emergency accommodation for 14. In six of the cases, they offered to accommodate the children but not the mother.
Those findings show very clearly that women with no recourse to public funds who have children are being refused help, despite Section 17 duties, and that the state is acting in ways to break up families. So, we have a situation where victims of domestic abuse are being trapped and families are being broken up by the law. That is why I very strongly support Amendment 148, and I hope that the Government will see the need to support it, or something very like it, too.
I finish with words from a Women’s Aid briefing. It is a simple, bald statement and I ask the Government whether they agree with it:
“No survivor should be left without access to a safety net and it is essential the Bill delivers reforms to ‘no recourse to public funds’.”
Those are the words of Women’s Aid. I very profoundly agree with them and I hope that the Government will too.
I think it is now possible to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, so I call her again.
I hope that you can hear me better now. I will speak to Amendment 160, which stands in my name. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Hussein-Ece, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for their support. It is also a pleasure to follow the powerful speeches that have just been made; their arguments about the needs of migrant women are compelling and compassionate.
Amendments 148 and 151 are important and have my full support. In particular, I will focus on Amendment 160, on non-discrimination. It is not just about migrants or women; it is about making sure that all victims and survivors of domestic violence, whoever they are, get the support and justice they deserve and that we owe them. This amendment is also about international obligations and the Istanbul convention.
I started my work focusing on this Bill as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about foreign policy, which I still care about—but I know how important it is that we meet our treaty commitments. The Government are rightly proud of their work on girls’ education, and we used to lead on the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative; we have a good record on leading on these issues internationally. However, leadership requires moral authority as well: it requires us to do the right thing at home rather than just speak about it abroad.
The Government’s intention to ratify the Istanbul convention as soon as possible is very welcome, but gaps remain nine years after we signed, as the Government themselves acknowledge. The last review, in October, flagged progress on Articles 4(3) and 59 as “under review”, pending the outcome of the migrant victim pilot scheme. The Government have signalled their intention to wait, but we have an opportunity to set things right here and now.
As we have just heard, there is extensive evidence of the needs of migrant women and the precarious situation they are in. There is no need for the further delays that the pilot scheme entails and no need to wait to find new legislation to address a problem we face now. This Bill is a natural home for efforts to tackle domestic abuse; why should we knowingly leave areas out of it? If we want to get the Istanbul convention ratified, as the Government have said they do and as I believe we must, we will need to improve protection for migrant women as well. It is better to do that now than to delay it needlessly.
As such, this amendment is necessary in order to ratify the Istanbul convention. It also has an important role to play in making sure that the Bill’s provisions actually work for survivors, whoever they are and wherever they come from. There is a reason why the Istanbul convention contains an explicit list of non-discrimination grounds—it is not about giving us a warm fuzzy feeling; it is based on empirical research into whether victims of domestic violence and abuse seek help, how they do so and what help they get.
We can pass all the reforms we like to the courts, but most migrant and refugee victims never get to that stage. If we are serious about wanting to help all victims of domestic abuse, we need to ensure that we are not discriminating against some of them. By enshrining a principle of equal protection, this amendment would ensure a consistent and cohesive approach to victims, wherever they are.
Research by King’s College London and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service found that 46% of migrant women were denied support by the police when reporting abuse. The report on police and crime commissioners’ approaches to violence against women and girls found that the responses varied widely across the country, with some deemed “very inconsistent” and even “haphazard”. This adds to the well-known barriers to disclosure and reporting that all victims of domestic violence face. By making sure that equal protection is embedded in the law, the amendment will both shape the response of public authorities and give victims the confidence to come forward in the first place.
This amendment is supported by End Violence Against Women, a coalition of hundreds of specialist services, academics, activists and NGOs. It is supported by informed organisations such as Southall Black Sisters, which work with black and minority victims of domestic violence. It is supported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. They all say that the current local authority duty in the Bill will not tackle the barriers and challenges that BME and migrant survivors face in accessing refuge unless there is a clear legal commitment to equal support.
This amendment is really about justice. It is about whether we choose to see survivors of domestic violence as being victims of crime, or whether we look at their status before deciding what protection they should be given. By enshrining equal support no matter what your sex or gender, your race or religion, whether you are married, a migrant, young or old, we can make sure this Bill applies to everyone—that it is seen and known to apply to everyone—and that domestic abuse cannot hide behind discrimination.
In the other place the Minister agreed that the Bill should ensure that
“all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims, regardless of their immigration status.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/4/20; col. 299]
By putting this amendment into statute, we can ratify the Istanbul convention and we can be proud of a Bill which says that the law will protect you, no matter who you are and no matter where you come from.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. She has said that she normally talks about international affairs, but in speaking to her Amendment 160 she has brought great skill and knowledge about discrimination, the Istanbul convention and international law in addressing this very important domestic question. It is therefore a great pleasure to be able to support and endorse her remarks, but also those of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and those who have supported his Amendment 148, as I do too. I declare an interest as a trustee of the Arise Foundation and I intervene in this debate specifically to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and her Amendment 151, to which I am a signatory.
The amendment would extend the eligibility to the domestic violence rule, DVR, and the destitution domestic violence concession, DDVC, to all migrant survivors of abuse and extend the DDVC from three to six months minimum. Undoubtedly, this amendment, like Amendment 148, would offer protections to some of the most vulnerable migrant women in our country who are currently denied support simply because they are on the wrong visa. The DDVC provides migrant women three months leave to stay in the UK, with access to benefits and the right to apply for indefinite leave to remain under the DVR.
This is a crucial path for women to escape abusive households and begin to be able to rebuild their lives, yet it is only open to a minority of migrant women—those on spousal visas or a small number of family visas. Those on all other visas suffer from no recourse to public funds, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, reminded us earlier. While there are no concrete numbers of how many women are penalised by this limitation, welfare charities estimate that the number is in the low thousands.
With no recourse to public funds, many of these women are trapped in situations of horrific abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, told us in an excellent speech earlier on. I will give just one example here of a woman who came to the United Kingdom over 17 years ago from Sri Lanka. She said that for the first few years her marriage was okay, but:
“Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, a whole dark world built up around me. It was then that I realised that I was trapped by him. I had been sexually, mentally, verbally abused by him every day. I was so scared to talk to anyone about it because of my immigration situation.”
This woman has lived in the UK for her whole adult life, yet due to her visa she could not apply for the destitution domestic violence concession or the domestic violence rule. As she said:
“If I had a chance to access public funds, definitely, I would have taken the opportunity to move out a long time ago.”
For many of these women, the lack of recourse to public funds, combined with the abuse and lack of security, means they suffer high levels of anxiety, depression and even suicidal thoughts. Believing themselves to be completely trapped, they do not think there is anywhere they can turn. Their choice is so often either to stay in an abusive house or be returned to a country they left many years before.
As we have heard throughout the debates on this very welcome and much-needed Bill, the Covid-19 lockdowns are only increasing the vulnerability of those at risk of domestic violence and reducing the opportunities they have for escaping and rebuilding. Charities providing support to those with no recourse are finding themselves not only overwhelmed with women coming to them, but also having to face massive funding cuts.
Reading the testimonies from migrant women, I cannot help but be reminded of some of the stories I hear from the small anti-slavery charity of which I am a trustee. Let us not fool ourselves: in many other contexts this crime would be considered slavery, as my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss told us a few minutes ago. We should be treating those condemned to this life, and suffering so grievously, with the highest level of support that we can provide, no matter what their immigration status may be.
This amendment would begin to provide them with the welfare and benefits necessary to escape their abusers and build new lives. Moreover, by extending the DDVC support from 12 weeks to six months, we would be providing these women with enough time to really establish themselves and complete legal proceedings—12 weeks is simply not long enough to tie up all the legal ends necessary when leaving an abusive household and changing your immigration status.
It is time to end the visa lottery and extend the destitution domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rule to all migrant women, no matter what their immigration status. No doubt the Government will say—I look forward to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, when she comes to reply—that they have instituted a pilot scheme. While this is commendable, and of course welcome, it is not a viable alternative to legislative and additional protection for these women. This pilot commits £1.5 million for one year, which charities estimate would be sufficient to support only about 500 women; it can be described as a sticking plaster at best.
This amendment is an opportunity to create a fair and compassionate system of support that can be accessed by all migrant victims without discrimination. Let us not miss this chance, but instead give a fair wind to the right reverend Prelate and her amendment, and to the other amendments before your Lordships tonight.
My Lords, I am really pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, has spoken to Amendment 160 and that we were able to hear from her. I am very pleased to have put my name to it. I also support what I have heard about Amendments 148 and 151, which were excellently and very eloquently moved and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.
I am speaking to Amendment 160 to support non-discrimination to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill is truly victim-centred and complies with the Istanbul convention, as set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I signed amendment as someone who worked for many years supporting women from BAME and migrant communities who were victims of domestic violence. I saw terrible instances of violence and abuse against women and girls and, along with the women I worked with, I often faced threats from abusers who thought that an outsider interfering should not be allowed. This was very common; this was a private matter and anyone trying to intervene, to rescue women or give advice or information, could and did receive threats, as we did.
I want to ensure that all victims and survivors of domestic abuse can properly access protection and justice equally—which, sadly, is currently not the case. I helped establish a user-led, BAME women’s centre, IMECE, which for over 25 years has helped thousands of Turkish-Kurdish, Turkish-Cypriot and other migrant women, mainly across London, to access services and be given support. While I was a local councillor in the London boroughs of Hackney and Islington, for a total of 16 years, I dealt with numerous cases of domestic abuse—in fact I still get cases referred to me as a result of my work there.
This amendment would enshrine a more consistent and cohesive approach. The principle of equal protection in the Bill would ensure that all public authorities must adopt a consistent and cohesive approach to making provision and arrangements for victim protection. We currently have a postcode lottery approach to victim protection, but this would have to change if this amendment was enshrined in the Bill. Research found that 46% of migrant women were often failing to access support by the police when reporting abuse. This is a startling figure. The new criminal justice measures introduced in the Bill are welcome, but they relying on victims self-identifying when reporting abuse or violence and the criminal justice process responding positively to the victim’s complaint. They do not address the well-known barriers to reporting faced by victims of domestic abuse which are a particular problem for migrant victims. We have already heard that that is, sadly, the case. When it comes to support for these victims, they are faced with the chronic underfunding of specialist services run by and for BAME women which have the expertise, knowledge and links.
In December, I saw a report that the police watchdog advised that police should share less information with immigration officials about abused or trafficked women. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said that women do not report abuse for fear of deportation. This advice to the police needs to be better enshrined in law. These communities and women deserve more support. The specialist organisations that I referred to, which have provided such unique advice and information and shared their experience with us in the formulation of this very welcome Bill, are uniquely placed to support migrant women to get help and rebuild their lives after abuse. For example, Imkaan reported that 43% of the requests for violence against women and girls support to BAME specialists were from women needing support in connection with immigration-related issues. We heard that 60% of women who approached Southall Black Sisters, which has been around for many decades doing excellent work, for support have insecure immigration status. The organisation I referred to, IMECE, with which I worked extensively, also reports that a significant proportion of women seeking its help were migrant women or refugees.
The fact that perpetrators use immigration status as a weapon to continue to control and abuse is well-known and a reality. This is often exploited by perpetrators and misunderstood by public authorities, so enshrining in law the right to protection from domestic abuse without discrimination would remove significant power that perpetrators exploit and would enable victims to access vital support to escape abusive situations and to hold perpetrators to account. Migrant women who have experienced domestic abuse face additional barriers and they need our support. Crucially, that includes access to safe housing, as we have heard from other speakers including the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee. We heard the shocking figure that just 5% of refuge spaces listed last year were accessible to women with no recourse to public funds. Where do these women go? They are often destitute or have to rely on the help of family or sympathetic friends. Their lives are made appalling and actually insufferable and their children suffer immeasurably.
We know about the limited specialist refuge provision for BAME women across England and Wales. The figure I have is approximately 30 refuges in total, which are concentrated mainly in London and are oversubscribed. The current local authority duty proposal in the Bill will do nothing to tackle the barriers that BAME and migrant survivors face in accessing refuge space unless there is a clear legal commitment to resourcing equal access by introducing a non-discrimination clause.
There has been much support for a truly non-discriminatory component to be enshrined in this important Bill. The Minister in the other place has already stated that it should ensure that,
“all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims, regardless of their immigration status.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/4/20; col. 299]
If this Bill is to be truly transformational, enshrining a non-discrimination principle is the only way to ensure that we do not have a two-tier policy where society’s most isolated and marginalised victims cannot get the support and justice they desperately need, and are left to suffer in limbo with no legal protection. Help should be available to all those who need it. There should be no hiding place for perpetrators and we cannot have a subsector of victims, a small but significant group of migrant women, who are left with little support and equality.
My Lords, I shall speak in favour of Amendment 151, tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I want to start by commending the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and Southall Black Sisters for their work on this amendment and more generally for their work on behalf of migrants. I also want to mention a dynamic Christian group, the Black Church Domestic Abuse Forum, made up of academics, lawyers, pastors, therapists and counsellors who would, as well as representatives of Southall Black Sisters, very much like to meet the Minister to discuss these and other related issues. During the course of the Bill, we have heard a great deal from many unsung groups such as Southall Black Sisters who, by the way, have been on the front line of this work for more than 40 years.
I believe that the Government need to shift their position and ensure legislative protection for all migrant women. This amendment is a test for the Government as to whether they will turn their back on some of the most vulnerable women in our society today. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Hussein-Ece, and many others have given us eloquent and passionate chapter and verse about the plight faced by these women, including intolerable coercion and the use of absolute power by abusive men. In effect, the Government are operating a two-tier discriminatory system of support for those fleeing violence, one in which migrant women and children, in the absence of state protection, are at heightened risk of escalating abuse, exploitation and harm. Their plight is summed up by Farah, a survivor being supported by Southall Black Sisters:
“I guess that No Recourse To Public Funds means that it is ok for me to be violated, physically and mentally abused by my father. I guess the Government approves of people like me being treated like I was.”
I appreciate that the Government have committed to support the migrant victims scheme pilot, but, frankly, the support is not enough. It will not reach the majority of abused migrant survivors who urgently need protection. Southall Black Sisters has estimated that the number of abused migrant women who are subject to NRPF and need support is likely to run into the low thousands—anywhere between 2,000 and 4,000 women a year. At a stretch, the pilot project is likely to provide only minimal support for up to 500 women for a maximum period of only 12 weeks. What answer should Southall Black Sisters and other groups give to the thousands of women and children who are turned away because the money has run out?
Without this change to the Domestic Abuse Bill, migrant women will continue to be turned away routinely at a time when they most need help and, worse still, are being regarded as potential immigration offenders rather than the victims of domestic abuse. This could be a matter of life and death. As the Bill makes its way through Parliament, we have borne witness not only to the Windrush scandal but to the Black Lives Matter movement as well. These are transformative events that have shed light on the deep and widening nature of structural economic and race inequality in the UK. This Bill offers the Government a real and ready opportunity to change course and provide redress for those who have been historically, and are presently, being excluded from protection and from their rights because of their background or immigration status. This would demonstrate a commitment to the promises made by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, following the Windrush Lessons Learned Review, to address institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issues of race.
I rise to speak to Amendment 160 while offering my sympathy and support for the other two amendments in this group. I reflect on the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who said that this is a landmark Bill and needs to be as near perfection as we can possibly make it. I speak also as a member of the delegation from this Parliament to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Istanbul convention is one of the key cornerstones of the achievements of that council over the last several years. It grieves me that I regularly see on the material put out by the council that the United Kingdom is one of the countries that has not yet ratified the convention, although of course it added its signature in 2012.
The idea is that our legislation is not yet in line with all the requirements of the convention, and that we are working on that. Earlier today, I heard extraterritoriality mentioned in debates and that a parallel effort is being made in the Northern Ireland Assembly which, mercifully, will deal with a major part of what prevents us at this minute ratifying the convention. That leaves us with Article 4(3) and Article 59. The whole question of discrimination has been properly alluded to as a very important thing for us to accord. I believe that the Government wish to do that, but they have taken the extraordinary step, having seen the recommendation in what is the fourth report since we have had these annual reports, to refer the matter into a pilot that will sit from December last to the end of March. That pilot’s findings will help us to quantify and find sustainable responses to this particular need.
I say that it is ironic and it is because, in a sense, the two other amendments in this group, were they on the statute book, would provide exactly the guarantees being sought and would allow us to ratify the convention at once. Is the fact that we have the pilot, which goes on to the end of March, going to make it necessary or impossible for us to include any measures to deal with discrimination for migrant women within the timescale of the passage of this Bill? I cannot see that we can possibly do the Bill and include any outcome from this process, which means that we will have missed the opportunity in this landmark Bill to deal with the two outstanding obstacles to our signing the Istanbul convention.
I missed a lot of these riveting debates because I was in Strasbourg, virtually—but we were talking about the same things. It pains me that we have not ratified the convention. At this minute Turkey and Poland are on the point of withdrawing from the Istanbul convention, and our moral stance in urging them not to is greatly diminished by the fact that we ourselves have not ratified it. With all that in mind—and this point has not yet been made, although it has been alluded to many times—I wish that these amendments could be made. Some 58 people and organisations wrote to me, as I am sure they wrote to the Minister, to say that all the evidence we could possibly need has been gathered. What is to stop us going forward? Why cannot we find a way between now and Report to leapfrog any obstacle, if necessary? Is this really impossible?
