[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, HC 2075, and the Government Response, CP 137; ninth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Domestic Abuse, HC 1015, and the Government Response, HC 2172; and written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, reported to the House on 3 April, 10 April and 21 May 2019, HC 570.]
I will call the Secretary of State for Justice in a moment to move the motion, but before I do so, and in recognition of the fact that there are no time limits on Front-Bench speeches, I will tell the House that more than 40 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. I know that colleagues will want sensitively to take account of that in framing their contributions.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am mindful of the information with which you have kindly furnished the House, Mr Speaker. You will know that historically I have been generous in accepting interventions. I will tailor my generosity today, because I want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to take part in this landmark debate. I look around the Chamber, and in all parts I see colleagues who have made a huge contribution to getting where we are today. We still have a long way to go, but I am pleased, encouraged and proud to see parliamentarians of all colours who have put their shoulder to the wheel to tackle the challenge that we face. It is a challenge that has been too big for too long, and the Government have consistently made clear our continued determination to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse. Legislation, including the Bill, whatever its landmark status, is only one aspect of the work that needs to be done and that we are undertaking across Government to diminish the prevalence and impact of domestic abuse, and to make it clear to the public that we have zero tolerance of abusers.
This is not just a matter for the Ministry of Justice—it is for the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care. I am glad to be supported by Ministers from all those Departments and, indeed, all of Government, as we need to put our metaphorical shoulder to the wheel. The Bill puts the needs of victims front and centre, by providing additional protections, strengthening the agencies’ response, and amplifying the voice of victims. We are determined to ensure that victims feel safe and supported, both in seeking help and in rebuilding their lives.
As the daughter of a social worker who spent her entire career working alongside children and families, supporting victims of domestic abuse, may I ask the Secretary of State to join me in thanking the hard-working social workers and, indeed, police officers who are often the first line of response, as well as charities across the country who support victims of domestic abuse?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to remind us at the get-go of the importance of a co-ordinated approach. All of us, including Members of Parliament, need to be domestic abuse-aware. We need to understand that it presents in myriad ways and myriad circumstances.
Domestic abuse is a leading cause of homelessness, and some of the most harrowing cases I have dealt with as a constituency MP have involved the difficulty faced by survivors of abuse in accessing safe, secure housing. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure in the Bill that survivors of domestic abuse automatically have priority need status for housing and, most importantly, that local authorities are fully and sustainably funded to deliver that obligation?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue, and the Bill provides an opportunity to delve into it. It is important that we outline those principles on Second Reading. In Committee, we will have an opportunity to debate the detail. I am particularly interested in the points that she made. I want to make the Bill as good as possible, and I need the help not just of colleagues in government but of all hon. Members to do that.
May I make a little progress? As I have said, I will be as generous as I can.
Can I take the House back 25 years to a case in the Crown court at Carmarthen that involved a young couple? The man was charged with assault against his wife. A young barrister had been given that case. That was me, and I remember seeing photographs of the victim’s injuries. I was 24, and not very worldly-wise. I looked at the photographs of that woman’s eyes, which were bloodshot and bruised. The police had got there in time to take photographs of the injuries—something of a rarity in those days—and I immediately thought that she had been a victim of a direct assault by punching, but I was wrong about that. She had been strangled—strangulation causes those types of injury.
The victim came to court. Frankly, I could not see what the defence was for the case, but my instructions were to plough on none the less. I saw a frightened and terrified woman having to come to this grand and rather old-fashioned court. Luckily, the judge was humane, sensible and sensitive, but there was a problem: the woman did not want to follow through and give evidence. The judge called her into court and called her to the stand because he was concerned about what was happening. He asked her to explain why she did not want to give evidence. She said that she still loved her partner, that she wanted to be with him and that she did not want to put him through the stress of a Crown court trial. With that, the case was over. He was acquitted, they went on their way, and I was left thinking, “Is that really the end?” Was it in fact just the beginning of the domestic abuse that we all recognise?
That story has haunted me all my professional life. The evidence shows that victims of domestic abuse will often have been a victim on dozens of occasions before they call the police or the authorities. Victims are suffering in silence, often for years, and we are unable to reach them.
I will give way in a moment. I have not yet finished this part of my speech.
I believe that the days of the courts approaching abuse as “just a domestic” have, happily, gone, but my goodness me, we still have a heck of a way to go. I want to give the House one statistic before I give way. In the year ending March 2018, some 2 million adults between the ages of 16 and 59 experienced domestic abuse. That is 2 million people, like the woman I was talking about, whose everyday lives are blighted by abuse and who live with the effects, be they physical or emotional. So we have a high degree of duty to them to pass this legislation.
Another aspect highlighted by the Secretary of State’s incredibly moving story is just how long the survivors of domestic abuse have been waiting for this kind of legislation. They have been waiting for 25 years, and indeed for much longer, but for the past three years the Government have been promising to outlaw cross-examination by perpetrators of domestic violence. People have waited for so long, so will he now give a commitment that this Bill will be seen through before the House is prorogued once more? If it was not, that would be the final straw for many very vulnerable people.
I pay warm tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been an assiduous campaigner on this issue. Domestic abuse is predominantly experienced by women, but we also know that there are many relationships in our society in which men suffer in silence. We are speaking for everybody, whatever their gender, orientation or classification. This is for everybody. On the question of the carry-over, that motion is on the Order Paper and I know that hon. Members will want to support it. This Bill will be carried over. That is an important sign of our deep commitment to this issue.
I only wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s very moving story was an exception, but sadly, as he and I and many others who have practised at the criminal Bar or as solicitors will know, it is still all too common a story today. I have two quick questions that I hope he can answer. First, will this Act ensure that our police change their attitude? He is right to talk about the courts and the judiciary, but what about our police, who I fear still think of these instances as “domestics”? Secondly, will he meet me to discuss what is happening in our courts? There is now far too long a delay between complaint and trial—there is often a delay of between two and three years, and that is not fair on the victims.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. On her second point, I will meet her. On her first point, the important thing is what we do to embed the legislation, and that has to be by way of further training and seeing the operational effect of the strategy we set out and the direction that the primary legislation takes.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I, too, have seen examples like the one that he quoted, and I particularly welcome the provisions in clause 75 relating to the prohibition of cross-examination by the abusive party. As the Bill goes forward, will he and his colleagues particularly bear in mind the legitimate improvements proposed by the Law Society and others in this field? They include a proposal for the proper remuneration of, and a proper system for instructing, the representatives instructed to carry out the cross-examination, in the interests of justice. Will he also consider whether examination in chief could be included in certain circumstances—for example, when the alleged abusive party seeks to call the child of the relationship in support of their case? That, too, can cause real distress.
I will give way again in a moment, but I would like to make some progress.
Abuse has not only a direct impact but an impact on the wider family and, most appallingly and sadly, on children and young people, who suffer the short and long-term emotional and behavioural effects of abuse. We know that children who witness domestic abuse in the home are far more likely to experience abuse by a partner as an adult. It is therefore our role as a Government and a Parliament to do all we can to protect our children from having to suffer as a consequence of abuse, and to ensure that national and local agencies recognise and respond to their needs.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful speech and giving some amazing examples. I am sure that most of us have come across stories, perhaps sometimes in our own families, where victims do not believe that the perpetrator is at fault and instead believe that they themselves are at fault. He has mentioned physical, emotional and economic abuse. That is the crux of the problem, and the definition has been widened out. I absolutely welcome the Bill. How does he expect it to provide protection for victims and help to expose the vile perpetrators and bring them to justice?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her continuing commitment to reform and improvement in this area. The widening of the definition from “financial” to “economic” abuse captures the manipulation that can happen, not only in relation to money but in relation to other benefits and through coercive control. I am proud to have played my part as a junior Minister in ensuring that coercive control went on to the statute book as a criminal offence some years ago. We must continue to reinforce the message that abuse is not just about violence, important though that is, and that its collective impacts can change the lives of far too many victims.
I commend the Secretary of State and, in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for the work they have been doing on this issue. On a number of occasions we have stated that we want to embed legislation that provides the best protection, and the Secretary of State will know that this Bill contains particular definitions that are unique to Northern Ireland. However, one thing we are devoid of in Northern Ireland is legislative protection from stalking. I hope that he will give thoughtful consideration during the passage of the Bill to incorporating measures to include that, whether there be a domestic connection to the stalking or not. We need that legislation for the individual victims and their families. Will he also give thoughtful consideration to the inclusion of Northern Ireland Members of this House on the Bill Committee?
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, the business managers will have heard him loud and clear. I am keen to ensure that the Bill maintains its focus on domestic abuse. I do not pretend that we can somehow hermetically seal the issue off from other aspects of criminal behaviour and abuse, such as stalking, but I think that the best place for stalking legislation would be in a discrete piece of work. I draw his attention to the work that we did in England and Wales. I was part of the all-party parliamentary group on stalking and harassment, which campaigned and worked at pace to get stalking criminalised in England and Wales. I will give him encouragement, but I really want to ensure that this Bill is focused.
I have just returned from the Council of Europe, where members across parties, especially in the Socialist Group, expressed horror that it has taken seven years and counting for the UK to ratify the Istanbul convention. One of the critical points in ratifying the convention is the treatment of women in Northern Ireland and the fact that they do not have the protections that the Secretary of State has just suggested should not be in the Bill. The Government gave a pledge and told the Council of Europe that the Bill was about ratifying the Istanbul convention, and there is a motion of recommendation about the convention in the UK right now at the Council of Europe. Can he give an assurance that he will not leave the women of Northern Ireland out of the Istanbul convention, let alone the migrant women in this country who also need us to put the legislation together?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the Istanbul convention, and of course we passed domestic legislation about that. I want to make sure that every aspect of the convention is underpinned in domestic law throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I am simply saying, as a legislator and someone who wants to make sure that we get the Bill in the best possible position, that we need to make sure we get the issues in the right vehicle. If it is the will of the House that the Bill is the right vehicle, that will of course be respected, but I think I am entitled to make that point about what I regard as the real focus of the Bill. I speak as someone who has actively and enthusiastically supported the criminalisation of stalking— as has she—for many years.
I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider this point. We have a Bill before us and the opportunity to address the issue of stalking. There is considerable overlap: many cases that may begin as domestic abuse become terrible cases of stalking when the relationship splits up. There are serial perpetrators of violence and abuse who in some cases are involved in domestic abuse and in others in stalking.
Of course, and the right hon. Lady makes an important point. She will know that my decision to extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme to cover stalking offences reinforces my personal commitment and my deep understanding of the link between stalking and obsessional behaviour and the commission of sexual offences, offences of violence or homicide. I absolutely get that, but it is right that we tease out those issues in Committee and look at them again on Report. If it is the will of the House, we will of course do it.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work on this important issue and on getting that legislation through Parliament. I will make sure that that information is furnished to her in the course of the debate. Of course, we are brilliantly served by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and she will respond to the debate.
We have talked about the moral case for pursuing this issue, but there is also an economic case—a case of financial responsibility. Research has established that the cost of domestic abuse was approximately £66 billion for victims in England and Wales in the year ending March 2017. The biggest component of that cost is the physical and emotional harm incurred by them, but the cost to our economy and our health service is also considerable. Domestic abuse makes up one third of all violent crime reported to the police. The case for removal is clear, but the challenge is not easy. The dynamics are complex and mean that much domestic abuse is hidden. Victims face significant barriers in seeking help and difficulties in escaping from an abusive relationship. That is why we need a cross-Government, multi-pronged approach to tackling it. The Bill is not only part of that approach but demonstrates the breadth of our ambition in showing strong leadership and taking decisive action to help to end the suffering and harm.
May I say how much I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to taking a zero-tolerance approach to domestic violence and to sticking up for the victims? Following his welcome speech at the Conservative party conference this week in which he pledged to end automatic early release of certain prisoners, can he confirm that people who commit violence as part of domestic abuse will be included, and they will no longer be eligible for release halfway through their prison sentence?
Yes, I can. People convicted of offences with a domestic element will often be convicted of the most serious violent and indeed sexual offences. Under my proposals, automatic release will therefore apply at two thirds, rather than one half of the sentence. I have furnished the House with a written ministerial statement on that.
Sexual exploitation is one of the most heinous forms of abuse that can be perpetrated in domestic situations. That is when the victim is coerced and forced to perform sex acts in return for money, accommodation, employment, services or goods. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that the Bill explicitly recognises sexual exploitation as a form of domestic abuse?
The Secretary of State will recognise that there is an interesting situation as between England and Wales. This legislation will apply to England and Wales, but Wales has its own legislature and legislated in this area in 2015. Will he make a commitment to me that Wales will be properly represented on all the scrutiny and advisory boards affected by the Bill, including the answerability of the commissioner for domestic abuse?
The right hon. Lady was of course part of the Joint Committee and has an impressive track record on this issue. I have very much appreciated the work that we have done together on these issues. I can give her that assurance. It is clear that all parts of the joint jurisdiction need to be adequately represented.
The Joint Committee was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who did a wonderful and important job. I want to put on record my thanks to her and all the other members for what they have done. The Government have taken on board many of the Committee’s helpful recommendations, and the Bill is better as a result of its work. I am conscious that we have yet to respond to a small number of recommendations, but we will provide an update during consideration of the Bill in Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend has been characteristically generous in giving way. I welcome the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner. There is no doubt that the Bill is important and vital, and will sail through the House, but I am concerned that people will abuse our well-meaning intentions, and I do not want to see people being able to get different answers in different parts of the country. Does he agree that the commissioner will make that less possible?
My hon. Friend is right to hail the appointment of the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner. We thought we should not wait for the Bill to go through both Houses, because we thought that the job was too urgent and too important. We have appointed a designate commissioner, but it is very much our hope that the House will support the appointment by passing the necessary legislation.
I am sure all hon. Members welcome the Government’s commitment to end economic abuse and to enable partners who are victimised to leave the relationship. I note that the Secretary of State did not include the Department for Work and Pensions in his list of Departments to work with. Does he share the concern of the Work and Pensions Committee at all the evidence we have received from charities that shows people are simply not able to leave violent relationships because of the benefits system? Will he commit to addressing that?
The hon. Lady rightly upbraids me, and I apologise. It is important and good that we now have domestic abuse advisers in every jobcentre, who can really help signpost and give support to people who are in abusive relationships. It is right to say that about 60% of claims are made by the primary carer, which will often be a woman, but in a number of cases individuals are trapped in a position of dependence. I hope that the Bill will be an opportunity for us to do more work on that.
