Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th 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)
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, which has been excellent. I can categorically attest to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is not a misogynist. The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about how the behaviour of parents has almost a direct correlation with how their children might behave when they grow up. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, talked about the trans community; the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, might have looked at my notes because the words I have written in response to her remarks are almost identical to what he said: that hate crime laws in England and Wales protect identity characteristics such as race, religion or sexual orientation, or groups such as trans or disabled people.

I thank noble Lords for all their comments, including the very thoughtful comments of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, talked about the abuse of parliamentarians—it is horrific to see the comments that people have made—much of which is misogynistic. The opening gambit of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, was the tragic case of Kellie Sutton, which shows two things, one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It shows the failure to include domestic abuse in the MAPPA arrangements and the need for more effective use of Clare’s Law; the Bill remedies that, as it puts the guidance on a statutory footing. Noble Lords have talked about police forces that record misogyny. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, rightly pointed out that those which record misogyny also record misandry.

I will be quite clear about the Government’s position on hate crime. All crimes that are motivated by hatred are totally unacceptable and have no place in this society. That is why, in 2018, as part of our updating of the Government’s hate crime action plan, we asked the Law Commission to undertake a review of current hate crime legislation, including considering whether other protected characteristics such as sex, gender and age should be included. We asked it to review both the adequacy and the parity of protection offered by the law relating to hate crime and to make recommendations for reform. This review began in 2019; over the course of that year and last, the Law Commission tried to meet as many people as possible who had an interest in this area of law, organising events across England and Wales to gather views and, of course, evidence, which the noble Lord so often talks about.

The noble Lords, Lord Paddick, Lord Kennedy and Lord Lucas, stressed the importance of data in our considerations. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about opening a debate with the police; I am sure that, following the Law Commission’s findings, such a debate will be opened up. However, we have specifically asked the commission to consider the current range of offences, aggravating factors and sentencing, and to make recommendations on the most appropriate models to ensure that the criminal law provides consistent and effective protection from conduct motivated by hatred towards protected groups or characteristics.

The review also took account of the existing range of protected characteristics, identifying any gaps in the scope of protection currently offered under the law and making recommendations to promote a consistent approach. The consultation to support the review closed on Christmas Eve of last year. That consultation focused on whether sex or gender should be added to hate crime laws, noting that misogyny by itself might introduce inconsistency to hate crime laws—as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also pointed out.

We will respond to the review when it is completed. Given the range and depth of the work undertaken by the Law Commission, we do not think it would be appropriate to prejudice the outcome of its work, including by issuing guidance or requiring the collection of statistics along the lines proposed by the amendment. As I have said, the noble Lord rightly wants to see evidence-based policy. The work of the Law Commission will add significantly to that evidence base. I hope the noble Lord will agree that we should allow it to complete that work rather than pre-empting it. We will consider what changes need to be made once we have had the opportunity to fully consider the Law Commission’s final recommendations. On the basis of these comments, I hope that the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I thank everybody who took part in this wide-ranging debate. I thought it was appropriate for it to be introduced by a member of the weaker sex, but I thank everybody of whatever sex for their contributions. I thank my colleague in the other place, Stella Creasy. She and I had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time together at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, where I got to know her. She has been a doughty champion of trying to get misogyny recognised as a rather pervasive element in modern society and I applaud her for her efforts, which have been supported across the Chamber in another place.

The noble Lord, Lord Young—with his usual erudition and from his commanding height—laid out just how extensive the Law Commission’s interim report is. I, too, waded through 40-odd pages, and I confess that I did not look at about 500 footnotes in detail, but it is very impressive and goes very deep. What comes out of it very clearly is that the case for the prosecution is proven: misogyny is something that actually exists, is tangible and has a very unpleasant effect on a lot of people. However, finding out that it is bad is the easy bit; the difficult bit, which is what the Law Commission is trying to do now, is translating that knowledge—that truth—into legislation in a form that will have a materially beneficial effect on the very large number of victims of misogyny. That is the difficult piece to try to get right. Frankly, the more data that we have to help us try to understand how to do that effectively, the better.

