(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the territorial extent of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and the consequences of this for victims of violence across the UK.
The landmark draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which we published last week, will help to transform the response to these horrific crimes. It is aimed at supporting victims and their families and pursuing offenders, to stop the cycle of violence. The Bill will cement a statutory definition of domestic abuse that extends beyond violence to include emotional, psychological and economic abuse. The Bill does not create new criminal offences in relation to domestic abuse, because those offences are already settled law—for example, section 18 grievous bodily harm, coercive and controlling behaviour and even, in the saddest of cases, murder—and are all devolved.
In line with existing criminal law, the provisions of the draft Bill extend to England and Wales only. Contrary to the suggestion in the hon. Lady’s question, there has been no change in the territorial application of the Bill compared with the proposals in the Government’s consultation published last spring. That was made clear in the consultation paper and reflects the fact that the subject matter of the draft Bill is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
We are currently in discussion with the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Department of Justice about whether they wish to extend any of the Bill’s provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively. We are seeking to establish a Joint Committee of both Houses as soon as practicable to undertake pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, and I encourage the hon. Lady and all Members to contribute to that process.
Domestic abuse affects communities in every nation in the UK, yet last week, after two and a half years of waiting, the Government published a draft Bill that restricts action to only England and Wales. I am asking this question not to debate the nature of devolution, but to ask why this Bill has been restricted when what was promised from the outset was very different.
The original consultation recognised that
“Insecure immigration status may also impact on a victim’s decision to seek help.”
We know that migrant women are much less likely to seek help because they fear deportation. Some may point to other immigration legislation going through this place, but that does not include anything on this issue either. This Bill would have been the vehicle for helping those victims, as immigration is not a devolved matter.
The then Home Secretary, who is now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has rightly recognised that financial destitution can hold women in abusive relationships. This Bill contains much to be welcomed regarding action in the courts and an independent commissioner, but because it is restricted, it does not address critical areas of policy. Why, after two and a half years, would the Government do this?
The Sunday Times provided the answer this weekend, with confirmation that the Bill had been vetted by the Cabinet Office and that the Government feared making the Bill UK-wide because of the Democratic Unionist party. Why? Because this Bill is also about implementing the convention on violence against women—a convention the United Nations has said that we are breaching right now, because citizens in Northern Ireland are denied the right to choose not to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
Today, a brave young woman aged just 28, Sarah Ewart, is taking our Government to court to vindicate her human rights. She suffered a fatal foetal abnormality but, as a resident of Northern Ireland, was denied the right to an abortion at home, so she had to travel to England, as 28 women a week currently do. Last June, the Supreme Court told the Government that this situation breached the rights of UK women, but because of a technicality, it could not compel them to act.
This Bill from the outset could have been the remedy, but this weekend’s revelations show that the Government have drafted the Bill with a mind not to the victims of domestic violence but to their partners in the coalition. The Bill talks about domestic abuse protection orders, which are supposed to have effect across the whole of the UK, yet there is no clarity, given the restricted scope, on how the Government intend to compel Scotland or Northern Ireland to act on them. Given that the original consultation talked of working with the Northern Ireland Executive, these problems are clearly of the Government’s own making and a direct response to the call for equal rights for the women of Northern Ireland.
Given this mess, can the Minister confirm at which of the DUP co-ordination committees this decision was taken? It is not minuted in the notes of those meetings from July 2017 to Christmas 2018. The power to veto legislation affecting all of the UK is not in the confidence and supply agreement, which I note was updated on 19 December, so can the Minister explain how the decision to restrict the Bill for this purpose was made? What implications does it have for the role of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who has direct responsibility for upholding the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland? Can the Minister explain why migrant women and those on low incomes in abusive relationships should pay such a price?
Can the Minister stop hiding behind devolution and say sorry to Sarah Ewart for making her relive the trauma of what happened to her, just because the Government need the 10 votes of the DUP to stay in power? We saw that last night, and I have no doubt that we will see it again, but this Bill shows the human consequences for women across the UK of the confidence and supply arrangement.
