Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 41 and 43. If the Lords amendments that engage financial privilege are agreed to, I will cause the customary entry waiving Commons financial privilege to be entered into the Journal.
Definition of “personally connected”
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Lords amendment 2, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 3, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 4 to 8.
Lords amendment 9, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 10 to 32.
Lords amendment 33, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 34 to 36.
Lords amendment 37, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 38, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 39.
Lords amendment 40, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 41, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 42, and Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.
Lords amendment 43, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 44 to 82.
Lords amendment 83, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 84 to 86.
Before I start my speech, may I beg your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, and place on the record not only my condolences to Her Majesty the Queen but my and my constituents’ heartfelt thanks to His Royal Highness Prince Philip? He was the personification of public service, dedicating his life to Her Majesty and to serving our country for more than 70 years, and he did so with great style and often a twinkle in his eye.
May I also pay tribute to my friend, the right hon. Dame Cheryl Gillan, who passed away very recently? She would have loved to take part in today’s debate. She was a huge advocate for the vulnerable, including those who live with autism. She was a wonderful, wonderful friend and colleague to us all, and she will be very, very sorely missed.
We support the vast majority of the 86 amendments that the Lords have sent to us. Indeed, we have worked with peers in many instances to bring those amendments forward. There are 12 sets with which we do not agree and I will deal with those in due course. But I would like to take a moment to reflect on the events of recent weeks and the concerns, the experiences and indeed the fears expressed by women and girls across the country.
This Bill will help millions of women and girls who are living with abuse, whose emotions are manipulated by their abusers for their own disgusting gratification and control, and who want happier, healthier lives free from abuse. However, thanks to amendments made in this place and the other place, the Bill will reach even more women than that. On Report, I was pleased that we were able to respond to the calls by the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and many other hon. Members to clarify the law surrounding the so-called rough sex defence. Hon. Members also argued, as part of that debate, for a bespoke new offence of non-fatal strangulation to strengthen the criminal justice response to that form of physical abuse. We listened carefully to the debate on the matter, including the compelling evidence presented to me by Dr Cath White, taking into account the concerns that cases of non-fatal strangulation can often be difficult to prosecute. That is why we concluded that a bespoke offence was necessary and that that should apply both to domestic abuse cases and to other cases where strangulation or suffocation were a factor. On conviction of the new offence, as now provided for in Lords amendment 36, the defendant could receive a harsher sentence as the harm required to qualify for the maximum five-year penalty has been reduced. We are drawing firm lines in the Bill as to what can and cannot constitute lawful violent sexual behaviour.
But harmful and abusive behaviour sadly extends beyond that. Lords amendment 35 seeks to extend the revenge porn offence to include threats to disclose such images. One in seven young women have been subjected to threats to use revenge porn. I thank colleagues across the House who have worked so hard on this topic, including the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee—my right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes)—my hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) and for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards), and of course Baroness Morgan of Cotes in the other place. I would also like to thank a young woman I met through my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe—Natasha Saunders, who described to me her experiences of the use of threats of revenge porn. She has found the wherewithal to use those experiences to campaign on this matter very strongly and effectively.
Although the Law Commission is currently reviewing the law around intimate image abuse, we recognise the case for immediate action to better protect victims from that form of abuse and Lords amendment 35 does just that.
I thank my hon. Friend for all that she has done with regard to recognising the problems around threats to publish intimate images. Will she join me in saying that we need to make sure that the law is all-encompassing in this area? It is important to improve the law on revenge pornography as it stands now, introduced by this Government, but it is even more important that we have a wholesale review of this area, such as that which is part of the Law Commission’s review.
I agree completely with my right hon. Friend. I thank her for the work she has done over many years to address this and other issues particularly affecting women and girls. We very much take that point. We have worked on the amendment with Baroness Morgan to have an immediate impact, but in addition we look forward to receiving the Law Commission’s report and recommendations later this year—it is looking at the whole of the law on the use of intimate images and other types of malicious communications on the internet. If the law needs to be changed to reflect recommendations, we can address those in subsequent legislation. These clauses apply to all relationships and all encounters of a sexual nature, from a Tinder hook-up to a marriage of many decades. Those protections will be enshrined in this Bill.
I turn to another amendment that I know has been welcomed warmly by survivors and campaigners: the extension of the coercive and controlling behaviour offence to include post-separation abuse. We listened very carefully to debates in this place, as well as to charities such as Surviving Economic Abuse and, of course, to survivors themselves. We reviewed the offence to see how it is working after five years of being in force and we published that review in March.
We acknowledge that coercive and controlling behaviour continues and indeed may escalate following separation, so amendment 34 will extend the offence to cover post-separation abuse between former intimate partners and interfamilial abuse, regardless of whether the family members are living together or not. The amendment will send a strong message to perpetrators that controlling or coercive behaviours, irrespective of the living arrangements, are forms of domestic abuse and that the criminal law is there to protect victims.
The Bill also revolutionises the help that is available to victims who need to flee relationships to refuge or other safe accommodation. It is revolutionary in that it helps to ensure that they are helped to recover from their experiences. Part 4 introduces a duty on tier 1 local authorities to provide specialist services to such victims and we have announced £125 million of funding to support that provision in the Bill.
There is a cross-party desire to see those measures matched by equivalent provision in respect of community-based support. This Government are alive to such calls. Police and crime commissioners, and others, already provide significant community-based support to victims of crime, but we need better evidence of the gaps in current provision and how they might best be addressed. That is why the Government have now committed to consult on the provision of community-based support as part of this summer’s consultation on the new victims’ law. That commitment to consult is backed up by Lords amendments 5, 8 and 10 to 16. Lords amendment 5 will place a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to publish a report, under her new powers in the Bill, on the provision of and need for community-based services. Lords amendments 8 and 10 to 16 will place a duty on tier 1 local authorities, with the support of their domestic abuse local partnership boards, to monitor and report on the impact of the safe accommodation duty on the provision of community-based support in their area. Taken together with the responses to our victims’ law consultation, those amendments will ensure that the Government have all the information they need to build on the strong foundations of existing community-based services.
Some of the most upsetting and torturous experiences that victims can experience happen after a relationship has ended, in the family and civil courts. Lords amendments 17 and 24 to 31 relate to special measures and the ban on cross-examination in person in civil proceedings. In short, those amendments more closely align the position in the civil courts to that in the family courts, so that victims of domestic abuse have the benefit of automatic eligibility for special measures to enable them to give their best evidence and to ensure that they are protected from being cross-examined in person by their abuser. Our justice system should not be used as another form of abuse. This Bill will help to protect victims and secure justice.
In the case of the family courts, perpetrators can continue abuse through repeated unmeritorious proceedings. Lords amendment 33 amends the Children Act 1989 to prevent such vexatious claims. The amendment makes it clear that a court may make a barring order in circumstances where it is satisfied that a further application made by the named person would put the child or another, for example the parent victim, at risk of harm. For all the victims and survivors I have met, and whose stories we have heard in the Chamber: these measures are to help you all to secure justice, as you deserve.
Lords amendment 39 would ensure that a health professional working in a general practice that holds an NHS contract cannot charge for evidence to show that a patient has been the victim of domestic abuse for the purpose of obtaining legal aid. We recognise that it is already the case that most GPs do not charge for such evidence, but the amendment will ensure that no victim faces that barrier to obtaining legal aid.
The Bill also reaches beyond these shores. Lords amendments 70 to 82 amend the extraterritorial jurisdiction provisions in the Bill to remove the dual criminality requirement for relevant sexual offences, including rape, committed outside the UK by UK nationals. That will enable UK nationals who commit marital rape in countries where such behaviour is not criminal to be prosecuted in UK courts. This is also a significant step forward towards ratifying the Istanbul convention, as it addresses one of the three outstanding matters set out in the statement to the House in October last year.
I turn to the 12 sets of Lords amendments to which we have tabled motions to disagree. I emphasise that, in line with our approach throughout the Bill, where we do not agree with the amendments, and where possible, we have sought to address the concerns raised through practical measures instead. The first set of amendments relates to the definition of domestic abuse. Lords amendments 1 to 3 would bring abuse by all carers of disabled persons, paid and unpaid, within the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill. I hope it is clear—it perhaps does not need saying—that the Government abhor all abuse, and we have every sympathy for the spirit of these amendments. Abuse of disabled people by their carers must be called out and acted upon. The issue before us today is whether this is the right Bill to strengthen the protection for disabled people.
The focus of this Bill is on domestic abuse as it is commonly understood—that is, abuse by a current or former intimate partner, or by a family member. That is the approach taken in the Istanbul convention, which I know many hon. Members are keen for the UK to ratify. Where a disabled person is abused by a partner or family member, the abuse will be covered by the definition as already agreed by this House. However, Lords amendments 1 to 3 would bring in a much wider range of relationships, outside a domestic abuse setting. We should steer away from diluting the purpose of the Bill.
As I have said, however, in inviting the House to disagree with these Lords amendments, we do not wish to downplay or deny for one moment the experience of disabled people who are abused by their paid or volunteer carers. There are protections in place, including the offences in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 relating to ill treatment and wilful neglect. However, we have listened carefully to the experiences and concerns raised in this House and the other place. We want to find practical ways in which to address those concerns. That is why the Government intend to carry out a review of the protections for people at risk of carer abuse. We will engage with the noble Baroness Campbell of Surbiton and the disabled sector on the scope of the review, but it would broadly seek to examine the protections offered against carer abuse and the support available to victims. We have listened and we will act.
Lords amendment 33 takes us into the arena of judicial training, requiring the Secretary of State to set out a strategy and timetable for such training. Again, we agree, and we understand the motivations behind this amendment. No one can dispute the need for judges and magistrates to be properly trained in these matters, nor do we dispute that this must continue to be a developing process, and one of improvement. Indeed, the judiciary understands this and agrees. The Judicial College is committed to reviewing and improving training on domestic abuse. Moreover, the president of the family division has indicated that he will consider making recommendations regarding training, taking into account this Bill, the harm panel report and the four recent Court of Appeal judgments in domestic abuse cases.
The issue with Lords amendment 33 is not the ends it seeks, but the means of achieving them. It is not for the Government to dictate to our independent judiciary how they are trained. There are important constitutional principles at stake here; I have no doubt that the president of the family division will have taken notes on the debates on this amendment in the Lords and will again today, and will take appropriate action, but it is right that we leave it to him to do so and do not undermine the independence of the judiciary by endorsing this amendment.
I move now to Lords amendments 37, 38 and 83. They deal with two separate but related issues. Lords amendment 37 aims to extend the householder defence in section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 to victims or survivors of domestic abuse. Although the Government sympathise with the aim behind the amendment, we are not persuaded that it is necessary. We are not aware of any significant evidence demonstrating that the current full and partial defences available are failing victims of domestic abuse accused of crimes against their abuser. We are also concerned that the proposed defence could, as it provides a full defence to murder, be open to misuse, potentially even by an abuser, who could seek to claim they were the victim of domestic abuse, rather than the actual victim. We believe therefore that although it is very difficult to achieve, the law currently strikes the right balance between the interests of the defendant and, importantly, those of the victim as well.
Lords amendments 38 and 83 would provide for a new statutory defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit certain criminal offences on the basis of having no realistic alternative. Currently, several defences are potentially available to those who commit offences in circumstances where they are in an abusive relationship. These include the full defences of duress and self-defence, for example, as well as, in homicide cases, the partial statutory defences of loss of control or diminished responsibility.
The Government are aware of the concerns raised by both the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’ Commissioner among others, specifically in terms of the disparity in the way the courts sometimes deal with male and female defendants who have been found guilty of killing their partner. Again, in a spirit of co-operation, because we understand the motivations behind these arguments, my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is reviewing the sentencing practices in cases relating to domestic homicide, and we believe this is a more appropriate response to some of the issues raised by these amendments.
Lords amendment 40 seeks to create a data-sharing firewall so that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purposes of their seeking or receiving support is not used for immigration control purposes. I again stress, as I hope hon. Members across the House would acknowledge, that victims of domestic abuse, whatever their immigration status, must be treated as victims first and foremost. Guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which was updated last year, makes this clear. The national policing lead for domestic abuse is also clear that information sharing between the police and the Home Office can be in the interests of victims.
None the less, we recognise the concerns about ensuring that there are safe reporting pathways open to migrant victims of domestic abuse. That is why, following the policing inspectorate’s report on the super-complaint lodged about the police sharing immigration data, we have committed, in good faith, to review existing data-sharing procedures and publish the outcome by June. Having established the police super-complaint process in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which was supported, I am pleased to say, by Labour, we should allow that process to operate as intended. Given that commitment, we would argue that Lords amendment 40 is premature and, in fact, unnecessary, as the results of our review can be implemented through changes to the NPCC guidance.
I turn now to Lords amendments 41 and 43, which deal with the related matter of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. Lords amendment 41 in effect seeks to extend the destitute domestic violence concession to all migrant victims and provide them with a route to apply for indefinite leave to remain. The DDVC and the accompanying domestic violence rule were established to provide a route for settlement to those here in the UK on a spousal visa who, had they not suffered domestic abuse and been separated from their abuser, would have had a legitimate expectation of settling here. It was not designed for those who are here in a temporary capacity, who would not have had such a route to permanent residency.
For other migrant victims, the key consideration is not their immigration status, but the provision of support when they need to flee an abusive relationship. We accept that not all migrant victims have access to the necessary support and we need to address that, but we do not accept the proposition, reflected in Lords amendment 41, that someone who has come to this country on a temporary basis—for example, as a student—should have a route to settlement by virtue of being a victim of domestic abuse. However, we want to help such victims to recover and escape such relationships.
Throughout the passage of this Bill, we have heard about the role that Southall Black Sisters has played in helping migrant victims of domestic abuse to get the support they need. I am therefore delighted to announce that, following a commercial competition, Southall Black Sisters has been successful and will be running the £1.5 million support for migrant victims scheme, which will run for 12 months and will provide not only safe accommodation to victims, but provide us with the evidence on which to take long-term decisions on future support arrangements for migrant victims. As with the DDVC, such measures can be put in place on a non-statutory basis, so these amendments are unnecessary.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I am encouraged by what the Minister said. I say to her, as always, gently and honestly, that while I appreciate the £1.5 million, I am just wondering whether that is not—forgive me—a paltry sum of money when more may be needed.
Victoria Atkins: The hon. Gentleman will know—we have discussed this on many occasions—that the programme of support is not only delivering immediate support to migrant victims, but gathering the data that we need on the range of support and services that such victims need, so that we can build a sustainable programme going forward. The scheme will run for 12 months. I am really looking forward to working with Southall Black Sisters on this scheme, and from that we can then build a programme of work. This is not the end of the line for migrant victims, and I reassure the House on that.
Lords amendment 9 seeks to introduce statutory regulation of child contact centres. We accept the need for appropriate regulation, but this is already achieved in private law family cases through the National Association of Child Contact Centres accreditation framework and existing protocols, which ensure that the family courts and CAFCASS refer parties only to accredited centres. In public law family cases where children are in the care of the local authority, comprehensive statutory provisions are already in place, which determine how local authorities should discharge their duties, including in relation to maintaining contact between a child and their family while protecting the welfare of the child.
We have not seen evidence to suggest that the existing NACCC accreditation framework or the statutory framework governing local authorities is failing such that the cost and bureaucracy of a statutory accreditation scheme are justified. Since the debate in the other place, however, Lord Wolfson, the Minister responsible for family justice, has written to the president of the family division and the chief executive of CAFCASS requesting that they raise awareness among their colleagues and officials of the judicial protocol and memorandum of understanding that have been agreed between NACCC and CAFCASS. We will continue to work with NACCC to keep the position under review, but the case for Lords amendment 9 is not made out at this time.
