Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 17: Disclosure of information
55: Clause 17, page 11, line 29, at end insert—
“(aa) the disclosure of any immigration information (see subsection (5A));”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, along with the other amendment in the name of Baroness Hamwee to Clause 17, would ensure that the bill did not authorise the disclosure of any immigration information.
My Lords, we have Amendments 55 and 56 in this group, and my name is also to Amendment 154 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
From the moment the Data Protection Bill, as it was, arrived in this House, we opposed paragraph 4 of Schedule 2, which exempts data processed for purposes relating to “effective immigration control” from the protection provisions. Our reasons range from the ethical, for instance, solicitors being unable to obtain what the Home Office knows or thinks it knows about a client; to the humanitarian, for instance, deterring asylum seekers from seeking assistance to which they are entitled; to the practical, for instance, there are obvious implications for public health if people seek to stay under the radar.
The vulnerability of migrants subjected to domestic abuse is recognised by the commissioner-designate, and we have more amendments to come on different issues. It is recognised by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, who has recently said:
“Victims should have every confidence in approaching the police for protection. They should expect and receive protection at times when they are vulnerable and so desperately need the assistance of the agents of the state. Victims should never be in a position where they fear the actions of the police could unintentionally but severely intensify their vulnerability and thereby strengthen the hands of organised criminals and others whose motives and objectives are to inspire fear and do them harm.”
There is an obvious read-across from that. The vulnerability and fragility I mentioned are also recognised by the Government, but by way of a pilot.
As well as the stand-alone proposed new clause, which is Amendment 154, it seems to us necessary to address the issue in the specific clause regarding disclosure of information both by and to the commissioner. Patient information is dealt with; nothing requires or authorises its disclosure, and that is right. Nothing requires or authorises disclosure that would contravene data protection legislation. That does not preclude processing—the term used—of personal data for
“the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control.”
We very much support Amendment 154, whose authors have thought through many aspects of this. They urge that we do not put the commissioner in a position where information may not, out of fear, be confided in her, or where she is required to disclose immigration information. As so often happens when one returns to an amendment, I can see Amendments 55 and 56 might be more nuanced and detailed, but it is important, at this point, to get the matter on to the table. I beg to move Amendment 55.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 154 in my name. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Hamwee, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for supporting it.
The key point is that victims of domestic abuse and their witnesses must be able to divulge personal data in the context of seeking or receiving support or assistance related to domestic abuse without the risk that such data may be used for immigration control purposes. Proposed new subsections (1) and (2) require the Secretary of State to make arrangements to honour this key principle and proposed new subsection (4) requires them to issue guidance to relevant officials and others affected by the new clause.
Migrant women with insecure immigration status are, in my view very understandably, reluctant to report domestic abuse to the statutory services. Would you, one might ask, particularly to the police? This reluctance is due to the current data-sharing agreements between statutory services, including the police and the Home Office, for immigration control purposes. This means that women affected cannot seek support or a safe place to go, with the most appalling consequences, as one can very easily imagine. Perpetrators are not being brought to justice.
In 2019, the Step Up Migrant Women campaign found that half of migrant women with insecure immigration status do not report abuse to the police for fear of detention and deportation. The use of insecure immigration status by perpetrators as a tool of coercive control has been highlighted for many years. CEDAW highlights this problem and calls on states to repeal restrictive immigration laws that leave migrant domestic workers vulnerable in this way. Imkaan’s vital statistics report shows that no less than 92% of migrant women have reported deportation threats from their perpetrator.
The Government’s draft statutory guidance framework for the Bill recognises the situation; indeed, it recognises the need for more support if these women are to seek help, but this support is not available in this Bill. The Government’s response has been to announce a pilot scheme to assess the needs of migrant women and provide those with no recourse to public funds with emergency accommodation. This is really concerning. As I have said, we know very well what the issues are and their consequences for migrant women. We know perfectly well what their needs are—the same as those of other women or men subject to domestic abuse—so I do not believe that we need this pilot. We need legislative protection for the women involved. If the Bill is passed without a solution to this problem, it could be years before the next appropriate piece of legislation. I really hope the Minister will agree that the proposed pilot is redundant and therefore not appropriate at this point.
The briefing sent to us by Step Up Migrant Women and others includes a number of heart-rending cases—I am very happy to pass them on to the Minister, but I have a feeling she already has them. She might want to make that clear.
In view of the serious crimes that go unpunished because of the fears of women with insecure migrant status, it is not surprising that the Equality and Human Rights Commission supports this and related amendments. The EHRC refers to a joint report of several policing bodies, including the HMICFRS, which found that victims of crime with insecure or uncertain immigration status are fearful that, if they report crimes to the police, their information will be shared with the Home Office. It concluded that the current system of information sharing between the police and the Home Office was causing significant harm to the public interest. I hope the Minister will respond to this particular concern in her response.
I put on record that, in 2019, the draft Bill committee made a clear recommendation to the Government to establish
“a firewall at the levels of policy and practice to separate reporting of crime and access to support services from immigration control”.
That is exactly what this amendment seeks to do.
Finally, as the Minister knows, without this amendment, and no doubt others, the measures in this Bill will not be compliant with Article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention, which states that
“provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as … national or social origin … migrant or refugee status”.
The Minister will know that, in December 2019, the Government stood on a manifesto pledging to support all victims of domestic abuse. Can we discuss how to deal with this before Report? I am tremendously aware that she is responsible for, I think, three Bills—overwhelming, I must say—and is clearly extremely busy, but I would very much welcome even 10 or 15 minutes to try to clarify where we might go on Report. I realise that these are complex issues but very much hope that the Minister will work with her colleagues to achieve government support for this amendment or something like it.
My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has such knowledge and experience of these issues as a former social worker, and to speak in support of her Amendment 154, calling on the Government to ensure that the personal data of a victim of domestic abuse in the UK is processed only for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance related to domestic abuse and not for immigration control. We need to separate these distinct areas of immigration enforcement and the necessary protection of victims of domestic abuse. We cannot continue to ignore this perilous area where migrant women are put at continuing risk from their perpetrators while fearing deportation.
During the research for this amendment, I read moving testimony from many women, some of whom have been helped by Safety4Sisters in the north-west—a small, committed group of Manchester-based feminist and anti-racist activists. They speak to many migrant women who continue to receive piecemeal, inconsistent and, on occasion, downright dangerous responses from state and non-state agencies. I was particularly moved by the response of one of their clients, who summed up her experience so succinctly yet so movingly:
“We just have humiliations, a lack of dignity, we are powerless next to the man abusing you.”
The organisation offered a place to migrant women where they were treated with dignity and respect, and as citizens. Women talked frequently about feeling that they were not seen as human beings, either by family or by external agencies. Being treated as illegal was an all-too-frequent experience, which acted as a powerful deterrent to asserting their rights and engaging with wider society. It also acted as a label that had a profound effect on the women’s sense of self-worth, intensifying the threatening messages that violent partners and families had already employed to control the women and keep them from leaving. Time and again, migrant women reported that as part of the pattern of violence, abusers would constantly state that they were worth nothing and threaten that the authorities would deport them and remove their children if they reported the violence. By positioning women as outsiders, abusers were able to maintain their power over their victims.
Freedom of information requests in recent years to the 45 police forces around Wales and England found that 27 forces had shared victims’ details with the Home Office for immigration control purposes, while only three forces responded that they did not hand over victims’ information. The rest of the forces responded with neither “yes” nor “no”, while some said that they did not have any information. These figures show that there are no clear rules or guidance for forces on how to treat the potential immigration offences of victims of crime. Some forces identified that it depended on individual police officers to refer victims to immigration control, while others advised that they would do so only if the victim posed a significant risk. As a result, there is no consistency in practice, and victims are reluctant to come forward due to lack of trust in the police. This situation surely cannot continue to be supported.
In terms of community support from the police, I had the pleasure of working closely in partnership for many years with Gwent Police when I was leader of Newport City Council. Indeed, we are extremely fortunate to have an excellent chief constable and a police and crime commissioner who both recognise, validate and foster community working. It cannot be easy for them to determine what to do in cases of abuse of migrant women when there is no clear guidance for police forces. These amendments would ensure that this support would be in place and that there was clarity. It is imperative that the Government and public agencies understand that when victims leave an abusive situation and report abuse, they are more likely to be harmed or murdered by the perpetrator. It is therefore essential that the Government put in place a safe reporting mechanism and put an end to data-sharing policies when victims approach the police.
The police should then comply with their duty to prevent serious harm and crime, and prosecute perpetrators of this violence. Systems can facilitate abuse and unintentional and collateral damage can be used by perpetrators as tools to inflict suffering. Victims should be treated with respect in a non-discriminatory way. Articles 4 and 59 of the Istanbul convention, which the Government have signed and are committed to ratifying—this year, I hope—require victims to be protected regardless of their immigration status. We need to establish safe reporting mechanisms that will give victims the confidence to report perpetrators and allow them to access support from statutory services and safeguarding.
We have an unacceptable gap in the legislation. The Government are aware of the struggle of migrant victims, but their response falls short of guaranteeing that all victims of domestic abuse can access support and protection equally, regardless of their immigration status. In this House, we can close that gap in protection and by doing so ensure that the United Kingdom meets the highest internationally recognised standards for the protection of women, as enshrined in the Istanbul convention.
My Lords, I add my voice to those of noble Lords who have welcomed this Bill. I thank the Minister for all her work in this area. As other noble Lords have already said, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address the crime of domestic abuse, which affects more than 2 million people a year in the United Kingdom. However, the Bill continues to overlook one of the most vulnerable groups affected by this form of violence against women and girls—migrant women. I too will address Amendment 154, which calls for the Secretary of State to ensure that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse in the UK is processed only for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance relating to domestic abuse, not for immigration control.
Government policy is clear that victims of crime should be treated without discrimination. Therefore, the separation of immigration enforcement and protection of domestic abuse victims who are migrant women must be delineated. Failure to do this puts migrant women at risk of a double jeopardy of danger from their abuser and fear of deportation. As has already been highlighted, the Istanbul convention, the landmark international treaty on violence against women and girls, which the Government have signed and are committed to ratifying, requires in Articles 5 and 59 that victims are protected regardless of their immigration status.
However, freedom of information requests reveal that 60% of police forces in England and Wales share victims’ details with the Home Office, prioritising immigration control over the victims’ safety and access to justice. While some services may need to share data to ascertain an individual’s immigration status and right to access services—some NHS services for example—there is no legal requirement for any data sharing with the Home Office relating to domestic abuse victims. As we have already heard, without any national policy guidance on this practice the police approach to safeguarding migrant victims of crime will remain inconsistent.
The blind spots in this Bill are resolved by this amendment. Organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Service have been in touch with me to highlight evidence from people whose stories demonstrate the benefits of this amendment. One Ecuadorian woman who came to the UK in 2014 met her partner at work and later came to know how controlling he was and that he continually lied to her about her immigration status. In 2019, violence escalated when she became pregnant. During this time, isolation, emotional abuse and manipulation were exerted in addition to threats of deportation and separation from her child if she reported the abuse to the police. Although she has since received some support from specialist organisations such as the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, she has not yet reported the abuse to the police since she is too fearful of deportation and possible separation from her child.
I fear that this blind spot enables offenders and abusers to use police involvement as a threat to their victims, rather than the source of protection that it should be. Various countries around the world have demonstrated that firewalls can be and are being implemented in different ways to create separation between public services and immigration enforcement. It is entirely possible that the training and cross-sector relationships that we are calling for through this Bill can establish safe reporting pathways that include access to specialist support and legal advice to address a victim’s immigration status as necessary.
One of the other consequences of putting immigration control above the safety of victims is that perpetrators can commit these crimes with impunity. This is a risk not only for survivors but the wider community. Better trust in the police to protect victims of abuse and investigate crime against migrant women will improve responses for all survivors and the public. Like my co-sponsors, I call on the Government to establish safe reporting pathways by incorporating a clear statutory obligation that prevents public authorities and other support services sharing data with the Home Office for the purpose of immigration control. Will the Minister ensure that safe reporting will be established for all women, regardless of their immigration status?
The direction of the Bill is hopeful, and I look forward to the Minister’s response and to discussions with the Government before Report regarding the specific action taken on this amendment.
My Lords, I am pleased to support the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on Amendment 154. I do not want to appear negative, but I had a year at the Home Office dealing with immigration, nationality and citizenship, and while I well understand the pressures on civil servants, I do not think that the Home Office is as trusted as it used to be. We can go back to the hostile environment started by Theresa May which led to Windrush. The Home Office has a long way to go before it builds up trust again. The key thrust of this amendment provides a chance for the Home Office to send a signal to other public bodies that the Home Office is not going to abuse or misuse information on domestic abuse for immigration control purposes. It is bad enough that the staff of the commissioner will be Home Office civil servants, and that the accounting officer for the whole function is still going to be the Home Secretary. The Home Office has some way to go in distancing itself from the misuse of information on domestic abuse for immigration purposes.
I know that civil servants will want to make the system work, but there is a lack of trust and some big moves need to be made to rebuild it. Accepting an amendment such as this would go some way to sending a signal to the police, the immigration authorities, social services and others dealing with domestic abuse and immigration issues to realise that a massive wall has been built between the two. The Bill will fail unless an amendment such as this is accepted.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to offer the strong support of the Green group for, and to speak in favour of, the amendments tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Meacher. I associate myself with powerful contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, particularly her focus on the Istanbul convention, the importance of which was also highlighted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. All the speakers before me have covered the issue in depth and with clarity and power, so I will be brief.
I begin by noting the widespread support for this Bill from all sides of the House and the Government’s stated commitment to protecting victims of domestic abuse and ensuring that the law does not act as a facilitator of abuse. If ensuring that domestic abuse victims have a route to safety and perpetrators are brought to justice is the highest government priority, they need to ensure that not just those who might be subjected to immigration control but those who might fear being subjected to it, whether rightly or not, are not prevented from accessing the protections. Immigration status is a complex area and we know from the tragedy of Windrush that even citizenship is not always an adequate protection from detention and deportation.
It is not just those who might face immigration controls who need the reassurance of these amendments, but those who fear becoming entangled in the horrors of the Home Office’s hostile environment as a result of reporting abuse or seeking help. They might have no real reason to fear that, but history will tell them that there is cause for concern. We need not only to protect them and make sure they are safe but to ensure, by stating it loudly and clearly in the Bill, that reporting abuse and seeking safety and justice will not entangle them in that hostile environment. This needs to be set out in government publicity so that there is a clear understanding across the community.
My Lords, I wish to support in particular Amendment 154 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Meacher, my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I also welcome the important contributions that have been made on this group of amendments.
Recently, Gill, an abused Brazilian woman of insecure immigration status, spent three days in the middle of winter sleeping on our streets with one of her children. How she got there is a heartbreaking tale of police misunderstanding of the guidance, Home Office incompetence and, indeed, laws that are not fit for purpose. Gill’s is one of several case studies presented to us by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, which is constantly seeing migrant victims of domestic abuse, as the right reverend Prelate has said. It sees the lack of trust and confidence that these victims have in our institutions, which are meant to protect them but often end up only harming them further. It knows, as does anyone who originates from a diaspora, that trust is a rare commodity and has to be built up step by step and law by law, as my noble friend Lord Rooker suggested in his reflections on the Home Office and the hostile environment.
Migrant women face many additional barriers to safety because, as has been said, abusers commonly use women’s fears of immigration enforcement and separation from their children to control them. The End Violence Against Women Coalition has pointed to the particular vulnerabilities experienced by migrant women: no recourse to public funds, homelessness, the financial impact of the inability to work due to their immigration status, forced marriage, so-called honour-based violence and much more. Add to that the harm that this amendment seeks to address, which is the fear that their information will be passed on by the police and other organisations to Immigration Enforcement, and it is no wonder that many, including the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, my noble friend Lady Wilcox and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London do not believe that the Bill in its present form—however much we welcome it, and I certainly do—is compliant with the requirements of Article 4, paragraph 3 of the Istanbul convention.
During the passage of the Bill in the Commons, MPs, including the Minister, stated that all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims, regardless of their immigration status. However, for that to happen certain things have to change. Accepting this amendment would be a good place to start, backed up by the conclusions of the super-complaint investigation by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters on policing and insecure immigration status. The report on this was published in December 2020 in collaboration with the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The super-complaint has been taken seriously by the police because it underlines, among other things, the ongoing danger to public safety of migrant victims’ perpetrators, who are sometimes part of criminal gangs, going free and undetected outside the law because their victims fear reporting them to the police. The super-complaint concludes that for victims of domestic abuse, a complete separation or firewall must be in place between the police response to a victim who is reporting domestic abuse and the handling of their immigration status, as is provided for in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher.
While the amendment obviously goes further than interaction with the police, the focus of the super-complaint and its call for all chief constables to stop immediately the sharing of information on domestic abuse victims with Immigration Enforcement provides welcome ballast for this important amendment. I hope that the Minister sees the need to accept the amendment and will not wait for the findings of the support for migrant victims scheme.
My Lords, I refer to my interests on the register. I support Amendments 55, 56 and 154. My main concerns relate to victims of modern slavery and of forced marriage who are from overseas. Some victims of modern slavery suffer from domestic abuse and may not go through the NRM. If they do not, their immigrant status will be not just uncertain but probably not acceptable. It may not be safe for them to be returned to their own country.
I refer particularly to a group of foreign wives who marry men in this country but whose marriages are not registered. An example, but not the only example, is a nikah in a Muslim marriage. If that marriage is not registered, as everyone knows, it is not legal in English law. Consequently, wives will not receive the spousal visa or have the protection of being a wife—although they believe of course that they are wives. This is very serious, and I ask the Minister to look at this group of women, some of whom may be in a forced marriage, while others may be in a perfectly good arranged marriage where the husband has walked out on them or turfed them out and they are completely lost, because they do not have the appropriate immigration status as a wife.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee has explained, our Amendments 55 and 56 in this group are designed to prevent information about victims of domestic abuse that could be used for immigration control being disclosed by the domestic abuse commissioner. These amendments go further than Amendment 154, as they talk about information provided to the domestic abuse commissioner whether a request for support has been made or not.
The danger is that the information, supplied by either the domestic abuse commissioner or somebody seeking support, is shared with the police. There have been numerous reported examples where the police have passed the details of victims and witnesses of crime to immigration officials, including a case in 2017 of a woman who alleged she was raped and kidnapped. She was first taken to a haven, a centre for victims of sexual assault, but was subsequently arrested and questioned about her immigration status.
In 2015, the last year for which I can find figures, police tip-offs to the immigration service of the details of crime victims and witnesses occurred on over 3,000 occasions—in one year. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, such sharing of information makes genuine victims of domestic abuse less likely to come forward to receive the help and support that they so desperately need. These victims are likely to be even more vulnerable to coercive control than those with regular immigration status.
Amendment 154 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, similarly requires the Secretary of State to make arrangements to ensure that personal data of a victim of domestic abuse that is processed for the purpose of requesting or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes, along with domestic abuse witness and victim data. We support these attempts to prevent the disclosure of this information for immigration control purposes.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Meacher, for setting out the case for these amendments, which seek to prevent personal information about victims of domestic abuse being shared for the purposes of immigration control. I recognise that the effect of Amendments 55 and 56 is more narrowly focused on the sharing of information under Part 2 but, in responding to these amendments and Amendment 154, I will focus my remarks on the broader issue.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, will understand that I will leave the debate on migrant women, who feature in Amendment 148, until we get to it, because this group is about data sharing. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, I point out that “hostile environment” was of course coined by the Labour Government back in 2007, not under my right honourable friend Theresa May.
The main purpose of these amendments is to make sure that migrant victims of domestic abuse are not deterred from reporting that abuse or seeking support for fear that immigration enforcement action will be taken against them. I want to be absolutely clear: our main priority is to protect the public and all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status.
A number of noble Lords mentioned guidance on this. In our response to the Joint Committee in July 2019, the Government were clear that all victims of domestic abuse should be treated as victims first and foremost. This is set out in relevant guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council—in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox.
In addition, assistant commissioner Louisa Rolfe, the national policing lead on domestic abuse, in giving oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the House of Commons, was clear that there will be circumstances where information sharing between the police and immigration authorities is in the interests of safeguarding a victim of abuse. There can be many benefits to sharing information, as it can help to resolve a victim’s uncertainty about their immigration status—referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley—but, most importantly, it can remove the desperate situation in which the perpetrator’s controlling and manipulative behaviour continues because of their status: this too was referred to by the noble Baroness. When victims come forward for support, sharing information can help prevent them facing enforcement action, if they are identified by immigration enforcement in an unrelated setting.
To ensure that victims’ needs are put first, the National Police Chiefs’ Council strengthened its guidance in 2020, setting out a clear position on exchanging information about victims of crime with immigration enforcement to encourage a consistent approach across the country. This gives us confidence that data sharing will operate in the interests of the victim.
Alongside our duties to protect victims of crime, the Government are equally duty bound to maintain an effective immigration system, not only to protect our public services but to safeguard the most vulnerable from exploitation because of their insecure immigration status. The public rightly expect that individuals in this country should be subject to our laws, and it is right that, when individuals with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come forward under our immigration system and, where possible, to regularise their stay. This data exchange is processed on the basis of public interest, as laid out in Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, also referred to the outcome of the super-complaint relating to police data that is shared for immigration purposes. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services published its report into the super-complaint in December last year and made a number of recommendations, which we are carefully considering and to which we will respond in due course. It is right that we properly take account of the recommendations in this report. In response to the report, we have committed to review the current arrangements and to publishing the outcome of the review within the six months set by the inspectorate, which is by June. I expect the outcome of this review to be implemented through further updates to the NPCC guidance or other administrative means, and that primary legislation will not be required. To enable us to complete this review in line with the inspectorate’s recommendations, I ask that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, withdraws her amendment.
My Lords, I do not think this is going to be the end of our discussion regarding victims whose immigration status is insecure, or they believe to be insecure. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, talked about a “tool of coercive control” and someone else—I am afraid I did not make a note who, but it might have been the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox—talked about the power of an abuser. We should not be contributing to the power of the abuser, nor contributing a tool to the abuser.
The Minister has confirmed, and I am glad to hear it, that the Home Office’s approach is to treat an abused person as a victim first, but this needs to be followed through. Providing data to police or other authorities does not answer the issue to which noble Lords have been speaking. What if the victim knows that she or he is unlikely to be able to regularise their status? The Minister referred to the HMI report following the super-complaint. As stated in its press release, the investigation’s recommendations included:
“the Home Office should review the relevant legal framework and policy to establish sound and fair priorities regarding migrant victims of crime and migrant witnesses to crime, with insecure or uncertain immigration status”.
The Home Office is reviewing that. But this is the opportunity to deal with the matter in legislation and surely, given our data protection legislation, it needs primary legislation and not just guidance. I believe we will come back to this amendment on Report, but for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendment 56 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clauses 18 to 20 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 57. 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 any other amendment in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate. I should inform the Committee that if Amendment 57 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment 58.
Clause 21: Provision that may be made by notices
57: Clause 21, page 13, line 21, leave out from “any” to end of line 22 and insert “specified premises in England and Wales.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would enable a notice to apply in respect of non-residential premises.
My Lords, we have Amendment 57 in this group—or clutch—of amendments, pushing what I hope is an open door: the need for protection of abused or allegedly abused people not only at home. The Government have an amendment extending prohibition to other places, and another amendment relating to the workplace or educational establishment, and those are welcome. Other noble Lords will speak to their amendments using terminology about where the abuser or alleged abuser lives or works. Amendment 79 would allow for discretion when both parties worked in the same place.
Our Amendment 57 is similar to the Government’s amendment, but it applies to domestic abuse protection notices, whereas the Government’s amendment is about domestic abuse protection orders. I regard notices as preventative—not leading inevitably to an order. It is far better, to state the obvious, if one can head off abuse by a notice. Perhaps I am naive in hoping so, but I note that the Minister’s letter or the draft guidance recently circulated—I cannot remember which one—makes the same point. In any event, reasons for including the workplace and other premises as prohibited, apart from the home, can surely apply when a notice is given as well as subsequently. As a matter of drafting, I wondered why Clause 21(2) was necessary, since it seems to be covered by Clause 21(1), but that is not the issue and it certainly makes the point as to what is covered. I suspect that others are going to make very similar points, but I beg to move Amendment 57.
My Lords, Amendments 58, 59, 60, 74, 76, 77 and 79 are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have signed up to speak in support of them, in particular the noble Baronesses, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick and Lady Newlove.
These workplace amendments were discussed in the other place and it is right that we make it absolutely clear in the Bill that domestic abuse protection orders and the notices that precede them can cover a victim’s workplace as well as their home. Presently, the Bill says only that a perpetrator can be prevented from coming within a certain distance of where a victim lives. I acknowledge that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, has tabled Amendment 75, which uses the term “specified premises”, but I would prefer the word “workplace” in the Bill, as that is stronger. The amendments I am proposing would ensure that those making domestic abuse protection notices and orders had the discretion to consider the workplace as well as the home.
The Government have said that they would expect a domestic abuse protection order to include restrictions on a perpetrator’s access to where the victim works if the court considered it necessary. However, expectation is not strong enough; the workplace should be referred to explicitly. Work is an important part of people’s lives; other than their home, it is the one place where they are present during fixed hours, normally in a fixed place. That makes a person vulnerable and victims need the added protection that my group of amendments would bring.
There is also the issue of the perpetrator seeking to drive a victim out of work to wreck their economic circumstances, as well as the other horrors they are seeking to inflict on a victim. Women have been murdered at work and the Government have a responsibility to ensure that victims are protected in all aspects of their lives. In 2005, Clare Bernal was killed by her ex-boyfriend—who worked on the same premises as she did—while she was at work. In 2010, Jane Clough was murdered by her ex-boyfriend as she walked into work. In 2014, Hollie Gazzard was murdered by her partner at her place of work. In 2016, four women were murdered in their workplaces by men. All these women would have benefited from stronger workplace protections.
The TUC undertook a survey and found that 47.3% of respondents said that their abusive partner turned up at their workplace and 43.6% said that they stalked them outside their workplace. Without the scope to extend domestic abuse protection orders to the workplace, victims will continue to be harassed, threatened and assaulted at work by abusive partners. Their job prospects and safety will continue to be threatened, and, tragically, as we have heard, in some cases they will be murdered.
Government Amendment 78 states that domestic abuse protection orders should avoid interfering with the perpetrator’s work, rather than, more specifically, their usual times of work. This should mean that in cases where a perpetrator and victim share a place of work, the perpetrator’s work patterns can be adapted to ensure the victim remains in work safely. It will be helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, can confirm that that is the intention when he responds at the end of this debate, and that that will be made clear in any guidance issued by the Government.
This is a really important issue; victims need certainty and clarity to provide them with the protection they need. I hope that at the end of this debate we can get a positive statement that we need to look at this further and come back to it on Report.
My Lords, I was very glad to add my name to my noble friend’s amendments on the workplace. I am grateful to Unison, of which I am a member, for its briefing on this.
Like my noble friend, I am convinced of the need to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are protected at work and that their employers do everything that they can to support them. Domestic abuse is a trade union and workplace issue, as much as any other form of abuse that affects workers’ conditions and income. Home and work issues cannot always be neatly separated. Abusive and violent behaviour does not take place only in the home, but frequently crosses over into the workplace, where victims can experience stalking, threats, harassment and worse. Equally, work can be a lifeline to independent survival for victims of domestic abuse, as they ought to be able to leave their home and maintain a level of income independent from the perpetrator.
All victims should feel safe in the knowledge that they can take action to put their lives back on track with their employment secure, and to be protected while they are at work. This is an important area on which the Government must focus more. I would like to see the remit of domestic abuse protection orders explicitly extended to cover the workplace. They are, after all, intended to secure the immediate protection of a victim from a suspected perpetrator and set out the prohibitions and requirements necessary to do so. Under the current wording of the Bill, an order may prohibit a perpetrator from coming within a certain distance of the premises lived in by the victim. However, as we heard from my noble friend, there is no mention of the victim’s workplace. Originally, the Government said that they would expect a DAPO to include restrictions on a perpetrator’s access to where the victim worked only if the court considered it necessary, which is not explicit.
