Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
2nd reading: House of Commons
Friday 16th December 2016

(7 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I am glad that I am educating the hon. Gentleman, because he certainly knew nothing about article 1 of the convention before I highlighted it for him.

Chapter 8 of the report looked at ratification, and began by setting out what others had said about it. The International Development Committee has called on the Government to do more to address violence against women and girls within the UK. Again, it is about violence against women and girls. It states that

“the UK’s international leadership is weakened by its failure to address violence against women and girls within its own borders”.

Professor Kelly argued in evidence that, although the Government are undertaking good work abroad on violence against women and girls, more needs to be done in the UK:

“I think we have a hypocrisy about human rights. We talk about human rights internationally for others, and we are mealy-mouthed about it at home. If we could have a common discourse that, actually, this happens here, too—then I think we might be able to have a more constructive conversation about it.”

The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales said:

“Ratification would emphasise that the state has a positive duty in law to intervene in a proactive way to modify practices that result in harm, violence and degradation to women and girls. It would provide a further basis in law for those who wish to persuade the state to provide adequate and meaningful resources to construct an effective mechanism to protect women from gender violence and harm.”

Again, this is not gender-neutral. How can anyone argue that the convention is gender-neutral? There is no gender-neutral language anywhere in it for anyone to read. The report set out the background to the then Government’s position, which I do not want to go through in detail.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
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Order. The hon. Gentleman has said that he wants other Members to be able to get in, and I hope he will bear it in mind that we have a very long list of speakers.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I appreciate that, Mr Deputy Speaker, but there are certain things that I say that nobody else can be trusted to say. If we could rely on balanced contributions from other people, some of these things would not need saying, but they clearly do need saying, so—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Order. I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman, because who knows what people are going to say? I have a very long list of speakers, and some of them may add to what he has said, although others may not. We may get to that part of the debate if he lets them in.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I take that point on board. I assure you that others will not, not “may not” do so, but you make a good point. In that case—I think you will approve of this—rather than setting out the background to the Government’s position, I will leave it to the Minister to set out the Government’s position—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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If he gets in.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I would like to think that the Minister has been suitably embarrassed about setting out the Government’s position, but I am looking forward to hearing him do so.

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Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire (Bristol West) (Lab)
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That is 78 minutes that I will never get back.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
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Let’s get on with the speeches.

Thangam Debbonaire Portrait Thangam Debbonaire
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I have read the convention and I have spent 26 years working on violence against women and domestic violence, including working with male victims of domestic violence. I will start my very brief speech by answering some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).

If the hon. Gentleman refers to what he said in his own speech and to the British crime survey statistics, he will know that the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual assault, rape, chronic ongoing domestic abuse, severe domestic abuse causing injury, coercive control and domestic homicide are female, and that that is specifically connected both to their gender and to gender inequality. Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. That is why we have a gender-specific convention.

If we want to tackle gender inequality—and I do—we have to tackle the specific circumstances, belief systems, structures and behaviours behind violence against women. Hence the need for the convention. The hon. Gentleman asks for neutral legislation. I say to him: when you remain neutral in a situation of profound inequality, you are only siding with the powerful against the powerless.

The hon. Gentleman asked why there are so few purpose-built refuges for men. I can tell him exactly why there are so many refuges for women because I have been part of that movement for 26 years. Women set up refuges for women. There was never anything stopping men setting up refuges for men, but I know why they have not set up many. For 10 years, I worked for Respect, which among other things runs the men’s advice line—the national helpline for male victims of domestic violence. I was the research manager there, so I know a thing or two. I can tell him that many men called the men’s advice line each year, but refuge was very rarely what they wanted. They wanted a listening ear, practical advice and legal information, and that is what they got.

I was going to speak extensively about the work with perpetrators that I have been involved in for about 10 years, but I have crossed out much of my speech because I do not want to filibuster so that the Bill runs out of time. Instead, I will quote briefly from research that I helped set up while I was the research manager at Respect, the national organisation for work with perpetrators of domestic violence and male victims. It is called the Mirabal research and people can look it up on the Respect website.

The research was carried out by Professor Liz Kelly and Professor Nicole Westmarland, who were profoundly sceptical about the value of perpetrator programmes when they started. However, they found that most men who completed a Respect-accredited domestic violence perpetrator programme—and yes, we only examined men in this research programme, but that does not mean that there are not female perpetrators; it just means we were looking specifically at men in this research—stop using violence and reduce the instance of most other forms of abuse against their partner. At the start, almost all the women said that their partners had used some form of physical or sexual violence in the past three months. Twelve months later, the research team found that after their partner or ex-partner had completed the programme, most women said that the physical and sexual violence had stopped—most, but not all.

Programmes do not replace the criminal justice system or civil justice system—they are a complement to it—but they are part of the solution. If we are going to put men in prison, which the hon. Member for Shipley has called for, we still need to know what we are going to do with them. They will still have relationships with their children whether they are inside prison or outside. Most of them will come out one day, and when they do they will have new partners. Why not work out how we can work with these men, many of whom say they would like to change—and some of whom do not—and whose partners often say that what they really want is for their partner to change? Most of the partners and ex-partners of men on the programmes in the research said that they felt or were safer after their partner or ex-partner completed the programme.

