House of Lords
Tuesday 5 January 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Cavendish of Furness
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from 1 January, of the noble Lord, Lord Cavendish of Furness, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to the House.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, I wish noble Lords a happy new year. The Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally.
Oral Questions will now commence. I ask that those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points, and that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
My Lords, I recognise the concern that the loss of the Hull to Zeebrugge route has caused. My colleague the Maritime Minister, Robert Courts, met P&O Ferries on 15 December, when he raised the closure of the route. This is a commercial matter for P&O and, although the local impacts are very regrettable, I am satisfied that our national freight resilience has not been compromised.
My Lords, it may be a commercial matter for P&O, but when it closed the route P&O said it was doing so in light of the Covid pandemic. Given that the Government are spending literally billions of pounds to run very large numbers of almost entirely empty trains up and down the country, do they not think they should be pressing P&O to keep this route open? This route is not a luxury but is crucial for the flow of tourism from France and elsewhere in Europe, which the north wishes to see reinstated as soon as possible when restrictions are eased.
My Lords, although the loss of this route is regrettable, in present circumstances, with passenger traffic severely constrained, it would not be in the public interest, nor fair to other operators, to maintain empty capacity there at public expense. There continue to be services for both passengers and accompanied freight from Hull to north-west Europe through Rotterdam and freight services to Zeebrugge from the Humber.
My Lords, ferries are the lifeblood of many communities around the United Kingdom, and the Government have trumpeted a new shipbuilding strategy—at the moment, without any new ship orders. The noble Baroness has highlighted to me before in this House the Government’s push to reduce merchant ship emissions as part of the green revolution. To focus on just one of the many opportunities that I think there are to pull these threads together, I ask her to encourage the Government to replace the almost 50 year-old Scilly Islands ferry, which will soon not be able to run at all, with a new, green ship—I do not mean its colour, of course—to be built at Appledore, a very efficient and capable West Country shipyard with currently no work whatever, ensuring the continued future link between the mainland and the Scillies and killing three birds with one stone.
I thank the noble Lord for his question, which is slightly beyond the remit of what we are discussing today—but never mind, I will take his suggestion back to the department. The department is very keen to make maritime more green and it is the case that the ferry service to the Isles of Scilly is a lifeline service. It is essential that it continues, and it should do so in the greenest ships possible.
The Minister said that the local consequences of the decision to close this route were “very regrettable”. In Hull, they are more than very regrettable. Hull has the highest unemployment rate in the country, along with Blackpool, so can she say how much strategy is being put into deciding not just which jobs will be kept open but where jobs will be kept open? As part of the levelling-up agenda, Hull is clearly in need of help.
I agree with the noble Baroness that it is very important that we make sure that job losses are kept to an absolute minimum, and I understand that that is indeed the case. The Government remain committed to Hull being one of our key ports within England; it is the 13th largest port in the country. It should be noted that there remain daily sailings to Rotterdam from Hull and that, in general, Hull will remain a very strong local economic area.
My Lords, will my noble friend give us a commitment today that the Government will do all they can to reinstate a ferry service that would be viable at the first available opportunity? Will she equally ensure that the spare capacity now in Hull will be used for freight, to increase freight capacity from the north and ease the bottleneck at Dover?
My noble friend will be aware that there are currently 19 routes going from the east coast of England across the North Sea. Plenty of freight routes are already in existence and therefore I do not believe the loss of this route will have a significant impact on freight, as I have said. However, it is worth delving a little more deeply into the viability of this service. Tourists—cars and passengers—have been declining on this service since 2014, and substituting that loss with freight did not compensate the business sufficiently. Also, the ships on this route are ageing and economically obsolete. I fear that this service was not in it for the long term in any event.
Quite recently, the Government were happy to fund a ferry-less ferry company, but now they seem unwilling to help a well-established service. The Minister has said that there are plenty of freight routes but, at the point when hauliers are grappling with the new post-Brexit bureaucracy, should not the Government be doing everything possible to broaden ferry options rather than reduce them?
As I explained to the previous questioner, there are already several—indeed, 19—routes that freight can take across the North Sea, and those will continue. I therefore do not see that the concerns of the noble Baroness have any merit at all. The Government also have government-secured freight capacity; as she mentioned, these ferries are for category 1 goods and will be needed if there are any problems at the short straits.
It is clear from the Minister’s answers that the Government did nothing to try to persuade P&O’s owners in Dubai not to pull the plug on the long-standing Hull-Zeebrugge service. Will the Government take into account P&O’s decision to withdraw this service, and thus not back Britain and its employees at this critical time, when deciding in future whether to award any taxpayer-funded contracts or other financial support to P&O?
The Government did not do nothing; they had conversations with P&O, which operates many ferry routes in the UK. It reached its decision based on the factors I have set out. However, when we were at the height of the pandemic for the first time round, the Government supported this route to see whether it could be viable in the long term, funding it to the tune of £1,272,000. Despite this funding, it has become clear that the medium-term viability of this route is simply not there.
My Lords, the Government have said that taking back control is an important dimension to everything they believe in and that levelling up is their next major priority. I am sure that the Minister is aware that, in Yorkshire, tourism and food exports are fundamental to the economy and that over half its food exports go to the European continent. Is she really sure that we should leave decisions such as this to a company in the Gulf and that public interest does not require the Government to fulfil their commitment to levelling up the north by keeping links such as this going?
I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to reconfirm, following the many times I have already done so, that the Government believe that there are freight and passenger services already operating from the east coast to the EU which will be able to support Yorkshire and the whole of the north.
My Lords, more generally, what measures can the Government advance to ensure that the UK’s distribution arteries, both inbound and outbound, are not held hostage to the commercial vagaries of the private sector—and the public sector, for that matter—and that marketplaces and strategic destinations are not only kept open but added to, as necessities now dictate?
The noble Viscount will know that the maritime sector is an extremely well-developed and highly competitive private sector. The Government work very closely with it; we endeavour to intervene when there are problems, but on the whole we do not. For example, we worked very closely with the ports recently when there was a 15% increase in year-on-year container capacity. That is now beginning to resolve itself. Furthermore, we also provided £200 million in one-off grants to support ports through the port infrastructure fund. There are things we can do, but in general the maritime sector remains a private sector.
My Lords, we welcome the ongoing work and support of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity and its report The Future of Obesity Services, which continues to make a valuable contribution to the debate. We published Tackling Obesity: Empowering Adults and Children to Live Healthier Lives last July, which demonstrates an overarching campaign to reduce obesity, takes forward actions from previous chapters of the childhood obesity plan and sets out measures to get the nation fit and healthy.
I thank the Minister for his reply, but he will know that we have had several obesity strategies before. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that this latest strategy is implemented in full without delay? Can he provide an update on the timelines for implementation? One of the main concerns of our witnesses was that the full range of services should be provided everywhere in the country, with easier access at any stage of the pathway. Will the Government take this on board?
I thank the noble Baroness very much for the recommendations of her report. Implementation is key. We have 13 workstreams, which is too much for me to go through in detail, but yesterday evening I tweeted a full list of each of them for her interest. Her point about implementation on the front line is extremely well made. I reassure her that the NHS plan makes it very clear that front-line services should provide obesity support in all the right cases.
My Lords, the report quite rightly encourages the Government to continue their promotion of better health and to develop an obesity prevention strategy. Twenty years ago, food was moved largely out of the Ministry of Agriculture into the Department of Health. Obesity is a question of our relationship to food. Could I encourage the Minister, in the light of changes to the way we do agriculture, to focus also on health and how, locally, the relationship between health, agriculture and the provision of food can actually be deepened?
The noble Baroness puts her point extremely well indeed. Undoubtedly, there is a movement in the country as a whole to relate more closely the production of food in this country and the way in which healthy eating relies on good, locally produced food, and I take on board her points entirely. We very much take obesity more seriously as a result of Covid. That has given our plans a huge amount of energy, and the sponsorship of the Prime Minister has been very vocal.
My Lords, would my noble friend agree that serious mental illness—SMI—must be a significant factor in the commissioning of and referrals within obesity services if those currently experiencing obesity and mental illness are to get the service, support and help they need?
My Lords, not everyone who is obese has mental illness, but some people who are obese do have mental illness. That is why we announced measures on weight management in Tackling Obesity: Empowering Adults and Children to Live Healthier Lives, which makes clear proposals for how those who have obesity as part of their mental illness challenge can be supported and provided for.
My Lords, I obviously welcome the report from the APPG, but I feel that we have heard it before and that its problem is in its implementation. I would like to make the point that a lot of our emphasis on the prevention of obesity is about stopping the promotion of unhealthy foods, whereas we do very little to promote healthy foods and to make a healthy diet affordable. Children from the poorest households are, at the moment, the most likely to suffer from obesity, but they are also suffering from food poverty. Healthy food is currently twice as expensive per calorie as unhealthy food, so just having a policy of restricting access to unhealthy foods can actually risk pushing people more into hunger and making them end up eating cheaper food. So, in order to address the inequalities in obesity levels, it is vital that restrictions in promotions of unhealthy food must be balanced by an increase of healthy foods, plus a really good public health campaign that encourages people to eat more healthily and tells them how.
The noble Baroness makes her point very fulsomely. We are doing a huge amount on advertising, promotions, front-of-pack nutritional labelling, out-of-home calorie labelling, alcohol calorie labelling and a whole range of stuff. The noble Baroness may well shake her head, but the truth is that this Government are doing more than any previous Government in this matter.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the all-party parliamentary group involved with the report. We recommended that the Government should build on their Better Health campaign with a public information campaign. Picking up on the last point of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and on the Minister’s remark that he had tweeted about the 13 streams, is not the basic problem that the public are not aware that we are trying to run a campaign and that we need a clear relaunch? This is the opportune moment to do it, when we have such problems with Covid.
The noble Lord rightly alluded to the Better Health campaign, and I remind him that we did relaunch it yesterday. That went extremely well and got a lot of coverage. But there is only so much that government advertising can do; I do not think that we can advertise our way out of this problem. It is up to individuals to make their own decisions, it is up to GPs to give the support that people need and it is up to us as a society to accept that the health of the nation is important to its resilience and to its long-term health. Until those decisions are made, we struggle to make progress in this area.
My Lords, what works in rural Cornwall may not work in metropolitan Camden. Could the Minister tell the House whether there is a plan to require local integrated care systems to develop a local obesity prevention and treatment strategy for their population, strengthening existing services and sharing good practice across the national network?
Yes, I am glad to be able to reassure the noble Baroness that ICSs will be instructed to take obesity as part of one of their primary framework objectives. In fact, that is a very good example of how ICSs will make a big impact on complex issues such as obesity and how that impact will be felt in far-flung communities such as those in Cornwall.
My Lords, there is much to commend in the Government’s obesity strategy, but the restrictions on broadcast advertising are completely wrong-headed and based on no evidence whatever. In fact, I think that the Government’s own impact assessment says that it would reduce calorific intake by 1.7 calories—the calorie value of a Tic Tac. If the Government are determined to pursue this wrong-headed strategy, could the Minister assure me that they will not impose further restrictions on broadcast advertising until they level up and impose the same restrictions on online advertising?
My Lords, I can give my noble friend no such assurance. The decrease in sugar in soft drinks, as he knows full well, between 2015 and 2019, was 43.7%, and the increase in soft drink sales during that time was 14.9%. With six out of 10 adults and more than one in three children between the ages of 10 and 11 technically obese, clearly more needs to be done.
My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, is quite correct, and I did appreciate the Minister’s last answer to his noble colleague. But perhaps the Government need to consider healthy food where they can actually influence this, such as in hospitals, schools and care homes, and reinstate standards for healthy foods in those places.
Yes, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. There are parts of the Government’s estate where more could and should be done in order to promote healthy foods. I pay tribute to the work of Prue Leith, who has done a lot to champion healthy food in hospitals. Progress has been made; I visited Southampton hospital with her earlier last year and saw her bringing healthy food direct to the patients, and the use of trolleys in order to ensure that warm food is delivered and that food does not have to come out of a plastic bag. More can be done, but I reassure the noble Baroness that we are working hard at it.
The Sikh community has for some years run lectures and health checks in gurdwaras to reduce the calorie-rich diet of those from rural communities to one more suitable for the more sedentary occupations in the UK. Would the Minister agree that, with a little support from the Government, our places of worship can be of real help in reducing an above-average incidence of obesity and associated health risks in those from the subcontinent?
The noble Lord makes an incredibly important point, and he makes it very delicately. I am extremely grateful to him for bringing this to the Chamber. It is true that many people from rural communities in the subcontinent bring with them eating habits that are simply not appropriate for modern life. We have seen that in Covid, where some of the most challenging incidences of Covid ITU have been in communities with a high level of people from the subcontinent, whose eating habits have, frankly, left them in no good state to fight this horrible disease. Tackling that issue is extremely complex, and I am extremely grateful to the Sikh community for setting this good example.
My Lords, first of all I point out my residential and commercial property interests as set out in the register. The Government are committed to promoting fairness and transparency for homeowners and are taking forward a comprehensive programme of reform to end unfair practices in the leasehold market. Last year, the Law Commission published reports on enfranchisement, commonhold and right to manage. We will announce details of how the Government will take forward reform in this area as soon as possible.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I declare an interest as one of England’s 4.3 million leaseholders. Owning a leasehold property can be a nightmare for many. The whole feudal system, unique to England and Wales, is designed to protect the interests of freeholders, and their professional acolytes, at the expense of leaseholders. Even appreciating the pressures of the current Covid crisis, will the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government please get a move on and treat leasehold reform with the urgency it demands? No more delay, please.
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, not right to say that leasehold as a form of tenure is a relic from a feudal age that exists nowhere else in the world? Instead of trying to patch it up, should we not be actively replacing it with commonhold for new developments and much easier enfranchisement for existing ones?
I thank my noble friend. There is no doubt that in this country we are unique in having leasehold. We need to focus on reform, which will take this forward to a position similar to that in Scotland or on the continent, where people are co-owners of their property.
My Lords, five years ago the Leasehold Knowledge Partnership warned the Government of the pending ground rent and leasehold scandals. At the time, the Government promised legislation by the summer of 2018. It is now 2021. Why has it taken them so long to bring forward legislation?
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that any mechanism to enable leaseholders to acquire the freehold of their property should include all parts of the property, as recommended by the Law Commission, so that we do not end up in a situation where a leaseholder acquires the freehold of their flat and then another freeholder owns the communal staircase and the roof? In that case, you would have all sorts of problems in the future. If we are to have reform, we need to reform it properly.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to acting in this area and I hope that it happens soon. As part of that action, will the Government also look at existing ground rent charges, some of which are set at unconscionable levels?
My Lords, I assure my noble friend that some of the “fleecehold” practices that we have seen around ground rent escalations are absolutely abhorrent. That is one of the things that the Competition and Markets Authority is looking at, and I take my noble friend’s point very seriously indeed.
My Lords, I will not make such a statement today in the House but a statement will be made very shortly. Community land trusts are a separate policy matter. I agree with the noble Baroness that community land trusts are a way forward—not always the right way but one way to use land for the benefit of a particular community.
My Lords, there is no doubt that you need to turn to lawyers to know how long it will take to turn these things round quickly. We need primary legislation. I have been told by Professor Hopkins, who was in charge of the Law Commission work, that the preparations to get primary legislation ready for consideration by noble Lords will take approximately one year, so we are probably talking about the third Session.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Young, said, commonhold is often a much better option than the current leasehold system. However, despite that, many mortgage lenders are reluctant to lend on a commonhold basis. What discussions have taken place with mortgage lenders to try to unblock this?
Commonhold exists today but the noble Baroness is absolutely right that this will require change, which is always difficult. Never underestimate the power of the status quo. Discussions have happened and will continue to take place with interested parties such as the lenders, which are so important to making this a success.
My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend has confirmed that the Government will act on these excellent reports, and the sooner the better—as far as I can glean, it may well be coming. Might my noble friend comment also on the Government’s position on the “right to manage” elements of the various reports, which make it easier for tenants with difficult freeholders to manage their properties in their own interests?
Education: Turing Scheme
My Lords, thousands of students will be able to study and undertake work placements across the world through the new Turing scheme, which is replacing the UK’s participation in Erasmus+. The new scheme will provide funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas, starting in September this year. We are already engaging with educational institutions and expect applications to open in the coming weeks.
My Lords, that is all very well but we had assurances from the Prime Minister and government Ministers that after Brexit we would continue to be part of Erasmus—yet more broken promises from this shameless and incompetent Government. How does the Minister see the Turing scheme replacing the life-changing opportunities afforded by Erasmus without reciprocity with our EU partners?
My Lords, the Government promised to negotiate with the European Union to seek continued participation. Unfortunately, the ideas that we advanced in the spirit of compromise to try to reach a deal that was good value for money fell on deaf ears. The Government see the Turing scheme as bigger, broader and global in outlook, allowing students to avail themselves of opportunities beyond 27 other countries.
My Lords, the Government say that they want the opportunities provided by Turing to be open to all, so will they guarantee that all the costs will be covered, as they are under Erasmus? I note that in the noble Lord’s Answer he spoke only of students at colleges and schools. How will the Government ensure that the opportunities are truly open to all, including apprentices, volunteers, jobseekers and the burgeoning number of financially disadvantaged young people, including students? Will the Minister therefore give a commitment that the modalities will be 100% covered for each and every one of these groups?
My Lords, we want to ensure that part of the new Turing scheme is a focus on disadvantaged students—those who may not have had the opportunity to benefit from programmes such as Erasmus+ in the past. We are working directly with educational institutions to make sure that people are able to take up those opportunities and we will provide additional funding for disadvantaged students to cover, for instance, the cost of passports or visas, or for students with disabilities to undertake preparatory visits to make sure that all the necessary accommodations can be made for them.
My Lords, students holding British passports studying in a Northern Ireland university are to be offered access to the Erasmus+ scheme, paid for by the generosity of the Irish Government. What happened to Michael Gove’s promise, made just six months ago, as we have heard, that
“we will continue to seek membership of those programmes across the United Kingdom”?—[Official Report, Commons, 11/6/20; col. 383.]
My Lords, we certainly understand that the Republic of Ireland has unilaterally suggested that it might be possible for students in Northern Ireland to take part in Erasmus+. It is not clear how that would work in practice or what the European Commission’s position on that would be, but I can say that UK-wide funding is available as part of the Turing scheme, and universities, colleges and schools across the whole of the UK will be eligible to bid for it, including those in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, while I welcome anything that at least partially replicates the Erasmus and Erasmus+ schemes, which have been very successful, the absence of two-way exchanges with Europe is to be regretted. I ask my noble friend how we intend to replace the elements of Erasmus which gave support not only to educational exchanges with Europe but to wider activities, with training, youth and volunteer activities, and the necessary administrative staff?
My noble friend is right to point out the inbound element, and the UK remains an attractive destination for international students, with nearly half a million studying at our world-class universities. On some of the other elements of Erasmus+, sport, for instance, represented a very small part of the programme, representing only 1.8% of the overall budget, but, through our own government schemes such as through Sport England, we have been investing more than £1.2 billion between 2016 and this year on grass-roots sport and physical activity programmes, so we are ensuring that attention is given to them.
