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Domestic Abuse Bill

Volume 802: debated on Monday 9 March 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what funding has been allocated for a public information campaign to accompany the Domestic Abuse Bill.

My Lords, the Domestic Abuse Bill includes an all-purpose definition of domestic abuse to ensure that the nature of abuse is fully understood. It emphasises that it is not only physical or sexual violence, but includes controlling or coercive behaviour and economic abuse. As part of our plans for implementing the Bill, we are considering options for public awareness campaigns.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. While I welcome the reintroduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will create a more effective approach to tackling domestic abuse, the problem will not go away simply because of legislation. One in four women in this country will suffer domestic abuse—one in four. Given that statistic, we may all know someone who is suffering behind closed doors, someone who is too ashamed, humiliated or frightened to come forward, even to their family or friends. I hope the Minister will agree that in order to break the silence, we really need to start a national conversation. The Government must play their role by raising awareness of this horrific crime and encouraging all of us to confront and challenge an issue that is still taboo in our society.

My Lords, I agree wholeheartedly with everything that my noble friend says. Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall made the same point in her speech to the Women of the World Festival just last Friday, when she said that

“laws alone cannot change behaviour … Domestic abuse is everyone’s problem and the solution must be too.”

In terms of the role that the Government can play, we certainly see the merits of a public information campaign and we are exploring options for it. However, my noble friend is absolutely right: we all have a part to play in confronting this if it is not to continue to be hidden away as it has been for so long.

Do the Government appreciate that there is still much work to be done on this? It has been recommended by a wide range of groups, particularly for those most at risk, the most vulnerable, those women with complex needs, that every public sector worker who has interface with the public understands, through trauma-informed training, the reactions of women who have been abused and who suffer trauma because of it. Will the Minister, as part of this drive to reduce domestic abuse and abuse against women, take it upon herself to investigate how trauma-informed work is spread, so that whenever a woman goes for help, the person she encounters understands the basis of her need and reacts appropriately?

I wholeheartedly agree. The point about a trauma-informed response goes not only to those women—and it is mostly women—who suffer domestic abuse but also to their children. It informs literally everything around that trauma, whether it is the policeman who is called to the house, the healthcare professional assisting a woman in hospital or the person taking a statement, if she has to give one. I know the police are well on in bringing forward training for first responders, but everyone has a role to play in this.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that quite a lot of domestic abuse is intergenerational and is unreported, because a mother is very unlikely to report abuse committed by her son? She would feel ashamed. I think we overlook the amount of abuse that is committed in this way.

I do not think that that point has ever been made in this House; the noble Baroness raises a disturbing issue. It is true: people perhaps think they see it but cannot pinpoint it. It goes back to the point made earlier about people being trained to see these things, because some older people are in that horrendous situation.

I thank the Minister for mentioning children. Given that the Bill will inform the way that people engage with domestic abuse, what provision will be made to ensure that the needs of children are properly highlighted to enable a child-focused response?

I think the one way the new Bill differs from the original Bill is that it introduces a statutory duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children in safe accommodation. The other thing that might help the right reverend Prelate is that statutory guidance will also reflect the effect on children.

My Lords, while I welcome the Bill, which was well overdue even before it was delayed by events, can the Minister tell the House when she anticipates that, assuming its smooth passage through Parliament, it will actually come into force?

My Lords, at least 59 women have been killed in the UK by men who claimed that their death was as the result of sex games gone wrong. According to the campaigning organisation We Can’t Consent To This, in the last five years this defence has been used successfully in six out of 14 cases that went to trial, resulting in a conviction for manslaughter or even an acquittal. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will use the Domestic Abuse Bill to ban the “rough sex” defence?

My Lords, there are some complexities in this, but it is absolutely right that we reinforce current case law so that a person cannot consent to something that leads to serious injury or even death. We are looking at the best way to achieve this.