House of Lords
Wednesday 27 January 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them to no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
House of Lords: Size
My Lords, given retirements and other departures, some new Members are essential to keep the expertise and the outlook of the Lords fresh. This will ensure that the Lords continues to fulfil its role in scrutinising and revising legislation while respecting the primacy of the Commons.
Can the Minister confirm that in the past 12 months the Prime Minister has appointed 59 new Peers, bringing our total membership to 833, and that, if we continue at anything like this rate, by the end of a five-year Parliament there could be close to 1,000 Peers? Given that this House has suggested practical ways to reduce our numbers, will the Government work with us to achieve this or, if not, is it really government policy to increase our size with no upper limit whatever?
My Lords, the Government’s concern is that the House of Lords operates effectively, as I believe it does. The noble Lord who asked the question was a private secretary to a previous Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, between 1997 and 2001, when more than 200 Peers were sent to your Lordships’ House. Perhaps it was that painful experience that makes him so militant on this subject.
My Lords, following the constructive report of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, can the Government consider the proposal that when the Prime Minister appoints new Peers, only a small amount of them are legislators, thus considerably limiting the House’s next intake of new Members?
My Lords, when we last debated this issue on 5 January, the Minister said that neither the present nor the previous Prime Minister had assented to any limit on numbers, but the previous Prime Minister did agree to exercise restraint in appointments to the House in response to the Lord Speaker’s letter following the Burns report as part of an overall acceptance of the need to reduce numbers. Is that no longer the Government’s policy?
What I said, which I repeat, is that the previous Prime Minister did not accept the committee’s recommendation to commit to a specific cap on numbers, and that remains the position. My right honourable friend Mr Johnson has only recently become Prime Minister. I suggest that we judge him at the end of his term rather than at this time, when, frankly, the Conservative Party has been underrepresented in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, a recent Times editorial, entitled “House of Cronies”, referred to the high proportion of Brexiteers and Tory donors among the 59 new Peers already made by the Prime Minister, in particular the nomination of a Tory donor guilty of corruption and rejected by the Appointments Commission. Does the Prime Minister not recognise that he is tempting any future non-Conservative Government to appoint inflated numbers to balance the old number? Is the Prime Minister really trying to make the House look ridiculous?
Absolutely not, my Lords. The perception of the House depends on the behaviour and conduct of the House. I am not going to follow, as I refused to before, any kind of ad hominem attack on any new Member—I welcome them all. As for the comment on Brexiteers, I did not notice a surfeit of those before the last election.
The Prime Minister has clearly reneged on the agreement of his predecessor to help curb the size of the House of Lords. He recently overruled the Appointments Commission over a major donor to his party. What does the Minister estimate to be the effect on the House of Lords of the recently announced plans to increase the maximum permitted expenditure by political parties in general elections by a massive 69%?
I may be a little obtuse but I do not see the direct connection between general election expenditure and the House of Lords. The House of Lords, for which I have great reverence, is, contrary to many of the things said publicly, extremely good value for the outstanding service that it gives to the country.
My Lords, while I certainly support a smaller second Chamber, does the Minister appreciate the frustrations of those of us in smaller parties at the way in which the present arrangement systematically prevents such parties having as numerically strong a voice as they could expect under direct election? To enhance the second Chamber and reduce its size in a fair manner, direct elections would be a credible way forward.
My Lords, I salute the noble Lord for his service to his party and his nation in this House. One of the pleasures that I have had at the Dispatch Box—it has not always been easy—has been hearing the very strong voice for Wales in this House, not only from the noble Lord’s party but from the Benches opposite and other parts of the House. I understand his point. Obviously, one major party, the Scottish National Party, does not offer nominations.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a strong point. The role and performance of the House are fundamental to the perception of the House, as I said earlier. That is much deeper than some of the froth on this Question and a matter to which not only the Government but all of us need to direct our attention. We are a revising Chamber, and it is as that that we merit our place and reputation.
My Lords, I find myself in unusual agreement with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. The fact is that form should follow the function of this House. It is about not some academic interest in the size of the House, but the optimum size and balance between the party groups that allows us to do our work most effectively. We can be effective as a House and helpful to the Government, as is evident in the number of amendments passed by your Lordships’ House that the Government agree to and put into legislation. I put it to the Minister that if the Prime Minister’s approach is to continue to prioritise the appointment of Government-supporting Peers, that balance fails and the value of the House falls. They cannot just ram through legislation with ever-increasing government numbers. Does the Prime Minister respect the role and value of your Lordships’ House?
I am certain that my right honourable friend respects the role and place of your Lordships’ House, as, I believe, for all the difficulties that there have been at times, previous Prime Ministers of all parties have. It is reasonable that the House of Lords has been refreshed. As long as it is a nominated House, that should remain the case. On the question of 600 Members, which is often mentioned, I remind your Lordships that there have only been two Divisions in your Lordships’ House since 2015 in which more than 600 people voted.
My Lords, this was brought up in a previous exchange, I believe by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme. The problem with the proposition posited by the noble Baroness is that an unelected House should determine who should become its Members and how many there should be. I am afraid that this is a House of Parliament, not a gentlemen’s club and the membership of the House must, at the end of the day, have political accountability. The line of political accountability goes to the Queen’s principal adviser, who is the incumbent Prime Minister.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. I apologise to the two noble Lords I was unable to call.
My Lords, we remain committed to abolishing Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 to enhance renter security and improve protection for tenants. However, our collective efforts are currently focused on responding to the coronavirus outbreak. We will bring forward a renters’ reform Bill once the urgencies of responding to the pandemic have passed and when parliamentary time allows.
My Lords, by all metrics, tenants started this pandemic with less savings and have lost more jobs and income than property owners, but the Government, in the name of balance, have made the callous move of including arrears accrued during the pandemic as grounds for eviction. They have therefore broken the promise that loss of income will not mean the loss of a home. Can the Minister share the data used to guide this decision? If it is not available, will he please write to me?
Given the significant level of financial support that has been available to renters throughout the pandemic, through furlough and welfare, it is unlikely that this expansion of rent arrears would have accumulated solely through Covid-related arrears. I point out the Citizens Advice data that 250,000 renters owe landlords some £360 million.
My Lords, Generation Rent analysis states that:
“Section 21 is the leading cause of statutory homelessness.”
The report continues, saying that
“92% of the rise in homelessness cases … in London can be explained by no-fault evictions”.
However, turning to the immediate, the Government’s ban on bailiff enforcement of eviction ends on 21 February and does not extend to renters in more than six months of arrears. What plans, if any, do Her Majesty’s Government have to revisit these two very important issues?
I point out that the new court rules will certainly prioritise cases such as anti-social behaviour, and that bailiffs do not currently enforce evictions. There have been plenty of protections for tenants throughout this pandemic, and those protections continue. It is important to get a balance between protecting tenants and providing the rights to landlords.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. I support the ending of no-fault evictions and believe that the tenant should receive extra support during the pandemic and the current lockdown. The Minister will know that very many private landlords own just one or two properties. Can he say what the grounds for repossession would be should the landlord need to reoccupy their home or sell for financial reasons?
I declare my interests as recorded in the register. As part of a renters’ reform Bill, the Government have committed to improving the court process for landlords to make it quicker and easier for them to get their property back where they have a legitimate reason for doing so. Given this, when will Ministers publish their response to the consultation, Considering the case for a Housing Court, which closed over two years ago?
My Lords, campaigners have asked for a coronavirus home retention scheme of £750 million in support to be made available to help renters in arrears, recover loss of income and avoid rent debt. Have the Government conducted a cost-benefit analysis comparing such a fund with the potential cost of making many families homeless because of rent arrears?
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Does my noble friend agree that tenants must have confidence that their landlords will treat them properly, but that the law should not penalise landlords unfairly—most of whom are responsible, have only one or two properties and may have lost significant amounts of rental income in the pandemic? I agree that we must be careful not to give unbalanced rights to tenants to occupy indefinitely—for example, if their landlord needs to sell or move in themselves.
My Lords, it is very important that, when we remove the ability to evict someone through no-fault evictions and Section 21, we also strengthen the rights where there are specific grounds for eviction. That is the nature of the tenancy reform and the Bill that we will bring before the House.
My Lords, the Government are definitely doing the right thing in giving renters greater security. But is there a problem that a rogue landlord could simply double the rent, thereby forcing the tenant to leave despite the extra security? Would the Minister agree that the forthcoming renters’ reform Bill will need to introduce not clumsy rent controls but a straightforward time period—perhaps four years—during which a tenant’s rent cannot be increased by more than inflation?
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. In March 2020, the Government made a commitment that no renter would lose their home due to coronavirus. Can the Minister tell the House how ending the evictions ban aids that commitment?
I point out that billions have been provided in welfare support. In addition, raising the local housing allowance of the lowest 30th percentile is adding nearly another £1 billion of support—some £600 of support to people—in the private rental sector. There is a great deal of support in addition to the discretionary housing payments. All of this shows that we are committed to supporting renters at this time, but we need to get the balance, with support for landlords.
I declare my interests as in the register. It seems that the eviction moratorium had benefits in Covid prevention interests as well as, or perhaps even more than, the interests of renters or landlords. Given that public interest aspect, is it not incumbent on the Government to try to provide a solution to the rent arrears, especially for those—of whom there are quite a few—who have been ineligible for the other types of support?
My Lords, I am not really sure how the Government can solve the issue of rent arrears. We have just discovered the £360 million in rent arrears calculated by Citizens Advice. The most important thing is, where a landlord faces a tenant not paying their rent and where there is a level of egregious rent arrears caused not just by the pandemic, they are able to evict the tenant.
Is there not a very simple way of accepting the fact that, if we pay the rent of people in this period, we can look at the knock-on effect at a particular time? For anybody who slips into homelessness, the cost will double, and sometimes treble. We know the evil cost of homelessness, and it would be much more sensible if we said, “Okay, all we are going to do is pay your rent, pay your arrears and spend to save”.
My Lords, I would argue that the furlough scheme and the support we have given in billions in welfare, in addition to the commitment towards homelessness, which is increasing from £700 million this year to £750 million, is precisely the sort of leadership the Government are providing to support people to remain settled in accommodation and take rough sleepers off our streets.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. The Citizens Advice survey found that 46% of tenants who make a complaint are then evicted by their landlord using Section 21—the no-fault eviction power. Can the Government find the time to deal with this very real problem through some form of legislation due before this House, whether in its own Bill or by piggybacking the relevant clauses into another Bill, as this is now even more pressing in this coronavirus and lockdown era? People, particularly families, have more than enough to cope with at the moment, and need to know that they have a safe and secure roof over their heads.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked, and we now move to the third Oral Question.
Education: The Holocaust
My Lords, the Government are fully committed to Holocaust education and believe that every young person should learn the lessons it teaches us today. That is why it is the only compulsory topic in the history curriculum. It is important that pupils understand the appalling events of the Holocaust and the possible consequences of anti-Semitism and extremism in order to understand how society can prevent the repeat of such a catastrophe. I am grateful to my noble friend for laying this Question on Holocaust Memorial Day.
My Lords, survivors play such a profound role in our education programmes. As they become fewer in number, what steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ensure that all their testimony is taken down and transformed through all modern means, not least AI, AR and VR, to ensure that all that testimony is available to future generations for ever? There are six million reasons.
My Lords, the Government have funded several initiatives of the nature my noble friend outlines. The new national memorial will ensure that the voices of survivors and witnesses are retained. We have included support for initiatives such as the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Newark, which uses AI to capture survivors’ testimony.
My Lords, how have the Government ensured that schoolchildren know also about the Roma element of the Holocaust, which is so little known but was responsible for the annihilation of such a large proportion of Europe’s Roma population? For instance, the Government could put Gypsy, Traveller and Roma history on the school curriculum, as requested by the Council of Europe, and as included in previous Holocaust Education Trust memorial day ceremonies. Would not this help to reduce the race hatred experienced by these communities?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her involvement in the stakeholder group for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people and for the group’s contribution to the national strategy that is being led by the Government for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people in the UK. There are resources available. When the Holocaust is taught on the curriculum it is of course open to schools to include other genocides. It is good to note that the IHRA has produced a non-legally binding definition of the genocide and discrimination against the Roma people.
My Lords, I was able to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp during a visit arranged by the Holocaust Education Trust. There were more than 100 people in the party, mainly students, and it was an experience none of us is ever likely to forget. The Holocaust Education Trust is to be congratulated on the work it does in this respect. Has the Minister visited this camp? If not, a visit of this nature would be helpful in projecting the work of the trust. Perhaps I might add that I am trustee and patron of the Holocaust Education Trust and would be able to assist in this exercise.
My Lords, it is always good to hear of the valuable work that the HET is doing. That is why the Government give nearly £2.2 million a year to enable such visits by students. I am grateful for the invitation. I will take it up remotely because I believe that during the pandemic the HET has been very successful in moving trips online. I thank the noble Lord for his invitation, which I will duly consider.
I thank my noble friend Lord Holmes for asking this Question on Holocaust Memorial Day. I praise Her Majesty’s Government and the department for their support for Holocaust education, but this Holocaust Memorial Day is different from any other Holocaust Memorial Day. The newly formed interfaith group Sharaka, or “partnership”, was set up last year in the wake of the historic Abraham Accords. Young leaders from Bahrain, the UAE and Israel have just committed themselves to a five-point action plan to include promoting Holocaust awareness, combating online anti-Semitism and countering anti-Semitic delegitimisation of Israel. Does the Minister agree that the promotion of Holocaust education in the Gulf region is a most welcome difference in this year’s observance of Holocaust Memorial Day? Would she be prepared to share good practice and education materials with Sharaka, a great organisation of forward-thinking young people?
My Lords, I welcome the extension of that education to the countries that my noble friend outlined. I will write to the CPD element of the University College London project that we also fund to make sure it is aware of it so that teaching staff can also be made aware of these resources that will help them teach that curriculum well.
My Lords, yesterday President Biden abolished Trump’s 1776 Commission, which sought to deny the ugly truths about America’s slavery history and its treatment of indigenous Americans. We cannot eradicate intolerance and racism unless we face our own true full history, so is it not now time that Her Majesty’s Government boldly set up a history curriculum commission to incorporate the truths and the facts, ugly or not, about our own slavery history, to honour the six million killed in the Holocaust and the millions killed and affected by institutional racist abuse, and teach the full truth of European history?
My Lords, within the history, English and citizenship curriculums there is flexibility for schools to teach the matters outlined. They are inspected against producing a broad and balanced curriculum. As I am sure the noble Lord will be aware, characters such as Mary Seacole have had increasing prominence in the curriculum for key stages 1 and 2. The key stage 2 and 3 curriculums outline studying, for instance, a non-European society as a contrast, and it was encouraging to note that a Historical Association survey of teachers stated that there is increasing prominence of black British history.
My Lords, the theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “Be the light in the darkness”. It encourages everyone to reflect on the depths that humanity can sink to, and also the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to be the light during and after genocide. Schools are key in ensuring that young people understand history and the need to be more tolerant and respectful of those who are different. Five years ago, a House of Commons Education Committee inquiry into the provision of Holocaust education in schools noted that in many academies the Holocaust was not required to be taught because they do not follow the national curriculum, and urged the Government to take action. Can the Minister say what proportion of all schools now teach the lessons of the Holocaust?
As I have outlined, the Holocaust is the only compulsory element of the national curriculum for history. The department does not have a role in inspecting schools to see how many schools are teaching a particular subject. That is a matter for Ofsted, which has a new excellence framework in education. Schools are inspected against the fact that they are teaching a broad and balanced curriculum, and of course schools need to teach the content that is outlined by awarding organisations for GCSEs and A-levels.
My Lords, I am on a similar theme, and I want to press the Minister. In a Foreign Office commemoration yesterday, the Foreign Secretary quoted Holocaust survivor Gena Turgel about being “secure in the knowledge” that others would keep the candle alight, but in preparing the 2016 report on Holocaust education referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, the Commons Education Committee heard shocking evidence from the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education that
“the expectation of universal Holocaust education is no longer matched by reality.”
Even in schools obliged to follow the national curriculum, Holocaust education can be cursory or patchy, and more than 50% of secondary schools in England, such as academies, are not even required to follow it. The Government’s response to that recommendation was vague. So I press the Minister now for a more forceful commitment to ensure that all schools teach about the Holocaust, preferably not only in history but in civic education.
My Lords, it is open to schools within various subjects such as citizenship, English and history to teach the Holocaust. The Government maintain that Ofsted inspects against a broad and balanced curriculum. Academies will retain the freedom that they have, but they are inspected, like maintained schools, by Ofsted. We have committed to not only a national Holocaust memorial but to a learning centre alongside it to ensure that children learn about these events.