My noble friend has referred already to a TUC survey from 2015 which found that one in 10 of those who experienced domestic violence reported that the violence continued in the workplace. We surely must do more to ensure that victims will not be harassed at work by abusive partners threatening their job prospects—the importance of which I have referred to—and their safety.
At Second Reading, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred to the announcement last June that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy was undertaking a review of support in the workplace for victims of domestic abuse. Very recently, the key findings from that review were published, alongside the areas of work that the Government will take forward as a result. The report identifies that an effective employer response is founded on being able to spot the signs of domestic abuse and know how to signpost to specialist services. It also sets out the steps which the Government will take to work with employers to raise awareness of domestic abuse as a workplace issue. This is obviously very important. The outcome of the review also focuses on what best practice looks like and the positive role that employers can play. It also discusses the role that employment rights can play in giving employers and employees the certainty that they need.
The Government have promised to consider through a consultation the steps which can be taken for victims of domestic abuse, as well as to consult on taking forward their manifesto commitment to
“encourage flexible working and consult on making it the default unless employers have good reasons not to.”
This is clearly progress. I welcome it, and the amendment from the Government in this group that enables a court making a domestic abuse protection order to prohibit the person against whom it is made from coming within a specified distance of other premises, in addition to those where the person to be protected by the order lives. This is in parallel to the other amendment from the Government, which makes it clear that the requirements imposed on a person by a domestic abuse protection order, so far as practicable, must not interfere with the person’s work or their attendance at an educational establishment.
I welcome those amendments, but we come back to the major question asked by my noble friend Lord Kennedy: why have the Government chosen not to specify workplaces directly on the face of the legislation? We want a culture in which workplaces are actively considered, not where they are an afterthought or only occasionally thought about. Work is where we spend the majority of our time, and it is essential for giving victims an independent source of income. The amendments that we have put forward would remove ambiguity and strengthen the Bill, highlighting that domestic abuse is a workplace issue and emphasising the responsibility of employers to protect victims from domestic abuse, at home and in the workplace. I hope that between now and Report the Government will give this further consideration.
My Lords, I agree entirely with the points made by my noble friends Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. In some ways I applaud the Government’s amendments, and want to elaborate on one aspect—that of not being restrictive of the location, giving an example regarding education establishments.
Going back a long time to around the early 1990s, I had a couple of constituency cases which might in modern times amount to sheer stalking. The two unconnected complaints from constituents were that the perpetrator—we will use that term—was loitering outside the college where they had gone to do a course. One of them said that she was not really that interested in the course, but it gave her a regular place outside the house, which was good. The perpetrator would loiter on the public highway, particularly at break times, and she said, “He was trying to see if I spoke to anyone, because I am not supposed to speak to anybody other than him.” Now we know more about coercive control and widespread domestic abuse. While the definitions of “educational establishments” or “work” might be a bit tricky, this cannot just be confined to the home, because, as both my noble friends have said, people can leave their home to go to work for financial independence, but my example was of someone who decided to do a course because it was regular and got them out of the home. Because it was a regular place the perpetrator knew where they were going, and therefore that ought to be included when the Minister thinks about this and comes back on Report.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, particularly on this subject. I believe that there is an open door here when talking about the protection of abused people. At Second Reading, I stated that the Domestic Abuse Bill has the potential to deliver a step change in the national response to domestic abuse but that the legislation requires significant change to tackle gaps in the system and ensure equal protection and support for all survivors. I believe that this suite of amendments offers in a small way the opportunity to protect those who have been abused.
I support the amendments in this group in the names of my noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lord Hunt, as well as those from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, as they are trying to strengthen the powers for dealing with domestic abuse.
Many people are abused not only at their place of residence but also at their place of work. In many instances, prior to the pandemic, people spent longer at work or an educational institution each day than at home. Strict provisions need to be put in statute to ensure that the person who is abused feels safe and is protected. If they have children at home, they should also be protected and should not be exposed to the type of abuse levelled at their mother, or be caught up in the tension that the abuse engenders. In particular, I refer to the amendments in the names of my noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, which seek to ensure that those who make domestic abuse protection orders have discretion to consider the workplace as well as the home.
In many cases, the perpetrator will also seek out the person they wish to abuse, whether a former partner or an existing partner, in their place of work. I have some direct experience, involving an employee, of where the legislation was too weak. A lady who was a cleaner for us was deeply frightened and obviously did not wish to talk about it. The person carrying out the abuse stalked her place of work, waiting for her to go into and come out of work, and was quite intrusive when we were dealing with constituents who came into the office. Noble Lords can imagine that that type of abuse was levelled not only at his partner but at other people. The nature of the cleaner’s work meant that she worked in other places, and he followed her there and waited outside those houses until she came out. She was therefore continuously abused at her places of work. People in these circumstances deserve full protection under the provisions that may be made by the notices, and careful attention must be given to further provisions in the requirements that may be imposed by orders.
The Minister’s amendment, Amendment 75, while important and a welcome development, should include the workplace. I have no doubt that my noble friends Lord Kennedy and Lord Hunt will return to this issue on Report, when I shall be very happy to support them. Perhaps in winding up, the Minister can open the door further and accept these amendments as a means of trying to protect the abused person in the workplace and in educational establishments and to stamp out that level of heinous abuse.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, who spoke with such passion on this group. I shall speak specifically to Amendments 75 and 78, and I congratulate the Government on tabling them as they will strengthen the actions against a perpetrator.
On a strict reading of Amendment 75, it would appear that its wording would cover work premises—an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Hunt. I think that is the Government’s intention in including the words
“may not come within a specified distance of … other specified premises”.
It would be helpful to know that to put noble Lords’ minds at rest.
I particularly want to raise issues that are in the briefing from Refuge, for which I am extremely grateful. As the implementation of the new DAPO is likely to be complex, Refuge supports it being piloted. It will be interesting to hear how it will be piloted. Does the Minister share my view that in Amendments 75 and 78, which I welcome, we recognise that more DAPOs will be issued? Refuge has suggested that this is an area where we should look at adequate training and investment in police forces to ensure that they are using DAPOs wherever appropriate, that perpetrators are arrested and charged when these are breached, that the guidance is sufficiently clear and that the police are sufficiently familiar with how DAPOs are meant to work, which would be the case if there was a pilot in which any teething problems could be ironed out.
I commend Amendments 75 and 78 and thank the Government and my noble friends for tabling them. I will be interested to hear whether the Government look warmly on the suggestions I have made.
My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 57, 58, 59 and 60, that seek to enable the consideration of the inclusion of workplaces in domestic abuse protection orders. It is a truly important and obvious step, which the Government have acknowledged, at least in principle, in Amendment 75.
The introduction of domestic violence protection notices and then domestic abuse protection orders heralded a real shift, or an intended shift, to the perpetrator being excluded and barred from entering the home and the breaking of such an order becoming a criminal offence. But as we have become more aware of the nature of domestic abuse, beyond just the physical—be it psychological and financial abuse, or coercion—we have addressed such issues as stalking and have, thankfully, moved to become more victim-centred, so that the victim can live their life and stay at home, rather than always having to go to a refuge, and the perpetrator is prohibited.
The Bill gives us the opportunity to move this agenda further forward and to protect the victim in their place of work. In a situation of domestic abuse, the workplace can be a refuge and a place of safety for the victim, but, sadly, that is often not the case. It is not uncommon for a victim to find that the abuse follows them to work—sometimes literally, by being physically followed, but often by abusive emails or phone calls, or the fear of the abuser turning up at the workplace, knowing what time the victim finishes. It is even more difficult if the abusing partner works at the same place. It does not stop at the victim; colleagues can find that they are bombarded with questions about the victim, have to cover for a victim’s absences or are threatened with harm. While all organisations and firms should have a domestic abuse policy in place, an order that would prohibit a perpetrator contacting the victim at their place of work or going to their place of work specifically, as noble Lords have mentioned, is a logical step to deepen the protection around the victim.
As was raised, the TUC has an excellent document, Domestic Violence and the Workplace, a very comprehensive survey of what is happening and what is needed for the victim and their co-workers. One example it gives is that 25% of respondents report that their co-workers were harmed or threatened. That is huge, and apart from the experience of the actual victim themselves. It is common sense that an abusive partner in a relationship may perpetrate that abuse in the workplace, whether by, as we have said, emails, phone calls, in person or waiting for the victim to emerge. Can you imagine how terrifying and how controlling that must be? There have been high-profile cases and murders, as was raised, those of Clare Bernal and Hollie Gazzard among them. However, that is when there has been a murder and it makes the news. The untold persecutions that stop short of murder are many, and the victims are undefended in their workplace.
I hope the Government will be sympathetic to this and will have listened to the reasons for the need for specificity as opposed to simply saying, “Well, we leave it to the courts to place a restriction on any building”. I welcome that as well but, as has been said, the workplace is so central to people’s lives. It is so important for the victim to be able to go to work safely to earn an income and to give the independence so often missing in these cases. I therefore look forward to Minister’s response in due course and very much hope that the Government will bring this back as an amendment which raises the workplace as a specific consideration.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, on a powerful speech in which she made some extremely important points, as have all the speakers.
I referred to this in the past as a landmark Bill, and it will be judged by the success, effectiveness and degree of protection it affords victims. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, was, I think, the first person to make the point that most waking hours are spent at a workplace, and that place should be a place of safety. As for the perpetrator, he or she should have no hiding place and should not be able to pursue the victim when the victim is at work or going to work.
It is clear from the amendment tabled by my noble friend the Minister that the Government recognise much of this. However, I believe the Bill will be improved by referring specifically to “place of work” on its face. It will help to make sure that there is indeed no hiding place for the perpetrator and no place that is not a place of safety for the victim. I want the Bill to bring that message to all people in a completely unambiguous and all-embracing way. I am glad to give my support to these amendments.
My Lords, I speak in support of the group of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. I will keep my speech very short, as other noble Lords have made excellent speeches as to why it is essential that the word “workplace” be specified and stipulated when DAPOs are made. As the former Victims’ Commissioner I also met the families of Jane Clough and Hollie Gazzard. Their pain and sorrow have never left me. I have also received many emails about victims being threatened within the estate of their workplace and perpetrators stalking their victims on a daily basis. Their fear and the persecution which means that they have to look over their shoulders are shameful and saddening, as their vulnerabilities are shredded even more to pieces.
I therefore ask the Minister, even though the Government are making strides to recognise this, to look again and maybe accept these amendments. I ask that those who make the DAPOs use their discretion and common sense to specify that the victim’s workplace is protected as well as their home, so that no more lives are brutally taken from loved families. As the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, said, many of these cases do not make the headlines. Our workplace is somewhere we go to do our job, and lives are very stressful as they are. For these victims, who constantly have to watch over their shoulder, please can the Government look at specifying the word “workplace” to give them the safety that they should have in their workplace?
My Lords, Clause 21 sets out what provisions can be made in a domestic abuse protection notice. Clause 21(1)(b) allows that a person may not come within a specified distance of where the victim lives. However, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee explained, this means that the perpetrator could abuse the victim at work, at the school where their child is a pupil or at a place of worship, to give but a few examples. Our Amendment 57 allows for the prevention of coming within a specified distance to apply to any specified premises in England and Wales. As such, I believe that our amendment also covers the circumstances covered by Amendments 58, 59 and 60, which refer to the victim’s place of work. I will return to that in a moment.
The Government’s Amendment 75 makes similar provision to our amendment for domestic abuse protection orders in that our Amendment 21 applies to domestic abuse protection notices and the Government’s amendment applies to domestic abuse protection orders. As such, I believe that the Government’s amendment covers the circumstances addressed by Amendments 74, 76 and 77.
Contrary to the view of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, I am not convinced that specifying “workplace” is stronger than Amendments 75 or 57. It is certainly more restricted than “any specified premises”. I understand trade unions focusing on workplace protections but the issue is wider than workplaces. In future groups we will come to duties being placed on employers. We have to broaden our outlook here. What about unemployed victims, victims in full-time education or victims whose main support comes from a religious community in a church, mosque, synagogue or temple? Protection in the workplace is important but it is not the only place that should be a place of safety for victims of domestic abuse.
Government Amendment 78 means that the requirements imposed by a domestic abuse protection order must, as far as practicable, be such as to avoid interfering with the perpetrator’s work or the person’s attendance at an educational establishment. It will be a fine judgment in some cases whether to make the person covered by the order unemployed or unable to continue a course of education, as well as potentially homeless, but the safety of the victim of domestic abuse must be paramount.
Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, seeks to ensure that this is the case by removing the requirement contained in government Amendment 78 to avoid interference with the perpetrator’s work or education if the victim works at the same place as the perpetrator, or, potentially, works at a place where the perpetrator is studying.
The seriousness of domestic abuse, the impact it can have on the victim, and the very serious consequences for the perpetrator if it is reported, beyond any criminal sanction, need to be made clear to perpetrators. It could result in you losing your job or your place in education, as well as your home.
My Lords, the provisions in Clause 33 provide that a domestic abuse protection order—DAPO—may impose any requirements that the court considers necessary to protect the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse, including requirements that prohibit the perpetrator coming within a specified distance of any premises in which the victim lives.
However, as noble Lords have, rightly, pointed out again today, we recognise that perpetrators of domestic abuse commonly target victims outside the home intentionally to cause distress, exercise coercive control and, in some cases, even to harm their victim physically. As has been noted, during the Bill’s passage in another place, the honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley tabled amendments seeking to strengthen the protection afforded by a DAPO against workplace abuse, and my honourable friend the Minister for Safeguarding undertook to consider those amendments. She has done so, and government Amendment 75, which comes from that, would make it explicit that a DAPO can include a requirement prohibiting the perpetrator coming within a specified distance of any other specified premises, or premises of a specified description, such as the victim’s place of work.
Much of the debate today has revolved around whether it is right to put the workplace, and the definition that we have chosen, specifically on the face of the Bill. The government amendment is deliberately broad so that it covers not only the victim’s place of work—in response to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I want to be very clear that the amendment does include a person’s place of work—but other places where the victim might regularly be found, such as their place of worship or their children’s school. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, mentioned the importance of training colleges in enabling victims to re-establish some independence, to get out of the house and to find support, whether that involves going back to work, going into training or finding support through religious institutions. Those are all hugely important to people as they rebuild their lives.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is right that we need to look more broadly and not just at places of work. Of course, people’s patterns of work are very variable. Some people have one static work location but many are peripatetic—perhaps supply teachers, cleaners or carers visiting people in their own home. The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, gave an example of someone who works in multiple locations. My noble friend Lord Cormack said that he wants the Bill to be unambiguous, and that is what we are trying to achieve in the breadth of the government amendment—to give the power to specify whatever that location might be. To answer the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, we will also make it clear in the guidance that places of work should certainly be considered.
As a consequence of the amendment to Clause 33, Amendment 78 to Clause 34 makes it clear that any requirements imposed on a person which prohibit the person from coming within a specified distance of any specific premises should not, as far as practicable, interfere with the person’s work or their attendance at an educational establishment. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, agrees that these government amendments achieve the same outcome that he seeks with his Amendments 74, 76, 77 and 79.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, asked about the duties of employers. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted, we will debate that more fully when we come to Amendment 174. My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering asked about the pilot of the DAPO scheme. We are developing plans for a pilot of the DAPO, which will start as soon as practicable. We will address the training and guidance points before it begins, and of course the pilot scheme will inform the wider implementation of the policy.
With regard to the domestic abuse protection notice—the subject of Amendments 57 to 60—Clause 20 sets out that a notice automatically prohibits the perpetrator from being abusive towards the person to be protected by the notice. Additionally, Clause 21 provides that a notice may prevent the perpetrator contacting the victim. Both those provisions can include the victim’s workplace, or any other non-residential property or location. We believe that these provisions in the Bill are sufficient to protect victims at their place of work and are appropriate for a police-issued notice, pending the making of a substantive court order.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this important issue today. I trust that the two government amendments, along with my explanation of them and of domestic abuse protection notices, will provide the clarity they are seeking and that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I make it clear, if it was not already, that of course we welcome Amendment 75. I thought that naming victims who have been murdered at work or on their way to work makes the point very vividly. Rightly, it has been said that work can be a place of refuge when one’s home is not, but it is not the only place that should be specified, as noble Lords—particularly my noble friend Lord Paddick—have made very clear.
The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, referred to attendance at college, but a child’s school, when it is known that the other parent will be there at the start or end of a day, is also an issue. We have already talked during the passage of the Bill about a child being a witness and therefore also a victim, being drawn into the abuse. It strikes me, too, that in some circumstances it might well be helpful to a school to know that there is a prohibition on approaching the school premises.
If I may say so, the Minister’s explanation does not seem to answer the point. Clause 21 contains the words “may not contact the person”, but contact is different from coming within a given distance of a premises. Certainly the Government’s drafting for the order is better than the one that we put forward for notices, because it refers to premises of a specified description rather than requiring a particular address. That, as I say, is better, but having that in that part of the Bill must surely throw into doubt whether notices which are not just silent on the point but refer to premises in which the abused person lives can extend as far as my noble friend and I would wish, and, by implication, from what other noble Lords have said, as far as what they, too, regard as not just desirable but essential, given the detail into which the Bill goes. We welcome that but we would welcome more the bit in our amendment being added to it.
However, for the moment, I of course beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 57 withdrawn.
Amendments 58 to 60 not moved.
Clause 21 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 61. 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.
Clause 22: Matters to be considered before giving a notice
61: Clause 22, page 13, line 37, at end insert “and its provisions;”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment probes whether representations may be made about particular provisions of a notice.
My Lords, we have Amendments 61, 65, 66, 67 and 70 in this group and support Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, requiring a risk assessment, which I would have thought should be an automatic item on a check list.
Clause 22 deals with matters to be considered before giving a notice. We support a police officer being required, under the clause, to consider any representations about the giving of the notice—to use the words in the Bill—by the person to whom it is to be given. Amendment 61 is to establish that representations must be considered regarding the provisions of the notice. If that is not so, an officer could simply ignore representations about specific provisions, for instance—harking back to the previous debate—“But I work in the same building” as him or her.
Amendments 65, 66 and 67 are amendments to Clause 24, which deals with breach of a notice. Regarding Amendment 65, is it appropriate that, if it is believed that there is a breach of a notice and a person is arrested, he or she is automatically held in custody, albeit for a very short period—possibly overnight, sometimes over a weekend? I have not discussed this with my noble friend Lord Paddick, but is there a risk of the use of custody as a punishment in itself—“Let’s put him in a cell to cool down”, that sort of thing? Should this not, however, be at the discretion of the officer?
Clause 24(7) allows the court to impose requirements when remanding on bail. Amendment 66 probes whether a domestic abuse protection notice continues in any event, with its requirements, or are these transferred to become conditions of bail if the court so decides?
Amendment 67 addresses “interference” with witnesses. I guess that this term has a history in legislation, but the amendment probes whether it means or covers direct or indirect contact with witnesses, for instance via a third party or social media. The same point would apply, in the last of our amendments, to Clause 38. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 63 which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, would ensure that a risk assessment is carried out. That would consider any risk to the victim which was likely to occur due to the perpetrator being given notice that a DAPO is likely to be given to the perpetrator.
I presume that the amendments in this group are probing amendments—mine certainly is—going into the detail of how the DAPOs and notices are to be administered. It is right that these are only probing amendments because each case is different and, while there should be comprehensive guidelines on the way that the police operate these procedures, they need to be sufficiently flexible for police officers to make reasoned judgments. There is a very real point about risk assessments: it could be that the victim is put at greater risk through the perpetrator receiving a notice. Counter to that, it could also help the victim if an order is put on without her consent—but that is a matter for a separate amendment in a later group.
I support all the probing amendments in this group, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, for reasons of brevity and clarity, I will refer to person to whom a domestic abuse protection notice is given as the “perpetrator”, rather than the “alleged perpetrator” or “defendant”, and the person the notice seeks to protect as the “victim”, rather than the “complainant”, the “alleged victim” or “plaintiff”. Clearly it will be for the court to decide, ultimately, whether they are in fact perpetrator and victim.
As my noble friend Lady Hamwee outlined, Amendment 61 proposes the common-sense change to ensure that the victim is consulted not only about whether a domestic abuse prevention notice should be given but about what restrictions it should contain. The person to be protected is likely to be in the best position to advise the senior police officer as to the circumstances in which she may be vulnerable.
Amendment 65 questions whether someone arrested for breach of a domestic abuse protection notice, which is discretionary, in that a constable “may” arrest the person, must be held in custody until they are brought before a court, which would be mandatory. My noble friend is right: we did not collude on what we were going to say on this, but we come to the same conclusion. Surely there may be circumstances where the arrest of the individual has a sufficiently salutary effect as to make further breach unlikely and, therefore, remand in custody unnecessary. I will return to that in a moment.
If the person breaches the domestic abuse prevention notice, if they are arrested and taken before a court, the court may impose conditions to ensure that the person does not interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice. But Amendment 66 asks whether these conditions are in addition to, or replace, those set out in the DAPN. I am assuming that they are additional, in that the DAPN is designed to protect the victim, not just protect the course of justice. In that case, does the court need to ensure that the conditions it imposes are compatible with those of the DAPN, and does that need to be stated on the face of the Bill? As my noble friend explained, for completeness, our Amendments 67 and 70 suggest that the perpetrator should not contact witnesses, either directly or indirectly.
Amendment 63 is also in this group. I recall research in the United States some time ago, which found that the involvement of the police in cases of domestic abuse generally had a salutary effect on professional classes, who felt shame at their actions being made public, but an unwelcome effect on lower socio-economic groups, who were enraged that the police had become involved in their private business. I am not sure whether the class divide aspects are useful, but the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, has a point, and this should be taken into account by the police. My noble friend and I did not collude, I promise. I would hope that most senior police officers would automatically take this into account, particularly as they need to seek the opinion of the victim as to whether a notice should be served—a conversation that should draw out such risk factors. I am not sure that it needs to be on the face of the Bill.
My Lords, these probing amendments relate to the operation of domestic abuse protection notices. Clause 22 sets out the matters which the police must consider before issuing a notice. Among other things, the police must consider any representations made by the person on whom the notice is to be served. Amendment 61 seeks to probe whether any such representations can extend to the provisions included in the notice.
I agree fully with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that the police should give full consideration to any representations on all parts of the notice, including any of the restrictions, as listed in Clause 21, that they consider imposing.
The draft statutory guidance, published in advance of the Committee stage, covers the considerations that the police must make before a notice is authorised. Although the current draft makes no specific reference to the consideration of representations in respect of individual provisions to be included in a notice, I would be happy to ensure that this point is addressed in the final form of the guidance.
Amendment 63, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, seeks to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out before a notice is given by the police to an alleged perpetrator. I fully support the intention of this amendment, which is to ensure that full consideration is given to the risks to victims when deciding whether to issue a notice. I think that probably brings into relief the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Sadly, police enforcement action against a domestic abuse perpetrator can lead to the perpetrator blaming the victim and seeking to retaliate. That is why it so important that these notices and orders do not require the victim’s consent and that victims can therefore distance themselves from police action against the perpetrator. It is why it is extremely important that the notice can be used to provide immediate protection to the victim. In the aftermath of an incident, police can use a notice to evict the perpetrator from the victim’s home and prohibit the perpetrator from contacting the victim for up to 48 hours. Last Wednesday, I inadvertently referred to 24 hours, for which I apologise. This provides the victim with breathing space to consider their options and for police and specialist services to support the victim with safety planning.
The notice is followed by an application for a DAPO which is designed to provide longer-term protection and can be tailored to respond to the level of risk to the victim. Therefore, if police involvement in the case and the giving of a notice to the perpetrator have led to an escalation of risk to the victim, the DAPO can include provisions to address this risk.
Robust risk assessment is central to the police response to domestic abuse. The College of Policing guidance on domestic abuse stipulates that a risk assessment must be carried out in all domestic abuse cases. The importance of risk assessment when using a DAPN or order is also set out in the draft statutory guidance for police which has been published ahead of Committee. This guidance makes it clear that it is essential that police use appropriate specialist domestic abuse risk assessment or screening tools in consultation with partner agencies to safeguard the victim and reduce the risk of further harm by the perpetrator. The guidance also includes information on safety planning action that police should undertake alongside the notice and order.
Amendments 65, 66 and 67 deal with breach of a notice. Clause 24 provides that, where there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person is in breach of a notice, they can be arrested without warrant, held in custody and brought before a magistrate’s court within 24 hours, or in time to attend the scheduled hearing of the application for a domestic abuse protection order—whichever is sooner.
Amendment 65 would make the process of holding the perpetrator in custody following arrest for breach of a DAPN an optional matter for the police. Although I understand noble Lords’ concerns regarding the blanket nature of this provision, this amendment could put a victim at increased risk of harm, coercion or retribution once an alleged perpetrator is released. The amendment could lead to further breaches occurring while the court hearing is pending and increase the need for protective measures for victims during that period.
Clause 24 also provides that if the court decides to remand the person on bail, it can attach any conditions that are necessary to prevent the person obstructing the course of justice, for example interfering with witnesses. These are standard provisions, which largely replicate the approach taken for remand following breaches of protective orders, such as non-molestation orders, occupation orders and anti-social behaviour injunctions.
Amendment 66 seeks to test whether a notice would continue in force following the court imposing bail conditions under Clause 24. I can advise the noble Lord that if a court were to remand a person on bail under Clause 24, the notice would continue in effect until the application for a domestic abuse protection order had been determined or withdrawn.
Amendments 67 and 70 seek to probe what constitutes interference with a witness. The term “interference”, which is used in other legislation relating to bail requirements, would capture direct or indirect contact with the witness and is intended to protect against someone influencing a witness’s evidence, or dissuading a witness from giving evidence, for example.
I hope that those two explanations satisfy noble Lords and that consequently the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will be happy to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, these are indeed probing amendments. With our amendment to Clause 24, by using the term “may” rather than “must” about custody, we were proposing discretion, not precluding custody.
I am grateful to the Minister for her confirmation of various points and for her suggestion that the guidance is adjusted to cover the point made at the start of the debate. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 61.
Amendment 61 withdrawn.
Amendment 62 not moved.
Clause 22 agreed.
Clause 23: Further requirements in relation to notices
Amendment 63 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 64. 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.
64: Clause 23, page 14, line 23, leave out from “given” to the end of line 24 and insert “a notice of the hearing of any application for a domestic abuse protection order.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the name of Lord Paddick to Clause 26(3).
My Lords, we have Amendments 64, 68 and 69. Clause 26 takes us fully into the area of protection orders. Of course, we have been referring to them this afternoon. We are particularly concerned about how the Bill is constructed to mean—as I read it—that there is an inevitability about a protection order following a protection notice. I appreciate that there are stand-alone protection orders: those are not the ones I am referring to here.
Under Clause 26(3), the police must apply for an order if they have given a notice. Our Amendment 68 would change that “must” to “may”. Clause 27(1), to which we have tabled Amendment 69, makes a similar point. The wording in the Bill is “required … to apply”. Amendment 64 anticipates those two amendments. Of course, we are not arguing that there should never be protection orders, but does the Bill have the right balance? It seems to me that the Minister’s descriptions, in response to the last group of amendments, of situations in which a protection order could be used, make that point very well. I find it quite depressing to see that notices would always be regarded as precursors to an order. Do notices not have their own place in prevention? In other words, this group of amendments asks: is the balance in the Bill right? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 68. This is really a very short point; it is a question of flexibility. There may be circumstances where a protection order has been issued, but by the time it comes to a senior officer, circumstances have changed and it would be far better not to have it go forward. It would be wise, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said—I realise that this is a probing amendment—to have the flexibility in the Bill so that it is not the case that, if an order is issued by someone of junior rank, it is automatically supported by someone more senior.