I know that Members across the House want to see action on domestic violence, and these restrictions will trouble women only our in constituencies but across the whole UK. Given that this is a draft Bill, will the Minister commit to going back to the drawing board and coming up with a Bill that helps to protect every victim across the UK? I ask the Minister to fight us fair and square on abortion rights in this place, not through backroom deals and bargaining. Otherwise, it will take a rape victim having to come to court to make the Government do the right thing and not block this change. Put DV, not the DUP, first.
Home should be a place of safety and love, and yet for 2 million people in this country a year, that is not the case. That is why we are introducing this unprecedented Bill, to try to help the victims of domestic abuse.
The hon. Lady rightly highlighted the fact that the Bill applies only to England and Wales at the moment. I set out the reason for that in my initial statement: the raft of offences that would support prosecutions of domestic abuse, including section 18 GBH and coercive and controlling behaviour, are devolved.
We have not rested on our laurels. I have written to the Scottish Government and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice to ask whether they will replicate this legislation in their own territories. I am delighted to say that the Scottish Government are looking at their own measures. I am sure that Scottish National party Members will have their own thoughts on devolved matters and the UK Parliament respecting that.
I must bring the hon. Lady back to the central subject of the Bill. This is about tackling domestic abuse, which I know she and many Members across the House feel strongly about. We must focus on the Bill. Let us not throw taunts across the Floor of the House. Let us work together to ensure that the Bill is in a good state when it is introduced formally. She asked about scrutiny of the Bill. We have said from the very beginning that this is a draft piece of legislation that will be scrutinised by a Joint Committee of both Houses. We anticipate that taking about 12 weeks, and once the Committee has produced its recommendations, we will look at those carefully before introducing the Bill.
Whatever the hon. Lady may have read on Sunday, I urge her not to believe everything she reads in the papers. We have to remember the people whom we are trying to help through the Bill. I have been delighted at the cross-party consensus on the Bill. Let us work together to stop this cycle of violence and help the victims of domestic abuse.
I highly commend the Minister and the Government for this very good Bill, but I very much share the concerns of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). I am gravely concerned that this is, in effect, a way of stopping what should be happening: a fundamental reform of the laws in Northern Ireland so that women in Northern Ireland have exactly the same rights as women in my constituency. Forgive me, Mr Speaker, for asking the Minister this, but I genuinely do not know the answer: are there any civil remedies in this Bill? If there are, I am afraid that the Minister’s response falls absolutely flat, because civil remedies are relevant across all the UK— [Interruption.] Apart from in Scotland—and therefore the scope of this Bill immediately needs to be changed.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that issue. I know how passionately she has worked to help the victims of domestic abuse, not only in this place, but in her previous career. I note her concerns and she knows that I, too, have my concerns, although those are not for today. I am sure she will join me in urging all those people who can make a difference in Northern Ireland to get around the table so that they can represent people and deal with this in the devolved Administration. On civil remedies, we have sought to consolidate the range of orders that are in existence at the moment, which can be very confusing, not only for victims, but for professionals involved in safeguarding victims. We are seeking to consolidate the range of orders available to protect victims in domestic abuse protection orders. They apply across the courts—family, civil and criminal courts. My understanding does not accord with hers, but I am happy to take that issue away.
As a Welsh MP, I have every confidence that the Welsh Labour Government are working towards delivering an excellent strategy on support for victims of domestic violence—I have no doubt that the same is true in Scotland. I totally respect the concept of devolution—when it works. But with the absence of Stormont, victims in Northern Ireland will see the progress in other parts of the UK only as further evidence of where they are falling behind in the support services and legislation available to them. We already know that in Northern Ireland they have no coercive control law and no stalking law, and the current controversy over the legality of abortion rumbles on. We need the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to take firmer action so that we can see a return to devolved government.
The good people of Northern Ireland deserve the same rights as everybody else in the UK, and currently they are not getting that. They are not protected by a devolved Government because of Stormont’s suspension. Even in today’s Northern Ireland questions we have been calling for the return of devolved institutions. We believe that support and services for victims of domestic violence in Northern Ireland are best made in Northern Ireland, but after two years of no Government the situation is stagnant. The people of Northern Ireland are suffering the effects of this political hiatus, none more so that the victims of domestic violence, as their voices reverberate in an echo chamber. I know that no MP in this place would believe that policies and strategies that support our constituents should not be afforded to the people of Northern Ireland, with one of the most notable issues being that of abortion. Human rights issues are not devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive and, as such, issues around women’s reproductive health are the responsibility of this Home Secretary and other relevant Ministers. Decisions on the provision of public services, legislation and support for the people of Northern Ireland need to be reached urgently. If there is no likelihood of Stormont reconvening very shortly, this Government need to take responsibility to protect and support victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.