I pay tribute to the amazing survivors who use their experience of these terrible events to teach young people about where racism and prejudice can lead. However, there will be a time when they are no longer able to speak directly to students so I reiterate the importance of ensuring that their testimony will still be available for schools to use. I ask the Government to consider how they could work with training providers to expand programmes such as Lessons from Auschwitz so that apprentices can benefit from that brilliant work as well.
My Lords, as I have outlined, the Government fund several initiatives to ensure that that testimony is available to future generations, and I will ensure that providers of apprenticeships and other courses are made aware of the work that we fund for the Holocaust Education Trust.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed and I apologise to the three noble Lords who were unable to ask their questions.
Retail Sector: Unemployment
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on unemployment of any decision by the administrators of (1) Debenhams, and (2) Arcadia, not to seek deals which (a) retain staff, and (b) keep stores open; and what steps they are taking to support jobs in the retail sector.
The Government recognise the significant impact that redundancies will have on employees and their families. We have put together a far-reaching package of support for business and the economy, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has supported 81,900 businesses in the wholesale and retail sector, with claims worth over £7.96 billion.
My Lords, the Fashion Retail Academy works with employers to provide young people skills and practical experience to meet the evolving needs of the industry. In normal circumstances, 96% of its students—more than 1,000 a year—go into permanent jobs. Does the Minister agree that the FRA and other national academies play a vital role in supporting youth employment and that the Government should support their sustainability and expansion as part of a strategy to support young people in retail at this critical time?
My Lords, is not the risk that the demise of vast outlets such as Debenhams will have a domino effect in reducing footfall for other shops? While it would be completely wrong for the Government to rescue retailers that have failed to adapt, there is no reason for all retail to disappear from the high street. Is it not the case that the Government’s own measures against Covid have increased the challenge for viable businesses? Will the Government please consider measures such as extending further the business rates holiday and will they also use their urban regeneration programme to facilitate the conversion of shops to other uses, thus avoiding great black holes in many town centres?
I agree with the noble Lord. It is very important that we try to do all that we can to retain town centres and high streets. They are a vital outlet for many businesses and are well loved by the public. We have the levelling-up fund and the towns fund so we are doing all we can to assist the sector in these very difficult times.
At the Covid-19 Select Committee yesterday, both the Fabian Society and the British Independent Retailers Association gave startling evidence to our inquiry. Both said, quite rightly, that this would disproportionately affect women, who traditionally have held many more roles in the retail sector. Many of these roles are now going towards distribution centres, where, as we know, the gender balance is different. What are the Government measuring in relation to this question and what actions do they plan to take to mitigate the impact on women?
The noble Baroness is correct, sadly. We recognise that many of those losing their jobs in this sector are likely to be younger, low-skilled female workers, hence the importance of higher universal credit payments, the Kickstart programme and JETS, and, from January 2021, the Job Finding Support service. We have temporarily increased universal credit by around £1,000 a year and are doubling the number of work coaches to 27,000 in 2021.
The loss of 200,000 retail jobs is terrible news for many, especially young people. Does the Minister agree that the Government need to take immediate, practical steps to help, such as reducing the rate of VAT on sales from bricks-and-mortar shops and lowering the state pension age to enable many to retire and vacate jobs for younger people?
The noble Lord will understand that I cannot give commitments on VAT and tax changes. They are rightly a matter for the Chancellor. We need to do all we can to assist the sector in these difficult times. I have outlined some of the measures we are taking to support retail. We will continue to do that and will keep all future policies under review to see what we can do to help.
My Lords, if one of the alternative uses is housing, can we ensure that that housing is of the highest standard? Some existing conversions for that purpose have been very poor. Can we also ensure that there will be mixed tenure, with a proper segment for social housing, and that any buildings should fit the existing townscape and not be an excuse for multi-storey conversions?
My Lords, our thoughts are with the staff and their families who are affected by the closures under this deal. Is there a plan, in scope or in contemplation, for our high streets? If so, will the Minister ensure that it includes consideration of business rate levels, planning issues, investment and transport links, training and retraining? He has mentioned some of those but they need to be bound together in a coherent way.
Does the Minister agree that there are not any grounds for the insolvency practitioner to select a purchaser, as implied in the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Rose? The job is to maximise the return to the creditors. Does he also agree that now is the time to revisit the terms of the moratorium that he and I debated, so that time is given to companies such as these to find better solutions?
I enjoyed debating the moratorium with my noble friend—an area in which he has considerable expertise. The moratorium that was introduced is designed to help companies that are financially distressed, and I was very grateful for his recognition of and support for it during the passage of the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill. I assure him that the rules for the monitor of the moratorium, who must of course be a licensed insolvency practitioner, will not in any way impede the monitor seeking advice from other restructuring professionals and finding an alternative source of rescue.
The noble Lord, Lord Field of Birkenhead, is not available, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Goudie.
My Lords, high-street retailers, their customers and their staff should not be prejudiced by unfair online competition, which is contrary to the public interest. To an extent, the supply chains of online retailers rely on the victims of human trafficking, modern slavery, appalling working conditions and exploitation through low pay. These issues are notoriously prominent among a number of the bigger names in online shopping. This is a scandal that must be stopped.
Like the noble Baroness, I have seen the media reports. One hopes that they will have shamed many of those companies into action, doing what they can to make sure that their supply chains are robust and sustainable and that they do not indulge in the terrible practices that she has outlined.
My Lords, I am speaking from Colne, a smaller town in Lancashire, where most of the high street consists of small, independently owned shops, many of which are in a disastrous situation. We do not want to close down our high street; we want to keep it going and expand it. What are the Government doing to make sure that these small shops, independently owned, will be able to survive and thrive after Covid?
I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord is speaking up for Colne and for many other high streets, because they play a critical role in our smaller towns. We have brought forward £81.5 million from the £3.6 billion towns fund to kick-start local investment projects of the exact kind that he refers to. Of course, we have to accept that we cannot protect every job during this crisis, but we will help people to get through it and help them get back into work at the end of it.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the parliamentary pension fund. What action will Her Majesty’s Government take to ensure that the pensions of thousands of redundant employers, who mainly will be female and will have given years of service, will be protected and that these employees will be told exactly what is happening with regard to their pensions?
My noble friend makes a very good point. I appreciate that these will be concerning times for members of these pension schemes, but there are measures in place for these situations. We will ensure that we do everything we can to provide support for those who potentially will be impacted. The Pensions Regulator is working closely with both the company and the scheme to ensure that all prior commitments entered into are fulfilled.
My Lords, all supplementary questions from Members available to ask their questions have been asked.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask all Members to respect social distancing.
Educational Settings: Reopening
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 26 January.
“Throughout the pandemic, the Government have been clear that education is a national priority. We had worked hard to keep all schools, colleges and universities fully open, but the scientific advice we received in January meant that we had no choice but to close schools and colleges to all but vulnerable children and the children of critical workers, and to restrict in-person teaching in university to those studying to be future critical workers.
It is the Government’s strong desire to reopen all schools, colleges and universities as soon as possible. We will prioritise the reopening of schools as we begin the process of lifting lockdown restrictions. We are acutely aware of the damage done to children’s education and development, particularly for the most disadvantaged pupils, by being away from school, and of the increased burdens that are placed on parents. That is why we allowed early years providers to remain open throughout this lockdown.
The decision about when and how we can reopen has to be based on clear public health data and guided by scientific evidence and the advice of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, the Joint Biosecurity Centre, Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer, including on issues such as hospitalisation rates and mortality, the rate of vaccination, and the challenge of new variants. Ultimately, it was the pressure on the NHS that caused us to move into a national lockdown, and the Government are monitoring NHS capacity carefully as they review whether easing lockdown might be possible.
The Government recognise that head teachers, teachers, support staff, parents and carers need time to prepare for reopening. That is why the Secretary of State made it clear last week that we will give two weeks’ notice to schools, colleges and universities so that they can prepare for a return to face-to-face education. We want to give two weeks’ notice so that parents can make arrangements for the care of their children, and we will be making announcements in the next few days.
Until schools can reopen fully, it is crucial that they continue to provide high-quality remote education alongside the on-site provision for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. I would like to take this opportunity to thank teachers and school leadership teams across the country for working around the clock to keep schools open for some while also rising to the challenge of providing remote education for the millions of children who are continuing their education from home.
However, remote education can never be a substitute for days spent in a classroom led by a brilliant teacher, or for children being with their friends. We want those days to return as quickly as possible, and with them this Government’s continuing determination, made still more urgent by the pandemic, to raise standards in all our schools to improve the life chances of every child and to transform the start in life for those children facing the toughest challenges.”
My Lords, we all want to see schools reopen as soon as possible but that must happen only when there is scientific evidence that it is safe to do so, and that evidence must be made public. Yesterday, in response to the Urgent Question in the name of the shadow Secretary of State, the Schools Minister stated that the Government intend to give two weeks’ notice of schools reopening so that parents can make arrangements for the care of their children, and that that announcement will be made in the next few days. That is welcome. We can only hope that the announcement will constitute the coherent plan that so far has been singularly lacking. So, although we understand that the Minister is unable to say today what the plan for reopening schools will be, can she confirm that the imminent announcement will actually contain a plan?
There has to be a route map to full reopening. It does not need to have dates at this stage, but the various steps need to be set out to give some hope to the teachers and school leadership teams across the country who are working under tremendous strain to provide education, both in school and remotely, to their pupils.
We know that many teachers have themselves succumbed to the virus, so will there be a credible testing plan in place when pupils return? Will the Government ask the JCVI to consider the prioritisation of teachers for vaccination?
Yesterday in another place, the Schools Minister confirmed that schools will be the first—
Thank you. Parents are already struggling to juggle jobs and home schooling their children. They need support and an indication of a pathway out of school closures, and they deserve clarity from the Government as a matter of urgency.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of staff and parents who are home schooling, particularly those who still have to go to work but are not critical workers and therefore do not have a school place for their children. The JCVI is currently considering the vaccination of essential workers. This is unusual timing, in that the Prime Minister is due to make a Statement in about 15 minutes in the other place on Covid. I draw the noble Lord’s attention to that.
We all want to ensure that our Covid generation of school pupils returns to school permanently and safely. There are currently 945,805 teachers employed in English schools. Does the Minister agree that, perhaps during the February half term, we should prioritise the vaccination of all these teachers and other school staff, both to reduce the levels of Covid and, more importantly, to provide reassurance to parents?
My Lords, as I have outlined, the JCVI is considering the case for essential workers to be within the next priority group. The Department for Education is taking part in the cross-government work on that. It will be a decision for Ministers, on the advice of the JCVI.
My Lords, more than half of teachers say their mental health has declined during the pandemic, and England’s mental health of children and young people survey found an increase of five percentage points since 2017 in mental ill health among five to 16 year-olds. Children with a parent in psychological distress are at even greater risk. What are the Government doing to improve mental health among children and staff and to support very stressed home-schooling parents?
My Lords, the Government introduced a well-being on return to education initiative, which provided expert support to schools through local authorities and others to help with return. One of the most important things that the Government are doing is that if teachers are concerned about the mental health of a child at home, they are able to classify them as a vulnerable child and bring them into school if that is what they believe is best for them.
My Lords, will the Minister, in informing the Government about the reopening of schools, bear in mind the equalities considerations for women, who, along with the children who are disadvantaged, have been most significantly impacted by home-schooling requirements?
My Lords, it has been a tribute to schools and parents that during this third lockdown—the second lockdown where children have been educated at home—the remote provision of education has been of a greater standard. Yes, we pay tribute to all those parents who are delivering the curriculum at home, particularly, as I have outlined, those who still have to go to work and do not have access to a school place.
My Lords, we all agree that these are difficult issues, but I am not sure that Ministers realise that the Government are a weak link in solving the problems and that many teachers now see them as an added problem, not a guiding light. I realise that it is difficult to set a date for when schools will reopen, but it is entirely possible to set out the conditions for assessment and the order in which pupil groups will return to school. Why can Ministers not show the same speed in decision-making that they demand of teachers and school leaders?
My Lords, living through a pandemic obviously means that road maps and timetables are very difficult and complex to draw up, but we have made it clear that schools and parents will have two weeks’ notice of when a return date is going to be given. I draw the noble Baroness’s attention to the Prime Minister’s Statement later today.
My Lords, the reopening of schools—obviously, the Government want to see all children back as soon as possible—is a matter for government decision. It is a complex decision, bearing in mind the public health implications and the hospital admissions that, sadly, have led to having to take most children out of school for a second time. So, unfortunately, no, it is not possible to allow local democracy to decide these issues.
My Lords, my information from an academy director in London is that they are prepared to open primary schools using lateral flow tests twice a week for all staff, with staggered starts and finishes for pupils. Does the Minister see that as a viable approach? Secondly, I should say that there is still a severe shortage of laptops in London, which is handicapping pupils who are dependent on online learning.
My Lords, the Government have now delivered 875,000 laptops of a £1.3 million order. We are one of the world’s largest purchasers of laptops, in a competitive market—obviously, many Governments are trying to purchase them. Secondary schools did a great job over the Christmas holidays of standing up mass testing, and we intend to extend that to primary schools and early years settings as and when we can.
My Lords, there are currently no grade inspections either by ISI, of the independent sector, or Ofsted. However, monitoring inspections are happening, particularly of our “requiring improvement” and “inadequate” state-funded schools. Both those inspectorates, particularly Ofsted, retain the power to go into a school if there are safeguarding concerns.
My Lords, I refer to my registered interests. Universities are places of education as well. What plans have been made to support universities and students in the event that universities need to extend their normal teaching year to ensure that their students can complete or progress on their course this year?
My Lords, obviously university students were at home at the time of the second national lockdown. Only those who are involved in critical worker courses have been permitted to go back. The continuation of courses is a matter for the universities but the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, is regularly in touch with them, and with the professional bodies which rely on the completion of those courses so that people are competent to enter workplaces.
My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge the huge pressure on families, particularly working mums, of prolonged home schooling, made worse by the uncertainty of when schools will reopen? There is a real danger to mental health and cohesion in families. The Minister has offered some hope on a plan for return, but can she tell us, more specifically than she has so far, of the help that the Government will provide for those families worst affected, particularly in relation to mental health?
My Lords, a catch-up figure of £650 million has been talked about in relation to school funding. Schools are obviously free to spend that on additional mental health support, and we have drawn attention to that in the guidance we have outlined. Unfortunately, I cannot give any further details, as to do so would be to steal the thunder of the Prime Minister in a few minutes’ time.
My Lords, all the speakers on this Question have spoken.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. I will call Members to speak in the order listed in the annexe to today’s list. Members are not permitted to intervene spontaneously; the Chair calls each speaker. Interventions during speeches or “before the noble Lord sits down” are not permitted. During the debate on each group, I invite Members, including Members in the Chamber, to email the clerk if they wish to speak after the Minister. I will call Members to speak in order of request and will call the Minister to reply each time. The groupings are binding, and it is not possible to degroup an amendment for separate debate. A participant who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in a group to a Division must give notice, either in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber alone. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking on the group.
Domestic Abuse Bill
Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 7: General functions of Commissioner
Debate on Amendment 21 resumed.
My Lords, when she introduced Amendment 21, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, talked about alcohol abuse and gave several examples of the distress that it can cause not only to the people involved in the relationship but also to the children. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, also mentioned alcohol, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, talked about the symbiotic link
“between substance abuse, mental health issues and domestic abuse”.—[Official Report, 25/1/21; col. 1495.]
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, pointed the finger squarely at the Government, blaming them for many of the problems that crop up simply because of their cuts to the funding of addiction services.
I come at this from a slightly different perspective. The Green Party recognises that, in the majority of cases, the limited use of drugs for recreational purposes is not harmful; it actually has the potential to improve well-being and even enhance human relationships and creativity. However, most harmful drug use is underpinned by poverty, isolation, mental or physical illness and psychological trauma—in these cases, harmful drug use can cause a vicious circle. As such, the Green Party focuses on minimising not only drug abuse but the social ills that lead to it—so we take a health-focused approach to it.
This group of amendments, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is an important step towards minimising harms caused by problem drug abuse. My reading of them is that they focus on both abusers and survivors so that we can address the issues in a much more holistic and comprehensive way. The Bill will have a gaping hole if it does not properly address the complex relationships between domestic abuse and harmful drug use. The Government have shown willingness to adopt positive amendments and improve the Bill, so I hope that Amendment 21 and the others in this group will find favour with them and that we will see something come back on Report.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. She has an interesting perspective. I will speak to the amendments introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. The noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Hunt, have already spoken eloquently in their support.
We took evidence on this issue in the ad hoc committee on the Licensing Act 2003, which reported in 2017. Substance abuse in the form of alcohol was indirectly related to it—particularly when it was served to those who were already intoxicated.