Finally, let me deal with Lords amendment 42, which seeks to strengthen the management of domestic abuse perpetrators. Again, this is an objective with which we can all agree, but we have concerns about how the amendment would work out. The first limb of the amendment seeks, in effect, to create a new category of offender to be managed under multi-agency public protection arrangements, commonly referred to as MAPPA. To put this in context, last year nearly 86,000 offenders were managed by MAPPA.
The Government believe that creating a new MAPPA category for high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators would bring added complexity to the MAPPA framework without compensating benefits. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 already provides for serial and high-harm offenders to be managed under MAPPA. The real issue, therefore, is not the statutory framework but how it is applied in practice. Here, we accept that there is more to do, and we are strengthening the MAPPA statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse.
We recognise, too, that having access to an information management system that can effectively support the police and others in risk managing high-harm offenders is essential. ViSOR, the dangerous persons database, is now almost 20 years old and so does not offer the most up-to-date functionality. Work has begun on the new multi-agency public protection system, or MAPPS, a user-focused and transformational system for the management of offenders, which will be piloted from next year. MAPPS will support the more efficient and effective management of high-threat offenders and improve information sharing between frontline agencies. Interestingly, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill also strengthens the data-sharing powers of statutory and non-statutory agencies, including, for example, domestic abuse charities.
The second limb of Lords amendment 42 would require the Home Secretary to promulgate a national perpetrator strategy. We have already committed to doing just that as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy to be published later this year. We have therefore tabled amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 42 to enshrine that commitment in law.
In conclusion, I know that I have taken some time to set out the Government’s position, but this is an important piece of legislation that has the capacity and the potential to do so much and to help so many of our constituents, so I hope the House will forgive me for setting out our reasons in some detail. We need to get this Bill passed and on the statute book so that it can start to help victims of domestic abuse and other victims as quickly as possible, and I commend it and our amendments to the House.
Like the Minister, I wish to place on record my own and my party’s sadness on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen. I suppose all your life you get used to the existence of the royal family as if they are always going to be there. In the passing of Prince Philip, we realised how lucky we are as a nation to have a sort of backbone that is always there—a family who are not always perfect, like anyone’s family, but who we can look to. I and we all feel very keenly in light of the pandemic the loss to the royal family specifically and to us as a nation.
We also share in the Minister’s sadness at the loss of Dame Cheryl Gillan. Regardless of political party, she was a friend especially to every woman in this House. To every woman from every party who came, she offered words of advice and words of exasperation in the lady Members’ rooms. She was one of a kind, and she will be missed genuinely and keenly across the House. She would definitely have been here today, without question. She spoke in almost every single one of these debates. We will miss her further, and no doubt we will all seek to take on her work.
Following the death of Sarah Everard, heartbreak, fear and anger ripped through the country—a response to the endemic violence that women and girls suffer. People felt it in their bones. Responding to such an outpouring of grief is our job. It is our duty and a privilege as parliamentarians to take that emotion, that fear, that rage, that passion and that injustice and to turn it into policy and law. It is our job to do something meaningful.
The question for the House today, as we consider the amendments inserted into the Bill by the other place in the heat of those moments, is: who do we decide to save? I will briefly talk through which amendments we are supporting and why, as the Minister has done.
I welcome very much, as I have throughout its passage, the immense changes to the Bill. It is unrecognisable from the day it started, which I do not know if anyone can remember; it seems so long ago. The spirit in which the Bill has been forged—that is how it feels—has always been to seek amendments and to work to improve it, and my comments will continue in that exact same spirit as we seek to continue to amend it.
Amendments 40, 41 and 43—I am sure nobody will be surprised to hear my views on migrant victims of domestic abuse—would allow migrant victims to access support and protection just like everybody else and just like I could. Without the amendments, victims will be left trapped in abusive households. It is as simple as that. The Government will seek to tell us that they have proposed a pilot project, which we have heard about today. I am pleased to hear that the pilot has gone to Southall Black Sisters, I believe in partnership with Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid—a place very close to my heart—but the specialist organisations and independent commissioners have all been very clear that the pilot is inadequate, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) alluded to.
Analysis by the domestic abuse sector suggests that thousands of victims could be left unprotected and unsupported under the pilot scheme. Students here studying, for example, might be raped, battered and abused by their partners. Thousands of students have this week talked on the Everyone’s Invited site about sexual assaults on campus. Foreign students would not be able to seek refuge in the same way that I can under the current rules in this country if they needed to escape.
This pilot is not good enough. It will only provide minimal, short-term support for 300 to 500 women. There is no money, for instance, for counselling, therapeutic intervention, interpretation costs, children’s costs and medical or travel costs. What happens, then, when the 501st victim visits? I can tell you what happens to the 501st victim, because it is what happens now. It is happening to Farah, who was routinely tormented and assaulted with a belt by her father and trapped in that abuse without access to public funds or support and protection. She said:
“I made many calls to the council and even the national domestic violence helpline and many other organisations for people who suffer domestic violence. They all said the same thing: I had no recourse to public funds, so they couldn’t and wouldn’t help me. Some of them even said it was the law not to help me. I guess that no recourse to public funds means that it’s okay for me to be violated physically and mentally abused by my father. I guess the Government approves of that.”
Lords amendment 40 establishes safe reporting mechanisms which ensure that all victims of domestic abuse feel able to come forward to the police. Perpetrators know at the moment that they can use immigration status as a weapon against vulnerable, frightened victims—“If you tell the police, you’ll get deported and you’ll never see the kids again. If you go to the police, they’ll lock you up in a detention centre.” I have seen this thousands of times.
At the end of last year, three police oversight bodies said that the data sharing with immigration enforcement was causing “significant harm” to the public interest. If victims cannot report, those perpetrators remain out there. We are leaving violent rapists and dangerous, violent men in our community, able to hurt people again and again. I listened to the Minister’s comments on this, and obviously I welcome the idea of a review. In terms of the idea that it is premature to ask for the law to be amended to protect these victims, I have stood in the House asking for this for at least four years. It does not feel premature for my constituents who had threats to kill and ended up in detention. It does not feel premature when I had to go to Yarl’s Wood to collect them.
I have to disagree with what the Minister said. These amendments do not ensure indefinite leave to remain for all victims of domestic abuse or allow some mythical path to dodge immigration processes. They are about getting victims out of an abusive and dangerous situation, on an equal footing to what any one of us in this House would expect for ourselves and our daughters. I also expect it for all my constituents.
Moving on to other serial offenders whom we currently leave on the streets and those victims who are at the highest risk of harm, Lords amendment 42 requires serial domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators to be registered on a database and accompanied by a comprehensive perpetrator strategy. The Labour party supports this amendment. Zoe Dronfield almost died when her ex-partner attacked her with a meat cleaver. Zoe spent weeks in hospital recovering from bleeding to the brain, a stab wound to her neck and a broken right arm inflicted during an eight-hour ordeal at the hands of Jason Smith. Zoe discovered after reporting her case to the police that Smith had abused 13 previous victims. There is a desperate need in this country to do something to identify, manage and monitor these high-harm perpetrators of stalking and domestic abuse. They would not have been met by current MAPPA. [Interruption.] The Minister claims that that is not true, but they were not in these instances.
I just want to clarify this, because it is an important detail. Category 3 of MAPPA is defined as “other dangerous offenders”. It does not matter whether that offender has committed section 18 grievous bodily harm or criminal damage, which, as the hon. Lady will know, is a much lower offence. It is the risk assessment of that defendant in the circumstances of the offence that matters and puts them in category 3. That is the point—it already exists.
If it already exists, why was Jason Smith allowed to go on and abuse 13 other people? It is not just Jason Smith, of course—it is the person who killed Hollie Gazzard, the person who killed Jane Clough and the person who killed Helen. The reality is that this is not working, and the victims in these instances, like Zoe Dronfield, have spoken very clearly, and the agencies have spoken clearly. They have asked us to look again and help to protect them.
Just to assist the House, as I hope I made clear in my speech, we know there have been horrific instances where, in the system itself, those risk assessments and the management have not been done properly. I think we are having a disagreement about whether putting in a new category will change that. We want to look, and we are doing so through the statutory guidance, at how these assessments are made on the ground. That is what will make a difference, not a statutory framework.
I can sympathise with what the Minister is saying, but I would ask the House and the Minister to sympathise with somebody on the frontline who has been watched again and again, through one multi-agency risk assessment conference after another, or a serious case review or a domestic homicide review. Again and again, the same thing is said—agencies do not speak to each other. The idea of amending the statutory guidance but not putting in place some legislative framework so that this has to occur is just more, “Oh, let’s see if we can get agencies speaking to each other again.” It just is not enough. It is not just me who thinks it is not enough. When I spoke to Zoe Dronfield herself this morning, she told me that she was devastated. In the heat of the Sarah Everard killing, she felt that the Government were listening, and today victims like her feel as though they have been let down.
The Government amendment in lieu is not enough. It is perfectly fine in its own right and the Labour party called for a perpetrator strategy in Committee, but it is not the same as what is proposed in Lords amendment 42. It is not even nearly answering the same question. Dangerous criminals are on our streets and in our homes, and repeating the same acts of violence and abuse over and over again, moving from victim to victim. Nothing in what the Government have proposed, I am afraid, has anywhere near enough teeth or will account for, identify and offer safety to the victims now dead at the hands of the most serial perpetrators. The amendments from the other place are strong, and I very much imagine that it will successfully push back. The Labour party stands ready to support it as it does so, and stands to support the victims.
Disabled victims are currently left out of the Bill. Lords amendments 1 to 3 change the definition of “personally connected” to reflect the lived experience of disabled victims of domestic abuse. Disabled people can be victims of domestic abuse by paid and unpaid carers, with whom they have close, intimate relationships. For victims, this abuse of trust and power is experienced in exactly the same way as that perpetrated by a mother, a father or a partner, so it should be recognised as such in the Bill. The expansion of the definition of “personally connected” will not dilute it, as has been suggested by the Government, but fortify it to protect those who right now are being domestically abused because they are dependent on another person in their lives. This is what disabled people have asked for, and I am sure we will see after today if the review proposed by the Government is satisfactory to those voices, who are the ones we must listen to in this.
Moving on to training of the judiciary and the accreditation of child contact centres, I want Members in this House to know that today they will be voting against making it mandatory for family court judges to be trained on domestic abuse. The Government are claiming that Lords amendment 33 threatens the independence of the judiciary. They have yet to elaborate, and the Minister did not elaborate on this point earlier. However, I shall assume—she can of course correct me if I am wrong—that she and those who sit behind her, both metaphorically and actually, are using the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which gave the Lord Chief Justice responsibility for training. I am assured that those who tabled this amendment in the other place took legal advice on this exact thing, and they do not agree that it is unconstitutional, but think it fits very well with that Act.
The amendment was drafted by a peer who is a QC, and was accepted by the parliamentary Clerks. On Report, a number of significant legal minds voted in favour of the amendment, including QCs and the former Deputy President of the Supreme Court. I would very much welcome a copy of the Government’s legal advice. There is absolutely no desire on our parts to do anything that is unconstitutional. We are not even saying what the frame of the training has to be, just that it has to happen. The idea that the Lord Chief Justice would push back, saying it did not have to happen and was against the independence of the judiciary, is something, frankly, that we would want to push against.
The Government’s own harm review found that comments made by judges in the family court included, for example, that a woman could not be a victim of domestic abuse because she wore make-up to court. Judges also found that women were emotional and temperamental when they cried about their abuse in the court room. Who knew that we did not need the police, the courts or welfare for victims of domestic abuse? We should have just told women to pop on a bit of make-up, and that would have protected them from domestic abuse. That is essentially what is being said in our family courts: if a woman wears make-up, how can she be a victim of domestic abuse? That was not said by me but by a judge in our family courts, and that kind of attitude is not just insulting but dangerous, because terrible practice in our family courts leaves children alone with violent perpetrators. I am not offended by the sexism; I am frightened for people’s lives.
Lords amendments 37, 38 and 83 seek to understand the impact of domestic abuse. Amendment 37 would amend the law on self-defence and offer justice for victims who, because of suffering long-term violence, rape or coercive control, are driven to using force against their abuser. Sometimes terror, desperation and despair can drive a victim to inflict violence in self-protection. Society is beginning to understand that. The law must too.
Lords amendments 38 and 83 provide a defence where a person is coerced into a crime because they live in a situation of domestic abuse, and is based on existing legal protections given to victims of trafficking who offend. This is an already existing situation. The Minister said earlier that there is no evidence, but I would push back, as somebody who worked for many years in women’s prisons and in female offenders’ services, that there is plenty of evidence of women offending as a result of a pattern of sexual exploitation, coercion and domestic abuse. In fact, it was very well evidenced that one of the pathways to offending for women is domestic abuse—it is written in most Government documents. There is therefore quite a body of evidence that there is a problem in this instance.
These defences do not prevent individuals, no matter the circumstances, from being held accountable, but they are protections and take into account the true impact of domestic abuse on a person. In rebuttal of the amendments, the Government assert—without a shred of evidence in this instance—that such defences could be used by perpetrators. I would be happy to read any evidence that the Minister has of that, but there is no such evidence that I am aware of, and I am more than slightly annoyed that the Government then ignore the fact that the issue of no recourse to public funds gets used by perpetrators, when we see that every day—I guess we just have to pick and choose when these things are an issue in terms of which amendments we want to get through. There is very little evidence, if any, that such defences are used by perpetrators, but there is huge amounts of evidence in other areas.
Now is the time for deeds, not words. Today we can say that, yes, we have included migrant victims in this Bill, we have included disabled victims, we have improved victims’ access to justice and we have sought to stop perpetrators before they do the same thing again. Let us not have to look ourselves in the mirror and say, “We could have done more.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill has been a huge part of the work that I have done since I came into this House. I am going miss it; maybe that is why I want it to go back to the Lords—I just cannot let it go. Along with victims’ organisations and many brilliant and brave victims, we have worked to amend, educate and improve and to build consensus and agreement with the Government, and it has been an honour at many times. That is what we are doing here today; we are always seeking to improve the Bill, not for political wins, but for millions of terrified victims and their children in this country.
Their Lordships and the Baronesses have been incredibly thoughtful, thorough and detailed in their amendments. We should listen, because I promise hon. Members that eventually, for every single one of these amendments, a terrible case will come along that proves that we should have acted. It will not take long; they come every three days. Let us try to make that happen less.
If I may crave your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish, as the Minister did, to take the opportunity in this Chamber to pay my tribute to our late right hon. Friend, Cheryl Gillan. Cheryl was an incredible person. She was a fierce defender of her constituents and proudly put forward their interests, but she was also a great friend to MPs across this House. As the Minister and the shadow Minister recognised, she was particularly a friend to women in this Chamber. Quite simply, with the passing of Cheryl Gillan, this House has lost one of the best of its Members.
Before I comment on the amendments, I want to say a huge thank you to all those who have been involved in this Bill from the very inception of the idea of having another Domestic Abuse Bill. Although I do not necessarily agree with all the Lords amendments, I recognise that everybody has been working to make the Bill what they believe to be absolutely the best. This really important Bill will save lives and protect the too many people who, daily, are sadly abused by their partners and those they are living with in horrific and terrible ways.
I turn now to specific amendments. I have just referenced the abuse that takes place, and I fully recognise the intention behind Lords amendments 1 to 3. We should, of course, have absolutely zero tolerance of abuse by carers. The very name “carer” means that they are supposed to be looking after and caring for the person they are with. One of the most important aspects of the Bill—it seems very trivial, but it is one of the most important aspects—is the definition of domestic abuse, and the fact that we are adopting that wider definition of abuse. Domestic abuse is not simply abuse that takes place within a domestic setting. It takes place between two individuals who have a particularly close and intimate relationship, and it is that personal connection that I think is important.
The Government are absolutely right to be working with those who have raised, in particular, the abuse of disabled people to look at what protections need to be put in place, why the system is not currently working and why the arrangement that can deal with these cases does not always appear to be working. What lies at the heart of domestic abuse is the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim. That is why it is important that we do not widen the definition in the way their Lordships have proposed.
