Baroness Bertin debates involving the Home Office during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Tue 22nd Mar 2022
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
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Consideration of Commons amendments: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Mon 13th Dec 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
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Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Lords Hansard - part one & Report stage: Part 1
Wed 27th Oct 2021
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - part one & Committee stage part one
Tue 14th Sep 2021
Mon 15th Mar 2021
Mon 8th Mar 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
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Report stage & Report stage & Lords Hansard
Wed 10th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 1st Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

UK: Violence Against Women and Girls

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Thursday 29th June 2023

(1 year ago)

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Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I echo the thanks to the noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Warwick, for securing this debate. We need to do all we can to keep up consistent focus and momentum on this issue and need always to be asking ourselves: what is working? What legislation has been successful? What has not been so successful? Where are the gaps and what more needs to be done?

To begin on a positive note, I am delighted that the Government have toughened up revenge porn laws this week. The onus is now no longer on the victim to prove that the perpetrator intended to cause distress. This is big progress; it sends a powerful signal to perpetrators but also to society as a whole. It says to the predominantly female victims that, finally, a law is on their side. The dismal prosecution figures associated with crimes of a sexual nature have to change, and I hope that announcements such as this will mark some kind of turning point. It also rightly recognises what is actually going on in the world: technology is now the dominating theme in so many crimes against women and girls.

I was unable to speak on the Online Safety Bill, but I give my full support to noble friends and colleagues who have fought to make changes around age verification for pornography and codes of conduct for violence against women and girls, recognising that of course we are disproportionately attacked and abused online. Real damage is being done not only to our children but also to women, and if we let this opportunity pass without putting the best protections in place, we will have failed. I urge the Government to be brave on this and accept many of those amendments.

On the issue of pornography, allowing young people, particularly young boys, such easy access to misogynistic and degrading porn renders much of the hard work that many people, so many campaigners and organisations are doing to combat VAWG completely redundant. It changes behaviour and informs how relationships begin and continues. Anecdotes of boys in primary schools playing out porno scenes where they are choking their female classmates are commonplace and absolutely shocking. There was one shocking anecdote from a head teacher which will always stay with me. She described having a 12 year-old boy in her office accused of raping his classmate. He was sobbing as they waited for the police, saying he had no idea that what he was doing was wrong, believing that force was a normal part of sex, having watched so much pornography of that nature. Her life was ruined and his life too.

When researching this speech, I spoke to a group of 16 year-old girls. One issue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, that came up time and again was cyberflashing. Every one of them had experienced it and they all found it frightening and threatening. They also expressed concerns that, despite it becoming a crime, prosecution levels would be non-existent, due to the onus being on them to prove the intent of the perpetrator. This is the wrong way around and once again prioritises men’s freedoms over women’s and girls’ freedoms not to be sexually harassed.

Cyberflashing, just like real-life flashing, is completely perverse behaviour. Let us just take a moment to remember what this is. A young woman might be sitting on a crowded train when someone decides to airdrop a picture of his penis. He is close by. She knows he is watching her reaction, getting a kick out of the shock, the disgust and fear. This really is an unpleasant crime and one-third of women have experienced it. Worse still, it is a precursor, as we know, to far more serious crimes and should not be left unchecked. People do not just wake up one morning and become a rapist or a murderer; they work up to it, very often through crimes such as these.

So, I ask the Minister, if he cannot accept the amendments, which I sincerely hope he does, can he reassure us that, since there are unacceptably low prosecutions in the area of cyberflashing, the Government will think again about how they deal with this increasingly ubiquitous and sinister crime? I end by saying that, while of course it is men’s behaviour that is the problem, we must be careful not to pitch this as men versus women. This is about violent men versus society, and we need to include men and boys in the conversation and the solution much more than I think we do at the moment.

Police Conduct and David Carrick

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Thursday 19th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I agree with the noble Baroness that “misconduct” is not the right word for this; this is serious and violent crime. She is 100% right on that.

I cannot answer the questions in detail as to why the Met failed in its responsibilities on the collection and assessment of data, but the noble Baroness is absolutely right that there were serial failures, which unfortunately were repeated very often. I will add go into some detail: Carrick was the subject of five complaints from members of the public between 2002 and 2008, none of which was of a sexual nature. He came to the Metropolitan Police Service’s attention nine times prior to October 2021 for off-duty matters; the earliest was in 2000, prior to his police service. He was not charged with a criminal offence on any of those occasions, but his case history clearly revealed a pattern of behaviour which should have raised concerns, regardless of the outcome of individual incidents.

The Metropolitan Police’s processes did not properly identify the risk and he was granted clearance when he was vetted on joining the Metropolitan Police in 2001, and again in 2017—that was six years later than when he should have been re-vetted after 10 years’ service. There is no excuse for any of that; these are just unfortunate and simple facts. I am confident that Sir Mark, as the noble Baroness reiterated, is the right man to root this out and to sort it out, and I have no doubt that he will. I cannot answer the specific questions as to why he is reluctant to do certain other things, but I can ask him and perhaps report back.

I apologise for this long answer. The noble Baroness also asked me about his pension. The forfeiture of a police officer’s pension is a matter for the Pension Supervising Authority, and, for officers in the Metropolitan Police Service, that is the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—MOPAC.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I have been sitting on an advisory panel for the Metropolitan Police’s ongoing review of PaDP, the armed unit where Wayne Couzens and David Carrick worked. I absolutely do not doubt the determination of either the Government or Sir Mark Rowley; he is obviously determined to try to root out dangerous and toxic officers. But he needs tools to do that. As it stands, it is an impossible situation, and I really hope that the review they speak of will be robust. Let us face it, the bottom line is that the bar to dismissal needs to be severely and significantly lowered for police officers. At the moment, it is vague and open to interpretation what constitutes serious misconduct and grounds for dismissal; it is absolutely far too woolly, and that needs to change. We well know that charges of domestic abuse, rape and sexual misconduct never get anywhere near court, let alone conviction; so these things are not being picked up in the way they should be.

When the new systems are put in place—I sincerely hope they are; I give full support to what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said about a full overhaul of the regulatory system—they should include discretion, common sense and, as we have just spoken about, an ability to join up the dots on these individuals. That may sound easy, but it will not be. It needs a proper restructure, resource and a complete overhaul; if we do not do that, I am afraid that nothing will change.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I entirely agree with my noble friend. One of the reasons for setting up the dismissals review is that Sir Mark Rowley has publicly requested that we look into this, to make his life, and those of other chief constables, potentially easier in this regard. It was also partly a review of the interim report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey.

I happen to have the terms of reference in front of me, and I think it is worth going through them in a little detail; I will try to keep this reasonably brief. The terms of reference are to:

“Understand the consistency of decision-making at both hearings and accelerated hearings … Assess whether there is disproportionality in dismissals and, if so, examine the potential causes. Establish any trends in the use of sanctions at both hearings and accelerated hearings … To review the existing model”—

which I have already talked about a bit.

“Ensure that forces are able to effectively use Regulation 13 of the Police Regulations 2003 to dispense with the services of probationary officers … Review the available appeal mechanisms for both officers and chief constables”—

I know that subject that exercises many noble Lords.

“Consider the merits of a presumption for disciplinary action against officers found to have committed a criminal offence … Review whether the current three-stage performance system is effective”.

That is a very comprehensive set of terms. As I have already said, the review will be delivered back to us for consideration in four months, and I certainly hope that its recommendations will be acted on in full, in order, as I said at the start of this answer, to deal with Sir Mark Rowley’s request and to respond to the interim review from the noble Baroness, Lady Casey.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, recently I was going home late and I got into a cab and was chatting to the cabbie. At some point he said, “Oh, you posh young birds”. It was so inappropriate on so many levels that I did not know what to do. I did not tip him, of course. It struck me that it was not necessarily offensive—but I did object to it.

I have heard today two incredibly powerful speeches in favour of the Motion, from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. I do not understand why the Government have not heard this message. It is not coming from just these two people; it is coming from millions of women who experience misogyny and really do need protection. It is not enough to say, as the police often do, “Don’t wear short skirts, don’t go out after dark and don’t drink too much” and things like that. This is on a completely different level. It is about protecting women who cannot protect themselves, so I hope that the Government are listening.