My Lords, as has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, Erasmus is as much about students coming to the UK as it is about our students going overseas. Indeed, I believe we have been receiving twice the number of students that we have sent away, which is a tribute to our universities and effectively balances the cost of our students going abroad. Surely the Turing scheme or others must provide the means to continue that balanced exchange of students, their teachers and those involved in coming up with innovations needed to keep our economy competitive.
My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Erasmus was a scholar at the university of which the noble Lord was vice-chancellor. Inbound student participation is important as well. That is why we are pleased that there are nearly half a million international students studying in the UK and why the Government have an international education strategy to continue to build on that number. We have four of the world’s top 10 universities and remain an attractive destination.
My Lords, Monsieur Barnier said that pulling out of Erasmus was a choice the Government made. Why was that? If the Turing scheme to replace Erasmus is to succeed, it must reach a high bar. How will it genuinely encourage higher participation rates from disadvantaged students? How will it cover incoming students? Will participants have to pay extra fees at international student rates? And will the net gain to the UK economy be as high as it was under the Erasmus scheme?
My Lords, we were clear throughout the negotiations that we were willing to pay a fair price to continue participating in Erasmus+, but we could not justify a large net contribution such as the new programme was envisaging. We would have been paying in nearly £2 billion more than we got back, and we did not think that would represent value for money. We put forward a number of ideas in the spirit of compromise, but, unfortunately, the EU was unwilling to consider any of them. That is why we are setting up our new Turing scheme, which, as the noble Lord says, will focus on people from disadvantaged backgrounds. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, we will be working directly with education establishments to ensure that people from around the whole UK, particularly from underrepresented backgrounds, can benefit from it.
My Lords, I am minded to ask what price one can put on life-changing opportunities such as those lost with the Erasmus scheme. I declare an interest as an academic involved in Erasmus+ programmes over the years. What thought are the Government giving to ensure that modern foreign language training remains and that students have the opportunity to become embedded in other cultures, because that is vital to ensure that we have important networks in future?
The noble Baroness is right to point out the life-changing opportunities that educational exchange provides. People had life-changing experiences taking part in Erasmus. Under the new Turing scheme, they will be able to do that globally, learning languages not just from the European continent but languages such as Japanese, Mandarin and Arabic, and representing the truly global outlook that we want for the UK.
My Lords, the Turing scheme will be a welcome improvement for British students, because it will increase the choice of countries in which they may study, reflecting the wider international aspirations of global Britain, and because it will represent better value for the taxpayer. However, nearly one-third of the 480,000 international students who studied in the UK in the 2018-19 academic year were from EU countries. Does the Minister agree that it is important that we continue to attract significant numbers of students from Europe? How will the Government help British universities replace their connections with their European partners to achieve that, especially given that the number of incoming students from China may decline?
My noble friend is right to point to the increased choice and opportunity available to students under the new Turing scheme, and to the nearly half a million international students who already choose to come to study here in the UK. We are keen to extend that, as I said, through our international student strategy and the appointment of Sir Steve Smith as the Government’s international education champion.
After years of training, young musicians are often the most impoverished, but they are central to our cultural heritage. Music education offers much more than just music. Among other things, it promotes cognition and collaboration, which is essential to music and, indeed, to all education. What provision will be made under Turing now that we have left Erasmus?
Arrangement of Business
House of Lords Appointments Commission
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the House of Lords Appointments Commission is an independent, advisory, non-departmental public body. The Government have no plans to change the role and remit of the organisation.
Does the Minister not recognise the deep and widespread concern that has been expressed about the Prime Minister’s approach to appointments to this already overpopulated House? He has now become the first Prime Minister ever to overturn the explicit advice of the Appointments Commission in relation to the propriety of an appointment. This is not an ad hominem issue; it is an issue of real principle. Will the Minister now accept that we need to rebuild public confidence in the process of appointments to this House by creating a commission whose remit and independence is protected by statute?
My Lords, I do not normally support political conspiracy theories but the Prime Minister’s recent actions lend substance to the now widespread view that he is deliberately trying to undermine the credibility of this House and its institutions. I echo the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in asking what will be done to restore confidence. In particular, how will the Leader of the House, who, as the Minister knows, has a special responsibility to represent the whole House, ensure that our reputation and authority are protected at the centre of government?
My Lords, I cannot answer for the Leader of the House; I answer on behalf of the Government. The Government that the noble Baroness had the honour of serving nominated 354 Members to your Lordships’ House. I think that getting too excited about my right honourable friend’s record so far is probably not appropriate.
My Lords, recent appointments show that the Government have, in effect, torn up the Burns report. Do they have a strategy for the size of the Lords, or will this Prime Minister continue to dole out peerages to his chums and financial supporters at will?
My Lords, as the Government have no plans to change the system for appointment to this House, can the Minister kindly clarify the principled justification—if any—for permitting the appointment of Members of the sovereign Parliament to continue to be vested in the unconstrained power of the Prime Minister of the day?
Does my noble friend agree that the opposition of this House to the clearly expressed view of the British people on leaving the European Union means that there is a danger that if the House of Lords Appointments Commission—drawn largely from the same pool—has statutory powers, it could lead to appointments that divorce this House even further from the population of this country?
My Lords, I would not follow my noble friend entirely in the course of his question. It is certainly true that the reputation of this House rests not on who might come here soon but on those of us who are here and how we have conducted ourselves. In that, I agree with my noble friend.
My Lords, I am not reassured by the Minister’s answers to the questions that have so far been put to him. How long will this House have to endure the disgraceful behaviour of a Prime Minister who blatantly ignores the cross-party agreement to keep the size of this House from growing year on year and who ignored both the Court of Appeal’s judgment on Mr Cruddas’s behaviour—it described it as “unacceptable, inappropriate and wrong” —and the independent advice of the Appointments Commission that this man is not a suitable candidate for a peerage?
My Lords, I am certainly not following the noble Baroness into what was described earlier as an ad hominem comment on any individual. On the Burns report numbers, which I think she refers to, neither this Prime Minister nor the previous one assented to any limit on numbers.
Can my noble friend tell the House whether there have been any discussions with the chairman and members of the House of Lords Appointments Commission since the Prime Minister’s latest decision? Does he accept that, as it appears that persons can effectively buy a position in this House—at least, that is the impression given—that brings us back to the days of the rotten boroughs? Does he not realise that all of us suffer, and the reputation of the House suffers, as a consequence?
My Lords, I do not agree with my noble friend. The question of the resourcing of political parties is a vexed one, as noble Lords know, and has affected all political parties. I cannot comment on contact between the Prime Minister and HOLAC but I can say that the chairman of HOLAC has written to the Public Accounts Committee on the matter—that is on the record—and the Prime Minister, with full transparency, has placed his own letter on the public record.
My Lords, having long supported a statutory Appointments Commission, I accept that it may be difficult to define criteria such as propriety in precise legal terms. Certain financial transactions, for example, while reprehensible, may be entirely legal. So would the Minister agree that extending the remit of the independent commission to include a thorough assessment of the competence and/or appropriateness of a political nominee would be helpful to regain public confidence?
My Lords, again, I do not accept the charge of a lack of public confidence in this relation. The role of the House of Lords Appointments Commission is unchanged; it makes observations and gives advice. The commission’s role is advisory, and the Prime Minister has said that he places great weight on its careful and considered advice and will continue to do so.
Is it not right that the Prime Minister should have the ultimate say? He should of course consult the commission, which he has done, and he has come to a different view. That is wholly proper, and I very much welcome the Minister’s declared intention not to change the system as presently constructed, which has served Prime Ministers of all parties, since its formation.
I am grateful for my noble friend’s comments. There is a certain imbalance in some of the response to the Prime Minister’s appointments. My position is to welcome all those coming to your Lordships’ House, including the person who has been unfairly attacked today.
My Lords, I listened carefully to the Minister’s answers and I do not think he has addressed the Question first put to him by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who was the first Lord Speaker of this House, or that of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, a former Leader of the House. They asked what he is going to do to restore public confidence. While the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, is right that the role of the commission has not changed, the attitude of the Prime Minister to its recommendations has changed. In three key areas—the size of the House and the Burns committee report, by-elections of hereditary Peers, and now the integrity of the appointments system—the Government are lagging behind the House of Lords. I take the Minister back to the original Question: what do he and the Government intend to do to restore and improve the reputation of the House, which has been damaged by ongoing appointments and an increase in size?
My Lords, I disagree that appointments are damaging the reputation of the House, as keeps being put. I am grateful that all noble Lords are, as I am, jealous of the reputation of the House, but if quantity of appointments were the issue, it would have been badly damaged under a previous Administration. The noble Baroness referred also to appointments of hereditary Peers. If we are talking of statutory matters, I suggest that the House of Lords looks at the statute on this matter.
Thank you, Lord Speaker. I declare my interest as a former chairman of HOLAC. Its advice was accepted by all Prime Ministers, from Tony Blair to Theresa May. If its advice is discarded, the system pretty quickly falls into disrepute. Does the Minister agree that the Appointments Commission should be seen as a creature of this House and that its chairman and members should be chosen by this House?
My Lords, many will reflect on the matter that the noble Lord raises, but I think it is dangerous for this House to assert the right to decide who should or should not be its own Members. That is a constitutionally strange place for an unelected House to go. I repeat that the Prime Minister said in his published letter that he gave very careful consideration to the points raised in the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission in the case referred to today, and weighed them against other factors. The Prime Minister will always give close attention to the commission’s careful and considered advice.
My Lords, it has been asserted that public confidence in your Lordships’ House has been lost because of the number of Members, but does my noble friend agree that there is no evidence for that and that therefore there is no need to change any of our arrangements, which work extremely well on an advisory basis, for the appointment of Peers to this House?
Yes, I agree with my noble friend. I believe that the reputation of the House is weighed on many factors other than this. The behaviour of Members, including those recommended by the House of Lords Appointments Commission to sit on the Cross Benches, is one of the factors that the people who watch this House consider.
My Lords, while I welcome the Government’s approach to this and my noble friend’s answers today, does he agree with me that placing the House of Lords Appointments Commission on a statutory footing might avoid the current disproportionate allocation of membership to your Lordships’ House, with the potential to allow a quicker, more efficient programme of work to be achieved?
My Lords, a large number of considerations were wrapped up in that beguiling question. There is an argument that, as this House is not elected, its reputation rests on its expertise and that therefore a considerable number of Members might be desirable, as they bring their expertise here. I simply rest on the point that we should not be carried away by, sadly, a political attack on a particular individual. All noble Lords should be prepared to welcome all our new colleagues, when they come to your Lordships’ House.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing and remind Back-Bench speakers of the advisory time of four minutes.
Domestic Abuse Bill
My Lords, I am pleased to be moving the Bill for two reasons: first, it is at last here in your Lordships’ House and, secondly, from my point of view it is not often that I bring Bills to this House that are universally welcomed. For those reasons, it is a particular pleasure to be introducing this Second Reading.
I want to dedicate everything that we will achieve through the Bill to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse; to all those courageous people who have spoken out about their experiences, whether in Parliament or outside it; and to those who do not lack courage but are still too traumatised to speak about their experience, maybe even decades after it first happened. We should be their voice. It is important that we see the Bill as a start. Other Bills will follow, but the Bill today is a great start in dealing with this most awful of crimes. I say to noble Lords, and I know they understand, that we should not let the best be the enemy of the good.
A person’s home should be a place of safety and security, and a person’s relationship with their partner or other family member should be based on love, mutual respect and understanding, but for some 2.3 million people a year that is not the case. Many such people have to face physical or psychological abuse on a daily basis, which can make their lives insufferable. Some pay the ultimate price: on average, two people are killed each week at the hands of their current or former partner. It is only fitting that I pay tribute to Claire Throssell, who received an MBE in the New Year’s honours list for her tireless work campaigning for children experiencing domestic abuse. She lost her own two sons, Jack and Paul, who were killed by her ex-partner.
We have seen that the Covid-19 pandemic has served to exacerbate the problem as victims have been trapped in their home with their abuser. Police-recorded crime data shows that incidents of domestic abuse increased 7% in the period of April to June last year compared with the same period in 2019. These are horrendous statistics and they mask many individual personal tragedies, lives ruined and children traumatised, many of them for life. If there was ever an issue deserving of our attention and needing decisive action, this is it.
Of course, legislation alone cannot solve society’s ills, but it can play an important role in driving change and empowering those who need help, and I firmly believe that is the case with this Bill. I welcome the fact that the Bill comes before your Lordships’ House having already been the subject of extensive scrutiny, a point well made by the Constitution Committee in its report on the Bill. A draft Bill, published in January 2019, underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses, and I pay tribute to the significant contributions to that process by my noble friends Lady Bertin, Lord Farmer, Lady Sanderson and Lady Chisholm—they are all sitting behind me, which is great—the noble Baronesses, Lady Armstrong and Lady Burt, and the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Blair. As a result of that invaluable pre-legislative scrutiny and the consideration given to the Bill in the House of Commons, I hope that I present to your Lordships’ House today a much-strengthened Bill.
Let me turn to the detail of the Bill. The measures in it are best described around four objectives. They are: to promote awareness, putting domestic abuse at the top of everyone’s agenda; to better protect and support victims of domestic abuse and their children; to transform the response of the criminal, civil and family justice systems to domestic abuse; and to improve performance across local and national agencies.
We cannot tackle domestic abuse effectively without first having a shared understanding of the nature of domestic abuse and its impact on victims. The new, all-purpose statutory definition of domestic abuse in Part 1 is directed to this end. Historically, domestic abuse has been associated with physical or sexual violence only, but such a narrow view is to misunderstand the very nature of this type of abuse. Domestic abuse can take many forms, including threatening, controlling or coercive behaviour, economic abuse and psychological or emotional abuse.
The statutory guidance provided for in Clause 73 will, among other things, expand further on the different types of abuse and the forms they can take. This will include types of abuse which are experienced by specific communities or groups, such as migrant victims or ethnic minorities. The guidance, which we have already printed in draft, will also recognise the disproportionate impact of domestic abuse on women.
The statutory definition of domestic abuse includes a minimum age of 16 years so that we do not confuse domestic abuse and child abuse. We fully recognise, however, that children growing up in a household where one adult is abusive towards another are as much victims of domestic abuse as the person being directly abused. Children affected by domestic abuse can live with those consequences for the rest of their lives; Clause 3 expressly recognises this and will help to ensure that such children receive the support they need.
The second aim of the Bill is to better protect and support victims of domestic abuse and their children. In affording protection, civil orders can play an important role. There is already a variety of such orders, principally domestic violence protection notices and orders, occupation orders, non-molestation orders and restraining orders. The fact that there are so many of these orders can be confusing to victims, and none of them is arguably fully up to the task.
In providing for a new domestic abuse protection notice and domestic abuse protection order in Part 3, we have adopted and built upon the strongest elements of the existing orders. The domestic abuse protection notice will provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident, while the domestic abuse protection order—or DAPO—will provide flexible, long-term protection for victims. The DAPO is designed to provide more comprehensive protection to victims than the existing civil orders. It will be available in the criminal, civil and family courts, and will give courts the flexibility to determine which prohibitions and positive requirements are required in each case. This might include, for example, prohibiting the perpetrator from going within a specified distance of the victim’s home, or conditions compelling the perpetrator to attend a perpetrator programme or requiring them to wear an electronic tag.
Breach of a DAPO will be a criminal offence subject to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both. We want to ensure that we get these new domestic abuse protection orders right so that they work for victims, the police, the courts and others who will have to operate them. We will therefore pilot DAPOs in a small number of areas before rolling them out nationally.
It is far preferable if we can prevent abuse happening in the first place rather than having to respond after the event. One important preventive tool which already exists is the domestic violence disclosure scheme, also known as Clare’s law. There are two elements to the scheme: one is the “right to ask” and the other is the “right to know”. Under the right to ask, someone can ask the police to check whether a current or ex-partner has a violent or abusive past. If records show that an individual may be at risk of domestic abuse from a partner or ex-partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. The right to know enables the police proactively to make that disclosure if they receive information about the violent or abusive behaviour of a person that might impact on the safety of that person’s current or ex-partner. We know that Clare’s law has not always operated as effectively and consistently as it should across the country, so the Bill puts on to a statutory footing the guidance to the police underpinning the scheme to help improve its operation and thereby better protect potential victims of abuse.
Victims of domestic abuse and their children also need the right support at the right time. For those in refuges or other safe accommodation, this means having access to, for example, counselling services and advocacy support to help them access NHS services, schooling or welfare benefits. This also includes tailored support for victims with disabilities, those with more complex needs, LGBTQ+ or black and minority ethnic victims. Part 4 introduces a new duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to ensure that such support is available in their area for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. Noble Lords will have seen that following the spending review, the Government have committed £125 million to fund this new duty in 2021 and 2022.
Those who are forced to flee their own home as a result of domestic abuse will also benefit from Clause 71, which will require local authorities to give priority need status to all victims who are homeless and eligible for assistance. Victims will therefore no longer need to prove they are vulnerable as a result of their abuse in order to access accommodation secured by the local authority.
Where victims of domestic abuse look to the justice system for protection, including for their children, to seek civil redress or to secure justice for criminal wrongdoing, we need to ensure that the criminal, civil and family courts deliver for them. All too often, victims have found the experience of giving evidence in court traumatising and an occasion for their abuser to perpetuate the abuse all over again. To help to address this, Part 5 includes two important reforms.
First is the prohibition on cross-examination in person, which already applies in the criminal courts. This will be extended to the family and civil courts. In cases where this prohibition applies the courts will, where necessary, be able to appoint a publicly funded advocate to conduct the prohibited cross-examination. Secondly, Part 5 streamlines the rules governing eligibility for special measures for domestic abuse victims giving evidence in the criminal, civil and family courts. Victims of domestic abuse will no longer have to demonstrate that they are vulnerable. This will give victims the option of giving their evidence, for example, from behind a screen or via a video live-link. As now, it will be for the court to determine whether to make a special measures direction in any particular case, taking into account whether such a direction would improve the quality of the victim’s evidence.
In criminal proceedings relating to domestic abuse it is imperative that justice is done, with perpetrators being appropriately convicted and punished for their crimes. As this Bill was going through the House of Commons the Government listened to concerns, voiced by Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier among others, that in too many cases domestic abuse perpetrators were arguing that their victim’s death was the result of consensual “rough sex gone wrong”. In the case of R v Brown, the former Appellate Committee of this House established in 1993 the principle that consent to serious harm for sexual gratification is not a defence and that, by extension, nor would consent apply where such sexual activity resulted in the victim’s death. The Bill clarifies the law by enshrining this principle in statute.
Finally, Part 2 of the Bill, providing for the office of a domestic abuse commissioner in law, will help to level up the response to domestic abuse across local and national agencies. The designate commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, is already providing very strong leadership on domestic abuse issues and acting as a powerful voice for victims. The commissioner will play a key role in overseeing and monitoring the provision of domestic abuse services in England and Wales. To facilitate this work, the Bill will arm the commissioner with appropriate powers; in particular, they will have the power to publish reports and lay them before Parliament. These reports will hold local commissioners of domestic abuse services, statutory agencies and government departments to account and make recommendations on how they can improve their responses. Specified public bodies will be under a duty to co-operate with the commissioner. They and government Ministers will be required to respond to each recommendation made to them within 56 days.