My noble friend Lady Bull laid out some of the international context. This is not something that takes place only in our disunited kingdom, it is an international syndrome and a shameful one. The existence of gender-based hostility is a fact of life and it has probably always been with us from Neolithic times. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, quite rightly made the point that we must have the right information. I am to some extent agnostic on the technical issues of sex versus gender and all the rest of it. That is not a battle that I am going to fight. I do not feel qualified to do so, but I am quite sure that the Law Commission will look at that in detail as it is looking at all the other elements.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about the pervasiveness of misogyny, based in part, I suspect, on her own experience and that of others that she has seen. It is shameful. She also made an extremely good point about the value of really good police domestic abuse training. I do not know to what extent there is a template for best practice and what good really looks like. I suspect that, as ever, some police forces are doing it infinitely better than others. Can the Minister tell us how much knowledge the Home Office has of where best practice is in existence or being evolved and, if so, what is it doing, or what does it aspire to do, to try to make sure that that is applied everywhere, not just in those police forces that are ahead of the game?

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, talked about the importance of enhanced information, but he rightly made the point, as a lawyer, that hate crime is a difficult and very sensitive area, and data really will be king. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, I saw the reports about the way in which female athletes have been tormented and abused because they cannot go to the normal stadia and places to exercise. It is absolutely deplorable that one should be trying to do what one loves and has a passion for—indeed, what one may be representing one’s country for—and is subject to abuse on the street. I cannot even imagine what that would be like. I hope that if I witnessed someone doing something like that, I would give them a piece of my mind—not that they would probably take much notice.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, also pointed out that misogyny is a recruiting tool for hate groups. In doing research for this debate, I went down one particular rabbit hole that I found on the internet: a very bizarre male forum in which feminism is regarded as the root of many of modern society’s ills and as a conspiracy to belittle men and reduce their role. It was eye-closing, rather than eye-opening, to try to read it, but it exists and we cannot ignore it. We have to try to do something about it.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, quite rightly, with his extensive experience, laid out some of the heffalump traps that exist legally and in the way in which the police might try to apply this. He knows far more about it than I do, but I would defer to the Law Commission to try to work its way through some of the complexities that he outlined. I probably agree that they do not necessarily need to be in primary legislation; that is not the object of this probing amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, again, referred to the importance of data and the role of social media. Like him, I greatly look forward to the arrival of our new colleague: his friend and mine, Vernon Coaker. When he arrives, he will be a sterling addition to your Lordships’ House. I also—since I am married to one—agree with the noble Lord on the very important role of powerful women.

The Minister quite rightly mentioned the pervasive influence of the home that one is fortunate or unfortunate enough to grow up in, and how that influences one’s views. We both have shared history in the importance of timely, accurate and informative data. I think we all agree that although we know this is here, we still do not really understand its full complexity, how to record it accurately or how to respond to it. I hope that the Law Commission will come up with some answers, but the pandemic has acted like a pressure cooker on an awful lot of what is going on. Many women and children are suffering unspeakable oppression at the moment and I am very conscious that, while it is neat and tidy to say that we will wait for the Law Commission findings to come out, there is a feeling among most of us who have spoken that it would be good to do as much as we can in the interim to acknowledge that this is a live and shameful issue, rather than just sit on our hands hoping that the Law Commission will pull a rabbit out of the hat.

On that basis, I thank everybody who has taken part. I thank the Minister for listening so politely and answering as I expected she might, but I hope that she and her colleagues will consider whether more could be done, given the circumstances that so many of these women and children are in, to try to send some message to police forces about the benefits that other police forces which have trialled this are having from it, and to encourage them to look at it seriously. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, these are two good rounding-out amendments, well argued for by all speakers, and I fully support them both. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I would have signed Amendment 146A too, if I could have.

Clause 71(5) deals with priority need for victims, as we have heard. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, introduced Amendment 146A, which seeks to extend the application of priority need for housing for homeless victims of domestic abuse to those who live with, or might be expected to live with, the victim. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, explained that this already works perfectly well in Wales. I am sure that the Government have looked at that and seen it for themselves.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, described the lengths to which an abuser will go to find out where the victim has gone, which is why it may not be possible for the application to be made in person. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, reinforced the need of so many victims to get right away. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, there is a great shortage of housing, which causes a lot of consternation. It is much better on every level for the perpetrator to move. I am just trailing my amendment that tries to achieve this, which is Amendment 163, coming on Wednesday.

