All 5 Lord Harries of Pentregarth contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

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Tue 5th Jan 2021
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Mon 25th Jan 2021
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Wed 3rd Feb 2021
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Mon 8th Feb 2021
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Mon 8th Mar 2021
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Tuesday 5th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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Over the last 20 years, there has been a vast increase in awareness of the seriousness and extent of domestic abuse. The Bill is a welcome response to it. It is serious, as we have heard: 2.4 million adults experienced abuse in 2019—twice as many women as men. The 24% increase in recorded crimes of domestic abuse in the same period, to nearly 750,000, as well as showing an increase in the number of incidents, may indicate a growing awareness of them and, therefore, a willingness of people to report them. That is good as an indicator of heightened awareness. If we are sometimes inclined to lament the ragged moral fabric of our society, we can be grateful that, on this issue at least, we are slightly more morally sensitive and aware than some previous generations.

This is a fundamentally good Bill and, rightly, has all-party support. The question is whether other forms of abuse are not covered by it so far. We have heard of a good number, but I want to mention briefly just two, as a number of your Lordships also have.

One is continuing economic abuse, even when a couple has separated. As one survivor put it: “He cannot physically get at me. He cannot emotionally hurt me, yet still, economically, he can cripple me”. Economic abuse is a major factor in most abuse cases and is experienced by 95% of abused women. Some 60% are left in debt. Economic abuse is almost always linked with other forms of abuse, including physical safety.

Significant as these figures are, the key one, as far as a possible amendment to the Bill is concerned, is that one in four women continue to experience economic abuse even when they have left the abuser. This is a shocking figure and there needs to be a clear legal remedy. Economic abuse does not require physical proximity; it continues and/or escalates after a couple separates. It can also begin after the separation, when the opportunity to continue other forms of controlling and coercive behaviour has been removed and when the only way left is through access to the former partner’s resources.

The ways in which economic abuse can continue, escalate or even begin as a form of coercive control include spending money from a victim’s personal bank account or from a joint account, running up bills in a victim’s name, prolonging the sale of a joint property, damaging or stealing personal property, interfering with the victim’s employment and their ability to keep their job, refusing to pay child maintenance and continually taking the victim to court, resulting in financial costs. There are all sorts of ways in which economic coercion continues, even after an abused wife or husband has left their partner.

Another form of abuse that I believe we need to look at very carefully is that which the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has spoken about so powerfully before: a separate offence of non-fatal strangulation. After stabbing, strangulation is the second most common cause of death for women as a result of domestic violence. It is a tactic used by perpetrators to terrify victims and send the clear message that, if they wanted, they could easily end the victim’s life. It leaves many women with permanent health problems, and the effect of non-fatal strangulation is thought to be the second most common cause of stroke in women under the age of 40. A Bangor University study found that more than 50% of women subject to domestic violence have suffered strangulation. New Zealand has introduced a stand-alone non-lethal strangulation offence, as have four states in Australia and 27 in America—three-quarters of the total. We have a chance in this Bill to do the same.

This is a very good Bill, but it can be made even better by attention to these and other forms of domestic abuse not covered at the moment and already mentioned by your Lordships.

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Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I support the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, and others. She spoke very powerfully from her own experience, but it is obvious even to those with only limited experience, drawn from those they know are going through divorces, that how a parent speaks of and encourages their children to speak of the partner from whom they are estranged is one of the challenges facing a divorcing couple, if not the major one.

A parent who loves their child wants not only to keep their child’s love; in return, they want that child to think and speak well of them. There must be a severe temptation, even for the most altruistic parent, if they believe their partner has terrible faults, to draw these to the attention of their children. Thank goodness there are very many divorcing couples who resist that temptation. They want good parenting to continue after the divorce by both parents; whatever they feel, they try not to let this influence their child in their relations with the other parent. However, the temptation to speak negatively about the estranged partner to their children must be severe in some cases, and sadly some actively encourage hostility. We know that a child’s expressed wishes can sometimes be the result of indoctrination by one parent against the other to sever the child’s relationship with the targeted parent.

I have read the evidence of Women’s Aid and listened very carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. They have worries about these amendments. They are properly concerned that such amendments, if passed, might result in allegations of child abuse not being taken as seriously as they should, and clearly that argument needs to be weighed with due seriousness during the passage of this Bill. However, it seems to me that what is put forward in Amendments 2 and 4 does not in any way depend on evidence that something is discredited, but on a realistic recognition of how embattled couples too often operate. I believe that, difficult though it is, specialists in child abuse, who could be called into court if necessary, would be able to distinguish this from a situation where one parent is clearly using their child as a weapon. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has said, if the judges are given adequate training, they too would be able, in their wisdom and experience, clearly to distinguish the one from the other.

