All 11 Baroness Williams of Trafford contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

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Tue 5th Jan 2021
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Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 6 July 2020 - (6 Jul 2020)
Moved by
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford
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Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to be moving the Bill for two reasons: first, it is at last here in your Lordships’ House and, secondly, from my point of view it is not often that I bring Bills to this House that are universally welcomed. For those reasons, it is a particular pleasure to be introducing this Second Reading.

I want to dedicate everything that we will achieve through the Bill to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse; to all those courageous people who have spoken out about their experiences, whether in Parliament or outside it; and to those who do not lack courage but are still too traumatised to speak about their experience, maybe even decades after it first happened. We should be their voice. It is important that we see the Bill as a start. Other Bills will follow, but the Bill today is a great start in dealing with this most awful of crimes. I say to noble Lords, and I know they understand, that we should not let the best be the enemy of the good.

A person’s home should be a place of safety and security, and a person’s relationship with their partner or other family member should be based on love, mutual respect and understanding, but for some 2.3 million people a year that is not the case. Many such people have to face physical or psychological abuse on a daily basis, which can make their lives insufferable. Some pay the ultimate price: on average, two people are killed each week at the hands of their current or former partner. It is only fitting that I pay tribute to Claire Throssell, who received an MBE in the New Year’s honours list for her tireless work campaigning for children experiencing domestic abuse. She lost her own two sons, Jack and Paul, who were killed by her ex-partner.

We have seen that the Covid-19 pandemic has served to exacerbate the problem as victims have been trapped in their home with their abuser. Police-recorded crime data shows that incidents of domestic abuse increased 7% in the period of April to June last year compared with the same period in 2019. These are horrendous statistics and they mask many individual personal tragedies, lives ruined and children traumatised, many of them for life. If there was ever an issue deserving of our attention and needing decisive action, this is it.

Of course, legislation alone cannot solve society’s ills, but it can play an important role in driving change and empowering those who need help, and I firmly believe that is the case with this Bill. I welcome the fact that the Bill comes before your Lordships’ House having already been the subject of extensive scrutiny, a point well made by the Constitution Committee in its report on the Bill. A draft Bill, published in January 2019, underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses, and I pay tribute to the significant contributions to that process by my noble friends Lady Bertin, Lord Farmer, Lady Sanderson and Lady Chisholm—they are all sitting behind me, which is great—the noble Baronesses, Lady Armstrong and Lady Burt, and the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Blair. As a result of that invaluable pre-legislative scrutiny and the consideration given to the Bill in the House of Commons, I hope that I present to your Lordships’ House today a much-strengthened Bill.

Let me turn to the detail of the Bill. The measures in it are best described around four objectives. They are: to promote awareness, putting domestic abuse at the top of everyone’s agenda; to better protect and support victims of domestic abuse and their children; to transform the response of the criminal, civil and family justice systems to domestic abuse; and to improve performance across local and national agencies.

We cannot tackle domestic abuse effectively without first having a shared understanding of the nature of domestic abuse and its impact on victims. The new, all-purpose statutory definition of domestic abuse in Part 1 is directed to this end. Historically, domestic abuse has been associated with physical or sexual violence only, but such a narrow view is to misunderstand the very nature of this type of abuse. Domestic abuse can take many forms, including threatening, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological or emotional abuse.

The statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73 will, among other things, expand further on the different types of abuse and the forms they can take. This will include types of abuse which are experienced by specific communities or groups, such as migrant victims or ethnic minorities. The guidance, which we have already printed in draft, will also recognise the disproportionate impact of domestic abuse on women.

The statutory definition of domestic abuse includes a minimum age of 16 years so that we do not confuse domestic abuse and child abuse. We fully recognise, however, that children growing up in a household where one adult is abusive towards another are as much victims of domestic abuse as the person being directly abused. Children affected by domestic abuse can live with those consequences for the rest of their lives; Clause 3 expressly recognises this and will help to ensure that such children receive the support they need.

The second aim of the Bill is to better protect and support victims of domestic abuse and their children. In affording protection, civil orders can play an important role. There is already a variety of such orders, principally domestic violence protection notices and orders, occupation orders, non-molestation orders and restraining orders. The fact that there are so many of these orders can be confusing to victims, and none of them is arguably fully up to the task.

In providing for a new domestic abuse protection notice and domestic abuse protection order in Part 3, we have adopted and built upon the strongest elements of the existing orders. The domestic abuse protection notice will provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident, while the domestic abuse protection order—or DAPO—will provide flexible, long-term protection for victims. The DAPO is designed to provide more comprehensive protection to victims than the existing civil orders. It will be available in the criminal, civil and family courts, and will give courts the flexibility to determine which prohibitions and positive requirements are required in each case. This might include, for example, prohibiting the perpetrator from going within a specified distance of the victim’s home, or conditions compelling the perpetrator to attend a perpetrator programme or requiring them to wear an electronic tag.

Breach of a DAPO will be a criminal offence subject to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both. We want to ensure that we get these new domestic abuse protection orders right so that they work for victims, the police, the courts and others who will have to operate them. We will therefore pilot DAPOs in a small number of areas before rolling them out nationally.

It is far preferable if we can prevent abuse happening in the first place rather than having to respond after the event. One important preventive tool which already exists is the domestic violence disclosure scheme, also known as Clare’s law. There are two elements to the scheme: one is the “right to ask” and the other is the “right to know”. Under the right to ask, someone can ask the police to check whether a current or ex-partner has a violent or abusive past. If records show that an individual may be at risk of domestic abuse from a partner or ex-partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. The right to know enables the police proactively to make that disclosure if they receive information about the violent or abusive behaviour of a person that might impact on the safety of that person’s current or ex-partner. We know that Clare’s law has not always operated as effectively and consistently as it should across the country, so the Bill puts on to a statutory footing the guidance to the police underpinning the scheme to help improve its operation and thereby better protect potential victims of abuse.

Victims of domestic abuse and their children also need the right support at the right time. For those in refuges or other safe accommodation, this means having access to, for example, counselling services and advocacy support to help them access NHS services, schooling or welfare benefits. This also includes tailored support for victims with disabilities, those with more complex needs, LGBTQ+ or black and minority ethnic victims. Part 4 introduces a new duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to ensure that such support is available in their area for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. Noble Lords will have seen that following the spending review, the Government have committed £125 million to fund this new duty in 2021 and 2022.

Those who are forced to flee their own home as a result of domestic abuse will also benefit from Clause 71, which will require local authorities to give priority need status to all victims who are homeless and eligible for assistance. Victims will therefore no longer need to prove they are vulnerable as a result of their abuse in order to access accommodation secured by the local authority.

Where victims of domestic abuse look to the justice system for protection, including for their children, to seek civil redress or to secure justice for criminal wrongdoing, we need to ensure that the criminal, civil and family courts deliver for them. All too often, victims have found the experience of giving evidence in court traumatising and an occasion for their abuser to perpetuate the abuse all over again. To help to address this, Part 5 includes two important reforms.

First is the prohibition on cross-examination in person, which already applies in the criminal courts. This will be extended to the family and civil courts. In cases where this prohibition applies the courts will, where necessary, be able to appoint a publicly funded advocate to conduct the prohibited cross-examination. Secondly, Part 5 streamlines the rules governing eligibility for special measures for domestic abuse victims giving evidence in the criminal, civil and family courts. Victims of domestic abuse will no longer have to demonstrate that they are vulnerable. This will give victims the option of giving their evidence, for example, from behind a screen or via a video live-link. As now, it will be for the court to determine whether to make a special measures direction in any particular case, taking into account whether such a direction would improve the quality of the victim’s evidence.

In criminal proceedings relating to domestic abuse it is imperative that justice is done, with perpetrators being appropriately convicted and punished for their crimes. As this Bill was going through the House of Commons the Government listened to concerns, voiced by Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier among others, that in too many cases domestic abuse perpetrators were arguing that their victim’s death was the result of consensual “rough sex gone wrong”. In the case of R v Brown, the former Appellate Committee of this House established in 1993 the principle that consent to serious harm for sexual gratification is not a defence and that, by extension, nor would consent apply where such sexual activity resulted in the victim’s death. The Bill clarifies the law by enshrining this principle in statute.

Finally, Part 2 of the Bill, providing for the office of a domestic abuse commissioner in law, will help to level up the response to domestic abuse across local and national agencies. The designate commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, is already providing very strong leadership on domestic abuse issues and acting as a powerful voice for victims. The commissioner will play a key role in overseeing and monitoring the provision of domestic abuse services in England and Wales. To facilitate this work, the Bill will arm the commissioner with appropriate powers; in particular, they will have the power to publish reports and lay them before Parliament. These reports will hold local commissioners of domestic abuse services, statutory agencies and government departments to account and make recommendations on how they can improve their responses. Specified public bodies will be under a duty to co-operate with the commissioner. They and government Ministers will be required to respond to each recommendation made to them within 56 days.

Domestic abuse gives rise to some of the gravest and most challenging crimes, including coercive control, serious assaults, rape and murder. We owe it to victims and survivors to treat domestic abuse with the seriousness it deserves and to help these people rebuild their lives. Protecting and supporting victims and their children and bringing perpetrators to justice lies at the heart of our approach. The measures in the Bill are directed to these ends and I commend it to the House.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for what I think has been one of the most thoughtful debates I have ever heard in your Lordships’ House. No age group has been left out of the debate, including the unborn child and the foetus.

From the young to the old, the disabled, LGBTQ+ people and BME people—all strata of society are affected by this horrific crime. Of course, it does not respect social niceties either. Just because you are middle class does not mean that you will escape it. The problems of poverty exacerbate it, but nobody is safe from its clutches where the perpetrator wishes to strike.

I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, to the Labour Front Bench. I thought that was a storming first Front-Bench effort.

At this early stage in my remarks, I also want to refer to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham. His talents, experience and expertise know no bounds. It seems that he can speak with great authority on so many things. I have in my mind a picture of him and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, in 1975, not knowing that what they had started then would be advanced all these years later, moving from the comment of “I’m not sure there’s anything the committee can do about it”—from a Home Office Minister, of all people—to the statutory duty on local authorities now being fulfilled 50 years later. I do not know whether I am proud or downright ashamed of that, but thank goodness we are at the point that we are now.

I also join other noble Lords in paying tribute to my right honourable friend Theresa May for her efforts to begin to get this Bill going. I also thank the PM for particularly noting in his remarks yesterday that people who need to flee abuse are absolutely not subject to some of the lockdown restrictions that others are.

I welcome the overwhelming cross-party support for the provisions in the Bill. Noble Lords supported the introduction of the statutory definition of domestic abuse, including the express recognition that children are victims in their own right. There was support, too, for enshrining in law the office of the domestic abuse commissioner; for the new domestic abuse protection notice and the domestic abuse protection order; for the new duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to provide support to victims and their children within safe accommodation; for the prohibition on cross-examination in person in the civil and family courts; for automatic eligibility for special measures; and for the clarification of the law in respect of the so-called “rough sex” defence.

This is not to say that all noble Lords regard every one of the provisions in the Bill as perfect. A number of noble Lords raised points of detail and substance, and I will respond to some of those in a moment. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not name-check everyone who spoke, else I will lose my entire 20 minutes in doing so.

Before responding, I acknowledge that the general welcome for the provisions in the Bill was accompanied by calls for it to be extended into new areas. There were three in particular, but the first two raised were the provision of community-based support for all victims and access to safe accommodation by migrant victims who have no recourse to public funds. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Chisholm and Lady Bertin, the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Polak, the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt, Lady Armstrong, Lady Lister, Lady Hussein-Ece and Lady Wilcox of Newport, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, talked about this, as did other noble Lords. In fact, almost every noble Lord talked about it, and we recognise that more needs to be done to ensure adequate provision of community-based support, but it would not be right to impose new duties on public authorities in this Bill without first understanding the gaps in existing provision and consulting with local authorities, police and crime commissioners and others who would be subject to any new duty.

To this end, the domestic abuse commissioner is undertaking an in-depth exploration of the current community-based support landscape. The commissioner is due to complete this work towards the end of the year. Alongside this, we are also developing a victim funding strategy to deliver sustainable provision to all victims. I understand the point that my noble friend Lady Sanderson made, but we do not think the duty on first-tier local authorities for community-based service in some way overrides that provision. That is the point that she was trying to make. On completion of the projects, the Government will work with the commissioner to understand the needs identified and develop options for how best to support victims, wherever they reside.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Burt, Lady Lister, Lady Gale, Lady Crawley and Lady Meacher, the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Woolley, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic—practically the whole House—talked about the needs of migrant victims. We are clear, first and foremost, that all victims of domestic abuse must be treated as victims first. Noble Lords will have heard me say that before and I say it again. We committed in our response to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill to review the Government’s response to migrant victims of domestic abuse, and we published our findings last July. This highlighted that, although we have received some evidence, there is currently a lack of robust data to demonstrate which cohorts of migrant victims are likely to be in most need of support.

To address the evidence gap, on 15 December we launched a £1.5 million support for migrant victims pilot scheme, which will start next month and run to March 2022. This will enable us to take well-grounded and evidence-based decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term. Both the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, and my noble friend Lady Helic talked about engagement with Southall Black Sisters. I have engaged with them previously in a round table, and my honourable friends Vicky Atkins and Alex Chalk have also engaged with them extensively. We have engaged with many groups across the sector and certainly with them.

The noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, talked about co-operation across borders. It is absolutely essential, both to fulfil the provision and to make sure that people do not abscond from their obligations of facing justice.

I will address some of the points raised in the debate. We have heard from more than 90 speakers; I cannot respond to all the points, but I will attempt to. If I do not address all the points, I will certainly write to noble Lords.

The point I will mention first is GPs charging for letters, because it was one of the last points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I know that, as she said, it has been troubling him for some time. While GPs can levy a fee for this service, due to it being classified as private work that sits outside the core GP contract, the BMA has now advised GPs not to charge for such letters. Back in January 2018 we made changes to legislation that aimed to make it easier for victims or those at risk of domestic abuse to obtain and provide the evidence required to access legal aid. We continue to work with the GPs committee to improve the process for GPs and victims in relation to evidence of domestic abuse.

Another issue that came up a lot was the crime survey upper age limit. My noble friend Lord Davies of Gower took the wind out of my sails by answering the question for me, but I shall answer it again. I first got the answer from my noble friend Lady Sanderson. Last month the Office for National Statistics announced that it would remove the upper age limit from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. I know this announcement will be welcomed by noble Lords and organisations such as Age UK that have campaigned for this change.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, among others, argued for the introduction of a data-sharing firewall so that migrant victims can approach the police safe in the knowledge that their details will not be passed to Immigration Enforcement. I understand the national policing lead on domestic abuse is clear that there will be circumstances in which information sharing between police and immigration authorities is in the interests of safeguarding the victim of abuse. We are committed to considering existing data-sharing procedures in the light of the policing inspectorate’s findings of a police super-complaint that relates to current police practice in this area.

Probably the biggest issue of the day was non-fatal strangulation. Many plaudits were paid to my noble friend Lady Newlove; I will join with them. She was supported by practically every Member who spoke, arguing for the new offence of non-fatal strangulation. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made the interesting point that we should take time to interrogate whether a generic offence would be better. I will not answer yes or no to that, but there are several existing offences that relate to non-fatal strangulation. They cover a range of seriousness, from attempted murder to common assault and battery. In addition, non-fatal strangulation could be part of a course of action under the controlling or coercive behaviour offence or be covered by the specific offence under Section 21 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861.

Even though we are currently of the view that this range of offences already covers the diverse circumstances and levels of seriousness that may be involved in non-fatal strangulation, we are certainly willing to listen, and this debate has had quite a lot of evidence given to it on what might be needed. The Government will keep this matter under review and assess any evidence that emerges. Noble Lords have talked about New Zealand; the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, talked about Brazil. We will look at other practices around the world and consider whether a new specific offence is required. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, wisely said that we need to reflect on this and make sure that we come up with good law in this area.

The other big issue raised by noble Lords was revenge porn and, specifically, threats to disclose. My noble friend Lady Morgan asked about the steps that the Government are taking to protect victims from threats to disclose private sexual images without consent—known as “revenge porn”. Threats to disclose, regardless of the connection between the offender and the victim, are in many circumstances already captured by a range of existing offences. However, we acknowledge that there are concerns about the effectiveness of the current criminal law in this area. That is why the Law Commission is conducting a review of the law relating to the non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images, including, but not limited to, the “revenge porn” offence in Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. I understand that the Law Commission will launch a consultation shortly. I encourage noble Lords and others to contribute their views.

The controlling or coercive behaviour offence—the post-separation abuse that goes on—was widely mentioned as well. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt, Lady Lister, Lady Andrews and Lady Hayman, my noble friends Lady Sanderson and Lord Goschen, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, argued for the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to be extended to cover post-separation abuse issues. This offence was created in 2015 to fill a gap in existing legislation around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour occurring during a relationship. Cases of controlling or coercive behaviour that occur outside the parameters of the offence are captured by the separate stalking and harassment offences. That said, we are finalising a review into the effectiveness of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to ensure that it is fit for purpose and adequately protects victims from abuse. The review has unfortunately been delayed by the pandemic—one noble Lord mentioned that—but we aim to publish the outcome in time for Report stage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester called for the Government to introduce a statutory defence for victims whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse. We recognise the harm suffered by victims of domestic abuse, which is why a number of defences are potentially available in law to those who commit offences in circumstances connected with their involvement in an abusive relationship. These include the full defences of duress and self-defence as well as, in homicide cases, the partial defences of loss of control or diminished responsibility. In light of these existing defences, we are not persuaded in this case that a statutory defence is necessary, but we will continue to monitor the position.

My noble friends Lady Bertin and Lord Farmer, the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe and Lord Strasburger, the noble Baronesses, Lady Watkins and Lady Royall, and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, called for a perpetrator strategy, the expansion of perpetrator programmes and the better management of perpetrators. We continue to work with local areas to support effective commissioning of domestic abuse services, including high-quality, safe perpetrator programmes. Indeed, in this financial year, we are investing more than £7 million into direct perpetrator-focused interventions through police and crime commissioners to prevent abuse. Our forthcoming domestic abuse strategy provides an opportunity for us to build on the foundations of the Bill in order to transform the response to domestic abuse. The strategy will include specific work to tackle perpetrators and to prevent offending.

The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, called for the creation of a new Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements category for serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. At this point, I pay tribute to her work and that of John Clough on this. She knows that we do not have plans to introduce a new MAPPA category, but I certainly commend her for raising it. Our focus is on ensuring that we make better use of the existing MAPPA framework and related police systems, such as VISOR, rather than creating new categories.

Noble Lords, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox, Lady Burt and Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and my noble friends Lady Gardner of Parkes, Lady Altmann and Lady Helic, expressed concerns about the handling of child contact cases in the family courts and the issue of parental alienation. My noble friend Lord Moylan also stressed something really important: the importance of ensuring that justice is upheld. We must never lose sight of that.

Last June we published the findings of the expert panel established to examine how effectively the family courts respond to allegations of domestic abuse and other serious offences in private law proceedings. While the current law is clear that the welfare of the child is paramount in making decisions about contact, the panel concluded that in some cases involving domestic abuse the courts are not striking the right balance between the child’s right to a relationship with both parents and the well-being of both the child and the parent victim.

That is why we have committed to undertake a review of the presumption of parental involvement as it currently stands. The review will consider how the presumption is currently applied by the courts, as well as reviewing the existing body of research in this area. However, while we fully recognise the need for swift action in the light of the panel’s findings, we also need to ensure that the full spectrum of issues and potential impacts can be considered in the round. The presumption of parental involvement is wide-ranging and we must be certain that any changes are fully considered.

Most noble Lords talked about support for children through the Bill. My noble friends Lady Chisholm, Lord Polak, Lady Stroud, Lady Verma and Lady Jenkin, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Benjamin and Lady Watkins, rightly drew attention to the devastating impact that domestic abuse can have on children and young people. I talked about the foetus earlier—those adverse impacts start when that child is in the womb.

Growing up in a household of fear and intimidation can impact children’s health, well-being and development, with lasting effects into adulthood—in fact, all their lives. That is why we amended the Bill in the Commons expressly to recognise that children who see, hear or experience domestic abuse are victims in their own right. The Bill includes a number of other measures to better protect and support child victims of domestic abuse. One of the domestic abuse commissioner’s key functions will be to encourage good practice in the identification of children affected by domestic abuse and the provision of protection and support to people, including children, affected by domestic abuse.

Another issue raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Warwick and Lady Donaghy, and my noble friend Lady Eaton was accommodation-based support, and how we had costed the new duty on tier 1 local authorities provided for in Part 4. MHCLG engaged with local authorities and service providers in estimating the cost of the new duty to ensure that it is funded appropriately.

The funding covers the estimated cost of providing unmet need for support in safe accommodation for victims and their children, as well as needs previously supported through MHCLG short-term challenge funds. The Women’s Aid estimate included costs of all services, including those with existing funding. On the basis of evidence, MHCLG estimated the cost at £125 million for 2021-22. It will undertake a post-implementation review, two years following the commencement of the duty, to assess its delivery, including the level of funding and the allocation method.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Donaghy, and my noble friend Lord Bourne all raised the role of employers. We all expect employers to be particularly sensitive when dealing with a colleague who is experiencing domestic abuse. On 9 June 2020, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a review of support in the workplace for victims of domestic abuse, including a call for written evidence, which closed on 9 September and received 126 responses. BEIS is currently considering the evidence gathered and the appropriate next steps, and will publish a response and action plan shortly.

I wonder whether I have more time. I usually go well over time, but not on this occasion. The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Marks, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Royall, raised the issue of legal aid. We are currently conducting a review of the means test, as part of which we are specifically considering the experience of victims of domestic abuse. As part of this, we have made a public commitment to look at the capital thresholds for victims of domestic abuse, where these apply. At the moment, the legal aid agency can apply an eligibility waiver for victims of domestic abuse applying for an injunction or other orders for protection, which means that an applicant for a protective injunction may be eligible for legal aid, even if they have income or capital above the thresholds in the means test, although they may have to make a financial contribution towards their legal costs.

We have already—in April 2020—widened the evidence requirements for domestic abuse victims, making it easier for them to obtain and provide the evidence they need to access legal aid. It will also reduce the risk of genuine victims being unable to obtain the required evidence.

There are a few issues that I have not addressed, including the commencement of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act. I may have to refer to other government departments, but I will write to noble Lords whose points I have not addressed.

I think we have made an excellent start to a Bill that I hope will become an excellent Act.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-II(Rev) Revised second marshalled list for Committee - (25 Jan 2021)
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Bill currently defines domestic abuse as involving two people aged over 16. As has been said, the amendment would expand this definition to include a relationship where one person was under 16 and the other over 16. It appears that the definition would apply where the victim was over 16 but the perpetrator was not. We have doubts about the definition in the Bill being changed in this way, but I understand from what the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has said that this is a probing amendment.

Teenage relationships, and the victims of teenage relationship abuse, have specific needs, which should be addressed through a separate strategy tailored to them and recognised as an issue separate from both child abuse and the abuse that takes place between adults. As I said, we recognise that this is a probing amendment, but our concern is that if the age of the perpetrator in the definition is lowered—as appears to be the effect of the amendment in the circumstances set out in it—we would end up prosecuting and treating some perpetrators under 16 as, in effect, adults, which is not a road we believe we should go down. However, the issue of younger person or teenage abuse raised by the amendment is an important one, which the Government should address through a specific strategy and guidance for this group of victims and perpetrators. I look forward to hearing the Government’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, in thanking all the many organisations that have collaborated with us on the Bill to date; communication has been incredibly constructive in virtually all cases. As she said, no one demurs from supporting this Bill; the question for debate is how we get there. I am grateful to her for affording us the opportunity to debate the minimum age of 16 in the definition of domestic abuse.

The amendment would expand the definition of domestic abuse to include a relationship in which person A, the abuser, is aged under 16 and person B, the victim, is aged 16 or over. Clause 1 as drafted provides that the behaviour of person A towards another person, B, is domestic abuse if

“A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and … the behaviour is abusive.”

As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, abuse in relationships where the victim or both parties are under 16 years of age will be treated as abuse of a child and subject to existing criminal offences, and legislation relevant to safeguarding procedures will be followed. In cases where the abuser is under the age of 16 and their victim is over the age of 16, as in this amendment, appropriate safeguarding responses will be followed which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has just pointed out, seek to avoid the criminalisation of children.