As always, I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady. Indeed, I should call her my hon. Friend, as she and I are agreeing furiously on the hope and aspiration that those who can make a difference and express the wishes of the residents of Northern Ireland—I hope we can all accept that they may not agree with our individual viewpoints on issues such as abortion, but that is why that topic is devolved—will get back round the table to sort this issue, as well as many others. I am sure we all encourage them in that, as I know she does. I gently remind colleagues again that this is about domestic abuse. Although, sadly, some abortions may be as a result of an intimate abusive relationship, not all abortions fall into that category, and I am keen that we try to focus on the victims of domestic abuse in this Bill and our scrutiny of this Bill, because they are the people we really are trying to help with the passing of this piece of legislation.
Let us call this out for what it is: part of an orchestrated campaign to alter abortion laws in Northern Ireland and here, and to replace those laws with extreme proposals for which there is no public appetite whatsoever. Does the Minister agree that it is highly inappropriate for such campaigners to hijack the Domestic Abuse Bill in this way, undermining a Bill to support victims of domestic abuse and their families? Does she agree that it is equally inappropriate to interfere in a devolved matter, one that has been devolved for almost 100 years, and set a dangerous constitutional precedent—a precedent of interference that would undermine the Good Friday agreement itself?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She demonstrates the range and depth of views, and the passion with which they are held, across the House on this topic of abortion. I am grateful to her for reminding us that this Bill is, as it says in the title, a draft Domestic Abuse Bill. I very much note her observations about the political structure in Northern Ireland. Again, I am not sure that this urgent question is the forum in which any changes to that are going to happen. I am grateful to her for her question, which underlines that we have to keep in mind the subject matter of this Bill; we are trying to tackle domestic abuse here.
The situation in Northern Ireland as regards women’s rights, particularly on abortion, is deplorable and requires addressing. However, this Bill could never have been UK-wide, because civil and criminal justice are devolved to Scotland. Indeed, last year Scotland passed its own Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which has already significantly strengthened statutory definitions and protections in respect of domestic violence, for example, by recognising the offence of coercive control.
There is much to be welcomed in the UK Government’s Bill, but I am pleased to hear that they are putting it through pre-legislative scrutiny, which we hope signifies that they are willing to listen to genuine concerns from Members from across the House. There are some UK-wide issues that this Government could and should legislate on. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) has led the campaign calling for default separate payments in universal credit, to protect the victims of domestic abuse from financial coercion. Scottish National party Members were dismayed that that was dismissed out of hand by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Will the Minister speak to her counterpart at the Department for Work and Pensions so as to urgently introduce default separate payments or at least to create provision for the Scottish Government to do that, because of course that is one of the many aspects of welfare powers that are not yet devolved?
As has been mentioned by others, the insecure immigration status of women who are victims of domestic violence also needs addressing. I want to know what the Minister is doing to extend the eligibility of the destitute domestic violence concession, so that it supports more migrant women. More generally, what discussions will she have with her counterparts to support migrant women, throughout the UK, who are victims of domestic abuse?
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for her astute and concise analysis of the legal position. May I put on the record the UK Government’s thanks to the Scottish Government for the work they do with us on this and other associated crimes, such as stalking and harassment?
The hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right. I hope the House realises that we are being very open and transparent about the process for this Bill. It is a draft Bill specifically so that there can be a Joint Committee of both Houses—I think it is fair to say that this is an unusual level of scrutiny for the House—to look at the detail of the Bill and see whether improvements can be made.
On the specific issue of universal credit, I very much know about the issues that have been raised on these Benches. There is already a range of special provisions for victims of domestic abuse—for example, temporary accommodation, easements, same-day advances and signposting to expert support. However, I welcome the recent measures introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding payments to the primary carer.
