House of Lords
Wednesday 10 March 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, while others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House. Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Modern Foreign Languages: Teachers
My Lords, we continue to monitor closely the modern foreign language—MFL—teacher supply and offer bursaries worth up to £10,000 tax free to encourage talented trainees into MFL. In 2020-21, there were 1,687 postgraduate trainees in MFL, an increase of 300 on the previous year and accounting for 72% of the annual target that we set for recruiting postgraduate trainee teachers. In 2019-20, 93% of MFL trainees gained qualified teacher status and 74% of them started teaching in state schools.
My Lords, against that backdrop of a 28% shortfall and a drop of more than one-third in students doing MFL degrees since 2011, I congratulate the Government on their change of heart in deciding last week to add all MFL teachers to the shortage occupations list. This year’s small increase of 300 is by all accounts going to be temporary, so will the Government now also quickly reverse the dramatic cut in MFL training bursaries from £26,000 to only £10,000, as mentioned by the Minister? MFL is the only shortage subject to suffer such a cut.
My Lords, we hope that the increase in trainees will be permanent, but unfortunately we have had to make some difficult financial decisions in relation to the ITT bursary offer. As a result, we are offering the highest bursaries for those subjects where it is hardest to attract people, which are STEM subjects, because those graduates can command higher wages in jobs outside teaching.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we are to have any hope of fulfilling the role that our Prime Minister sees for us as a leading nation in the world, we cannot give too much investment, support and encouragement to the teaching of foreign languages? For commerce and trade, they are vital. Also important—and, in my experience, indispensable—is the terrific record built up in international institutions by those from Great Britain participating as translators and interpreters. It is a wonderful way of having friendships—
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but will he please ask his question?
My Lords, instead of dealing with different subject areas or areas of the curriculum in isolation or piecemeal, do we not need a serious, in-depth, cross-party inquiry that includes the teaching profession, business, educational experts and so on to work out what young people need to be taught and how they should learn it, to equip them for the modern economy, to open up opportunity, to promote social mobility and to enable our country to compete internationally?
My Lords, we have looked at the curriculum over the past 10 years and we responded to the 2015 Ofsted review into the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages with a £4.8 million pedagogy hub to try to increase the standard of teaching of modern foreign languages.
My Lords, given that Spanish is a world language—as trade envoy to three countries in Latin America, I am aware of the focus on the education sector—does my noble friend agree that in developing institutional links with schools and universities in Latin America we should encourage the reciprocal exchange of teachers in order not only to teach English in Latin America but to boost the teaching of Spanish in our schools?
My Lords, due to the recent changes in our immigration law, teachers from Latin America will apply on a points-based system with the short-of-supply criterion on the same basis as everybody else. Through the Turing scheme, institutions, including schools, will be able to apply for funds to do that, but there is currently no arrangement for reciprocal teaching exchanges.
My Lords, the volume of foreign language graduates has been on a declining trend for some time, thus reducing the supply chain of foreign language teachers. I believe that this trend is likely to continue and, as a result, the provision of modern foreign language degree courses will end up being confined to a limited number of universities specialising in this territory. Does the Minister agree?
My Lords, as I outlined in the figures, we are seeing increasing numbers of those applying to teach in our schools. That is important for the supply chain and to make sure that there is good-quality teaching, as it is a requirement of the EBacc to take a modern foreign language. In addition to initial teacher training, there is now the early career framework —professional development support—for two years, so that this is seen as comparable to professions such as law and accountancy in those terms.
My Lords, the British Council’s 2018 annual learning trends survey showed that more than two-thirds of schools in the state sector and over 75% of private schools employed foreign language teachers who were citizens of EU countries and that the schools were fearful for the future supply and retention of such teachers. Will the Minister comment on what has been done since then and what the Government plan to do going forward to retain and encourage foreign language teachers to teach in the UK?
My Lords, in relation to retention, I have outlined the early career framework, but there are now national professional qualifications. On average, teachers were awarded a 2.7% pay rise last year. As I have outlined, teachers from across the world can now apply on a points-based system to come here. We recognise that there is considerable uncertainty due to current restrictions on international travel.
My Lords, the Minister stated in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, that the slashing of bursaries for language trainees from £26,000 to £10,000 was the result of what she called “difficult financial decisions”. That cut makes no sense. The bursaries should have been retained as the result of an educational decision. There is a pattern here: the latest figures for the recruitment of language teachers showed that only 72% of the target was met, yet the DfE is ending its system of early career payments of up to £3,000, which were aimed at aiding teacher retention. As our distance from the EU grows, how can the Government justify making a career as a language teacher less attractive?
My Lords, in relation to the applicants we have seen this year, modern foreign language teaching is an attractive option in our country. We had to make some difficult choices. STEM graduates command higher salaries outside the teaching sector, which was the justification for retaining a similar level of bursary for STEM as opposed to MFL. Other initial financial incentives, such as student loan reimbursements, are retained for those who are already part of the scheme, but they were ended for all—including STEM—graduates. There were difficult decisions to be made across the board.
My Lords, whole cohorts of children have been denied the rich cultural experience of learning another language since modern foreign languages were discontinued from the national curriculum. What opportunities are the Government offering in further and higher education for adults who lost out on the opportunity to learn another modern foreign language?
My Lords, in relation to further and higher education, I believe—I will double-check this—that there will be entitlement to some courses to get a first level 3 qualification. In relation to employer-led standards, such as for apprenticeships, if employers view that, for instance, there is a need for having Polish in a particular sector, they can include that in their requirements for the qualifications, working with the FE colleges. That will then be part of that qualification.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed. We now come to the second Oral Question.
My Lords, we continue to listen to the experiences of women as we respond to the Covid-19 crisis. Ministers and their officials carefully consider evidence on how different people have been affected by the pandemic. That includes meeting many women and the groups representing them. I recently met with women from Leicester and Leeds at virtual round tables to discuss home-schooling, childcare, flexible working and parents’ and children’s mental health.
The Commons report, Unequal Impact? Coronavirus and the Gendered Economic Impact, found that
“the Government’s priorities for recovery are heavily gendered in nature.”
A report published just this morning by the ONS on the differential impact of the coronavirus pandemic on men and women said:
“While more men died from Covid-19, women’s well-being was more negatively affected than men’s during the first year of the pandemic.”
Does the Minister agree that the Government must work harder at addressing this imbalance and that women, and the views of women, must be included in current policy development?
My Lords, the effects of the pandemic are indeed differential across a number of factors. We have invested half a billion pounds in mental health services and recognise that women have taken on more responsibility in the home in terms of childcare and home-schooling, but, thankfully, schools are back as of Monday. We are looking closely at the data, to then analyse it. That will inform our policy development, as will, as I have outlined, meeting with women’s groups.
My Lords, in one of the reports to which the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, referred, the Women and Equalities Committee in the other place recommends
“a Gender Beneficiary Assessment of investments from the industrial strategy”,
which are currently going into areas that are well known to be male-dominated, and
“an economic growth assessment of the Women’s Budget Group’s care-led recovery proposals.”
Surely the Government must take these steps to understand the impacts of their policies.
My Lords, the Government are looking at the data and have now got an equality data assessment based in the Cabinet Office. We have brought together the GEO with the disability and race units so that we have all the data to look at. The massive economic package and support that has been in place has benefited millions of women, and women are slightly less likely to be made redundant and slightly more likely to be furloughed.
My Lords, there is a sharp segregation in subjects chosen by both boys and girls at secondary and university level, with girls shunning STEM and technical subjects. What policies might the Government put in place so that we can look forward to an equitable outcome in the workplace?
My Lords, it is a key focus of the recovery from the pandemic that we see high-skilled, high-productivity, high-wage jobs. We recognise that girls are less likely to take STEM subjects, so there has been a focus that has driven up the number of girls taking STEM A-levels in particular. I am happy to say that the specialist sixth form maths schools, as part of that outreach, must reach out to girls to ensure that there are more girls taking maths at A-level, and further maths, leading to higher-paid jobs.
The Unequal Impact? report by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, which has already been mentioned, highlights the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and states that the schemes which have been put in place in response to the pandemic did not take account of the specific needs of women. It recommends an equality impact assessment of schemes and active analysis of equality impact for every future policy. What steps are the Government taking to implement these recommendations and the other 20 recommendations of this report?
My Lords, there was an equality impact assessment of the Coronavirus Act and each government department, in relation to its legislative action, conducts an equality impact assessment of what they propose to enact. The various schemes, such as the Self-employment Income Support Scheme, have benefited millions of women. Although fewer women have benefited from that scheme, it is not out of proportion with the number of women in that sector. We are watching the data carefully.
My Lords, high-quality data is crucial for understanding the impact of the pandemic on women and to develop a robust, evidence-led response. What steps have the Government taken to collect data consistently, disaggregated by sex, race, disability and other characteristics protected under the Equality Act 2010?
My Lords, my noble friend is correct. We look at this data in terms of those protected characteristics, but we are looking beyond those as well, to look at, for instance, geographical disparities of effect. This collection of data, now centrally in the Cabinet Office, has led to certain reports, such as the second update, just over a week ago, on the effect of Covid on the health of black and minority ethnic populations in the UK.
My Lords, the gender-blind Covid policy-making that we have seen from the Government has not considered the needs of women and has resulted in disproportionate numbers losing their jobs—particularly in the retail sector—suffering domestic abuse, and their mental health and well-being suffering. What plans are in place for when furlough ends, when it will more likely be women who lose their jobs? With reports that many nurseries will not reopen, it will be even harder to get those mothers back into the workplace. If this is being addressed, what plans are being put in place to mitigate this?
My Lords, there has been a dynamic response, particularly to the childcare requirements, which is why early years settings were still open during the third national lockdown. We have supported various charities that offer support to women, with investment grants of up to £10 million, and regarding the end of furlough, at the moment men are slightly more likely to be made redundant and women more likely to be furloughed, but we do not know what will happen when that transition ends.
My Lords, what specific meetings has my noble friend the Minister had with women and women representatives to discuss the economic impact of the pandemic? Does she share my concern that the thousands of jobs lost in retail have affected largely women, particularly young women, and the fact that older women are having to work for longer, possibly in part-time positions which does not make them eligible for holiday pay, sick pay or auto-enrolment in a pension, greatly disadvantages them?
My Lords, I outlined in my original Answer two of the round tables that I have held. Additionally, I held a wonderful virtual meeting for National Apprenticeship Week with some women apprentices who were mainly in STEM roles. I have also met with the women’s youth council. We are looking at the impact, and in those sectors that my noble friend outlines, there has been significant economic support.
The received wisdom increasingly is that you must be nearer to the problem to come up with something that makes it work better. With the SAGE committee being only 22% women, while we know that women will be hit harder and harder because of Covid-19, that women were caring for the children during home-schooling, and that it will hit women in the years to come, is it not possible to move forward the whole argument about women being involved in the decision-making and not leave it almost exclusively to a male world?
My Lords, the increasing need for women to be represented at all levels of decision-making is taken as read by the Government. It has been pleasing to see that at the forefront of fighting the pandemic it has often been women, when you look at the NHS workforce and the education workforce. I can only pay tribute to those now household names, Sarah Gilbert and Kate Bingham, who have been at the forefront of developing the vaccine that we are so grateful for.
My Lords, older women are among the groups that have suffered most from this pandemic. Many live alone and have had to endure months of isolation as well as receiving very negative messages from the media. Can my noble friend the Minister tell me whether the Government have communicated and consulted with this group of women, and if so, how have this group of women been helped, especially with mental health issues?
My Lords, I have outlined the increased funding that we have given to the NHS in relation to those budgets. The Government are aware that if those women were shielding then they will have been particularly affected. That is why one of the first things introduced during the first national lockdown, as we will remember, were bubbles, so that people such as the ladies that the noble Baroness has outlined were able to get some support. Then there was the development of the childcare bubbles, because we recognise that that cohort of women provides a lot of informal childcare.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.
Global Navigation Satellite System
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the design and development research for the United Kingdom Global Navigation Satellite System has been completed; and if not, what is the timeline for (1) the development of the requirements, and (2) the procurement, of that system.
My Lords, the space-based positioning, navigation and timing programme is one of the key programmes in the Government’s major projects portfolio. This underscores the importance of strengthening resilience for critical national infrastructure, given the wide use of PNT services. The UK’s requirements for trusted services will be confirmed in March as part of a national PNT strategy. In response to the strategy, the programme will identify in November a preferred space-based solution to improve our PNT resilience as part of a mix of technologies.
My Lords, the outrageous behaviour of our European friends over the use of the Galileo system necessitates our going our own way, or in league with the Five Eyes community, our real friends, over the provision of additional GPS. Such a system is critical, as the Minister says, not just for defence and security but for a broad swathe of things in this country. There are real concerns over resilience. There is a great deal of confusion, misinformation and fake news swirling around about OneWeb. It is time to get clarity and a sense of urgency. Have we decided on the use of low-earth-orbit capabilities for a sovereign-based PNT system, also providing secure satellite communications, not least 5G connectivity?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. We have always been clear that the possible provision of PNT services was not the rationale for our investment in OneWeb. The programme is analysing a number of ideas for concepts in low earth orbit, and OneWeb is of course one of the many companies that are contributing to that.
My Lords, could my noble friend help me and explain why an independent space-based positioning, navigation and timing system is necessary, whether it is affordable and whether the investment in OneWeb is a practical and cost-effective means of delivering it?
I answered the point about OneWeb in the previous answer. That is not the rationale for our purchase of OneWeb. PNT services from space underpin all 13 critical national infrastructure sectors, including national security, defence and transport. They are an important component of future technologies such as autonomous vehicles, smart cities and so on, so it is essential that we have our own autonomous capability.
My Lords, there is increasing concern from the scientific community about the impact of large satellite constellations upon astronomical observations. What work is being done to address this aspect of the OneWeb constellation? Specifically, what measures are being considered in the satellite design and operation to reduce its albedo?
My Lords, the Minister said that he was clear that OneWeb was not going to play a significant part in the PNT strategy—while at the same time saying how important that was —but he did not say what exactly it would be doing. Could he elaborate a little more on where he sees the focus of that £1 billion investment?
As I said in answer to the noble Lord, Lord West, we have been clear that the possible provision of PNT services was not the rationale for our investment in OneWeb. OneWeb is primarily a telecommunications operation and that is what its primary focus will be. However, we are not ruling out that it may play a role in future services to come.
My Lords, the cost of OneWeb does not stop with the Government’s share of $1 billion. In order to complete the array, the chairman of Bharti Enterprises says that a further $2.5 billion will be required, for which the Government are on the hook for $600 million. Given that that has to happen soon, where in the Budget is that line for the Government’s investment, and what value are UK taxpayers going to get from that huge amount of money?
That is the third time that this question has been asked. Government investment in OneWeb was for cutting-edge telecommunications capability based on market analysis. We have always been clear that PNT services were not the rationale for this particular investment.
My Lords, this is an ambitious project, but I cannot help but feel that, on a cost basis alone, it is one that is best pursued with our allies, perhaps the Five Eyes community. There is no doubt that we have an enormous amount to offer, not just the skills that we hold here in the United Kingdom, but does my noble friend agree that the strategic location of some of our overseas territories in the southern hemisphere will make us very attractive partners?
Indeed. I know that my noble friend has great experience in these matters. Collaboration with partners and industry will be vital for success in this field. A new UK capability could offer opportunities to deliver more on global Britain through strengthening our international relationships. We would most likely seek to use our overseas territories for ground-based stations.