Amendment 147, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, tackles the local connection issue for a victim fleeing an area. It would ensure that, even if the victim were not from that area, this would not count against them for housing priority, hence them being designated with a local connection. It stops local authorities from refusing survivors on the grounds of no legal connection. The example from the noble Lord, Lord Randall, shows exactly why this is needed. Both these amendments make a great deal of sense, and I hope that your Lordships’ House is minded to support them.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I come first to the amendment of my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. He explained that Amendment 146A seeks to amend Clause 71 to allow those who are not experiencing domestic abuse themselves, but are in the same household as someone who is, to be given priority need status. I share his ambition to make sure that all victims of domestic abuse and their household are supported by ensuring that they have access to a suitable offer of safe and secure accommodation. I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims who are homeless, or at risk of homelessness, are supported to find an accommodation solution that is safe, meets their needs and reflects their individual circumstances. We think that this amendment is unnecessary because, when an applicant has priority need, the Housing Act 1996 already requires local authorities to provide accommodation that is available for occupation and is suitable for the whole household.

We see several risks with this amendment. We know that victims of domestic abuse may be vulnerable and at risk of being exploited, manipulated and controlled by those in their lives, including family members, the perpetrator or a new partner who may also be abusive. Allowing someone else in the victim’s household to be in priority need would mean that that person, not the victim, would be the primary contact with the local authority. They would receive all correspondence and the offer of accommodation would be in their name. For this reason, it is important that the victim of domestic abuse alone has the priority need for accommodation, guaranteeing the victim control of the application and the rights to secure the accommodation as it will be in their name. I recognise and share my noble friend’s intention to ensure that all victims are able to access accommodation, and that the process of making an application for homelessness assistance should not be a barrier to accessing support. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I disagree with him on how best to achieve that intended outcome.

I agree that it is vital that domestic abuse victims can be supported to make a homelessness application. That is why the Government have made clear in the published draft Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities that they should be flexible in their approach to taking homelessness application from victims, by enabling victims to be supported in making that application by a family member, friend or support worker if they wish to be. The guidance also reinforces that local authorities should facilitate interviews by phone or online, where this is most appropriate for the victim, and make sure that translation services are available. Lastly, the guidance highlights that local authorities, where appropriate, should accept referrals from concerned parties, allowing someone else to make the initial approach on behalf of the victim, provided that they have the victim’s consent and the application can be safely verified with the victim. In short, we believe that there is already provision in place to achieve the outcomes sought by my noble friend in his Amendment 146A.

Amendment 147 in the name of my noble friend Lord Randall seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996 to give victims of domestic abuse a local connection to all local authorities in England when seeking homelessness assistance under Part 7 of that Act. The existing legislation and guidance on this matter is clear that a housing authority cannot refer an applicant to another housing authority where they have a local connection if they or anyone who might be reasonably expected to reside them would be at risk of domestic abuse in that area. The Homelessness Code of Guidance for Local Authorities makes clear that a housing authority is under a positive duty to inquire where the applicant would be at risk of actual or threatened domestic violence. It stipulates that authorities should not impose a higher standard of proof of actual violence in the past when making their decision. If an applicant is at risk, they can present at another local authority.

As such, protections are already in place for victims of domestic abuse that ensure they are not housed in a local authority area where there is any risk of violence or abuse. The local connection test seeks to keep a degree of fairness to ensure that those who live locally are prioritised and that no one authority gets oversubscribed. The current provisions in place under Section 198 of the 1996 Act strike the right balance to support victims.