I am sympathetic to these amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned, there can be—although not in every case—a relationship between the impact of substance abuse and addictions and the perpetration of domestic violence. This can lead to a severe deterioration in mental health, which may lead to the violent behaviour that, sadly, we often see.
I will focus my remarks on Amendment 94. This looks to local authorities to provide mental health support where necessary to the victims of domestic abuse where there is substance misuse. How might this work in practice? I am mindful of the helpful, comprehensive letter received from the office of the domestic abuse commissioner, which says, in relation to Part 4 of the Bill:
“The Commissioner has strongly welcomed the new statutory duty on local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children within refuges and other safe accommodation”.
“The Commissioner has welcomed the funding secured by the MHCLG in the recent Spending Review of £125 million for councils to deliver this duty.”
If this group of amendments were to be carried, how they would work in practice? This is a question for the Minister and, indirectly, for the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I do not want to infer something that the domestic abuse commissioner has not said, but, reading between the lines, it appears that the approach set out in these amendments would not be unwelcome. How can we give practical effect to this group of amendments, given the limited budget available to local authorities and charities?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for her leadership, and my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe for addressing the specific components of mental health, alcohol and harmful substance misuse associated with violence. I commend the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and support her call for the commissioner to have comprehensive resources and staff, as well as advisers to manage the many complexities and demands in this area.
The Bill offers a unique opportunity to coalesce resources and enhance a more radical and holistic approach and a shift in our national attitude to service provision. I generally support this group of amendments. I am a practitioner and leader of service delivery, having led the national four-year pilot project, Breaking the Cycle, which provided early and long-term family intervention and support. It is a timely reminder that we need to bring our responses to significant hidden harms and violence, long associated with addiction, into the fold of service development.
During the recent lockdown, the statistics have been laid bare, as our attention has fallen on preventing alcohol consumption in pubs and bars, without critical additional support being made available to victims of those who are addicted. Numbers have risen exponentially. Alcohol and substance addiction affects all communities, regardless of faith, race or cultural background, with a pernicious impact which often remains hidden. Many women are fearful of exploring and explaining the secrecy surrounding addiction and of mastering the necessary courage to seek help. Many may experience additional anxiety and fear of the toxicity of discrimination or of children being taken into care. These complexities can prevent many women seeking help and reporting their emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse and safeguarding concerns.
This is why I support these amendments and their fundamental, underlying principles, specifically Amendments 21 and 42, and Amendment 94 regarding the responsibility that a local authority must have to ensure that service provision is available to all. Since its inception, the “Breaking the Cycle” project has supported thousands of families with its expertise, with particular attention on addressing the impact on children, eloquently detailed by noble Lords. There are no easy, immediate solutions except to say that it is crucial to bring these responsibilities into the commissioner’s purview and remit, with specialist staff and advisers. This must, at its core, be a diverse team, given that the client base will reflect the diversity of our population. All services must take on board servicing all victims and survivors, as a matter of core principle. I am delighted to support these amendments.
My Lords, I support the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Finlay, particularly Amendments 94 and 21. These recognise the importance of substance abuse, addiction and mental health provision in the fight against domestic abuse. As the Committee has heard, these issues are a persistent factor for both perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse. People with mental health problems find themselves disproportionately victimised in domestic abuse settings and children can find themselves equally vulnerable. A Crying Shame, published by the Children’s Commissioner in 2018, highlighted 50,000 children aged nought to five, including 8,300 babies under one, living in households where the destructive impact of domestic abuse, alcohol or drug dependency and severe mental ill-health were all present. A further 160,000 children aged nought to five, including 25,000 babies under one, were living in a household where two of the three factors were present. The Bill represents a huge opportunity to deliver a step change in our response to domestic abuse and, therefore, can only benefit from the inclusion of the provision of mental health and substance abuse support.
I support Amendment 94 as a vital first step, as it requires local authorities to make an assessment of the need for, and publish a strategy on, the provision of substance use, addiction and mental health support for all victims and their children in relevant accommodation. Although the amendment specifically refers to support in “relevant accommodation”, the reality is that the vast majority of victims—an estimated 70%—never set foot in a refuge and remain at home or in alternative housing. Research by the UK women’s organisation Agenda shows that women who have experienced extensive physical and sexual violence are more likely to use alcohol or drugs problematically, compared to women who have not experienced it. While local authorities making these assessments and strategies in relevant accommodation is an important first step, we must consider opportunities for intervention and support for the majority who experience abuse but do not ever seek refuge.
Amendment 21 ensures that the provision of substance use, addiction and mental health support are identified in the Bill as areas for which the domestic abuse commissioner must encourage good practice. This support for those affected by domestic abuse should extend to perpetrators as well. As I argued in my speech on Amendment 172, specialist support for both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse is a crucial component of ensuring that we actually break the cycle of abuse with this Bill. Fewer than 1% of perpetrators currently receive an intervention designed to change their behaviour. A lack of funding for perpetrator services was recently identified as the biggest issue by front-line practitioners across England and Wales. Based on evidence from SafeLives’ Every Story Matters platform, 74% of those surveyed wanted mental health support for perpetrators.
According to evidence from Substance Use and Domestic Abuse, by the British Association of Social Workers, there is a strong association between domestic abuse and substance abuse. Perpetrators may also use drug addiction to control their victims in ways such as limiting victims’ access to drugs, demanding sex for drugs or using drugs as an apology—or even a reward—after an abusive episode. It is important, therefore, that mental health and substance abuse support is recognised in the Bill as part of the breadth of good practice that the domestic abuse commissioner is to encourage.
These amendments are about changing the cultural and social landscape around domestic abuse. If we focus only on refuge, and not intervention and rehabilitation, especially in the context of mental health and substance abuse, we miss a crucial piece of the weaponry in breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.
My Lords, in this group the Committee has already heard a great deal about the role of substance abuse in domestic abuse. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for her tremendous work in this respect. I will focus my brief remarks on the unholy triumvirate of substance abuse, domestic abuse and mental ill-health. There is a strong link between the three.
Some research findings have already been quoted. The most striking that I came across was on substance abuse: abused women are 15 times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to abuse drugs. This is one way, but hardly a good one, to alleviate the stress and the pain. Research suggests that women experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to experience mental health problems; women with mental health problems are also more likely to experience domestic abuse. It makes total sense, when you think about it.
It is a vicious circle: domestic abuse leads to mental ill-health, which is often used to abuse the victim further. For example, it can be a tool of coercive control—threatening to “tell social services” and telling the children that “Mummy can’t look after you”. When a victim discloses to a public authority, the abuser may say, “You can’t believe her—she’s mad”. On mental health repercussions, domestic abuse is associated with depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse in the general population. Of course, this all has a profound effect on the children.
The Children’s Commissioner estimates that over 500,000 children are living in households infected with substance abuse and domestic abuse. Children experiencing mental health issues as a result of domestic abuse have strong links with poorer educational outcomes and a high level of mental ill-health. Sadly, that is only to be expected. So the importance of, and interrelationships between, substance misuse, mental ill-health and domestic abuse can hardly be overestimated. That is why we support all the amendments in this group, and I have added my name to three.
Of those to which I have added my name, Amendment 21 specifically writes into the general function of the commissioner the need to include the provision of support for domestic abuse victims suffering from mental health issues and addictions. Amendment 42 sets out the requirement that the commissioner’s advisory board includes at least one person with experience in mental health and substance abuse. Amendment 94 obliges local authorities to provide mental health and substance misuse support to victims. Unless support of this nature is given, this strong interlink between the three will never be broken.
My Lords, I welcome the important contributions made by noble Lords on this difficult subject. It is important to recognise that domestic abuse does not happen in a neat silo; as so many noble Lords have commented, it is inherently bound up with wider issues of mental health and substance abuse.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who so strongly highlighted the impact of devastating cuts to our public services through a decade of austerity. I restate his comments about the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ call for the Government to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to invest £374 million into adult services to cope with the increased need. Report after report now highlights the poor preparedness of our public realm to cope with this dreadful pandemic, as a consequence of the austerity decade, when council funding was cut to the bone.
Mental health services have been particularly impacted by this austerity, leading to a lack of services and long waiting times. Victims and survivors with mental health problems also face barriers accessing many other vital services due to strict eligibility criteria or not being able to engage in the way that services require. Too often, such barriers are leading to people being bounced around different services, having to constantly re-tell their story.
There is, however, an awareness of the complex and interrelated needs of those with mental ill health, but many services are unequipped to support them, and few services exist that can care for people with both mental health and substance misuse issues. This is despite research showing that substances are often used as a form of self-medication for unmet mental health needs and as a way of coping with abuse.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke so knowledgably about, there is a close link between domestic abuse and alcohol, with the perpetrator drinking heavily. There are also instances of the victim drinking, leading to uninhibited behaviours, and this can trigger the abuse. Similarly, the victim may use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. During the pandemic, there has been an increased level of alcohol consumption, exacerbating a known problem.
There is, therefore, a great need to ensure that the commissioner’s remit includes alcohol and other substances. She needs to be able to receive evidence on alcohol abuse to inform where support services must be improved, and to contribute directly to the national alcohol strategy.
In conclusion, the importance of multiagency and holistic working in this area cannot be overemphasised. It is important to recognise that mental health and addiction problems can create additional vulnerabilities that people perpetrating abuse may seek to exploit.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate on the complexities of alcohol and substance misuse and mental health and the correlation with domestic abuse, from the point of view of both the victim and—as my noble friend Lady Stroud said—the perpetrator. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for tabling these amendments and her work in chairing the Commission on Alcohol Harm.
I will start with the final comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport. She and I are cut from the same cloth in knowing the effectiveness with which multiagency work can help in all sorts of ways. The way that agencies communicate with each other can get to the heart of some of the problems in society.
I also acknowledge the contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Hayter, Lady Jenkin and Lady Jolly, and thank the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Ribeiro, for their expertise and their input into the Alcohol Health Alliance’s report for the Commission on Alcohol Harm, which was published last year. It highlights these complex relationships between alcohol, mental health and domestic abuse. I welcome the report; it makes for important reading.
As the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, has illustrated, there is a frequent coexistence of domestic abuse, mental health problems and the misuse of drugs and alcohol, with complex interrelationships between them. The relationships are nuanced, and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is right to identify this. It is also clear that there is no excuse for domestic abuse, and it is vital that people affected by domestic abuse get the healthcare they need.
I reassure noble Lords that we intend to reflect the importance of joining up domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse services in the statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 73. We have a number of other, parallel measures to ensure that the join-up should be reflected in local health commissioning and the support that people receive. Noble Lords will know that local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and other partners produce an assessment of the local population needs, called the joint strategic needs assessment. This should include consideration of the needs of victims and survivors. The assessment informs a local area’s health and well-being strategy and the commissioning of services, including mental health and substance misuse services.
I will say something about local authority spending because noble Lords have referred to it. Local authority spending through the public health grant will be maintained in the next financial year. Local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential front-line services. This includes drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services. We are working on increasing access to substance misuse services, and we have appointed Professor Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs to inform the Government’s work on what more can be done to tackle the harms that drugs cause.
I also draw noble Lords’ attention to ongoing work in the health system to create new integrated care systems where NHS organisations, in partnership with local councils, voluntary service partners and others, take collective responsibility for managing resources, delivering NHS care and improving the health of the population they serve. The development of a new integrated care system is a real opportunity to improve the join-up between different services and provide truly integrated care.
I turn to the specifics of the amendments. On Amendments 21 and 29, which relate to the role of the domestic abuse commissioner, the Bill already confers on the commissioner a wide remit in tackling domestic abuse. She has already started to provide public leadership on domestic abuse issues by raising awareness of key matters and monitoring and overseeing the delivery of services to ensure that they are as effective, evidence-based and safe as they can be.
The description of the role states that the commissioner must adopt a specific focus on the needs of victims from groups with particular needs, which could include mental ill-health or substance misuse. However, as an independent office holder, it will be for the commissioner to determine her priorities, which will be set out in a strategic plan developed following consultation with her advisory board, the Home Secretary and others.
As for Amendment 42, which relates to the composition of the advisory board, Clause 12 already provides that at least one member of the board must be a representative of the health care sector, and there is sufficient latitude for the commissioner to appoint other specialists as she sees fit.
Amendments 94 and 104 relate to Part 4 and the new duty on tier 1 local authorities to provide support to domestic abuse victims and their children in safe accommodation. The Explanatory Notes make it clear that such support may include drug and alcohol advice and support. On the membership of domestic abuse local partnership boards, Clause 56 specifies the minimum membership; otherwise, the composition of the board is a matter for the relevant local authority and could well include a person with experience tackling substance misuse. However, we should leave that to the judgment of the relevant local authority. We are committed to taking wide-ranging action to improve understanding of domestic abuse across statutory agencies, through guidance, targeted resources and training for responding agencies.
In relation to Amendment 181, I can assure noble Lords that the statutory guidance that will be issued under Clause 73 will be an opportunity to focus on the complex relationship with substance misuse and mental ill-health as well.
A couple of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, and my noble friend Lady Stroud, referred to perpetrators. It is fair to say that addressing a perpetrator’s drug or alcohol use is unlikely, in and of itself, to reduce or solve the problem of domestic abuse. It is equally important that any alcohol or drugs treatment programme for perpetrators, as well as addressing the cause of the substance abuse, also addresses the complex dynamics that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, outlined, and the power and control that underpin domestic abuse.
As we will come on to, Part 3 enables positive requirements, such as attendance at a drug or alcohol programme or a behavioural change programme, to be attached to a domestic abuse protection order. It will also be open to a court to require the subject of such an order to wear a sobriety tag. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, will be very pleased to hear that, as will my noble friend Lady Jenkin.
On funding, noble Lords will have seen the joint announcement last week from the Home Office and the Department of Health that we are investing an extra £80 million in drug treatment services, right across England, to give more support to offenders with drink and drug addictions, which can of course fuel crime.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and other noble Lords have, through these amendments, drawn attention to a very important issue in the arena of domestic abuse. I thank all noble Lords for raising it in this debate. I hope I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness of the existing provisions and ongoing work in healthcare, and that the Bill already provides the means for the domestic abuse commissioner and tier 1 local authorities, in the context of the new duty in Part 4, to address the links between substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse. On that basis, I hope she will be happy to withdraw her amendment.
I have received one request to speak after the Minister, from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.
My Lords, the Committee has every reason to be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, because these are all very important announcements; I thank everyone involved, and it is very good to be speaking to this group. This subject is not just close to my heart but has been part of my life. I was very pleased to hear in the Minister’s response how many things are going to be in place to deal with alcoholism, in particular. I very much look forward to Dame Carol Black’s review—I know how brilliant she is—and I also welcome the news about sobriety tags. I just want to make a few points, some of them personal.
The link between alcohol and domestic abuse is well known, and yet, strangely, it is often not at the forefront of the debate. Some 55% of domestic abuse cases involve alcohol or some kind of substance, and women who drink themselves are 15 times more likely to be abused than women who do not. I am not going to repeat the stats; one only has to read the excellent contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, on Monday night to get a good picture of how solid the evidence is. Drunk people, both men and women, are more likely to abuse or be abused than those who are not. Alcohol itself is not the culprit, and it should never be an excuse for behaviour. However, I believe that it is so tightly woven into the problem that it must be treated as part of the recovery process.
I am very glad that, as a result of the Bill, the crime of domestic abuse will be better dealt with and we will have more refuges. I also welcome the commissioner. But if we do not study, understand and treat alcoholism, then we are not doing our job.
Alcoholics, when they are drinking and when they are addicted to alcohol, are really difficult to deal with. Alcohol, as people say, is both cunning, baffling and powerful. I know that, in my life, I have drunk to excess. I do not drink now and I have not done for many years, but alcoholism will be with me for the rest of my life. It is very hard to break that cycle without help, and there are far too few treatment centres in this country. I know—again, from my own experience and that of people I know—that doctors and general hospitals do not like disruptive alcoholics, who are really hard to treat and who take up beds. They sober up and are then sent back into the world, where they start drinking again. People, especially women, keep alcoholism a secret. It is seen still as an issue of shame in this country, which is one reason I have always spoken publicly about it, throughout my life.
If we do not stop the cycle, the same thing happens again. Abuse is a spiral, in much the same way as addiction, and a drunk abuser will seek a victim. A woman who drinks herself and who has, probably as a consequence, the lower self-esteem that goes along with it, will almost inevitably partner up with the kind of bloke who will, ultimately, abuse her. That is what you do when you think you are not worth anything, because you are the person in our society who cannot handle alcohol like everybody else does.
Personally, I cannot think of a more difficult thing—it is almost impossible—than to be a woman with kids who is the victim of domestic abuse and a drinker herself. Yes, the council may find you a refuge, but, when that is over and you have to go back to the world, if you do not have some solid help to get through that addiction, you are going to end up back where you were, and the saga goes on and on.