Domestic abuse gives rise to some of the gravest and most challenging crimes, including coercive control, serious assaults, rape and murder. We owe it to victims and survivors to treat domestic abuse with the seriousness it deserves and to help these people rebuild their lives. Protecting and supporting victims and their children and bringing perpetrators to justice lies at the heart of our approach. The measures in the Bill are directed to these ends and I commend it to the House.
There are some 2.4 million adult victims of domestic abuse, in all its many forms, a year. We are told two-thirds of these are women and one-third men. That figure does not include those victims aged 75 and over, for whom up to now there have been no available figures. Many query the basis of those ONS figures and the extent to which they reflect reality—the reality being that it is women, who are not specifically mentioned in the Bill, including in the definition of domestic abuse, who are far and away the ones who are most disproportionally affected by such abuse. Some 92% of defendants in domestic abuse cases that come to court are men.
It is emphatically not a minor crime. For women in particular, it is a crime that often savagely ends their life. For many more, it destroys their life, and for even more, it leaves both physical and emotional scars that can last for years, if not a lifetime. What the next annual victim figure will be, we do not know, but the available evidence to date indicates that, as a result of Covid-19 restrictions on movement and more working from home, domestic abuse in its many forms has risen sharply—not least because domestic abuse also works from home.
We welcome this Bill and the much-needed opportunity it provides for real, positive and meaningful change for the prevention of domestic abuse in all its forms and the provision of support for victims. We welcome the way the Government worked during the passage of the Bill through the Commons, many months ago. A number of changes improving the Bill were secured; for example, preventing “rough sex” being used as a defence for serious harm, and providing that domestic abuse victims will automatically be eligible for special measures in family court proceedings and for the statutory definition to recognise children who see, hear or experience the effects of domestic abuse as victims of domestic abuse.
We are grateful for the briefings and meetings that have been offered and taken place with organisations and stakeholders with expertise and first-hand, front-line knowledge in this field, which have highlighted how far there is still to go. I would also like to pay tribute to the Joint Committee of MPs and Peers who carried out pre-legislative scrutiny, not least to my noble friends Lady Armstrong of Hill Top and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who served on that committee—many of its recommendations were accepted in whole or in part by the Government. On Report in the Commons, we pursued a number of issues, which we will be raising again.
The Bill puts a duty on local authorities to provide support for victims in accommodation-based services. This is a major step forward, as long as the accommodation provided is appropriate and that small, specialist providers—particularly of services for black, Asian and minority-ethnic victims—are not overlooked in favour of larger providers. However, most victims—nearly 70%—access support services in the community rather than using refuges or other accommodation-based services. To address this reality, we also need a duty on public authorities to commission specialist services in the community for victims of abuse.
It is crucial that this Bill works for children affected by abuse and keeps them safe. We strongly welcome the change agreed to in the Commons to recognise children who witness and are affected by domestic abuse between adults as victims of that abuse. However, between 2006 and 2019, at least 21 children were killed during contact with fathers who were perpetrators of domestic abuse. We believe there should be a change to the existing legal presumption of contact for parents with their children where there is evidence of domestic abuse. We also consider that unsupervised contact should be prohibited for a parent awaiting trial or on bail for such abuse offences, or where there are ongoing criminal proceedings for domestic abuse.
In our view, the Bill does not do enough to protect migrant women who suffer abuse. They are a particularly vulnerable group, whose abusers are able to use their immigration status—or rather lack of it—to prevent such victims reporting or escaping from their abuse. There should be recourse to public funds for these victims, and safe reporting by ensuring that the data of a victim who reports abuse cannot be shared to be used for immigration control purposes, and there should also be leave to remain. The system should help women when they need help and not see some as an immigration case first and victim second.
Currently, victims of domestic abuse who are on a spousal visa and who leave their abuser are granted three months’ grace in which they can apply for leave to remain in the UK and access financial support. This period of time has often proved too tight. This protection should be extended to six months’ grace and cover women on all visas, not just spousal ones.
We believe there should also be a non-discrimination clause that would specify that all victims, regardless of status, must be given equal protection and support, reflecting the language of Article 4 of the Istanbul convention, which provides that women must be protected equally, regardless, for example, of immigration status, disability, sexual orientation or religion.
There are many other issues that are likely to be raised during the consideration of the Bill and I am not going to even try to refer to all those of which I am already aware. However, one issue is that the new domestic abuse orders should be extended to cover the workplace. Other key issues include making non-fatal strangulation a specific stand-alone offence instead of it being covered, as has been argued, as a summary offence under the Offences against the Person Act 1861. We have surely moved on, in both attitude and approach to this crime, since 1861. There is also a need to ensure that disabled victims are protected by the Bill in relation to abuse in care relationships.
There is a need to look further at the welcome provision in the Serious Crime Act 2015 of the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, but which currently applies only where the victim is still in an intimate relationship with, or still living with, the perpetrator. We want to look at extending the offence so that it covers coercive control that can often drag on for years after separation—through, for example, control of shared finances. While prevention is better than cure, we are nevertheless short of a detailed national strategy for perpetrators, which, among other things, would focus on changing perpetrators’ behaviour and preventing further abuse. That deficiency should be addressed.
Finally, while the Bill rightly recognises that economic abuse is a key means used by perpetrators to coerce and control victims, we also need to provide a safety net for those victims who find themselves economically powerless and unable to afford to escape abuse. Welfare reforms over recent years, such as universal credit and the two-child limit, have restricted the financial resources that women have access to, but need, to enable them to be independent of their abuser. All future welfare policies and policy changes should be specifically impact-assessed for their effect on domestic abuse survivors.
The Bill, with the further improvements we and others want to see included, will not deliver on its objectives unless the necessary resources, financial and human, are also provided. It is no good giving extra statutory powers and additional statutory responsibilities without all the necessary resources needed to deliver, since that simply results in having to make cuts to other, often crucial, complementary services. Ensuring that the needed resources to deliver on this Bill can be fully financed is the Government’s responsibility, and we will want to be satisfied that it is a responsibility the Government accept and intend to meet in full.
To deliver, we also have to make sure that we have a criminal justice system that not only protects victims but provides justice in a way in which those who are victims of domestic abuse not only can have confidence but actually do. That means a culture, across the board, of zero tolerance of domestic abuse, with a determination that offences will be fully investigated, perpetrators brought before the courts, existing and new orders fully monitored and enforced, and the required resources to do all this made available. It also means that all necessary and effective support for all victims must be provided in practice and not just in theory—in other words, a culture in future on domestic abuse that, where it cannot be prevented, results in victims knowing, and perpetrators fearing, that justice will be done.
My Lords, this has been a heck of a long time coming, and so many victims, particularly during the pandemic, have suffered in the meantime—but we finally have a Bill that will soon bring some relief to many victims of domestic abuse. Late or not, it is very welcome. We acknowledge and welcome all that the Government have done so far, but any Bill can always be improved, and I am grateful to the many organisations that have contacted our team with proposals. We have listened, and we hope that the Government will continue to fine-tune this Bill to make it even better.
I am afraid I have a bit of a shopping list to include, for which I apologise in advance. On the statutory definition, we very much welcome the inclusion of “Children as victims” and the concept of “Economic abuse”. However, there is a gap in the economic abuse provision in relation to post-separation economic abuse, which is a major tool of the perpetrator to retain control and prevent a victim moving on with their life. The Government can expect to see amendments to this effect.
We would also like to see child-on-parent abuse covered within the definition—and teen-on-teen abuse, introduced by my colleague Christine Jardine in the Commons. On the domestic abuse commissioner, we would like the reporting arrangements altered so that the commissioner reports to the whole of Parliament, which would reinforce the total independence and power that the position should command.
To tackle abuse, particularly murder, effectively, the commissioner needs to be able to gather information from all bodies that report on domestic homicide and suicide, so the Minister should expect an amendment to place a duty on all those bodies producing reports to forward them to the commissioner. On enforcement, the introduction of domestic abuse protection notices and orders is very welcome, and other members of the Lib Dem team will be making comments on this.
Part 4 talks about the local authority response. Some 70% of services to victims are provided through local authorities. However, placing a statutory duty on local authorities to provide hostel accommodation is having the perverse result of other services being robbed of resources by cash-strapped councils to fulfil this duty. The duty must extend to more council services because hostels are the last resort. We hope that pressure on hostels can be relieved by a more holistic approach to all services, with education, health—especially mental health—housing, police, social care, independent advisers and counsellors et cetera all working together. However, to do this, they need communication systems and training; there will be amendments to ensure that they can receive it. Talking of training, I particularly mention perpetrator training programmes, provision of which is very sparse and patchy, but they are our big hope for ending these cycles of abuse.
We need to do away with the postcode lottery of services, which change in nature and extent from area to area. There should be a national needs assessment so that the true picture can be seen and addressed. One of the greatest injustices is the way the system works against the victim, who loses the family home, and not the perpetrator—so there will be an amendment to transfer tenancies to victims.
On courts, the introduction of special measures is very welcome. However, we ask the Government to have a look at the evidence test where abuse has to be proved before special measures are introduced. Proof is not always readily available where there have been some forms of coercive control, for example, and there is no material evidence, but the victim has nevertheless been intimidated. Charities would like to see a statutory declaration, rather than actual proof of abuse, used to trigger special measures.
I am sure the Minister expects amendments on presumption of parental involvement in the courts, particularly when the accused perpetrator enjoys unhampered visiting rights when they are awaiting trial in domestic abuse cases—I am sure the House will not disappoint her. We also welcome the abolition of the “rough sex” defence in Part 6. Apart from miscellaneous issues such as polygraph testing, which I personally cannot see any conclusive evidence for, that covers the Bill as it stands.
However, there are areas that have not been covered; for example, ensuring that the most vulnerable and often the most abused victims—migrant women—are protected. The “no recourse to public funds” rule means they are unable to access the support that they need, and their stark choice is between the prospect of homelessness and destitution or staying with the abuser. If we believe that all individuals, regardless of who they are, deserve to be protected, we must ensure that these victims can access material help and support—so there will be amendments to extend the domestic violence rule and the destitution domestic violence concession to all migrant victims of domestic abuse.
The issue of police sharing information on migrant domestic abuse victims is reinforcing the threat used on victims to comply with their abusers. As such, we need safe reporting mechanisms to ensure that victims can come forward to authorities without fear of the information being leaked to immigration authorities. This was a strong recommendation of the cross-party consultative committee, and I am rather disappointed that it has not found its way into the Bill already.
Somewhere in this Bill, we need to recognise a new offence: non-fatal strangulation—a shocking and horrific means of abuse, designed to terrify and achieve compliance in victims. There are few external visible signs, except when the victim is actually killed, but it causes unconsciousness and many other nasty consequences including mild brain damage, fractured larynxes and even strokes. This must be recognised as a distinct offence in its own right so that it is treated sufficiently seriously by police and prosecutions and not just prosecuted as an assault. It is far more serious than that.
Another new offence must be the threat to use intimate images as a means of control by shaming the victim into compliance. Using images is illegal, but the threat to use them as a means of abuse and control is not.
A final issue concerns the role that employers can play. The principle of a duty of care is already enshrined in law. The amendment would require larger organisations to have in place a policy or framework to provide information and practical support around employee domestic abuse victims.
Before finishing, I want to give a shout-out to all those victims who need the protection of this Bill. As well as men, who comprise around a third of victims but for whom provision is extremely thin, there are disabled people, who face inordinate additional struggles to access the tiny amount of help available, and black and ethnic-minority people, who face particular difficulties. Victims can be elderly, but we do not even collect data on anyone over 74 because the reporting mechanism, an iPad, is presumed to be too difficult for them. That is the worst kind of exclusion—not even to be counted—and it is simply not good enough. Last but absolutely not least are LGBT victims, who are poorly catered for and often poorly looked after. We must respect their circumstances and do our absolute best to make a Bill which is inclusive of all victims of domestic abuse, no matter who they are. Above everything, this Bill must be inclusive: inclusive in deed as well as in spirit.
My Lords, the Domestic Abuse Bill is welcome legislation and long overdue. I want to begin by thanking the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her introduction and her interest in this Bill, which she has demonstrated over some years. The overall thrust of the Bill is positive: it strengthens support for people who have suffered from domestic abuse and helps bring the perpetrators to justice.
However, there is one area of domestic abuse which has been completely omitted from the legislation and which your Lordships’ House will need to address as a matter of extreme importance and urgency. The Domestic Abuse Bill is silent on the abuse of older people. Further, when the Bill was debated in the other place in the spring of last year, the abuse of older people was not mentioned once. However, we know that many older people are at risk of becoming victims of physical, financial, sexual or psychological abuse. Many others suffer abuse due to simple neglect. It is likely that, during the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, the abuse of older people has increased, perhaps substantially.
A study by Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, which I was proud to establish some years ago and of which I am a patron, found that 2.7 million people aged over 65 in the UK had experienced abuse. I am sure that all noble Members will agree that this is an outrageous figure—it is not a definite number but only an estimate; it is obviously short in that respect.
World Health Organization research from 2017 found that one in six people over 60 years of age had suffered from some kind of abuse—that means 141 million people every year globally. We know that at least that number are abused, but, historically, very few statistics have been collected on this issue, with most official statistics not even including adults over the age of 74, which is an absolute disgrace.
The Metropolitan Police has expressed concern at the underreporting of abuse against older people. Further, when such abuse is reported, figures from 2017 show that only 0.7% of those cases result in prosecution. This is an appalling figure. We know that many victims of elder abuse are reluctant to report abuse because it is by family members. In cases where parents are abused by their own children, they often feel that the abuse reflects on them as parents and that, in some way, they have failed. In some cases they may have done, but that does not make any difference to the fact that we are talking about very serious abuse very often.
If there is suspected abuse of a child, a senior social worker can be given powers of entry by a magistrate to investigate. In Scotland, where I know the system is different, this power of entry applies also in cases of suspected abuse against vulnerable adults of any age. It should also be the case for adults who are at risk in England. Although the system is different, they should have at least the same legal protection as their neighbours in Scotland. We must introduce that, even though we know that the differences in our legal systems make it complex, but it can be done.
Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 covers coercive or controlling behaviours by family members who live with their victims. This must be broadened to include perpetrators who reside—
I am stopping, my Lords.
Local authorities carry out care needs assessments for people needing care; they also do financial assessments to see what assistance people need to cover the cost of their care. When they do such assessments, there needs to be a duty to report any suspected abuse, because it is a serious failure in our system which needs urgently to be addressed.
My Lords, this Bill brings us transformative legislation and gives us the opportunity to transform the response to domestic abuse. It has come not a moment too soon, at a crucial time when we know that calls to the NDA Helpline are up by at least 49%. Worryingly, calls seem to have been driven by third-party reporting, showing that there is significant underreporting by actual victims. Among other charities, the NSPCC helpline has received an increased number of calls with concerns about children. It is on children that I want to concentrate today.
Children are often the hidden victims of domestic abuse, which leads to a devastating impact on their lives. We see such children presenting with mental and physical problems. They have difficulty settling into a school environment, which in many cases leads to poor educational outcomes. Once they become adults, they are more likely to enter abusive relationships. Under the Bill, young people aged 16 and over can be considered as perpetrators and can be criminalised for sexual offences. Young people who harm are often victims themselves. They need to be recognised as children and given specialist help leading to a change in their behaviour which could have a positive impact on their lives. Can my noble friend the Minister reassure me on this point?
Statutory support for all children, wherever they are living, is vital. The Bill ensures that children in safe accommodation receive statutory support but leaves the majority who live at home or in the wider community without support. It is vital that the Bill is strengthened to include community-based services, a position supported by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
Community-based services provide a crucial lifeline of support to survivors of domestic abuse and their children. Around 70% receive support via community-based services, which provide court support, health services, housing advice and emotional support, helplines and perpetrator programmes, as well as local agencies offering drop-in services for children, among many more vital services of help and support. I fear that excluding community-based services could lead to unintended consequences; local authorities could feel it necessary to divert funding from community-based services to accommodation-based services to ensure that they meet their duty requirements. The Bill should be amended to provide a statutory underpinning to commission community-based services.
It is my understanding that the Government want to wait for the domestic abuse commissioner to complete the mapping research for all domestic abuse services, which is indeed important, but we know that there is already evidence on demand. So I ask the Minister to consider a commitment in the legislation to, if necessary, extend powers at a later stage.
There must be a holistic approach to domestic abuse; support must be provided to all victims and survivors, including children, no matter where they live and regardless of their status. Community and accommodation-based services, along with specialist services, would ensure that there was support for prevention along with early and late intervention.
I look forward to hearing from my noble friend, and I take this opportunity to thank her and the Bill team for dealing with queries ahead of today. I know that the Bill is in formidable hands as I have worked with the Bill team, led by Charles Goldie, and I have worked with my noble friend the Minister. I know that we have ample aid with my noble friend Lord Parkinson as well, and my honourable friend in the other place, Victoria Atkins.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity for the House to consider this Bill, which we now know is even more important than we thought before. We know that it has long-lasting impact, not only on the women who are the principal victims but on their children. The rise in domestic abuse during the pandemic is, quite honestly, frightening, and goes alongside the significant rise in sexual exploitation and abuse of women more widely. This pandemic has been a crisis in more ways than one for too many women and girls.
I welcome the Minister saying that there will be future legislative opportunities, but I do hope that we can make some improvements to this Bill while we have it, because the more improvements we can make, the more women we will be able to protect. I hope that, having now learned some of the difficult lessons of escalation of abuse during the lockdowns, the Government will be open to amendments. As the Minister said, I had the privilege of being a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Joint Committee, which made recommendations that I thank the Government for accepting—but there were some that they did not include, and I hope that they will now, for example, see the importance of strengthening the powers and accountability of the domestic abuse commissioner.
I have been involved in tackling domestic abuse for much of my working life—far too long—having helped to establish one of the very first refuges in the country in the late 1970s in Sunderland. Refuges for women are an important way of helping women who have no option but to flee from home, and I welcome the Government agreeing specifically to support them through the duty on local authorities. However, it is not sufficient. If government support through this additional duty remains the only remedy, it may end up being a perverse incentive. Changing Lives offers supported housing across the north-east of England for those who are unable to access refuges. They may be women with older children, people with substance misuse problems or offending histories, men or transgender people. Ironically, the problem is not one of finding them individual accommodation in the north-east—it is in getting money for support and the capacity to provide that support. I can tell the Minister that the demand is huge and frightening again.
There is also the challenge of supporting women who are at risk of losing custody of their children, where the main need is identified as domestic abuse. The report of the commission that I chaired, Breaking Down the Barriers, looked at the experiences of women who had suffered violence and abuse. The women whom we worked with identified this as one of the main barriers to people looking for help. Changing Lives runs a project in Newcastle that offers supported accommodation for women and their children, and it is primarily for women with substance misuse problems which mean that their children are subject to child protection plans. For most of those women, their addiction started after domestic abuse. Some 60% of the families leave Ridley Villas together, having been taken off the child protection register, to live their lives free from addiction and abuse. Trevi House in Plymouth is another good example. So there are examples of the Government recognising that there needs to be significant support for community interventions, not just refuges—but we need to work on that in the Bill.