At the end of the day, it will all come down to money—£1.5 million will not do what needs to be done in the next five months and certainly, it will take a lot of money to deal with this in a sustainable way in the fullness of time. The domestic abuse commissioner designate—what a welcome appointment and what a clear-sounding person she seems to be—says that, unless migrant women with no recourse to public funds are included,
“their options are brutal.”
So, there it is from the person who will be overseeing this whole area of our national life.
I do not know whether the Minister can assure us that, even though we are out of sync with the passage of the Bill, we can hope in the not too distant future to incorporate retrospectively all that we are seeking to do through these amendments.
I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, who will be followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.
My Lords, as I and many others said at Second Reading, the biggest hole in the Bill is its failure to make any provision for migrant women—a group of domestic abuse survivors who are let down badly by current provisions. I therefore strongly support these amendments, which, in different ways, would fill that hole and ensure that abused migrant women receive the same support as other domestic abuse survivors.
It is to the Government’s credit that they listened to the criticisms from domestic abuse organisations and, in particular, those working with abused migrant women such as Southall Black Sisters and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service—to which I pay tribute—and revised the prospectus for the Support for Migrants Victims pilot scheme. However, they refused to face up to the most fundamental criticism, as cited by the right reverend Prelate in her powerful speech, that a pilot scheme of this kind is simply not necessary in order to provide the evidence that Ministers claim they need before taking longer-term action to protect abused migrant women. Southall Black Sisters, for instance, has already provided the necessary evidence and the domestic abuse commissioner designate supports its belief that the Government do not need further evidence to act.
Although much improved from its original specification, the pilot is still inadequate to meet the needs of abused women. According to SBS, and as we have heard, the £1.4 million allocated is nowhere near enough to meet the needs of all the women requiring crisis support. It calculates that this will enable it to support only 50 women for three months each over a year, which would leave many women still excluded from protection and crisis support. At the same time, the £1.09 million grant it was awarded from the tampon tax fund to support women subject to the no recourse to public funds rule is due to end in March. As the right honourable Theresa May pointed out on Report in the Commons, we have to take account of the fact that the removal of financial support from a woman in a relationship might be
“part of the abuse they are suffering”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6 July 2020; col. 712.]
The Government must surely do all they can not to compound that abuse through public policy. At the very least, will the Minister consider suspending the application of the NRPF rule to domestic abuse survivors during the lifetime of the pilot to minimise the hardship that is likely to result?
Whatever the merits of the pilot project there is, as we have already heard, no guarantee that it will lead to lasting change. Such an important part of the domestic abuse strategy should not be dependent on the presence of sympathetic Ministers. Domestic abuse legislation does not come along that often; indeed, how many years have we had to wait for this Bill, welcome as it is? It is therefore vital that provision be made within it to ensure equal protection for migrant domestic abuse survivors. Indeed, the EHRC warns that failure to do so might put us in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and, as we have heard, it would almost certainly breach our obligations under the Istanbul convention. Given that the Minister said in her letter to Peers following Second Reading that the Government will ratify the convention only when they are satisfied that we meet all our obligations, it is surely imperative that equal protection for migrant women be enshrined in this Bill, as argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port.
As we have heard, Ministers repeatedly tell us—most recently at Second Reading—that, to quote from the 2020 report on progress toward ratification of the convention,
“all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims regardless of their immigration status.”
They are absolutely right that that is how things should be but it is not how things are, as migrant status trumps victim status all too often. The one way in which the Government can convince us—and, more importantly, the organisations on the ground and migrant women themselves—that they are genuine in their claim to treat abused migrant women as victims first is by accepting these amendments.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and an honour to follow noble Lords in the debate on the three amendments in this group. I add my support for them. Noble Lords have already spoken very eloquently about the need for proper support for migrant women who have absolutely no recourse to public funds. I have seen so many examples of women who have come into this country, been married into households and then been treated in a terrible way simply because they do not have any status here.
As my noble friend Lady Helic said about enshrining legal support, domestic abuse cannot hide behind any discrimination. That is absolutely right. To sum it up—I have raised this issue on many occasions—I have met many women living in multigenerational households where they do not know their rights, what services are available or how to access them. It is a duty of any decent community or society to make sure that we are the voices for those people who are suffering—regardless, as noble Lords have already said, of what gender they are. If they are a victim of domestic abuse, they are a victim.
I have seen some horrific cases come before me. I remember one where a woman with three children spent many nights in her car to escape. She had nowhere to go; the car that she had been using for her work was all that she possessed. If we as a society are to demonstrate our humanity and meet the expectations of others—noble Lords have mentioned the Istanbul convention—then we have to lead by example.
I do not want to extend this debate because all noble Lords have made exceptionally eloquent and poignant points, but it is important that we as a civilised society recognise that this issue affects many people. I have my home in the city of Leicester. Southall Black Sisters has done phenomenal work, as have many organisations there, but everyone is going to have their hands tied if the facilities are not there for access and if information is not readily available because the victims cannot access it.
I hope that the law stands on the side of every single person, regardless of their immigration status. I am fully supportive of the amendments. I know that my noble friend the Minister is compassionate and passionate about making sure that we can remove as many obstacles as possible so that people can have the right access. I hope that she will take these amendments very seriously.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, I find it difficult to add to the arguments that have been made so persuasively in this debate.
I want to pick up the point made by my noble friends Lord Griffiths and Lady Lister. We want to make this Bill as good as it possibly can be, which leads me to the issue of evidence. Essentially, the Government are saying that there is currently a lack of robust data to demonstrate which cohorts of migrant victims are likely to be in most need of support. As my noble friend Lady Lister explained, the Government have launched a pilot scheme, which is due to run to March 2022. The Minister said at Second Reading that this
“will enable us to take well-grounded and evidence-based decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term.”—[Official Report, 5/1/21; col. 126.]
The problem we have is that there is no guarantee that the Government will act, and 2022 is quite some way away—particularly when the evaluation would then need to take place.
One must ask how much evidence the Government need. We know that a large proportion of migrant women have no recourse to public funds, meaning that they are barred from accessing certain types of financial support, as noble Lords have already pointed out. We also know that the number of survivors of abuse with no recourse is set to increase post Brexit under the new Immigration Rules. It is quite likely that even more women will experience difficulties accessing safety and support. The Covid-19 crisis has served to demonstrate just how precarious the position of migrant survivors is and how essential it is that they can access financial support from the state. In the end, I hope that the House will have the gumption to pass amendments on Report because waiting for the pilot scheme and for the Government to review it, with no guarantee of future legislation, is simply not good enough. We have to act now.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for three outstanding speeches introducing their amendments. The clarity and passion with which they speak should influence all of us but also, I hope, influence the Government too.
My late mother was a great believer in things coming along in threes, both good and bad, so I was delighted to hear on the radio this morning a government Minister confirming that the Government had decided to make sure that the Covid-19 vaccine is available to everyone regardless of their immigration status. This establishes a very good principle, just in advance of our debate here this evening: that things should be equal. I was also delighted to hear earlier in our debate the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, agree on behalf of the Government to look at Amendment 142 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and discuss with the devolved Governments the potential for a UK-wide amendment to the legislation that might improve the Bill in front of us, which is primarily for England and Wales. Thus, I hope that things do come along in threes, and that this evening we might have a combination of equality regardless of immigration status on the one hand and a UK-wide measure, which would make this Bill far better, on the other.
In recent years, I have had considerable experience of the daily reality of women facing domestic abuse in some of the asylum and refugee communities in Glasgow and the surrounding area. In your Lordships’ Chamber, we regularly praise the work of the Violence Reduction Unit, which was originally in Glasgow but is now across Scotland, and its successful strategy to reduce violence in the city and now across the nation. But its work on domestic abuse is made far more difficult by the restrictions placed on the rights of many migrant women living in the city and facing daily abuse, which has escalated during the Covid-19 lockdowns of the past 12 months.
I strongly urge the Government to look positively at this measure. Surely the objective outlined so clearly in Amendment 160 of equality for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse should be at the heart of the Bill, and support for these amendments would be a critical step in that direction. We have spoken often, and I have spoken in all my contributions, not just about the legal technicalities of the Bill but of its human impact. However hard it is for a woman to leave an abusive relationship or household when she does have access to finance, housing and rights outwith that home, how much more difficult is it to make that choice when she does not have those rights? Whatever access to funding or pilot projects the Government are willing to provide is no substitute for rights. Rights are at the core of the Bill and they should be available to these migrant women too.
My Lords, I support the cogent arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Rosser and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I thank Women’s Aid and Refuge for their comprehensive and helpful briefings on these amendments.
When the Bill was introduced in the other place by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, it was said that, among other things, the Bill
“aims to improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse”.
There can be no more gaping hole in the effectiveness of the justice system than when a group with particular characteristics is deprived of its protection. These three amendments deal with one such group.
The Bill does not tackle the multiple forms of discrimination facing migrant women—at all. This was identified as an omission by the Joint Committee that preceded the first iteration of the Bill. The Government resisted attempts to change it in the other place, arguing that more evidence was needed to identify the groups of migrants most in need of support. Since then, domestic abuse campaigners, such as the Step Up Migrant Women coalition, have expressed concerns, and Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that
“to leave migrant women out of this bill sends the message that their lives are not valued, they are disposable, they are second-class people, they are invisible”.
Women’s Aid questions the Government’s proposals for a pilot scheme, as indeed have many noble Lords, arguing that evidence of need was there but was being ignored. It and other organisations are concerned that the findings of the Government’s migrant women review show
“a lack of meaningful engagement with the evidence that was submitted by key specialist organisations, resulting in inaccurate, poor and misleading analysis and conclusions”.
So the Government have a problem. They are not convinced by those organisations working most closely with migrant women and most likely to understand their problems, or that there is, as former Prime Minister Mrs May argued, a common intention between the Government’s view and those in favour of the new clause. It is clear that these organisations have difficulty believing that the Government are sincere in their stated commitment to support all migrant victims of domestic abuse. I hope that the Minister’s response convinces them otherwise.
The issue is very clear; it has been spelled out so well this afternoon. A large proportion of migrant women have no recourse to public funds. There is even an acronym for that category: NRPF. It means that they cannot seek certain types of financial support from the state, including homelessness assistance and other welfare benefits, so they do not have the means to secure a stay in a refuge. There are some exceptions, but those are on a limited number of visa types which allow access to something called the destitution domestic violence concession—DDVC. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated just how precarious the position of migrant survivors is without access to financial support from the state. They cannot keep themselves or their children safe.
All the organisations involved in fighting violence against women and girls are united in their view of the weight of evidence that NRPF should be abolished—or failing that, the eligibility for the DDVC should be extended to all migrant survivors. I hope that the Government will listen to these informed voices and to the powerful arguments made by noble Lords today in this debate and think again about supporting this change.
My Lords, this has been a comprehensive debate. As noble Lords have explained, Amendment 148 would insert a new clause to ensure that those whose immigration status would exclude them from benefits and the right to rent can receive support and find a place to live if they are the victim of domestic abuse in circumstances that would otherwise leave them destitute and homeless. It sets out clearly what evidence must be produced to show they are a victim of domestic abuse.
As noble Lord, Lord Rosser, explained, abusers use survivors’ immigration status as a means of coercive control. As noble Lords have said, no one should be prevented from escaping domestic abuse because they cannot afford to leave or because they have nowhere to go, not least those who are additionally vulnerable because of their immigration status. Amendment 151, led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, requires the Secretary of State to make changes to the Immigration Rules to extend the number of victims of domestic abuse who can apply for, and be granted, indefinite leave to remain. It proposes that they should be granted limited leave to remain for not less than six months to enable this, or longer if the application is awaiting a decision, including access to support and accommodation during that time. As noble Lords have said, it is likely that victims of domestic abuse could be in danger were they to be forced to return to their country of origin, as the example graphically described by the right reverend Prelate demonstrated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, has said, while the current pilot is welcome, it is not necessary. We know all we need to know to take the issue forward—a point reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece have explained, Amendment 160 gives effect to Article 4(3) of the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence—the Istanbul convention—that requires all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, to receive equal protection against domestic abuse and equally effective support and, as such, encapsulates the essence of Amendments 148 and 151. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, has said, if Amendments 148 and 151 were agreed to, we could ratify the Istanbul convention. As he said, either this is a landmark Bill, or it is not. I agree with the noble Lord: this all comes down to money—money that the Government appear to be unwilling to spend.
It is concerning that the Home Office has responsibility both for providing support for domestic abuse survivors and for enforcing immigration legislation. With only 5.8% of refuge places available to survivors who have no access to public funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, has said, something clearly needs to be done. With those affected numbering in the low thousands, it would not take much to implement these recommendations, and we support them. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, failing to take action would make it feel as though the state were complicit in these women’s suffering.
My Lords, the amendments in this group centre on support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic for proposing the new clauses.
All Members of the Committee will share the view that anyone who has suffered abuse, regardless of their immigration status, should first and foremost be treated as a victim. Where we differ, perhaps, is on how support is best provided to meet that end. Amendments 148 and 151 seek to provide, for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, at least six months of leave to remain, a route to indefinite leave to remain and access to publicly funded support. Amendment 160 seeks equally effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, while also referring to Article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention.
If I have correctly understood noble Lords’ objectives in tabling these very thoughtful and well-intentioned amendments, they are seeking to expand the existing destitute domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rule to cover all migrant victims of domestic abuse: to place the DDVC in the Immigration Rules, as well as lifting immigration restrictions, for any migrant victim of domestic abuse. The Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommended that the Government consider similar changes to the DDVC and DVILR. However, its recommendations did not include proposals to incorporate the DDVC scheme in the Immigration Rules.
As noble Lords will be aware, in response to the Joint Committee’s recommendations the Government committed to a review of the overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse. That review has been completed and its findings were published on 3 July 2020. We were grateful to the specialist sector for the views and evidence provided during the review. However, it was unclear which groups of migrants are likely to be most in need of support, how well existing arrangements may address their needs, how long they might need support, and how they could be supported to move on from safe accommodation. It was clear, however, that a robust evidence base is needed to ensure that funding is appropriately targeted to meet the needs of migrant victims.
My issue with Amendment 151 is that it is based on a misunderstanding of the rationale for the DDVC and the domestic violence rule. Both were, and are, intended to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas. The system was designed in this way because, had their relationships not broken down as a result of domestic abuse, these victims would have had a legitimate expectation of staying in the UK permanently. Neither the DDVC nor the domestic violence rule was designed to support those without this legitimate expectation. This Government are concerned that expanding the scope of both would undermine the specific purpose that gave rise to them and introduce a route to settlement that might lead to more exploitation of our immigration system—or indeed of vulnerable migrants.
For this reason, at Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Safeguarding Minister announced that the Government would invite bids for grants from the £1.5 million support for migrant victims scheme. Such grants will look to cover the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation for migrant victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access public funds. The Government will use the scheme to better assess the level of need for these victims and inform spending reviews about longer-term funding, which is very important. The competition for the scheme was launched on 15 December and closes on 8 February—today. The scheme will then run until 22 March, which answers the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
As I have indicated, our review has highlighted that a better evidence base is needed for migrant victims who are not eligible for the DDVC. Since 2017, the Government have provided over £1 million from the tampon tax fund to support migrant victims with no recourse to public funds. While clearly this fund has helped to deliver much-needed support for a number of individuals, and much has been learned, regrettably we require a more complete and reliable evidence base to enable us to make those long-term decisions. We particularly want to establish a robust dataset that we can interrogate about the circumstances in which support is most needed, the duration of support needed, what kind of support works best, and how individuals exit from support to regain their independence. We would like to do this work to ensure that the information that we need is available to inform future policy-making and that the decisions taken are sound.
I turn to Amendment 160. The support for migrant victims scheme and the associated evaluation work clearly illustrate that the Secretary of State is taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse. This scheme will be available to all migrant victims at the point of need while their eligibility for the scheme is assessed and other routes of support are explored.
The Government have been clear that migrant victims of domestic abuse should be treated first and foremost as victims, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and others, said. Data collected through the course of this scheme will provide the information that we need to assess current provisions and ensure that effective protection and support is available to migrant victims of domestic abuse. Therefore, while I am grateful to my noble friend and appreciate the sentiment and intention behind her amendment, we do not believe that this is necessary in light of the action that we are already taking. The provisions in the Bill apply equally to all victims of domestic abuse, whatever their status, including the ability to apply for a domestic abuse protection order or the provisions in respect of special measures and the prohibition of cross-examination in person.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Helic and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Health and Lord Griffiths, have talked about the Istanbul convention. It is important to recognise that legislation is not needed to comply with Articles 4 and 59 of the convention. As set out in the latest annual report on our progress towards ratification of the convention, which was published on 22 October last year, the position on whether the UK is compliant with Article 4(3) of the convention to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status, and with Article 59, relating to residence status, is of course under review, pending the evaluation and the findings from the support for migrant victims scheme.
On the suggestion in Amendment 148 that the no recourse to public funds condition is lifted for all victims of domestic abuse, the Government believe that this is the wrong response. It is not subject to further definition in any way and would be a disproportionate and costly method of providing support for migrant victims. It is worth recognising that the principle of no recourse to public funds was established as far back as 1971, and no Government have sought to reverse that position. Successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly funded benefits and services should reflect the strength of a migrant’s connections to the UK and, in the main, become available to migrants only when they have settled here.
These restrictions are an important plank of immigration policy, operated, as I have said, by successive Governments and applicable to most migrants until they qualify for indefinite leave to remain. The policy is designed to assure the public that controlled immigration brings real benefits to the UK, rather than costs to the public purse. It does this by prohibiting access to public funds other than to those with indefinite leave to remain, refugees and protected persons, and those granted discretionary leave.