The need to break this cycle must be a fundamental, core part of the commissioner’s remit. She needs all the expertise to support her and she needs money to enable her to make the right decisions. No one in their wildest miseries or nightmares would want to be addicted to any substance, from a bottle, a needle or a pill—it is a misery you would not wish on anyone. But once there, it takes some time and patience. I have been lucky; I have been able to afford the help I needed, but this should not be an issue of money.
As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said earlier in this debate, deep cuts have been made to addiction services in this country since 2013-14. It means that the 8.4 million potentially high-risk drinkers—that is an awful lot—and the hundreds with opiate addictions, are not getting the right help. It is an insane situation, because for every addict or alcoholic, it is reckoned that at least five people are swept into the madness and distress. It costs money: to the NHS, to the criminal justice system and to society.
WHO figures suggest that 50% of men who kill their wives are drunk or addicted. Helping people who drink or abuse substances through to the other side—through to a chance, literally, to rejoin the world as a useful member of society—would bring so many great benefits. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, spoke so wonderfully about on Monday night, so many children would have their lives transformed. As she said, the Commission on Alcohol Harm heard from children who were terrified to go home for fear of what their parent or parents might do. The Children’s Commissioner estimates that there are more than half a million children living in households where domestic abuse, along with drink and substance abuse, is prevalent.
The alcohol lobby is big and powerful. It has successfully fought demands for minimum pricing in England—though it lost in Scotland—a measure that is known to reduce harmful consumption. This stuff is everywhere. Adverts are well targeted, promising thrills and excitement, and they all too often use sexualised images of women to encourage purchase. This ought to stop. I am the last person who wants to see alcohol sales restricted in any way, but I am convinced that we cannot keep shoving this big problem to one side. Domestic abuse and alcohol are linked, and unless we break the addiction cycle, we will not break the other. We can no longer condemn both the victims and the abusers—who are, in my mind, sometimes also victims—to the shadows.
There is very little of what the noble Baroness said with which I would disagree. The cycle of abuse—whether that cycle is generational or whether it goes from spouse to partner and then reaches down to the children—is ever present and it needs to be broken. I agree that the links between alcohol abuse—not alcohol use but alcohol abuse—and domestic abuse are very well known. On people getting the help they need, it is absolutely clear that support for alcohol or substance misuse should mean that people can access the right services, which are commissioned by local authorities.
The noble Baroness made a point about the domestic abuse commissioner. It has been interesting in these debates that, on the one hand, the independence of the commissioner has been very much promoted, and I totally agree with that. On the other, we are by increment, through the debates in this House, trying to add additional remits and stymie her independence. She is an expert in her field. I know that she will make those links. I talk about troubled families quite a lot in the things that I say. That is because I have seen the way in which multi-agency interventions can be so effective at spotting things such as domestic abuse. The advent of that programme spotted an awful lot of domestic abuse previously unknown—and not only previously unknown but at the heart of the problems that these families were facing. We all know that when a big football match is on, women are quite often hyper-vigilant, knowing that, whatever way the game goes, they will bear the brunt of it—mainly as a result of the use of alcohol.
The noble Baroness also asked me about minimum pricing, which Scotland has introduced. We are keeping it under review as it is implemented in Scotland.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for what I consider to be a really quite overwhelming response to this set of amendments. We have had a very important debate. I would love to summarise what each person has said, but I am aware that the Committee has other amendments to get on to. I would like to highlight the fact that the toxic trio was launched into our debate on Monday by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley, and picked up again by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and it has been the focus around which many people have spoken. I am delighted to hear about the sobriety scheme and sobriety tags being brought in for alcohol-fuelled crime. I was part of that original amendment, some years ago, that allowed the pilot scheme to happen, and have seen the evidence from the US in particular of the efficacy in domestic situations as well. I am grateful in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, for that, and to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for putting local authority services so strongly on the table, with the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott, Lady Uddin and Lady Wilcox.
I will be withdrawing my amendment; let me leave no doubt about that. I have a slight concern, though. We really need to get something, somewhere on the face of the Bill, because I am aware of the adverse pressures that come from the commercial world, where the sale of alcohol brings in profits. Of course, the money coming into the Exchequer nowhere near matches the expenditure on the harmful effects of alcohol. I hope that the Minister will meet me between now and Report, for us to look at putting something in somewhere, rather than only in guidance. I accept that it will be statutory guidance, and I would like those reassurances again on Report to make sure that we do not lose sight of this. If we do, we will lose an incredibly important opportunity to make a difference to both victims’ and perpetrators’ lives. As has already been said, sometimes the victim, who is addicted to alcohol, has behaviours that are so goading that it is then almost unsurprising that this results in a downward spiral of abuse, and the one fuels the other. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 22. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division must make that clear in debate.
22: Clause 7, page 4, line 20, at end insert “which must include the identification of and response to any speech, language and communication needs that those people have.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 22 I will speak also to Amendments 92, 105, 110 and 187, which are in my name and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, my noble friend Baroness Finlay of Llandaff and the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin. In doing so, I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties. Unfortunately, I was unable to trail these amendments at Second Reading, for which I apologise to the Committee.
My co-chair, Geraint Davies MP, and I wrote to the Home Secretary in June, appealing to her to place a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner and local authorities to ensure that good practice should include the identification of, and appropriate support for, communication needs. We also appealed to her to allow victims of abuse, with communication disabilities and needs, to be allowed to give evidence in court in private. We also asked that speech and language therapists should serve on domestic abuse local partnership boards. We received a reply to this in September from Victoria Atkins MP, the Minister for Safeguarding, in which she said that the Government continued to prioritise improving speech and language outcomes, based on early identification and targeted support.
I well remember being introduced to the importance of having communication needs addressed by two cases when I was Chief Inspector of Prisons. The first was a woman who had been beaten into dumbness by her abusive partner. The creative writer at her prison encouraged her to express her feelings in poetry, which she then gave to other women to read out. One day the creative writer asked the woman herself to read her poem, and she found that she was able to. Her dumbness having been cured, the authorities could work with her. The same thing happened to a young offender who had been beaten into dumbness by his abusive father. Thanks to a speech and language therapist, the authorities were then able to plan a future that did not include return to his family.
I return to the amendments, which seek to flesh out the contents of our letter to the Home Secretary. Amendment 22 seeks to put the identification of and response to speech and communication needs into the Bill. Amendment 92 seeks to introduce local authority responsibility. Amendment 105 seeks to include speech and language therapists in domestic abuse local partnership boards, while Amendment 110 seeks to ensure that those with communication needs are provided with appropriate support in court. Amendment 187 adds the impact on children of witnessing domestic abuse to the importance of assessing the communication treatment that a victim may need. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have signed this group of amendments, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with such conviction, because this area of domestic abuse is even more hidden from outside view than is normally the case.
The ability to defend oneself depends so much on the ability to use language—to express grief and hurt and to offer explanation and defence. We know that, for young people and children in particular, communication difficulties—difficulties in being understood and in understanding—can lead to invisibility as well as inaudibility. At worst, they lead to bullying in school and throughout life. These young people live at the heart of a perfect storm. Disabled people, shamefully, as we have learned throughout this debate, experience disproportionately higher and more prolonged abuse. They cannot as easily protect themselves or find protection. Their children, even if not directly abused themselves, will observe all of this—and, equally shamefully, disproportionately. Witnessing a parent being abused is itself the most hideous form of abuse. The children live with this violence and misery as victims and observers, silently and alone.
We can all understand that, but research underpins it and shows categorically that abused children are likely to have poor language and social skills. As research by Refuge has also found, they become afraid of the very people they count on to love them. It is no wonder that pre-school children shrink away into silence. While their disabilities grow worse, other children exposed to domestic violence are likely to be at risk of developing significant speech and language problems. Again, research documents a significant difference in hearing and speech development.
If that is combined with learning difficulties, as is often the case, children neither know what is happening to them, nor can they explain to other people what it feels like, except that many must feel that it is all their fault. The impacts are deep and lifelong. It is hard to imagine the mental torture for a child seeing a parent being violently hurt, and having to stand by, imprisoned by fear and locked in silence. Lifelong impacts must be at least loss of confidence in all relationships, as well as on learning.
We want to take the opportunity in the Bill not just to recognise the particularly vulnerable and dangerous situation that those children and young people face but, through these amendments, to build in agency and capacity for change. The first step must be, as set out in the amendment, to recognise and articulate the issue. The amendment would place a legal duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that the good practice that the commissioner must encourage has to include the identification of and appropriate support for communication needs. Given that there is no reason on earth why the Government should not accept the amendment, in all humanity, we ask the Minister how she sees this operating in good practice.
Amendment 92 and subsequent amendments in the group would embed agency at the level of local authority and practice, so that the needs of those children are made explicit in the local strategy, ensuring that they have a champion and advocate, a speech and language specialist. Such services are reflected in later amendments dealing with the courts. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists put it powerfully, stating:
“It would help support not just those affected by domestic abuse, but also the other professionals working with them to understand the links between domestic abuse and communication needs, how the latter may present and their impact, and how to respond appropriately”.
As with so much in this Bill, every aspect of every abuse that we are seeking to correct has taken on more complexity and urgency. However, this group of amendments has a particular moral force. It is primarily about victims of domestic abuse and their children, who are already at a great disadvantage and not well served by present services. They need extra help in this Bill. Your Lordships can make sure that they get it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I am delighted to be a co-signatory to these amendments as someone who has speech, language and communication needs, and as a proud vice-president of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.
I hope that noble Lords might indulge me if I share a detail of my life that has a considerable bearing on why I am supporting these amendments. Yesterday marked exactly 25 years since I should have died. It is slightly surreal to hear myself say that. Yet I will always remember the answer to my question, “What are the odds on my making a complete recovery from the operation?” The response was to the point: “I am afraid I cannot give you odds on survival”. My life was saved by the incredible skill of my neurosurgeon, Anne Moore, and maxillo-facial surgeon, Daniel Archer, who went through the back of my mouth to access my spine and brainstem. I lived to tell the tale, obviously, but the shock of losing the ability to speak and the immense sense of isolation and vulnerability that went with that will stay with me for ever, as will the trauma of three frustrating years before further surgery enabled me to speak intelligibly again.
To compound the anguish of that experience by adding domestic abuse to the situation hardly bears thinking about. So, while I cannot speak from the perspective of someone with communication needs who has suffered domestic abuse, my personal experience teaches me that the changes outlined so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, are needed.
A central lesson, for me, of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 is that change does not happen by accident. It needs to be continuous and to be codified and embedded in practice. So, I support placing a legal duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that the good practice they are required to encourage includes the identification of and appropriate support for communication needs, in line with the amendment.
The measures provided for by these amendments are necessary. Local domestic abuse strategies need to detail how the local authority will identify and respond to communication needs. Domestic abuse local partnership boards need to include a speech and language therapist. Rules of court must include the provision of appropriate support for those with communication needs, and any guidance issued under the clause referred to in connection with Amendment 187 should include information on the links between domestic abuse and communication needs and, just as importantly, the impact that witnessing domestic abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, explained so clearly, can have on children’s communication needs.
There is one other personal point which has a bearing on why I regard these amendments as so necessary. Until I entered your Lordships’ House, I had hardly ever experienced disability discrimination. The organisations I worked for were sensitive to my communication needs and they honoured their legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to how they operated. They would never have signalled to me to speed up while I was speaking, as the noble Baroness the Leader of the House did from the Front Bench only recently. Quite apart from the law, I wonder whether she has given the slightest thought to how much courage it takes to stand up in your Lordships’ House when you have communication needs that are not even acknowledged, let alone accommodated. In any professional, modern workplace, I would be asked whether I needed more time on account of my disability. It is to the detriment of your Lordships’ House that it should act as if it were above the laws on disability discrimination and equality which it helped to bring about. Indeed, we must be one of very few institutions that expects the law to accommodate our procedures rather than the other way around.
In conclusion, I do not want any other body to follow the poor example set by your Lordships’ House. These amendments would help to ensure that that does not happen. That is another reason they are so important to the victims of domestic abuse who have, like me, speech, language and communication needs, and why they deserve a substantive and considered response from the Government.
My Lords, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has withdrawn from this debate, so I call the next speaker.
My Lords, I speak in support of this whole group. I declare an interest as a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, a patron of the British Stammering Association and, indeed, as a stammerer myself. Stammering is often not recognised as a disability, but depending on its intensity, it has profound effects, particularly on children’s ability to cope with stress and to develop, and it is exacerbated by domestic violence. I am indebted to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists for its research.
I will only add to the comprehensive and persuasive speeches by those noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments that in connection with support for communication needs generally in good practice, stammerers have difficulty in reporting traumatic events and in accessing services at the first contact when this is often by telephone. Inclusion of speech and language therapists on domestic abuse partnership boards and in local authority responses in their strategy is of particular benefit to victims who stammer, especially if the role of the therapist is to consider initial access to services.
In respect of guidance on the psychological impact of domestic abuse, in particular on children’s speech and communication, there is evidence that children who are exposed to domestic violence have a greater propensity to develop speech and language difficulties, thus harming their life chances thereafter. For instance, court proceedings can add intimidation and stress, which make these amendments of great importance in alleviating the damage caused by domestic abuse.
My Lords, I declare an interest in chairing the board of governors of Cardiff Metropolitan University, a major provider of speech and language therapy education with 130 students currently enrolled across the three-year course, 49 of whom started in 2020.
I support all the amendments because the links between domestic abuse and people with communication needs are clear but seriously underrecognised. In a cycle of abuse, communication needs in a child are ignored or overlooked as many do not realise how much can be done to improve a child’s life chances if they receive early—I stress early—supportive intervention. Public Health England’s Disability and Domestic Abuse: Risk, Impacts and Response paper reports:
“Disabled people experience disproportionately higher rates of domestic abuse. They also experience domestic abuse for longer periods of time, and more severe and frequent abuse.”
When those victims also have communication needs, they experience more barriers to accessing support such as health and social care services and domestic abuse services, and are at greater risk of ongoing gender-based sexual violence.
But the damage from abuse goes wider. The young child who experiences or witnesses abuse is more likely to have delayed speech and hearing development. This affects global cognitive development, especially in reading and writing, expressive language skills and social interaction skills. These children then fall further behind in many domains and may have flashbacks resulting in emotional shutdown and aberrant behaviours. Of course, they find it harder to express what has been happening, so these children often suddenly break down at school and the whole story unravels, but in a piecemeal and jerky fashion.
The cycle continues. Speech and language therapists working with children and young people in care or in custody report a very high incidence of these children having been abused or witnessed abuse. The key point is that recognition of abuse and subsequent remedial action must happen early, which is why speech and language therapists should be viewed as key members of statutory domestic abuse services.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, have highlighted the link between domestic abuse and communication needs—both in how abuse can lead to communication difficulties and how important communication ability is, so that victims can express the impact that domestic abuse has had on them. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, brings her wealth of professional experience to reinforce these points.
Disability discrimination includes when you are treated less well or put at a disadvantage for a reason that relates to your disability in one of the situations covered by the Equality Act 2010, such as when you use public services or have contact with public bodies. Those with communication needs would be included in that. I understand the particular concerns of those noble Lords who are promoting these amendments, but I wonder whether the protections of the Equality Act are sufficient. However, I hear the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, that these protections need to be embedded.
My Lords, first, I draw the attention of the Committee to my relevant registered interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. These Benches welcome and support all the amendments in this group.
Amendment 22, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, seeks to put a clear statement in the Bill that, in encouraging good practice as required by Clause 7, the domestic abuse commissioner must include identification of and response to any speech and communication needs that people have. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, using his extensive experience of work in the criminal justice system, as Chief Inspector of Prisons, gave us a clear example of why this is so important. My noble friend Lady Andrews made a point about how important it is to be able to use language to express and defend yourself. My noble friend also made the point that children witnessing abuse of a parent by another parent or partner is a horrific form of abuse. We have heard from other noble Lords that lifelong damage can be caused to a child who witnesses that form of abuse.
The noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin, in an important and thoughtful contribution, explained to us the difficulties that he suffered 25 years ago and the effect that they had on his speech at the time. His contributions are always valued and respected in the House, and I am very sorry to learn that he feels that that is not the case.
I cannot see who would not agree with any of the amendments in this group. The first, Amendment 22, seeks to ensure that support is available and generally accessible to every victim. We may be told in a moment by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, that this amendment or these amendments are not needed, and that support is implied anyway. That may be so, and I am sure the noble Lord will set out his case shortly, but I think he needs to go further and that the Government have to provide every reassurance necessary. It may be that the noble Lord thinks that the provisions are adequately covered under Clause 7(2)(a) and (b), along with the powers set out in Clause 9. If that is the case, can the noble Lord make that expressly clear in his reply to this debate?
