Report (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
66B: After Clause 71, insert the following new Clause—
“Criterion that may not be used in deciding what classes of persons are not qualifying persons
(1) In deciding what classes of persons are not qualifying persons under section 160ZA(7) of the Housing Act 1996 (“the 1996 Act”) (allocation only to eligible and qualifying persons: England), a local housing authority in England may not use the criterion set out in subsection (2).(2) The criterion is that a relevant person must have a local connection to the district of a local housing authority.(3) A relevant person is a person who— (a) is, or has been, a victim of domestic abuse within two years of the date of their application for an allocation of housing under Part 6 of the 1996 Act; or(b) has recently ceased, or will cease, to reside in accommodation provided by a local authority in an area in which they have been subjected to domestic abuse and where—(i) the victim of domestic abuse has fled, or will flee, their local area; and(ii) the purpose of fleeing was, or is, to escape domestic abuse.(4) In deciding upon the allocation of housing to a relevant person, a local housing authority may not consider the location or whereabouts of the perpetrator of the domestic abuse.”
My Lords, when we finished our proceedings last Wednesday, I had just spoken to a previous amendment that raised the issue of acknowledging local connection for those victims of domestic abuse who require housing. As we finished—it was rather late—I thought that my Amendment 66B, which I tabled subsequently to address the issues that my noble friend raised about social housing, was not going to be reached. However, by some quirk of luck, I find myself able to talk to it now.
Previously, I raised the potentially discriminatory way in which local authorities use local connection restrictions when responding to victims of domestic abuse who present as homeless or at risk of homelessness. My noble friend’s answer the other evening, and indeed in Committee, again focused on the fact that existing guidance should prevent this happening. However, evidence from domestic abuse services shows, sadly, that this is just not the case. I am particularly grateful to Women’s Aid for helping me and showing me examples of where this does not work. The guidance is exactly that and it is not producing the results that I think we all would like.
This new amendment addresses this issue of victims being denied social housing allocations because they have no local connection. Often, women who have escaped to a refuge need to resettle in a new area or a neighbouring one as they are still at risk in the area they fled. Women’s Aid estimates that
“over two thirds of women resident in refuge services in England had come from a different local authority area.”
Again, there is government guidance. It makes clear that
“those who have fled to a refuge in another local authority area are not disadvantaged by any residency or local connection requirements”
when accessing social housing. However, I contend that domestic abuse services continue to report that local authorities require a woman to have a local connection with their area to apply or be prioritised on letting systems.
The Government already require local authorities, when allocating housing, to make exemptions for certain groups from these local connection requirements or residency tests; this includes members of the Armed Forces and people seeking to move for work. I remember well from my caseload as a constituency MP that these exemptions exist. I am asking the Government and my noble friend: why is the same exemption not in place for victims of domestic abuse relocating for the purpose of safety? I acknowledge that there is guidance, but there is not the requirement.
It is also critical to recognise that, when women and children escape to a refuge, they start to build connections and support networks in that new area; these are vital for their ongoing recovery. After experiencing unimaginable trauma and the uprooting of their lives, children will have started to settle into nursery and school. The inconsistent way in which these survivors are then treated when seeking to access long-term housing leads to further disruption and insecurity. Again, the guidance is not doing enough in this area, I am afraid. It is vital that this law sends a clear message that local connection rules or residency requirements must never apply to allocations of social housing for victims of domestic abuse.
I want briefly to draw attention to a case study from a Women’s Aid member service that highlights the urgency and importance of my amendment:
“A has experienced domestic abuse for the last 10 years from two partners as well as witnessing domestic abuse perpetrated by her father against her mother growing up. She has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD. After fleeing her abusive partner with three children, she moved into a refuge in a London borough to be near her mother, who was her main source of support. She was only able to find a refuge in a different borough to her mother, and after six months she was required to leave that refuge. She presented to the borough her mother lives in, but she was informed she was not entitled to be housed there as she did not have a local connection. The local authority stated she had a local connection to the borough she had been living in for six months. This is despite her being a survivor of domestic abuse, having no option other than to live in the first borough where a refuge space was available at the time of fleeing and the fact that she felt at risk from the perpetrator’s extended networks there.