I have scrubbed out more of my speech—Members can look up the research online if they want to know the detail. I will give a couple of examples before sitting down and allowing the Minister to make his remarks, which I hope will be helpful in concluding this stage of the Bill’s passage. As a facilitator at the Domestic Violence Intervention Programme I found many ways in which women became safer. One was when their partner changed their attitude and behaviour and stopped using violence. We knew that because we had a separate but linked women’s partner support project that told us whether the women felt or were safer.

The programme helped some women to be safe because they themselves, for the first time, were able to get help, advice and a way of moving attention away from them as responsible for the violence and allowing them to end the relationship safely. I remember one women in particular. I never met her. She had a newborn baby. I was working with her partner in the men’s programme. She was living under such extreme control that the only time she was free and safe to talk to the women’s support worker was when we, the men’s facilitators, had her partner in the room with us. Over several weeks, she was able to gain confidence and develop a safe plan for leaving; meanwhile, in the room with us, her partner—an arrogant man with a huge sense of entitlement—through talking a lot about his behaviour gradually revealed more and more about it, until we had enough information to report him to the authorities. They took action.

In some cases, the women and children were safer because we were able to find out more about the perpetrator’s risk to other people through the individual assessment and group work that contributed to the co-ordinated community response. For instance, one man had to put himself in the role of his own child while other men in the room re-enacted, with the facilitators, a violent incident he had committed; after that, he completely withdrew his application for child contact and sent a message to his ex-partner via her solicitor saying that he realised how frightened she and their child must be, and that he would wait until she decided the time was right and safe.

Above all, we, the group-work facilitators, modelled how a relationship between a man and a woman based on equality actually works. For many of the men we worked with, that was the first time they had ever seen that. We modelled disagreements in which we disagreed but dealt with it respectfully. As the only woman in the room, I was often the person whom the men in the room had to use to learn to manage how to disagree with a woman without being abusive, controlling or domineering, or trying to have the last word.

I know many people, particularly from women’s groups, who were rightly concerned about or even very suspicious of perpetrator programmes when they started. Some still are. That is why a good accreditation system is so important. I declare an interest: when I worked for Respect I helped develop that accreditation system. I am very proud of it, because it differentiates between programmes doing good work to challenge men, and women, who are perpetrators of domestic violence and those programmes that are not effective.

Ratifying the Istanbul convention would place requirements on the UK Government to take the steps that the convention contains. It would be a statement of commitment. In so many ways, we as a nation are ahead of the rest of the world. We have led the way in setting up refuges, developing perpetrator programmes in Scotland—where so many of my colleagues in the Change project and the Midlothian programme, subsequently the Caledonian system, work—and in England and Wales, with the DVIP and the rest. We have set up pioneering work to challenge men whose behaviour is violent and abusive. We have set up prevention work with young people in schools, something else I was involved in before becoming an MP. We have developed risk assessment and risk management.

We have nothing to fear from adopting the Istanbul convention, and neither does the hon. Member for Shipley. It does not preclude our helping men and boys, and nor should it. It merely does what it says: it acknowledges that we live in a situation of profound gender inequality, which is both cause and consequence of violence against women and girls. It is about time we ratified the convention. The safety of women and children is too important not to.

Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
Christopher Chope Portrait Mr Chope
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My hon. Friend has given me an idea. We should bring forward, perhaps in the next Session of Parliament, a private Member’s Bill that would outlaw any legislation that is purely gesture politics.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
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Order. I am sure, Mr Davies, you are not going to go down that route.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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My word, Mr Deputy Speaker! If we were to abolish Bills that were just about gesture politics, that would abolish private Member’s Bill Fridays altogether. However, that is a debate for another day. I do not want to be sidetracked down that line today.

Amendment 29 would delete paragraph (d). The provision says that the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a report on

“the measures to be taken and legislation required to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Istanbul Convention”.

Surely it is clear what legislation is required to enable the UK to ratify the convention. Why on earth do we need an annual report for the Government to tell us what legislation is required to ratify the convention?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Order. I am a bit worried. Time is going by and I know that you, Mr Davies, will want to hear some of the other speeches. I am sure that you will want to get towards the end of your speech. Mr Chope is trying to distract you permanently. We have to worry about that.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I will try not to be distracted by my hon. Friend too many times. As I think you will appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been trying to crack on through my amendments, but there are 47 new clauses and amendments in this group and they take some wading through. However, I have been racing through them. I will leave the Minister to answer my hon. Friend’s point when she speaks.

Amendment 49 is about a report—we are still laying a report—about the measures taken by the Government to comply with the Istanbul convention to

“protect and assist victims of violence against women and domestic violence”.

At the end of that, my amendment would insert

“and produce a breakdown of government spending on victims of violence and domestic violence for both men and women.”