Amendment 92 seeks again to put a commitment in the Bill that a local authority will identify and respond to speech, language and communication needs when preparing its strategy for the support of domestic abuse victims—something that I and many other noble Lords fully support. Again, when responding to the debate, if the noble Lord thinks that this amendment is unnecessary and is going to rely on the powers set out in Clause 55(8) and (9)(b), and/or the powers contained under guidance in Clause 58, can he confirm than the Secretary of State will address the issue specifically through one of these routes?
Amendment 110 seeks to address the same issue as the previous amendments, this time in respect of providing proper support for victims during court proceedings. Again, if we are to be told by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, that this amendment is also not necessary, it would be helpful to have reassurances on the record that these important issues will be fully addressed by the rules of the court or other provisions.
Finally, Amendment 187 seeks to put points in the section related to guidance in the Bill that have been raised in previous amendments, along with the important issue of children witnessing domestic abuse and the effect that has on speech, language and communication needs, which many noble Lords raised in this short debate, including my noble friend Lady Andrews and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response to this short debate.
I start by paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for his work as co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties, as he set out in opening this debate. The ability to communicate is a crucial life skill, so I welcome all the work that he and my noble friend Lord Shinkwin do in this area. He brought passion and personal insight to his contribution to the debate today. We are all extremely glad to have his voice, and the benefits of his experience and extensive work, in your Lordships’ House.
We all know that domestic abuse has a devastating impact on all its victims, and recognising the specific needs of individual victims is essential. Those facing communication barriers are, arguably, some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, given the added difficulties that they have when it comes to speaking out or asking for support. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, gave two powerful examples in his speech from his experience as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons.
We also recognise the particular impact on children and young people. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews, Lady Whitaker and Lady Finlay of Llandaff, set out, early speech and language is an important protective factor for a child’s health and development. It affects the rest of their lives. Extensive work is already under way to strengthen the response from key agencies to speech and language difficulties, which we all welcome.
On Amendment 22 and the role of the domestic abuse commissioner, the Bill already confers a wide remit on the commissioner in tackling domestic abuse. The designate commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has already started to provide public leadership and is raising awareness of key issues, monitoring and overseeing delivery of services to ensure that they are as effective, evidence-based and safe as they can be. She will be responsible for assessing, monitoring and publishing information about the range of provisions that exist for victims and survivors of domestic abuse. The commissioner’s role description states that he or she
“must adopt a specific focus on the needs of victims … from … groups with particular needs,”
which includes people with communication needs.
However, as I set out in response to earlier amendments and as my noble friend said in the debate on the last group, as an independent officeholder, it is for the commissioner to determine her priorities. They will be set out in the strategic plan that is developed following consultation with her advisory board, the Home Secretary and others. It is important that we maintain the independence of her role, so that she can go wherever she feels that she needs to.
Amendments 92 and 105 seek to ensure that local authorities give due regard and respond to speech, language and communication needs when discharging their functions under Part 4. I appreciate the intention behind these amendments, but the Government feel that putting such detailed requirements in the Bill could reduce local authorities’ flexibility to meet particular local needs. It is by setting up local partnership boards, as referred to in the debate, in line with local needs and existing partnership arrangements, that we will see the strength of that flexible approach. To answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, we do not therefore believe that these amendments are necessary, given the broad definition of domestic abuse support in Clause 55. Moreover, these matters can be further addressed in the statutory guidance, rather than in the Bill.
In addition, considerable work is already taking place across Government that seeks to improve the experience of victims, such as refreshing the national statement of expectations, which is due to be published later this year. That will set out best practice for services tackling violence against women and girls, and associated commissioning. We are completely dedicated to joined-up action to ensure not only that we prevent abuse, but that we provide the most appropriate support for victims and survivors. The victims’ strategy outlines this very commitment to improve the offer of support.
Furthermore, the Children and Social Work Act 2017 saw some of the most significant reforms in this area to date. It requires local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and the police to form appropriate multiagency safeguarding partnerships. Of course, local authorities should meet the needs of all victims of domestic abuse, based on a robust local needs assessment. That is why we intend to make clear that local authorities should consider additional barriers that might prevent victims with protective characteristics accessing support in refuges and other safe accommodation services. Local strategies will also need to set out clearly how local authorities, working with and through their local partnership board, will address the barriers that they have identified.
We can all appreciate the need for local strategies to be effective and inclusive. As well as the statutory guidance, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government may, by regulation, make provision regarding the preparation and publication of domestic abuse strategies. These regulations are intended to provide for a consistent approach to these strategies across the country.
I take this opportunity to reaffirm that there is an important balance to strike between providing local authorities with the flexibility to meet particular local needs and ensuring a consistent approach to the provision of support. The clauses as drafted, supported by the regulations and comprehensive statutory guidance for local authorities, will provide that very balance.
Amendment 110 focuses on the courts’ role in considering appropriate support for people with speech, language and communication needs. The Committee may be aware that in February last year the Government requested that the Civil Justice Council examined the vulnerabilities of witnesses and other parties. Its report emphasised that the vulnerability of people involved in civil proceedings should be considered and that court facilities should be equipped to accommodate the assistance and protections that vulnerable witnesses require. We agree, and continue to examine the council’s recommendations more generally.
Finally, on Amendment 187, I assure the noble Lord that we are committed to improving the understanding of domestic abuse across the statutory agencies, through guidance, targeted resources and training. The statutory guidance, which will be issued under Clause 73, will provide an opportunity to focus on the unique issues of particular minority groups, including those with complex needs—people with disabilities as well as those with communication and speech difficulties. The draft guidance was published with specific reference to special educational needs and disabilities.
Extensive engagement has been undertaken on the draft statutory guidance since it was published in July, with a specific working group focusing on disability, including learning disabilities. A range of services have provided their expertise. That engagement and consultation continue and we are grateful to all those who have contributed to improving the guidance so far.
All noble Lords who have contributed to this debate have drawn attention to an important issue. I hope I have been able to reassure them that the Bill already provides a framework to ensure that the speech, language and communication needs of victims are addressed. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received no requests to speak after the Minister, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and all those who have spoken so movingly in support of the amendments. The importance of communication for victims of domestic abuse and their children cannot be overemphasised. The Minister for Safeguarding having emphasised the importance that the Government attach to improving speech and language outcomes, I had hoped that the Government would consider including some of the contents of these amendments in the Bill. Until then, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 23. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
23: Clause 7, page 4, line 20, at end insert—
“(e) the appropriate use of data and technology to aid in the prevention, reporting and detection of domestic abuse.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that the Commissioner should encourage best practice when using data and technology in the prevention, reporting and detection of domestic abuse.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to move Amendment 23. I will speak also to Amendments 28 and 62, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I am glad to say that she will speak later in our debate.
The amendments are based on research by the LSE, which found that during lockdown, abuse by current partners, as well as by family members, increased on average by 8.1% and 17.1% respectively, whereas abuse by ex-partners declined by 11.4%. This increase in domestic abuse calls is driven by third-party reporting, which suggests that there is significant underreporting by actual victims, particularly in households where the abuse cannot be reported by an outsider.
An analysis of more than 16,000 cases of domestic violence enacted on one individual by another showed that the current predictive system failed to classify over 1,700 situations as high risk, which subsequently saw a repeat attack—a negative prediction rate of 11.5%.
The LSE research found that by utilising technology, through machine-learning methods, or AI, this negative prediction rate could be cut to between 7.3% and 8.7%. In England, domestic violence accounts for one-third of all assaults involving injury. A crucial part of tackling this abuse is risk assessment—determining what level of danger someone may be in so that they can receive help as quickly as possible. This means prioritising police resources in responding to domestic abuse calls accordingly.
This risk assessment is currently done through a standardised list of questions, administered to the victim by the responding officer, as well as the officer’s own professional risk assessment of the case. The DASH—domestic abuse, stalking, harassment and honour-based violence—form consists of around 28 questions used to categorise the case as standard, medium or high risk. If a case is assessed high risk, this suggests that an incident of serious harm could occur at any time, and this triggers resources aimed at keeping the victim safe. However, the DASH data is available only after an officer has appeared on the scene.
The research shows striking inconsistencies in DASH across the country. In 2014, HMIC found that 10 police forces classified fewer than 10% of domestic abuse cases as high risk, while three forces designated over 80% as high risk. This vast deviation casts serious doubt on the accuracy of current predictive methods.
A recent report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services reveals concern that the police are sometimes too slow in getting to domestic abuse incidents and that there were delays in responding to cases in over a quarter of forces. The inspectorate also found that, in a small number of cases, the delays are because the forces do not have enough officers available to attend.
LSE data analysis compared the predictive power of conventional DASH risk assessments with risk assessments using a machine-learning approach. It applied the different prediction models to calls to Greater Manchester Police between 2014 and 2018, and compared predictions made, case-by-case, to actual violent recidivism over a period of 12 months from the initial call. When tested against the sample data, the predictive power of risk assessments from the conventional DASH method are low; a machine-learning prediction based on the underlying data from the DASH questionnaire performs better; while a machine-learning prediction based on two-year criminal histories of victim and perpetrator performs much better still.
The researchers—Professor Tom Kirchmaier, Professor Jeffrey Grogger and Dr Ria Ivandic—therefore suggest that police forces should use machine-learning predictions based on two-year criminal histories, rather than DASH, to make risk assessments and prioritise responses to domestic violence calls.
Vitally, the research also found that by improving the data compiled during the investigation of domestic violence cases, to include details such as previous criminal convictions, incidents of violence, and the number of previous reports of domestic abuse, the negative prediction rate could be cut further to 6.1%. Up to 1,200 repeat attacks missed under the current system would have been identified.
We all know that there is a real problem with the use of data by the police. The Royal United Services Institute, in a report last year, identified some of the issues facing police forces in the use of data. It reported that in recent years, police use of algorithms has expanded significantly in scale and complexity. It argued that this was driven by three closely related factors. First, a significant increase in the volume and complexity of digital data has necessitated the use of more sophisticated analysis tools. Secondly, ongoing austerity measures have resulted in a perceived need to allocate limited resources more efficiently, based on a data-driven assessment of risk and demand. Thirdly, the police service is increasingly expected to adopt a preventive rather than reactive posture, with greater emphasis on anticipating potential harm before it occurs.
But—and here is the “but”—interviewees highlighted the lack of an evidence base, poor data quality and insufficient skills and expertise as the three major barriers to successful implementation. In particular, the development of policing algorithms is often not underpinned by a robust empirical evidence base regarding their claimed benefits, scientific validity or cost-effectiveness. In this case, we do have evidence. The Minister will obviously know the Greater Manchester police force well. I hope she might be able to look at this to see how far it could be extended to other forces and encourage best practice.
The failure to use data effectively is also at the heart of Amendment 62, to which I have also put my name. At a briefing last week for noble Lords, LSE researchers noted that domestic abuse prevention notices will be an important and much-appreciated new tool in the fight against domestic abuse. However, when an officer is considering handing one out, having access to the criminal history of the alleged perpetrator should be a crucial aspect of their decision-making. As mentioned, more than one in 10 people who report domestic abuse will call again within a year to report a repeat violent attack, and that is only one aspect of the kaleidoscope of past violence and abuse that may be known to the police but not necessarily utilised, or even known, by an officer attending a case of reported abuse.
One key challenge that we have to overcome is that police forces do not currently have systematic ways of recording the same person, victim or perpetrator. This means that, oftentimes, repeat victims or perpetrators are not spotted or no action is taken to protect from and prevent abuse. Forces rely on correct spelling of the full name and date of birth to access records, but data entry can be found to be incorrect or incomplete. Thames Valley Police has taken positive steps to address this issue and it could be used as a case study example that others could follow.
However, we know that police forces do not share data systematically, apart from via the national police computer, which records only charges. This calls into question the full effectiveness of Clare’s law and police forces’ ability to give full information to potential victims about known abusers and, in the process, to prevent future abuse. The system can clearly be improved. Enshrining in legislation the ability for the police to use previous criminal records to determine whether to hand out a notice could be an important prompt to improve data sharing and, in doing so, save lives.
I appreciate that this is rather technical but, given the current failures in the system, we need to use all the ammunition we can. I hope the Minister might be able to respond sympathetically to the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to contribute on my Amendment 50, which is supported by my noble friend Lord Paddick, who brings with him his vast experience in policing matters.
The amendment would ensure that a specified public authority complied so far as reasonably practical with a request made to it, including by the provision of information. The wording proposed is essential and further strengthens the power of the commissioner. “Specified public authority” is clearly defined in Clause 15(3).
I mentioned at Second Reading my serious concern about the way some agencies, including the police and local policing bodies, have dealt with serious crimes. The position is more acute now during the lockdown. A number of pieces of research point to increasing violence and online-facilitated child sexual abuse, which is an ugly feature of our society.
We are aware of how easy it is to ignore these problems through lack of action, as clearly demonstrated by the Manchester police force. In the 12-month period reviewed by inspectors, the Manchester force had recorded 77.7% of reported crimes, a drop of 11.3% from 2018. The report further stated that one in five of all crimes and one in four serious violent crimes are not recorded. The force is probably the second largest in the country and it failed to record 80,000 crimes in that year. This is shocking. We do not know the background to those serious crimes. How many involved rape and serious domestic assault? Of course, I do not refer to the CPS at this stage, because a review is ongoing.
Has the Home Office asked the remaining police forces to provide information on non-recording of crimes? We will never know. Our amendment would ensure that it would be for public bodies not only to comply with a request but to provide a breakdown of such information, which would help victims with counselling and other services provided in local areas.
I have never quite understood why we need to be so secretive. One should not have to rely on the Freedom of Information Act to obtain such information. It should be provided by all agencies listed in Clause 15(3). Our amendment would ensure that all agencies recorded complaints, with those of domestic abuse being a top priority for the commissioner.
We have heard repeated questions in your Lordships’ House about the serious crimes of rape and domestic violence. We are thankful to a large number of charities which provide shelters for victims and for the valuable work done by volunteers, but that is not enough. We need to do more. We want police and crime commissioners to set out objectives for their areas as identified by the domestic abuse commissioner.
Any administrative system which is not properly monitored is bound to fail. Monitoring is the outcome of any policy adopted. It is not good enough to say that we have legislation to tackle domestic abuse. We must ensure that we look systematically at outcomes and take measures to address any anomalies identified.
We have lots of past examples involving similar issues to reflect on: stop and search is one. The Scarman report following the Brixton disorders of the 1980s clearly identified excesses. We now ensure that all incidents are recorded and that measures taken are proportionate and intelligence-based. Let us hope that our amendment will go some way in building the confidence of the community in this legislation.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has withdrawn, so I now call the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 23, 28 and 62 in this group, to which my name is attached. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for moving the first of these amendments and for comprehensively covering their purpose. I draw your Lordships’ attention to my entry in the register of interests in that I am a vice-chair of the Local Government Association.
Amendments 23 and 28, supported by London School of Economics research, make explicit the importance of utilising data and technology in the prevention, reporting and detection of domestic abuse and the commissioner’s important role in supporting this. Examples include encouraging the use of new “silent” methods of reporting abuse—especially important during lockdown—and using artificial intelligence methods, alongside better data usage, to determine the likelihood of repeated abuse.
Amendment 62, again based on LSE research, would ensure that, when the need for a handing out a domestic abuse protection notice was being considered, senior police officers could take into account any previous related criminality and convictions held by the alleged perpetrator. LSE research has shown that previous convictions can be a key indicator of the potential for future incidents of domestic abuse and yet are not currently taken into account when they should be regarded as a priority by any police officer considering handing out a DAPN.
Having access to the criminal history of the alleged perpetrator should be a crucial aspect of decision-making. The amendment would improve data sharing to strengthen the ability of the police to make informed, and potentially life-saving, decisions. It would enable immediate protection for survivors following a domestic abuse incident; for example, by requiring a perpetrator to leave the victim’s home for up to 48 hours.
Currently, there are many significant issues with data sharing that can have serious effects on police forces’ ability to identify, prevent and tackle domestic abuse. Not having a systematic way of recording the same person, victim or perpetrator often means that repeat victims or perpetrators are not spotted or that no action is taken to protect and prevent.
Moreover, police forces do not share data systematically, apart from the police national computer, and that only records charges. Even more concerning, there is no data or systematic information exchange between non-profit and police, so abusers are able to be invisible to the police. That is a particular worry right now, when many people are hidden from sight.
There are many examples of where better use of technology and data can help tackle abuse, including helping to determine what level of danger someone may be in so that they can receive help as quickly as possible, and prioritising police resources and responding to domestic abuse calls accordingly. Using machine-learning prediction will go a long way to supporting those who desperately need it.
My Lords, I added my name to speak to this group, primarily in support of Amendment 23. I, too, declare my vice-presidency of the Local Government Association. This matter has been magisterially covered by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, so anything I say will be a mere shadow of what he and the other speakers have put down.