Nevertheless, exemptions from those restrictions are already in place for some groups of migrants. These include refugees or those here on the basis of their human rights where they would otherwise be destitute. Those on human rights routes can also apply to have their no recourse to public funds condition lifted if their financial circumstances change and there is a risk of destitution, imminent destitution, risk to the welfare of a child or exceptional circumstances. Equally, as I have said, migrant victims on certain spousal visas can already apply for the destitute domestic violence concession to be granted limited leave with recourse to public funds.
However, lifting restrictions for all migrant victims would enable any migrant, including those here illegally, to access public funds if they claimed to be a victim of domestic abuse. That is in no way to suggest that migrants would routinely present with false claims of being a victim of domestic abuse. As we all know, domestic abuse is widespread and it impacts all sections of society. However, we would want to ensure that any approach we take in no way allows the claims of legitimate victims to be undermined, along with the public support on which our immigration system relies.
I do appreciate that support for migrant victims of domestic abuse is rightly a significant issue for many noble Lords. We recognise this and that is why we have worked with the sector to launch the support for migrant victims scheme. That scheme will run to March next year and we should await the outcome so that we can determine the appropriate long-term solution on the basis of clear evidence of need and the resource implication of meeting that need. For those who would argue that we should not lose this opportunity to legislate, I remind noble Lords that the DDVC has operated successfully as an administrative scheme, so we do not need legislation to provide further support to other cohorts of migrant victims. In light of the action that we have taken and continue to take, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister and so I call the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.
I thank the Minister for her considered response and want to acknowledge her support and compassion for migrant victims of domestic abuse. The issue for me is still the one that has been raised throughout this debate of how we guarantee long-term protection for migrant women with insecure immigration status, given all we have heard about the mismatch in timing between the pilot scheme and this Bill. So I really welcome discussion with the Minister as we determine whether to bring this matter back at a later stage.
The right reverend Prelate is right to raise the point about sustainability, long-term solutions and what happens after the pilot scheme has taken place. It is precisely because we want to identify where the gaps lie and where long-term funding might be needed that we have done this pilot scheme. With that, as I have said throughout the course of this debate, it is our intention to review the matter when that pilot scheme has finished. But the point about funding is one that is well made, because we can have all the legislation in the world and if the funding is not in place there is no point.
I start by thanking the Minister for her very full and comprehensive reply to this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, in which there has been a high degree of unanimity as far as the nature of the contributions is concerned and the objectives that we all want to achieve.
The Government have basically set out why they do not believe that the amendments we have been discussing meet the Bill as far as they are concerned. They have laid some stress on their point that a one-year pilot scheme is about to commence to better assess the level of need for this group of victims. It is, as the Minister has said, to run through until March 2022. Clearly, on that basis, as far as the Government are concerned, not a lot is going to happen to address the problems that have been identified in the near future.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester pointed out in her very effective contribution that the amount offered to run the pilot project would not meet the needs of all vulnerable migrant women who need crisis support. She also pointed out that the data the pilot scheme may collect is already available. Indeed, it has been published and submitted. I do not think that the Government, in their response, exactly made it clear what information they do not feel they have already, that has not been provided in the data that has been published and submitted. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester also pointed out that the pilot scheme did not guarantee change following its conclusion.
This Bill is surely the opportunity to provide legislative protection to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including migrant women who are among the most vulnerable. I had thought that was a government objective. I have no doubt the Minister would say that it is—or at least I hope that is what the Government would say. It does seem that it will be a little way ahead in the future before anything will get resolved. We have a serious issue that needs addressing now and not, maybe, at some unspecified date in the future.
I do not think we have heard, in the Government’s response, how the Government intend to address the immediate problem that exists already. I hope it might be possible, between now and Report, for there to be further discussions on this issue—which will involve a number of people, judging by the number of contributions to the debate and all the people who have added their names to the amendments that we have been discussing. But I share the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that it would be helpful if there could be further discussions about the issues have been raised before Report. I suspect, at the moment, that the issues we have been talking about now for one and three-quarter hours will be brought before the House again on Report, unless discussions provide a solution to the issues we have been talking about. I hope that proves to be the case and that the Minister will ensure those discussions take place. In the meantime, though, I withdraw Amendment 148.
Amendment 148 withdrawn.
My Lords, the Committee will now adjourn until 8.23 pm, and we will return to deal with the group beginning with Amendment 149.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 149. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division should make that clear in debate. I should inform the Committee that, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 157 or 168.
149: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Controlling or coercive behaviour offence: post-separation abuse
(1) Section 76 (controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship) of the Serious Crime Act 2015 is amended as follows.(2) Leave out subsection (2) and insert—“(2) “personally connected” has the meaning as set out in section 2 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.”(3) Leave out subsections (6) and (7).”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would ensure that those who were previously personally connected are protected from any coercive and controlling behaviour (including economic abuse) that occurs post-separation.
My Lords, Amendment 149 would protect those who were previously personally connected to an abuser from any coercive or controlling behaviour—including, in particular, economic abuse—that occurs post separation. It would do so by amending the Serious Crime Act 2015 so that its provisions concerning controlling or coercive behaviour were extended to cover those not living together. It would therefore also safeguard those covered by the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which focuses on another important group in need of protection. I am grateful to noble Lords who have added their names to Amendment 149. Analysis of successful prosecutions of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence found that six in 10 involved economic abuse, yet the wording of that legislation means that, post separation, the victims of such abuse have no legal redress.
Economic abuse has been a long-standing concern of mine, even if I had not then come across the term, so its inclusion in the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill is welcome indeed. But I must admit that I had not been aware of the prevalence and seriousness of post-separation economic abuse until it was brought to my attention by the charity Surviving Economic Abuse—SEA—to which I pay tribute for all its work on the issue and express my thanks for its help with the amendment.
We are talking about, for instance, spending money from a victim’s bank account or a joint account without permission, running up bills in their name, prolonging the sale of joint property unreasonably, interfering with the victim’s employment, and jeopardising their social security entitlement through malicious calls or wrongly claiming the child benefit. Post-separation abuse can also involve indirect control through use of the family courts.
Following an interview I did on “You and Yours” last Autumn, prompted by SEA’s work, I received a long email from a mother of three children who shared her experience, and I am grateful for her permission to quote from it anonymously. Currently going through a divorce, having suffered a combination of psychological, economic and some physical abuse, a common combination, she detailed the ways in which her husband was putting debts in her name and was taking steps that undermined her financial position before the divorce and any financial settlement. She described his actions as
“malevolent, wilful, controlling that are all-consuming and intent on destruction.”
“sleepless nights worrying about debts put in my name, no pension provision, my credit score, ability to borrow.”
She said she had learned that
“the drive to dominate does not end after physical separation”,
and she finished:
“I hope your colleagues take note that economic abuse that continues post separation, particularly when children are involved is disordered behaviour that goes against healthy parental and societal norms and should be legislated as unlawful.”
Since then I have received many emails covering various forms of post-separation abuse. One described it as
“a merry-go-round that just keeps turning post-separation”
“in many ways has been worse than the emotional abuse I was subjected to throughout the relationship.”
Many echoed this plea from one of them:
“Please give survivors protection from on-going abuse after we leave as this is the most dangerous period for the victims.”
These emails are just the tip of an iceberg of anxiety, suffering and trauma caused by economic abuse which research shows frequently continues after separation.
For instance, in a national survey last year by Refuge and the Co-operative Bank about one-quarter of all respondents said they had experienced economic abuse after separation from their partner, nearly one in 10 said their former partner damaged or stole property that had to be replaced, and 6% reported that in each case their ex-partner had spent money from a joint account without consent or discussion, had run up bills in their name or had refused to pay any child support. In all, only just over half of those who had experienced economic abuse said it had ended when they split up with the abuser, and some said it started only after they had ended the relationship. The research underlined the devastating and long-term financial and mental health effect that economic abuse can have on well-being.
More recently, nearly four-fifths of post-separation abuse victims who responded to SEA’s pandemic survey said the perpetrator had attempted to control their finances, with success in two-thirds of all cases. Nicola Sharp-Jeffs of SEA has detailed how coerced debt is a particularly effective and insidious form of economic abuse and is all too frequent post separation. One project found that three out of five domestic abuse survivors had been subject to at least one coerced debt. One woman described such debts as “invisible chains” that link you to the perpetrator post separation.
Research from Manchester University shows how this can affect older women. The researchers quote one divorced woman with debts of around £6,000, who said:
“He used to wish me dead on the phone and ask ‘You’ve not died yet’? If I don’t talk to him politely enough he won’t pay the bills. I have to do as I am told. He’ll always have control. He still has the keys to the house and all the bills are in his name. He still comes round and opens the letters and tears them up or burns them.”
The Government are well aware of the problem created by post-separation abuse. Indeed, the draft statutory guidance on the Bill warns:
“Given that economic abuse does not require physical proximity it can continue, escalate or even begin after separation, creating a significant barrier for victims seeking to rebuild their lives.”
In the Commons, the Minister, Alex Chalk, acknowledged the importance of the issues raised by SEA, saying:
“People have come to realise that this is a particularly potent and cruel weapon”.—[Official Report, Commons, Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, 17/6/20; col. 392.]
Nevertheless, despite expressing some sympathy with the amendment when it was proposed in Committee in the Commons, he argued that it is not necessary for two reasons.
First, he said this form of coercive and controlling behaviour could be prosecuted under the existing offences of harassment and stalking. I note that the Minister used a similar argument in her Second Reading response but, if I may say so, without much conviction. Mr Chalk conceded SEA’s argument that stalking and harassment offences were not designed to prosecute this form of behaviour, but suggested that it was not beyond the wit of man or woman to find a way of including them in a specific case.
Common sense tells us that few if any people would understand the behaviour I have described, such as coerced debt or non-action such as the refusal to pay the mortgage, as stalking. This remains the case despite the fact that the recently updated statutory guidance on stalking protection orders includes economic abuse as a form of stalking. SEA rightly describes this approach as misguided.
Clear labelling is essential to criminal law. Naming economic abuse as stalking, a completely different type of abusive behaviour, is simply confusing. Indeed, on the basis of past experience, it is quite likely that there would be judicial resistance to convicting under stalking legislation a defendant who has committed economic abuse. I fear it would do nothing to address the situation of those women who have told me they have not been able to turn to the law to stop the abuse they are suffering, or that of the victim in a SEA case study of post-separation economic abuse who was told by police that the abuse could not be prosecuted because the perpetrator had left her—one of many examples it has received.
Secondly, Mr Chalk seemed to suggest that the amendment is unnecessary because the new statutory definition of domestic abuse in the Bill includes ex-partners and does not include a living together requirement. But surely it makes sense, again in the interests of clarity, to have consistency between this legislation and the legislation on coercive control, given that economic abuse is a form of coercive control and that the aim of the definition in this Bill is primarily to achieve a common understanding of domestic abuse across government and the public—a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, and others at Second Reading.
The other argument used to deflect the amendment was that we should await the outcome of a review of the coercive control legislation due to be completed by early autumn; that is, last early autumn, nearly eight months ago. Yet despite an assurance in a Written Answer in November that the intention was to publish it in time to inform our debates, it was disappointing that the Minister responded by saying that we would not receive it until before Report, which is late in the day to say the least. I quite understand that the pandemic will have delayed things, but surely that could have been predicted when an early autumn completion was prayed in aid in the Commons.
The Government acknowledge that there is a real problem here. Their arguments against using this legislation to solve the problem are unconvincing. I do not understand why they are so reluctant to accept an amendment that is very much in the spirit of the Bill and without which the milestone step represented by its recognition of economic abuse could be seriously hobbled. The amendment is supported by the domestic abuse commissioner designate and a wide range of organisations on the ground. I beg to move.
A large number of noble Lords wish to speak on this group. We have a number of amendments to get through before the Committee rises at midnight. While of course there are no speaking limits, perhaps I may appeal for conciseness and brevity from noble Lords. That will assist us in making as much progress as possible before we rise later tonight.
My Lords, before speaking to my Amendment 157 in this group, I want to express my strong support for my noble friend Lady Lister in her Amendment 149, which she has argued for so persuasively just now. My amendment is concerned with family abuse, particularly that suffered by elderly people and disabled victims. I am glad to have the strong support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt, Lady Mansoor and Lady Greengross. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has been an extraordinary campaigner for older people and years ago was bringing the problem of abuse being suffered by older people to national and international attention. The noble Baroness, Lady Mansoor, cannot be with us today because of a pressing engagement, but she is a strong and enthusiastic supporter of the amendment.
Our concern is that when it comes to domestic abuse, family victims are repeatedly, even continually, being forgotten. The only explanation I can think of is that elderly and disabled victims of family abuse who are dependent on their abusers are in general unable or afraid to speak out. To my mind, this should make the coverage of family abuse by Section 76 a high legislative priority. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour under Section 76 covers such behaviour by a family member, including financial abuse, but only when they are living with their victim. According to research, most perpetuators of financial abuse against elderly people were family members rather than partners, and only 25% actually live with their victims. I believe that the UK criminal law must afford victims equal protection, irrespective of their place of residence. As Gary FitzGerald, the former CEO of Action on Elder Abuse for 18 years, has stated:
“Older women can have a higher level of physical, emotional and particularly financial dependence on perpetrators, and will often have experienced the abuse for a much greater period of time. It is those psychological and emotional relationships that are crucial in considering coercive control, much more so than whether or not the victim is living with the perpetrator.”
Material published by Action on Elder Abuse shows that financial abuse can involve victims’ houses being sold or taken without their consent, or victims giving their property away under pressure or without full awareness.
The outcome of financial abuse on older people can be devastating. Many lose large sums of money, lose property that they have lived in for years, do not receive benefits to which they are entitled, incur large debts, or simply do not have enough money to live on. Many of the alleged perpetrators of large-scale financial abuse do not deny having access to or spending large amounts of money belonging to a particular older person. They merely contend that the older person gave them permission to spend the money in question, but the vulnerability of the victims means that they are often unable to categorically deny that such permission was given. The likelihood of such cases being progressed through to a satisfactory outcome, full recovery of assets and a criminal prosecution of the perpetrator remains low. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director of Age UK, has urged the Government,
“to give serious consideration to any amendment that will improve outcomes for older victims and survivors.”
Becki Meakin, general manager of Shaping Our Lives, the national user-led organisation for disabled people, has said:
“The high incidence of violence and abuse among disabled people is related to being dependent on their family and informal networks for care and support. These caring relationships provide additional opportunities for perpetrators to abuse and coercively control. The perpetrator can coercively control the disabled person by withholding essential support such as food, medication or prevent them going out independently. This type of abuse can be done by a family member wherever they live and this type of coercive control would not be easily recognised by the legislation around stalking”
In her opening speech, my noble friend Lady Lister argued that it is wrong to say that post-separation economic abuse can be covered by stalking and harassment legislation, as the Government have done both in Committee in the Commons and at Second Reading. I agree with my noble friend that this is by no means sufficient.
We really need to take action on this now. Controlling or coercive behaviour, including financial abuse, does not become stalking or harassment simply because the victim does not live with their abuser.
My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 149, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for the reasons that she has set out so cogently.
Everyone, including the Government, recognises that post-separation economic abuse exists and is serious. Its full seriousness has been well documented by Surviving Economic Abuse, to whose work I also pay warm tribute. Along with others, I drew attention to this evidence at Second Reading, and it has been very ably set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.
It can be summarised very briefly in two points. First, 95% of abused women experience economic abuse, as a result of which 60% of abused women are left in debt. Secondly, one in four abused women continues to experience economic abuse even after they have left their abuser. Economic abuse does not require physical proximity: it continues and/or escalates after a couple separates. It can also begin after the separation, when an abuser’s opportunity to continue other forms of controlling and coercive behaviour has been removed and when the only way left is through access to their former partner’s resources.
Vivid examples of the ways in which economic abuse can continue, escalate or even begin, as a form of coercive control, have been given by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and there is no need to repeat them. In short, as one abused woman put it:
“He can’t physically get me, he can’t emotionally hurt me, and yet still, economically he can cripple me.”
However, despite this overwhelming evidence, the Government have, up to now, resisted having post-separation economic abuse in the Bill, on the grounds that such abuse can be captured by a harassment or stalking order—and this is indeed theoretically possible.
However, if you told someone you happened to meet in the street that this was what was being proposed by the Government, they would find it very strange indeed. Stalking brings to mind something quite different from economic abuse. As SEA has rightly put it:
“Clear labelling is the primary function of the criminal law—clarity is essential in order for the criminal law to fulfil its preventative function.”
If people are asked to abide by the law, they need to be clear what it says. As the person in the street would say, words should mean what they say. As such, it is quite clear that, from the point of view of clarity for public order and the public good, we need to include this in the Bill.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, it is entirely possible that judicial resistance to convicting a defendant of stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act where there is evidence of economic abuse but not of stalking would mean that it simply would not go through. Quite simply, we should call things by their proper name. I very much hope that the Government continue to reflect on this issue and that they will see that it makes total sense to include this amendment in the Bill, where it properly belongs.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for so clearly and comprehensively introducing her amendment. Amendment 149 would insert a new clause that seeks to extend the protection from any coercive and controlling behaviour that occurs post-separation. The noble Baroness concentrated on economic abuse, but that is not the only form of ongoing abuse.