My Lords, it is highly regrettable that our Brexit negotiations failed to secure a deal over Galileo. Are there any plans to try to revisit that and negotiate a deal, rather than ploughing our own course? Could the Minister also tell us about the National Space Council, which was announced in June 2019? How often has it met? Was it consulted over the purchase, which others have mentioned, of OneWeb, which was done against the advice of the Civil Service?
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. The Blackett review into critical dependency on the GNSS was published in January 2018. What progress has been made on the review’s first recommendation that operators of this critical national infrastructure should report on how vulnerable their systems are to a failure or interruption of the GNSS network? The Cabinet Office was tasked with assessing our overall dependency on these systems. When will this be published, along with an action plan to remedy any weaknesses and the proposals for back-up systems called for by Oliver Dowden, then the Cabinet Office Minister?
The UK PNT strategy group is developing the UK’s first national PNT strategy, which includes a review of critical dependencies and actions. Decisions on the publication of the strategy and leadership for implementation are subject to a wider review of PNT governance being led by the Cabinet Office.
That is indeed one of the points that are being considered in the review, which will be reporting at the end of March. We will then outline a business case and, if there can be collaboration with our Five Eyes partners, I am sure we would want to go down that route.
My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the ongoing use of force against peaceful protesters. The situation in Myanmar has deteriorated significantly over the last few weeks and we have been clear, including through the G7 and the UN Security Council, that the violent crackdown must end. I am sure I speak for all in your Lordships’ House when I say that our thoughts go to all those families and people who have lost their lives—and their wives—protesting against this coup.
My Lords, I greatly appreciate the Minister’s condemnation of the military’s reign of terror, which includes the imprisonment of democratically elected political leaders and the shooting of civilian protesters. Does he agree with Burma’s newly appointed special envoy to the United Nations, Dr Sasa, that the crisis is now so severe that it requires a much more robust response from the UK? Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore urge the UN Secretary-General to initiate an immediate Security Council visit to Burma, and to galvanise international pressure on the military leaders to reinstate the democratically elected Government?
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that at the UN, during both our presidency and the current US presidency, we have already convened meetings. A statement has yet to be agreed, but the focus of the Security Council is very much on the situation on the ground. The noble Baroness mentioned Dr Sasa, who is well known in this country; he will always be an important voice. A mission to Myanmar would be a decision for the SG, but of course we are working closely with his office.
My Lords, the Burma Campaign UK, in which I declare an interest as a board member, is receiving increasingly desperate calls from the brave activists in Burma who do not understand why there is not more concerted international action. Does the Minister agree that if the UK Government formally supported the Gambia in its ICJ case against Myanmar, it would be a strong signal that we are not ignoring the awful events unfolding in Burma and that there is no impunity for the crimes of the Tatmadaw?
My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s substantive point about the ICJ, we are reviewing the situation. We are supportive of the action of the Gambia and looking at interventions where they will best serve the purpose of the people of Myanmar. On international action, we have secured two G7 statements and are working through the UN Security Council and with partners such as the US and Canada, as well as those in the region, to ensure that there is international condemnation and that the focus continues.
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that we are working closely with our allies. She will have noticed the nine individuals who have been sanctioned recently, in addition to the 16 who already were. She makes a very valid point about the companies, particularly those linked to the military. We are focused on that and future sanctions policy will be part of that consideration.
My Lords, several diplomats from Myanmar are now making the brave choice to speak out against the violence. Can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what status and protection is awarded to these diplomats, and what the Government’s position is on CDC’s investments in the country?
My Lords, on my noble friend’s second point, we are currently reviewing all our trade because of the situation on the ground in Myanmar, and certainly not continuing it until such time as we see democracy restored. On the point about the ambassadors and others, at the UN and here in the UK, I stand for their courage and bravery—I am sure I speak for everyone in your Lordships’ House in that. They continue to represent the people of Myanmar in this country and elsewhere.
My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democracy in Burma. Can I return the Minister for a moment to the question from my noble friend Lady Cox, specifically calling for a high-level United Nations Secretary-General-led visit to the region and ask whether he will press that? On the question by the noble Lord, Lord Sarfraz, will the Minister look particularly at the nonrecognition of the credentials of the junta’s appointees to the United Nations and to the Court of St James in the United Kingdom?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, I have already said that the current ambassador to the UN and the ambassador to the Court of St James continue to be the representatives of Myanmar in this country and at the UN. On the high-level visit, as I have said before, we are working through the Security Council and I will update noble Lords accordingly.
My Lords, I was pleased that the United Kingdom promoted a draft Security Council resolution this week, but disappointed that no consensus has yet been reached. What steps will the United Kingdom now take, within the Security Council and with allies, and will they include building a coalition of countries to impose a global arms embargo? Can the Minister provide an assurance that United Kingdom businesses are no longer trading with military-owned companies?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, I have already spoken of the sanctions that we have taken against military individuals. We are looking at companies specifically to target those with military links within Myanmar itself, and advising British business appropriately. On building international coalitions, I believe I have already answered that question, but we are also strengthening our alliances, including at the Human Rights Council.
My Lords, while the whole world’s attention is drawn to the clashes between the military junta and the pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar, what is our Government’s latest assessment of the safety and security of the ethnic Rohingya community, which has suffered genocide and forced migration during the previous military rule in Myanmar?
The noble Lord is quite right to draw the House’s attention to the situation and the continuing challenges, including the discrimination towards and persecution of the Rohingya community within Myanmar and the suffering that continues, including for those who have managed to escape to Bangladesh. The support we offer them is a key priority for us and we continue to work with international authorities for their safe and voluntary return. However, the situation in Myanmar is dire at the moment, not just for them but for everyone.
Is the Minister aware that in addition to the military’s crackdown on protesters, military offensives are taking place in northern Shan, Kachin and Karen states, causing the mass displacement of civilians? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure the protection of these civilians and to allow for urgent humanitarian assistance to reach them?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate again brings the focus on to the humanitarian assistance. I assure your Lordships’ House that we are working—not through government agencies but through international NGOs—to ensure that those corridors of humanitarian assistance can be kept open. But we have seen an uptick in violence being perpetrated against protesters in Myanmar. Particularly worrying are the recent actions taken by the military and security forces during the night.
My Lords, did HMG note the piece in the 13 November issue of China Daily, welcoming the renewed mandate of Aung San Suu Kyi and her success in the election, and quoting President Xi Jinping as having said:
“China supports Myanmar following the development path of its own choice and is ready to consolidate and deepen the friendship between the two countries”?
Do my noble friend and Her Majesty’s Government believe that China could have a role in the ending of military rule and restoring Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy to government?
My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend: China has an important role. The statement that he quoted is of course welcome. Equally, referring to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, China’s intervention in resolving the situation for the Rohingya is also an important part of finding a lasting solution for all in Myanmar and in the region.
My Lords, during Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership of Myanmar, we continued to raise the issue of the Rohingya community and will continue to do so. It is important that lessons are learned from the past, and we hope that democracy will return so that we can look specifically at the plight of the Rohingya community as well as others.
My Lords, will the Government say clearly that the real difficulty is the attitude of China, notwithstanding the quotation from the China Daily that we just heard, and that if the Chinese Government were adamant that they were going to shift the military dictatorship, then it would happen? Is not the truth that they are holding up progress at the UN Security Council?
My Lords, the role of China in the context of the region and, as the noble Lord rightly points out, on the UN Security Council, is an important one. I assure the noble Lord, as well as your Lordships’ House, that we will continue to engage with China to find a resolution to the restoration of democracy in Myanmar and a long-term solution for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingya community.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now resume. I ask Members to respect social distancing.
Northern Ireland Protocol: Grace Period
Private Notice Question
My Lords, we have noted the position set out by Vice-President Šefčovič in his statement on 3 March about the limited and temporary operational measures the Government announced last week. These measures are lawful and consistent with the progressive and good faith interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol. We will carefully consider any further steps the Commission decides it needs to take.
My Lords, I warmly welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment. I strongly support the actions taken by the Government in recent days as a necessary, proportionate and lawful response to the situation in which we currently find ourselves. Does my noble friend agree that the somewhat hysterical reaction of the EU yet again demonstrates its one-sided inability to recognise legitimate unionist concerns and to see the Belfast agreement through all of its strands—an agreement that its intransigence now threatens to undermine? In addition, can my noble friend assure me that this unionist Government will robustly defend any legal actions brought by the EU and that they will take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee Northern Ireland’s place as an integral part of the UK internal market?
I thank my noble friend for his words of support for the decisions taken by the Government last week. Our overriding aim is to protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement in all its dimensions—all the strands, north-south and east-west. The protocol was designed to achieve this. All sides need to be sensitive to the social and political realities, and the fact that the operation of the protocol rests on the confidence of both communities in Northern Ireland. I reassure my noble friend that we will consider any legal process launched by the EU very carefully; we will defend our position vigorously. The protocol is explicit in respecting the territorial integrity of the UK and we will ensure that is sustained.
My Lords, I join in very warmly welcoming the noble Lord to the House. Does he accept that behind this trade crisis in Northern Ireland is his own hostility to the European Union? He has taken Britain out of the customs union and single market and therefore necessitated these trade controls. Is he aware that Margaret Thatcher, who largely created the single market, said:
“How we meet the challenge of the Single Market will be a major factor, possibly the major factor, in our competitive position in European and world markets into the twenty-first century. Getting it right needs a partnership between government and business”?
Does the noble Lord agree with Lady Thatcher?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. We developed a model of Brexit and implemented it on the back of the election victory in December 2019, which is about leaving the customs union and single market. We believe that the United Kingdom will benefit from control of its own laws, trade policy and money. That situation will give us benefits. We would like a constructive relationship with the European Union and I will be working to ensure that happens.
My Lords, I also welcome the noble Lord to the Dispatch Box. We knew that businesses which export out of the UK to the EU required an HMRC EORI number, but now businesses need a Northern Ireland EORI number to trade internally in the UK with Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, stated in a letter to me on 11 February that, of the 770,000 trading businesses in the UK, only 58,000 have a Northern Ireland XI EORI number. Why would businesses in the UK require export registrations to trade with other parts of the UK? If there is unfettered trade within the UK, why do only 12% of UK businesses currently have the capability to trade with Northern Ireland?
This Government are working extremely hard to ensure the fair and free flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have provided more than £200 million to support businesses through the trader support service and processed declarations for over 200,000 consignments. Some 34,000 businesses are registered and 98% of declarations are handled within 15 minutes. An EORI number is part of the requirement to trade now that we have left the customs union, but we are doing our utmost to ensure the free flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland as the protocol requires.
My Lords, I was heavily exposed to the Troubles across the whole span of my broadcasting career, so I am particularly alert to the delicacy of the current situation in Northern Ireland. The Governments of John Major and Tony Blair invested enormous political capital in resolving the tensions there. Will this Government?
I thank the noble Lord for his question. Our overriding aim is to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. That is an avowed and primary purpose of the Northern Ireland protocol. As we implement the protocol in a pragmatic and proportionate way, we do so very mindful of the considerations he has in mind and protecting all aspects of the peace process.
My Lords, temporary derogations, waivers or exemptions are by definition not a long-term solution to the problems intrinsic in the protocol. Will my noble friend the Minister address the asymmetry—the absurdity—at the heart of the protocol: its contention that checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland undermine the Good Friday agreement and may even jeopardise peace, but checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain have no such consequences?
My noble friend makes a very good point. The protocol was designed to deal with the very complex reality to which he alludes. It needs to be implemented in a way that takes account of all the strands of the Good Friday agreement—east-west as well as north-south—and enables cross-community consent for those arrangements to be sustained. That means that the smooth flow of trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland needs to be preserved, as well as an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
I also congratulate the Minister on his new appointment and thank him for engaging afresh with the EU Committee in his new capacity. How was the joint committee apparatus, including the joint consultative working group on the withdrawal agreement, used to discuss and disseminate the Government’s decision on grace periods before its announcement? Further, given the furore, if they had their time again, would they have played things differently?
I thank the noble Earl for his question, and I look forward to appearing before his committee again in the near future. We have been working through the joint committee mechanisms since the beginning of the year and before. The measures taken last week were operational, technical and temporary. We informed the Commission of those through the appropriate channels and at the appropriate level before the decision was made public.
My Lords, I think we all welcome that the noble Lord, Lord Frost, is now able to answer Questions from the Dispatch Box and we look forward to an ongoing dialogue with him about his Cabinet responsibilities. His role in the negotiations has been credited with getting the agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol over the line. He would have been aware then of all the implications. Given that he supported the creation of, and now co-chairs, the Joint Committees he has referred to, which are designed to resolve such disputes, would not the most mature and pragmatic way to deal with this issue be to continue with that process? Does he understand that the unilateral action he is championing is a double threat? It jeopardises the European Parliament’s ratification of his own agreement and damages our international reputation if we cannot be trusted to keep our word.
I thank the Baroness and I look forward to answering many more Questions from this Dispatch Box about our approach to the relationship with the European Union. We would like to see a constructive relationship with the European Union in future. The difficulty we are faced with this year is that the EU’s decision to invoke Article 16 in Northern Ireland has created a new and very difficult situation that has undermined cross-community confidence and we have been trying to deal with that. We would like to do so in a constructive and consensual way but we also have to have to regard to the situation and the need to maintain confidence and consent across both communities in Northern Ireland.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her question. We do not go into the detail of diplomatic communications at the highest level but I can confirm that the Irish Government were informed of this decision before it was made public by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 3 March.
My Lords, likewise, I welcome the noble Lord to his position at the Dispatch Box. As one living near the border between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, and as a former MEP, I am very conscious that border issues can destabilise Northern Ireland. I am disappointed that the European Union does not recognise that. I am even more disappointed that the House of Lords European Union Committee did not recognise the tensions and trading problems that the protocol would create. Today the Vice-President of the European Commission, Šefčovič, is addressing the Friends of Ireland in the Congress in Washington. I hope he will ensure that he gets a report from our embassy in America on what is said. In so far as the future is concerned—
My question is this. In so far as the future is concerned, there must be agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Will the Government ensure that the common travel area will be secured, that all three strands of the Belfast agreement will be supported and that the sovereignty of the United Kingdom will extend throughout Northern Ireland?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I agree very much that all sides must be sensitive to the social and political realities in Northern Ireland and to the need for the consent of both communities if it is to work effectively. Our actions have been aimed at restoring that confidence. Indeed, I can reassure the noble Lord that we will protect the common travel area—which is specifically protected in the protocol—but our overriding aim is to protect the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and the territorial integrity of the UK. Northern Ireland’s place in the customs union and single market will be protected.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to my noble friend and wish him well in the task that lies ahead. Following on from the questions of my noble friends Lord Caine and Lord Hannan of Kingsclere, can he tell me—I fear I may be a little simple and he will have to be patient with me —what evidence has been put forward by those who insist that checks on goods crossing the land mass of Ireland undermine the prospects of peace while, by contrast, checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea do not? Can he explain why Brussels can simply stop trade in vital goods such as vaccines to Northern Ireland, but threatens us for doing business with our own people? Am I simple or is it all a rotten case of double standards?