Of course, domestic abuse can continue outside the domestic setting—for example, in a workplace or online. That is one of the reasons why I particularly welcome Lords amendment 34, to extend the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour to a situation where the perpetrator and victim are no longer living together. It is a mistake to think that domestic abuse ends if the two individuals, the perpetrator and the victim, are physically separated by no longer being together in the same premises. This is an important amendment. As we know, too many survivors find themselves subject to controlling and coercive behaviour even after they have been separated from their perpetrator. I commend the role played by my noble Friend Baroness Sanderson in putting forward the amendment. I also commend her for all the work she has done on domestic abuse when she was working for me in No. 10 Downing Street and subsequently in her time in another place. I am sure she will continue to work on these issues.
I want to come on to the Lords amendments that I do not agree with. Lords amendment 33 is about training for judges. I have heard the arguments across the Front Bench on that issue. During lockdown 1, I joined Dr Peter Aitken, Elizabeth Filkin and the former Supreme Court judge Nicholas Wilson to produce a report called, “Seize the Moment to End Domestic Abuse”. We focused particularly on the Bill and its implications. One important recommendation we made to the Ministry of Justice was that the MOJ should ensure the proper training of judges on the implications of the Bill once it is enacted. The shadow Minister is absolutely right that there have been some very bad cases where the attitude of judges has shown that they simply do not understand domestic abuse, the nature of domestic abuse or the wide range of abuse that can take place. It is important that training is the responsibility of the Lord Chief Justice, and I think the commitments given by the President of the Family Division and the Judicial College are important in that respect. I would simply say to the Government that it is important that the Government make sure that those steps are put in place and that training is put in place.
I want to raise a question that may be answered later. There is an issue about who decides the nature of that training, how good the training is and what it actually covers. I am sure there are those who would say that the judiciary have had training already. Well, it is patently obvious that there are some who perhaps did not imbibe the training as well as they might have done.
This point is not specific to the amendments, but, if I may, it is not just the judiciary whom we need to ensure are trained. We need to ensure that the police, local authorities and others are trained on the implications of the Bill when enacted if we are going to see it being implemented. One thing we sometimes forget in this place is that it is not just about passing pieces of legislation; it is about what then happens with that legislation and how it is implemented.
I will now come on to one of the more contentious areas in the amendments, which has been a long-standing issue: the question of support for migrant victims. The Minister and the Government have given a clear commitment to ensure that the victims of domestic abuse are treated as victims, whatever their immigration status. Of course, systems of support are already in existence—the destitute domestic violence concession scheme, as has been referred to by others, is for those who are here on a spousal visa, while victims who are also victims of modern slavery can be referred to support available through the national referral mechanism—but the concern is that there are those who are falling through the net. The Government undertook a review. They have now undertaken to put in place the Support for Migrant Victims scheme. The Minister announced that Southall Black Sisters will run that scheme, which I welcome.
It is important that we recognise that not all victims are the same and that we are able to identify the specific circumstances and the specific protections and support needed in those cases where people are currently falling through the net. I support the Government’s decision not to support the Lords amendments on these particular issues. What matters is that victims are recognised as victims, regardless of their status. What we must now allow is the good intention of providing extra support for victims inadvertently leading to more victims.
On data sharing, which has been linked in the amendments, the issue is not as simple as it is sometimes portrayed. I am very pleased to be able to say that this is, I think, the first use of the police super-complaints process, which was introduced, as the Minister said, under the Policing and Crime Act 2017, so I have some sense of bearing some responsibility for it. That is good, because it shows that it can work.
The hon. Lady is right; it won’t be the last. The important thing is that it has been shown that it works and that a super-complaint can be brought. Let us respect that process and do what has been recommended by HMICFRS—I apologise for the initials; I think I put the fire service in with the inspectorate of constabulary—and, as the Government say, undertake that review and put into place whatever is necessary as a result of it.
On Lords amendment 42, on the register, this has been a matter of debate for some considerable time. It has been raised with me by constituents and by one of my local councillors on behalf of a resident not in my constituency. What I would say is that simply putting somebody on a register does not mean that protection is going to be provided. There was an exchange across the Front Benches about MAPPA and how it is operating. MAPPA can currently cover these cases of serial domestic abuse offenders and high-harm domestic abuse offenders, so there is a question as to who would be covered who is not already covered. If they are already covered but there are still these cases, the question is not whether the system applies to these cases, but why the system is not working in relation to them.
Fundamentally, one problem all too often seen in a number of areas involving the police and others relates to information sharing between agencies. We do not improve information sharing between agencies simply by putting into legislation that somebody’s name has to go on the register. I am sorry, it is hard to say that, but it is the case. If it is already possible under that system for agencies to be sharing that information but they are not doing so, the question is: why are they not doing so? This partly probably slips back to something we were talking about earlier: the training and their actually understanding rather better these issues of domestic abuse and the role the different agencies can play. So overhauling the system is particularly important.
I wanted to discuss Lords amendment 9, because I have a question for the Government in relation to it. I recognise that in the private law family cases the judiciary and Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service have protocols. May I say to the Minister that from my experience of more than 20 years as a constituency MP, telling me that CAFCASS has an involvement in something does not necessarily fill me with reassurance? So I say to the Government that it is important to make sure that those protocols are sufficient and that they are doing the job that needs to be done. Speaking about child contact centres, may I simply say that I would like to thank everybody who has been involved in the Maidenhead child contact centre over the years? Sadly, it has taken the decision that it needs to close, but it has provided support to many, many families and children over the years, and I would like to thank those there for their work.
Finally, I wish to say that it is really important that we get this Bill on the statute book. We are running out of time. I know we can ping-pong and carry on until we actually get through it, but were we to run out of time and were it not to get on the statute book, that would be the biggest betrayal of victims.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), and I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak in this hugely important debate. First, let me echo what both the Minister and the shadow Minister said about His Royal Highness Prince Philip and about Dame Cheryl Gillan. We will very much miss what would typically have been a knowledgeable and passionate contribution from Dame Cheryl in this debate and in so many debates to come.
Although these Lords amendments cover many significant issues, I shall take only a short time to cover two, as the Bill almost exclusively extends to England and Wales and relates largely to devolved matters. The two excellent Lords amendments I wish to express Scottish National party support for are Lords amendments 40 and 41, which were drafted expressly with a broader scope, touch on a reserved matter—immigration—and have the potential to bring significant benefits to victims from across the UK if we support them today.
Lords amendment 40 would start to roll back the Home Office’s ever-extending network of data sharing agreements and its grab of sweeping exemptions to data protection laws—my party has repeatedly proposed this. These exemptions have contributed to a dangerous situation in which migrants feel unable or reluctant to access potentially vital public services for fear that any information they share will end up being used by the Home Office in a bid to remove them. Domestic abuse is one severe but perfect illustration of that point. Fleeing an abusive partner can of course put women at risk, and none of us would want them to fear seeking the protection and support that they need. The reality, however, is that too often they do, and one reason for that fear is precisely because they do not have faith that the information they are required to share will not result in an attempt to remove them or have other implications for their current and future status here.
That is what Lords amendment 40 effects, by requiring the Home Secretary to put in place
“arrangements to ensure that the personal data…processed for the purpose of”
securing that help and support “is not used” against victims for immigration purposes. We therefore give it our support. I listened to what the Minister said in response, but I do not understand how police guidance can provide any sort of comprehensive answer and I fear that the evidence shows that it will not. It does not provide the necessary or sufficient reassurance that a statutory provision can provide. It is that simple.
Lords amendment 41 is, as we heard, the new clause that would broaden the scope of the domestic violence rule and the concessions so that more victims of domestic abuse here can find safety, knowing that they also have a pathway to leave to remain and do not need endure destitution and homelessness while they pursue it. Now, those possibilities are limited largely to those who are here on spouse visas.
The domestic violence rule and the concessions have been transformative for many victims of domestic abuse who are able to access them. The very same reasons for putting them in place for those on spouse visas clearly also apply to other victims of domestic abuse. If we do not completely break the link between a woman’s lawful residence here and her relationship with an abusive partner, far from helping her, we are hindering her ability to find help and support—we hand power to the abuser. No one wants that but, unless we support the new clause, I fear that is the position that we will risk remaining in.
Again, I do not understand the Government’s answers in response, in particular what was said about the Lords amendment not being true to the original purpose of the rule and the concessions. On the contrary, it is about applying the same purpose, intention and reasoning to a broader group of victims who equally require support and protection, ensuring that they may access them.
In relation to another Government response, the Lord Bishop of Gloucester explained in the other place why the Government’s support for migrant victims, while welcome, is not a comprehensive answer, as the shadow Minister said today. We need bolder action as a matter of urgency. There is already an abundance of evidence that the changes proposed by way of Lords amendment 41 are utterly necessary and could transform lives.
The Government also seem to object that the leave proposed might ultimately be indefinite leave. If they find that objectionable—I do not understand the reasons why they might—rather than reject the amendment outright, they should at least provide for a decent period of time unencumbered by restrictions, including on public funds, to allow victims to get the support that they need and to get their lives back on track.
In a letter to MPs this morning, Ministers argued that migrant victims are not a homogeneous group, and that argument has been repeated this afternoon, but we know that—those advocating Lords amendment 41 know it better than anyone—and supporters of the amendment are not treating them as such. Rather, we would create a space in which complex and diverse needs can be better understood and addressed and where victims are free of the incredibly intimidating coercion and control that precarious immigration status can cause a victim. The Government risk denying victims that space and the possibility of addressing their diverse needs.
In conclusion, the focus should not be on the nature of victims’ immigration status or the type of visa that they hold; it should be on their needs as victims. Despite the Government’s protestations to the contrary, Lords amendment 41 would be another step towards ensuring that that happens. The question for this House is: what is more important, protecting and supporting victims, or protecting Home Office powers over migration? We say, support the victims, and we therefore give our full support to the Lords amendments.
I join in the tributes to Cheryl Gillan, whom we all miss badly from this House and from debates such as this one in which she has been a participant for so many years.
I welcome the progress made on the Bill with the work done in the House of Lords. It is an important Bill and I commend the work on it of the Minister, the Opposition Front Benchers and all those in the Lords who sought to improve and build on it, because it got better as a result of all that work along the way. We have seen, for example, the addition of references to children as part of the Bill—something that our Home Affairs Committee recommended some years ago—and the amendments to reflect the issues raised earlier in our Commons debates about making non-fatal strangulation an offence.
I want to focus in particular on two areas where the Lords have proposed amendments that the Government are still resisting. The first is to support points made by other Members about the need to make sure that migrant women are not deterred from coming forward to get help when they desperately need it. These can be some of the most vulnerable women of all, threatened by perpetrators with losing their immigration status. Effectively, what the perpetrators are doing is exploiting the immigration system to exert coercive control over vulnerable women. We have a responsibility to make sure that that cannot happen, but, again, the Government are not going far enough in that regard.
The second area that I want to address is in relation to Lords amendment 42, which was put forward by Baroness Royall with support from across the Lords, including from Baroness Newlove. It is similar to an amendment that I put forward at an earlier stage in the Bill’s consideration, which the Government did say they would consider, because they recognised the importance of the issue. It builds on the work that Laura Richards at Paladin has done and has the support of hundreds of thousands of people who have signed petitions for stronger action against repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking.
We know that there are too many cases of awful crimes against women—serious domestic abuse, awful violence, horrendous stalking, murder, and lives that are lost as a result of terrible crimes—and yet the perpetrator has committed crimes before. They may have been involved in other stalking offences, harassment, repeated domestic abuse or violence. They move from one victim to another and sometimes from one town or region to another. They find someone new to control and to abuse and someone else whose lives they can destroy. Too often, when those previous crimes emerge, everyone sighs in sadness, everyone wishes that the signs had been picked up earlier, everyone says that the dots should have been joined, and everyone says that lessons should be learned, but in the end they never are and not enough changes. We cannot carry on like this.
Hollie Gazzard was stalked and murdered by a man who was involved in 24 previous violent offences, including 12 on an ex-partner. Even though he had been reported to the police many times, there was no proactive risk assessment, and there was no management despite his previous violent offences. Linzi Ashton was raped, strangled and murdered by a man who had strangled two previous partners, but his repeat pattern of abuse towards women was not picked up. Jane Clough, an A&E nurse, was stalked and then murdered by a violent ex-partner, even though he had a history of abusing other women. He was not on the high-risk offenders register and the police were not monitoring him.
There are so many cases. Shana Grice was stalked and murdered in 2016. The man who killed her had abused 13 girls before, yet there was still no focus on him as a perpetrator, and no intelligence or information sharing. Faced with these cases, where perpetrators have repeated convictions for domestic abuse or for stalking, why on earth are their names not on the high-risk offenders register? Why on earth is there not a process to identify or manage these high-risk individuals? Why on earth do the police not take these cases seriously, because it is not happening? That is what Lords amendment 42 is all about. It adds convicted serial domestic abusers and stalkers to the high-risk offenders register so that police and specialist agencies can work together to prevent them from offending again and to use the multi-agency public protection arrangements to keep more women safe.
We know that, when it comes to domestic abuse, stalking, or violence against women, the most serious offenders are those repeat offenders. That is where we should be trying to focus more of our efforts.
Let me consider the Government’s objections. The Minister says that they will draw up a perpetrators strategy, which was part of Lords amendment 42. That is strongly welcome, but the Government are not going far enough with their plans for that strategy. For example, the strategy currently does not include stalking, which it needs to do, and it is not a replacement for the high risk register and the proper monitoring and interventions underpinned by statute that we need.
The Minister has said that a new category 4 is not needed on the high-risk offenders register—a new category from MAPPA—because these dangerous people can be included in category 3. The trouble is that just because in theory some of them can be does not mean that most of them are. The system is not working; simply adding a bit more guidance, a bit more urging and a bit more soul searching will not mean they are included in practice either.
Category 3 has historically been interpreted very narrowly and is interpreted by gatekeepers—people who are concerned about stretched resources and will continue to be so. At the moment, what that means in practice is that police, probation officers and other agencies involved in the system are simply not treating repeat perpetrators —those with repeat domestic abuse convictions—as high- risk offenders, yet they are high risk. Someone who has already been convicted of domestic abuse against a series of different women is a risk to other women and needs to be properly assessed, yet at the moment the system does not assess them as high risk. That is what we are trying to fundamentally change through legislation, to send a strong signal through the system—to police officers, specialist agencies and probation services across the country—that these cases are high risk and put other women at risk in future. They need to be properly assessed and managed to keep other women safe.
The Government have said that that would introduce complexity without compensatory benefits. The compensatory benefit would be to include more people in the system who are high risk to future victims. That is the benefit, and it would be hugely important. Nor do I accept that the proposal would add complexity. It would undoubtedly add to the number of people who would need to be assessed, because we know that some of these people are not being assessed when they should be, but it would not add complexity. In fact, there would be a clear and simple process that recognises that this group of people needs to be assessed and recognised for the risks that they pose.
I fear that part of the difference between us is about resources and the number of people who would need to be assessed, because the undoubted impact of this measure would be to require additional people—those who pose the highest risk, the repeat domestic abuse and stalking cases—to be assessed, on the register and properly managed. My fear is that some of the resistance from within the Home Office comes from a fear of needing to provide the additional resources. I therefore ask the Minister to look again at this and at the importance of recognising that we need to expand the system to keep more women safe.
Let us remember that statistic we all use. We all talk about two women a week who are killed by a partner or an ex as a result of domestic abuse. It is still two women a week. When the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and I were first debating issues around domestic abuse almost 10 years ago, we were talking about the two women a week whose lives were lost; it is still two women a week whose lives are lost. Those are the women we should be trying to help, and that is what amendment 42 does. If two people a week were losing their lives at football matches as a result of the violent behaviour of a small number of hooligans or violent perpetrators, you could bet we would focus on those perpetrators and the action needed to target those violent offenders. We have to do the same for women’s lives and not think it is too complex or difficult to get the system to work and focus on high-risk offenders.