I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, was writing very seriously during these speeches. I hope he was making prestigious notes about what was said and how important it was, and I hope the Government are listening.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I support the amendment and thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, for all his support on this issue. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws: “What a powerful speech”.

I particularly want to reiterate the points made about police recording. I am really quite depressed that this amendment has had to be laid—depressed as a Conservative Peer, because I have been so heartened by the commitment that this Government have shown on the issue of violence against women and girls. But at the moment, on the issue of misogyny—it exists, it is there and is corrosive; it is huge, if you ask me—there is a lack of grip. There has also been a lack of leadership and accountability, in particular on the issue of recording, and that really matters.

It matters because we should not make promises at the Dispatch Box and not keep them. That picks away at the faith and trust we have in our democracy. I do not wish to make too big a point out of this, but it is important and we do notice it. It also matters because it helps victims to have much more faith in the system; it gives them confidence. We have heard that from chief constables who have voluntarily taken this approach on board. It matters because it helps them do their job as well. It helps them target their resources, understand where the repeat perpetrators are, and target the culture within their own police forces—which, as we know, is a huge problem.

I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment, as I will. It really matters. Misogyny exists, it is corrosive and it needs to be tackled, and this is a very thoughtful and reasonable approach.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I rise with some trepidation as the first man to speak in the debate—sorry, after the noble Lord, Lord Russell, of course, the proposer of the Motion. Something seriously needs to be done about misogyny in society, as the noble Baronesses said. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who said that misogyny is not hatred of women. My understanding is that it is hatred of women who are not subservient to men and who do not allow men to do what they want because they can, because they are stronger or because they think they can get away with it.

I have to say that I do not understand the Law Commission’s assessment that having misogyny as an aggravating factor would undermine the investigation and prosecution of things such as domestic abuse and sexual violence. Racism is treated as an aggravating factor by the courts, yet black victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence are not disadvantaged by having racism as an aggravating factor. So why should women be disadvantaged were misogyny to be an aggravating factor? Perhaps the Minister can answer that question.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, that we must deal with misogyny in terms of the actions that have a detrimental impact on women—not the thought but the deed, not the prejudice but the discrimination against women.

Amendment 72B in Motion D1 would create a new offence of harassment or intimidation aggravated by hostility towards sex or gender, where the maximum penalty for the new offence is the same as the offence, under Section 4 of the Public Order Act 1986, of intentional harassment, alarm or distress without any aggravating factor. So there is an issue there.

There is a crisis of misogyny in society in general and in the police service in particular. Urgent, decisive action needs to be taken, notwithstanding the Law Commission’s findings. Creating a new offence, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, in the form and with the penalties suggested might not be the right answer, but it is a vehicle to allow the Government to come forward with a better alternative using the Bill. We do not know when the next legislative opportunity will arise and we need to force the Government to take action now.

This urgency is reinforced by the fact that, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, the undertakings given by the Government when we last debated this issue during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill—now an Act—to ensure that all police forces flag offences aggravated by hostility towards sex or gender do not appear to be happening. Even if the Government are not convinced that legislative change is needed, surely they must deliver on their commitment to ensure that the nature and extent of the problem of misogyny in society is measured by the recording of such offences by the police. Surely the Government must understand why police forces might be reluctant to record misogyny as a hate crime when there is clear evidence of a culture of misogyny in police forces. That is why they should be compelled to do so by the Government.

I am concerned that the Government, encouraged by the Law Commission, are going into reverse on the issue of misogyny, betraying women who suffer every day from male violence. If for no other reason, we should support Motion D1 and Amendment 72B.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, as I set out in Committee, the Government are absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls. In July this year, we published a cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, which set out a range of actions to help ensure that more perpetrators are brought to justice and face the full force of the law, that we improve support to victims and survivors, and, ultimately, that we work to prevent these crimes. Our complementary domestic abuse strategy will be published early next year. However, there is always scope to do more. In Committee, I undertook to consider further an amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Bertin, which sought to expressly provide in the Bill that “violence” for the purposes of the serious violence duty includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence.

I reiterate that the draft statutory guidance for the serious violence duty already makes it clear that specified authorities are able to take into account any form of serious violence that is of particular concern in a local area in their strategies. The guidance specifies that this could include, for example, domestic violence, alcohol-related violence, sexual exploitation, modern slavery or gender-based violence. We have been clear throughout that we believe that specified authorities are best placed to determine what the priorities should be for their area based on the local evidence. However, we agree that there is benefit to making it absolutely clear in the Bill that domestic abuse and sexual offences, perpetrated against adults or children, are included within the meaning of “violence” for the purposes of the serious violence duty. These government amendments do just that. To ensure that clarity, the amendments include definitions of “domestic abuse”, importing that contained in Section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, and of “sexual offences”, utilising the list in Schedule 3 to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, subject to certain appropriate modifications.

I commend my noble friend and Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, for their campaigning on this issue. These amendments are a tribute to their work and I commend them to the House.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to welcome this group of government amendments. Making the change to explicitly recognise that domestic abuse and sexual offences are included in the Bill’s definition of violence really matters. It sends the signal loud and clear that these destructive and damaging crimes cannot just be swept under the carpet, ignored or tolerated, and that not tackling them is no longer an option.

The omission in the original legislation risked undermining very real progress and momentum in our fight against these pervasive offences, and the Government deserve real credit for recognising that and making this change. I thank again my noble friend the Minister, who does a huge amount on the Floor of this House but also an awful lot behind the scenes. These amendments may seem very easy to get over the line but they are not, and I know that she did a huge amount behind the scenes to ensure that that happened. I also thank the Home Secretary, because I know that she gets this and that she cares. The continued political leadership in this area from both of them is greatly needed if we are to continue making this kind of progress, so I thank them for that. I echo what my noble friend the Minister said about the domestic abuse commissioner and her dedicated team. If there was a blueprint of how to put together a brilliant team that supports so many important changes that have to be made, hers is that blueprint, and that team deserves huge credit today.

If done properly, this change will make a fundamental difference to how we tackle these crimes; putting prevention front and centre is the only way in which we can hope to be making different speeches in 10 years’ time. These amendments may be simple on the face of it, but the reality on the ground is very complex, and it is vital that the accompanying guidance gives local authorities the best chance of success.

On the guidance more broadly, I want to make a couple of points. I hope that the Home Office will continue to work with the domestic abuse commissioner’s office, as well as sector specialists and violence reduction units, which are already making these changes on violence against women and girls, domestic abuse and sexual offences—notably, in Nottingham and London—to make sure that the detail of best practice is properly communicated and effectively rolled out. One concern that I still have is that the guidance still refers local authorities back to the serious violence strategy, although the strategy still makes no reference to domestic abuse or sexual offences. Therefore, the guidance should be beefed up to help that omission.

The monitoring of the duty will also be vital. I would welcome close scrutiny from the Home Office to understand why any areas did not include these crime types, when we know how prolific they are nationally. I would also welcome greater involvement from the HMICFRS in responding to the new duty and how it is working in relation to these offences.

Briefly and finally, I want to talk about stalking. I absolutely accept the omission of stalking in this amendment, although reluctantly. However, does my noble friend the Minister agree that much more urgency and joined-up thinking needs to be applied to this crime? There is still a huge gap in understanding across the entire criminal justice system, from policing to the judiciary. The ratio of victims to convictions is absolutely wrong. We know that approximately half of stalking-related cases are perpetrated by a current or ex-partner. Could she clarify and confirm that ex-intimate partner-related stalking, such as domestic abuse-related stalking, is implicitly understood and intended to be included in the duty?

Given that the other half of stalking cases are stranger cases, I very much believe that the spirit of this duty should extend to all forms of stalking. It will therefore be essential to ensure that specific and robust instruction on the nature of stalking and the types of interventions needed to tackle it are included in the guidance. In particular, I would welcome an explicit reference to MASIP, a multi-agency approach to managing the risk and reducing reoffending by stalking perpetrators. Not enough local authorities or police forces use that approach, but it does work—I have witnessed it myself in the Met team. It helps front-line officers to understand what they are dealing with. There are experts there, including potentially mental health experts, and it is an important new approach to this crime.

All in all, today is very welcome, and I hope that it gives victims hope and reassures them that their voices are beginning to be heard.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Moved by
55: Clause 12, page 13, line 4, at end insert “, and domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify on the face of the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty, includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences.
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Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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I apologise for being a bit quick off the mark earlier.