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, Clause 26(3) states that if a domestic abuse protection notice is given by the police under Clause 20, the chief police officer must apply for a domestic abuse protection order. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, just said, what if it transpires that the circumstances have changed or that the police officer who gave the notice, for example, made a mistake? What if further evidence becomes apparent that means a domestic abuse protection order should not have been given or is no longer required? Can the Minister explain why the issuing of a domestic abuse protection notice is discretionary, but the application for a domestic abuse protection order, once a notice has been served, is mandatory? Hence our Amendment 68. As my noble friend explained, Amendments 64 and 69 are consequential.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, explained, these probing amendments explore whether an application for a domestic abuse protection order should be an automatic consequence of the police issuing a domestic abuse protection notice. Although I fully understand the motivation behind this—namely, to build further flexibility into these provisions—these amendments would remove a key strength of the process as we envisage it. The domestic abuse protection notice is designed to give victims immediate protection and breathing space from the perpetrator following a crisis incident. If it has been judged necessary to issue a notice, it will be evident from the situation that the victim needs longer-term protection. Consequently, it is right that, once a notice has been issued, an application for an order should follow automatically within 48 hours.
The perpetrator will, of course, be able to challenge in court whether it is necessary and proportionate for an order to be made to protect the victim from the risk of abuse and make representations about the duration of such an order. That is the time when some of the issues raised by noble Lords in this brief debate can be aired. This approach reflects the existing position with the domestic violence protection notice and order; as such, we see no good reason to change that approach with the new notice and order. It was welcomed by a number of organisations when the Bill was explored in the other place. The Magistrates Association, for example, in its written evidence, said that the approach had the potential to take the burden away from the victim of having to apply for the order; that, in some circumstances, will clearly be beneficial. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will accept that this is a valuable part of process and central to the core objective of providing protection to victims for as long as it is needed. I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the amendment has been described as probing, which it was in the sense of my wanting to understand the thinking behind the phraseology in the Bill. A probing amendment can, in the course of a Bill’s various stages, become substantive. The Minister says that the strength of the process is to provide a breathing space. We are not suggesting, in these amendments, that that should not be possible; we are suggesting that it should be a matter of discretion. It occurs to me that not making it discretionary could itself be a deterrent to a notice being issued. The provisions for protection of the victim and for taking the burden away from the victim are not affected by these amendments. I heard what the Minister had to say and we are not going to progress the matter with this toing and froing, so I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 64.
Amendment 64 withdrawn.
Clause 23 agreed.
Clause 24: Breach of notice
Amendments 65 to 67 not moved.
Clause 24 agreed.
Clause 25 agreed.
Clause 26: Meaning of “domestic abuse protection order”
Amendment 68 not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Clause 27: Applications where domestic abuse protection notice has been given
Amendment 69 not moved.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28: Remand under section 27(8) of person arrested for breach of notice
Amendment 70 not moved.
Clause 28 agreed.
Clauses 29 to 31 agreed.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 71. 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.
Clause 32: Making of orders without notice
71: Clause 32, page 20, line 21, leave out “just and convenient” and insert “practical and within five working days”
Member’s explanatory statement
This would ensure there is a maximum time (within 5 working days) in which a contested DAPO which was made without notice is brought back to court.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 71, 72 and 73. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for putting his name to Amendment 71; I thank both him and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for putting their names to Amendments 72 and 73.
These amendments as a group look at time limits and prohibitive requirements. Amendment 71 would ensure a maximum timeframe—five working days—within which a contested DAPO made without notice was brought back to court. There may be cases where a particular programme has to be assessed but the police may not know whether it is readily available, and it may take a certain amount of time to get an assessment for a programme. The purpose of this amendment is to put a time limit on that rather than it dragging on for a longer period.
Amendments 72 and 73 address the same issue but from a different perspective: that is, if there is a positive requirement as part of a DAPO, either to go on a course or to go to drug rehabilitation, the person who is to be submitted to the DAPO should agree to go on that course. While I understand that putting negative requirements on alleged perpetrators is something one can do without their permission, positive requirements will have a far greater likelihood of success if, first, they have been assessed and, secondly, the person agrees to go on whatever course it may be. There could be a number of different elements to this. I have mentioned drug and alcohol and domestic abuse courses, but there are also mental health issues with a number of the alleged perpetrators. All this needs to be taken into account, and that is the purpose of this group of amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the introduction of DAPOs but believe that, in certain respects, clearer rules are required to ensure that they are used in a practical and proportionate manner. It is in this constructive—I hope—spirit that I have put my name to the amendments in this group.
The potential scope of a DAPO is extraordinarily wide. Under Clause 33, it may include any prohibition or restriction considered necessary to protect a person from the risk of domestic abuse, expressly not limited to what are referred to as the “examples” of non-contact, residence and tagging provisions in subsections (4) to (6). I remind the Committee that even the types of measure that can be imposed on suspected terrorists under the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011—TPIMs—are exhaustively spelled out in the Schedule to that Act. They include some measures that one assumes would never be imposed in the context of domestic abuse, but the contrast in approach is striking none the less. With such a powerful and open-ended instrument as the DAPO, it is important that we get the safeguards right.
Of course, it will sometimes be necessary to impose the DAPO without notice. Amendment 71 would ensure that those cases did not fall between the cracks and were brought back to court as soon as practical, and in any event within five days. That matters for the reasons given just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and more broadly because DAPOs are highly personalised and highly intrusive. Without the presence of the person against whom the order is made, no one can be sure that the most effective and appropriate DAPO will have been arrived at first time around. Indeed, Clauses 31 and 34 acknowledge the principle that, if DAPOs are to be effective, they must be suitable and enforceable having regard to such matters as the work and educational commitments of their subjects, any other court orders or injunctions which may apply to them, and the interests of other persons including children.
As to Amendments 72 and 73, I comment only that in my days as a Crown Court recorder, it was axiomatic that one did not impose a positive requirement, such as a drug or alcohol rehabilitation order, or a mental health programme, in the absence of the intended subject of that requirement. These interventions are costly and, if they are to be effective, they require not just the presence but the consent and indeed the commitment of the subject. I have strayed there into Amendment 81, which we will come to shortly.
Self-evident as these matters may be to some, there is an advantage to putting them clearly in statute so that magistrates and their clerks are in no doubt as to the position. The amendments in this group are particularly compelling to me because they are supported by the Magistrates Association and by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in his capacity as a magistrate with current front-line experience. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on them.
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group; I put my name to the ones that I thought were more appropriate for me but I agree with them all. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, has said, it is of course true that these amendments are supported by the Magistrates Association. My reason for supporting them, apart from the fact that I am convinced that they are right, is that they come from the Magistrates Association, of which I had the honour to be president for almost 10 years. However, that experience is rather elderly and I am therefore very happy that these amendments are supported by an active, front-line, authoritative magistrate today.
My Lords, we are doing very well this afternoon so I will try not to delay your Lordships’ House very long. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, one of the great advantages of being on the front line as a magistrate at the moment, as in the case of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, is that you literally have current hands-on experience. One of the burdens you carry as a former Home Secretary—including one who had what is now the justice ministry under that umbrella—is that you ask yourself, “What would I do if I were the Home Secretary today?”
My response would be something like this. The amendments are logical, rational, humane and very difficult to argue with, but the one relating to a five-day timeframe is in the present circumstances unrealistic. We currently have a backlog of 64,000 outstanding cases, including many people on remand. We have a justice system that has been described in this House over recent days as being “justice delayed, justice denied”. I do not think it is realistic to specify five days, although there should be a timeframe within which the response is required in court with the person present.
That leads me to the second element. I want to come back and speak on Amendment 81 but, for now, I will just reflect. When I had responsibility for drugs policy, I was very clear that you needed the consent and commitment of the individual if they were to be offered treatment as opposed to punishment. However, when you offer people a positive road forward and require their genuine commitment to taking that up, you also need a fallback position when they do not do so. I hope that the Minister, when she responds, will be able to reflect on how we might meet the genuine rights of individuals in this case, with the imperative not to be taken for a ride.
My Lords, we support the approach of the amendments. As has been said, they are to be taken seriously; of course, all amendments are, but these not only incorporate theory but reflect practice. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about positive responses reminded me of how, in this situation as in many others unrelated to domestic abuse, there may be what I understand is called a “teachable moment”, when the person who can or should benefit from some sort of support or assistance is most receptive to it.
As we have made clear, and as I hope is implicit in all our amendments, we believe that the judicial process must be seen to be fair to both parties, otherwise confidence is rapidly lost. Giving a defendant an opportunity to make representations is part of that. I read that as part of the thrust of these amendments to what I think we all regard as very wide provisions. We are pleased that they have been brought forward and supported by such eminent signatories.
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part briefly in a debate led by the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Anderson, and by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I would sum up this debate by saying that we have heard some very wise words. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that these amendments were logical, rational and humane. He also entered the Covid caveat, and obviously we need a degree of flexibility over timing, bearing in mind the extraordinary overburdening of the justice system at the moment. I cannot help but refer your Lordships to the Times today, which lists the extremely large number of people being drafted in to be judges without any previous experience. We have to bear that in mind—but I endorse the spirit behind the amendments, and I will say no more.
My Lords, Amendment 71, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, would make the very sensible change from the vague requirement to allow the alleged perpetrator to make representations about the issue of a domestic abuse protection order from
“as soon as just and convenient”
in Clause 32(4)(a) to the more usual and precise “as soon as practicable”—or perhaps it should be “as soon as reasonably practicable”—to which Amendment 71 would add, “within five working days.” In addition to the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I would say that such orders can have profound, and not immediately obvious, unacceptable consequences for the perpetrator, alleged or otherwise—as my noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned when she said that the process needed to be fair to both sides.
Amendments 72 and 73 limit conditions imposed by a domestic violence protection order granted without notice to only negative or prohibitive requirements, not positive ones. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, drew the comparison with TPIMs; I shall draw a different comparison. This legislation appears to be similar to that governing knife crime prevention orders made under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. In the absence of the defendant, when an order is made without notice, only an interim knife crime prevention order can be granted, under Section 16(3)(a) of the 2019 Act, with proceedings on the knife crime prevention order itself being adjourned. The interim order can impose prohibitions that may be imposed under a full order, but none of the positive requirements. Why not here?
I ask the Minister, in support of this amendment, why such a distinction between, say, an interim domestic violence protection order and a full order is not part of this Bill. Consistency in legislation, particularly in the criminal law, where people must be able to understand clearly what is expected of them—an important part of the rule of law, to which this Government appear to be paying scant regard, judging by recent form—is important. It is not inconceivable that someone who is or has been subject to a knife crime prevention order may, at some stage, be subject to a domestic violence prevention order. Inconsistency such as that between this Bill and such recent legislation as the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 is unhelpful and unwelcome.
As the amendments have the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, of an active magistrate, of a former Crown Court recorder and of a former Home Secretary, it would, at least in normal times, be difficult for the Minister to disagree. But I am sure he will.
My Lords, in response to that last comment, it is almost impossible for me not to rise to the occasion. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for setting out his case for the amendments. Of course I have listened carefully to everything in the debate, particularly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said, the points have been put in a constructive spirit. I take on board, of course, the point made by a number of speakers, including in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that the amendments have the support of the Magistrates Association.
Clause 32 sets out when the court can make a domestic abuse protection order without prior notice of the proceedings having been given to the alleged perpetrator. Typically, as is also the case with existing protective orders, the courts will provide the alleged perpetrator with prior notice of an application for a domestic abuse protection order and of the hearing. However, like existing protective orders, a DAPO can be made without prior notification if there is an urgent need. Clause 32 sets out that a court may make such an order without prior notification
“where it is just and convenient to do so”.
That is in subsection (1).
Clause 32 also specifies, in subsection (3), that before making an order without prior notice,
“the court must have regard to all the circumstances”
of the case. Without limiting the breadth of that requirement, the clause then goes on to list a number of specific factors, three of which I will draw attention to. The first is
“any risk that, if the order is not made immediately,”
the alleged perpetrator will cause significant harm to the victim. The second is whether the victim is likely to be
“deterred or prevented from pursuing the application if an order is not made immediately”.
The third is
“whether there is reason to believe that”
the alleged perpetrator
“is aware of the proceedings but is deliberately evading service”.
Those provisions are crucial for ensuring that the victim can obtain the protection they need in all circumstances.
However, we agree, of course, that the alleged perpetrator should be able to exercise their right to make a representation to the court after such an order—an order without notice—has been made. That is a basic principle of justice: courts normally operate on what has traditionally been called audi alteram partem—it is a pleasure that one can still use Latin in the court of Parliament, even if you cannot use it in the courts of justice any more—which obviously means “both sides must be heard”. Where that has not been the case, for reasons of urgency or otherwise, a hearing where both or all parties are present is then convened. Therefore, Clause 32 already specifies that, when the court makes an order without prior notice, a return hearing must be scheduled
“as soon as just and convenient”.
I recognise that the noble Lord’s Amendment 71 sets a time limit of five working days; I understand his reasons for doing this, but there are a number of problems with this approach, and I shall set out three. First, the amendment would make our approach inconsistent with other protective orders, which require return hearings to take place as soon as is just and convenient. We do not see reason to take a different approach on that point for DAPOs.
Having said that, each sort of protective order must be looked at in its own circumstances, along with the mischief and harm that the order is seeking to address. Therefore, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—that there should be a direct read-across from knife crime prevention orders as to positive and negative factors or the phrase “as soon as practicable”—the problem with such analogies is that they are different. One must look at each sort of order on its own terms.
Secondly, the period of five days is somewhat arbitrary. As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, in the current circumstances five days might or might not be realistic. I will resist the opportunity to respond to his points about backlogs in the justice system in this short debate; I have done so elsewhere. I will also resist responding to my noble friend Lord Cormack’s point about the article in the Times, which I have only skimmed and have not had a chance to read in detail. I suggest that it is better to have a just and convenient timescale.
This leads me to my third point: we would not want a court to be, or to feel, forced to hold a hearing within the five-day period if a slightly longer period might be more suitable—for example, if the respondent’s preferred counsel were available on the sixth day but not the fifth. Another example might be the judge who granted the initial order being available on the sixth day but not the fifth, when it might well be in the interests of the parties and the justice system for the same judge to hear the matter on an all-parties basis. Therefore, for those reasons, while recognising the reasons behind the amendment, we are not persuaded that it is required.
I now turn to Amendments 72 and 73 to Clause 33. The existing provisions in Clause 33 enable the court to impose “any requirements … necessary” for the protection of the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse. This includes both prohibitions and positive requirements. Any order the court makes must be necessary and proportionate to protect the victim. Although I, of course, respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, while sitting as a recorder, that one would not normally make a positive order in the absence of a perpetrator, it may be important to do so in certain circumstances, and the courts should have the flexibility so to act.
I agree with the noble Lord’s view that, while it is important that the court can impose the necessary requirements by making a DAPO, we must ensure that the alleged perpetrator is not punished for breaching any requirements they were not aware of. This is especially the case as a breach of positive or restrictive requirements may be a criminal offence. In this context, it is important to take on board the point of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that we must not, if I may adapt his phrase, be taken for a ride in this important area.
For this reason, Clause 37 sets out that, where an order is made in the alleged perpetrator’s absence, the person does not commit an offence as regards breach of any of the requirements imposed by the order, whether restrictive or positive, until that person is aware of the existence of the order. This approach is consistent with other orders in this area. I assure all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who made this point, that these are serious amendments, as has been said. We have considered them extremely carefully.
In the light of the explanations I have given this afternoon, I hope that the noble Lord is now content to withdraw his amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his application, but I have to confess to being slightly confused or, at least, lacking some detail from his arguments. At one point, he said that the wording in the Bill is similar to other protective orders and that is why the Government do not support the amendments; yet, at others, he said that the reason why it is not consistent with other protective orders is that they are different.
I do not expect the noble Lord to be able to give me chapter and verse here and now as to why knife crime protection orders are different from domestic abuse protection orders, but I would be very grateful if he could write to me to explain why, on the one hand, the Government argue that the wording needs to be the same as other protective orders, while on the other, they argue that the amendments are faulty because they are different from other protective orders.
My Lords, there will be correlations and differences between various orders in this context. I can certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord on this point, but I hope I can go one better: if, in addition to a letter, a conversation would be helpful, I am very happy to offer that as well.
My Lords, I will start with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has just made about the read-across between knife crime prevention orders and DAPOs. I would certainly be very interested in attending the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has just offered because the earlier point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made was strong: that it is reasonably likely that perpetrators might be subject to both of those orders, so there is merit in having a similar approach, whether it is a knife crime prevention order or a DAPO. I would be very happy to join the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has offered.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. I was interested in the comparison made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, between these orders and TPIMs. He said that these are much more widely drawn, which was an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, sought to contrast treatment and punishment, which, I suppose, is a theme here—although we are not dealing with convicted criminals but prevention orders. The point I invariably make when I am sentencing in court or making an order like this is that, even if it is a punishment, it is for the benefit of the people who have positive requirements made of them in whatever that sentence might be. When I make that point, I invariably get a nod from the person I am sentencing, so people understand that point, in my experience.
I listened carefully to the explanation and summary given by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, but I think I have quite a strong pack of cards, if I can put it like that, and although I will withdraw my amendment I may consider coming back at a later stage.
Amendment 71 withdrawn.
Clause 32 agreed.
Clause 33: Provision that may be made by orders
Amendments 72 to 74 not moved.
75: Clause 33, page 20, line 39, at end insert—
“(c) may not come within a specified distance of any other specified premises, or any other premises of a specified description, in England or Wales.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment enables a court making a domestic abuse protection order to prohibit the person against whom it is made from coming within a specified distance of other premises, in addition to those where the person to be protected by the order lives.
Amendment 75 agreed.
Amendments 76 and 77 not moved.
Clause 33, as amended, agreed.
Clause 34: Further provision about requirements that may be imposed by orders.
78: Clause 34, page 21, line 12, leave out from “with” to “an” in line 13 and insert “the person’s work or with the person’s attendance at”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment makes clear that requirements imposed on a person by a domestic abuse protection order (such as, for example, requirements prohibiting the person from coming within a specified distance of particular premises) must, so far as practicable, not interfere with the person’s work or with the person’s attendance at an educational establishment.
Amendment 78 agreed.
Amendment 79 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 80. 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 during the debate.
80: Clause 34, page 21, line 21, at end insert “and probation or youth offending teams, as appropriate.”
Member’s explanatory statement
This would provide that evidence provided to courts includes evidence from probation or youth offending teams.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 80, 81 and 82. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, who have also put their names to them. Amendment 80 would ensure that evidence which is provided to the courts before imposing a DAPO includes evidence from probation or youth offending teams where appropriate. Amendment 81 would provide that drug, alcohol and mental health treatment should be imposed as a requirement only where the recipient has agreed to attend, as referred to in an earlier group. I believe that that would maximise the effectiveness of any such programmes.
Amendments 83 and 84 would prevent an indefinite DAPO being imposed and place a limit of two years on them, which could provide for extensions to be made on application. This would also, if they so wished, allow courts to put in place a review of hearings if appropriate. In the court system we have restraining orders and non-molestation orders which can be, and usually are, imposed for a limited period, but they can be imposed for an unlimited period. It is certainly my experience that practices vary across different courts. There may be reasons for that: for example, when sitting in a domestic abuse court, a more arduous restraining order might be put in place than in a court that does not specialise in domestic abuse. Either way, we are not talking about people who are convicted of offences—it may be somebody who is of good character.
To put a maximum of two years in place would be a safeguard, particularly since a further application can always be made and so that these orders do not just run on and on. I had an individual come to court with a restraining order on him that he wanted taken off. His problem was that he did not know the address of his former partner, so he had no way of contacting her to apply to get the restraining order removed, and we could do nothing to help him. Given that we are not dealing with convicted offenders, a two-year limit would be appropriate for the DAPO. I beg to move.
I support these amendments, which are supported by the Magistrates’ Association, because it is very clear that they will have taken the view of a number of experienced magistrates in what they have formulated. It is in the nature of this order that it is an interim order, because it is made on the basis that it will be reconsidered after the representations, if any, that the respondent makes. It is essential that in due course an opportunity is given for that as part of the order. In due course, as we suggested in a previous group of amendments, it will be modified to five days and that is going to happen. Therefore, it is an interim order in its nature, even if it is not called that in these proposals.
It is important to note that this application continuation will take place in a hearing which will normally be extremely short. It will not be in the same set of court cases involving any kind of substantial and long hearing and is not likely to be very much affected by the present situation with regard to criminal cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, mentioned being taken for a ride. It is also possible, at least with some of these orders, that a person may be very willing to take it on. I had experience, a long time ago now, of a case in which a young mother in Glasgow undertook to attend a very good programme for dealing with addiction. I am certain that she was determined to go through with it, because it was much better than having a sentence which might involve separation from her child. However, I learned some time after I had made the arrangements with her and got her fervent consent, that she had left the programme. That can happen, not as a deliberate act, but as a consequence of the power of addiction to alter a person’s will at a particular time.
I support these amendments and I am glad that they are supported by an active and leading magistrate who has current experience of these matters.
My Lords, I have put my name to Amendments 81, 83 and 84. I addressed Amendment 81 when speaking to Amendments 72 and 73 in the last group. The Minister suggested in response that there were certain circumstances in which it might be appropriate to impose a drugs or alcohol rehabilitation order, or a mental health disposal, without the commitment, consent or even knowledge of the intended subject—at least, I think that is what he said. I should be interested to hear him elaborate on the sort of circumstances he has in mind.
As to the proposal of a statutory time limit in Amendments 83 and 84, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has said from experience about the practice in comparable contexts, and what the Magistrates’ Association has said about the desirability of allowing the court to put in place review hearings if appropriate. I will add one or two further points.
Clause 36(5) recognises that an electronic monitoring requirement should be authorised for no more than 12 months, yet there is no time limit on the other provisions of a DAPO despite their unlimited range. I expect the Minister will refer to the right of a person to apply for the variation or discharge of a DAPO under Clause 42, but that is a haphazard safeguard and one that the Bill itself acknowledges is not sufficient where tagging is concerned. Something more is required, and I suggest that the amendments provide it.
Finally, there also seems to be force in the other amendments in this group. The case for Amendment 86 in particular seems unanswerable. I know from our time together at the Bar that the Minister is more than capable of rising to any occasion, but I hope that in relation to this group he will find at least some of the amendments to be uncontentious.
My Lords, we are happy again to be working alongside the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. We have Amendments 82 and 85 to 88 in this group.
Amendment 82 is about choreography. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has just referred to Clause 42, which provides for the variation of orders as well as their discharge, and Clause 36, as has been discussed, provides for their duration. This amendment would establish—I am seeking to avoid the word “probe”—whether the new order under Clause 36(2) could have different provisions from the original. I assume that it could and that there could be variations. Could there be overlapping orders? Again, I assume that is possible, though it would be confusing. Could there be a lacuna—a gap? Obviously an order could end and new abuse give rise to a new order, so could that be an unintended gap? That is unlikely, I guess, because the Bill seems to have been meticulously drafted, but I do want to be sure.
Amendment 85 is one of our most significant amendments. A protection notice may be given by a police officer who
“has reasonable grounds for believing that P has been abusive”
within the meaning of the Bill, and that the notice is necessary. An officer who
“has reasonable grounds for believing”—
the same terminology—that P is in breach of a notice may arrest him, and that leads on to a hearing before the magistrates. The court may make a civil order if it is satisfied, this time “on the balance of probabilities”—that is, the civil standard—that an order is necessary and appropriate.
It is what follows from that which is the subject of Amendment 85. Under Clause 37, P commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, P fails to comply with the requirement of an order. The penalties are up to five years imprisonment, an unlimited fine or both. Our amendment would require the court to be satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt”—the criminal standard—that P has, without reasonable excuse, failed to comply with the requirement of an order. I am aware that the Stalking Protection Act 2019 is not dissimilar from this Bill in its approach; indeed, there is a good deal of other legislation in the same sort of area and I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Paddick will refer to it, but that does not allay our concerns.
I hope it will be understood that we are looking at the issue neutrally. The Minister can advise me whether the term “audi alteram partem” is appropriate here. We do not take the side of the perpetrator, but we want to explore what the appropriate burden of proof is when one gets to an order and its breach—and indeed, I have to say, to explore what the standard of proof is, because the law should be both fair and clear. The legislation is silent; no doubt that means that we should understand it. I am sure there is a Latin tag for that as well.
I have assumed that there is no requirement for the criminal standard since nothing is spelled out. When my noble friend and I discussed this with the Minister, it was on the basis of a civil standard, which I think he was also working to, although it was a very rushed discussion. Whatever I am pointed to, I am very uneasy about the application of significant penalties on the basis of the civil standard—or is it the civil standard? The letter dated 26 January that noble Lords received from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said:
“Criminal sanctions will only be imposed following a conviction for the breach offence in the criminal court, which would need to be proved to the criminal standard in the usual way.”
That was in correspondence. I do not think it is referred to in the draft guidance that we have seen but, whether it is in correspondence or in guidance, I believe that the legislation should be completely clear.
Amendment 87 is in the same area. It would import “reasonably believes” into an application for a warrant for arrest for a breach under Clause 38, as for a breach of notice under Clause 24, rather than simply the term “considers”.
I turn to Amendment 86. Under Clause 37, for there to be an offence of breach the person must be aware of the existence of an order. The amendment would add that P must be aware of the requirements of the order if he is liable to be convicted of breaching a requirement—for instance, approaching particular premises—because he may be unaware of the requirements. The Minister may tell us that this is implied and that no court would convict if the defendant, or whatever I should be calling him in this situation, were not aware—in which case, of course, why not say so? Or would he say that this would call into question equivalent provisions elsewhere?
Finally, I turn to Amendment 88. Clause 42, to which we have referred, deals with the variation and discharge of orders. The court must hear from a person for whose protection the order was made. That was referred to earlier today as potentially being a burden on that person. We suggest that this should depend on whether the person wishes to be heard; that is the formula that applies to the police here. Are the Government not confident that the court would be able to decide for itself that it was not necessary? Are they not confident that the person may be able to determine this for herself or himself? We accept that a person may be vulnerable and require support or special measures, but it seems a little patronising to deal with the matter in this way. We would like to think that the person’s agency was respected. In fact, the letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, which I have just mentioned, and the Bill recognise this by referring to contempt of court as “an alternative”. Can the Minister tell the Committee what the impact would be of proceeding on the basis of contempt of court? Is this a model used elsewhere, and what is the experience of it?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the second time today. She talked about being fair and clear. I say to her that fairness and clarity are two of the hallmarks that I associate with her. She is certainly one of the most industrious Members of your Lordships’ House, and she has made some extremely telling points.
I want briefly to address some remarks to the Minister. Although he is extremely eloquent, I thought he was a little dismissive of the force and candour of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, when he introduced the last amendment, and did not pay sufficient regard to my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, with their amazingly comprehensive experience. He was also a little dismissive of the fact that these amendments, like the last ones, come with the endorsement of the Magistrates Association—and of course the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is himself an active magistrate. Those who are doing these things on the front line bring a real experience that should not be lightly dismissed.
I suggest to the Minister that the amendments are eminently fair, reasonable and sensible and that, although he may not wish to accept them all, their spirit should be incorporated in the Bill; I think that would make it a better one. I speak as a non-lawyer and as someone who has never been a magistrate but who, as a constituency Member of Parliament for 40 years, saw quite a number of people who would have fallen within the scope of this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I will make a rare comment for Committee: I think the clauses are very well written and could go unamended. They do what needs to be done and do it well, so I congratulate the Minister and officials on them. I hope they will make it easier and more straightforward for people to get legal protections against an abusive partner or ex-partner.
The one area I am a bit concerned about—which might be because I do not understand its import—is Amendment 81 from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I feel it is inappropriate to put any sort of coercive requirement on people to attend drug, alcohol and mental health programmes. These are things that people should enter into willingly; it would be dangerous to start imposing criminal penalties on people for not taking them up. I do not understand this amendment, because they are made to go to them only if they agree to them. I would like a bit of explanation on this.