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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I apologise to the noble Lord. Would the Minister like to come back on that particular point?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We might have got the choreography slightly wrong, but I am always amenable to answer questions, even though the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has clearly signalled her intention to withdraw her amendment.

I am not diminishing the seriousness of this compared to children who may involve themselves in terrorism. I will not be dealing with the Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill, but the noble Lord will know our other legislation—for example, one of the central premises of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 was to ensure that children who took a wrong step in their early years were not criminalised for the rest of their lives. Terrorism has very serious implications on people’s lives—not that domestic abuse does not. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Parkinson, who is sitting beside me, will elucidate further on that when we get to that Bill.

Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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I now apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Would you like to complete your speech please? Do you wish to withdraw your amendment?

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this is a solid piece of legislation and I hope that the process on which we are embarking will make it better. I remind the Committee that I sit as a family magistrate in London, so I regularly deal with all types of family-related cases, including parental alienation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, gave a heartfelt speech; I found it very moving. She has clearly endured the most difficult of circumstances. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, gave closely, carefully and well-argued support of the amendments to which she put her name.

In family courts, as everyone has acknowledged, you quite often hear allegations of parental alienation, and a normal scenario is different from what we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer. A more normal scenario is that the parents are separated, the father has not seen the children for a while—too long—and he makes a private law application to see his children. The mother says there has been domestic abuse—or there have been allegations of domestic abuse—and the father makes a counter allegation, almost as a defence, saying that the mother is alienating the children against the father. That scenario is quite common. It is for the courts to try and sort it out, and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, got it right when she said that both domestic abuse and parental alienation allegations can be either true or false. It is the job of the court process to sort that out.

I want to add two other observations. First, it is the duty of the court to get the best result for the child; we are not there to get a fair result for the parents. The question that we often ask ourselves is: “How do we get the voice of the child into the court?” One usual way of doing that is through Cafcass; there is an interview with a very experienced Cafcass officer who gives their view about what would be best for the child, and that view can be examined in the court. The way that Cafcass looks at these issues will be examined later in other amendments.

There is another way of doing it, which happens very rarely. I have not done it myself, but I have done it in public law cases, and that is where the child tells the court what they want. In the scenario where I was involved, a child was going to be taken into care by social services, and I have to say, it was extremely moving. The children whom I have done this for were well aware of the realities of the situation, and they were very aware that they were saying different things to the court—to me as the magistrate—than they had been saying to their parents. My experience is that children understand these situations; they can be toxic and extremely difficult, but nobody should underestimate children’s ability to understand the difficulty of their family situation.





I do not come down for or against these amendments, as such. It is a difficult situation. Other noble Lords made the point that there are many ways that parents can undermine and be unpleasant to each other that are not to the benefit of the children. One noble Baroness referred to the Bill as a potential Christmas tree of abusive relationships, and this does not help, because there are many varieties that one sees in court. Nevertheless, the central point I make to the Committee is that it is the court’s role to come up with the best solution for the child, not what is fair for the parents.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, first, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Meyer, who is right to highlight the protection of children. I acknowledge, empathise and sympathise with her terrible experience of parental abduction, which, as she said, led to her being alienated from her children for years. We know that domestic abuse has devastating consequences, not only for adult victims but for their children, which is why the Bill rightly recognises children as victims in their own right. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, pointed out, this is very much part of the court proceeding, as has also just been articulately outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Some of the protections that have been outlined in the Bill, such as preventing cross-examination in courts, mitigate this in some ways.

I also agree with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in questioning the judicial training that must support the outcome of such proceedings, whatever it is. We know that child arrangement cases involving domestic abuse or allegations of abuse often include allegations of alienating behaviours, where one parent seeks to undermine or frustrate the other parent’s relationship with their children, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, also outlined. These actions, as my noble friend highlights in her amendment, are often referred to as “parental alienation”.

My noble friend Lady Helic, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, pointed out how the term has so often been used to sidetrack from the issue of domestic abuse. She pointed out that the pro-contact culture of the courts quite often leads to the wrong decisions being made.

To answer my noble friend Lord Polak, there is no widely accepted definition, nor a commonly held framework, for parental alienation. Instead, views are wide-ranging: some focus on the parent’s behaviour, some focus on the child’s behaviour and others focus on the impact or outcome of the behaviour. For these and other reasons, I refer instead to “alienating behaviours”. That phrase is used in the guidance, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Bennett, point out. The guidance will be subject to consultation after Royal Assent. The beauty of the House of Lords is of course its scrutiny of Bills. To that end, we very much welcome views on how to deal with this issue.

Alienating behaviours can include a range of attitudes and actions. Some are subtle, such as drip-feeding negative views, while others are more obvious, such as deliberately flouting child arrangement orders. I am clear that these behaviours are wrong and problematic, but they are not limited to cases involving domestic abuse. They occur in the context of acrimonious separation and other high-conflict cases, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I have sympathy with my noble friend’s wish to address these behaviours, but I submit that the definition in Clause 1 for the purposes of the Bill is not the right context in which to do so.

Alienating behaviours should be considered primarily in terms of the impact on the child. Most noble Lords referred to that and to the potential emotional and psychological harm to the child that can result, for example, from repeatedly hearing negative views about a parent or being prevented from spending time with a parent. From the perspective of risk of harm to the child, the relevant legal framework is provided for in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989, together with the Section 31(9) definition of harm in that Act.

I accept that alienating behaviours can, in some circumstances, be indicators or manifestations that point to a wider pattern of psychological or emotional abuse. To be absolutely clear, I do not accept that alienating behaviours should be defined as domestic abuse in their own right. However, in circumstances where such behaviours are indicative of a wider pattern of emotional or psychological abuse, we can be confident that the Clause 1 definition already applies and renders the proposed amendment unnecessary.

Our approach in Clause 1 is to define domestic abuse by reference to different types of abusive behaviours and not by reference to the form in which those behaviours may be expressed or manifested. If we were to include within the Clause 1 definition a list of possible indicators under each type of abuse, we would risk appearing to give more weight to one form of behaviour and therefore creating a hierarchy of behaviours. Should a particular indicator or manifestation of psychological or emotional abuse not be listed, it may be deemed to be less serious or, worse, not a form of abuse at all.

The arena in which we can most effectively address alienating behaviours as potential indicators of a recognised type of domestic abuse is the statutory guidance under Clause 73, which has been published in draft. I have gone through how that will be consulted on. It has been created and continues to be edited in consultation with the sector. As I said earlier, we welcome further suggestions on how the guidance can be further strengthened, including in the area of alienating behaviours. Once the Bill is enacted, the Home Secretary will formally consult the domestic abuse commissioner and other key stakeholders before the guidance is promulgated.

I note the points by my noble friends Lady Gardner of Parkes and Lady Chisholm that the unintended consequences might be to swing the pendulum of this good Bill the other way. My noble friend Lady Newlove warns of parental alienation creating a loophole in which to perpetrate abuse. I give the final word to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, who warns that, if these amendments are accepted, victims might be painted as abusers.

I hope that, in the light of this explanation and our commitment to address alienating behaviours in the statutory guidance, my noble friend Lady Meyer can withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Henig Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Henig) (Lab)
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I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very grateful for this opportunity to speak after the Minister. I did not submit my name for the speakers’ list for this group because I could not rely on the train from Scotland getting me here on time, but I am delighted that I managed to make it in time to hear the powerful and important speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer.

When I first saw this amendment at the end of last week, unaware as I was then that it would become perhaps the most controversial and debated issue of our first day in Committee, I flinched. I understand the motivations behind it and there have been powerful speeches on both sides of the debate, but I fear that the Bill’s purpose, which we celebrated earlier this month at Second Reading—to empower victims of domestic abuse to be confident enough to deal with their circumstances, and to ensure that perpetrators are properly punished—would be undermined by the amendments. These amendments could disempower victims of domestic abuse and therefore run contrary to the rest of the Bill.

On reading the amendment on Friday morning, I immediately imagined a situation where a woman is about to flee the home, even temporarily, and the man says, “But under the Domestic Abuse Act I will pursue you for alienation.” A very high proportion of women facing that situation would stay where they were out of an additional fear, on top of all the fear they already experience. I will not tell my personal story here, but I can absolutely assure noble Lords that this happens and this would happen. We should hesitate and think very carefully about this issue in advance of accepting an amendment of this sort.

I was persuaded by the powerful cases made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Helic, but particularly by the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Chisholm, spelling out the need to take time over this issue, to consider it carefully, and to do the right thing for the victims of domestic abuse and the children who might be affected. For that reason I think the Government have the balance right by not including alienation in the Bill, but by referring to it in the draft statutory guidance. I therefore support the Minister’s submission.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord’s very balanced view. It is absolutely right that we do not undermine what is very good legislation by acting in haste and regretting at leisure. The case study the noble Lord outlined was in the back of my mind as well.

Baroness Meyer Portrait Baroness Meyer (Con)
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My Lords, I have made so many notes that I do not know where to start. I thank all those who spoke very kindly, particularly those who support my amendments. Listening to the people who oppose them was really interesting. It made me realise how some people are quite misinterpreting their purpose. They are not about disarming women confronted by abusive men—quite the opposite; I am such a woman. False accusations are quite a different issue.

As I mentioned, it is for the courts to decide in their investigation or fact-finding hearings whether a situation is parental alienation, purposefully done by one parent using the child as a tool against the other. I do not know whether noble Lords can imagine how that feels. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, said that she was in a situation like that, but it probably was not very much; it was probably a grandmother telling her that her mother was not very nice. However, many children are indoctrinated. Some people talk about children being in a cult, being constantly and continuously indoctrinated by being told that the other parent and the other family are bad. Those children live in fear of the disapproval of the parent who is alienating them.

The point I am trying to make is that parental alienation is about control; it is about one parent wanting to control the other. This is coercive behaviour. We might regret refusing to include parental alienation in the Bill because we would put children most at risk. My noble friend Lady Helic said that there is no data to prove parental alienation. I believe that there is, because many people are talking about it and are worried about it being used in some cases. Thousands of studies have been done, and I can gladly send them to the Minister. Noble Lords talked about Dr Gardner, who has been dead for 20 years. He was talking about parental alienation syndrome, but things have moved on since then. The fact that he came up with one idea that was then, properly, rejected does not mean that all the other research done afterwards is invalid.

I understand that some people feel very strongly that this is misused, but I go back to the point that it would be up to the courts. That is why we have courts and why, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said, it is very important for more judges to understand what parental alienation is about. This is why we have Cafcass, and why this is recognised and in law in many countries. I do not know why we are having such a strong debate against it here. It fits in the Bill because it is used against one parent. Imagine being the parent against whom it is used: you are in a terrible position because your child dislikes you, he objects to seeing you and you cannot force the situation because you will upset him even more. It is a very efficient way to control one parent.

Lastly, the guidance will not help judges because it is not statutory. If parental alienation is just in the guidance it will not help to solve the issue earlier on.

I hope that the Minister and her department can talk with me about parental alienation to find another way to include it somewhere in the Bill—not in the guidance, but somewhere more prominent—and to make it clear that this is not anything to do with gender. I very much fear that this whole debate against parental alienation and a lot of stuff in the Bill are gender biased; there are male victims. I am talking here about children. I hope the Minister will accept discussing this further, so that we can find another way to include it in the Bill.

At this time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I look forward to coming back to it at the next stage.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as noted in the register. We very much want the Bill to recognise the realities of abuse that different communities face, and to make sure that it will work in practice for victims of all backgrounds, religions, disabilities and so forth. We hope that the Minister will work with the Peers raising issues and look into their concerns.

I pay tribute to the noble Lords who tabled the amendments for the very experienced and knowledgeable way in which they have highlighted this matter, to ensure that the rights of Jewish women to end their religious marriages and secure a get are included as part of the statutory definition of domestic abuse. This would be on the grounds of domestic abuse by way of controlling and coercive behaviour and psychological abuse, and of economic abuse where that is a factor.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, said in her detailed opening speech, the amendment is intended to help women who are unable to leave a failed marriage, and is specific only to Jewish religious laws; there is no intention to undermine the Jewish courts. Including it in the Bill would provide the opportunity to ensure that its provisions and protections were applicable to all, and that it specifically recognised the plight of those women, removing the shadow of abuse and control, and restoring their right to exercise their faith through their ability to remarry and have children within their faith. That recognition would also offer them other protections under the Act, once the Bill is passed, if they were specifically included.

It is in line with a key objective of the Bill to raise awareness and understanding of domestic abuse and its impact on victims. Key is the ability of women to bring a case where they can retain control of the process as the victims, rather than as a witness in a prosecution having criminal sanctions as a civil party. Through tabling such an amendment, the issue can be usefully raised, and seeking legislative change could be ground-breaking for chained women.

This group highlights what so many noble Lords have been saying. The Bill must work for all victims, and to do this, it must grapple with the reality of how domestic abuse is experienced in all the different ways that it is by those living with it and those trying to escape it. I sincerely hope that the Minister can work with the noble Lords sponsoring this group of amendments to review this important issue and achieve a positive resolution.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments, particularly my noble friend Lady Altmann for her very good introduction. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, that it is not his noble friend Lord Wolfson of Tredegar responding, but I know that he will be listening to every word I say and will correct me where I am wrong. I also thank him for some of the compelling stories that he outlined—some absolutely tragic cases which I know that all noble Lords will sympathise and empathise with. I thank all noble Lords who have engaged with me on this subject. It has been a real education for me, outlining the situations that some women find themselves in.

I will take these amendments one by one to address them properly. Amendments 3 and 5 would add a sixth limb to the list of behaviours in Clause 1(3) which count as abusive, namely the unreasonable refusal, or the threat thereof, to agree to the granting of a religious bill of divorce, or a get, which is necessary to dissolve a Jewish religious marriage. I am all too aware of the real hardship suffered by women refused a get by their husbands. As already outlined, such a woman is unable to remarry under the auspices of Orthodox Judaism. Furthermore, as a woman regarded in Jewish law as still being married, any children she goes on to have with another Jewish partner will themselves be severely restricted, as a matter of Jewish law, in who they are later able to marry. The term applied in Jewish law to such a woman, “agunah” or “chained”, is, as my noble friend Lady Altmann pointed out, both apt and tragic. I know that Jewish religious authorities are concerned about the problem, but they have not so far found a solution to it within Jewish religious law.

All too often this will be about the exertion of control by one spouse over the other, as noble Lords have pointed out. There could well be situations where the refusal of a get might constitute controlling or coercive behaviour, depending on the facts of an individual case, and this would sit better in the statutory guidance on domestic abuse provided for in Clause 73 than in the Bill.

The list of abusive behaviours in Clause 1(3) is deliberately drafted at a high level, to provide a clear and easily understandable summary of what constitutes domestic abuse. Including very specific circumstances in this list could lead to pressure to include other such circumstances, which would make the definition unwieldy. It could also create the impression that there is a hierarchy of abuse, which of course there is not. It is these more specific circumstances that the statutory guidance is designed to address, and I am more than happy to work with noble Lords to discuss what such content might look like.

Amendment 169 seeks to ensure that this guidance and the statutory guidance issued under Section 77 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 include in their discussion of controlling or coercive behaviour the unreasonable refusal to grant a get. We wish to avoid, as far as possible, prescribing in statute what statutory guidance must contain, which can arguably defeat the purpose of producing that guidance. My noble friend will be aware that, in response to significant concern from a large number of parties, Clause 73(3) does provide that guidance issued under the Bill must recognise

“that the majority of victims of domestic abuse… are female.”

However, including the specific issue of Jewish religious divorces similarly in the Bill would lead to pressure for a large number of other topics to be so included—as beautifully illustrated by my noble friend Lord Moylan—which could in practice end up reproducing much of the substance of the guidance in the Bill. My noble friend will have just heard my commitment to referring to this subject in the guidance.

Amendment 168 seeks to amend Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 to ensure that the person who unreasonably refuses a get, and their spouse, are regarded as being in an intimate personal relationship with each other, and therefore count as personally connected, which is a prerequisite for the application of the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, as noble Lords have pointed out. I understand the intention behind this amendment. My noble friend may be aware that in our White Paper on domestic abuse, published in January 2019, the Government committed to undertake a review into the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. That review, which has considered evidence surrounding the effectiveness of that offence, will be published before Report, and the Government will consider their position in relation to that offence after its publication, in the light of the content of the review and any other information brought to our attention. Therefore, my noble friend’s amendment may be slightly premature.

Amendment 170 seeks to ensure that the unreasonable refusal to consent to a get be regarded as a significant factor in the consideration of whether a person has suffered domestic abuse, particularly whether the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour has been committed; whether a domestic abuse protection order should be issued; and the production by relevant local authorities of strategies for the provision of domestic abuse support, as required by Clause 55. On the first limb of that, the determination of domestic abuse, my remarks about what it is appropriate to include in the Bill and what to include in guidance apply equally.

On the two limbs which refer to court proceedings, it would not be appropriate for the Government to direct the judiciary in this way as to what it might or must consider, and nor is it necessary. The conditions which must be satisfied before a court can make a domestic abuse protection order will already enable a court to make one in relation to this behaviour, if it amounts to abusive behaviour under Clause 1(3). It is therefore unnecessary to make specific provision that a court must consider this sort of behaviour. It would also be the first provision of its type in the Bill, and lead to pressure for other considerations to be included in the Bill as factors courts must consider.

On the final limb, relating to local authorities, we are not otherwise specifying what local authorities must consider when drawing up their strategies. Strategies will relate to general provision in the local authority area, and it would be very odd for the only such provision to refer to a situation which relates to a very small number of people at most. However, again, I reassure my noble friend that this issue will be considered in the statutory guidance, to which local authorities will refer. I hope that in the light of this explanation, my noble friend is happy to withdraw her amendment.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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Amendment 15 would add an unborn child, from conception onwards, to the definition of a child under Clause 3 of the Bill, which addresses the issue of children as victims of domestic abuse. Clause 7 provides that the domestic abuse commissioner must encourage good practice in identifying victims of abuse, including affected children. Amendment 20 would specifically add

“babies in utero, infants and young children aged under two years”

to the definition of children affected by domestic abuse.

Amendment 172 provides that:

“The Secretary of State must make provision for publicly-funded trauma-informed and attachment-focussed therapeutic work to be made available to all parents of children aged under two years old where those children are victims of or otherwise affected by domestic abuse.”


Amendment 179 states that, where the Secretary of State issues guidance on the effect of domestic abuse on children, it must include,

“in particular babies who were in utero at the time of the abuse, and … babies and young children aged under two years old”.

We fully agree that there is a need to consider the impact of domestic abuse on young babies and the importance of protecting pregnant women and the child they are carrying, and, likewise, with the fact that trauma from domestic abuse at a young age can have long-term consequences.

Clause 3 now recognises children who witness or are impacted by abuse as victims of that abuse—that is children of any age, including babies. I noted with interest the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, based on her experience of how officials react when resources are limited and there is any doubt about what legislation requires them to do. Adequate resourcing will be crucial to delivering the objectives of this Bill.

I appreciate that this has already been said more than once, but I repeat that it has been estimated that 30% of domestic violence begins during pregnancy. It often escalates during this time as well, and represents a real danger to women. We know that domestic abuse during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage, infection, premature birth or injury to the child once born, and it is also a major factor leading to complications and death in, or related to, pregnancy.

The impact of domestic abuse during pregnancy does not end at the birth, and is associated with long-term harms to both women and children. Domestic abuse during pregnancy is associated with increased risk of perinatal and neonatal mortality, higher rates of depression among women, low birth weight and a range of long-term emotional, behavioural and traumatic impacts on children.

However, we do have concerns about the possible impact of the inclusion of babies in utero in the Bill. Despite the risk of harm and attack faced by pregnant women, the current long-standing offence of child destruction is rarely used and the need to prove the perpetrator’s intention to kill has made securing convictions difficult. Yet a national inquiry found that some 24%, I think, of 295 maternal deaths over a three-year period were women who had experienced domestic abuse. Of these 70 women, 19 had been murdered. This is an area that the Government should review. In the meantime, it would not be helpful to have references to babies in utero in the Bill without consultation or wider consideration of the impact this could have on legal principles of bodily autonomy.

This issue with the amendment as presently worded is one that the movers—the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, and my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top—have recognised, and I am sure it can be addressed.

Finally, I reiterate that we recognise the importance of the general issue that is raised by the amendment about early intervention to break the cycle of violence and ensure support for mothers and babies.

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, and particularly my noble friend Lady Stroud for tabling these amendments. She and I—as well as every noble Lord who has spoken—share the commitment to protecting all children who are victims of domestic abuse. I noted that she and the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, and indeed my noble friend Lord Shinkwin, outlined the very different developmental journeys that a traumatised child will take through their life compared to his or her non-traumatised counterpart.

These amendments seek to recognise the impact of domestic abuse on very young children, including unborn children. Amendment 15 would make explicit reference to unborn children as part of the definition of a child under Clause 3. Amendment 20 is similar in that it would make explicit reference to babies in utero, infants and children under two years old in Clause 7(1)(c)(iii), which provides for the function of the domestic abuse commissioner to encourage good practice in the identification of children affected by domestic abuse. Amendment 172 seeks to make provision for publicly funded therapeutic services for parents of children under the age of two who are victims of domestic abuse. Amendment 179 would make explicit reference to unborn babies and children under the age of two in the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-III Third marshalled list for Committee - (27 Jan 2021)
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I welcome the important contributions made by noble Lords on this difficult subject. It is important to recognise that domestic abuse does not happen in a neat silo; as so many noble Lords have commented, it is inherently bound up with wider issues of mental health and substance abuse.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who so strongly highlighted the impact of devastating cuts to our public services through a decade of austerity. I restate his comments about the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ call for the Government to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to invest £374 million into adult services to cope with the increased need. Report after report now highlights the poor preparedness of our public realm to cope with this dreadful pandemic, as a consequence of the austerity decade, when council funding was cut to the bone.

Mental health services have been particularly impacted by this austerity, leading to a lack of services and long waiting times. Victims and survivors with mental health problems also face barriers accessing many other vital services due to strict eligibility criteria or not being able to engage in the way that services require. Too often, such barriers are leading to people being bounced around different services, having to constantly re-tell their story.

There is, however, an awareness of the complex and interrelated needs of those with mental ill health, but many services are unequipped to support them, and few services exist that can care for people with both mental health and substance misuse issues. This is despite research showing that substances are often used as a form of self-medication for unmet mental health needs and as a way of coping with abuse.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke so knowledgably about, there is a close link between domestic abuse and alcohol, with the perpetrator drinking heavily. There are also instances of the victim drinking, leading to uninhibited behaviours, and this can trigger the abuse. Similarly, the victim may use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. During the pandemic, there has been an increased level of alcohol consumption, exacerbating a known problem.

There is, therefore, a great need to ensure that the commissioner’s remit includes alcohol and other substances. She needs to be able to receive evidence on alcohol abuse to inform where support services must be improved, and to contribute directly to the national alcohol strategy.

In conclusion, the importance of multiagency and holistic working in this area cannot be overemphasised. It is important to recognise that mental health and addiction problems can create additional vulnerabilities that people perpetrating abuse may seek to exploit.

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 who have spoken in this debate on the complexities of alcohol and substance misuse and mental health and the correlation with domestic abuse, from the point of view of both the victim and—as my noble friend Lady Stroud said—the perpetrator. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for tabling these amendments and her work in chairing the Commission on Alcohol Harm.

I will start with the final comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport. She and I are cut from the same cloth in knowing the effectiveness with which multiagency work can help in all sorts of ways. The way that agencies communicate with each other can get to the heart of some of the problems in society.

I also acknowledge the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Hayter, Lady Jenkin and Lady Jolly, and thank the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Ribeiro, for their expertise and their input into the Alcohol Health Alliance’s report for the Commission on Alcohol Harm, which was published last year. It highlights these complex relationships between alcohol, mental health and domestic abuse. I welcome the report; it makes for important reading.

As the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, has illustrated, there is a frequent coexistence of domestic abuse, mental health problems and the misuse of drugs and alcohol, with complex interrelationships between them. The relationships are nuanced, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is right to identify this. It is also clear that there is no excuse for domestic abuse, and it is vital that people affected by domestic abuse get the healthcare they need.