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, talked about when women often flee to other local authorities, and the situation with social housing need. They are absolutely right that many victims of domestic abuse are forced to flee their homes to seek that safety and support in a refuge or other form of temporary accommodation. It is often in another local authority area because, of course, why would you stay where you were in danger? In November 2018, the Government issued statutory guidance for local authorities to improve access to social housing for victims of domestic abuse who are in refuges or other forms of safe temporary accommodation. The guidance here makes absolutely clear that local authorities are expected not to apply the residency test for victims who have fled to another district. I hope, with the points I have made, that my noble friend would be content to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity, having listened to a very interesting debate. At Second Reading I raised the issue of cross-border co-ordination within the United Kingdom—at that time, particularly in connection with European protection orders and how to ensure that an appropriate system would be in place within the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. It strikes me that it is also an ongoing issue with those that flee across one of the internal borders of the United Kingdom and then seek housing. I would be grateful for any reflections that the Minister might have on what implications these amendments—or their rejection, as she is recommending—would have for women who have flown across borders, and for the internal arrangements that are in place between the local authorities of the whole United Kingdom, not just England.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Clearly, this Bill does not extend to the jurisdiction in Scotland, but I absolutely understand the point that the noble Lord is making. I will write to him with any updates on that because, of course, a woman should not be prohibited or stopped from receiving support just because she has crossed a border. I will write to him further on that and I thank him for raising the issue.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all of those who took part in this debate and particularly to the Minister for her reply, which I will come to in a moment. The initial speech was made by my noble friend Lord Randall, who made a forceful speech about the importance of flexibility on local connection. He referred to the postcode lottery due to the different local authorities interpreting the guidance in different ways. In a sense, his plea was the same as mine, namely that it is not enough to leave this to guidance; one wants a legal assurance on the face of the Bill. My noble friend, and others who supported Amendment 147, will want to reflect on the Minister’s reply to that section of the debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, reminded us that in Wales the amendment is, in effect, already in place, and that there has been no abuse of it. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put our debate in a slightly broader context, and reminded us of the need for move-on accommodation in order to free up capacity in the refuges, and she is absolutely right. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for Front-Bench support for the amendments and I am sorry that he was not quick enough off the mark to add his name to my amendment. I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who rightly pointed out that the application for housing, if it is known to come from the survivor, can be a trigger point in a relationship and provoke a violent reaction. This is why it is important that somebody, who she referred to as an ally, should be able to make the application on behalf of the victim to avoid exactly that risk. My noble friend Lord Cormack said that, unlike the previous amendment that was a probing amendment, these amendments meant business. The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, was too modest to say that she spoke with the authority of a former Housing Minister, which of course adds weight to the representations that she has made. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, for Front-Bench support from the Liberal Democrats. She used the opportunity to trail an important amendment later on, which puts the emphasis on the perpetrator moving out of the building rather than the victim.

The Minister, my noble friend Lady Williams, is of course a former Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government as it then was, and so she will have a first-hand knowledge of the issues that we discuss. I am sure that she remembers the passage of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, if not always with happy memories.

I was grateful to my noble friend for saying she entirely shared the objectives of those behind the amendments. She made two points in rebuttal. She referred to the Housing Act 1996, requiring that the accommodation should be suitable for the whole household; however, the whole household may not want to move—it may just be the victim. She did not quite address the point that in Wales and Scotland they have already resolved the issues she described and enabled an application to be made, as I understand it, on behalf of the primary victim.

I very much hope there can be a way through. My noble friend said the guidance says that the initial approach can already be made with consent by a third party. If the initial approach can be made with the consent of the victim, it is not absolutely clear why the substantive approach could not also be made. While I am happy to withdraw the amendment, I very much hope we can have some discussions to see whether we can give the assurance that I think the whole House wants and avoid the issues my noble friend raised in her response. In the mean time, I repeat my thanks to those who have contributed and beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this has been a comprehensive debate. As noble Lords have explained, Amendment 148 would insert a new clause to ensure that those whose immigration status would exclude them from benefits and the right to rent can receive support and find a place to live if they are the victim of domestic abuse in circumstances that would otherwise leave them destitute and homeless. It sets out clearly what evidence must be produced to show they are a victim of domestic abuse.