The borough her mother lived in then housed A and her three children, who were all under 14, in one room in mixed-sex temporary accommodation. This was extremely distressing for her. She describes feeling retraumatised from the experience of being forced to live alongside men she did not know. She also felt scared for her children, who did not feel safe in the mixed-sex hostel. The room was highly unsuitable as the entire family lived in it and were required to cook in it, which is of course unsafe for a toddler. Another child had ADHD, so A struggled to provide them with any quiet time and appropriate support. This experience also exacerbated her PTSD, depression and anxiety, and she reported feeling low and stressed regularly due to feeling unsafe in the accommodation. She is now having to live there indefinitely while the boroughs have been assigned an arbiter to decide who has a duty.”
I do not think that anybody could agree that this is a satisfactory situation. I urge my noble friend and Her Majesty’s Government to seek to put an amendment such as mine in the Bill to ensure that these sorts of examples do not occur again.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 87C, which I may press to a Division.
Last week, public discussion following the tragic death of Sarah Everard tended to emphasise that it is not for women to limit their freedom because there are violent men around—rather, that it is men who should change their behaviour and be educated into civility.
This amendment has a similar bent. It too is about shifting the burden of suffering from abusive behaviour away from the victim and on to the perpetrator. We are all agreed on the principle and I am grateful to the Minister for meetings and correspondence. The principle is that of ending the tenancy enjoyed by the perpetrator in social housing and leaving the victim in occupation, with that tenancy vested in her—if it is “her” because obviously this works both ways.
The only remaining issue is how best to draft this. It is common sense to leave the victim, possibly with children, in her home and make the perpetrator leave. It is cheaper too because rehousing the abused parent could cost from £3,000 to £11,000. We know that women’s refuges are overcrowded and short of funding. The pressure on them would be infinitely less if the woman could stay at home and not have to run away. This scheme is being tried out in Scotland and already operates in several Australian states. The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 provides for the transfer of the interest from one joint tenant to another. The amendment says that if the victim applies to the court, the perpetrator may be removed as a joint tenant, provided that the tenancy is affordable for the victim. The tenancy shared by the victim and the perpetrator would be severed and the perpetrator’s tenancy would vest in the victim and any other joint tenant. The tenancy would continue in the name of the victim, but the perpetrator would remain liable for rent arrears incurred before the eviction.
Social housing providers can support the victim in managing debts, and they might even consider it right to rehouse the victim immediately in other suitable property. In the rare case where there are other joint tenants, their interests need to be considered, for their share of the housing costs might rise. The change in tenancy should have no effect on the landlord, but he or she could make representations to the court during the application process. No objections have been received so far from landlords who have been consulted by domestic abuse support organisations. Indeed, this amendment has been welcomed by the domestic abuse commissioner, the Local Government Association, Women’s Aid and related organisations.
The drafting needs to ensure that the perpetrator retains liability not only for rent arrears before he loses his tenancy but, for example, for damage he might have caused to the property. I respectfully disagree with the Minister’s concern that common law stands in the way of reassigning the property and the liabilities, because the statute would override common law. There are no human rights concerns as mentioned by the Minister. Protocol 1 of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects property enjoyment, is subject to the right of the state to interfere when necessary in the public interest. Indeed, it is the property enjoyment rights of the victim that would be interfered with if she is driven out by the violence of the perpetrator. Article 6 provides that there should be a hearing before deprivation of a civil right, and so there will be, because the perpetrator has the right to representation in the court proceedings.
Moreover, it has been possible for a long time for an English court to act ex parte; that is, on hearing only one side where there is an urgent case. When no-fault divorce comes into force this autumn, one of life’s most important civil rights, that of staying married, will be terminated at the will of one party with no right for the other to defend or have any say in it. That has been accepted as legitimate—rather surprisingly. A rather lesser upheaval, in this case eviction, can be managed safely without any infringement of human rights, as can any fears about Article 8—the right to a private and family life. It is the victim’s rights that have been disrupted and that article goes on to say that the right may be interfered with in order to protect other people’s rights or in the public interest.