I hope the Secretary of State has seen the work that has been done in Drake Hall women’s prison, which has shown that about two thirds of women prisoners—those who have been screened— have had a major traumatic brain injury or a history of it. Two thirds of those injuries happened prior to their first offending behaviour and were as a result of domestic violence. So would it not make sense, first, if we screened every woman prisoner before she arrived in prison to make sure that she had the right support, and, secondly, if we made sure that every woman who had potentially suffered from domestic violence was given the neuro-rehabilitation that she needs to make sure that she gets over the physical trauma?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point—one with which I am familiar—about the cycle of abuse and then criminality. Women whom I have met in Eastwood Park recently were in a similar position, particularly women from south Wales. I could talk about individual meetings I have had with women prisoners, but the simple truth is that I get the point about acquired brain injury and we want to do more about it. Again, drawing that out in the debate will be really helpful for the Government.
May I just move on to deal with the provisions in the Bill? I will be as generous as possible in taking interventions.
As we know, the Bill introduces the first all-purpose statutory definition of domestic abuse. Why? It is because we need to do even more to raise awareness of this crime and tackle it more effectively. There needs to be a common understanding, because the outdated perception about violent crime, ranging from common assault through to more serious offences, does not understand the true nature of domestic abuse. It ignores the insidious, controlling or coercive behaviour, and the psychological abuse that, bit by bit, changes what may start as a loving and equal relationship into one that is completely unequal and controlling, where, without the victim realising it, they are turned into somebody who is being abused.
I commend the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his passionate commitment and speech. The Bill contains many important provisions. It is important to recognise that in Scotland we have a gold standard, and that this Bill is primarily about England and Wales, but one area on which we have not been able to legislate in Scotland has been concerning migrant women having no recourse to public funds. Does he recognise that there is a failing in the Bill and that much more needs to be done to protect migrant women who have no recourse to public funds?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that matter. Of course that issue is subject to a current review. I do not just want to park it there, as an excuse to do nothing, as we are looking at it carefully and it may well be that we can take action other than via primary legislation.
While I remember, let me answer the point made by the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston): the proposal is to bring the law she mentioned into force early next year. We are talking about a matter of a few months. I know she will hold me to “early” meaning truly early, as opposed to civil service-speak. I get that, with respect to the wonderful civil servants who serve this Government well and who are dedicated and working hard to eradicate domestic abuse.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for making such a passionate speech. Does he agree that a mother of two children fleeing domestic abuse should not be living in a one-bedroom hostel for more than a year? Women who have experienced domestic violence need priority housing, and reasons such as I have mentioned force some women to remain with their abusers.
The hon. Lady is right about that. I am very hopeful that this Bill will allow us to tease out these issues and address the issue of secure accommodation for victims in abusive relationships. I will take a moment to pay tribute to the network of organisations such as Swindon Women’s Aid, in my constituency, which provides a gold standard service. She would agree that this is about not just the accommodation, but the wraparound support that women need—the advice, counselling and trauma counselling—to try to rebuild their lives. She is right to talk about the effect on the children of the relationship, too.
May I move on to deal with some other provisions in the Bill? I want to talk about the concept of financial abuse, which we have dealt with in interventions. I want the new definition to be used by service providers, justice agencies and schools, and promoted to the public at large, so that finally we have a shared understanding of the nature of this abuse. Only then can we really identify, challenge and respond to it. We have already heralded the appointment of Nicole Jacobs as our designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner. This Bill will put that post on a statutory footing. We will ensure that she has the necessary powers to drive this change, so that public bodies such as local authorities, NHS bodies and justice agencies will be under a duty to co-operate with the commissioner. They and Ministers will be required to make a timely response to each and every recommendation made.
I, too, served on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. One of our recommendations was that the post of Domestic Abuse Commissioner should not be part-time—it needs to be full-time. All the evidence we heard was that there was plenty of work to do. Will the Minister reassure us that it will now be a full-time post?
Yes, the hon. Lady makes a very proper point. We wanted to get this moving now and get it in place so that the work could begin. I want to see and fully expect the post to become full-time, certainly after it is embedded in law, so I can give her that assurance.
Let me say how powerful it is in this place to have such strong consensus on this important Bill, which focuses on England and Wales. Research shows that domestic abuse can last up to 25% longer in rural areas, as there are more complex obstacles to people exiting these situations and the police resources are spread over a vaster geographical area. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner will have a renewed focus on rural areas, in order to ensure parity?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a new and important point in this debate, which I readily take on board. The police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire has been doing an important piece of work on the understanding of rural domestic abuse, the delay involved in that and all the points that my hon. Friend makes.
Victims of domestic abuse—
May I just press on for a moment? Victims of domestic abuse just want it to stop. They do not want to live in constant fear in their own home or to be forced to flee to a place of safety. That is why civil protection orders play such an important role in providing protection to victims and their children, but at the moment we have a rather confusing landscape, with non-molestation orders, restraining orders and domestic violence protection orders. Each of those is available in different circumstances. They do different things and they have different consequences where the order is breached. Victims are not well served by that plethora. In recognition of that, the Bill provides for a new go-to domestic abuse protection notice and the domestic abuse protection order. I hate acronyms but I will call it a DAPO on this occasion. The notice will give victims immediate protection following a crisis incident. It will be issued by the police—
I had better make a good point now! The Minister has been making a powerful speech, and I welcome this Bill, but I have to reiterate the point about migrant women. Leaders of the non-governmental organisation Liberty argue that migrant women face an “impossible” situation
“where they are forced to choose between the risk of detention/deportation or staying in a situation of violence.”
So I ask the Minister, once again: where is the support? The Bill is welcome for the most part, but it clearly is a missed opportunity to create an intergovernmental strategy to support migrant women who are at risk of abuse. Does he agree that all of us should work together to develop a framework of support in Committee? Will he commit to that?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s persistence, because it has resulted in an important point. I assure her that the review is not just an internal review; it involves the sort of agencies that she and I would want to be involved. Not only the review but this Bill and the debates we can have in Committee can help us to get to a situation where we are providing the appropriate support for all victims, including migrant women. I thank her for her intervention.
May I make some progress? With the greatest respect to my colleagues, I shall finish the point about what the new DAPO will mean. It will be issued by the police. It may, for example, require the perpetrator to leave the home of the victim for up to 48 hours, and the issue of that notice will then trigger a police application to a magistrates court for a longer-term DAPO to protect the victim.
Of course, it will not always be the case that a single incident necessitates the issuing of a notice. That being the case, the Bill also allows for a victim, the police or any other person, with the permission of the court, to apply for one of these orders, and it would also be open to a judge or magistrate to decide for themselves to make a DAPO as a corollary to existing proceedings in the criminal, civil or family court. So, this is a fully flexible instrument. It can be tailored by the court to meet the needs of the individual victim, and it would be for the courts then to determine its length, or indeed to decide that it should be open-ended until such time as a further order was made. Really importantly, the court will be able to attach not just restrictions but positive requirements. For example, an order could prohibit the perpetrator from contacting the victim, require that perpetrator to attend a behavioural change programme and compel them to wear an electronic tag to monitor compliance with an exclusion zone around the victim’s home. Crucially, breach of that order will be a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
I take the opportunity to welcome the tone that is being struck this afternoon. That is incredibly important.
On the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making about DAPOs, we already have a system whereby if a person is convicted of a domestic abuse crime, there is a possibility that there will be a light sentence; they could end up with a suspended sentence. That is what happened in the case of a constituent of mine—the perpetrator got a suspended sentence. Processes were put in place to ensure that the perpetrator did not repeatedly harass or contact the victim, but nevertheless that continued, and there was no action, despite those breaches of conditions, to re-arrest the perpetrator. So what confidence can victims have that the new process will be any better than the present one?
The hon. Lady has given a powerful illustration of the importance of this order, because it can be run alongside a criminal conviction. So even if there is a suspended sentence, as in the case that she cited, an order can be passed—a DAPO—that will have its own criminal consequences. It gives that extra strength, that extra purchase, not just to the authorities but to the victim, to know that there is a mechanism by which the perpetrator can be held to account if they breach the terms. With respect, I think this is an important additional element, but I bear what the hon. Lady says very much in mind.
I want to ensure that we get these new orders right, so we need to make the whole process as simple as possible for victims, and also for the police and others when navigating it. I want these new orders to be effective in changing abusive behaviour and protecting victims. We shall pilot these provisions, therefore, in a small number of areas before rolling them out nationally, so that issues of the sort that the hon. Lady and others have raised can be ironed out and dealt with, to make the provisions as effective as possible. The worst thing to do in these circumstances—we have all been here before as legislators—is to talk nobly and grandly about our intentions, pass the legislation and then find that nothing has changed. When we do so, all we have done is to raise victims’ expectations, only to cruelly let them down. We are all responsible for that, so let us get this right.
If we are to strengthen the protection afforded to victims, we need to employ more measures to keep them safe. So, in addition to the DAPOs, the Bill seeks to build on two other preventive tools: the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which we all know as Clare’s law; and the polygraph testing of high-harm perpetrators.
Clare’s law has been in operation for over five years and I can see many Members—myself included—who campaigned very hard as Back Benchers to get that moving and to make a difference. It has been a success. Just to remind the House, the scheme has two elements: the right to ask and the right to know.
The right to ask allows an individual—or a relevant third party, such as a family member—to ask the police to check whether a partner, or ex-partner, has had a violent or abusive past. If police records show that an individual might be at risk of domestic abuse from their partner or ex-partner, the police can consider the disclosure of relevant information.
Under the right to know, the police may proactively decide to disclose information to keep a potential victim safe. In the year to March 2018, there were over 5,500 disclosures under that scheme—a welcome and encouraging statistic. However, I am clear, and the police accept this, that Clare’s law does not always operate as well as it should, which is why the Bill puts the guidance underpinning the scheme on a statutory footing, and places a duty on police forces to have regard to that guidance. We believe that will help to raise awareness of the scheme, increase the number of disclosures and ensure greater consistency across England and Wales.
I acknowledge that, in contrast to the rest of the Bill, there has been a degree of scepticism about polygraph testing, including from the Joint Committee, but I can assure the House that it is not a panacea—it is not a gimmick; it is a genuine attempt better to protect victims. I will tell the House why. It has been used successfully in the management of sexual offenders for the past six years. In that context, it has been shown conclusively that polygraph examinations provide useful information—useful intelligence—including what is disclosed by the offender, to help those responsible for supervision better to manage the risk of reoffending.
Given that evidence, I suggest that we at least test whether there are similar benefits to be secured in the management of high-risk domestic abuse offenders. To that end, the Bill allows the National Probation Service to conduct a three-year pilot among that cohort and, if successful, to roll the scheme out.
I do not want to remind the Minister, but in that by-election he actually lost his deposit, so I am amazed that the Conservative party allowed him to stand again. We have known each other a long time; we served together on the Justice Committee, of which he was an extremely talented member, and I am not surprised he has reached Cabinet level. However, he knows that when we served on that Committee we had major doubts about the technology of polygraph testing, and other Government Committees have noted problems with IT. IT is a problem of Government. Is he confident that the technology will provide for this type of Bill?
I am grateful. I do not know whether that was a compliment, but I will take it as such. I am very glad to see the hon. Gentleman in his place, representing that wonderful part of Gwent, where perhaps one day the electorate will take a different view—who knows? I hope not for a long time—[Interruption.] I was speaking on a personal basis.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about polygraph testing. I assure him, first, that this is a pilot; and, secondly, that this is not an attempt to use it as evidence. Clearly, there needs to be a high bar for the admissibility of evidence in criminal or family or civil proceedings. This measure is all about getting the sort of information—intelligence—that can help the police and other agencies to assess risk. Material of that sort can be invaluable and really make the difference for many victims.
Where prevention and protection has failed, some victims will seek remedies before the courts. I recognise that we must do better. In criminal proceedings against an alleged perpetrator, we want victims to be able to give their very best evidence to help convict the guilty. Giving evidence, as I said, can be a daunting, traumatic experience—and often a barrier—so there is already provision for what are termed “special measures”. It has been in legislation for 20 years. Those measures are designed to take some of the stress out of that process. If the quality of a victim’s evidence can be improved by allowing them to give evidence from behind a screen or via video link, or by playing a pre-recorded interview, we should do everything we can to allow that. The Bill, importantly, ensures that the victims of domestic abuse—the complainants in the trial—are automatically eligible for such special measures.
Few things are likely to re-traumatise victims more than being subject to direct cross-examination by their abuser in legal proceedings. Such an experience will inevitably cause immense stress, and would of itself be a continuation of the abuse.
I am so grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I congratulate him on making a powerful speech.
The issue of coercive control is highly complex, and such control can trap victims in debilitating and isolating fear. Sadly, friends of mine who have been victims of coercive control talk of almost being taken psychologically hostage by an abusive former partner. Does the Secretary of State agree that the hope is that the Bill would not only change the law for the better—although we still need to scrutinise it, however widespread the support is—but would change behaviour as well, and encourage women who are victims of coercive control to know that it is not right?
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend and I congratulate him on the way in which he is making the case for this very important Bill.
My right hon. and learned Friend has talked about the confidence that we need to give domestic abuse victims in the experience they are likely to have within the criminal justice system. He is right to highlight special measures, and I know he will also talk about preventing defendants from cross-examining complainants.
In relation to special measures, may I ask him to consider something that he and I know has worked well elsewhere—not just pre-recorded examination in chief but pre-recorded cross-examination? The benefit, as we know, is not just the complainant’s ability to get their part in the case out of the way altogether—dealing with the point about delay that the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) made—but that it very often causes the defendant to recognise the position that he, and it often is he, is in and to plead guilty early.
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks with immense experience. He is absolutely right about what we call the section 28 roll-out, which proved in the pilot to be a really successful scheme whereby victims of sexual abuse—child victims—are both examined in chief and cross-examined on video. It is an immensely sensible use of resources. It saves time for the victims. It is all done much more quickly and, as he said, it often leads to a much more sensible resolution in terms of the admission of guilt.
I am very interested in taking that concept further. That does require discussions about resource, and requires me to consult fully with the Lord Chief Justice and the judiciary, as I am constitutionally obliged to do, on its impact. I will obviously have further discussions on that matter and I will discuss it with my right hon. and learned Friend and other hon. and right hon. Members who have both a knowledge of and a commitment to this important issue.