That is why I urge the Government to think again, change their position and support amendment 42. It is not enough to say that it is possible under the existing system to take action against dangerous perpetrators. It is not about what is possible; we need to ensure that it happens in practice. Our responsibility is to ensure that the action to keep women safe takes place. That is why we need amendment 42.
I urge the Minister to listen to the words of the father of Jane Clough, John Clough, who has said:
“It’s way past time serial abusers and stalkers were treated with the same gravitas as sex offenders and managed in a similar fashion”.
We do not have to be passive in the face of the escalating violence of a small number of dangerous offenders. We do not have to just allow these violent criminals to keep reoffending in perpetuity. After the awful murders of Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, the Government rightly said they would redouble their action on violence against women, so I urge them to do so. Amendment 42 gives them the possibility to do so. I hope the Minister will think again and support amendment 42 now.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate because this is a very important Bill, it is a good Bill and it significantly improves the law in a number of respects. A number of the amendments made in the other place improve the Bill, too.
I am particularly pleased to see the creation of the offence of non-fatal strangulation. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, I practised in the criminal courts for some 25 years before coming into this place. There was a gap in the law here. Evidentially it was often very difficult to fit that course of conduct into the existing offence under section 18 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to reflect the gravity of it—the lower offence under section 20 often would not give adequate sentencing powers. Equally it was often difficult to demonstrate that the elements of attempted murder were made out—often it would not be possible to prove that was the case—in the light of what had happened. So the creation of a specific offence to deal with a type of behaviour that is particularly pernicious in abusive relationships—I certainly came across it in my career, as I am sure have many others in this House—is particularly valuable and welcome. I know it is welcomed by practitioners and by judges in these cases, because it now gives us a means of capturing the whole of the conduct that can happen in these types of relationship. So that is very welcome.
I welcome, too, what the Minister said about revenge porn. The Law Commission’s work is very valuable in this field, but the Government’s commitment to moving swiftly on this is important too, because it is critical that offences are kept up to date with the changing technologies and use of social media in society. So these are very good aspects of the Bill, in addition to the others that have already been mentioned.
I want to talk briefly about three Lords amendments that the Government are right to resist, although I understand and support, as will most Members, the sentiments behind them. The first is Lords amendment 33, which relates to judicial training. The Minister’s comments on this are right. It is absolutely right that there must be training. A great deal is being done now to improve awareness by judges and sentencers—both judges and magistrates, because we must remember many of these cases will be tried by lay magistrates as well as by professional judges. It is absolutely right that there is up-to-date and comprehensive training in this regard. The Judicial College has done a great deal of work now. As Baroness Butler-Sloss—a former president of the family division and one of the most experienced family judges we have in this country, although she is now retired—pointed out, that has been incorporated specifically both into the initial training and the refresher training that is required for judges and magistrates. The Justice Committee in previous reports in relation to the role of the magistracy has urged that there be a more comprehensive training programme. It is important that the Minister ensures that the Ministry of Justice makes the funding available for those training programmes, whether residential or day courses, to be systematically and comprehensively delivered across the country, and that all magistrates and judges have access to them in a timely fashion.
However, I do not think we need primary legislation to do that. We certainly should have a practical strategy, but I do not think it is right that that should lie in the hands of the Secretary of State. If I can draw an analogy, later in the proceedings, there is a Government amendment in lieu setting out a strategy for the prosecution of offenders. I think that is properly a strategy that can be owned by Ministers because it relates to what is done by the Executive arms of state such as the prosecution. That is different from what is done by the judicial arm of the state. It does not seem constitutionally proper, despite the good intentions behind the amendment, to enable any Secretary of State to have power to dictate to the independent judiciary how they should set about their training programmes and what they should contain. That is a discrete but significant flaw in the amendment, which is why the House would be right to resist it. The objective can be achieved but without trespassing over the constitutional division between Executive, legislature and judiciary that unfortunately is the inevitable and logical consequence of the amendment. It puts the power in a Minister’s hands when in fact there is a clear willingness by the judiciary to seize the nettle themselves on this. We shall make sure that they have the resources to enable them to seize that nettle, but we should not be dictating to them as to how they do it. That is why the Government are right to resist the amendment.
Lords amendments 37 and 38 relate to reasonable force as a defence and a further statutory offence in domestic abuse cases. Again, the intention is entirely laudable but, certainly in my experience, it is not necessary to put this into primary legislation. For example, the circumstances that are set out in the two amendments and in the lengthy schedule—I think that is Lords amendment 83, which is attached to one of those— relate to offences where it is already possible under existing criminal law for a defendant to raise the full defence of self-defence, which once raised must then be rebutted by the prosecution, or a partial defence—for example, an offence of duress, which can, under certain circumstances, either be a complete defence to an offence or reduce murder down to manslaughter. Those are already available.
Since the decision in the Challen case—a case that came too late in terms of justice to the individual concerned but which has now set the law on a much better and more up-to-date footing—there is a recognition that the course of conduct of coercive control can be regarded as a factor that raises the defence of duress in the appropriate case. Therefore, the means of a victim of domestic abuse to bring that before the court is already available and it does not seem necessary to add these clauses to the Bill. It might actually have the effect of limiting, unintentionally, the scope of conduct that can be captured and used by a defendant to assert that they were acting in self-defence.
The law of self-defence has changed. In fact, I was involved in one of the leading cases in the Court of Appeal, which rightly—albeit I was on the prosecution side—said that the law prior to the case of Bird back in the 1990s was too restrictive in what could be pleaded as self-defence. That is particularly important to a woman, and the defendant in that case was a female. The person she had assaulted in self-defence was, as it turned out, a man. That imbalance was not properly reflected in the law up until the Bird case, but it then was, and therefore the existing common law is on a much sounder footing to deal with this. Therefore, it is not necessary to go down the route set out in Lords amendment 38.
The defence of duress is, as I say, already available. Evidence that shows that the defendant had been a victim of domestic abuse is of itself already relevant and admissible to set up the defence of duress, in the same way as it is relevant and admissible where a defence of self-defence is pleaded. So we are in danger of over-engineering a solution that is already there and where the courts have shown themselves willing to reflect changes in social conditions and the pressures that exist.
Let me end my observations by stating that the attitude of the courts in relation to domestic abuse offences, and to sexual offences more generally as well, is sometimes criticised—sometimes rightly—but I have noticed that the judiciary’s approach has changed vastly over the years I have been involved in criminal law. There is now a much greater understanding of the power imbalance that often exists in relationships and that, very frequently, women are in the more vulnerable position. In both the investigation of offences and their handling in court, far greater sensitivity is now shown to victims and complainants in such cases, and absolutely rightly so.
It seems to me that the law is able to deal with these matters without the need for further primary legislation. The sentiments behind the three Lords amendments I have spoken about are entirely laudable, but they can be picked up and captured elsewhere. For those reasons, it is proper for the Government to resist them.
I express my commiserations to the Queen, the royal family and, of course, the family of our very own Dame Cheryl Gillan.
I really welcome the Bill: it is a huge step in the right direction to better support victims of domestic abuse, and I thank all those who have worked so hard to make sure that it has come forward. However, in passing this legislation we must ensure that someone’s migrant status does not prevent them from getting the support that they need.
One of the greatest challenges in tackling the abhorrent crime of domestic abuse is the fact that all too often incidents go unreported. The problem is further exacerbated if victims are afraid to come forward because they fear that doing so could lead to their deportation. For example, there is a risk that people will be afraid to report their abuse if their right to be in the UK is dependent on their staying with their spouse. Everyone, no matter their migration status, deserves equal protection under the law.
Lords amendment 40, on data sharing for immigration purposes, is therefore a huge opportunity to reassure victims and witnesses that the details they share with the police and other agencies will not be used for any immigration-control purposes. This will give them the confidence to come forward and report this often-hidden crime.
Let me turn to Lords amendment 41, on leave to remain and the destitution domestic violence concession. The long, arduous process of reporting domestic abuse and then through to eventual conviction is immensely taxing for all victims. The stress caused is unmanageable if victims are having to secure their right to remain in the UK at the same time.
The situation is made worse by the policies that limit access to some key services for those subject to immigration control. Lords amendment 41 will enshrine into law the right of victims of domestic abuse to have a route towards being granted indefinite leave to remain. Importantly, it will also guarantee their right to access services that could provide a vital lifeline. It could save lives.
In building a global Britain, we must stand shoulder to shoulder with all victims of domestic abuse, no matter their country of origin. Not only do we have a moral responsibility to enact the changes in the Lords amendments but, as signatories to the Istanbul convention on preventing violence against women and girls, we have an international responsibility, too.
One of the remaining hurdles in the way of full implementation of the convention is equal protection on the grounds of migrant or refugee status. Eight years on from the UK having become a signatory, it is a national embarrassment that the Government have repeatedly dithered and delayed its implementation. Lords amendments 40 and 41 will remove the stumbling block and pave the way towards Britain fulfilling its international and moral obligations.
Domestic abuse has existed in the shadows for far too long. This legislation goes a significant way towards protecting victims, and I hope Members will support Lords amendments 40 and 41 to ensure that its protections are available to all.
I am delighted to speak in this debate. Some excellent additions have been made to what was already a very strong Bill. In particular, I am delighted to speak to Lords amendment 35, which makes threatening to share sexual photographs or videos of someone without their consent an offence punishable by up to two years in prison.
Let me put on the record my thanks to both Bill Ministers, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). I know that they have long supported these measures and worked hard to include them in the Bill, and they have put up with my badgering them on this issue with good grace. I also thank Baroness Morgan of Cotes, whose expert—and indeed noble—badgering was successful in getting the amendment over the line in the other place.
Most of all, however, I thank my constituent Natasha Saunders. I should say “my former constituent” because I have lost her to my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin)—although she assures me that that is no reflection on her former Member of Parliament. Brave women such as Natasha, and brave men, have stood up and told their stories. It is one thing to campaign for changes to the law; it is much harder for someone to speak publicly about the darkest moments—the most personal and private moments—of their life.
When we last debated the Bill in this House, I shared some of Natasha’s story. She said, in her own words:
“The threat of those photos being shared was my worst nightmare—I had no choice but to comply with his continued abuse or face potential humiliation… The threat was always there and as the years went on, it was like I ceased to exist. He made me feel invisible to everyone and if I displeased him in any way, I knew he could use those pictures to ruin my reputation.”
Natasha has been working with Refuge. I thank it, too, for its excellent research on this issue, which gave us the evidence base we needed. Refuge’s “The Naked Threat” report found that one in 14 people in England and Wales, and one in seven young women, has been a victim of threats to share. Almost four in five women changed the way they behaved as a result of the threats, proving how much this law is needed.
Threatening to expose someone at their most vulnerable because they have done or want to do something you do not like is a deeply sinister crime. It has already resulted in tragedy, and I know it has contributed to trapping people in dangerous, abusive relationships. Now survivors will have a route to justice.
I am proud to vote for Lords amendment 35. I am even prouder of Natasha. She has decided to start on the journey from campaigner to Member of Parliament, to do more to protect others from the horror she suffered, and I very much hope that she will join us on the iconic green Benches before long.
First, may I associate myself with the remarks of the Minister and the tributes to both His Royal Highness Prince Philip and Dame Cheryl Gillan?
It is, as others have said, a privilege to take part in this debate. When the Bill was first introduced, we were already aware of the need for protection for so many in our society. Roughly 2 million people a year in the UK, most of them women, are subject to some form of domestic abuse. In the subsequent debates, we have heard some incredibly brave and moving stories.
Throughout the covid-19 crisis, we have seen domestic abuse figures increase exponentially. In the past month, we have become, if anything, even more aware of the need for this landmark legislation. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) expressed, it is our duty here to reflect the demand for change that we have seen and heard from so many in our society.
The Bill has certainly changed and developed over the past four years. It has been supported and shaped positively from both sides of the Chamber, and I believe it has become stronger as a result. We have made progress and strengthened the Bill in areas such as including children in the definition, introducing protections for survivors of abuse in court, and taking our first steps towards making misogyny a hate crime.
However, the Bill could still be stronger. There are important, significant areas in which there is more work that we need to do. They include migrant women, who should have the same consideration as every other woman in our society. Getting out of a violent or abusive situation should not be dependent on where someone comes from. For me, this is a critical point. As has already been mentioned, this country has signed the Istanbul convention, but the Government have yet to ratify it. Under that convention, a person could not be denied support on the basis of their immigration status.
There is a specific amendment that I would ask the Government to reconsider: Lords amendment 42, on monitoring serious and serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking. In the other place, my colleague Baroness Brinton spoke powerfully from her own awful experience about the clear need to strengthen MAPPA and introduce a register for serious and serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking. That is why Lords amendment 42 is so important, and we should oppose the Government’s attempt to replace it with a much weaker amendment.
Tackling domestic abuse must include ensuring that the criminal justice system deals with obsessed serial perpetrators properly. I appreciate the Minister’s explanation, and the fact that she sympathises with the objective of the Lords amendment, but I cannot agree that there are not sufficient benefits to justify complications. There is no complication I can see that is ever too great to justify not increasing protection for any of us at any time from anyone. We have already heard numerous moving examples today of the damage done to lives by repeat offenders, and Liberal Democrats do not believe that the Government’s amendment in lieu goes far enough. We will therefore not support it.
This Bill speaks to a problem that infects our society and threatens people, mostly women, in every part of the country every day of the year. We are sending a message today from this place. Let us make it the strongest it can possibly be, so that when the Bill reaches the statute book, this landmark legislation is the strongest it can possibly be.
I am privileged to speak in this debate today, and I would like to start by joining in the tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan. She was an incredibly kind individual and she will be sorely missed in the House.
This really is a landmark piece of legislation. It shows what the House is truly capable of when it works together, and I commend all those who have been involved in bringing the Bill to where it is.
Over the past year, we have experienced life in a very different way, often not being able to leave our homes. For most of us it has been incredibly difficult, but for victims of domestic abuse the reality has been much harsher. Over the past year, victims of domestic abuse have often found themselves trapped by their abuser without any space, physical or emotional, between them. There has been a worrying increase in the demand for domestic abuse support, and this has been seen across the country. In fact, just last night I was contacted about someone who is a victim of domestic abuse and who needs my support. This just happens way too often.
There are two parts of the Bill to which I will refer today: Lords amendment 42 and the now-included provision in Lords amendment 35 on the threat to disclose intimate images. On the latter, I will say this. In 2015, we recognised the manipulative and psychological power that abusers had over victims when laws were introduced in relation to revenge porn, and we have seen more than 900 abusers convicted as a result. I am relieved to see that the threat to disclose intimate images is now being addressed in this legislation, because the harm caused by these threats is immeasurable and can have an extremely deep and lasting psychological impact on the victims. It is a sinister and cowardly crime.
I have heard anecdotal stories of communities in which honour plays a big role, and where abusive husbands have threatened to disclose intimate images of their wives or partners in an attempt to dishonour them in order to coercively control and manipulate them. I hope that the Bill will go a long way towards letting those women know that this is not okay and that they are not alone. I thank Baroness Morgan for all the hard work she has done in getting this legislation amended. I also believe that social media companies need to play their part in fulfilling their responsibility to take down any distressing or manipulative images that may be classed as revenge porn—and swiftly, so that victims are protected.
I empathise with the intention and spirit of Lords amendment 42. However, I accept the Government’s position on this. There is, of course, still more that can be done through existing systems and better use of the MAPPA framework. As long as that is possible, the objective is the same, and if a way forward can be found through non-legislative means, that is certainly worth exploring. Of course, as has been said, domestic abuse does not just end when two partners—two individuals—stop living with each other.