My Lords, my noble friend makes a very acute observation about the situation. As I have noted, the protocol must be implemented in a way that takes account of all strands of the Good Friday agreement—that is, east-west as well as north-south. The EU’s decision to activate Article 16 in January, however briefly, has compounded the difficulties and severely shaken confidence. We would obviously prefer it if the EU would reckon with the situation it has created and work with us to ensure that trade can flow in all directions, including to Northern Ireland, in a free and fair manner.
My Lords, further to the question from my noble friend Lady Smith, does the Minister not now regret taking unilateral action against an agreement which he was party to? Does he not worry that no one will accept or trust his word ever again?
My Lords, there were already challenges in the operation of the protocol in early January this year and they were already having a direct and disproportionate impact on citizens in Northern Ireland. The EU’s decision to invoke Article 16 compounded the difficulties and undermined cross-community confidence. Our actions have been aimed at restoring confidence and minimising disruption to the everyday life of people in Northern Ireland. That is what this Government will work to ensure.
My Lords, I am afraid that the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed. My apologies to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann.
I am going to take a moment or two to allow the Chamber to clear a bit before we move on to the next business. There is a moment or two for you to shuffle out.
I think everyone has now shuffled. We now come to the Motion in the name of the Senior Deputy Speaker.
House of Lords Commission
Motion to Agree
My Lords, this report addresses an anomaly in the treatment of Members who retire before they are suspended or expelled from the House. The issue is simple. When a Member retires from the House, the House has agreed that they should enjoy certain privileges. These include a parliamentary pass, access to the Chamber and the ability to use, and bring guests to, certain catering facilities. When a Member is suspended or expelled their pass is revoked and they cannot access the estate or the services of the House.
In recent times, some Members facing suspension or expulsion have retired before the House approved such a sanction. The default position is that Members in this position enjoy all the usual privileges of a retired Member. The House of Lords Commission has, on a case-by-case basis, agreed to remove these rights. However, this ad-hoc approach can lead to delay and uncertainty for the House and its staff about the rights available for such Members.
To address this, it is proposed that the removal of retired Members’ rights in these circumstances should be automatic upon the House agreeing the Conduct Committee’s report. In the case of a recommendation to suspend, the removal of rights would last for the duration of the proposed suspension but the commission may agree a longer period in exceptional circumstances. If the recommendation was to expel the Member, the removal of rights would be permanent. This would ensure a consistent approach and provide certainty to Members, staff and others on the estate. I beg to move.
One individual has requested to speak: the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, whom I now call.
I will put one or two questions to the Senior Deputy Speaker. I realise that it would be foolish to try to divide the House because it is a unanimous report by everyone who counts in the place. However, paragraph 5, on Members who are “suspended or expelled”, begins:
“Members who lose their membership as a result of non-attendance”.
Non-attendance is being neither suspended nor expelled. What attempts, if any, are made to discover why people are not attending? In particular, I have in mind a situation where someone is ill and it falls off the horizon. For instance, if someone had a stroke and was in hospital, does anyone try to check why non-attendance happens, and is the Member given any warning that his or her non- attendance is about to lead to the suspension of rights?
Even if they are, if you lose your seat as result of non-attendance, surely it is a little different from “a sentence of imprisonment” or being “expelled or suspended”, as paragraph 5 continues. I see no reason, other than an exceptional one, why people who lose their seat because of non-attendance should be effectively banished from the estate.
Secondly, on the “practical consequences” of expulsion or suspension, paragraph 6(b) says that
“the Member may not enter the House of Lords Estate as the guest of another Member or otherwise”.
This is surely a bit over the top. We recently suspended the membership of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. He and I agree on virtually nothing, in our social views of the world, but I respect his work in Northern Cyprus, particularly in standing up for the many soldiers in British uniform killed during the troubles in Cyprus. As such, I regard him as a friend whom I totally disagree with on a lot of things, but I am really quite shocked that I cannot even bring him into the place for a cup of tea; this seems over the top and an infringement on individual Members’ rights.
However, it is not only that. Has it been legally checked that we can stop a member of the public—that is what they are—coming to the Gallery to watch a debate? Do we have the right to single out citizens of the United Kingdom to be barred from Parliament? I would like an assurance that legal efforts will be put into dealing with that.
I repeat my concern that the way in which this disciplinary procedure is working is unsatisfactory. There is no opportunity for any sort of public input: things are just put to the vote, and, of course, the vote is carried. I would like a review of the whole process to see whether natural justice is fulfilled. I suspect that, if anyone ever went to judicial review, they would probably win, due to the way in which this is structured. I look again at the case of the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis: the parliamentary commissioner suggested a sanction that the committee, without giving any reasons, promptly doubled. This is not transparent and not the way to run the place, in my view.
As such, I ask the Senior Deputy Speaker to look at these things. I will not press this to a vote because, apart from anything else, I would lose—but it needs looking at. We need to consider very carefully how we deal with these issues. In particular, mixing up non-attendance with a term of imprisonment shows that whoever wrote the report is not filled with kindness, whatever else they may have.
I have received a request to speak from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, whom I now call.
I have a question. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord McFall, will be able to deal with the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, but I wonder whether the latter was slightly confused in his comments. What is before us today, as I understand it—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord McFall, could confirm this—is not the issues raised around Members who have been suspended or expelled in the past but whether it is appropriate that those Members who seek to retire early should be treated in the same way as other Members who have been expelled or suspended from your Lordships’ House.
As such, it is not that the points he raised were wrong, but they are not relevant to the decision before us today, which looks only at whether Members who retire because they are facing investigation or sanction from the Conduct Committee should not be treated differently but should be subject to the same sanctions.
I will raise one point about those Members who lose their membership as a result of non-attendance. Obviously, this has been a difficult Session for some Members, but my understanding is that the Clerk of the Parliaments and all the individual groups have contacted several times any Members who may have been affected by that—and that they have co-operated with them in terms of their membership of the House. No one wants to see someone leave, or be automatically suspended from, the House just because of the current Covid situation. My understanding, which the Senior Deputy Speaker can confirm, is that this has been addressed by both the Clerk of the Parliaments and individual group leaders and Whips.
There being no one else present in the Chamber who wishes to speak, I now call the Senior Deputy Speaker.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their questions. On the issue of the commission removing rights from Members, we had two cases when I chaired the Procedure and Privileges Committee: first, that of Lord Lester of Herne Hill and, secondly, that of Lord Ahmed in December 2020. The cases were recorded in the public minutes of the commission, but there was a sanction pending and the Members retired, and it was with that in mind that we addressed that particular position. As such, the noble Baroness is correct on that point.
On the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, about the House authorities notifying Members who may be at risk of losing their membership through non-attendance, yes, the House authorities work with the usual channels to do this. Information is given at that time, so he need not worry that an arbitrary decision may be made with no one knowing about it. Indeed, this would come to my office at some stage, and I engage regularly—at least every month—with all the usual channels, be it the Leader’s Office or the Chief Whips. This issue would come up if that was pending.
The answer to his second point—whether Members covered by the provisions in the report can still attend the Palace as guests of another Member—is no: the House Committee decided that Members who are suspended or expelled should not attend the House as the guest of another Member. I am sure that the legality of that has been checked but, just to reassure the noble Lord, I will take that back and write to him on that point.
Lastly, on the point about whether the provisions in the report capture those Members whose membership is ended by virtue of non-attendance over the full course of a Session, my answer is no: this applies only to Members sanctioned by the Conduct Committee. However, the noble Lord will be aware that Members who cease to be so because they do not attend the House during the Session do not have the privileges of a retired Member.
I hope that answers the questions, but if any issues have been left hanging, I will certainly respond in writing to the noble Lords.
Domestic Abuse Bill
Report (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are discouraged. Any Member wishing to ask such a question must email the clerk. The groupings are binding. Participants who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in the group to a Division must give notice in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for, if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking to the group.
17: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to report on domestic abuse services in England
(1) The Commissioner must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report under section 8 on—(a) the need for domestic abuse services in England, and(b) the provision of such services. (2) But subsection (1) does not require the Commissioner to report on the need for, or provision of, services provided to people who reside in relevant accommodation (within the meaning of section 55(2)).(3) In subsection (1)—“domestic abuse services” means any advice, advocacy or counselling services provided, in relation to domestic abuse, to victims of domestic abuse or their children;“the relevant period” means the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force (but see subsection (4)).(4) The Secretary of State, with the agreement of the Commissioner, may by regulations extend the relevant period for a further period of up to 6 months.(5) The power conferred by subsection (4) may be exercised only once.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to prepare and publish a report on the need for certain domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new Clause comes into force.
My Lords, this group of amendments brings us back to the provision of community-based support for victims of domestic abuse and their children. I share the ambition of my noble friend Lord Polak, the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Rosser, and all noble Lords to ensure that domestic abuse victims receive the support that they need, regardless of where they reside. The provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, which relate to the provision of support within safe accommodation, are a major step towards meeting that goal.
The issue before us is whether we can and should now be legislating for a parallel duty in respect of community-based support, whether by extending the provisions in Part 4, as Amendment 31 seeks to do, or by making freestanding provision, as in Amendment 85. The Government remain firmly of the view that the necessary groundwork for such legislation has yet to be undertaken and, accordingly, that it would be premature to legislate in this Bill by either method.
I can see the attraction of Amendment 31, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It seemingly accepts the government argument that we do not yet know how we should frame the duty in respect of community-based support, so a regulation-making power affords a mechanism to come back to this once the domestic abuse commissioner has completed her mapping work and the Government have consulted.
Let me make a couple of observations about Amendment 31. First, your Lordships’ House and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee are regularly critical of the Government for coming forward with skeletal delegated powers such as in the amendment. The framework for the provision of safe accommodation support is on the face of the Bill and it is right that any parallel duty in respect of community-based support should also be set out in primary legislation. Secondly, even if the route of delegated legislation was, in principle, an acceptable way forward, until we have developed and consulted on a scheme for that provision of community-based support, we simply do not know how properly to frame a regulation-making power to ensure that we have the necessary vires to give effect to a set of proposals post-consultation. The landscape for the provision of community-based support is more complex than that in respect of safe accommodation- based support, as Amendment 85 recognises, so a power simply to extend the provisions of Part 4 is not, in our view, the right approach.
Amendment 85, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and in Committee by my noble friend, seeks to navigate the complexities of the current provision of community-based support by placing a new duty on local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. This may or may not be the right approach, but I do not think that we are in a position to make that judgement yet. If the duty is to be split three ways, we need to know how the discharge of the duty is to be co-ordinated between the three agencies to ensure that there is not overlapping provision or that support for some victims does not slip through the cracks. In applying the duty across three agencies, Amendment 85 risks creating an environment in which accountability is unclear, presenting challenges for all bodies in ensuring that the necessary services are provided to those who need them.
It is the Government’s clear view that there are no ready-made solutions such that we would be in a position to legislate here and now. We need to better understand the existing landscape and the gap in provision, which is why the domestic abuse commissioner’s mapping work is so vital. We need to draw on the evidence provided by that work and other sources, consult widely and then come forward with proposals that command widespread support and, most importantly, deliver the necessary support in the most effective and efficient way possible.
As part of this work, we need properly to understand the resource implications of any new duty. The £125 million of new money that we have provided to fund the duty in Part 4 shows both the level of our commitment and the significant cost of any parallel new duty in relation to community-based support. Women’s Aid has suggested that some £220 million is needed. I make no comment on that or the accuracy of that estimate, but it at least demonstrates that Amendments 31 or 85, were either to be passed, would have significant financial implications, which this House should be alive to.
Recognising that the House is reluctant to let this Bill pass without it containing some provision that recognises the problem and provides a pathway to the solution, the Government have brought forward Amendments 17, 20, 22, 24 to 29 and 99. Amendment 17 places a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 of the Bill on the need for community-based domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. As with the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, we have limited this duty to the provision of community-based services in England in recognition of the fact that we are generally dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. The commissioner will be required to deliver a Clause 8 report on this issue within 12 months of commencement and then, by virtue of the provisions in Clause 16, Ministers will be required to respond to any recommendations directed at them within 56 days. This amendment will therefore set out a clear roadmap for the Government to set out definitive proposals for addressing the gap in the provision of community-based support.
Amendments 20, 22 and 24 to 29 address the concerns raised in Committee that the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill may have unintended consequences regarding community-based support that is currently provided or funded by local authorities. I know that my noble friend Lord Polak was particularly concerned about this. As a result of the £125 million funding that we are providing to tier-1 local authorities to support the delivery of Part 4, we think that such concerns are unfounded. However, we recognise that there would be merit in making provision in Part 4 to monitor any unintended impact. These amendments do just that.
The amendments will also ensure that the domestic abuse local partnership boards, provided for in Clause 56, play an active part in such monitoring and that the results are recorded in tier-1 local authorities’ annual reports under Clause 57. These annual reports will feed into the work of the ministerially led national expert steering group, of which the domestic abuse commissioner will be a member, so that the impact, if there is any, of the Part 4 duty on the provision of domestic abuse support to people in the community by local authorities can also be monitored.
The Government are ready to take one further step. I can say that the Government are now committed to consulting on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming victims law consultation. I recognise the concerns about missing the legislative bus and the suspicion—it is unfounded—that the Government will kick this into the long grass. The government amendments that I have outlined will ensure that that does not happen, as will our commitment to consult on a victims law later this summer.
As to the concerns that this is all too far off and victims need support now, there is already significant provision. 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 core grant will be around £69 million in 2021-22, which includes an uplift for child sexual abuse services. Additionally, the Government have committed a further £40 million, which includes £9.7 million for domestic abuse community-based services commissioned by PCCs for the coming year, as well as £8 million for independent domestic violence advisers, the support of which will be felt mostly in the community. This does not take account of support provided by local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and others. It may not be enough, but these sums demonstrate the significant levels of community-based support that are already available for domestic abuse victims and their children, and for other victims of crime.
I am very much looking forward to hearing the other contributions to the debate on these amendments. I reiterate my thanks to my noble friends Lord Polak and Lady Sanderson, who are in the Chamber now, and to other noble Lords who have engaged so constructively on this. I hope that what I have said today is evidence of our intent and that the House will support this approach. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s amendments, but I am not yet convinced they go far enough. As the Minister explained, Part 4 places a duty on local authorities in England to deliver support to victims, including children, in accommodation-based services such as refuges. There is a risk though that, as the duty applies only to accommodation-based services, it could have the unintended consequence of diverting funding from community-based services to ensure the duty is met. It would indeed be a perverse incentive, resulting in victims having only one option left if they need support in accommodation-based services. Most victims— around 70%—currently remain at home or in the wider community, accessing community-based support. This can be through independent domestic violence advisers, outreach support and child specialist workers, helplines and perpetrator programmes, as well as specialist local agencies offering drop-in services for children.
As SafeLives commented:
“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 know the financial pressure that Local Authorities are under, and a number have said that they can now only provide minimum requirements … and nothing further.”
The domestic abuse commissioner has similar fears.
The amendments that the Government have laid are clearly welcome in requiring the commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 on the need for community-based domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. It is also good to see that local authorities will be required to publish a strategy under Clause 55 to keep under review any effect of that strategy on community-based support in their area. However, welcome as they are, these amendments do not guarantee the maintenance or enhancement of community services, nor is there any guarantee that, following the commissioner’s review of the landscape of provision, action would then be taken by the Government.
I thought it was telling that the submission we received from the Local Government Association seemed rather lukewarm about these amendments. It said that nothing in the amendments provides long-term or sustained investment in these services.