Finally, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.] Well, I will go on if Members want. I could talk all day about this topic—[Interruption.] Oh, forgive me, Mr Speaker, I demoted you.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) mentioned the Istanbul convention and made a very proper point about the need to fill the gaps, which is why it is important not only to emphasise what the Bill is already doing but to remind ourselves what the convention requires us to do. We have to criminalise psychological violence and to take extraterritorial jurisdiction over that and certain other violent and sexual offences. This Bill, of course, gives effect to that.
I thank the Minister for giving way and welcome his speech. He talks about extraterritorial powers. My constituent Samia Shahid was lured to her rape and murder in Pakistan, but we were unable to pursue that as an investigation. Will this measure include provision to cover that?
I am incredibly grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning honour crime, which, of course, takes many forms. I have dealt with it myself in the context of other types of offending. The extra territorial jurisdiction will, of course, extend to offences of sexual violence, and if this Bill does not do that, then, frankly, we need to ensure that it is as watertight as possible. Again, we can look in detail at those provisions in Committee.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. The Istanbul convention is not just about extraterritorial powers but about the provision that we make for survivors in this country. If we are signatories, it means that we give extra care to people who return having experienced abuse abroad. Will he make sure that we sign the Istanbul convention so that we can provide adequate support for victims in this country?
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I welcome both his comments and the fact that some of the Bill’s provisions extend to Northern Ireland. The situation in Northern Ireland is stark. Figures released in 2017 and promoted by Women’s Aid in Northern Ireland, which does fantastic work, showed that by head of the population deaths among women was the joint highest in the entire European Union. In 2018, a domestic abuse call was made once every 17 minutes. Our law is very much falling behind what is happening in England and Wales.
Will the Secretary of State engage with me and my colleagues on what other provisions could be extended to Northern Ireland to offer that much-needed protection for women—and for men and others—who are impacted by this? I ask that because of the importance of this issue and because of the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly.
The hon. Lady makes a very powerful case for making sure that we use this Bill as an opportunity to extend as much protection as possible to domestic abuse victims throughout the length and breadth of our country. Scots law and my friends in Scotland have been dealing with this at length. Where it is appropriate to legislate, this House has the opportunity to act.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend very much for giving way. It was a huge pleasure and privilege to serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), with all the work that she did over many, many months, which is why I am delighted to see the Bill progress today.
No one who listened to Sally Challen be interviewed on the radio the other day can fail to appreciate how important this Bill is. We are talking about resource and about costs that will come with the Bill, but does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that, currently, the cost of domestic abuse is £66 million a year—as of 2017—so if resource has to be put into the system it must be done?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to remind us of the economic as well as the moral cost of domestic abuse, and the Sally Challen case is one that will live with all of us as an example. The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and I have spoken about it at length. I look forward to her contribution because, although we are political opponents, we are also friends. Working together on issues such as this, we can show that, as friends, we can make that change.
The Government are absolutely determined not just to stamp out this crime but to provide better support for victims and their families. We have shown in our response to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposals that we are open to means of strengthening this Bill. Indeed, we expect to bring forward some proposals of our own. Before the summer, we made it clear that, subject to the outcome of the then open consultation, we would bring amendments to the Bill to place new duties on first-tier local authorities with regard to the support services to victims and their children in secure accommodation. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is currently considering more than 400 responses to that consultation, but it remains our intention to bring forward appropriate provision to enshrine those duties in law and to provide the necessary funding to do so.
I am very grateful to the Lord Chancellor for giving way. We have in Lambeth among the highest rates of domestic violence in the country, so I very much welcome the introduction of this duty on local authorities. Does he recognise that it is vital that coupled with that duty is a Government commitment to help to provide the sustainable funding for specialist services that is needed? Secondly, does he recognise that the provision of those services should not be done through competitive tendering, which is squeezing out many of the specialist service providers?
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, because he makes an important point about the way tendering is administered. I certainly want to make sure that the probation reforms unlock the genius of the small organisations that can really make a difference, but there is a read-across to the way in which we provide victim services. I am taking a keen interest in the commissioning of those services. Police and crime commissioners clearly have a role, but I want fully to understand and work out the miasma that faces small organisations making those bids, so I take his point very much on board.
Services such as Survive in York, which provides trauma support to victims of domestic violence, are seriously under-resourced. It is crucial that the Bill gets trauma support services right, particularly mental health and psychological support services. How will the Lord Chancellor ensure that these services are properly funded as well as provided?
The hon. Lady draws together all the issues in her local community. The various agencies, including police and crime commissioners, have a part to play. I want to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner helps to provide a focus on where the gaps are and where things are going wrong, but my hope is that this overarching legislation can provide a framework within which we can get the greater consistency that the hon. Lady and I rightly want.
No one should have to face violence or abuse from their partner or any other family member. Millions are experiencing it, and we owe it to each and every one of those affected to do all we can to protect and to support them, to put an end to domestic abuse, and to bring offenders to justice. It might be 25 years since the case I mentioned at the start of my speech, but the fact that it lives with me—a mere observer—means that the experience is magnified 100-fold for those who have experienced the physical and emotional consequences of domestic abuse. We owe it to all those millions of people who suffer in silence to do something about it, and to do it now.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), for the productive way in which we have managed to work together on this Bill to date. May I also say that, as a proud Welsh woman, I am delighted that most of the Front-Bench speeches today will be delivered by a Member with a Welsh accent?
Like many colleagues across the House, organisations throughout the sector and—most importantly—victims and survivors of domestic abuse, I am delighted that I stand here today for the Second Reading of this long-awaited and desperately needed Bill. None of us can deny the utter chaos that has prevailed in this place in recent weeks. The Prime Minister’s political game playing very nearly cost us this Bill. Less than a week before Parliament was suspended, the Prime Minister said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) that he would ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill received “proper consideration” and was “rolled over”. Despite that, and while domestic violence-related homicides in the UK hit a five-year high last year, the Prime Minister went back on his word and blatantly allowed the Bill to drop, alongside a dozen other important pieces of legislation. But thankfully Lady Hale ruled last week that the Prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, and we rightly found ourselves back here with the Domestic Abuse Bill firmly back on the agenda. It was very much a case that Hale saved the day and the Bill.
We cannot afford any more hold-ups. Time is not a luxury that victims of domestic abuse have. Every delay in getting this legislation through is critical. I was encouraged by last month’s announcement that Nicole Jacobs had been appointed as the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, but I do have grave concerns—also mentioned by hon. Friends—that the role is only part-time. I sincerely hope that the introduction of new legislation through this Bill will change that. If the commissioner is going to successfully deliver a whole-society response and radically improve the UK’s approach to domestic violence, a part-time position is just not viable.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. A constituent of mine came to me having left her abusive partner after many years. She did not go to a refuge, but instead went to stay with friends and family. She could not afford a lawyer, so she did not contest her divorce. She now finds herself homeless without any priority for housing and will potentially lose the house that her ex-partner is selling. Will this Bill help to provide the holistic approach that can support victims such as my constituent?
I will talk about housing later in my speech, as it is an issue that is very important to the Labour party.
This is our golden opportunity as parliamentarians to transform the domestic abuse agenda in this country. We have a duty to survivors, victims and their dependants —and to generations to come—to get this right.
I thank my hon. Friend for the amazing work that she has been doing in this field; she is one of our champions for victims of domestic abuse.
One of the things that has always been missing is the relationships education so that young people understand that abusive relationships often do not start with the first slap or the first thump. They can start with criticism, undermining and isolation—with perpetrators moving people away from their support network, and causing them to lack belief in themselves and believe that they have created the violence that is inflicted on them. Do we not need to tackle that problem, as well as addressing the issue when it gets to the point at which people report the crime?
I could not agree more. This is something that we all see every day when we talk to people who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence. In many cases, it is learned behaviour and we really need to look at that.
As it stands, although there are some welcome and vital changes in the Bill, it is too narrow. There are many areas that are crying out for wider scope. I hope that this can and will be addressed and incorporated through amendments in Committee.
I just want to make a little progress.
We have volumes of data relating to victims of domestic abuse, but at present this only accounts for those aged 74 and under, even though we know that domestic abuse has no age limit. Older people must have their rights protected too, and the Bill needs to recognise that. Statistics consistently demonstrate that the vast majority of domestic abuse victims are women and the vast majority of perpetrators are men, but we know that there are no barriers. Anyone—regardless of sex, sexual orientation, age or race—can be a victim or a perpetrator, so we must ensure that service and funding provision is appropriately proportioned.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the vital work that the Domestic Abuse Safety Unit in Shotton has been doing for many years. I have been there and have heard harrowing stories. To echo her point, so many people say that they have put up with this sort of behaviour for five, 10 or 20 years when asked, “How long had this gone on before you reached this stage?” We need to ensure that these centres are getting the finance they need to carry on with this vital work.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point; I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments.
The Bill needs to include a legal duty to fund a national network of accommodation-based domestic abuse services as a matter of priority, to meet the needs of all survivors and, very importantly, their children. The protection and provision of support for children who experience domestic abuse—either as witnesses or as victims themselves—also need to be consistently included in every aspect of the Bill.
Women’s Aid organisations, such as Lighthouse Women’s Aid in my constituency, are doing good work but have to survive hand to mouth, relying on money from lottery funding. Does my hon. Friend agree that this makes it extremely difficult for them to employ and retain the staff they need, with the experience and training to give proper counselling to women?
I do agree. I also join my hon. Friend in congratulating those organisations. I have yet to meet an organisation that deals with this issue that has not done excellent work, and all struggle for every penny they are able to get from wherever. They truly deserve our praise.
My hon. Friend is making an important and powerful speech. Does she believe that the Bill will do enough to support the role of schools in the lives of families? I know the amount of work that goes on in many schools in my constituency to support parents and children when there is domestic abuse at home. One primary school has told me that it suspects about five children in one class are subject to domestic violence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and later I will talk about a scheme that helps in that situation.
The protection and provision of support for children who experience domestic abuse—I am repeating myself. I have already read that bit, so we will scrap that, thank you very much. [Laughter.] That is the Welsh in me; never ashamed to say when we are wrong.
As well as ensuring access to support services, the Bill needs to legislate for those children and ensure protected places in all NHS waiting lists, as well as priority access to school places when they are forced to move to a new area to escape domestic abuse. There is already good practice in our communities that has been established to cater for the needs of children experiencing domestic abuse.
Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to protect those survivors of domestic abuse not just when they are children but throughout their lives? We need some means of following them and taking a holistic approach, because domestic abuse affects their mental and general health as they grow.
I am going to make progress.
Operation Encompass, which is an excellent example of what we are doing in communities, was set up to enable police forces and schools to confidentially and quickly share information about vulnerable children who need support and safeguarding.
I thank my hon. Friend for the passionate case that she is outlining. One of my local forces, Gwent police, have played a considerable role in pioneering Operation Encompass. Will she join me in congratulating and thanking not only Gwent police but forces across the country for the important work that they have done in rolling out that initiative?
I am delighted to congratulate Gwent police. On Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) and I visited the Liberty stadium in my constituency, where South Wales police launched their Operation Encompass. I pay particular tribute to Russell Dwyer, the head of St Thomas Primary School, who was a pioneer in ensuring that it came to Swansea.
I am going to make progress.
We need to secure better outcomes for child victims of domestic abuse. The only way that we will do that is by ensuring that such initiatives are available throughout the country. The Bill also needs to legislate to improve the experiences of survivors and their children in the family courts. Contact arrangements must be based on the child’s best interests, and parental contact should not be automatic, especially where there is evidence that the child could be at risk.
A constituent of mine is desperately trying to prepare her child after a court order stated, against the child’s wishes and the recommendations of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, that he must spend half his school holidays with his father. In order to support her son, she has put in place resilience counselling through the school, but the father has refused his son this help to support their contact. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that parental rights are being used against children in a way that has a negative impact on their wellbeing?
I thank my hon. Friend. We have worked closely on many cases where children have been put at risk by being allowed access to potentially, if not very, dangerous parents. That is something that I feel passionately about. I believe we need a complete overhaul to ensure that the courts are prioritising the victims, not the perpetrators.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for giving way. She mentioned the family courts. A prominent campaigner against the injustice that domestic abuse victims face in the family courts is Rachel Williams, who recently organised the Stand up to Domestic Abuse conference in Newport, which my hon. Friend and I both attended. Will she join me in paying tribute to campaigners and survivors such as Rachel whose courage in speaking out make a real difference to legislation such as this?
Never not give way to a Whip—I have learnt that much since I have been here, and it always helps when it is a Whip with a Welsh accent. As I had a chair at the conference and my hon. Friend did not, I will certainly agree with her and say that Rachel is an absolute inspiration and someone we should all look up to.
I agree that we need to look at the definition and the impact on children. That is something that we can look at closely in Committee, and we would welcome amendments guided in that direction.
It is not just the courts that we need to look at; we also need to look at housing, which is another thing that currently allows perpetrators to control their victims. In cases of joint tenancy, only one tenant needs to end the lease, effectively allowing abusers to leave their victims homeless. The Bill needs to adopt changes to that law that would require both parties to end the tenancy and, in cases where perpetrators are convicted of domestic violence, automatically transfer the tenancy to the name of the victim. For victims who leave their accommodation by choice due to violence, the Bill needs to legislate to ensure that they automatically become a priority need for housing, irrespective of whether they have moved to emergency refuge accommodation.
My hon. Friend is making an important point, which I welcome. I have had a couple of cases in surgery of people in that very situation, whether in a housing association or whatever, who cannot get out and who are struggling because of the threat they face every day from having to stay in the same place. I very much endorse what my hon. Friend is saying and would like to hear more.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about housing. We have grave concerns about the housing of victims, which is another issue that we will pursue in Committee.
Reforms are also needed in the benefits system to ensure that survivors do not suffer further financially when escaping domestic abuse. The introduction of separate universal credit payments by default and the abolition of the five-week payment delay for all survivors will prevent abusers from using the welfare system as a means of continued economic abuse.
I thank my hon. Friend. Does she agree that the victim should be central to making decisions about housing? In Bradford, Staying Put will go in and change the locks at no financial cost to the victim and support them in obtaining injunctions and non-molestation orders, so that the victim feels empowered and the process is centred around them.
Without question, the victim is central and we need to look closely at that.
We also need to see changes in relation to migrant women and the economic abuse that they experience due to having no recourse to public funds—a situation that often leaves them in violent and dangerous relationships, as they simply cannot afford to leave. The Bill must change the legislation to ensure that all migrant victims are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain irrespective of the visa that they are residing here on. The law must allow them to apply immediately for access to public funds under the destitute domestic violence concession and permit up to six months for their application for indefinite leave to remain to be submitted under the domestic violence rule.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly important point. Is it not also worth putting on record that, if we wish to ratify the Istanbul convention, we have to make sure that this legislation covers the rights of migrant women, as well as the rights of women in Northern Ireland, and has a gendered definition of domestic violence? Without those, we will not be able to say that we have ratified and, after seven years, I know that the Council of Europe will want to know why we have not.