By improving MAPPA, by improving the information-sharing processes with different agencies and individuals, the message to those who commit these cowardly acts of violence, stalking or domestic abuse is very clear: through this legislation, this Government and this House are determined that you will feel the full force of the law. We will come for you and we will not let you get away with it. And for the victims of these heinous crimes, the message is simple: you are not alone and we will not let you suffer alone.
May I associate myself with the comments today about the Duke of Edinburgh and Dame Cheryl Gillan?
If we want to tackle violence against women, we need to change the conversation. We need to stop asking how we keep women safe and start asking how we stop the violence. I pay tribute to the many organisations and many Members across the House who have devoted time, effort and energy to the Bill and to that conversation—SafeLives, Refuge, Women’s Aid, Southall Black Sisters, Laura Richards, to name but a few of the many. The bitter reality is that whatever political perspective we come from, we have all known, in the many years that we have worked on this legislation, that it is a once- in-a-lifetime opportunity, because the conversation has all too often been about how women should keep themselves safe, rather than our responsibility to free them from harm.
I welcome the Government’s agreement to many changes to this legislation along its journey—just today, we are discussing their acceptance of Lord Kennedy’s amendment to stop doctors charging domestic abuse victims for medical evidence, for example. This also includes the changes on revenge porn, treating crimes that are motivated by misogyny as hate crime and ensuring that the police act to record how hostility towards someone’s sex or gender means that women are targeted for assault, abuse and harassment. However, in the time I have today, I want to urge the Minister to go further and drop the Government’s opposition to amendments where we ask a victim to fit a particular box rather than recognising that they all need our assistance to stop the violence.
Lords amendments 1 to 3 recognise the abuse of disabled people by paid or unpaid carers. Disabled women are twice as likely as their non-disabled counterparts to experience abuse, so we seek to support our disabled sisters from those who are their intimate contacts—people we trust to undertake some of the most sensitive acts, whether that is personal care, or emotional or financial matters. The Minister says that she cannot accept these amendments because giving those who are abused by their carers the protection of the Bill would change the common law understanding of domestic abuse and somehow dilute the purpose of the legislation, but the amendment is exactly about changing our understanding of abuse, where it happens and who suffers from it. This abuse takes place in a domestic setting and it is the result of an intimate relationship. For too long, those affected have been telling us about reviewing their evidence, how somehow they have to prove their case and why they cannot keep themselves safe through existing legislation. If we want to stop violence and abuse, we need to act and change how we think about domestic abuse accordingly. That is what Lords amendments 1 to 3 do.
Many have already spoken about Lords amendment 41, because that ensures that we give migrant victims of abuse the help that they need to leave abusive relationships, whatever their status. Without it, the Government are asking us to make a decision on whether to keep a victim of violence safe not on whether she is at risk, but on whether she has the right stamp in her passport. There is a speech for another day about the dysfunctionalities of the UK Border Agency and its ability to manage our immigration service, but it is a simple matter of fact that many victims of domestic abuse cover the cost of getting support, help and access to a refuge through their ability to access public assistance. When we deny women access to that assistance due to their immigration status, we consign them to having no way out of harm. Indeed, as Refuge pointed out, the number of survivors of abuse with no recourse to public funds is likely to increase post-Brexit under our new immigration proposals, so the need to address this will become even more pressing.
The Minister said that migrant victims should be seen as victims first, yet as she can see from the super-complaint and the evidence that it reveals, the reality is that they are all too often treated as potential criminals first and foremost when they come forward. We need to not only safeguard them from having their data shared but give them protection from being exploited full stop, and that is what Lords amendment 41 does. There are contradictions already exposed in this debate. The Minister says in one breath that the key consideration for migrant victims is not their immigration status and then says that victims of domestic violence should not have an automatic right to status in the UK. She says she needs more information and claims that the amendments are unnecessary as a result because she is reviewing the matter. I tell her, as somebody who has had to deal with these cases in my constituency and who is a big fan of the work that Southall Black Sisters does, that we do not need more reviews and more evidence, because the evidence is painfully already there.
The Minister says there is support, but we know that in 2019, for example, four in five migrant women were turned away from refuges due to their “no recourse to public funds” status. We have seen at first hand the women kept in violent relationships because of their immigration status. We have given testimony of the culture of fear they experience—fear of not only their abuser but the officials who are supposedly there to help them.
I also say, as a former member of the Council of Europe who had the privilege to serve on it alongside Dame Cheryl Gillan and learn from her in that institution, that we cannot ratify the Istanbul convention while we try to draw a distinction between women in the help they can access. Ministers told us that women in Northern Ireland were not treated differently when it came to their reproductive rights, and quite rightly, the Council of Europe told them otherwise. It is the same when it comes to drawing a distinction between migrant women and whether they can access support for being victims of domestic abuse. It is long overdue that we ratify the Istanbul convention. We cannot let this prevent us from being able to do that. We are one of the few countries left in Europe that has yet to ratify the convention, and I ask the Minister to talk to her counterparts in Europe, and to recognise how this will be a barrier to doing that and will leave women at risk in our communities.
Finally, I turn to Lords amendment 42, another matter on which there is much agreement in the House that we need to act. It is the best example among the amendments of how we can change the conversation and stop the violence caused by serial perpetrators and stalkers. The Minister tells us that the amendment is not needed, that it is not about the category of an offender but how MAPPA processes work, and that her proposals for reform will address that. I understand the point that she is making, and I can see that there is some truth in her argument about how services need to work together, because the evidence shows time and again that serial offenders and serial stalkers were left to target women without intervention. For years, women have lived in fear and begged for help from the police to protect them, only to be told that they were being overdramatic. That is not me being overdramatic. Research shows how the constant dismissing and downplaying of stalking’s serious nature means that, on average, victims of the crime do not report to the police until the 100th incident.
Shana Grice was fined for wasting police time before she was murdered by her stalker—a man who had been reported by 13 other women for stalking. Alice Ruggles was murdered by her ex-partner in 2016. The court heard how a restraining order had been taken out by an ex-girlfriend of his just three years earlier, but at the point at which Alice was begging the police for help, Northumbria police had no knowledge of that. Janet Scott, Pearl Black, Linah Keza, Maria Stubbings, Kerri McAuley, Molly McLaren, Hollie Gazzard, Justene Reece, Kirsty Treloar, Jane Clough, Linzi Ashton—all those cases involved serial perpetrators who had been violent and abusive to other women before they were attacked. No one joined the dots. No one asked whether they were at risk and acted. These women were sitting ducks. That is the system that the Minister is defending today.
The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) says that putting someone’s name on a list does not make a difference. Frankly, I disagree. It means that we can finally hold the police, not the victims, to account, because they would have direct accountability for the management of their behaviour. It makes stalking something that the police have to recognise in its own right as something they need to stop, rather than something that women have to prove and manage. I pay tribute to the work that Laura Richards has done tirelessly to expose the situation and fight for these changes and to Baroness Royall, Baroness Newlove and Lord Russell for their work in the other place on this issue.
We know that this Bill has been a marathon, but we are asking the Minister to keep going that extra mile, to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to stop trying to defend the indefensible and the status quo, to change the conversation so that we can stop the violence and not allow perpetrators of these crimes to use the loopholes—those that the amendments would close—to continue the abuse. The evidence base is already there. It just needs the political will to act. I say to the House that if the Minister will not listen, we must, and we must vote for the amendments.
I join colleagues in their tributes to Dame Cheryl Gillan. I knew her for 20 years, from her role as shadow Secretary of State and later as Secretary of State for Wales. I am so very sorry she has gone; she would have made a fantastic speech today.
It was an honour to sit on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee last year. I am extremely proud that we have managed to prioritise this vital piece of legislation at this time. It will empower victims, communities and professionals to confront and challenge domestic abuse, and above all to provide victims with the support they deserve.
I commend the Minister for her efforts in this area and the shadow Minister, who talked about the spirit with which this Bill was forged. She is absolutely right that it has been made stronger all the way along by Members on both sides of the House, and I very much welcome that. I welcome the Government’s support for some of the amendments that were laid in the other place. They will create a standalone offence of non-fatal strangulation, extend the coercive and controlling behaviour offence to post-separation abuse and criminalise threats to share intimate images.
I also support the Government in opposing Lords amendment 41. I believe that, as worded, it could risk further exploitation of vulnerable individuals, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) pointed out. The Government have taken a significant step in supporting migrant victims today by announcing the scheme to be delivered by Southall Black Sisters. I met them when they gave evidence to the Bill Committee, and I am confident that they will be successful.
Much of what we will discuss this afternoon will be addressed later this year as the Government look at the violence against women and girls consultation. I commend the Government for acting fast and reopening that consultation in the wake of the horrific murder of Sarah Everard. It is extremely positive that so many more contributions were made to that consultation.
While I have the Minister’s ear, I want to press again the need to do something about cyber-flashing—spreading indecent images using mobile devices on an unsolicited basis. That happens often on public transport. I was once flashed by a man on a night out in Cardiff. I could have had him arrested, because doing it in person is a criminal offence, but if a person digitally exposes themselves unsolicited, it is currently not the same offence. That needs to change. No one should be made to feel alarmed, distressed or intimidated as a result of being sent an unsolicited explicit photo. With so many more of our young people living their lives online with their own mobile phones, we need to put a stop to cyber-flashing.
I briefly want to mention the case of Ruth Dodsworth. For those of us in Wales, she is a very familiar face. She is a TV and weather presenter on ITV Wales. Yesterday, her ex-husband was jailed for three years after making her life a misery for nine long years. He was verbally abusive and physically violent. He followed her to work, put a tracker on her car, and even used her fingerprints to open her phone while she was sleeping to read its contents. Every day, Ruth went to work and read the weather forecast in a sunny, positive manner, completely concealing the horror that she was facing at home. I raise that point not only to praise Ruth’s bravery and incredible courage but to remind victims everywhere that they do not have to put a smile on their face, pretend they are okay and get on with it. The police and the criminal justice system are there to support them when they come forward. Ruth’s case shows that this is not something that is happening in the shadows to women we do not know. We all know a victim of domestic abuse, whether we know it or not. This Bill is landmark legislation that will go a significant way to protecting the estimated 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year. I wish it swift passage through these Houses.
Before I close, I want to single out the work that has been going on in my local area in Powys. I particularly applaud Powys County Council’s children’s services. Recently, I met its head of service, Jan Coles, and she talked me through the outstanding work it has been doing to support children victims of domestic abuse. That work has obviously been made so much more difficult during the recent pandemic, and I want to put on the record my thanks for what it has done. Powys was one of the first local authorities to quickly get vulnerable children into school hubs at the same time as key worker children, and I commend the council for that effort.
Finally, I thank all the brave survivors and tireless organisations who have given evidence during the passage of the Bill. This Bill is stronger because of them. I give it my full support, and I am proud to have played a very small part in it.
I would also like to pay tribute to the great Cheryl Gillan, an inspirational and supportive colleague whose presence is felt very strongly on this side of the House. The Bill returns to us in different and better shape from how it left us. The amendments do not just add content, but expand the framework through which domestic abuse in all its insidious complexity is understood. It is something that may well outlive the relationship. I have seen through work I have done with a particular constituent of mine that coercive or controlling behaviour can live long after the couple have stopped living under the same roof.
The Bill recognises that the threat of certain forms of abuse can be as pernicious as the act itself. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) for the beautiful way she expressed the shame and humiliation that lies at the heart of revenge porn, which is an offence irrespective of whether the threat is actually carried out. The amendments provide protection against sexual violence that does not depend on any particular relationship status. The measures on revenge porn and non-fatal strangulation and the prohibition on the rough sex defence are all examples of that, and I pay tribute to Baroness Newlove for succeeding where we failed.
The Bill has evolved in part into a very significant body of law on sexual violence. It says to women, “It doesn’t matter if he is your husband or just someone that you met on Tinder. If he tries to choke you, that is a crime. If he tries to silence you by saying that he will share images of you online, that is a crime. If he hurts you, whether through choking or anything else, and says that you were up for it, that will not work; it is a crime.”
This Bill comes at a very important moment in a national conversation we are having. We know such things are happening because of the countless women who have submitted their stories to the campaign group We Can’t Consent To This in the past 18 months, detailing terrifying sexual violence in intimate encounters, and the more than 14,000 young women who have submitted anonymous testimonies on “Everyone’s Invited”, in particular describing the sharing of online images. Then there are the 40% of young women who told the BBC in 2019 that they had experienced unwanted strangulation. What we have heard time and time again is that they just thought it was normal. They did not think that they could report it. For now, these changes meet that challenge and give women a route to justice in respect of these crimes.
I want to speak briefly on judicial training. I start by reminding the House of what the Court of Appeal said about that in an appeal it heard on domestic abuse about a fortnight ago. It said that while domestic abuses are often not “crystal clear”, where there is detailed guidance on judicial training, the number of appeals tends to be smaller.
I would like to talk about judicial training in the context of non-fatal strangulation, which is something I have raised with Lord Wolfson. Subsection (2) of clause 72 says that the offence is initiated by consent. I understand as a matter of law and principle why that is, but we need to be realistic about what the offence looks like. First, we know that it is occurring frequently, and we know that it occupies a sprawling kind of grey area. As the Centre for Women’s Justice put it, there is
“growing pressure on young women to consent to violent, dangerous and demeaning acts”,
such as strangulation, most likely
“due to the widespread availability…and use of extreme pornography.”
Without proper training from the Judicial College, it is easy to see how the defence could be used to lead to an acquittal.
Very often, perhaps always, the victim will have consented to sex in the first place. She may on a previous occasion have consented to strangulation or something like it under duress or a desire to please, and by the time she reports it to the police, she may not have very strong evidence of physical injury. We know from precedent, such as the Samuel Price case in 2015 on very similar facts, that her history will be used against her in evidence and will be relevant. Judicial training is imperative so that a case founded on these facts is not destined to fail.
I would also like to associate myself with colleagues’ remarks about the sadness of the passing of His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, our dear colleague Dame Cheryl Gillan and of course Baroness Shirley Williams in the other place, and I send my sincere condolences to their families and friends.
I will be supporting the Lords amendments to this important Bill tonight. That we should need a Domestic Abuse Bill is a sad indictment of our society, but the facts speak for themselves. In England and Wales, two women a week will die at the hands of their partner, ex-partner or a family member. Yes, domestic abuse affects men as well, but most abuse is directed at women. Seventy-three years on from the commitment to universal human rights, which declared that
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”—
that women are equal to men—our fundamental rights to life are being denied by too many.
This violence against women and girls in a domestic or wider setting has context. For some, girl babies are seen as less important than boy babies, and daughters who are deemed to have shamed their families are punished, sometimes fatally. Too many still see their wives and daughters as chattels, and too many justify rape on how women dress. Our right to an education, to marry whom we wish, to work in whatever job we wish—limited only by our abilities, not by prejudice and discrimination—and to be paid equally for that work still elude us. If we want to stop violence against women, including in the home, we need a cultural change. Society needs to stop paying lip service to women’s rights and to treat women equally in every aspect of life, and this culture change requires leadership.
In addition to the cultural context, if we are going to try to prevent domestic abuse, we also need to recognise its drivers, including socioeconomic conditions. Yesterday, at the Work and Pensions Committee, we heard evidence that, although domestic abuse happens in all walks of life, being under financial pressure is associated with an increased risk of abuse. Poverty cannot be decoupled from abuse; it is both a cause and a consequence.
The lack of provision in the Bill to address wider cultural issues and the socioeconomic context associated with abuse were discussed at a recent Oldham roundtable looking at the impacts of covid on domestic abuse over the last year. In addition to these gaps, I noted with some concern that the detection of abuse at community level did not translate into incidents reported to the police. Reflecting national patterns during the first lockdown in Oldham, the average number of cases at MARAC doubled every fortnight and the numbers of children on child protection plans following domestic abuse concerns increased by 41%, but this was not reflected in the numbers of domestic abuse incidents reported to the police, which has remained fairly static at about 400 a month. This obviously suggests that domestic abuse has been under-reported and that there is an increased problem of hidden abuse, as colleagues have been discussing as we have been going along.
