Neil Coyle contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

Tue 28th April 2020 Domestic Abuse Bill (Commons Chamber)
2nd reading: House of Commons
3 interactions (941 words)

Domestic Abuse Bill

(2nd reading: House of Commons)
Neil Coyle Excerpts
Tuesday 28th April 2020

(3 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Ministry of Justice
Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)[V] - Hansard
28 Apr 2020, 12:09 a.m.

It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate—arguably for the second time, having contributed back in October. What has been really interesting today is the quality of contributions from both returning and new Members. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), who made a very powerful maiden speech, albeit in interesting circumstances. I reassure other Members that, although she sits on the Women and Equalities Committee that I now Chair, I have at no time found her to be remotely difficult.

I thank the Lord Chancellor for his opening comments. I would like to pay tribute in particular to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), the Minister with responsibility for safeguarding, who will close the debate this evening. She has proven to be a doughty champion of the Bill on the various occasions it has come back before us. She has also taken time, during the intervening months, to speak to various Members, including me, about the difficulties and challenges in bringing into legislation amendments or parts of the Bill that would tackle the cases that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) highlighted so eloquently. I remember sitting behind him in October when he spoke of Natalie Connolly. What is tragic and sad about that case, although horrific and dreadful, is that it is not unique. We will see more individuals who are perpetrators of domestic violence trying to run that sort of defence. We have to find a way to stop that. I am certainly committed to working with my hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) in that regard.

We know that domestic abuse can affect anyone: both genders, people who are able-bodied and disabled, and all ethnicities. It is no respecter of socioeconomic background. What we do know is that it impacts some more than others. LGBTQ people are twice as likely as the rest of the population to suffer from domestic abuse. We heard earlier about the impact of domestic abuse on people with disabilities, perhaps particularly those with sight impairments. Those are all issues that have been raised with Members by various charities over the course of the past few days. We all know that it is no respecter of age. I urge Ministers to look again at how they can include in their statistics victims of domestic abuse who are over 74. We know that the National Crime Survey does not pick up on that. Tragically, over the course of the past few weeks we have seen more pensioners who have been impacted. That is absolutely horrific and we have to find ways to include that in the Bill. There is a great deal to be done in Committee. I urge all Members who have the opportunity to serve on the Bill Committee to ensure that the changes that some of us wish to see can be reflected in it.

We debate the Bill at the time of pandemic, when there is even more pressure on individuals, relationships and families. I wonder whether the Minister, in her closing comments, might reflect on the increase we have already seen in referrals to domestic abuse helplines, both online and telephone. When locked down with the perpetrator of domestic abuse, it is much harder for women to report those crimes. I ask her to reflect on what we might see when the pressure cooker valve is released and whether we will see yet more people reporting.

I want to conclude by speaking about the issue I raised on Second Reading part one, which is that of migrant women. I vividly remember sitting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), in his time as a Justice Minister, alongside Southall Black Sisters and other groups representing migrant women. We know that people will use finances and physical strength—they will use any means they can to control people. Sadly, they will also use immigration status and passports. They will seize their victim’s documentation and keep it from them so that they cannot assert their right to be in the UK legally. It is crucial, as all the Ministers in that meeting said, that we see people first as victims and not through the prism of their immigration status.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has a track record of standing up to those who seek to use power, influence and status to belittle and bully others. I reassure victims that they have a doughty champion in this Minister.

Neil Coyle Portrait Neil Coyle (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab) - Hansard

Madam Deputy Speaker, may I add my gratitude to you, the Speaker’s team and everyone in this place who is ensuring that we can continue to scrutinise the Government in these unique and challenging times?

I thank the Government for bringing this legislation back at this difficult time. It is good to see such broad cross-party agreement on this issue. I congratulate the new shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), and his Front-Bench team for their leadership, their constructive engagement and their early involvement on this issue.