We will continue to work on this together, but I would make this observation. Those of us who take a particular interest in this subject all know that economic abuse, like all forms of domestic abuse, has no regard to income levels, job status or whatever. We must make sure that our answers are right not just for those on low incomes, but for women who do not need to have recourse to the welfare system.
I echo the words of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), in agreeing that there is a democratic deficit in Northern Ireland at the moment. In Northern Ireland questions this morning, we heard that there is currently no mental capacity legislation in Northern Ireland. In our Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, we have heard that it is still working to statements, rather than to education, health and care plans. The suicide strategy is sitting there but cannot be implemented, and we have the issue of equal marriage. This is much bigger than the Bill, and just to change the Bill to deal with one issue undervalues the role of devolution. The priority must be to get the Assembly back and functioning in Northern Ireland and dealing with all the inequality issues that are so important to the people in all communities.
Very much so. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for setting out the political complexities of this, but also the impacts on people living in Northern Ireland. Again, I am not sure we can solve the issue of devolved politics in Northern Ireland on the Floor of the House during this urgent question. However, we have contacted the permanent secretary who is currently acting in a temporary capacity in relation to Northern Ireland, because we want to see what can be done to help women in Northern Ireland as well as in England and Wales.
I have a great deal of time for the Minister, but what does she really think about how long it is acceptable to use the problem of there being no Assembly in Northern Ireland for this House not to act on the breach of women’s human rights in Northern Ireland, which we have debated at length in this Chamber? I would be interested to know what the Minister has to say about that.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, and I note her campaign on the particular issue of abortion and the decriminalisation of the law regarding abortion. At the risk of overreaching myself, I am not sure it is my place at the Dispatch Box at this time to give an assessment of how long this is taking, other than to say that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and everyone in this Government are very keen and we urge all those parties present in Northern Ireland to get back around the table. There are so many issues that need their attention.
May I ask my hon. Friend to confirm two things? First, is she committed and determined to tackle domestic abuse in all its forms? Secondly, is she determined to improve rights and protections for women across the United Kingdom?
As this Bill passes through pre-legislative scrutiny, but also through this House and the other place, I hope the message will go out to people who are not perhaps as passionate about tackling domestic abuse and those for whom it has not yet become a priority that domestic abuse is not restricted to acts of violence, but can encompass sexual abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour, and economic abuse. Interestingly, since we launched the draft Bill last week, I have been inundated with emails from victims of all different forms of domestic abuse seeking help and thanking me for recognising the hell they are going through. If every Member can help us to inform and educate people about the forms of domestic abuse that in itself will be incredibly powerful in helping victims.
My party, the Democratic Unionist party, recognises the importance of tackling domestic abuse and of supporting victims of domestic violence. However, this is a devolved issue in Northern Ireland, and the need to strengthen the legislation should be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly. If the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) was to amend the Bill to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, this would breach the devolution settlement. The emphasis should be, must be and has to be to restore devolved Government in Northern Ireland. The Government and all Members of this House on both sides of the Chamber should respect the right of the people of Northern Ireland to deal with these matters through their elected Assembly.
The hon. Gentleman of course speaks for his constituency, and I am pleased to hear that he is urging others in Northern Ireland to get back around the table and help to deal with these many issues. As has already been pointed out, however, this is but one of the important issues facing Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole.
May I thank the Minister for this Bill, which I believe will transform the way in which we deal with this horrific crime? It largely impacts on women, although men can of course be impacted by domestic violence as well. I think it is totally despicable that politicians in Northern Ireland have left such a void in this and other areas for two years now. Will the Minister confirm that the devolved powers, which mean that this Bill has to be only for England and Wales, have actually been devolved for many decades?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am particularly grateful to her for pointing out that, although the vast majority of victims are female—indeed, of the 2 million people affected, it is estimated that 1.3 million are female—men can none the less be victims of domestic abuse as well. That is why, through the non-legislative package of measures that sits alongside the Bill, we are also investing in, for example, a specific helpline for male victims. We understand that they face particular stigmas in being a male victim, and they may feel even greater pressure not to seek help.