Amendment 55 would clarify in the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty, would include

“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”.

While it is right to acknowledge the many male victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence—and this amendment would serve them also—the change we seek today is about stamping out a culture where violence against women and girls has been tolerated for too long. Zoë Billingham, the excellent outgoing inspector for Her Majesty’s Constabulary, described the level of violent and abusive offending against women and girls in this country as an “epidemic”. She is right: 1.6 million female victims of domestic abuse; 892,000 female victims of stalking; 618,000 female victims of sexual assault; 55,000 rapes, with less than a 2% charge rate; and, finally, 110 women murdered last year. Some names we know, but many more we do not. This grim tally should mark a watershed in our attitudes, and I heap praise on the domestic abuse commissioner and her team for their leadership in this regard.

I also thank my cosignatories—the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell of Liverpool. This amendment is truly cross-party, as it should be. The strength of feeling on this issue bridges the political divide and, for once, I am absolutely delighted by the gender imbalance in this line-up of names. While of course it is men’s behaviour that is the problem, we must be careful not to pitch this as men versus women. This is about violent men versus the whole of society, but we need men—all men and all society—to engage in this and be part of the conversation and the solution.

The main justification for excluding sexual offences and domestic abuse from the Bill has been its focus on localism and flexibility, allowing local leaders to fit the strategy to local crime profiles. That is of course entirely reasonable when talking about gun and gang crime and such issues, where there are clear geographical hot spots, but this simply is not the case with domestic abuse and sexual offences; these crimes are happening everywhere. To my mind, localism is about where we put new housing estates and schools. It should never be about allowing individual areas to opt out of prioritising domestic abuse and sexual violence. This is the wrong issue on which to devolve decision-making, but it is already happening, which is why this amendment is more crucial and urgent than ever.

Of the 18 violence reduction units that have already been set up, only eight have included domestic abuse and sexual violence in their plans. Indeed, the Government’s own serious violence strategy makes no meaningful reference to sexual violence and domestic abuse, which is a problem, as often local boards refer back to it when making their policies. I am keen to stress that this amendment would not restrict flexibility at a granular level; of course a strategic needs assessment would still be carried out and specific interventions would differ from area to area.

I also say, on the record, that I absolutely do not doubt the Government’s commitment on this issue. I know they listen and I know they care. They listened to people on the front line a great deal during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, and look at the changes that have come in: the rough sex defence has been ended; revenge porn, coercive control and economic abuse offences have been extended; and upskirting is now a crime. Very importantly, they have extended the period of time in which you can put forward an assault charge based on domestic abuse; that was crucial. I will not list them all, as the list is long, but it is important to acknowledge that the Government have done a good deal. I hope they continue in that vein.

I strongly believe that explicitly including these offences in the duty would maximise the potential for a multiagency, public health preventive approach. We have talked about this a great deal in the House, and we all know that this is the only way to see real change on such a deep-seated societal issue. If we do not take this approach, we will be making these speeches again and again, for many years to come.

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Does she agree that the passing of her amendment, or something like it, would send out a clear message to the Crown Prosecution Service that its policy change-based failure to prosecute significant numbers of rape offences and other serious sexual offences should be reviewed as soon as possible?

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and absolutely agree. Of course, it would not solve the entire issue, but it would set us on the right path in sending that signal to the CPS, as well as to the police.

The multiagency, public health preventive approach is so important. Education plans, health plans and a more standardised perpetrator scheme would all be part of what this change could look like. It is important to note that the HMIC report that the Home Secretary commissioned warned that this duty, as it stands, would not go far enough in that regard.

The noble Lord, Lord Polak, mentioned in his speech at Second Reading that we need to make sure that such landmark legislation, the Domestic Abuse Act and this Bill, does not stand in isolation. We need to sustain the momentum of this ambition. Let us once and for all try to buck the trend of silo policy-making and bring together this work in a meaningful way.

As others have discussed in previous debates, it is right that the burden should not fall entirely on the police. I think we spoke about “broadening the base”, and that is why it is crucial that we get this duty right. Nevertheless, the specific policing response and the CPS response deserve a lot of attention. One-third of all violence reported to the police is domestic abuse related. This is not a small slice of their work. While their response to this crime has certainly improved over the past decade, and there are pockets of excellence and dedication, which we must acknowledge, there are still inconsistencies at every level in how the police respond to victims of domestic abuse and sexual offences, and shocking variations in how frequently—perhaps infrequently would be more appropriate—different forces use the protective powers available to them. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will speak at length on stalking; some forces around the country seem entirely unaware that stalking protection orders are available to them, and this has to change.

Another statistic that shocks me is that three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases are stamped with “no further action”. We know from the rape review that was launched this year, and as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has pointed out, that that happens with so many incidents of sexual offences. It cannot continue. The lottery of standards among the 43 police forces in this country, and within individual forces, means it very often boils down to who picks up the phone or who responds to the call as to how victims are dealt with.

I will make one further point before I finish. As with other high-harm crimes, such as terrorism and organised crime, I believe strongly that violence against women and girls should be marked with a clearer focus, better funding, minimum standards and far more national co-ordination. This amendment is only part of the answer—of course it is—but it could be instrumental in starting that journey to greater consistency. Small actions taken together can make a big difference. While this amendment is relatively simple, its effects could ripple out.

Finally, you do not wake up one morning and become a murderer or a rapist; you work up to it. The horrific chain of events leading to Sarah Everard’s terrible murder laid this bare in the starkest of terms. We have to act to do all we can to stop this kind of behaviour in its tracks before it escalates and takes lives. There is an opportunity in this Bill, and we must take it.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, before I speak to my Amendment 56, I will start by saying that I completely agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has just said. Amendment 56 adds to Amendment 55’s

“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”

the words “and stalking”, to be added to the definition of the serious violence prevention duty. As the noble Baroness identified, this is a keen interest of mine. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pushing for a charging review for this range of crimes. Too often, they are either ignored or charged at a much lower crime rate.

The Minister will remember that, during the passage of the then Domestic Abuse Bill, many hours were spent looking at the typical progression of violence in obsessed perpetrators. Some of us asked the Ministers to look at the reverse structure of someone who had committed a crime of serious violence. All too often, the elements of behaviour were there from early on in their fixated behaviour. I understand that that is why the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and others have laid their amendment to ensure that this trajectory of behaviour starts to be monitored early; and it also recognises when domestic violence accelerates very quickly. Adding

“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”

is absolutely vital.

But I regret that stalking was not on the list in her amendment, and I will focus briefly on that. First, victims of stalking say that they often do not go to the police until around the 10th worrying event has happened. Shamefully, it often takes many more before stalking is taken seriously by the police. But many perpetrators of stalking, as I have said, progress in their fixated behaviour, and serious violence and homicide are too often evident.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, referred to stalking protection orders. I was pleased when they were implemented, but they are far too sparingly used, and some victims are told, “That’s all you need. It’ll be fine now”. Yet injunctions still have to be taken out and cautions still have to be issued, and, all the while, their stalker’s behaviour is becoming worse and worse.

According to Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, stalking sits at point 5 of the eight points on the homicide timeline, due to the fact that risk to the victim escalates at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. Monckton-Smith’s 2017 study of 358 homicides, all of which involved a female victim and a male perpetrator, revealed stalking behaviour as an antecedent to femicide in 94% of the cases. These figures demonstrate how vital it is to work on prevention for stalking cases.

There is a misconception that stalking is almost exclusively perpetrated by people on former partners and, therefore, probably covered by domestic abuse. This is untrue. The real figure is closer to 50%. Too many victims of non-partner or former-partner perpetrators of stalking report that, the first time that they talk to the police, they are told that they are overreacting, and some, especially young women, are even told that they should be grateful for the attention.

So stalking victims are too often ignored, and that is worrying. There is no other word for it than “ignored”—I know. The man who stalked me and other colleagues—he stalked men, too—over a three-year period grew progressively more fixated. Among other very unpleasant acts, such as abusive anonymous letters and telephone calls, his violence was initially against property—breaking windows, pulling down signs and scratching cars—but, each time, it was a bit stronger, more aggressive and more distressing. It took well over a year and 130 incidents before the police started taking it seriously. But their attitude changed completely when, night after night, he started using a very large knife to slash tyres. Their forensic psychologist warned that they expected that he would start using that knife on his targets next. We all knew who the perpetrator was, and, finally, we saw that the police started to move. He was then arrested quickly, and he pleaded guilty.