Although drugs and mental health can be causative factors in domestic abuse, it is better to place the restrictions on the abusive behaviours themselves rather than to try to force people to obtain help. This is especially true as the success of these programmes can be quite variable. Merely attending a programme is not a magic cure for addictions or mental illness; it is much better to focus on outcomes and effects rather than simply forcing someone to follow a set process. This is not to say that these programmes should not be well supported and strongly encouraged—they absolutely should—but criminalising addiction and mental illness is a dangerous and, I think, unhappy policy to pursue. I look forward to the Minister providing assurances on this issue.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, particularly when she is in full approval mode—I have no problem agreeing with her. I also have no problem agreeing with her concerns around Amendment 81. I am in two minds on this; like her, I wish to hear my noble friend give examples of where these courses might be necessary for those who do not volunteer for them. I can understand that the effectiveness of a course is not always guaranteed and that, if someone goes on it unwillingly, that does not necessarily mean that they will benefit from it, although they might. I would like to probe that; I heard what was said in the previous group on this, but I ask for a little further clarification.
My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for the length of my speech; there are too many issues to reasonably consider in one group.
Amendments 80 and 81 add to the requirement to receive evidence about the suitability and enforceability of a requirement for the perpetrator to do something under the domestic abuse protection order from the person responsible for supervising compliance with that requirement. Amendment 80 suggests that probation or youth offending teams should give evidence as appropriate and Amendment 81 suggests, if the requirement is to attend substance misuse or mental health programmes, that these can be imposed only with the consent of the perpetrator.
On Amendment 80, it is a requirement under Sections 15(5) and 20(2) of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 that the youth offending team—established under Section 39 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998—in whose area it appears to the prosecution that the defendant lives is consulted before making an application for a knife crime prevention order. Why not have that in this Bill and why not, as Amendment 80 suggests, consult the probation service in relation to adult offenders? Can the Minister yet again explain the inconsistency in approach between this Bill and the Offensive Weapons Act 2019? I hear what he says about protective orders being different, but both DAPOs and offensive weapon prevention orders are violence prevention orders, potentially aimed at similar offenders and more alike than perhaps he would want to admit.
On Amendment 81, I agree that enforced substance misuse programmes are less likely to be successful, although I am not sure about compulsory mental health programmes. In either case, surely any suitable person designated as being responsible for supervising compliance will have knowledge and expertise in these areas and will be able to advise the court as to whether they are likely to be suitable if the perpetrator does not agree to comply with them. As such, I am not sure it is necessary to include these amendments in the Bill.
Clause 42 allows for a domestic abuse protection order to be varied or discharged. If a magistrates’ court made the order, the change can made by a magistrates’ court in the same local justice area; otherwise, generally speaking, it must be made by the court that imposed it. Clause 36(1) and (2) state that a domestic abuse protection order takes effect on the day it is made unless there is already one in force, in which case it can take effect when the existing order ends. So, it can come into effect on a future date if required.
Amendment 82, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee explained, is probing to ask whether a DAPO with the same conditions would be dealt with under Clause 42—the variation—rather than Clause 36, to which the answer is presumably that it depends on whether it is being imposed by the same court or a different one. If it is the same court, it can be dealt with under Clause 42, but if it is a different court—for example, a family court or the High Court—which believes the order should continue after the date an order imposed by a magistrates’ court ends, it can do so under Clause 36. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s view.
Amendments 83 and 84 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, place a limit of two years on a domestic abuse protection order, instead of one that can be in place indefinitely, and the order may be reviewed at review hearings which the recipient can be required to attend. Times and circumstances change. For example, the victim may move away and any restriction preventing the perpetrator visiting her home may become redundant. It also allows for rehabilitation of the perpetrator who moves on with their life and no longer presents a danger to the victim. I accept that it is open to the court to discharge the order on application from an interested party, but this safeguard would ensure that domestic violence protection orders are not allowed to continue through neglect rather than because they are necessary.
The Offensive Weapons Act 2019, Section 23(3), states:
“A knife crime prevention order must specify the period for which it has effect, which must be a fixed period of at least 6 months, and not more than 2 years”.
Why do we not have the same for domestic abuse protection orders? We support these amendments.
Clause 37(2) rightly states that the perpetrator does not commit an offence of engaging in behaviour contrary to the requirements imposed by a domestic violence protection order unless he
“was aware of the existence of the order”.
The perpetrator may be aware that a DAPO is in existence but may not know the requirements in that order. Our Amendment 86 just as rightly suggests that the perpetrator needs to be aware of the restrictions before he can be found guilty of breaching them, not simply that an order is in existence, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee has explained.
The crucial question for the Minister is this. An offence is committed by a person who is subject to a domestic abuse protection order if, without reasonable excuse, the person fails to comply with any requirement imposed by the order; so if our Amendment 86 is not necessary, because it would be a reasonable excuse if the perpetrator did not know what the requirements were, why is Clause 37(2) necessary? Surely, not knowing that a DAPO exists is also a reasonable excuse for not complying with it. The Minister might say that if the perpetrator knows that an order is in place but does not know the requirements, he is under an obligation to find out, but he may have heard of the existence of the order from someone who does not know the details.
In short, should it not simply be left to a court to decide whether a perpetrator has a reasonable excuse for breaching a DAPO, where not knowing of the order’s existence or not knowing its requirements are simply examples of what amounts to a reasonable excuse? Our Amendment 85 clarifies that the criminal offence of a breach of a DAPO needs to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
When we debated knife crime prevention orders, we discussed whether the breach of what is effectively a civil order, granted on the balance of probabilities, should result in a criminal offence rather than a fine or term of imprisonment for contempt of court, but without a criminal conviction being recorded against the perpetrator. As we discussed then, Parliament changed a similar regime introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, whereby breach of civil orders resulted in the criminalisation of many young people with no previous convictions. Parliament replaced ASBOs with anti-social behaviour injunctions and community protection notices, by means of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. Only breach of a criminal behaviour order, which can be made only after a person has been convicted of an offence, is in itself a criminal offence.
No doubt the Minister will quote from a High Court case in which the right to convict someone of a criminal offence for breach of a civil order, potentially based on hearsay evidence, was challenged but was not successful, on the basis that the validity of that hearsay evidence can be challenged when the criminal case is considered. But Parliament ignored that case and prohibited the criminal conviction of someone for breaching a civil order, in 2014, in relation to anti-social behaviour. The Minister might further say that contempt of court can have sanctions similar to those imposed following a criminal conviction, in that a fine or imprisonment could follow, but the difference is that there is no criminal record created as a result of breaching a civil order.
Based on hearsay evidence and potentially a malicious allegation, someone could be given a domestic abuse protection order, breach of which may result in a criminal conviction, an unlimited fine and a substantial prison sentence, as my noble friend pointed out. When the same point was debated in relation to knife crime prevention orders, the Government claimed that the police said that a criminal sanction was necessary, rather than a civil penalty. Again, the Government acted on the uncorroborated assertion of an operational partner, as we have recently seen in the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill. Can the Minister explain why it is necessary for a criminal record to be created when there is a breach of the civil domestic abuse protection order, when it is not necessary in relation to anti-social behaviour injunctions and community protection notices?
Our Amendment 87 is on the separate issue of the degree of certainty that a person must have that the perpetrator has breached a domestic violence protection order before they can apply to the relevant judge for a warrant to arrest the perpetrator for failing to comply with the order, or is otherwise in contempt of court in relation to the order. Clause 38(3) states that the applicant “considers” that the perpetrator has breached the order, whereas we suggest an objective test of “reasonably believes” is more appropriate. The issue of the warrant is a matter for the relevant judge on the basis of “reasonable grounds for believing”.
I question whether arrest by warrant is necessary or desirable. It could take some time, and money if the victim is to be represented in court and is not in receipt of legal aid, and could be daunting if the victim is to represent herself. The purpose of a domestic violence protection order is to impose any requirement necessary to protect the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of abuse. Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 provides that a constable who
“has reasonable grounds for suspecting that an offence has been committed … may arrest without a warrant anyone whom he has reasonable grounds to suspect of being guilty of”
that offence if, among other things, it is necessary
“to protect a child or other vulnerable person from the person in question”.
The subject of a DAPO is already considered by a court to be vulnerable—vulnerable to domestic abuse.
Another reason to arrest without warrant might be that it is necessary to allow the prompt investigation of the offence or the conduct of the person in question. Surely, if the victim under the protection of a DAPO, or anyone else with relevant information, believes that the perpetrator has breached the order, they should inform the police, who have ample powers to take immediate steps to arrest the perpetrator. Any delay, such as would occur if a warrant has to be applied for, could place the victim in danger. The very existence of this application for a warrant route could endanger victims. Can the Minister explain why this provision is included in the Bill?
Where a variation or discharge of an order is sought, Clause 42(4)(b) states that, where the victim protected by a DAPO
“is seeking to discharge the order, or to remove or make less onerous any requirement imposed by the order”,
the court must hear from her. Our Amendment 88 makes two points. First, can the Minister reassure the Committee that a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse is not going to be forced to appear in court? The clause says the court must hear from her. I understand that it is important that the court receive a reassurance that the victim is happy for the order to be weakened or removed, but surely her views can be represented by way of a statement read out in court.
Secondly, if the victim wishes to make representations, she must be heard whatever the variations are, including those that impose further restrictions or make them more onerous. Her testimony could make the difference between the stricter measures being agreed to or not. Conversely, it could be within her knowledge alone that the proposed stricter measures might tip the perpetrator over the edge in terms of non-compliance and, therefore, increase the danger she is in.
I apologise for the time I have taken, but as I said at the beginning, there are too many issues in this group to be debated together. I would welcome the Minister’s response in writing, as I think it may be unreasonable to expect him to respond now to every point on which I seek answers from the Government.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken to these amendments. Perhaps I may be forgiven for taking up the invitation from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to write to him. He is, with respect, entirely correct that there are a number of issues here. He asked specific questions to which he is entitled to receive specific answers. While I will do my best to answer some of his questions in my remarks, I will need to go through Hansard to pick up others and write to him.
These amendments relate to different aspects of how the domestic abuse protection order will be made. To be clear, and in response to a point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, these amendments relate to how DAPOs will operate when they are made normally, not only in the exceptional case when they are made on a “without notice” basis. I hope the Committee will permit me to go through the amendments in turn.
I hope that nobody understood my comments in the last debate to be dismissive, to use the word of my noble friend Lord Cormack. I referred to the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, as a recorder, the vast experience of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern, and the fact that the amendments are supported by the Magistrates’ Association to underline that we have given these amendments the most careful consideration. I am sure that all noble Lords who have had significant engagement with my noble friend Lady Williams and me will accept we have gone out of our way to hear their concerns and engage with them.
On Amendments 80 and 81, Clause 34 sets out that a responsible person must be specified for each positive requirement imposed by a DAPO. The responsible person will have a duty to make the necessary arrangements to deliver the requirement, promote compliance and inform the police of any breaches.
Clause 34 also sets out that the courts must receive evidence about the suitability and enforceability of positive requirements from the responsible person before making an order. The responsible person will typically be a representative from the organisation delivering the particular programme that the person subject to the DAPO is required to complete, such as an organisation that delivers a perpetrator behaviour change programme or a drugs or alcohol treatment programme.
Amendment 80 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, would require the court also to consider evidence from probation or youth offending teams as appropriate, alongside evidence provided by the responsible person. While I agree with the noble Lord that the court should consider all the evidence necessary prior to making an order, I consider that the evidence provided by the responsible person will be sufficient to establish the suitability and enforceability of positive requirements without the specific requirement for further evidence from probation or youth offending teams. We do not consider it appropriate to require evidence from youth offending teams, as a DAPO cannot be made against a person below the age of 18.
I agree with the general aim of Amendment 81, which is to maximise the effectiveness of the requirement to attend drug, alcohol or mental health programmes. However, as I have just mentioned, Clause 34 already specifies that the court must consider the evidence provided by the responsible person in relation to the suitability and enforceability of the requirements prior to making a DAPO that imposes positive requirements. I understood that to be a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. The court will also be able to take into consideration any representations made by the person against whom the order is to be made, which I hope that responds to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. Given these provisions, I do not believe that the specific agreement of the alleged perpetrator is also required to maximise the effectiveness of such programmes. I hope that that responds to one of the points of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich.
Amendment 82 relates to Clause 36, subsection (1) of which provides:
“A domestic abuse protection order takes effect on the day on which it is made.”
Clause 36(2) provides that where a DAPO already exists, the courts may make the new DAPO take effect when the existing DAPO ceases to have effect. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that there should be no gap in the protection provided where there is a transition from an old to a new DAPO. However, as Clause 36 already provides for this, we do not see reason to make the change proposed in Amendment 82.
As for the explanatory statement to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, on whether the same provisions could be imposed under both orders, that is a matter for the court, which would look at all the circumstances of the case. One must remember in this context that the two orders might be sought and obtained by different applicants. I hope that that also answers the points of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, but if, on a reading of the debate, it does not, I will, if I may, write to her with any additional points.
On Amendments 83 and 84, Clause 36 also provides that the DAPO can be flexible in duration, so that longer-term protection can be provided to victims if needed. I understand the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and other noble Lords about DAPOs being applied indefinitely, but the flexibility of the DAPO, including its duration, is central to its effectiveness, particularly when compared to existing orders. By contrast, the two-year limit proposed by the noble Lord is both hard-edged and somewhat arbitrary.
It is vital that victims can be provided with longer-term protection when needed. Clause 36 gives the court several options so that it may determine the duration of each DAPO based on the facts of the case before it. The order can therefore be in place for a specified period until the occurrence of a specified event or further order of the court. To give noble Lords a simple example: the victim is attending a course of study, which has two years and three months to go. Is she to be required to obtain a two-year order, which might prevent the perpetrator going near that place of study, then have to come back to obtain a further order for three months? If that were to be the case, one would ask, rhetorically, why it should be so.
As set out in Clause 36, the court may specify within the DAPO itself different durations for different requirements imposed by the order. The courts may also vary or remove certain requirements or discharge the order entirely where it is satisfied that the order is no longer necessary for the protection of the victim. It is important to note that the Bill already contains various mechanisms to protect the right of the person subject to the DAPO. Under Clause 33, the court can only impose requirements that it considers necessary to protect the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse. Clause 34 requires the court to avoid, so far as is practicable, imposing any requirements that conflict with the person’s religious beliefs or interfere with their work or attendance at an educational establishment. Clause 36, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, noted, provide a maximum duration for any electronic monitoring requirements of 12 months.
I move on to Amendments 85 and 87 to Clause 37. The clause provides that failure to comply with any requirement imposed by a DAPO without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both. That sends a strong message to perpetrators that non-compliance will not be tolerated. As specified in Clause 37, where a DAPO has been made without notice, the behaviour of the perpetrator can be considered a breach only if, at the time of the behaviour, the alleged perpetrator was aware of the existence of the DAPO.
I agree with the general aims of the amendments proposed by the noble Lord to Clause 37, which are to ensure procedural fairness so that criminal liability and punishment for breach of a DAPO will occur only where the breach is proved to the criminal standard of proof and where the perpetrator knows of the order’s existence. However, I do not believe that the amendments proposed are necessary. The criminal standard of proof—I am afraid that I do not have a Latin tag here for the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee—will apply automatically in any criminal prosecution for breach of a DAPO. As already mentioned, Clause 37 already specifies that the behaviour of the perpetrator can be considered a breach of the DAPO only if the perpetrator is aware of the order at the time of the relevant behaviour.
Let me say an extra word about each of those points. First, we believe that the civil standard of proof is appropriate for making what is a civil order. This is the position taken with a number of existing protection orders of this kind. I recognise that those on the now somewhat virtual Liberal Democrat Benches do not support this approach as a matter of principle and I understand their reasoning, but I do not agree with it. The principle that I have set out that a civil standard of proof is appropriate for such orders is now firmly established as part of our legal framework.
It is worth noting in this context that to the extent that the Joint Committee considered this question when examining the draft Bill, it is evident from its report that it had no issue with applying the civil standard of proof. For example, at paragraph 84 of the report, the Joint Committee said:
“The standard of proof required for a DAPO is the civil standard (balance of probabilities) which means a DAPO may be made in criminal proceedings even if the perpetrator has been acquitted.”
A similar point was made at paragraph 107. I have no doubt that if the Joint Committee had any concerns about applying the civil standard it would have made that clear.
One of the strongest elements of a DAPO is that it is a civil order, made on the civil standard of proof. That means that if a victim is not able to, or chooses not to, seek remedy through the criminal justice system, they can still access protection from the court. At the same time, we want to send a clear message to perpetrators that breach of an order will be acted on, which is why we have provided that breach of an order will be a criminal offence. As noble Lords will know, that is already the case with many existing civil orders, including restraining orders, non-molestation orders, knife crime prevention orders and serious crime prevention orders.
Breach of a DAPO does not lead automatically to criminal sanctions. The breach would need to be reported to the police, who would then investigate and refer to prosecutors for a decision on whether to pursue a prosecution. Criminal sanctions would be imposed only following a conviction for the breach offence in the criminal court, which would need to be proved to the criminal standard in the usual way.
The second point is the requirement proposed by the amendment that a perpetrator must be aware of “the requirements” of a DAPO and not only of its existence. I hesitate to disagree with a point that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said was unanswerable. However, I am sure that the noble Lord will not take it amiss if I do, and I will explain why. Adding “the requirements” of the DAPO is likely to lead to a lot of uncertainty, much litigation, and less protection for victims. What are the “requirements” of a DAPO? What would that mean? Is it the terms of the DAPO or what the terms require you to do in practice? They are different things. What does it mean to be aware of the requirements of a DAPO? Is it to have read them, to have understood them, to have understood their legal effect or to have understood their practical effect? They are all different things. Therefore, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and to a similar point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I say that we generally require people to obey orders of the court once they are aware that an order has been made, and that a DAPO should be no different.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in this context drew attention to the phrase “without reasonable excuse” and asked a series of questions about how that would be interpreted. I certainly do not want to gloss a phrase composed of usual English words that is very familiar to the courts. The noble Lord also asked a specific question about a read-across from other orders in this regard. On that point as well, in consonance with the invitation he extended to me, I will write to him if I may.
I now turn to Amendment 87 to Clause 38. Clause 38 specifies that a person—the victim, the person who applied for the order if that was not the victim, or any other person with the leave of the court: that is, the permission of the court—can apply for a warrant for the alleged perpetrator’s arrest if the applicant “considers” that the alleged perpetrator has failed to comply with the DAPO or is otherwise in contempt of court in relation to the DAPO. The amendment would change the standard of belief required of the applicant who is applying for such a warrant from “considers” to “reasonably believes”.
We do not agree that this amendment is necessary because, although the standards might be said to be different, we do not consider that the amendment would significantly increase the standard of what the applicant has to believe before they can make an application. Moreover, this is the standard required of the applicant when applying for a warrant. The judge when issuing the warrant has to meet the “reasonably believes” standard—see Clause 38(5)(b). In so far as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is seeking to ensure that no warrant can be issued before this test is met, that is already the case because that is the test required to be met by the judge issuing the warrant.
Finally, Amendment 88 relates to Clause 42, which specifies the conditions in which a court may vary or discharge a domestic abuse protection order—a DAPO—made by that court or any other court. Clause 42 already provides that where an application to discharge or vary an order is made by the person protected by the order, and their application seeks to reduce or remove the protections provided by the DAPO, the court must hear from that person. As I understood the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, it was whether “hear” meant hear in person. I will deal with this point in more detail when I write to him. Generally, when a court hears from somebody, it means that it receives that person’s evidence or submissions. The noble Lord will be aware, as will all Members of the Committee, that there are a host of provisions in the Bill that deal with matters to ensure that vulnerable persons are not unduly exposed to the court process—but if I can add to what I have just said in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which seems to be lengthening by the minute, I will certainly do so.
Amendment 88 would, however, require the court to hear the views of the person for whose protection the order was made if they wish to be heard regardless of who has made the application to vary or discharge, and regardless of what the variation would involve. Of course, to state the obvious, we agree that the views of the person for whose protection the order was made are important when the court is considering whether to vary or discharge an order, but we do not agree that this amendment is required in order to achieve the aim behind it. That is because, as I have already intimated, and in addition to the requirement I have set out to hear from the protected person where they are seeking a reduction in the protection provided, Clause 42(6) directly incorporates the provisions of Clause 31 into the court’s process for considering an application for discharge or variation.
Clause 31(1) sets out that before making a DAPO, the court must consider
“any opinion of the person for whose protection the order would be made—
(i) which relates to the making of the order, and
(ii) of which the court is made aware”.
The incorporation of Clause 31 into Clause 42 means that where the court is made aware of the views of the protected person about the requested discharge or variation, it must take them into consideration.
Before I sit down, I should pick up one other point which is a rather standalone point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She asked two questions relating to the alternative of a contempt of court procedure. As I understand it, she first asked why that was in the Bill, and the short answer is that some victims may not want their perpetrators to be criminalised or to see that route taken. That is why the alternative is there. She also asked a more detailed question about experience in the use of contempt of court orders in this and related contexts. Standing on my feet now, I am not sure what data is available in that regard, but I will reply to her in writing on that point. I hope that is a sufficient and acceptable answer to the points she raised.
I reiterate my undertaking to write in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, because he asked a series of detailed questions. I hope that my explanation of these various issues has gone at least some way to reassure the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. While accepting that I am sure we will not agree on every point raised by the amendments, I would none the less invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I have had a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
The Minister’s reply will obviously take some reading, which we will do. As regards the point on contempt, my question was about the experience of the model. I quoted a ministerial letter—not a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson—about the why, or at least partly why. In any event, I thank him for responding to that.
My question is about the criminal standard for breach of an order. The Minister said that it applied automatically; he then used the phrase, “in the usual way”. When he writes his letter, perhaps he could add a paragraph explaining how it is automatic and where that comes from, so that we can understand its application. He referred to other civil orders and he might want to refer to whether those are silent in legislation as to the standard of proof when breached or whether they deal with the standard explicitly.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for explaining the contempt of court point in more detail and for setting out the question of the standard of proof. I will be happy to include a paragraph on that in my letter as well.
My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging debate with a lot of legal detail. I will respond to the fellow laymen who have taken part in the debate. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, I should say that I have found the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to be very helpful and I certainly have not found him to be dismissive in any way. In fact, before this debate he went out of his way to help me and other colleagues.
I turn to my Amendment 81, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. Although it is my amendment and it does say that there should be agreement to any drug, alcohol or mental health treatment, perhaps I may say a word against it. I believe that this should be a judicial decision. It is a difficult one and obviously it is better if the participants in the courses agree and sign up to them. Nevertheless, there are occasions where it is helpful to make this part of a court order. If there is some ambivalence, it can be made very clear that they should go on the courses. So, even though I moved the amendment, I believe that the decision on whether to make it compulsory should be a judicial one.
As I have said, this has been a wide-ranging debate and I too will read the response of the Minister and the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, very carefully. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 80 withdrawn.
Amendment 81 not moved.
Clause 34, as amended, agreed.
Clause 35 agreed.
Clause 36: Duration and geographical application of orders
Amendments 82 to 84 not moved.
Clause 36 agreed.
Clause 37: Breach of order
Amendments 85 and 86 not moved.
Clause 37 agreed.
Clause 38: Arrest for breach of order
Amendment 87 not moved.
Clause 38 agreed.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clauses 39 to 41 agreed.
Clause 42: Variation and discharge of orders
Amendment 88 not moved.
Clause 42 agreed.
Clauses 43 to 54 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 89. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone who wishes to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate. I should also inform the Committee that if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 90, 91 or 92.
Clause 55: Support provided by local authorities to victims of domestic abuse
89: Clause 55, page 35, line 15, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert—
“(a) assess, or make arrangements for the assessment of, the need for domestic abuse support in its area by all persons affected by domestic abuse regardless of status, duly taking into account the special situation of women and children, with reference to a national needs assessment,(b) prepare and publish a strategy for the commissioning and provision of sufficient support to meet the needs identified in its area by the assessment referred to in paragraph (a), including sufficient specialist support for all persons affected by domestic abuse regardless of status, and(c) monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy and publish such evaluation in accordance with regulations issued under subsection (8).(1A) In preparing and adopting any strategy under subsection (1)(b), each relevant local authority must take account of any strategy to end violence against women and girls adopted by a Minister or Ministers.(1B) The assessment and strategy referred to in subsection (1)(a) and (b) must include, but is not limited to, the following—(a) the prevalence of and trends in domestic abuse and other forms of violence including that against women and girls, and the demographic of all persons in the area affected by domestic abuse and other forms of violence including violence against women and girls;(b) the needs for support, protection and safety of those who are affected by domestic abuse in the local population;(c) the nature and extent of the need for and provision of specialist support in respect of those persons affected by domestic abuse with presenting characteristics including sex, gender, race, colour, language, religion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, or such other relevant status;(d) the nature and extent of the need for and provision of specialist support to women who are affected by domestic abuse and their children;(e) the need for and provision of refuge services in sufficient numbers to provide safe accommodation for victims, especially women and their children, regardless of status;(f) how refuge services work in collaboration with a whole housing approach in the area that responds to the specific housing needs of victims of domestic abuse and provides a range of housing options for people experiencing domestic abuse that enables them or, where preferred by the victim, the person causing the abuse, to relocate.(1C) The relevant local authority shall allocate appropriate financial and human resources for the implementation of the strategy under subsection (1)(b), including the arrangement of such specialist support as is set out in the strategy.”Member’s explanatory statement
Part of a group of amendments aiming to strengthen the Government’s existing statutory duty on local authorities to fund support in accommodation-based services. These would clarify what factors authorities must consider when assessing need and preparing a strategy, define refuge services and ensure wide consultation.
We strongly welcome the duty placed on local authorities in the Bill to support victims of domestic abuse and their children through providing support in accommodation-based services. This group of 12 amendments aims to strengthen and add necessary detail to this duty. The amendments would clarify what factors authorities must consider when assessing need and preparing a strategy, define refuge services, ensure wide consultation and put a national oversight mechanism on the face of the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Woolley of Woodford, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, whose names also appear on all or one or two of the amendments in the group. I would also like to thank Women’s Aid and Imkaan for the briefings they have provided.
Refuge services are a national network providing holistic specialist support for survivors of domestic abuse in a safe and secure environment. That specialist support is related to, for example, physical and mental health, immigration status, children’s welfare and education, financial needs, including debt, and criminal and family justice.
As it stands, the Bill provides that the duty covers support provided to survivors who reside in “relevant accommodation”. “Relevant accommodation”, however, is not defined in the Bill, which simply says that it is
“accommodation of a description specified by the Secretary of State in regulations.”
Draft statutory guidelines have been published, but the definition leaves scope for temporary or generic forms of accommodation with limited housing-focused support, which would not deliver the safe environment and support abuse survivors need. Guidance supporting the Istanbul convention is clear that temporary accommodation and general forms of homelessness provision are not sufficient to meet the needs of women and children escaping violence and abuse. The definition of “relevant accommodation” should align with definitions established in the UK-wide violence against women and girls service directory, which is part-funded by the Government. The only accommodation-based domestic abuse service in the directory is a “refuge service”, which can encompass a range of accommodation types, including shared houses and self-contained and dispersed accommodation. This definition is achieved in this group by Amendment 93, which would insert a short definition of refuge services in the Bill, making clear that they are provided separately for men and women, within single-sex services, and that the address of a refuge cannot be made publicly available or disclosed.
The Bill also gives no assurance about the safety or quality of the support being provided. The draft statutory guidance lists the types of support that need to be provided in safe accommodation, but does not specify which organisations can deliver this support. Consequently, we could see a very wide range of organisations that have no experience or expertise in supporting survivors being funded by a local authority under the duty in Bill. The definition of support must be strengthened to ensure that that support is specialist, in line with the Istanbul convention, which requires states to provide specialist services to meet the specific needs of victims and children, including specialist refuge provision. Without clear definitions there is a real risk that the duty will encourage some councils to fund generic accommodation-based services which do not offer the required specialism and expertise in relation to the needs of women and children escaping domestic abuse. There is already evidence that this is increasingly happening under arrangements currently applicable. This group of amendments would define “specialist domestic abuse support” as delivered by organisations whose organisational purpose is to support victims and/or children and young people impacted by domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls.