We need a clear marker in law that some ways of alienating children from the other parent are totally unacceptable and need to be shown to be clearly illegal. I believe this is best seen not as a form of child abuse but as an aspect of domestic abuse. There may be child abuse in some cases, but this does not take away from the fact that some parents, while not guilty of abuse, alienate their children from the other parent.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I warmly congratulate the Government on this Bill, particularly the recognition that children are also victims of domestic abuse when witnessing abuse, often between parents. I support Amendment 2, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, and her supporters, and Amendment 4, to which I have added my name.

In briefings from some quarters, there is disagreement on the inclusion of parental alienation in this Bill. It is argued that this is because there is as yet no clear definition of the term. The issues have been very ably outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. However, I believe that a lack of definition merely means we are in the process of making much greater—[Inaudible.]

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Wednesday 3rd February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, the Committee has heard some extremely powerful and focused speeches this evening. I add my voice to those commending the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the signatories of these amendments, and give my support to Amendment 137. Given what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has just said, I hope that the online harms Bill will deal with social media outlets that perpetrate the kind of messages that he enunciated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and all those who have spoken, have done so with clarity and unusual brevity for the hybrid House; I will try to emulate that. I have two things to say. First, women police officers who have spoken to me are crying out for this focused and clear piece of legislation, as enunciated in Amendment 137. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said, they do not want a tick-box approach. They want to change the relevant form—124D—to be able to obtain the Crown Prosecution Service’s direction to take those who are perpetrating this crime through to a successful criminal prosecution. As has been said so often this evening, this is clearly about domestic abuse.

Secondly, why should this Bill be the vehicle to take this forward? There are two reasons. One is that it is self-evident from everything that has been said, the briefings that have been received and offline discussions, that everyone accepts that this legislation is needed and is needed now. There is no reason whatever to delay until another criminal justice or sentencing Bill which may take its turn after a forthcoming Queen’s Speech, somewhere down the line, where this amendment would have to be moved all over again. We would have to go through all the same campaigning, representations and speeches to gain something that the Government themselves have thankfully conceded is a necessary improvement to the law.

I have one plea for the Minister. He has taken to this House like a duck to water, but there is one lesson that those of us who have been around in politics know all too well: you do not ask your own colleagues in another House to vote down something that they know is eminently sensible and required, in some vain hope that they will forgive you for not having done it as quickly and effectively as possible because someone in the legislative committee of government—it changes its name from time to time—has decided that they do not want to have any further substantive amendments to the Bill. We all know that this would be arrant nonsense: the Minister knows it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has been extremely helpful on this, knows it. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in his erudite speech, indicated that even the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has changed his mind since Second Reading. I am glad if he has, because I was going to refer him to the excellent Second Reading speech by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, about his experiences in 1975.

All of us can coalesce and praise the Government and applaud the campaigners, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for what is tonight a unified approach to dealing with a horrendous crime, which has led to so many deaths and can be stopped from doing so in the future by a single agreement by government Ministers.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I speak briefly in support of Amendments 137 and 138, especially Amendment 137. It has been introduced extremely powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I do not think that any of us would be here at this stage of the evening, late in the Bill, if we were not absolutely convinced of the importance of a stand-alone offence of non-fatal strangulation, and of course the Government also recognise this.

Perhaps we could pause briefly to pay tribute to, first, those victims of domestic violence—particularly those affected by non-fatal strangulation—and their bravery in coming forward, to the campaigning groups that have been willing to take up the issue on their behalf, and to the parliamentarians, both in the other House and in this place, who have been willing to respond to it. In a dark time, it is good to celebrate the fact that something is working in our democracy in this kind of way.

The key issue this evening for the Government to face is not whether there should be such a stand-alone offence—I think everyone is convinced of that now—but whether or not it should be in this Bill. It seems to me that the Minister has to face two real questions put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and also very powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others. First, if 80% of non-fatal strangulations take place in the context of domestic violence, is there any reason at all why it should not be in this Bill? That is where it belongs. Secondly, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and many others as well, the police are crying out for something clear and associated with this Bill, because it will both raise awareness of this terrible form of cruelty and ensure that there is appropriate training in order to help the police to recognise it.