This morning, the National Audit Office report on local government finance spelled out the financial challenge local authorities face. They will be under significant pressure in the next financial year and are likely to be operating with reduced tax bases and increased service demand as their local communities and businesses recover from the pandemic, and this is likely to go on for a number of years to come.
The NAO survey indicates that 94% of respondents from single tier and county councils, and 81% from district councils, expect to reduce service budgets. Some respondents considered that service users would be affected by their savings plans, due to reduced service levels from cutting staff and other efficiencies that they have to make. In other cases, authorities indicated that specific savings or income-generation measures would have direct and immediate effects on service users.
A key theme from the NAO case study discussions, stakeholder interviews and workshops is the long-lasting impact that the pandemic is likely to have on authorities’ finances. It is little wonder that, with the priority the Bill gives to accommodation-based services, there is real concern that community services will be starved of funds in the future.
My two amendments attempt to deal with the problem. Amendment 30 would give protection to community services. As part of the public sector equality duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, public authorities are required to have
“due regard … in particular, to the need to … take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it”.
Many domestic abuse services are specifically aimed at supporting people with protected characteristics, including women. The Equality and Human Rights Commission stresses the important role played by specialist “by and for” services, run by and for the users and communities they aim to serve. These include community-based services such as outreach, advocacy, information and advice services.
My aim, through Amendment 30, is to support the Government’s objective of inaugurating a more strategic approach to accommodation-based support, while at the same time making sure that local authorities that commission services are not deflected from their equality duty to cater for all the needs arising from protected characteristics. That is what my amendment seeks to do. It does not alter the public sector equality duty, but clarifies the way in which the duty applies to domestic abuse services. It does not touch, let alone conflict with, the Bill’s Clause 55 provisions on accommodation-based services, and it does not depend in any way on the commissioner’s mapping exercise.
My second amendment, Amendment 31, is very much related to the commissioner’s mapping exercise. It would give the Government the ability, through secondary legislation, to extend Part 4 to community services. So if the commissioner finds that local authorities are neglecting community services, a legislative vehicle would be immediately available to do something about it.
I listened with great interest to the Minister when she commented on this. It is very unusual for a Minister to turn down an extension of executive power, which I am very generously urging the House to give her. I confess that I am normally opposed to the extension of such executive powers, but needs must. In a situation where the mapping exercise has not been completed and the financial consequences of it have therefore not been calculated, it seems to me that there is a strong argument to say that the Government need some legislative provision in order to implement a policy in the light of that mapping exercise.
I listened very carefully to the Minister, and it was very helpful when she said that consultation on the victims’ law would be extended to embrace this. Clearly, we could see potential legislation in the future, but it will take time. Local authorities are under huge funding constraints, and I think there is a case for giving ourselves the ability in the Bill to ensure that, if community services are starved of funds as a result of the prioritisation of accommodation-based services, we have immediate levers to step in and deal with it. I hope the Minister will, even at this late hour, consider these amendments sympathetically.
My Lords, I was pleased to table my amendment in Committee. I welcomed the debate and the overwhelming support from around the House. In particular, I acknowledge the support of the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby.
I am, perhaps, even more pleased that I have not tabled it again on Report. I am grateful to my noble friend and her ministerial colleagues for giving so much of their time to meet and discuss this; for the amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend; and for confirming the Government’s commitment to address issues around community-based services in a letter to me last Thursday.
We all agree that community-based services are vital in supporting the majority of domestic abuse victims who remain at home. Government amendments to ensure that local authorities monitor and report on the impact of their duties under Part 4 on other service provision, are most welcome, as is the Government’s commitment to consult on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming victims law consultation this summer. These have been welcomed not just by me but in a press release, published under the leadership of Barnardo’s, by the domestic abuse commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, domestic abuse campaigner Charlie Webster, Imran Hussain at Action for Children, the End Violence Against Women coalition, the NSPCC and SafeLives. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on uniting these groups and organisations in welcoming the Government’s commitments. This is an incredibly important step forward in understanding and addressing the provision of community-based domestic abuse services, so that all victims, especially children, will be able to access support, regardless of where they live.
I hope the consultation will take a holistic approach to tackling domestic abuse, carefully considering what is needed to support children and adults, as well as programmes to tackle the behaviour of perpetrators and break the cycle of domestic abuse. I am certain that my noble friend the Minister and her colleagues, working with the professional and deeply impressive domestic abuse commissioner—who I thank for her advice—will place community-based services on the same statutory footing as accommodation-based services. I appeal for her office to be properly and adequately funded.
Again, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her time and for the helpful letter she sent me. I am pleased to support the amendments in her name. I look forward to continuing to work with her and with all noble Lords as this important Bill becomes law.
My Lords, I shall be extremely brief, not least because of the happy coincidence that the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Polak, have largely said what I was going to say. I thank them. I can now go and have a late lunch.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Polak, I was impressed by the Barnardo’s press release last Thursday, with all the different voices speaking in unison. My own experience of dealing with voluntary organisations over many years is that hell hath no fury like different voluntary organisations in pursuit of similar goals and, in particular, similar pools of funding. Peace seems rather dangerously to have broken out in this case. I hope it will continue.
I thank the Government for listening. It was a bit of a no-brainer with a Bill in which 25% of the accommodation-based services for domestic abuse victims were dealt with but 75% were not. That was an open goal waiting to be filled. I am grateful that the Government have acknowledged this and acted on it.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I took note of the National Audit Office investigation and report into the state of local authority funding. I have observed a variety of individuals in this House—some of whom I have worked in co-operation with—who, for the best of reasons, ceaselessly plead with the Government to put more and more statutory duties on local authorities in a whole variety of different areas. In a sense, this is dangerous because, in a situation where local authorities are under the strains and stresses that they are, piling even more statutory duties or guidance on them runs the risk of mission failure and initiative fatigue. I am very conscious of this. It requires a joined-up approach from the different parts of Her Majesty’s Government.
The Home Office is doing its bit. The Ministry of Justice is going to do what may not come easily to it and talk more openly with the communities department —and vice versa. It was not terribly helpful that the Secretary of State, while acknowledging the councils’ problems, could not resist the political dig of accusing them of poor management. This is a bit rich coming from a national Administration who have spent the amount of money they have on initiatives such as test and trace, or who have presided over the highest number of deaths per million in the world during the current pandemic. Before one starts throwing political missiles at one’s opponents, it does one a lot of good to look in the mirror and have a degree of humility. None of us gets it right all the time.
When the domestic abuse commissioner comes back with her recommendations, I would plead with the various parts of national government and the local authorities to talk to one another, agree, buy into whatever is recommended, and put in place properly thought-through, long-term plans to deliver on this strategy and to fund it properly.
My Lords, government Amendment 17 requires the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report on
“the need for domestic abuse services in England, and … the provision of such services.”
The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new clause comes into force.
Other government amendments require local authorities to keep under review the impact of the duty to provide accommodation-based services on their provision of other domestic abuse services in the community.
Amendment 30, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, makes it clear that the public authority may not prioritise accommodation-based support services for persons with a protected characteristic over other support services for the same person, except in so far as those persons have a greater need for accommodation-based services than for other support services.
Amendment 31 would give the Secretary of State power through regulations to extend the duty in Part 4 to include community services, instead of just accommodation-based services. I agree with the points made and the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in his powerful contribution.
Amendments 85 and 86 in my name are the community service amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Polak, re-tabled. We tabled them pending sight of the Government’s specific commitments and amendments. I will not move them. Like others in the House and outside, we welcome the Government’s amendments and commitment to consult on community-based services as part of the consultation on the victims law. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and to other noble Lords, as well as to all the organisations which have worked on this issue. I also pay tribute to the shadow Minister in the Commons, Jess Phillips, who pursued the proper provision for community-based services with some vigour and determination during the Bill’s passage through the other House.
We now need to see the Government’s words and commitments translated into real progress and meaningful action. The key to achieving this is for services, victims and perpetrators to be looked at holistically; to see what needs to be done in the round to prevent abuse, and to support victims who experience it. This also means providing services for children who are victims, for older victims and for perpetrators, as well as ensuring that there are specialist services for black and ethnic minority victims. Healthcare services are also vital.
The government amendments also require local authorities to keep under review the impact of the duty to provide accommodation-based services on their provision of other domestic abuse services in the community. We do not regard the current level of community-based domestic abuse services as sufficient, so I simply register that, if local authorities conclude that carrying out their duty to provide accommodation-based services has no adverse impact on their current provision of other domestic abuse services in the community, we would not regard that as meaning that those community-based services do not need enhancing and extending.
The welcome commitments that the Government have now given will result in meaningful change and improvement for victims of domestic abuse only if the necessary financial and human resources are made available to increase and extend community-based services. I am sure that we will not be the only ones in this Chamber or outside it who will press the Government to ensure that welcome and worthy intentions today are not thwarted by an unwillingness by Government tomorrow to provide the necessary additional resources for the future provision of much-needed and enhanced community-based services.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am greatly relieved that he said what he said—he made some powerful points—but it is right that we back the government amendments. I will speak to that today.
The Bill’s commitment to giving refuges statutory status is vital, but we knew that giving no statutory recognition anywhere in the Bill to community-based services posed a clear risk to inadvertently downgrading their status, which we absolutely had to prevent. I believe that these amendments do that, but I agree that we will all keep a close eye on their execution to check that they genuinely safeguard the status of community services.
I thank the designate domestic abuse commissioner, as well charities such as Barnardo’s and SafeLives and my noble friend Lord Polak, for being so determined and tenacious. I am greatly relieved that these charities have welcomed these amendments. I know that they are satisfied and greatly relieved, but of course we will have to keep a close eye on whether they do the job. I also extend my thanks to my noble friend the Minister. She has given us a lot of time on this issue and genuinely cares about it. I know that she was integral to getting these amendments over the line.
I back other Peers’ calls to make sure that the domestic abuse commissioner’s office has the proper resourcing to carry out these additional responsibilities. Throughout this Bill’s passage, we have been sending her more and more work, so reasonable adjustments should be made. Helping victims to stay in their homes, stemming the abuse before it damages families beyond repair and prevention must be at the heart of our strategy over the coming years. These amendments point to that. I fully support them and urge noble Lords to do the same.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 31 and 85. I underline that domestic abuse services, which I very much support, should include victims being forced into marriage. I particularly have in mind the special needs of those being forced into marriage who are under the age of 18. I know that the Minister is well aware of the points that I am making. I am sorry to keep pressing them, but I want them on the record.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
My Lords, having listened to other speeches from noble Lords, I realise that the comments that I have prepared are far too mild. I was just going to congratulate everyone who has campaigned and fought for proper provision and thank the Government for working constructively. It is not often that I find myself on the mild end of things. I think that there is now a clear understanding of the need for community services, including supporting survivors of domestic abuse in their own homes. I feel strongly that the abusers should have to leave and not the survivors. The Green group is very supportive of Amendment 85 from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am sure that we will come back to it at another time in another place. In the meantime, well done everyone.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness and her mild comments. I will speak to and welcome Amendments 17, 24 and 28. As we have said many times before, this was already a very good Bill. I thank the Government and particularly my noble friend Lady Williams for the lengths to which she has gone to improve it further. She has been unstinting in her determination to address many of the outstanding issues, always putting the victims’ needs first. With these amendments, I believe that the Government have addressed the potential unintended consequences of a two-tier system.
The Government are wary of specifying what the independent commissioner should and should not report on, and I agree with them. The Minister has also made the point that the commissioner is already undertaking the relevant mapping exercise. None the less, Amendment 17 sends a signal about the importance of community-based services. Together with the requirement for local authorities to assess the impact of the duty under Part 4 and the further requirement, via Amendment 28, for local partnership boards to advise on other local authority support, I believe that this provides a robust and, importantly, ongoing mechanism and structure for ensuring that community-based services are not adversely affected by the duty.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to consult on the provision of community-based services and congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak on all the work that he has done in this area. I also welcome the amazing number of charities and stakeholders that have welcomed these amendments. As I have said before, I understand why the Government cannot extend the duty in this Bill. On this issue and so many others, they have come forward with significant changes. They have moved where they can and altered their position in areas where we thought that they would not.
I realise that I am still relatively new to this House. I also realise that no Bill will ever be perfect and that noble Lords will fight for the changes that they think are right, but this Bill has cross-party support, and for very good reason. It will create a genuine step change in the way we tackle domestic abuse. It has already raised so much awareness. Someone who works on the front line said to me on seeing the raft of government amendments:
“You should see the amazing survivor messages I’m seeing this morning. I’m quite emotional seeing their excitement. We feel the tide is turning.”
The tide is turning but, as we all know, we have only a limited period to get this Bill through. I believe it is now up to us to bid it safe passage.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock. No? Perhaps we should hear from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, since she is with us.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of my noble friend the Minister and congratulate her on bringing forward this group of amendments. It shows that a serious issue has been raised and the Government have risen to the challenge and addressed it. It is extremely important, for the reasons that others have set out. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak and others on the work that they have done in bringing us to this place.
I will raise one concern with my noble friend the Minister, which was addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and which I think we are all aware of. We are yet to assess the implications of the pandemic and the recent Budget on local government finances. I seek assurance from my noble friend because there is a genuine concern out there. I know that many authorities, such as North Yorkshire and many others in rural areas, prioritise the most vulnerable in society—young people, children and the elderly—but there is concern that their budget and resources are severely stretched. While I welcome the amendments, particularly government Amendment 17 and the others set out by my noble friend, we are entirely dependent on local authorities having the provision to make this happen. Is she entirely convinced that they will have the resources to enable them to do so?
My Lords, I should make it clear that the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, has withdrawn from the debate, so we shall not be hearing from her on this occasion. I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff
My Lords, I should declare that I chair the Commission on Alcohol Harm. I added my name to Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Hollins. It is very welcome that the Bill will, for the first time, give local authorities a formal role in the provision of domestic abuse support. The voluntary sector has done a heroic job in protecting survivors, victims and their families, but this vital task should not be left to the voluntary sector alone.
The words of the Minister were welcome, reflecting her deep and sincere commitment to tackling domestic abuse. The government amendments recognise the need to ensure that regulation will meet need and are certainly to be supported. If I heard correctly, some of the additional finance will apply only to England. How will parallel community services be financially supported in Wales? Without that additional funding also coming to Wales, there will be a serious risk that women fleeing abuse will also have to flee Wales to get the support they need.
We must not ignore those outside refuges, some of whom are turned away due to their alcohol and substance-use needs, which makes them ineligible for support from their local authority. However, they still need support. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is needed in addition to the Government’s amendments. It would ensure that the necessary support is available and would support the whole scoping exercise without any discrimination. I really urge the Government to support it.
My Lords, the new statutory duty on local authorities to provide safe accommodation-based services for victims of domestic abuse and their children is widely welcomed, but I am still sympathetic to the ongoing fears that this might mean local authorities simply redistributing funding away from community services in order to meet that statutory need. I welcome these thoughtful amendments and the discussion that focuses on protecting specialist community service provision. While I am still not sure whether this issue should be dealt with through legislation, it is very important that it has come up. I am minded to consider seriously Amendments 30 and 31 in particular.
However, there is one category of specialist services that I am worried the Bill has inadvertently not focused on: women’s domestic abuse services, whether community or accommodation-based, which are under threat. Ironically, council funding does not help. The Bill’s increase in funding and the new legal duty on councils will not resolve this issue. There seems to be some muddled thinking about how councils should deliver specialist services more broadly. I would appreciate it if the Minister would take that into account in this set of amendments or in guidance notes.