More recently, in June this year, Gracie Spinks, who, like many stalking victims, was let down by police because they did not take any of the early reports and link them together, was murdered at the riding stables she worked at by a former colleague from a previous job. She had reported her concerns to police four months earlier. He had turned up unannounced at the stables. Separately, a bag containing knives, an axe, a hammer and a note saying “Don’t lie” was discovered very close to the stables six weeks before Gracie’s murder. That breadcrumb trail was all there, and it was typical of a serious stalker, too—the perpetrator profile is well known. Gracie’s father, Richard, has said that if only the police had connected the incidents, his daughter would not have died.

Neither Gracie’s nor my case would have been covered by Amendment 55. Stalking needs to be added to this section on the serious violence protection duty just as much as domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I assure noble Lords that I will not be getting into a debate about the number of police forces we should have, but I will say two things on that: first, consistency is key; secondly, good leadership is crucial. That said, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Bertin, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for setting out the case for these amendments, which have, quite rightly, attracted a wide-ranging debate about the scope of the serious violence duty. I am also pleased about the gender balance of the tablers of the amendments, and I join my noble friend Lady Bertin in paying tribute to the DA Commissioner and join the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, with whom I have worked on many occasions on stalking.

I will start by addressing Amendments 55 and 56. The Government remain absolutely focused on tackling violence against women and girls. There is no place in society for these abhorrent crimes. That is why in July we published a new cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, which includes a range of actions to help ensure that more perpetrators are brought to justice and face the full force of the law and that we improve support to victims and survivors and work ultimately to prevent these crimes, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, and send a message of clear expectation, as the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Rosser, pointed out.

The strategy builds on our existing work, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said, including the new legislation that we have brought forward, which includes specific offences of forced marriage, upskirting, and the disclosure of private sexual photographs. The Domestic Abuse Act, which secured Royal Assent in April and which I am very proud to have taken part in and led through your Lordships’ House, will strengthen our response to domestic abuse at all levels. The Act includes a new duty for local authorities in England to ensure the provision of support for victims of abuse, both adults and children, in refuges and other safe accommodation.

Amendment 55 seeks to make it clear on the face of the Bill that domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence are included within the meaning of “violence”. We recognise the importance of multiagency working to address these crimes, as my noble friend has stressed, and I assure noble Lords that the draft statutory guidance for the serious violence duty, published in May this year, does already make it clear that specified authorities will be permitted to include in their strategy those actions which focus on any form of serious violence which is of particular concern in a local area.

I note the point that noble Lords have made that domestic violence is prevalent in every area, but it could include domestic violence, alcohol-related violence, sexual exploitation, or modern slavery. Ultimately, the specified authorities are best placed to determine what the specific priorities are for that area based on the local evidence. However, all that said, I can see value in the intention of this amendment, to expressly provide on the face of the Bill—and avoid any doubt—that domestic abuse, including domestic homicide, and sexual offences, falls within the definition of “violence” that specified authorities should follow when considering what amounts to serious violence and making that evidence-based determination as to what the specific priorities should be for their area.

Regarding the specific addition of “stalking”, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for drawing attention to this important issue. I recognise that there are other forms of crime which disproportionately affect women and girls which local areas may want to consider for the purpose of the duty, and the draft statutory guidance highlights that they may wish to do this. However, we might risk creating confusion if we specified too many crime types under the meaning of “violence”, and we must consider carefully where to draw the line. I discussed this with the domestic abuse commissioner the other day and she agrees that the definition of “domestic abuse” should be broad enough to draw attention to this issue where it takes place in a domestic abuse context. In addition, while many stalking offences do take place in a domestic abuse context or ultimately involve violent behaviour, that cannot be said for all, and so I am not convinced that an express reference is appropriate.

In any event, we remain completely focused on our efforts to tackle these crimes. The Home Secretary will chair a new violence against women and girls task force to drive cross-government activity and help maintain public confidence in policing. We are funding the first full-time national policing lead in this area, Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, as I mentioned during the Urgent Question yesterday, and later this year we will publish a new domestic abuse strategy.

Having listened to the debate, I am in no doubt about where the whole Committee stands on this issue. We can all agree in this place that we need to do much more to tackle violence against women and girls. The multi-pronged strategy we published in the summer is directed to that end. We intend to build on that further, having listened to the views of the Committee. The Government agree that part of the response must include the police, local authorities, health bodies and the other agencies to whom the serious violence duty applies, working together to prevent and reduce domestic abuse and sexual violence in their area. Therefore, I agree with the aim of my noble friend’s amendment and will work with her ahead of Report to agree how we might best reflect this.

Amendments 57 and 58 would require violence to be defined as serious in a local area should it result either in injury requiring emergency hospital treatment or in harm constituting grievous bodily harm. I agree that such consequences are clear indicators of the seriousness of the violence in question, but we want to consider further any implications of adding such specific language to the definition of serious violence in the Bill.

The Bill already specifies certain factors that specified authorities must consider when determining what constitutes serious violence for their local area: the maximum penalty that could be imposed for any offence involved in the violence; the impact of the violence on any victim; the prevalence of the violence in the area; and the impact of the violence on the community in the area. We expect the specified authorities to use the evidence gathered from their strategic needs assessment to answer these questions and set the priority areas for their local strategies accordingly. We think that current drafting ensures that specified authorities consider the most harmful types of violence, including those resulting in acute physical injury, as part of their local strategies. However, we recognise the need to further consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe.

Finally, Amendments 57A and 59A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raise another important issue. It is true that serious violence is often not contained by local borders and, owing to electronic communication, perpetrators of violence are able to have an extended impact in areas far across the country and beyond. We fully recognise this, and it is why Clause 8 permits specified and relevant authorities to work across local government boundaries with other authorities and, in doing so, to collaborate on strategies that cover areas greater than those where they primarily provide services. This could include collaboration with authorities in neighbouring areas or further afield. We have also included advice within the draft statutory guidance to this effect. For this reason, we do not think these amendments are necessary.

The Government have been clear that internet companies must go further and faster to tackle illegal content online. It is already an offence to incite, assist or encourage violence online, and we will continue to work with the police to support proactive action against and to address illegal material posted and offences perpetrated online.

In conclusion, I assure noble Lords that I will reflect very carefully on this debate and, in particular, on the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I will continue to work with them to find an agreed way forward ahead of the next stage. On that basis, I hope my noble friend will withdraw her amendment, on the clear understanding that we will return to these issues on Report.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, first, I thank everyone for their powerful collection of persuasive speeches supporting the amendment in my name, for which I am hugely grateful. The House is at its best when it comes together on an issue that bridges the political divide and about which we all feel strongly. I am grateful to noble Lords for that. I thank the Minister for her support and what she just said in response, in particular to my amendment. She always gives a huge amount of time and she is such a diligent Minister. The Government are lucky to have her. I think I speak for the whole Committee when I say that she works incredibly hard and cares so much. I am grateful and I thank her.

I consider myself lobbied by my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Royall—who is of course absent—and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. My noble friend knows that I agree with every word she said on stalking. I cannot promise that I will change the amendment, but I promise that I will go to bat and lobby as hard as possible, because there is a huge problem here. Some 1.5 million people are being stalked a year, and less than 2,000 people are ever brought to justice. There is a massive problem here and, for too long, it has not been taken seriously enough. I want to work more on that, and I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for saying that she will look at these amendments and that we can discuss this further before Report.

It is very difficult for me to respond to amendments that are not in my name, and I will probably not do justice to them, but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for laying his amendments—he had hugely persuasive arguments—and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the amount of work she does on these issues. She is absolutely right that social media companies need to be kept in check. I could not disagree with the points that she made.

That is where I will leave it, but I am grateful and look forward to Report. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 55 withdrawn.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I too welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, to this House. I am sure he will make a great contribution.