As noble Lord, Lord Rosser, explained, abusers use survivors’ immigration status as a means of coercive control. As noble Lords have said, no one should be prevented from escaping domestic abuse because they cannot afford to leave or because they have nowhere to go, not least those who are additionally vulnerable because of their immigration status. Amendment 151, led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, requires the Secretary of State to make changes to the Immigration Rules to extend the number of victims of domestic abuse who can apply for, and be granted, indefinite leave to remain. It proposes that they should be granted limited leave to remain for not less than six months to enable this, or longer if the application is awaiting a decision, including access to support and accommodation during that time. As noble Lords have said, it is likely that victims of domestic abuse could be in danger were they to be forced to return to their country of origin, as the example graphically described by the right reverend Prelate demonstrated. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, has said, while the current pilot is welcome, it is not necessary. We know all we need to know to take the issue forward—a point reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece have explained, Amendment 160 gives effect to Article 4(3) of the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence—the Istanbul convention—that requires all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, to receive equal protection against domestic abuse and equally effective support and, as such, encapsulates the essence of Amendments 148 and 151. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, has said, if Amendments 148 and 151 were agreed to, we could ratify the Istanbul convention. As he said, either this is a landmark Bill, or it is not. I agree with the noble Lord: this all comes down to money—money that the Government appear to be unwilling to spend.

It is concerning that the Home Office has responsibility both for providing support for domestic abuse survivors and for enforcing immigration legislation. With only 5.8% of refuge places available to survivors who have no access to public funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, has said, something clearly needs to be done. With those affected numbering in the low thousands, it would not take much to implement these recommendations, and we support them. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, failing to take action would make it feel as though the state were complicit in these women’s suffering.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, the amendments in this group centre on support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic for proposing the new clauses.

All Members of the Committee will share the view that anyone who has suffered abuse, regardless of their immigration status, should first and foremost be treated as a victim. Where we differ, perhaps, is on how support is best provided to meet that end. Amendments 148 and 151 seek to provide, for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, at least six months of leave to remain, a route to indefinite leave to remain and access to publicly funded support. Amendment 160 seeks equally effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, while also referring to Article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention.

If I have correctly understood noble Lords’ objectives in tabling these very thoughtful and well-intentioned amendments, they are seeking to expand the existing destitute domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rule to cover all migrant victims of domestic abuse: to place the DDVC in the Immigration Rules, as well as lifting immigration restrictions, for any migrant victim of domestic abuse. The Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommended that the Government consider similar changes to the DDVC and DVILR. However, its recommendations did not include proposals to incorporate the DDVC scheme in the Immigration Rules.

As noble Lords will be aware, in response to the Joint Committee’s recommendations the Government committed to a review of the overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse. That review has been completed and its findings were published on 3 July 2020. We were grateful to the specialist sector for the views and evidence provided during the review. However, it was unclear which groups of migrants are likely to be most in need of support, how well existing arrangements may address their needs, how long they might need support, and how they could be supported to move on from safe accommodation. It was clear, however, that a robust evidence base is needed to ensure that funding is appropriately targeted to meet the needs of migrant victims.

My issue with Amendment 151 is that it is based on a misunderstanding of the rationale for the DDVC and the domestic violence rule. Both were, and are, intended to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas. The system was designed in this way because, had their relationships not broken down as a result of domestic abuse, these victims would have had a legitimate expectation of staying in the UK permanently. Neither the DDVC nor the domestic violence rule was designed to support those without this legitimate expectation. This Government are concerned that expanding the scope of both would undermine the specific purpose that gave rise to them and introduce a route to settlement that might lead to more exploitation of our immigration system—or indeed of vulnerable migrants.

For this reason, at Second Reading in the House of Commons, the Safeguarding Minister announced that the Government would invite bids for grants from the £1.5 million support for migrant victims scheme. Such grants will look to cover the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation for migrant victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access public funds. The Government will use the scheme to better assess the level of need for these victims and inform spending reviews about longer-term funding, which is very important. The competition for the scheme was launched on 15 December and closes on 8 February—today. The scheme will then run until 22 March, which answers the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

As I have indicated, our review has highlighted that a better evidence base is needed for migrant victims who are not eligible for the DDVC. Since 2017, the Government have provided over £1 million from the tampon tax fund to support migrant victims with no recourse to public funds. While clearly this fund has helped to deliver much-needed support for a number of individuals, and much has been learned, regrettably we require a more complete and reliable evidence base to enable us to make those long-term decisions. We particularly want to establish a robust dataset that we can interrogate about the circumstances in which support is most needed, the duration of support needed, what kind of support works best, and how individuals exit from support to regain their independence. We would like to do this work to ensure that the information that we need is available to inform future policy-making and that the decisions taken are sound.