The concerns raised in Oldham about the provisions in the Bill were particularly related to the issues, first, of victims with complex needs; secondly, of victims with no recourse to public funds; and finally, of the practical implementation of the Bill and its funding mechanisms. On victims with complex needs, including disabled people or people with a mental health condition, there were concerns, on top of the shortage of refuge places ordinarily, about the new duty to support a victim in safe accommodation and the availability of appropriately adapted or supported safe accommodation. Basically, there are not enough places. I would also like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and other colleagues who have been raising the disappointment regarding the Government’s position on abuse of disabled women by their carers and the lack of the support for the Lords amendments on this, which we think is very short-sighted.
I also echo colleagues’ remarks concerning the Lords amendments to address the lack of support for women with no recourse to public funds—predominantly but not exclusively migrant women. Currently, the destitution domestic violence concession scheme is a lengthy and bureaucratic process, leaving these women in limbo, often without access to the support they need, and we need to change that.
On the practicalities of implementing the Bill, there are concerns that the timescales for local authorities will be challenging in the context of an ongoing pandemic, particularly in regard to the requirements to have local strategies in place by August and to spend budget allocations by April 2022. Similarly, there is concern that funding will be skewed towards services around the narrowly defined duty for local authorities, at the expense of other essential support services, and that needs to be addressed. Given the timescales, local authorities will need to commit funding in advance of the strategic framework being ready, and they may not be able to spend the full allocation within this year. I hope that the Minister will also be able to address those remarks in her closing statement.
The Bill is a good move forward, but supporting the Lords amendments could make it even stronger, and I hope colleagues will support it.
I, too, would like to pay tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan. She gave me and so many others much support and encouragement on our journeys to this place, and she is an inspiration to us all.
It is a privilege to speak in this important debate, and it was an honour to sit on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee last year. I commend Ministers and Members on both sides of the House for the hard work behind the Bill. As we focus on the recent Lords amendments to the Bill, it is important that we remember that we are debating the finer detail of a Bill that will, as it already stands, deliver a radical change to the way that domestic abuse is defined and legislated against.
Not only does the Bill extend the definition of domestic abuse to include coercive and controlling behaviour, but it extends the definition of those who suffer to include children. For thousands of adults in the UK, the abuse they witnessed as a child will have had a profound and long-lasting effect. Many suffer deep trauma from the verbal, emotional and financial abuse they witnessed as children, which was perpetrated on and by the people they trusted to be their primary carers.
What we see and experience at an early age forms the basis of our future expectations, our own patterns of behaviour, and our health and wellbeing outcomes. It is devastating, therefore, to be exposed to any kind of abuse, including controlling and coercive behaviour, in our formative years. Studies have shown that children who witness domestic abuse often have the same poor life outcomes as those who are actually abused. They have the same likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder as soldiers returning from war. They are also more likely to experience stress-related physical illnesses and mental health problems throughout their lives, and they are more likely to exhibit health-damaging behaviours such as smoking and drug-taking. Crucially, they are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide.
Charities such as Gorwel in my constituency see those issues time and time again. In addition to providing refuges and support for men and women who are direct victims of domestic abuse, it offers specialist provision for children and young people who are dealing with the effects of domestic abuse. However, it can only do so much. As a result of the Bill broadening the definition of domestic abuse, we can improve the lives of not just the children of today but the adults of tomorrow. That is why the Bill is so important and why I commend the hard work that has gone into ensuring that it is fit for purpose and serves the needs of the adults and children of the UK.
The Domestic Abuse Bill provides an opportunity to deliver transformational change in tackling domestic abuse and violence, and many of the Lords amendments, which I wish to support today, strengthen it considerably.
Sadly, domestic abuse and violence remain endemic in this country, while unmet need remains a problem. Services have suffered under austerity, and one in six refuges in the UK have closed since 2010, while demand has increased, especially during the pandemic. Welsh Women’s Aid has shown that there has been a 32% increase in referrals to community-based support in the last year. Having worked in women’s refuges and with the victims of domestic abuse, I have witnessed the devasting impact this has on people’s lives—on women of all ages and backgrounds, on their children, and on families, friends and communities. I have seen how severe funding constraints hamper the development of effective services. I pay tribute to the excellent work carried out by Women’s Aid in my constituency, despite these challenges.
I strongly support Lords amendment 40, which would allow immigrants without leave to remain in the UK to safely report domestic abuse without the threat of immigration control. This amendment is crucial in order to overcome the reluctance and fear that migrant women have to access services. I also support Lords amendment 41, which would grant these survivors temporary leave to remain and access to public funds while they flee abuse and resolve their immigration status, and Lords amendment 43, which would require that all victims of domestic abuse receive equally effective protection and support, regardless of their status, including migrants and groups sharing a protected characteristic status, such as older or younger victims, disabled people, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ victims. The provision is drafted in line with article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention, which the Government are committed to ratifying.
I am also pleased to support Lords amendments 47 and 48, which acknowledge the authority of the Senedd in Wales and prevent the Secretary of State from undermining the devolution agreements. I wish to make a further reference to the situation in Wales, as I feel Wales can be held up as a beacon of good practice. We already have the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015 in place, and it was accompanied by a national strategy in 2016. Together, they set out measures to improve prevention, protection and the provision of support, to tackle domestic abuse, taking a multi-agency and collaborative approach. So I respectfully suggest that yet again Wales is ahead of the game and England can learn from us. However, the good work already done is hampered by a decade of cuts from central Government. Women’s Aid estimates that £393 million is needed for domestic abuse services annually. We need secure, sustainable, long-term funding from central Government, and this includes reversing the 41% real-terms cut in legal aid expenditure on civil domestic violence cases since 2012. Therefore, alongside this Bill and these Lords amendments, I call for those resources to be made available, so that the effective protection and support is available to all victims of domestic abuse.
May I again associate myself with the remarks about the passing of Prince Philip and of our wonderful colleague Cheryl Gillan?
This Bill was announced four years ago, and two generations later—sorry, two general elections later; it feels like two generations— we are on the cusp of it going on to the statute book. It is important to think about the time and the perspective, and to try to understand how the Bill’s evolution reflects the very much broader way society now understands the many forms of violence against women. Although I completely agree with the Minister that we cannot dilute the focus of this Bill from that specifically about domestic violence, and we are right to resist Lords amendments 1 to 3 to expand the application of the Bill to include paid and unpaid carers, we need to acknowledge that the Bill is not the same as it started out and that that is because of how we have seen and been appalled by the way in which violence affects women’s lives.
We have an opportunity in this Bill to ensure that women and girls know that they do not have to suffer abusive behaviour without having the support of the criminal justice system, but we also need the Government to make sure that there is consistency across all elements of Government policy in this respect; when it comes to schools, online and workplaces, we have to make sure that Government strategy reflects that there is no place anywhere in our society for abuse and violence against women. I hope that the Minister, whom I know feels this as strongly as I do, will make sure that this is reflected in the new strategy that she puts forward for the Government in the coming months, because at the moment there are inconsistencies there and that is confusing and undermining for women.
I welcome the approach that the Government and particularly the Minister have taken and the spirit of collaboration and co-operation across the House, which is important on an issue such as this. This Bill is not about what the Conservative or Labour party thinks; it is about what society thinks about women’s roles. That is hugely important when it comes to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) said about how the Bill will only be of benefit if the police and judiciary put it into practice. In demonstrating that this is an issue that society feels strongly about and that transcends individual party interests, we demonstrate that what they have to embed, not just in their training systems but in their culture and ethos, is that violence against women is not acceptable in our society.
I commend the co-operative approach that the Government have taken, which I certainly saw when I chaired the Joint Committee scrutinising the Bill—which now feels like a lifetime ago. Indeed, the Government addressed almost all the Committee’s recommendations. In considering the more than 80 amendments today, we should not forget how far the Bill has taken us in making the culture change that we need to see, through establishing a commissioner, having the definition, stopping cross-examination by perpetrators and providing access to special measures. These things cannot be taken for granted, which is why we need to get the Bill on the statute book in its own right. We need those things to start to happen, rather than just continuing to talk about them. That is why I hope this is the last debate we have on the Bill.
I wish to speak in favour of two amendments that the Government are taking on board today. The first is Lords amendment 35, which concerns the disclosure of private intimate images. As other hon. and right hon. Members have said, it recognises a crime—the threat to publish private and intimate images—that has an appalling impact on those affected. I pay tribute to Refuge and its “The Naked Threat” campaign, but let us ponder what my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Ruth Edwards) said. She reminded us that one in seven women have experienced a threat to share an image in this way.
I fear that this will only become an increasing problem, because we have failed to tell young people that they should not share intimate images of themselves—that it is against the law and that they might never be able to remove them from the internet for the rest of their lives. We have failed to tell them that. In speaking in support of Lords amendment 35, I also urge the Minister to ensure that we tell young people, in our newly mandatory sex and relationship education—which, after 20 years of debate, has been on the statute book effectively since last September—that they cannot share such images. It is against the law and is not a normal part of growing up. We have still not landed that message.
My hon. Friend’s constituent Natasha’s story was from an adult’s perspective, but there will be hundreds and thousands of young women, and men, listening to this debate who are also living in fear of intimate images being released that they know that others have. This is a ticking time bomb and something that I hope my hon. Friend on the Front Bench and other Ministers will address even more directly in the online harms Bill and in response to the Law Commission’s long overdue consultation on intimate image abuse, which will look not only at the publication of such images but at issues such as cyber-flashing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) mentioned.
The other amendment that I want briefly to speak in support of is Lords amendment 36, which concerns non-fatal strangulation. As Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee and the Joint Committee on the Bill, I have heard various evidence from young people under the age of 18 about how strangulation had become a routine part of their sexual experiences. I do not think we can overestimate the seriousness of this issue at all. I go back to my message to the Minister about telling young people that it is unlawful. Strangulation, simulated strangulation or semi-strangulation is not part of a normal loving relationship. If we do not tell young people that and they still have considerable access to extreme pornography, then we cannot expect anything to happen with regard to tackling the aggression rather than simply punishing the offenders.
The one hanging thread that remains from our Joint Committee inquiry into and scrutiny of the Bill is the individuals who have no recourse to public funds. That was not addressed at all when we scrutinised the Bill in Committee and it is, correctly, an issue we need to debate today. We need to get it right, and I just want to press the Minister a little further on it. No one wants to create a system that has the unintended consequence for migrant women of potentially putting them into a situation where they could be subject to further abuse as a result of the way our system of support works.
When we took evidence, the Joint Committee saw that there were very strong views on both sides on the support that would be in place for migrant women in particular. We took very strong evidence that said that a complete firewall was not always in the best interests of data and not always in the best interests of victims. We made a recommendation that there should be a much more robust Home Office policy on the use of firewalls and data in separating policy and practice with regard to support on immigration control.
The Minister has introduced a way forward on that with the pilot scheme she announced, the support for migrant victims scheme, but I feel we need more detail. We need to understand what will happen as a result of the pilot. Will £1.5 million be sufficient funding for the number of women who find themselves in a situation where they are suffering domestic abuse yet have no recourse to support? What metrics will be used to determine whether the pilot has been successful? How will it be rolled out? It is there to find more information, because the Government felt there was insufficient evidence to shape a policy in this area, but we really need to see from the Government more details about how the scheme, when it ends in 12 months’ time, will be evaluated and then taken forward. We cannot allow ourselves to be continually in the situation where we do not know how to put in place a long-term scheme to support migrant women who find themselves in this situation. I hope the Minister might at least be able to indicate today when we can expect to get more information and more detail. Maybe she could provide a briefing to those of us who follow these issues very closely.
In conclusion, the Bill was framed as a gateway to the ratification of the Istanbul convention. That is important because, as one hon. Member mentioned, we need to get ratification of the Istanbul convention. I hope that once the Bill goes on to the statute book that is what will happen—again, maybe the Minister will want to comment on that. The Bill is another clear sign of the Government’s commitment to helping to tackle the culture of violence towards women in this country, but there is much more to do, especially in the online world, and we need to keep going with our efforts to stop violence against girls and women around the world. We need to make sure we keep our focus on this very significant issue. By having this debate in the House of Commons today, we are showing that abuse is no longer something that will be tolerated in this country and that there is no place for violence against women at all. With this Bill, we will be adding yet another important piece of legislation to the statute books to ensure that women are safer in their day-to-day lives in our country.
I echo colleagues’ comments and put on the record that my thoughts are with the royal family and the friends and family of Dame Cheryl Gillan at this difficult time.
It is crystal clear that the Bill on the whole is extremely welcome. The strength of feeling across the country is that it has genuine potential to transform lives. It was a privilege to sit on the Bill Committee last year and I am proud of just how far the Bill in its current form has come.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse, I welcome with open arms the Government’s recent short-term investments in perpetrator work. What remains crucial, however, is for the Government to publish a comprehensive perpetrator strategy that addresses all the gaps identified in the debate in the other place. That strategy must be driven by the data.
At the moment, with current practices, we have no real idea about the true extent of the number of women losing their lives at the hands of a known perpetrator. Lords amendment 42 is utterly crucial if we are to get a real assessment of the extent of the issue. By forcing the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers within one year of the Domestic Abuse Bill being passed, we will be able to improve the identification, assessment and management of perpetrators to ensure a more co-ordinated approach to data collection across England and Wales.
That is critical to tackling domestic abuse in all its forms. Without an accurate picture, it is undeniable that cases will continue to fall through the net. It is utterly shameful that we live in a country where one woman is killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member every three days. Many of these perpetrators of violence have a history of abuse.
A multi-agency approach to managing risk is central to our ability to getting to grips with this crisis. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, only a few weeks ago, peers in the other place overwhelmingly voted for the plan to add convicted serial domestic abusers and stalkers to a high-risk offenders register. There is an obvious need and a desire for police forces and specialist agencies to have the tools to allow them to have a cohesive approach to preventing perpetrators from offending again, but also to protect victims going forward. Lords amendment 42, passed in the Lords, has the incredible potential to do just that, yet today Ministers are calling on MPs to vote to drop those plans.
Sadly, we all know the horrendous stories, we have all seen the headlines and we all know those women. The hard truth is that simply too often women are losing their lives at the hands of a perpetrator who has a history of abusive behaviour. That is an utterly shameful reality. I find it incomprehensible that the Government are failing to support action against serial abusers, who often pose the most serious risk of violence to women and girls.
There is no proper system for identifying these perpetrators, no system to monitor them and no system to centralise vital data that can assist in managing the risks and odds of abuse occurring when making initial risk assessments. I struggle to see how that can still be the case when we have known for years just how deeply rooted violence against women and girls and domestic abuse are in this country.
I pay tribute to campaigners such as Laura Richards, a former violent crime analyst for the Met police and the founder of the Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service. She has been fighting for legislation covering monitoring arrangements for serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators for years, and this is our chance to make that happen.
Domestic abuse is not inevitable, it is not something new and it is possible to prevent. Lords amendment 42 is a vital step forward, yet I find myself today facing a Government who just do not seem to get it. The Minister made some interesting remarks on the amendment in her opening contribution. She mentioned that the Government have concerns about the complexities of adding to the existing multi-agency public protection arrangements, but surely she must recognise that, if the Government’s hesitancy is about logistical challenges, as opposed to statutory frameworks, that opens some important questions about the Government’s ability to apply seriously the intricacies of the Bill in practice.
I am grateful for the honest assessment in recognising that there is more that the Home Office can do to improve arrangements, but I urge MPs to vote to keep Lords amendment 42 in the Bill and not to agree with the Government motion to reject the amendment.