I, too, received the briefings, both before Second Reading and more recently, from the London School of Economics. I pay great tribute to it for having brought that matter to the attention of Members of this House. At Second Reading, I and other noble Lords—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who has just spoken—commented on the failure of crime recording to pick up many cases, particularly cases of domestic abuse. In defence of those who are charged with the recording of suspected crimes, especially domestic abuse, they are often difficult to identify in the snowstorm of all the other issues that may be involved. Indeed, domestic abuse may not be the primary purpose of the initiating call to the police or some other agency.
Professor Gadd of the University of Manchester, to whom I had the privilege of speaking last week, suggested to me that we need to be much more curious in our responses to crime, and in particular possible abuse. Complex patterns of behaviour and the way in which they manifest themselves are meat and drink to data analysts. It seems to me that if big tech companies can build up accurate pictures of all our various spending preferences and other things, so too can algorithms help us spot and codify trends of abuse.
I do not claim expertise in artificial intelligence, but I know about the need for accurate input data and, of course, we have had problems with police recorded crime. This obviously has not been helped by failings to record offences in, I would say, several police forces over quite a number of years and, of course, the recent loss of data from the police national computer. Even so, the negative prediction rate of 11.5%, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to and which the LSE comments on, must be a matter for some significant concern, given the proportion that domestic violence, and repeat behaviour of that, represents as a component of all crime. Any machine-learned means of reducing this, and with it the tragic outcomes that cost this country so much in torment and treasure, must have a place. That is why I support this group of amendments, and Amendment 23 in particular.
However, collecting all the data in the world, as has been pointed out, is not going to be a great deal of use if it is not consistently collated, made available at the right time and shared with people who have a need to see it at the appropriate moment. The sort of checklists that have been referred to under the DASH system—a number of standard questions, consistently recorded, collated and available at the earliest possible stages of a proposed intervention—would, I am certain, be invaluable. There, I am satisfied that technology can help. I do not think that this requires reinvention but better management, oversight and adoption of appropriate IT systems. This would help reduce human errors and omissions. Above all, it is about avoiding unnecessary risk and optimising resources, as has been pointed out. This necessitates good training of call handlers and, as I say, being altogether more inquisitive and interrogative of data and callers to see what is actually lying behind the call. Otherwise, I do not think that we will make the best use of what IT offers. That apart, I believe that these amendments are extremely important in pointing a way forward.
My Lords, it might sound peculiar to say that I have great reservations about amendments that seem so sensible in putting forward a better use of technology, AI and data. What is there to argue with? However, I have some very big concerns about this set of amendments.
Using data as a predictive tool to improve preventive interactions sounds like common sense but could mean adopting a pre-crime approach that criminalises and demonises people when no crime has been committed. It can also be fatalistic and get things very wrong. One noble Lord made the point that algorithms can predict our likes and dislikes based on what we buy. Well, if you could see what Amazon predicts I will like, based on what I bought at Christmas, you would know that depending on algorithmic predictions in something as serious as criminal justice cases would be a mistake. We should be very wary of going down that road.
I think it is important to protect civil liberties, even in our eagerness to protect those at potential risk of being abused. When the likelihood of repeated abuse is based on data of previous convictions, I worry about branding someone as an abuser in perpetuity. We have to ensure that we do not forget redemption, second chances, the possibility of learning one’s lesson and rehabilitation. We have long since rejected the abhorrent practice of branding women with the letter A for adultery—a barbaric practice consigned to the past—and we must be wary of not metaphorically branding people as abusers through being cavalier about using data to predict future behaviour. We also have to consider the possibility of the police or the authorities undermining an individual’s life or job prospects on the grounds of an indelible label—branded an abuser forever. I worry about data being discussed in that way.
To take another issue, that of hate crime, we have seen problems with how data retention is being used. We already know that when no crime has been committed, non-crime hate incidents are stored and accessed by third parties and can be used as part of the DBS checks used by potential employers and other authorities. So I think we need to be very cautious here. In Amendment 62, the police can access previous related criminality and convictions when handing out a DAPN, which is after all a non-criminal sanction. We just need to be hesitant about saying that we can tell, fatalistically, what someone is going to do.
I am also concerned that data sharing is being talked about as though it is an obvious answer in preventive work. Data sharing is a contentious and important issue and we need to take it seriously in terms of this Bill. Sometimes under the guise of multi-agency work and precautionary inventions and policy, there may be a temptation to forget why we as a society understand that sharing data is something that should be done with great care for civil liberties and our commitment to the right to privacy. We even have special GDPR legislation—which in my view is overly bureaucratic and overzealous, but that is not the point. That makes a fuss if data sharing happens when, for example, theatre ticket data is shared with another arts organisation. That can be illegal. Therefore, just because we care so passionately about stopping domestic abuse, we should not be cavalier about data sharing. In intimate and family matters, data sharing needs to be handled sensitively.
Since the Covid emergency, we have become perhaps less vigilant about sharing our personal data, for example with track and trace. However, this is an emergency and not the new normal. Normal concerns about data sharing touch on important matters about who has access to data and our personal information. We rightly worry about the irresponsible sharing of intimate data concerning our medical histories or interpersonal relationships. I therefore either need reassurance to accept these amendments or will be objecting to them. I need reassurance that in our eagerness to protect victims of domestic abuse, we do not forget that data is not just a pragmatic, technocratic matter; its misuse can destroy lives. This is a political issue, and a matter of civil liberties that we take it seriously.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, particularly in following the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. Before I speak, I apologise to the Hansard writers; I was asked for my notes in advance and said “Well, here’s the notes, but there’s no guarantee that I will stick to them”. That is certainly the case, in the light of two developments.
First, there was the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I agree with everything she said about the need for care and caution in dealing with data and algorithms, and the way things are going in the future. I have no problem whatever with that. However, I will speak positively in support of Amendments 23 and 28. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on his great opening speech, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who also spoke on those two amendments.
Secondly, I have had my feet and legs cut from under me, to a degree, by the great response that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, gave on the group starting with Amendment 21, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. She referred to pressure from me, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for a review of how tagging might be employed. We had a meeting 10 days or so ago, at which I raised that issue. I said that I was not happy about the view expressed on alcohol by the Minister responsible for safeguarding, Victoria Atkins, at that meeting but, in fairness to her, she has responded very positively to the views we expressed about the potential need to use tagging in the area of domestic abuse. I hope that, in the context of our later debate on stalking, the Government will look at the use of tagging in a positive way—applying, of course, care and caution.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for the work that she has done on tagging. She worked with the previous Mayor of London, whom I congratulate on a day when he is getting a kicking; the current Prime Minister was wise enough to see that there was a growth in abuse linked to alcohol, not a lessening, and that one way to slow it down might be to tag people who were drinking excessively. They were likely then to be sentenced and sent down; instead, they were tagged. I have met a lot of people in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings who have been tagged. They would rather have the tag than be sent to jail, given the stigma that goes with jail compared to being tagged, which is then forgotten about. I believe this can be applied equally in dealing with individual perpetrators. I have worked for perpetrators and tried to defend their interests as best I could, to get them on the right track. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has recognised, tagging can be done very usefully; in turn, I think it can be used for stalking.
I am grateful to the LSE and, in particular, Manchester University for the work that they are doing. I believe we are opening up an entirely new area in which we need to do ever more work, not less. We are short of resources. I am grateful to the Royal College of Psychiatrists for the assistance that it gives me but we are extraordinarily short of psychiatrists. We need to spend time with individuals. We have to look for technology developments that enable us to gather the data which helps with identification, and to find positive ways in which algorithms can assist people. Why should algorithms be used solely for the benefit of profits for the gambling industry and so on? Why can they not be turned the other way, so that public services can use them beneficially to identify the facts about individuals and bring those facts to their attention, and then offer support and assistance to move in a different direction?
That is the message which I give to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. We do not look back and worry all the time. Yes, we have cares and concerns, but we look to see what form of opportunities are opening up through AI and other technologies. Tagging is an old-fashioned technology; I was going to speak about that but I could spend some time on AI as well, which I will not. However, there is much opportunity here for us. In particular, we need to look at the segregated way in which our police forces operate. That approach has been worth while and beneficial, but it has had its day. Now, technology encompasses the whole world, not just Europe, and we need to see how we, in turn, can come together and work for positive outcomes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has withdrawn so I now call the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale.
I do not intend to repeat any of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Hunt in his very powerful and fascinating introduction. I hope that he has, at the very least, sparked off a debate that will continue. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response. I do not think that it would be fair to describe either that introduction or the actual content of the amendments as cavalier, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, did. I absolutely sympathise with being cautious in the use of data and careful with civil liberties. But if we read the amendments proposed by my noble friend Lord Hunt and others, to describe them as cavalier is a bit of an exaggeration. I hope that the Minister will respond positively on the issue. We will see where the debate goes next.
I will speak to Amendment 62, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, which is particularly important. In Clause 22, which it seeks to amend, there is a perfectly reasonable list of matters to be considered by a police officer when considering a domestic abuse protection notice. Adding
“the previous criminal history of P”,
who is the person under consideration, to that list would make an incredible amount of common sense, as well as having real, practical impact on the day-to-day work of police officers. It would also be particularly reassuring for victims, who obviously might have an opinion; Clause 22 outlines anyway that their opinion should be considered. Amendment 62, on previous criminal history, is important.
I add, partly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, that this amendment does not suggest that past accusations made against somebody would automatically override other considerations or be disclosed publicly. What it suggests is that their previous criminal history might well be relevant in the determination of such a notice. That is indisputable; we know all the background, history and data on how often people reoffend in this area. We know an awful lot about the psychology involved in domestic abuse. It would a barrier to good decision-making and active prevention if police officers were not able to take into account previous criminal history. I strongly support Amendment 62 and look forward to hearing what the Minister says about the earlier amendments.
My Lords, as a former police officer, I find being critical of the police difficult but sometimes necessary. Couple that with the fact that I am a survivor of domestic abuse and all I can say is: wish me luck with this one.
I will first speak to Amendment 62, which deals with a senior police officer having to take into account the previous criminal history of the person he is considering giving a domestic abuse prevention notice to. I find myself in a similar position to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, in that, regrettably, I was not provided with the briefings from the LSE. We need to be careful, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, has highlighted. Clearly, police officers attending an incident of domestic abuse should routinely check on the antecedents of the parties involved, but the issuing of a domestic abuse prevention notice should be based on whether the police officer has reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to give the notice to protect the person from domestic abuse there and then.
The fact that someone has no criminal record does not mean that they do not present a danger to the complainant, and neither does someone having a criminal past mean that they present a danger to this particular victim. I draw a parallel with someone accused of a criminal offence, whose previous convictions are not normally revealed to a court until after their guilt has been established because the court must determine the facts of the case before it. Having said that, previous evidence of abuse of the current victim by the perpetrator in question is clearly an important factor.
Amendments 23 and 28 in this group require the domestic abuse commissioner to encourage good practice in the appropriate use of data and technology to aid in the prevention, reporting and detection of domestic abuse, including making recommendations to public authorities in these areas. The fact that we are debating these amendments has given a great opportunity for the LSE research to be brought to the attention of noble Lords.
As such, what the amendments are asking for is a subset of Clause 7(2)(b), on
“making recommendations to any public authority”.
While this is important, I am not sure it requires to be in the Bill. However, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, highlighted important research into how artificial intelligence—AI—and machine learning could be used to improve responses to domestic abuse. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, also highlighted the importance of silent reporting, especially during lockdown.
As my noble friend Lord Dholakia has said, Amendment 50, to which I have added my name, allows the commissioner to request information from public authorities. We have heard his concerns, reinforced by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, about the failure of the Greater Manchester Police to record crime that has been reported to it, particularly violent crime.
This has been a recurrent theme with the police service over the years, particularly with the police failing to take domestic violence seriously. From my own professional experience, I recall getting into trouble, many years ago, when I arrested a man who had broken a chair over his wife’s head—something that I should not have done, according to the prevailing culture at the time, because victims of domestic abuse often do not want action taken against the perpetrator. In this case, the victim had to be treated in hospital for her injuries, and, once treated, she did not want to take action against her husband, something I found difficult to understand until I became a victim of domestic violence myself.
From my own personal experience as a survivor, I know that perpetrators of domestic violence are very good at convincing you that there is no alternative to the abusive relationship you are in and that the pain they inflict is the price you have to pay for their affection. I must tell anyone in such an abusive relationship: you can, and you deserve to, have a loving relationship without the pain.
Although attitudes have changed in the police service, with prosecution of domestic abuse possible even without the consent of the victim—if there is physical evidence of assault, for example—we need to ensure that the police do not slip back into old practices, as Greater Manchester Police appears to have done in not recording crime, including violent crime and, no doubt, incidents of domestic abuse.
The Minister wrote to those who spoke at Second Reading and addressed this issue directly, including the issues in the Greater Manchester Police, following the publication on 10 December of the findings of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescues Services’ inspection of the service GMP provided to victims of crime. What the Minister says in that letter, for me, gives more cause for concern than reassurance. It says that the inspection is the first of HMICFRS’s new victim services assessment that assesses the end-to-end experience of victims, from the first report of a crime to its outcome. In this case, it included an inspection of the effectiveness of GMP’s crime recording processes. If this was the first inspection of this kind, what will future inspections of other forces unearth? GMP is unlikely to be alone.
If, as the letter says, since 2014, HMICFRS has carried out a discrete programme of police crime recording inspections, known as crime data integrity inspections, why have the problems at GMP only now been discovered? The Minister goes on to describe the process where HMICFRS makes recommendations to the chief officer of police for the force concerned, and says that “our expectation” is that the chief officer will take remedial action. Washing their hands of all responsibility, the Minister goes on to say that it is the responsibility of the local policing body, the mayor or police and crime commissioner to
“publish their comments and response to any recommendations for improvement made by HMICFRS.”
This is about the culture of the police service, which has in the past sought to reduce the pressure it is under by failing to record crime, including violent crime, and a culture that shies away from taking effective action against the perpetrators of domestic violence. This may be driven by the experience of reluctant victims, as I illustrated earlier, but perhaps it may also stem from a predominantly male police service that identifies with, or even empathises with, the perpetrator of domestic abuse. Yes, there have been improvements over the years, but what has been unearthed in Greater Manchester Police should set alarm bells ringing, not just at HMICFRS or among local policing bodies but at the Home Office and in the office of the Home Secretary.
In a private conversation with me, a former very senior police officer speculated that diversity goes out of the window when the police service comes under pressure, as it has done over the past decade, with the savage cuts to police budgets and corresponding reductions in police officers, police community support officers and support staff. The evidence from GMP is that victim care may also be a casualty. I also cite the evidence of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that the police are not responding quickly enough because they are wrongly assessing the risk and have a lack of resources. Cuts to budgets, support staff and the money available for IT systems inhibit the kind of data analysis that the LSE is recommending.
The potential consequences for the victims of domestic abuse of soft-pedalling on issues surrounding diversity, and on the failure to record crime, are alarming, and the Home Secretary needs to take responsibility. This is central, as all the potential positive outcomes from the Bill will be impaired if we do not know the nature and extent of the problem. That, in turn, relies on victims of domestic abuse having confidence in the police service and knowing that, when they report domestic abuse to the police, they will be believed and it will be recorded and acted upon.
My Lords, how we protect, store and use data affects almost every aspect of our lives. The use of data to protect victims and catch the perpetrators of domestic violence, with encouragement of best practice by the domestic abuse commissioner, is something that every noble Lord should support. Data can tell us much about what has gone on before and that can inform our thinking going forward.
Amendment 23, proposed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, would, in proposed new paragraph (e), add to the list of things in which the domestic abuse commissioner must encourage good practice. My noble friend gave us examples based on the LSE research and said how important a proper risk assessment is in triggering the effective and proper use of resources to protect victims. I look forward to the response to this from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford. As I said on a previous group, if we are told that the amendment is not necessary, it is incumbent on the Government to set out very clearly how they believe the powers in the Bill are sufficient to deal with the concerns raised in the amendments in respect of the general duty under Clause 7(1) and (2) and any other proposed legislation. We would like to have that clarity from the noble Baroness.
Amendment 28, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, would add two things that the domestic abuse commissioner may do in pursuance of the general duty under Clause 7. Again, we need clarity from the Government on this. My fear is that the duty could be viewed as so wide and open that things could fall through the gaps. We need something to underpin that, with an indication from the Government of what this list of things should cover. I hope we all agree about the good intent behind the amendment. The risk is that we are being too vague to deliver what we all want to deliver.