I declare a minor interest, in that I am a long-standing columnist for the MJ – for the uninitiated, the Municipal Journal. It has been eye-opening watching councils in recent years trying to negotiate equalities legislation in the context of new political trends such as gender-neutral policies. The Equality Act 2010 clearly protects single-sex exemptions that allow women to have legitimate access to women-only services and spaces: gyms, hospitals, changing rooms and, of course, crucial services such as Rape Crisis, women’s refuges and women’s advice services. The newly launched organisation Sex Matters notes that rules and explanations are now confused and controversies around gender identity mean that organisations can be reluctant to communicate their women-only services clearly, and, when they do, councils can use this against them. This needs to be clarified as we go forward; otherwise, all the good will will be undermined.
One example of the unintended consequence of fudging championing women’s refuges is how councils are interpreting equalities impact assessments. In the drive for more inclusive, non-gendered service provision that caters for the needs of all protected characteristics, women’s refuges are in danger of losing funding for not being inclusive enough.
One recent example that I mentioned in relation to another Bill is the Brighton-based organisation RISE, which has lost a contract worth £5 million over seven years. After 26 years of stalwart work, its existence is now threatened. RISE is predominantly, but not exclusively, a women-for-women service, but the briefing from Brighton & Hove City Council’s bids evaluation team explained that RISE needed to cater more for heterosexual and gay men and specifically address the barring of services experienced by the trans community. The message was clear: that RISE should stop mainly focusing on women victims of domestic abuse. RISE has an LGBTQ domestic abuse casework service and it has co-piloted an LGBTQ refuge. Surely, its women-only services should not need to be anything other than exemplary for women, whether accommodation-based or community-based. However, the council was clear that the contract would not be continued because RISE is primarily a service for women. As Women’s Aid’s Nicki Norman said:
“We are at serious risk of losing our network of refuges run by women for women.”
We should not be naive or disingenuous here. One reason why there is a coy reluctance to demarcate services for women only is the controversies over definitions of a woman, as defined by biological sex. Gender neutrality can become a shield to avoid any accusations of transphobia, and councils can hide behind that. Even this Bill, in its attempts at being gender neutral, seems reluctant to defend or bolster the women’s refuge movement or women’s services in the community, without which, to be honest, the whole issue of domestic abuse would not even be on the political agenda at all.
Perhaps the Minister can just assure us that the Bill will not lead to a new type of procurement of less-specialised service provision or the downgrading of essential services for women, whether accommodation-based or community-based, and that communities will not lose the unparalleled expertise, garnered over decades, of women’s refuges and women’s services in the enthusiasm to hand over funding and procurement to councils. Do not forget some of the risks involved in that.
My Lords, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who regrets that she cannot be here today, was pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Polak, when his amendment on specialist and community-based services was discussed in Committee. We really warmly welcome the government amendments, which represent significant improvements on the Bill. All that being said, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, introduced Amendment 85 so that we might just press a little further. I do not want to repeat what other noble Lords have said, so I will make just a few brief comments.
We have heard repeatedly in debates in this House of the value of specialist and community-based services which allow survivors to remain in their homes and retain their community, their faith links and their workplaces and to keep children in their schools. Finding a long-term solution, as others have said, to supporting these services is essential. With colleagues on the Bishops’ Bench, I look forward to engaging with the victims’ law consultation and to reviewing the promised Clause 8 report from the domestic abuse commissioner to Parliament on the provision of, and need for, community-based support services.
I look forward to the excellent intentions being translated into provision of what is much needed.
My Lords, I will refer to Amendments 20, 22, 24 and 29.
I understand that the Minister has committed to consulting on community-based domestic abuse services as part of the victim’s law consultation this summer; that is extremely welcome. I thank the Government for this, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for his commitment to this issue. I also thank the Minister, who rightly responded to concerns raised by Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as the vice-president of that charity—and many other charities and organisations representing adult and child victims. As we know, children are often the hidden victims of domestic abuse. Can the Minister confirm that a statutory duty to deliver community-based services is a possible outcome to ensure that the majority of victims are supported in future?
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo.
My Lords, like the other speakers this afternoon, I welcome the Government’s amendments. However, I remain concerned about two matters, to which I will speak briefly; I will also ask the Minister to try to assure the House on them.
Many speakers have mentioned my first concern. Although having a statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation is welcome, if we do not deal with the question of community-based services, there is—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said—a huge danger of money being transferred into the provision of the accommodation and away from such services. The Minister, who has done an excellent job on this Bill, has not explained clearly to the House why Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Lord cannot be accepted so as to protect these services in the interim while the commissioner undertakes her mapping exercise. If she is not prepared to accept that amendment, will she explain to the House what steps the Government will take to protect community-based services in the period when the mapping will be undertaken?
The second area that I want to refer to briefly is that of joint commissioning and the work being done in localities to provide these valuable services. The Minister touched on the lack of clarity over what this meant. I made inquiries of these services in Gloucestershire, a large county where localities have been undertaking community-based commissioning since 2013; this involves working across local authorities, health authorities, the police and crime commissioner and other services. The joint commissioning model has enabled them to offer far more women help than would be possible under an accommodation-based offer only. The service, they tell me, has taken referrals for 6,000 women in the past year, whereas an accommodation-based model would not have been able to deal with more than around 100 a year.
When we understand this perspective of the importance of community-based services and how they support victims and their families, it is incumbent on the Minister to explain why she is not prepared to take the route of Amendment 85. In Gloucestershire, the emphasis is on safely keeping victims in their homes, allowing them to maintain family and community networks and avoid isolation, and enabling their children to stay connected to their school friends. These are clear objectives that can be distilled in demonstrating what a community-based model looks like. The services also offer places of safety through a scheme in which they provide safe accommodation in the form of individual properties for victims and their families, who can access this accommodation alongside outreach support.
We are talking about specialist services that are there to support victims of domestic abuse aged 16 and over. They provide help desks, phone lines, specialist group work and independent domestic violence advisers to support victims in the courts. They provide independent advisers to support young people and encourage them to confront the perpetrators and the type of behaviour that is developing. They also work with the health services and GPs to identify domestic abuse and respond to it rapidly.
This model is not unique to Gloucestershire. The Government have enough to make provisions in Amendments 30 and 85 to move us forward. This does not mean that the services will be available tomorrow, but it does mean that we understand what types of services are necessary. Even at this late stage, with the excellent work that has been undertaken by many noble Lords in this area, I sincerely hope that the Government will think again, give a much clearer lead on the pathway to deliver jointly commissioned community-based services and make the provision of such services a statutory duty.
My Lords, in Committee, the need to consider help for victims in the wider community as well as in refuges was raised again and again. These amendments put other local authority services for domestic abuse victims and their children front and centre, giving them the recognition and attention they deserve. However, it must be said that concerns have been expressed across the House about funding because we cannot enforce the provisions in the Bill and in these amendments without it.
We already know that most help and services are accessed in the community; the noble Lord, Lord Russell, described it as a no-brainer. I am therefore absolutely delighted by the Government’s response. I want to give the Minister full credit for the way in which she has listened and acted.
I support government Amendment 99, which would, for the first year only, give six months’ leeway for the Government’s new clause duty to report on domestic abuse services in England. That seems entirely reasonable to me. Who knows what challenges and obstacles the first report will encounter?
This has been an extremely useful and succinct debate. When I looked at the number of speakers, I thought “Oh my goodness, we’re going to be here a while”, but we have not. I hope that noble Lords, both those in the Chamber and those listening from home, will appreciate that we have a lot to get on with; their succinct comments are very welcome.
I will take a leaf out of their book and conclude by saying that peace has broken out. This debate is an example of the Lords working at its best. I congratulate noble Lords, the Minister and all the charities and organisations that have worked together in the best way possible to ensure that we have got to this situation.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is absolutely right to say that peace has broken out, but I do not think that your Lordships were ever at war. We have all been seeking the same ends. This has been a good and succinct debate—long may that last—and from what several noble Lords have said I know that they will keep a close eye on developments over the next few months.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Primarolo, made specific points about perpetrators being brought to book and that victims should be able to stay in their own home. The importance of community-based services for the victims of domestic abuse and their children is unquestionable. We share noble Lords’ ambitions to see all the victims of this terrible crime being supported.
It might assist the House if I briefly recap the Government’s reasoning on why now is not the appropriate time to legislate on this issue. I shall return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. The current landscape is complex. Unlike accommodation-based services, those in the community are funded and commissioned not only by PCCs but by local authorities and clinical commissioning groups. Further, as another noble Lord said, the third sector is prominently involved in this. Introducing an undeveloped statutory duty in the Bill would run the risk of cementing in legislation a complex landscape that we are working hard to simplify. Equally, placing the duty on only one of these public bodies would be to risk legislating for responsibility in the wrong place. This is far too important an issue on which to legislate in a rush.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Russell, the noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Burt of Solihull, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh talked about the funding behind this, which is crucial. In fact, it has gone to the heart of the position taken by the Government. We must understand fully the cost of such a duty before we can implement it. The MHCLG duty has been funded at a cost of £125 million, so any action around community-based services must be funded appropriately. As I have said, significant government funding is already provided for these services, with an additional £17.7 million for them having been announced only last month. The results of this funding will be a further crucial piece of information to help us understand further need. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others that funding for the commissioner also has to be in place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about the position in Wales and Amendment 17 placing a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 on the provision of domestic abuse services in England. As with the provision made in Part 4, we have limited the duty to the provision of these community-based services in England in recognition that generally we are dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to ask the question. We recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords, which is why we have tabled amendments to demonstrate our commitments in this space.
The statutory duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to publish and lay before Parliament the Clause 8 report on the provision of and need for community-based support services, and the statutory duty on tier 1 local authorities to monitor and report on the safe accommodation duty on the provision of community-based support in their area, will together ensure that the Government have all the information they need to protect and support safe accommodation and services in the community. In addition, I have committed today to consulting this summer on a statutory duty around community-based services in the upcoming victims’ law consultation. This is a commitment to explore precisely the issues that noble Lords have highlighted in this debate. It will give us the time to do them justice. To rush legislation now would, as I have said, risk solidifying into statute the wrong framework and accountability mechanisms, as well as the wrong arrangements for ensuring that responsible public authorities collaborate to ensure that victims receive the services that they need.
We also cannot take a shortcut with a regulation-making power, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. As I said in my opening speech, your Lordships’ House does not like the kind of skeletal powers that would be provided for in Amendment 31. Any new duties in respect of community-based support should be set out in primary legislation, as we have done for accommodation-based support in Part 4. This issue must be given thorough and thoughtful consideration. We will use the consultation to interrogate fully the current landscape of community-based services and to develop effective proposals on how we might ensure that it remains robust and effective in order to give all victims access to these vital services.
My noble friend Lord Polak pointed to the fact that Amendment 85 also seeks to make provision for perpetrator programmes. I agree entirely that more is needed here. The noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, also talked about the issue. I will set out our plans in this area when we come to debate other amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. The needs of victims and perpetrators are clearly of a different order, but we recognise that both issues need to be addressed. However, we are not persuaded that they should be conflated in a single provision such as that provided for in Amendment 85.
I turn finally to Amendment 30. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that for the reasons I have explained, we would not expect local authorities to give priority to accommodation-based support services over community- based services, so the circumstances addressed in the amendment should not arise. In response to his question, once the new duty under Part 4 becomes law the public sector equality duty will apply to local authorities in delivering their functions under it.
In assessing needs, local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims. This goes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, because that will include those with relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, as well as victims who might come in from outside the specific local authority area. As set out in the draft statutory guidance, tier 1 local authorities should make it clear in their strategies how they plan to make support services available that will meet the needs of all victims. The strategy should set out the support needs that have been identified as part of the local needs assessment, along with a clear breakdown of the differing needs of victims’ groups such as, but not limited to, those from BAME backgrounds or who identify as LGBT, and how they will address the barriers faced by victims with relevant protected characteristics and/or multiple or complex needs. I hope that that will answer the point put by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
We want the same outcomes here. I think and hope that the road map that I have set out, underpinned by our amendments, has reassured noble Lords that the Government are committed to taking this issue forward at pace. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, not to move his amendment. I thank all noble Lords for taking part in what has been an incredibly constructive debate and I hope that these government amendments will be universally supported.
I have received a request to ask the Minister a short question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, I want to ask the Minister a couple of quick questions. The first relates to the additional money she mentioned today and in Committee that is going to local authorities to help to implement the legislation. Given what the NAO has said this morning, is she confident that local authorities will actually spend the money in the areas in which the Government wish them to? Secondly, on the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about the jeopardy that women-only spaces in refuges are coming under because of local authority commissioning policies, will the Minister remind those authorities of the need to implement fully the Equality Act 2010 and not try to reinterpret it?
My Lords, I will answer the last question first. The Equality Act 2010 is of the utmost importance here. Whether or not I actually remind every local authority of its obligations under that Act, they have statutory duties, and under- pinning the work of every single local state body is the Equality Act.
Will local authorities necessarily spend the additional money on what they have been tasked with spending it on? It is being given to them in conjunction with a duty. I know, because of what she has said, that both the domestic abuse commissioner and the local boards will be scrutinising the spending and commissioning of those services locally.
Amendment 17 agreed.
We come now to the group consisting of Amendment 18. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 37: Breach of order
18: Clause 37, page 23, line 28, leave out “without reasonable excuse the person fails” and insert “the court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the person has without reasonable excuse failed”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment applies the criminal standard of proof to a breach of a domestic abuse protection order.
My Lords, this amendment raises the relationship between the civil order and the criminal conviction that can result from a breach of it. I hope that this debate is as constructive as the last one, because my intention is not to divide the House but to get on record the explanation of how a DAPO—a domestic abuse protection order—and the breach of it will work.
The order may be made if the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities, which is the civil standard of proof, that an individual has been abusive to someone with whom he or she has a personal connection— I find it difficult to use “they” of the singular. It is also a condition that the order is
“necessary and proportionate to protect that person from domestic abuse, or the risk of domestic abuse”.
The civil court can impose requirements and the Bill gives examples, such as non-contact, not going to specified premises and electronic monitoring. If the subject of the order fails to comply with a requirement, without reasonable excuse, it is an offence of which he or she may be convicted. If found guilty, he or she is liable to a fine or imprisonment up to five years.
We debated protection notices and orders in Committee. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, in a long and helpful reply, said that he agreed with the aims of our amendments and he summarised them correctly as:
“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”.
He also said:
“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.”—[Official Report, 1/2/21; cols. 1950-51.]
I wonder whether the Minister can unpack that “not able”—why not? And “chooses not to”—why would we not require that course to be pursued? I understand, as much as someone who has not been in this situation can, the difficulties facing someone going through everything in a court, which is an issue that we will come to later. It is important to enable a victim to pursue both justice and protection, but it is also important to have regard to the rights of an alleged perpetrator, which is about the standard of proof to be attained.
The Minister wrote after the last stage, and I thank him for that, referring to a question that I asked in Committee about the experience of applying the alternative of contempt of court to punish the breach of an order. The letter did not answer that point, and that may be because it is not known how often that route is taken in the case of comparable civil orders. He said—and this is another aspect of my questions—that choosing not to pursue a breach as a criminal matter allowed victims to obtain protection
“based on their individual circumstances.”
Can he amplify on that? How does it come about? Do the police advise victims on their choice? Is there guidance or a code of practice? Does the CPS get involved at this stage?