This is a very important Bill. In April last year, I made my maiden speech during the Bill’s Second Reading debate and talked about my passion for supporting those who need it the most. Many Members from different parties have explained how far the Bill has come over the years, and it is important that changes have been made. I am proud to support the Bill as it will protect and give new rights to victims.
The Minister said in Committee that more than 2.4 million people are not safe in their own home and are subjected to scarring abuse. That is a huge figure and I am glad that the Government have responded to the voices of victims with this Bill, which is set to transform millions of lives. I thank everybody who has shared their personal experiences and contributed to the Bill.
Before I go any further, I wish to acknowledge the work of my local victim support services in Hyndburn police and the Hyndburn and Ribble Valley domestic violence team. These organisations have given a lifeline to domestic abuse victims in my constituency, as statistics continue to show the prevalence of domestic violence in households across the country. I speak regularly to Debbie who runs the Emily Davison Centre in my constituency. She has told me some harrowing stories and how covid has exasperated domestic abuse in homes. The centre has had to completely adapt the services that it provides and it is now much more about wraparound care.
I agree with the sentiments behinds all the Lords amendments, and I am pleased to see that the Government have accepted amendments such as Lords amendment 36 and Lords amendment 35, on what we know as revenge porn and the sharing of private images. Just the thought of being in that position, especially in professional positions—we will have seen and heard about that. It is hard to think that somebody could share an image and then everything that a person has worked for is gone, due to that one action by somebody who, in a lot of cases, that person will have previously loved, thinking it would never happen to them.
I welcome the Minister’s comments about the strategy review and the need for reform, and I welcome the support scheme for migrant victims, although, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), I would like the Minister to address specifically what it will look like. That is important for us all.
The Bill goes beyond previous definitions of domestic abuse and highlights the harrowing impact of emotional and coercive abuse. The definition is in place for victims who felt that their concerns were not legitimate when they were criticised by their partner and who were made to believe that the problem was always their fault. The Bill reinforces the rights of victims and shows perpetrators that they cannot get away with physical or emotional abuse anymore. As I have said previously, we are now joining together to say that it is absolutely not okay.
I got into politics to help those who have no voice and this landmark Bill does just that. I am proud of the difference that the Government are making, with this Bill, to the lives of people across the UK, and I am proud of the cross-party support that we have seen as we have moved through all its stages. I have not been around for all the Bill’s stages, but I have seen that that support has done tremendous work in making the Bill what it is today.
I speak in support of the amendments passed by the Lords that seek to protect those suffering from all forms of domestic abuse, regardless of factors such as their age and immigration status. The no-recourse-to-public-funds condition means that migrant victims face an increased risk of abuse, with limited support services to which to turn. That is why I support the Lords amendments that would ensure that support is provided to people regardless of their immigration status.
Today, the Minister announced £1.5 million of funds for an immediate-support programme targeted at migrant women. She mentioned data collection for the programme in order to potentially inform a more sustainable future programme. Many migrant victims will be asking whether they should come forward to receive help from this Government-funded programme; what kind of data on the support they receive will be collected; and whether the risk of immigration enforcement and deportation is the same, if not higher.
Furthermore, questions remain as to what assurances there will be that the pilot will believe migrant women’s experiences of abuse and that they will not be seen through a lens of suspicion. Many are perceived as exaggerating their experiences of abuse and even accused of lying to be granted indefinite leave to remain. All this is against the backdrop of an increasingly inaccessible and restrictive immigration system.
If we can recognise that abusers threaten to inform authorities and exploit fears of deportation, why cannot we recognise the fear that victims have in coming forward to seek help? Perpetrators use such systems to perpetuate their control. The HMICFRS, the College of Policing and the Independent Office for Police Conduct said only last year that police forces should restrict the sharing of information about vulnerable victims of crime, such as in cases of domestic abuse, with immigration enforcement, because the current system has been causing significant harm to the public. The Government need to address that now, because addressing this means recognising migrant victims for the victims that they are where they are.
It is positive that there is now a recognition that the harm caused by domestic abuse is far-reaching and that, in order for us to fight it, there must be a co-ordinated response across a variety of Government Departments. I do welcome the Government accepting amendments on areas such as the prohibition of charging for GP letters, but these concessions must be seen in the context of the Government continuing to strip away provision after provision, benefit after benefit, community space after community space, so support for those in need continues to weaken.
As chair of the all-party group on domestic violence and abuse, I pay tribute to the tireless work of those who have gone before me, my predecessor in the chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), and the many campaigners who have fought with such bravery and determination to stand up against domestic abuse and injustice, empowering people who, for too long, have had no voice, with support and rights—people like myself. As a survivor of domestic abuse, I cannot over-emphasise how, quite literally, life changing and life saving this support and solidarity can be. That is why it has truly been a privilege to be able to stand in this House and participate in the process of making the protections in this groundbreaking piece of legislation a reality. We can never stop our work in this area until no one has to go through what I have and what so many of us continue to be subjected to. This is why the amendments passed by this House, and by the House of Lords in particular, are so vital. Accordingly, I really urge the House to do the right thing today.
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to follow two moving and passionate speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum). But can I first pay tribute to three former colleagues who have so recently died? Earlier this week we paid our tributes to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, but, today, I want to pay tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan, the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, and the former hon. Members for East Surrey, Peter Ainsworth, and for West Gloucestershire, Paul Marland. All three were, in their own ways, colleagues of the greatest fun and compassion in doing serious work.
Dame Cheryl in particular I want to thank for the advice she gave me when I joined our party board. Peter Ainsworth, who I have known since university, was a man of wide talents who played an important role after leaving this place in the Big Lottery and the Churches Conservation Trust. He was the only member of the shadow Cabinet to vote against the Iraq war. Paul Marland, who was the first Conservative MP for West Gloucestershire and represented that constituency, which neighbours my constituency of Gloucester, for 18 years should give everybody who aspires to be in politics the belief that, if you can keep trying, you will succeed, for he succeeded at the fourth attempt.
Turning now to this incredibly important Bill, the Domestic Abuse Bill, I cannot help but note today the number of speakers who have recognised, first, the importance of the Bill and, secondly, that the Bill has got better, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spelled out clearly. It is worth recognising how long work on this Bill has gone on for. My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) briefly suggested that the work first started two generations ago, rather than two general elections ago, which is what she meant. It probably feels like that for the Ministers and those on the Bill Committee who have been involved. It has been a huge amount of work.
I pay particular tribute to the two Ministers who have been most closely involved—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk)—but there have been others too. I pay tribute to all those involved, on both sides of the House, for the importance of what they are doing.
It is important that men speak in this debate too. There is a danger of people thinking that the Domestic Abuse Bill is only about women and that only women should speak. It is incredibly important that those of us who are very conscious of domestic abuse issues should speak, and that constituents and people in our own offices and families who have had problems and been victims of domestic abuse can be represented by men on this issue as well as by female Members.
There is, of course, a hazard of a Bill such as this—that it might attract all sorts of other things that are not strictly to do with domestic abuse. One Member referred to the fact that there was nothing on stalking; another referred to issues about abuse by carers of people with disabilities. Those are incredibly important issues, but they are not within the scope of the Bill.
However, as we have heard today, amendments have been made that definitely improve the Bill. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) made an important point about what a difference Lords amendment 36, on non-fatal strangulation, will make. Measures have been taken to ban the rough sex defence, and against revenge pornography—an offence unknown when I left university but one very much known to my children as they leave university.
Those measures are incredibly welcome, as are new protections for children, and the important measure to protect victims of domestic abuse after the perpetrator left the shared home. I know of one case where a court order has banned someone from any contact with his previous partner, but they live in the same part of Gloucestershire, where there is only one supermarket. Almost inevitably, there is a risk of them bumping into each other in that place. It is very difficult to implement a court order of that kind in some places.
The other thing the Government should be given credit for is the business of reopening the consultation in the wake of the horrific death of Sarah Everard. The huge number of contributions to that consultation, and the number of people who had stories that they wanted to share, were surely a reminder to us all of how important the issue of domestic abuse is. I think we will all have benefited from understanding the strength of public feeling on this issue.
There are lots of good things here. There are two things, however, that I would very much like the Minister, when she winds up the debate, to respond to. The first is on Lords amendment 41, which I think I am right in saying was originally tabled in their lordships’ House as amendment 70 in the name of Bishop Rachel of Gloucester. There are very few times when I remotely wish to disagree with my own bishop, who is making a huge difference to her diocese, but on this, I am led to believe by the Minister that the pilot projects that have started will be rolled out further across the country, and that there is a clear intent—both in the Bill and in the Departments involved—that anyone who suffers domestic abuse, whatever their immigration status, will be protected and given all the support that is needed, but that that is separate from the issue of whether someone has the right to remain. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm what will happen to the pilot projects.
Secondly, on amendment 42, several speakers today—including, I believe, the shadow Minister—referred to the tragic death of young hairdresser Hollie Gazzard in my constituency some years ago: a case about which I know more than I ever imagined. I managed to check with her father, Nick Gazzard, who now runs the Hollie Gazzard Trust, and he believes there is a need for a separate register for serial offenders to make sure that prolific and serious abusers are visible to various organisations.
I will have a separate consultation with Nick Gazzard about this, because I think it is perfectly possible—the Minister for Crime and Policing is in his place on the Front Bench and may be able to comment on this—for police constabularies to make sure that they add the names of serial or prolific domestic abuse offenders to the risk offender list and that it is not necessarily essential to have a separate list. It is vital to try to address this point, which Nick Gazzard has made in the wake of the tragic murder of his daughter: various organisations must be able to see the names of serial high-risk offenders to try to make sure that there are fewer incidents in future. I hope the Minister will comment on that at the end of the debate.
Let me finish by saying that if one hazard of all legislation is that all sorts of other issues are laden on to a specific Bill, another is that a Bill can be lost at the end of a parliamentary Session. We have heard today from a number of speakers on the Opposition Benches about how good this Bill largely is: the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) specifically described it as a good Bill and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) acknowledged how far the Bill has come. It would be an absolute tragedy if at this late stage of the Parliament the Bill were lost.
I therefore urge Opposition Members, both in this and their lordships’ House, who approve of much, if not all, of what is in the Bill already, to make sure that it is not lost. That would let down victims who can see hope and would give comfort only to perpetrators—exactly what we would not wish to see. I will support the Bill and I encourage all Members to do so.
Diolch yn fawr Madam Ddirprwy Lefarydd. I, too, would be very grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan. She was of course a former Secretary of State for Wales, and when I first arrived in the House in 2015 I personally found her very keen and very supportive of cross-party working. It was a pleasure and honour to work with her.
I am, of course, pleased that this vital legislation has nearly completed its passage through the House and the other place. It has been an extremely interesting learning experience over two general elections for me as well, with the Joint Committees working on this. The issue of domestic violence has come into sharp focus in the public mind following the deaths of Sarah Everard, Wenjing Lin and others, and it is right to acknowledge that the Bill represents a positive step forward in addressing the deep-rooted reality of domestic violence in society.
First, I want to welcome the Government’s support for a number of Lords amendments—including especially Lords amendment 32, which seeks to reduce coercive control and vexatious activities in the family courts. I am glad to say I was able to raise this issue in my Courts (Abuse of Process) Bill back in 2017.
As for the rest of the amendments, a key concern of mine and many others has already been mentioned today: the monitoring of offenders and the effectiveness of the multi-agency public protection arrangements. I tabled an early amendment for a domestic abuse register and am pleased that Lords amendment 42 follows in the same vein. As Baroness Brinton said in the other place about MAPPA, there is some very good practice but it is not consistent because the agencies are not being forced to work together. The impact that is having on victims is appalling.
The Government need to evidence how exactly their changes to MAPPA guidance will be qualitatively different from what came about before. These figures are important. At present, just 0.4% of cases fall into category 3 of MAPPA—that is, on average, just 330 offenders a year, and the numbers have fallen by 48% since 2010. MAPPA category 3 can cover domestic offenders, yet it does not, at present, does it? The optimistic statement that data sharing will wave a magic wand and make this fit for purpose, especially after 11 years of austerity justice, is quite difficult to credit on face value.
The Government have promised that changes in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will clarify and extend the information-sharing powers of agencies subject to MAPPA. It is crucial that these measures complement rather than run counter to Senedd legislation in Wales. For example, how will updated information-sharing powers interact with devolved services in education and housing—areas of policy that should play a key role in the prevention agenda?
The Home Secretary had previously hinted that a register could be implemented. Can the Minister commit to reporting back to this House with data about how stalking and domestic abuse offenders will be increasingly monitored through MAPPA, and also commit to evaluating the effectiveness of this route? We have all learned too much to trust implicitly a system that has failed so many victims so comprehensively in the past.
On domestic abuse protection orders, I echo Welsh Women’s Aid’s call for clarity on the delivery of DAPOs for Wales. Further clarity on resourcing and guidance for both devolved and non-devolved areas are important, as the jagged edge of justice in action in Wales needs greater scrutiny—until, of course, such matters are coherently devolved. How will DAPOs be resourced? What guidance on resourcing will there be for commissioners both devolved and non-devolved, and how will the UK Government work with the Welsh Government on the application of DAPOs?
I strongly support Lords amendments 40, 41 and 43, which offer protections for migrant women who have suffered domestic abuse, given that they face additional, complex, interlocking barriers that can shut them out of safety. The Government argue that the existing asylum system can offer support to migrant victims, but in reality this is not often the case, and the Home Secretary’s plans for changes to the asylum system will make it harder for migrant victims to access support and fair treatment if they arrive in the UK by non-official means.
This flies in the face of the Istanbul convention, which requires that survivors of violence against women and girls can access protection irrespective of their immigration status. My party wants Wales to be a nation of sanctuary for those fleeing abuse and persecution and for us to be party to implementing the Istanbul convention in full. Sadly, however, the Government’s position at present is a barrier to these ambitions.
I urge the Government to support the Lords amendments and enact the ambitious and transformational change needed to shift the focus and balance in favour of the needs and welfare of victims, so that we can consign domestic abuse to the history books across the UK.
I support this Bill because it is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of those affected by domestic abuse. We all recognise that enormous progress has been made in the way we treat victims and their families, and also perpetrators, and the Bill sets out positive steps and more progress that we plan to make. A lot of the debate about the amendments before the House reflects a desire for practical outcomes that Members want to see, yet I accept the Government’s position that many of these are often better achieved through non-legislative means.
The response to domestic abuse as experienced by victims, families and perpetrators comes from a local partnership typically led by our councils but involving the police and the NHS. It is through these organisations that we make the difference that we all want to see. Ensuring that we learn from their experience and that we resource them properly to do the job we expect of them is critical. I pay tribute to the work done by former Hillingdon councillor Mary O’Connor, serving Hillingdon councillors Jane Palmer and Janet Gardner, and former safeguarding board chair Stephen Ashley to improve the way in which domestic abuse is managed in my constituency. They led the way in training people to identify victims of modern slavery and in uncovering complex forms of abuse, including coercive control. They have created a situation for my constituents where there is a local safe space night-time economy, with more than 40 businesses and hundreds of staff in different organisations trained in identifying the signs of risk and knowing how to support people. Vitally, they have ensured that this learning is shared at a national level, to help other places transform their approach too.
I conclude by urging Ministers to take a joined-up approach across Government. The sentiments that have been expressed in the debate need to find a practical expression at a local level. Things such as refuge space, especially where children need a place in a refuge as well, and the availability of programmes to local agencies that will target perpetrators, seeking to turn that situation around, all involve appropriate resourcing across multiple Departments and a high degree of focus.
Furthermore, we need to ensure that guidance on safeguarding such as that issued by the Department for Education in the document “Working together to safeguard children” is fully fit for purpose and includes organisations such as schools, which are often the first to come across the warning signs that someone is a victim of domestic abuse or that domestic abuse is present in a household but are not currently statutory partners in safeguarding. In the Minister’s response, I would be pleased to hear some clear assurance that that cross-Government focus and approach will feature as we take this legislation forward and implement it for the benefit of all our constituents.
