All 5 Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

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Tue 5th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 25th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Wed 27th Jan 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 3rd Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
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Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 8th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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Many noble Lords in this excellent debate have referred to the change in culture and public debate around the issue of domestic abuse over the decades. I can vividly recall, as a young newly elected councillor in Stirling in the 1980s, the heated debate across all political groupings in the council about the funding of the first refuge in Stirling at that time. I recall the fear in the community at the prospect of “battered wives”—a phrase used earlier in the debate—living next door to families in a particular part of the town.

I am so glad that we have moved so far from that time; it has taken us a long time to get here, but we have definitely come a long way in our understanding of domestic abuse—its scale and the impact and nature of psychological abuse alongside physical abuse. Our understanding today of the impact on children in particular is much deeper and broader than it ever was then. It is not just the debate that has changed; our understanding has changed for the better.

There have been some fantastic contributions to our debate this afternoon and evening, and, in particular, I want to record the excellent contributions of the Minister and my noble friend Lord Rosser that started our debate, setting out the issues and commitments that have been made. I strongly welcome this Bill and I look forward to the debates on many issues; dozens of them seem to have been raised in the debate, and I am sure they will take up a lot of time in Committee and on Report in the weeks ahead.

Today, as the new lockdown starts, let us take a moment to reflect on the possibility that, somewhere in the UK, a brave woman who took a decision to break up a relationship that had been abusive and perhaps was particularly so during the first lockdown, is sitting with three kids and a mobile phone, facing the prospect of online home schooling for up to six months, potentially, as the Prime Minister stated earlier this evening. We should think for a moment about the immediate impact of these decisions around lockdown on the most vulnerable people in our society, and about the lack of preparation for the families and children that are affected by school closures. It breaks my heart to think about what they will go through in the weeks to come. When we pass this legislation in due course, with great cheers, we must also deal with the immediate impact of government decisions on individual families and children.

I will strongly support moves to include community-based services in definitions, and, in particular, I will support amendments on threats to expose explicit images online. I also hope that, in the debates, we can learn from the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018: there are positive and negative experiences from it that I am sure we can refer to in the debates to come.

I will ask the Minister specifically to address one point in summing up this evening. We have lost the protection of the European protection orders as a result of the reclaiming of UK sovereignty in recent days, but an issue about cross-border co-operation that was often spoken of by those involved in supporting victims of domestic abuse in Scotland was that securing justice co-operation across the European Union was, at times, easier than securing it across the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. I wonder whether there is perhaps an opportunity, in the absence of our engagement with the European protection order from now on, to look at how we can put in place UK protection orders or some other form of formal co-operation that would make it much easier for the different jurisdictions in the UK to support those who have taken the brave decision to flee for their freedom, and also to ensure that those who have decided to flee from justice can be caught and prosecuted.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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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.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale 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
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Baroness Garden of Frognal Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Garden of Frognal) (LD)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has withdrawn so I now call the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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I do not intend to repeat any of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Hunt in his very powerful and fascinating introduction. I hope that he has, at the very least, sparked off a debate that will continue. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response. I do not think that it would be fair to describe either that introduction or the actual content of the amendments as cavalier, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, did. I absolutely sympathise with being cautious in the use of data and careful with civil liberties. But if we read the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Hunt and others, to describe them as cavalier is a bit of an exaggeration. I hope that the Minister will respond positively on the issue. We will see where the debate goes next.

I will speak to Amendment 62, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, which is particularly important. In Clause 22, which it seeks to amend, there is a perfectly reasonable list of matters to be considered by a police officer when considering a domestic abuse protection notice. Adding

“the previous criminal history of P”,

who is the person under consideration, to that list would make an incredible amount of common sense, as well as having real, practical impact on the day-to-day work of police officers. It would also be particularly reassuring for victims, who obviously might have an opinion; Clause 22 outlines anyway that their opinion should be considered. Amendment 62, on previous criminal history, is important.

I add, partly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that this amendment does not suggest that past accusations made against somebody would automatically override other considerations or be disclosed publicly. What it suggests is that their previous criminal history might well be relevant in the determination of such a notice. That is indisputable; we know all the background, history and data on how often people reoffend in this area. We know an awful lot about the psychology involved in domestic abuse. It would a barrier to good decision-making and active prevention if police officers were not able to take into account previous criminal history. I strongly support Amendment 62 and look forward to hearing what the Minister says about the earlier amendments.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Rosser for so comprehensively outlining the purpose behind Amendment 121 and the very strong case for it. I also thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for his clear explanation.

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

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

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

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

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale Portrait Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity, having listened to a very interesting debate. At Second Reading I raised the issue of cross-border co-ordination within the United Kingdom—at that time, particularly in connection with European protection orders and how to ensure that an appropriate system would be in place within the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. It strikes me that it is also an ongoing issue with those that flee across one of the internal borders of the United Kingdom and then seek housing. I would be grateful for any reflections that the Minister might have on what implications these amendments—or their rejection, as she is recommending—would have for women who have flown across borders, and for the internal arrangements that are in place between the local authorities of the whole United Kingdom, not just England.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Clearly, this Bill does not extend to the jurisdiction in Scotland, but I absolutely understand the point that the noble Lord is making. I will write to him with any updates on that because, of course, a woman should not be prohibited or stopped from receiving support just because she has crossed a border. I will write to him further on that and I thank him for raising the issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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