With only five minutes, I will be very specific and speak on Clause 12 in Part 2. Happily, many other noble Lords have also raised this as an area of concern, and I am very grateful to them. As all those in government discover fairly quickly, it is not that easy to make a lasting difference, even when you have all the levers of power at your disposal. Yet in this vast but important legislation there is a chance to do exactly that. This comes in the form of the Bill’s new serious violence prevention duty, which, as we have heard, will require a range of public bodies such as the police, health and probation to work together to prevent serious violence—something I wholeheartedly support and think is long overdue. It will empower those professionals who can intervene before a crime takes place, rather than relying on the criminal justice system, which often steps in far too late. However, as others have already flagged up, the definition of serious violence for the purpose of this duty does not explicitly include domestic abuse or sexual violence. I think this is a mistake and a missed opportunity.

Let us just remind ourselves that domestic abuse and sexual violence are among the most prevalent forms of serious violence. More than one-third of all violence recorded by the police is domestic abuse-related, and it is the most common type of violence to be experienced on a repeated basis. Nearly half of all female homicides are domestic homicides. Despite this, as we have heard, charging, prosecutions and convictions have fallen significantly in recent years for both rape and domestic abuse, something we know the Government say they are determined to reverse. So, on one hand, the Bill does the right thing when it comes to the punishment of sex crimes, but it potentially throws away the chance to prevent or reduce them in the first place.

As the Bill stands, it will be up to local areas to decide whether they want to include domestic abuse and sexual violence in this new duty and these new prevention strategies. Of course, this sounds perfectly reasonable on paper, the argument being that local areas must have the flexibility to shape their strategies to fit their local crime profile. However, there is plenty of evidence, as this House will know, to suggest that domestic abuse and sexual violence are ubiquitous across the country. There are no hot spots; it happens everywhere. There is even more evidence to show that some areas consistently fall short in their commitment toward these crimes. I am therefore far from convinced that without explicitly including domestic abuse and sexual violence in the legislation we will achieve the change anywhere near quickly enough. There are many policies where localism works, but this issue is national, and is one where we are constantly playing catch-up.

Another big problem with this omission is that much of the proposed guidance around this new duty refers back to the Government’s serious violence strategy, which itself does not include domestic abuse and sexual abuse as “serious violence”. This has always been a concern, but now may have a very real knock-on impact on the way local boards interpret the scope of this duty. Last week I heard from two fantastic violence reduction units, in London and Nottingham—the ones my noble friend Lord Young referred to—which are doing incredible work to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence, but they are the exception. In fact, only eight of the 18 violence reduction units, which are considered a forerunner to the new serious violence prevention duty, consider domestic abuse and sexual violence in their plans to prevent serious violence. There is still a persistence in culture across many police forces, and the criminal justice system generally, that crimes committed at home by an intimate partner are somehow less serious than crimes committed outside by a stranger.

As we know, earlier this year the Government published the Domestic Abuse Act, which provides an important legislative underpinning for the provision of support for victims of domestic abuse, as well as legislating for a raft of new criminal offences. By publishing a new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy soon after, the Government have deepened their commitment to the issue. This Bill should and could be the perfect dovetail and complement to this work, but those ambitions will be fulfilled only if we pursue a more holistic approach to preventing, reducing and ultimately ending these crimes for good. The Bill before us provides the chance for the transformational change we need, by legislating for a pre-emptive, public health-focused approach. I call on noble Lords and the Government to support my proposed amendment to therefore include domestic abuse and sexual violence on the face of this important legislation. We have a lever of change before us and we must use it.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 73, to which my name is added. I also support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Strasburger. I too extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Sarah Everard, but also to all the families and friends of those murdered since the beginning of this year. That there have been 30 murders of women since your Lordships’ House had its Second Reading of this Domestic Abuse Bill in January this year is deeply shocking. I suspect, as many of their cases come to court, that we will hear details time and again of how women sought help but were not able to get it from the people they should have been able to trust: the police and other parts of our judicial system.

I will briefly focus on three women murdered in the last five years, because what went wrong for them is still going wrong on a regular basis for this most heinous crime. They are Shana Grice, Pearl Black and Janet Scott.

Michael Lane stalked and murdered Shana in 2016. He had abused 13 girls before Shana and they had reported him for stalking. Shana herself reported him multiple times to Sussex Police. Despite this, there was no focus on Lane’s behaviour or his history, only on Shana’s. Outrageously, she was issued with a fixed penalty notice for wasting police time. She was polite and terrified, and went to the police for help. Shana did everything right, but there was no proactive investigation of Lane. In fact, he was interviewed by the police for just 12 minutes. There was no intelligence or information sharing, or referral to MAPPA.

Simon Mellors murdered two women, Pearl Black and Janet Scott. He murdered Pearl in 1999 when she split up with him. When he came out of prison, he began a relationship with Janet Scott. He coercively controlled her, threatened her and tried to kill her, which she reported to Nottinghamshire police and probation. At this point, Mellors should have been recalled on licence but no action was taken, despite her repeated reports. She was brutally murdered in 2018. The probation officer had told Janet that he doubted Mellors would reoffend, yet, when he did, police and probation took no action, saying that they just did not identify stalking behaviour. So why is it that a man who has killed his previous partner is not seen as a risk when Janet is terrified and reporting him for threatening to kill her? Janet did everything she could, and, despite the fact that Mellors had killed before, nothing was done to manage the risks and to stop him doing it again.

That is why Amendment 73 is necessary. I also heard yesterday that the Government are now considering consulting on a register for stalkers and serious and serial domestic abusers. That is not good enough. The need for a register is now and, as important, arrangements for MAPPA and ViSOR need to be strengthened. There is some very good practice, but it is not consistent, because the agencies are not being forced to work together and the impact that it is having on victims is appalling, as evidenced by the 30 murders we have seen this year alone.

My own experience was when a campaign of harassment, intimidation and then stalking started against me when I was the general election candidate in Watford. The perpetrator was my Conservative candidate opponent, a man called Ian Oakley. One of his particularly unpleasant traits was to harass and intimidate members of my local team to get to me, including poison-pen letters delivered to many houses in my area about our councillors, alleging that one of them had not supported his child in a previous marriage, and then later that he was a child sex abuser. None of this was true. He also perpetrated increasing levels of criminal damage to properties of people who supported me at election time. He sent obscene hand-drawn cartoons showing me in graphically sexual acts to our constituency office on postcards so that Royal Mail staff would see them too.

But for me, as his main target, on top of all these things happening day after day, week after week, there was more. He sent false letters about me to the weekly newspaper, the Watford Observer, making allegations about my family circumstances, trying to have us investigated by children’s services, as we were guardians and carers to two bereaved children. He reported me to Special Branch for falsifying my nomination papers; I had not. He dropped letters through my letterbox just so I knew that he knew where I lived. He phoned me very late at night and then did not talk. He sent me the most disgusting pornographic magazines in envelopes, but without stamps on, so I had to go to the Royal Mail collection office and pay for an envelope without knowing that it was yet another form of abuse. His messages would let me know that he had been following me at night when out canvassing. It was utterly relentless for three years.

Initially, I coped by cataloguing, reporting and helping others to report incidents to the police; I had a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet that grew. For the first 18 months, each reported incident was dismissed as “not serious”. Then the incidents grew and became more serious. Once we were at over 130 incidents on my spreadsheet, two detectives suddenly got it—they joined up the dots. By this time, we knew who it was, but there was no proof. We were issued with an operation name and mobile numbers for the detectives.

Publicly, I was very angry and determined that he would be caught, but privately, I felt constantly sick and nervous most of the time. I became tearful and anxious about having to go out campaigning in the evening in winter months; always watching, anywhere I went. I also felt personally responsible for the incidents targeted at my friends, colleagues and supporters, and I know that other victims of stalkers feel the same when their families and friends are targeted too.

Even when we had the evidence, after my husband bought and installed 10 CCTV cameras at the sites repeatedly targeted by Oakley, two things happened that still shock me today. The first was that a very senior police officer warned the detectives that they would be unlikely to prosecute a case like this, seen as political. That changed when Oakley started on my noble friend Lady Thornhill, who was then the elected Mayor of Watford, and an arrest was made very swiftly, thank goodness. The second thing was that not one of the more serious charges—to which Oakley had pleaded not guilty—was taken any further. This included incidents using 10-inch knives to slash car tyres, defamatory poison-pen letters distributed to large numbers of people, and the sending of pornographic images. For all of this, he received an 18-week suspended sentence—for a three-year campaign—and a year’s community order.