The other thing that I want to raise is an issue that I shall follow up with an amendment. The women we worked with—
I am very pleased indeed to follow my noble friend Lady Armstrong and commend the work that she has done over so many years in this important field. I want to reinforce one or two of the points that she has made. To start with, I will indicate my support for the words used both by the Minister in introducing this debate and by my noble friend Lord Rosser about those who have campaigned individually or in organisations to bring about change over the years.
I also make my own appeal to the Minister to fight within government to allow amendments that are being proposed by so many noble Lords contributing today to be taken on board. The reason for that is very simple. Back in 2003, when I was Home Secretary, we introduced what became the first Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act. Now, 18 years later, I see just how inadequate that Act was. It will, of course, be for future generations to build on this new Bill, and the measures taken in the Serious Crime Act 2015, but the more we can get this right now, the fewer victims there will be in future. The more good we can do now, the more we will protect people now and in the future. That is my first appeal.
My second is to commend what the Minister said about Claire Throssell and her terrible loss back in 2014, which took place in what is now the Sheffield City Region, and the work of Independent Domestic Abuse Services in Yorkshire. So many of these organisations have, over many years, campaigned to get to where we are today, and I do hope that will be reflected in a willingness from government to listen and learn. I also commend the Minister for her own campaigning inside government to get to this place today.
My noble friend Lady Armstrong mentioned what has happened during lockdown. It is timely, albeit somewhat late, that we should debate this today at the beginning of yet another lockdown, when I suspect many people will be at more risk than they were back in April, May and June. Clare’s law, which was mentioned by the Minister in introducing this debate, will be strengthened, and I welcome that. The right to ask and the right to know are absolutely crucial, but so are so many of the amendments that have been mentioned already.
I heard Nicole Jacobs this morning thankfully supporting the measures that many Members will be seeking to add to the Bill as well as to strengthen existing clauses. I heard one of the victims of non-fatal strangulation spelling out clearly what that meant. It was something that I had not been aware of before the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—a campaigner of her own and to whom I am grateful—as Victims’ Commissioner drew my attention to it. It is critical to ensure that we hear the voices of children and victims, and take the necessary actions now, not later, to make the Bill as effective as possible. I hope that there will be a response by all Members of the House to ensure that that happens.
My Lords, I am glad to contribute to this vital debate and I draw attention to my interests as president of the Nelson Trust and as Anglican Bishop to Prisons.
I note three things. First, this is a landmark piece of legislation and reflects good progress. We must ensure that the Bill is as good as it can be for the sake of those at risk of abuse, its victims and survivors. Secondly, work on the task of ending domestic abuse does not end with this legislation. Thirdly, there are issues unresolved in the Bill regarding certain vulnerable groups, some of which have been mentioned. I will highlight just a few in the time I have.
We know that many women in the criminal justice system are both offenders and victims. In many cases, offending is linked to domestic abuse and coercive control. Almost 60% of women supervised in the community or in custody who have had an assessment have experienced domestic abuse. Many believe the true figure to be higher. English criminal law in its current form does not sufficiently recognise the need to protect survivors of domestic abuse who are driven to offend, whether in self-defence or with relatively minor offences, resulting in women being caught in the revolving door of imprisonment. I therefore support the call for a new statutory defence and an amendment to the law on self-defence to be added to the Bill for those whose offending is driven by their experience of domestic abuse.
Then there is the issue that not everyone who needs to escape an abusive relationship can currently access support. This is particularly true for women with insecure immigration status, because of course that insecurity is exploited by an abuser. Migrant women who face abuse and violence in the UK continue to have no access to the welfare safety net, including refuge spaces and support services. That could be addressed by extending eligibility under the existing domestic violence rule and the destitution domestic violence concession to all migrant women experiencing abuse, and by extending the time period for the DDVC from three to six months.
The Bill needs to ensure access to community-based services for a range of people. The obligation on local authorities to house women in refuges is part of the solution but not the whole. A range of support services for survivors from a range of backgrounds is required, including painstaking preventive work and work with children who are themselves victims from what they witness and experience in their homes, as has been mentioned. Focusing on one part of the picture but not the whole will ultimately prevent the Bill from being successful.
My penultimate point is to note the work being done across government on a strategy regarding violence against women and girls. The guidance issued under the Bill should take that important work into account to ensure consistency of approach.
Finally, I want briefly to mention faith. We know that domestic abuse is an issue across all of society, including faith communities. Getting the right legislation is an essential step but changing culture will also be required. The Bill and the accompanying statutory guidance must reflect this. I know that there are people of faith who wish to play their part in being part of the solution, and indeed are already doing so. I look forward to progressing the Bill together in this House.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interest as an adviser to Grayling, which advises a well-known online dating organisation.
My noble friend the Minister said that it is good to see this important Bill now have its Second Reading in this House. It is worth remembering that it was a government manifesto commitment in 2019 to support all victims of domestic abuse and to pass the Bill. As other noble Lords have said, the fact that the Prime Minister last night specifically mentioned victims of domestic abuse as we face another lockdown shows the prevalence of this crime. We know that lockdown has exacerbated tensions between partners and in households.
As we have heard and will no doubt hear in the rest of the debate, many important issues are under consideration in the Bill. I want, in the time available, to focus on one of those. As we know, lockdown has massively increased the use of technology, as the House of Lords Covid-19 Committee, of which I am part—as is my noble friend Lady Chisolm—has said. We are examining the increase in the use of digital technology and how it has affected all aspects of our lives. Research by the charity Refuge this time last year showed that 72% of women accessing its services said that they had been subjected to technology-facilitated abuse. It is undoubtedly one way in which a perpetrator of domestic abuse can exercise coercive control and continue that abuse, even after the perpetrator and victim have separated. That can be done by sharing, or threatening to share, intimate images taken during the relationship. Sharing intimate images was criminalised in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. Threats to share have been criminalised in Scotland and I hope that noble Lords will agree that in England and Wales it is now time to criminalise threats to share intimate images.
Further research by Refuge shows that one in 14 adults —more than 4.4 million—has been a victim of such threats. For young women, that figure falls to one in seven. The Government are aware of this issue and I am grateful to the Minister for our conversation on it. They have asked the Law Commission to conduct a broader review of image-based offences and harmful online communications. However, the harm caused by the threat of sharing intimate images is happening now. It is devastating for victims’ mental health and well-being, and can of course lead to both the fear of physical violence and, as Refuge’s research has shown, where technology is involved, physical abuse too.
The College of Policing last year updated its guidance on revenge porn. It showed that the threat of sharing intimate images might be covered by a patchwork of various existing legislation and offences. As many victims have found, they are advised to wait until those images are shared before the police are able to take definitive action. The Bill provides an opportunity to tackle this form of abuse now. Such threats are used most often as a tool of coercion and domestic abuse, and that is why the Domestic Abuse Bill is the right place to make the change. I hope that the Government and the Minister will look favourably on an amendment to be tabled at the next stage of the Bill.
My Lords, we live in a patriarchal, male-dominated society where, on average, men are physically stronger and have higher incomes. On average, men are more able to physically abuse and economically dominate a relationship, but that does not mean that domestic abuse is exclusively or overwhelmingly perpetrated by men on women. Some women are physically stronger than some men. Some women are the main income earners, both in same-sex and in opposite-sex relationships. There is little evidence that men are psychologically stronger than women, stronger willed or more emotionally resilient, for example.
According to ONS data, although domestic abuse is prevalent, it is often hidden and therefore difficult to quantify. Although there is a reluctance to report all types of domestic abuse, half of male victims fail to tell anyone that they are a victim of domestic abuse, and male victims are almost three times less likely to tell anyone than female victims. Domestic abuse against men is likely to be even less visible than domestic abuse against women.
There also appears to be a reluctance on the part of victims to report same-sex domestic abuse. Male victims of domestic violence are more likely to report that the perpetrator was female than male: 61% compared with only 1%. Female victims are more likely to report that the perpetrator was male rather than female: 56% compared with 2%. But these figures need to be treated with caution. One third of male victims and 40% of female victims in these surveys stated that they did not know the sex of the perpetrator or did not wish to answer the question.
To use a personal example, I was earning eight times more than my abusive partner, but he was physically and psychologically stronger than me, enabling his coercive and controlling behaviour. I was a senior police officer at the time, but I did not tell anyone about the abuse for years, until it became physically dangerous. Even then, I did not report it to the police, despite being beaten up in the street. When I finally managed to leave, he threatened to kill me and said that he would get his revenge. Eighteen months later, he collaborated with a Sunday tabloid newspaper, making false criminal allegations and describing intimate details of our relationship in a kiss and tell story, which the newspaper eventually admitted was libellous. The threat of revenge and abuse after separation can continue for years.
Domestic abuse in all its forms can be perpetrated by both men and women on both men and women. The true picture of the levels of abuse is unclear, in part because of the pressure to conform to the traditional, socially accepted norm of male-dominated heterosexual relationships. According to ONS figures, one third of victims of domestic abuse are men, but only 4% of victims being supported by local domestic violence services are men. We must make it absolutely clear throughout this Bill, and throughout the statutory guidance, that the provisions apply equally to all victims of domestic abuse, and the services provided should be proportional to the needs of all victims, whatever their gender or sexuality. Domestic abuse is domestic abuse, whoever the perpetrator is and whoever the survivor is. Not feeling safe in your own home is one of the worst positions anyone can find themselves in. We have an opportunity here to help.
My Lords, this Bill is an important milestone in Parliament’s response to domestic abuse. I invite your Lordships to step back 46 years to 11 February 1975, at the beginning of that journey. On that date, the other place
“Ordered, ‘That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the extent, nature and causes of the problems of families where there is violence between the partners … and to make recommendations.’” —[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/1975; col. 336.]
Most of the 13 members of that committee are understandably no longer with us, but two are now safely ensconced in your Lordships’ House and appeared on the Order Paper as Mrs Ann Taylor and Sir George Young.
In those days, there were no Select Committees as we now know them, taking evidence from Ministers. Our committee was technically a sub-committee of the Public Accounts Committee, and we broke fresh ground in summoning Ministers. This led our chairman, Willie Hamilton, to say:
“There was some indication of irritation by some Ministers that they had to be bothered to come before a Select Committee of proletariat Back Bench Members of Parliament. There was one occasion when a Minister—I shall not mention her name—came before us dressed up for a social function and felt that she had to be away quickly because she had to go to some function at Lancaster House.”—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/1978; col. 1408.]
More worrying was the attitude of the Home Office Minister responsible at the time. Willie Hamilton went on:
“I refer, first, to what my hon. Friend said in reply to Question No 1688: ‘I am very sceptical about whether this Committee, with all its wisdom, is going to be able to produce, after all this time, any new remedy.’”
It got worse.
“In his next answer, he said: ‘I am not sure there is anything this Committee or the Government can do about it. There is a solution; the solution is husbands ought to treat their wives better.’”
If that sounds like an old-fashioned Tory, I can tell you that it was a Labour Minister. His comment was rightly dismissed by our chairman:
“It is a pious hope that the problem will go away and leave Ministers to sleep peacefully on their portfolios.”—[Official Report, Commons, 16/6/1978; col. 1410.]
Paragraph 5 of our report reflected this attitude by the then Government:
“We have been disappointed and alarmed by the ignorance and apparent apathy of some Government Departments and individual Ministers towards the extent of marital violence. Hardly any worthwhile research into either causes or remedies has been financed by the Government.”
Since then, I am happy to say that all Governments have been more appreciative of the work of Select Committees, and Ministers’ comments on the issues have been more sensitively expressed, as we heard from my noble friend’s welcome introduction.
Undeterred by this lack of ministerial enthusiasm, we persevered with our task. We visited the world’s first domestic violence shelter in Chiswick, run by the formidable Erin Pizzey. We took evidence from victims and produced our report, commending a number of new remedies and 28 recommendations—doubtless to the irritation of the then Minister. Many of them have subsequently been implemented; one, a statutory duty on local authorities to provide support, was fulfilled nearly half a century later, albeit narrowly defined.
One example of the many changes over 40 years has been the language used. Our report was entitled Battered Wives, as victims were referred to in those days, even though not all the victims were women, and of those who were, many were not wives. Nor did the emphasis on physical abuse do justice to the impact of coercive behaviour. The Bill before us puts that right, emphasising that domestic abuse is not just physical violence but can be emotional, coercive or controlling, and economic abuse.
In what remains of my four minutes, it is impossible to describe the real progress that has been made since that report, thanks to voluntary organisations such as Women’s Aid, which has campaigned tirelessly, and thanks to measures introduced by successive Governments. But the problem is still with us, and this Bill is a welcome progressive piece of social reform. It is capable of improvement, and I support suggestions such as those made by Crisis to improve access to housing. In the meantime, I welcome the Bill and believe that the time the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, and I spent back in 1975 producing our report was time well spent.
My Lords, this Bill touches on many sensitive subjects and as the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, has just said, the Minister displayed that sensitivity in a well-judged opening speech. I strongly echo what she had to say about the ruined lives that lie at the heart of this Bill. Legislation may not be a cure-all, but it is always indicative of how seriously we treat and take a subject.
Women are certainly the most at risk of domestic abuse, and I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said: that migrant women are especially vulnerable. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about their plight when she comes to reply.
In advance of today’s debate, we received a great deal of thoughtful briefing material. In particular, I wonder whether the Minister has had a chance to look at the Bar Council’s material, which came yesterday, and the concerns it raises about the distorting consequences of not providing legal aid to both parties, which, inter alia, is related to the points that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, brought before us a few moments ago.
Unspeakable violence directed at whatever gender is never acceptable, and the Bill rightly reflects that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, reminded us, 35% of victims are men and boys. Some 75% of suicides are men, and it would be good to hear what work has been done to establish links between coercive acts, self-harm and, ultimately, suicide, which is now the biggest killer of men under the age of 45.
Many factors shape and drive unspeakable acts of violence and coercive control. I want to talk about one of them, which is related to something the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, said. In June 2019, the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, reporting on the earlier draft domestic abuse Bill, said:
“It is clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done in changing perceptions of what is normal and acceptable behaviour … The cost of domestic abuse to the health service is high. We believe that a campaign to raise awareness and challenge behaviour should be undertaken … Such a campaign could be targeted particularly on online pornography sites.”
The 2018 Women and Equalities Committee inquiry in the other place concluded that there is significant research suggesting that
“there is a relationship between the consumption of pornography and sexist attitudes and sexually aggressive behaviours, including violence.”
The committee urged that:
“The Government should take a … evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography.”
Some 18 months ago the Government responded by commissioning a report that, six months back, they said would be published “soon”. I hope that the Minister will confirm that the Government will produce that report before Committee stage.
This is a pressing matter because last month the Government announced their plans for regulating online harms and dropped the bombshell that, having previously made a manifesto promise to protect children from accessing pornographic websites in the round, they would now seek to protect children only from user-generated pornography. Other commercial pornographic websites will be outside the scope of the online harms Bill. This will fail to get to the root of this problem, and to cut off at source the root of a significant source of material that elevates the use of violence against other human beings.
Concerns about the links between domestic violence and pornography were raised when we debated the Digital Economy Bill back in 2017. Indeed, my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss was one of those who spoke in that debate—we will hear from her later—as was the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I commend the debate to the Minister’s attention. Were we to legislate in that area it would be one of the best ways to tackle and take action to challenge and curtail domestic violence, and to combat its malign effects on so many women, men and children.
I once asked an experienced police officer with over 20 years of service on the front line: if he could eradicate one crime, what would it be? Without hesitation he replied “Domestic abuse”.
We have seen a shocking increase in abuse during this pandemic. It is worth repeating in this House what the Prime Minister said yesterday: if you are fleeing abuse, these restrictions do not apply to you. The only small silver lining in all this has been an increased empathy to those trapped in abusive relationships. Making effective laws is essential, but without sustained public awareness, meaningful change will take a lot longer.
It was an honour to sit on the joint scrutiny committee for this Bill. The evidence we heard will stay with me, especially when it came to a brave group of schoolchildren we spoke to in a closed session. For those children and thousands like them there is a particularly big responsibility on us in this House to get the Bill right.
The Government deserve credit for their constructive approach and commitment to this issue, and there is so much to support in this legislation. But to make it truly landmark we must still make further changes.
With the right intentions, as we have heard in prior speeches, the Government have introduced a statutory duty for local authorities to provide accommodation-based services, which I welcome. The reality, however, is that so many victims never step foot in a refuge and want to remain at home, relying on essential community-based services to recover. It is not difficult to see that over time, cash-strapped local authorities may be tempted to fulfil only their legal obligations, thus allowing other vital services to suffer. This must not be allowed to happen, and community services must be protected in the Bill in a deliverable and realistic way.
Ideally, the duty needs to be broadened to recognise that “solving” domestic abuse is about not just rehousing someone, but stopping the perpetrator continuing their abuse, and giving a full range of support to anyone affected by them. I would also like the Government to commit to a sustainable perpetrator strategy. Our approach must be about not only quality responses after abuse, but preventing it in the first place. Until we do, the cycle of abuse will go on and on.
Another area where change is needed is coercive control which, as it stands in the Serious Crime Act, does not extend to post separation. It is nonsensical to have two different definitions of domestic abuse in two different parts of the law, one that applies to ex-partners and one that does not. Coercive control does not stop when you split up; indeed, it tends to intensify, especially if there are complicated financial arrangements to sort, as well as the immense challenges around access to children. We must use the Bill to amend the Serious Crime Act to correct this oversight.
Finally, I support the call of my noble friend Lady Newlove for non-fatal strangulation to be made a stand-alone offence. Being grabbed by your neck, not knowing whether you will live or die, is a terrible thing to endure. Thousands of people in abusive relationships regularly experience this trauma; it is a real theme of abusive relationships. Non-fatal strangulation is far more serious than common assault and is a genuine red flag to murder. It should never be trivialised or ignored. New Zealand has already introduced it as a stand-alone offence, which is beginning to make a difference in levels of charging and understanding among police, the wider justice system and medical teams. We should not miss this opportunity to follow suit.
Legislation cannot change things overnight, but it can fire the starting gun on a wholesale change of culture and attitude. Let us hope this Bill does exactly that.
My Lords, I too welcome the Bill and pay tribute to all who have contributed to it, including organisations on the ground, whose experience and expertise must inform our debates. But these organisations are very clear that if the Bill is fully to achieve its aims, the Government have to make good its key omissions.
First, as noted already, the Bill must address the needs of migrant women, in particular those denied assistance because of the “no recourse to public funds” rule. While I applaud the Government’s willingness to act on the criticisms of the draft prospectus for the support for migrant victims scheme, they should heed the consensus—including from the commissioner-designate—that we do not need additional information from a pilot. Therefore, the protection of migrant women and the non-discrimination principle, in accord with the Istanbul convention, should be written into the Bill.