I was in a relationship that became increasingly abusive over a period of five years. The first time I noticed something was happening was when a friend, a former partner, sent me a birthday card. When I explained who it was from, my then partner tore it up and threw it in the bin. His controlling and coercive behaviour continued and got worse, and he eventually resorted to physical violence. When we split up, he threatened to kill me and threatened to write to my employer to try to destroy my career. I continued to live in fear of what he might do until, 18 months after we had split up, he colluded with a Sunday tabloid newspaper to expose intimate details of our private life, including making public my HIV status, as well as making false allegations that the newspaper eventually admitted were libellous. Fighting the issue in the courts would have resulted in me losing everything if I had lost that case. His actions did not amount to harassment or stalking.
Coercive and controlling behaviour can continue long after separation, with victims of domestic abuse continuing to live in fear of what the perpetrator might do next, and the law needs to reflect this. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 applies only if the perpetrator and victim are in an intimate relationship or if they live together. This amendment would ensure that it would apply to all those who are “personally connected” as defined by Clause 2 of this Bill, whether they live together or not. As such, it would also include the circumstances that Amendment 157 seeks to cover, where a relative is exerting controlling or coercive behaviour, whether or not they live together.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, explained, his amendment is specifically aimed at protecting older and disabled family members. I strongly support Amendment 149 and welcome the focus which Amendment 157 brings to the abuse of older and disabled family members.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in this important debate; he speaks movingly and powerfully on this issue. I support Amendment 157, for which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt set out the argument very well, but I will speak primarily in support of Amendment 149, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which I have also put my name. I also wish to thank her for all of her work in this area, and for eloquently speaking to this amendment, setting out in forensic detail why it is needed.
David Challen, son of Sally Challen, wrote movingly today in the Times. He said that leaving an abuser can be the most defining moment of a victim’s life. The fear of what will happen when they separate from their abuser is often overcome by an instinct of survival and the hope that they will be protected. However, as the law stands on coercive and controlling behaviour, victims who leave are not protected.
It is obvious that coercive control does not end when a relationship does and that very often the exact opposite happens, and the abuse escalates. As many noble Lords have said, this is particularly true of economic abuse, which does not require physical proximity to perpetrate, but can have a crippling effect on victims as their abuser seeks to make their life as hard and as financially unstable as possible. We also need to remember how often children are caught up in the continuation of this kind of abuse, with child maintenance very often being turned off and on like a tap. It is therefore absolutely right that the definition of domestic abuse in this Bill will include economic abuse and also recognises that the abuse can continue when the couple split up. We now need to take this opportunity, as others have said, to amend the Serious Crime Act 2015 to bring coercive control in line with the far better drafting of this Bill.
Not accounting for post-separation abuse is a serious shortcoming of the offence. Given that separation, as we have heard from other noble Lords, is a time at which women are at heightened risk of homicide, this shortcoming is dangerous, too. The Government made the point that existing legislation on stalking and harassment already addresses post-separation abuse. Like others, I absolutely do not accept that. These crimes are not the same and to suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding about all these offences. I also do not believe that the Government’s outstanding report on controlling and coercive behaviour should stand in the way of this vital opportunity before us.
If the law on coercive control stays as it is, what kind of signal do we send to victims? It is this: “Stay put and we can charge him, but if you leave, we can’t touch him.” This makes no sense at all and must change. Failing to recognise that these abusive behaviours can occur post separation creates a dangerous gap in our understanding of this crime and would leave too many victims without the proper justice they deserve.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments and specifically wish to speak to Amendment 157, to which I have added my name. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 covers coercive or controlling behaviours by family members who live with their victims; this amendment would ensure that this is broadened to include those family members who reside at a different address.
As I outlined at Second Reading, many older people suffer from domestic abuse, which all too often goes unreported. Until very recently, the ONS did not collect data for those aged 75 and over in the national crime survey. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the ONS has stopped asking questions around sensitive topics including domestic abuse and sexual assault, so it will not be until sometime after the pandemic that the ONS will start publishing data on the abuse of older people.
From the information we do have, however, we know that the abuse of older people is often committed by family members and victims can be reluctant to report this. In cases where parents are abused by their children, they often feel that the abuse reflects on them as parents—and indeed it might. The Metropolitan Police and other UK police forces have said that this is a significant factor in the underreporting of abuse against older people.
The organisation Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, which I originally set up with the help of the Department of Health and of which I am a patron, has a helpline to support older people who are victims of abuse. The most frequent perpetrators recorded by the helpline are sons and daughters, making up 30% of all calls in 2019 and 38% of calls in the first six months of the pandemic, from March to September 2020.
Abuse against older people, like abuse against people of any age, takes many forms, as we know. Hourglass reports that, in 2019, 40% of calls to its abuse helpline involved financial abuse. Very often, this form of abuse is carried out by family members who do not reside at the same address as the victim.
One way this financial abuse occurs is through the use of technology and the digital exclusion of older people. In June 2020, the International Longevity Centre UK, of which I am chief executive, published a paper entitled Straddling the Divide, which highlighted the issues that many older people face with digital exclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report found that, in the UK,
“around 11.9 million people lack the digital skills they need for everyday life.”
It also found that
“only 47% of adults aged 75 years and over recently used the internet.”
At a time when older people have been told to stay home and shield, many have not been able to go to the bank as they have in the past. More than ever before, many now rely on others to manage their finances online. Very often, this is done by a close family member and sadly, as we know, this can lead to financial abuse.
Such abuse is often coupled with controlling and coercive behaviours by the perpetrator where other forms of abuse, such as physical or psychological abuse, are not used. It is crucial that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviours by family members includes those not residing with the victim, as this would strengthen the law in protecting against the abuse of older people—which, I hope all noble Lords agree, is a serious and often urgent issue that must be resolved as a matter of urgency.
I am advised that the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, was unable to get online so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. I pay heartfelt and fulsome tribute to her for all her tireless work for older people. There is much to commend in Amendments 149 and 157 in this group, but I will direct my remarks to Amendment 149; I pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and her co-signers for introducing it.
The mental anguish and emotional strain of this form of abuse, continuing post separation, is worthy of our attention this evening. I thank the charities such as Refuge, Surviving Economic Abuse—known as SEA—and others that have brought this issue to our attention in the context of this Bill. The figures brought forward in research undertaken by Refuge suggest that 53% of survivors of economic abuse said that it stopped after they had separated from their partner.
However, the controlling and coercive behaviour offence does not cover abuse that occurs when couples are no longer in a relationship or living together, so there are strong arguments for bringing in the type of behaviour so eloquently outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in moving this amendment. In paying tribute to the work of these charities and the many who have suffered abuse, we should look at the inconsistencies and at closing the loophole in the present laws. My starting point is that, now that economic abuse is being recognised in the context of the Domestic Abuse Bill, it makes sense to bring this type of coercive behaviour within the remit of the Bill.
In responding to the powerful arguments put forward in this debate, if my noble friend the Minister cannot adopt the amendments before the House, I hope that she will look kindly on bringing forward amendments from the department and in her own words to ensure that the inconsistencies identified in this amendment are brought to an end and that this type of abuse, the forms taken and its pervasiveness—this abuse can continue long after separation—are brought to a timely end. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for moving this amendment. I believe that it is worthy of the attention of the House, and that this type of behaviour is unacceptable and should be brought within the remit of this Bill. If that does not happen this evening, I hope that my noble friend will look favourably on bringing forward on Report a form of words that we can all unite around.
My Lords, given the excellent speeches that have already been made in support of these two amendments, I can be brief in supporting Amendment 149. The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Burt, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, have all made a cogent case for aligning the definition in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 of those to be protected from coercive control with the much better and wider definition in the current Bill, so that victims of coercive control are protected post separation.
As I said at Second Reading, my interest in this issue arises from my experience as patron of a domestic abuse charity in Norfolk which helps support women and men who have left abusive relationships to rebuild their lives and their confidence. The work it does has made me very aware of the destructive effect ex-partners can have, even from a distance and long after separation.
Together with that experience, as others have said, I am grateful for all the briefing we have received from various organisations and charities. My particular gratitude goes to Cassandra Wiener from the University of Sussex, for having so clearly set out the way coercive and controlling behaviour, particularly—but not exclusively—economic abuse, can continue after the abusive partner has left; indeed, how the act of leaving itself can be a trigger for increasing the abusive behaviour, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, so powerfully described in his very brave and moving speech.
The argument that the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is the appropriate way to deal with a problem that the Government themselves recognise is simply not acceptable. Earlier, reference was made to the need to beware of adding baubles to a legislative Christmas tree. This amendment is no bauble. It goes to the roots of this legislation: the aim that we should provide comprehensive protection for all victims of all forms of domestic abuse from all types of that abuse. I urge the Government to support it.
My Lords, we have heard excellent speeches this evening, so I do not want to cover what has already been so excellently spoken to in the Chamber. I support Amendment 149 and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for bringing this to the Committee. As the Victims’ Commissioner for over seven years, I met many survivors and victims of economic abuse. To sit side by side with someone and listen to their experience of abuse or, if not an abusive relationship, the use of coercive control to persecute them financially is a heart-breaking situation when your hands are tied.
I am very grateful, as many noble Lords have said, for lots of briefing but especially to Surviving Economic Abuse. Its briefing was outstanding, and I would like to highlight just some points as I know it is going to be a long night. One in four women reports experiencing economic abuse after leaving the abuser. In fact, given that economic abuse does not require physical proximity, as we have heard, it commonly continues, escalates and in some cases may begin after separation. This creates a significant barrier to the victim rebuilding their life. This is an horrendous attitude—the way that abusers absolutely pincer their victims.
To help people fully understand, I will quote a case study from Surviving Economic Abuse in support of this amendment. It says:
“Layla was married for over 20 years and has three children. Her husband was controlling and coercive throughout the marriage both economically and emotionally, pressurising her to transfer money to his bank account and forcing her to let him use the credit card she had in her sole name. He ran up debt on her credit card and, after separation, forced her to release hundreds of thousands of pounds of equity from the mortgage. Layla continues to pay debts he has put in her name, including bank loans of £70,000.”
We are not talking pocket money here. These are huge amounts that prevent victims repairing their lives.
It is so important that this amendment is made to the Domestic Abuse Bill as other Peers have covered other sections of the Serious Crime Act. More importantly, this would send a message to other abusers in relationships where a divorce is sought and coercive control carries on and on through the financial settlement while, to the victim’s cost, the debt escalates and escalates. I know this from the personal experience of friends, victims and survivors. We have to ensure that we make this amendment to the Bill to send a message that this is taken seriously, and to empower victims by ensuring that they know that we support them, listen to them and will help protect them from the people who cause them to go into debt.
My Lords, I support Amendment 149, as so excellently moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who I warmly congratulate on all her work in this area. Amendment 149 relates to the abuse perpetrated after people have separated. I too thank Surviving Economic Abuse for its excellent work and briefing.
Economic abuse after separation can particularly affect older women, many of whom have been financially dependent on a partner who traditionally managed the family’s finances and then, after they have stopped living together, continues to try to withhold money or run up debts in the woman’s name, without her realising it in time. I also support Amendment 157, spoken to so well by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which relates to the problem of abuse suffered by older people generally. They can suffer many different types of abuse. Further, I add my support to Amendment 171, which looks at carers and the abuse that can be perpetrated against elderly or disabled victims; this need to be covered as well.
As my noble friend Lord Cormack has said, the Domestic Abuse Bill is a ground-breaking, landmark piece of legislation. It contains some important measures to ensure that the statutory definition of domestic abuse is really wide-ranging. Amendment 149 seeks to ensure that this legislation is clearly consistent with other legislation. The Domestic Abuse Bill is an ideal avenue to address inconsistency with the Serious Crime Act 2015, and to extend the current offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in Section 6 of that Act to ensure that it covers abuse post separation.
Currently, Section 76 limits this offence to those situations where the perpetrator and victim are either in an intimate relationship with each other or living together as either members of the same family or having previously been an intimate relationship. Under the 2015 Act, the two people have to meet the definition of being personally connected, but this would exclude two individuals who are no longer in an intimate relationship or living together.
Without the changes in these amendments, abusive behaviours such as economic abuse by one partner towards the other cannot necessarily fall within the existing offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. This is a crucial gap in the law, which Amendment 149 seeks to close by unequivocally making the 2015 Act and the definitions in this Bill consistent, so that abuse perpetrated when people are not living together can still be counted as a criminal offence. Indeed, if this amendment is accepted, my own Amendment 168, debated on the first day in Committee, will automatically be covered.
Existing legislation on stalking and harassment is not suitable to address post-separation abuse, and I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify to the Committee that the Government support the aims of this amendment and, if they do not accept these words, may come forward with their own wording on Report that can ensure that the coercive control offence will be brought into the criminal law in line with the statutory definition of domestic abuse to remove the current anomaly, so that victims need wait no longer for this much-needed protection. Whether this is about controlling or coercive behaviour, alienating behaviour or other forms of abuse, the criminal law will then be able to catch up with the more enlightened understanding of domestic abuse enshrined in the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, offer my support for Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I also heard compelling arguments from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for their Amendment 157.
With regard to Amendment 149, we have heard some very compelling arguments this evening. Indeed, there has been unanimity thus far, and I expect that to continue. This proposal was the primary subject of my remarks at Second Reading. As we have heard, the protection afforded by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act is limited by the residency requirement it contains. I completely agree with earlier speakers—indeed, it is self-evident—that victims can still be extremely vulnerable to abuse from their former partners even if they are not living together under the same roof. Research from bodies including the University of Sussex has reinforced the nature of this threat. They are concerned, quite rightly in my view, that this discrepancy creates a perverse disincentive for victims physically to leave their former partners.
Fortunately we have the solution to this problem staring at us from the Domestic Abuse Bill before us this evening. The enhanced definition of connected persons in Clause 2 does not have this residency requirement, as we have heard. Therefore, it seems entirely logical to harmonise the law between these two statutes. The clearer the law, the better, and there is no room for two competing definitions on the statute book. We need to choose the most effective one, and in my view that is the one contained in Clause 2. This is really extremely difficult to argue against, given that the Government have come forward with a new definition that is based on the lessons learned in the intervening five years. Why this should not be applied in these circumstances would be a difficult argument to make. So the issue is really as straightforward as that and, not surprisingly, the amendment has had a great deal of support to date both inside the House and externally, and I add my support.
The Bill has the potential to do so much good, and the Government should be warmly applauded for having brought it forward. Making the change proposed in this amendment would add further to those benefits. As I mentioned at Second Reading, we are fortunate enough to have a Minister with us this evening who is an expert in this field, and I very much look forward to my noble friend’s response after she has heard the arguments put forward this evening.
My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and other noble Lords who have signed it. I thank them for bringing this to the attention of the Committee and I wholeheartedly support this amendment on post-separation abuse, including economic abuse. It is tragic that so many women continue to be abused even after separation. They have done the right thing—left, escaped, moved or fled—but somehow the plague of abuse continues in other forms. It does not require physical contact, and for some victims this form of abuse only starts after they have left. It is another barrier to escape when they have surely suffered enough. It is widespread: one in four women reports experiencing economic abuse after separation. Most alarmingly, it is post-separation when women are at heightened risk of homicide.
Perhaps most tragically of all, the current law offers inadequate protection, and this amendment would begin to correct that. Currently, we are in the absurd position that many post-separation offences would be a crime only if they occurred before separation. In the words of one Crown Court judge:
“If you have had the strength to leave—we are suddenly not supporting those people? They have got the legislation wrong.”
There are a few important legislative issues to consider. The first is that the Serious Crime Act definition of coercive control does not cover post-separation abuse. Therefore, once this Bill passes, there will be an anomaly in the law, both within English statute and across the United Kingdom, since it is covered in Scotland. The amendment in the other place was withdrawn because of an ongoing government review into the offence of coercive behaviour. This would seem a compelling reason, but I do not think it reason enough to ignore this amendment. The review in question does not look specifically at economic abuse and, since it is concerned only with the current application of the law, which does not recognise economic abuse, it is unlikely to do the issue any justice. Therefore, the review should not stand as a barrier to the acceptance of this amendment.
Finally, it has been argued that victims of abuse can be protected under existing legislation concerning stalking, since statutory guidance has been updated to include economic abuse. But, practically speaking, this is unlikely to be effective. The guidance given to police officers when drawing up stalking protection orders does not include economic abuse provision. Indeed, it is not clear how it could. I therefore believe there is a clear and compelling case for accepting this amendment. The evidence that economic abuse is a crime has been accepted by all, as evidenced by the debate and continued passage of this Bill. It is now a question of offering every possible legal protection, consistently and universally, for the very brave victims of this awful crime. This amendment does that and has my unqualified support.
My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, who is next on the list, has already spoken and inadvertently appears a second time. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has withdrawn. I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Verma.
My Lords, I am very supportive of Amendment 149. I would like to put it in the context of how I see this: supporting women from BAME communities in particular, where they are separated from their families and yet the coercive behaviour continues, not just by one perpetrator but by many family members, in particular with regard to the economics of abuse or the way they poison—and I say “poison” very strongly—the minds of children against the victims and survivors. We need to have something in place that supports women. I concentrate on BAME women because I feel that they are probably those who least know how to access the services that are available and how to utilise the law as it currently stands. We need to make sure that they have as much protection as possible and are able to access it.
I know my noble friend will take away the serious implications of the amendment, particularly for the women I am trying to focus on. I feel, as other noble Lords have said very eloquently, that this is something that is critical and missing in an important piece of our legislative framework.