I very much hope that, when the Minister comes to respond, he will be able to look at these two issues in particular and agree that there is a proper place for this in the Bill.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—and other noble Lords, but particularly she—on her determination and her excellent speech in explaining the horrific nature of this crime and its repercussions. Like many noble Lords, I was delighted to receive a letter from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, regarding the Government’s willingness to introduce a new offence of non-fatal strangulation on to the statute book as soon as possible, albeit not within this Bill.

I had thought that the Minister would be at the Dispatch Box this evening, so I am going to put a number of questions to the noble Lord, which I hope he will do his best to answer, although of course he cannot stand in the Minister’s shoes. Can he tell us what the Minister meant by

“a commitment to consider a new offence of non-fatal strangulation”?

Are the Government going to introduce one or are they not? Something a little bit definite would be very much appreciated. Could the noble Lord elaborate on what she meant by making the offence “proportionate”? She spoke of ensuring that more convictions can be achieved, but can he please give any indication of what this might look like?

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Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 149, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for the reasons that she has set out so cogently.

Everyone, including the Government, recognises that post-separation economic abuse exists and is serious. Its full seriousness has been well documented by Surviving Economic Abuse, to whose work I also pay warm tribute. Along with others, I drew attention to this evidence at Second Reading, and it has been very ably set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

It can be summarised very briefly in two points. First, 95% of abused women experience economic abuse, as a result of which 60% of abused women are left in debt. Secondly, one in four abused women continues to experience economic abuse even after they have left their abuser. Economic abuse does not require physical proximity: it continues and/or escalates after a couple separates. It can also begin after the separation, when an abuser’s opportunity to continue other forms of controlling and coercive behaviour has been removed and when the only way left is through access to their former partner’s resources.

Vivid examples of the ways in which economic abuse can continue, escalate or even begin, as a form of coercive control, have been given by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and there is no need to repeat them. In short, as one abused woman put it:

“He can’t physically get me, he can’t emotionally hurt me, and yet still, economically he can cripple me.”


However, despite this overwhelming evidence, the Government have, up to now, resisted having post-separation economic abuse in the Bill, on the grounds that such abuse can be captured by a harassment or stalking order—and this is indeed theoretically possible.

However, if you told someone you happened to meet in the street that this was what was being proposed by the Government, they would find it very strange indeed. Stalking brings to mind something quite different from economic abuse. As SEA has rightly put it:

“Clear labelling is the primary function of the criminal law—clarity is essential in order for the criminal law to fulfil its preventative function.”


If people are asked to abide by the law, they need to be clear what it says. As the person in the street would say, words should mean what they say. As such, it is quite clear that, from the point of view of clarity for public order and the public good, we need to include this in the Bill.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, it is entirely possible that judicial resistance to convicting a defendant of stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act where there is evidence of economic abuse but not of stalking would mean that it simply would not go through. Quite simply, we should call things by their proper name. I very much hope that the Government continue to reflect on this issue and that they will see that it makes total sense to include this amendment in the Bill, where it properly belongs.

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Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
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Although I have the deepest sympathy for those who have suffered this unjust behaviour from the other spousal partner, I do not believe that the amendment, for all its good intentions, should be part of the Bill or should be set in primary legislation. It is telling the judges to do what they do already and will not change the situations on the ground. I do not believe the moral or psychological effect of primary legislation will have any effect on those who behave in such a way, nor help the sufferers of this serious, unfair behaviour. Consequently, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, that the family courts would benefit. On the contrary, it would give them no support at all. I also disagree with the view of Cafcass and, for these reasons, I do not support the amendment.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I was very distressed during Committee on the Bill at the way the House has become so polarised over this amendment. I believe a way can and should be found to do justice to both sides of the argument, for both raise real and serious concerns.

Clearly the term “parental alienation” has become controversial, coming as it does from the United States, where it has been so closely linked with gender politics, so I welcome the rewording of the amendment, where what we are dealing with is clearly defined.

Parental alienation was referred to in earlier debates as a “concept”, or even prefaced, as in the debate this afternoon, sadly, by the qualification “so-called”. But the concept arose on the basis of experience. The fact is that very many people, both men and women, have been alienated from their children as a result of the unacceptable behaviour of their partner or former partner. That it exists I have absolutely no doubt. Do the opponents of this amendment really doubt this?