On the point about the nature of the criminal laws underpinning the prosecution of domestic abuse offences, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act dates back to 1861.
When Ireland was part of the UK.
I call Jess Phillips.
I would just like to point out that in 1861 there was no devolution—the whole of Ireland was part of the UK—so things have somewhat moved on since 1861. Anyway, that was not my question, Mr Speaker; it was just an indulgence.
I am going to ask about domestic abuse. Specifically, why does the Bill in its current form—I accept that it may well change, and I will certainly be seeking to change it—not have any immigration statutory law changes in it to protect migrant women? I know that throughout the consultation there was a very strong push on how this Bill will not help any women unless it helps all women. We have to leave no woman behind, and currently migrant women are left behind by this Bill. If we extend it to cover immigration law, the extent of the Bill will of course be expanded. Would the Minister welcome that?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who needs no introduction in terms of her experience and expertise in this area. On expanding the Bill to alter the immigration status, the view was taken that, although domestic abuse does, of course, affect women who are not British citizens, or who do not have the right to remain, the Bill as a whole must focus on victims, the types of abuse and how we treat abuse.
I very much welcome the hon. Lady’s wish to assist—[Interruption.] I am sorry—I am trying to keep a straight face; the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is gesticulating wildly from a sedentary position. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) knows that I will welcome her contributions during the scrutiny process—indeed, I hope that she will be involved in it.
I note that various provisions are in place to help women who, for example, have come across on a spousal visa, but both the Minister for Immigration and I are very alert to the challenges that those women face, and we are very keen to work with the hon. Lady.
I agree that Northern Ireland must get its political system up and running to tackle these really serious issues. I welcome the draft Bill. It is such an important step in tackling domestic abuse, particularly areas that have not been tackled previously—for example, controlling behaviour towards the elderly. I wonder whether the Minister could put the whole thing in perspective, so that we can really understand how important the Bill is. How many people does she think will be helped by the Bill in all its forms?
I thank my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to draw attention to elder abuse. The number of colleagues and other people who have contacted me since the launch of the draft Bill to tell me their stories of abuse by their children or grandchildren is heartbreaking. Several months ago, the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) called a very important Westminster Hall debate on abuse by children of their parents and grandparents.
It is something that we are keen to uncover and shine a light on, because if a parent is being abused by their child, the stigma and shame that victims unfortunately and wrongly feel is compounded even more, because parents feel that they should be able to control the behaviour of their children. We want to shine a light on that, and say to everyone, whether they are parents, children or grandchildren, “Abuse in your home is not right, and we are here to help.”
The Minister failed to answer the central question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). Who decided to exclude Northern Ireland from the Bill, and was it discussed with the DUP?
As the hon. Lady knows, the process is that any Bill that is introduced has to go through various Government committees to ensure, across Government, given that we have collective responsibility, that it meets with approval. I do not know of any such meetings with the DUP. I will happily take that away, but as far as I am concerned, I looked at the Bill, I have examined it very carefully, and I am afraid that the central point about devolved matters seems to me to apply.
I know that that does not meet with the hon. Lady’s approval, but the fact is that the law is the law, and we have to build a Bill around it. As I say, I have written to the devolved Assembly in Scotland and to the permanent secretary in Northern Ireland, and those communications are ongoing.
The Supreme Court judgment made it absolutely clear that lawmakers would have to change the law to give greater rights to women from Northern Ireland in the circumstances that were discussed. The women who my colleagues and I met and women such as Sarah Ewart should not have to go all the way through a court process to get their rights—it adds insult to injury for them. I ask the Minister, who always listens: if not this law, what law will be introduced by this Parliament, which unlike Northern Ireland is responsible for treaty compliance, to give those rights to women, who deserve them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he works on a wide range of issues tackling violence against women and girls. First, on the case that he referred to—I do not want to be legalistic about this, but he asked me about it specifically—he may recall that the Supreme Court judgment was unable to deliver a full ruling, because the litigant bringing the proceedings was not judged to have locus. I have to say that, because that is the situation.
I obviously must not comment on the specific case that has been referred to in the Chamber and that is going through the court process at the moment, but I return to the point that the Bill is about domestic abuse. We have to focus on the subject matter of the title of the Bill, and any matters in relation to devolved powers are part of a much wider debate across Government.