The primary reason for the amendment is to ask the Minister to repeat, from the Dispatch Box, the clear statement that he made in his letter about standard of proof. He wrote emphasising
“that a breach will not result in an automatic prosecution. … the breach will need to be reported to the police, who will then investigate and refer to prosecutors for a decision on whether to pursue a prosecution. 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. By this, I mean that the matter will be dealt with by a criminal court which will automatically apply the criminal standard of proof when deciding whether to convict.”
That was reassuring, but it is better to have it on record in the Official Report. Therefore, I beg to move.
First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for such clarity in raising some of my concerns. My enthusiasm for the Domestic Abuse Bill is somewhat muted by the worrying trend from the Government more broadly to use civil protection notices and orders to expand the coercive powers of the state, criminalising a greater range of behaviours without the bother of reaching the burden of proof of criminal law.
To be honest, I was surprised that those who usually speak up on civil liberties in this place seemed rather quiet on this, which is why I was glad to see this amendment. I know that the issue of domestic abuse is emotive and sensitive, and that we all want to do what we can to oppose it, but due process is important too, so I warmly welcome this amendment and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for raising it.
It is a crucial amendment, because it aims to ensure that a criminal standard of proof is applied to a breach of a domestic abuse order. That is just not clear as the legislation is written. It seems an important protection for justice and the rule of law. The danger of any hybridisation of civil and criminal instruments is that criminal penalties can be given out without satisfying the criminal burden of proof, which means that someone can effectively be found guilty of a crime and labelled as a proven abuser without a legal test or representation. That feels far too subjective in the Bill, as it stands.
Of course, I understand that breaches of orders must have consequences. They are not just a piece of paper; they are not just there for show. The amendment seeks to clarify how the judgment of a “reasonable excuse” for a breach in the legislation, or that it was “beyond reasonable doubt”, is arrived at. It must be the role of the courts, but it is just not clear.
Dispensing with the criminal burden of proof can have some unintended consequences that are not in the interests of the victim either. Some campaigners fear that the police may choose to use breaches of an order as an easier alternative to proving charges for more serious criminal offences, such as assault or criminal damage. A lower threshold may imply that something has been done by the authorities—as it were, ticking a box—but perhaps more should be done. If the police go about choosing an easier tick-box solution, without the nuisance of gathering evidence that can be tested, that is a bad outcome, so we must ensure that order breaches are not used as an alternative to pursing criminal charges where appropriate.
It is also nerve-racking that some breaches of an order may be relatively minor and very far from criminally threatening to anyone, least of all the person the order is protecting. Some fear that alleged victims may be deterred from reporting breaches if that automatically criminalises their partner or their ex-partner, who might perhaps be the parent of their children.
The worry is that those who the Bill seeks to protect are being sidelined in the process and potentially disempowered. Their agency is potentially undermined by decisions taken by the police or third parties who can use breaches of an order to criminalise alleged perpetrators, regardless of what the victim wants or of however minor the breach. If that were to happen, the main loser would ultimately be due process. I therefore support this amendment wholeheartedly and look forward to the Minister clarifying this or reassuring us that this is not a way of avoiding a criminal burden of proof.
My Lords, I want to go one step back and start with domestic abuse prevention notices. These can be given by a relatively junior police officer, despite what the legislation describes as a “senior police officer”—I was a police inspector at the age of 23—on the basis that he has reasonable grounds to believe that P has been abusive towards another person aged 16 or over to whom P is personally connected and reasonably believes that the notice is necessary to protect the person from abuse by P. If P breaches the notice, P can be arrested and must be held in custody before they can be brought before the court. That is a lot of power invested in a relatively junior and potentially inexperienced police officer, with serious consequences for P. A practical alternative might be to seek the authority of a magistrate, in a similar way that the police might seek a search warrant, which can be done at short notice, on a 24/7 basis. Did the Government consider such an alternative?
As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, domestic abuse prevention orders can be made by a court on application, and must be applied for if P is already subject to a domestic abuse protection notice. The orders are made on the basis that the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities, the civil standard of proof, that P has been abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom P is personally connected and the order is necessary and proportionate to protect that person from domestic abuse, or the risk of domestic abuse, carried out by P.
The order can be made in the absence of P, and it can impose a range of prohibitions and requirements. If P fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with the order, he commits a criminal offence and can be imprisoned for up to five years. Normally an accused person is convicted of a criminal offence only if the offence is proved beyond reasonable doubt, and while I accept that a breach of the order might be so proved, the basis upon which the order is given is on the balance of probabilities.
When this House 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 a term of imprisonment for contempt of court without a criminal conviction being recorded against the perpetrator. In that case, the Government claimed that it was the police who said that a criminal sanction was necessary, rather than a civil penalty, in order for perpetrators to take them seriously. What is the Government’s reason this time?
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 the civil order resulted in the criminalisation of many young people with no previous convictions for breach of an anti-social behaviour order or ASBO. Parliament replaced ASBOs with anti-social behaviour injunctions and community protection notices—a purely civil process—by means of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
On the basis of hearsay, potentially a malicious allegation, someone could be given a domestic abuse protection order, breach of which may result in a criminal conviction and a term of imprisonment. Can the Minister please explain why it is necessary for a criminal record to be created when there is a breach of the civil domestic abuse prevention order when it is not necessary in relation to anti-social behaviour injunctions and community protection notices?
My Lords, I am speaking to this amendment on the basis that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she will not be moving it to a vote, and that what she is seeking is, essentially, for the Minister to read into the record the contents of the letter the noble Baroness received, in which the Minister explained the nature of the process when people breach the DAPO.
I thought I would address a couple of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, when she opened her contribution, in her typically provocative way, by saying she feared that the state was expanding its coercive powers. In some ways, the situation is more extreme than she or the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said.
I remind the House that I sit as a magistrate in family and criminal cases; in particular, I sit on domestic abuse-related criminal cases. In domestic abuse criminal cases, if we find a perpetrator not guilty, we still occasionally give them what is now called a restraining order. We do that because although the necessary standard of proof has not been met, the alleged victim is clearly vulnerable, so we put a restraining order in place in any event. In the family court, we use non-molestation orders.
The purpose of the DAPO is to supersede restraining orders and non-molestation orders, but we very frequently put non-molestation orders in place without the alleged perpetrator present. The alleged perpetrator will be told of it and given an opportunity to come to court and argue against the imposition of a non-molestation order, but the reason the process is as I have described is to protect the woman, as it is usually. I understand that the purpose of the DAPN and the DAPO is to supersede the arrangements we have in place.
I understand the points the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made about the appropriateness of these sorts of orders when compared to ASBOs and community protection notices. They are points he has made before and they are interesting. Nevertheless, as I said in my opening, I see that the purpose of this short debate is for the Minister to put on the record the contents of the letter he has written to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to make crystal clear the standard of proof that would be necessary to get a conviction for breaching these orders.
My Lords, as I indicated in Committee, I agree with the general aim of the amendment, which is to ensure that criminal liability and punishment for a breach of a DAPO should occur only if the breach is proved to the criminal standard of proof. I heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and a number of other contributors to this short debate that the essential purpose of the amendment is for me to repeat from the Dispatch Box what I set out in a letter. I will aim to do just that.
I therefore make two main points. First, a breach of a DAPO is a criminal offence. As with all criminal offences, this will require the police to investigate the case and refer it to prosecutors, who will decide whether to pursue a prosecution. Secondly, the fact that a breach of a DAPO is a criminal offence means that, as with all criminal offences, the criminal standard of proof will apply automatically when the court is dealing with the case. A criminal conviction cannot be entered, or criminal sanctions imposed, unless and until the criminal standard of proof has been met.
The criminal standard of proof applies, therefore, when we are dealing with a breach of a DAPO. It does not apply when we are dealing with the making a DAPO. When we look at whether a DAPO should be made, the civil standard of proof applies—that is, the balance of probabilities. But in order to impose criminal sanctions for its breach, the criminal standard of proof will apply—that is, beyond reasonable doubt. I hope that has set out the position clearly and unambiguously.
Picking up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, “beyond reasonable doubt” is the standard of proof; “without reasonable excuse” is an element of the offence, which would have to be proved to that standard. That is the difference between the two phrases.
We have taken this approach to the DAPO because we want to send a clear message to perpetrators that breach of an order is a serious matter and will be acted on. As I stated in Committee and during my engagement with the noble Baroness and others since, this approach is similar to other civil protective orders that carry criminal liability for breach, such as the non-molestation order, stalking protection order and knife crime prevention order. The approach is therefore consistent with our existing legal framework.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked why some victims may not want to go for criminal sanctions. That might not be their preference for a number of reasons. First, they may be concerned about the possible consequences for their partner or ex-partner and would not want them criminalised for a breach or, indeed, if the point of the question was, “Why isn’t the original order criminal?”
Fundamentally, the proposed orders are intended to be preventive and not punitive. They will enable courts to impose positive requirements which can help to achieve long-term sustainable behaviour change and challenge perpetrators to address their abusive behaviour. For example, the perpetrator might be required to attend a behaviour change programme or an alcohol or substance misuse programme, or undergo a mental health assessment. That may help those victims who wish to maintain a relationship with their partner or family member but want the abuse to stop. It is a strength of the DAPO that it is such a flexible remedy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised contempt of court. If a victim wanted a breach of an order other than one made in a magistrates’ court to be dealt with as a civil contempt of court, they could make a committal application to the court, including for an arrest warrant, if necessary. In those circumstances, the court has the power to remand the perpetrator on bail or in custody. We would expect that victims’ views would be considered, together with other questions of public interest, when deciding which sanction for breach is appropriate.
On her point about the guidance, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will recall that in Clause 48 there is a provision for guidance to the police, and in Clause 73 there is provision for guidance to others, including victims.
This is one of the strengths of the DAPO when compared to other existing orders used in these cases, such as the domestic violence protection order. The responses to our consultation highlighted that the absence of a criminal sanction following breach of the DVPO limits the effectiveness of that order. We have therefore ensured that non-compliance with a DAPO is met with the appropriate consequences. In that regard, I reiterate a point I made in Committee: in its report, the Joint Committee did not raise issues with using the civil standard of proof for making a DAPO when examining the draft Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, noted, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, raised on a number of occasions that we are making a move from civil standard to criminal standard when breached. With respect, I have set out the Government’s position in response to that on a number of occasions. We are satisfied that the system we have in the Bill is appropriate. There is nothing in the point, I would respectfully say, that there is something wrong with criminal sanctions on breach for an order made on the balance of probabilities. They are two conceptually distinct questions First, what is the standard for the order to be made? Secondly, what do you have to prove for criminal sanctions when there is a breach of that order?
As for the question on going to the magistrates’ court, one of the strengths of this order is that it can be issued quickly in response to a crisis incident, as with the existing domestic violence protection order. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said, ultimately, we are dealing with the question of protection for victims.
I hope that my explanations on the standard of proof in this short debate, alongside the explanations I provided in Committee and my subsequent discussions with noble Lords, have been helpful. I hope that what I have said today has been clear and unambiguous. I therefore respectfully invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Paddick’s question about the underlying architecture, if that is the right phrase, still stands, but I will not pursue it now. I am grateful to the Minister for all he said about the application of the provisions. I did not make myself as clear as I should have done about what he explained as someone not wanting to go for criminal prosecution. That was not quite my point, which was about inability and due process, which is a term we would do well to keep in mind—due process for both parties.
The Minister has been very clear in his explanation of the standard. I am conscious of how much business the House has to get through today, so I will not prolong this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 19. I point out to the House that Amendment 98 should also be considered in this group. It was left out inadvertently.
19: After Schedule 1, insert the following new Schedule—
“SCHEDULE STRANGULATION OR SUFFOCATION: CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTSPolice and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
1_ In section 65A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (qualifying offences for the purposes of Part 5 of that Act), in subsection (2), after paragraph (r) insert—“(ra) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Housing Act 1985
2_ In Schedule 2A to the Housing Act 1985 (absolute ground for possession for anti-social behaviour: serious offences), after paragraph 14 insert—“14A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
3_ In Part 1 of Schedule 7A to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (offences in England and Wales for which cross-border powers of arrest available), for paragraph 24 substitute—“24_ An offence under either of the following provisions of the Serious Crime Act 2015— (a) section 45 (participating in activities of organised crime group);(b) section 75A (strangulation or suffocation).”Crime and Disorder Act 1998
4_(1) Section 29 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (racially or religiously aggravated assaults) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1), after paragraph (b) (but before the “or” following it) insert—“(ba) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation);”.(3) In subsection (2), for “or (b)” substitute “, (b) or (ba)”.Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999
5_(1) Schedule 1A to the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (proceedings in which witnesses are automatically eligible for assistance on grounds of fear or distress about testifying) is amended as follows.(2) After paragraph 29 insert—“Serious Crime Act 201529A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation) in a case where it is alleged that—(a) the accused was carrying a firearm or knife at any time during the commission of the offence, and(b) a person other than the accused knew or believed at any time during the commission of the offence that the accused was carrying a firearm or knife.”(3) In paragraph 30, after “paragraphs 1 to 8” insert “or 29A”.Sexual Offences Act 2003
6_ In Schedule 5 to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (cases where sexual harm prevention orders may be made), after paragraph 63B insert—“63C_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Criminal Justice Act 2003
7_ In Part 1 of Schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (violent offences specified for purposes of certain custodial sentences), before paragraph 63G insert—“63FA_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004
8_ In section 6A of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (evidence and procedure in cases of serious physical harm: England and Wales), in subsection (2), at the end insert—“(c) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Children Act 2004
9_ In section 58 of the Children Act 2004 (reasonable punishment: England), in subsection (2), after paragraph (c) insert—“(d) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
10_ In section 98 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (violent offender orders), in subsection (3), after paragraph (d) insert—“(da) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation);”.Modern Slavery Act 2015
11_ In Schedule 4 to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (offences to which defence for slavery or trafficking victims under section 45 of that Act does not apply), after paragraph 35 insert—“Serious Crime Act 2015 35A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Sentencing Act 2020
12_(1) The Sentencing Act 2020 is amended as follows.(2) In section 67 (assaults on emergency workers), in subsection (3), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation);”.(3) In Part 1 of Schedule 18 (violent offences for which extended sentence of imprisonment available), after paragraph 25 insert—“Serious Crime Act 201525A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).””Member’s explanatory statement
The new Schedule amends other legislation in consequence of the proposed new Clause in the name of Baroness Newlove that provides for an offence of strangulation or suffocation.
My Lords, the amendments in this group are government amendments tabled in my name. The principal amendment in this group is Amendment 49, which is also in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Meacher. Amendments 19, 89, 95, 98, 100, 101 and 106 are consequential amendments. Amendment 49 establishes a specific offence of strangulation or suffocation. My noble friend the Minister has added his name to this group of amendments and has indicated to me the Government’s support for them. I thank my noble friend and welcome his support.
I am grateful to the Government for listening to this House and to the many organisations which have worked tirelessly for this vital change. I thank especially the women who have shared with me and other organisations their horrific experiences of strangulation and suffocation; this has helped make the case for this change in the law. One such woman is Rachel Williams. Rachel was strangled and then later shot by her partner. She was severely injured. I put on record my thanks to her for her tireless work in getting this offence recognised, as well as in supporting other victims through the organisation she has set up, Stand Up to Domestic Abuse. This year, 2021, is the year when we can be so proud to say to the thousands of victims and survivors who have suffered from this brutal act, and to their families, that your Lordships’ House is making this change.