I reassure noble Lords that we intend to reflect the importance of joining up domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse services in the statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 73. We have a number of other, parallel measures to ensure that the join-up should be reflected in local health commissioning and the support that people receive. Noble Lords will know that local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and other partners produce an assessment of the local population needs, called the joint strategic needs assessment. This should include consideration of the needs of victims and survivors. The assessment informs a local area’s health and well-being strategy and the commissioning of services, including mental health and substance misuse services.

I will say something about local authority spending because noble Lords have referred to it. Local authority spending through the public health grant will be maintained in the next financial year. Local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential front-line services. This includes drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services. We are working on increasing access to substance misuse services, and we have appointed Professor Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs to inform the Government’s work on what more can be done to tackle the harms that drugs cause.

I also draw noble Lords’ attention to ongoing work in the health system to create new integrated care systems where NHS organisations, in partnership with local councils, voluntary service partners and others, take collective responsibility for managing resources, delivering NHS care and improving the health of the population they serve. The development of a new integrated care system is a real opportunity to improve the join-up between different services and provide truly integrated care.

I turn to the specifics of the amendments. On Amendments 21 and 29, which relate to the role of the domestic abuse commissioner, the Bill already confers on the commissioner a wide remit in tackling domestic abuse. She has already started to provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues by raising awareness of key matters and monitoring and overseeing the delivery of services to ensure that they are as effective, evidence-based and safe as they can be.

The description of the role states that the commissioner must adopt a specific focus on the needs of victims from groups with particular needs, which could include mental ill-health or substance misuse. However, as an independent office holder, it will be for the commissioner to determine her priorities, which will be set out in a strategic plan developed following consultation with her advisory board, the Home Secretary and others.

As for Amendment 42, which relates to the composition of the advisory board, Clause 12 already provides that at least one member of the board must be a representative of the health care sector, and there is sufficient latitude for the commissioner to appoint other specialists as she sees fit.

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Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, the Committee has every reason to be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, because these are all very important announcements; I thank everyone involved, and it is very good to be speaking to this group. This subject is not just close to my heart but has been part of my life. I was very pleased to hear in the Minister’s response how many things are going to be in place to deal with alcoholism, in particular. I very much look forward to Dame Carol Black’s review—I know how brilliant she is—and I also welcome the news about sobriety tags. I just want to make a few points, some of them personal.

The link between alcohol and domestic abuse is well known, and yet, strangely, it is often not at the forefront of the debate. Some 55% of domestic abuse cases involve alcohol or some kind of substance, and women who drink themselves are 15 times more likely to be abused than women who do not. I am not going to repeat the stats; one only has to read the excellent contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on Monday night to get a good picture of how solid the evidence is. Drunk people, both men and women, are more likely to abuse or be abused than those who are not. Alcohol itself is not the culprit, and it should never be an excuse for behaviour. However, I believe that it is so tightly woven into the problem that it must be treated as part of the recovery process.

I am very glad that, as a result of the Bill, the crime of domestic abuse will be better dealt with and we will have more refuges. I also welcome the commissioner. But if we do not study, understand and treat alcoholism, then we are not doing our job.

Alcoholics, when they are drinking and when they are addicted to alcohol, are really difficult to deal with. Alcohol, as people say, is both cunning, baffling and powerful. I know that, in my life, I have drunk to excess. I do not drink now and I have not done for many years, but alcoholism will be with me for the rest of my life. It is very hard to break that cycle without help, and there are far too few treatment centres in this country. I know—again, from my own experience and that of people I know—that doctors and general hospitals do not like disruptive alcoholics, who are really hard to treat and who take up beds. They sober up and are then sent back into the world, where they start drinking again. People, especially women, keep alcoholism a secret. It is seen still as an issue of shame in this country, which is one reason I have always spoken publicly about it, throughout my life.

If we do not stop the cycle, the same thing happens again. Abuse is a spiral, in much the same way as addiction, and a drunk abuser will seek a victim. A woman who drinks herself and who has, probably as a consequence, the lower self-esteem that goes along with it, will almost inevitably partner up with the kind of bloke who will, ultimately, abuse her. That is what you do when you think you are not worth anything, because you are the person in our society who cannot handle alcohol like everybody else does.

Personally, I cannot think of a more difficult thing—it is almost impossible—than to be a woman with kids who is the victim of domestic abuse and a drinker herself. Yes, the council may find you a refuge, but, when that is over and you have to go back to the world, if you do not have some solid help to get through that addiction, you are going to end up back where you were, and the saga goes on and on.

The need to break this cycle must be a fundamental, core part of the commissioner’s remit. She needs all the expertise to support her and she needs money to enable her to make the right decisions. No one in their wildest miseries or nightmares would want to be addicted to any substance, from a bottle, a needle or a pill—it is a misery you would not wish on anyone. But once there, it takes some time and patience. I have been lucky; I have been able to afford the help I needed, but this should not be an issue of money.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said earlier in this debate, deep cuts have been made to addiction services in this country since 2013-14. It means that the 8.4 million potentially high-risk drinkers—that is an awful lot—and the hundreds with opiate addictions, are not getting the right help. It is an insane situation, because for every addict or alcoholic, it is reckoned that at least five people are swept into the madness and distress. It costs money: to the NHS, to the criminal justice system and to society.

WHO figures suggest that 50% of men who kill their wives are drunk or addicted. Helping people who drink or abuse substances through to the other side—through to a chance, literally, to rejoin the world as a useful member of society—would bring so many great benefits. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke so wonderfully about on Monday night, so many children would have their lives transformed. As she said, the Commission on Alcohol Harm heard from children who were terrified to go home for fear of what their parent or parents might do. The Children’s Commissioner estimates that there are more than half a million children living in households where domestic abuse, along with drink and substance abuse, is prevalent.

The alcohol lobby is big and powerful. It has successfully fought demands for minimum pricing in England—though it lost in Scotland—a measure that is known to reduce harmful consumption. This stuff is everywhere. Adverts are well targeted, promising thrills and excitement, and they all too often use sexualised images of women to encourage purchase. This ought to stop. I am the last person who wants to see alcohol sales restricted in any way, but I am convinced that we cannot keep shoving this big problem to one side. Domestic abuse and alcohol are linked, and unless we break the addiction cycle, we will not break the other. We can no longer condemn both the victims and the abusers—who are, in my mind, sometimes also victims—to the shadows.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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There is very little of what the noble Baroness said with which I would disagree. The cycle of abuse—whether that cycle is generational or whether it goes from spouse to partner and then reaches down to the children—is ever present and it needs to be broken. I agree that the links between alcohol abuse—not alcohol use but alcohol abuse—and domestic abuse are very well known. On people getting the help they need, it is absolutely clear that support for alcohol or substance misuse should mean that people can access the right services, which are commissioned by local authorities.

The noble Baroness made a point about the domestic abuse commissioner. It has been interesting in these debates that, on the one hand, the independence of the commissioner has been very much promoted, and I totally agree with that. On the other, we are by increment, through the debates in this House, trying to add additional remits and stymie her independence. She is an expert in her field. I know that she will make those links. I talk about troubled families quite a lot in the things that I say. That is because I have seen the way in which multi-agency interventions can be so effective at spotting things such as domestic abuse. The advent of that programme spotted an awful lot of domestic abuse previously unknown—and not only previously unknown but at the heart of the problems that these families were facing. We all know that when a big football match is on, women are quite often hyper-vigilant, knowing that, whatever way the game goes, they will bear the brunt of it—mainly as a result of the use of alcohol.

The noble Baroness also asked me about minimum pricing, which Scotland has introduced. We are keeping it under review as it is implemented in Scotland.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for what I consider to be a really quite overwhelming response to this set of amendments. We have had a very important debate. I would love to summarise what each person has said, but I am aware that the Committee has other amendments to get on to. I would like to highlight the fact that the toxic trio was launched into our debate on Monday by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley, and picked up again by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and it has been the focus around which many people have spoken. I am delighted to hear about the sobriety scheme and sobriety tags being brought in for alcohol-fuelled crime. I was part of that original amendment, some years ago, that allowed the pilot scheme to happen, and have seen the evidence from the US in particular of the efficacy in domestic situations as well. I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for that, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for putting local authority services so strongly on the table, with the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Uddin and Lady Wilcox.

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I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that previous records do not necessarily inform future behaviour and that people can change and be rehabilitated, but I do not think it is unreasonable at least to be aware of them when it comes to certain offences. Having all the facts in front of you means that you can look at the situation in the round when making a judgment. I can also see a situation where, if someone had assaulted or hurt a previous partner and no one knew about it, and that person had not been given a notice and then someone got injured or killed, there would be uproar, with people saying, “What’s going on here? Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t the police officer know that this person had recently committed serious offences and they weren’t taken into account?” Therefore, this is about applying some common sense and acting reasonably, and in that way I think we can find a way forward. I am sure that the noble Baroness will do that, and I look forward to her response.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his very comprehensive introduction, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for setting out the case for her amendments.

We can all agree with the premise behind Amendments 23 and 28—namely, that we should promote the use of data and technology, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, said, in a cautious rather than cavalier way, to aid in the prevention, reporting and detection of domestic abuse.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who speaks on this Bill from a unique position, as both a former police officer and a survivor of domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Bill introduces a range of new measures, including the use of data and technology to protect and support victims of domestic abuse and monitor perpetrators. For example, as we discussed earlier, the domestic abuse protection order can impose both prohibitions and positive requirements on perpetrators, including an electronic monitoring requirement, or tagging. I am happy that today I have made the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, so happy, because we have now come a long way since our disagreement on liqueur chocolates. That is an in-joke that only some noble Lords might get.

Victims of domestic abuse will be eligible for one or more special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts. Such special measures could include the use of a live televised link in a courtroom to enable a witness to give evidence during a trial or proceedings from outside the courtroom, and the use of pre-recorded video interviews before the trial or other proceedings.

The Bill provides for a pilot of mandatory polygraph examinations for domestic abuse offenders released on licence. I will not dwell on that now, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has indicated that he wants a debate on Clause 69 when we get there in a few days’ time. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, outlined the real benefits of machine-learning predictions for police. Of course, technology is already a key component of the police response to domestic abuse.

At this juncture, I will refer to the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Paddick, on the HMICFRS inspection of Greater Manchester Police and the victims of crime. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that what was unearthed should set alarm bells ringing, and I agree. He also said that if this is the first assessment, what will future assessments show to other police authorities? However, that is not a reason not to do it, and it will give cause for concern to other police authorities about how they might make improvements if necessary. We are not washing our hands of it. I brought the devolution Bill through your Lordships’ House some years ago. Devolution is an opportunity for local people to have a better determination of their own future through their elected representatives, in this case the mayor and the deputy mayor for policing.

We welcome HMICFRS’s decision to escalate the force to its police performance oversight group, which includes senior leaders from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Home Office. It met on Monday 26 January to scrutinise GMP’s plans for improvement and to consider whether additional support from within the sector may be necessary to support the force in quickly delivering the necessary step change in performance. We welcome HMICFRS’s decision to reinspect the force in six months’ time to assess progress; that is likely to be in May. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, outlined, we expect the mayoral response to the report to be published no later than 4 February.

Police forces use technological solutions to provide emergency protection to victims, such as TecSOS devices that provide victims with immediate connection to the police at the touch of a button, or the Hollie Guard app, which allows the victim to send an alert to chosen contacts if they are in danger, notifying them of the victim’s location and capturing audio and video evidence. There is also the Bright Sky app, which professionals and victims can use to access information and support on domestic abuse. It also enables the recording of evidence of abusive behaviour. Clare’s law also comes to mind, allowing data on partners’ previous abuse history, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also reminded me of the silent calling facility, which is such a benefit to people who cannot ask for help but who are in danger. As part of a police investigation of a domestic violence incident and any subsequent prosecution, the footage from body-worn video can also play a key part in building up an irrefutable case for the prosecution. As for the use of data, I agree that it is equally important to properly understand the needs of victims and to put in place the policies and services to meet those needs. That is why, for example, the first duty on tier 1 local authorities under Part 4 of the Bill is to assess the need for domestic abuse support in their areas. Robust and reliable data is the key to this in the context of Part 4 and elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, outlined the benefits of machine learning in the assessment of risk. We have worked with the College of Policing to develop the domestic abuse risk assessment, which is an improvement on the established DASH risk assessment process. Evidence-based research helped us develop that, and with a number of charities, we have also developed the Domestic Abuse Matters training programme, which has been academically proven to increase officers’ empathy with victims, and their understanding of abuse. Things are improving. We have come a long way from the days when police officers saw domestic abuse as “just a domestic”.

While I support the underlying premise of Amendments 23 and 28, I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will agree that the amendments themselves are not needed, since Clause 7 already sets out broad functions for the domestic abuse commissioner in encouraging good practice for the prevention and detection of domestic abuse. This will include good practice in relation to the use of data and technology.

On Amendment 50, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the duty to co-operate with the commissioner, as provided for in Clause 15, extends to the provision of information. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill make this clear. This is one of those occasions when we believe it is preferable to keep the duty at a high level. There is always the risk, when a general proposition is followed by particular examples, of leaving the impression that the list of examples is exhaustive—or, indeed, that something is left out. We do not want inadvertently to leave the impression that the provision of information is the only form of co-operation.

Amendment 62 jumps ahead to Part 3 of the Bill. The amendment seeks to ensure that police take into account an individual’s previous criminality and convictions when considering issuing them with a domestic abuse protection notice. The matters to be considered listed in Clause 22 are designed to ensure that police take into account the impact of the notice on those directly or indirectly affected by it. The power to issue a notice enables the police to require an individual to leave their home for a period of up to 24 hours, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick said, when dealing with the immediate crisis. These provisions therefore provide an important safeguard by ensuring that the police give careful consideration to the impact of the notice on those affected when they are exercising this quite significant power. Again, the spirit of the amendment is certainly one that we can support.

When deciding whether a notice is necessary to protect a victim from domestic abuse, the police will consider a range of factors, including the history and the context of abuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, outlined. The College of Policing’s guidance on domestic abuse makes it clear that police should carry out comprehensive checks when responding to a domestic abuse incident, including: the alleged perpetrator’s history of abuse in relation to the victim, or previous victims; previous risk assessments; court orders or injunctions; convictions; and child protection information. Importantly, these checks ensure that intelligence on incidents and behaviours that have not resulted in a criminal conviction is considered. Furthermore, the draft statutory guidance for police on the domestic abuse protection notices and orders, which we published ahead of Committee, makes it clear that when deciding whether to issue a notice, the police should also consider other relevant information and evidence, such as incident reports from previous callouts, including those against other victims, and any intelligence from other agencies or organisations.

Having highlighted these important issues, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be content to withdraw his amendment.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in fact the Minister answered my question in almost her final sentence. It was about the status of callouts when considering this data. Police callouts are available to family courts and to sentencing criminal courts in domestic abuse cases. My question was going to be about the availability of that information to DAPOs, but I think that the Minister answered it in the affirmative.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I think the Minister’s answer will again be yes, as she clarified this issue in her last remarks. Clause 22, on these other matters, says

“a senior police officer must, among other things, consider”,

and then lists four issues that they must consider. Among those “other things” is of course someone’s previous record. I ask her to clarify that further.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think it is yes to everything. The whole context has to be taken into account when issuing both a DAPN and a DAPO.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and to the Minister for her sympathetic response.

I think we are all seeking the same thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia said, one cannot underestimate the importance of data in measuring crime, monitoring police actions and focusing on outcomes. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, to whom I am very grateful, emphasised the importance of the use of data and new methods of technology in helping to address what I think we all agree—this is part of the reason for the Bill today—has been the very patchy response to domestic abuse that we have seen in previous years. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, spoke very wisely about the better management and oversight of IT solutions and the contribution that they can make.

I listened with great care to the reservations of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. As she said, what sometimes sounds like common sense could be fatalistic and could undermine liberties. One would be unwise to dismiss that out of hand. As with many things, there are balances here: a balance of risks and a balance of opportunities. The issue for me is that the current methods of prediction are falling short and, from the LSE research, it looks as though we could find a way to get the predictive rate up. In view of the failures in relation to domestic abuse, this is a very important consideration indeed.

I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Brooke talk about tagging. He is a real expert on the impact of alcohol on domestic abuse and more generally. I was grateful for his support, as I am to my noble friend Lord McConnell. He made some important remarks about being cautious over the use of data but acknowledged that my amendments themselves are not cavalier and, in a sense, are an encouragement to enable better practice in this area.

I was very touched by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who spoke very sensitively about his own experience and how we might learn from it. He was of course right to reflect on funding issues and the impact they have had on the police in using technology to support victims and tackle domestic abuse as a whole. My noble friend Lord Kennedy thought this was being proposed as a common-sense solution, and I very much agree with him.

The Minister was sympathetic, and I am grateful to her for that. She talked about the work that her department is doing with the College of Policing on risk assessment. It might be that she could encourage the college to talk to the LSE about its work to see whether that could inform further developments in future.

On Amendment 62, she has made it clear that the use of the phrase “other relevant information” essentially covers the point that I have raised, and interventions by my noble friends Lord Ponsonby and Lord Kennedy have confirmed that.

This has been a very good debate, and I hope it has been a constructive contribution to encouraging police forces to use data more effectively. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I am happy to give my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I have great respect for the noble Baroness, but, again, have no expertise in this area. Of course, prevention is absolutely the key, and the point the noble Baroness made about the importance of ensuring that we take effective action to prevent children becoming abusers in the future is very important. You have to break this cycle, and I very much agree with the noble Baroness on that point.

I also think we have to be careful here that we are offering the right interventions at the right time. Professionals who are going to engage with partners and couples also need to be able to spot whether something is an area of conflict, but is not domestic abuse, or, equally, whether a situation is domestic abuse and actually needs a different intervention—they need to have the skills to understand that, and understand the difference. We would never want a situation where somebody remains in a relationship because they have had the wrong intervention. This is a very complicated area. We need professionals to provide the proper advice at the right time to ensure that if you can work to do that, fine, but equally there are times when people need to get out of a dangerous relationship. We need to ensure that professionals are able to spot that, and that you are building that knowledge and expertise into all the interventions that people can engage with.

On that basis, I am happy to support the amendments and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for tabling these amendments. I am pleased to see her looking so very much better. I hope that she is indeed feeling better, although she still has a bit of a cough. Her experience has been praised across the House, and I know how much she contributes to the debates in which she takes part. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned, she brought into focus the real danger of the cycle of abuse and the importance of breaking it. As the noble Lord said, what we need here is the right interventions at the right time. There is strong evidence that conflict between parents, whether together or separated, can have significant impacts on children’s mental health and on long-term life chances. We can all agree on that.

We also highly value marriage, but must acknowledge that, for many reasons, such an arrangement will not suit everyone. Marriages have their difficulties; some couples do experience conflict and may decide that it is best for those involved to end their marriage. I recognise too the particular impact that this has on children and young people. That is not, of course, to negate the importance of couples’ counselling and access to psychological therapy services. They should not be underestimated and, in many cases, they lead to reconciliation of relationships, with steps to rebuild and repair. As the noble Baroness outlined, their value is immeasurable whatever the outcome of the relationship.

On mental health services, we are absolutely committed to our ambitions in the NHS long-term plan to expand and transform mental health services in England and to invest an additional £2.3 billion a year in them by 2023-24. Under the NHS long-term plan there will be a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, ensuring that an additional 380,000 adults can access psychological therapies by 2023-24. It also commits to providing access to such therapies for specific groups, including expanding access to evidence-based psychological therapies within special perinatal mental health services, and parent, infant, couple, co-parenting and family interventions.

I turn to the specifics of the amendments. Amendments 27 and 41 relate to the role of the domestic abuse commissioner. The noble Baroness will know that Nicole Jacobs has undertaken significant action already as designate commissioner, including raising awareness of domestic abuse. She will also be responsible for monitoring and overseeing delivery of services to ensure that they are as effective, evidence-based and safe as they can be, as well as publishing information about the range of provision that currently exists for victims and survivors.

The commissioner’s general functions include the provision of support for people affected by domestic abuse. Within that, Clause 7 already provides that the commissioner may assess, monitor and publish information about the provision of services to people affected by domestic abuse. That might include the provision of relationship counselling and psychological therapy. I assure the noble Baroness that the substance of Amendment 27 is already captured by the remit of the commission as set out in Clause 7.

The Committee has heard a combination of views about ensuring the commissioner’s independence and a number of views on what she should be tasked with. The commissioner has a challenging role and will undoubtedly face many demands on her—many of them from your Lordships’ House. Respecting the independence of her office, we should leave it her to determine her priorities, as set out in her strategic plan, informed by the views of her advisory board. If we start writing into the Bill particular issues that the commissioner should address, we risk creating an unhelpful hierarchy of priorities which will constrain her freedom of action. Specifying in the legislation what should and should not feature in her strategic plan would restrict and hinder the very independence that the role requires.

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As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said, our social security system should make it possible for survivors to flee abuse and rebuild their lives. However, I am afraid that, as my noble friends Lord Rooker and Lord McKenzie, the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Bennett, and others have said, the system currently fails in that task and it urgently needs reform. I hope that the Minister agrees and I look forward to her reply.
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, for explaining her amendments, which relate to the operation of the welfare system, including universal credit, and its impact on victims of domestic abuse. The Department for Work and Pensions is committed to providing a compassionate welfare system which provides the best possible support for all customers, including the most vulnerable in society, such as victims of domestic abuse. In answer to her question, we have regular discussions with the DWP and other government departments on domestic abuse because we see it as a whole-of-government issue and response.

Amendment 34 would place a legal duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to investigate one particular issue—the payment of universal credit separately to members of a couple—and lay a report to Parliament. I will come on to the substance of the concern about universal credit, but it is worth first making an observation about the approach taken in the amendment. My noble friend Lady Chisholm of Owlpen said that, as an independent office holder, it should be for the domestic abuse commissioner to set her own priorities as set out in her strategy plan, as provided for in Clause 13. I submit that we should not be mandating her to produce a report on universal credit or on any other matter, as is consistent with her title of being independent.

Aside from this question of the commissioner’s independence, I share absolutely the noble Baroness’s determination to support and protect victims of domestic abuse through the welfare system. However, on the underlying substance of the amendment, the Government do not believe that introducing split payments of universal credit between couples by default is appropriate. For many legacy benefits, a payment is already made to one member of the household, so the way that universal credit is paid is not a new concept. Additionally, evidence shows that the great majority of couples keep and manage their finances together. Consequently, most couples can and want to manage their finances jointly without state intervention.

We recognise that there are circumstances in which split payments are appropriate. Where a customer discloses that they are a victim of domestic abuse in an ongoing relationship, then, where suitable, the Department for Work and Pensions can make split payments available to provide them with access to independent funds. It is important that we allow the individual experiencing domestic abuse to decide whether split payments will help their individual circumstances. The department will also signpost individuals affected by abuse to specialist support, and work with them to ensure that they are aware of the other support and easements available under universal credit. These include special provisions for temporary accommodation, easements to work conditionality, same day advances and additional support for children conceived during an abusive relationship.

In July 2019, messaging was introduced to the universal credit digital claim system to encourage claimants in joint claims to nominate the bank account of the main carer for payment. We continue our support of payment of universal credit to the main carer through this messaging. This strikes the right balance between encouraging positive behaviour and allowing claimants to choose how to best manage their finances. A move to split payments with all couples would represent a fundamental change to the principles of universal credit. Operational challenges aside, the proposed change in policy would be inappropriate for some vulnerable people, for example where one partner is a carer for the other, or one partner has addiction issues.

There would also be practical challenges. For example, there are 1.3 million unbanked adults in the UK, and most are on a low income or are unemployed. The Government are working to improve financial inclusion, but it remains that a move to split payments by default could result in unnecessary payment delays for unbanked claimants. A split payment by default model might also reduce financial independence for women in some cases. Analysis suggests that about 60% of joint universal credit payments are made to women.

As I said, the Department for Work and Pensions is committed to providing a safety net welfare system that provides the best possible support for all customers, including the most vulnerable. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that is why the department has completed a significant training programme and implemented domestic abuse single points of contact for every jobcentre. These actions will help ensure that jobcentre customer services managers and work coaches have the right capabilities, tools and local relationships to support customers who are experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse. We are proud of the positive cultural change we have been able to achieve in jobcentre sites; and that departmental awareness of, and support for, those who have suffered or are suffering domestic abuse is better than ever.