I turn to Amendment 160. The support for migrant victims scheme and the associated evaluation work clearly illustrate that the Secretary of State is taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse. This scheme will be available to all migrant victims at the point of need while their eligibility for the scheme is assessed and other routes of support are explored.

The Government have been clear that migrant victims of domestic abuse should be treated first and foremost as victims, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, and others, said. Data collected through the course of this scheme will provide the information that we need to assess current provisions and ensure that effective protection and support is available to migrant victims of domestic abuse. Therefore, while I am grateful to my noble friend and appreciate the sentiment and intention behind her amendment, we do not believe that this is necessary in light of the action that we are already taking. The provisions in the Bill apply equally to all victims of domestic abuse, whatever their status, including the ability to apply for a domestic abuse protection order or the provisions in respect of special measures and the prohibition of cross-examination in person.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Helic and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Health and Lord Griffiths, have talked about the Istanbul convention. It is important to recognise that legislation is not needed to comply with Articles 4 and 59 of the convention. As set out in the latest annual report on our progress towards ratification of the convention, which was published on 22 October last year, the position on whether the UK is compliant with Article 4(3) of the convention to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status, and with Article 59, relating to residence status, is of course under review, pending the evaluation and the findings from the support for migrant victims scheme.

On the suggestion in Amendment 148 that the no recourse to public funds condition is lifted for all victims of domestic abuse, the Government believe that this is the wrong response. It is not subject to further definition in any way and would be a disproportionate and costly method of providing support for migrant victims. It is worth recognising that the principle of no recourse to public funds was established as far back as 1971, and no Government have sought to reverse that position. Successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly funded benefits and services should reflect the strength of a migrant’s connections to the UK and, in the main, become available to migrants only when they have settled here.

These restrictions are an important plank of immigration policy, operated, as I have said, by successive Governments and applicable to most migrants until they qualify for indefinite leave to remain. The policy is designed to assure the public that controlled immigration brings real benefits to the UK, rather than costs to the public purse. It does this by prohibiting access to public funds other than to those with indefinite leave to remain, refugees and protected persons, and those granted discretionary leave.

Nevertheless, exemptions from those restrictions are already in place for some groups of migrants. These include refugees or those here on the basis of their human rights where they would otherwise be destitute. Those on human rights routes can also apply to have their no recourse to public funds condition lifted if their financial circumstances change and there is a risk of destitution, imminent destitution, risk to the welfare of a child or exceptional circumstances. Equally, as I have said, migrant victims on certain spousal visas can already apply for the destitute domestic violence concession to be granted limited leave with recourse to public funds.

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester [V]
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I thank the Minister for her considered response and want to acknowledge her support and compassion for migrant victims of domestic abuse. The issue for me is still the one that has been raised throughout this debate of how we guarantee long-term protection for migrant women with insecure immigration status, given all we have heard about the mismatch in timing between the pilot scheme and this Bill. So I really welcome discussion with the Minister as we determine whether to bring this matter back at a later stage.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate is right to raise the point about sustainability, long-term solutions and what happens after the pilot scheme has taken place. It is precisely because we want to identify where the gaps lie and where long-term funding might be needed that we have done this pilot scheme. With that, as I have said throughout the course of this debate, it is our intention to review the matter when that pilot scheme has finished. But the point about funding is one that is well made, because we can have all the legislation in the world and if the funding is not in place there is no point.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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I start by thanking the Minister for her very full and comprehensive reply to this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, in which there has been a high degree of unanimity as far as the nature of the contributions is concerned and the objectives that we all want to achieve.

The Government have basically set out why they do not believe that the amendments we have been discussing meet the Bill as far as they are concerned. They have laid some stress on their point that a one-year pilot scheme is about to commence to better assess the level of need for this group of victims. It is, as the Minister has said, to run through until March 2022. Clearly, on that basis, as far as the Government are concerned, not a lot is going to happen to address the problems that have been identified in the near future.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester pointed out in her very effective contribution that the amount offered to run the pilot project would not meet the needs of all vulnerable migrant women who need crisis support. She also pointed out that the data the pilot scheme may collect is already available. Indeed, it has been published and submitted. I do not think that the Government, in their response, exactly made it clear what information they do not feel they have already, that has not been provided in the data that has been published and submitted. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester also pointed out that the pilot scheme did not guarantee change following its conclusion.