Amendment 89 would strengthen the requirements for what must be included in a strategy for the commissioning and provision of domestic abuse support. While discussing this issue, I note that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has a subsequent amendment to ensure that strategy documents are published and provided in accessible formats—something all too often overlooked but crucial. I wholeheartedly support the noble Lord in what he is seeking.
These amendments would also ensure that a strategy under this part takes note of any ministerial strategy on preventing violence against women and girls. This issue is vital, and we will have the opportunity for a fuller debate on it in a later group, thanks to my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett.
A key issue that has been raised throughout the Bill is the need to ensure support for all victims. A later debate will focus on this need for non-discrimination. The provision of specialist services, such as those for survivors from black and minority ethnic communities, is key to this.
Competitive tendering for service provision has increased in recent years. This has been damaging for specialist refuge services, as procurement processes have favoured larger organisations and contracts above small specialist women’s refuges which are expert in meeting survivors’ needs, including those services run by and for black and minoritised women. This group of amendments requires, among other things, that in undertaking their duty local authorities arrange provision of accommodation for all victims, regardless of their status, as set out in the Istanbul convention.
The Bill requires local authorities to establish local partnership boards to oversee how they deliver their statutory duty. While in some areas effective multi-agency partnership arrangements are well established, in others that is not the case, including the exclusion of specialist services in the planning and delivery of services. These amendments seek, among others things, to make it clear that the purpose of the local partnership boards is to establish an equitable partnership that reflects the needs of those impacted by domestic abuse in the local area and works to deliver quality services that meet victims’ needs.
Refuges are a national network of services which, by necessity, support survivors from outside their local area. Local needs assessments cannot be based on local data alone. Over two-thirds of women resident in a refuge are from a different local authority area. This national network of services cannot be assessed, planned, commissioned or funded on the basis of local need alone. The Government have committed to establishing a ministerial-led national steering group to monitor and evaluate delivery of the new duty on local authorities. Amendment 108 would put such a national oversight mechanism in the Bill. It would establish a national oversight group, to include the domestic abuse commissioner, national organisations representing providers of specialist support for women and girls affected by domestic abuse and violence, and representatives from local government, policing and justice, and health bodies. The requirements placed on this group would include undertaking a national needs assessment for refuge services, including a review of provision for victims with protected characteristics, and ensuring that local authorities and local partnership boards were effectively discharging their duties, including ensuring the sustainable funding of specialist high-quality services which meet the needs of victims and their children.
We cannot have this debate without addressing the issue of funding. Refuges have faced a funding crisis for a decade. Women’s Aid has estimated that nearly £175 million is required annually for a safe and secure national network of refuge services that will meet demand, alongside just under £220 million for wider community-based services, which are the subject of a later debate. The organisation to which I referred earlier, Imkaan, estimates that at least £57 million annually is needed to ensure that existing specialist support services for black and minoritised women are sustainable. In the light of these figures, it is not clear how the Government’s funding of £125 million for the existing statutory duty of local authorities to support accommodation-based services in 2021-22 was calculated or assessed.
Adequate, ring fenced and long-term funding for the provision of specialist refuge services will be essential to underpin the statutory duties set out in the Bill. If the finances are not provided, the objectives of the Bill will not be achieved, as statutory duties will not be properly delivered. The funding provided for these statutory duties must meet the full costs. This group of amendments therefore places duties on the Government both to deliver sufficient funding to local authorities to ensure that the needs identified in the national needs assessment are met and to consult organisations representing providers of specialist services in relation to domestic abuse and violence against women and girls when the Government make regulations and guidance to underpin the duty.
The Bill has raised real hope that it will lead to a transformation both in how as a nation we regard and deal with domestic abuse in all its forms and in the determination we show in seeking to stamp it out and provide full support for all victims of domestic abuse. Significantly reducing domestic abuse in all its forms, providing full support for those affected and changing attitudes and culture will lead to significant societal and financial benefits which should not be underestimated. However, achieving that goal cannot be done on the cheap, and the required provision of specialist refuge services is one key area where the resources must be provided if the Bill is to lead to the transformation that we all want to see delivered. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak in support of Amendments 89, 93, 102, 106, 107 and 108. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I hope that I will not duplicate much of what he has said, but, clearly, we are on the same page.
The amendments would strengthen the statutory duty on local authorities to fund support and safe accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse. The desperate need to improve the funding system for life-saving measures for women refugees cannot be overstated. Every fortnight in England and Wales, three women are killed by a partner or ex-partner, yet in England there is currently a 30% shortfall in relation to the number of refugee bed spaces required by the Istanbul convention.
Fifty-seven per cent of referrals to refugee services were rejected between 2009 and 2020. Nearly one in five of all referrals received were rejected because the refugee centres had no space or capacity to support the women and their children. One-third of specialist refugee services for black, Asian and minority-ethnic women have been decommissioned since 2010, resulting in a 50% reduction in bed space capacity.
Secure funding for refugee services remains a critical priority, and this legal duty could be an important step forward in delivering that, but will it change the funding and commissioning crisis that these refugees currently face? There are serious concerns from the Women’s Aid Federation of England and Imkaan that it will not. Those organisations represent providers of refugee services who deliver far more than a roof over a survivor’s head; they provide holistic, specialist support, including that relating to physical and mental health, immigration status, children’s welfare, education, financial needs, and criminal and family justice, to meet the needs of survivors in a safe and secure environment.
The Istanbul convention makes it clear that such specialist services are best delivered by women’s organisations—by expert staff who have in-depth knowledge of violence against women and girls. They are specialist refugee centres, led by and for black, Asian and minority-ethnic women, and represented by Imkaan. These centres of excellence provide support and safety not only from violence and abuse but from racism, immigration control and other forms of oppression which remain structural and systemic in society.
However, as has been mentioned, those services face systemic inequalities in the current funding landscape. Competitive tendering is now commonplace for accessing local authority funds for refugee services. I know that it has been referred to but it is worth mentioning again that these competitive processes are toxic for specialist refugee services, as they favour large organisations over small. Specialist women’s services for refugees are expert in meeting survivors’ needs but are forced to compete against generic housing providers and housing associations, which do not have the expertise to support survivors but can deliver services at a lower cost. Indeed, they might have entire bid-writing teams who can easily undercut specialist women’s services for refugee contracts.
In particular, Imkaan has documented the long history of underfunding and political marginalisation for refugees led by these BAME groups. It reports significant discrimination and disadvantage in commissioning structures and approaches to funding because their specialism is often unrecognised, misunderstood and devalued. However, the duty provides very little direction or guidance to local authorities on how to tackle these problems, which is why these amendments are needed. They set out what a local authority must consider when assessing the need for safe accommodation, preparing a strategy and delivering funding. They will clarify that, when delivering the statutory duty, local authorities must ensure sufficient specialist support to meet the specific needs of women and children experiencing domestic abuse, including those with protected characteristics and insecure immigration status. These requirements mirror much of the existing language in the Istanbul convention. They will guide local authorities to deliver this duty more effectively and help to ensure that it works with the specialist needs of refugees and survivors.
Turning to Amendment 93, currently the Bill requires local authorities to fund domestic abuse support in relevant accommodation. However, it does not define either of these terms, as has been mentioned. Guidance supporting the Istanbul convention is clear that temporary accommodation—generally, forms of homelessness provision—is not sufficient to meet the needs of women and children escaping violence and abuse. There are serious concerns that without a clear definition of “safe accommodation”, unsafe and unsuitable forms of housing could be funded by this duty.
This is not an abstract fear: women and children escaping abuse are living in unsafe forms of emergency accommodation. Women’s Aid, for example, told me about the experience of a woman who contacted them this week after escaping domestic abuse. She is in her twenties, with a young baby, and was placed in mixed-sex accommodation where she felt unsafe and unsupported. There were people there openly using drugs. Thankfully, she found the support she needed in Women’s Aid for refugees. She said that if she had not been offered a place in the refugee centre, she would have returned home to her abuser—imagine that.
Imkaan and Women’s Aid have highlighted that, over the past year, there has also been a rapid rise in unsafe accommodation providers targeting survivors. Some of these have no experience in domestic abuse and cannot produce even the basic safeguarding and risk-assessment information. I am sure that no one in the House would wish to see public funding spent on unsafe forms of accommodation. I know that the Minister will point me to the draft statutory guidance published for the duty, which includes definitions of safe accommodation. However, I share Women’s Aid’s concern that these definitions do not align with existing definitions in the specialist support sector. More worryingly, they do not even recognise that refugee services are women-only services that have to be provided in a confidential location.
These definitions must be tightened in the Bill and must include refugee services. Separate or single-sex services must be provided, with a confidential address. As I have said, a refugee service is far more than a roof: it is specialist support offering physical and emotional safety—an empowerment for women and children that makes it utterly unique. However, the Bill defines domestic abuse support as:
“support, in relation to domestic abuse, provided to victims of domestic abuse, or their children”.
Again, I am sure the Minister will refer to the guidance but this draft does not define specialist support services and therefore could result in a wide range of organisations with, as I have said, no experience in supporting survivors being commissioned by the local authority.
It is positive to see that local authorities will be required to commission support that meets MHCLG’s quality standards, the Women’s Aid national quality standards or Imkaan’s accredited quality standards, but the MHCLG standards do not make any requirements about the types of organisation which should be funded. This is in contrast to the Istanbul convention, which makes it clear that specialist support is best ensured by women’s organisations which have experienced staff with in-depth knowledge of violence against women. Will the Minister commit to working with Imkaan and Women’s Aid to update these standards to ensure that they require organisations to have specialist expertise? I also respectfully submit that the guidance alone will not be enough. The Government already have a National Statement of Expectations and commissioning guidance, which make it clear that local authorities should fund specialist services. Sadly, this does not stop local authorities and other commissioners funding generic services at the expense of specialists. The Bill is an opportunity to change that, and I urge the Minister to accept that, along with the more robust definitions that are needed.
On Amendment 102, the Bill will require local authorities to establish local partnership boards to oversee how they are delivering the statutory duty. While in some areas, strong multiagency partnership arrangements between specialist women’s services, commissioners and other partners are well established, this is far from universally the case. Again, Imkaan and Women’s Aid have highlighted some extremely poor practices in partnership working, including the exclusion of specialist services, particularly those led by and for black, Asian and minority ethic women. I am sure that this House will agree that the expertise and knowledge of these groups is essential for meeting survivors’ needs. These amendments would guarantee that they have a place on the partnership board and that these voices can be heard, so that partnership works effectively to meet the needs of survivors.
Amendments 106, 107 and 108, on national oversight, propose absolutely vital changes to the statutory duty. As noble Lords will know, the Bill will place significant responsibility on local authorities to make the arrangements for refuge provision, but refuges are a national network of services which by necessity support survivors from outside their local area, as the Minister said. Women escaping to a refuge are often fleeing from their local area in order to be safe from the perpetrator. Women’s Aid makes it clear that two-thirds —68.4%—of women resident in refuges are from a different local authority. Can the Minister please explain how requiring local authorities to do a local needs assessment for safe accommodation will work when the majority of the survivors who need it will not be from the area? I am particularly worried about how a purely local duty will work to sustain services led for communities discriminated against because of their protective characteristics, including black, Asian and minority ethnic women, disabled women and LGBT women. These services face challenges in fully localised funding systems and are often run across different local authorities that meet the needs of survivors across geographical areas. The need for these services may therefore not be identified in local needs assessments at all, but they are a vital national resource.
I refer the Minister to a joint report by the Work and Pensions Committee and the Communities and Local Government Committee in 2017, which concluded:
“It is essential that refuges are able to operate as a national network, unrestrained by admission restrictions imposed by individual local authorities and with appropriate coverage across the country.”
The national network of services simply cannot be assessed, planned, commissioned or funded on the basis of local need alone. I recognise that the Government have committed to establishing a ministerial lead and a national steering group to monitor and evaluate delivery of the duty, and this is made clear in the guidance. These important amendments would establish a national oversight group in the Bill and set out key responsibilities. This would include delivering national needs and assessments for services, including the review of provision for victims with protected characteristics, and would require the Government to deliver adequate funding so that the need is met.
Finally, we come to the funding, which has been mentioned before, but we should go over it again. The Government have committed £125 million to support the duty in 2021-22. Women’s Aid estimates that £393 million annually is required, including £173 million for a national network of refuges. Dedicated funding, or specialist refuges led by black, Asian and ethnic-minority women, is essential. As my noble friend mentioned, we estimate that £57 million is needed for those groups.
At Second Reading, the Government stated that the Women’s Aid estimate includes the cost of all services, including those covered by existing funding. Can the Government clarify that they have estimated the cost of providing unmet need for support in safe accommodation? What guarantees can the Minister give us that, once the funding for the statutory duty is delivered, local authorities will be able to continue funding refuges from their core funding, given the enormous budget constraints they already have?
I think we can agree that funding for the duty must be met; it must meet its forecast. I hope the Minister will consider the important concerns that Imkaan and Women’s Aid have raised about this duty and the challenges involved. This is an important opportunity to ensure that no survivor is turned away from the specialist refuge services they need. Changes are clearly needed to ensure that happens.
My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 89 to indicate broad, cross-party support for this group, which seeks to ensure that the Government’s statutory duty works effectively for this invaluable network of refuge services.
I welcome Part 4, which we have now moved on to, which is only four pages but a key part of this progressive piece of legislation that is going to drive up standards of provision for this vital service. Can I add a brief footnote to the speeches made by the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Woolley? Like them, I am grateful to Women’s Aid for its input into this group.
The key criticism we have heard so far has been that the Bill does not define either relevant accommodation or domestic abuse support. Looking at the Bill, “relevant accommodation” is going to be
“specified by the Secretary of State in regulations.”
For domestic abuse support, the definition is rather circular:
“‘domestic abuse support’ means support, in relation to domestic abuse”.
The thrust of these amendments is to try and focus on exactly what sort of accommodation and services should be provided under Part 4. Without this clarity, there is a risk that councils will fund generic, and sometimes inappropriate, accommodation-based services. As we have just heard, these do not have the expertise necessary to provide the comprehensive range of services needed for families escaping domestic abuse. That is why proposed new paragraphs (e) and (f) in Amendment 89 refer to “refuge services” rather than just refuges.
There is concern that, as currently drafted—in addition to the risks mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser —the Bill could lead to unsafe forms of accommodation that are not designed to meet survivors’ needs being funded under the duty. The Women’s Aid movement has seen landlords using the exempt provisions of housing benefit to access higher rent levels, and providing accommodation which is frankly unsafe. The amendments seek to provide a tighter definition of relevant accommodation to reduce the risk of abuse.
The definition should clarify that a refuge address should never be publicly available or disclosed. That would resolve the challenges that one of the Women’s Aid members is currently facing, with High Court orders threatening to disclose the address of a refuge. Perhaps my noble friend could respond to that point.
Refuge services are developing into a national network of services, supporting survivors who often need to flee from their local area to be safe from an abuser. The data shows that over two-thirds of women resident in refuges are from a different local authority area. That leads to the point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, about national oversight. Without changes to the statutory duty to improve national oversight, we may be putting too much emphasis on local authorities to provide what should be an effective national service.
Finally, many refuges are also engaged in prevention work in local communities. They host drop-in centres and open-access services for survivors. They have become a hub for the services that the Committee has heard are being provided. Indeed, victims of abuse will first go to an open-access service, such as a helpline, before they access longer-term support such as escaping to a refuge. When they have left the refuge, they may go on to access a range of other support services in the community provided by it: floating support or a resettlement worker to help them move on to the next stage in their life.
At Second Reading, my noble friend heard that there are significant concerns about funding this full range of community-based services; it is clear that, in addition to the duty in the Bill, all services need to be available, accessible and sustainably funded to ensure that survivors can access the support they need, when they need it. I hope that she understands these concerns and will be able to respond to them when she winds up this debate.
My Lords, I will speak in support of the amendments in this group and specifically Amendment 89 to Clause 55, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Woolley of Woodford, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. The clause and amendment relate to the important situation regarding the assessment, preparation and publication of the strategy, as well as the monitoring and evaluation of arrangements for domestic abuse support by local authorities.
I too welcome this excellent piece of legislation. I also welcome the briefings that we received from so many effective bodies in this area, particularly Women’s Aid and Imkaan. I thank them very much indeed. I would support the amended Clause 55. While recognising, as we do, that most abuse—and its most extreme examples—is perpetrated by males, we must spell out in the Bill the many protected characteristics which are important for our national provision. As my noble friend Lord Young has just referred to, there is a great danger that some local authorities will provide services just for their areas. There are two obvious dangers with that. One is that many people will want, and indeed need, to move away from their home area. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Williams will be in the same position as I was as a Minister; I encountered many people receiving refuge services who were out of their area—and very happy to be out of their area.
The second key important matter is the specialist nature of some of the services, as required by the Istanbul convention. We should be providing, on the face of the legislation, for such matters as race, national origin, language, colour, religion, social origin, coming from a national minority, age, health, disability or such other relevant matters as set out in the amendment; I know that my noble friend will want to do that. The two key factors—specialisms and the out-of-district service—are essential and we need to provide for them. This is landmark legislation and is broadly welcomed across the House. I cannot see that anybody could realistically disagree with the list of characteristics in the amendment to Clause 55. These are specialisms which need particular attention and are flagged up in the amendment to require local authorities to make provision and develop a strategy in relation to them. I hope that we are able to do that.
As indicated by successive noble Lords speaking on this area, financial provision is also clearly important; it is key, vital and urgent. Without financial support, this will just not work. I hope that that will be taken care of too. I realise that there is provision within the department for an MHCLG Minister to establish, monitor and evaluate delivery of the duty, but this is insufficient. I do not think it would necessarily be sufficient for the Istanbul convention, but it should not be sufficient for your Lordships’ House. We need it on the face of the Bill.
I do not intend to detain the Committee for long but I want to touch on one other topic, which is quite separate and distinct. It relates—I hope noble Lords will forgive me—to provision for Wales. Obviously, the situation in Wales is somewhat, although not totally, different; devolution arrangements and separate laws have meant that it is different. I wonder how that situation is being provided for. What arrangements are in place for discussions on a continuing basis with the Welsh Government and, indeed, the Welsh Parliament, to ensure that it is provided for as smoothly as possible? I would welcome anything that my noble friend the Minister is able to say in that regard.
My Lords, I welcome these amendments and support very much what has been said by other noble Lords before me. My particular interest is in data, and I am delighted to see in Amendment 89—in proposed new subsection (1B)(c), for instance—a really detailed enumeration of the sort of level of data that we should be collecting. The basis on which this data is collected should be specified nationally, so that it is coherent and comparable and we can really start to understand what is happening and, from that understanding, move continuously to improve matters.
A very good example of what happens when you do not do this has been provided by the recent statistics on sexual abuse. The figures for the UK show that in 2019 there were 2,300 reported cases of children being abused by women in England and Wales, which is about twice what it was four years before. The first question we should ask when faced with a statistic like that is: what is going on? Unfortunately, we have no clue, because the police have stopped collecting data on sex as a characteristic when recording reports of abuse. They now record only self-reported gender. So we do not know whether this is something happening to women that we really ought to be paying attention to—an extraordinary rate of increase to which we ought to be preparing a policy response—or whether it is just a fiction due to the way the police have changed their reporting; in other words, whether this reflects the number of male offenders who are now declaring themselves to be women. Either way, we want to know; we absolutely should know. Apart from anything else, when it comes to the subject of the Bill, there will be trans women in relationships with men who are being abused and need looking after. We need to know how to provide for them properly. We may perhaps need specialist arrangements; we need to know the right level of any such arrangements that we should be providing.
If we do not have detailed statistics on sex and gender—and, in other circumstances, on a whole range of other characteristics—we will not be providing what is needed. So, I really support that part of these amendments, and these amendments in general.
My Lords, I support this amendment in the names of my noble friend Lord Rosser and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, as well as other amendments in this group in their names. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I congratulate my noble friend on the comprehensive way in which he set out the large number of issues at stake if these amendments are not included in the Bill. I found it a very effective and moving speech.
Housing associations are in a unique position to help survivors of domestic abuse and have been at the forefront of innovative responses during the pandemic, when it has been so difficult to deliver normal services. They have prioritised domestic abuse survivors in new lettings and transfers and worked with refuges to support move-on as well working to keep survivors in their homes safely. It is a further tragedy of the pandemic that we have seen such a surge in instances of domestic abuse.
One of the most important things that the Bill can do is to ensure that all its provisions are underpinned by secure funding, so that no survivor is turned away from the specialist support that they need and there is fair, national distribution of resources. There must be an acknowledgement of the specific challenges faced by BME survivors and migrant women—this has come up so many times in our debates on the Bill. For example, many housing associations provide English classes and support for skills and employment as well as mental health and well-being support. I particularly thank Women’s Aid and Imkaan, together with Stonewater and other housing association providers of specialist support, for their invaluable briefing on these amendments.
I do not want to repeat the details and statistics already given by many noble Lords about the increasing level of need and the reality of the cuts in funding and the inevitable reduction in services and support that results. These amendments reflect what needs to be done to make the Bill the step change in provision that I know the Minister and, I believe, the Government want to see.
In that spirit, I hope the Minister will heed the call for a number of additions. I highlight the need for a tighter definition of “relevant accommodation”, the need to ensure that the support provided is specialist and sufficient to meet demand and the need to make arrangements for the provision of accommodation for all victims, regardless of their immigration status. I also highlight the need to ensure that local specialist services are adequately represented on partnership boards and that a national oversight group, involving all relevant interests, is recognised in the Bill to ensure robust evaluation of the delivery of these life-saving services.
My organisation, the NHF, wants to work together with government to build models that are cost-effective for local authorities to enable the safe removal of perpetrators of domestic abuse from the home, prevent the homelessness of survivors and enable them to live independent lives. In May 2020, the NHF asked the Government to implement a targeted approach to accommodation provision for rough sleepers and homeless people fleeing domestic abuse. Housing associations stand ready to help local authorities fulfil the new duty to provide support and accommodation for survivors.
Amendment 89 and others in this group seek to ensure that there is provision of a variety of housing options for people experiencing domestic abuse, based on choice. Some will certainly need and want a refuge space, and it is vital that these are funded and come with adequate support services to help survivors achieve better health, well-being, employment and housing options.
I echo my noble friend’s concluding remarks on funding: we need to ensure, together with other provision of supported housing for rough sleepers and older people, an annual £1.6 billion of ring-fenced funding, which is needed to allow local authorities to provide these life- saving services. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the Committee that there have been discussions with Treasury colleagues about a specific ring-fenced investment in supported housing in the upcoming Budget.
The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Young, my noble friend Lord Woolley and the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, for their thorough detailing of this set of amendments and for explaining in detail—I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for this—the need to get these amendments accepted by our Government. I will speak generally first, and then I will make specific comments about Amendment 108.
I begin with the general point that the statutory definition of domestic violence and abuse must not neglect the reality of this crime, which is that women are the overwhelming majority of victims and survivors and men are the greater number of perpetrators. It really does not matter whether information is being collected right now; the information exists to substantiate this point.
Like other noble Lords, I do not necessarily have the full confidence that local authorities are always in the best place to define the needs of all those who need them. I hope very much that we will uphold our commitment to the Istanbul convention. I am grateful to the many women who took courage to write to me so powerfully, arguing that this legislation will fail them without the adequate financial support for a comprehensive set of services with sufficiently trained professionals. They should not be sent pillar to post and we should not restrict the provision to refuge-based services.
I believe that all individuals must be assessed to ensure that safe services are provided to the survivors and their children. If they so choose, they should be able to remain in their own homes and receive the same protection and care. Experts in the field have remained cautious that this much-weighted legislation will not ensure that all survivors, including those without recourse to public funds, have adequate safety and the provisions they need to keep themselves and their children safe.
Amendment 108 for a national oversight group is very welcome. To be able to monitor how local authorities function and the delivery of services is a significant safeguard. National oversight can also provide a national framework to assess needs and an overview of refuges and other accommodations, alongside the other facilities nationally and regionally available.
I should urge caution that we do not create another layer of talking shop and bureaucracy. Therefore, a thorough assessment of the current structure of oversight may be required to maximise scrutiny. If anything, national oversight may be a powerful tool, given that a postcode lottery of services is a reality for many in urgent need. It may ensure that all parties to such oversight aid effective compliance, particularly with adherence to public sector equality duty and equality impact assessments for commissioning and procuring services.
A long-term sustainable package of funding may prevent further violence and deaths. The success of this legislation will inevitably be dependent on whether the Government intend this legislation to be backed up with fully-funded services to scrutinise implementation with a national and local oversight mechanism.
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has withdrawn so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle.
My Lords, I declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I offer the full support of the Green group for this group of amendments collectively. We have already heard very powerful and important testimonies from all who have spoken, but particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in introducing them and the noble Lord, Lord Woolley of Woodford, in making some powerful points about how BAME communities and other minority communities are affected. I have three or four points to make in general terms. It must be repeated, as all speakers up to now have stressed the importance of specialist support, that simple provision of accommodation will not meet the needs of victims of domestic abuse.
I make a point particularly about funding. As the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, said, competitive tendering for these services has often been—and he used an appropriate word—toxic. I do not think there is anything on this in this amendment, and it may be a matter of policy more than law, but the Government should consider moving away from the idea of regular competition as an appropriate way of seeing that these services are funded. We should move closer towards a system of having a good, ideally local, service that meets the needs of a community, with an appropriate check to see that that continues. The assumption should be that that funding continues, rather than seeing the huge waste of resources that are put in again and again into bidding to keep contracts. The risk is that you can lose a local service completely, if it loses just one round of contract bidding.
Another point worth making in this context is on the place of refuges in feminist history. From the early 1970s onwards, they were places where we saw the growth and coalescence of a movement. They continue to be a centre for advocacy and campaigning support for the essential services that domestic abuse victims need. If we lose those specialist services, we also lose a lot of that advocacy and campaigning, as well as a depth of knowledge.
I have a final reflection on how we are talking about increasing statutory provision. The Green Party very much believes in localism and decisions made locally, and referred upwards only when absolutely necessary. But we also need a foundation of rights and standards, which is appropriately provided at the national level. Those standards and that statutory provision is not enough; we now that, increasingly, local government is left with barely enough funds to meet its statutory requirements, let alone to provide the extra services and needs that each local community has. When talking about this, it is crucial that we also focus on ensuring that local communities and local government have the funding that they need to meet these statutory requirements—and not just that but to meet the extra, individual local community needs that each local government area has, to ensure that that we truly deliver what the local community asks for.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, I do not want to go over ground that has already been expressed by so many noble Lords in this important debate, but I emphasise a concern that noble Lords have. In welcoming the Bill and applauding the Government’s attempts to drive this forward in as consensual a way as possible, it could all fail if the funding is not available to enable local authorities in particular, but other services too, to provide the support that has been identified, in all the work leading up to the Bill and in noble Lords’ debates.
That is what makes the amendment of my noble friend so important: it tries to define the provision that local authorities are responsible for much more closely. I hope that the Government recognise that giving greater assurance to noble Lords that local authorities have the ability to deliver the kinds of services we want will be crucial to their response. This is not just about funding—we know that—but we cannot ignore funding. The evidence that has been put forward by noble Lords about issues with refuge bed spaces is convincing.
As I understand it, 64% of total refuge referrals in England were declined last year. We know from the outstanding work of Women’s Aid in its annual survey of support providers that, for most organisations that provide these essential services, the local authority commission did not cover all or most of the cost of running the service. We should think about this: over the last year, as they have had to cope with real issues in raising funds, increased demands on their services and the uncertainty of local government finance, those lifesaving services have been under huge strain. We took the experience of Refuge as an example. Since 2011, it has experienced cuts to 80% of its services. Funding for refuges has been cut by an average of 50% and, as Refuge says, it is far from alone in that experience. The Covid-19 emergency has put further strain on the specialist sector: obviously many providers have had to transform the way in which they deliver services while meeting additional demand.
We all sign up to the idea of a national network of refuges to grow and meet demand but, without much greater clarity over the commissioning and strategic responsibilities of local government and the funding made available by central government, we must be very concerned about whether the Bill, when enacted, will be implemented properly.