I welcome, as I am sure others do, the Minister’s obvious passion and commitment to tackling domestic abuse, which I think is the central issue for all of us present. I also believe passionately in devolution, but devolution means to transfer, or delegate, power to another body. That body at the moment does not exist. Devolution does not mean to abrogate responsibility.
Those women are citizens of the United Kingdom, and the United Kingdom Government surely have a responsibility to respect the views expressed by our Supreme Court and the United Nations that the human rights of women in Northern Ireland are not being protected. Does the Minister not agree that that should be the overriding principle, not whether devolution, which is not working at the moment, should be preserved?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind comments. She has perhaps recognised the situation in which we find ourselves, in that these matters have been devolved. I go back to the point that the criminal laws that underpin the prosecution of domestic abuse, and so on, are devolved. As we have heard, that does not have an impact only in relation to domestic abuse; a wide range of measures are affected by the Assembly not yet being able to be convened in Northern Ireland. I am sorry that it will not meet with the hon. Lady’s approval, but the only answer that I can give is yet again to urge those who can make a difference in Northern Ireland to please get back round the table and start talking to each other.
Although I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of financial abuse as a type of domestic abuse, it is not enough to have that simply as words when Government policy is trapping women in financially abusive relationships. Universal credit payments must be automatically split. Charities have said that not having automatically split payments gives a hand to abusers. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) did not quite get a straight answer. Will the Minister recognise the problem, and meet her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to urge that universal credit payments be split?
If I may just correct the hon. Lady, we are not talking about financial abuse; we talk about economic abuse, because we appreciate that abuse can take many forms—for example, preventing access to food cupboards in the kitchen, taking a woman’s mobile phone away, so who she can contact is restricted, and even hiding the car keys, so that she cannot get to work on time in the morning, which puts her employment at risk, with all the ramifications that that can have.
On the point about universal credit, I am in constant dialogue with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is formerly of the Home Office manor. I very much hope that the fact that one of her first announcements was an important one about looking after primary carers gives reassurance and comfort to the House that we are looking at this matter very carefully.
Criminal justice is not yet devolved to Wales, but I draw attention to, and commend, the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015, which came into force in Wales in 2015. The 2018 progress report raises concern about the lack of collaboration and integration between the devolved and non-devolved organisations charged with taking forward the aims of the Act. What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister responsible in the Welsh Government to address that?
I am very concerned to hear that, not least because I visited Cardiff a few months ago, as part of our domestic abuse consultation engagement events, to listen to people who are doing great work in Wales to tackle domestic abuse and to see how we can improve collaboration. I very much take on board what the hon. Lady says. If we need to improve, I hope she knows that I will not rest until that has happened.
I welcome the Minister’s response today. I also welcome the support from the Scottish National party, in particular the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), with regards to women in Northern Ireland. The Minister said that the criminal elements are devolved, but the Supreme Court’s warning from last year is that human rights are not devolved but extended. Is this not a missed opportunity to empower the Minister and the Secretary of State at the Home Office with regard to the human rights of victims of domestic violence and of women in general?
I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s feelings and his reasons for raising that point. At the risk of being legalistic, the Supreme Court judgment was advisory because of the locus. I hope he appreciates that I cannot talk about the case going through the court process at the moment. When that judgment is delivered we will of course look at it very carefully, but I come back to the point that at the moment, on this and on a whole range of issues, domestic abuse is devolved. I gently remind the House, by way of explanation, that the topic of the Bill is domestic abuse and that not every abortion is as a result of domestic abuse.
I would like to start by saying to the Minister that unless she is going to devolve Department for Work and Pensions and UK Visas and Immigration functions, it will be a missed opportunity for the Bill not to tackle the issues those Departments are responsible for, particularly with regards to women in the immigration system and some DWP policies, including the rape clause, which, in the way it is formed, either forces a woman to leave an abusive relationship at a time not of her choosing, which can be extremely dangerous, or denies her support.
I would also like to know a bit more about the recommendations for training DWP staff. I have heard from some organisations that that can be sorely lacking in the advice that is offered to women. I would like to know how exactly that would operate for both England and Scotland.