I understand the intention of Amendment 150 is to ensure that victims of domestic abuse can receive universal credit advances in the form of grants. I note that the amendment affects the conditions only for the payment of budgeting advances. Budgeting advances provide one-off emergency payments for claimants or are related to obtaining or retaining employment, whereas new claim and change of circumstances advances provide claimants with an advance of their UC award. As currently drafted, the amendment will waive only the recoverability and eligibility criteria of budgeting advances for domestic abuse victims.

The Department for Work and Pensions offers new claim advances that allow claimants to access 100% of their estimated universal credit payment up front. We can help claimants, including victims of domestic abuse, to apply for an advance with payment being made within 72 hours or even on the same day, in some circumstances. With a universal credit advance, a claimant’s universal credit award will be phased across 13 payments in a year, rather than 12, and the maximum level of monthly deduction they will face is 30% of their standard allowance. Deferrals are also available for the phasing of new claim advances, meaning that claimants can extend the phasing of their 13 UC payments for up to an additional three months, in exceptional circumstances.

In addition, change of circumstances advances are available to claimants where a change of circumstances, such as the birth of a child, means that their universal credit award will significantly increase in the next payment. The additional payment of a change of circumstances advance would be used to cover the additional costs incurred by claimants until they receive their increased UC award at the end of their assessment period. These advances are phased across six months.

This amendment also seeks to make budgeting advances non-recoverable for victims of domestic abuse, alongside removing eligibility criteria. Budgeting advances are available to purchase one-off emergency items or for obtaining or retaining employment. To be eligible, claimants must have been in receipt of benefits for six months, have repaid any existing budgeting advance amount and earned less than £2,600 in the previous six months, if a single claimant. For claimants who receive a budgeting advance to obtain or retain employment, the six-month benefit criteria are waived and the required earnings threshold recalculated. This one-off payment of a budgeting advance is recovered over 12 months, although this can be extended to 18 months in exceptional circumstances.

If the Government were to issue universal credit advances as grant payments for victims of domestic abuse, as suggested by the noble Baroness’s amendment, this would raise equality concerns and inevitably lead to calls for the measure’s extension to other groups. Moreover, to mitigate the potential of increased fraud that universal credit grants could cause, we would have to introduce an additional manual assessment to verify the claimant’s circumstances ahead of payment. This could delay payment to claimants, when our first priority should be to urgently give individuals support.

Moving on to the other feature of the amendment, the Government do not feel that we should waive the eligibility criteria for budgeting advances. These eligibility criteria include a low-income threshold because we believe that, in the majority of situations, a claimant’s universal credit award will be able to cover the costs of emergency items. However, to support those in particular hardship, budgeting advances provide one-off payments for claimants who may not be able to afford these emergency items without additional support.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, this has been an interesting debate, revolving around the role of the advisory board and whether we are looking for people with experience and expertise, or those who represent specific interests.

Clause 12(4) indicates that of the six specific types of people who must be on the board, five are described as representing specific interests and only one is not. It would be helpful if the Government could explain the basis for determining which persons as representatives, with one exception, the advisory board must include. If the Government can answer why they have listed the types of people who have to be on the board, it might help us to form a better view of exactly what the Government see as the role of the advisory board. I appreciate that Clause 12(1) states that the advisory board is

“for the purposes of providing advice to the Commissioner about the exercise of the Commissioner’s functions.”

However, that is pretty vague, and it would help if the Government said what kind of advice they are expecting this advisory board to provide about the exercise of the commissioner’s functions.

I would rather take the view that there must be a case for leaving the commissioner with greater scope than he or she will have for deciding who they want on the advisory board. It can currently have a maximum of 10 members, as laid down in the Bill, but the Government have already determined who six of those members will be. One finds this a bit of a contrast to the discussion on the previous group of amendments on a totally different issue. When it came to an investigation into universal credit and domestic abuse, it was suggested that we should not be tying the commissioner’s hands or telling them what to do. Yet when it comes to the advisory board, which can only have a maximum of 10, the commissioner is told in very specific terms who 60% of the membership of that board have got to be and who they are to represent—with one exception being a person with academic expertise.

Can the Government explain why they have come to the conclusion they have about the six people who must be on the board and who they should represent? Can they give some examples of the kinds of advice they think the advisory board might be able to give? Can they clarify the point that has been raised about whether they see people on the board as being representatives of particular groups, or whether they are looking for people whose primary assets are experience and expertise in this field? If we can get some answers to those questions, as well as the other questions asked in this debate, we might be able to better understand the Government’s thinking behind Clause 12.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. As noble Lords have outlined, these amendments all relate to the composition of the advisory board that will provide the commissioner with advice on the exercise of her functions. The advice could span a range of issues but is expected to contribute towards the development of the commissioner’s strategic plans, at the very least.

It is important that the advisory board contains a broad range of interests and represents a number of key statutory agencies and domestic abuse experts. I could start listing them, but then noble Lords might hold me to my words. But I can give examples. For example, they might have experience in housing or refuges or have medical experience, and so on and so forth. To maximise the effectiveness of the board, it is required to have no fewer than six members and no more than 10. That is to ensure that the board remains focused and provides clear advice to the commissioner.

Amendment 37 seeks to lift the upper limit on the membership of the board. We think that a maximum membership of 10 is appropriate to ensure that the board can operate effectively and efficiently. It does not preclude the commissioner from also seeking advice from other sources, but we need to avoid creating an unwieldy board which cannot then provide effective support to the commissioner.

In relation to Amendment 38, I do not believe there is any real practical difference here. To be able to represent, for example, the providers of health care services, I would expect the relevant member to have experience and expertise in this field. I suggest that we can leave it to the good judgement of the commissioner to appoint suitably qualified individuals.

Amendments 39, 40 and 43 all seek to add to the categories of persons who must be presented on the board. As I have indicated, we risk creating a board that is too unwieldy and therefore cannot effectively discharge its functions and support the commissioner in her role. An advisory board member could represent the interests of more than one group. For example, they could represent the interests of victims of domestic abuse, while also representing the interests of specialist charities. The structure provided for in Clause 12 confers sufficient latitude on the commissioner to include other key areas of expertise, such as in relation to children.

In addition to this board, through her terms and conditions of employment the commissioner will be required to establish a victims and survivors advisory group to ensure that it engages directly with victims and survivors in its work. The commissioner may also establish any other groups as she sees fit. While the appointments are a matter for the commissioner, I expect the membership of the victims and survivors advisory group to be representative of all victims of domestic abuse—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

The advisory board must be able to operate efficiently and effectively. It is important that it has a balanced membership, with expertise in critical areas relating to supporting and protecting all victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. Clause 12 strikes the right balance, setting out minimum and maximum representation but otherwise giving the commissioner the space to appoint the right individuals to the board. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness is content to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to conclude the debate on her amendment.

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I would have thought it could be specified, at the least, that the Chief Coroner could report to the Secretary of State and the commissioner on matters the Chief Coroner wishes to bring to their attention.
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 with such constructive comments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, has explained, Amendments 51 and 54 seek to address what may be a gap in the domestic abuse commissioner’s powers in relation to ensuring that lessons are learned from domestic homicide reviews. These are abhorrent crimes; of course, every death is a tragedy, as is the suicide of a domestic abuse victim. Domestic homicide reviews are a valuable mechanism to understand what lessons can be learned from these deaths to prevent further tragedies. We recognise that there is room for improvement in the way these reviews are conducted and the lessons applied.

Section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 provides for domestic homicide reviews to be undertaken by police forces in England and Wales, local authorities, providers of probation services and relevant NHS bodies. The accompanying guidance states that reviews must be published on community safety partnership websites following approval from the Home Office, unless there are exceptional circumstances not to do so. To that extent, the review findings will be available to the commissioner, but I recognise that there is a case for going further.

In relation to England, most of the bodies I have listed—probation service providers being the exception—are already subject to the duty to co-operate with the commissioner under Clause 15. It would thus be open to the commissioner to use her powers under that clause to achieve the outcome sought by Amendment 54. In addition, we are ready to review the current guidance, in consultation with those who undertake domestic homicide reviews, with a view to including a standing expectation that the findings of these reviews are shared with the commissioner.

With regard to the other reviews referred to in Amendment 54, the guidance on domestic homicide reviews is clear that such reviews must be considered when the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from domestic abuse. As a result, it is possible that homicide may be subject to more than one review, albeit each with a different focus and purpose. As a consequence, without further consideration of the interplay between the various reviews referred to in Amendment 54, we are not yet persuaded that it is necessary to place a requirement on the relevant public authorities to copy the findings of the reviews listed in subsection (2) of the proposed new clause where the review relates to a domestic homicide. However, as I have indicated, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell, made his point about data being the key, if on further analysis there is a good case for such a requirement, the commissioner can use her Clause 15 powers to this end.

As to whether the list of specified public authorities in Clause 15 should be extended in the manner proposed in Amendment 51, this is again something we can consider further. Noble Lords will understand that we should fully consult the bodies in question before reaching a conclusion on this. We may not have sufficient time to complete such consultations ahead of Report but, in any event, Clause 15 contains a power to amend the list of specified public authorities by regulations.

On the broader point, I accept the concerns related to the collection of data on domestic homicides. That is why the Home Office has undertaken to create a central repository to hold all domestic homicide reviews. Once introduced, all historical reports will be collected to ensure that there is a central database on domestic homicides. It is also clear that the domestic homicides review process would benefit from the closer involvement of the domestic abuse commissioner. We intend to work with her to consider which parts of the review process would benefit from her involvement.

Finally, Amendment 189 would require regulations to remove a specified authority under Clause 15 to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. In our delegated powers memorandum we argued that the negative procedure affords an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny, given the constraints on the regulation-making power, notably the fact that it cannot be used to remove a body that is listed in the clause on enactment. Regulations can remove a body from the list of specified public authorities only if that body had previously been added to the list by regulations. In its report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee raised no objection to the negative power.

In conclusion, I am sympathetic to Amendments 51 and 54, but they require more analysis and consultation before we reach a firm conclusion. Moreover, the powers of the commissioner in Clause 15(1), the duty for a specified public authority to co-operate in subsection (2) and the regulation-making power in subsection (4) offer a way forward without the need to amend the Bill. That said, I would be happy to update noble Lords ahead of Report on progress regarding our consideration of these issues. With that undertaking, I hope that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I thank everyone who has participated in this short debate. Some of the statistics cited are absolutely fascinating, as are the insights that noble Lords are able to bring to a subject like this. I was interested to note that the Minister said that the commissioner already has the powers to require co-operation from all but one of the groups we are seeking to add, and yet the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee both alluded to the fact that the commissioner has requested these particular powers to be added. We will see whether we can get to the bottom of this.

I am heartened by the words of the Minister. She has said that she will update the House again before Report. That will be extremely helpful to the whole House and it will determine how we need to take things forward. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, Amendment 53, proposed by my noble friend Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, seeks to add a new clause to the Bill. Every noble Lord who has spoken in this debate has fully supported my noble friend’s amendment. The new clause would place a duty on all public authorities to provide training for their staff so that, when they engage with members of the public, they can spot the signs of abuse and can then ask the proper questions and offer appropriate help. As my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said, this is probably the most important amendment we have discussed today and one of the most important we have debated during consideration on this important and very good Bill.

People engage with public authorities through a range of services, such as local councils, the DWP and GPs. In some parts of the public sector, particularly the health service, people do ask such questions when they have somebody in front of them. As some noble Lords have said, although there may be training, it is very patchy and inconsistent. We are failing many victims. We want to be sure that we will have dealt with this problem by the time the Bill becomes law. When someone engages with the state, there must be people who can see the signs, understand the signals, ask the right questions and take appropriate action. Everyone must play their part in protecting the victims.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, made reference to the police. There are some very good examples of excellent work that the police have done. I remember my visit to the domestic abuse unit at Greenwich, where really good work was taking place, in collaboration with the local authority, Greenwich Council. There was one case where officers had attended an incident and were suspicious about what was going on. They kept going back because they knew. Finally, they engaged with the person, got what they needed, got the person out and protected her. That understanding of the problem and engagement does not happen everywhere. We want every police force, across the whole of the United Kingdom, to follow that good example. As my noble friend Lord Rooker said, the officers who get called to a disturbance in the early hours of the morning are often the first people knocking on the door, so it is important that the police service in particular can deal with this.

My noble friend Lady Crawley made the point that having trained inquirers who know what to ask and what to do is so important in making sure that we make the difference. I also took on board the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, about the importance of training to recognise the special needs of the BAME community when dealing with issues of domestic abuse.

So I fully support the amendment and am hopeful of a positive response from the noble Baroness. I look forward to getting a resolution of this issue.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, for tabling this amendment. The Government are in full agreement with its aims; we too want professionals to have the skills and confidence to ask the right questions about domestic abuse and take the appropriate action. I will not be making arguments about overburdening them, but rather suggesting how we think it might be achieved.

We absolutely want to embed understanding of domestic abuse in all agencies. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, said, what is the point if agencies do not know how to respond and cannot spot the signs? We want to ensure that there is strong recognition, from senior leadership through to front-line staff, of the importance of tackling domestic abuse. We want staff to ask about domestic abuse, because it is integral to their role and driven by professional curiosity. One of our concerns about introducing a statutory duty, to which noble Lords have alluded, is that it risks undermining professional judgment, and we do not want these sensitive and complex conversations to turn into some sort of tick-box exercise.

The Government are committed to taking wide-ranging action to improve understanding of domestic abuse across statutory agencies through guidance, targeted resources and training for responding agencies such as the police, social workers, healthcare professionals and universal credit work coaches. Work is already under way to strengthen the response from key agencies. In the health sector, front-line staff must undertake mandatory safeguarding training, which includes a focus on domestic abuse. The intercollegiate documents for child and adult safeguarding set out the core skills, competencies and knowledge expected for healthcare staff to be covered in the safeguarding training, and the level of training expected depending on their roles.

NHS England and NHS Improvement are strengthening safeguarding practice in local health systems through the updated NHS safeguarding accountability and assurance framework, and a new safeguarding commissioning assurance toolkit. Schedule 32 to the NHS standard contract sets out the service conditions for safeguarding, which include that the provider must implement comprehensive programmes of safeguarding training for all relevant staff and must have regard to the intercollegiate guidance on safeguarding training.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-IV(Rev) Revised fourth marshalled list for Committee - (1 Feb 2021)
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee has explained, our Amendments 55 and 56 in this group are designed to prevent information about victims of domestic abuse that could be used for immigration control being disclosed by the domestic abuse commissioner. These amendments go further than Amendment 154, as they talk about information provided to the domestic abuse commissioner whether a request for support has been made or not.

The danger is that the information, supplied by either the domestic abuse commissioner or somebody seeking support, is shared with the police. There have been numerous reported examples where the police have passed the details of victims and witnesses of crime to immigration officials, including a case in 2017 of a woman who alleged she was raped and kidnapped. She was first taken to a haven, a centre for victims of sexual assault, but was subsequently arrested and questioned about her immigration status.

In 2015, the last year for which I can find figures, police tip-offs to the immigration service of the details of crime victims and witnesses occurred on over 3,000 occasions—in one year. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, such sharing of information makes genuine victims of domestic abuse less likely to come forward to receive the help and support that they so desperately need. These victims are likely to be even more vulnerable to coercive control than those with regular immigration status.

Amendment 154 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, similarly requires the Secretary of State to make arrangements to ensure that personal data of a victim of domestic abuse that is processed for the purpose of requesting or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes, along with domestic abuse witness and victim data. We support these attempts to prevent the disclosure of this information for immigration control purposes.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Meacher, for setting out the case for these amendments, which seek to prevent personal information about victims of domestic abuse being shared for the purposes of immigration control. I recognise that the effect of Amendments 55 and 56 is more narrowly focused on the sharing of information under Part 2 but, in responding to these amendments and Amendment 154, I will focus my remarks on the broader issue.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, will understand that I will leave the debate on migrant women, who feature in Amendment 148, until we get to it, because this group is about data sharing. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I point out that “hostile environment” was of course coined by the Labour Government back in 2007, not under my right honourable friend Theresa May.

The main purpose of these amendments is to make sure that migrant victims of domestic abuse are not deterred from reporting that abuse or seeking support for fear that immigration enforcement action will be taken against them. I want to be absolutely clear: our main priority is to protect the public and all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status.

A number of noble Lords mentioned guidance on this. In our response to the Joint Committee in July 2019, the Government were clear that all victims of domestic abuse should be treated as victims first and foremost. This is set out in relevant guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council—in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox.

In addition, assistant commissioner Louisa Rolfe, the national policing lead on domestic abuse, in giving oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons, was clear that there will be circumstances where information sharing between the police and immigration authorities is in the interests of safeguarding a victim of abuse. There can be many benefits to sharing information, as it can help to resolve a victim’s uncertainty about their immigration status—referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley—but, most importantly, it can remove the desperate situation in which the perpetrator’s controlling and manipulative behaviour continues because of their status: this too was referred to by the noble Baroness. When victims come forward for support, sharing information can help prevent them facing enforcement action, if they are identified by immigration enforcement in an unrelated setting.

To ensure that victims’ needs are put first, the National Police Chiefs’ Council strengthened its guidance in 2020, setting out a clear position on exchanging information about victims of crime with immigration enforcement to encourage a consistent approach across the country. This gives us confidence that data sharing will operate in the interests of the victim.

Alongside our duties to protect victims of crime, the Government are equally duty bound to maintain an effective immigration system, not only to protect our public services but to safeguard the most vulnerable from exploitation because of their insecure immigration status. The public rightly expect that individuals in this country should be subject to our laws, and it is right that, when individuals with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come forward under our immigration system and, where possible, to regularise their stay. This data exchange is processed on the basis of public interest, as laid out in Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.

The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, also referred to the outcome of the super-complaint relating to police data that is shared for immigration purposes. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services published its report into the super-complaint in December last year and made a number of recommendations, which we are carefully considering and to which we will respond in due course. It is right that we properly take account of the recommendations in this report. In response to the report, we have committed to review the current arrangements and to publishing the outcome of the review within the six months set by the inspectorate, which is by June. I expect the outcome of this review to be implemented through further updates to the NPCC guidance or other administrative means, and that primary legislation will not be required. To enable us to complete this review in line with the inspectorate’s recommendations, I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, withdraws her amendment.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, these probing amendments relate to the operation of domestic abuse protection notices. Clause 22 sets out the matters which the police must consider before issuing a notice. Among other things, the police must consider any representations made by the person on whom the notice is to be served. Amendment 61 seeks to probe whether any such representations can extend to the provisions included in the notice.

I agree fully with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that the police should give full consideration to any representations on all parts of the notice, including any of the restrictions, as listed in Clause 21, that they consider imposing.

The draft statutory guidance, published in advance of the Committee stage, covers the considerations that the police must make before a notice is authorised. Although the current draft makes no specific reference to the consideration of representations in respect of individual provisions to be included in a notice, I would be happy to ensure that this point is addressed in the final form of the guidance.

Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seeks to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out before a notice is given by the police to an alleged perpetrator. I fully support the intention of this amendment, which is to ensure that full consideration is given to the risks to victims when deciding whether to issue a notice. I think that probably brings into relief the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Sadly, police enforcement action against a domestic abuse perpetrator can lead to the perpetrator blaming the victim and seeking to retaliate. That is why it so important that these notices and orders do not require the victim’s consent and that victims can therefore distance themselves from police action against the perpetrator. It is why it is extremely important that the notice can be used to provide immediate protection to the victim. In the aftermath of an incident, police can use a notice to evict the perpetrator from the victim’s home and prohibit the perpetrator from contacting the victim for up to 48 hours. Last Wednesday, I inadvertently referred to 24 hours, for which I apologise. This provides the victim with breathing space to consider their options and for police and specialist services to support the victim with safety planning.

The notice is followed by an application for a DAPO which is designed to provide longer-term protection and can be tailored to respond to the level of risk to the victim. Therefore, if police involvement in the case and the giving of a notice to the perpetrator have led to an escalation of risk to the victim, the DAPO can include provisions to address this risk.

Robust risk assessment is central to the police response to domestic abuse. The College of Policing guidance on domestic abuse stipulates that a risk assessment must be carried out in all domestic abuse cases. The importance of risk assessment when using a DAPN or order is also set out in the draft statutory guidance for police which has been published ahead of Committee. This guidance makes it clear that it is essential that police use appropriate specialist domestic abuse risk assessment or screening tools in consultation with partner agencies to safeguard the victim and reduce the risk of further harm by the perpetrator. The guidance also includes information on safety planning action that police should undertake alongside the notice and order.

Amendments 65, 66 and 67 deal with breach of a notice. Clause 24 provides that, where there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person is in breach of a notice, they can be arrested without warrant, held in custody and brought before a magistrate’s court within 24 hours, or in time to attend the scheduled hearing of the application for a domestic abuse protection order—whichever is sooner.

Amendment 65 would make the process of holding the perpetrator in custody following arrest for breach of a DAPN an optional matter for the police. Although I understand noble Lords’ concerns regarding the blanket nature of this provision, this amendment could put a victim at increased risk of harm, coercion or retribution once an alleged perpetrator is released. The amendment could lead to further breaches occurring while the court hearing is pending and increase the need for protective measures for victims during that period.

Clause 24 also provides that if the court decides to remand the person on bail, it can attach any conditions that are necessary to prevent the person obstructing the course of justice, for example interfering with witnesses. These are standard provisions, which largely replicate the approach taken for remand following breaches of protective orders, such as non-molestation orders, occupation orders and anti-social behaviour injunctions.

Amendment 66 seeks to test whether a notice would continue in force following the court imposing bail conditions under Clause 24. I can advise the noble Lord that if a court were to remand a person on bail under Clause 24, the notice would continue in effect until the application for a domestic abuse protection order had been determined or withdrawn.

Amendments 67 and 70 seek to probe what constitutes interference with a witness. The term “interference”, which is used in other legislation relating to bail requirements, would capture direct or indirect contact with the witness and is intended to protect against someone influencing a witness’s evidence, or dissuading a witness from giving evidence, for example.

I hope that those two explanations satisfy noble Lords and that consequently the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will be happy to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD) [V]
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My Lords, these are indeed probing amendments. With our amendment to Clause 24, by using the term “may” rather than “must” about custody, we were proposing discretion, not precluding custody.

I am grateful to the Minister for her confirmation of various points and for her suggestion that the guidance is adjusted to cover the point made at the start of the debate. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 61.

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Moved by
75: Clause 33, page 20, line 39, at end insert—
“(c) may not come within a specified distance of any other specified premises, or any other premises of a specified description, in England or Wales.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment enables a court making a domestic abuse protection order to prohibit the person against whom it is made from coming within a specified distance of other premises, in addition to those where the person to be protected by the order lives.
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Moved by
78: Clause 34, page 21, line 12, leave out from “with” to “an” in line 13 and insert “the person’s work or with the person’s attendance at”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that requirements imposed on a person by a domestic abuse protection order (such as, for example, requirements prohibiting the person from coming within a specified distance of particular premises) must, so far as practicable, not interfere with the person’s work or with the person’s attendance at an educational establishment.
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Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this has been a thorough and wide-ranging debate. I support all the amendments under consideration in this group. Part of the downside of speaking last is that most of the arguments I was going to make have been made so I will not detain the Committee by repeating him—at least, not wittingly.

This is a welcome set of redefining measures aimed at beefing up the statutory duty the Bill imposes on local authorities to provide accommodation support and to widen the definition of what information should be considered in identifying trends and which groups of individuals should be included. They make the Bill more specific and spell out in an inclusive way who local authorities should be aiming to help. Nobody can accuse the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, of overlooking anyone. However, if we are not careful, we can make assumptions about who our typical victim is. Had my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece been well enough to speak tonight, she would have spelled out the plight of women from BAME communities, 70% of whom are unable to access accommodation-based services and rely specifically on specialist community-based services. I particularly support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in this respect. The little phrase “regardless of status” means that no one should be left out and that all victims are helped and treated according to need, not immigration status or anything else.

The amendments spell out the parameters of the assessment, not just what the local area considers they should be. Amendment 108 refers to a national needs assessment and a national strategy. For the first time, we could get a national picture of provision to see where is performing well and where is not in relation to a national yardstick of needs.

However, accommodation is expensive, so Amendment 89 makes clear that the relevant local authority must make sufficient resources available. The Government need to rethink the financial provision for these services. It is woefully inadequate, as many noble Lords have already pointed out. The quality and variety of accommodation is also important, as is who it is for. The injustice of the victim having to move out is also tackled, depending on the wishes of the victim.