On a personal note, may I say how wonderful it is to see my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) on the Front Bench? Her formal role on the Bill and her participation from the Labour Front Bench are long overdue. Her all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and abuse worked with the APPG on ending homelessness, which I co-chair, on the “A Safe Home” campaign, which is backed by Crisis, Women’s Aid, SafeLives and many more organisations and individuals. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) indicated, the campaign also has cross-party support.

Sadly, there is a huge overlap between domestic abuse and homelessness. Last year, almost 24,000 families who were homeless or on the brink of homelessness had experienced or were at risk of domestic abuse. “A Safe Home” seeks to ensure that the Bill enables everyone who is homeless because they are fleeing domestic abuse to have access to a safe permanent home.

That was necessary before the virus struck; the most recent Office for National Statistics figures show that the number of women murdered in the UK increased to 214 in the 12 months to March 2019, including a rising number killed at the hands of their partner or former partner. It is even more crucial now we know that the lockdown has brought with it a rise in attacks. Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline has seen a 49% increase in daily calls and a quadrupling of web traffic.

Sadly, for some, the threat is fatal. The Counting Dead Women project estimates that 14 women were killed during the first three weeks of the lockdown. “Stay home, stay safe” is not true for everyone. I hope Ministers will ensure that safe long-term accommodation is guaranteed, to give women a better chance of escape without fear of ending up homeless.

Currently, anyone fleeing domestic abuse must prove that they are significantly more vulnerable than anyone else to be guaranteed help from councils for a permanent home. Some local authorities use that as a gatekeeping tool. Awful examples include women being told to go and get a letter from their abuser to prove they have been abused. Research last year for the APPG on ending homelessness revealed that almost 2,000 people were unable to meet the vulnerability threshold in England alone. Those are women who were not provided with a safe home after initial help in refuges—women left facing homelessness or a return to an abusive relationship. The Bill must end that fatalistic situation.

Helping those 2,000 people would not be a huge commitment for the Government. My council, the London Borough of Southwark, is already adopting that measure. Although I hope the Government follow where Southwark leads, this issue should not be dependent on leadership in any one postcode, borough, town or city. Ministers have the chance to address this issue nationally through the Bill, and they must rise to the challenge.

When Ministers announced the statutory duty on local authorities to provide temporary accommodation-based support last year, it was welcomed across the House and the country. An extension to an automatic guarantee of safe long-term housing would be similarly welcomed and is just as essential. I also hope Ministers recognise that the Bill needs to extend the statutory duty on local authorities so that it covers not just accommodation but all the specialist support necessary to rebuild lives.

Nearly 70% of survivors access other services that are provided in the community, including independent domestic violence and abuse advisers, counselling, and young people’s and children’s workers. Children who have experienced domestic abuse should be able to access counselling and support, but that is not currently covered by the Government duty and is poorly delivered at local level. A full statutory duty and resources are required to commission the full range of specialist domestic abuse services that are needed, and the Bill is the right vehicle to provide that.

The current crisis has made the issue far more acute, but there was already insufficient funding in the system. Two thirds of the people referred to refuges in 2018-19 were turned away. With more people at risk during this lockdown and after it ends, the Government must act now to provide sufficient sustained funding in the longer term. I hope to join the Bill Committee to raise those and other issues in more detail for all the organisations working on the frontline. Those issues include splitting universal credit payments to prevent economic abuse; ending no recourse to public funds restrictions on essential support for women and children currently denied help—shamefully—in this country; introducing a gendered definition, given the higher prevalence of women experiencing abuse; fully ending cross-examination in courts; criminalising the use of threats to share naked or sexual images in order to abuse or control someone; and the proper enforcement and monitoring of non-molestation protection orders, which is far too patchy currently, and which I hope Ministers will act on, given the heightened risk now, more than ever, in lockdown Britain. I hope to see progress on all those issues as the Bill makes progress and look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard

We can now return to Christian Wakeford, but via audio only.