I add my tribute to our late colleague Dame Cheryl Gillan.
I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (David Simmonds) said about the importance of the role of local councils in dealing with problems of abuse. Like a number of other Members, I want to support Lords amendments 41, 40 and 43 and to argue that a serious problem of perpetrator immunity needs to be grasped and tackled. I welcome what the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) had to say on this.
Lords amendment 41 was moved in the other place by the Bishop of Gloucester. It provides migrant victims of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds for no less than six months, having left the abuse and while applying to regularise their status. People are often surprised that a large number of law-abiding, hard-working families in the UK—often with children born here, and sometimes with children who are UK nationals—have an immigration status subject to no recourse to public funds.
For a victim of domestic abuse, having no recourse to public funds is catastrophic. Basic victim protections are not available. Only 5% of refuge vacancies are accessible because costs in a refuge are generally met through housing benefit, and people with no recourse to public funds cannot claim housing benefit. Women’s Aid points out that a woman with no recourse to public funds who, as a result, cannot stay in a refuge has to choose between homelessness or going back to their abuser.
I commend the important work of Southall Black Sisters in this area, which has been frequently referenced in the debate. It says:
“Many women are too scared to report their experiences to statutory agencies because they are wholly financially and otherwise dependent on their abusive spouses or partners, many of whom use women’s immigration status as a weapon of control and coercion.”
The denial of safety in these arrangements to migrant women is obviously bad for them, but it has other immensely damaging impacts as well. Above all, it creates impunity for perpetrators, who get free rein to go on and harm other women and children.
The Children Act 1989 requires local authorities to provide accommodation and financial support for some families with no recourse to public funds, but they often do not provide it, due to lack of resources or confusion about what exactly people with no recourse to public funds are entitled to. There is, in practice, a postcode lottery of support, so Southall Black Sisters often has to take legal action against councils that are not fulfilling their obligations to vulnerable women. That is no way to run a system of proper support.
The DV rule introduced in 2002, which has been mentioned in this debate, allows migrant women on spouse visas to apply for indefinite leave when their relationship breaks down due to violence. In 2012, a concession was introduced giving those applicants three months’ leave and access to limited benefits and temporary housing while their applications for indefinite leave are considered, but the concession does not apply to women with other kinds of visas, including those with student visas, work permit holders and domestic workers. Southall Black Sisters reports more and more women on those other kinds of visas with no recourse to public funds being turned away, including by refuges and domestic abuse services.
Women’s Aid found in its report “Nowhere to turn” that, over a year, two thirds of its users were ineligible for support because they had visas other than spouse visas. There is a 2019 study by the professor of development geography at King’s College London, which reported a survey of migrant victims of domestic violence, in which two thirds had been threatened by the perpetrator of the abuse that they would be deported if they reported it. The ability to make that threat credibly, which the current arrangements allow, maintains the awful climate of impunity that we have at the moment. The Government are right to recognise that abused migrant women with insecure status need immediate support and protection, but restricting it only to women with spouse visas perpetuates impunity for perpetrators, and that is in nobody’s interests except the perpetrators.
The Government have responded with the support for migrant victims fund pilot, which we have heard about, both to support survivors of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds and to help gather data to formulate policies eventually to support all migrant victims of domestic abuse. It is due to report next March, and I welcome the announcement that Southall Black Sisters will manage it, but it has been pointing out that there is already ample evidence. We do not need more evidence on this. The pilot and the Bishop of Gloucester pointed out what a small amount of funding it entails, compared with the scale of the problem, and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) highlighted that in his earlier intervention. The pilot must not be used to avoid addressing the problem and to carry on maintaining perpetrator impunity. We need the change in the law that amendment 41 would provide.
I want to put on the record my party’s condolences and thoughts about Dame Cheryl Gillan. I had the opportunity to speak alongside her, along with many others in this House, in many debates in the Chamber and in Westminster Hall. She had a particular interest in autism, which I have an interest in. I want to put on the record my condolences to her family, which I have conveyed by letter already.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak on this weighty, comprehensive and important issue. I begin by thanking the Government for the proposals to change the wider support for those suffering from domestic violence. I thank the Lords for their reasoned amendments, a few of which I will discuss in the short time available to me. In particular, I want to thank the Minister and the shadow Minister. The significant contributions from right hon. and hon. Members have really enhanced the debate on this Bill.
To illustrate the importance of getting this right, I wish to highlight that there are approximately 1.8 million people in Northern Ireland. In the year between October 2019 and October 2020, there were 32,000 reported incidents of domestic violence within our very small population. Of course, charities always tell us that the figure is much higher, when we consider how many incidents are unreported.
Coronavirus has affected us all over the past year and a bit. Heightened domestic abuse is another side-effect of this dreadful pandemic and the forced isolation that has come with it, so we need to get this Bill right, and that is why I am very grateful for the Lords amendments. For many victims, going to the police is the very last step in a long, harrowing journey of abuse. It is our responsibility to ensure that no one walks that journey alone.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is important that the police look at patterns of behaviour? I have often found that they look at these as isolated incidents—whether that is stalking, or whatever it is—rather than an actual pattern of behaviour?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), made that point very well in her introduction. If there is a pattern—other Members across the Chamber have referred to this—there is a need for the police to be aware of that.
In reading through the Lords amendments, I noted that Lords amendment 39, after clause 72, highlighted that there must a prohibition on charging for the provision of medical evidence of domestic abuse. This should go unsaid, yet I understand the rationale behind highlighting this.
That brought my mind to the fact that the Bar Council had asked for the financial income limit as it pertains to legal aid to be withdrawn. Many Members have referred to legal aid. Legal aid expenditure on domestic violence cases has been cut by 41% in real terms, and has been declining ever since, with a 51% reduction. At the same time, I believe sincerely that this decline in funding cannot be attributed to a reduction in need, because the figures tell us something different. They tell us that there has been a 49% increase in domestic violence cases in the courts since 2012. Again, the situation since the start of the pandemic indicates that cases and reporting are likely to continue to increase even more so, meaning that we can expect a continued increase in the number of cases in court, with the UN—we cannot ignore it—calling domestic violence a “shadow pandemic”. That is a massive issue, which we must try to look at. Money is often controlled by the abuser. In terms of legal aid, it is clear that the victim must never be put in a position whereby they halt proceedings due to the lack of legal aid support. Legal aid is therefore a really important issue to those who are subjected to domestic violence.
I welcome many of the amendments that have come forward, such as Lords amendment 6 to amend clause 33, highlighting the need for domestic abuse protection orders to include a requirement not to
“come within a specified distance of any other specified premises”—
such as workplaces or, for example, even places of worship. Those are ones that I would be aware of and that change in the law is so important. In my constituency, over the years, I have honestly been heartbroken and righteously angry about the tales of intimidation from an abuser towards a victim in safe places, such as their local church and their workplace, and it is past time that churches and other places can legally prevent access in an attempt to intimidate. This provision is therefore necessary and I trust that it will soon become law.
Another issue that has come to me in my constituency office relates to the technological age that we live in. It is always great to be able see photos of my grandchildren—I have two grandchildren who have been born in lockdown, and I have seen one because we were able to have our cluster at Christmas. I have not seen the other one up close, except in a video—one thing I do know is that he has red hair; I am not quite sure where the red hair came from, as it is certainly not from my side of the family, but obviously there is some a few generations back somewhere—but I look forward very much to that time. However, I am desperately aware that there is a very real, very difficult and very disturbing downside of the no-hassle digital picture age, and that relates to revenge porn using very personal images. Every Member has spoken about that and I will, too, because I feel really annoyed and angry about it.
I have watched as my office staff have consoled young ladies whose ex-partners have threatened to disclose images, and their devastation is so very real and heartbreaking. The staff have a sadness in their faces as they know that unless an image is posted, very little can be done under harassment or other general laws, yet the distress is real; it is palpable—it could touch you and cut you. This behaviour is clearly another example of threat and control. It is right and proper that it is addressed in the Bill and I wholeheartedly support Lords amendment 35, which seeks to clarify that it is not okay to threaten the release of these images—by anyone, male or female. Sometimes we must remind ourselves that the release of any personal image without consent can be emotionally damaging for any person, no matter how seemingly confident they may be. Personal images are just that—intensely personal. I welcome the amendment’s reaffirming that no one can have the right to release an image of a personal nature without consent.
To conclude—I said I would be quick, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is difficult for one Bill to cover all the facets of the support and help that is needed for domestic abuse victims, but we must seek to get this right and ensure that the law supports every victim and does not further traumatise. I thank the Minister and the Government for their sterling efforts to deliver a Domestic Abuse Bill that really can protect.
Home should be a place of love and safety, but for 2.3 million adult victims of domestic abuse, and for their children, it is not. We all want this abuse to stop, and we want victims to live peaceful, safe and happy lives, and as I have said many times at this Dispatch Box, that is why this Government are bringing forward the Domestic Abuse Bill. The continued passage of the Bill marks an important milestone in our shared endeavour across the House to provide better support and protection for the victims of domestic abuse and their children. It is the culmination of over three years of work, although I rather liked the slip of the tongue by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) when she said it felt like two generations. I pay tribute in particular to my right hon. Friend, who as chair of the Joint Committee, set in train much of the work that has happened in this place and the other place when the Bill was in draft form. I thank her sincerely.
I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for championing the Bill, both as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister, and now—eminently, if I may say so—from the Back Benches. I also thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed today. The Bill has been improved during the course of debate in both Houses. It was scrutinised properly and thoroughly by their lordships, whom I thank for their vital contributions. I do not know whether many other Bills have had a mere 86 amendments to them when they came back to this place. This is a sign of their lordships’ commitment. The Bill includes real measures to help victims of domestic abuse and, as we have heard, even beyond those relationships. It expressly recognises the harm and distress caused to victims by so-called revenge porn and threats to disclose such images.
The Bill also creates a new offence of non-fatal strangulation. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) did much in this place when the Bill was before us for scrutiny, along with the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), to campaign on the issues of rough sex and non-fatal strangulation. My hon. Friend asked me about consent in the amendment, and I want to try to clarify that in order to reassure people who may be watching. A valid defence of consent is available under the new offence only where the offence does not involve causing serious harm or where the perpetrator can show that they had not intended to cause serious harm or had not been reckless as to the serious harm caused. This provision reflects the current law as set out in R v. Brown and, indeed, in the rough sex clause that was passed earlier in the Bill’s progress. We have had to be, and tried to be, consistent with both of those provisions, and I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.
I have listened carefully to colleagues who have raised the issue of the management of perpetrators. This is absolutely critical. I have talked in the past about the evolution of our understanding of domestic abuse. We look back on the days of the 1970s when brave campaigners for Refuge and other organisations started setting up refuges and talking about domestic violence. Our understanding and our efforts to deal with this have obviously moved absolute milestones in the decades since then, but one of the challenges that we will certainly be looking to address in the domestic abuse strategy is the management of perpetrators. I am delighted that we are now investing unprecedented amounts in perpetrator programmes, as announced in the Budget, because we have to prevent perpetrators from committing harm in the first place. Again, let me emphasise that the reason we find ourselves unable to accept that Lords amendment is that creating a separate category as envisaged in the Lords amendment does not get away from the need for the MAPPA authorities to make a judgment in individual cases as to whether a particular offender should be managed under the framework. I want to be clear that three categories exist in MAPPA. Category 1 covers registered sexual offenders. Category 2 covers any violent offender or other sexual offenders convicted of offences under schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and sentenced to more than 12 months’ imprisonment. Category 3 covers any other dangerous offender. So on the sorts of horrific examples we have been hearing about, if there are convictions in the background of those offenders, these categories would cover some of the convictions that have been described. I say that, but I hope again that colleagues have appreciated that I have been very clear that there must be improvements in how the system works on the ground. That is why we have announced—we went into a little more detail in the “Dear colleague” letter—that we are going to revisit and refresh all relevant chapters of the MAPPA statutory guidance so as to include sections on domestic abuse, to ensure that agencies are taking steps to identify perpetrators whose risk requires active multi-agency management. We are ensuring that cases of domestic abuse perpetrators captured under categories 1 and 2 are included in the threshold guidance that is being developed. We will issue an HM Prison and Probation Service policy framework setting out clear expectations of the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1. This work on this new system, the multi-agency public protection system, will have a much greater functionality than existing systems, including ViSOR, enabling criminal justice agencies to share information efficiently and to improve risk assessment and management of MAPPA nominals. That is what will address the very understandable concerns that colleagues have raised in this debate.
I come to the final point I wish to touch upon, and I hope colleagues will understand why I am going to be quick. Hon. Members have raised questions and concerns about the issue of judicial training. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead and my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) set out the problems with the way in which Lords amendment 33 seeks to achieve that laudable aim, which we all agree with, of ensuring that the judiciary and magistrates must be trained well and, importantly, trained regularly. Referring back to the comments I was making earlier about the progress that has been made in the past few decades, let me say that, by definition, our understanding has grown, even, as some have said, during the passage of this Bill. Of course, that knowledge must continue to be deployed and trained. Domestic abuse is covered in all family law courses run by the Judicial College, and the debates held in the other place and in this place will I know—I have faith—have been watched and listened to very carefully by the President of the family court and others.
I admire the hon. Lady’s faith, but I would like something more than faith. The triumph of hope over experience will, I fear, leave us in the exact same position with the exact same problems. Faith is well and good—I have it in spades—but I would like to know about a monitoring process that will be done to review how well people are trained and how well this is working.
I am happy to help the hon. Lady. As I said in my opening remarks, the President of the Family Division has indicated that he will consider making recommendations regarding training, taking into account this Bill, the harm panel report, which, as she knows, is critical to the Ministry of Justice’s concerns in this area and the four recent Court of Appeal judgments in domestic abuse cases. I would argue that there is a real understanding among our independent judiciary of the need to make sure that they are equipped to ensure that justice is delivered—and delivered well—in the courtrooms over which they preside.
In summing up, let me reflect on the course of the Bill. Progress on the Bill has been characterised by a determination on both sides of the House to work constructively and collegiately. At every stage, we have endeavoured to focus on what can be done to help victims of domestic abuse and to ensure that the abuse can stop. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke put it, these are not our issues—these are not party political issues—but the issues of our constituents who are victims and of their children, and I know that each and every one of us has had that very much in mind in all our deliberations on the Bill.
I therefore commend the Bill and the amendments that the Government support to the House. I very much hope that we will be able to make real and meaningful progress and pass the Bill, so that we can get on with the job of helping the victims we all feel so strongly about.
Before I put the Question, just a reminder that, should there be more than one Division, the doors will be locked after eight minutes in the first Division and, after that, after five minutes.
Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Lords amendments 2 and 3 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 4 to 8 agreed to.
Support provided by local authorities to victims of domestic abuse
Motion made and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 9.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 9 disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Lords amendments 10 to 32 agreed to.
After Clause 64
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 33.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 33 disagreed to.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Lords amendments 34 to 36 agreed to.
Before Clause 69
Reasonable force in domestic abuse cases
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 37.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 37 disagreed to.
Defence for victims of domestic abuse who commit an offence
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 38.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 38 disagreed to.
Lords amendment 39 agreed to.
After Clause 72
Victims of domestic abuse: data-sharing for immigration purposes
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 40.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 40 disagreed to.
Victims of domestic abuse: leave to remain and the destitution domestic violence concession (DDVC)
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 41.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 41 disagreed to.
Monitoring of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 42.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 42 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 42.
Effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 43.—(Victoria Atkins.)
Lords amendment 43 disagreed to.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendment 83 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 44 to 82 and 84 to 86 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1, 2, 3, 9, 33, 37, 38, 40, 41, 43 and 83.
That Victoria Atkins, Tom Pursglove, Michael Tomlinson and Chris Elmore be members of the Committee.
That Victoria Atkins be the Chair of the Committee.
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Michael Tomlinson.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.