I do not see why anyone would want to oppose the Government having to produce a breakdown of how much they are spending on victims of violence and domestic violence, broken down by men and women. Men are nearly twice as likely as women to be the victim of a violent crime—1.3% of women interviewed for the crime survey reported being victims of violence in 2014-15, compared with 2.4% of men. When it comes to the most serious cases, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, women accounted for 36% of recorded homicide victims in 2015-16, whereas men accounted for 64%, yet so far the provisions we have here apply only to women. Therefore, it is important that the Government make clear what provisions they have for the victims of violent crime, whether they be men or women. I hope that the Government will agree to publish that information, and, if not, explain why they object to it so much.

Amendment 50 addresses the next bit of clause 3, which is about the report showing what the Government are doing to

“promote international co-operation against these forms of violence”.

At the end of all that, I have inserted that they should also

“provide statistics showing international comparison on levels of violence against women and men”.

I do not intend to repeat myself, but I spoke earlier about the information I have managed to acquire from different ambassadors. If we ask the Government to show what they are doing and then to show what other countries who have ratified the convention are doing, that will give us a good idea of how we are doing compared with other countries. Surely that is a meaningful comparison that we would want to look at. At the moment, the Government can offer us no meaningful comparisons to show how we are doing in comparison with other countries. I do not know why they would be afraid of doing that; surely they would want to make sure they were doing better than other countries. My amendment would give them the opportunity to do that and to highlight their record against that of other countries. Perhaps that would level everybody’s standards upwards, rather than them just being at the lowest possible common denominator.

Amendment 51 relates to the report on the measures the Government are taking in providing

“support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to co-operate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence.”

At the end of that, I have added

“and to include the names of these organisations”.

It is important that the Government should make it clear, as part of this reporting strategy, what support and assistance they are giving and to which organisations they are giving that support. Then we can scrutinise whether or not they are the right organisations.

It might well be that there are other organisations out there—perhaps small organisations in local communities that the Government have not come across—that we can champion and say, “You don’t seem to be giving any money to these organisations. How about giving them a cut of the funding available?” I do not know what would be lost by the transparency of knowing which organisations the Government were funding.

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Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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My hon. Friend is right, and what is happening here—if anybody bothers to notice—is that I am strengthening paragraph (e); I am trying to give the Government more requirements for reporting what they are doing post-ratification.

I will come to the Government amendment a bit later, but my hon. Friend is right to say that while I am, through these amendments, strengthening paragraph (e) and making sure that the Government have to give more information, the Government, with the SNP’s connivance, are making sure that there will be no reporting on any of these issues post-ratification of the Istanbul convention. Again, they will have to explain themselves on that, but I think that if we are going to ratify this convention, we should at least have some post-ratification knowledge of what on earth is happening and how well we are doing.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle)
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Order. If the hon. Gentleman does want to hear that, it might be helpful if he gets on and ends his speech, as I can then get some answers for him—and I would not want to distract him from hearing the answers.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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I am very grateful for that, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will certainly be leaving plenty of time for the answers, but, as I have said, there are 47 new clauses and amendments here and I am going through them as quickly as possible.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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You are taking a lot of interventions, too.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies
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As ever, you are absolutely right, Mr Deputy Speaker. There have been lots of interventions and I will try to resist the temptation to be as generous in taking them as I normally am—for a bit, at least.

Amendment 54 again addresses clause 3 and the reports on progress. The amendment says that the first annual report should be laid no later than 1 November 2017. That is interesting in itself, because what the Government are leaving in the Bill is all about before ratification, but I want to keep in post-ratification reports, and my amendments say that the first one should be from 2020 onwards—they should be done from 2020 and then every two years. That would be the effect of amendments 53 and 54.

Amendment 55 is my final amendment and it relates to when this Bill, when it becomes an Act, should come into force. The Bill says it should

“come into force on the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent”,

and the Government have amended that, but I suggest it should

“not come into force until 90% of the signatories to the Convention have ratified it and there has been a proven reduction in violence against women in 75% of the countries who have ratified the Convention.”

It seems to me to be perfectly clear that we would want to ratify the convention only if it is actually shown to work. As I made clear earlier, we do not have the evidence at the moment to support that.

Those are my amendments, and I will now touch briefly on the other ones in the group, which I can race through fairly quickly, I hope. All of the new clauses in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch are about making sure that the Government do not apply any of the reservations. I have explained why I think the Government should apply some reservations, however, and that is why I would reject new clauses 14, 15 and 16. If I might be so bold as to say so, I think my hon. Friend’s best attempt here is new clause 18 on psychological violence and stalking. It is inconceivable that those things would not come with a criminal sanction in the UK, so in that sense we have nothing to fear from signing up to that. It might be my hon. Friend’s argument that if we were to make it clear that we would sign up to that—that we would be happy to make sure they would always have a criminal sanction—it might encourage others to do the same. I do not know whether that would work, but I would not be averse to that, and if my hon. Friend were to push new clause 18 to a vote, I would be more sympathetic to that than I would be to his other new clauses, if that is helpful to him.

The Government amendments—which the SNP has endorsed, let us not forget that—are extraordinary. I have made it clear that I am opposed to this convention, but this cosy deal shows that they do not care too much about it either. They pretend—