Also important from the perspective of the convention is the failure to integrate the domestic abuse and VAWG strategies in recognition of domestic abuse’s gendered nature, as acknowledged by the Government in their response to the Joint Committee’s report. At the very least, the Bill should state explicitly that the statutory guidance must take account of the VAWG strategy. Failure to do so ignores the reality of women’s experiences and threatens further to undermine specialist service provision, especially those led by and for black and minoritised women, which take an integrated approach to domestic violence and other forms of violence again women. Support for specialist services also needs strengthening and the welcome duty to assess need for accommodation-based services has to be complemented by a similar duty on community services, otherwise they will suffer, as the commissioner-designate has warned.
The inclusion of economic abuse in the definition of domestic abuse is welcome, but the failure to reform existing legislation on coercive control means that the Bill does nothing to address post-separation abuse, which all too often means that economic abuse continues or even escalates post separation, with devastating effects on survivors. In the Commons, the Minister acknowledged that this is
“a particularly potent and cruel weapon”—[Official Report, Commons, Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, 17/6/20; col. 392.]
but deflected an amendment with reference to a review of the coercive control legislation due to be completed by early autumn. That was in June. Nearly seven months later there is no sign of the review, despite an assurance in a Written Answer that the intention was to publish it in time to inform our debates. Can the Minister explain why it has not been published and when we can expect it? We will want to pursue this further in Committee.
I also plan to pursue aspects of social security policy, such as the joint payment of universal credit, the repayment of advances made to mitigate the impact of the five-week or more wait and the benefit cap. As many organisations and parliamentary committees have warned, such policies can facilitate and aggravate economic abuse, thereby undermining the Government’s own laudable goals. Could the Minister tell us what discussions have taken place with the DWP to ensure that social security policy supports domestic abuse policy?
Finally, I welcome the inclusion of the provision from earlier legislation, on which the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, and I worked, to protect the lifetime tenancies of domestic abuse survivors, but note the need for training of all local authority housing officials, and issues raised around joint tenancies and the Government’s homelessness amendment.
We have the opportunity to turn a good Bill, as far as it goes, into a truly great Bill. I hope we will seize it.
My Lords, this Bill offers hope and help to all those who face the soul-destroying horror of domestic abuse, often for years, and are afterwards left trying to piece together the fragments of broken lives. I make just a few discrete points for further consideration.
The first concerns special measures for protecting witnesses and victims. We know that we must make giving evidence less terrifying, make proceedings more humane and help victims summon up the courage to bring cases against their abusers. The Bill provides for automatic eligibility for special measures for victims in the family and criminal courts. I agree with Refuge that we should extend this to all relevant civil cases.
Secondly, the Bill outlaws direct cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in many—but not necessarily all—family proceedings, and, on a discretionary basis, in civil proceedings. Little could be more traumatic for a victim than being harangued by her abuser in intimidating and humiliating language, often crude and intimate, masquerading as cross-examination. This ban should extend to all family and civil cases involving domestic abuse. However, the Bill proposes that court-appointed qualified legal representatives should conduct cross-examinations, but without being responsible to the parties they represent, which concerns me. Cross-examination must be acceptable questioning, sensitive to the witness, which should be achievable without losing the lawyer’s responsibility to the client. We should provide legal aid to both parties, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, and as the Bar Council agrees.
I share the view of my noble friend Lady Burt that polygraph testing, on the present state of technology, has no place in our criminal justice system.
Along with Nicole Jacobs, the commissioner-designate, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, my noble friend Lady Burt and others, I favour making non-fatal strangulation a specific offence. This horrible form of violence is appallingly common and devastating in its physical and psychological effects. Yet because the injuries are difficult to prove, prosecutions, where they happen, are often for common assault, or ABH at most, demonstrably understating the severity of the violence involved.
In 2015, when we criminalised revenge porn, many of us argued, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, said, that threatening to share intimate images without consent should also be an offence. We did not succeed then, but the dreadful effect on the psyche of victims, often very young, threatened with such exposure, should now persuade the Government to follow Scotland’s lead in criminalising such threats. These new offences could sit comfortably in Part 6 of the Bill, dealing with offences of violent or abusive behaviour.
Finally, we welcome categorising controlling or coercive behaviour as domestic abuse. However, confining abuse to cases where abuser and abused are personally connected, as defined, is a mistake. In March we debated coercive control in psychotherapy and cases where, through the process of transference, sometimes stimulating false memories, therapists had effectively replaced clients’ parents or families, alienating clients from them, often for years and sometimes for life. I favour broadening the definition of “personal connection” to cover this and other relevant relationships.
My Lords, while I welcome the important step that the Government took in July, ensuring that the Bill would recognise the children of victims of domestic abuse in the statutory definition, the Government can take a further important step to break the cycle of abuse by ensuring that all children, no matter where they live, can access support to help them recover.
Yesterday I spoke to Naomi Dickson, chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid for the last seven years, to whom I pay tribute, although it is by no means only me paying tribute to her; a few weeks ago, she was named in the BBC’s list of 100 women of 2020, a list of the most inspiring women from around the world. Yesterday, she told me how the JWA helpline was over 30% busier since Covid began, and how she had found it necessary to initiate a welfare grant scheme, with small but vital grants being given to needy mothers and children for the most basic of requirements. However, the deserving recognition on the BBC’s list is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the public recognition of someone who has dedicated her professional life to supporting Jewish women and children who sadly have experienced domestic abuse is appropriate and fitting, but on the other, Naomi receiving this deserved recognition is a stark reminder of a real and urgent problem that must be addressed and tackled.
My daughter Natasha, an art therapist, co-founded a charity, Arts Therapies for Children. The demand for its services has grown enormously since its creation in 2016. It is currently experiencing the greatest demand due to Covid, as children are struggling more than ever with their mental well-being. I have also had the privilege of being briefed by practitioners and experts, and particularly thank Claire Stewart of Barnardo’s. Clearly, for the Bill to achieve its stated aim of being a ground-breaking landmark Bill, more emphasis on commissioning specialist support and services for all those affected by domestic abuse is needed. I agree with the sound and wise words of my noble friend Lady Chisholm. There are hundreds of thousands of children suffering, and while I welcome the inclusion of children within the working definition, this needs to be reflected in service provision for these victims, or the Bill will be inadequate and the opportunity to stop the cycle of abuse continuing into adulthood will be missed.
I agree with the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, who told the Bill Committee in another place that what is missing from the Bill is the inclusion of community-based services in the statutory duty. If there is a statutory duty for refuge-based or accommodation-based services, local authorities will prioritise that duty, so community-based services will be curtailed or possibly cut. Community-based services will become the poor relation. People will suffer. Children will suffer; they will not be educated to know what is and is not a healthy relationship, and could become the victims or the perpetrators of the future. There is an opportunity to stop this and make a difference. I urge my noble friend the Minister, who is empathetic, to find a way of ensuring that the Bill becomes that landmark Bill and includes community-based services in the statutory duty. Children are the group most at risk from domestic abuse and should be at the very heart of this vital legislation.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. We are discussing a very good Bill, most effectively introduced by the Minister. It has excellent features—for instance, the commissioner and protection orders. I also commend Clause 50, which gives powers to the family judge under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. I recognise that, as the Minister said, excellence can be the enemy of the good, but good Bills can none the less usefully be improved, and this is one of them.
I want to highlight several issues. As we all know, domestic abuse is found across all society and in many different situations. Those in a forced marriage often suffer domestic abuse and are clearly within the existing definitions in the Bill, but it is essential to flag up the existence of this group of victims.
The word “domestic”, however, should not be interpreted as meaning solely spouses or partners but should include the wider family and those living within a family. I am delighted to see that “personally connected” in Clause 2 includes relatives, but it should also include guardians. Other groups, too, suffer abuse in a domestic setting. A senior police officer recently reminded me of victims of modern slavery who are in domestic servitude and subject to domestic abuse by the family in which they work and with whom they live. He had come across several such cases, but they are not related to the family and do not, at the moment, come within Clause 2, although they should.
There is a particular problem for women brought from abroad to marry in this country by a ceremony of marriage that is not registered and consequently is not, in English law, lawful. Such women are in a parlous state when they flee their husband. Their immigration status is, at best, uncertain. They may not obtain the protection of a DV rule and have no recourse to public funds. This is a serious injustice.
I am delighted by Clause 3 and the inclusion of children. I remember, as a family judge, hearing the saddest stories, one of which concerned two children sitting in the living room with the TV at full blast so that they could not hear their father hitting their mother in the kitchen. There are, however, other men who live in a household and abuse the women with whom they live. Very often there are children in the family unrelated to these men, as women have multiple, successive partners. Such a situation does not appear to be covered by Clause 3, but abuse takes place to the detriment of this group of children and the clause needs to include them.
It is essential that the domestic abuse commissioner is able to act independently of government. There is a need to have refuges for men who are victims of abuse; there are not sufficient. There also need to be suitable refuges for those fleeing forced marriages, particularly those under 18. As the EHRC points out in its excellent briefing, the proposed statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based domestic abuse services is too narrow and should include community services. As, indeed, the domestic abuse commissioner has advised that a review by her is not necessary, it is important that sufficient funding is given to local authorities for these services, otherwise other important services suffer.
The Government are to be congratulated on introducing the Bill and I hope that they will be open to listening to how it can be improved.
My Lords, there have been many eloquent speeches this afternoon, and I, like others in your Lordships’ House, welcome the Government’s introduction of this Bill. However, I am disappointed that, with so many people listed to speak on such an important Bill, the time for our speeches has been shortened and we are not allowed a second day to inform the House in more detail. That being said, the Bill will provide much-needed support for victims of domestic abuse and will, I hope, contribute to a step change in attitudes in our country that makes domestic abuse unacceptable.
As the former Victims’ Commissioner, I have spent many years and hours listening to what the victims of domestic abuse have had to endure. I pay tribute to each and every one of them for letting me into something so personal and yet so horrific. I also pay tribute to the many charities and campaigning organisations that support and care for victims of domestic violence. Like many in this House, I have been approached by them, and by victims and survivors themselves, to ask for further improvements to the Bill.
There is one area on which I intend to table an amendment when the Bill moves into Committee—that is, on non-fatal strangulation or suffocation. I have discussed this issue with the current Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, and the designate domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, and we are all of the view that it would be an unforgivable missed opportunity if the Bill did not address this issue.
Currently, non-fatal strangulation—I include within this suffocation—does not get picked up adequately by the police. As attacks of this kind leave few or no marks, they are seen as less serious than other violence, yet this is a terrifying crime, and many victims testify that they genuinely felt as if their head was about to explode and that they were about to die during such a violent assault.
Victims of non-fatal strangulation are seven times more likely than other domestic abuse victims to go on to be killed. I will speak in more depth in Committee, but, for the Domestic Abuse Bill to be a landmark piece of legislation, it must address the important issue of non-fatal strangulation. More than half the victims of recurrent domestic abuse experience strangulation. It is estimated that 20,000 women per year—or 55 women every day—who have been assessed as high risk and suffer physical abuse have experienced strangulation or attempted strangulation.
Statistics show how strangulation and suffocation are highly gendered crimes. This is understandable, given the need to physically overpower a victim in order to commit these offences. Strangulation and asphyxiation are the second most common method of killing in female homicides, after stabbing. A woman or girl is violently killed in this way every 10 days. We must remember that these are not just statistics; in each case, it is a daughter or maybe a sister or mother who has been killed. Whether it is a Helen, an Aisha or a Zoe, it is someone whose violent end haunts their family and friends for ever.
Creating a stand-alone offence presents a unique opportunity for the Government to turn the tide on this shockingly high number of victims. Importantly for this Bill, strangulations and suffocations, both fatal and non-fatal, are concentrated within domestic abuse. Victims who survive strangulation do not just survive and get on with their lives.
I recognise that time is against me. To make this a stand-out Bill, and to make it what it should be, we need to change the law, as the lives of many people depend on us making this change.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill and the opportunity it gives to improve the position of victims of domestic abuse, both in the community and in the family court process.
I remind the House that I sit as a criminal and family magistrate in London, and I served on the pre-legislative Joint Committee for this Bill in 2019.
I wish to make one point, which I will be pursuing at later stages of the Bill. At Report in the other place, the Government introduced Clause 64 to Part 5 of the Bill. This provides new measures to support victims of domestic abuse during court proceedings. The clause provides the court with the power to appoint a publicly funded, qualified legal representative in the interest of the party who is prohibited from cross-examining in person, and that party is usually the father. The Bill gives specific instances where cross-examination should be prohibited—that is, where there are previous convictions or cautions for domestic abuse-related offences.
The Bill goes further than this in that it allows family courts the power to prevent a party to proceedings cross-examining another party or a witness where it would either diminish the quality of the evidence given or cause significant distress for the person being cross-examined. So there is a wide discretion in the Bill for the courts to decide that the conditions are met whereby domestic abuse victims do not have to be cross-examined by the alleged perpetrator. The proposed situation would be very similar to the current one in criminal courts, where there is already a power to appoint a lawyer for the purposes of a cross-examination if it is in the interests of justice.
Obviously, I welcome this move. It is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. The structure of family proceedings differs significantly from that of criminal proceedings. In criminal proceedings, the complainant and defendant will come together only once, at the trial itself, whereas in family proceedings there will be a number of hearings where both parties are in the court before the cross-examination process.
Under the Bill as currently worded, a lawyer may be appointed for a relatively small proportion of the overall legal process. This raises two principal problems: first, whether the advocate can do their job effectively if they are playing only a small part in the process; and secondly, and perhaps even more significantly, whether a litigant in person can navigate the rest of the court process. In my experience, litigants in person find it difficult to follow the instructions of the court and frequently fail to comply with all the elements of a court order. There are plenty of potential flashpoints in the whole process, not just at the cross-examination. Surely it would be better to appoint a lawyer for a larger part of the legal process, if not the whole process. I realise that this is a question of resources but, at the very least, there needs to be active monitoring to see how enhanced legal support will smooth the legal process and result in better outcomes for the children. The outcomes need, of course, to be fair and to protect victims of domestic abuse, but the primary objective of a family court is to reach the best result for the children.
I will support my noble friend Lord Rosser in other matters that he will raise, but I broadly support the wider aspirations of the Bill and I support other noble Lords who will be speaking on this as well.
My Lords, for all five years of the coalition, I was the Government’s ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas. That was concurrent with two and a half years as Equalities Minister and Home Office Minister, and then two years as a DfID Minister. In those years at DfID, I saw a level of domestic abuse against women that was off the scale. It is hard to pick examples, but a few have stayed in my mind. A woman approached me at a refuge run by Marie Stopes in Uganda. She held her baby with two different-length stumps of arms; they had been cut off above the elbow when her husband attacked her with a machete for being late with his dinner. In Mozambique, there was a post-violence counselling support group for couples where alcohol had been involved, as it often is. Male perpetrators were invited with their abused partners. If the men did not turn up, they were invited again. If they still did not turn up, the police would escort them to the meetings. We could take a leaf out of that book. I also talked to girls on a university campus in Ethiopia who were studying to be engineers and doctors; several of them had been assaulted. They had a police presence on that site but said that, if they reported assault, they were as likely to be raped by the police as helped by them.
At DfID, I launched the biggest funding initiative in the world to tackle FGM—female genital mutilation—working with Nimco Ali, activists and campaigning groups in Africa, introducing and spearheading the government work, supported by brilliant, committed civil servants at DfID and by the British media, particularly the Evening Standard. I am delighted that, subsequently, the Government have continued with and raised those funds. There is no greater symbol of man’s inhumanity to woman then FGM—and further inhumanity in the psychology of women who carry out the act. It was the same in each country that I visited.
I talk about foreign lands but, sadly, there is nowhere in the world where women are not oppressed, suppressed and brutalised, including here in the United Kingdom. While it may be subtler and better-hidden in this country, it is endemic and still an outrage and an absolute abomination. That power and that control over women and girls are evident here in our country, just as so many have described. Violence, coercion and control come in many forms. When I was at the Home Office, I saw a volume and depth of everyday violence and abuse, mostly against women, which was sometimes dramatic, sometimes hidden, sometimes subtle, but always shocking and unacceptable in a so-called civilised society and a first-world country. There are so many examples. I visited a school in London where girls in gangs were forced to give oral sex to a line of boys. I visited refuges where stories of cruelty and abuse abounded and where women could not move on with their lives because there was no housing to move on to.
I hugely welcome this Bill. I want the Government to adopt all the proposed amendments; I am particularly impressed by and supportive of the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. However, I also want men to change and be changed—to end the belief that some men have in their birthright to order women’s lives, punish them, damage them and control them. There are many good men out there; this is not fair on them either. There are also men who are abused by women. No one has any right to abuse anyone else. Domestic abuse goes to the heart of how we treat each other; it is about behaviour and what we accept as a society. So let us also work for prevention and, alongside this excellent Bill, have a concerted programme for early intervention and teaching from nursery upwards. Change must come.
My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as outlined in the register. I welcome this Bill, which has a great deal to recommend it and was subject to some excellent development and changes in the other House. I particularly value the recognition of children as victims of abuse when they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse on others in the household where they live. The effects are usually long-term and severe on both the mental and physical health of young people, yet there is no mention in the Bill of a requirement to provide a whole-health model response for both children and adults experiencing domestic abuse. Can the Minister explain this apparent omission and, in particular, whether this is because such a statutory requirement would demand substantial investment and involve accountability through central government, as the Department of Health and Social Care would be responsible?
I will support any amendment brought in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, concerning the separate recognition of the offence of non-fatal strangulation. She outlined the terror experienced by those women, and occasionally men, who are held round their necks, often resulting in their experiencing gasping for breath, temporary blackouts due to oxygen depletion and the fear that they are about to die. Having worked in an accident and emergency unit, I have seen some of these victims, yet their perpetrators are so skilled at this kind of abuse that they leave no physical marks, such as bruising, for others to witness or to confirm that the events took place. However, 20,000 people report being abused in this manner each year and there is a sevenfold increase in the risk of death from non-fatal strangulation in comparison to other forms of domestic abuse.
Not surprisingly, the mental health challenges experienced by victims of this form of abuse are usually long-lasting and severe. I welcome the inclusion of increased support for victims enshrined in the Bill, particularly in Clause 71, which will amend the Housing Act 1996 so that victims who become homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse will be given priority-need status for accommodation secured by local authorities, without needing to fulfil the vulnerability test.
I recently visited a large refuge where, for example, one woman was living in two rooms with five children, waiting for further housing. Safe housing is essential to promote well-being and rehabilitation for victims of domestic abuse and their children. Clause 72, which encourages local authorities to grant new lifetime secure tenancies to victims in certain circumstances, will promote feelings of safety and security for some of the most vulnerable victims. There is concern, however, expressed in many of the excellent briefings provided by a range of charities and stakeholders ahead of today’s Second Reading, that local authorities may divert funds from community-based support services to housing if the former are not also made statutory. Will the Government consider amending the Bill to contain a duty on local authorities to provide community-based services for victims of abuse in the way so successfully outlined for housing?