At the same time, it is clear, particularly from the evidence of Women’s Aid, that some people use the concept of parental alienation to cover up child abuse. I am sure this happens, and I can believe that the greatest number of perpetrators are men.

So we are dealing with two realities, both of which have to be taken into account. In any given case, the evidence has to be heard and assessed and judgment given. This is what courts are for. This is what Cafcass is for. They know what it is and can recognise it for what it is. They have developed the child impact assessment framework to

“identify how children are experiencing parental separation and to assess the impact of different case factors on them, including parental alienation.”

At the same time, they will be well aware that there are cases where this is a cover for child abuse. This, too, they can recognise for what it is.

These are very difficult decisions. I would not like to have to make them myself. But the point is that there are people who are trained to make such decisions, and the courts use them. So I very much hope that the Government will accept this amendment, or at least, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, suggested, that the wording proposed in the amendment is clearly understood to be an example of coercion, and that this is set out equally clearly in statutory guidance.

Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I have listened carefully to the speech of my noble friend Lady Meyer and to those who support the amendment. I recognise their sincerity and good intentions and their desire to do the right thing for the victims of abuse and, above all, for children. But I am afraid I continue to have very serious concerns about the amendment and the ideas it seeks to introduce into the Bill. I do not think it is required to help those victims whom noble Lords wish to help. In fact, I fear that it will do the opposite; it will empower abusers. I am concerned that, despite the change in language, the amendment still rests on the idea of parental alienation and serves as a means of embedding that concept, so open to misuse as a means of covering up domestic abuse, in law. Parental alienation is a flawed model for addressing the experiences of the parents and children the amendment seeks to help.

I agree that parental behaviour

“deliberately designed to damage the relationship between a child of the parent and the other parent”,

in the words of the amendment, is unacceptable, but the concept of parental alienation is so open to misuse in a way that is deeply harmful to children who are victims of domestic violence that we must be extremely cautious. Its lack of rigorous scientific foundation or clear definition means that it does not in assist in addressing abuse. Rather, it has become a vehicle for minimising and evading legitimate allegations of domestic abuse and child abuse by suggesting that child victims, often suffering serious medical trauma and with valid reasons for resisting contact with the abusive parent, have been manipulated by the so-called alienating parent. In the United States, where the concept originated, when a parent claims alienation, courts are more than twice as likely to disbelieve evidence of any type of abuse and almost four times less likely to believe a protective parent’s claims of child abuse. The result is that children are often forced to live with their abuser and are at risk of serious harm, lifelong trauma and even death.

We do not need this imported into our law. I do not wish to diminish or ignore the experiences of those not feel that their relationships with their children have been undermined and damaged by a protective parent. They are victims too, and we must hear their voices. I am also open to being told that I am wrong, and I have sought additional clarification from experts on domestic abuse. They tell me that this behaviour is an example of coercive control. We already have the legal means to tackle it under existing laws on coercive control. The recognition of children as victims in the Bill should strengthen that, as should the very welcome government amendment on post-separation abuse.

A clause to tackle this behaviour already exists, and there can be no case for us introducing any concepts or amendments which come with so many proven risks to children attached. However, there is a strong case, as I shall argue later in my speech on my amendment on training, for the training of judges. Children must have contact with both parents, but not at any price. We cannot dismiss a child’s voice when they disclose abuse.

Before I close, I believe it is important to make one final point. This is not aimed at anyone in your Lordships’ House, but it is necessary as a matter of basic principle. I think it serves to confirm some of what I have said about the dangers of the concept of parental alienation that the behaviour of some of its proponents is aggressive, bullying and abusive. They attempt to silence anyone who disagrees with them. People who have dared challenge parental alienation have faced vitriolic attacks and regular attempts to undermine their career and even see them sacked from their job. Respected experts have been called fraudulent, corrupt, lying and biased. People who have devoted their career to tackling abuse have been described as child abusers.

We cannot ignore those attacks. Since we began to debate the Bill, they have increased. One person who has faced a great deal of harassment tells me that it has significantly escalated and continued on an almost daily basis since the Bill received its Second Reading in your Lordships’ House.

I have spent most of my career working in foreign policy. I have never witnessed behaviour such as this until I became involved in these debates. Many supporters of parental alienation outside this House seek to use abusive behaviour to silence their critics and, in doing so, they serve only to remind us why we have such serious concerns about this concept and why it is imperative that we do not allow it into our laws.