I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend talk about migrant women. I represent a very diverse constituency and domestic abuse is a very significant problem among that community. Will she join me in paying tribute to Welsh Women’s Aid in my constituency, who provide so much help both to migrant women and women in south Wales?
I have no problem in congratulating Welsh Women’s Aid. I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Support must be available to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse, with no restriction due to immigration status. Safe reporting systems need to be introduced to allow victims to report abuse to police and other authorities without fear of immigration enforcement.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way; she is making a powerful speech. I would like to go back to the reference that was made to women in Northern Ireland. She and her colleagues will be well aware that we have not had a functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland for over two and a half years, since January 2017, so we have no Health Minister and no Justice Minister. Would the Labour party give a clear commitment to join the Government, if we have no Assembly up and running again in the near future, to extend this much-needed legislation to Northern Ireland to protect women—and, indeed, some men—from domestic abuse in Northern Ireland? That would be a very valuable commitment from both sides of the House today.
The hon. Lady will know of my commitment to legislation in Northern Ireland—I spoke this week on children’s funerals and gambling—and I would very much like to see the Assembly reconvened. Women everywhere—victims everywhere—need to be guaranteed every protection that we can offer them.
I have very real concerns about migrant victims when we eventually leave the EU. Under the EU settlement scheme, European citizens and their families will need to apply to secure their status in the UK. Survivors of domestic abuse are at particular risk of being left out of this by abusive partners in a bid to control and isolate them. The Government must ensure that legislation is in place to support these victims, allowing them to apply even after the deadline has passed in order to prevent a situation where survivors are forced to choose between staying with their abuser or being illegally resident in the UK. The Home Affairs Committee has already highlighted this scheme as running the risk of becoming another Windrush. We must ensure that the Bill gets it right in order to prevent that.
The Bill is vital legislation that will help some of the most vulnerable in our communities and undoubtedly save lives. Home should be a place of comfort, love and stability but, for an estimated 2 million adults, and very many children, it is anything but: it is a place of fear that brings with it pain and devastation. This is our opportunity to rectify that. The Government must ensure that they not only make the changes to the law but back it up with the necessary resources and funding.
Getting to this point today has been a rough ride, and there were times when many of us thought we would never see it happen, but we all recognise that this is our optimal opportunity to change the future for domestic violence survivors and their families. We must all commit to making the changes, funding the services and reducing the tragic consequences we are currently witnessing. We desperately need this legislation to be comprehensive, robust and fully funded so that we can start punishing the perpetrators and prioritising the victims. This Bill will go down in history as landmark legislation. Let us make it a Bill that we can all be proud of.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I am pleased that my first speech on my return to the Back Benches should be on this topic—a topic on which I have worked both in opposition and in government. It is an issue on which I am pleased to say that the Government of which I was a member, both as Home Secretary and Prime Minister, took forward action, building on work that had been taken by previous Governments—and crucially, of course, a topic that is of such importance and significance to our society. Domestic abuse blights lives; it can destroy lives, and not just the life of the immediate victim but of the children and other family members as well.
I believe that this is a landmark piece of legislation. I am very pleased that we have seen, I think, more than 40 Members of this House wishing to speak in this debate. That shows the degree of seriousness with which the issue is taken by Members across this House. That view is shared across all parties in this House. It is good to hear of the co-operation and collaboration that there has been, and I am sure will continue to be, to make sure that we get this legislation right. But of course passing the legislation is only one step. This is about changing the attitude that people take to domestic abuse. The challenge for Members of this House, the challenge for the Government and the challenge for us all is to make sure that the whole of society takes this issue as seriously as those who wish to contribute to this debate today are taking it.
As I say, I think this is a landmark piece of legislation. This Bill has been described by Government—and, indeed, by charities and others involved in working with the victims of domestic abuse—as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure that we make a step change in the approach we take to supporting victims and to dealing with domestic abuse. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) for the work that she and all the members of her Committee did in pre-legislative scrutiny. They did that assiduously, with great care and with great commitment. That was a very important part of the process of making sure that we get this legislation right. I would also like to thank the charities and organisations that contributed to that and have continued to push us all on this issue to make sure that we are doing more for the victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who have championed this issue and continue to do so, and have worked so hard to ensure that this legislation comes forward and will be carried forward. It is imperative that this Bill is not lost and that we are able to see it go on to the statute book, because it will affect people’s lives—it will improve people’s lives.
The Lord Chancellor himself referred to the figure of 2 million adults experiencing domestic abuse in the last year for which there are figures. Two thirds of those, of course, were women. Domestic abuse accounts for a third of violent crime and, as we heard earlier, it is estimated to cost our society £66 billion a year. This is not something that simply takes place behind closed doors and that others can ignore; it is something that affects us all. It affects our economy, it affects our society, and it affects our young people as they are growing up. We have heard various comments about experiences that people have had. Reference was made from the Opposition Benches to the issue of young people and their understanding of relationships. I remember as Home Secretary initiating a campaign of advertisements about what a good relationship was. The saddest thing was reading some of the comments that young people, particularly young women, made when they had seen those adverts in cinemas and elsewhere: comments like, “I didn’t know it was wrong for him to hit me.” This is the sadness in our society of so many people who do not know what a good relationship is, who suffer from their bad relationship, and who suffer in silence—too many, as we have heard, suffer in silence for many years before any action is taken.
I thank the right hon. Lady—I am awfully sorry, but I am still tempted to refer to her as the Prime Minister.
When I worked in child protection, I worked with a young mother in a second marriage. She said to me: “We all expect to be hit by our husbands, don’t we? It’s just this one is so violent.” That was absolutely shocking, but not half as shocking as when we were later in court, where we were taking wardship proceedings to protect the children. The husband informed the court that I was lying—there was nothing wrong with their family or their relationship, and I was just prejudiced. The judge asked him: “Are you saying that you have never struck your wife?” After a pause, he said: “Obviously I’ve given her the odd backhander to keep her in line, but no, I’ve never been violent.” That is what we have to combat and deal with, and that is part of what this debate and the Bill must tackle.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. That is why I trust that we will pass this legislation. We will pass it in good shape, and it will make a difference, but it is only one step. It is about getting that recognition out there of what is right and what is wrong. It is very simple: it is not right to hit somebody in a relationship. But it is more than that, which I will come on to in a minute—conscious as I am of the number of Members who wish to speak, I will touch on a small number of issues very briefly.
The first issue is one that many people looking at this legislation might feel was insignificant, but it is hugely significant—the inclusion in statute of a definition of domestic abuse. Not that long ago, a number of Government Departments were working to different definitions of domestic violence and abuse. I recall that, as Home Secretary, I tried to ensure that we could at least try to get an agreement among Departments as to what a definition might be. Having it in statute is hugely important, as is having a definition that goes beyond what most people would answer if you asked them what domestic abuse or domestic violence was, which is physical violence, and recognises all the other types of abuse that take place.
It is chilling to sit and hear a woman who has been controlled by her other half for a period of time—often for years—say how it happened slowly, and that it was difficult to recognise when it started. Little by little, however, that control was exercised until that individual’s rights as an individual human being were taken away from them. That is what we are talking about when we talk about domestic abuse, so getting that definition right are incredibly important. As the Lord Chancellor said, I hope that others will use the definition in the Bill. It is referred to as the underpinning of this Bill, but I hope that others will use that definition and recognise it.
The second issue I will touch on was referred to earlier, and that is the courts. I am sure that every Member is aware of cases—indeed, the Lord Chancellor started his speech with a reference to his case 25 years ago—in which a victim of domestic abuse has not felt able to pursue, to give evidence and to go through the steps necessary to see the perpetrator brought to justice. Fear of what will happen in court often drives people, and there is also the fact that the perpetrator might well use and manipulate them to ensure that they do not give evidence in court.
I remember when I was Home Secretary talking about one case in the west midlands. An independent domestic violence advocate was describing how a woman almost did not turn up at court, even though they had done a lot of work for her to turn up. The IDVA had gone to the home to see what the problem was, and it was very simple: the perpetrator had locked the woman in a cupboard, so that she physically could not get to court to give evidence. We have to recognise the problems that victims face.
Another issue, which has been referred to by the president of the family division of the High Court, is the question of cross-examination by perpetrators. That can be an extension—in some cases, deliberately so—of the abuse that the victim has suffered. Having the prohibition of that on the face of the Bill is incredibly important.
I want to touch on the issue of children. For far too long in this country, we thought that if a child was in the room next door when someone was being hit or coerced, that child would not be affected. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think the figure for children who have been in a home where there has been domestic abuse is that they are 50% more likely to endure such abuse in a relationship later in their lives. That is why I said earlier that domestic abuse does not just blight or destroy the life of the victim, but does so for those around the victim too.
This is important. I recognise the pros and cons when looking at the issue, but I do not want us to miss this opportunity to ensure that we properly look after the needs of children in a home where domestic violence is being experienced. I ask the Government to look very seriously at recommendations to do with children, to ensure that we do not pass a Bill into statute only for people to ask, six months down the line, “Why didn’t you?” It is imperative to look at that.
I will touch briefly on two other issues, one of which is the question of perpetrators. This is a hugely difficult topic to talk about. I am sure that we would all prefer not to have the necessity of talking about domestic abuse legislation, because we want to eradicate domestic abuse—we are very far from doing that—but, if we are to get to that point, we have to deal with perpetrators. We talk a lot about supporting victims, and that is absolutely right, but finding a way to ensure that people do not become perpetrators in the first place or, where they are perpetrators, that they cannot continue to perpetrate domestic abuse, is hugely important too. It is difficult. From talking to organisations that work with perpetrators, I know that finding the interventions that will have the best impact is hard.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made a very valid and important point. That is why I say this is a difficult topic. Sometimes it seems hard to talk about working with the perpetrators, but it is important that we identify the programmes that work, and that will not be one size fits all. I think the Joint Committee made that point when they looked at this issue, which was very welcome. It has to be done carefully, but we should not shy away from it, because if we wish to see an end to domestic abuse, we have to deal with perpetrators. That goes alongside issues such as education on what a good relationship is, so that we see those sorts of behaviours being stopped at the first sign, rather than being allowed to continue.
Some might say that the last point I want to make is slightly tangential to the Bill, but I want to talk about the police. A huge amount of work has been done with the police to train them to deal with domestic violence. Many developments are very helpful. For example, body-worn video cameras can ensure that film is taken when the police turn up to a reported incident, so that someone cannot say later, “Well, no, it was okay, nothing happened.” Such evidence is hugely important. The ability through the use of technology for a police officer attending an incident to know in advance whether there have been reports of domestic violence or abuse there in the past is another important element. Also—I am sure that others have had this experience—domestic abuse victims talk about the fact that if they get a police officer who has been well trained, it works well, but when someone reports an incident, it is the police officer who is on duty who comes, and they will hand on to the response unit that comes out, and such officers often do not have the same experience. We need to look at that very carefully.
We also need to do something else—this point was made to me by one of the people involved in one of the charities dealing with victims of domestic abuse. Police forces need to look at how they deal with domestic violence and domestic abuse within the force when police officers themselves are subject to such domestic abuse. If they turn a blind eye, that gives a message to their officers about how they should treat people outside the force who are reporting abuse. That aspect has not really been focused on previously, but we should focus on it. We should be encouraging police forces to ensure that they have, within their forces, the means to support such officers properly. There will be police officers who themselves are the victims of domestic abuse, and we need to ensure that forces have the ability to support those police officers.
As I say, this is a hugely important Bill. It will, I know, be subject to very close scrutiny during the Committee stage. There is so much that is good in this Bill. There are obviously issues that the Government are being asked to look at again to make sure that we get this into the best shape that it can be. However, as I said earlier, I say to everybody across this Chamber that passing this legislation is but one move. It is up to all of us to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make clear to our society and to the public the horrific nature of domestic abuse, the impact it has on people’s lives and the need for us as a society to say, “Stop it.”
I am grateful for the chance to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). May I take this opportunity to take a different approach from the one we very often take on the Opposition side of the House, which is to pay tribute to her both for her approach as the former Prime Minister of this country and for her commitment and genuine passion? As the former Prime Minister, she committed her life’s work in this Parliament to making sure that the agenda of women and girls was recognised. I am sure that the successful passage of this Bill will be a legacy that she can be proud of, and that it will rightly go down in history as the landmark legislation of the second female Prime Minister of this country. I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for the work that she has done.
To return to the point of order made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), may I also acknowledge her dedication and commitment to women’s rights? I think no Member across this House should have to receive the treatment she has received. I am sure—I know—that the right hon. Gentleman the Speaker of this House will do everything in his power, as a champion of Back Benchers, to ensure that all the House of Commons authorities provide her with the necessary support that she requires, because no one in this House should come under fire for ultimately doing what is right and proper and what should be done, which is protecting the rights of women.
I welcome this Bill, and I agree in essence with its main principles, because domestic abuse can ruin lives and it needs to be tackled strongly. I recognise that the primary basis of the Bill will apply only to England and Wales. However, there are some limited provisions in the Bill that will have an impact on Scotland, and it is on those grounds that I want to speak today.
As the Lord Chancellor said, 2 million people in the UK are affected. Most of them are women, but not all. This is only an estimated number. It is based on the recorded statistics we have of the number of women who have bravely come forward and undergone the process of speaking out loud and saying, “I will not accept this treatment any longer”. However, it is only an estimated number because too many more women will suffer in silence and receive this ongoing treatment day to day.
I of course have nothing but the utmost respect for the law and justice and for our ability as Members of this House to produce legislation that can make a difference, but everyone in the House knows that legislation alone will not tackle this problem. I congratulate the UK Government on going some way towards taking the approach of really driving home the point that domestic violence cannot be tolerated and cannot be accepted. It is something that we want to change so that future generations will not grow up to experience this kind of world.
On this particular occasion, I think Scotland has taken a leading stance and a really strong stance against domestic abuse. In Scotland, domestic abuse accounts for almost a quarter of all violent crimes. Again, this is only an estimated figure; we have no real idea of the true figure or of the true cost that it has on people’s lives. About one in four women has experienced or reported domestic abuse at some time in their lives. It is usually perpetrated by a spouse, partner or ex-partner. Domestic abuse often includes physical violence, mental or emotional damage, or undue control or power over another person.