Amendment 50, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Paddick, is very reasonable, but, again, if the Government view it as unnecessary, we need to hear very clearly whether they are relying on Clause 15(1) to ensure that the domestic abuse commissioner has the necessary power and that there is no doubt that co-operation includes the provision of data from the public authority in question. In the past, we have seen public authorities query the need to provide such data. I never want to hear them giving some spurious reason relating to GDPR or any other regulation, or saying that they cannot provide data due to custom and practice. We have all heard those infuriating and unacceptable reasons given in the past, so it is clear that we need to make sure that that cannot happen again.
Amendment 62, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, seems to be a no-brainer. I have never been a police officer and am not a lawyer but, when I speak in this House, I try to apply plain common sense to things. That has served me reasonably well over the last few years. If a person who might be served a domestic abuse protection notice has a criminal record and the nature of the offences could be relevant, surely that is valid information for a police officer to have available when making a decision on whether to serve a notice. My noble friend highlighted past failures in the system, so that is a risk that we should avoid.
I listened very carefully to the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. I agree that of course we have to be very careful about how people’s data is used, but if somebody has convictions for violence, such as violence against women and other serious offences, it is not unreasonable that a police officer should be aware of that when considering whether to serve a notice. Clause 22 lists four matters that a police officer needs to look at when considering whether a person, referred to as “P”, could be subject to a notice. They are all very reasonable and a police officer considering a person’s previous criminal history might be the most important.
I am not suggesting that if someone is nicked for driving while disqualified that is not a stupid and irresponsible thing to do, but if someone is nicked for serious violent offences, maybe against women or previous partners, it is not unreasonable for the officer to be aware of that and take account of it, along with the other four points listed, when making a decision. My noble friend Lord McConnell made a similar point.
I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that previous records do not necessarily inform future behaviour and that people can change and be rehabilitated, but I do not think it is unreasonable at least to be aware of them when it comes to certain offences. Having all the facts in front of you means that you can look at the situation in the round when making a judgment. I can also see a situation where, if someone had assaulted or hurt a previous partner and no one knew about it, and that person had not been given a notice and then someone got injured or killed, there would be uproar, with people saying, “What’s going on here? Why didn’t we know? Why didn’t the police officer know that this person had recently committed serious offences and they weren’t taken into account?” Therefore, this is about applying some common sense and acting reasonably, and in that way I think we can find a way forward. I am sure that the noble Baroness will do that, and I look forward to her response.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his very comprehensive introduction, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, for setting out the case for her amendments.
We can all agree with the premise behind Amendments 23 and 28—namely, that we should promote the use of data and technology, as the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, said, in a cautious rather than cavalier way, to aid in the prevention, reporting and detection of domestic abuse.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who speaks on this Bill from a unique position, as both a former police officer and a survivor of domestic abuse.
The Domestic Abuse Bill introduces a range of new measures, including the use of data and technology to protect and support victims of domestic abuse and monitor perpetrators. For example, as we discussed earlier, the domestic abuse protection order can impose both prohibitions and positive requirements on perpetrators, including an electronic monitoring requirement, or tagging. I am happy that today I have made the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, so happy, because we have now come a long way since our disagreement on liqueur chocolates. That is an in-joke that only some noble Lords might get.
Victims of domestic abuse will be eligible for one or more special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts. Such special measures could include the use of a live televised link in a courtroom to enable a witness to give evidence during a trial or proceedings from outside the courtroom, and the use of pre-recorded video interviews before the trial or other proceedings.
The Bill provides for a pilot of mandatory polygraph examinations for domestic abuse offenders released on licence. I will not dwell on that now, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has indicated that he wants a debate on Clause 69 when we get there in a few days’ time. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, outlined the real benefits of machine-learning predictions for police. Of course, technology is already a key component of the police response to domestic abuse.
At this juncture, I will refer to the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Paddick, on the HMICFRS inspection of Greater Manchester Police and the victims of crime. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that what was unearthed should set alarm bells ringing, and I agree. He also said that if this is the first assessment, what will future assessments show to other police authorities? However, that is not a reason not to do it, and it will give cause for concern to other police authorities about how they might make improvements if necessary. We are not washing our hands of it. I brought the devolution Bill through your Lordships’ House some years ago. Devolution is an opportunity for local people to have a better determination of their own future through their elected representatives, in this case the mayor and the deputy mayor for policing.
We welcome HMICFRS’s decision to escalate the force to its police performance oversight group, which includes senior leaders from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Home Office. It met on Monday 26 January to scrutinise GMP’s plans for improvement and to consider whether additional support from within the sector may be necessary to support the force in quickly delivering the necessary step change in performance. We welcome HMICFRS’s decision to reinspect the force in six months’ time to assess progress; that is likely to be in May. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, outlined, we expect the mayoral response to the report to be published no later than 4 February.
Police forces use technological solutions to provide emergency protection to victims, such as TecSOS devices that provide victims with immediate connection to the police at the touch of a button, or the Hollie Guard app, which allows the victim to send an alert to chosen contacts if they are in danger, notifying them of the victim’s location and capturing audio and video evidence. There is also the Bright Sky app, which professionals and victims can use to access information and support on domestic abuse. It also enables the recording of evidence of abusive behaviour. Clare’s law also comes to mind, allowing data on partners’ previous abuse history, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also reminded me of the silent calling facility, which is such a benefit to people who cannot ask for help but who are in danger. As part of a police investigation of a domestic violence incident and any subsequent prosecution, the footage from body-worn video can also play a key part in building up an irrefutable case for the prosecution. As for the use of data, I agree that it is equally important to properly understand the needs of victims and to put in place the policies and services to meet those needs. That is why, for example, the first duty on tier 1 local authorities under Part 4 of the Bill is to assess the need for domestic abuse support in their areas. Robust and reliable data is the key to this in the context of Part 4 and elsewhere.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, outlined the benefits of machine learning in the assessment of risk. We have worked with the College of Policing to develop the domestic abuse risk assessment, which is an improvement on the established DASH risk assessment process. Evidence-based research helped us develop that, and with a number of charities, we have also developed the Domestic Abuse Matters training programme, which has been academically proven to increase officers’ empathy with victims, and their understanding of abuse. Things are improving. We have come a long way from the days when police officers saw domestic abuse as “just a domestic”.
While I support the underlying premise of Amendments 23 and 28, I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will agree that the amendments themselves are not needed, since Clause 7 already sets out broad functions for the domestic abuse commissioner in encouraging good practice for the prevention and detection of domestic abuse. This will include good practice in relation to the use of data and technology.
On Amendment 50, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the duty to co-operate with the commissioner, as provided for in Clause 15, extends to the provision of information. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill make this clear. This is one of those occasions when we believe it is preferable to keep the duty at a high level. There is always the risk, when a general proposition is followed by particular examples, of leaving the impression that the list of examples is exhaustive—or, indeed, that something is left out. We do not want inadvertently to leave the impression that the provision of information is the only form of co-operation.
Amendment 62 jumps ahead to Part 3 of the Bill. The amendment seeks to ensure that police take into account an individual’s previous criminality and convictions when considering issuing them with a domestic abuse protection notice. The matters to be considered listed in Clause 22 are designed to ensure that police take into account the impact of the notice on those directly or indirectly affected by it. The power to issue a notice enables the police to require an individual to leave their home for a period of up to 24 hours, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick said, when dealing with the immediate crisis. These provisions therefore provide an important safeguard by ensuring that the police give careful consideration to the impact of the notice on those affected when they are exercising this quite significant power. Again, the spirit of the amendment is certainly one that we can support.
When deciding whether a notice is necessary to protect a victim from domestic abuse, the police will consider a range of factors, including the history and the context of abuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, outlined. The College of Policing’s guidance on domestic abuse makes it clear that police should carry out comprehensive checks when responding to a domestic abuse incident, including: the alleged perpetrator’s history of abuse in relation to the victim, or previous victims; previous risk assessments; court orders or injunctions; convictions; and child protection information. Importantly, these checks ensure that intelligence on incidents and behaviours that have not resulted in a criminal conviction is considered. Furthermore, the draft statutory guidance for police on the domestic abuse protection notices and orders, which we published ahead of Committee, makes it clear that when deciding whether to issue a notice, the police should also consider other relevant information and evidence, such as incident reports from previous callouts, including those against other victims, and any intelligence from other agencies or organisations.
Having highlighted these important issues, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I have received two requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and Lord Kennedy of Southwark.
My Lords, in fact the Minister answered my question in almost her final sentence. It was about the status of callouts when considering this data. Police callouts are available to family courts and to sentencing criminal courts in domestic abuse cases. My question was going to be about the availability of that information to DAPOs, but I think that the Minister answered it in the affirmative.
I think the Minister’s answer will again be yes, as she clarified this issue in her last remarks. Clause 22, on these other matters, says
“a senior police officer must, among other things, consider”,
and then lists four issues that they must consider. Among those “other things” is of course someone’s previous record. I ask her to clarify that further.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken and to the Minister for her sympathetic response.
I think we are all seeking the same thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia said, one cannot underestimate the importance of data in measuring crime, monitoring police actions and focusing on outcomes. That is why the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, to whom I am very grateful, emphasised the importance of the use of data and new methods of technology in helping to address what I think we all agree—this is part of the reason for the Bill today—has been the very patchy response to domestic abuse that we have seen in previous years. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, spoke very wisely about the better management and oversight of IT solutions and the contribution that they can make.
I listened with great care to the reservations of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. As she said, what sometimes sounds like common sense could be fatalistic and could undermine liberties. One would be unwise to dismiss that out of hand. As with many things, there are balances here: a balance of risks and a balance of opportunities. The issue for me is that the current methods of prediction are falling short and, from the LSE research, it looks as though we could find a way to get the predictive rate up. In view of the failures in relation to domestic abuse, this is a very important consideration indeed.
I was interested to hear my noble friend Lord Brooke talk about tagging. He is a real expert on the impact of alcohol on domestic abuse and more generally. I was grateful for his support, as I am to my noble friend Lord McConnell. He made some important remarks about being cautious over the use of data but acknowledged that my amendments themselves are not cavalier and, in a sense, are an encouragement to enable better practice in this area.
I was very touched by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who spoke very sensitively about his own experience and how we might learn from it. He was of course right to reflect on funding issues and the impact they have had on the police in using technology to support victims and tackle domestic abuse as a whole. My noble friend Lord Kennedy thought this was being proposed as a common-sense solution, and I very much agree with him.
The Minister was sympathetic, and I am grateful to her for that. She talked about the work that her department is doing with the College of Policing on risk assessment. It might be that she could encourage the college to talk to the LSE about its work to see whether that could inform further developments in future.
On Amendment 62, she has made it clear that the use of the phrase “other relevant information” essentially covers the point that I have raised, and interventions by my noble friends Lord Ponsonby and Lord Kennedy have confirmed that.
This has been a very good debate, and I hope it has been a constructive contribution to encouraging police forces to use data more effectively. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 24. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
24: Clause 7, page 4, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) assessing, monitoring, and publishing information about, the behaviours of people who carry out domestic abuse and matters which may contribute to such behaviours;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would add provisions around the monitoring and assessing of perpetrator behaviours to the list of things the Commissioner may do in pursuance of the general duty.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Burt and I have Amendments 24, 25 and 26 in this group. Clause 7(2) sets out the powers that the domestic abuse commissioner can exercise in pursuit of her functions. I read that subsection as not being exhaustive, and I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that when responding to the debate. I ask because, as I say, subsection (2) is about powers, not functions, and Clause 10 gives the commissioner the usual facilitative—if that is the word—incidental and conducive powers.
In any event, Amendment 24 would include powers relating to perpetrators, including words similar to those in Clause 7(2)(a), which relates to services to people affected by domestic abuse. I appreciate that there are other paragraphs—(c) is one of them—that are not limited to victims, but a specific reference to why people abuse seems appropriate. I think we can agree, since this is a point that has been made by a number of speakers and we will come back to it, that many noble Lords regard this as a crucial issue. I certainly do.
Amendment 26 would extend the power in Clause 7(2)(g). That power as drafted provides for the commissioner being able to co-operate or work jointly with public authorities, voluntary organisations and other persons. We would extend that to making recommendations to voluntary organisations and others. Under Clause 7(2)(b) the commissioner can make recommendations to a public authority. I think that all those to whom recommendations can be made should be included in the clause.
The Bill as drafted regards co-operation and joint working with public authorities as being likely to prompt recommendations—hence the Bill before us— but co-operation and joint working with voluntary organisations are not exactly the same. I would have said it was implicit that recommendations to them could follow, were it not for the distinction in the drafting of the Bill.
Amendment 25 is a consequential bit of drafting. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, I cannot repeat my noble friend Lord Rooker’s admirable brevity, but I welcome this group of amendments. I particularly support Amendment 24, which seeks to add a list of things that the commissioner may do in pursuance of a general duty.
The noble Baroness is right that provisions around monitoring and assessing perpetrator behaviour are very important. Clause 7(2) already sets out:
“The things that the Commissioner may do in pursuance of the general duty under subsection (1) include … assessing, monitoring, and publishing information about, the provision of services to people affected by domestic abuse … making recommendations to any public authority about the exercise of its functions … undertaking or supporting … the carrying out of research … providing information, education or training … taking other steps to increase public awareness of domestic abuse … consulting public authorities”
and others; and co-operate, or work jointly with, public authorities. Reading the list, it does not seem to include monitoring and assessing perpetrator behaviour. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt, have illustrated, this seems to be a gap, particularly as the Bill specifies in Clause 7(1):
“The Commissioner must encourage good practice in … the prevention, detection … and prosecution of offences involving domestic abuse.”
I would have thought that monitoring and assessing perpetrator behaviours would be an important part of that responsibility.
This is an important but neglected issue. A piece for Community Care by Ruth Hardy in 2017 that analysed serious case reviews found that domestic abuse was a feature of more than half the reviews carried out between 2011 and 2014, but that while much practice and research is focused on working with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, the same cannot be said of perpetrators. A report some years ago by inspectorates, including Ofsted, found that social services and partner agencies are not focusing enough on perpetrators. Last April, an article by Amanda L Robinson and Anna Clancy for the British Society of Criminology identified that a focus on developing and implementing effective interventions for victims had dominated the policy and practice agenda for nearly two decades. They commented that, in contrast, there has been relatively less success in establishing effective interventions for perpetrators. A systematic review of European evidence concluded:
“We do not yet know what works best, for whom, and under what circumstances.”
I have no doubt that the Minister will be able to say that legislation covers this, but it is important that we make the point that it would have been helpful to have been more explicit that perpetrator behaviour is a relevant part of the responsibilities of the commissioner.
My Lords, this short group is another attempt by the Lib Dem team to ensure that the domestic abuse commissioner has all the powers that she needs. Amendment 24 addresses the need for the commissioner to be able to research and publish information about perpetrators. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his supportive comments on this. We believe that unless we understand perpetrator behaviour, we will never be able to tackle it effectively and make effective interventions. Amendment 26 would widen the recommendations the commissioner can make to voluntary organisations and others as well as to public authorities. Again, we are attempting to widen the remit and those powers. These are small amendments but we hope they are helpful in spelling out the extent of the remit the commissioner should have.
My Lords, I support the three amendments in this group, which raise important issues. It is right that the domestic abuse commissioner should also assess, monitor and publish information about perpetrator behaviour, as getting more information about and understanding of perpetrator behaviour will be crucial for informing us about how it should be handled in future. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has tabled a more comprehensive amendment, Amendment 167, on a strategic plan. I was pleased to sign it, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. Rather than these amendments, Amendment 167 probably gives us the detail we need . However, in principle, I support the amendments before us today and will speak in support of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, when we get to it later in Committee.
Amendments 25 and 26 raise important issues and widen the scope of the domestic abuse commissioner’s remit to make recommendations to voluntary organisations. I fully support that. I am conscious that Amendment 26 would add the words about “making recommendations to” organisations outside the UK. I am very supportive of that, although some of our behaviour in recent years has not helped our standing outside the United Kingdom—but that is probably for another day. In principle, I am happy to support these amendments and look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank noble Lords for their brevity on this short but important group, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for his commendable example. All the amendments in this group are to Clause 7(2), which I am happy to confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, is a non-exhaustive list of the things that the commissioner may do in pursuance of her general duty under subsection (1). To be clear, subsection (1) sets out the parameters of the commissioner’s functions, not subsection (2).
Among the commissioner’s functions is encouraging good practice in relation to the prevention of domestic abuse and
“the identification of … people who carry out domestic abuse”.
That being the case, I have no doubt that monitoring and assessing perpetrator behaviours falls within the sphere of the activities that the commissioner could undertake in her pursuance of a general duty. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, that is a relevant and important facet to consider.
As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, said, we will debate later an amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin relating to the need for a perpetrator strategy, so I will not dwell on that issue now. The question is whether the indicative list of activities in subsection (2) is the right one. It is the nature of an indicative list that it is illustrative, as it is here, so I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that there is sufficient latitude in the commissioner’s general duty to enable her to undertake work in relation to addressing the behaviour of perpetrators.