I have one other point to make. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, had to say about the importance of data collection. As he said, it seems that the police no longer collect data regarding the sex of victims. I think that is a mistake. It also emphasises the importance of new subsection (1B)(a) in Amendment 89 in relation to the information that a local authority is required to obtain. Obtaining the prevalence of trends in domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls is vital to ensure that the full scale of the problem is known and the proper strategies can be adopted.
Overall, we want to hear tonight the Government recognise that in order to make sure that the Bill— a Bill that we really support—will actually work in practice, they are going to have to tackle the issue of local government responsibilities, direction and funding.
My Lords, this is a very good Bill, as I said earlier, and it is excellent to include the references to local authorities. However, good Bills require to be improved, and consequently I support Amendments 93, 95, 100, 102 and 106.
I remind the Government how important it is to include victims of forced marriage and modern slavery in specialist services strategy guidance for local authorities, for the proposed boards and for other organisations. The particular group that needs special support is young people who are being coerced into a forced marriage. Some of these girls are under 18. They are in a particularly difficult group and may need suitable refuges if local authorities do not take them over sufficiently quickly.
In this group of amendments we have of course been concentrating on women and girls, but we ought to remember that 20% of those who suffer domestic abuse are men. Forced marriage does not only affect girls; it affects young men, some of whom may be gay or transgender, and we should not forget that men have need for refuges and for specialist services.
The next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. We do not seem to have the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, with us. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.
My Lords, this has been a thorough and wide-ranging debate. I support all the amendments under consideration in this group. Part of the downside of speaking last is that most of the arguments I was going to make have been made so I will not detain the Committee by repeating him—at least, not wittingly.
This is a welcome set of redefining measures aimed at beefing up the statutory duty the Bill imposes on local authorities to provide accommodation support and to widen the definition of what information should be considered in identifying trends and which groups of individuals should be included. They make the Bill more specific and spell out in an inclusive way who local authorities should be aiming to help. Nobody can accuse the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, of overlooking anyone. However, if we are not careful, we can make assumptions about who our typical victim is. Had my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece been well enough to speak tonight, she would have spelled out the plight of women from BAME communities, 70% of whom are unable to access accommodation-based services and rely specifically on specialist community-based services. I particularly support the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in this respect. The little phrase “regardless of status” means that no one should be left out and that all victims are helped and treated according to need, not immigration status or anything else.
The amendments spell out the parameters of the assessment, not just what the local area considers they should be. Amendment 108 refers to a national needs assessment and a national strategy. For the first time, we could get a national picture of provision to see where is performing well and where is not in relation to a national yardstick of needs.
However, accommodation is expensive, so Amendment 89 makes clear that the relevant local authority must make sufficient resources available. The Government need to rethink the financial provision for these services. It is woefully inadequate, as many noble Lords have already pointed out. The quality and variety of accommodation is also important, as is who it is for. The injustice of the victim having to move out is also tackled, depending on the wishes of the victim.
Amendment 89 also requires authorities to publish the outcome of their monitoring and evaluation of the strategy of support provision. Data is so important, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said. Otherwise, how are we going to know how individual authorities are doing or whether the service they are providing is meeting the need? We do not know how far the provision of services varies by area and, as things stand, we do not know how they are fulfilling local needs. This amendment would help greatly.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out the purpose of these amendments, which, as he said, seek to strengthen the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill. I welcome the strong support for the provisions in this part, which will place a duty on tier 1 local authorities in England to provide support for victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. We all want these provisions to work as effectively as they can in delivering much-needed support. The issue before us is whether the framework provided for in Part 4, which would include the accompanying regulations and statutory guidance, is up to the task. I think it is and I will endeavour to persuade the Committee of that.
I will start with Amendments 89, 93, 95, 97, 98, 99 and 100 to Clause 55. This clause places a duty on each relevant local authority in England to assess the need for domestic abuse support for all victims and their children in relevant accommodation. As my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham said, this will be specified by the Secretary of State in regulations. If I were standing here before your Lordships tonight saying that national Government would assess the needs of local areas, there would have been a bit of an uproar. Local authorities are best placed to assess the particular needs of victims and their children in their local area, and in assessing needs, relevant local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims, including those with protected characteristics as well as victims who may come in from outside the local authority area. That last point is an interesting one because, as was pointed out by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, many victims of domestic abuse will come from outside the local authority area because they will be fleeing their abusers.
My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham also talked about—I do not know in relation to what—the question of refuge addresses never being disclosed. If he has any evidence in that regard, I would really like to know. I have been to see many refuges and, while I have been told their general area, I have never been told the address. This is quite a concerning point, if indeed it turns out to be the case. He and other noble Lords also talked about funding. I agree that funding has to be sustainable and has to be enough. Regarding the £125 million that has gone towards this, MHCLG considered two areas: first, the cost of and need for support in safe accommodation; and, secondly, the administrative cost of delivering new functions. MHCLG engaged with local authorities and service providers to reach this new burden estimate.
Local authorities will then need to prepare and publish a strategy for provision of the support, as identified by an assessment of the needs within their area; give effect to the strategy; and monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategy. The statutory guidance issued under Clause 58, which we have now published in draft, will set out the Government’s clear expectations and requirements regarding the delivery of the duties. Local authorities should ensure that the strategy clearly sets out a holistic approach to delivering the tailored support required by all victims in safe accommodation in their area. This guidance will be clear that local authorities should give effect to their strategies by meeting the support needs of all victims of domestic abuse and their children, based on a robust local needs assessment.
I share the concern of the noble Lord that some particularly vulnerable victims of domestic abuse face barriers to accessing support. As set out in the Equality Act 2010, local authorities are already subject to a public sector equality duty and must already have due regard to how to reduce disadvantages faced by people with protected characteristics and how to meet their particular needs in all the services they provide. However, to further underline the importance of supporting vulnerable victims, we intend to make it clear through guidance that local authorities should consider all the additional barriers that may prevent victims with relevant protected characteristics accessing support in refuges and other safe accommodation when they need it.Local authorities should set out in their strategy an agreed approach to address those barriers, and will need to take the advice of their local partnership board as they do that, working with partners including tier 2 local authorities in their area, specialist domestic abuse providers, PCCs and health bodies.
The guidance will also make it clear that local authorities should set out the different support needs identified through the local needs assessment, and the current provision of support for victims in the local authority area, highlighting any gaps identified. This includes setting out the identified support needs of children within safe accommodation and how they will be adequately met.
We will recommend in the guidance that local authorities have a clear approach to monitoring and evaluating local delivery against their local strategies, and they will need to undertake full evaluations at least on an annual basis to comply with the reporting requirements in Clause 57. We will also recommend that local authorities should publish their evaluation and monitoring approaches and outcomes. My noble friend Lord Bourne asked about Wales. Part 4 deals with devolved matters, so it is up to the Welsh Government to make the appropriate provisions for Wales.
Amendment 96 relates to consultation. This is already required by Clause 55(4), and the duty to consult applies not only to the initial strategy issued under that clause but to all subsequent iterations of the strategy. We will also make clear in the guidance that local authorities must consult the local partnership board, tier 2 authorities within the area, and such other persons as they consider appropriate, before publishing their strategy and any subsequent revised versions of the strategy.
The draft guidance recommends that local authorities should provide a clear consultation mechanism providing an up-to-date version of the strategy, as well as adequate time and a clear timeframe for organisations to review and feed back. In addition, the guidance is clear that local authorities should set out a clear process that organisations and individuals can use to raise concerns about the local strategy and authorities’ approach in addressing the needs identified.
I recognise that there is a balance to strike between providing local authorities with flexibility to meet particular local needs while ensuring a consistent approach to the provision of support within safe accommodation across the country. I believe the clauses as drafted, supported by regulations and comprehensive statutory guidance for local authorities, will provide that balance.
As I have said, we have recently published the guidance in draft, and in doing so consulted Women’s Aid, Imkaan and Refuge. I appreciate that noble Lords, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, local authorities and others will not yet have had an opportunity to examine it in detail. We would welcome feedback and will consider any suggestions for improving the guidance. Once the Bill is enacted, we will then formally consult on the final form of the guidance, as Clause 58 requires, before promulgating it alongside the coming into force of the provisions in Part 4.
I appreciate the intention behind Amendment 102, but I have concerns that we risk building in far too much rigidity and bureaucracy into the composition of the local partnership board and unduly constraining the flexibility that local authorities have to appoint and run their local boards in a way that meets their particular needs.
Clause 56(2) sets out the minimum required members of the board. In addition to a representative from the relevant local authority, the board membership must include at least one person representing the interests of each of the following: tier 2 local authorities in the relevant local authority area; victims of domestic abuse; children of domestic abuse victims; charities and other voluntary organisations that work with victims of domestic abuse in the area; persons who provide or have functions relating to healthcare services in the area; and policing and criminal justice agencies in the area. That list is the minimum requirement, but local authorities will have the freedom to invite on to the board additional members, such as those the noble Lord has suggested in his amendment—accepting that there is considerable common ground between the list in Clause 56(2) and that in Amendment 102.
We think that Clause 56 as drafted adopts the right approach, specifying the minimum required members of the board to ensure the right expertise, but providing local authorities with flexibility to best meet local circumstances, including if appropriate by setting up reference groups to support the board. Relevant local authorities must have flexibility to decide whether an existing board, expanded or reconstituted, can fulfil these requirements, or whether to create a new dedicated board in order to fulfil this duty.
I fully recognise the very important role played by charities and other voluntary organisations that support domestic abuse victims and their children. They have a great deal of knowledge and expertise built up over many years, and that is why we have included in the Bill representation from those bodies in the minimum required members of the board. We will set out in the statutory guidance that boards should ensure that the views of specialist domestic abuse organisations that provide dedicated support to victims with protected characteristics and unique or complex needs are heard. However, as every area is different it is appropriate that local authorities retain the flexibility to decide what that should look like in their area. Adding more requirements to the Bill risks creating unwieldy boards and unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles for local authorities, while also reducing their flexibility to set up local partnership boards in the way that works best locally.
Amendments 106 and 107 relate to Clause 58, which places a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance to local authorities in England relating to the exercise of their functions under Part 4. Noble Lords wish to ensure that Parliament can scrutinise the guidance. As I have indicated, we have already published a draft of the statutory guidance on the Domestic Abuse Bill website for noble Lords and others to scrutinise. We are happy to hear views on it. It also makes it clear that local authorities should consider relevant national guidance, including the VAWG National Statement of Expectations, as they fulfil the duties in Part 4. I appreciate the intention behind the amendment, but subsection (4) already places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult with the domestic abuse commissioner, local authorities and other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate before issuing or revising such guidance, except where the proposed revisions are insubstantial.
I reassure other noble Lords that we intend to consult widely, and the Government will formally consult on the statutory guidance once the Bill receives Royal Assent. However, in common with many other provisions in legislation providing for statutory guidance, we do not believe it is necessary to include the formal provision for parliamentary scrutiny. The Bill sets out the scope of the duties on tier 1 local authorities. The purpose of the guidance is to provide practical advice to local authorities in respect of the implementation of this duty. In examining the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee did not take issue with the approach taken in Clause 58.
Finally, on Amendment 108, I agree with the noble Lord that national oversight is important. The Government will establish a ministerial-led national expert steering group, of which the domestic abuse commissioner will be a member, to monitor and evaluate delivery of the new duties. We will develop and publish terms of reference to make clear the membership, role and remit of the group to ensure that the right level of knowledge and expertise is in place. The group will review provision of domestic abuse support in safe accommodation for all victims, including those with protected characteristics, and services that serve a national rather than local need to ensure the consistent service that victims and the Government expect. It will also consider whether monitoring information suggests that any areas require further support to implement the statutory duty effectively. The diverse expertise of the group membership will support the chair to address areas requiring additional support, including advising Ministers whether changes are needed to the statutory guidance. The group will also publish an annual report summarising progress across the country, sharing best practice, and setting service standards.
Now that I have explained the Government’s intentions regarding the implementation of the new duties in Part 4, I hope noble Lords will agree that there is little between us in practice. Many of the issues raised will be addressed through the statutory guidance and we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that there needs to be effective national oversight of these new arrangements. Our national expert steering group will provide that. I hope that, with those words, he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
I have received a request to speak after the Minister from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas.
My Lords, I should be very grateful if the Minister would provide details of the information that the Government anticipate will be collected by local authorities, as illustrated in some of the provisions proposed in Amendment 89. I would be very happy for her to do that by letter but I should very much appreciate having that before Report.
First, I thank the Minister for her very full reply. I also thank all noble Lords who contributed to this debate.
I suppose that, in summary, the issues we have been talking about have related to definitions—for example, of “relevant accommodation” and “specialist domestic abuse support”—and to non-discrimination against, for example, specialist refuge services and the need to support all victims, not least those with protected characteristics. There is then the issue of refuges being a national network of services and not just being about local needs and what local authorities are doing. There is also the issue of resource, including funding. The point was made very powerfully by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath that we will not achieve very much with the Bill if the necessary money is not provided to make sure that the Bill’s intentions can be delivered properly and in full.
I rather got the impression from the Government’s reply that, basically, none of the amendments have any merit with regard to being put into the Bill. I appreciate that the Minister said that the Government agree with the thrust of a number of them, but what slightly concerned me was that one or two of the points made in the debate, and I think that I was among those who made them, indicated that there is a feeling that the guidance that has been issued so far—for example, on definitions—does not exactly deliver. The reasons why we felt that were set out in some detail, but I do not think that we have had a response to that point this evening.
If I did not misunderstand the Minister, speaking on behalf of the Government, I think she said that there would be consultation on the statutory guidance once the Bill got Royal Assent. Many people would like to see some discussion on the guidance at a point when some changes can be made, before the Bill gets Royal Assent. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to have some discussions about this group of amendments before Report, perhaps indicating what the Government’s intentions are in respect of the statutory guidance that has been issued—whether they see any areas for further change and amplification of what is in there, in line with some of the comments made in this evening’s debate.
I will obviously leave things at that. I have a feeling that we will return to these amendments on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 89 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 90. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate, and that anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
90: Clause 55, page 35, line 18, after “area” insert “, ensuring that all information and communication relating to support is provided in an accessible and inclusive format,”
My Lords, in begging leave to move Amendment 90—which I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for trailing and which might, with advantage, have been included in the group containing the other amendments on speech, language and communication needs that we considered in Committee last Wednesday—I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties.
Since our considerations in Committee last Wednesday, I have studied in great detail the responses of the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, on some of which I shall now comment. The Minister said, inter alia:
“Those facing communication barriers are, arguably, some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse … there is an important balance to strike between providing local authorities with the flexibility to meet particular local needs and … a consistent approach to the provision of support.”
He sought to reassure the Committee that
“the Bill already provides a framework to ensure that the speech, language and communication needs of victims are addressed.”—[Official Report, 27/1/21; cols. 1635-37.]
The provision of information in an accessible and inclusive format is one item that would benefit from a consistent approach to the provision of support. Because I am not reassured that the Bill covers this, I beg to move Amendment 90.
My Lords, following the helpful debate on the associated amendments last Wednesday, it is quite useful that we now have this debate on Amendment 90, specifically on how to support people with disabilities, particularly speech and language difficulties, with practical support for communication at the point at which they are seeking help.
With the best will in the world, there is little point in the agencies that are there to support them—whether they are specialist charities or local authorities—if those who are at greatest risk do not know, cannot follow or act on, cannot understand, cannot access and cannot make use of who can help them and how. The amendments debated last week had the powerful support of the UK Says No More campaign. This amendment is no exception, because it holds the key to getting help when it is most needed.
I am afraid the predictable response from government may be to say that information is available in different languages and sign language, but I say what the specialist groups in the field say: this simply does not go far enough. A leaflet, no matter how plain the language, would never be a substitute for the sort of help that can be provided only by a sympathetic advocate who takes the person by the hand along the pathway to safety. That is why we have given such priority to the service itself employing speech and language specialists.
We want to see any kind of communication in an easy-read format, obviously, but also made accessible on augmentation and alternative communication devices. But the idea that all problems can be solved by the written word, however plain the language—that is, of course, the first and most basic requirement—or even sign language, is simplistic and out of date.
Many people with speech and language difficulties are capable of—and even more dependent than the rest of us on—using technology, but emails, advice and all communications need to be jargon free. Where possible, signs and symbols can be used. It requires knowledge and empathy to get this right, but they are not in short supply and the Bill can benefit from them.
Last Wednesday, in rejecting the amendments, the Minister referred both to the wide remit of the Bill and the wide brief held by the independent designate commissioner which, he argued, rendered the amendments unnecessary. However, I am not convinced. He also referred to the Government’s intention to make it clear that local authorities should consider the additional barriers that might prevent access to support. I would argue that speech and language difficulties fall precisely and squarely into that area of additional barriers and that we would want to see the Minister’s expectations realised. This will happen in the statutory guidance that is anticipated only if those extra requirements are made explicit. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to the case we are making, so I ask him for some assurances on that point, recognising that women and children, who cannot defend themselves or seek protection because they cannot ask for it, or find it, easily, can themselves be easily overlooked and denied fundamental rights and protection.
These are serious issues that affect significant numbers of people. Help can be provided through explicit statutory protections, even in guidance, and we hope that the Government will give serious thought to this.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friends Lord Ramsbotham and Lady Andrews. In a response to a Written Question in June last year from Geraint Davies, the Member of Parliament for Swansea West, the Minister drew attention to the government website provisions and referenced different languages and British Sign Language. These are all welcome and laudable initiatives, but they require a person to be able to read, have reasonable IT literacy and be able to communicate to others. As chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum, my specific concern here is for those with learning difficulties.
I have become very aware of the startlingly high incidence of abuse of people with any type of disability, as we debated last week. For many, even easy-read format is not enough. I draw attention to Books Beyond Words, which explore topics in pictorial format. One example is Telling About Abuse: a Leaflet for Deaf Adults. These books can be used irrespective of any language. The Ask for ANI initiative is excellent and the easy-read information on the government website is easy to follow. It lays out the number 55 to use on dialling 999 in a way that is indeed easy to follow.
This amendment does not imply any criticism of all the Government have done so far. However, I suggest that they can build on it by including the spirit of this amendment in statutory guidance. The important 2015 report from Public Health England, Disability and Domestic Abuse: Risk, Impacts and Response, states:
“Effective domestic abuse services for disabled people should be accessible and barrier-free.”
Those with severe sensory, cognitive or communication impairments or mental health issues may be particularly at risk and unable to access support through any standard routes. Even having a severe stammer can make using the phone difficult, let alone if a person is aphasic or dysarthric. Some people may need augmentative and alternative communication devices or urgent speech and language and other specialist support.
People with an intellectual disability are at least 1.6 times more likely to experience violence. They may be less able to defend themselves or even to recognise, report and escape abuse. Impairment, such as traumatic brain injury or intellectual, learning or cognitive impairments, may limit a disabled person’s ability to understand and recognise the potential signs of danger and abuse. All this is compounded if people with sensory impairments miss visual or auditory warning signs of abuse.
NICE guidance on domestic abuse recommends that support is tailored to meet disabled people’s needs. In responding to this amendment, I hope the Government will be able to provide assurance that the guidance will require all domestic abuse services to stay up to date with advances in communication and information resources, including new technology.
My Lords, this is a small amendment but nevertheless it is definitely a point worth making. I was not privy to the debate last week, but my reading of the amendment was that it piggybacked on Clause 55(1)(b), on the requirement to prepare and publish a strategy for providing support. I read it as requiring the local authority to communicate the support available, as opposed to the strategy itself—so I was right there.
“Accessible and inclusive” is important too for people with communication difficulties. It is obvious that to have support available, you have to have potential recipients actually know about it. That means putting notices in accessible, everyday places where potential victims will see them. I have seen them on the back of toilet doors, and I would like to see them on workplace notice boards, buses, Tubes and billboards, and in shops and myriad other places. They must be accessible for everyone: in Urdu, Romanian, Greek, African—you name it. In order to be able to read or see a notice, people need it to be there in front of them.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said, as well as ease of reading, it is important that we consider all kinds of disability and use more innovative, technical methods of communication. The message must be clear. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, also mentioned books without words, which is a very useful idea. That message, “you are not alone”, “help is at hand”, “dial this number”, “go to your pharmacist and ask for ANI”, and so on, could literally be a life saver.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, this short but important debate follows on from the similar issues we debated earlier in Committee on Wednesday. As I said then, we are absolutely committed to ensuring that victims of domestic abuse and their children get the right support to meet their individual needs. People facing communication barriers are, arguably, some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse given the added difficulties and barriers they face in asking for help and accessing the support available, so it is welcome to have this opportunity to explore that further through this amendment.
I share the concerns of all noble Lords who have spoken and can, I hope, reassure them by saying that local authorities’ strategies will be published in line with the regulations on accessibility or, to give them their full title, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018. These regulations provide guidance and accessibility requirements for public sector websites and apps for mobile telephones. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, said, it is important that public sector bodies keep pace with changing technologies and the variety of ways in which people can seek assistance.
Local authorities will also want to ensure that the information they provide is accessible in other formats for people unable to use websites or mobile devices, including providing information in languages other than English to reflect their local population, as noble Lords mentioned.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, made a valuable point: it is all very well providing support for victims of domestic abuse with safe accommodation and all the rest of it, but some victims may not fully benefit from that support if they face communication barriers in accessing it. It is incumbent on tier 1 local authorities in exercising their functions under Part 4 to ensure that information about the support available is accessible to everyone who needs it. I am very happy to say that we will consider how the issues raised in this debate and earlier in Committee can be properly addressed in the guidance issued.
Having said that and given those reassurances, I hope the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.
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 that response and all noble Lords who spoke to this amendment. We shall carefully consider all that Ministers have said during the passage of the Bill and decide before Report whether it strikes a balance between providing local authorities with the flexibility to meet local needs and ensuring a consistent approach to the provision of support. Until then, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 90 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 91. 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 to a Division must make that clear in debate.
91: Clause 55, page 35, line 19, at end insert—
“(d) ensure all Child Contact Centres and organisations that offer facilities or services for child contact are accredited, to ensure domestic abuse and safeguarding protections for children and families.”
My Lords, this amendment concerns the protection of children and the importance of child contact centres being accredited to ensure that. As we have heard in previous debates, the UK has one of the highest rates of family breakdown. This should be a cause of great concern in our society. With nearly 25% of children living with only one of their parents and more than a million who never see the other parent after separation, child contact centres are more important than ever.
The mission of the National Association of Child Contact Centres is to ensure that:
“Parenting shouldn’t end when relationships do”.
All the research on family breakdown has shown that children in general do better when they have contact with both parents. Many children still view a non-resident parent as an important figure and value their effort and commitment to maintain contact. However, we have heard of the damaging impact on children of experiencing or witnessing domestic abuse and the ways in which children can be used to manipulate or abuse a parent. This means that careful consideration must be given to each case when discerning appropriate contact arrangements while ensuring that the voice of the child is at the centre of everything that is done.
The National Association of Child Contact Centres has 350 accredited centres so far across England and Wales. They have been evaluated through an independent standards panel which assesses compliance to the agreed national standards, which can lead to accreditation. However, there is currently no specific provision in law to ensure the same high standards across all child contact centres and services, or across all postcodes. There is no requirement for oversight of centres and services for self-referred cases outside the court system.
Contact centres provide a safe, neutral environment where children can meet and play with family members they do not live with. Many families are referred by the courts to supported contact centres, run by volunteers who keep an eye on the children at the centre, or supervised contact centres run by qualified social workers. In cases where a parent has a history of domestic abuse or other harmful behaviour, supervised contact centres provide a neutral drop-off point so that a victim parent does not have to meet their abuser and interactions between parents and children can be closely monitored.
It is essential that all contact centres are accredited, with high standards of services and safeguarding, to ensure the safety and well-being of children who have already been through so much. Without high standards of training and staff supervision, it is all too easy to miss the early warning signs of re-emerging or escalating problems. I hope that the Government will recognise the importance of child contact centres for families and children who have experienced domestic abuse, and that they will seek to ensure that all families have access to an accredited centre which can meet their increasingly complex needs. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. Her introduction covered all the points that were made in the various briefings sent to me. I am also conscious that the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, is a long-standing expert in this area who has been pursuing the issue for many years. I thought that I would make a different point from that which is set out in the briefings.
I sit as a family magistrate in London. I am also the chairman of the Greater London Family Panel, which means that I have a pastoral responsibility for 300 family magistrates. About six weeks to two months ago, I sent all my colleagues the email address of the NACCC because I thought all that information would be a useful resource for them to use in their work in court. I specifically did this recently, while we have been moving in and out of lockdowns, because one issue that has been coming up in court a lot is the reasons for contact breaking down. We were told many times that the contact centres were not open. The truth of the matter is that it is a mixed picture and some forms of contact have been facilitated by different centres. Using the NACCC website, we have been able to check with the relevant contact centres to see whether what we had been told by the participants in court proceedings was indeed true. In some cases it was not true; the parents had not been facilitating contact when it was available.
I have given a practical example of how useful the information provided by the NACCC can be. I understand that the purpose of this amendment is to regularise and put it on a similar footing to other children-based services. I also understand that there is a long history of trying to regularise the status, if you like, of the NACCC. I am happy to have added my name to this amendment and hope very much that the Minister will give it a favourable response, so that people can be confident that only appropriately regulated services will be available for parents.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and pay tribute to his wealth of experience as a family magistrate. I too am delighted to lend my support to the amendment and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, on introducing it so eloquently. It follows on from a Private Member’s Bill which I sponsored soon after I was introduced into the House. It called for the equalisation of standards for child contact centres; that is, centres offering public and/or private provision.
I am sure my noble friend Lord Wolfson will recall, from his early days in private practice, some of the heartrending cases we have all had to deal with of trying to allow and permit family relationships to continue. That is why I pay tribute to the National Association of Child Contact Centres and declare my interest as a vice-president. I join the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in paying fulsome tribute to the work it does. I am also an officer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Child Contact Centres and Services, where we try and bring these issues to the fore in both Houses of Parliament.
This amendment is particularly appropriate to this clause in Part 4 of the Bill, which looks at local authority support. Children are often caught up as innocent victims of domestic abuse but it is essential they maintain contact, in so far as is safe and possible, with both parents in any family situation. What is clear at the moment is that public and private provision in child contact is not equal; it is important to ensure safeguarding is recognised and extended to both. The child contact system, as I understand it, is the only child service that is not nationally accredited or regulated, and addressing this is the purpose of Amendment 91. I accept this clause is looking at the “Support provided by local authorities”, but it is in these difficult situations that a child may have suffered through no fault of their own from the abuse of a parent—most likely, the non-resident parent.
I hope my noble friend Lord Wolfson, other noble friends and the Government will look favourably on this amendment. It seeks to rectify a situation to ensure all child contact centres will work to the highest standards and that those children who are separated from one or other parent, in these particularly sensitive situations, will continue to have access and contact with both parents. It seems entirely appropriate that we consider Amendment 91 against the background of Part 4. In these circumstances, I am delighted to lend my support to Amendment 91 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and others who have lent their support.
My Lords, I too was delighted to add my name to this amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has already made an excellent case for why all child contact centres should be accredited, and I will not detain the House by repeating those arguments.
I have some difficulty understanding why the Government are reluctant to accept the case for all child contact centres to be accredited. It is not a cost to them, after all, and even if there were a cost attached, I would argue it would be worth it. This is the only example of a child service that does not require universal accreditation or regulation. But it places the child in a potentially dangerous and damaging situation because they may not be supervised by trained staff in an appropriate and consistent environment.
The Government, in a letter to the National Association of Child Contact Centres, confess to not knowing about the nature and extent of unaccredited child contact centres. So, they do not know the size of the problem or the standards that these centres are operating at. Of course, accreditation does not guarantee a child’s or a parent’s safety, but it would ensure safeguarding risks are accounted for. There would be quality and consistency in all child contact centres. We know that children, as well as mothers, get killed. Why on earth would we take the risk of having untrained staff manning unaccredited child contact centres?