I relate my experience because the nature of the progression of the stalking is of utter relentlessness, and the police reaction is still not unusual. In 2016, eight years after my case, only 37 stalking offenders and 93 harassment offenders received a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment or more and were therefore automatically eligible to be managed under the MAPPA process as category 2 offenders. However, we do not know how many of these offenders were either referred to or subsequently managed under MAPPA, but as the number of automatically eligible offences is low, and the number of prosecutions for serious harassment and stalking is considerably higher, we can infer that a substantial number of potentially dangerous individuals were not managed under recognised offender management processes.

The Violence Against Women and Girls report shows that in 2017-18 80% of stalkers did not face a charge. Out of over 10,000 only 1,800 were charged, 212 were convicted and only 48 went to prison. Furthermore, most cases were recorded as harassment or something lesser, as in my case, and in 2018-19 there was a further 10% decrease in stalking prosecutions. It is probable that the new stalking protection order will make sure that this continues to decrease as it is an easy alternative. In many domestic violence and stalking case prosecutions—where it is rare that convictions occur—unduly lenient sentences resulted for stalking, domestic violence and coercive control: namely, weeks, months or suspended sentences, which in no way reflects the severity of the crimes.

Stalkers have specific and complex needs to address due to their fixated and obsessive behaviour. For some, this behaviour becomes more serious as time goes on. There is a lack of suitable programmes for stalkers that will reduce the likelihood of reoffending and protect members of the public. It is vital that police, prosecutors, probation, judges and magistrates are trained to understand stalking, including the risks and dangers of stalkers, as well as the stalking legislation which was introduced in 2012 following the stalking law reform inquiry, which I worked on with Robert Buckland. This assumes even more significance if there is to be a stalkers’ and serial perpetrators’ register database, which we are calling for in this amendment. We believe it is urgently needed—now. We urgently need the elements to ensure that people such as stalkers are included in MAPPA.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My goodness me, I am almost left speechless by the account of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of what happened to her; I am so sorry that she had to endure that, and it is hard to disagree with a word that she said. Having taken the now enacted Stalking Protection Bill through this House, I understand the very serious nature of this issue. I would also like to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has spoken passionately to her amendment.

One note of caution is that MAPPA adviser arrangements are far from perfect as they stand. Only one thing that could be worse than not monitoring serial offenders and stalkers in this way is to say that we are keeping track of them, but in fact the opposite turns out to be true, due either to poor resourcing or a systems failure. So, if my noble friend the Minister is minded to reconsider this amendment, we must make sure the systems have the resource and the capacity—but it is hard to disagree after hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, make that speech.

I will now speak to Amendment 81. Sometimes events happen that make society stand up and say, “No more”. The tragic murder of Sarah Everard has done exactly that. As we know, she is the 118th woman to be killed over the past year. Their names may be less familiar, but each and every one of them must be remembered. I praise the honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley for doing just that in the other place, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who just now read out the 30 women who have been killed since the Bill was brought to this House.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I mention my own cousin once again. Her name was Christine Bertin. At the age of 18 she had her whole life in front of her. Instead, she was murdered by a complete stranger. He had been harassing local girls in her neighbourhood in a suburb in Paris and she, also, had caught his eye. Unbeknown to her and my family he stalked her movements over a period of time, and when he knew she was alone in the house he forced himself in and he strangled her.

My heart therefore goes out to all those families who have lost loved ones at the hands of a killer. The journey they are now on is a long and lonely one, with no real end in sight. My cousin died many years ago now, but the sorrow we still feel is as acute as on the day she was murdered. No family should ever feel this. Sympathy and anger can and will spill over, but the only real thing we can do for them and their dead daughters, sisters and mothers is to ensure that they have not died in vain. We have to match heartfelt words with the far harder task of making changes that will actually drive down this death toll for good. I believe there is a lot in this Bill that will work towards that.

Stranger attacks and domestic abuse are inextricably linked. The media will alight on the former, and the latter, quite unacceptably, often just gets a shrug, as though it is some kind of inevitability. But the reality is that abuse and misogyny in the home flows freely into the street; they are the same crime. I often reflect that, if the police at the time of my cousin’s murder had taken that man’s harassment of young girls more seriously, if his behaviour had been called out as grossly unacceptable by his peers, or if he had been put on a perpetrator scheme such as the ones we now know work, my cousin just might still be alive today. His behaviour, and that of so many potential murderers and serial abusers, was simply allowed to carry on unchecked and unstopped. This must end.

However, the debate should not be about men versus women. If a boy is seeing only abuse and violence at home, compounding it with violence and abuse online, without the right support and guidance there is a chance that he will carry on that cycle. Early intervention and recognition of this are essential. I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, for relaying this amendment. It was in my name in Committee and I support it wholeheartedly.

In the interests of time, I will not repeat what I said in Committee, but it feels more urgent than ever to focus attention on the perpetrator—the person actually committing the abuse. We will never see any real change in behaviours and attitudes if we carry on putting this as an afterthought. The new funding for perpetrators announced in the Budget was very welcome; more will be needed if we are to ensure a quality response everywhere, but it is certainly a really important move to building up a quality-assured national capacity to respond to perpetrators. We know that fewer than 1% of perpetrators receive any kind of intervention; that is a shocking statistic.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the very inspirational speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I am in awe of her championing of these matters.

As a professional social worker for some years—although I am long in the tooth now—I cannot imagine dealing with child protection of any nature without having the confidence of knowing that I am well trained. I therefore welcome Amendment 15, and will also make some comments about Amendment 44. I am deeply indebted to my noble friend Lady Armstrong for her thoughtful contributions from Second Reading onward. Having heard the profoundly persuasive and detailed arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, I speak in support of mandatory judicial training. I believe it to be essential to treat survivors’ experience with the required level of due care.

My noble friend Lady Armstrong highlighted the impact of a well-trained workforce, including police and children’s services, as well as the potential positive effect of well-trained jobcentre managers. We cannot hope to change societal attitudes to poor institutional practices unless government is committed to adequately funding and mandating training at all levels of service, including the highest level in the judiciary. If the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, moves her amendment I will definitely support her.

The amendment also asks that front-line public service staff are properly trained and competent and fully equipped to ensure that thorough assessments can be made of survivors’ needs. Although it is correct that individual public services may be best placed to understand the most effective ways to develop training for their staff, as is argued by the Government, it cannot be overstated that our public institutions may not be the first port of call for help for many women of minority heritage. Therefore, specialist organisations would also require support and training to effectively realise those ambitions. I was so moved by the way that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, argued on behalf of the needs of diverse communities that I need not say another word.

Does the Minister agree that we also need to influence our educational curriculum and provide age-appropriate information? We already do this with regard to sexual orientation and Prevent et cetera; we make sure that our children have information on a whole range of issues. Unless and until we take the matter of violence in the home seriously—violence experienced by parents, relatives or whoever—and we give some details of acknowledgement and equip children, they may not know where to go when they witness this.

I do not have the statistics to hand but is the Minister aware of the evidence which indicates that significant numbers of teenage children, as young as 11, 12 and 13, are accepting violence as a norm within their relationships? This is as well as the tragedy of sexual exploitation and abuse of children which continues to grow exponentially and has overwhelmed the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and other leading children’s organisations.

Training resulting in greater awareness may not be the panacea for stopping violence and preventing the murder of women and children in the immediate future, but combined with the force of law and a well-trained front-line workforce, including the judiciary, the financial support and measures proposed in the Bill will certainly go a long way to build in additional safeguards and improve the chances of survivors to survive violence and abuse.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 44. I thank my noble friend Lady Helic and Claire Waxman, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, and her team for bringing the issue of training to the forefront of this legislation. The evidence provided by my noble friend Lady Helic and others was harrowing, but hearing it is essential. As they said, too often it seems that our family courts are not the tools of justice they ought to be; instead, they can be used to continue that abuse.

Too often we fail to equip judges and magistrates with the knowledge they need to spot and prevent this reality. In doing so, we are denying many victims justice. We in this House can legislate all we like but if those on the front line are not adequately trained, as we have heard, it risks remaining just words, and, as my noble friend Lady Newlove said, not worth the paper they are written on. I believe we can and must do better than this. We should strive to ensure that our courts are at the cutting edge, and not repeatedly behind the curve.