The SNP in government has taken a lead and taken the issue of domestic abuse seriously. I am very proud that we have been able to do that in the Scottish Government. The multiple forms of abuse are tackled by the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which for the first time introduced a “course of conduct” offence. This enables not just physical abuse but psychological domestic abuse and controlling behaviours to be prosecuted at once. As many from a legal background will know, that in itself is really hard to pin down. How do we even begin to quantify undue influence or coercive control? How do we recognise that, and how do we prevent it in a criminal statute? The fact is that the Scottish legislation is designed to address the emotional abuse that Scottish Women’s Aid has said is, for most victims, the most traumatic and the hardest aspect of abuse to recover from. It is a really significant and important part of this legislation, and I hope that the Government will take that into consideration when they come forward with the Public Bill Committee.
In a similar vein, the Domestic Abuse Bill broadens the scope of domestic abuse legislation in England and Wales. This is the legislation we are here to speak about today, and it would be a great shame if the Bill were to be lost. Should this Parliament dissolve or prorogue again and we do not succeed in passing this legislation, it would ultimately be against all our better intentions. We want to see the Bill successfully brought through this Parliament during this term, regardless of when this term may cease.
On that very point, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) has said, this is landmark legislation. All of us may have reservations about certain aspects of it and things we may want to see amended in Committee, but it is incumbent on us to support it today and get it through so that, as the hon. Lady says, it is not lost.
Absolutely. Perhaps I should use this opportunity to say that should a future Government of any coalition have to carry forward this legislation, I hope their agenda will also be to deliver on this Bill should it not succeed in this parliamentary term. It would be a great loss and a great shame were we not to see it passed in this parliamentary term, and were the right hon. Member for Maidenhead not to have it as part of her legacy, because she rightly deserves such an opportunity.
In particular, it is welcome to see the measures to protect survivors in court, including the prohibition of the examination of domestic abuse victims by their perpetrators. It seems almost unimaginable that such a procedure is even possible. The inclusion of non-physical abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse, the inclusion of children aged 16 and 17, and the appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner are truly welcome. While these measures go some way towards tackling a broad and multifaceted problem, I believe there are several areas in the Bill that could be improved in Committee.
The hon. Lady is making a very good case. There is another dimension, because we very often get women whose immigration status, for want of a better term, is not secure. Does she not agree that the commissioner should really have her powers strengthened to look at that?
I wholeheartedly agree, and I will come on to that later in my speech.
In 2017, my colleague Eilidh Whiteford’s Bill to ratify the Istanbul convention was very much about pressing the Government to do exactly what this Bill sets out to do. I know that she, although no longer in the House, would love to see this Bill passed and to see the Istanbul convention ratified as part of her legacy. Although the Government stated their intention to bring the convention’s provisions into law, two years later we are still waiting. The Bill is an opportunity for the Government to meet those intentions, but in my opinion it fails fully to meet the requirements of the Istanbul convention. I hope more work can be done in Committee to ensure that the Bill gets us to the point where we can ratify the convention.
Women with insecure immigration status find it virtually impossible to seek protection when experiencing domestic abuse. As the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) indicated, for many such women their visa status is tied to their partner or their partner has control of the necessary documents and evidence, so they are unable to escape. That goes against the crystal clear language of the Istanbul convention, which states that protection must be afforded to survivors regardless of their immigration status. I am worried that, should the Bill fail adequately to promote equality, including for those with insecure immigration status, it would risk violating our existing human rights obligations under the European convention on human rights, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women—CEDAW, as we all know it. In essence, we must ensure that we get this legislation right.
I am conscious that many people want to speak, so I am doing my best to wind up as fast as I can. In taking forward the Bill, we must consider the needs of people whose insecure immigration status means they have no access to public funds or housing support. Such people are routinely denied refuge spaces, safe accommodation and welfare, and therefore are stuck between becoming destitute and homeless and returning to their abuser. Every MP in the House will have a constituent, or will have supported a woman, who has had to seek refuge in temporary accommodation. That may have been their first interaction with a Government office, be it the Department for Work and Pensions or the Home Office. They need our support, so we must do better.
Frankly, the Government’s approach to welfare only compounds problems for survivors of domestic violence. Universal credit provisions, include mandatory waiting periods and payments to heads of households, create an environment that allows economic abuse and control. The SNP has repeatedly argued for universal credit payments to be processed and paid in advance rather than in arrears, and be made to more than one householder, in the form of split payments. If the Government do not make those adjustments, victims of abuse will continue to be unable to access the resources they need to leave harmful relationships.
As the SNP spokesperson for women and equalities, it is an honour to work with colleagues across the House, including the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and many others, as a member of the Women and Equalities Committee. The Bill relates specifically to England and Wales, but some of its provisions will have an impact on the lives of women in Scotland. The picture painted by the Minister only highlights that we have so much further to go. Let us not get another 25 years down the line and be having the same conversation.
I am proud of my honourable friend Christina McKelvie, who, as Equalities Minister in the Scottish Government, is delivering this policy in Scotland. We can do better. We must do better. Too many women and their families are relying on this Government to protect them, whether through policing or justice measures or through this legislation in and of itself. I hope this Prime Minister and this Government get this right so we can deliver for women across the UK.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, as the House will be, for being commendably succinct. Momentarily, a 10-minute limit will begin on Back-Bench speeches, and the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) will be the next speaker. However, just before I call her to contribute, I think that the House will be interested to know what I have just been advised by the Minister on the Treasury Bench: namely, that the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, is observing our proceedings today. Welcome to the House. We very much appreciate your interest in the legislation from which we hope will flow your very important responsibilities.
Hon. Members: Hear, hear.
It is an honour to follow the spokesperson for the SNP, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). I welcome the Bill and the cross-party support for it.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who looks like he may be about to go and get himself a cup of tea—I cannot blame him for that—orated at length, although his speech was comprehensive, detailed and very passionate. I recall our joint work in Committee on the Serious Crime Bill; together, we introduced the coercive control measure that so many people have referred to. I remember being asked at the time, “Why are we doing something so difficult? How are we going to train the police? How are we going to do this?” If the answer is, “It’s too hard,” we will never do anything. I am very proud that we introduced that measure, and I was very pleased to work with my right hon. and learned Friend on that. I wish him well with this Bill.
I also pay tribute to some of the people who helped us get to the Bill being brought forward. They include my right hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), and my hon. Friends the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) and for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who both served in the same Under-Secretary role in the Home Office in which I had the privilege to serve.
However, I pay tribute above all to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I stand here making my first Back-Bench speech for seven years, having been on the Treasury Bench in that time, to find that I am following my right hon. Friend. I feel quite a lot of pressure to live up to the speech she just delivered, which showed her commitment, her attention to detail and her absolute determination to deliver on this incredibly important issue. Without her, we would not be in this place today.
My right hon. Friend spoke about the challenges with tackling domestic violence. I recall, when I was in the Home Office, looking at what we could do to change things and at how we could change society on this matter. A number of contributors have mentioned attitudes. I am pleased that the old line, “Oh, it’s just a domestic; ignore it” is gone, but it was there for far too long. The other thing on which we have seen a difference is training for police officers. It is not everywhere—my right hon. Friend mentioned that there are police officers who have not had training—but when I was in the Home Office I saw police officers being trained to believe the victim and to take belief in the victim as the first port of call. They are trained to walk in not with cynicism but believing what the victim says. If somebody has gone to the police to report domestic violence, they are not making it up; it has taken enormous strength of character for them to get to the point of reporting it, and they need to hear the police officer say, “I believe you.”
I was struck by that as a new MP, when a constituent come to a surgery appointment and told me how every police officer she had dealt with had refused to believe her. They had said, “Oh, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other,” and that she must have contributed in some way.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is so important that we look not just at a pattern of behaviour but across the whole family. The troubled families programme was very good at looking at the family as a whole, seeing where domestic violence was happening and identifying its effect on children—on each member of the family.
Public awareness of the crime is another challenge we have always faced. We have talked about 2 million cases a year, but of course the number of reported cases is so much lower. Reporting is on the up, and that is very good news. We need these crimes to be reported; unless they are reported, nobody can tackle them. It is incredibly important that we improve public awareness and get an understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like versus an unhealthy relationship.
The right hon. Lady mentions something that a lot of people will be interested in: often, because the authorities do not necessarily believe them, the victim is sent back into the situation they are trying to get out of and subjected to further abuse. The other point I would make is that we should also be tackling psychological abuse.
The hon. Gentleman is right on all counts, and he takes me to my next point. One of the challenges is having the tools to tackle this crime. The problem with having only criminal measures is that the burden of proof is so high. Civil measures, which we introduced for various things, including honour crimes and domestic violence, and which of course are introduced by the Bill in the form of the new domestic abuse protection order, are very important because the burden of proof is so much lower. In the exact circumstance that the hon. Gentleman talks about, use of a civil measure means that the police can intervene earlier and prevent the crime.
I will not, if the hon. Lady will forgive me, only because I have run out of interventions. Now that I am on the Back Benches, I have to get used to not being able to take all interventions.
The other challenge is the multi-agency approach, which, again, has been talked about. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We have to deal with it through prevention and education. There is a role for so many agencies and organisations in ensuring that domestic violence is tackled. I recall, when I was Minister, visiting the domestic violence team at the A&E in Royal Stoke University Hospital. A nurse there, Mandy Burton, received a national nursing award for her work in bringing to the A&E department a focus on domestic violence, and on identifying it. That was revolutionary at the time —this was 2015. We need all agencies to work together to make sure that they identify domestic violence.
I hesitate to take up my right hon. Friend’s time, but would she accept that the medical profession has a key role to play? One of the places where physical violence will first be picked up is accident and emergency; one of the first places where non-physical, psychological, violence will first be picked up is in general practice. Is there not a case for improving education, so that there is a high index of suspicion of domestic violence in both general practice and hospitals?
My right hon. Friend speaks with personal experience and great authority on this matter. He is absolutely right. So many agencies will have interaction with victims of domestic abuse. They need to understand the signs and indications, and need the ability and strength to intervene, because that may be an early point at which we can get in, before domestic abuse that may appear to some to be low-level—there is no such thing as low-level abuse—turns into something horrendous. We know the number of homicides a year; we need to make sure that we intervene as soon as possible, in order to prevent the very worst tragedies.
That brings me on to the Bill. It is right to describe it as landmark legislation. Putting into statute a definition of domestic abuse is incredibly important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead talked about needing to have one definition that was recognised across all agencies and across the law. That is how we will help to identify this abuse, and get services and support in the right places at the right time. I referred to the civil powers; having more of them is very important. The civil powers mean that the victim can stay in her home with her children, while the perpetrator is removed. If abuse does not meet the criminal test, it may still meet the civil test, and of course breach of that civil law becomes a crime, which gives the police the power to act.
I am very pleased about the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. When I was in the Home Office, we introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who often said things that were uncomfortable for Government, but was absolutely right to say them. It is right that we should have one person working for all victims of domestic abuse.
I am pleased to see the extension of the offence of coercive control to Northern Ireland; from my previous role, I know how important that is. That reminds me of the sentence that I have probably said far more often than any other in this Chamber in the past few years: it is time for the parties in Stormont to come back together and form a Government, and do the right thing by the people who elected them. In the absence of such a Government, it is right that we take steps in the Bill to make sure that coercive control is properly recognised and dealt with in Northern Ireland.
The Bill will make a difference only if we see outcomes from it. The outcomes in my county of Staffordshire over the past few years—since I was first involved in this field—have been really quite incredible. Our police and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, has really made the issue his focus during his stewardship of the police. He introduced a multi-agency approach, and the New Era service, which gives victims holistic support. Last year, it supported 25,000 people in Staffordshire. That is a great credit to him, and I pay tribute to him for the work he has done.
Victims need the power to speak openly, and the police need the tools to bring persecutions, so that perpetrators are punished. When I was a Minister in the Home Office, I recall clearly making a speech for a colleague, as we all do. I talked about my work in the Home Office. One of the people there, who had been enjoying a lovely dinner, stopped eating, and at the end of the speech she asked me for a private word. It was very emotional. She said, “Twenty-five years ago, I was a victim of coercive control, though I didn’t know it at the time. I’m out of that relationship now, but everything you described was my life.” She said, “I remember the police saying to me, ‘We know he’s abusing you and treating you in a way he shouldn’t, but there’s nothing we can do. The best we can hope for is that when he comes home drunk tonight, he kicks the door down; then we can arrest him for criminal damage.’”
We need victims to know that the police have weapons, tools and ways to help them, because they put their trust in the police—we all do, quite rightly. We need to make sure that the police have the weapons that they need, so that they can deliver. That is how we will help victims to bring things out into the open, and put an end to domestic abuse.
So what is domestic violence or abuse, and where do we get our ideas about it from? Often we see the same images and stereotypes on TV: housing estates, working-class families, drunk men coming home from the pub, women surrounded by children, and a sequence of shouting, followed by immediate physical violence or assault. But soap opera scenes tend to focus on only one or two aspects of a much bigger and more complex picture.
Domestic violence has many faces, and the faces of those who survive it are varied, too. There are 650 MPs in this place—650 human beings. Statistically, it is highly likely that some of us here will have directly experienced an abusive relationship, and we are just as likely as anyone else to have grown up in a violent household.
Abuse is not just about noticeable physical signs. Sometimes there are no bruises. Abuse is very often all about control and power; it is about abusers making themselves feel big, or biggest, but that is not how they present themselves. It is not how they win your heart. It is not how they persuade you to meet them for a coffee, then go to a gig, and then spend an evening snuggled up in front of a movie at their place. When they ask you out, they do not present their rage, and do not tell you that while they like the idea of strong, independent, successful women, they do not like the reality. They do not threaten, criticise, control, yell, or exert their physical strength in an increasingly frightening way—not yet. Not at the start. Not when they think you are sweet, funny and gorgeous. Not when they want to impress you. Not when they turn up to only your third date with chocolate, and then jewellery. Not when they meet your friends, your parents, or the leader of your political party. They do not do any of that then.
It is only later, when the door to your home is locked, that you really start to learn what power and control look and feel like. That is when you learn that “I’ll always look after you,” “I’ll never let you go,” and “You’re mine for life” can sound menacing, and are used as a warning over and over again. It is when the ring is on your finger that the mask can start to slip, and the promises sound increasingly like threats. It is then that you spend 12 or more hours at work longing to see the person you love, only to find that on the walk or tube journey home they refuse to speak a single, solitary word to you. Eventually, at home, they will find a way to let you know which particular sin you have apparently committed: your dress was too short, the top you wore in the Chamber was too low-cut, or you did not respond to a message immediately.