Amendment 89 also requires authorities to publish the outcome of their monitoring and evaluation of the strategy of support provision. Data is so important, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. Otherwise, how are we going to know how individual authorities are doing or whether the service they are providing is meeting the need? We do not know how far the provision of services varies by area and, as things stand, we do not know how they are fulfilling local needs. This amendment would help greatly.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out the purpose of these amendments, which, as he said, seek to strengthen the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill. I welcome the strong support for the provisions in this part, which will place a duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. We all want these provisions to work as effectively as they can in delivering much-needed support. The issue before us is whether the framework provided for in Part 4, which would include the accompanying regulations and statutory guidance, is up to the task. I think it is and I will endeavour to persuade the Committee of that.

I will start with Amendments 89, 93, 95, 97, 98, 99 and 100 to Clause 55. This clause places a duty on each relevant local authority in England to assess the need for domestic abuse support for all victims and their children in relevant accommodation. As my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham said, this will be specified by the Secretary of State in regulations. If I were standing here before your Lordships tonight saying that national Government would assess the needs of local areas, there would have been a bit of an uproar. Local authorities are best placed to assess the particular needs of victims and their children in their local area, and in assessing needs, relevant local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims, including those with protected characteristics as well as victims who may come in from outside the local authority area. That last point is an interesting one because, as was pointed out by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, many victims of domestic abuse will come from outside the local authority area because they will be fleeing their abusers.

My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham also talked about—I do not know in relation to what—the question of refuge addresses never being disclosed. If he has any evidence in that regard, I would really like to know. I have been to see many refuges and, while I have been told their general area, I have never been told the address. This is quite a concerning point, if indeed it turns out to be the case. He and other noble Lords also talked about funding. I agree that funding has to be sustainable and has to be enough. Regarding the £125 million that has gone towards this, MHCLG considered two areas: first, the cost of and need for support in safe accommodation; and, secondly, the administrative cost of delivering new functions. MHCLG engaged with local authorities and service providers to reach this new burden estimate.

Local authorities will then need to prepare and publish a strategy for provision of the support, as identified by an assessment of the needs within their area; give effect to the strategy; and monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. The statutory guidance issued under Clause 58, which we have now published in draft, will set out the Government’s clear expectations and requirements regarding the delivery of the duties. Local authorities should ensure that the strategy clearly sets out a holistic approach to delivering the tailored support required by all victims in safe accommodation in their area. This guidance will be clear that local authorities should give effect to their strategies by meeting the support needs of all victims of domestic abuse and their children, based on a robust local needs assessment.

I share the concern of the noble Lord that some particularly vulnerable victims of domestic abuse face barriers to accessing support. As set out in the Equality Act 2010, local authorities are already subject to a public sector equality duty and must already have due regard to how to reduce disadvantages faced by people with protected characteristics and how to meet their particular needs in all the services they provide. However, to further underline the importance of supporting vulnerable victims, we intend to make it clear through guidance that local authorities should consider all the additional barriers that may prevent victims with relevant protected characteristics accessing support in refuges and other safe accommodation when they need it.Local authorities should set out in their strategy an agreed approach to address those barriers, and will need to take the advice of their local partnership board as they do that, working with partners including tier 2 local authorities in their area, specialist domestic abuse providers, PCCs and health bodies.

The guidance will also make it clear that local authorities should set out the different support needs identified through the local needs assessment, and the current provision of support for victims in the local authority area, highlighting any gaps identified. This includes setting out the identified support needs of children within safe accommodation and how they will be adequately met.

We will recommend in the guidance that local authorities have a clear approach to monitoring and evaluating local delivery against their local strategies, and they will need to undertake full evaluations at least on an annual basis to comply with the reporting requirements in Clause 57. We will also recommend that local authorities should publish their evaluation and monitoring approaches and outcomes. My noble friend Lord Bourne asked about Wales. Part 4 deals with devolved matters, so it is up to the Welsh Government to make the appropriate provisions for Wales.

Amendment 96 relates to consultation. This is already required by Clause 55(4), and the duty to consult applies not only to the initial strategy issued under that clause but to all subsequent iterations of the strategy. We will also make clear in the guidance that local authorities must consult the local partnership board, tier 2 authorities within the area, and such other persons as they consider appropriate, before publishing their strategy and any subsequent revised versions of the strategy.

The draft guidance recommends that local authorities should provide a clear consultation mechanism providing an up-to-date version of the strategy, as well as adequate time and a clear timeframe for organisations to review and feed back. In addition, the guidance is clear that local authorities should set out a clear process that organisations and individuals can use to raise concerns about the local strategy and authorities’ approach in addressing the needs identified.

I recognise that there is a balance to strike between providing local authorities with flexibility to meet particular local needs while ensuring a consistent approach to the provision of support within safe accommodation across the country. I believe the clauses as drafted, supported by regulations and comprehensive statutory guidance for local authorities, will provide that balance.

As I have said, we have recently published the guidance in draft, and in doing so consulted Women’s Aid, Imkaan and Refuge. I appreciate that noble Lords, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, local authorities and others will not yet have had an opportunity to examine it in detail. We would welcome feedback and will consider any suggestions for improving the guidance. Once the Bill is enacted, we will then formally consult on the final form of the guidance, as Clause 58 requires, before promulgating it alongside the coming into force of the provisions in Part 4.

I appreciate the intention behind Amendment 102, but I have concerns that we risk building in far too much rigidity and bureaucracy into the composition of the local partnership board and unduly constraining the flexibility that local authorities have to appoint and run their local boards in a way that meets their particular needs.

Clause 56(2) sets out the minimum required members of the board. In addition to a representative from the relevant local authority, the board membership must include at least one person representing the interests of each of the following: tier 2 local authorities in the relevant local authority area; victims of domestic abuse; children of domestic abuse victims; charities and other voluntary organisations that work with victims of domestic abuse in the area; persons who provide or have functions relating to healthcare services in the area; and policing and criminal justice agencies in the area. That list is the minimum requirement, but local authorities will have the freedom to invite on to the board additional members, such as those the noble Lord has suggested in his amendment—accepting that there is considerable common ground between the list in Clause 56(2) and that in Amendment 102.

We think that Clause 56 as drafted adopts the right approach, specifying the minimum required members of the board to ensure the right expertise, but providing local authorities with flexibility to best meet local circumstances, including if appropriate by setting up reference groups to support the board. Relevant local authorities must have flexibility to decide whether an existing board, expanded or reconstituted, can fulfil these requirements, or whether to create a new dedicated board in order to fulfil this duty.

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Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I should be very grateful if the Minister would provide details of the information that the Government anticipate will be collected by local authorities, as illustrated in some of the provisions proposed in Amendment 89. I would be very happy for her to do that by letter but I should very much appreciate having that before Report.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I am happy to provide my noble friend with that information.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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First, I thank the Minister for her very full reply. I also thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate.

I suppose that, in summary, the issues we have been talking about have related to definitions—for example, of “relevant accommodation” and “specialist domestic abuse support”—and to non-discrimination against, for example, specialist refuge services and the need to support all victims, not least those with protected characteristics. There is then the issue of refuges being a national network of services and not just being about local needs and what local authorities are doing. There is also the issue of resource, including funding. The point was made very powerfully by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath that we will not achieve very much with the Bill if the necessary money is not provided to make sure that the Bill’s intentions can be delivered properly and in full.

I rather got the impression from the Government’s reply that, basically, none of the amendments have any merit with regard to being put into the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister said that the Government agree with the thrust of a number of them, but what slightly concerned me was that one or two of the points made in the debate, and I think that I was among those who made them, indicated that there is a feeling that the guidance that has been issued so far—for example, on definitions—does not exactly deliver. The reasons why we felt that were set out in some detail, but I do not think that we have had a response to that point this evening.

If I did not misunderstand the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, I think she said that there would be consultation on the statutory guidance once the Bill got Royal Assent. Many people would like to see some discussion on the guidance at a point when some changes can be made, before the Bill gets Royal Assent. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to have some discussions about this group of amendments before Report, perhaps indicating what the Government’s intentions are in respect of the statutory guidance that has been issued—whether they see any areas for further change and amplification of what is in there, in line with some of the comments made in this evening’s debate.

I will obviously leave things at that. I have a feeling that we will return to these amendments on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, my noble friend Lord Polak, and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have spoken to one of the core aims of this Bill, which is the provision of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children and, in particular, the provision of community-based support.

I am going to start with Amendment 176, because it has been the most spoken about and most clearly addresses this objective. If there is one thing on which we are all united—the central tenet of this Bill—it is that domestic abuse victims receive the support they need. This can be seen in the new statutory duty, included in Part 4 of the Bill, to provide support to domestic abuse victims and their children within safe accommodation. However, extending the duty in Part 4 is not without its challenges, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said.

The duty as it stands applies to tier 1 local authorities in England, and as such there is no ambiguity in where responsibility and accountability lie. Amendment 176 proposes something rather wider, applying to local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. The drafters of the amendment are to be commended for seeking to navigate the devolution settlement in Wales, and I suspect that Amendment 177 is intended to complement Amendment 176 by addressing the position in Wales.

In placing a duty across three categories of public authority, the amendment could risk creating uncertainty about where the responsibility for discharging the duty actually resides. To that extent it lacks the clarity of the Part 4 duty, although I note the provision in the new clause for conflict resolution. I do not suggest that this is an insurmountable problem with the amendment.

It is important to recognise that there are already significant community-based support services available to victims of domestic abuse and other crime. Since 2014, Ministry of Justice funding has helped police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime within their local areas, addressing the specific local needs identified within their communities. This funding totalled £68 million in 2019-20. The strong knowledge held by police and crime commissioners about demographics and crime in their local areas allows them to allocate funding to those victims in need.

Clearly, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups also have a role to play, as have others. I recognise, however, that the current commissioning landscape is complex. I understand the need to ensure that whatever arrangements are in place, they are delivering comprehensive service provision and that the needs of victims are being met. It is essential too that perpetrators are held to account for their actions and challenged to make long-term, meaningful changes to their behaviour.

However, I put it to noble Lords that Amendment 176 is putting the cart before the horse. We cannot and should not legislate before fully understanding the current landscape of provision, knowing where the gaps are, how best to fill those gaps and what it is going to cost, as my noble friend Lady Sanderson said. This is the methodical process we went through before introducing the provisions in Part 4, backed up by £125 million in new funding. We need to adopt a similar process to community-based support.

For this reason, I welcome the domestic abuse commissioner’s commitment to leading a detailed mapping exercise into the current community-based support landscape, the pilot of which has already commenced in four local authority areas. That work is due to be completed towards the end of this year. The Government are committed to addressing the findings of this review and, should we find that there is a need for legislative changes, it is right and proper that we should consult on those so we can consider the views of the affected public authorities. In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, there will be further opportunities to legislate in this area, including the upcoming victims’ law.

This exercise will do for community-based services what the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government did for accommodation-based services in significant depth before establishing the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill—I was a Minister in MHCLG when the whole process began. It held lengthy consultations with local authorities, the domestic abuse sector and victim support organisations before committing to the best course of action. Only through thorough engagement and investigation was it possible to understand whether legislative change was truly necessary and design a statutory duty that would appropriately address the needs of victims.

I recognise the concerns that the statutory duty in Part 4 may affect the existing provision of community-based services. As I have indicated, we are allocating £125 million to local authorities in 2021-22 to fund the new duty. As my noble friend Lord Polak said, the recent spending review has also secured an additional £40 million to victims of crime, including domestic abuse, in the community. Those details were announced today. This is on top of the additional funding we have provided to meet the immediate needs arising from the pandemic. I hope this provides reassurance that the Government take seriously their commitment to supporting all victims.

Of course, the argument can be made for more investment, but noble Lords will understand that we cannot make the case to the Treasury without the evidence to back it up. The commissioner’s mapping work is central to having that knowledge and understanding to enable us to make the case for more money. I know that Nicole Jacobs takes a different view, and it is an area where we will respectfully just have to agree to differ. It is her role to advise the Government and it is our clear responsibility to back up any new statutory duties with clear evidence of unmet need and a full understanding of the costs involved.

Additionally, the new domestic abuse strategy, complementing the refreshed violence against women and girls strategy, will further focus government attention on the needs of domestic abuse victims and perpetrators. Alongside this, the refresh of the national statement of expectations, due to be published later this year, will set out best practice for commissioning all violence against women and girls services. Finally, we are launching a victim funding strategy, to be published this year, to ensure that funding and commissioning practices for all victims are as effective as possible. I agree with my noble friend Lady Sanderson on the need for sustainable funding.

Amendment 101 seeks to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse have access to a local welfare assistance scheme in any locality across England. We understand the importance of local welfare and assistance to provide an emergency safety net at times of unexpected need. Local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities. That is why changes were introduced in 2013 to give local authorities the maximum flexibility to deliver emergency support as they see fit, according to local needs. The 2014 local welfare provision review found that local authorities were able to effectively target support at those who needed it most, joined up with wider social care.

The Government have provided local authorities with £131.7 million for local welfare assistance through the local government finance settlement in 2020-21. It is for local authorities to decide how best to use that funding, but in doing so they should ensure there is support for those most in need, including domestic abuse survivors.

We are committed to ensuring that people experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse have the local support they need. In particular, economic hardship should not be a barrier to someone leaving an abusive partner. In addition to local welfare support, those escaping domestic abuse can seek financial support through the welfare system.

Finally, on Amendment 177, I recognise the need for effective partnership working across the reserved-devolved demarcation line in Wales. I put it to my noble friend that the mechanisms are already in place to enable PCCs to co-operate with local authorities and health boards in Wales, including through community safety partnerships and the forthcoming new serious violence duty. While PCCs will not be subject to the serious violence duty, as with their existing functions in relation to community safety partnerships, PCCs may choose to collaborate with local partnerships and take a convening role to support the development and implementation of the local strategy.

Given these considerations, the amendments are, I suggest, premature. The Government recognise the importance of community-based services for those affected by domestic abuse. As I have said, we are committed to investigating, in collaboration with the domestic abuse commissioner, what needs to be done to ensure that victims who stay in their own home with their children are receiving the support they need. So that this work can go forward, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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I have received requests to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s response, particularly on Amendment 176, for which I thank her. None the less, does she not accept that favouring accommodation-based services, as set out in Part 4, is bound to impact on local authorities’ spending decisions and make them move funding towards accommodation-based services at the expense of community-based services? How will the Government ensure that a proportion of the additional £125 million goes to community services? Will it not be possible for us to give Ministers regulation-making powers to bring in a duty on community services after the mapping exercise has been completed? That would at least give us some way to ensure that the Government have statutory provision in the light of the mapping exercise.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, the Part 4 duty in the Bill does not preclude the provision of community-based services. I understand what the noble Lord is saying: because local authorities have the duty to provide accommodation-based services, that means they will not provide community-based services. However, I do not think it does. There is a recognition that we need to explore this further, hence we have committed the domestic abuse commissioner to doing this mapping exercise. That work clearly needs to be explored, but it is very hard to make a bid to the Treasury without knowing exactly where the gaps lie. That is not to say there are no gaps—I am sure there are— but we are just not clear on what the actual ask of the Treasury will be.

As to whether we can ensure that some of the money given to local authorities goes to community-based services, local authorities clearly know the needs of their area, and I hope that they would allocate the money accordingly.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the Minister gave the arguments that were given when the Social Fund was replaced by local welfare assistance schemes. Can she explain how the one in seven local authorities that do not have a local welfare assistance scheme will assess and meet the needs of domestic abuse survivors through such schemes when they do not exist in their area?

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Baroness asks a very pertinent question. If those schemes do not exist, how are they going to be provided for? I will do some digging before Report and perhaps I can get back to the noble Baroness with some of the fine detail.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
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I thank all noble Lords for this wide-ranging and well-informed debate. I promise not to detain noble Lords, but I sense a groundswell of support from all sides of the House and from outside the House, including from the commissioner herself, for this issue of community- based services, and concern about the unintended consequences of decoupling community-based services from accommodation-based services.

I know that the Minister is doing her absolute utmost to make this Bill the best that it can possibly be, but I do not recognise her comment that local authorities are utilising local welfare funds effectively—the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, came back on that point after the Minister’s response. The Minister raised the practicalities of implementation and asked for evidence to back this up if she is to go back to the Treasury and ask for some more money. We might well get our heads together and see if we can give it to her. That would be a great solution on all sides.

In the meantime, we will reflect carefully on what the Minister said and, of course, reserve the right to return to the issue at a later stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
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, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 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.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 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 agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that this has been a very good debate. I join noble Lords in commending the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who has done a huge amount of work in this area and with whom I have worked over several years now. I think she would join me in paying tribute to John Clough—his daughter met her death at the hands of a serial stalker—and his family. I also pay tribute to Cheryl Hooper; I had not heard that story until my noble friend Lady Newlove talked about it today.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that it is a classless crime. When I visited my noble friend Lady Barran’s charity, SafeLives, way back when and heard the various testimonies, it really underlined the fact that it does not matter who you are or where you are from: this can affect you. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also gave a very moving testimony. I also echo my noble friend Lord Farmer’s point about the cycle of abuse. I join him in paying tribute to the troubled families programme which, as its name suggests, takes a whole-family approach to the issue of domestic abuse.

I will deal first with Amendment 164 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. This seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 so that individuals convicted of more than one domestic abuse or stalking offence should automatically be subject to management under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements. Management under MAPPA may result in these individuals being recorded on ViSOR, the dangerous persons database.

The amendment also seeks to place a duty on the Government to issue a report six months after Royal Assent to review these changes to the Criminal Justice Act. This review would include details of consideration given to assessing and managing the risks of domestic abuse or stalking posed by perpetrators convicted of offences other than those outlined in the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 for stalking or an offence for behaviour that amounts to domestic abuse within the meaning of Clause 1 of the Bill.

I agree with the intentions behind this amendment. We want to make sure that we have the right systems in place to allow the police and partner agencies to identify the risks posed by high-harm, repeat and serial perpetrators and to act accordingly to protect victims. However, the provisions in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 already provide for these offenders to be managed under MAPPA arrangements.

Individuals who are convicted of offences listed in Schedule 15 to the 2003 Act and sentenced to 12 months or more are automatically eligible for management under MAPPA category 2 when on licence. These offences include domestic abuse-related offences such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, and attempted strangulation, as well as harassment and stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress within the Protection from Harassment Act. There is also discretion for people who have been convicted of other domestic abuse or stalking offences and who have been assessed as posing a risk of serious harm to be managed under MAPPA category 3.

Guidance makes it clear that MAPPA should be actively considered in every case of domestic abuse. The guidance specifies that offenders should be considered for category 3 where they demonstrate a pattern of offending behaviour indicating serious harm, such as domestic abuse, that was not reflected in the charge on which the offender was actually convicted, are convicted of the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, or are serial domestic abuse perpetrators. My instinct is that instead of amending the current legislation, there is probably more value in making better use of the existing MAPPA framework and related police systems and we recognise the need to strengthen the use of these. Listening to noble Lords, I do not think that they would inherently disagree with that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out what she saw as some of the deficiencies undermining it.

It is also true that not all victims of domestic abuse call the police and not all victims wish to pursue a criminal justice outcome against their abuser. There are many other statutory agencies involved in families’ lives, not just the police, which is why effective multi-agency working is so vital to ensuring that the risks faced by victims of domestic abuse and their children are properly identified and assessed. I do not think noble Lords would disagree with that either. That is why the package of non-legislative action that underpins the Bill covers the full range of front-line professionals with a role to play in protecting and supporting victims of domestic abuse, including schools, children’s social care, job centres, the NHS and local authorities.

My noble friend Lady Newlove and the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, mentioned Clare’s law, otherwise known as the domestic violence disclosure scheme. It already provides a system for the police to inform partners and ex-partners of a person convicted of domestic abuse-related offences about that person’s offending history. Importantly, that is from both a right-to-know and a right-to-ask point of view. Clause 70 places the guidance for the police on the DVDS on a statutory footing. This will help to improve awareness and consistent operation of the scheme across police forces.

Work has already begun on improving existing police information systems. I am pleased to say that we have already completed the first phase of work, looking into the current functionality of ViSOR. The College of Policing has issued a set of principles for police forces on the identification, assessment and management of serial or potentially dangerous domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. More generally, as part of the £10 million funding announced by the Chancellor in last year’s spring Budget, we have now allocated £7.2 million—the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to it—in 28 funding awards to police and crime commissioners for the introduction of perpetrator programmes for domestic abuse, including stalking, such as the Drive Project that noble Lords have been referring to so positively.

There are also existing provisions in the Bill that will help to improve the management of the risk posed by domestic abuse perpetrators. The new domestic abuse protection orders—DAPOs—will provide an additional tool for managing the risk posed by perpetrators by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions, including electronic monitoring, or tagging, and positive requirements. DAPOs will also require perpetrators subject to an order to notify the police of their name and address and any change in this information, and that will help the police to monitor perpetrators’ whereabouts and the risk that they pose to victims.

Regarding stalking specifically, in January of last year we introduced new civil stalking protection orders, which can also impose positive requirement conditions on perpetrators. These orders, which were welcomed by most stalking charities, enable early police intervention pre conviction to address stalking behaviours before they become deep-rooted or escalate. Therefore, while we agree with the spirit of the noble Baroness’s amendments, we do not feel that it is necessary to accept them at this stage.

I am similarly supportive of the intention behind Amendments 167 and 177B, which call on the Government to prepare a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has been more generous in his time than my noble friend Lady Bertin, and that has been spotted and pointed out already, but the substance of the two amendments is the same. The Government are clear that we must hold perpetrators to account for their actions, and we are ambitious in our aim to prevent these destructive crimes happening in the first place. My noble friends Lord Polak and Lord Farmer spoke very eloquently about that.

I am also sympathetic to the aims outlined in the calls to action for a perpetrator strategy, which are reflected in the amendments. We recognise that more work is needed to improve the response to perpetrators, and in particular to increase the provision of effective perpetrator interventions. I assure the Committee that we already have a programme of work under way to address the issues raised by the amendments and by the calls to action.

What we are not persuaded of is the need for an inflexible legislative requirement for a perpetrator strategy, but the Government of course endorse the need for such a strategy. Indeed, I can inform the Committee that, later this year, the Government will bring forward a new, ambitious strategy to tackle the abhorrent crime of domestic abuse. This strategy will be holistic in its approach to tackling domestic abuse and will outline our ambitions not only to prevent offending but to protect victims and ensure that they have the support they need. It is right that we have a strategy that takes a holistic approach to tackling domestic abuse.

In the meantime, we are building our evidence base to inform this work. As part of his spring Budget last year, the Chancellor allocated £10 million to fund innovative approaches to tackling perpetrators and preventing domestic abuse. As I have said, more than £7 million of this has been allocated in 28 funding awards to PCCs from all areas of England and Wales to support the adoption of a range of domestic abuse perpetrator-focused programmes in their area. To strengthen the evidence base of what works in preventing reoffending, as part of this funding, PCCs will be required to conduct an evaluation of their project to measure outcomes for perpetrators, victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

We value the importance of research in helping to improve our understanding of perpetrators of domestic abuse. That is why we will also be funding a range of research projects that focus on topics including drivers and aggravating factors, and what works in preventing offending, identifying perpetrators and improving understanding of underrepresented groups to further aid our understanding of perpetrators of domestic abuse. I will provide the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, with more details on this, but I know that the contracts have gone out today. I think she will agree that the findings from this research will play a key role in helping to shape the domestic abuse strategy.

In addition, the designate domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has already begun mapping the range of interventions currently available for non-convicted perpetrators who are showing signs of abusive behaviour, which will allow us to better assess where there is unmet need for this cohort.

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Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown (DUP) [V]
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My Lords, acknowledging that rehabilitation programmes are an essential part of tackling these abhorrent abusive attitudes and actions, can the Minister tell your Lordships’ House who will take the lead in any co-ordinated approach, bringing together such a multiagency strategy so we can ensure that any programme will not be cosmetic but meaningful and productive?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Clearly, the Home Office will take the lead, but I acknowledge the challenges in trying to work across government to try to bring it all together. Of course, the Department for Education will take the lead for schools.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I may have misheard the Minister, but did not she say that one of her reasons for not accepting any of the amendments was that it would be restrictive to place these things in the Bill? You can perhaps argue that Amendment 164 is a bit more prescriptive, but the other two amendments, other than setting a time limit for a report, set no restrictions at all. They would just steer the Government to get on with the matter in good time. Beyond that, I do not see that they are restrictive at all.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The point I was trying to make—and I hope the noble Lord will accept it—is that we do not need to put it in the Bill, because you are always restricted by primary legislation. But I voiced my intention that the Government want to do this.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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I call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, to speak on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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Amendment 165, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, would require that where a local authority employee

“suspects in the course of carrying out a financial assessment for adult social care that a person is the victim of domestic abuse, the employee reports the suspected abuse to a relevant social worker or the police.”