My Lords, I support Amendments 149 and 157. I am very well aware of the time and shall keep this short. Victims of domestic abuse who escape the perpetrator need protection in circumstances already set out so well by other speakers—and not exclusively, I have to say, in situations of economic abuse. However, to look at economic abuse, as a family judge financial dispute cases post-divorce came before me which undoubtedly came within the framework of economic abuse. They were very difficult to resolve because those who had perpetrated this economic abuse were usually very clever in managing to prevent adequate financial relief for the spouse. However, it is absurd to suggest that the CPS would be likely to prosecute these sorts of cases as issues of harassment. Possibly it would, but I would be astonished if it did or, indeed, if the police brought them to the attention of the CPS.
As I said, I also support Amendment 157. It is broader than has been suggested and, in my view, it includes teenagers who are being forced into marriage by family members who do not necessarily live under the same roof. An example would be uncles or brothers who have already left home, but they are as abusive and dangerous to the teenager being forced into marriage as those who live under the same roof.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lords and to listen to their powerful and compelling speeches. I am pleased to speak to Amendment 149. It is vital that post-separation abuse is recognised within this Domestic Abuse Bill, as the controlling and coercive behaviour offence only recognises victims who live with an abuser or who are in an intimate relationship with them. That cannot be right. Leaving a controlling relationship is very dangerous, as many survivors know. It is too easy to assume that once a victim has left their abuser, that abuse stops. In too many cases it is just the opposite and economic abuse is rarely used in isolation, as victims still suffer from other forms of abuse, which forces them to abide by their abusers with unreasonable demands placed on them. All the while, they desperately want to keep themselves and their children safe.
As one victim said, it is like an invisible chain: it goes on and on. That is because their abuser does not even have to know where their victim is. As a result, it puts them at an even greater risk of homicide during this period. The resulting outcome is that it prevents a victim from moving on with their lives. They feel that they can never be free. This new clause would ensure that those victims who were previously personally connected are protected from any coercive or controlling behaviour occurring post separation. This is a one-step opportunity within this Domestic Abuse Bill to change the law and save lives.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 149. It took us a long time to recognise coercive control, but now that we have, we have come a long way very quickly. The term “coercive control” has entered our vernacular; as mentioned in an earlier debate, “The Archers” centred a major story line on it, as did “Coronation Street”. That might sound trivial, but it is not, because with each storyline, society’s understanding grows and what was once considered acceptable is not any longer.
The Government should be proud of the part they have played in reaching this point. When Theresa May introduced the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour in 2015, England and Wales became the first countries in the world to recognise and criminalise this behaviour. With the Bill we are leading the world again by including economic abuse in the first legal definition of domestic abuse. Again, we are ahead of the curve.
When the Government launched consultation on the Bill in March 2018, LBC ran a phone-in discussing economic abuse. A woman called in. She had been suffering from emotional abuse and was also suffering from financial abuse without knowing it was a recognised behaviour. After listening to the show, the woman admitted she was now considering leaving her husband, saying: “I’ve always hidden it: ‘It’s all me; it’s all me.’ Now I realise it’s not all me. I’ve been going through this for quite some time, but I didn’t realise this was an issue”. This is just one example but it shows the very real impact of this Bill and how it is already forging that better understanding and, in so doing, providing better protection for victims—but it can provide better protection for many more victims if it accepts this amendment to include post-separation abuse in controlling and coercive behaviour rather than relying on stalking legislation in which it does not fit easily as a stand-alone offence.
I appreciate that my noble friend has said that we must wait for the outcome of the Home Office review and that this will be published by Report. I sincerely hope the findings will in fact cover this issue for, if we do not address this, we will be letting down all those victims, who we know exist and who continue to suffer even when they have summoned up the courage to leave their abusive partner. If we do that, I am afraid we will have renounced our leading role in this area.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, and other noble Lords for bringing Amendment 149, and to Surviving Economic Abuse. I support both Amendments 149 and 157 and am particularly keen to support Amendment 149 on post-separation economic control.
In an earlier discussion, we had the debate about universal credit and other benefits and the need to ensure the victim can have the financial wherewithal to leave the abuser by making split payments the default position. I hope the Government will be kindlier disposed towards this amendment, which covers a whole aspect of abuse not yet covered in UK law.
As we have heard, the crime of domestic abuse as set out in the Serious Crime Act 2015 does not cover post-separation abuse. Amendment 149 rectifies this. I do not need to add further to the examples that have already been given by other noble Lords, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to make the point of how serious and all-pervasive to the life of the victim this can be.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the amendment to tackle post-separation abuse that was tabled in Committee in the Commons. The Minister, Alex Chalk, acknowledged that the charity Surviving Economic Abuse had done an “important public service” in raising the issue. However, the amendment was withdrawn in Committee due to assurances regarding an ongoing government review into controlling or coercive behaviour, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. We still await the review. It is now promised before Report, and I hope this Minister will not use the same reason for not allowing this amendment. Even better, we would love to see the Government bring their own amendment on Report.
We really need this. One Crown Court judge estimated that without something of this nature, the legislation would be missing 50% or 60% of the people who need to be protected. This is a great Bill, but it will still fail victims—even after they have summoned the courage to escape and even when they thought they had finally got their lives back—if we do not tackle this vitally important group.
Amendment 157 was ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and I have added my name to it. It tackles coercive and controlling behaviour by a relative, whether or not they reside with the victim. As the noble Lord has said, only 25% do. The definition still applies, even if they are no longer in an intimate relationship but still reside together. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, raised the issue of forced marriage, and the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, mentioned other members of the girl’s or woman’s family who do not toe the family line and the way that their life can be poisoned as a result. This amendment therefore widens the definition of controlling and coercive behaviour to ensure that these relationships are still defined as domestic abuse and can be prosecuted as such. I hope that the Government give it favourable consideration.
I will just pick up on a point that was made by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. It concerns what was said during the debate on this or a similar amendment in the Commons, when the Government used an argument to deflect the amendment to the effect that we should await the outcome of the review of coercive control legislation due to be completed by “early autumn”. Last autumn was being referred to. It now appears that we might receive some further information—I hope, the outcome of the review—before Report. No doubt the Minister will confirm that or otherwise when she responds.
The point I want to make is that this is far from the first amendment on a key domestic abuse issue that the Government have told us at some stage that they cannot accept because they are awaiting the outcome of a review, pilot scheme or mapping exercise. That suggests that they know that there are real problems that need addressing but have not determined how in time for the Bill. The Bill has already been a long time on its still-unfinished journey to becoming an Act. I am not sure that this is a satisfactory situation. So often we are told that an amendment is unacceptable because there is a review, pilot scheme or mapping exercise outstanding.
My name is attached to Amendment 149 which, as expected, was moved so comprehensively and persuasively by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett. It adds a new clause, which would ensure that those who were previously personally connected are protected from any coercive and controlling behaviour, including economic abuse, that occurs post separation. As we have heard, economic abuse makes the victim dependent on the perpetrator and limits their choices and ability to move. One in five women in the UK reports having experienced economic abuse from a current or former intimate partner, and 95% of domestic abuse victims report that they have suffered economic abuse. It is widespread.
Through economic exploitation, the perpetrator looks to benefit from the victim’s economic resources and, in so doing, sabotage their economic independence. The perpetrator may also build up debt in the victim’s name through coercion or fraud, or even steal or damage the victim’s property, which then has to be replaced. Building up debt in the victim’s name is common and leaves the victim struggling to live with it thereafter. When this happens, the impact on the victim’s economic well-being is hugely destabilising and limits their choices post separation. Economic safety underpins physical safety, and building an independent life can, for many victims of economic abuse, feel impossible. I will not continue further. I had some more points to make, but I know that time is pressing and I am sure that they have already been made.
I conclude by saying that we support Amendment 149, which addresses the deficiency that I referred to earlier: that the post-separation situation is not covered and that currently, victims of economic abuse post-separation are unable to seek justice. We also support the objectives of Amendment 157, which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for setting out the case for their amendments, which seek to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for tabling his amendment, which seeks to repeal the so-called carer’s defence. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and all the work that she has done in this area. I am grateful, too, to my noble friend Lady Verma, for pointing out the very particular problems faced by some BAME ladies. My noble friend Lady Sanderson illustrated so well how society, including notable broadcasters, has, over time, got to grips with an understanding of coercive control and the terrible harm it causes.
I will address Amendments 149 and 157 before turning to Amendment 171. Amendment 149 seeks to remove the current requirement in the offence of living together in the case of former partners as well as family members. Amendment 157 seeks to remove the current requirement in the offence of living together in the case of relatives who are perpetrating abuse but who do not live with their victim.
Controlling or coercive behaviours are an insidious form of domestic abuse that have long-term debilitating effects on victims and survivors. Such behaviours, intended to harm, punish and frighten, can be perpetrated within intimate and family abusive relationships. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour applies, as it stands, to those who are personally connected. That means that it applies to intimate partners regardless of whether they live together, ex-partners who live together, or family members who live together. The offence does not currently apply to ex-partners or family members who do not live together. The rationale behind this is that there are other criminal offences—stalking and harassment—that may be used to prosecute controlling or coercive behaviours post separation, or in cases where family members do not live together. Indeed, the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour was specifically introduced to close a gap in the law with regard to abuse by intimate partners or family members in the same household.
Turning to surviving economic abuse, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, along with other noble Lords and domestic abuse organisations, rightly highlight that controlling or coercive behaviour often begins, continues or intensifies when the victim and perpetrator no longer live together. They further argue that the stalking and harassment offences are not specifically designed to prosecute this sort of behaviour. Supporters of this amendment also make the point that controlling or coercive behaviour occurs between family members who do not live together, an example being adult children who inflict economic abuse on their elderly parents. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Goschen pointed out, the new statutory definition of domestic abuse includes ex-partners among those defined as personally connected and does not have a “living together” requirement. Therefore, an amendment to the controlling or coercive behaviour offence could be seen as conforming to the definition in Part 1 of the Bill.
There are convincing arguments on either side of this debate, and the case for change is not clear-cut. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour has been in force for just over five years. Consequently, there is only limited evidence on which to build a case for amending the legislation. Given its relative newness, there is also work to be done to further embed the offence throughout the criminal justice system.
Additionally, though not specifically designed to cover controlling or coercive behaviours, the stalking and harassment offence is broad enough that it may apply to post-separation abuse. This includes forms of economic abuse so rightly highlighted by Surviving Economic Abuse. It is also worth noting that the stalking and harassment offence has a maximum sentence of 10 years, whereas for controlling or coercive behaviour it is five years.
The Government are committed to ensuring that any changes to legislation are made on a sound evidential basis. To support this, in 2018 we committed to conducting a review into the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. Though the Home Office has made good progress with the review, it has been unavoidably delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has necessitated refocusing our efforts to support victims throughout this difficult time. We will be publishing the review findings ahead of Report. As the case for change here is not clear-cut, we will continue to consider the evidence for and against change, including the review into the offence, ahead of Report. In coming to a final view, we will reflect very carefully on this debate.
Amendment 171 seeks to repeal what has been labelled by some as the “carer’s defence”, under Section 76(8) to 76(10) of the 2015 Act. This allows for a limited defence where the accused believes that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. The defence is limited as it is not available in cases where the victim fears that violence will be used against them. In addition to believing that he or she was acting in the best interests of the victim, the accused would also need to demonstrate to the court that while their behaviour might have appeared controlling, it was reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. The defence is intended to cover cases where the accused is genuinely acting in the best interests of the victim: for example, if the accused has a caring responsibility for a disabled partner and for medical reasons must compel their partner to take medication or stay at home against their will, for their own protection or well-being. Again, it is important to note that this defence is not available in cases where the victim feared that violence would be used against them.
Supporters of this amendment have put forward three main arguments: first, that it is necessary to protect vulnerable victims who have disabilities or mental health issues from coercion or control; secondly, that the defence has the potential to prolong the abuse of disabled victims and prevent them from accessing equal justice; and, thirdly, that alternative legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act, may be used by the accused to argue that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. This would render the defence unnecessary. However, the Government consider this defence entirely necessary. There will be specific circumstances in which it is possible that the accused’s behaviour, while it might be considered controlling in a different context, is justified and reasonable given the nature of their caring responsibilities. There is a real risk that, without such a defence, a person may be wrongfully convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour when in fact they were indeed acting in a person’s best interests.
As is the case with all legal defences, it is for the courts and juries to decide merit on a case by case basis, and whether the threshold for the defence has been met or not. There are similar or equivalent defences in Scotland, in Section 6 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, and in the proposed new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland, in Clause 12 of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, which has recently completed its passage through the Northern Ireland Assembly.
In conclusion, while I cannot support Amendment 171, I undertake to consider further Amendments 149 and 157. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, it has been a privilege and an honour to move this amendment which has had such great support from across the House and in particular an unusual level of support from the Minister’s own Benches.
We have heard a lot of very strong arguments. I will not go through them, given the time. At present, there is a disincentive for victims of abuse to leave. We have heard about the positions of older and disabled women, children and black and minority ethnic women. We have heard from a former Victims’ Commissioner and a judge, and we have heard the very moving personal experience of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Almost everyone who spoke dismissed, out of hand, the idea that post-separation abuse, and in particular economic abuse, could be treated as a form of stalking.
I had hoped that, having listened to the debate, the Minister would put up the white flag and basically say that the case had been overwhelmingly put. A number of noble Lords on her own Benches said they hoped she would bring forward her own amendment on Report. But I do welcome the fact that she said she will look again at this. That is progress. But she said there are arguments on both sides. Well, I have heard argument after argument for this amendment, and not one against it. The Minister did not really put an argument, so I look forward to what I hope will be productive discussions between now and Report, and I hope she will take note of the calls that, if she will not accept this amendment, she should bring forward her own amendment on Report.
I will leave it at that. I thank noble Lords again for such strong support for this amendment. But in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 149 withdrawn.
Amendments 150 to 154 not moved.
We now come to Amendments 155 and 156. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
155: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Screening for acquired brain injury in domestic abuse cases
(1) A woman who has been the subject of domestic abuse shall, with her consent, be screened for traumatic brain injury, and other forms of brain injury, including concussion.(2) For the purposes of this section a woman has been the subject of domestic abuse if—(a) she is the person for whose protection a domestic abuse protection notice or a domestic abuse protection order has been issued, or(b) she is the person against whom it is alleged the domestic abuse has been perpetrated, when the accused is charged with an offence that amounts to domestic abuse within the meaning of section 1 of this Act.(3) In the case of subsection (2)(a), the screening shall take place within two weeks of a domestic abuse protection notice or a domestic abuse protection order being issued.(4) In the case of subsection (2)(b) the screening shall take place within two weeks of a charge being made for an offence, where the behaviour of the accused amounts to domestic abuse within the meaning of section 1 of this Act.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 155 and speaking to Amendment 156 standing in my name, I must declare two interests: first, I am chairman of the Criminal Justice and Acquired Brain Injury Interest Group; secondly, I am a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Acquired Brain Injury.
The chairman of the APPG, Chris Bryant MP, unsuccessfully tabled these two amendments in Committee in the other place. Since then, he and I have had a discussion with Victoria Atkins MP, Minister for Safeguarding, during which she assured us that the Government recognised the impact of acquired brain injury on victims of domestic abuse. Since then, she has forwarded a copy of the draft guidance to be issued to the police on domestic abuse protection notices and orders. Both are mentioned in Amendment 155, which includes referral to an independent domestic violence advocate, who can advise a victim on a range of issues, including healthcare. That has been forwarded to noble Lords by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford.
These two amendments are linked in that both are to do with assessing whether a victim of domestic abuse is suffering from an acquired brain injury. I will speak first to Amendment 156, which covers prisoner victims of domestic abuse. It was the assessment of their needs conducted by the Disabilities Trust at HMP Drake Hall, a women’s prison in Staffordshire, that first alerted us to the added problems faced by victims suffering from an acquired brain injury.
The trust, which is a member of the interest group that I chair, had carried out an assessment of head injury at HMP Leeds, finding that over 40% of male prisoners were suffering from an acquired brain injury that affected their behaviour. The trust introduced a link worker scheme, in which someone who had worked with a prisoner while he was in prison supported him for six months when he was released into the community. The trust then carried out a similar assessment at HMYOI Wetherby, finding that a similar percentage of young offenders were suffering from an acquired brain injury.
Turning to women, the Ministry of Justice funded the trust to conduct a two-year specialist link worker scheme at Drake Hall. The trust found that 64% of the prisoners reported having suffered a brain injury, 98% of which were traumatic. Forty per cent of those suffering from a traumatic injury had a mental health diagnosis, and 62% of the women reported that they had received their injury during domestic abuse. For some, this was the first realisation that the injury was the cause of their behavioural symptoms.
In that connection, I have mentioned before in this House my disappointment that Theresa May, when Prime Minister, dropped the prisons part of David Cameron’s Prisons and Courts Bill. A number of us had hoped to use it to make statutory certain initial assessments on being received into prison, including an assessment of head injury. I hope that this Bill will provide the opportunity to make that good.
We have also corresponded with Alex Chalk MP at the Ministry of Justice regarding the follow-up to the Disabilities Trust report on Drake Hall. He confirmed that work was under way to improve the identification of individuals with an acquired brain injury and ensure that prison and probation staff were better informed and trained to understand and support the behavioural challenges of those with an acquired brain injury.
I shall move on, or rather backwards, to Amendment 155. In addition to the draft guidance for the police about domestic abuse protection notices and orders, I should draw attention to the inclusion of a time factor. Early assessment is of the essence in understanding the effects of an acquired brain injury no less for the victims than for those responsible for treating them. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has raised an important issue and outlined the size of the problem. Brain injury can arise from many different causes such as violent trauma, lack of oxygen to the brain or self-medication with alcohol and drugs. Sadly, brain injury is in large part irreversible, although sometimes the brain has the ability to relearn under intense rehabilitation, which is why rehabilitation services are so important.