I also pay tribute to all those who have worked side by side with me since Committee to ensure that a suitable amendment came together, as we have in front of us today. They include my successor as Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird; the domestic abuse commissioner designate, Nicole Jacobs; the noble Lords, Lord Marks, Lord Anderson, Lord Blunkett and Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. Last but not least, I give a huge thank you to Professor David Ormerod. I am most grateful to all noble Lords around the House who have indicated to me their full support during the debates that we have had.
I know that I would not have got here without the incredible work of Nogah Ofer and the Centre for Women’s Justice, and Dr Cath White, the clinical director of SAFE Place Merseyside, whose detailed research and understanding of these cases has produced a strong case for reform. I am very conscious that they have done much of this work in their own time and my thanks go to them personally as well as to their organisations. Moreover, the work of the charity Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse has been pivotal in getting us here today. I have huge respect for the chief executive Frank Mullane, who works tirelessly to help support traumatised families and ensures that professional training is given towards understanding domestic homicide reviews.
It is now accepted that our existing laws on assault are a very poor fit for strangulation and suffocation. Current laws focus on visible injuries, but with strangulation and suffocation there can be a high level of violence but few or no visible marks. Having a stand-alone offence will make assessing cases much more straightforward for the police as well as prosecutors. Implementation will be crucial. There will need to be appropriate training for police officers, the CPS, medical staff and domestic abuse workers. This will, of course, need financial resourcing. However, such investment into stopping domestic abuse at the very first opportunity will save countless lives of misery and the far greater costs of addressing further horrific crimes, including homicides, as well as suicides where domestic abuse is a factor. Implementation needs to be thorough and consistent across England and Wales.
I am concerned that many police forces’ specialist or dedicated domestic abuse units have been disbanded or so downsized that they cannot provide the service that victims have every right to expect. If this new offence within this landmark Bill is truly going to cause a sea-change in attitudes—a change that we desperately need—domestic abuse in all its forms must become a priority for all police forces, so that victims everywhere feel their voices are heard with dignity and respect and they are given the support that is needed for them to feel confident in and trust the criminal justice system.
I will leave it to the Minister to deal with the technicalities of the amendments but there are some obvious changes from Committee. The maximum sentence proposed here is five years, rather than seven, to bring it in line with the normal maximum sentence for actual bodily harm. The provision now includes the offence when carried out abroad by a UK national, which it is right to catch under this legislation. The new amendment introduces a limit on the consent normally allowed in law, so that a defendant cannot rely on a defence of consent if serious harm is caused, even if the defendant did not intend to cause the harm but was reckless; that is, they were aware that there was a risk of harm when they strangled someone but disregarded it. This limit to the defence of consent is in line with the “rough sex” defence amendment, which has become Clause 65 of the Bill. I accept the need for consistency, and I know that strangulation and suffocation can be part of rough sex.
Personally, I am concerned that many young people consent to violent acts because they feel pressured or coerced by partners and because of the normalisation of this violence through pornography. They may not be aware of the serious harm that this causes; even death can be caused in a matter of seconds. In a BBC survey of over 2,000 participants, 38% of women under 40 had experienced strangulation during sex; for women aged 18-24, this rises to 54%. Of the women who had been strangled or experienced other violence during sex, 53% had at least sometimes not consented; 42% of them said that on some or all occasions they had felt pressured, coerced or forced.
My warning to those considering consenting is that there is no evidence that strangulation improves the sexual experience for women, but there is evidence that men routinely use strangulation as a method of assault, and it is dangerous. When people speak of strangulation for sexual gratification, they really mean sexual gratification of men at the expense of women’s safety.
It is important that where consent is raised and disputed, the CPS opposes such defences robustly to get across the message that strangulation can be very dangerous, and that using it is reckless as there is always a risk of harm because you are depriving the brain of oxygen. Restricting oxygen to the brain, even for a short time, can have long-term consequences such as neurological damage.
However, within domestic abuse most cases of strangulation are not to do with sex. In these cases, the strangling is usually part of an episode of aggression and the issue of consent is not raised by the police or the CPS. This new offence will make it clear that it must be taken seriously, not dismissed because there are no visible marks. The offence heightens the level of risk for the victim of further abuse.
If the implementation of the Bill is properly resourced and monitored, this will really be the start of a tangible change in attitudes towards a particularly horrifying form of domestic abuse. I hope we will see the culture shift so that such abuse becomes unacceptable to everyone. The new offence is just one part of the changes needed, and I urge all noble Lords to support the amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I warmly commend the sterling efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to see the introduction of new offences of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation. The noble Baroness generously mentioned a number of organisations and people who have helped her but she deserves huge credit for the way in which she has championed this action, which I am delighted to see in today’s amendments.
The noble Baroness’s speech was very powerful. The statistics that she shared with us about the relationship between strangulation and sex were shocking but, as she said, it goes much further beyond that as well. Indeed, she has explained at previous stages of the Bill that non-fatal strangulation and suffocation have the unique characteristic of being extremely harmful physically and psychologically but often with no external physical signs. Because of the lack of observable injuries and the lack of understanding of the seriousness of the offence, strangulation when charged is generally pursued as a summary offence of common assault in the magistrates’ court. Undercharging limits sentencing options, and a summary offence also deprives the victim and the defendant of the greater resources and attention devoted to a Crown Court prosecution. Without the establishment of a separate offence, those unique characteristics mean that more victims would suffer and be killed in future.
The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, creates a new criminal offence of strangulation or suffocation. The offence will apply where a person intentionally strangles another person, but it will also cover a range of behaviours, including suffocation and other acts that affect the person’s ability to breathe and which amount to battery. Alongside the new offence must go training and strong guidance to police forces and other statutory agencies about how it is to be implemented, but today is a very significant step forward. I am grateful to the Government for responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and I warmly welcome the amendments.
My Lords, I too welcome the amendments. I welcome the new offence of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in saying that this is a very significant achievement for the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. As she generously said in opening the debate, many have helped to bring this new offence to the statute book, but she has been the driver throughout. This has not been for herself; her motivation has been to relieve the suffering of victims.
We on these Benches have given the noble Baroness our wholehearted support throughout. It was always an extraordinary anomaly that non-fatal strangulation was not a specific offence. As discussed in Committee, cases of strangulation were generally charged, and therefore sentenced, as assault occasioning actual bodily harm at most—for the reason, which she explained, that they often left little or no mark. The result was that strangulation and suffocation were undercharged and underpunished, and indeed often not punished at all. That was all despite the appalling truth that strangulation was so much the marker of more generalised domestic abuse, and despite the tragic fact that so often it turned out be a predictor of future killing.
I am very grateful to Ministers for engaging with so many of those concerned with the promotion of these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and I had the opportunity to discuss the legal aspects of the new proposed offence with Ministers, and the Government quickly saw the strength of the argument for a specific offence. It is a credit to Ministers that, after initial hesitation, they decided to include the new offence in the Bill and resisted the temptation to put it off to a future date. Because of the strong connection with domestic abuse, it is an offence that sits clearly within the Bill, but it was the right decision to work on this with the speed that we have. That decision must have saved many victims from further serious harm and has almost certainly saved lives.
It is right that the new offence is of general application, not just limited to domestic abuse. It would not have been appropriate to confine it to cases within the statutory definition of “domestic abuse” contained in the Bill, despite the overwhelming majority of cases falling within that category. That is because all cases of strangulation or suffocation are required to be treated as specific offences, for the reasons that I mentioned earlier.
I am grateful for the advice of Professor David Ormerod, the former criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission, for his help with the drafting. He changed my view on the consent issue; I had originally been of the view that consent should be no defence, but it is right that there is a defence of consent—to cover, for example, cases of sporting contests that lead to injury—provided that serious harm was unintended. That proviso is elegantly drafted in the amendments before us. I know the Government are also grateful for the generosity with which he gave his advice, and for the advice of the Law Commission.
In my view, the broad definition of “serious harm” in proposed new subsection (6) to include actual bodily harm is right. It will be less difficult to prove, in cases of both physical and psychiatric injury, than if the only harm that met the required criteria were those for grievous bodily harm or wounding offences under Sections 18 and 20 of the Offences against the Person Act. It is also right that the new offence has extraterritorial application under the new Section 75B, and we welcome that.
I commend the Government on behalf of these Benches for their comprehensive and well-modulated response to this new offence, and to the amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I congratulate her once again. It is a victory for her but also for the many victims of this horrible crime. It is to be hoped that this provision will ensure that many others are spared both strangulation offences and the possible escalation to fatal violence thereafter.
My Lords, I will keep my remarks short, in view of the amount of work to get through today. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who has shown the most incredible tenacity to get to this point. It is absolutely amazing, and an example to us all. Also, if I can say this without sounding anodyne or even boring, I congratulate the Government on picking this up. It was the right thing to do, and I am delighted. It opens the way for survivors of domestic abuse to seek justice and have a legal pathway to see their abusers punished. In later amendments, I will pick up on other areas where women are legally discriminated against very seriously, but for the time being, this is a fantastic move by the Government.
My Lords, in view of the pressure of time, I shall be brief, but I could not allow this amendment to pass without congratulating all those who have played such a significant part. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has shown enormous tenacity. There are times in all our parliamentary, public and political lives when we suddenly realise that we can make a real difference to the well-being, and in this case the lives, of others. I congratulate her from the bottom of my heart. I pay tribute to those whom she generously paid tribute in her speech, and also to her co-signatories, my noble friend Lady Wilcox and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who have stuck with this all along.
Unusually for these Benches, I congratulate, as my noble friend Lord Hunt did, the two Ministers, who have been assiduous in their preparedness to listen, respond and be flexible. This is the House of Lords at its best. Parliament is at its best when people listen to each other, where divides are narrowed and overcome, and where people of good will are prepared to find a way forward in the interests of the people whom we seek to serve in the country as a whole.
I have played a very small part in this, but I like to think that the Minister, as I said to him on another occasion, would not wish to put his parliamentary colleagues in the House of Commons in the invidious position of voting down such an important and critical measure. He certainly listened, as have the Government. Will we be able to do so on other issues?
Today there will be many votes. It should not diminish the importance of the Bill that we have continuing issues to raise, because this is a really important piece of legislation. I have one thing to put on the record on the statistics that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, gave us this afternoon. This is about power and domination, never about love. It is about people who are prepared to use their manhood for ill, not for good. It is about inadequates who then inflict their inadequacy on the people they claim to love. If we can put that message out to young men in particular, we will have done a very proud job of work this afternoon.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for what she has done. Many people will have cause to thank her in years to come.
My Lords, this Bill will be remembered in years to come for the many important changes and reforms that will be introduced through it, but without doubt one of the most welcome changes will be the recognition of non-fatal strangulation in law and, we hope, the effective response by the criminal justice system. I say “welcome”; this particular amendment will be most welcomed by the most severely abused women who suffer this particularly horrible crime. As others have said, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has done a superb job, supported by some pretty superb people, in steering the amendment to this point. She has said pretty well all that I would have said, and therefore I will be extremely brief.
The only point that has not been mentioned is that if we really want the amendment to achieve what it should achieve, which is the appropriate response by the police, the courts and so on, then training police officers so that they are aware of this stand-alone offence will be very important, and maybe a little training for doctors, although they should certainly be aware of what a strangulation looks like. Can the Minister say anything about that?
Like others, I say a tremendously sincere thank you to our Ministers, who have really listened. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been a marvellous Minister in this House for a long time now, and we now have the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. We are very lucky to have those Ministers in this House and I pay credit to them.
My Lords, like others who have spoken, I am absolutely delighted at this outcome and grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the two Ministers for addressing this gap in the legislation by giving this cruel and dangerous offence its rightful place as a crime in its own right. I congratulate all outside and inside this place who have campaigned for years to bring non-fatal strangulation on to the statue book. This will make a huge difference, as others have said, to the police, who will be given the confidence to arrest perpetrators. Judges will be able to bring the full force of the law on these sadistic, controlling criminals, who threaten, hurt, maim and kill their terrified victims.
Nothing that I can say can add to the cogent, clear contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. As my noble friend Lord Marks said, this is a victory not only for her, but for all those victims from the past and the future who will now get justice, as well as greater awareness that this is not okay, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, says, is nothing about love.
My Lords, the important issue of non-fatal strangulation has been powerfully supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, throughout the passage of this Bill, and she deserves every plaudit available to her for taking this through. I add my thanks to the Ministers engaged in this matter and echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Blunkett, which emanate from his huge experience in the Commons. This is indeed the House of Lords at its best, and I am delighted that the Government have listened and introduced Amendment 49.
Having the separate offence of non-fatal strangulation on the statute book will help the police to stop domestic abuse and coercive control. One of the UK’s leading domestic abuse campaigners is Rachel Williams, whom I got to know very well during my time as leader of Newport City Council. She lobbied me at every opportunity on these matters. She currently has a petition running on change.org to ask the Prime Minister to amend the law on non-fatal strangulation. She says in her petition:
“Strangulation is a very symbolic act of control which leaves its victim in no doubt that there is a real and visceral threat to their life. If you put your hands on someone’s throat and squeeze the message and terror for the victim is clear.”
As a survivor of domestic violence, Rachel really knows what impact that has.
Strangulation is a very particular form of assault for three reasons: it is likely to cause serious injury or death, it is perceived by the victim as a direct threat to their life, and it is highly predictive of future homicide. A separate offence on the statue book will give the power to the police and the justice system to treat these offences with the seriousness that they deserve. I am delighted to tell Rachel, and the 108,609 people who had signed her petition when I last checked, that this amendment will ensure that the law is indeed changed, and that non-fatal strangulation will become a stand-alone offence on the face of this landmark Bill.
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Newlove on bringing forward these amendments, which, as she said, will create a new criminal offence of strangulation and suffocation. A number of tributes have been paid to my noble friend; they are all well deserved and I associate myself and the Government with them. If I may pick up one phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, she has made a real difference and, moreover, in a really important area. I assure him and the House that we listen. I will listen to noble Peers on this and on other matters. We will not always agree but I will always listen.
There have been a number of powerful and brief contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was kind enough to thank the Government, which is very welcome. I will seek to make it a more regular occurrence but it is warmly accepted. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, mentioned, and as my noble friend Lady Newlove identified, a number of organisations have worked hard in this area. Their names are on the record and they deserve the credit as well.
I am also personally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for the discussions which he and I have had on this matter, together with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. They have been extremely useful to me. Perhaps I may also pick out some good discussions I have had with somebody who did not contribute to this debate but has worked hard in this area: the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. She certainly improved my knowledge of and focus on this matter.
My noble friend Lady Newlove has highlighted to the Government why this new offence was necessary. She has engaged with me and my officials, to whom I should also pay tribute for working at significant speed, together with Professor David Ormerod—I think I can now say Professor David Ormerod CBE. This is not the first time, and will not be the last, that he has contributed significantly to the criminal law of this country. I will take a few moments to explain the architecture of the offence, because it is a new offence.
The key amendment in the group is Amendment 49, which provides for the substantive new offence. Strangulation and suffocation are always dangerous and, subject to the issue of consent, which was raised by a number of noble Lords and which I will come back to, they are wholly unacceptable. Strangulation can not only injure but be used by perpetrators to cause fear or exert control over their victim, as part of an abusive relationship.