Amendment 166 would allow “A magistrates court” to

“make an order permitting a registered social worker to enter premises specified … by force for the purposes of identifying and supporting victims of domestic abuse”.

I will be interested to hear the government response on the specifics of these amendments. We definitely support the general aim of making sure that older victims are focused on and protected and, like so many noble Lords, we recognise the truly immense contribution that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has made in drawing attention to and highlighting older victims of abuse. After all, the Bill will achieve its aim only if it works for all victims. Older victims are too often invisible—metaphorically speaking—can suffer different forms of abuse, and are at increased risk of adult family abuse. Amendment 165 raises the importance of staff being taught to recognise the signs of abuse and who to raise their concerns with when they see it. The amendment refers to an employee possibly reporting suspected domestic abuse direct to the police, an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I am not sure whether that would be only with the victim’s consent. The amendment also raises the importance of joined-up working so that, where abuse is suspected, it gets acted on and victims are offered support.

The Local Government Association has raised the need for clarity on information sharing between agencies. In its consultation response on the Bill, it said:

“There is still not a clear and consistent understanding about what information professionals can share within agencies and across agencies … Given the changes introduced through the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the LGA thinks it is crucial for the Government to issue guidance on how”


those changes affect

“safeguarding and information sharing arrangements, particularly the impact on domestic abuse victims.”

Like other noble Lords, I await with interest the Minister’s response to both amendments on behalf of the Government.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, will not get a big head when I again pay tribute to her for highlighting the plight of elderly victims of domestic abuse. She has such experience in this area. These very well-intentioned amendments seek to tackle the scourge of elder abuse. My noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger said that the way we treat our elderly reflects us as a society; I agree.

Local authorities are well equipped to identify, investigate and address suspicions or cases of domestic abuse where the individual has existing care and support needs or is known through other means. There are mechanisms and clear professional responsibilities in place to ensure the safety of suspected or known victims. I am not convinced that these amendments will add value to existing rules and processes or improve outcomes for elderly people experiencing domestic abuse, and I will explain why.

On Amendment 165, local authority employees are expected to undertake safeguarding training to ensure that they are able to identify and act on any concerns about exploitation or abuse in any circumstances, including when carrying out financial assessments for adult social care. Existing mechanisms will be in place to ensure that training is effective and that employees are able to escalate any issues. Escalation may include making a report to the police or making a referral under Section 42 of the Care Act 2014, which places a duty on local authorities to make inquiries, or to ask others to make inquiries, where they reasonably suspect that an adult in their area is at risk of neglect or abuse, including financial abuse.

Turning to Amendment 166, the police have existing powers of entry which ensure the protection of victims of domestic abuse and other instances of exploitation and harm where appropriate. We do not think that social workers require powers of entry separate from those of the police, who already effectively carry out this function. It is appropriate for the police to lead on any steps which may require gaining entry to a home where there is a serious threat from a perpetrator of domestic abuse. Extending this power to social workers risks placing them in dangerous situations which they are not equipped to deal with.

In addition, introducing a power of entry applicable to instances of domestic abuse risks creating a hierarchy of the different categories of exploitation, harm and abuse that are set out in the Care Act 2014. To take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the police, and health and social care professionals, will have local arrangements in place to enable joint working with one another and other partners to investigate all instances where an adult or child must be safeguarded, including instances which may require police to enter a home. It also plays to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made about data protection when information sharing. I think that joint working, certainly in the case of the troubled families programme, gets round those data protection issues.

Where there are concerns that an individual with a mental disorder is being ill-treated or neglected, including through domestic abuse, approved mental health professionals have special powers of entry set out in Section 135 of the Mental Health Act 1983. This allows for the approved mental health professional to present evidence at a magistrates’ court to obtain a warrant authorising the police, an approved mental health professional and a registered medical practitioner to gain entry to the premises, for an assessment to take place there and then or for the person to be removed to a place of safety.

Local authorities have the power to investigate under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 if they have cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. These inquiries will determine whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. Furthermore, social workers may make an application under Section 44 of the Children Act 1989 for an emergency protection order. Where an emergency protection order is in place, the court can authorise a police officer to accompany the social worker if they are refused entry to the premises. Where the police have cause to believe that a child is likely to suffer significant harm, under Section 46 of the Children Act the child can be removed to suitable accommodation.

I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness that there are practices and procedures in place to identify and tackle domestic abuse where financial assessments are being undertaken for the purposes of adult social care, and that there are existing powers of entry, exercisable by the police and others, that can be used where necessary. Having initiated this important debate, I hope that the noble Baroness is happy to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Lexden Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Lexden) (Con)
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My Lords, I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, whom I now call.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my interest, as set out in the register, as chair of the National Commission on Forced Marriage. I ask the Minister that any guidance on training that is given to local authorities has added to it that some women may be victims of forced marriage and may therefore need some specialist support.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I can certainly look into that for the noble and learned Baroness and ask that it be included.

Baroness Greengross Portrait Baroness Greengross (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. I am most grateful. The understanding and special knowledge that many of them shared was very helpful and gave me a lot of hope for the future. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, because, as I have known for many years, he is aware of all the problems involved, physical, financial, et cetera.

The noble Lord, Lord Randall, pointed out that there is less impetus in reporting these issues than those of younger people, and we must ask why. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, identified the complexity of these issues and how existing relationships sometimes determine what is happening and what is reported. I was aware of her reluctance to involve the police, but my experience with the Met in London is that it is often the police who uncover aspects of bad care, no care or, worse, abuse that other people do not know about, so we disagree on that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, had some reservations relating to a lack of awareness about these issues. I agree with her. As she pointed out, cultural change is needed. The noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, emphasised how training is essential because many older people unfortunately face issues, as we have heard about in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, highlighted that the family is not always as loving and supportive as in the ideal situation that we are talking about and would like to see, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, emphasised how professional input is needed, whoever reports these issues. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, pointed out that we need to give attention to this problem, which we must tackle. It has been tackled better in Scotland and in Wales, which is quite unacceptable. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said that we must not leave older people out, which I am afraid has happened so often until now. I am not sure that without some measures we will do enough to protect the people to whom these two amendments apply.

The Minister emphasised how local authorities are well equipped and should deal with this problem, and how the police have the right of entry when necessary. But I have to say to her that, in spite of the fact that they have the right of entry and that local authorities are well equipped, there are problems, and I hope that I have highlighted them in a way that means that your Lordships will understand that they need highlighting.

As many people have said, I have worked on these issues for many years, and I feel that what we have in place is just not sufficient to make the system work well and ensure that older people have the rights to the protection of society and to the bringing to justice of perpetrators of abuse that they should have. Whatever our age, we are adults and are part of this country’s population, and we must not leave this huge number of people with fewer rights to help and care than other, younger people have. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but hope that this matter will be taken further.

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Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for raising this. Amendment 171 seeks to repeal the so-called carers’ defence in coercive and controlling relationships. I am grateful to Stay Safe East for its excellent briefing. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, highlighted the frequency of disabled people being abused compared to non-disabled. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, was shocked by these figures and so was I.

As we have heard, the so-called carers’ defence clause reposes in the 2015 Serious Crime Act. This defence can be employed by the carer if she can prove that she believed that she was acting in the victim’s “best interests” and that

“the behaviour was in all the circumstances reasonable”.

Stay Safe East maintains that this Act discriminates both directly and indirectly against disabled victims. It says:

“The purpose of legislation on domestic abuse is to protect survivors, rather than to defend the rights of abusers or alleged abusers.”


It is already hard enough to get a case involving a disabled victim to court, as so many difficulties and barriers stand in the way. To abuse a disabled person in the cause of their own “interests” surely must be one of the most patronising and demeaning excuses for perpetrating coercive control of the victim. It piles insult on injury, can prolong the abuse and ultimately denies justice to the victim. I do not need to add to the cogent and clear description, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, of what this form of coercive control looks like and how it makes the disabled victim feel. Let us shut that loophole and give disabled victims justice and their dignity back.

A carer can already claim the “best interests” defence without our having to enshrine it in law. I listened carefully to the remarks of the Minister on Monday and she seems to have prejudged the amendment without listening to the arguments, which is most unusual for her. In response, I say that the arguments that she uses can be used in favour of the amendment. She said:

“As is the case with all legal defences, it is for the courts and juries to decide merit on a case by case basis”.—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 123.]


Why not take this patronising defence out of English law and let the courts decide, as she suggests?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I start by commending the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, because she spotted something that nobody else noticed on Monday evening, which is that I spoke in response to this amendment, but the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, had not moved it at all. That might be why I sounded as if I had prejudged a bit. I will reiterate some points on this occasion, but I apologise for being a bit previous with my comments.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, Amendment 171 addresses the so-called carers’ defence within the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. Subsections (8) to (10) of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 allow for this limited “best interests” defence, where the accused can demonstrate that they were acting in the best interests of the victim. The defence is not available in situations where the victim fears that violence will be used against them. I must be clear on that. For this defence to apply, the accused would also need to demonstrate to the court that their behaviour was reasonable in all the circumstances.

The defence was designed to cover cases where the accused is genuinely acting in the best interests of the victim. The first example that comes to my mind is a situation where the accused is looking after an elderly partner or parent with Alzheimer’s disease and must ensure that that person does not leave the house for their own safety. In these circumstances, it is entirely possible that the accused’s behaviour, while it might be considered controlling in a different context, is reasonable given the nature of their caring responsibilities.

As we have heard today, proponents of this amendment fear that it may enable the abuse of disabled people. However, there is a real risk that, without such a defence—and bearing in mind the example that I have just given—a person may be wrongfully prosecuted for and convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour, when in fact they were acting in a person’s best interests.

Ultimately—and I am repeating my words from the other night—it is for courts and juries to decide merit on a case-by-case basis, whether or not the threshold for the defence has been met. It should also be noted that similar or equivalent offences in Scotland, such as Section 6 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, and 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, also contain a similar defence.

I hope that, in the light of my explanation—for the second time—of the necessity of this defence, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has been a short but important one.

The central point I took from the intervention from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is that the Carers Trust wants better support and wants the support of carers to be a more suitable focus rather than this potential loophole for wrongly accusing carers of some form of abuse.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, was much more robust in her language than I have been. She called it a patronising defence and said that the courts should decide. Essentially, that is what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said; the courts can decide because the charges can be brought with other legislation, as she acknowledged in her intervention.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, argued that the neatness and ease of reference may be a deciding factor in keeping this defence in this legislation and that putting it in other Acts would create difficulty for practitioners. That is the point that I think both the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt and Lady Grey-Thompson, would not have agreed with, because this Bill is about domestic abuse; it is not about giving potential defences to abusers that are already covered in other legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, opened her comments by saying that nobody noticed. I am sorry to disappoint her, but we did notice—but there was no easy way of informing the authorities that she had given an answer to these points on Monday evening. Nevertheless, this is a probing amendment and we will consider our position. I think that it shows that people with disabilities want to be fully represented in this landmark legislation. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I speak to Amendment 173 in the name of my noble friend Lady Gale, who has done so much to support and defend the rights of women during her career in Wales and in the wider United Kingdom. She made many powerful points in her speech, urging an holistic and joined-up approach to this issue, and she remains steadfast in her support for the adoption of the Istanbul convention. I also closely associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I, too, was a feminist from my early childhood years, having been raised single-handedly by a resourceful and formidable Welsh man.

Wales has already adopted a gender definition in relation to domestic abuse. The Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 includes all forms of violence and abuse against women and girls, including domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence, stalking, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence, FGM, trafficking and sexual exploitation, including through the sex industry, and sexual harassment in work and public life.

At a global, European and national level, violence against women, including domestic abuse and sexual violence, operates as a means of social control that maintains unequal power relations between women and men, and reinforces women’s subordinate status. It is explicitly linked to systematic discrimination against women and girls. Failing to make the connections between the different violence that women and girls experience and how it is explicitly linked to their unequal position in society can hinder the effectiveness of interventions and prevention work. It is also important to recognise that different groups of women experience multiple inequalities, which lead to further marginalisation.

There are significant differences in the frequency and nature of abuse experienced by men and the abuse experienced by women, notwithstanding the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I take on board many of the points that he raised. However, the gender of both victim and perpetrator influences the behaviour, risk and severity of harm caused. Abuse perpetrated by men against women is a quantitively and qualitatively distinct phenomenon. Women and girls experience violence and abuse in their everyday lives at higher rates.

As we have heard, though it is worth repeating, more than 1.7 million women in the UK have experienced domestic sexual assault and rape. That is more than 12 times the number of men who have experienced this trauma. In 2019, five times more women than men were killed by their partner or ex-partner. Over the past few years, over 96% of women killed in domestic homicides—almost all—were killed by men. Of the men who were killed in domestic homicides, more than half were killed by other men. We know that domestic abuse impacts everyone: men, women and children. But we also know that it is women and girls who suffer the most frequent and severe abuse. It is important to acknowledge that to enable practice and support to be tailored to the specific needs of the person experiencing abuse, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.

I also speak in support of Amendment 185 in the name of my noble friend Lady Lister, which requires the statutory guidance to take account of the Government’s strategy on violence against women and girls, alongside the existing requirement that the guidance takes account of the fact that the majority of domestic abuse victims and survivors are female. As she said so expertly and with much learned experience in this field, it is clear that the Government intend their revised VAWG strategy, currently going through consultation, to be separate from their domestic abuse strategy. Many supporters feel that a 10-year cross-party consensus on the need for an integrated approach to tackling domestic abuse and other forms of VAWG is now broken. Amendment 185 would allow that position to be reversed. I urge the Government to listen to my learned noble friend Lady Lister and adopt her amendment, along with the amendment of my noble friend Lady Gale, who has done so much to enshrine the rights of women becoming the law of our lands.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate because between them they have achieved the impossible of getting the balance right. It is very difficult to recognise that most victims are female while getting the legislation and guidance right.

I mention in particular the words of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who is my friend. As the only man speaking on this group, he recognised that the Bill would not be here if it were not for women. His personal accounts are always really moving and it takes tremendous bravery to recount them. Many people are still too traumatised to even speak about abuse and many accounts will remain unheard. We are very lucky to hear his account.

We know that victims’ needs must be at the centre of our approach to domestic abuse. They are individuals with individual needs. That includes an understanding and appreciation of their gender and, of course, sexuality. The latest Office for National Statistics report showed 4% of men aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse. Of course that figure, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, will be much higher as domestic abuse is so often a hidden harm, and it is too often underreported.

For a multitude of factors, including often misplaced cultural norms of masculinity, and how that is perpetuated, male victims sadly feel they cannot report their experiences, whether to specialist support services or the police. There are also some very specific issues that are unique to the experiences of LGBT victims, which include but of course are not limited to the threat of disclosure of sexual orientation or gender identity to family.

This is one of the reasons we have a gender-neutral definition. This approach is absolutely critical to ensuring that all victims and all types of domestic abuse are sufficiently captured, and that nobody—absolutely nobody—is inadvertently excluded from protection, support or accessing the help that they need. As an aside, the Istanbul convention definition itself is gender neutral. That is why, in the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73, we detail the unique considerations among other issues, including expanding on the range of abuse and the forms that it can take, and on specific communities and groups, such as male victims and those in same-sex relationships, as well as, of course, minority ethnic and migrant groups.

It might be an opportunity to read out Clause 73, which gives powers to the Secretary of State

“to issue guidance about domestic abuse, etc … The Secretary of State may issue guidance about … the effect of any provision made by or under”

certain sections of the Bill, as well as,

“other matters relating to domestic abuse in England and Wales.”

Clause 73(3) states:

“Any guidance issued under this section must … take account of the fact that the majority of victims … (excluding children treated as victims by virtue of section 3) are female.”


I would like to reassure noble Lords that there has been extensive engagement on the statutory guidance. This is exactly why we published it in draft in July. A series of thematic working groups has been undertaken, where the focus has been on the unique needs of male victims, and separately on LGBT victims. This engagement and consultation on the guidance will continue following Royal Assent. I would like to thank all noble Lords for providing feedback and for their thoughts on the guidance to date. Let me be clear; this approach in ensuring that we are taking into account all victims is one we will consider beyond the Bill in the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy.

Amendment 185, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, seeks to build on the provisions in Clause 73 by seeking to ensure that any guidance issued under this clause takes into consideration any strategy to end violence against women and girls adopted by a Minister of the Crown.

Noble Lords will know that in 2016 the Government published the violence against women and girls strategy, which ran until 2020. The Government intend to publish a new violence against women and girls strategy, followed by a complementary domestic abuse strategy. We launched a call for evidence to inform a new VAWG—as we call it—strategy on 10 December and we very much welcome contributions from noble Lords.

The main argument raised by proponents of the amendment centres around the gendered nature of domestic abuse and the Government’s decision not to produce a single, integrated violence against women and girls strategy to include domestic abuse, in recognition of the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Proponents argue that this approach ignores the reality of women’s experiences and threatens to undermine specialist service provision, which takes an integrated approach to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women and girls. Concerns have also been raised that the domestic abuse definition is not gender specific.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I fully recognise that point. I also recognise that conversion therapy might take place, not just in certain cultures but in this country as well, to try to convert gay men. A lot goes on, including, as the noble and learned Baroness said, families forcing people down a route against their wishes.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McNicol of West Kilbride) (Lab)
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I have received another request to speak. I will call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, first, and then the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I want to assure the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that he is not alone. I support the powerful speeches made by my noble friends Lady Gale and Lady Wilcox, without detracting in any way from what the noble Lord had to say.

I want to raise with the Minister the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, made about the Government’s desire for this to be a gender-neutral Bill. The Minister spoke on this very carefully and said within the forthcoming strategy there would be gender-specific elements. The question I want to put back to her is: if it is okay to have gender-specific elements in a strategy, why on earth can that not be covered in the legislation?

This is prompted by the publication of the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill that is being debated in the Commons tomorrow. That Bill excludes the words “women” or “mothers”, instead referring to a “person” who is pregnant and a “person” who

“has given birth to a child.”

My question to the Minister is about whether the Government have decided not to use the term “woman” in future legislation. Does she share my concern that there is a risk of delegitimising specific concerns about women, and that women’s hard-won rights over the past six decades are in danger of dissipation as a result?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I think what the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just said could be the subject of a Question for Short Debate or even quite a long debate in your Lordships’ House, so complex is what he has just said so simply. By making reference to gender in the guidance but also having a gender-neutral definition, we recognise two things: first, that domestic abuse is mainly perpetrated against women, but taking into account that men, such the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who outlined his story so eloquently, can also be victims of domestic abuse. I said at the beginning of my speech that our aim is to protect and support all victims of domestic abuse, so I hope that what the Government have done, notwithstanding the legislation in the Commons, has struck that balance right.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I very much appreciate the Minister’s sensitive response to the amendment, but I asked her two questions and I do not think she really answered them. First, when all the stakeholders—all the people working in this area—think that it is a retrograde step to separate, even if they are complementary, domestic abuse and VAWG strategies, why do the Government think that they are right and everyone else is wrong?

My other question was why the Government think that separate strategies will be more effective than an integrated strategy, which could have separate strands within it? The Minister said that my amendment—or our amendment, because it is supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, to whom I am very grateful—is not necessary, but she has not said anything that convinces me that there is an argument against including it in the draft guidance. It is not about just gender neutrality; it is about integration, coherence and a holistic strategy.

I do not know how much she can say now, but it suggests that we may have to come back with this in order to get a more plausible answer about why this should not go into the guidance alongside what has already been put in it by the Government on gender.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I understand what the noble Baroness says. She made a point about VAWG versus DA. Of course, domestic abuse is a type of violence against women and girls, although violence against women and girls goes far wider than domestic abuse. We are going to be bringing forward a domestic abuse strategy later this year. I can see the noble Baroness shaking her head, and I do not think I am going to convince her at this stage.

Baroness Gale Portrait Baroness Gale (Lab) [V]
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I also thank Refuge for their briefings and support. As the Minister said, I think we have got the right balance in our debate today. I totally agree with my noble friend Lady Lister, the noble Baroness, Lady Hodgson, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester speaking in support of Amendment 185. They were criticising the Bill for being a non-gendered one, or gender neutral, when most people have spoken in support and said we should recognise that.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, first for being the only male voice—although my noble friend Lord Hunt was able to put his views in, and I thank him for that. I agree with a lot of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said. He said that it is not anybody’s intention to say that men do not suffer from domestic abuse and are not victims, because they are, and we know that women can be perpetrators. I do not want to undermine that in any shape or form. The noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, was raising this issue very strongly and was absolutely right: we should recognise all victims of domestic abuse.

The purpose of the amendments today was to illustrate that it is a gendered crime. Women are the majority of victims and men are the perpetrators, but that does not exclude recognising that there are male victims and female perpetrators. We have had a very good debate today. I am pleased with everyone who has taken part and put their views forward. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, explained, Amendment 177A requires the Government to undertake an investigation into

“the impact of access to online pornography by children on domestic abuse”

and to review the commencement of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017, which all noble Lords spoke about.

We share the concerns raised in both Houses by parents and those advocating on behalf of children’s safety online that a large amount of pornography is available on the internet, often for free, with little or no protection to ensure that those accessing it are old enough to do so. In turn, this is changing the way that young people understand healthy relationships, sex and consent.

In October 2019, the Government announced that they will not commence Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act 2017. We propose to repeal those provisions and instead deliver more comprehensive protections for children through our proposals for a wider online harms regulatory framework. Protecting children is at the heart of our plans to transform the online experience for people in the UK, and the strongest protections in our forthcoming online harms framework will be for children.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office have now published the full government response to the online harms White Paper consultation, which sets out the new expectations on companies to keep users safe online. These new laws will mean that companies must tackle illegal content on their platforms and protect children from harmful content and activity online. Major platforms will need to be clear about what content is acceptable on their services and enforce the rules consistently.

I am pleased that Britain is setting the global standards for safety online, with the most comprehensive approach yet to online regulation. Ofcom will be named in legislation as the regulator, with the power to fine companies failing in their duty of care up to £18 million or 10% of annual global turnover. It will also have the power to block non-compliant services from being accessed in the UK.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, asked whether the provisions in the online harms framework will be as robust as those in the Digital Economy Act. Through the online harms framework, we will be able to go further than the Digital Economy Act’s focus on online pornography on commercial adult sites. We will be able to protect children from a broader range of harmful content and activity across a wider range of services. The online safety duty of care will not just be for sites with user-generated content; it will also be for sites that facilitate online user interaction, including video and image sharing, commenting and live-streaming.

The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Ponsonby, the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and my noble friend Lord McColl all asked why, given that the online harms regime is years away, the Government cannot commence the Digital Economy Act as an interim measure. It is important that we take the time to deliver the most comprehensive approach for protecting children online, which will ensure that robust protections are in place for generations of young people to come. Through the online harms framework, we will be able to go further than the Digital Economy Act’s focus on online pornography on commercial adult sites, as I said. We will be able to protect children from a broader range of harmful content.

One of the criticisms of the Digital Economy Act was that its scope did not cover social media companies, where a considerable quantity of pornographic material is accessible to children. The Government’s new approach will include social media companies and sites where user-generated content can be widely shared, including the most visited commercial pornography sites. Taken together, we expect this to bring into scope more online pornography that children can currently access than the narrower scope of the Digital Economy Act. We will set out, in secondary legislation, priority categories of legal but harmful content and activity posing the greatest risk to children, which will include online pornography.

The Government expect that the regulator will take a robust approach to sites that pose the highest risk of harm to children. That may include recommending the use of age assurance or verification technologies where the risk is highest, including for sites hosting online pornography. Companies would need to put in place these technologies or demonstrate that the approach they are taking delivers the same level of protection for children. We are working closely with stakeholders across the industry to establish the right conditions for the market to deliver age assurance and age verification technical solutions ahead of the legislative requirements coming into force. The online safety Bill will be ready this year; in the meantime, we are already working closely with Ofcom to ensure that the implementation period that will be necessary following passage of the legislation will be as short as possible.