It starts slowly: a few emotional knocks, alternated with romantic gushes and promises of everlasting love, which leave you reeling, confused, spinning around in an ever-changing but always hyper-alert state, not knowing what mood or message awaits you. You tell yourself to be less sensitive, less emotional, to stop over-analysing every little thing. Ignore the moods—he never stops saying he adores you, right? All seems good again.
A whole week goes by: a week of summer evening walks home and maybe a drink on the way. A long weekend is booked and organised as a surprise while you are at work. The journey there is full of promise and promises—time away alone together in a place away from stress—but then it starts. In a strange city, his face changes in a way you are starting to know and dread, in a way that says you need to stay calm, silent and very careful. He goes for a walk. You sit in your hotel room and wait. You read a city guide and plan which sights you want to visit, mentally packing a day full of fun. But he seems to have another agenda. He doesn’t want you to leave the room. He has paid a lot of money and you need to pay him your full attention. You are expected to do as you are told, and you know for certain what that means—so you do exactly as you are told.
In the months that follow, those patterns continue: reward, punishment, promises of happily ever after alternated with abject rage, menace, silent treatment and coercive control; financial abuse and control; a point-blank refusal to disclose his salary or earnings, an assumption and insistence on it being okay to live in your home without contributing a single penny, as bills continue to pile up; a refusal to work, as your salary is great and public knowledge; false promises to start paying some specific bills, which you discover months later remain unpaid; and the slow but sure disappearance of any kindness, respect or loving behaviour.
You get to the stage where you are afraid to go home. After 15 hours at work, you spend another hour on the phone to your mum or a close friend, trembling, a shadow of your usual self. You answer the phone, and the sheer nastiness and rage tell you not to go home at all. So you leave work with your best friend, exhausted and shaking, and buy a toothbrush on the way, knowing that the verbal abuse followed by silent refusal to speak at all will be 100 times worse tomorrow.
Every day is emotionally exhausting. You are working in a job you love but putting on a brave face and pretending all is good, fine—wonderful, in fact. Then the pretence and the public face start to drop completely: being yelled at in the car with the windows down, no attempt to hide behaviour during constituency engagements —humiliation and embarrassment now added to permanent trepidation and constant hurt and pain. It is impossible to comprehend that this is the person who tells his family how much he loves you and longs to make you his wife.
But the mask has slipped for good, and questions are starting. Excuses are given to worried friends, concerned family and colleagues who have started to notice. One night, after more crying and being constantly verbally abused because you suggest he pay a bit towards your new sofa, you realise you’ve reached the end and you simply cannot endure this for another day or week, and certainly not for the rest of your life. Having listened intently for two whole weeks to the sound of his morning shower, timing the routine until you know it off by heart, you summon up the courage to take his front-door keys from his bag.
You have tried everything else on earth and know for certain, 100%, what awaits you that night if you do not act today. Heart banging, you hide them carefully and creep back into bed, praying he won’t discover what you have done. You know for certain what will happen if he does. You know an apology will not follow. You know for sure it will be because of what you have done and that it is all your fault. He leaves for the gym, telling you how much he adores you. He tells you to remember that you will always be his. He kisses you lovingly, as though there has not been months of verbal abuse, threats and incidents he knows you will never disclose. He tells you he will bring something nice home for dinner.
Sure enough, the next few days and weeks are a total hell—texts and calls and yelling: “You’ve locked me out like a dog”, “No one treats me that way”, “This is the last thing you will ever do”. You cry, you grieve for your destroyed dreams, you try to heal, you ignore the emails from wedding companies, but it is like withdrawal, and it takes six months.
But one day you notice that you’re smiling, that it’s okay to laugh, and that it’s been a week or two since the daily sobbing stopped. You realise you are allowed to be happy. You dare to relax and you dare to start to feel free. You realise it is not your fault and that he is now left alone with his rage and narcissism. You dare to start dating someone, and you realise that you have survived, but the brightest and most precious thing of all is realising that you are loved and believed by friends, family and colleagues who believe in you and support you.
So if anyone is watching and needs a friend, please reach out, if it is safe to do so, and please talk to any of us, because we will be there and we will hold your hand. [Applause.]
I echo your words, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) is an extraordinarily brave woman. It takes the most enormous courage to stand up in this place and say what she has said. If any of us needed a reminder of why we are here today—why it is so important that we unite across the Chamber to take this action today—she has provided it. She will have given so much hope to so many people across the country. Knowing that it can happen to someone so beautiful, brave, strong and successful—successful enough to get to sit on these Benches—will give them the confidence, self-belief and self-worth to take action and break free from the torture she had to endure. I would like to thank her, as I am sure would everyone in the Chamber and listening at home, for being so brave as to do what she has done today. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
In the few minutes remaining, I want to raise one or two things that I would like the Minister to think about. This is an extremely good Bill. As we have heard, many Members across the House, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, have spent a huge amount of time on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and as a result it is already in really good shape.
As has been mentioned, at the heart of the Bill is culture change. The Bill starts in the right place because it talks about how we need to change our attitude towards relationships so that everybody knows what a good relationship is. That must start with every child in every school being given extremely good education about what makes a good relationship.
Does the hon. Lady agree that, as well as educating every child, we need to support children who have specific difficulties as a result of witnessing violence in their homes, and that child and adolescent mental health services need beefing up and proper funding in order to do so?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that, in addition to education, every child must be supported. We know, as has been said today, that when children grow up in a home where there is controlling or coercive behaviour, economic control or any sort of abuse, including physical abuse, they will be affected by it. Boys and girls will think, “That’s what love looks like.” Is it any wonder that so many of those affected go on to become perpetrators or victims themselves? Of course, we need to help those perpetrators understand that this behaviour is totally unacceptable, and to help those victims understand that they can be survivors and that their lives need not follow this cycle. We need to make sure that every adult who comes into contact with children understands what domestic abuse is. That means statutory training for all people in the public sector who will come into contact with children, so that they can support them to get what they need to break that cycle.
There is a group of people who are often neglected in this debate, namely older people and people with disabilities. The briefing given to us by Age UK highlights work that is replicated—I have seen it at first hand—in my constituency. I recently attended a meeting with the excellent women’s centre, which does absolutely fantastic work in my constituency, as does an organisation called SEEDS—Survivors Empowering and Educating Domestic Abuse Services. So many older women are the subject of domestic abuse, but they are the least likely to speak out about it or to have access to services. The same goes for disabled people.
Although I very much agree with the definition in the Bill, I ask the Minister to consider gathering an evidence base of the prevalence of undisclosed domestic abuse of people with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, as well as of those with physical disabilities and older people, to make sure that we have got the definition absolutely right. I know from the homicide reviews conducted in Cornwall that there are many more examples than any of us would like to think of family members financially, economically and physically abusing and even killing an older member of their family. Clearly, much more needs to be done to recognise those families who are at risk and really struggling, so that we can prevent those avoidable deaths.
It is not just family members; it can be people who deliberately befriend vulnerable people, including those with disabilities or older people. They can work their way into people’s affections with the sole purpose of abusing them. Often it is economic abuse. The definition really matters. I would like the Minister to consider the prevalence of undisclosed abuse. If it is the case, as I feel it is, that there are people beyond the family who become close and trusted friends of vulnerable people and commit this abuse, those perpetrators’ activities should come within the purview of the Bill.
In conclusion, people are right to say that victims and survivors have waited a long time for us to have this debate. They have been campaigning vigorously to get to this point. It is now down to all of us to take really important action through this Bill, so that we can prevent the avoidable deaths and the terrible suffering that go with domestic abuse, and make sure that we consign this appalling behaviour to the history books.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, and I think the whole House will be, both for what she said and for the extraordinarily sympathetic and empathetic manner in which she said it. I knew she would do that, which is why I called her.
We will have one speech lasting six minutes by the Mother of the House, Harriet Harman.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton). I absolutely agree with everything she said. I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), because what she said will save lives. We are incredibly proud of her, and she should be incredibly proud of herself.
There is so much hope and expectation surrounding this Bill. Every woman who has suffered from domestic violence and every child who has lived in a house subjected to the terror of domestic violence will be watching what we are doing today and wishing us forward. All those who work in the charitable sector and in refuges will be watching what we are doing and supporting it, as will all those who work in the police services. Up and down the country there are police officers who want to do more about domestic violence and are dismayed at how little they are able to do. The Bill will strengthen their elbow in their own police forces, and the same applies to the Crown Prosecution Service and the court services. The Bill will be a focus, not just as a piece of legislation but in the context of a determination to provide more support, including proper financial support—proper funding for services—and to see the whole issue in the round.
I pay tribute to every Member who is present to support the Bill, and to all the organisations that have given their support. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for Women, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who has doggedly pressed forward with the Bill. Let me also point out, however, that we would not have a Bill to provide this focus had not the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) made it a priority. It is our Bill but it is also her Bill that we are discussing today.
Men used routinely to get away with murder and be charged only with manslaughter, because a man could say that, although he had killed the woman, it was not his fault but hers, as she had provoked him. That was the provocation defence, which led to a charge being reduced from murder to manslaughter. A man would say, “It was only because I loved her: I killed her because I loved her, and she was having an affair”, or “She drove me to it, because she nagged me and wore me down, so she provoked me into killing her.” I am afraid that it used to be called, at the Bar, the “nagging and shagging” defence, while in Scotland it was called the infidelity defence.
It was as recently as 2009 that the provocation defence, used in that way, was put a stop to. Now, however, another version of “She drove me to kill her—I killed her, yes, but it was her fault” has reared its ugly head. Men are now, literally, getting away with murder by using the “rough sex” defence. Although the man has to admit that he caused injuries which led to the woman’s death, he claims that it was not his fault, as it was a “sex game gone wrong”. She, of course, is not there to say otherwise. In the witness box, he gives lurid, unchallengeable accounts of her addiction to violent sex, and explains that the bruises that cover her body were what she wanted. The grieving relatives have to listen to his version of her sexual proclivities, and see them splashed all over social media and the newspapers. He has killed her, and then he defines her. She is dead, so only he gets to tell the story. I will just say a few words about the case of the constituent of the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier)—the case of the young woman Natalie Connolly. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be talking about it in due course, but this is why we want to change the law to prevent men from being able to argue that “the injuries that she died by, she consented to.”
On the subject of responsibilities, does the right hon. and learned Lady recognise that the way in which the details of such cases are reported in the media, and the way in which the narrative has grown around these issues, has a huge impact on public perception and on the behaviour of men, and violent men?
Absolutely. I completely agree. Men are using the narrative of women’s sexual enjoyment of being injured to escape murder charges and face only manslaughter charges. Instead of being imprisoned for life, they are out in just a few years. The woman’s grieving family, though, are never free from their loss or the stain on her reputation. What an irony it is that the narrative of women’s sexual empowerment is being used by men who inflict fatal injuries. It is what I describe as the “Fifty Shades of Grey” defence.
The killing of Natalie Connolly is the worst case that I have come across, but it is far from the only case. In that case, not only were the relatives absolutely distraught, but the jurors were dismayed that the man had not faced a murder charge. They approached the relatives on the steps of the court and said, “What on earth happened?” They even approached me, which was unprecedented: jurors had never come to me before. We can change the law in the Bill. There is case law on this. In 1993, in R v. Brown, the House of Lords, which preceded the Supreme Court, ruled that if injuries are serious a defendant cannot claim as a defence that the victim consented. We need that in statute, so that it is right there under the noses of the Crown Prosecution Service and the judges.
For years, men got away with murder, claiming, “She asked for it.” Now we have to shut down this modern version of the defence. I want to say to the relatives of Natalie Connolly that we can see that she was a wonderful young woman. We can see that she was a precious daughter, a devoted mother, a twin sister, a beloved granddaughter. We recognise who she was, and that is what we want them to remember. We will get justice for her in a change in the law.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman). I thank her for the evidence that she gave the Joint Committee, as it helped our deliberations. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), who had enormous strength to come to the Chamber to share such a personal story. I am sure that she will take strength from the fact that those who have heard her will feel more empowered to act to put themselves into a safe position. She and I have campaigned a great deal for a number of years to get more women into the House, and I count myself lucky to have worked alongside her, given the strength and courage that she has shown today.
I commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), because without her I am not sure that we would be here today. She had the vision to pull the Bill together and, along with Ministers on the Front Bench, to create an opportunity for a step change in the national response to this issue. I was privileged to chair the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, and I thank Members both here and in the other place who gave so much of their time, those who gave evidence and related their personal experiences and, above all, the staff of the House, who gave us the most extraordinary professional service.
This is an incredibly important Bill, but I would like to make a couple of points. First, the Government need to make clear what the Bill deals with. They have tabled some amendments and promised others, but I am not sure that the Bill is in its final format regarding what the Government want to do. The Minister might want to make sure that Members of both Houses are thoroughly briefed on the final Bill, including all amendments, before Report. This is an important Bill, but the Government introduced amendments midway through our deliberations with regard to the statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge places. The consultation still needs to report, so perhaps the Minister will confirm that she will ensure that the House is fully briefed before Report.
Secondly, I make a plea not to Ministers but to colleagues. Members need to resist the temptation to use the Bill to remedy all the issues, concerns, and campaigns in recent years to do with domestic abuse. Some of them have been quite open about their wish to include abortion reform in the Bill, and while there is clearly a strong case for reform, with which I would agree, this is not the place to do it. I do not believe that we have the time in this Parliament to give that issue the attention that it demands. My plea is for a separate Bill, sponsored by a Back-Bench MP in the usual way, to deal with that, and to deal with it swiftly.
I take the point that the right hon. Lady makes about time, but we should look at making the Bill as broad and detailed as possible. We should also look at the issue of data sharing. I have a constituent whose data was shared by the Department for Work and Pensions. She was being protected by the police from her violent partner. Her data was shared, and she had to be moved again. Those kinds of issues need to be addressed in the legislation.
I am afraid I cannot take any more interventions.
I want briefly to turn to the Government’s response to our Joint Committee report and to make one point—I should like to have made a lot of others—on the inclusion of an age in the definition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead is absolutely right to say that the definition is key, but Committee members were particularly concerned about the issue of the age limit. We decided not to recommend a change in the definition of domestic abuse from 16 years and above, but that was not an easy decision for us, particularly given the personal testimony we heard from young people who felt that the police and other people in positions of authority did not take seriously violent behaviour that occurred in relationships under the age of 16. This is not right, and it has to be tackled. It may not need legislation in the Bill, but it needs the Government to urgently review the police’s response in these areas.