Lastly, if Mr Speaker will allow, it was announced today that all judges and sheriffs in Scotland will be given specific domestic violence training, particularly around coercive control. Will she consider doing something similar for all judges in the English court system, too?
I think the hon. Lady can be satisfied that she has provided comprehensive coverage of her concerns, to which, doubtless, there will be an equally comprehensive response from the Minister on the Treasury Bench.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. First, I thank the hon. Lady for pointing to the fact that the draft Bill, important though it is, is not the only action the Government are taking to tackle domestic abuse. Indeed, there are some 120 commitments that sit alongside the Bill. She mentioned training. That is a crucial part of our package, not just for DWP or jobcentre workers but across what I would call the frontline, for example housing association officers, police officers and the judiciary. The judiciary in England and Wales already receive training, which we keep under review. I should also say that we are looking at the offence of coercive control and behaviour. It has been in force for three years, but we appreciate that it can be a very difficult offence to investigate and prosecute. We are reviewing it to ensure that it is as effective as possible. On the DWP more generally, I am in conversation with my counterparts there. We want a wraparound approach, which is why the announcement by the Secretary of State was so significant.
Like many Members from across this place, I am very enthusiastic about the Bill and the potential for making a real difference in our communities. That is why it is so disappointing that we are not even at the first hurdle and we are already divided. I have worked very constructively with the Minister on a number of issues, so it gives me no pleasure to ask this question but I feel that I must. When the decision was made to not put things in the Bill such as migration and welfare, therefore allowing the Government to restrict their territorial scope to just England and Wales, was it based on the best interests of women in the United Kingdom or was it a narrow political judgment?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, I find myself being held to account by him in pretty much all of my portfolio. On the territory of the Bill, I draw the attention of hon. Members to the consultation that was launched last year. At that point, the consultation’s scope was England and Wales. I would not want hon. Members to leave the Chamber thinking there has been some kind of handbrake turn in relation to the territorial decisions made for the Bill. The fact is that this is a devolved matter. That is why I have written to the devolved Government in Scotland and our Northern Irish counterparts to see if we can reach an agreement on whether they want to implement the measures too. I hope he understands that my motivation all along has been to help the victims of domestic abuse not just today, or for the victims I could not help when I was prosecuting in the criminal courts 15 years ago because none of these measures were anywhere near coming into being, but the victims in the future. We all know the impact domestic abuse can have on children growing up in abusive households and we need to break that cycle of violence.
Earlier, an hon. Member said that there were no devolved institutions in Ireland in 1861. Of course, in 1840, under Daniel O’Connell, the first home rule movement commenced and in 1861 the second movement was well under way, leading to devolution and the creation of two Parliaments in Ireland. I think it is important to have that on the record.
It is unfortunate that some Members have tried to conflate a very important domestic abuse Bill here in England and Wales, which we will support, with what is happening in a very confusing situation in Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that that confusion means we have a strange arrangement whereby at one moment in this Parliament some Members talk about protecting absolutely the integrity of the Belfast agreement when it comes to some matters that we discuss, namely Europe, but that when we move on to domestic arrangements that are specifically devolved under the terms of the Belfast agreement we can suddenly cast those arrangements aside? That confusion has to go. We either accept devolution and implement it, or we do what the Labour Front Bench seems to be saying and introduce direct rule.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his history lesson on Ireland and Northern Ireland. He makes the point eloquently that we cannot pick and choose between devolved matters. The mention of the Good Friday agreement reminds us all, if we need reminding, about the particular sensitivities in Northern Ireland, how we have reached where we are today and its broad history. We of course very much hope that those who can get around the table will do so, so we can sort out those and other matters.
Was the Bill vetted by the Cabinet Office in relation to the confidence and supply agreement?
I do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is trying to get to. I have already said that the Bill, like every piece of proposed legislation, has to go through what is called “write round”. That is where every Government Department, including the Cabinet Office, considers a Bill. I am very conscious of my responsibility as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office and that we share the Bill with the Ministry of Justice. That is how the Bill has been developed. The consultation last year was clear in its scope and we are bringing the Bill forward in good faith.