2 Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Mon 8th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 3rd Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 4 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 Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell.

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.

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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for three outstanding speeches introducing their amendments. The clarity and passion with which they speak should influence all of us but also, I hope, influence the Government too.

My late mother was a great believer in things coming along in threes, both good and bad, so I was delighted to hear on the radio this morning a government Minister confirming that the Government had decided to make sure that the Covid-19 vaccine is available to everyone regardless of their immigration status. This establishes a very good principle, just in advance of our debate here this evening: that things should be equal. I was also delighted to hear earlier in our debate the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, agree on behalf of the Government to look at Amendment 142 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and discuss with the devolved Governments the potential for a UK-wide amendment to the legislation that might improve the Bill in front of us, which is primarily for England and Wales. Thus, I hope that things do come along in threes, and that this evening we might have a combination of equality regardless of immigration status on the one hand and a UK-wide measure, which would make this Bill far better, on the other.

In recent years, I have had considerable experience of the daily reality of women facing domestic abuse in some of the asylum and refugee communities in Glasgow and the surrounding area. In your Lordships’ Chamber, we regularly praise the work of the Violence Reduction Unit, which was originally in Glasgow but is now across Scotland, and its successful strategy to reduce violence in the city and now across the nation. But its work on domestic abuse is made far more difficult by the restrictions placed on the rights of many migrant women living in the city and facing daily abuse, which has escalated during the Covid-19 lockdowns of the past 12 months.

I strongly urge the Government to look positively at this measure. Surely the objective outlined so clearly in Amendment 160 of equality for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse should be at the heart of the Bill, and support for these amendments would be a critical step in that direction. We have spoken often, and I have spoken in all my contributions, not just about the legal technicalities of the Bill but of its human impact. However hard it is for a woman to leave an abusive relationship or household when she does have access to finance, housing and rights outwith that home, how much more difficult is it to make that choice when she does not have those rights? Whatever access to funding or pilot projects the Government are willing to provide is no substitute for rights. Rights are at the core of the Bill and they should be available to these migrant women too.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I support the cogent arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Rosser and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I thank Women’s Aid and Refuge for their comprehensive and helpful briefings on these amendments.

When the Bill was introduced in the other place by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, it was said that, among other things, the Bill

“aims to improve the effectiveness of the justice system in providing protection for victims of domestic abuse”.

There can be no more gaping hole in the effectiveness of the justice system than when a group with particular characteristics is deprived of its protection. These three amendments deal with one such group.

The Bill does not tackle the multiple forms of discrimination facing migrant women—at all. This was identified as an omission by the Joint Committee that preceded the first iteration of the Bill. The Government resisted attempts to change it in the other place, arguing that more evidence was needed to identify the groups of migrants most in need of support. Since then, domestic abuse campaigners, such as the Step Up Migrant Women coalition, have expressed concerns, and Pragna Patel, the director of Southall Black Sisters, was quoted in the Guardian as saying that

“to leave migrant women out of this bill sends the message that their lives are not valued, they are disposable, they are second-class people, they are invisible”.

Women’s Aid questions the Government’s proposals for a pilot scheme, as indeed have many noble Lords, arguing that evidence of need was there but was being ignored. It and other organisations are concerned that the findings of the Government’s migrant women review show

“a lack of meaningful engagement with the evidence that was submitted by key specialist organisations, resulting in inaccurate, poor and misleading analysis and conclusions”.

So the Government have a problem. They are not convinced by those organisations working most closely with migrant women and most likely to understand their problems, or that there is, as former Prime Minister Mrs May argued, a common intention between the Government’s view and those in favour of the new clause. It is clear that these organisations have difficulty believing that the Government are sincere in their stated commitment to support all migrant victims of domestic abuse. I hope that the Minister’s response convinces them otherwise.

The issue is very clear; it has been spelled out so well this afternoon. A large proportion of migrant women have no recourse to public funds. There is even an acronym for that category: NRPF. It means that they cannot seek certain types of financial support from the state, including homelessness assistance and other welfare benefits, so they do not have the means to secure a stay in a refuge. There are some exceptions, but those are on a limited number of visa types which allow access to something called the destitution domestic violence concession—DDVC. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated just how precarious the position of migrant survivors is without access to financial support from the state. They cannot keep themselves or their children safe.

All the organisations involved in fighting violence against women and girls are united in their view of the weight of evidence that NRPF should be abolished—or failing that, the eligibility for the DDVC should be extended to all migrant survivors. I hope that the Government will listen to these informed voices and to the powerful arguments made by noble Lords today in this debate and think again about supporting this change.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 3rd February 2021

(3 years, 4 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-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (3 Feb 2021)
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser for so comprehensively outlining the purpose behind Amendment 121 and the very strong case for it. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for his clear explanation.

It is of course important from the legal perspective to look at the different situations in the family courts and the way in which different stages in the proceedings need to be accommodated. I also feel that the amendment is important because of the potential human impact of the absence of such a provision. Legal representation is important, as is the ability of the court to make determinations where distress has been, or could be, caused to the victim. It is also important to anticipate the impact on victims who might choose to go down this route if such a provision is not in place.

The fear and intimidation involved in advance of a decision to begin proceedings in family courts, or to continue with them after they have started, can be very daunting for any victim but perhaps in particular for a victim of domestic abuse. Therefore, putting these provisions in place would help encourage those who need to take a stand and make the move, trying to get out of their current circumstances and into a better place for them and the children. It could encourage them rather than put them off continuing proceedings or beginning them in the first place.

I want to ask a specific question about the impact on children. Over the years, I have seen many cases where intimidation at this stage has not necessarily been directed at the former partner or wife of the abuser, but at the children in order to indirectly intimidate the former partner or wife. Although we have clearly indicated in Clause 3 that children should be properly recognised as victims of domestic abuse, I would like the mover and supporters of the amendment to clarify that, either directly or indirectly, children affected by such distress would be covered by the provisions at the start of the proposed new clause.

For example, would the definition of children as victims mean that any distress caused to children fell under this provision? If not, would intimidation of children be deemed an indirect cause of distress? If the Government are not content to include the amendment or similar provisions in the final Bill, I would be particularly interested to hear from the Minister, on their behalf, how children who might be affected in this way around the family courts, whether outside or even within the court setting if they have been asked to play some kind of role by either their parent or the court, will be protected if this provision is not in place. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.