The Bill introduces a number of excellent progressive measures that have the potential to help the family courts to deliver justice safely. They include recognising post-separation abuse and extending the grounds on which barring orders can be used. For those the Government certainly deserve credit, but the success of such measures and the guarantee that they will be translated into better practice on the ground hinges on this training amendment.

The amendment renders the need for training into clear language, creating an imperative to act. We need accountability and oversight in this area, as many others have said. If the Government resist putting the amendment into the Bill—and I do not really understand why they should—then at least we need to get to a place where the judiciary are being open and transparent about the level and quantity of training that they are receiving. Who is giving the training? Is it quality assured and rigorous enough? These are questions that need to be properly addressed.

We have heard a lot in previous debates about the need for data collection. In many areas across business and public life, it is transparency and good reporting that often create best practice, and it does not seem unreasonable for the public but also for the Government to be privy to such data. That would drive change from the bottom up.

We also need to be sure that training reflects the new provisions in the Bill immediately rather than them filtering into the system over a period of months or, worse still, years. Of course it cannot simply be a tick-box exercise that does not drill into the complexity of the reality on the ground with some of these cases. Post-separation coercive control, for example, is a multifaceted and insidious crime committed by devious and practised individuals. They need to meet their match in the courtroom, from magistrates upwards.

As my noble friend Lady Helic has rightly said, this is not an attack on the wisdom of our lawgivers. It is the opposite: providing them with training would deepen that wisdom and arm them with the means to deal with these complex cases. Doing so would give victims faith and confidence in our justice system and let them know that our courts were with them, not against them. It would also send a strong message to perpetrators that the courts were tools of justice, not another weapon to use against their victim.

I know that my noble friend the Minister is sensitive to these issues, and I am sure her answer will reflect that. As I have said before, I do not understand the resistance to putting this into the Bill, but I will listen carefully to her response. I hope she will come forward with some answers that move towards real progress and an understanding of what needs to be done.

Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will be brief. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, on the important Amendment 44. I wish to speak in particular to Amendment 15 in this group, which would transform and regularise the very disparate current systems by which front-line staff of public authorities inquire into domestic violence and take action.

Since Committee, when we last debated this amendment, my noble friend Lady Armstrong has removed the statutory duty wording in order to see this important provision in the Bill. She and I have also had a helpful meeting with the Minister, whom we thank for her time. The new amendment makes clear that there should still be a transparency mechanism to hold public services to account. It is important to note that the domestic abuse commissioner remains supportive of this new adapted amendment and that, as my noble friends Lady Armstrong and Lord Hunt have said, adequate resources are needed to monitor and annually report on statistics on training in such inquiries.

In Committee, the Minister said she did not want sensitive and complex conversations turned into some sort of tick-box exercise. That is understandable, but our response is that the amendment would actually give public services and staff the space and independence to use their professional judgment as long as the context was transparent for monitoring purposes.

In her letter to my noble friend Lady Armstrong following our meeting, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, makes the helpful observation that relevant public authorities, as listed in Clause 15, are subject to the duty to co-operate with the commissioner, and that this would include the provision of statistics and other information specified in subsection (1) of the new clause, as my noble friend said. She also makes it clear that it is open to the commissioner to address matters relating to training and reporting in her duty to produce an annual report. But, while I hear and to some extent understand the Government’s reluctance to give specific direction in primary legislation to the domestic abuse commissioner regarding the need for public authorities to undertake front-line training, the present situation, based as it is on guidance, cannot continue to let down victims as it does. I look forward to the Minister’s response, in which I hope we will hear clearly her agreement with the principle of the amendment and how it can be taken forward.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (8 Feb 2021)
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 164 on behalf of my noble friend Lady Royall, I will also speak to my Amendment 177B. My noble friend is extremely sorry that she is not able to speak today due to a long-standing and immovable commitment. My remarks very much reflect her views and passion to see strong action in relation to serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. I am grateful also to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Brinton, for putting their names to the amendment.

This amendment follows many years of advocacy, during which my noble friend Lady Royall has sought to reflect the views of families of victims and many organisations, including John and Penny Clough; Paladin; Aurora New Dawn; Women’s Aid; the Hampton Trust; the Alice Ruggles Trust; the Centre for Women’s Justice; the London Assembly and the Mayor of London; the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs; the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC; Napo; magistrates; police officers; countless survivors, including Zoe Dronfield, Georgia Hooper, Rachel Williams, Charlotte Kneer and Celia Peachey; and the 217,000 people who have signed the petition in support of the need for action.

My noble friend’s amendment seeks to ensure a co-ordinated, consistent and mandatory approach throughout the country to the flagging and targeting of perpetrators, without which, more women and children will be terrorised, and some will die. It would place a statutory obligation on police, prison and probation officers to identify, assess and manage serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. This would change the culture and ensure that questions are asked of the perpetrator and not the victim. It would ensure a multiagency problem-solving approach by the statutory agencies charged with a responsibility for public protection.

So far, the Government have resisted this in the belief that current arrangements are adequate. They are not. There are pockets of good practice, but it is not national and there is no co-ordinated approach led by statutory agencies. There is no legal framework or national process in England and Wales by which serial perpetrators are routinely identified, monitored and managed. These serial perpetrators and stalkers are simply not visible or held to account, even though past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. We know that they are transient: they seek to control the most vulnerable women and children, and if that includes moving across borders to meet their needs, they often will do so. They travel and start new relationships, but the history is not recorded, so vital information does not travel with them. We have to change this by ensuring that there is a legislative duty to proactively identify, assess and manage these men using MAPPA-plus, an enhanced version of MAPPA, to include domestic abuse specialist services, honour-based abuse services and stalking services that understand coercive control and stalking, and ensure that the intelligence is collected and put into the national system, ViSOR.

The enhanced system would of course require multiagency training, complemented by clear guidance ahead of implementation. Without MAPPA-plus, Clare’s law will never work effectively, because there is no duty on the police to add any information or intelligence about a perpetrator’s previous offending to a local or national system. If information is put on a local system, it lacks the detail required. The burden is placed on the victim, and too often the perpetrator’s narrative is believed rather than the victim’s.

When my noble friend Lady Royall met the Minister, she was asked for evidence of such a system, and she forwarded a report by Laura Richards, a global expert and founder of Paladin. Her report focused on 28 men who had murdered 31 women and eight children, and who had significantly harmed more women and children. There will undoubtedly be more. In addition, there are family members who are terrorised and threatened by serial abusers, and the impact on others when a loved one is killed. The report makes for distressing reading. It is utterly compelling in its conclusion that there have been too many reviews and that the time for action is now.

I will cite just two cases in the report. The first is that of Alfie Gildea:

“Four-month-old Alfie Gildea was killed by violent Sam Gildea, who had been previously convicted of manslaughter by violent shaking. This is how he killed Alfie.”

His mother, Caitlin McMichael, learned about Sam Gildea’s history after Alfie had been murdered. Why was she not told before about his previous conviction?

“This is the police force that failed Clare Wood, and the reason Clare’s Law came in because of their failures. Greater Manchester Police knew that he was a serial perpetrator and they did not act. Why not?”

Last November, the coroner, Alison Mutch, said that Gildea was a

“serious and serial domestic abuse perpetrator”

who was well known to Greater Manchester Police. They failed to recognise coercive control. Why was his case not heard at MAPPA, when his history of violence was known to Greater Manchester Police?

I now come to the case of two unnamed women, in 2020:

“Stephen Williams was sentenced to two years in prison on May 29 2020, for a horrific campaign of mental and physical abuse on his 18 year old girlfriend. She is 10 years younger than him. He held a knife to her throat, punched in the face, poured corrosive cleaner over her head and threatened to kill her. He coercively controlled her and made her give up her job as a hairdresser & her family and friends … made her travel with him in his HGV lorry cab to make sure she didn’t talk to anyone … punched her in the face, bit the back of her neck and said he would ‘break every bone in her body.’ He pulled her finger back causing ligament damage and fractured her rib. Her sister called the police and she was taken to hospital.”

Williams was arrested and pleaded guilty to controlling and coercive behaviour, assault by beating, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, causing an unauthorised transmission from prison, and witness intimidation.

“A former partner gave evidence at court about his abuse. Williams pressured her to retract her statement and threatened her by saying ‘I will get out of her one day and you will regret it.’ The judge described him as a controlling and manipulative bully and said ‘I have come to the view that you pose a significant risk of harm to your female partners.’ Williams was sentenced to just two years in prison and made the subject of a restraining order, forbidding him to see or contact his ex-partner for two years.”