I would like to go on to certain other issues that I believe have to be looked at carefully in Committee. The first concerns migrant women, because the Bill makes no provision for that particularly vulnerable group. The Government have reiterated the importance of treating those individuals as victims first and foremost, regardless of their immigration status, but we need to look at how safeguards are put in place to ensure that the right support is there for those individuals, including by extending the three-month time limit to six months for the destitution domestic violence concession.
I want to talk about the importance of an independent commissioner. We like commissioners, but we do not make them very independent; we need to make sure that we do. The Government must also give details of how they will fund their statutory duty on local authorities for the provision of services.
I cannot give way; I have only 20 seconds left.
The Committee was also concerned about the absence of a definition of domestic abuse victims who are children. I am reassured by some of the Government’s comments in their reply to us, but that needs further thought, as does a confirmation that the Istanbul convention will be ratified as a result of this Bill being put into force.
I too want to begin by paying a huge tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) for her bravery in speaking out, because that is a message not just to those across the country who experience coercive control or abuse but to everybody else, including those of us across the Chamber who think she is wonderful but who did not know all she was going through and who want to support her and other people who experience abuse, control or violence across the country.
It is also really important, at a time when this Parliament and the country can feel hugely divided and angry, that we have seen so many people from both sides of the House come together on an area that is so important and in which radical reforms are needed. I pay tribute to all on the Opposition side of the House, and also to the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) for the work that she and her Committee have done on this legislation. This comes at a time when the number of people dying from domestic violence is increasing, and we should not ignore the fact that in some areas the problem is getting worse; it is not an area in which improvements are happening and we just need to go further.
I welcome the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. I raised that issue with the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) in 2013, so it is good to see this happening now, but I do think that the role has to be more independent. We have seen from the experience with the anti-slavery commissioner and the immigration inspectorate that there is a need for greater independence. Many of these issues were also raised by the Home Affairs Committee in our report last October, and I welcome some of the measures for stronger powers, including prevention powers, and the inclusion of economic abuse in the statutory definition.
I want to raise four areas where I think more action is needed. First, the creation of a commissioner is not an alternative to having a proper action plan from the Home Office and the Government. The number of domestic abuse cases reported to the police has gone up by 40% in the last two years. However, over the past four years the number of cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service has gone down by 20%. The number of prosecutions for domestic abuse has gone down by 20%. A huge systems failure is going on, and we cannot just tell ourselves it is about changing attitudes, crucial though that is. Action is needed to make the system work and to address the fact that so many cases now involve online abuse, stalking and control, making them more complex.
Our police and social services are often also badly overstretched. I have seen cases in my constituency in which obvious things were not done for victims of domestic abuse: the police were too overstretched and did not gather crucial evidence from A&E departments, for example, or individual police officers—although well intentioned—did not know about the coercive control legislation introduced in 2015. It is not enough just to change the law; we need a proper action plan to deal with the reduction in prosecutions.
My right hon. Friend is so right about why we are here today to discuss the Bill. I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), who spoke so eloquently and emotively. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason why we cannot get to grips with this issue is that the resources and support for the support network—the wonderful women’s charities and domestic abuse charities—have dwindled and been taken away? If we do not support them, they cannot support the women who need their support.
My hon. Friend is right. Refuge, for example, has faced funding cuts of some 80% of its services over recent years—that was the evidence given to the Joint Committee. We also heard that 60% of referrals to refuges were unsuccessful because of a lack of bed spaces. I hope that in Committee we can look more closely at the recommendation from the Home Affairs Committee to have a statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge places with sustainable funding supported by Government.
I want to raise the point about what happens to serial perpetrators, including serial stalkers. We recommended in our report that the Government should introduce a national register of serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators. We know from the ONS evidence that around a third of victims of domestic abuse suffer from more than one type of abuse, with partner abuse and stalking being the most common combination. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust told us that 55% of callers to the national stalking helpline were being stalked by an ex-partner. We need more co-ordination between police and social services to address that.
In a case in my constituency, a man has just been sentenced to 11 years for violent assault. He tied a noose around his partner’s neck and lifted her off the ground. It was part of a series of sustained attacks. At the time, he was on bail for other attacks, including punching his previous partner in the face, trying to suffocate her and wrapping a phone cord around her neck. He also threatened to tie a rope round her child’s neck and drag him behind his van. Laura Richards of Paladin, the anti-stalking charity, warned that this particular man had abused at least four women before, including some years ago grabbing a 17-year-old by the hair and kneeing her in the face, and the following year grabbing another woman by the throat and headbutting her in the mouth. Yet this man was able to go on and commit the abuse for which he has now been sentenced. There are so many other cases that involve serial abuse, yet the onus is still on potential victims of domestic abuse or stalking to raise their concerns with the police, rather than agencies having a responsibility to manage the risk, identify those who are committing serial violence and make sure that action is taken before it is too late.
Let me briefly raise the other concerns we had. As well as seeing the commissioner be more independent, I hope the Government will also take further account of the gendered nature of abuse. Of course men and women can both be victims of domestic abuse, but the Minister will know that women are more likely to be the victims of abuse and of the most serious abuse. That is part of a wider context of violence against women and girls. We owe it to those who experience terrible coercive control, and to their children, who can bear the greatest scars, to ensure we use this Bill to make the maximum possible change in people’s lives.
It is always a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper). She and I do not always agree on things, but I absolutely concur with her final comments to the Minister about this being a gendered crime. Of course it happens to men as well as women, but we have to look at the reality of the statistics.
I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to get this Bill out of the blocks and use this unexpected week wisely. I must also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) for her moving contribution. I wish, in a limited period of time, to concentrate on one element alone. Some may look at me with some surprise when I do this, and fear I find myself in the role of gamekeeper turned poacher, rather than the other way round. I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), does not need reminding of the meeting that she and I attended in May, alongside the Minister for countering extremism and my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), then an Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice. I was pleased to see him on the Treasury Bench for the opening of this debate. He made the point during that meeting that when considering domestic abuse it is imperative that we consider people as victims first, rather than alongside any other considerations that the Government might have. That meeting was attended by Southall Black Sisters, Imkaan and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who has not yet spoken in this debate but who has such a wealth of experience and expertise on these issues.
I was pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor talk about the need for a cross-Government approach. The meeting that I chaired and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle, attended was a cross-Government one, but, as I said to those agencies represented, it was not sufficiently cross-Government. There was no representation from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department of Health and Social Care. If we are going to address domestic abuse in all its forms, we must have all bodies around the table.
I just wonder whether we should be looking at one other Department, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, because in my constituency and in the south Wales valleys the worst spikes, when there are so many instances of domestic violence that the police are simply not able to cope, occur when there is a big rugby or football match. I simply do not understand why all the sporting bodies cannot come together to run a major publicity campaign to try to tackle this.
I welcome the comments that the hon. Gentleman makes and those that my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), a former Culture Secretary, made when she said that she was trying to do what he suggests. Of course the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government must also be involved. We have heard much about health, relationships and sexual education in schools, so the Department for Education also of course has a role to play.
I urge the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Member for Louth and Horncastle to do what she can to make sure that we are doing more for migrant women, bearing in mind that the destitute domestic violence concession is currently available only to those who come here on a family visa. We must consider those who are here as partners of refugees, those who are here en route to settlement but who have not yet got their protected status, and those who are here on tier 4 visas. We have heard much about older victims, but younger people, those who might be here as students, can also suffer from domestic abuse.
My right hon. Friend is making a valid point about the breadth of this issue and the need for Departments to co-operate. One of the most disturbing cases ever brought to my surgery—we all know how disturbing surgery cases can be—was that of a disabled man whom I had known in a different context as a cheerful, light-hearted person but who had been abused for years by his wife, who was of course much stronger and more powerful than him. Disabled people and other vulnerable people need to be taken into account here, which is one reason why we need to work across Government.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; we must work across Government and we must consider all vulnerabilities.
We have heard this afternoon about the varied forms that domestic abuse takes. It might be physical, financial, emotional. We have heard about coercive control. However, there is also the controlling behaviour that relates to immigration status. A victim is a victim first, and the law and agencies must recognise that.
The role of the Minister is not simply to speak—it is to listen; it is to understand. Earlier, I mentioned the cross-Government meeting held back in May. As I said, it was not cross-Government enough, but I certainly listened very carefully that afternoon to the voices of Southall Black Sisters, the End Violence Against Women coalition, and Imkaan, and their message was that we had to extend the domestic violence concession and must not allow immigration status to be weaponised—as we know that, by perpetrators, it very much is weaponised. That can be physical, in the sense of a passport being withdrawn, but it can also take the form of the simple threat that a victim is in this country only because of the status of the perpetrator, and that if they were to approach an agency they would do so at their peril, and might then be excluded from this country.
The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who is no longer in her place—I venture into this space with some trepidation—spoke of the EU settled status scheme and EU citizens. I urge hon. Members to make contact with Home Office officials and talk to them about the amazing amount of work that has gone into the resolution centre in Liverpool. When I was a Minister, I visited the centre and spoke to a wide range of brilliant caseworkers there. I hesitate to name her, but the awesome Gabi, who was passionate about helping those in the most vulnerable situations, spoke about recognising that there will be people who apply to that scheme who no longer have their passport, and who have no paperwork evidencing their stay in the United Kingdom, because their controlling partner has seized that from them and prevented them from having access to it.
We heard this afternoon about Government data sharing. Again I hesitate to go there, but there are occasions when data sharing can actually be a force for good. I would highlight the EU settled status scheme, which can combine evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC in order to draw a picture of someone’s life in the UK that enables those who are vulnerable, who have been victims, to pull together sufficient information. There is a call centre. I sat in on some of the calls, which were handled in the most compassionate and understanding way so that victims were not put through a gruelling process but were helped to obtain their status. When I left office, there were in the region of 1,500 people working on the scheme. I hope to goodness that there remain 1,500 people working on it today, because it is absolutely imperative that we get that right for all EU citizens who are in this country.
I know that the Minister takes this matter very seriously and I am delighted that she has seized the opportunity provided by a day that we were not expecting to be in Parliament to give the Bill a Second Reading and allow us to make progress. I urge her to continue listening to the words of current and former Ministers. I know that the current Chancellor of the Exchequer was very passionate about ensuring that the review on migrant women enabled the Bill to cover more ground and enabled us to consider the domestic violence concession and do more.
I hope that the Minister heeds that, and that when the Bill moves into Committee we can all play an active part to ensure that we make it every bit as good as it can be, embracing as many individuals in this country who have been subjected to domestic abuse as possible, to give them the help that they need.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) and others—especially my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), who is no longer in her place; I hope she is getting a nice cup of tea after making that incredibly moving and inspiring speech.
I declare my political approach: I am, as I have called myself many times, a professional feminist, and have been for 32 years; and I have been involved in domestic violence work for 32 years. That is the value that underpins my involvement, for all those decades, in anti-domestic violence work. That is not an accident; it is because the nature of domestic violence is incredibly gendered. We can acknowledge two things at once: we can acknowledge the gendered nature and at the same time acknowledge that there are male victims, and victims in same-sex relationships. I also work with the Men’s Advice Line, which supports male victims, and with Respect, the national organisation for work with perpetrators. As a perpetrator group worker at DViP—the Domestic Violence Intervention Project—I am very proud of what I learned there and hope to bring that to my speech today.
I first got involved in this work 32 years ago, as I said, in a refuge for young Asian women in Manchester. One of the things that used to break my heart was that the young women themselves would say, “What is there to try to fix him?” When I went on to work at the Women’s Aid national office in Bristol in 1991—that is what brought me to Bristol—women used to say, “What is there that might change him?” To be fair, so did the perpetrators themselves—men who use abuse. Many of them, not all, wanted to change. Professionals I worked with—police officers, social workers and refuge workers—would say, “Why isn’t there anything that we can at least try?”
I became wary of the idea that something would always be better than nothing, and so, indeed, it proved to be, as I went on to develop the country’s first accreditation standard and a system of inspection for perpetrator programmes. The Minister is very kind, as she graced me with her first meeting as a Minister to talk about exactly this issue. She will probably recognise some of what I am going to say today. I am grateful to her for her continued interest in this matter.
We found in our work, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, that separation alone does not increase safety for survivors and, sadly, this is often the time of highest risk for homicide, serious injury, stalking, murder of children and further harassment. Women wanted the programmes because they wanted their partners to be held to account. They found that, otherwise, their partners were going to mainstream therapy, marriage guidance, drug and alcohol services, or anger management. All of those services have something to offer, but none of them has the specific focus, skills, knowledge and understanding that is necessary to do good quality work with domestic violence perpetrators, and to do it safely, because, as I have said, something can be worse than nothing—a bad programme can do more harm than good.
I declare an interest. As I have already mentioned, I helped to develop the first accreditation system, along with my colleagues Neil Blacklock and Jo Todd. I feel incredibly proud that we decided to aim high. We decided that we should aim for, not one size fits all, but a programme that, whatever its shape, conformed to a very high set of standards. We make no apology for that. As Neil reminded me on the phone only this morning, for most things which are potential causes of risk such as schools, healthcare facilities, old people’s homes, and places for vulnerable people, there are regulations and a strong system of monitoring enforcement. No system is perfect—we know that—and there are people who will not benefit from perpetrator programmes, which by definition are managers of risk and places where dangerous people are at work, and who will continue to be violent. It is vital, therefore, that we have a good system on a statutory footing, so I urge the Minister to consider my plea that the accreditation system, which I am so proud to have helped to develop, is put on a statutory footing by some means during the passage of this Bill. I say that because colleagues in the women’s sector who work with women victims of domestic violence—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) will confirm this—are rightly sceptical. They challenge us to do the best that we possibly can. Being held to account by the women’s sector is, in my view, essential for any decent perpetrator programme.
I knew that, when I turned up to co-facilitate a group of violent men, I could not do that without a proper linked safety service for women and ex-partners, as well as partners, and without there being proper evaluation and monitoring. While I was at Respect, I helped to commission research that evaluated the effectiveness of good programmes. I am pleased to say that, contrary to what some people say, there is good evidence on good programmes doing good and effective work. There is also evidence that bad programmes do bad work. I urge all hon. and right hon. Members, and particularly the Minister, to grasp this opportunity in both hands and to develop a really good, sound, meaningful strategy for perpetrator programmes so that we do not have the gaps that currently exist, and to ensure that the domestic abuse protection notices can have the meaning and purpose that I and—I am sure—the Minister want them to have. I thank all hon. Members for their attention and hope that, if they want to know more, they will join the all-party group on perpetrators of domestic abuse.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire), chair of the all-party group on perpetrators of domestic abuse. I am sure that her work is extraordinary and really important.