Amendment 49, as I have stated, seeks to create a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation in England and Wales. It applies to behaviour which is currently criminal, so the aim is to improve the ability to prosecute such offences effectively—a point made by a number of noble Lords. The offence is designed to deal with assaults on any person where this affects their ability to breathe, whether by application of force to the neck—that is, strangulation—or by any other act; for example, by suffocation or constriction. The offence applies to all cases where strangulation or suffocation takes place, including those that occur in a domestic abuse situation. To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, this offence is not restricted to domestic abuse situations but it is quite right that it is in this Bill, because it is often found in those situations.
Although such criminal behaviour can currently be captured under the offence of battery or, where more serious harm is caused, via the offence of causing actual bodily harm under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, the Government have been persuaded of the need to distinguish such crimes through a stand-alone offence. Serious offences against the person currently require actual bodily harm, which can make cases of strangulation or suffocation potentially difficult to prosecute. That is because the victim may have no, or limited, signs of injury. The problem can be compounded by the fact that the existing charge of battery, which carries a penalty of six months’ imprisonment, does not enable the seriousness of the offence as experienced by the victim—the terror caused during the assault or the often long-lasting psychological effect of it—to be suitably punished.
Unlike the summary-only offence of battery, the new offence of strangulation or suffocation will not be time-limited if a prosecution does not commence within six months of the offence. But perhaps of greater importance here, as my noble friend Lady Newlove identified, the new offence will expose the defendant to a more serious sentence than the current six months’ imprisonment for battery. That is because the nature of the harm required to qualify for the maximum five-year penalty has been reduced.
As is the case under the law for other assaults, the new offence will also provide a defence for the perpetrator to show that the victim consented to being strangled. However, and importantly, that defence of consent will not apply if the victim suffers serious harm, including where the perpetrator intended to cause serious harm or was reckless as to causing harm, regardless of the victim’s consent to those acts.
Noble Lords may ask why consent needs to be addressed here at all. The reason is that the law has to strike a balance. On the one hand, it must not interfere with an individual’s Article 8 ECHR rights to respect for their private life; we also do not want to criminalise low-risk consensual activity. But, on the other hand, we must ensure that any activity which causes serious harm is punished. We have sought to strike that balance in a manner which reflects the current law of the land. That was established by your Lordships’ House in its previous judicial function, which some of us still remember, in its decision in 1993 in the case of R v Brown.
If I can summarise a very long decision in one sentence, it would be this: where a victim consents to an act that amounts to no more than a battery, the consent of the victim can be a valid defence for the perpetrator. Subsection (3) of proposed new Section 75A, however, also gives effect to the other aspect of R v Brown in that a person ordinarily cannot consent to having serious harm inflicted upon them. This is linked to Clause 65 of the Bill, which lists the three assault offences for which, to cite R v Brown, consent to serious harm for sexual gratification is not a defence. That, of course, ties into the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, when she said that this is nothing about love. Importantly, exceptions that are recognised separately under the common law in relation to sports and other activities will not be affected and will also apply here. In such cases, where serious harm is caused the courts will consider this offence inapplicable where an existing public policy exemption applies.
The extraterritoriality point was raised by a number of contributors. A new Section 75B is to be inserted into the Serious Crime Act 2015, providing extraterritorial jurisdiction for the offence created by new Section 75A. It will mean that where the offence of strangulation or suffocation is committed outside the United Kingdom by a UK national or a person habitually resident in England or Wales, they can be prosecuted for the offence in England and Wales as if they had committed the offence in England and Wales.
Finally, given that the creation of a new offence of strangulation or suffocation is being achieved here, a number of consequential changes are required, including a new schedule and a change to the Long Title. These are set out in Amendments 19, 89, 95, 98, 100, 101 and 106. The amendments in the new schedule add this new offence to existing lists of mainly violent offences which trigger special consequences; for example, at paragraph 12(3) of the schedule it becomes a violent offence for which an extended sentence of imprisonment is available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has also put her name to Amendment 49, asked about training. In short, whenever there is a new offence, the police and CPS consider training for that new offence. Such training is a matter for them but I am sure that all those involved in the criminal justice system will be alive to the point that she made.
I hope it is not impertinent to say, as a recent arrival in your Lordships’ House, that I respectfully endorse the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, who also put her name to Amendment 49. She said that the amendment—and, if I may say, the work that has led up to it—has shown the House at its best. As a new Minister, it has been a pleasure to work with everybody involved in this matter. I am very conscious that I am taking some of the credit for work done by other Ministers, including my predecessors.
To conclude, it is important when considering the creation of any new criminal offence that the offence is proportionate, and that it allows for more prosecutions to brought and convictions secured. As I stated in Committee, there were several difficult legal and technical issues which needed to be considered, particularly matters such as consent and the application of existing public policy exceptions, including those that exist for sports.
The Government are happy to agree that the amendments now address those points while ensuring that crimes of strangulation or suffocation can be prosecuted, with the perpetrators of such crimes more readily brought to justice. I therefore join my noble friend in commending these amendments to the House.
My Lords, I thank everybody in the Chamber and speaking virtually for their very kind words. This is the first Bill I have been completely involved with and I have been blown away by the experience, knowledge and huge support I have received from each and every noble Lord.
I thank my noble friend the Minister and my noble friend Lady Williams because they have truly listened and taken everything that has been discussed on board. I am not a lawyer or barrister so I thank those I call my “legal eagles”— I mean them no disrespect by that —who have the brains to narrow this down and support the victims of this horrific and violent offence.
I have goosebumps about what has been said. I think the best words were from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, when he said that this shows the House at its best. When we listen, we learn, and we can resolve to get what is needed for the victims on the ground. I especially thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has been by my side throughout this passage of the Bill. I appreciate her expertise and, more importantly, her support. I also thank the back-room staff and the government lawyers, who have worked really quickly for us to get to this point today.
To all the victims and survivors who have challenged for change to get this support for many years, I say: this is your day, you are the heroines of what we are discussing. All of us across the Chamber, no matter our political party, have achieved the very best we can for you on strangulation and suffocation. It is for you, the victims of these horrific offences, that I urge all noble Lords to support these amendments.
The one thing I would like to ask—and the best thing I have always said throughout my journey—is that we treat victims and survivors with dignity and respect. One of the sincerest forms of respect is listening to what another has to say, to hear them and help them, so that they will no longer struggle on a daily basis as we progress this Bill. I hope that noble Lords will support these amendments.
Amendment 19 agreed.
Clause 55: Support provided by local authorities to victims of domestic abuse
20: Clause 55, page 35, line 25, leave out “domestic abuse” and insert “accommodation-based”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the Minister’s amendment at page 35, line 30, would change the current label of “domestic abuse support” in Clause 55 to “accommodation-based support” and are consequential on the Minister’s other amendments to Clauses 55 and 56 relating to “other local authority support”.
Amendment 20 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 21. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
21: Clause 55, page 35, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) ensure all child contact centres and organisations that offer child contact services are accredited in accordance with national standards in relation to safeguarding and preventing domestic abuse as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.”
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for meeting me and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Burt of Solihull, over this vexed issue of child contact centres.
A little history is important here. In 2007 the Department for Education commissioned the National Association of Child Contact Centres, the NACCC, to develop national standards for child contact, but no regulatory framework was created. The NACCC and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Cafcass, agreed a memorandum of understanding on service delivery accreditation standards and safe- guarding protections to keep children safe. This cross-party amendment builds on the work of both. They, along with Women’s Aid, Family Action and Barnardo’s, all support this amendment.
The amendment aims to ensure that these standards protect children wherever they have facilitated contact. The NACCC, Cafcass and key sector providers, including the Salvation Army, Barnardo’s, Family Action, Relate, Action for Children and Core Assets, all do an outstanding job and these third sector organisations agreed by consensus in 2019 that regulation is required by the sector.
Accredited child contact centres and services have clear procedures and staff training and support staff in decision-making where risk may be present, including in safeguarding children and preventing domestic abuse. Sadly, it is not uncommon for one or both parents to have deep-seated problems, including risks of problems with alcohol and/or drug abuse, and the risk of ongoing abusive behaviours.
However, many centres and services currently fall outside the oversight of local authorities, NACCC or Cafcass because the current regulatory framework is only voluntary and patchy. Such unregulated provision of centres and voluntary child contact services unfortunately leaves this field open to those of malintent, including paedophiles and those from extremist factions.
I ask noble Lords to ask themselves why anyone who really cares about children would not want to be fully trained in child development and safeguarding. Is it acceptable to leave children already traumatised by being victims of or watching abuse in situations of increased risk? The amendment closes the loophole by providing the Secretary of State with powers to specify regulations and delivery.
As the Minister requested in Committee, we provided an initial review of evidence to the Minister. I am most grateful to the Minister for meeting us. In the list of over 50 centres advertising on the internet, we found some operating without oversight. Local authorities have a duty when commissioning under Section 34 of the Children Act 2004, but financial stringencies and the lack of universal standards contribute to variability. Importantly, not all services are local authority-commissioned.
For example, one child contact centre had NACCC accreditation withdrawn due to safeguarding and health and safety concerns, including Disclosure and Barring Service checks that were not up to date and poor storage security of personal information and records. After the removal of accreditation, the centre accepted a high-risk supervised referral where the father was on the sex offenders register, but the centre could not provide adequately supervised services. It continues to advertise as NACCC-accredited and take referrals from solicitors.
There are also a significant number of child contact centres with no website presence. In the time available, the NACCC could do only a desktop study and so could not ascertain how many are still operating. For example, I have been informed by the NACCC of at least two that are operational, but their details cannot be found anywhere online.
Without oversight and clear standards, there is no way of verifying how these child contact centres and services are operating, and no levers to close them down. Compounding this, the courts’ awareness of the judicial protocol on child contact is patchy, so inappropriate referrals continue to be made.
The motivation behind this amendment is to ensure the safest environment in child contact cases, to allow regular contact between absent parents and children, and to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place. All this amendment does is provide the Secretary of State with powers to specify regulations and delivery standards. We cannot let a Bill on domestic abuse proceed without ensuring the safeguarding of those children, already victims in family breakdown, in situations where abuse may be ongoing.
I hope the Minister will be able to tell me that this amendment will be accepted or that the Government will return at Third Reading with an amendment of their own, or give a firm undertaking to bring forward the necessary regulatory standards. At the moment, children are at risk in unsupervised and dangerous situations. The specific question is therefore this: when will the Government lay before Parliament the regulations required to protect children in child contact services? Without an answer to this, I will feel forced to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as vice-president of NACCC and the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Child Contact Centres. I am delighted to join the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, in supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in this amendment. I thank her for bringing forward Amendment 21 at this stage. I refer to my previous attempt to plug this legislative loophole in the Private Member’s Bill that I brought forward in 2016-17.
Life is full of choices, and, regrettably, children do not choose when their families will split and break down and their parents separate. What is important for children’s well-being, and in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is that children continue to have contact with both parents following a family breakdown. Often at that time, the absent parent in particular may suffer severe stress from the family breakdown and encounter substance or alcohol abuse. It is extremely important in those circumstances where a child cannot see the absent parent in their own home that they have a safe haven of a secure contact centre, or related services are provided, where contact can safely take place. That is why the terms of this amendment are so important. It is a very simple, straightforward amendment to ensure that all child contact centres and organisations that offer child contact services are accredited in accordance with national standards in relation to safeguarding and preventing domestic abuse, as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
I too am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the two meetings he has held with us and for sharing the text of the letters he proposed to send, which I will come on to in a moment. At present, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has explained, while the National Association of Child Contact Centres has been asked to set standards, the regulations required have not yet been put in place. This remains one area of family law which is unregulated. It is essential that the memorandum of understanding between Cafcass and NACCC, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred, be respected by all referrals, and that the judicial protocol also to be followed by family courts is adhered to in all referrals.
I am concerned that my noble friend the Minister appears not to appreciate that child contact centres are the only group that do not have requirements in law, whereas all others—for instance, childminders and nurseries—do. At the moment, anyone can set up a child contact centre. The amendment seeks to ensure that the standards for public and private law provision are the same.
There is evidence that court referrals are, at times, to centres that are not accredited by NACCC or overseen by local authorities, as is required by the judicial protocol. It is also true that awareness by courts of the judicial protocol on child contact is, at times, patchy.
The motivation behind the amendment is to ensure the safest environment in child contact cases, to allow regular contact between absent parents and children, and to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place, including in instances where a parent may have alcohol or substance abuse issues, as I set out earlier.
While I welcome the proposal of my noble friend the Minister to write to the President of the Family Division and the chief executive of Cafcass, I believe that this is not going far enough. We have a one-off opportunity here to plug the legislative gap, and letters alone will not implement the provisions and put in place the legal framework that we seek to achieve.
I end with a plea to my noble friend the Minister, and all noble Lords, to ensure two things: first, that the same standards will apply for both public and private provision for all child contact centres and services; and, secondly, to accept Amendment 21, providing the legal basis to bring forward the regulations required to achieve this. I believe that this is the only way that we are actually going to do justice to providing a safe environment for the innocent children in a family breakdown, by providing them with a safe haven in which to meet the absent parent. If there is anything short of a full commitment from the Minister in these circumstances, I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for meeting the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and other supporters of this amendment, including me. There is no agenda here: we just need children to be safely supervised during contact by properly trained people who can spot the signs of stress and distress in children.
On the first day of Report, I spoke to Amendment 15, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, about the need for training for all who come into contact with victims. Child contact centres are a very strong and sensitive example of the need for training. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay said in Committee, the quiet child is not necessarily the happy child. Trained professionals know how to spot the difference and what to do. There are many examples like this, where a trained professional could, and should, intervene to help, to signpost and to stop potential harm being done.
The main issue here revolves around whether unaccredited centres are operating and in what circumstances. We know that court referrals should be made only to accredited centres, but does every member of the judiciary know? The Minister has attempted to reassure us about that. What about non-court referrals? I discussed this with Barnardo’s. Anyone can make a referral to a child contact centre—a social worker or other professional working with the family, a parent, the child who wants contact with their parent, and Barnardo’s itself. Who is making them pick an approved centre, especially when they are likely to be more costly?
Anyone can start up a contact centre. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, in his remarks in Committee, asked for proof that unapproved child contact centres were operating. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said earlier, this has proved difficult to obtain, because there is no obligation on them to register.
In January, the Government launched an independent review into children’s social care. Will the Minister commit to including child contact centres in this review? As it stands, this is not good enough. If the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, decides to put this to a vote, we on these Benches will support her.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, the Minister has been generous with his time and has spoken with the group twice. The purpose of this amendment is well understood by the contributors to this short debate and by the Minister. The purpose is simple: it is to close a loophole, to make sure that all child contact centres reach the necessary standard, that there is some form of overview and accreditation and that there are consequences if that standard is not reached.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, succinctly put it, we know that, as far as the courts are concerned, only accredited child contact centres should ever be used. However, what about other referrals to child contact centres? What about private referrals or referrals by local councils or other organisations such as Barnardo’s?
In the discussions that we have had with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, he has asked for proof that there is a problem. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, it is difficult to provide proof, because you are looking for organisations and child contact centres that do not necessarily advertise their services. If they run into problems, they can easily withdraw the advertising and re-emerge in another form, but with the same people running them. At the moment, there are no consequences for people playing fast and loose with the system, if I may put it like that. There needs to be some consistency across the range of services and regulated services that children use. This anomaly needs to be addressed and I can see no better place to do it than in this Bill with this amendment right now. I and my party will support the amendment if it is moved to a vote.