Upon his release, Williams will not be identified as a serial perpetrator and a risk to other women. Under the new system, he would be categorised as category 4, included on ViSOR and managed via MAPPA. Other relevant services would be involved as well. An order could be placed on him regarding whether he moves, starts a new relationship or changes his name, as well as attendance at an accredited perpetrator programme. But we do not have that at the moment, and

“under current guidance and practice it is unlikely that he will meet the MAPPA criteria.”

I have mentioned two cases. In her contribution the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, will bring another disturbing example to the House’s attention.

My noble friend Lady Royall is arguing that, under MAPPA-plus, a new category four,

“serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators”,

should be included. Positive obligations would be placed on a perpetrator, including attending a treatment programme. They would have to notify the police if they changed their name, moved, went abroad or started a new relationship. These are critical components of the strategic plans in Amendment 167, which I also support, and my own Amendment 177B. The difference between these two amendments is the time given to the Government to come forward with a strategy. In fairness, my noble friend Lady Royall thinks that my two-year period is far too generous and that we need much quicker action. Time is of the essence. We know that at least two women a week are murdered by ex-partners, many of whom are serial offenders. This has increased to five a week during the pandemic. It is self-evident that a cohesive strategy is needed as soon as possible.

At Second Reading the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, spoke of investing more than £7 million in direct perpetrator-focused interventions through police and crime commissioners to prevent abuse. She also promised that the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy would include specific work to tackle perpetrators and prevent offending. This is welcome but not sufficient.

It is significant that, last year, 80 signatories, including charities such as Women’s Aid, Respect and Action for Children, as well as academics and individuals, called on the Government to invest in a perpetrator strategy. They called for public voluntary services to be empowered to hold perpetrators to account; best-practice perpetrator interventions to be available across England and Wales; a national quality assurance system and a sustainable, predictable source of funding; and for national and local leaders to spearhead the perpetrator strategy. Nicole Jacobs, the designate domestic abuse commissioner, supports these measures. She said

“I support the call on Government to publish a Strategy on Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse. Current prevention work is patchy and too often perpetrators go unchallenged and are not offered opportunities to change their abusive behaviour.”

I urge the Minister to accept the principles contained in Amendments 167 and 177B but, even more importantly, to accept my noble friend Lady Royall’s amendment and introduce MAPPA-plus without further delay. I beg to move.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, before I speak to the amendment in my name, as we enter the final day of Committee I want to thank everyone who has been involved in this marathon. By tabling more than 200 amendments, we have created a vast amount of work for the clerks, the Bill team and the Whips’ Office. I acknowledge their professionalism, time and effort. I also recognise and pay tribute to the different organisations and individuals who have worked so hard to brief us while also dealing with a huge surge in work because of the pandemic. In particular, I thank Drive and Veronica Oakeshott.

I thank all noble Lords who have put their names to Amendment 167, giving it cross-party support. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. As he set out, this amendment would require the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abuse within one year of the Act being passed. I will not speak specifically to the other amendments in this group, but I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her tireless work against the insidious crime of stalking. I support the sentiment behind her amendment.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 View all Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2021)
We heard the Minister say at Second Reading that we should await the expiration of the current community-based support landscape and that, following that, the Government would work with the commissioner to understand the needs and come back with options. However, we have heard tonight and on a number of occasions that the commissioner has said that the Government do not need to await the outcome of this exercise, because there is already strong evidence on the projected demand and actual provision. Will the Minister agree to amend the Bill to embrace community services? If she is not willing to do so, can she say how community services are to be protected?
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it may be late in the evening but the passion and energy in the speeches we have heard have not dipped at all. I will speak in support of Amendment 176 and join others in sending a very strong message to the Government that decoupling accommodation-based services and community-based services by law could have a severely detrimental effect on the very people this Bill is trying to help and serve to undermine the spirit of this legislation. Others have made such eloquent speeches; I do not want to repeat them given the time of evening, but I support them wholeheartedly.

Introducing a statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge services is welcome, much needed and based on the right intentions, but refuge is essential for only a small number of domestic abuse victims; far more deserve to stay in their home, as we have heard. Instead, we should remove the perpetrator who has caused the harm. Expecting adult and child victims to leave their possessions, friends, community and family to move to a hidden house with other traumatised victims cannot be the extent of our ambition in this era.

To reiterate a point that many have made in this debate and others, long-term, strategic funding must be put in place for these services. The surge we have seen in this pandemic has placed huge financial pressure on many of these organisations; we must be realistic about that. It is for this reason that many of us this evening, as well as the designate domestic abuse commissioner, are asking for reasonable measures to be put in the Bill to ensure that local authorities take steps to guarantee sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services, not just in refuges but in the community.

Other noble Lords and I have had long and detailed conversations with my noble friend the Minister. I am genuinely grateful for her time and commitment. There is no sense of “the computer says no” or having a tin ear; I know she is listening and cares deeply about this issue.

I know this issue is not straightforward. If it were, the Minister would have fixed it. I back this amendment but a compromise could be made by extending the remit of local partnership boards so they could assess the need for community-based services. This remit could also be extended to reporting back to government on multi-agency working at a local level to help provide greater oversight in ensuring that local partners comply with the statutory guidance accompanying the Bill.

The very essence of this Government’s approach to domestic abuse serves to underline how much value they place on services in the community that seek to prevent and stop the cycle of abuse. The Home Secretary herself spoke about changing the narrative from “Why doesn’t she leave?” to “Why doesn’t he stop?” Community-based services are the answer to this and, if anything, they should be elevated and not downgraded. Therefore, I urge the Government to think again.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 176 and 177 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, to give my support. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the children’s charity Barnardo’s. Barnardo’s and many other charities supporting child and adult victims of domestic abuse support the changes proposed in these amendments.

Following the debate in the other place, the Government rightly amended the Bill so that it recognises that children are victims of domestic abuse and not just witnesses or bystanders. Like many others, I am grateful to see this, as it shows common sense and joined-up policy. I congratulate the Government because the impact of domestic abuse on children must not be underestimated. It is the most common reason for children to be referred to local authority children’s services and it often creates trauma—and childhood lasts a lifetime. However, we know that, with the right support, children can recover from experiences of domestic abuse and can break the cycle and go on to live positive adult lives.

The danger with the Bill as drafted is that it offers this support only to some children, notably those who are in refuges or other safe accommodation. It does not secure support for the majority of victims, including children, who remain in the family home or elsewhere in the community. This can have some very damaging consequences, so we need joined-up thinking here too.

In the current financial situation, where funds are extremely tight and will remain so for some time, resources will inevitably go to services underpinned by a statutory duty. Under the Bill as drafted, the available resources would be concentrated in refuges and safe accommodation; very little would be left for the majority of victims in the community and those who continue to live at home. This could send out the message that in order to access support, you have to flee your home along with your children. This is surely not the message we want to send to victims.

There is a further question of how domestic abuse affects different communities. Evidence from Safelives suggests that victims from black, Asian and other minority communities typically suffer domestic abuse for almost twice as long before getting help, compared with those who identify as white. Disabled victims are often less able to leave their homes, so the impact is especially significant for them too. We also know that in some communities, there is a stigma attached to leaving your home and that services are not always culturally sensitive to this or able to engage effectively with those who need support.

The other problem here is one of missed opportunity. Victims, including children, will not reach the point of support until they are beyond crisis point, which is what often happens at the moment. This means that we miss the chance to support them early, to help families stay together and live in their homes safely, and to prevent the need for costly services.

We need to remember that time is much slower for children. Every day, every week that goes by in a dangerous home without support is eating away at their childhood, causing stress, anxiety and mental problems, and the longer they suffer trauma, the longer it will take to recover. Barnardo’s knows this. This has been the harsh reality for many families during the current lockdown. For all these reasons, it is vital that we use this once-in-a-generation Bill to secure support for all victims, adults, and children especially, from all backgrounds, wherever they live. This is why I support these amendments. They will help to make sure that support is available in the community, where it is desperately needed. I have much respect for the Minister and I hope that she and the Government will show compassion, consideration and empathy in the Bill for these vulnerable, forgotten victims who suffer domestic abuse while living in their own homes or in community-based services.