The courts and Cafcass should refer children to accredited centres. We have the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, to thank for that. If an accredited centre is good enough for these children, why should it not be good enough for every child? Would the Minister reflect, before he responds, on whether he is willing to take the risk?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, for introducing this amendment and I recognise, of course, the reasons why she has tabled it. This has been a short but extremely valuable debate on a crucial part of the architecture of the law in this area. I am afraid that I cannot confirm to my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering that I came across cases like this in my practice but I can confirm that, when he sat as a judge, my father always told me that family law cases, which raised issues such as we have been debating this evening, were the most important and often the most difficult that he came across.
I suspect that there is a broad measure of agreement across the Committee. We all agree that the provision of child contact centres is extremely important in supporting families and enabling parents to have contact with their children, while providing a safe environment that protects children and adults from potential harm. When moving her amendment, the noble Baroness made three points of principle from which I do not demur at all: first, the courts must always give careful consideration to the circumstances of each case; secondly, the child must be at the centre of the debate and the focus of what is going on; and, thirdly, we must have high standards. There is nothing between us on any of those points. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, set out from his personal experience—magistrates are not professional but, given the amount of time that the noble Lord puts into it, I ought perhaps to have said his professional experience—and, as we accept and know, the National Association of Child Contact Centres, the NACCC, as the sole accreditor of such services in the private law sector, provides an invaluable service, and the same high standards are required in the provision of services in the public law sector.
That said, I question whether statutory accreditation of all child contact centres is, in fact, the best mechanism to achieve the objective of the amendment: namely, to ensure domestic abuse protections as well as the maintenance of safeguarding for children and families. The family court cannot refer families to a non-accredited child contact centre as part of a child arrangements order. In private law cases, a traditional protocol has been in place for nearly two decades, guiding courts to refer families to child contact centres and services which are members of the NACCC and therefore subject to agreed national standards and an accreditation process.
Since 2018, Cafcass and the NACCC have established a memorandum of understanding under which Cafcass will refer to and commission only NACCC-accredited centres and services. Cafcass will therefore not advise any parent to attend a non-accredited centre or use non-accredited services. As set out by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, the Government are keen to work with the NACCC to improve information and signposting to accredited child contact centres as part of an improved range of information and support for both separating and separated parents. In so far as local authorities are concerned, in discharging their statutory obligation under Section 34 of the Children Act 1989—to promote contact between children and their parents and other family members, including siblings and grandparents—local authorities are already subject to legal, inspection and accountability frameworks to protect and safeguard children in their care.
I recognise that local authorities increasingly outsource to external providers to deliver the service on their behalf. This is particularly the case when a local authority child contact centre might be in one location while the child has a foster care placement some distance away. Rather than requiring the child to travel a significant distance to undertake contact, the local authority may consider it to be in the child’s best interest to remain at a location closer to their home. This means that the local authority may outsource a provision to an external provider to deliver the contact on the local authority’s behalf. I hope that provides one answer to the question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, as to why the Government do not accept the amendment.
However, even where the provision is outsourced, the local authority, with its statutory duty under the Children Act 1989, remains responsible for ensuring that the services it commissions and are delivered on its behalf are of good quality. It does this through the commissioning, contracting, inspection and evaluation processes. Given the regulatory and compliance mechanisms already established for local authorities, we believe that a requirement of mandatory accreditation for such services would impose an additional layer of costs and bureaucracy on local authorities, which we are particularly keen to avoid at this time. Importantly, we have seen no evidence to indicate that local authorities are failing in their existing statutory obligations so as to justify the imposition of this extra level of compliance through mandatory accreditation of child contact centre provision.
The current system allows for flexibility of provision to meet the needs of the local authority and the children in its care. Different families need different provision—this is not one size fits all. One has to look at the circumstances of the case and the age of the children involved when considering the child contact environment. What is an appropriate environment for one family might not be appropriate for another. Some would thrive in a formal setting, some in an informal setting, and older children are likely to be uncomfortable in settings designed for younger children. Therefore, there is a need for flexibility, and mandatory accreditation has the potential to risk damaging that necessary flexibility. There might, for example, be a problem where the local authority social work team with the duty to provide the contact has decided that a foster carer’s home is the most appropriate place for family contact to take place. If every such placement had to be registered and regulated, above and beyond the current legal, inspection and accountability obligations placed upon local authorities, the process could become too onerous or costly for smaller providers and they might simply stop providing the service. That loss of flexibility would not be in anyone’s interests, certainly not in those of the children and families for whom that setting might have been most appropriate.
However, I come back to the point I made at the start of my remarks: I believe there is no disagreement of principle in the Committee. Should the Government be provided with evidence about the number of unaccredited child contact centres and the problems they are causing, we would be pleased to engage in discussions about how they may be effectively addressed. I believe that as matters stand, any problems that exist with the current process can be addressed using existing mechanisms, rather than by the introduction of additional statutory requirements. However, I am happy to look at any further evidence and to engage in discussions on the basis of that evidence.
I do not know whether that amounts to what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, hoped would be a favourable response, but I hope it is. In any event, I respectfully urge the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to withdraw her amendment.
I have received two requests to speak after the Minister, from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby.
My Lords, I did not put my name down to speak to this amendment because this is not something I know much about; I was waiting for the next group. However, listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, say that some of these child contact centres are not accredited left me astonished. I listened to the Minister’s explanation very carefully; I thought it was utterly specious from start to finish. I take his point that he does not want to put more cost and bureaucracy on local authorities. Obviously, this Government have stripped local authorities to the bare bones, so I understand if they have no scope for doing any more work. Perhaps this is something that the Government would like to finance. Accreditation is absolutely necessary; it is a safeguarding issue. I just wonder what will convince the Minister. If a safeguarding issue happens and a child and family suffer, will that change the Government’s mind? I find it absolutely incredible. The thought that there is no central body that monitors or collects data is staggering. I urge the Minister to discuss this further with the proposer of this amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. It was not my intention to be specious. I was trying to be accurate and constructive. I have already said that I will engage with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, if she provides evidence that there is a systemic problem with the current arrangements that cannot be resolved by the existing mechanisms. That was a genuine offer. I am sure that the noble Baroness will take me up on it. I will be very happy if she does.
My Lords, the Minister has invited comments about potential systemic problems. I draw his attention to one group of cases which he did not refer to: people who self-refer to contact centres. They are not sent there by social workers or by the courts, but are self-referring for their own reasons—trying to sort out the issues themselves. They could easily end up at unregulated contact centres, which may well be cheaper, so if the noble Lord is looking for systemic problems, I suggest that this may well be one.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for that point. As I said in my response to the main debate, even unaccredited centres are still subject to the various requirements that I set out, but I am very conscious of the noble Lord’s expertise in this area. In a previous answer, I committed to writing a long letter to him. I do not want to add to it now, but perhaps he and I can have discussions, with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, which include the point he raises. I hope that is helpful.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his response, and for saying that he will meet me and, I hope, the other noble Lords who have put their names to this amendment and whose experience is extremely important. I find it difficult to understand why the Government do not want to close this loophole. It seems terribly important to ensure that there is adequate safeguarding of children. I have a real worry that the commissioning process is more likely to fail now that there are increasing pressures on local authorities, and that the need to ensure accreditation has become even greater. Sadly, in some areas, the local authority does not have a great deal of choice as to the services that are there, so I would question the flexibility to pick and choose implied in the Minister’s response. I will certainly make every effort, with those who have co-sponsored the amendment, to get as much data as we can for him.
As the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, who certainly knows more about this than any of the rest of us, highlighted, this is the only service which is not nationally accredited. This seems remarkably dangerous. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, rightly pointed out that it is self-referrers who may use centres that are not accredited, and they will quite often have alcohol, drug or other problems they are trying to sort out. How they behave towards the children there must be observed carefully by people who know what they are looking for and have been properly trained, and where the whole service has been assessed against some standard criteria. In terms of the commissioning process, I would have thought that it would help local authorities to have those standards against which to check the services that they have on their patch and that they may be putting money into.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, pointed out, in a way it is completely at variance with the whole principle of the Bill if we do not include an amendment, with either this wording or something similar, in the Bill. The whole Bill is aimed at decreasing domestic abuse and protecting people from further abuse. It is not meant to be a straitjacket; it is meant to be a really supportive framework. However, if we do not have high standards in that framework, I fear that some of the most vulnerable—that is, the children—will drop through the gaps and we will see more children getting killed.
While for the moment I will withdraw the amendment —I am grateful for the support of everyone, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—I think we will need to come back to this at a later stage. I look forward to meeting the Minister. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 91 withdrawn.
Amendments 92 to 100 not moved.
Clause 55 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 101. 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.
101: After Clause 55, insert the following new Clause—
“Local Welfare Provision schemes
(1) Every local authority in England must deliver a Local Welfare Provision scheme which provides financial assistance to victims of domestic abuse.(2) The Secretary of State must issue guidance on the nature and scope of Local Welfare Provision schemes and review this twice each year in consultation with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and other such individuals and agencies as the Secretary of State deems appropriate.(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must provide local authorities with additional funding designated for Local Welfare Provision, to increase per year with inflation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would allow victims of domestic abuse to access a local welfare assistance scheme in any locality across England.
My Lords, Amendment 101 is the first in a group of amendments concerned with ensuring that local authorities can help local victims of domestic abuse and their children, and other victims who flee into the area. I am very grateful to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for supporting this amendment.
Amendment 101 talks specifically about emergency financial support to victims while Amendments 106 and 107, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell, and Amendment 176, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, deal with a wider range of provision and co-operation between service providers. I support those amendments, but in the interests of brevity I will leave it to those noble Lords to introduce them.
The point of Amendment 101 is to deal with the issue of women and children particularly who may live or arrive in a local authority area, perhaps just in the clothes that they stand up in. In the Bill the Government recognise the concept of economic abuse, which is a very welcome step. The amendment looks at how to tackle economic abuse when it is used by the perpetrator as an instrument of coercive control—for example, when a woman is deprived of funds so she cannot flee with her children. Local welfare schemes can offer welfare assistance in such emergencies but they vary in extent and quality, from holistic wraparound support systems to underfunded, underused schemes that often get forgotten. Women’s Aid research found that one-third of survivors leaving an abusive partner had to take out credit to do so. Smallwood Trust estimates that 70% of its applications for funds are received from women who are fleeing, or have fled, domestic abuse.
Emergency funding used to be provided by the Department for Work and Pensions in the form of the discretionary social fund, with community care grants often used to help survivors to set up and start again. However, since the responsibility for paying these grants has shifted to hard-pressed local authorities, whose income has been slashed by 60% over the last eight years, and any statutory obligation has ended, the existence of any funding help at all has become a postcode lottery. Since central government devolved the responsibility for payment to local authorities in 2013, the number of people receiving crisis support has plunged by 75%.
This amendment is supported by the crisis and destitution sector, including the Children’s Society and the Trussell Trust, as well as financial sector experts such as the Lloyds Bank Foundation, the Smallwood Trust, and Surviving Economic Abuse. By enabling this new clause to form part of the Bill, the Government would be holding out a financial lifeline to survivors so that they can afford to escape to safety with their children. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very happy to have put my name to this amendment. I support entirely what the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has just said, so I will not weary the House at this time by repeating any of it.
Local welfare provision schemes are vital to the ability of the Domestic Abuse Bill to offer what is needed in local authority areas, particularly in emergency situations, but also more broadly. It is very important that local authorities have sufficient funding. Again and again during debates on the Bill we have listened to those who have said, quite rightly, that the Bill is a good Bill but, unless it has the money, it will not work. Again and again we get very good legislation, but it does not get implemented. The main reason for the failure to implement good legislation is the lack of funding. We absolutely must not find ourselves doing that with this very good Bill. I would only add to it to please, please include welfare provision for victims of domestic abuse and those who suffer from forced marriage or modern slavery.
My Lords, I was pleased to add my name to Amendment 101, which in some ways follows on from my group of amendments on social security, debated last Wednesday.
If we had a decent social security system that provided genuine security to survivors of domestic abuse, including economic abuse, and still had a national emergency scheme like the Social Fund, we might not need local welfare assistance schemes. As it is, such schemes, which constitute the final safety net—leaving aside charitable support—are in a parlous state, despite the welcome injection of cash to help cope with the pandemic.
When local welfare assistance schemes were introduced to replace the national Social Fund, the Government refused to make them compulsory or to ring-fence the money allocated, despite your Lordships’ best efforts. It is no surprise, therefore, that when local authorities are strapped for cash because of years of cuts, research by the Children’s Society last year found that one in seven local authorities does not even run a scheme any more. It found that, of 121 authorities that provided spending data, about three-quarters spent less than half their allocated budget on local welfare assistance schemes. That budget has itself been cut, so that overall, it stands at less than half the money that was allocated to the Social Fund it replaced.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, has pointed out, the lack of any regulation has given rise to our old friend the postcode lottery, which is particularly damaging to domestic abuse survivors who might find themselves excluded by local connection criteria if they have moved local authorities to escape their abuser. A woman might find herself excluded because she is subject to the “no recourse to public funds” rule. It is essential that any guidance issued under this amendment, should it eventually pass, ensures that these groups are covered.
More generally, domestic abuse survivors need the security of knowing that they can get appropriate help from local authorities and not just help in kind which may well not be appropriate. It is not good enough that we have to rely on a charity to provide basic information on state local welfare assistance schemes because central government have taken the Pontius Pilate approach and washed their hands of all responsibility for the schemes, ignoring the recommendations of the Work and Pensions Committee in a previous Parliament.
Paul Maynard MP on the Government Back Benches is leading a cross-party call tomorrow in the Commons for a review of local welfare assistance schemes, supported by among others former Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith. Mr Maynard stated:
“We need to ensure we learn the lessons of the pandemic to embed a better provision of emergency support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.”
This amendment would at least require central government to exercise some responsibility towards this particularly vulnerable group of people and it therefore deserves support.
I also want to speak briefly in support of Amendment 176, leaving it to the sponsors of the amendment to make the case more fully. I am sure no one would dispute the importance of specialised domestic abuse provision for a range of minority groups, including particular provision by and for domestic abuse victims and survivors. It is just such provision which has been particularly vulnerable to funding cuts and changes in commissioning practises in recent years, as was discussed earlier. That is sufficient reason for supporting this amendment, but it would also go some way to redress the balance, following the welcome introduction in the Bill of a duty on local authorities to assess the need for accommodation-based services by ensuring the duty in this new clause covers community-based services. As important as accommodation-based services are—they are very important—the Justice Secretary noted at Second Reading debate in the House of Commons that 70% of domestic abuse victims never set foot in a refuge. Many of them will seek support from community-based services.
The Government say they need more evidence about the need for community-based services and that nothing can be done until the domestic abuse commissioner designate has completed her investigation. However, the domestic abuse commissioner herself and organisations on the ground insist there is ample evidence to make legislative provision now. What further evidence do the Government need?
In Committee in the Commons, the Minister assured MPs that
“the Government are committed to addressing”
Whatever the domestic abuse commissioner’s findings are,
“that the commissioner will publish her report under clause 8”,
and the Government are
“required to respond to it within 56 days.” ”—[Official Report, Commons, Public Bill Committee, 11/6/20; col. 249.]
That is all well and good, but this Bill will be on the statue book by then. The chances of another Domestic Abuse Bill coming along in the near future must be slim—just look at how long it has taken us to get to this point on this Bill. I hope the Government will listen to the experts, the domestic abuse commissioner designate and organisations on the ground and extend the duty on local authorities to assess the need for community-based services and accept this amendment as a way of doing so.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 176 and 177, in my name, and I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, for their support. Amendment 176 is broad, and, to try to help the House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby will speak to non-discrimination and the need for specialist services; the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will speak on community-based services and how they support victims and provide perpetrator programmes; and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, will speak to the unintended consequences that the Bill risks having.
As I said last week, I am delighted that it is my Government who are putting forward this Bill, which has my strong support. I thank Barnardo’s and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, among others, for their help and advice.
At the outset, I welcome the announcement today of £40 million funding for community-based sexual violence and domestic abuse services. The Government have acknowledged the effect that the pandemic has had. This welcome government support only strengthens my argument that community-based services need long-term and sustainable funding. I hope the Government can solidify their good intentions by announcing that they will place community-based services on the same statutory footing as accommodation-based services.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, was right just now. On 16 June last year, the domestic abuse commissioner designate wrote to the Domestic Abuse Bill Public Bill Committee in the other place to follow up on her oral evidence to it. I am happy to quote from her letter:
“As I said in my oral evidence, I strongly welcome the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s proposal to require Local Authorities to provide accommodation-based services, but it must go further. In order to address the breadth of domestic abuse services, the statutory duty must encompass those community-based services that are accessed by the majority of victims, survivors and their children, and must also include quality provision for perpetrators. I have very real concerns about Local Authorities redistributing their funding simply to meet the statutory duty, and therefore deprioritising those critical community-based services that can intervene earlier and prevent a survivor from being forced to flee to a refuge. There is already ample evidence to support this, and while my mapping work may well add to this evidence base, it is wholly unnecessary for Parliament to wait for it to complete before considering this issue.”
This is very clear. The commissioner designate acknowledges that the exercise will provide useful analysis of spending by local authorities on community-based services, but, crucially, she says that Parliament does not need to wait in legislating. She said this in June, and she has not changed her mind. This governmental concern about waiting is not shared by the commissioner and so many others, and I ask my noble friend the Minister to look at this again.
The other main concern has been the need to consult other public authorities. The new clause in Amendment 176 is structured so that it would improve service provision with immediate effect, with public bodies able to take into account relevant circumstances in deciding what constitutes “reasonable steps” and sufficiency. Taking new information into account, the nature of what constitutes “reasonable steps” and sufficiency will change accordingly as and when the outcome of any consultation or mapping exercise becomes available.
Many agencies are needed to tackle domestic abuse: among them are the police, housing, children’s services and the NHS. A multiagency approach is critical to ensuring that victims of domestic abuse are able to live and rebuild their lives free of abuse. The amendment brings these agencies together in a holistic approach.
The path to tackling domestic abuse is ensuring that all victims, adults or children, are able to access the support they require to recover from the trauma that they have experienced. For some victims, fleeing their home and seeking refuge in safe accommodation —a truly traumatic event in itself—may be their only option. Of course, this is no easy decision to arrive at: they may move miles away from their support networks and abandon their possessions and, sometimes, livelihoods, and their children may be taken out of their school—all for the pursuit of safety, while the perpetrator remains in the comfort of their own home.
For many victims, leaving home is just not an option: 70% of domestic abuse victims never set foot in safe accommodation, and it is clear that victims who are disabled, elderly, BAME or LGBTQ all face additional barriers to accessing safe accommodation—not to mention the vast number of child victims who are trapped. This is why I urge the Government to be bold and ensure that the Bill will help as many people in need as possible.
As I said at Second Reading, I am concerned that community-based services will become the poor relation. People will suffer; children will suffer. They will not be educated to know what is and what is not a healthy relationship. My amendments are an effort to find a way of ensuring that this becomes a landmark Bill that includes community-based services in a statutory duty. Children are at risk and I am endeavouring to ensure that they are at the heart of the Bill. The Government took an incredibly important step by recognising children under the age of 18 as victims of domestic abuse. However, they also need to receive support to ensure that the cycle of domestic abuse can be broken.
As it stands, the Bill will not ensure support for all children. Research from Action for Children suggests that there is significant variability in the level of provision for children and young people impacted by domestic abuse, both between and within local authorities in England and Wales. Children face barriers to accessing support in two-thirds of the local authorities included in the study, and there were no specialist support services at all for children in more than 10% of those local authorities. The Children’s Society found that only 39% of local authorities were providing a specialist support service for under-16s experiencing abuse in their own relationships, with 26 local authorities providing no specialist support for this age group.
Where support exists, it can and does change lives. Access to meaningful support is important for children’s long-term recovery. My fear is that, by excluding community-based services, we are in danger of creating a two-tier system of support which could result in victims having only one option left if they need support: that is, to place themselves at great risk by fleeing home. It could also result in diverting funding away from community-based services to ensure that the new duty on local authorities is fulfilled.
To truly tackle domestic abuse, we must be bold. We need to take a holistic, whole-family approach, with targeted interventions; to support adult victims to rebuild their lives; to support children experiencing domestic abuse; and to ensure that perpetrators have access to quality programmes to prevent offending and reoffending. This holistic approach is working in Norfolk and west Sussex. Barnardo’s Opening Closed Doors programme, funded by the Home Office, is working well in five local authorities in south-east Wales. By putting accommodation and community-based services on the same statutory footing, and placing a duty on the key public agencies which commission domestic abuse services, including local authorities, police and crime commissioners, and health, we can ensure that a holistic approach is available throughout the country.
The new clause proposed by Amendment 177 will ensure that the duty works in harmony with Welsh legislation. In Wales, health boards and local authorities are devolved. The new clause will require police and crime commissioners in Wales, who are not devolved, to take reasonable steps to comply with co-operation requests from Welsh local authorities or health boards on domestic abuse service provision. This will ensure co-operation in Wales between the key bodies with responsibility for such provision and aims to improve the provision of joined-up holistic services, to ensure a level of equivalence with the changes proposed by Amendment 176.
Amendments 176 and 177 are not only supported across this House; they are supported by the designate domestic abuse commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, the Children’s Commissioner, a range of police and crime commissioners, the British Association of Social Workers, and many organisations supporting victims and working with perpetrators. I reiterate that we have waited for this vital piece of legislation and I appeal to my noble friend the Minister: let us be bold and help as many people who need support as we can.
My Lords, I add my voice to those who have already welcomed this Bill and thank the Minister for the Government’s responses so far. I support all the amendments in this group but address my comments to Amendment 176, to which I was pleased to add my name. I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and commend his clear and passionate introduction to this amendment.
Although this Bill is welcome and long overdue, its success as legislation must ultimately be measured in how far it improves on current outcomes in supporting survivors of abuse. To that end, Amendment 176 seeks to strengthen the Bill to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse can equally access the protection and support measures they require.
I too support the Government’s good intentions in including a statutory duty to provide accommodation-based support and appreciated the earlier debate on that provision. However, I fear an unintended consequence: in placing the focus on that support, we risk undermining the funding and provision of specialist community-based services, notably including for many children who are victims of domestic abuse.
Community-based specialist services allow people to remain in their homes and retain the local, family and faith support networks that are often essential to recovery and resilience. Where we can provide essential support without survivors being forced to leave their homes unnecessarily, surely it is highly desirable to do so. There are already too few of these community-based services, often poorly and precariously funded, and it would be a bitter irony if this Bill were to further undermine this situation, to the detriment of a great many of the most vulnerable survivors. I highlight in particular those issues around children and migrant families as examples.
I restrict my comments to English provision, as I have received no request to speak on this amendment from my colleagues in the Church in Wales. It is a great privilege for me to serve as vice-chair of the Church of England Children’s Society and to know of the crucial work done by specialist children’s services, which has been referred to already in the debate.
Keeping children in their homes and schools is so important, so I echo the appreciation of work done already in this Bill, recognising that children can be victims of domestic violence in their own right. We cannot allow that work to be undermined by the services on which those children rely becoming in any way deprioritised by local authorities redistributing limited funding to meet a statutory duty on accommodation-based services.
This situation becomes particularly acute when it comes to migrant women and their families. Migrant women are unable to stay in much refuge accommodation due to its no recourse to public funds restriction. Only 5% of refuge spaces listed last year were available to migrant women, in specialised black and minority-ethnic refuges. Moreover, such specialist refuge provision for black and minority-ethnic women is very limited across England. It is mainly concentrated in England and is oversubscribed and precariously funded.
Of course, there are other amendments that focus on safe reporting, NRPF and leave to remain for migrant women—I appreciate listening to those debates—but this amendment is separate from those issues, for it focuses on a duty on local authorities, police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to take reasonable steps to ensure sufficient provision for all survivors through community and specialist services, as well as accommodation-based ones.
I started by saying that the success of this legislation must ultimately be measured by how far it improves current outcomes in supporting survivors of abuse. It would be a tragedy if we were to pass this legislation, only for community-based services thereafter to be further restricted in their provision of this necessary support. I therefore hope that the Minister can provide us with assurances that these services can be supported as this amendment proposes. If the Minister is unable to give such assurances now, I hope that ahead of Report there will be engagement and conversation with us on these important details concerning community- based provision.
My Lords, Amendment 176, to which my name is attached, inserts a new clause that requires local authorities, police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to take reasonable steps to ensure sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services in their local areas in both the community and refuges. This must include sufficient provision of services for children and young people, survivors with protected characteristics and migrant survivors as well as perpetrator programmes. The duty on local authorities under this amendment would improve service provision with immediate effect. Relevant public bodies would take relevant circumstances into account in deciding what constituted reasonable steps and sufficiency. As and when the outcome of any consultation, mapping exercise or guidance from the Secretary of State becomes available, the nature of what constitutes reasonable steps and sufficiency can change accordingly. As has been said, the domestic abuse commissioner-designate is undertaking a mapping exercise, but as the noble Lord, Lord Polak, has pointed out, she supports the new clause. She has said that she does not think that the mapping exercise needs to take place before the duty in the new clause, if added to the Bill, comes into force.
In speaking to Amendment 176, I want to talk in particular about adult victims and perpetrators in the context of the provision of community-based services. As we know, the majority of survivors of domestic abuse—some 70%—access support in community settings. The duty on local authorities in the Bill in respect of accommodation-based services will be of little statutory benefit to them, hence this amendment. In the last year, 65,000 adult victims, and I think about 85,000 child victims, at the highest risk of serious harm or murder received support through such community-based services. Community-based services are crucial because no one, if they can avoid it, wants to leave their home and their possessions and uproot their children from school—to effectively go into hiding—as a result of domestic abuse. Many would think it should be the perpetrator who should be uprooted. There is a danger that without the emphasis in this Bill being on the provision of community-based services as well as accommodation-based services, the latter will become the default option for adult and child victims, because the statutory provision—the duty on local authorities in respect of accommodation-based services—risks encouraging local authorities with limited resources to divert vital funds away from services provided in the community, such as advocacy, independent domestic violence advisers, outreach services and dedicated children’s services, to those services for which there is a statutory duty.
Currently, community service provision for even those victims at the highest level of risk of serious harm or murder is lacking, with 300 more domestic violence advisers still required as a minimum to help current victims to be safe. The availability of outreach workers for victims at lower risk levels is patchy across the country.
Support in accommodation is also much more expensive per service user than community-based support. Estimates suggest that each use of an accommodation-based service costs around £3,500, whereas community-based services cost an estimated maximum of just under £800 per user.
Estimates by the organisation SafeLives highlight the significant gap between what the Government have committed to combatting violence against women—a spend of some £100 million over four years—and their own calculation that £1 billion in total is required to fund the necessary provision just for adult victims of abuse.
With 2.4 million people experiencing domestic abuse every year, at considerable cost according to the Home Office’s own estimates, putting the required and necessary human and financial resources into combatting domestic abuse would recognise the significant impact that domestic abuse has not only on individuals but on the state, which then has to address all the local and nationwide issues that follow on from domestic abuse. Hence the importance of community-based services.
Last year the Government pledged £10 million for perpetrator programmes. However, very few areas commission perpetrator programmes. Less than 1% of perpetrators receive an intervention. Responses to freedom of information requests from Barnardo’s to English local authorities showed that levels of provision are highly variable. Some local authorities are providing rehabilitation services at a rate of 24.6 perpetrators per 10,000 of population. Others are providing them to just 0.1 perpetrators per 10,000 of population, and some are not providing any rehabilitation services at all.
A recent survey of front-line practitioners across England and Wales identified a lack of funding for perpetrator services as the biggest barrier. To respond properly to perpetrators and prevent reoffending, perpetrator interventions would cost a total of £680 million. If specialist quality-assured programmes for perpetrators are not provided, the current statutory duty will fail to place appropriate emphasis on the person causing the harm, instead placing the onus on the victim to leave their home, disrupt their children’s lives and potentially isolate themselves from their community networks and work. The Bill must ensure that all adult perpetrators have access to effective quality-assured perpetrator programmes to prevent offending and reoffending.