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. In four minutes, it is barely possible to scratch the surface of this most welcome Domestic Abuse Bill. It introduces important measures that will help raise awareness of domestic abuse, provide additional support for victims and help challenge perpetrators’ behaviour. Part 4, Clauses 55 to 59, includes important provisions around victims’ support and housing. The Bill proposes a new statutory duty on local authorities to deliver accommodation-based support to victims of domestic abuse. Like previous speakers, I welcome the Government’s commitment to fund this type of support, as safe accommodation clearly plays a critical role in how we respond to domestic abuse.
As welcome as the money is, we should of course remember that those victims of domestic abuse benefit from a wide range of community-based programmes. Some within local government have expressed concern that a legal duty on local authorities to provide domestic abuse accommodation-based services may come at the expense of other domestic abuse initiatives, or create a perverse incentive to enter accommodation-based services if that is the main route to accessing support. Put simply, it is vital that there is a co-ordinated and comprehensive approach taken by the whole of government, through the Domestic Abuse Bill, rather than a piecemeal approach focusing on specific aspects of the response.
It is also vital that new legislation such as this Bill helps prevent domestic abuse in the first place. The Government should provide long-term investment on early intervention and prevention programmes and wider community-based support. I associate myself with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about the need for the implementation of Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act in order to protect young people from believing that rough sex practices are acceptable. The LGA is calling for a national domestic abuse perpetrator strategy. I agree that this would be helpful, and something worth further consideration as the Bill passes through the House.
Will the Minister comment on the LSE’s suggestion that current methods of predicting repeat incidents of domestic violence, which are based on form-filling systems, are failing victims, and that an active machine-learning system would improve data? We must also recognise that this legislation comes at a time when councils are already facing unprecedented demands. The situation is particularly challenging for children’s services. The spending review announcement of £125 million funding to help enable local authorities deliver the new duty to provide accommodation to domestic abuse victims is very welcome, but I would be grateful if the Minister could expand on how that figure was calculated and clarify whether it will meet the full cost of the proposed new duty.
Keeping communities safe and well is at the heart of what local councils do, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the crucial work councils have done throughout this pandemic to keep our communities safe. The Bill is very welcome.
My Lords, I commend the Government for bringing forward this Bill and for tabling what is now Clause 65 as an amendment in the other place so that the ability of men to claim a defence of consent in situations where women have been killed or injured as a result of sexual violence will end. I am, however, very perplexed at the lack of joined-up policy-making, since the Government have not introduced the age-verification regime to protect children and young people from online pornography. This would include blocking illegal content to prevent children and young people being exposed to material that effectively normalises expectations of rough sex.
Last month, the Government set out new plans for how they will regulate access to online pornography, and I very much agree with the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that these proposals constitute
“a much watered-down proposal”—[Official Report, 16/12/20; col. 1711.]
than the legislation Parliament rightly sanctioned in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act but which, inexplicably, the Government have not implemented. Unlike the legislation we have already passed, the proposals will cover only user-generated content, not all commercial pornographic websites. I cannot understand the logic of that differentiation. Savanta ComRes polled 2,049 men in Great Britain between 7 and 10 February last year for Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Scotland. It asked the following question about rough sex:
“Thinking specifically of times you performed slapping, choking, gagging or spitting during consensual sexual activity, to what extent do you think pornography influenced your desire to do so?”
Some 57% of those questioned said it did to some extent, of whom 20% said it influenced their acting in that way “a great deal”.
Last January, the British Board of Film Classification reported its findings on young people’s use of pornography. It said:
“Beyond creating unrealistic expectations of sex, some young people felt pornography had actually affected their expectations of, and behaviour during, sex, particularly in the copying of ‘rough’ or ‘forceful’ sex seen in pornography.”
In the light of this comment, do the Government have evidence that there is no rough sex on commercial pornographic websites? I urge the Government to adopt joined-up thinkng in their approach to domestic violence and the impact of pornography on children, young people and adults. Just as I did on 16 December, I again
“urge the Government to adjust their course and ensure that the protections in their online harms Bill are just as robust as those in Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act, and to implement Part 3 in the interim so that children can be protected while we wait for the online harms Act”—[Official Report, 16/12/20; col. 1718.]
I also find that there is a gap in the Domestic Abuse Bill. A coalition of organisations that provide support for victims has highlighted the lack of provision to support community-based services, where 70% of victims receive their support. I am thinking of SafeLives, Barnardo’s, Action for Children, the NSPCC and others which provide an excellent service in this field. I contend that more independent domestic violence and abuse advisers are urgently required. It is they who “enable people to survive when they are feeling very alone”, to quote one victim.
My Lords, I am pleased that this Bill is finally before us. Although I welcome the Bill, as it stands there are gaps, which many noble Lords have mentioned today and which will become evident when we come to Committee.
The Minister said that, once this Bill becomes law, the Government will be able to ratify the Istanbul convention. Bearing in mind that the full title of the Istanbul convention is the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, the words “women” and “girls” do not appear in the Bill. The Istanbul convention is all about women and girls, and the majority of domestic abuse victims are women, yet there is no mention of them in the Bill. I hope this will be changed.
Is the Minister certain that this Bill will comply with the convention, as the charity Refuge says that the measures contained in it are not compliant with the Istanbul convention, which states that
“provisions of this Convention by the Parties … measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as … national or social origin … migrant or refugee status”?
As such, the Bill leaves women with insecure immigration status, including asylum-seeking women and those who are appeal-rights exhausted, without the protection required by the convention. This should be a Bill for all survivors of domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status. All migrant survivors should be able to access financial support and other benefits, regardless of immigration status or visa type. Women with no recourse to public funds must be able to access the specialist support they need.
The Government’s report of October 2020 on progress to ratify the convention states on page 8 support for a migrant victims pilot scheme that
“will help to obtain the evidence needed to develop sustainable solutions for all migrant victims of domestic abuse over the longer-term.”
However, it also records that Articles 4 and 59 are under review. This is crucial to the ratification of the convention, so does the Minister know when the review will be complete?
I trust that the Minister will take the opportunity to ensure that this Bill will give full compliance to the convention, to provide greater protection for women with insecure immigration status, including asylum-seeking women. Organisations working with migrant survivors of domestic abuse have shown for many years how the current system excludes these women from life-saving services and how its interaction with immigration enforcement inevitably leads to survivors avoiding asking for support.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is an historic opportunity to ensure that Britain’s domestic abuse services are available to all survivors. Without these changes, migrant survivors will continue to suffer violence and abuse without being able to access support. The Government should recognise this and ensure that all survivors are treated equally. Only then will the UK be able to ratify the Istanbul convention. So will the Minister do all she can to ensure that the United Kingdom complies with the convention in order for it to be ratified?
My Lords, I welcome any legislation which is designed to increase awareness of domestic abuse and provides strengthened support for victims with an effective justice system. The problem is more acute now, during the lockdown, as demonstrated by repeated Questions in your Lordships’ House—and we must add to this the online-facilitated child sexual abuse and exploitation that is an ugly feature of life in our society.
The problem is further supplemented by the recent disclosure about crime statistics in our police forces. I will quote some figures. We were shocked to hear that in the past 12-month period reviewed by inspectors, the Manchester police force had recorded 77.7% of reported crimes, a drop of 11.3% from 2018. The report further stated that about one in five of all crimes and one in four violent crimes were not recorded. In real terms, England’s largest force failed to record 80,000 crimes in a year. This must be shocking.
Public confidence is shaped by the quality of service we provide in our community. This is a matter of serious concern. If there is a gross non-recording of crime in one police force, what is happening in the other forces? Will the Minister investigate practices in the remaining forces around the underreporting of crimes? How can we put any faith in crime statistics when we are told that crime is down?
One idea behind setting up the Crown Prosecution Service was to determine whether it was in the public interest to prosecute. Was the CPS brought into discussions or was this a unilateral action by the police not to record? We have repeatedly commented on the low levels of prosecution for crimes such as rape and violence; it is obvious that such cases never reached the stage where courts could determine innocence or guilt. We are aware that the chief constable has stepped down, but we must question the role of police and crime commissioners. Surely, they must have taken their eyes off this unacceptable practice. We must accept that victims of violence have often missed counselling and support services because their complaint was not recorded. How can we put any faith in British crime statistics if this is how matters are being dealt with?
My plea at this stage is to recognise that domestic violence is often perpetrated in communities with different cultural practices. Britain is a multicultural, multiracial and multireligious society. We took some time to recognise that Covid has impacted rather harshly on our BAME communities. We need to ensure that local authorities and other agencies are aware of specific and special issues affecting some members of our communities.
I am aware of the impact of alcohol and gambling on some families, which is a root cause of violence against family members. Very few such problems are reflected publicly and individuals suffer in silence.
There is also the question of marriages which lack legal status in this country. Authorities must be aware of the need for public education in such matters. This is vital. Let us hope that probation and social services are adequately staffed and trained to recognise such practices in our communities.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who made some excellent points, not least in referring to the accentuated nature of the problems during the pandemic. I thank my noble friend Lady Williams, who I know is very committed and dedicated to this legislation, which augurs well for making even more improvements to it as it goes through your Lordships’ House.
We have been contacted, as has been mentioned, by many organisations during the passage of this legislation and before Second Reading. That is an indication of its importance and shows what an exciting but humbling opportunity we have to improve it. It is already a good Bill, but there is an opportunity, as other noble Lords have mentioned, to make it a great Act as it passes into law.
I thank those organisations, as well as the domestic abuse commissioner designate, Nicole Jacobs, Dame Vera Baird and my noble friend Lady Newlove, for the work they have been doing on this legislation. There is a compelling need for us to adopt a thoroughgoing review of the law, which will of necessity take us into many areas—housing, welfare, the courts system, the workplace and criminal law, to name but some.
I am pleased that we have a broad definition of domestic abuse. I am also pleased that children are provided for; that is crucial. Only one in five domestic abuse victims report it. We need effective mechanisms to help them to report. We also need additional resources; currently, there are not enough refuge spaces. As has been mentioned, we also need to provide for many special areas, such as black, Asian and minority-ethnic communities, deaf, disabled and blind communities, migrant women—certainly—LGBT survivors and older victims. We should recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse, as has been mentioned. We also need to recognise that there are many male victims; they must also be provided for in this system.
I want briefly to touch on two points to indicate my view of their importance. The first is the significance of the workplace. The nature of economic abuse means that, often, an abusing partner will seek to cause a victim the loss of a job or livelihood. We need to look at the possibility of leave from work for victims of domestic abuse, as provided for in New Zealand and some Canadian provinces, for example. I would be interested in my noble friend’s views on that.
I also associate myself entirely with comments made across the House about the experience of other countries and the importance of providing for a crime of non-fatal strangulation. This is something that we should certainly be looking at and acting on. It is a proven risk indicator of serious abuse; we have an opportunity to start to put that right. Thirty-seven US states have specific laws on it, as do some states in Australia and as does New Zealand. We should do similarly.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the Government on the progress that has been made with this Bill. I am honoured to follow my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, in the debate. I also want to state my support for the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, which would introduce a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation. I will come back to that amendment and its merits later.
First, I want to pay tribute to the strength of victims and survivors of domestic abuse in dealing with such adversity. I thank all the civil society groups and organisations that provide support for such victims. We should all be thankful for and grateful to the people providing this support, especially during the current Covid health crisis.
I thank my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her work. I want to repeat a passage from her speech that sums up the importance of this Bill and the amendment that she intends to table. She said:
“We must remember that these are not just statistics; in each case, it is a daughter or maybe a sister or mother who has been killed. Whether it is a Helen, an Aisha or a Zoe, it is someone whose violent end haunts their family and friends for ever.”
I want to speak about a worrying omission in the Bill, which some noble Lords have already mentioned. The Domestic Abuse Bill seeks to leave no woman behind. That is laudable but, unless the Government listen to and engage with groups such as the Southall Black Sisters, it will leave some women behind. At worst, it will leave behind some of the most vulnerable women in the country. The women I am talking about are migrant women, who, as we all know, are least likely to call for help for a variety of obvious reasons, including the lack of recourse to public funds. In effect, these vulnerable women remain trapped in domestic abuse, unable to avail themselves of any protection contained in this Bill. I implore the Minister to engage in a meaningful discussion with Southall Black Sisters and other groups that are working on this issue as a matter of urgency. I hope that the Government will engage with us on this issue to ensure that all women are protected and covered by this important, much-needed Bill. I remind and plead with the Government that it is not too late.
On the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, I join noble Lords in strongly supporting the need to create a new offence of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation. We need to listen to domestic abuse support workers up and down the country who, day after day, help victims who have had to endure this life-threatening, terrifying ordeal at home by a person they once loved. Strangulation leaves few, if any, marks—much fewer if you are black—yet the psychological marks that we do not readily see can be profound for victims. When a victim loses consciousness, which happens quickly after 10 or 15 seconds, the lack of oxygen to the brain can result in neurological problems such as memory loss and an increased risk of miscarriage and stroke.
It should concern us all that non-fatal strangulation so often goes unreported. A recent informal survey of domestic abuse survivors suggested that 60% of non-fatal strangulations are not reported to the police. Introducing a specific offence would highlight this issue and encourage more victims to come forward and get the help that they need. That is why I support the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove.
My Lords, I add my support for this Bill and the fulfilment of our manifesto pledge to support all victims of domestic abuse.
The Bill takes us forward in a number of significant ways, but I want to probe a little to see whether even more progress might be possible. The Government are to be congratulated that Clause 1 provides the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse in England. Although long overdue, this is a crucial step in tackling domestic abuse, increasing awareness across our public services and facilitating better identification of and support for victims.
Clause 3 is a further step forward. It recognises that children are equally victims of domestic abuse, not just witnesses. This is crucial for their care and for breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.
There are three ways in which the Bill could be strengthened further. First, I suggest that the definition could be strengthened yet further by recognising the unborn and babies as well. Exposure to domestic abuse in the first 1,001 days of life—from conception to the age of two—is associated with adverse outcomes including poor mental and physical health, lower academic achievement and impaired social development. We also know that a mother’s emotional state can have a direct influence on foetal development by altering the environment in the womb. Here, I highlight the work of the For Baby’s Sake pilot, which recognises that pregnancy and birth are the perfect time to intervene and provide support for parents as this is when motivation to be a good parent and resolve potential issues is at its highest.
Secondly, through the appointment of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner—as set out in Part 2—we have the opportunity to strengthen the relational landscape for our next generation of children, with marriages and committed relationships becoming the centrepiece of educational and health programmes. The need for this Bill stems from the failure of relationships; the obvious solution to breaking the cycle of domestic abuse is the creation of strong, supported families.
We also know that marriage operates as an important protective factor against domestic abuse. According to the ONS, there is a far greater prevalence of domestic abuse in cohabiting couples compared to married and civil-partnered relationships and, in the year ending March 2019, three times as many cohabiting women had been a victim of domestic abuse in the past year compared to married and civil-partnered women. As the gap between those born to married parents and those born to parents in cohabiting or single-parent families grows, we need an honest public policy debate about how we can best equip the next generation with the skills to build strong, healthy and lasting relationships. Through the appointment of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, we have an opportunity to strengthen significantly the relational landscape for our next generation of children. Marriage and committed relationships should be the centrepiece of educational and health programmes.
Thirdly, we need to ensure the provision of nationwide, whole-family, trauma-informed support, accompanied by a programme for perpetrators that is designed to change behaviour, rebuild relationships and keep families safe. Interventions need to start as early as possible. As UNICEF highlighted:
“The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence.”
Furthermore, less than 1% of perpetrators ever receive rehabilitation and the average perpetrator will have up to six partners and victims.
People could be looking to the successful approach of Barnardo’s Opening Closed Doors project in Wales. Barnardo’s whole-family approach allows both parent and child victims to receive trauma-informed support, while the perpetrators of domestic abuse access a programme designed to change behaviour, rebuild relationships and keep families safe. Without proper intervention and rehabilitation, we will never break the domestic abuse cycle.
My Lords, I welcome the work of the Minister in campaigning against domestic violence. While it is understandable that the Government have been distracted this last year, it is unfortunate that the Bill, with its transformative potential and which is welcomed across the House, has been delayed so badly.
If ever there was a time when abuse victims needed strengthened statutory protection, it is in this unprecedented year of Covid. Lockdowns have been a green light to perpetrators to torment and manipulate those close to them. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline saw a 66% increase in calls and online requests for help from March to May 2020. We are now in another lockdown.
The Bill comes to us strengthened from the Commons, in government clauses relating to the effect on children, special measures in family and civil proceedings, cross- examining a witness in person and many other issues. The new role of domestic abuse commissioner for Nicole Jacobs must also be warmly welcomed, and the work of the Joint Committee in 2019 welcomed and acknowledged. However, as noble Lords have said, now is our opportunity to play our part in the Bill, and there are many areas where it needs further fortification.
Having listened to victims themselves and many charities working with victims and perpetrators, outstanding issues for the Bill include the urgent protection of victims who have no access to public funds under our immigration law. Could the Minister update us on the support for migrant victims pilot scheme and its conclusions?
Action is also needed for a new duty on public bodies to deliver community-based support and for public authorities to provide training to support victims. I will support the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, in that amendment.
There are also questions of economic and post-separation abuse, the present structure of universal credit access, workplace protection and the Government’s workplace review, as well as the gendered nature of domestic abuse. Charities are calling for an end to the threat of sharing intimate images, as we have heard so strongly from noble Lords. For the creation of a stand-alone offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation, I will be supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. Specialist funding needs to be substantially increased and the all-important prevention work with perpetrators needs to be acknowledged in the Bill.
This Bill, defining domestic abuse in law for the first time as it does, is a demonstrably great step forward for abused women and children. We have the opportunity and means, in this House, to turn that step into a deterministic leap forward. My noble friend Lord Rosser is right: there has been a whiff of the 19th century and a make-do-and-mend culture around our official response to domestic abuse, so we must make our response financially cutting edge and 21st century-compliant to defeat it.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill, with much in it that will transform services for women and their children, as well as men, who are affected by all aspects of domestic abuse. I focus my remarks on community-based services and support for families, and ensuring that they are widely available. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that the Bill comprehensively supports victims and their families.
I share the concerns of many noble Lords who have spoken before that the statutory duty on local authorities in Part 4 takes a narrow approach, focusing simply on accommodation-based services. I have direct experience of community-based organisations that provide support for women from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, having set up a domestic violence project called IMECE, which provides support and a lifeline to thousands of women across London. This was set up by women in the Turkish community in the 1980s. It was a grass-roots movement following the murder of a young woman on the streets of Hackney by her estranged husband. She had repeatedly tried to leave him and he had been released by the police, after attacking her one night.
The organisation as we know it now continues to go from strength to strength. In the period between 2018 and 2019, it worked with 3,500 service users and responded to over 1,400 telephone inquiries on a range of issues from women seeking advice and information. The ethos of this organisation, as of many others that have been mentioned, such as Southall Black Sisters, is to empower women, so that they become part of the movement as well as service users and not just passive recipients of services.