On the point about the Government sitting on the research, we were not seeking to suppress its results. Given the number of comments from noble Lords about the letter, I had better write again on the points there were clearly not satisfactory to them. My ministerial colleagues in the DDCMS will continue to engage with parliamentarians as we prepare for the vital legislation. I hope I have provided reassurance that Amendment 177A is not necessary and that the noble Baroness will be happy to withdraw her amendment.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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I have received no requests to speak after the Minister and, accordingly, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin.

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Moved by
178: Clause 73, page 57, line 44, leave out “in England and Wales” and insert “—
(i) in England, and(ii) so far as not relating to Welsh devolved matters, in Wales.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the Minister’s amendment at page 58, line 28 would ensure that guidance issued by the Secretary of State under clause 73(1)(b) about matters relating to domestic abuse in Wales does not relate to matters that are devolved in relation to Wales.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I can be brief with the government amendments in this group. Clause 73 enables the Secretary of State to issue guidance about the effect of certain provisions in the Bill, but also about

“other matters relating to domestic abuse in England and Wales”.

It is the UK Government’s view that, with the exception of Clause 73, the provisions in the Bill relate to reserved matters in Wales. We acknowledge that the power to issue statutory guidance about any matter relating to domestic abuse encroaches on devolved matters in Wales. It is for that reason that Clause 73 requires the Secretary of State to consult the Welsh Ministers in so far as any guidance relates to a devolved Welsh authority.

Following discussions with the Welsh Government, these amendments narrow the power to issue guidance under Clause 73(1)(b) so that any such guidance does not relate to Welsh devolved matters. Guidance relating to Welsh devolved matters is properly a matter for the Welsh Ministers and not the Secretary of State. As I indicated, these amendments have been discussed and agreed with the Welsh Government. I will respond to the other amendments in this group when winding up but, for now, I beg to move.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I speak to Amendment 180. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for adding their names to it. Most of all, I thank the Ministers for their extraordinary forbearance on this very long day.

A key aim of this amendment is to prevent domestic abuse in the future. How should we do it? First, we should ensure—perhaps surprisingly, you might say—that primary school children who exhibit symptoms of severe psychological disturbance receive the professional psychological help that they urgently need if their mental health is to be restored and if long-term problems, for them, society, their own children and future spouses, are to be avoided. The amendment makes it clear that, wherever possible, parents should be involved in that therapy. Much quicker and more sustained improvements for the child can generally then be achieved. Having been involved in family therapy work many years ago, I know just how powerful and beneficial it can be for all members of the family.

The second part of the amendment would ensure that effective preparation for adult relationships—sex, marriage and, most particularly, awareness of domestic abuse and its consequences—was provided across the country for all senior schoolchildren in the last years of their schooling. I will return to this briefly at the end of my remarks; I want to focus mainly on primary school children.

This amendment is probably not the polished article. If we proceed to Report on these important matters, relevant lawyers and, I hope, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, might help to get it into shape. But why is the amendment so important? It is because domestic abuse is rooted in childhood and is such a big problem. The Children’s Commissioner suggests that 831,000 children in England are living in households that report domestic abuse. The mental health of all those children will be adversely affected, in some cases very seriously. Many will go on to become domestic abuse perpetrators, as we have said before. Action for Children tells us that 692 assessments are carried out every day that highlight domestic abuse as a feature of a child’s or young person’s life.

The problem is very serious, for the children as well as for their future spouses and children. The consequences of domestic abuse on children range from negatively affecting brain development and impacting cognitive and sensory growth to developing personality and behavioural problems, depression and suicidal tendencies. Analysis of data from the Millennium Cohort Study found that children whose parents experienced domestic violence when their children were aged three reported 30% higher than average anti-social behaviours aged 14, for example committing physical assault. Sensible, preventive interventions with children will save taxpayers’ money on police, courts and prisons, quite apart from saving the lives of the individuals involved from the miseries of criminality and becoming perpetrators of domestic abuse, with all that those things involve.

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Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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Like the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, I will be brief, bearing in mind the time and the fact that much of what I would have said has already been said. I note what the Minister said on government Amendments 178 and 188, which would ensure that guidance issued by the Secretary of State about matters relating to domestic abuse in Wales does not relate to matters that are devolved in relation to Wales.

Amendment 184—which was moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, and to which my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen added her name—would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish

“separate statutory guidance on … teenage relationship abuse”.

This would not just cover victims of teenage domestic abuse but extend to those who perpetrate abuse within their own teenage relationships.

We support the aims of Amendment 184, and in particular the emphasis on both providing support for victims of abuse in teenage relationships and looking at perpetrator behaviour in young relationships. Ideally, the aim must be not to criminalise very young people but to catch abusive behaviour early, challenge it and prevent it from continuing. The importance of good sex and relationships education, including empowering young people to recognise abusive behaviour, surely cannot be overstated.

I look forward to the Government’s response to Amendment 184 and to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, in their amendments.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for explaining their amendments, which I will deal with in turn.

However, first, I will address the curious point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, about Lord Curzon and women’s suffrage. I remind the Committee—this will not be lost on noble Lords—that Conservative Governments introduced this Bill, introduced marriage for same-sex couples, were part of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality and ensured that women such as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, are able to sit in your Lordships’ House.

That aside, Amendment 180 from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, seeks further guidance in relation to “aggressive or manipulative” pupils and “relationship and sex education”. I agree with her that good behaviour in school is absolutely crucial if children are to learn and reach their full potential. As well as delivering excellent teaching, schools should be safe, calm and disciplined environments, free from the disruption that prevents children from learning.

However, I hope to persuade the noble Baroness that Amendment 180 is unnecessary, because there is already a framework of support in place for schools to identify and address the causes of misbehaviour in schools. Where a pupil’s difficulties are such that they require individual or specialist support, the process for this is already established through the special educational needs and disabilities statutory processes, in which the importance of the child or young person, and the child’s parents, participating as fully as possible in decisions is an underpinning principle.

All schools are required by law to have a behaviour policy outlining measures to encourage good behaviour and the sanctions that will be imposed for misbehaviour. Department for Education guidance on behaviour and discipline says that schools should consider whether this is as a result of a special educational or other need, where a multiagency referral might be necessary. Where a pupil’s difficulties are such that they require individual or specialist support, schools should refer to the special educational needs and disability code of practice, and set out the provision and support that they will put in place, including drawing on specialist support to meet the child’s needs. All schools are required by the Children and Families Act 2014 to have regard to the views, wishes and feelings of the child and their parents when making decisions about special educational provision and support.

Persistent disruptive behaviours do not necessarily mean that a child or young person has special educational needs. Where there are concerns, there should be an assessment to determine whether there are any causal factors, such as undiagnosed learning difficulties. If it is thought that housing, family or other domestic circumstances may be contributing to the child’s behaviour, a multiagency approach, supported by the use of approaches such as early help assessment, might be appropriate. In all cases, early identification and intervention can significantly reduce the use of more costly interventions at a later stage.

Amendment 180 also seeks to ensure that pupils have access to relationships, sex education and preparation for marriage classes. We want to support all young people to be happy, healthy and safe, and to equip them for adult life and to make a positive contribution to society. That is why we have made relationships education compulsory for all primary school pupils, relationships and sex education compulsory for all secondary school pupils, and health education compulsory for pupils in all state-funded schools.

To support schools in implementing these subjects, the Department for Education has published non-statutory implementation guidance, entitled Plan your Relationships, Sex and Health Curriculum, alongside teacher training materials. There is a specific training module on “families and people who care for me”, which has a section dedicated to marriage, cohabitation and civil partnerships. The training materials are all freely available on GOV.UK.

I turn to my noble friend’s Amendment 183, which is concerned with the drivers for different types of abuse. I commend my noble friend’s incredible work through his Family Hubs Network. As he rightly says, there is no simple or single cause of domestic abuse. It is multifaceted, complex and a very sensitive issue. It warrants a response that is equally sensitive and, as he pointed out at Second Reading, one that is nuanced.

Drivers of domestic abuse include the exercise of power, but it can also occur through the breakdown of a relationship. In addition, where an individual has particular vulnerabilities, such as those arising from substance misuse, which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, highlighted earlier in Committee and my noble friend talked about tonight, this can potentially make domestic abuse more likely. That is why we make specific reference to the characteristics and types of domestic abuse in the draft statutory guidance that we have published alongside the Bill. It will be regularly updated to allow for emerging trends and behaviours to be recognised. In preparing it last July, we engaged extensively with the domestic abuse sector and practitioners, and that engagement is continuing as we refine it ahead of the formal consultation process following Royal Assent.

The forthcoming domestic abuse strategy will afford a further opportunity to address the drivers and multiple causes of domestic abuse, highlighted by my noble friend, with a specific focus on prevention and early intervention. In short, I assure him that the issues he has highlighted will be addressed in both the statutory guidance and our forthcoming domestic abuse strategy.

Finally, Amendment 184 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is concerned with the important topic of teenage relationship abuse. We know that it can be just as severe as abuse in adult relationships. We are clear that the impact of domestic abuse on young people, including those in abusive relationships, needs to be properly recognised, and we need to ensure that agencies are equipped to identify and respond appropriately. I therefore have no doubt about the intentions of the amendment.

However, under Clause 73, the Secretary of State must already publish guidance that concerns the effect of particular types of behaviour that amount to domestic abuse. This would include abusive teenage relationships, where the parties are at least 16 years old, and the impacts that these relationships have on victims. I therefore agree that the appropriate place to address this is the statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73, but I do not think we need to make express provision for this in the Bill.

In preparing this draft guidance, we have worked with the children’s sector to include the impacts of abuse in teenage relationships in the guidance. We will continue to work with the children’s sector to ensure that the guidance is as effective, thorough and accessible as it can be, before it is formally issued ahead of the provisions in Part 1 coming into force.

In addition, Clause 7 of the Bill expressly recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people in the statutory functions of the domestic abuse commissioner. Moreover, the duty in Part 4 of the Bill on tier 1 local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse in safe accommodation expressly extends to victims and their children, so the need for statutory agencies to respond and recognise the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, including in the context of relationship abuse among those aged 16 to 19, is already embedded in the Bill. I have already outlined that relationships, sex and health education is now a statutory part of the curriculum.

Clause 73 already affords the flexibility for the Secretary of State to issue guidance not only about specified provisions of the Bill but about other matters relating to domestic abuse in England and Wales. Such guidance should, however, complement rather than duplicate existing statutory guidance issued by the DfE and others.

I hope that noble Lords agree that, while they have raised important issues, these amendments are not strictly necessary.

Amendment 178 agreed.
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Moved by
188: Clause 73, page 58, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of this section something relates to Welsh devolved matters so far as it relates to—(a) any matter provision about which would be within the legislative competence of Senedd Cymru if it were contained in an Act of Senedd Cymru, or(b) (so far as it is not within paragraph (a)), any matter functions with respect to which are exercisable by the Welsh Ministers, the First Minister for Wales, the Counsel General to the Welsh Government or the Senedd Commission.”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the Minister’s amendment at page 57, line 44.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the strengths of the Bill is that it recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children, considering them as victims in their own right. From the perspective of risk of harm to the child, the relevant legal framework is provided for in Section 1 of the Children Act 1989, together with the definition of harm in that Act. My noble friend Lady Meyer and the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referenced the Cafcass definition of parental alienation. Although that definition supports our shared understanding of the impact of alienating behaviours on the child, it is an important point of clarification that the Cafcass definition is not one of domestic abuse—we need to be clear about that. Cafcass is clear that there are a number of reasons why a child might resist time with, or be hostile towards, one parent following separation or other breakdown of a parental relationship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“kinds of behaviour that amount to domestic abuse”

and on the effect of domestic abuse on all children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Moved by
17: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to report on domestic abuse services in England
(1) The Commissioner must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report under section 8 on—(a) the need for domestic abuse services in England, and(b) the provision of such services. (2) But subsection (1) does not require the Commissioner to report on the need for, or provision of, services provided to people who reside in relevant accommodation (within the meaning of section 55(2)).(3) In subsection (1)—“domestic abuse services” means any advice, advocacy or counselling services provided, in relation to domestic abuse, to victims of domestic abuse or their children;“the relevant period” means the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force (but see subsection (4)).(4) The Secretary of State, with the agreement of the Commissioner, may by regulations extend the relevant period for a further period of up to 6 months.(5) The power conferred by subsection (4) may be exercised only once.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to prepare and publish a report on the need for certain domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new Clause comes into force.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, this group of amendments brings us back to the provision of community-based support for victims of domestic abuse and their children. I share the ambition of my noble friend Lord Polak, the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Rosser, and all noble Lords to ensure that domestic abuse victims receive the support that they need, regardless of where they reside. The provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, which relate to the provision of support within safe accommodation, are a major step towards meeting that goal.

The issue before us is whether we can and should now be legislating for a parallel duty in respect of community-based support, whether by extending the provisions in Part 4, as Amendment 31 seeks to do, or by making freestanding provision, as in Amendment 85. The Government remain firmly of the view that the necessary groundwork for such legislation has yet to be undertaken and, accordingly, that it would be premature to legislate in this Bill by either method.

I can see the attraction of Amendment 31, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It seemingly accepts the government argument that we do not yet know how we should frame the duty in respect of community-based support, so a regulation-making power affords a mechanism to come back to this once the domestic abuse commissioner has completed her mapping work and the Government have consulted.

Let me make a couple of observations about Amendment 31. First, your Lordships’ House and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee are regularly critical of the Government for coming forward with skeletal delegated powers such as in the amendment. The framework for the provision of safe accommodation support is on the face of the Bill and it is right that any parallel duty in respect of community-based support should also be set out in primary legislation. Secondly, even if the route of delegated legislation was, in principle, an acceptable way forward, until we have developed and consulted on a scheme for that provision of community-based support, we simply do not know how properly to frame a regulation-making power to ensure that we have the necessary vires to give effect to a set of proposals post-consultation. The landscape for the provision of community-based support is more complex than that in respect of safe accommodation- based support, as Amendment 85 recognises, so a power simply to extend the provisions of Part 4 is not, in our view, the right approach.

Amendment 85, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and in Committee by my noble friend, seeks to navigate the complexities of the current provision of community-based support by placing a new duty on local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. This may or may not be the right approach, but I do not think that we are in a position to make that judgement yet. If the duty is to be split three ways, we need to know how the discharge of the duty is to be co-ordinated between the three agencies to ensure that there is not overlapping provision or that support for some victims does not slip through the cracks. In applying the duty across three agencies, Amendment 85 risks creating an environment in which accountability is unclear, presenting challenges for all bodies in ensuring that the necessary services are provided to those who need them.

It is the Government’s clear view that there are no ready-made solutions such that we would be in a position to legislate here and now. We need to better understand the existing landscape and the gap in provision, which is why the domestic abuse commissioner’s mapping work is so vital. We need to draw on the evidence provided by that work and other sources, consult widely and then come forward with proposals that command widespread support and, most importantly, deliver the necessary support in the most effective and efficient way possible.

As part of this work, we need properly to understand the resource implications of any new duty. The £125 million of new money that we have provided to fund the duty in Part 4 shows both the level of our commitment and the significant cost of any parallel new duty in relation to community-based support. Women’s Aid has suggested that some £220 million is needed. I make no comment on that or the accuracy of that estimate, but it at least demonstrates that Amendments 31 or 85, were either to be passed, would have significant financial implications, which this House should be alive to.

Recognising that the House is reluctant to let this Bill pass without it containing some provision that recognises the problem and provides a pathway to the solution, the Government have brought forward Amendments 17, 20, 22, 24 to 29 and 99. Amendment 17 places a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 of the Bill on the need for community-based domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. As with the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, we have limited this duty to the provision of community-based services in England in recognition of the fact that we are generally dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. The commissioner will be required to deliver a Clause 8 report on this issue within 12 months of commencement and then, by virtue of the provisions in Clause 16, Ministers will be required to respond to any recommendations directed at them within 56 days. This amendment will therefore set out a clear roadmap for the Government to set out definitive proposals for addressing the gap in the provision of community-based support.

Amendments 20, 22 and 24 to 29 address the concerns raised in Committee that the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill may have unintended consequences regarding community-based support that is currently provided or funded by local authorities. I know that my noble friend Lord Polak was particularly concerned about this. As a result of the £125 million funding that we are providing to tier-1 local authorities to support the delivery of Part 4, we think that such concerns are unfounded. However, we recognise that there would be merit in making provision in Part 4 to monitor any unintended impact. These amendments do just that.

The amendments will also ensure that the domestic abuse local partnership boards, provided for in Clause 56, play an active part in such monitoring and that the results are recorded in tier-1 local authorities’ annual reports under Clause 57. These annual reports will feed into the work of the ministerially led national expert steering group, of which the domestic abuse commissioner will be a member, so that the impact, if there is any, of the Part 4 duty on the provision of domestic abuse support to people in the community by local authorities can also be monitored.

The Government are ready to take one further step. I can say that the Government are now committed to consulting on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming victims law consultation. I recognise the concerns about missing the legislative bus and the suspicion—it is unfounded—that the Government will kick this into the long grass. The government amendments that I have outlined will ensure that that does not happen, as will our commitment to consult on a victims law later this summer.

As to the concerns that this is all too far off and victims need support now, there is already significant provision. Since 2014, Ministry of Justice funding has helped police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime within their local areas, addressing the specific local needs identified within their communities. This core grant will be around £69 million in 2021-22, which includes an uplift for child sexual abuse services. Additionally, the Government have committed a further £40 million, which includes £9.7 million for domestic abuse community-based services commissioned by PCCs for the coming year, as well as £8 million for independent domestic violence advisers, the support of which will be felt mostly in the community. This does not take account of support provided by local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and others. It may not be enough, but these sums demonstrate the significant levels of community-based support that are already available for domestic abuse victims and their children, and for other victims of crime.

I am very much looking forward to hearing the other contributions to the debate on these amendments. I reiterate my thanks to my noble friends Lord Polak and Lady Sanderson, who are in the Chamber now, and to other noble Lords who have engaged so constructively on this. I hope that what I have said today is evidence of our intent and that the House will support this approach. I beg to move.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is absolutely right to say that peace has broken out, but I do not think that your Lordships were ever at war. We have all been seeking the same ends. This has been a good and succinct debate—long may that last—and from what several noble Lords have said I know that they will keep a close eye on developments over the next few months.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Primarolo, made specific points about perpetrators being brought to book and that victims should be able to stay in their own home. The importance of community-based services for the victims of domestic abuse and their children is unquestionable. We share noble Lords’ ambitions to see all the victims of this terrible crime being supported.

It might assist the House if I briefly recap the Government’s reasoning on why now is not the appropriate time to legislate on this issue. I shall return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. The current landscape is complex. Unlike accommodation-based services, those in the community are funded and commissioned not only by PCCs but by local authorities and clinical commissioning groups. Further, as another noble Lord said, the third sector is prominently involved in this. Introducing an undeveloped statutory duty in the Bill would run the risk of cementing in legislation a complex landscape that we are working hard to simplify. Equally, placing the duty on only one of these public bodies would be to risk legislating for responsibility in the wrong place. This is far too important an issue on which to legislate in a rush.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Russell, the noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Burt of Solihull, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh talked about the funding behind this, which is crucial. In fact, it has gone to the heart of the position taken by the Government. We must understand fully the cost of such a duty before we can implement it. The MHCLG duty has been funded at a cost of £125 million, so any action around community-based services must be funded appropriately. As I have said, significant government funding is already provided for these services, with an additional £17.7 million for them having been announced only last month. The results of this funding will be a further crucial piece of information to help us understand further need. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others that funding for the commissioner also has to be in place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about the position in Wales and Amendment 17 placing a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 on the provision of domestic abuse services in England. As with the provision made in Part 4, we have limited the duty to the provision of these community-based services in England in recognition that generally we are dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to ask the question. We recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords, which is why we have tabled amendments to demonstrate our commitments in this space.

The statutory duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to publish and lay before Parliament the Clause 8 report on the provision of and need for community-based support services, and the statutory duty on tier 1 local authorities to monitor and report on the safe accommodation duty on the provision of community-based support in their area, will together ensure that the Government have all the information they need to protect and support safe accommodation and services in the community. In addition, I have committed today to consulting this summer on a statutory duty around community-based services in the upcoming victims’ law consultation. This is a commitment to explore precisely the issues that noble Lords have highlighted in this debate. It will give us the time to do them justice. To rush legislation now would, as I have said, risk solidifying into statute the wrong framework and accountability mechanisms, as well as the wrong arrangements for ensuring that responsible public authorities collaborate to ensure that victims receive the services that they need.

We also cannot take a shortcut with a regulation-making power, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. As I said in my opening speech, your Lordships’ House does not like the kind of skeletal powers that would be provided for in Amendment 31. Any new duties in respect of community-based support should be set out in primary legislation, as we have done for accommodation-based support in Part 4. This issue must be given thorough and thoughtful consideration. We will use the consultation to interrogate fully the current landscape of community-based services and to develop effective proposals on how we might ensure that it remains robust and effective in order to give all victims access to these vital services.

My noble friend Lord Polak pointed to the fact that Amendment 85 also seeks to make provision for perpetrator programmes. I agree entirely that more is needed here. The noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, also talked about the issue. I will set out our plans in this area when we come to debate other amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. The needs of victims and perpetrators are clearly of a different order, but we recognise that both issues need to be addressed. However, we are not persuaded that they should be conflated in a single provision such as that provided for in Amendment 85.

I turn finally to Amendment 30. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that for the reasons I have explained, we would not expect local authorities to give priority to accommodation-based support services over community- based services, so the circumstances addressed in the amendment should not arise. In response to his question, once the new duty under Part 4 becomes law the public sector equality duty will apply to local authorities in delivering their functions under it.

In assessing needs, local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims. This goes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, because that will include those with relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, as well as victims who might come in from outside the specific local authority area. As set out in the draft statutory guidance, tier 1 local authorities should make it clear in their strategies how they plan to make support services available that will meet the needs of all victims. The strategy should set out the support needs that have been identified as part of the local needs assessment, along with a clear breakdown of the differing needs of victims’ groups such as, but not limited to, those from BAME backgrounds or who identify as LGBT, and how they will address the barriers faced by victims with relevant protected characteristics and/or multiple or complex needs. I hope that that will answer the point put by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

We want the same outcomes here. I think and hope that the road map that I have set out, underpinned by our amendments, has reassured noble Lords that the Government are committed to taking this issue forward at pace. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, not to move his amendment. I thank all noble Lords for taking part in what has been an incredibly constructive debate and I hope that these government amendments will be universally supported.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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I have received a request to ask the Minister a short question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I want to ask the Minister a couple of quick questions. The first relates to the additional money she mentioned today and in Committee that is going to local authorities to help to implement the legislation. Given what the NAO has said this morning, is she confident that local authorities will actually spend the money in the areas in which the Government wish them to? Secondly, on the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about the jeopardy that women-only spaces in refuges are coming under because of local authority commissioning policies, will the Minister remind those authorities of the need to implement fully the Equality Act 2010 and not try to reinterpret it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I will answer the last question first. The Equality Act 2010 is of the utmost importance here. Whether or not I actually remind every local authority of its obligations under that Act, they have statutory duties, and under- pinning the work of every single local state body is the Equality Act.

Will local authorities necessarily spend the additional money on what they have been tasked with spending it on? It is being given to them in conjunction with a duty. I know, because of what she has said, that both the domestic abuse commissioner and the local boards will be scrutinising the spending and commissioning of those services locally.

Amendment 17 agreed.
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Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is important to recognise that domestic abuse does not happen in a neat silo. It is inherently bound up with the wider issues of mental health and substance abuse.

We cannot ignore the impact of devastating cuts to our public services through a decade of austerity. The Royal College of Psychiatrists called for the Government to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to invest at least £374 million in adult services to cope with the increased need. Indeed, report after report highlights the poor preparedness of our public realm to cope with this dreadful pandemic. It is as a consequence of the austerity decade that council funding has been cut to the bone.

Mental health services have been particularly impacted by austerity, leading to a lack of services and long waiting times. Victims and survivors with mental health problems also face barriers in accessing many other vital services due to strict eligibility criteria and not being able to engage in the way that the services require. Such barriers often lead to people being bounced between different services and having to constantly retell their story. There is awareness of the complex and interrelated needs of those with mental ill-health, but many services are unequipped to support them and few services exist that can care for people with both mental health and substance misuse issues.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke expertly and knowledgably about the close link between domestic abuse and alcohol, with a perpetrator drinking heavily. Of course, there are instances where the victim’s drinking leads to uninhibited behaviours that can trigger abuse. Similarly, the victim may use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. We know that the level of alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic, thus exacerbating an already known problem.