This Bill is surely the opportunity to provide legislative protection to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including migrant women who are among the most vulnerable. I had thought that was a government objective. I have no doubt the Minister would say that it is—or at least I hope that is what the Government would say. It does seem that it will be a little way ahead in the future before anything will get resolved. We have a serious issue that needs addressing now and not, maybe, at some unspecified date in the future.

I do not think we have heard, in the Government’s response, how the Government intend to address the immediate problem that exists already. I hope it might be possible, between now and Report, for there to be further discussions on this issue—which will involve a number of people, judging by the number of contributions to the debate and all the people who have added their names to the amendments that we have been discussing. But I share the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester that it would be helpful if there could be further discussions about the issues have been raised before Report. I suspect, at the moment, that the issues we have been talking about now for one and three-quarter hours will be brought before the House again on Report, unless discussions provide a solution to the issues we have been talking about. I hope that proves to be the case and that the Minister will ensure those discussions take place. In the meantime, though, I withdraw Amendment 148.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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I will just pick up on a point that was made by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. It concerns what was said during the debate on this or a similar amendment in the Commons, when the Government used an argument to deflect the amendment to the effect that we should await the outcome of the review of coercive control legislation due to be completed by “early autumn”. Last autumn was being referred to. It now appears that we might receive some further information—I hope, the outcome of the review—before Report. No doubt the Minister will confirm that or otherwise when she responds.

The point I want to make is that this is far from the first amendment on a key domestic abuse issue that the Government have told us at some stage that they cannot accept because they are awaiting the outcome of a review, pilot scheme or mapping exercise. That suggests that they know that there are real problems that need addressing but have not determined how in time for the Bill. The Bill has already been a long time on its still-unfinished journey to becoming an Act. I am not sure that this is a satisfactory situation. So often we are told that an amendment is unacceptable because there is a review, pilot scheme or mapping exercise outstanding.

My name is attached to Amendment 149 which, as expected, was moved so comprehensively and persuasively by my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett. It adds a new clause, which would ensure that those who were previously personally connected are protected from any coercive and controlling behaviour, including economic abuse, that occurs post separation. As we have heard, economic abuse makes the victim dependent on the perpetrator and limits their choices and ability to move. One in five women in the UK reports having experienced economic abuse from a current or former intimate partner, and 95% of domestic abuse victims report that they have suffered economic abuse. It is widespread.

Through economic exploitation, the perpetrator looks to benefit from the victim’s economic resources and, in so doing, sabotage their economic independence. The perpetrator may also build up debt in the victim’s name through coercion or fraud, or even steal or damage the victim’s property, which then has to be replaced. Building up debt in the victim’s name is common and leaves the victim struggling to live with it thereafter. When this happens, the impact on the victim’s economic well-being is hugely destabilising and limits their choices post separation. Economic safety underpins physical safety, and building an independent life can, for many victims of economic abuse, feel impossible. I will not continue further. I had some more points to make, but I know that time is pressing and I am sure that they have already been made.

I conclude by saying that we support Amendment 149, which addresses the deficiency that I referred to earlier: that the post-separation situation is not covered and that currently, victims of economic abuse post-separation are unable to seek justice. We also support the objectives of Amendment 157, which was introduced by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for setting out the case for their amendments, which seek to extend the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for tabling his amendment, which seeks to repeal the so-called carer’s defence. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and all the work that she has done in this area. I am grateful, too, to my noble friend Lady Verma, for pointing out the very particular problems faced by some BAME ladies. My noble friend Lady Sanderson illustrated so well how society, including notable broadcasters, has, over time, got to grips with an understanding of coercive control and the terrible harm it causes.

I will address Amendments 149 and 157 before turning to Amendment 171. Amendment 149 seeks to remove the current requirement in the offence of living together in the case of former partners as well as family members. Amendment 157 seeks to remove the current requirement in the offence of living together in the case of relatives who are perpetrating abuse but who do not live with their victim.