Despite evidence showing the distinct needs of BAME survivors of domestic abuse, research shows that BAME women are underserved by the criminal justice system and other safeguarding agencies, and rely on these community support services. It is also widely recognised that domestic abuse is often a root cause of female criminality. This is more acute for the BAME population, according to the Prison Reform Trust. A shocking statistic is that 57% of women in prison report that they have been victims of domestic violence themselves.
There is further strong evidence that providing access to community-based services with a focus on supporting women victims to stay safely in their own homes can be the right thing to do practically. Women from BAME backgrounds face additional discrimination because of the stigma attached to reporting their partner or family member to the police or authorities. They often face being ostracised or even further violence, being left isolated with no family support. Ensuring the provision of adequate community services would support these women, who are marginalised and often have nowhere else to turn. It is important that more women and their children stay connected to their homes and support networks.
It cannot be right that the only approach is to expect women and their children to flee their homes, jobs, schools and possessions to live behind locked doors in institutional accommodation. The Government should ensure that survivors can stay in their homes safely and achieve housing stability, rather than becoming homeless and bearing the financial and emotional burden of starting again, while the perpetrators often remain in the family home, consequence-free.
I also support the amendments that have been mentioned. We all want the Bill to act as an agent of change to influence and challenge norms and statistics, where two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners.
My Lords, I, too, welcome this Bill. As others have said, the pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for this legislation. But while the reality of lockdown has brought new focus to this issue, domestic abuse has been an all too common part of life for as long as we can remember, as my noble friend Lord Young so eloquently outlined.
We all know the figures. One in four women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. According to Stonewall, almost half of all gay and bisexual men have experienced at least one incident of domestic abuse since the age of 16. By that reckoning, there is a good chance that every one of us in this Chamber will know someone who has been affected by domestic abuse. Like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, they might not have felt able to say so—to come forward, even to family or friends—but on any given day, there are millions of people suffering the kind of abuse that it is difficult to comprehend still exists in our society.
This Bill will go a long way towards addressing this problem, and I pay tribute to the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, for her determination to introduce this legislation. It was hailed then as a landmark moment. I agree, and I firmly believe that we should not lose sight of the progress the Bill makes, but it is also fair to say that there are areas in which improvements could be made.
First, when the Bill placed a statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services, it was done with absolutely the right intentions. However, I understand the concerns of many that the unintended consequence may be a two-tier system in which the importance of community-based services could be diminished. I know that the Government are aware of the problem and are waiting for the mapping of services by the brilliant designate commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, but can my noble friend say whether they are looking at other possible ways of ensuring that community-based services are not inadvertently threatened by the new duty?
Secondly, I mention the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. We now know that coercive control often continues, or even begins, post-separation, particularly in relation to economic abuse, which is one of the ground-breaking elements of this Bill. It seems contradictory, on the one hand, to be at the forefront of recognising economic abuse as a serious problem and, on the other, failing to address it by refusing to make the necessary change in law to include post-separation abuse.
Finally, I mention the threat to share intimate images online. Yes, the Law Commission is conducting a review, and as a potential online harm there is a future vehicle for this change. However, it is important to recognise the environment in which these threats are taking place. It is clearly a form of coercive control, so should it not be a part of this Bill? It cannot be right that when a victim reports it to the police, they are often told to come back if the photo or video is shared, as only then is it a criminal offence. Only then, of course, it is too late.
My Lords, I declare my vice-presidency of the LGA. I very much welcome this Bill. It brings forward much needed improvements to legislation and highlights the coercive and controlling behaviour, oppression and violence that form the all-too-familiar pathway of domestic abuse, sometimes leading to homicide. I particularly welcome that it will better identify perpetrators.
Victim non-reporting apart, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that too many instances of crimes, particularly domestic abuse, are either misrecorded or, as in the recent instance of the Greater Manchester Police, not recorded at all. Failure to keep accurate crime records has been a constant criticism over many years, and expert Dr Rodger Patrick, in past evidence to parliamentary committees, considers this to be endemic. Successive reports of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services have in successive reports highlight this problem. In violent domestic abuse cases, tragic deaths, such as that of Jacqueline Oakes, are the result. UNISON cites other cases in its briefing.
My point is that proper ownership and responsibility for such cases is now needed. We should expect better, and it requires the collaboration of everyone involved, because accurate, shared and appropriately protected information is essential, and fundamental to early detection, intervention and protection of the vulnerable. Will the new commissioner have adequate powers to realign end-to-end processing of domestic abuse cases?
I appreciate that domestic abuse cases are extremely demanding of manpower, resources and specialist expertise, such as in psychology. I have no doubt that they involve some of the most secretive and convoluted aspects of human relationships. I am particularly indebted to Mrs Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner, for briefing me, and I pay tribute to her pioneering work and positive approach in dealing with stalking and creating perpetrator programmes. I understand the point that one perpetrator may give rise to numerous victims, so I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, that perpetrator programmes are a vital area of investment and should be expanded. Domestic homicide reviews also suggest that better inter-agency collaboration is needed, which evidently is not the case in all areas. We should certainly encourage more local initiatives.
Relationship education in schools on what constitutes normal, healthy behaviour seems to me hugely beneficial in reducing adverse child experiences. Domestic abuse needs to be more visible, with better early-warning triggers. Calls for more resources are numerous and expected, but if we do not manage these resources effectively and imaginatively, then, despite the Bill, we may simply respond to the symptoms when violence is already evident, acting in haste, with snap decisions made about perpetrator and victim on a victim-first basis, but which in other circumstances might warrant a more nuanced approach. The basic malaise will therefore likely persist, if we are not careful. The Magistrates’ Association is concerned at the imposition of prevention orders with criminal consequences, possibly without either evidence or finding of guilt. I ask the Minister to comment on that.
Academic reviews show that coercive and controlling behaviour, while currently understood to be prevalent among men, especially in domestic abuse in its violent forms, is not the sole preserve of any particular gender, race, creed or economic classification. Understanding a perpetrator’s psychological make-up and the domestic abuse triggers clearly requires great skill, and I worry about hasty fixes and gender assumptions in such circumstances. I note comments that the Bill should be amended to include an offence of non-fatal strangulation, and I look forward to hearing further about that with interest.
To conclude, alongside the Bill, we must make best and most intelligent use of what we currently have and know. I, too, welcome the LSE’s data technology suggestion. As to accurate identification and recording of domestic abuse, perhaps we should measure future performance by reference to criteria that are not reduced to the art and presentation of annual crime statistics. The Bill can be improved, but I very much welcome it.
My Lords, I have often spoken in this House about the need for a more comprehensive and nuanced approach to domestic violence that is evidence-led, responds as effectively as possible to this issue and, particularly, emphasises prevention.
In this vein, I welcome the non-gendered definition in the Bill. For every three victims of partner or domestic abuse, two will be female and one male, and male victims are nearly three times as likely as women not to tell anyone about partner abuse that they are enduring. Fewer men than women tell the police, a person in an official position or a health professional. However, I am concerned that the definition is so wide that almost any interpersonal behaviour could fall into the category of abuse. Moreover, Clause 1 includes phrases such as
“Behaviour is ‘abusive’ if it consists of … physical or sexual abuse”,
which is not exactly definitional.
As time is very short, I will now focus on what is absent from the Bill. Any abuse is completely unacceptable, and responsibility always lies with the perpetrator, but policy discussions in the United Kingdom seem to treat all abuse as stemming from a power dynamic within couples where one partner, typically a man, seeks to control the other. Other jurisdictions, such as the United States, accept international research emphasising that, while male domination and coercive control are important elements of intimate couple terrorism, this occurs in only 2% to 4% of heterosexual couples.
Situational violence has a different underlying motivation and typically arises in tense circumstances which generate arguments and escalate to verbal aggression and, ultimately, physical violence by one or both partners. Far more prevalent, occurring in 12% to 14% of heterosexual couples, such badly managed conflict requires a different preventive approach and solutions.
The Bill lacks a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy which works with whole families to help ensure that the needs of victims, children and perpetrators are met and abuse is not repeated in the next generation. Family hubs have a central role to play here, and I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register of interests. To ensure perpetrators engage properly with effective programmes, this should include social marketing. Hull City Council successfully highlighted the perfidy of domestic abuse without alienating men or perpetrators by disseminating key messages, such as “Real men don’t hit women”, through the innovative use of technology and social media. This profoundly challenges abusive behaviour rooted in subcultural relational norms, particularly male dominance.
Despite its welcome recognition that children living in contexts of domestic abuse are also victims, I agree with others that the Bill should specify that this includes babies and unborn babies, who suffer significant trauma while still in the womb, to ensure that their needs can be properly met. I also agree that the threat to disclose private sexual photographs or films, a particularly pernicious form of control within intimate relationships, should be criminalised through this Bill.
Finally, the clear responsibilities regarding refuges in the Bill contrast starkly with the lack of focus on the bulk need, which is—as many noble Lords have mentioned—for community-based services, including those which prevent abuse. These would save manifold families from long-lasting injury and mental pain, and myriad costs to the public purse.
The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, mentioned that, nearly 50 years ago, the first women’s refuge was opened in Chiswick. I lived there, and I remember it well: it hit the headlines, and not all that many were positive. I had hoped that things would improve—at least it is not called “wife battering” any more—but if you took the sum total of human misery caused by domestic violence and turned it into an energy source, it would hold back oceans.
In my brief time I will focus on domestic violence as a workplace issue, local authority funding and the need for a co-ordinated, community-based response. As a former president of the TUC, I recognise that domestic violence can spill over into the workplace, and my former union, UNISON, is asking the Government to extend the remit of domestic abuse protection orders to include workplaces on the face of the Bill. Under the current wording, emphasis is placed on restrictions to the victim’s accommodation, and the Government have said that they would expect a DAPO to include such restrictions if the court considered it necessary. This is not strong enough.
UNISON welcomes the government review into support in the workplace for survivors of domestic abuse. It is calling for guidance to employers, including on paid leave, so that victims will have the time and space to sort out their lives, whether it is to receive medical treatment, find safe accommodation, or attend court or police dates. What progress have the Government made with their review? Will they extend domestic abuse protection orders explicitly to include the workplace on the face of the Bill?
While the Local Government Association has welcomed the Bill, it is concerned about co-ordination, adequate funding and sustainability. The spending review has already been mentioned. It announced £125 million of funding to help local authorities to deliver the proposed new duty to support domestic abuse victims and their children in safe accommodation. Some experts have estimated that the cost would be nearer £400 million. How has this figure been calculated and will it meet the full costs of the new proposed duties? In addition, transitional funding is needed to provide for existing support services due to close at the end of the financial year.
We need a cross-government response, including health, housing and education, and an equal focus on funding for prevention and wider community-based support. The LGA is not the only organisation which is concerned that the emphasis on local authorities finding accommodation will distort the overall strategy. The list of all the organisations is too long to mention, but it includes the domestic abuse commissioner herself, and they are all calling for an amendment to the Bill which would widen the new statutory duty for accommodation-based services to cover community-based services as well. I hope that the Government will consider sympathetically that addition and accept an amendment to the Bill.
My Lords, I congratulate everybody who has brought the Bill to this point: first, of course, the cross-party efforts; secondly, the Government for actually listening and acting; and, thirdly, the amazing campaigners, mostly from the women’s sector, who have rallied around the Bill and sent us the most superb briefings. It is obvious from listening to the debate today that many noble Lords have taken those briefings very seriously and are bringing up the issues that were in them.
I was struck by the Minister’s very powerful opening speech, and thought that the Labour Front-Bench response from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was also very powerful. Quite honestly, we are at a point now where this is a good Bill, but we can still improve it. I would like to outline a few of the things which I think would definitely improve it.
First, we must ensure that community services are supported, so that survivors of abuse can remain in their homes and communities—many noble Lords have mentioned this. Refuges are only part of the story, and it is manifestly unfair that survivors are driven out of their homes, and children out of their schools, while the perpetrator stays in the family home. This probably needs some work.
We have to introduce the new offence of unlawful strangulation as an either-way offence to recognise the particular harm and risk posed by offenders who strangle another person. Common assault is insufficient to deter and punish this behaviour, which often does not leave any visible harm—and I will of course be voting for the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, when that comes up.
We have to reverse the legal aid cuts so that non-means-tested legal aid is available for all domestic abuse cases, so that survivors can obtain justice in the civil, criminal and family courts.
We must introduce reporting restrictions in domestic abuse cases similar to those in place for sexual offences, so that survivors are not exposed to further harm by having intimate details published. Section 49 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 is just not sufficient here.
We must implement and fund specialist training for all police forces and other agencies to properly understand domestic abuse and to overcome their own inherent views, behaviours and biases on the issue. At the moment, police forces can pay for their own training, but the Government should encourage this and it should be part of basic training. I spoke about such training to a police officer who I have worked with extensively, Detective Chief Superintendent Andy Cox, who is now in Lincolnshire police force. SafeLives provides this training, and he has immediately actioned it so that Lincolnshire Police will have that training.
We must also end the presumption of contact in family law, which can result in children being forced to have contact with an abusive parent. I also thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, was right in saying that the elderly also suffer this sort of abuse. If she decides to table an amendment, I will vote for it.
It strikes me that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, said, this is a good Bill, but it can be a great one if we amend it. The Government must listen and accept that, although there will be later opportunities to improve the Bill, improving it now will be the quickest, safest and most effective way of ending this toxic behaviour.
My Lords, given this Government’s abysmal performance in much of what they touch, particularly their dithering response to the pandemic and their anti-democratic treatment of Parliament, this admirable and urgently-needed Bill comes as a pleasant surprise, and I welcome it wholeheartedly. Even more encouraging are reports from the other place that the Government engaged constructively on the Bill during its passage there and accepted many amendments to improve it. I hope we will see more of that attitude from the Government during the Bill’s passage through this House because there are many gaps that need to be filled to make it into an excellent Bill.
Most attention will rightly be focused on protecting and supporting the victims of domestic abuse and their children, but the vast majority of perpetrators of domestic abuse are men, particularly so for the more serious crimes, so I feel a duty, as a man, to do something to tackle the problem at source through a national perpetrator strategy to prevent repeat offending and even perhaps head off the initial crime before it happens. If we can do that, even with moderate success, we will save many victims from having to endure abuse in the first place. So I will be supporting amendments to introduce a national perpetrator strategy to address and correct the behaviour of abusers on a long-term basis. That needs to exist alongside high-quality support for victims and an effective criminal justice system.
We know that a quarter of high-harm perpetrators are repeat offenders, and some have six victims or more. In England and Wales there are approximately 400,000 perpetrators causing medium or high levels of harm, including murder, yet only a tiny percentage—less than 1%—receive specialist intervention that might prevent future abusive behaviour. There is a growing body of research to demonstrate the effectiveness of quality-assured intervention. One study of 12 intervention programmes found a reduction in the number of women whose partners tried to assault them from 54% to 2%. Other studies have shown smaller but still significant reductions in offending. Survivors are strongly in favour of interventions for perpetrators. The right interventions at the right time can stop abuse occurring, recurring or escalating.
Currently these programmes are patchy, and are limited in terms of the range of perpetrators that they can reach safely. The pre-legislative committee on the Bill noted the need for investment in perpetrator programmes and for co-operation with expert providers. I believe that attempts were made to add a requirement for a national perpetrator strategy in the Commons, but they failed. We must correct this defect in the Bill so that many potential victims can be saved from domestic abuse or repeat abuse before it occurs.
My Lords, I am grateful to follow in the footsteps of Members from all sides here and in the other place who have worked steadily to bring this Bill to its final stages. I pay particular tribute to the former Prime Minister Theresa May, whose Government introduced this once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring the crime of domestic violence out from behind the walls of the home into the light of day and before our country’s law. Above all, I am conscious of all the survivors and their courage and strength, and of the many organisations that support them. I particularly want to mention Southall Black Sisters.
I come to this issue from my work on preventing sexual violence in conflict. That taught me what happens to women in war, but nothing prepared me for the horror of what happens, predominantly to women, in conditions of peace. It happens to women of all backgrounds and social status, women who appear strong yet at home are victims of this private crime. I expect that each and every one of us knows at least one victim and maybe their perpetrator too.
I also speak as someone who has had the sad honour of meeting migrant women who are victims of domestic violence. They face additional barriers to safety because abusers commonly use their fears of immigration enforcement and separation from their children to control them. In the words of one victim: “Without money, a job, a place to live or anyone, and on top of that with immigration problems, I had nowhere to go. I had to stay with him and let him do what he wanted.” I believe that three measures will make a real difference to these women: extending existing safety net provisions to all victims of domestic violence; guaranteeing safe reporting mechanisms; and ensuring that all survivors receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their background or status. I hope that the Bill will address all these measures.
Victims of domestic violence include both women and men, but it is often children who suffer the most. Their lives may be marked by violence, abuse or psychological trauma, altering their normal development. We often talk about the best interests of the child, yet children are often voiceless, their rights neglected and wishes not respected. In particular, children can find themselves the victims of the concept of so-called parental alienation, which is sadly often used to cover up, deflect from or counter allegations of domestic abuse, forcing reunification rather than addressing violence and trauma and protecting the best interests of the child—very often with tragic consequences.
This concept, conceived in the United States, has crept into the UK family courts, where parental alienation is invoked as a stock response in cases involving allegations of domestic abuse. Shockingly, claims of parental alienation appear to be given more weight than allegations of abuse, as they are often backed by supposedly expert testimony and evidence, leading judges to make unsafe decisions around child contact and residence. As a result, current practices around parental alienations are exposing domestic abuse survivors and their children to even more harm, while entirely erasing the voice of the child. The Bill does not currently recognise parental alienation as a form of abuse, yet there are two references in the accompanying statutory guidance which should concern us all. Such references open a back door to the very harm that the Bill is designed to prevent. We should scrutinise the Bill extremely carefully to ensure that we do not let this happen.
That some women and children in our country are violently treated and not allowed free and equal lives reflects as much the failure of our collective willingness to confront the problem of domestic violence as the failure of our country’s law. This is a very good Bill, as many of your Lordships have noted already, but it could be excellent. I hope that in the weeks to come we can put some of this right.
My Lords, this has been a very depressing debate. I had thought that maybe our record of domestic violence in this country was outstandingly bad but—and this is also depressing—we are by no means the worst in Europe, nor are we the worst in the world. It is far worse in Africa, India, south-east Asia and the eastern Mediterranean. It is very bad in South Africa, Turkey and, oddly enough, New Zealand, which is otherwise such a paragon of governance. Maybe this is for religious reasons or maybe it is cultural, but it seems that those religions and cultures which treat women as less than equal are the ones that are prone to domestic violence.
There are gaps in this very welcome Bill. It should make threats to share intimate images a criminal offence. True, the Law Commission is conducting a review of harm online, but it would be quicker to outlaw it right now in this Bill, in case we do not have another chance for years. The organisation Refuge reported that one in seven young women had received such a threat, mostly from current or former partners, with devastating effects. We older people who had no experience in our youth of the online phenomenon may regard the taking and sharing of intimate photos as extremely unwise in any case, but it appears to be a current fashion and, as such, its misuse must be dealt with.