This should be part of the Government’s work on community services. They have made a commitment to consult on the provision of community services for victims and perpetrators. Will the Minister give a commitment that the consultation will explicitly include the provision of alcohol and substance misuse services? All this work will be effective only if we look at tackling domestic violence in the round.

In conclusion, the importance of multiagency and holistic working in this area cannot be overemphasised. It is important to recognise that mental health and addiction problems can create additional vulnerabilities which people perpetrating abuse may seek to exploit. If the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, decides to test the opinion of the House, the Opposition Benches will strongly support her.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for tabling this amendment. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss the issue with them at length. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, observed, domestic abuse does not happen in a neat silo. That is a very good way of putting it in the context of this amendment.

In Committee we debated the complex relationship and obvious correlation between domestic abuse, mental health problems and the misuse of drugs and alcohol. Some of us have witnessed the way in which someone who abuses a substance such as alcohol seems to have a switch flicked within their brain and suddenly becomes potentially very aggressive. That is not an excuse for domestic abuse. It is important that both victims and perpetrators have the opportunity to address these issues, and that they get the support they need. To this end, the statutory guidance issued under Clause 73 will reflect the importance of joining up domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse services.

As I informed the Committee, local authority spending through the public health grant will be maintained in the next financial year. This means that local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential front-line health services, including drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services. We want to ensure that people who need support for alcohol and substance misuse issues can access the right services commissioned by local authorities. The Government are working on increasing access, and we have appointed Professor Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs to inform the Government’s work on what more can be done.

The overarching aim will be to ensure that vulnerable people with substance misuse problems get the support they need. The review will consider how treatment services can enable people with a drug dependency to achieve and sustain their recovery. These will span a wide range of services with which they might interact across mental health, housing, employment and the criminal justice system. The review is currently focusing on treatment, recovery and prevention. The Government look forward to receiving Dame Carol’s recommendations shortly.

I reassure noble Lords that we intend to reflect the importance of joining up domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse services. The joint strategic needs assessment produced by local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and other partners should include consideration of the needs of victims and survivors. This assessment informs the commissioning process for the local area. In addition, joint working through local health and well-being boards helps support people who may have co-occurring substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse issues with more effectively commissioned services in order to improve outcomes and the use of local resources. We want to ensure that, no matter where someone turns, there is no wrong door for individuals with co-occurring conditions, and that compassionate and non-judgmental care centred on the person’s needs is offered and accessible from every access point; for example, people can access via a referral from their GP, or by self-referral. I hope this reassures noble Lords that assessing and meeting the needs of the local population are already integral to the commissioning and provision of healthcare services.

In addition, the Government have announced a total of £25 million in funding for domestic abuse perpetrator programmes. This more than doubles the £10 million funding for such programmes last year. Through them, we funded a number of interventions that sought to address issues such as substance misuse and mental health problems as part of a wider programme of intervention.

I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, is pleased that the Bill introduces domestic abuse prevention orders—DAPOs—which enable positive requirements such as attendance at a drug or alcohol programme or a behavioural change programme. The courts will also be able to require the subject of such an order to wear a sobriety tag.

The Government recognise the harm that alcohol can cause and have already committed to rolling out sobriety tags as part of a wider programme to tackle alcohol-fuelled crime. Following two pilots and a successful judicial engagement programme, the alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement was launched in Wales on 21 October last year. This has proved a popular option for sentencers in Wales and we will be rolling out the new requirement in England later in the spring.

We are also committed to our ambitions in the NHS long-term plan for expanding and transforming mental health services in England, and to investing an additional £2.3 billion a year in mental health services by 2023-24. This includes a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, ensuring that an additional 380,000 adults can access psychological therapies by 2023-24.

I would add that the domestic abuse commissioner’s role requires her to adopt a specific focus on the needs of victims from groups with particular needs. She also has the power to make recommendations where she sees gaps in provision. I believe her role will offer independent oversight and the assurance that all issues relating to domestic abuse will be monitored closely.

Finally, it is worth briefly touching on the drafting of the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, referred to this. It seeks to add to the definition of domestic abuse support in Clause 55. This relates to a new duty on tier 1 local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. As such, the amendment does not touch on the issue of support for perpetrators to help them address problems with alcohol misuse; nor does it deal with the provision of alcohol and mental health community-based support. This is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, was making.

That said, I can assure the noble Baroness that, as part of the new duty in Part 4, tier 1 local authorities will be expected to assess the accommodation- based support needs of all domestic abuse victims and their children. Within the statutory guidance that will accompany Part 4, we describe the support within “relevant” safe accommodation as including support designed specifically for victims with unique and/or complex needs, such as mental health advice and support, and drug and alcohol advice and support.

Again, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and other noble Lords for drawing attention to this important issue, and I thank all noble Lords who have raised it during this debate. I hope I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness in relation to the existing provisions and our ongoing ambitions to address the links between substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

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Moved by
24: Clause 55, page 36, line 2, at end insert—
“(aa) must keep under review any effect of the strategy on the provision of other local authority support in its area,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require a relevant local authority that publishes a strategy under Clause 55 to keep under review the effect of that strategy on the provision by the local authority of domestic abuse support to people in the community as opposed to those residing in relevant accommodation.
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Moved by
27: Clause 56, page 36, line 31, after “about” insert “—
(a) ”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement accompanying the Minister’s amendment at page 36, line 32.
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, as noble Lords have pointed out, Amendment 45 removes the cohabitation requirement contained within the controlling or coercive behaviour offence in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. This would extend the reach of the offence, meaning that it may apply to post-separation abuse, or to any family member regardless of whether they lived with the victim.

As noble Lords will be aware, the current offence applies only to those who are “personally connected” as defined in Section 76 of the 2015 Act. This definition applies to those in an intimate personal relationship—whether or not they live together—or to those who live together and have either been in an intimate relationship or are members of the same family. The definition in the 2015 Act is therefore out of sync with the definition in Clause 2 of this Bill.

The Government have listened carefully to the debate in Committee, where the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and many others argued for the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to be extended to cover post-separation abuse between intimate partners and interfamilial abuse regardless of whether the family members were living together. In Committee, I asked noble Lords to await the outcome of the review into the controlling or coercive behaviour offence—I really meant it—and I am pleased to say that this review has now been published.

The review found that police-recorded controlling or coercive behaviour offences, as well as prosecutions, have increased year on year since the introduction of the offence. However, the review also found there is still room for improvement in responding to this abhorrent crime. The review considered views from a number of stakeholders, who expressed concern that the cohabitation requirement in the offence is preventing some victims of this abuse from seeking justice, and that it poses challenges for police and prosecutors in evidencing and charging abusive behaviours under other applicable legislation.

Calls from domestic abuse services echo concerns around the cohabitation requirement of the offence, given that we know that victims who leave their perpetrators are often subjected to sustained or increased coercive or controlling behaviour after separation, and are statistically at the highest risk of homicide within the period immediately after they have left.

Controlling or coercive behaviour is an insidious form of domestic abuse and this Government are committed to ensuring that all victims are protected. We have heard the experts and considered the evidence on this issue and I am very pleased to support the amendments brought forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. She has campaigned on it. She owns it. I am very happy that she is the sponsor. I commend the resolute campaigning on this issue by Surviving Economic Abuse and other organisations. I acknowledge the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and I will draw her comments to the attention of my colleagues in the MoJ.

Amendment 45 will bring the definition of “personally connected” as used in the controlling or coercive behaviour offence into line with that in Clause 2 of the Bill and send a clear message to both victims and perpetrators that controlling or coercive behaviours, irrespective of the living arrangements, are forms of domestic abuse.

This Government are committed to doing all we can support victims and to tackle offenders. I am delighted that, in removing the cohabitation requirement in the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, we can take another step towards ensuring that every victim has access to the protection they need.

Amendments 46 and 47 seek to expand the definition of “personally connected” within the revised offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to include both paid and unpaid carers. I made it very clear during the debate on Monday on earlier amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, that the Government absolutely recognise that abuse can be perpetrated by carers. The other point that I made on Monday was that many carers will be captured by the “personally connected” definition, being family members or partners. However, I reiterate that extending that definition in the context of what is a domestic abuse offence would have detrimental effects on the overall understanding of domestic abuse and the complexities of the familial and intimate partner relationships that domestic abuse is understood to encompass, where the affectionate emotional bond between the victim and the perpetrator plays an important role in the power dynamics. By extending the definition to include carers we would be broadening the definition of “personally connected” to include a much wider range of connections within health and social care settings, which are of course covered by other legislation, and would confuse the meaning of “domestic abuse”.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Burt, talked about the important issue of ongoing training. I acknowledge that there is more to do to ensure that the offence is understood, and we will update the statutory guidance, in consultation with police and others.

In answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about what next, we will be strengthening the legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse are able to receive protection, regardless of their living arrangements with their abusers. This summer we will be publishing a domestic abuse strategy, which will build on the work to date to help to transform the response to domestic abuse and to tackle perpetrators. We will consider the wider policy and data recommendations made in the review throughout the development and implementation of the strategy, and we will of course continue to engage with domestic abuse organisations throughout the process.

The noble Baroness mentioned monitoring. At the moment, all legislation is subject to ongoing review and monitoring, and we have the very important benefit of the domestic abuse commissioner, who I know will be keeping a very careful eye on how the legislation is working in practice.

I will not repeat the other points that I made on Monday, but I hope that, in the light of the debate then and my response today, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, will be content not to move her amendment. To be clear, the Government’s position on Amendment 45, should Amendments 46 and 47 be moved, is that we will not support Amendments 46 and 47. There is cross-party support for Amendment 45 as currently drafted, and I urge the House not to detract from that should it come to a vote on Amendment 46. The House must of course first reach a decision on that amendment.

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Portrait Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have supported my amendments. I am grateful for the very kind words about my own personal commitment to these issues and that of my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson, who has wheeled with me through this amendment rollercoaster today. Disabled people, who face so many barriers in their fight for equal dignity and safety from those who may abuse their vulnerability, need this support; it gives them all strength to carry on.

I am of course deeply saddened by the Minister’s response. As I said earlier, I am not able now to divide the House; my hands are tied. I have no alternative than, very sadly, to withdraw my amendment.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I am pleased to offer my full support for Amendment 66A, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. I would have happily signed the noble Lord’s amendment and apologise for not doing so. The noble Lord set out his case well—namely, that victims of domestic abuse must often endure lifelong risks from the perpetrator. The risk does not end when the relationship comes to an end and, as the noble Lord, Lord Randall, told us, it is often when the relationship has ended that the risk significantly increases.

I can see, therefore, as I am sure other noble Lords can, that some victims will want to get as far away as possible from the perpetrator. However, the action of some local authorities in introducing a local connection rule, whether for access to refuge places or for the provision of housing, puts victims at risk. The noble Lord’s amendment seeks to ensure that, in England, victims can seek the protection of moving away to another place when seeking new housing, and that no local rules can be brought to bear that frustrate that protection or that desire if that is what the victims wish to do. With this and the other amendments that we are debating about enabling victims to make a choice that affords them the protection that they feel comfortable living with—that is what this is about—the noble Lord is looking for a positive response from the Minister on how we can move this forward. I am confident that we shall get that.

I should declare my relevant interest as vice-president of the Local Government Association, as this is a housing matter. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I hope I can provide that assurance. My noble friend Lord Randall explained that Amendment 66A seeks to amend the Housing Act 1996. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, just explained, that Act deems victims of domestic abuse to have a local connection to the relevant local authority in England when seeking homelessness assistance under Part 7 of the Act.

I indicated in Committee, and will say again, that the existing legislation and guidance on this matter are clear. A victim of domestic abuse, or indeed anyone who is homeless or at risk of homelessness, can approach any local authority in England for assistance without a local connection. Once a local authority has accepted an application, it will then make inquiries around local connection, among other criteria. Ordinarily, if someone does not have a local connection in the area, but has a local connection elsewhere, the local authority may then refer that person to the other local authority. However, the legislation 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 reasonably be expected to reside with them, would be at risk of domestic abuse.

The homelessness code of guidance makes clear that a housing authority is under a positive duty to inquire whether the applicant would be at risk of actual or threatened domestic abuse and stipulates that authorities should not impose a high standard of proof of actual violence in the past when making its 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 which ensure that they are not housed in a local authority area where there is a risk of violence or abuse and ensure that local connection is not a barrier to accessing that homelessness assistance. The local connection test seeks to keep a degree of fairness, ensuring that those who live locally are prioritised and no one authority gets oversubscribed, which is an important point.

The statutory guidance already ensures that victims of domestic abuse should not be hindered by local connection criteria when accessing support services. As I indicated, the Government are committed to proactively engaging with local authorities to ensure that there is a thorough and proper understanding of the new duty and wider domestic abuse policy, including in relation to local connection.

I acknowledge that it is clear from engagement with the sector and points raised by noble Lords today that there is perhaps a misunderstanding that Amendment 66A would impact on social housing allocations. Social housing falls under a different part of the Housing Act 1996 so, regrettably, the amendment before us would not meet my noble friend’s aim.

With regard to social housing legislation, since 2012 local authorities have had the power to decide who qualifies for social housing in their area, including through the use of a local connection test. However, statutory guidance published in 2013 advises local authorities to consider making appropriate exceptions, including for people moving into an area to escape violence. Guidance issued in 2018 goes further and strongly encourages all local authorities not to apply a local connection test to victims of domestic abuse in refuges or other safe temporary accommodation. With those words, I hope I have been able to satisfy my noble friend and, consequently, that he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, did not have her connection—obviously it was not a local one. I will have to be satisfied; I think we are nearly there. I noticed that my noble friend changed some of the words—to “abuse” rather than “violence”; I think that is right.

She has been slightly saved by the bell. It had been pointed out to me that the amendment was not quite fit for purpose in what I had aimed to do. I tabled another amendment late and, if we had not got as far as we have today, I would have been able to speak to it next time, but that will not happen. I shall leave it there and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Williams of Trafford Excerpts
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I seek to be relatively brief. Amendment 70, moved so compellingly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, would extend the destitution domestic violence concession to all migrant victims of abuse, providing them with

“temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, for a period of no less than six months … while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.”

Amendment 87, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, spoke so powerfully, would ensure that

“all victims of domestic abuse are protected, regardless of their status, in line with Article 4(3) of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.”

Amendment 70 addresses a major gap in the Bill—namely, the lack of provision for migrant women in particular. They are probably one of the most vulnerable groups suffering domestic abuse. Despite that, they do not get the same level of support as other domestic abuse survivors, with the suspicion being that migrant women in this position are all too often regarded as immigration cases rather than victims of domestic abuse—making it even more likely that abuse of migrant women will take place and simply continue.

This is because the reality is that migrant women who do not have established immigration status find it difficult, if not impossible, to access refuges and other essential support services to escape abuse. Also, their abusers know that they do not have funds of their own—their abusers make sure of that—and have no recourse to the public funds necessary to access that support because of their lack of status. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, reminded us, less than 6% of refuge beds are available to women without recourse to public funds because refuges cannot carry out their vital work without income.

I await the Government’s response, particularly to see whether it still seeks to put off making any meaningful specific commitment to address the plight of migrant women suffering domestic abuse, and whether the response also suggests that, at heart, the Government still regard migrant women without established immigration status who suffer domestic abuse as primarily an immigration issue rather than a domestic one.

In Committee, the Government spoke about a pilot exercise. Again, the right reverend Prelate highlighted the inadequacy of that exercise and the fact that it does not actually commit the Government to doing anything.

The domestic abuse commissioner-designate supports this amendment, and the evidence in support of it is already there in the public domain. The terms of this Domestic Abuse Bill have been debated and discussed for a number of years, going back to when Theresa May was Home Secretary. No doubt as a result of that discussion and consideration, the Bill marks real progress in a number of areas.

However, the fact that the Government still say that they do not know enough about the plight of migrant women faced with domestic abuse to agree to this amendment says a great deal about their attitude to, and the priority they give to, this particular highly vulnerable group. The time to act is now. Action should not be delayed or kicked into the long grass any longer.

We support Amendment 70. We will also support Amendment 87, which seeks to ensure that

“all victims of domestic abuse are protected, regardless of their status”,

if it is taken to a vote.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic for their continued commitment to providing support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. I want to take this opportunity also to thank the International Agreements Committee, which is represented so well this afternoon.

As I highlighted in Committee, I know that we all share the view that anyone who has suffered domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status, should be treated first and foremost as a victim. Although the Government appreciate the sentiment behind these amendments, we still do not think that they are an appropriate way forward.

Amendment 70 seeks to provide at least six months’ leave and access to public funds to all migrant victims of domestic abuse, as well as providing them with a route to apply for leave to remain. Amendment 87 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.

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Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab) [V]
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I thank the Minister for her very full reply. She said, rightly, that I had pressed her and that there was no intention to park the issue, but what I really pressed her on was an assurance that there is no intention to enter a reservation to the Istanbul convention on the question of migrant women.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I can state quite honestly from my point of view that I know of no intention to enter a reservation.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester [V]
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. Again, I thank the Minister for her very full response and for her real passion about providing support for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

I do not want to repeat everything I said in my opening speech, because I think we are at risk of going round in circles. But the Minister herself said that this is not a homogenous group and that it was about treating each person as an individual. That is why we are asking for this temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, so that each person can be treated as an individual and the right action can be taken.

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I will leave my comments there. I am clear that if either amendment is moved to a vote, these Benches will support it.
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I join others in sending our thoughts and prayers to the family of Sarah Everard. We do not know the history of her murderer, but we do know that she is just another murdered woman. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, there have been 30 such women since Second Reading. I heard the story of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, as a horror story; it is something you would never wish on anybody. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, paid tribute to Jane Clough and her wonderful parents. I have met Jane Clough’s father, and I pay tribute to her parents, who have campaigned so tirelessly so that what happened to their daughter will not happen to somebody else. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned some of the horrendous things parliamentarians have to put up with. I am so sorry for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for the abuse she has suffered in the last week or so, and I am sure I speak on behalf of every other noble Lord in the House. And the story of my noble friend Lady Bertin was awfully sad and horrific.

To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, this set of amendments is not about political digs. I totally agree with him. We all seek the same end, so it might seem odd that the words I am going to say disagree with noble Lords’ amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and I have campaigned and worked together for years, trying to fix the gaps that we find in the provision.

Amendment 73 seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003, so that individuals assessed as high risk and high harm, as well as those convicted of more than one domestic abuse or stalking offence, should automatically be subject to management under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, commonly referred to as MAPPA. Management under MAPPA may result in these individuals being recorded on VISOR, which is the dangerous persons database. The amendment would also place a duty on the Government to review these changes to the Criminal Justice Act and issue a report 12 months after Royal Assent. It specifies that the report would need to include a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers. This links to Amendment 81, which also calls on the Secretary of State to issue a perpetrator strategy.

Noble Lords have spoken passionately about this issue and it is impossible not to be moved. I am simply horrified by some of the stories raised, not only today but in Committee. I indicated then and say again that I totally agree with the intention behind these amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, so much works, so why are there gaps? We want to make sure that there are no gaps and that we have the right systems in place to enable the police and partner agencies to accurately identify the risks posed by high-harm, repeat and serial perpetrators, and to act accordingly to protect victims.

We recognise that there is more that can be done to fill the gaps and ensure that the system works as intended, but we do not think that Amendment 73 addresses or resolves the underlying issue of improving risk assessment and case management. We fear, therefore, that it will not achieve the outcomes that it is intended to achieve.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said—I will paraphrase—that serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators can be managed under the current MAPPA legislation, but that it is not always happening in practice. My noble friend Lady Bertin echoed this and we agree, which is why, instead of amending the current legislation to add an additional category, we think there is more value in making better use of the existing MAPPA framework and related police systems.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering talked about upskilling. There is a range of things, of which upskilling is one, which will drive an improvement in the system, including a better focus on the outcomes that we seek. We have already taken steps to improve MAPPA and related systems. Last spring, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service published the Domestic Abuse Policy Framework, which sets out arrangements for working with people whose convictions or behaviours include domestic abuse. The framework mandates an adherence to the referral pathways for domestic abuse perpetrators and ensures that the required actions for these cases are fully laid out. It focuses on the need for an investigative approach, sets clear expectations about information exchange and the use of MAPPA, and draws together expected practice into a clear framework. This will significantly strengthen the consistency of our approach. It is right that we put our focus on embedding this framework, which will have a real operational impact to ensure that it is working to better safeguard victims and those at risk.

We are also introducing measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which was introduced in the House of Commons on 9 March. These measures will clarify the information-sharing powers of those agencies subject to the duty to co-operate under MAPPA. It will also explicitly extend these information-sharing powers to those agencies or individuals who can contribute to the assessment and management of risk—for example, GPs.

As my noble friend Lady Bertin says, we know that there is still more we can do to address the areas of concern that this amendment intends to resolve. I would like to outline the programme of activity that we will undertake to best achieve this. First, the Ministry of Justice will revisit and refresh all relevant chapters of MAPPA statutory guidance to include the sections on domestic abuse. This will ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify offenders who are domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multi-agency management.

Secondly, we will introduce a thresholding document for local MAPPA strategic management boards to improve the consistency of assessments of MAPPA levels to ensure that those requiring greater oversight are correctly identified. We will ensure that there is a reference to domestic abuse perpetrators to assist relevant agencies in making decisions on the level of MAPPA management needed for individual cases.

Thirdly, HMPPS will issue a policy framework setting out clear expectations of the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1 by the National Probation Service, including domestic abuse perpetrators. This will further help to improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews, and the identification of cases where additional risk management activity is required.

Finally, we will improve the MAPPA sharing database —known as ViSOR—used to manage offenders, including through exploring alternative digital offender management systems, building on the success of the existing system in bringing agencies together to share information, and strengthening risk assessment, management and mitigation. To answer the point of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, as I said before, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill makes provision for that better data sharing under MAPPA.

There are provisions in the Bill which will also help to improve the management of risk posed by domestic abuse perpetrators. The new domestic abuse protection orders—or DAPOs—will provide an additional tool for managing the risk posed by perpetrators by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions and positive requirements. DAPOs will also require perpetrators subject to an order to notify the police of their name and address and any changes to this information. This will help the police to monitor the perpetrator’s whereabouts and the risk that they pose to the victim.

Stalking protection orders, which were introduced last year—I am glad that my noble friend is in the Chamber—can also impose positive requirement conditions on perpetrators. These orders enable early police intervention, pre-conviction, to address stalking behaviours before they become deep-rooted or escalate.

Ultimately, adding an additional MAPPA category into legislation specifically for domestic abuse offenders will not improve the practical issues it is truly seeking to resolve—and if it did, I would be fighting for it to happen. In fact, if we were to use the definition of domestic abuse offender as outlined in the amendment, we would make a large group of offenders not defined by specific offences automatically eligible for MAPPA. This would risk creating a level of complexity not reflected in the current legislation that will distract resources and could overwhelm the current system.

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Portrait Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, what an extraordinary debate—powerful, passionate, distressing and harrowing in many ways. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated, especially the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Bertin and Lady Grey-Thompson. It is extremely painful to relive the sort of experiences that they have relived today, but I hope their courage in putting their experiences on the record will help others.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, was right when he said we need to fix the system for victims and their families, and for us to live at ease with ourselves as a society. Today, having named so many victims and cited the cases, we must remember the families of those victims and the great pain that such debates must cause them. Equally, I hope the fact that we are debating ways of improving systems will ensure that other young women, older women or girls will not be subjected to the same abuse, the same stalking and the same murders as their loved ones had to experience.

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her comments, and she is right: we all seek the same end. But we have always had a slight difference in how to get to that end. If she does not mind, I would like to ask her something before she sits down, as it were, although I know she has sat down. I quoted some words from the Sunday Times suggesting that the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary were thinking of a register for stalkers and perpetrators of domestic abuse. I wonder whether she can give us any further information about the comments made to the Sunday Times.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Like the noble Baroness, I saw that article. I have not had a chance to corroborate with the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend Robert Buckland the contents of that article. I can get some more information for the noble Baroness, because it would be useful to have their thinking on it.