All 1 Lord Fairfax of Cameron contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 10th Mar 2021

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Excerpts
Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the arguments about the Bill being suitable for this measure that have been advanced again today by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Alderdice, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, were powerfully deployed in Committee. They cut no ice with the Minister, and I have seen nothing to indicate since then that there is likely to be any change of heart. This will mean that this is yet another missed opportunity to deal with a very real problem.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, accepted that there is a need to find a remedy for this damaging and often criminal preying on the vulnerable who seek help for mental distress from unregulated and often totally unqualified self-styled talking therapists. There is ample evidence of the harm that has been caused: the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has just given us some. Victims have been alienated from their families, and, as I remember from my years in practice at the criminal Bar, on occasion this led to criminal trials based on what later appeared to be false memories implanted by self-styled talking therapists.

However, I believe that there has been a degree of progress since Committee, and I was very grateful to be included in the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, arranged with the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, the Minister and others; I thank the Minister for that. It became clear from that meeting that there are at least two ways in which a solution could be achieved if this Bill is not allowed to be the vehicle to deal with this.

Apparently, under the Health Act, regular reviews take place to decide whether specific occupations should require compulsory registration. This means that a successful applicant must meet proper standards and checks, and faces sanctions if the rules are broken. The change from voluntary to compulsory registration can be made by regulation, so no primary legislation is required.

The bogus practitioners of talking therapies, at whom this amendment is directed, currently do not have to register; as a start, they should be required to do so. These people use a variety of names for what they do and might well try to change their descriptions to avoid mandatory registration of a particular category. However, a generic name can surely be found and such a relatively minor difficulty overcome. After all, they are all talking therapists.

It became clear from our meeting that members of the public but also, surprisingly, some of those who direct them to these services, such as GPs, need to be better informed of the importance of using only registered practitioners. The public surely deserve to be better protected and compulsory registration would help to do just that. However, more is required, too: having to register might make it difficult for those who do not meet the required standards, but not impossible for the unscrupulous to continue to operate. There are criminal elements to the way in which some of these so-called therapists operate, which this amendment addresses. They will still need to be addressed in addition to compulsory registration. If that cannot be done in the Bill, as the Government contended in Committee—I still hope that they will change their mind—it can and should be met by a provision, possibly in a forthcoming health Bill or, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in other legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible.

These are not isolated cases. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, raised this matter in the House last year, she received an astonishingly large response from victims and their families. This type of abuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, just said, has gone on unchecked for many years. It continues to sever children from their families, causes mental harm and misery to victims and their relations, and in some cases leads to serious false allegations being made. All sides agree that a remedy is needed yet every time an attempt is made to find one, successive Ministers have said, “Not this Bill—not my department, guv”.

Two common defects in our present system of government are stopping abuses being prevented in future. The first, I fear, is a culture of siloed departments: “We can’t deal with this or that because it’s someone else’s brief, someone else’s department”. Too often, there is a reluctance or failure to collaborate across departments to pass on and follow-up a problem which arises, or there is a change of Minister so that the problem falls—as this one has done over and over again down the years—into a black hole of inaction between them. It was therefore encouraging that the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, also attended the meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. The second is the shortage—not an absence but certainly a shortage—of Ministers who, when those in their department say “We can’t do it” say to them: “This is a real problem. I want to find a solution. Please go away and come back with a way in which we can do it.”

The Minister was very helpful in our meeting, which enabled us to focus on the direction of some possible solutions. What we now need from him, if he cannot change his mind about the admissibility of the amendment in this legislation, is a commitment that the issue will at least receive urgent attention across departments and, after so long be treated as a priority. In this of all weeks, it is worth perhaps saying that people in mental turmoil who need help will, we hope, go searching for it. Failure to guide them to genuine help from properly registered practitioners is allowing some to fall into unscrupulous and dangerous hands. I do hope that the Minister will give us the assurance we need tonight.

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I too speak this evening in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I apologise that I was unable to speak in Committee but I have read that debate, including the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Jolly, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I agree with all that they said.

I developed an interest in this subject because I personally knew two families where young adult, female family members were, might I say, captured by what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has called a charlatan counsellor—with prolonged, distressing and tragic consequences for the families and individuals in question. But as he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, have reminded us this evening, this issue is much more widespread: so much so that, as the House has heard, France, Belgium and Luxembourg have legislated against this behaviour.

At this late hour, I do not propose to repeat the arguments compellingly put both this evening and in Committee in favour of similar legislation being enacted here. My understanding is that the Government, as they have said before, may be sympathetic in general but, as several speakers this evening have intimated, too often one gets the timeworn mantra from the Government that this is not the right time and not the right Bill. I remember this particularly being said several years ago in relation to the Leveson Section 40 point.

My question to the Minister this evening is the same as that put by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and other noble Lords. If that is the Government’s position, when will be the right time to legislate against these reprehensible practices by charlatan counsellors who cause so much distress to so many families? In closing, I respectfully suggest that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, government inaction on this issue has already dragged on unacceptably long.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I thank all Members who have taken part. The proposed new clause in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, both of whom have spoken very forcefully, would create an offence of:

“Controlling or coercive behaviour by persons providing psychotherapy or counselling services”

in a person’s home.

We have heard that my noble friend Lord Alderdice, himself a psychiatrist, has long taken an interest in this issue, even tabling a Private Member’s Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff—another doctor—the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, have made excellent cases for outlawing these charlatans. I thank them all for their robust and informed support.

Some time ago, I was approached by someone whose child in their 20s had their life ruined by an unregistered and untrained counsellor. Both the behaviour of and treatment by this charlatan were coercive and turned the child completely against their family. This is not something that many families talk about at length, but after hearing the dinner hour debate in the House some time ago, when my noble friend Lord Marks and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, both spoke, a significant number of people approached me and provided the evidence that convinced us that this is an issue that deserves attention from government.

What is done by these bogus counsellors is lawful but also amoral, unethical and without shame. I ask the Minister to support the proposed new clause. Without it, charlatans posing as professionals will be able to ruin yet more families and more young, vulnerable lives.