One can see the motivation behind the amendment, but I fear that it may be difficult to have it in the Bill. In acute head injury, haemorrhage, usually a subdural haematoma, needs to be detected rapidly and the clot removed neurosurgically. If missed, the injury may become a chronic subdural as the clot acts like a wick, drawing fluid into it so that it slowly expands in the fixed box that the skull provides.
The other main category is that of repeated impact injury, sometimes associated with episodes of concussion as classically seen in boxers, which can lead to dementia. The part of the brain that is damaged determines the clinical signs exhibited. If the frontal lobes or some of the main nuclei of the brain are damaged, there can be profound personality and behavioural changes, while in others, speech and movement are affected. It can be very variable. Sadly, although supportive care can help a person to cope with deteriorating brain function and slow its effect, it is not reversible.
A possible difficulty with the amendment is that it requires a two-week timeframe for assessment, given that there are already waiting lists for MRI machine time for those with symptoms indicating brain pathology, such as cancers that need urgent treatment. Awareness of head injury is gained first and foremost from the patient history, followed by appropriate physical examination, after which further investigations may or may not be indicated. It is the history of the injury and the clinical signs that may indicate brain injury; the screening itself can establish only that the findings and type of injury described are, on the balance of probabilities, likely to be causally linked. This well-motivated amendment should raise awareness of head injury so that women are asked about the type of injury, including how it happened and when. A high index of suspicion of head injury is needed, but I fear that the amendment as worded would not be workable in practice.
I support the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, which he spoke to so convincingly. Amendment 155 deals with screening for traumatic brain injury for female domestic abuse victims who choose to have it within two weeks of a domestic abuse protection notice or order, or when the abuser has been charged. This should provide valuable evidence of abuse for the court and possibly a diagnosis that could help health authorities to treat the injuries that have arisen both physically and mentally. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, about the harm to victims that acquired brain injury can cause; they are complex and worrying.
Amendment 156 relates to female prisoners. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, confirmed, many prisoners of the male variety have been knocked around and may well have brain injuries, although I would suggest that that does not happen very often as a result of domestic abuse.
As we have been told, the amendment is based on research by the Disabilities Trust which shows that nearly two-thirds of offenders at Drake Hall had had a brain injury, of whom 62% claimed that the injury was a result of domestic abuse. Of those diagnosed as having a brain injury, nearly all of them had suffered traumatic brain injury, potentially leading to very serious health consequences, as we have heard.
The amendment provides for all female prisoners to be screened within two weeks of starting their sentence. While they are inside, remedial treatment can be started, I hope, although I accept the very informed and concerning comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay.
My Lords, I support both these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has had a long-standing interest in these matters, as he explained to the Committee, and he spoke with great authority, as he usually does. He also explained that he had had recent conversations with the Minister, Victoria Atkins, and I was pleased that he explained that she is taking this problem very seriously.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, gave a very sobering medical explanation of brain damage and brain injury. In my understanding, she said it is a difficult thing to assess, but it is a very real issue. I too got the review of the Disabilities Trust report on Drake Hall from 2016-18, and we have heard a number of the statistics from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
One particular statistic that was not repeated, and which I thought was particularly revealing, was that 33% of women with a brain injury sustained their injury before committing their first offence. That shows that brain injury can, and often does, lead to life-changing behaviours, which can and do mean that, disproportion-ately, people with brain injuries end up in prison—both women and men.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, did not actually say that this was a probing amendment, but whether or not it is, I am happy to support it. I hope to hear from the Minister that the Government are taking these sources of injury and changes in behaviour very seriously within the prison estate.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for setting out the case for these amendments, which, as he explained, follow similar suggestions from Chris Bryant MP when the Bill was debated in another place. I am pleased that my honourable friend the Minister for Safeguarding was able to meet Mr Bryant and the noble Lord, and that their discussions were—as the noble Lord said—helpful.
Amendment 155 seeks to introduce screening for acquired brain injury for female victims of domestic abuse within two weeks of a domestic abuse charge being made, including those victims to be protected by a domestic abuse protection order. Amendment 156 seeks to introduce screening for brain injury for all female prisoners within two weeks of starting their sentence, with a subsequent assessment to take place if an injury is found.
I say from the outset that we want to make sure that we provide healthcare and support that meets the specific needs of all victims of domestic abuse, and female offenders too, including those with acquired brain injury. We have carefully considered these amendments, and while we appreciate their overarching intent, we feel that legislating would not be the appropriate course of action. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, set out clearly the clinical difficulties that would be involved if we were to put this in the Bill.
The National Health Service is there to provide appropriate care and treatment for everyone who needs it, based on clinical need. This key principle on which the NHS operates means that anyone who needs a certain diagnostic test based on clinical need should receive it. The healthcare needs of victims of domestic abuse will vary greatly based on their individual circumstances and experiences but, if they need urgent assessment or treatment, they will receive this from the National Health Service.
Moreover, as we have heard throughout the scrutiny of the Bill so far, domestic abuse can manifest itself in many ways, including—as in the group of amendments we have just discussed—through coercive control or financial abuse, and it would be inappropriate to invite victims of these forms of domestic abuse for brain injury screening. That is why we do not consider that testing all female victims of domestic abuse, as this amendment suggests, would be an effective use of NHS resources or provide the personalised care they need.
Nevertheless, we believe that improvements can be made to existing screening processes through non-legislative measures. I will provide some background to that. All people entering prison receive an early health assessment within the first 24 hours. This initial assessment is comprehensive so that their health needs can be identified and addressed at an early stage. It includes a standard requirement to undertake a screening questionnaire for head injury and loss of consciousness, which focuses on issues with memory or concentration. As noble Lords have said, these can be important signs.
We acknowledge that more could be done during this screening process to identify and address specific circumstances where head injury or loss of consciousness has resulted from domestic abuse. I am pleased to say that NHS England and NHS Improvement have confirmed that they would be happy to add further questions to the existing screening tool to ascertain, where an acquired brain injury has been identified, whether that acquired brain injury occurred as a result of physical injury related to domestic abuse, sexual violence or another form of abuse.
The national screening tool is reviewed and updated by NHS England and NHS Improvement on an annual basis to allow for any changes in NICE guidance or any recommendations arising from a coroner’s report to prevent future deaths. To amend the existing screening tool, NHS England and NHS Improvement will need to agree the precise questions to be asked and how these will be reported. I am pleased to say that the initial screening questions on domestic violence and the coding that is required have already been agreed and will be implemented by April this year.
Alongside this, NHS England and NHS Improvement are continuing to work with the Disabilities Trust on a training package for healthcare practitioners to increase effectiveness when supporting people with impaired neurological functioning, either as a result of domestic abuse or for other reasons, and also to support them by providing practical steps to those working with patients and self-help tools for the patients themselves to reduce and overcome the impact of any brain injury.
In so far as Amendment 155 seeks to link screening to the making of a domestic abuse protection order, it is important to recognise that, like other protective orders, these are designed to impose requirements on the perpetrator. They cannot impose requirements on the person to be protected by the order, such as requiring them to undertake a screening for an acquired brain injury.
We will, however, use the statutory guidance to the police to recommend that they refer victims to an independent domestic violence adviser, or another specialist advocate, who will be able to advise victims of their options on a whole range of issues, including healthcare. In addition, we will include information on where to go to seek medical attention in the advice materials provided to victims which we will be producing ready for the pilots of the orders.
I hope that these non-legislative measures reassure the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that we are acting to support women with acquired brain injury and that putting this in the Bill is therefore not necessary. I am glad to repeat our thanks to him and to Mr Bryant for the discussions we have had on this important issue. I hope that the noble Lord will be willing to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that considered response and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for their support. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Finlay of Llandaff for drawing on her considerable medical expertise to point out the practical medical difficulties with the timeframe proposed in Amendment 155. I majored on Amendment 156 and the assessment of victims of domestic abuse when they are received in prison, which has been proved to be so important. I will examine in detail what the Minister and my noble friend Lady Finlay said and decide what to do on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 155 withdrawn.
Amendments 156 and 157 not moved.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 158. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
158: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Guidance: child maintenance
(1) The Secretary of State must issue guidance relating to the payment of child maintenance where the person with care of the child is a victim of domestic abuse.(2) Guidance issued under this section must take account of—(a) the potential for the withholding or reducing of child maintenance to constitute economic abuse under section 1(4) of this Act;(b) the need for enforcement action to prevent non-payment; and(c) the difficulties faced by victims of domestic abuse in obtaining evidence to support an application for a variation of a child maintenance calculation.(3) The Child Maintenance Service must have regard to any guidance issued under this section when exercising a function to which the guidance relates. (4) Before issuing guidance under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(5) The Secretary of State must publish any guidance issued under this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the Child Maintenance Service to tackle the problem of abusers continuing economic abuse by withholding or reducing child maintenance payments.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for adding her support to this amendment, in which we return to the issue of economic coercive control, which we explored in today’s group 7, this time in respect of child support payments, which help with the cost of raising the child and can be used for everything from daily subsistence to helping to provide a home. They are vital for the security of a child who is often the victim of abuse himself.
When domestic abuse has occurred and the partners have separated, getting money out of the abuser for child maintenance and other things can, as we have already heard, be difficult and dangerous. The abuser will have the instrument of non-payment as a further tool of economic abuse, despite the fact that not only the ex-partner will suffer but so too will the children for whose benefit the payment is made. Child maintenance arrangements can be organised privately, through the government-run Child Maintenance Service or, more rarely, through a court order. When I was an MP in 2005 to 2015, in quite an affluent area, failure to pay child maintenance was a frequent issue that came up in my surgery. The Child Maintenance Service was severely criticised for failing to enforce payments to the parent with care, and for slowness to act and to process claims. Therefore, when looking at the Commons discussion on this amendment, which was raised by my honourable friend Christine Jardine, I was glad to read that the Minister, Alex Chalk, asserted that matters regarding the CMS’s performance had improved. That is great news, and I commend the Government on the work they have done with input from Women’s Aid and other charities to improve matters, and particularly on issuing a fee waiver in 2017 for survivors of domestic abuse who apply to the CMS for help. However, that fee waiver needs to be better publicised. Many victims are unaware of it.
I also welcome other improvements that the Government have introduced, including avoiding the risk of abuse as a result of having to give up new personal details, such as bank details, when setting up direct payments. However, parents often discover that banks and even CMS staff are unaware of some provisions, including non-geographic-specific bank accounts, which would avoid having to reveal the victim’s location to the perpetrator. These improvements can work only if people know about them.
Domestic violence can be a barrier to setting up child maintenance arrangements at all, with an estimated one in four receiving parents citing domestic violence as their reason for not going to the CMS for help. So many survivors are still trapped, facing the unenviable choice of applying for financial support and risking further abuse, or avoiding abuse and facing financial hardship. We know that many parents covered by the CMS, even with all the improvements to the service, still fail to pay.
In his response to Christine Jardine, Alex Chalk points to improvements in compliance with the collect and pay service, which has risen between 2017 to 2019 from 57% to 68%. But that is still nearly one-third of victims whom the system is still failing. Victims can report the perpetrator and come into the collect and pay service, but many are fearful of doing this for fear of inflaming tensions with an ex-partner who will then face hefty collection charges if the CMS steps in. The Government have made some good steps in a horrendously difficult situation but, despite their claims of not only issuing some guidance and some training, the system could do better. That is why, in further consultation with charities such as Women’s Aid, the Government should look again at how this group of victims can get their lives, their children’s lives and their economic freedom back. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly on this, as I think that the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is one of those that would help to close a little gap in the whole issue. When people think about domestic abuse, they often think about physical abuse, and perhaps about emotional and mental abuse, but tackling economic abuse is just as important if we are to stamp out domestic abuse.
I have signed this amendment, as it is important that the child maintenance system is not misused as a tool of abuse. Domestic abusers must not be allowed to continue their domestic abuse by withholding or reducing their financial support for children. This amendment, like so many of those tabled to this Bill, is a reminder of how multifaceted domestic abuse is, and how abusers will exploit any opportunity they possibly can. We must deny them those opportunities and punish them for what they do.
Amendment 158 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the Child Maintenance Service to tackle the problem of abusers continuing economic abuse by withholding or reducing child maintenance payments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, we have just had a debate on the issue of economic abuse post separation, and one of the examples given of such abuse was through the perpetrator failing to pay child maintenance.
Child maintenance is an essential source of income for many single parents in enabling them to meet their children’s basic needs, including food and clothing, and is of particular importance to victims and survivors of economic abuse, who often rely on such payments for economic stability after leaving a perpetrator. Perpetrators of economic abuse are only too aware of this, however, and withholding or unreliably paying child maintenance can be a way in which they continue to control victims and survivors, including post separation. This issue does seem to highlight the importance of agencies such as the Child Maintenance Service that provide front-line services carrying out training to recognise and respond to economic abuse, as a means of domestic abuse, as part of how they operate.
Economic abuse perpetrated through child maintenance is not new, of course; it has been used by perpetrators for some time. However, the coronavirus seems to have exacerbated the situation through providing perpetrators with increased opportunities to interfere with child maintenance payments. During the present pandemic, it has been reported that the Department for Work and Pensions has redeployed a number of Child Maintenance Service staff in order to deal with the spike in universal credit claims. It has been said that this included staff tasked with enforcing or following up child maintenance.
The media have additionally reported that the Child Maintenance Service was accepting verbal evidence from paying parents seeking to stop or reduce payments in relation to their income decreasing during the pandemic, when this would usually require evidencing through documents such as payslips. In their response, could the Government indicate whether there is validity in these reports and what guidance has been issued by the Government to the Child Maintenance Service on tackling the problem of abusers continuing economic abuse by withholding or reducing child maintenance payments—not only prior to but during the pandemic?
We support the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, in raising this issue and await the Government’s response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for outlining her amendment. I certainly agree with her and all the noble Lords who have spoken that guidance for front-line staff on tackling economic abuse through the withholding or reduction of child maintenance payments is extremely important. I assure her and, I hope, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the Child Maintenance Service takes the issue of domestic abuse extremely seriously and is committed to ensuring that victims of abuse get the help and support that they need to use it safely.
The service has recently substantially strengthened its procedures to support people who are experiencing domestic abuse: in particular, a new programme of domestic abuse training is currently being delivered to all Child Maintenance Service caseworkers. However, before that, the service had already implemented training in this area, designed with input from Women’s Aid. That included: recognising that domestic abuse can take various forms, including physical, psychological, emotional and financial abuse; appropriate signposting to domestic abuse support groups; and advice on contacting the police and, if people did not feel able to do so, asking whether they were content for the Child Maintenance Service to call the police on their behalf. The service has also introduced a complex needs toolkit for its caseworkers which includes clear steps to follow in order to support people who are experiencing abuse. It is regularly reviewed and strengthened on the basis of feedback. The Child Maintenance Service will continue to evaluate the effectiveness of its guidance and training in this area.
Beyond that guidance and training, there are a number of ways in which the Child Maintenance Service responds to cases involving domestic abuse. It might be helpful to outline some of them. They include waiving the application fee for victims of domestic abuse; providing appropriate advice and support to help victims use the service safely and to ensure that there is no unwanted contact between separated parents; acting as an intermediary to facilitate the exchange of bank details and ensuring that no personal information is shared; providing advice on how to set up bank accounts with a centralised sort code, which does not allow victims of abuse to be traced; and providing advice and directing people to a number of specialist domestic abuse support organisations as well as providing advice and information on how they can stay safe.
The Child Maintenance Service also has a range of strong enforcement powers, which can be used against people who consistently refuse to meet their obligations to provide financial support to their children. First, it can make deductions directly from earnings and seize funds directly from a paying parent’s bank account, either as a lump sum or regular payments. We have extended this power to cover joint and certain business accounts, thereby removing the opportunity for paying parents to put their money out of reach. Secondly, it has the capacity to seize goods or force the sale of a non-paying parent’s property. Thirdly, it can seek to have those who wilfully refuse to recognise their obligations either committed to prison or disqualified from driving. Finally, we have also introduced the ability to disqualify non-compliant parents from holding or obtaining a UK passport, which we believe acts as a strong deterrent.
We are therefore confident that the Child Maintenance Service already has sufficient enforcement powers and that it has further strengthened its procedures for supporting people who have suffered domestic abuse. I assure the noble Baroness and all noble Lords who have spoken in this brief but important debate that we will continue to monitor the effectiveness of these enforcement powers and the support that they give. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the speakers who have contributed to this short but, as the Minister says, important debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, spoke very supportively about the importance of child maintenance to the family and how it is abused as a tool of control. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made an interesting contribution about the role of coronavirus and the redeployment of CMS. Obviously that is a concern.