When this Bill was going through the Commons, 120 specialist community-based support services from across the country wrote to the Government and MPs to say:
“Our services have remained open during COVID-19—our staff have moved heaven and earth to make that so—ensuring we don’t let victims of abuse down. Now we look to you to continue that commitment by pledging to recognise the huge contribution of community-based services in the Domestic Abuse Bill”.
That is what Amendment 176 would enable the Government, and this House, to do.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 176 and 177, to which I was pleased to add my name. My three fellow sponsors have made such a good job of the case for the prosecution that I will try not to sound like a worn record. I am also very conscious, listening to proceedings on this Bill, that the neverending stream of amendments could be viewed as an unwitting discourtesy to what are clearly the Government’s good intentions. It sounds like the digestive rumblings of an incontinent House, which always seems to find something to complain about. However, we are not just complaining; we are trying to articulate the case for something we think is important.
These amendments share an important characteristic with Amendments 51 and 54, which I spoke to last week: they have the express support of Nicole Jacobs herself. These amendments, like those, are designed to enable her to hit the ground running, and to use the once-in-a-generation opportunity afforded by getting this Bill on to the statute book to put critical pieces of infrastructure and support in place as early as possible.
We all recognise that delivering accommodation-based services is not enough by itself, welcome though it is. They are essential and important, but they support, and will only ever support, a minority of domestic abuse victims and their families. It is community-based services that can interact with and support victims, with a complex interlocking range of specialist interventions. As I have discovered, it is an area rich with impenetrable—for an outsider—acronyms, such as: IDVAs—independent domestic violence advisers; YPVAs—young people violence advisers; ISVAs—independent sexual violence advisers, and IRIS workers. That is nothing to do with eyesight, but stands for identification and referral to improve safety. Behind these acronyms exist a wealth of specialist knowledge and sensitive and targeted support, which, as other noble Lords have mentioned, look after the needs of 70% of domestic abuse survivors, supporting them in the community, while only the remaining 30% are looked after in refuges.
Nicole Jacobs’s plea is for the Bill to be balanced in placing equal emphasis on the provision and financing of accommodation-based and community-based services in England and Wales. Without this, she is concerned that there will be unintended consequences, as the right reverend Prelate said, and that focusing more on one area than on both will create a form of unhelpful tension or competition, or will force local authorities into making difficult and unpleasant choices. That will do nothing to help the majority of domestic abuse survivors.
The commissioner is also saying that the urgency in remedying this potential imbalance is sufficient to justify acting now, rather than waiting for the mapping exercise to be completed. Nicole Jacobs is an expert. She was appointed because she is an expert. She knows this field inside-out, and if she is saying that we are in danger of getting the balance wrong, she deserves to be listened to, and listened to seriously. Given the strains that the last 10 months have imposed on all of us but, above all, on so many families and relationships already close to breaking point, it is imperative that we act sooner rather than later.
The 70% of domestic abuse survivors and their families who are supported in the community are foremost in the commissioner’s mind. We speak for her but, most of all, we speak for them. I hope that the Minister can work with us before Report to look at this and, above all, to listen to the expert herself— Nicole Jacobs.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I speak to Amendment 176 and congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak on introducing this amendment and gathering such cross-party support for its proposal. It clearly goes further than the original amendment tabled in this area, requiring not only local authorities, but police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups to ensure sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services in their local areas.
At Second Reading, I spoke about the importance of our obligations under CEDAW and the Istanbul convention, and how both make clear that violence against women and girls, especially domestic abuse, is a form of discrimination against women. It is even more so if the survivors are from an ethnic minority, migrant, disabled, or identify as LGBT. As such, the Government have international obligations to work to prevent domestic violence and provide sufficient specialist services to protect survivors and prevent it happening.
As we have already heard, there is a concern that, if the most welcome duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services in the Bill is not matched by an equal statutory duty to make provision for specialist community-based services, many women, especially those who manage to stay in their home, will not receive the help that they need. It is important that as many survivors as possible are safely able to stay in their own home.
Many of the organisations working in this sector argue that the majority—around 70%—of people experiencing domestic abuse and receiving support do so via community-based services. They provide a vital lifeline, including specialist services, such as independent domestic violence advisers, who advocate on behalf of survivors, drop-in services for children, helplines and so much more. The work of such services helps combat domestic-violence-driven homelessness. They enable victims to stay near support networks, schools and jobs, wherever possible. I welcome and support the proposals in this amendment and hope that the Minister considers them favourably.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of this group of amendments, in particular Amendment 176 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and other noble Lords. It seeks to ensure the provision of community services for as many victims of domestic abuse as possible. Noble Lords have spoken eloquently about access to community services for children and other groups, but I want to speak briefly about the issue of access to community services for older people.
I believe that this amendment will help to ensure that services for the elderly, who have not been looked after as well as they should have been, will not face any further disadvantages in the commissioning process. I am grateful for the briefing I have received from Hourglass, a charity devoted to safer ageing and the prevention of the abuse of the elderly. The charity makes clear what we all know, which is that there has been a very low level of uptake of services by older people who are suffering domestic abuse. Sadly, we know that such abuse does not apply just to younger people and those in adult life; it is all too prevalent in older life as well, so people need access to services that are appropriate to their needs, regardless of their age.
The Bill currently sets out a duty to be placed on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services but not, as we have been discussing, community-based services. As has also been said, this can lead to a situation where the former services will be prioritised to the detriment of community-based services. This amendment will ensure a balance between them.
The fact is that older people are much more likely to access community-based services rather than refuge services. Women’s Aid has said that, from 2010 to 2017, only 2.7% of service users were over the age of 65, with 2% using community-based services and 0.7% refuge-based ones. The lower number of older people, especially men, who are accessing services mean that they need to be protected. That means ensuring proper access to community-based services. I also support the amendment seeking to extend the statutory duty beyond local authorities to police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups.
I want to highlight the low level of service uptake by older people, so we must not do anything that might reduce those services or put barriers in the way of increasing access. The reasons for the low level of uptake more generally should be closely examined and more should be done to ensure that everyone can come forward and get the help and resources that are appropriate to their circumstances. The provision of properly funded community-based services is vital if all victims of domestic abuse are to be properly looked after. I believe that the amendment will go some way towards addressing that.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, and to endorse what he has said about the risks of abuse in relation to older people. We have two later groups of amendments where we will be able to debate these issues, so it is important to ensure that we do not miss out or fail to take seriously enough the very real risk of older people who can be the victims of many forms of abuse. However, little attention has been paid to them in past years.
I support Amendment 176, for the reasons other noble Lords have given. We saw in our debate on the group beginning with Amendment 89 the strong support for the requirements on local authorities in Part 4 to ensure sufficient provision of specialist accommodation in relation to domestic abuse. There is no question that this is an important element in the Bill, but there will be a real problem if community services are excluded. We know from legislation passed over many years that the problem with listing one specific set of services and excluding others is that local authorities will inevitably give priority to those services listed in legislation. The charity SafeLives has set it out very well:
“We have very serious concerns that, while well intended, the Government’s duty will push Local Authorities into reducing, rather than sustaining, vital services, leaving more vulnerable people in abusive situations. We are not making an argument against refuge, which is the necessary response for some women. However, mandating Local Authorities only to provide accommodation-based services runs the significant risk that the vast majority of adult and child victims who need a service will find that their options have narrowed.”
We heard the Minister say at Second Reading that we should await the expiration of the current community-based support landscape and that, following that, the Government would work with the commissioner to understand the needs and come back with options. However, we have heard tonight and on a number of occasions that the commissioner has said that the Government do not need to await the outcome of this exercise, because there is already strong evidence on the projected demand and actual provision. Will the Minister agree to amend the Bill to embrace community services? If she is not willing to do so, can she say how community services are to be protected?
My Lords, it may be late in the evening but the passion and energy in the speeches we have heard have not dipped at all. I will speak in support of Amendment 176 and join others in sending a very strong message to the Government that decoupling accommodation-based services and community-based services by law could have a severely detrimental effect on the very people this Bill is trying to help and serve to undermine the spirit of this legislation. Others have made such eloquent speeches; I do not want to repeat them given the time of evening, but I support them wholeheartedly.
Introducing a statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge services is welcome, much needed and based on the right intentions, but refuge is essential for only a small number of domestic abuse victims; far more deserve to stay in their home, as we have heard. Instead, we should remove the perpetrator who has caused the harm. Expecting adult and child victims to leave their possessions, friends, community and family to move to a hidden house with other traumatised victims cannot be the extent of our ambition in this era.
To reiterate a point that many have made in this debate and others, long-term, strategic funding must be put in place for these services. The surge we have seen in this pandemic has placed huge financial pressure on many of these organisations; we must be realistic about that. It is for this reason that many of us this evening, as well as the designate domestic abuse commissioner, are asking for reasonable measures to be put in the Bill to ensure that local authorities take steps to guarantee sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services, not just in refuges but in the community.
Other noble Lords and I have had long and detailed conversations with my noble friend the Minister. I am genuinely grateful for her time and commitment. There is no sense of “the computer says no” or having a tin ear; I know she is listening and cares deeply about this issue.
I know this issue is not straightforward. If it were, the Minister would have fixed it. I back this amendment but a compromise could be made by extending the remit of local partnership boards so they could assess the need for community-based services. This remit could also be extended to reporting back to government on multi-agency working at a local level to help provide greater oversight in ensuring that local partners comply with the statutory guidance accompanying the Bill.
The very essence of this Government’s approach to domestic abuse serves to underline how much value they place on services in the community that seek to prevent and stop the cycle of abuse. The Home Secretary herself spoke about changing the narrative from “Why doesn’t she leave?” to “Why doesn’t he stop?” Community-based services are the answer to this and, if anything, they should be elevated and not downgraded. Therefore, I urge the Government to think again.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 176 and 177 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, to give my support. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the children’s charity Barnardo’s. Barnardo’s and many other charities supporting child and adult victims of domestic abuse support the changes proposed in these amendments.
Following the debate in the other place, the Government rightly amended the Bill so that it recognises that children are victims of domestic abuse and not just witnesses or bystanders. Like many others, I am grateful to see this, as it shows common sense and joined-up policy. I congratulate the Government because the impact of domestic abuse on children must not be underestimated. It is the most common reason for children to be referred to local authority children’s services and it often creates trauma—and childhood lasts a lifetime. However, we know that, with the right support, children can recover from experiences of domestic abuse and can break the cycle and go on to live positive adult lives.
The danger with the Bill as drafted is that it offers this support only to some children, notably those who are in refuges or other safe accommodation. It does not secure support for the majority of victims, including children, who remain in the family home or elsewhere in the community. This can have some very damaging consequences, so we need joined-up thinking here too.
In the current financial situation, where funds are extremely tight and will remain so for some time, resources will inevitably go to services underpinned by a statutory duty. Under the Bill as drafted, the available resources would be concentrated in refuges and safe accommodation; very little would be left for the majority of victims in the community and those who continue to live at home. This could send out the message that in order to access support, you have to flee your home along with your children. This is surely not the message we want to send to victims.
There is a further question of how domestic abuse affects different communities. Evidence from Safelives suggests that victims from black, Asian and other minority communities typically suffer domestic abuse for almost twice as long before getting help, compared with those who identify as white. Disabled victims are often less able to leave their homes, so the impact is especially significant for them too. We also know that in some communities, there is a stigma attached to leaving your home and that services are not always culturally sensitive to this or able to engage effectively with those who need support.
The other problem here is one of missed opportunity. Victims, including children, will not reach the point of support until they are beyond crisis point, which is what often happens at the moment. This means that we miss the chance to support them early, to help families stay together and live in their homes safely, and to prevent the need for costly services.
We need to remember that time is much slower for children. Every day, every week that goes by in a dangerous home without support is eating away at their childhood, causing stress, anxiety and mental problems, and the longer they suffer trauma, the longer it will take to recover. Barnardo’s knows this. This has been the harsh reality for many families during the current lockdown. For all these reasons, it is vital that we use this once-in-a-generation Bill to secure support for all victims, adults, and children especially, from all backgrounds, wherever they live. This is why I support these amendments. They will help to make sure that support is available in the community, where it is desperately needed. I have much respect for the Minister and I hope that she and the Government will show compassion, consideration and empathy in the Bill for these vulnerable, forgotten victims who suffer domestic abuse while living in their own homes or in community-based services.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Benjamin and Lady Bertin. I have been a practitioner at the front-line of statutory and voluntary social work for more than 40 years. I have worked with victims and survivors of domestic violence and abuse. It is a privilege to see the Bill progressing. I am truly grateful to all noble Lords who support Amendments 101, 176 and 177.
Amendment 101 looks at the impact of economic abuse. This group of amendments is concerned with local welfare provision, including emergency financial services for victims, survivors and their children and would assist some of the most vulnerable women and children who are often left with nowhere else to go. Amendment 176 would extend the duty on local authorities to mandate specialist provision to work alongside organisations which have been working despite suffering drastic cuts. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, spoke of the 120 organisations that have written to Members in the other place. This amendment would put a statutory duty on local authorities to assess the need for community-based services on an equal footing. In my previous contribution, I highlighted, like other noble Lords, the staggering number of women who never seek refuge-based services, so I too welcome the £40 million announced by the Government. Will the Minister add £17 million so that it will be easy for these organisations to provide the relevant services?
Placing a duty on local authorities to work in partnership with long-respected organisations with specialist knowledge and skilled staff to deliver local welfare provision will be a critical component in safeguarding care and support for victims and survivors. We know that many local authorities have decimated the specialist services that for decades provided essential support and counselling for all women, including those of minority heritage who may require additional specialist services and expertise to deliver a more focused intervention arising out of their cultural, faith and linguistic requirements.
Some 8.7 million people experience economic abuse. The five-week delay in the payment of universal credit may preclude many survivors deciding to seek support. Economic sanctions and restraint by perpetrators have been powerful tools. The likely consequence is women victims and survivors holding back from seeking the help they need, so recognition of economic abuse in the Bill is welcome.
Amendment 101 would enable women to have their rightful dignity and care and would provide a necessary, immediate lifeline and relief by ensuring that all survivors can access local welfare assistance, including women victims and survivors with no recourse to public funds, who must not be excluded from safeguarding because of their immigration status. It is a great honour to support this group of amendments.
I will speak in support of Amendments 101, 176 and 177 to this absolutely excellent Bill, which is so clearly and urgently needed.
My experience has taught me for some time that the best method of dealing with domestic abuse is to ensure that there are properly co-ordinated approaches, particularly among the specialist services, at a local or community level, underpinned by clear national powers and funds properly targeted at the right priorities. To this end, it is important not only that funds are directed at providing financial assistance to the services that protect and deal with victims in every local authority but that the local authorities and the various justice agencies work closely together to provide integrated specialist services to try to prevent domestic abuse and to deal with the consequences, particularly for the victims, including child victims. I therefore strongly support Amendments 101 and 176.
I will add a word about Amendment 177. Unfortunately, because of the way in which devolution has proceeded in Wales, there is a very complex distribution of powers. It gives rise to what is aptly described as a “jagged edge” at the interface between those services for which the Welsh Government and Senedd are responsible, such as local authorities, health boards, social care and Cafcass, and other services, such as the police, for which the Home Secretary is responsible. As set out in the report of the commission I chaired, which was published last October, a long-term solution may be to devolve justice to Wales, but that is not a subject on which I wish to say anything this evening. What is important to address in the meantime is the working together of the relevant bodies; in particular, the co-ordination of the different legislation in Wales and the different structures of government.
In the report of the Commission on Justice in Wales, we drew attention to the leadership that the Welsh Government could show in deciding to tackle this, and to the success of the subsequent legislation—the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015—and the various other initiatives taken in Wales. The Act imposed on local authorities in Wales duties to prepare and implement strategies to tackle domestic abuse and to pursue other initiatives. The commission drew attention to the collaboration between the police and the Welsh Government in addressing these and similar issues, and to the structures that existed at local government level for this. Despite that, I think that this amendment is necessary to ensure that there can be no doubt about the statutory underpinning of the current structure of devolution of these distinct services.
This Bill—here and in other places—needs to ensure that until the jagged edge is eliminated, provision is made to strengthen the interface while acknowledging distinct governmental responsibilities. Amendment 177 is therefore particularly to be welcomed. Getting the legislation right so that it addresses the jagged edge is one thing. What is important, as Welsh Women’s Aid has so eloquently stressed, is ensuring that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, and the Welsh Act are implemented in a co-ordinated manner, that the services work together and that, above all, as so many noble Lords have said, there is proper funding, for without that none of this will work. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept all these amendments.
My Lords, I support all these amendments, which are very sensible and practical. I will take them in reverse order.
Getting the PCCs involved is a great idea—I am just astonished that it is not happening already. The earlier grouping considered the provision of refuges for people fleeing domestic abuse. I support the comments of my noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle on that, but I stress the importance of seeing refuges as part of an ecosystem of services available for survivors. I have visited refuges; they do their best and, obviously, they are safe and protected. At the same time, however, it is much better for survivors to stay in their own homes if they want to. The perpetrators—the abusers—ought to be the people who get ostracised from their communities and thrown out of the family house. I do hope that this will be possible. It would need adequate provision by specialist domestic abuse services, as would be required by Amendment 176, which I strongly support.
In those situations where a person does have to leave their local area, Amendment 101, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, would ensure that they do not fall into destitution while they start piecing things back together. I was very struck by the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Polak. I liked his urging the Government to be bold. Quite honestly, this is a great Bill and if they were to make it really wonderful, it would look so good for the Government; let us face it, they need some good optics these days. To be bold on this and actually do something for children—to mop up the school meals mess—would look great. So, I urge the Minister—all the Ministers—to think very hard about accepting almost all the amendments, which are being put in what I would call a very helpful way, to make this very good Bill a great Bill.
My Lords, I too will speak to Amendment 176. I am sorry, but I would also like to make a couple of points regarding the mapping exercise by the designate domestic abuse commissioner.
My noble friend the Minister said that the Government need to see the final results before they can work out how to develop proper options to support victims. While I have tremendous respect for Nicole Jacobs, this is to my mind a reasonable argument. The Government need to see the in-depth data. They cannot just rely on projections before providing the necessary provisions. However, they do not need the results of this exercise to understand the commissioner’s very real concerns that local authorities will redistribute their funding to meet the statutory duty at the expense of community-based services.
As I said at Second Reading, the duty on accommodation-based services was made with the very best of intentions, but if it sends a signal to local authorities that refuge is the easy option—we are funding it; it is easier to provide; there is a duty—we really could be creating a two-tier system. So, while I accept the need to await the final data, I would like to ask my noble friend whether the Government are looking at other options to avoid this outcome, be that by a future review of the duty now that the main commissioning bodies, including the PCCs, have said they would welcome an extension, or by a requirement for the statutory tier 1 board to include community-based services in its needs assessment and annual strategy.
Even if the statutory duty does not apply, this would recognise the fact that accommodation and community-based services need to be looked at in the round, not least because a lot of referrals to refuges come initially from community-based services. The better-performing local authorities already do this, but all too often that is because they have someone good in post. Extending the responsibilities of the board would take the responsibility away from the individual and provide a better framework around commissioning, particularly for those lesser-performing authorities—the ones which, frankly, are more likely to reach for refuge as the easier option.
Finally, if the duty cannot be extended, will the Government look at different funding options for community-based services? Today’s announcement of £40 million for specialist support services is incredibly welcome but it is still set in the context of Covid. At Second Reading, my noble friend said that the Government were developing a victim funding strategy. I realise that it may be too soon to give further detail but I hope this will look at the problems of too many one-year contracts, which mean ongoing uncertainty and less room for innovation and longer-term strategic thinking, particularly with regard to prevention and perpetrator programmes.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. I am pleased to speak in support of Amendment 176 in the name of my noble friend Lord Polak.
Extending the current statutory duty to police and crime commissioners and clinical commissioning groups is a welcome step that the Local Government Association has previously called for. There needs to be a mutual duty on a range of organisations to ensure that there is provision of emergency accommodation and community support service, and not just a duty placed on tier 1 local authorities. However, it remains my view that imposing a statutory duty on local authorities that is overly prescriptive and does not allow for local flexibility is not the best way of improving services. An improvement-led approach is the best way to provide local domestic abuse services.
The £40 million for specialist services has already been referred to, and is most welcome. However, it is not clear whether the funding made available in the government spending review will be adequate to meet the needs of all domestic abuse victims, as the allocation of funding per area is still to be announced. A statutory duty to deliver community-based services and specialist services will not be effective without a clear commitment from government to provide adequate and sufficient funding, as many speakers have said today. There is a need, long called for, for wider investment in prevention and early intervention services, community-based support and perpetrator interventions. Additional investment in these preventive services is vital.
My Lords, many important points have been made in this debate. In particular, I hope my remarks on Amendment 177 will supplement the points made by my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd.
I was glad to hear from Jane Hutt, Deputy Minister and chief whip in the Senedd, in her letter to me of 29 January that the designate domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, has agreed to hold regular meetings with the Welsh Government to discuss how to further improve the prevention of domestic abuse and support victims in a devolved context. The Welsh Government are a strong advocate in eradicating all forms of domestic abuse.
Sadly, calls to Wales’s national helpline, Live Fear Free, rose by nearly 50% in the first wave of the pandemic, call time trebled and callers often reported more frequent abuse with shorter escalation periods. Visits to the Live Fear Free website increased markedly too. I am glad to know that Her Majesty’s Government are working closely with the Welsh Government, because it is crucial that the Domestic Abuse Bill and the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 are complementary and enable all victims of domestic abuse across England and Wales to have access to the specialist services that they need, wherever they live.
We must leave no gaps in the legislation for victims of domestic abuse to fall through. I hope the Minister can assure me that both non-devolved and devolved public sector actors can work together to ensure that our service models are aligned and that equivalent funding is allocated to support domestic abuse services in Wales.
According to Welsh Women’s Aid, even before the pandemic over 500 survivors were unable to access refuges due to lack of space, capacity and resources. Now, when many do not have access to their usual support networks, it is more important than ever that we leave no one behind. Domestic abuse survivors in Wales must be able to easily understand how the devolved and non-devolved competency areas interact and have confidence that they will have access to the services they need, when they need them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, my noble friend Lord Polak, and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate have spoken to one of the core aims of this Bill, which is the provision of support to victims of domestic abuse and their children and, in particular, the provision of community-based support.
I am going to start with Amendment 176, because it has been the most spoken about and most clearly addresses this objective. If there is one thing on which we are all united—the central tenet of this Bill—it is that domestic abuse victims receive the support they need. This can be seen in the new statutory duty, included in Part 4 of the Bill, to provide support to domestic abuse victims and their children within safe accommodation. However, extending the duty in Part 4 is not without its challenges, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said.
The duty as it stands applies to tier 1 local authorities in England, and as such there is no ambiguity in where responsibility and accountability lie. Amendment 176 proposes something rather wider, applying to local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. The drafters of the amendment are to be commended for seeking to navigate the devolution settlement in Wales, and I suspect that Amendment 177 is intended to complement Amendment 176 by addressing the position in Wales.
In placing a duty across three categories of public authority, the amendment could risk creating uncertainty about where the responsibility for discharging the duty actually resides. To that extent it lacks the clarity of the Part 4 duty, although I note the provision in the new clause for conflict resolution. I do not suggest that this is an insurmountable problem with the amendment.
It is important to recognise that there are already significant community-based support services available to victims of domestic abuse and other crime. Since 2014, Ministry of Justice funding has helped police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime within their local areas, addressing the specific local needs identified within their communities. This funding totalled £68 million in 2019-20. The strong knowledge held by police and crime commissioners about demographics and crime in their local areas allows them to allocate funding to those victims in need.
Clearly, local authorities and clinical commissioning groups also have a role to play, as have others. I recognise, however, that the current commissioning landscape is complex. I understand the need to ensure that whatever arrangements are in place, they are delivering comprehensive service provision and that the needs of victims are being met. It is essential too that perpetrators are held to account for their actions and challenged to make long-term, meaningful changes to their behaviour.
However, I put it to noble Lords that Amendment 176 is putting the cart before the horse. We cannot and should not legislate before fully understanding the current landscape of provision, knowing where the gaps are, how best to fill those gaps and what it is going to cost, as my noble friend Lady Sanderson said. This is the methodical process we went through before introducing the provisions in Part 4, backed up by £125 million in new funding. We need to adopt a similar process to community-based support.
For this reason, I welcome the domestic abuse commissioner’s commitment to leading a detailed mapping exercise into the current community-based support landscape, the pilot of which has already commenced in four local authority areas. That work is due to be completed towards the end of this year. The Government are committed to addressing the findings of this review and, should we find that there is a need for legislative changes, it is right and proper that we should consult on those so we can consider the views of the affected public authorities. In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, there will be further opportunities to legislate in this area, including the upcoming victims’ law.
This exercise will do for community-based services what the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government did for accommodation-based services in significant depth before establishing the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill—I was a Minister in MHCLG when the whole process began. It held lengthy consultations with local authorities, the domestic abuse sector and victim support organisations before committing to the best course of action. Only through thorough engagement and investigation was it possible to understand whether legislative change was truly necessary and design a statutory duty that would appropriately address the needs of victims.
I recognise the concerns that the statutory duty in Part 4 may affect the existing provision of community-based services. As I have indicated, we are allocating £125 million to local authorities in 2021-22 to fund the new duty. As my noble friend Lord Polak said, the recent spending review has also secured an additional £40 million to victims of crime, including domestic abuse, in the community. Those details were announced today. This is on top of the additional funding we have provided to meet the immediate needs arising from the pandemic. I hope this provides reassurance that the Government take seriously their commitment to supporting all victims.
Of course, the argument can be made for more investment, but noble Lords will understand that we cannot make the case to the Treasury without the evidence to back it up. The commissioner’s mapping work is central to having that knowledge and understanding to enable us to make the case for more money. I know that Nicole Jacobs takes a different view, and it is an area where we will respectfully just have to agree to differ. It is her role to advise the Government and it is our clear responsibility to back up any new statutory duties with clear evidence of unmet need and a full understanding of the costs involved.
Additionally, the new domestic abuse strategy, complementing the refreshed violence against women and girls strategy, will further focus government attention on the needs of domestic abuse victims and perpetrators. Alongside this, the refresh of the national statement of expectations, due to be published later this year, will set out best practice for commissioning all violence against women and girls services. Finally, we are launching a victim funding strategy, to be published this year, to ensure that funding and commissioning practices for all victims are as effective as possible. I agree with my noble friend Lady Sanderson on the need for sustainable funding.
Amendment 101 seeks to ensure that all survivors of domestic abuse have access to a local welfare assistance scheme in any locality across England. We understand the importance of local welfare and assistance to provide an emergency safety net at times of unexpected need. Local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of the most vulnerable in their communities. That is why changes were introduced in 2013 to give local authorities the maximum flexibility to deliver emergency support as they see fit, according to local needs. The 2014 local welfare provision review found that local authorities were able to effectively target support at those who needed it most, joined up with wider social care.
The Government have provided local authorities with £131.7 million for local welfare assistance through the local government finance settlement in 2020-21. It is for local authorities to decide how best to use that funding, but in doing so they should ensure there is support for those most in need, including domestic abuse survivors.
We are committed to ensuring that people experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse have the local support they need. In particular, economic hardship should not be a barrier to someone leaving an abusive partner. In addition to local welfare support, those escaping domestic abuse can seek financial support through the welfare system.
Finally, on Amendment 177, I recognise the need for effective partnership working across the reserved-devolved demarcation line in Wales. I put it to my noble friend that the mechanisms are already in place to enable PCCs to co-operate with local authorities and health boards in Wales, including through community safety partnerships and the forthcoming new serious violence duty. While PCCs will not be subject to the serious violence duty, as with their existing functions in relation to community safety partnerships, PCCs may choose to collaborate with local partnerships and take a convening role to support the development and implementation of the local strategy.
Given these considerations, the amendments are, I suggest, premature. The Government recognise the importance of community-based services for those affected by domestic abuse. As I have said, we are committed to investigating, in collaboration with the domestic abuse commissioner, what needs to be done to ensure that victims who stay in their own home with their children are receiving the support they need. So that this work can go forward, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.