Controlling or coercive behaviours are an insidious form of domestic abuse that have long-term debilitating effects on victims and survivors. Such behaviours, intended to harm, punish and frighten, can be perpetrated within intimate and family abusive relationships. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour applies, as it stands, to those who are personally connected. That means that it applies to intimate partners regardless of whether they live together, ex-partners who live together, or family members who live together. The offence does not currently apply to ex-partners or family members who do not live together. The rationale behind this is that there are other criminal offences—stalking and harassment—that may be used to prosecute controlling or coercive behaviours post separation, or in cases where family members do not live together. Indeed, the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour was specifically introduced to close a gap in the law with regard to abuse by intimate partners or family members in the same household.

Turning to surviving economic abuse, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, along with other noble Lords and domestic abuse organisations, rightly highlight that controlling or coercive behaviour often begins, continues or intensifies when the victim and perpetrator no longer live together. They further argue that the stalking and harassment offences are not specifically designed to prosecute this sort of behaviour. Supporters of this amendment also make the point that controlling or coercive behaviour occurs between family members who do not live together, an example being adult children who inflict economic abuse on their elderly parents. Furthermore, as my noble friend Lord Goschen pointed out, the new statutory definition of domestic abuse includes ex-partners among those defined as personally connected and does not have a “living together” requirement. Therefore, an amendment to the controlling or coercive behaviour offence could be seen as conforming to the definition in Part 1 of the Bill.

There are convincing arguments on either side of this debate, and the case for change is not clear-cut. The offence of controlling or coercive behaviour has been in force for just over five years. Consequently, there is only limited evidence on which to build a case for amending the legislation. Given its relative newness, there is also work to be done to further embed the offence throughout the criminal justice system.

Additionally, though not specifically designed to cover controlling or coercive behaviours, the stalking and harassment offence is broad enough that it may apply to post-separation abuse. This includes forms of economic abuse so rightly highlighted by Surviving Economic Abuse. It is also worth noting that the stalking and harassment offence has a maximum sentence of 10 years, whereas for controlling or coercive behaviour it is five years.

The Government are committed to ensuring that any changes to legislation are made on a sound evidential basis. To support this, in 2018 we committed to conducting a review into the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. Though the Home Office has made good progress with the review, it has been unavoidably delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has necessitated refocusing our efforts to support victims throughout this difficult time. We will be publishing the review findings ahead of Report. As the case for change here is not clear-cut, we will continue to consider the evidence for and against change, including the review into the offence, ahead of Report. In coming to a final view, we will reflect very carefully on this debate.

Amendment 171 seeks to repeal what has been labelled by some as the “carer’s defence”, under Section 76(8) to 76(10) of the 2015 Act. This allows for a limited defence where the accused believes that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. The defence is limited as it is not available in cases where the victim fears that violence will be used against them. In addition to believing that he or she was acting in the best interests of the victim, the accused would also need to demonstrate to the court that while their behaviour might have appeared controlling, it was reasonable in all the circumstances of the case. The defence is intended to cover cases where the accused is genuinely acting in the best interests of the victim: for example, if the accused has a caring responsibility for a disabled partner and for medical reasons must compel their partner to take medication or stay at home against their will, for their own protection or well-being. Again, it is important to note that this defence is not available in cases where the victim feared that violence would be used against them.

Supporters of this amendment have put forward three main arguments: first, that it is necessary to protect vulnerable victims who have disabilities or mental health issues from coercion or control; secondly, that the defence has the potential to prolong the abuse of disabled victims and prevent them from accessing equal justice; and, thirdly, that alternative legislation, such as the Mental Capacity Act, may be used by the accused to argue that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. This would render the defence unnecessary. However, the Government consider this defence entirely necessary. There will be specific circumstances in which it is possible that the accused’s behaviour, while it might be considered controlling in a different context, is justified and reasonable given the nature of their caring responsibilities. There is a real risk that, without such a defence, a person may be wrongfully convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour when in fact they were indeed acting in a person’s best interests.

As is the case with all legal defences, it is for the courts and juries to decide merit on a case by case basis, and whether the threshold for the defence has been met or not. There are similar or equivalent defences in Scotland, in Section 6 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, and in the proposed new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland, in Clause 12 of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, which has recently completed its passage through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In conclusion, while I cannot support Amendment 171, I undertake to consider further Amendments 149 and 157. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.