The Minister talked about further strengthening procedures and training, which is what the Minister Alex Chalk said in the other place. I am reassured that the evaluation of the effectiveness of the guidance is continuing, and I hope that the success rate continues to rise so that more families have the wherewithal to survive economically. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 158 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 159. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
159: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Anonymity of domestic abuse survivors in criminal proceedings
(1) Where an allegation has been made that a relevant offence has been committed against a person, no matter relating to that person shall during that person’s lifetime be included in any publication if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify that person as the survivor.(2) Where a person is accused of a relevant offence, no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed as the survivor shall during the survivor’s lifetime be included in any publication.(3) This section does not apply in relation to a person by virtue of subsection (1) at any time after a person has been accused of the offence.(4) The matters relating to a survivor in relation to which the restrictions imposed by subsection (1) or (2) apply (if their inclusion in any publication is likely to have the result mentioned in the relevant subsection) include—(a) the survivor’s name,(b) the survivor’s address,(c) the identity of any school or other educational establishment the survivor attended,(d) the identity of any place where the survivor worked,(e) any still or moving pictures of the survivor, and(f) any other matter that might lead to the identification of the survivor.(5) At the commencement of a trial at which a person is charged with a relevant offence, the judge may issue a direction for lifting the restrictions only following an application by or on behalf of the survivor.(6) Any matter that is included in a publication in contravention of this section must be deleted from that publication and no further reference to the matter may be made in any publication.(7) If any matter is included in a publication in contravention of this section, the following persons shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale—(a) where the publication is a newspaper or periodical, any proprietor, any editor and any publisher of the newspaper or periodical;(b) where the publication is a relevant programme—(i) any body corporate or Scottish partnership engaged in providing the programme service in which the programme is included; and(ii) any person having functions in relation to the programme corresponding to those of an editor of a newspaper;(c) in the case of any other publication, any person publishing it.(8) For the purposes of this section—“publication” means any material published online or in physical form as well as any speech, writing, website, online news outlet, social media posting, relevant programme or other communication in whatever form which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public;“relevant offence” means any offence where it is alleged by the survivor that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse;“survivor” means the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed.”
My Lords, I have tabled this probing amendment because I am trying to address the woeful underprosecution of domestic abuse and domestic violence in our courts. I do not think that the courts are quite set up to secure justice for survivors. Part of the problem is the intrusive nature of court into the survivors’ lives. The nature of domestic abuse means that deep and intimate details of a survivor’s life and their abuse can be exposed to the public eye. These intimate details can be exploited by the tabloid press or be the subject of trolling on social media. The higher the profile of the abuser or survivor or the more extreme the abuse, the more likely they are to face that media circus.
This should not be happening. Intrusion into survivors’ lives has to stop; they are revictimised and exploited by this publicity, which is incredibly damaging. Other survivors see this and it makes them less likely to report crimes that have been committed against them. It forces people to maintain secrecy for fear of becoming the latest victim of a media circus.
The courts are not currently set up to help survivors avoid this media chaos. There is scope for a survivor to seek a reporting restriction, but this is limited to situations where the restriction would help improve the quality of evidence or the level of co-operation given by a witness in preparing the case. This is not necessarily a survivor-focused approach; it is actually focused on helping the court to have the best available evidence, rather than the rights and protections of survivors. I hope that the Government will work with me to improve this. There must be some way to find agreement on the need to protect survivors, while allowing them to tell their story and obtain justice. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for introducing this amendment. The openness of judicial proceedings is a fundamental principle enshrined in Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. This underpins the requirement for a prosecution witness, including the victim, to be identifiable not only to the defendant but to the open court. It supports the defendant’s ability to present his case and to test the prosecution case by cross-examination. In some cases, it can encourage other witnesses to come forward, particularly if the victim has made false allegations in the past.
However, the principle of open justice can sometimes be a bar to successful prosecutions, and we know that domestic abuse survivors are less likely to report abuse if their name is going to appear in the press as a result. I speak from personal experience again. When I was a victim of domestic abuse, I was not prepared even to report my abuser to the police out of shame and fear that it might become public knowledge.
Currently, requests can be made to judges to order that a survivor be kept anonymous, but there is concrete evidence from domestic abuse survivors that a judge’s discretion is not enough, as their names are still published in the press in some cases.
However, it is not the case that every accusation is accurate. When false allegations are made, it is arguable whether the complainant should retain the right to anonymity. It is also illogical and somewhat contradictory to say that there is no shame in having been the victim of domestic abuse, and that awareness of such offences needs to be raised, while requiring anonymity. Enforcing a ban on social media is also difficult to achieve, as the noble Baroness alluded to.
The amendment provides similar protections for the victims of domestic abuse as the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 provides for victims of sexual offences. In the latter case, these protections are considered necessary and generally work well.
We know that domestic abuse is underreported, particularly in the case of male victims. If we are serious about a sea change in our approach to domestic abuse being brought about by the Bill, we should seriously consider this amendment.
This amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would add a new clause to the Bill to provide lifetime press anonymity for survivors of domestic abuse. It reflects similar protections for survivors of sexual assault enshrined in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said. It prevents identifiable details being published online or in print and creates a new offence for breaching this anonymity.
This issue has risen up the agenda because stories are published in which victims and survivors of domestic abuse, as well as family members and children, are named. When these stories then make their way on to websites, victims have no anonymity but the people who choose to make comments do have anonymity.
Apart from the protection for survivors of sexual assault enshrined in the 1992 Act, I believe the Serious Crime Act 2015 grants anonymity to and protection for victims of female genital mutilation, and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 grants anonymity to victims of any human trafficking offence. If I am right, that is three examples of anonymity given to three categories of victims. If the Government are not enthusiastic about this amendment—which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said is a probing amendment—no doubt they will explain in their reply why they consider that survivors of domestic abuse do not require the same protection as survivors of sexual assault, victims of female genital mutilation and victims of any human trafficking offence.
My Lords, I hope I can be relatively brief in my reply—not because the point is not important, nor indeed out of a lack of respect for any of the contributions we have just heard, but because there is a single and critical point, fundamental to the administration of justice, which lies at the heart of this debate.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, explained, this probing amendment is designed to protect the identity of complainants in domestic abuse cases by the automatic application of reporting restrictions from the point when the allegation is made. Although the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred us to Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, I dare say that the principle of open justice goes back much further than that. We are all familiar with the adage that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. That statement, with which we are all familiar, I am sure, recognises that automatic reporting restrictions of this kind are an exceptional interference with open justice. Therefore, we make those reporting restrictions available only when there is a real need to do so.
The most familiar precedent is in relation to complainants who allege that a sexual offence has been committed against them. In those circumstances, there is a clear justification for preventing the reporting of the complainant’s identity, because there is an overriding need for anonymity to be guaranteed from the outset so that victims of a type of offence that still carries considerable stigma are emboldened to come forward and tell the police. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, says, there are a couple of other such other examples in the law, but each of those is an exception to the general rule. We must be very careful, I would suggest, to limit those exceptions to cases where it is demonstrably required. Therefore, while I listened with care to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and his personal and, if I may say, moving testimony, we do not consider that, as a matter of generality, domestic abuse cases in which no sexual offence has been committed fall into the same category such that they require automatic protection in the same way.
However, as a number of noble Lords identified, that does not mean that victims of domestic abuse should be denied anonymity where they both request and need it. The courts have discretionary powers to impose, on application, reporting restrictions prohibiting the naming of a witness, where the court is satisfied that being identified would diminish the quality of that witness’s evidence. I suggest that there is sufficient discretion before the courts to meet cases where reporting restrictions are required. To go further would be an unjustifiable interference with the extremely important principle of open justice.
I hope, therefore, given that this is a probing amendment —and while of course I am always willing to discuss anything with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.
My Lords, I realise this is a tricky subject to legislate on, but I think there is a problem and we need to fix it in some way. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, for their largely sympathetic comments. I heard the Minister say that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. In that case, I would like him to go, perhaps, one of these days, to the High Court and see what is happening in the spy cops inquiry, where Judge Mitting—or rather the Met—is giving anonymity to many police officers who have committed crimes. Therefore, it does seem to me that somehow there is justice for some and not for others. I will, of course, withdraw the amendment now, but I still think this is a problem and that there has to be some way of sorting it out.
Amendment 159 withdrawn.
Amendment 160 not moved.
We now come to Amendment 161. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
161: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Evidence of domestic abuse for the purposes of legal aid: restriction of fees
(1) Where a healthcare professional has examined a person in the course of providing services under a general medical services contract, the healthcare professional may not impose a fee upon that person for providing a letter or report for the purposes of regulation 33(2)(h) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 (S.I. 2012/3098) (supporting documents: domestic violence).(2) In this section, “general medical services contract” has the meaning given by section 84 of the National Health Service Act 2006.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to prevent GPs who have a contract with the NHS from charging victims of domestic abuse for letters confirming their injuries so that they can seek access to legal aid.
My Lords, Amendment 161 in my name—and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Burt of Solihull, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London—seeks to add a new clause to the Bill; its purpose is to deal with an issue that I have been raising in this House since 2016. Although I have had expressions of support from both inside and outside the Chamber, we just have not been able to deal with it.
The problem is that GPs are often asked by victims of domestic abuse to provide letters to a set text, which they need to access legal aid, and a GP can charge a fee for that letter. The vast majority of GPs do not charge and would never dream of doing so, but a minority do, and the charges can be anything up to £150 for such a letter. That is just wrong. The purpose of my new clause is to stop this happening in the future by finally putting an end to this practice, because even one victim being charged is one victim too many.
As I said earlier, this is not the first time that I have raised this issue in the House; I have raised it many times before. I want to give you a flavour of the engagement that I have had with the Government. On 24 January 2018, I moved an amendment on the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, responding for the Government, told me that it was
“far from an ideal situation”,—[Official Report, 24/1/18; col 1058.]
that the matter was being discussed by the Department of Health and negotiated with the GPs, and that it would be reviewed in April 2018. The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, from the Government supported me. I raised the matter again on 6 March 2018, and was told by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, that my amendment this time was too widely worded but that, in “early soundings”, the Department of Health had confirmed that it was an issue that needed “looking at”.
I raised the matter again on 22 March 2018. This time, I was told by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, that she was “shocked” to learn that some GPs would charge victims of domestic abuse for letters so that they could get access to legal aid. On 15 November 2018, I raised the matter with the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, who told the House that
“the Department of Health and Social Care has put this important issue forward as part of the general practice contract negotiations for 2019-20.”
So, this was the second year running that they would be in the negotiations. He said that
“while the progress of these negotiations is not discussed publicly until agreement is reached, I can reassure the House that the Government are committed to dealing with this issue.”
“I agree with the noble Lord. I feel uncomfortable with the idea of these letters being charged for. They have been identified by the Ministry of Justice and MHCLG as barriers to accessing support for victims of domestic violence. That cannot be right, and we are seeking to end that situation.”—[Official Report, 15/11/18; col. 1969.]
On 4 March 2019, I raised the matter again with the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. He recalled that I had raised the issue before but said again that the issue was part of contract negotiations, and that he was unable to update me or the House any further. I raised the issue again via a Written Question, which was answered on 29 April by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackwood of North Oxford. She said that the Government
“recognise the importance of tackling domestic abuse. General practitioners (GPs) can have an important role in supporting victims, including by providing evidence to enable them to access services.”
I was told:
“GP provision of evidence was discussed as part of the 2019/20 GP contract negotiations and work is ongoing to improve the process. Charges for provision of evidence of domestic abuse are not a specific requirement of the contractual relationship between GPs and the National Health Service. The Ministry of Justice and the General Practitioners Council are currently working together to clarify and improve the process for GPs and applicants in relation to evidence of domestic violence for legal aid applications.”
On 14 May 2019, I raised the matter again with the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, when he presented a Statement on domestic abuse and women’s refuges. He did not answer my questions that day but I accept that it was a wider Statement on domestic abuse.
These are not the only times I have raised this issue; I also raised it with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, and with other noble Lords who spoke on behalf of the Government. I hope that this gives the House just a flavour of my persistent efforts to raise what I believe is a great injustice. For women, there appears to be a postcode lottery: just because of where you live, you can be charged for a letter. That is totally wrong. The BMA has a policy that no GP should charge for these letters. The Government have, through a variety of Ministers, recognised that this is wrong and that it should not happen, but for some reason they lack the political will to deal with it and put this issue to bed. No one supports this practice—everybody seems to be against it—but some GPs are still doing it, and the situation seems to be that we are not going to do anything about it. That is just wrong.
This is a most unsatisfactory situation and no Member of this House should be satisfied with it. Therefore, if we cannot get this resolved in the next few weeks, we are going to have a vote on Report—I can promise the House that. We are finally going to deal with this issue in this House. I hope that the Minister can give us some hope today about resolving this; otherwise, I will add him to my list of Ministers who have expressed support but have not actually done anything about it. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, both for introducing this amendment, to which I have signed my name, and for his persistence, as we have heard, in raising this issue in this House and beyond.
The decision to leave an abusive relationship may be among the hardest choices a person will ever make. However cruel the relationship and however damaging its impact, breaking away cuts a bond. It may be the only type of connection that that person has ever known. Sometimes, the relationship is just one in a lifelong pattern. The person brave enough to make that break needs all the support they can get, but too often they encounter barriers, including those related to access to legal aid. Without it, many abuse survivors are unable to challenge the perpetrator through the courts, yet eligibility for such aid is based on the requirement to provide evidence of abuse. It is hard to imagine the pain of reliving the situations of abuse, the shame it can entail and the difficulty of disclosing details of that abuse to different professionals and services over and over again. It is not hard to see why this is something that many victims will never do.
As we have already heard, research from the Ministry of Justice identifies a number of barriers faced by individuals in providing the evidence of their abuse that they need to unlock support. These include difficulties in gathering evidence if the victims do not disclose the violence at the time to those organisations that are recognised as able to supply evidence. Language barriers can be an issue; data protection issues can be a problem; and, of course, as we are discussing with this amendment, the financial costs of acquiring certain pieces of evidence —and the unwillingness on occasion of organisations and health professionals in particular to provide a letter confirming that abuse has taken place—can be a barrier. Taken together, these issues can be the determining factors in a victim’s ability to access legal aid.
This Bill now includes economic abuse in the definition of domestic abuse, recognising that the ways in which one partner seeks to control and abuse the other often include the control of household and personal finances. Therefore, if there is a financial cost to securing a GP’s letter attesting to the fact that abuse has taken place—as we have heard, it is a letter that can cost up to £150—this could push this vital piece of evidence beyond the reach of survivors. Accessing the money from bank accounts that are scrutinised by the partner might alert the abuser to the fact that the victim is in the process of seeking support, which puts them at further risk.
This amendment would remove what might be a crucial block to victims accessing justice. It is supported by the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales. The British Medical Association, as we have heard, has tried to address this issue through guidance, but this has not achieved the aim. This Bill provides the opportunity to put a definitive stop to these charges and ensure that a lack of financial resources is not a hindrance to survivors who are brave enough to try to escape from the perpetrators of domestic abuse.
My Lords, I add my voice to this amendment simply because it should go without saying that some things need to be penned into law for there to be consistent access to justice. Amendment 161 has been tabled because it prevents GPs charging survivors of domestic abuse for letters which confirm injuries they have suffered—evidence which survivors need for their legal aid applications. The case for this amendment has been extremely well made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I agree with the statements they have made, so there is no need to add much to what has been said.
There should be no gatekeepers when we consider the path to justice, not least from those who are on the path to help facilitate it. As we have heard, the British Medical Association has recommended that patients should not be charged for medical evidence when seeking it for legal aid. I too stand by this, by virtue of calling for this amendment to be included in this Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendment 161 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for tabling it and for being so tenacious. It is an honour to speak after the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. We cannot on the one hand spend years putting together a great Bill like this that says to victims, “We hear you; we are there for you; we want to help you escape”, and on the other hand stand by and allow those same victims to be potentially charged £150—an extortionate amount for many people—for proof of that abuse.
Domestic abuse does not discriminate. You can be a victim of abuse whether you are rich or poor. Unfortunately, while this fee remains, it does and will discriminate against poorer victims. Many of them will go without legal representation, many will return to an abuser and many will be seriously injured or worse as a result of being unable to access the legal remedies that are supposed to keep them safe. I know that the Department of Health has a fair amount on its plate right now, but it should endorse this small change to the Bill. It could have an immeasurable impact on people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising this matter—I am tempted to say “again”, but of course I should really say “again and again”. The list of engagements which he set out was impressive, and I fear I may not be able to provide satisfaction to the noble Lord where so many of my illustrious forebears have already failed. If I can put it this way: what he has said this evening has only increased my resolve to try to sort out this issue, not only because it is plainly an important matter to be addressed, as so many have said, but because it means that I will escape the horrid fate of being added to the noble Lord’s list.
The Government, as will be clear from what has been said by my forebears and what I have just said, wholeheartedly agree that vulnerable patients should not be charged by doctors for evidence to support them in accessing legal aid. That being the case, we are sympathetic to the spirit of this amendment. The issue requires further consideration ahead of Report for the reasons I will briefly set out. While I cannot commend this amendment to the Committee today, I will be looking at it in detail between now and Report. I should also take the opportunity to point out a couple of technical issues with the amendment, which I hope will also be helpful.
I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was able to meet with the Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care and representatives from the British Medical Association ahead of today’s debate to discuss the issue. I think it fair to say that everyone who attended this meeting was seized fully both of the issue and of its importance. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, we do not want to do anything to prevent or discourage victims of domestic abuse coming forward, and that includes questions of cost. That said, it is fair to say that there was some anecdotal evidence at the meeting which pointed to this perhaps being a diminishing problem, particularly since, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London reminded us, the BMA issued advice to its members last year that they should not charge for this service, advice which they recently reinforced.
Following that meeting, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, graciously undertook to provide what evidence he had of this being a continuing issue so that we could consider the matter further. We look forward to receiving that evidence and continuing our discussions. However, as matters stand this evening, we remain to be persuaded that this issue needs to be resolved through primary legislation.
The position is that GPs can provide services in addition to NHS contracted services. They are classified as private services, for which they have the discretion to charge the patient. Letters of evidence to access legal aid is one such private service. It is therefore up to an individual GP practice to decide whether a charge should be levied and, if so, what it should be. However, as I indicated, as part of the 2020-21 contract agreement, the BMA recommended to all GPs that a charge should not be levied for letters of this kind. That is a welcome recognition by the BMA that, as was said, vulnerable patients with limited means should not be expected to pay for such letters. We recognise and commend the vast majority of GPs who are following that guidance, but it is a non-binding recommendation. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned, we are informed of anecdotal examples where patients can be charged up to as much as £150 for that evidence.