I also follow the speech a little earlier of the Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who talked about my constituent Natalie Connolly. Natalie Connolly, as she so rightly said, would be 28 years old now. She has a young daughter and she comes from a family of loving parents, loving grandparents, a loving sister and, of course, a loving daughter.
Natalie Connolly fell into a relationship with John Broadhurst in 2016. She was, I guess, impressed with him. He was a millionaire and she came from a relatively normal background. One Saturday afternoon, they went off to a rather extensive party. That evening, they were driven home by his driver. They went back to their house, which they were renting while their main one was being renovated, and indulged in intimate activities of an aggressive nature, which were allegedly consensual—I believe were consensual.
When John Broadhurst went to bed that night, he stepped over the bleeding, unconscious body of Natalie Connolly on the steps of their house and went upstairs, leaving her there. He came down the next morning, stepped across her now lifeless body, went and had breakfast, washed the car and called the emergency services, telling the police and paramedics that she was “dead as a doughnut”—which seems extraordinary.
Broadhurst was obviously charged with murder—the Crown Prosecution Service was going to maintain a murder case. The trial happened at the end of last year and was quite high profile at the time. The injuries that Natalie suffered were unbelievably extensive, extraordinarily intimate and, frankly, utterly, utterly brutal. She had lost a lot of blood from her injuries. But the problem was—this is where the law comes in—she bled into a carpet, so it was impossible to measure the extent of her blood loss. As a result, whether she died as a direct result of the injuries, or as a result of overuse of alcohol and possibly narcotics, could not be absolutely confirmed. The charges were therefore dropped from murder to manslaughter by neglect, owing to the fact that Broadhurst had left her behind to bleed to death overnight.
The problem was that to get this change of charge, someone had to sit down and talk to the family. I have met the family—an immensely kind and loving group of people. I sat down with them and we had a conversation about their daughter, who had been besmirched by this vile man. Their last memories of her will be of the court case—people discussing what he alleged about her and her hideous, unbelievable injuries. As I sat with this family, I looked at a group of people whose memories of Natalie should be of buying her first Snow White costume or Barbie doll when she was a child—all the stuff we want to do as parents who love our families. Being asked to understand the risk-balances of complicated legal issues put this family in an intolerable position, as they had to work out the right way forward to get a prosecution.
One of the unbelievably brilliant things about this House is that we are actually not divided when it comes to this sort of thing. The Mother of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, reached out to me before Christmas and said, “Are you aware of this case?”, so the two of us worked together. I am not a lawyer, so I do not particularly understand these legal issues, but she does; this illustrates how good we can be as a House. We visited the Attorney General to see whether there could be a retrial, but he said, “Actually, no. In this particular case, the sentence was right because of the reduction of the charge.” So together—actually, me being led by her and learning from her—we want to table a couple of amendments.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend.
There are two points. The first is that “she was asking for it” cannot possibly be a defence when somebody dies. Apart from anything else, the individual does not have the ability to defend themselves, and their reputation is being destroyed in front of the people they loved, the people who care for them and their friends. That is absolutely wrong. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” defence cannot be allowed.
The second point is that victims’ families are not qualified to make the decision about changing the charge so that there can be a better chance of a conviction. We need people who are brilliantly clever at this—brilliant barristers who are brave enough to fight these cases on behalf of the victims. But what we can do is ensure that the decision is made by somebody who really understands the process, so that the Director of Public Prosecutions is the one who is consulted if a change is going to be made in a case pertaining to this type of injury and homicide in a domestic abuse setting. In that way, these families will get the support they need.
Natalie Connolly would have been 28 now, with a young daughter growing up in a warm family, but she is no longer with us. If there is any way in which we can remember her, we have to do something to make sure that this can never happen to anybody ever again.
There have been many days recently when I have not been particularly proud to be a Member of this House, but today I am intensely proud, particularly following that wonderful speech, which I will find it difficult to follow, and the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and from the Mother of the House and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. Each and every one of them has made us feel something.
There have been too many times in this place when we have had to be hardened and stoical or put on a brave face. Today I am not going to put on a brave face. Today we have a huge opportunity to make a difference for victims of domestic abuse in our constituencies. We all know them and care for them, and I do not think there is a woman alive in this country who has not experienced some of that behaviour or who knows somebody well who has. Now we have a chance to do something about it. This is a good day.
I will be resisting, though, those who say that we should show some restraint and not try to widen the Bill. This could be a rare opportunity. We might not get another such Bill for some time. We need to look to Departments other than the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, such as the Department for Education, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health and Social Care, to find out what we can do more broadly to support victims of domestic abuse.
I have seen the journey in my constituency that this field and the women’s organisations that support victims have been on. In 1976 in Darlington, we first had what was then called a refuge for battered wives. Thank God we have come a long way since then. It is now a safe haven for survivors. I want to take the opportunity to celebrate those who worked together to provide that vital service. They were the Rev. John Wright, Harry Cass, Val Portass, Louie Hutchinson, Isobel Hartley, Dot Long and Lillian Elliott. They are heroes, because if they had not done what they did then, my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) would not have had the opportunity to make the impact that they have. Those people were pioneers and they deserve that recognition and to be celebrated.
I am very worried that the Bill is limited to abuse experienced by people over the age of 16. I would accept that as appropriate if Ministers could show us where abuse under the age of 16 is sufficiently dealt with in other legislation. If it is dealt with adequately in other Acts of Parliament, fine. I just do not believe that it is at the moment.
I very much agree that children are often massive victims themselves, which can often have lifelong consequences for them. Does the hon. Lady agree with the Children’s Commissioner that the lower age limit of 16 should be removed from the Bill?
I do not know whether I agree with that or not, but this issue needs to be examined in great detail as the Bill progresses. This is the first opportunity that we have had to raise it in this place in this way. It needs further thought and consideration, and I am certain that it will get it.
I understand the point that the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) made, but does the hon. Lady agree that this issue is the best argument for every child in this country having relationship education and that we should absolutely dismiss anybody who says otherwise?
I completely agree, but relationship education is not enough, because I am afraid that the horse has already bolted. The University of Central Lancashire has done some research that will reinforce what I think everybody, particularly if they have teenage children, will know in their gut. Half of young people in relationships between teenagers are reporting emotional abuse and a fifth are reporting physical abuse. A third of girls have reported sexual violence. A quarter of boys have reported some form of sexual violence. Over 50% have reported abuse via new technology. Controlling behaviour through surveillance and being pressurised into sexting is the most common form of abuse reported by girls. If there are two teenagers and one of them is insisting that they check the other’s phone and use apps to monitor their location, that is a red flag if ever there was one.
The fact is that we are not adequately supporting young people and intervening. Given my background, I understand very well about not wanting to criminalise young people—I completely get that—but I am not seeing a framework, criminal or otherwise, for intervening and adequately tackling these kinds of problematic behaviours. This must not be dismissed as somehow less important because it is about two people who are under the age of 16; in fact, it is more important. There is an opportunity to intervene that we are missing repeatedly.
The problem with this Bill is that we are focusing on how the system should work. In the Bill Committee, we will receive assurance after assurance from Ministers saying, “Your worry will be taken care of because of this or that measure.” I have been through this far too many times to take those kinds of assurances at face value. We must be forensic and persistent, and we must continue to debate this in the way we have this afternoon.
I have high hopes for this Bill—I really do. I think it could be Parliament at its very, very best. But we must be persistent, we must be clear about what we want, and we need to work with those heroes outside this place who really do know what they are talking about, and who we will have to go back to when we have completed this process and say, “We’ve done our best by you.”
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. We have heard two of the most powerful speeches I have heard in my time in Parliament. First and foremost by a country mile was that by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield). It was one of the bravest and most powerful speeches I have ever heard not just in this place but anywhere. Her contribution to this debate will be remembered for an awfully long time, and this debate will be remembered for her contribution to it. Following hot on her heels was my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), who also made an incredibly powerful speech regarding his late constituent. If those examples do not force us into some kind of action, nothing will. It is a pleasure to follow their speeches.
I want to make points that I do not think anyone else will make, which is often my role in these debates. In all this consensus I want to try to stop the idea that we have had throughout this debate that domestic violence is a gender-based crime. It is not, and we would be doing a huge disservice if we were to run away with that idea and make this legislation work only on that basis. Men are perpetrators of domestic violence; men are victims of domestic violence. Women are perpetrators of domestic violence; women are victims of domestic violence. I will go through the figures in a second to show why it is not gender-based. We in this House have a duty to treat everybody equally before the law. I hope that it does not matter whether the perpetrator is a man or woman—they should face the full rigour of the law regardless—and whether the victim is a man or woman, they should have exactly the same safeguards from this House. I hope that that is what this legislation will do and I do not want to hear any ideas that it should not be like that.
For the record, the latest official figures that are available show that someone is one and a half times more likely to be a female victim of domestic violence in a lesbian relationship than in a heterosexual relationship. We should not be leaving behind those victims of domestic violence by running away with the idea that it is gender-based. In fact, 5.1% of men reported being victims of non-sexual partner abuse with a male partner, which is exactly the same level as women have with a male partner. Men are just as likely to abuse a male partner as they are a female partner. So this is not gender-based violence—it is unacceptable violence by all sorts of people and we should treat them all equally before the law.
My hon. Friend needs to accept the fact that women are more affected by domestic violence than any other group. Does he not agree with the Joint Committee recommendation that, rather than putting it on the face of the Bill—perhaps for some of the reasons he is talking about—we should take the approach that the Government have accepted and have statutory guidance to ensure that those who commission services are clear about the need to reflect the needs of women in the services that they provide?
I want all victims to get the services that they need, but we have just been hearing on our Women and Equalities Committee about instances of male victims of domestic violence. We heard very moving accounts of that recently. We all want to ensure that they get the services that they require too. This is not about either/or. I want to see everyone who is a victim of domestic violence get the treatment and support that they need. I do not care whether that is a man or a woman, and nor should anyone in this House. We should want to provide those facilities and services for everyone—whether someone is in a majority or a minority category is irrelevant.
Having got that on the record, there is much in the Bill that I support and some things that I would like to be added to it. In the time available, I want to mention the two things that I would like to see added. In recent years, one of the things that I have been increasingly troubled by is the level of parental alienation, where one parent tries to turn the children against the other parent, using the child as a weapon in their dispute. That is a growing phenomenon, which I see in my surgeries and is well documented.
Clearly, in some cases, in particular when domestic violence is taking place, it is right for the parent to be removed from the whole family. I am a hard-liner on crime, as most people know, and I would have the courts treat perpetrators of domestic violence much more severely than they are at the moment. However, where there is no good reason for a parent to remove the other parent’s contact with the child, that parental alienation should in itself be seen as a form of domestic abuse. One thing that has come out in this debate, rightly, is that often the people who are the biggest victims of domestic abuse are the children. When a child is deliberately turned against the other parent for no good reason, that should be included in the definition of domestic abuse—[Interruption.] I am surprised that the SNP think that is a particular problem, but that is a matter for them to explain. They ought to meet some parents who suffer from parental alienation and then they might realise what a massive issue it is for them; often it leads to suicide. The SNP ought to think about those people.
When people make a false allegation of domestic abuse—which is also a very serious thing—the Government should consider that to be a form of domestic abuse as well in this legislation. That is one of the most terrible things that someone can be wrongly accused of.
After the terrible scenes in the House last week, it is reassuring that this House can also be a force for good. However, there remain things on which we passionately disagree, and I refer to what the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has just said. But I have a limited amount of time, so I will concentrate on what I want to say about the Bill.
I can testify personally to the importance that the Bill holds for survivors of domestic abuse, both in my constituency and further afield. It is a progressive reform that should be celebrated, but the Bill could go even further to protect survivors. and I am disappointed—I have mentioned this before—that children who have witnessed abuse have not been included in the statutory definition of domestic abuse victims.
People know that I am passionate about the issue of adverse childhood experiences and preventing them. Witnessing domestic abuse in childhood is a traumatic experience and we must recognise that. Adverse childhood experiences greatly increase a child’s likelihood of ending up in the criminal justice system, or of being part of an abusive relationship themselves. This is not about when they are directly abused, but about when they are witnesses. That in itself is such a traumatic event. For that reason alone we must make sure that children are included in the statutory definition. I urge the Minister to look at that again.
The Bill fails to safeguard survivors against homelessness. Under the current system, survivors of domestic abuse are not automatically placed on priority needs lists for social housing. Instead, they are required to undergo a vulnerability test—they have to go through traumatic evidence of their abuse to prove that they are vulnerable. We have already heard testimony about how retraumatising certain things are when people have to relive their experiences. We must not retraumatise survivors. This approach means that all too often survivors end up homeless because they do not want to go through the retraumatising event. Recent studies suggest that 12% of homeless families cite domestic abuse as the reason for their homelessness, while only 2% of priority housing lists are made up of domestic abuse survivors, so we can do better: we can have a system that assumes that survivors of domestic abuse are all vulnerable, as all our evidence on the subject suggests, and ensures that they are prioritised in housing allocations, therefore keeping survivors off the streets. We can do better.
Another part of the legislation I worry about—it has been mentioned—is the use of polygraph tests. I understand it is only a pilot, but its use even only to determine an offender’s licence after release is troubling. Polygraphs are not reliable and the inclusion of polygraphs in this legislation goes against the grain of the Bill, confusing modern reforms with outdated methods.
I disagree that the cost of domestic abuse prevention orders should be shouldered by the police force taking those orders to court. That undermines the whole idea of domestic abuse prevention orders. It puts policemen in the position of having to use resources that simply are not there, or convincing a victim to go to the courts on their own because they do not have to pay. We can do better. We can use proven methods to determine if rehabilitation has worked and we can create funding methods that do not place burdens directly on to local police.
Finally—I have already said this today—I must mention the Istanbul convention, which is still unratified by this Government. Ratifying the Istanbul convention would go a long way towards addressing the concerns about the Bill. It would also prove that this Government are not afraid to match global standards on care for survivors. Ratification would mean that support systems were not just promised but guaranteed for survivors. It is time that this Government step up not only with warm words, but with meaningful actions.
The Bill will allow many more survivors to seek justice, but alone it is not enough. We must try to support survivors beyond the courts to rebuild their lives.