On Amendments 25 and 26, I again make the point that subsection (2) is an indicative list of activities. It does not preclude the commissioner making recommendations to voluntary bodies if she wishes to do so. However, Clause 7(2)(b) needs to be read alongside Clause 16, which requires Ministers and public bodies specified in Clause 15 to respond to the commissioner’s recommendation within 56 days. We believe it is appropriate to limit this duty to respond to certain public bodies, given that it clearly puts demands and expectations on them.
Clause 7 does not preclude the commissioner making recommendations to voluntary organisations and others, but as there is no corresponding duty on them to respond to such recommendations the focus of Clause 7(2)(b) is properly on public authorities alone. I hope that assures the noble Baroness that Clause 7 already allows for the matters she wanted to explore with her amendment, and that on that basis she will be willing to withdraw it.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Burt called these small amendments. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I do not think that more words necessarily add to one’s case; I understood him to be supporting the point. Amendment 167 is about another duty. As I hoped I had made clear, I understand that Clause 7(2) is about powers while Clause 7(1) is about duties and functions. Amendment 167 is important but has a discrete function about creating a strategy. This amendment makes the point that work regarding perpetrators is wider than a strategy. We will come to Clause 16 on responses, to which reference has just been made, at a later point.
I still think that this is a slightly odd omission. I am glad to have confirmation that the list is not exhaustive. I cannot emulate the very senior lawyers involved in many of our debates, but any lawyers who are involved in this debate will recognise the term “sui generis”. It means that anything added to an existing list must be of the same type.
So it would not do any harm to mention perpetrators here, and it would make the point. I do not believe in legislation being used for messages, but something can sometimes be read into an omission. Of course, I will not pursue the matter now and I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 24.
Amendment 24 withdrawn.
Amendments 25 and 26 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 27. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this, or anything else in this group, to a Division, must make that clear in the debate.
27: Clause 7, page 4, line 35, at end insert—
“(h) ensuring that nationwide psychological therapy services are available to couples experiencing conflict and potential domestic abuse.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that prevention of domestic abuse is a top priority for the Commissioner.
My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 41 and 103 in my name, all of which focus on early intervention and the prevention of domestic abuse. They seek to avoid the need for ultimate criminal justice interventions. I should like to put on record that the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, has had to withdraw because she has to contribute in Grand Committee.
I fully support the Bill’s objectives as far as they go, but we must consider the consequences of domestic abuse for children and the need to intervene as soon as possible to prevent lifelong damage. As the Minister acknowledged in her summing up at Second Reading, we must prevent child victims of domestic abuse becoming the perpetrators of the next generation. One-third of them will become perpetrators unless we provide them with the help they need.
It is also important that the Bill promotes early intervention with couples who are experiencing conflict and potential domestic abuse. As it stands, the Bill will not achieve these vital objectives, but it would not be difficult to include a framework for effective prevention so that the Bill can achieve its full potential—and it really has a lot of potential.
Amendment 27 seeks to ensure that the commissioner focuses on her responsibility to encourage good practice in the prevention of domestic abuse—which of course is her first function. The amendment includes explicit reference to the need to ensure that psychological therapy services are available nationwide to couples experiencing conflict and potential domestic abuse.
Amendment 41 seeks to ensure that the commissioner’s advisory board includes at least one person who understands the importance of psychological therapy services to such high-risk couples and, most importantly, to their children. Amendment 103 seeks to ensure similar representation on local partnership boards.
The Law Society agrees with me that the Bill has
“excessive focus on criminal responses to domestic abuse.”
It goes on to say:
“It is crucial that victims of domestic abuse are able to access long-term support that aims to build resilience and confidence, rather than short-term protection by the courts and police.”
This is fundamentally important.
We know that large numbers of children across the UK are affected by domestic abuse. Estimates vary, but one suggests that the figure is just under one million. This is an awful lot of children. A group of children’s charities, including Hestia, has made the point that these children suffer severe mental health problems, often exhibited through aggressive and destructive behaviour. Pro Bono Economics estimates that the cost to the taxpayer of not providing this help is between £480 million and £1.4 billion.
I listened to the excellent debate on the parental alienation amendments. A number of noble Lords said that it is up to the courts to decide who is lying, and whether there is any foundation to an allegation of parental alienation. In my experience, by the time these cases reach the courts it can be almost impossible to determine where the lies began and where culpability lies—and by then the damage to the children will be extreme. Again, this is an argument in favour of early intervention with expert therapy—ideally family therapy. When the whole family sits together with a therapist, in a safe place, discussing things, the dynamics in a dysfunctional family become very clear and can be resolved. I was involved in this work many years ago. Family therapy can be extraordinarily powerful in resolving family problems.
I propose that therapy services for child victims of domestic abuse should continue to be provided by the NHS, rather than through local authorities. Following Jeremy Hunt’s excellent White Paper on child mental health, CCGs are currently funding mental health support teams in one-third of the country, providing NICE-recommended therapy to children and young people who need it, including victims of domestic abuse. These therapists work in schools, which is of course crucial. Children’s mental health problems are most likely to be identified in school. There should be a statutory obligation to provide these services across the country. I would be really interested to know whether the Minister agrees.
Section 55 places a duty on local authorities to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children who reside in “relevant accommodation”—which I take to mean a refuge. It is not clear that local authorities will have a statutory duty to ensure that psychological therapy is available, even to support adults or children in refuges. Of course, the situation is a good deal worse for the much greater number of domestic abuse victims, including children, who are not in refuges.
Amendment 176, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, shows a strong commitment to support services for the victims of domestic abuse, which I applaud. Again, however, it gives no assurance that victims, including children, will be guaranteed an offer of professional therapy help.
The aim of these amendments is to ensure that the domestic abuse system is set up to take care of the mental health needs of all victims. This is important not just for individuals but for society as a whole, both now and in the future. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, have withdrawn. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for moving this amendment and pay tribute to her vast experience in this area and her constant fight to ensure that early intervention is part of our psychological landscape.
Psychological therapy is an essential cornerstone of our domestic abuse response and Amendment 27 is potentially one of the most important we shall have a chance to debate today. It places a requirement on the commissioner to ensure nationwide access to psychological therapy services for couples experiencing conflict and potential domestic abuse. As we have already heard, the vast majority of victims—an estimated 70%—never set foot in a refuge and remain at home or in alternative housing. Many go beyond the care of psychological therapy. A SafeLives report highlights that 80% of survivors think that interventions for perpetrators are a good idea—and not just for those experiencing domestic abuse themselves.
A main conclusion of Breaking Down the Barriers: Findings of the National Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Multiple Disadvantage was the call from survivors for trauma-informed support to break traumatic cycles. Here we should be looking—[Inaudible]—parent and child victims to receive trauma-informed support while the perpetrators of domestic abuse access a programme which is designed to change behaviour, rebuild relationships and keep families safe. Perpetrators can take part in a 20-week programme focusing on behaviour change. Their adult victims benefit from a mix of one-to-one sessions and group work through the 10-week integrated women’s support programme, where they look at their past experiences and build resilience. Confidence-building and well-being groups are also held. Children and young people have their own 10-week programme, which looks at the trauma they may have suffered, self-esteem issues, coping strategies, safety planning and support networks. They receive help to talk about their feelings and have a chance to meet other children who have been through similar traumas.
Although the Barnardo’s programme is more involved than the couples therapy suggested in the amendment, and includes programmes for children as well, the Barnardo’s model illustrates how effective intervention and therapy focused on the turbulence in the relationship are in addressing the scourge of domestic abuse and in changing behaviours.
Another programme I would like to mention is For Baby’s Sake, which rightly highlights that early intervention is the most effective way to break the cycle of domestic abuse. As I argued in the debate on my own amendment, early childhood—conception to age two—is an optimum time to intervene. Intervention during the first 1,001 days is not just crucial for the baby but trauma-informed support for the parents can prevent further toxic deterioration of their relationship as well.
This is also an effective time for intervention—we want to be pragmatic with this Bill. An evaluation by King’s College London of the For Baby’s Sake programme identified that the first 1,001 days of a baby’s life are the optimal time for intervention in the cycle of domestic abuse. Pregnancy and childbirth are major milestones in the lives of many mothers and fathers and the time when there is motivation to change. The transition to parenthood brings rewards as well as challenges for both parents. Support at this time can harness parents’ motivation and empower them to make changes for their baby and themselves.
As For Baby’s Sake highlights, present interventions have focused generally on supporting the needs of victims and survivors alone, and few seek also to target the causes and environments of domestic abuse, and its associated consequences, in conjunction with perpetrators and children. Even fewer interventions adopt a whole-family approach that seeks to address the mental health problems experienced by parents and protects and supports the mental health of the baby and other children in the family.
This amendment is about changing the cultural and social landscape around domestic abuse for the next generation. If we focus only on refuge and not intervention and rehabilitation, especially in the form of psychological therapy for couples, we miss out on a crucial piece of the weaponry for breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.
My Lords, the noble Baronesses who have spoken to this group of amendments are hugely qualified to speak on the issues of psychotherapy, and none more so than the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I have no such credentials, beyond being an observer of the human condition coming from an entirely different field altogether.
My interest in supporting this group of amendments comes from a profound belief that—as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said—rather than picking up the pieces after the event, early intervention before the damage in abusive relationships has reached its most pernicious stages must be an object of policy. Before we get to the stage of cranking into place all legal, prosecutorial, judicial and costly protective paraphernalia, the need to pay attention to psychological problems at a much earlier stage, or indeed as a preliminary step in later stages, seems an unavoidable conclusion. In support of that assertion, I need not go further than the domestic homicide reviews, cataloguing as they do the tragic endpoint of failure to intervene in time, but which consistently refer to much earlier and identifiable opportunities in the downward slope, at which points the problems could and should have been consciously noted and acted upon. Even if they do not end in homicide, I believe that similar trajectories occur in domestic abuse generally from childhood onwards.
To tackle this, we need an understanding of the psychology of victims, perpetrators and children in what is a hugely complex area of motivations, drivers, preconceptions and circumstances, right across gender and age divides, social and economic environments, matters of nature and nurture, and much else. This suggests to me that the discipline of psychology is a golden thread in terms of identifying traits informing decisions, facilitating early-stage support and intervention, and, as the noble Baronesses have said, breaking this terrible cycle of behaviour that the Bill seeks to address.
I recognise that psychological skills are, in any event, far from plentiful, and involve not only time but expense. But I do not believe that it is an argument to discard the appropriate tool on grounds of timing, complexity or cost; nor should we be deflected because, as has been explained to me by others, dealing with substance abuse in parallel with psychological issues—as is so often a combination—requires considerable skills and powers of leadership.
I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, mentioned cost-benefit. It may sound like monetising private misery, but I am absolutely convinced that she is right about the social cost and why these amendments are necessary.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.
My Lords, I strongly support these amendments, although, like the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, I lack the knowledge, skills and experience of the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Stroud. I therefore add our support for this suite of amendments, focusing as they do on the prevention of domestic abuse by making it a top priority for the commissioner, the advisory board and the local partnership boards. I also strongly support the emphasis on children and the need for therapy services all over the country, as elaborated on by the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.
As we know, abuse is a cycle. The abused child all too frequently turns into the abuser, and generation begets generation of misery and pain. Unless there is an intervention to break this cycle, we will still be wrestling with this subject for years and, indeed, generations to come. There are other excellent amendments to come tackling this issue, so I will leave my comments there for now.
My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I am happy to give my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I have great respect for the noble Baroness, but, again, have no expertise in this area. Of course, prevention is absolutely the key, and the point the noble Baroness made about the importance of ensuring that we take effective action to prevent children becoming abusers in the future is very important. You have to break this cycle, and I very much agree with the noble Baroness on that point.
I also think we have to be careful here that we are offering the right interventions at the right time. Professionals who are going to engage with partners and couples also need to be able to spot whether something is an area of conflict, but is not domestic abuse, or, equally, whether a situation is domestic abuse and actually needs a different intervention—they need to have the skills to understand that, and understand the difference. We would never want a situation where somebody remains in a relationship because they have had the wrong intervention. This is a very complicated area. We need professionals to provide the proper advice at the right time to ensure that if you can work to do that, fine, but equally there are times when people need to get out of a dangerous relationship. We need to ensure that professionals are able to spot that, and that you are building that knowledge and expertise into all the interventions that people can engage with.
On that basis, I am happy to support the amendments and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for tabling these amendments. I am pleased to see her looking so very much better. I hope that she is indeed feeling better, although she still has a bit of a cough. Her experience has been praised across the House, and I know how much she contributes to the debates in which she takes part. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned, she brought into focus the real danger of the cycle of abuse and the importance of breaking it. As the noble Lord said, what we need here is the right interventions at the right time. There is strong evidence that conflict between parents, whether together or separated, can have significant impacts on children’s mental health and on long-term life chances. We can all agree on that.
We also highly value marriage, but must acknowledge that, for many reasons, such an arrangement will not suit everyone. Marriages have their difficulties; some couples do experience conflict and may decide that it is best for those involved to end their marriage. I recognise too the particular impact that this has on children and young people. That is not, of course, to negate the importance of couples’ counselling and access to psychological therapy services. They should not be underestimated and, in many cases, they lead to reconciliation of relationships, with steps to rebuild and repair. As the noble Baroness outlined, their value is immeasurable whatever the outcome of the relationship.
On mental health services, we are absolutely committed to our ambitions in the NHS long-term plan to expand and transform mental health services in England and to invest an additional £2.3 billion a year in them by 2023-24. Under the NHS long-term plan there will be a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, ensuring that an additional 380,000 adults can access psychological therapies by 2023-24. It also commits to providing access to such therapies for specific groups, including expanding access to evidence-based psychological therapies within special perinatal mental health services, and parent, infant, couple, co-parenting and family interventions.
I turn to the specifics of the amendments. Amendments 27 and 41 relate to the role of the domestic abuse commissioner. The noble Baroness will know that Nicole Jacobs has undertaken significant action already as designate commissioner, including raising awareness of domestic abuse. She will also be responsible for monitoring and overseeing delivery of services to ensure that they are as effective, evidence-based and safe as they can be, as well as publishing information about the range of provision that currently exists for victims and survivors.
The commissioner’s general functions include the provision of support for people affected by domestic abuse. Within that, Clause 7 already provides that the commissioner may assess, monitor and publish information about the provision of services to people affected by domestic abuse. That might include the provision of relationship counselling and psychological therapy. I assure the noble Baroness that the substance of Amendment 27 is already captured by the remit of the commission as set out in Clause 7.
The Committee has heard a combination of views about ensuring the commissioner’s independence and a number of views on what she should be tasked with. The commissioner has a challenging role and will undoubtedly face many demands on her—many of them from your Lordships’ House. Respecting the independence of her office, we should leave it her to determine her priorities, as set out in her strategic plan, informed by the views of her advisory board. If we start writing into the Bill particular issues that the commissioner should address, we risk creating an unhelpful hierarchy of priorities which will constrain her freedom of action. Specifying in the legislation what should and should not feature in her strategic plan would restrict and hinder the very independence that the role requires.
The commissioner’s strategic plan will be developed in tandem with her advisory board, as well as the Home Secretary and others. I assure the noble Baroness that the plan will be scrutinised and expertise sought on its development. I hope that reassures her that a range of areas will be considered.
In Amendment 41, the noble Baroness seeks to expand the list of specialists who must have a seat on the commissioner’s advisory board so that it includes a person with experience of the provision of psychological therapy services. There is a balance to be struck in Clause 12. We want an advisory board which includes members with a range of experiences, but we also need to ensure that the commissioner has sufficient flexibility to appoint a board which will best assist her in discharging her functions. This is not the only amendment which seeks to add this or that category to the list of advisory board members. I put it to noble Lords that, within the framework provided for in Clause 12, we should otherwise leave it to the commissioner to determine the membership of the board.
Similar considerations apply to Amendment 103 to Clause 56, which provides for the membership of the domestic abuse local partnership boards in Part 4 of the Bill. This amendment would add to the membership of those boards a person representing psychological therapy services for couples experiencing conflict and potential domestic abuse. I do appreciate the intention behind this amendment and similar ones, but again, I have concerns that we risk building too much rigidity into the composition of these boards and unduly constraining the flexibility that local authorities have to appoint a board that meets particular local needs. Local partnership boards will be set up in line with local needs and existing partnership arrangements, where we will see their strength. We have provided for core representation on the boards in Clause 56(2), but beyond that we should leave it to the good judgment of the tier 1 local authorities.
Moving away from the specifics of the amendments, I assure the noble Baroness that work is already taking place across government on bettering relationships. The Reducing Parental Conflict programme is aimed at conflict below the threshold of domestic a