As I said, I should make a couple of observations about the drafting of the amendment, although I recognise that these can be readily addressed in a further iteration of it. First, as currently drafted, the amendment refers to
“providing a letter … for the purposes of regulation 33(2)(h) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations.”
That regulation was amended by later civil legal aid procedure regulations in 2017, so there is now no such regulation as presently referred to in the amendment. That is something that could be addressed in further drafting, and I respectfully suggest that it is.
Secondly, the amendment relies on the definition of a “general medical services contract” in Section 84 of the National Health Service Act 2006, which applies to England only. I assume that that is the case because, as the noble Lord is aware, the health service is a devolved matter in Wales and therefore this issue is a matter for the Welsh Government. I thought that it was worth making that point clear as well.
I return to the main point, on which, if I may respectfully say so, we have heard a number of very cogent speeches. I have not yet mentioned the contribution of my noble friend Lady Bertin, which was equally forceful. The Government remain committed to exploring options around this issue with the medical profession to ensure that vulnerable patients are not charged, and I would welcome the noble Lord’s continued help in this regard. In particular, once he has been able to provide what evidence he has of GPs continuing to charge victims of domestic abuse for these letters, we will be happy to have further meetings with him ahead of Report.
I hope that in the meantime he will feel able to withdraw his amendment, but he can rest assured that I have it ringing in my ears that I will face a similar amendment on Report if we cannot satisfactorily resolve the matter before that stage. I commit to working with him and to doing all I can to reach that satisfactory conclusion.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken—the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Bertin, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London—for their support. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for his very careful and considered response. It was very welcome.
The noble Lord made reference to the meeting. It was a very good meeting. We actually had four Ministers from three departments on Zoom—I have never had that before—so in that sense I was very pleased. Clearly, Ministers are taking this seriously, and I appreciate that very much.
Obviously, the technical issues can be ironed out. I am not a draftsman, but I am sure that we can get that sorted out. We have been raising this issue since 2016. The negotiations have been going on for a very long time, but we do not seem to have gone beyond the fact that everybody is against it, no one wants to do it, but no one wants to do anything about it. We have not moved on much from that position today.
As I said, I hope that I will not have to push the amendment to a vote at a later stage. I hope that I can work with the noble Lord to resolve this issue but, if that does not happen, we will divide the House. However, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 161 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 162. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
162: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress
(1) Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 is amended as follows.(2) After subsection (1) insert—“(1A) It is an offence for a person to threaten to disclose a private sexual photograph or film if the threat is made—(a) without the consent to the threatened disclosure of an individual who appears, or is stated to appear, in the photograph or film, and(b) with the intention of causing that individual distress.”(3) In subsection (2), for “subsection (1)(a) and (b)” substitute “subsections (1)(a) and (b) and (1A)(a) and (b)”.(4) In subsection (3), after “disclosure” insert “or threat to disclose”.(5) In subsection (4)(a), after “disclosure” insert “or threat to disclose”.(6) In subsection (5), for “this section” substitute “subsection (1)”.(7) In subsection (8)—(a) after “disclosed” insert “or threatened to disclose”;(b) after “disclosure” insert “or threat to disclose”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This Clause will make the threat to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress a criminal offence.
My Lords, Amendment 162 is in my name and the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson of Abinger, Lady Crawley and Lady Grey-Thompson. I thank them, and the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, for their support. I am grateful to all noble Lords who indicated their support to me for this change in the law. I also thank Ministers in both Houses for their constructive engagement on this matter so far and, in particular, the Secretary of State for Justice, who was himself involved in securing the change to the law in 2015 to criminalise the sharing of intimate images, otherwise known as “revenge porn”.
As I said on Second Reading, more and more of us are using technology and living our lives online, and never more so than in the last 12 months. I want to thank the charity Refuge which, with its Naked Threat campaign, has a specific tech abuse team. It launched its campaign because one of the abuses reported to them in more and more cases was the making of threats to share intimate images. Even before the pandemic, 72% of women accessing Refuge’s services said they had been subjected to technology-facilitated abuse. Most often, these images had been taken in the course of a relationship, and the majority of women who had been threatened in this way had been threatened by a current or former partner. That is why I would argue that this Bill is the right place for this House to recognise and criminalise these threats.
At its core, this is an issue about the exercise of control by one person—the abuser, the maker of the threats—over another. Too often, the threats are followed by physical abuse. If anyone should doubt the prevalence, the research conducted by Refuge as part of its campaign found that one in 14 adults in England and Wales had experienced the threat to share. That is equivalent to around 4.4 million people, and younger women were disproportionately impacted by threats to share, with one in seven having experienced this form of abuse.
What is the impact of the making of such threats? Figures from Refuge show 83% of threatened women said the threats to share their intimate photos or videos impacted their mental health and well-being. About 78% said they changed the way they behaved as a result of the threats. But more worrying is that one in 10 women said the threats had forced them to allow the perpetrator to have contact with their children, and almost one in 10 said they were forced to continue or resume their relationship with the perpetrator and/or tell them where they now were.
I want to pay tribute to those victims who have told their stories and been prepared to come forward. The hour is late, and I do not want to detain the House, because I know there are other noble Lords who want to speak on this amendment, too. But I want to mention one victim who has come forward. Natasha was threatened by her ex-husband. He is now in prison and I am pleased to say she is happily remarried. She said:
“Knowing an abuser has intimate photos feels like you’re being violated. Those images were for his own gratification and a tool to keep me compliant. I had no way of proving my ex had shared these images but the threat of sharing them was equally distressing and compounded my isolation.”
The reason these brave victims and, sadly, millions of others, are not getting the protection they should is that they are too often told that no police action can be taken until the images are actually shared. Of course, the actual sharing of the images might take place, but just as likely, if a partner or ex-partner wants to exercise control over and play havoc with their victim’s life, they will leave the threat hanging out there, often for many years. So the police and everyone else need to know and be clear in their own minds that the making of threats is an offence and should be prosecuted, in the same way as the actual sharing of intimate images was made a crime by this Government under Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. I should also point out that in Scotland, the threat to share is already an offence.
Having said all of this, and hopefully made the case for why the law should be changed, I do not think that there is too great a difference between those of us who support the amendment and my noble friend the Minister on this matter. I believe that the Government accept that there is a gap in the law which needs to be addressed. The real issue is one of timing. As I understand it, the Government would prefer to wait until the Law Commission has published its consultation on image-based abuse overall and then made its recommendations. But we were promised this consultation early this year; I suspect Ministers hoped that it would be published before we reached this stage of the Bill, but we are still waiting, and this is only a consultation. The recommendations to follow and then the change in the law could take several more years.
I do not disagree that a full review of the law on image-based abuse would be welcome, but in the meantime we have a Bill before us which, as I said at Second Reading, provides an opportunity to tackle this abuse now. Ultimately, this amendment would not make it more difficult to eventually extend the law on broader image-based abuse, but approving it now, and including it in the Bill, would protect millions of women and victims of domestic abuse sooner than some indefinite date in the future. I hope the Minister will therefore accept that the time for action against these threats is now. I urge all noble Lords to support this amendment, and I beg to move it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and to add my name to her important and transformative amendment, alongside the noble Baronesses, Lady Hodgson and Lady Grey-Thompson. The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has set out with great clarity and passion the urgent need for this amendment to fill the very obvious gap in the current law on sharing intimate images.
In my many years of making the case for women’s rights, both here and internationally, I have come to the conclusion that technology is a wonderful thing—until it becomes an instrument of control and abuse, directed so often at women and girls as they are bullied, harassed and threatened online. We may hear the Government’s response to this amendment asking us—as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has said—to wait for the relevant Law Commission review. We know that that review began in 2019, following on from a scoping review in 2018, and that it is not going to report until the end of this year, 2021. There will then be a government review, and that will take us into 2022. There is no guarantee that any legislative action will take place immediately, in the medium term or in the long term—or before the next general election, for that matter. This is not good enough.
There can be horrendous consequences of so-called revenge porn: anxiety, depression, life-changing behaviour and, while suicide is not common, neither is it unheard of. Rachel lived in absolute fear of having intimate images taken without her knowledge sent to her family. It left her so hopeless and desperate that she became suicidal. The anxiety also left her unable to report the other horrendous abuse by her partner that she was suffering, because, as is so often the case, the threat to disclose intimate images is part of a pattern of abuse that is extreme. Refuge tells us that one in 10 women said that the threat to share images forced them to allow the perpetrator not only to have contact with their children but to resume the relationship because of the threat. Revenge porn crimes are undoubtedly linked to other forms of criminal behaviour. We know this because the majority of all image-based charges are brought alongside family violence offences.
This amendment specifically relates to an escalation of offending and co-offending that adds up to the domestic abuse that this Bill seeks to address. As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, younger women are in the eye of this storm of abuse. Alison’s story is shocking, but not rare. Her ex-partner told her he had drugged and raped her and recorded the incidents on his phone. The police could not act before he did. However, they spoke to him, and he told them that he had deleted the images. Needless to say, he had not. He contacted Alison and told her that he still had the videos and threatened again to share them. I ask the Minister to take the temperature of the Committee tonight on this vital amendment and to work with us and the courageous women—Alison, Natasha, Rachel and all those young women who stand in ranks behind them—to ensure that this amendment forms part of the Bill. It is time to put a stop to this particularly insidious form of 21st-century patriarchal sadism.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and I am pleased to stand in support of Amendment 162, which is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Morgan, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Grey-Thompson. It aims to close the criminal loophole that the ease of smartphones and modern technology has afforded perpetrators of domestic violence.
In her introduction to the amendment, my noble friend Lady Morgan set out the sheer scale of how simple threats to share sexual images or videos without consent are being used as a tool of coercive control and domestic abuse with devastating effect. Sadly, this seems to be a growing problem. The time is late, and I do not propose to repeat the statistic that we have already heard: that 4.4 million people are affected. The impact of these threats from current or ex-partners has huge negative results on mental and emotional well-being, creating enormous fear and anxiety, and, sadly, they are very effective. Four out of five women surveyed changed the way they behaved as a result of threats. They feel ashamed, anxious, isolated, frightened and even suicidal.
On Second Reading, my noble friend the Minister acknowledged these concerns and highlighted that the Law Commission has launched a review of the law relating to the non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images, including, but not limited to, the revenge porn offence in Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. However, as she has already said, waiting for the results of the review may take a long time, because once it is concluded it can take up to six months for the Government to provide an interim response to the findings and a full year before a final formal response. While the Government often accept Law Commission findings, as your Lordships well know, they are then subject to the Government finding a suitable piece of legislation and parliamentary time to make the legal changes enabling a recommendation to come into force. As has already been mentioned, it could be years, so why wait when this Bill provides the perfect opportunity for the change today? We do not need a review to tell us that this is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with, as do our concerns about the effectiveness of the law as it stands. I ask the Minister: why not accept this amendment, even if it is not perfect? This change, which we can make now, will provide victims with the support they need to fight back against such abusive, despicable behaviour as revenge porn and give the police the power they require to be able to act.
My Lords, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my declaration of interest, in that I am a vice-chair of the Local Government Association.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and others who have put their name to this amendment have comprehensively covered it and I commend them all on their ongoing commitment in this area. It is a privilege to add my name to this amendment. I also thank Refuge for providing an overwhelming picture of the scale and impact of this threat. The data and figures are compelling.
The impact on its victims is devastating. I ask that, if anyone is unsure of this amendment, they look at The Naked Threat, which recounts examples from survivors. Due to threats, one in five women experienced panic attacks. More than one in 10 felt suicidal. A third of threatened women said that the threat made them feel ashamed, anxious and used, and a quarter felt isolated. Almost one in five said that the threats directly impacted their relationships with friends and family.
Threats to share intimate images also had a direct impact on women’s physical safety. Almost one in five threatened women feared for their physical safety. And it cannot be right that almost one in 10 was forced, they said, to continue or resume the relationship with the perpetrator. It is appalling that one in seven young women is affected by the threat to share intimate images.
The case studies that the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, raised—of Natasha, Alison and Rachel—should make us all think about this amendment. Threats to share images cause women to alter their behaviour, a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has already covered. The real worry, however, is that because this is not illegal, 63% of women affected did not report the threats to the police.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is the right vehicle to enhance protection against threats to share, because the majority—72%—of threatened women were threatened by a current or former partner. Moreover, more than one in four women was sexually abused alongside the threats to share. More than one in six was physically abused alongside the threats.
The main issue that I want to cover, however, is that while I welcome the Law Commission review of image-based crimes, it could take many years to come to fruition. Other noble Lords with their names on this amendment have mentioned the review. Even after that process is complete, the Government will need to review the recommendations, respond to each in turn and decide whether to accept them. That will take time —and then we will need to find time in the parliamentary schedule. This Bill, which has so much support in your Lordships’ Chamber, has been almost four years in the making. While the Government insist that we wait, how many more women are expected to suffer?
My Lords, I apologise for unavoidably missing Second Reading. I will only add something that is based on my own experience. We are dealing with the instruments of power. The more personal they are, the more powerful they can be; the greater their use, the greater the risk of their misuse. I approach this amendment—the spirit of which I strongly support—on the basis of experience, or experiences, of the way in which all the horrors and indignities can now be heaped on victims in a non-domestic situation: it is rape by strangers, pervertedly using modern technology to add to the humiliation of their victim by taking intimate images before leaving them to all their harrowing distress.
What is the purpose of those photographs? Is it to humiliate, or to threaten? They can be circulated to others with potentially rather perverted sexual titillation in mind, who themselves will have the power to threaten the victim with yet further circulation of the images. Such threats are appalling and should be criminalised. I hear the Minister thinking, immediately, “But this is a Domestic Abuse Bill.” There is a link, however, between that sort of behaviour and the behaviour to which I now come.
I am assuming for present purposes that, far from being rape cases, the images which we are now discussing are based on participation in the taking of images at times of cherished joy by two perfectly happy, willing people. I know that is not always the case, but I am taking it at the other extreme end. They are taken consensually, on the basis of trust—that they will remain private and personal, that they will never be circulated, that the power they give to one participant over the other will never be abused, whether via circulation or threat of circulation, and trust in particular that they will never be abused as a weapon of power, pressure, or control. I emphasise that to me, a threat alone constitutes a grotesque breach of the trust which was once reposed in the other half to the relationship. It leaves the victim with an impossible choice to make: to risk circulation—how awful—or give way to what may be utterly outrageous demands by someone who was once trusted.
We criminalised the sharing of intimate pictures. Section 33 of the 2015 Act is a perfectly simple piece of legislation. We do not require the Law Commission. We do not require very much time to be able to adapt the Section 33 provision so as to make criminal the circulation and the threat to circulate or share images such as this. It is simple and obvious.
My Lords, I add my name to those saying that this is a change we should make, and now. I would like to be sure, which I am not at the moment, that the wording will cover an image which does not actually exist but is merely asserted to exist. On some of these occasions, a recording will have been made or said to have been made without the victim’s knowledge, but she may well believe that the allegation is true because it is a believable one. Under those circumstances, it should be clear that this offence is activated. I would also like to understand better how one can consent to a threat. If it is a threat, what does consent look like? What would it take for someone to consent to a threat? How would that be phrased; how would it work? Is “publish and be damned” consent? If not, what would be?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for putting down this amendment, which I strongly support.
One way to judge the gravity of a crime is to assess the anguish it brings to its victims. Usually, this emotional suffering comes as a by-product of, say, physical harm or financial loss. However, sometimes the creation of anguish is deliberate, the whole point of the crime, and a source of great satisfaction to the criminal. It is perhaps no surprise that our courts have reserved special condemnation for those responsible for this sort of behaviour. In 2015, amid mounting evidence of a growing problem, the Government decided to tackle the ugly phenomenon of so-called revenge porn: the sadistic online dissemination without consent of sexually explicit photos and videos, usually of young women, and usually by disgruntled former boyfriends. Ministers recognised that this behaviour is particularly nasty because it targets the most private and personal aspects of life, exploiting intimacy to create ridicule, contempt and public shame. Indeed, each of these emotions is precisely what is intended by the perpetrator, particularly the public shaming. This conduct was thus made a crime that could lead straight to prison.
However, it is now clear that the present law does not go far enough, for what about threats to share intimate images? As your Lordships have been told, at present, these attract no criminal sanction at all, although the evidence shows that significant numbers of women and girls face this menacing behaviour.
Much has been said in this debate about the survey carried out by Refuge, the country’s largest provider of domestic abuse services. That is not surprising when the results of this survey appear to show that as many as one in seven young women in England and Wales have faced these threats.
These figures portray a world of anxiety and dread. Because most of these threats come from current or former partners, they also speak of deliberate schemes of domination and control that we should acknowledge for what they are: straightforward examples of domestic abuse. Like all crimes in this category, they gift a gratifying sense of power to the abuser, who is intent on using this power to signal the victim’s utter lack of worth.
Amendment 162 provides the opportunity to change the law to criminalise this behaviour, granting thousands of women and girls access to justice and protection—the first duty of the law. At present the Government prefer to push this issue off into the future, awaiting a Law Commission review into all forms of image-based abuse. But for all the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, people subjected right now to this behaviour should not have to wait. I hope the Government will accept what is widely acknowledged: that this is a gap in the law and the Government’s duty is to plug it without delay.