There should also be improved protection for disabled victims who are subject to coercive control by carers by repealing the “best interests” defence to that crime in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 where it applies to a caring situation. The definition of “personally connected” in Clause 2 of this Bill should include carers. Although we have the utmost respect for the carers’ profession, it is possible that, in such a close relationship of dependency, abuse may occur and not be recognised as such. When the Bill becomes law, together with Clause 66, dealing with extraterritorial jurisdiction, I hope that the UK can ratify the 2012 Istanbul convention.
I hope that attention will be paid to the perpetrators of domestic violence, their motives and their education. It should be perpetrators who are evicted from a joint tenancy, not a mother and children being rendered homeless, as is typical. Early intervention to restrain perpetrators is welcome. It is good news that compulsory relationships education has been introduced into schools; this includes teaching on what healthy and unhealthy relationships look like. It is shameful that there should be any opposition to this, especially from faith groups, whom I suspect might be in denial about domestic violence carried out by their own adherents. The Drive project works with perpetrators to change attitudes, beliefs, behaviour and their other problems. A review by Bristol University found that three-quarters of the perpetrators improved their behaviour after intervention.
Incidentally, I fear that the introduction of no-fault divorce later this year might also increase abuse, because a divorce application will come out of the blue, without any period of separation. This might well incite, for example, the husband against whom it is directed and whose potential for abuse may have led to the need to start divorce proceedings.
Finally, we need a continuing government publicity campaign to make the public aware of the aims of this Bill and to publicise the fact that third parties can apply for domestic violence orders and notices, not just victims. I leave the final word to Her Majesty the Queen, who, in her Christmas broadcast, used the phrase “You are not alone”, which is the key message of domestic violence protection. That augurs well for this excellent Bill.
My Lords, indeed, victims and survivors are not alone. I also welcome this Bill, which has enormous power to better protect the survivors of domestic abuse and their children—and the potential to prevent perpetrators committing further offences and endangering the lives of more women. I pay tribute to all the organisations and individuals working with survivors and to the vast amount of work that has already been done on the Bill. I thank the Minister for all that she has done and will do—and for dedicating the Bill to victims and survivors. It will be no surprise to her that I wish to focus on a stalking-related issue, but, before doing so, I will mention five of the many issues on which I hope there will be further movement.
First, there is a need for a duty on public authorities to ensure that front-line public services staff make trained inquiries into domestic abuse and respond appropriately with pathways for support. Secondly, a non-discrimination principle should be introduced in the Bill on equal protection and support for migrant survivors. Thirdly, it must be ensured that all domestic abuse cases can access the appropriate legal help by making non-means-tested legal aid available for all domestic abuse cases. Fourthly, near-fatal strangulation should be made an offence. Fifthly, I agree with the points made by my noble friend Lady Donaghy in relation to domestic violence and survivors in the workplace.
I note that 2 January marked the 40th anniversary of Peter Sutcliffe’s arrest. He attacked and murdered at least 23 women across the 1960s and 1970s; however, since then, too little has changed in relation to preventing abuse by serial offenders. Too often, professionals overlook the most dangerous men, including stalkers. The violent histories of abusive men must be proactively joined up, and the women who report them must be listened to and taken seriously if we are to prevent future murders.
Domestic and stalking-related murders are both preventable and predictable; they do not happen in a vacuum. These are murders in slow motion: the “drip, drip, drip” happens over time on an escalating continuum. The incident-led approach to patterned crimes such as domestic abuse and stalking is very costly: on average, one murder costs £2 million to investigate. More importantly, women are paying with their lives and perpetrators are offending with impunity.
Many predatory stalkers, sex offenders and serial killers abuse their partners and commit other crimes, yet there is no systematic sharing of information across police services and partner agencies. For too long the approach has been to focus on repeat victims and to identify and track them. There is rarely any multiagency problem solving and risk management regarding the perpetrator.
The 2014 HMIC report Everyone’s Business: Improving the Police Response to Domestic Abuse highlighted that police forces were not systematically flagging and targeting serial and serious perpetrators, and little has changed since then. There are now pockets of good practice to be welcomed in Essex, Hampshire, North Yorkshire and Northumbria, where a multiagency approach is taken, but co-ordination and consistency are desperately needed throughout the country. Perpetrators travel, but information about them is static.
The Bill presents a real opportunity to make abusive and violent men visible and accountable and better protect women and children. It is time these dangerous domestic terrorists and stalkers were registered and monitored in the same way as sex offenders and that victims’ right to safety and to live free of fear is realised and prioritised over an abuser’s right to freedom. More than 206,000 people, including survivors and the relatives of victims, have signed a petition in support of extending the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements to ensure that police, prison and probation services proactively identify, track, monitor and manage serial perpetrators. I will therefore be tabling an amendment, as tabled in the Commons, seeking to bring about the change.
In the Commons an amendment requested that the Government commission a report on the monitoring of serial and serious harm, domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under MAPPA. I wonder whether such a report has already been commissioned. When might we be informed of its contents if it has been?
My Lords, Stronger with Music is a campaign to end domestic violence and empower women and children victims. It needs all our support because domestic abuse is a horrific crime that affects millions of people across the country. Domestic abuse is experienced by one in five children at some point in their childhood. A report by Barnardo’s, of which I am a vice-president, detailed the devastating impact of domestic violence on children and their life chances. It found that domestic abuse in the first 1,001 days of a child’s life can affect their neurological development, leading to poor health, poor sleeping habits and disrupted attachment and can push children down the wrong path. Children who experience domestic abuse can also go on to repeat the cycle of violence in their own intimate relationships, as a perpetrator, victim or both.
The Government were right to recognise that children are victims of domestic abuse and, thankfully, change the Bill to reflect that. We need to now build on this and make sure those child victims can access specialist support in their communities. Currently, the Bill creates a duty on local authorities to provide support for victims in a refuge. I strongly urge the Government to extend this duty to make sure that all victims, including children, can access support without fleeing their own homes.
When the Bill went through the other place, it was enhanced by the removal of the “rough sex” defence. Tackling domestic violence, however, should not be about only changing the law to deal with rough sex when it happens; it should also be about fostering a society in which the occurrence of rough sex—including strangulation, and I support the important amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—is reduced. I am therefore extremely concerned about the way so-called rough sex is being normalised in our society by the exposure of children and young people to graphic pornography depicting rough or violent sex. We know that children and young people spend much of their lives online. Research conducted by the BBFC said that
“most of the boys interviewed reported watching pornography daily for a period of their lives.”
It also said that children
“believe pornography could influence sexual behaviour and attitudes towards consent”
“consent was ‘implied’ in pornography rather than openly discussed and spoken about by participants.”
The Ending Violence against Women and Girls strategy, published in 2016, says:
“Research also demonstrates that viewing pornography at a young age can cause distress and have a harmful effect on sexual development, beliefs and relationships.”
Given all these concerns, we cannot consider the Bill before us today without acknowledging the fact that this House has already passed world-leading legislation, in the Digital Economy Act, to protect under-18s from accessing pornographic websites. Yet, astonishingly, the Government have not implemented that legislation. To make matters worse, they have recently announced that the online harms Bill will seek to protect children only from user-generated pornography rather than pornography on pornographic websites. This makes me weep. I cannot see how the Government can prevent children and young people accessing material that undermines consent and promotes rough sex without a comprehensive approach that encompasses all pornography, user generated and non-user generated, on all pornographic websites and social media sites. I plead with them to implement Part 3 of the Digital Economy Act as a matter of urgency, for the sake of online protection of children, until the relevant legislation is ready to be implemented.
We need to take action now to prevent domestic abuse later—and we should remember that childhood lasts a lifetime, so let us act now.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I congratulate the Minister on introducing this Bill, which is a significant step forward in protecting the victims of domestic abuse and bringing their perpetrators to justice.
As we have already heard, domestic abuse affected 2.4 million adults in the UK aged 16 to 74 in 2019. While men do experience domestic abuse, women are disproportionately impacted, making up 1.6 million of that figure. They are more likely to experience repeated victimisation and be seriously hurt or killed than male victims. As my noble friend highlighted, Covid has made the situation much worse, with people being locked down with their perpetrators. Shockingly, last year, during the first seven weeks of lockdown one domestic abuse call was made to UK police every 30 seconds. Sadly, this Covid-19-driven increase has been a worldwide phenomenon.
Conscious of time, I shall focus my remarks on four areas: threats to share photos; CEDAW commitments regarding specialist services; the violence against women and girls strategy; and abuse of older people and parents. I also draw the attention of the House to my register of interests.
The Minister highlighted that domestic violence is not just physical. Concerningly, the 2019 ONS figures showed that recorded coercive control offences nearly doubled. It is often harder to spot coercive and financial control, which may include threats, humiliation and intimidation to isolate victims. However, the effects cause enormous mental suffering.
Refuge has highlighted that technology is being used as an increasingly common tool. I share other noble Lords’ concerns that threatening to share intimate or sexual images has enormous negative impacts on abuse survivors, causing them to live in constant fear and having long-term effects on their mental well-being. Often, such threats continue after they have escaped the abusive relationship. In 2019, 72% of Refuge’s clients reported experiences of such technology-facilitated abuse, with younger women being especially impacted. I understand that, while the actual sharing of such images without consent is a crime, the threat to share is not, and that needs to change.
The UK’s obligations under CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, ratified by the UK in 1986, are relevant to this Bill. The CEDAW committee has it made clear that violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse, is a form of discrimination against women and that government has positive obligations to prevent abuse and protect survivors. This includes providing sufficient specialist services to protect them and prevent abuse happening again. Similar obligations are contained in the Istanbul convention, which I understand the Government have committed to ratify following passage of this Bill. While I welcome the introduction of a statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation services, I question whether the duty is too narrow. The EHRC, for example, highlights that the majority of survivors seek help from community-based services. I also seek assurance from the Minister that any guidance issued under this Bill will be required to take account of the cross-government violence against women strategy.
As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, there are too many hidden victims of domestic abuse. When it comes to older victims, in 2017 more than 200,000 people aged 60 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales, and one in four victims of domestic homicides are over the age of 60. I am sure I need not remind your Lordships of the horrific undercover story of abuse in care homes. Domestic abuse can happen at any age, but Age UK argues that older victims are systematically overlooked, suggesting that an older person being physically or mentally abused by their adult child or grandchild, family member or spouse of 50-plus years is far less likely to be recognised for who they are: a victim. Why do the statistics stop at 74 years old? Will the Minister agree to take steps to ensure the recording of abuse statistics for those over 74?
We need to build a society that has zero tolerance towards domestic abuse—
My Lords, I support this Bill, though there are yawning gaps which need to be filled—I am sure that we will be able to do a lot about that. In the short time available, I want to touch on just three issues, all supported by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner-designate: prevention of domestic abuse through early psychological therapy interventions; prevention of murder through the new offence of non-fatal strangulation, which has been mentioned by many colleagues; and protection of migrant victims of domestic abuse.
It is surely no accident that the first general function of the commissioner is
“the prevention of domestic abuse”,
as set out in Clause 7(1)(a). Sadly, there is very little yet in the Bill to deliver that aspiration, and yet we know the devastation for children witnessing domestic abuse at home, and the added devastation and shame of an abusing parent going off to prison. Surely children never recover from such experiences. We know that the bullying little boys in junior school will probably become the domestic abusers of the future if we do nothing to intervene at that very early stage. They are likely to be suffering abuse at home; little children do not become bullies for no reason. We need in the Bill a duty to intervene constructively with such families to bring to an end domestic abuse across generations. Likewise at senior school, as Theresa May, Elizabeth Filkin and colleagues have set out in their report on ending domestic abuse, compulsory relationships and sex education for secondary pupils should be included in the Bill to make it clear that the commissioner’s role in preventing domestic abuse has meaning and teeth. The Bill needs also to ensure that psychological therapy services are available to couples where unacceptable levels of conflict and aggression arise.
Domestic abuse will continue, and this Bill goes a long way to ensure a strong response, but, above all, the Bill should help prevent murder. I therefore plan to add my name to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, introducing a new offence of non-fatal strangulation. At present, the police lack the legislative tools they need to respond appropriately. We know that some 20,000 victims suffer such assaults each year. For some 80% of those victims, the consequences are extremely damaging, both physically and mentally—a stroke or post-traumatic stress disorder, for example—but strangulation often leaves little or nothing to show what has happened. We know that such women are seven times more likely to be murdered by their partner or ex-partner than others. The leadership of other countries, notably New Zealand, the US and Australia, has shown the way and shown the need for this amendment.
Finally, can we ensure that the Bill protects all modern slavery victims and migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse and who have no recourse to public funds? The Refugee Council makes it clear that many migrant women are not able to access life-saving accommodation and support services when they need them. We need to put this right. New clauses were tabled in the other place that would ensure that all migrant victims of domestic abuse receive the support they need. We will need to revisit those clauses.
What is the Minister’s response to the Refugee Council’s claim that the Bill’s measures are not compliant with Article 3(4) of the Istanbul convention? This article requires non-discrimination on any grounds, such as migrant or refugee status.
In conclusion, the Bill gives domestic abuse due recognition as a serious criminal offence, but I look forward to working with our Minister—I applaud her on her introductory remarks—and with colleagues to try to fill the significant gaps.
My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said about the threat to disclose intimate images and with what the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said about child victims.
I had intended to talk mostly about my noble friend Lady Newlove’s amendment, but so many other Peers have that I will just add my words on the process followed in New Zealand. Its Law Commission’s analysis of why strangulation should be a separate offence is extremely well argued and set out. It covers the otherwise difficult area of people who invite strangulation for sexual or other purposes. It has argued very well that, where this is the case, the consequences are adequately covered by the common law. I also feel that if as a result of criminalising strangulation there is an increased sense of caution among those who want to practise it as to what the consequences for them might be, that would be no bad thing. Other than that, so many other people have said what I wanted to say better than I would have done that I shall end there.
My Lords, this Bill really has been a long time in the making, but the problem it addresses is as old as time. It is a good Bill for all the reasons so many noble Lords have said, but there are still gaps that reveal the difficulties in crafting legislation to deal with that most basic and worst of human instincts: the desire to exert power and control over those who cannot defend themselves.
As so many noble Lords have said already, the Bill is dreadfully timely. At this point in our national history when we are thrown literally on to our own resources, and when the differences in what we are and what we own are so devastatingly clear, both the best and the worst of our characters are revealed. In the past year we have seen the best of humanity, but also evidence that shows that it has increased the danger to those who are already in fear of their life in the family home.
Moreover, as other noble Lords pointed out, significant omissions have been identified by the sector and academics working in this area. I am extremely grateful for all the briefing I have received, not least on the need to extend the Bill to cover non-fatal strangulation and the particular vulnerability of people with communication difficulties, who, as the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists identified, need very specific support. I will support any amendments to address these issues in Committee.
One outstanding omission was addressed but not resolved in the other place. There is no doubt that abuse is not wholly or even mainly physical. Harassment, emotional starvation, gaslighting, and constantly controlling and coercive behaviour have taken time to be identified as equally and lifelong harmful. In 2013 it was identified as a pattern of deliberate domination. It is obviously difficult to police because it is often invisible to anyone outside the relationship. It is also lethal: contemporary research shows that abusive control in a relationship is a better indicator of homicide than evidence of physical violence.
In 2015 it was made a criminal offence by Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act. However, while that new offence has enabled the police to better protect victims, it has proved seriously deficient because the definition of “connected person” in Section 76(2) has a residency requirement, which means that if a survivor has separated from his or her abusive partner the police can no longer use Section 76 to prosecute the abuser.
The consequences are only too predictable. Women—it is usually women—leaving refuges or other safe places are at their most vulnerable. They are removed from emotional, physical and legal protection, are looking for safe and affordable accommodation, often with their children, and are suddenly prey once again to the abuser. This is not speculation. It is based on sound research by leading university experts who have demonstrated that coercive control actually increases after the end of the relationship and takes different forms, particularly economic and financial abuse. The existing laws on stalking and harassment do not cover the situation, and neither does the definition of economic abuse, which is simply too narrow. Research also shows in this instance that economic abuse is also more prevalent post separation.
One case study from the charity, Surviving Economic Abuse, illustrates this. Leslie was with her abusive partner for over 10 years and was the main earner. She put up with physical and economic abuse and, after she left the abuser, he transferred all their money, refused to pay bills and took out loans. The result was homelessness and destitution. It is a personal but not a unique story. Those problems have been identified; they are clear, they are practical and they can be solved. Amendments were laid in the Commons and I am sure that similar ones will have the support of the key organisations in this field.
This is a good Bill that is desperately needed, but the wisdom and expertise of this House can make it better.
My Lords, I refer to my interest in the register as the chair of UN Women UK. I ask my noble friend the Minister to look at its strategy on safe spaces, where we have worked with organisations to provide a safe space for people who fear for their safety in those organisations.
We have all received lots of briefings for this Second Reading, and that demonstrates the scale of the issues that still need addressing. I want to assure my noble friend that I will work closely with her in ensuring that access to services, protection in law and opportunities to restart afresh, free from abuse and fear, are made available.
Like many who are speaking in this debate, I have spent many years raising issues that are faced predominantly by women and girls but, as we know from increased reporting, are faced also by men and boys. For many, the pandemic has tragically only added to their fearful existences, with no current end in sight. I cannot imagine the fear and anxiety being experienced in homes up and down the country. We know that the number of people accessing helplines has massively increased.
During the past year, I have been involved in numerous round tables to see what can be done to provide support in these challenging times. I pay credit and tribute to my friend Meena Kumari of HOPE Training, who has ensured that, where possible, training is available to employers, organisations and individuals so that they understand how to offer help, safe environments and appropriate support, particularly to the BAME community. We need to ensure that we do not just provide short-term solutions but embed into the psyche of every organisation how we behave and respond in order to provide safe haven for those trying to flee domestic abuse, or any form of abuse. To that end, it is critical that properly resourced training is delivered by organisations such as HOPE that have the necessary experience and knowledge. We also need buy-in from the leadership at the top of organisations to ensure that this is understood across all levels.
I will concentrate my remarks on ethnic minority communities. I have raised concerns over the welfare and safety of women and girls in minority communities where they do not have the language skills and may not have access to online devices or phones. Often, they live in close-knit communities and multigenerational households. I want legislation that gives protection to every citizen and does not get caught up in fearing community sensitivities.
I shall give a couple of examples. First, when I was 20 and gave birth to my daughter, in the bed next to mine was a young lady who had given birth to a little boy, for which she was very grateful. She said that throughout her pregnancy she had been beaten not just by her husband but by her sisters-in-law and her mother-in-law due to the threat of a girl coming into their family. Therefore, I saw how difficult it would have been if she had had a little girl.
My second example is a very recent one, 40 years after the first. It concerns a lady of 40 who has suffered abuse twice—from her first husband and, now, from her second husband. She was heavily pregnant when her second husband shoved her down the stairs. She lost her baby, and it was only the neighbours who intervened to help her, called the police and tried to get her justice.
These events are going on in many households up and down the country. The communities themselves need to be given very strong signals that this sort of behaviour will not be tolerated. I hope that the Bill and the communications campaign that will follow will ensure that every single community gets that message loud and clear.