I will give noble Lords chapter and verse. Article 3 of the human rights convention prohibits “degrading treatment”. The European Court of Human Rights has held that the state had failed to provide the victim with immediate protection against a husband’s violence in a case concerning Slovakia, and that offended against the prohibition of degrading treatment. On Article 8—the right to family and private life—the European court held that this had been breached by Bulgaria and Ukraine, among others, because the state had not helped the victim. It is the victim’s right to family life which the perpetrator has destroyed. In a 2010 case involving the United Kingdom—JD and A v the United Kingdom—the court held that the victim’s property rights were violated and that she should stay put. This was about Protocol 1—the right to property. The Government themselves do not consider that there is any Article 6 breach, covering the right to trial, in their Explanatory Memorandum. That is because the perpetrator has the opportunity to make representations at a subsequent hearing. That was in a case called Micallef v Malta. All human rights as listed are subject to interference in the public interest and proportionality, so there need be no concerns at all about human rights. Let us remember that it is the victim’s human rights that have been violently disrupted.
Given the complexities of getting the drafting absolutely correct, especially as regards third-party and property interests, the path through consultation is acceptable, provided that the Minister will give absolute guarantees that this is to be completed within months and that the opportunity is seized in the next appropriate Bill to insert this amendment. I believe that a renters Bill is on the horizon which would provide a good vehicle. I understand also that the consultation can take place swiftly, but so often it is the response from the Government that drags these things on. We do not consider it a good idea to wait to see how a similar provision is working in Scotland. I have heard the “Let’s wait for Scotland” excuse so often in relation to other proposed reforms that it always puts me in mind of “Waiting for Godot”. I hope that the Minister will accept this way forward and put strict time limits on any consultation. I will seek to divide the House on this amendment.
My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment 87C and to support all the arguments made so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation, which is wholeheartedly behind this amendment as a means of protecting families and providing survivors with a choice to determine their own future.
Some very strong arguments were made in Committee on joint tenancies and those of us supporting this amendment were grateful for the opportunity to discuss the arguments with the Minister. I know that he is sympathetic to what we are seeking to achieve. I hope that he will focus on the need for what is called a “whole housing approach” to improve the housing options and outcomes for people experiencing domestic abuse so that they can live independently in a safe and stable home as a first step to overcoming abuse and its devastating impact.
Rather than repeating the points I made in Committee, I want to focus on what can be done by housing associations and social landlords to support those suffering abuse, since they are well placed to recognise the signs in their residents, including economic abuse, which create pressure on their tenancy. Case studies gathered by the National Housing Federation show the impact that housing officers with the right training can have in identifying domestic abuse. I will give just one case. During a meeting to discuss rent arrears, a housing officer adopting what is called a “trauma-informed approach” was able to identify the signs of abuse and became the resident’s main source of support, including during a police investigation, working with adult and child social care to ensure that the resident had access to all the help they needed. The resident was able to retain their tenancy, and in this case the abuser did not resist the change. In fact, they chose to relocate from the property linked to the abuse and, 18 months later, the housing officer continues to support the resident. In this instance, the survivor was successful in achieving what she needed and had a choice. In so many instances where there is a joint tenancy, this is not possible. As was said in Committee, the perpetrator must agree to the transfer of the tenancy if the survivor wishes to remain in the family home as the sole tenant. There are so many instances where he—and it is usually he—refuses.
Social housing providers have no legal mechanism to evict the perpetrator. This amendment, carefully crafted, allows the joint tenancy to be transferred in a simplified way to a sole tenancy. As we have heard, it is a more modest measure than that already proposed in Scotland, and I hope the Minister will consider that when he comes to reply. I know that he will listen carefully to this debate. We know that he is sympathetic to what we want to achieve and I hope he will accept this modest but far-reaching amendment.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, who added powerful examples to the already clear and strong examples from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall, as to why we should agree both these amendments. I will not detain the House for long, but I want to strongly express the Green group’s support for these two amendments.
The logical way to take them is in the opposite order to that in which they are numbered. Amendment 87C, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and with strong cross-party support, expresses the ideal situation which, we have been told, is already being created in Scotland, with even stronger support for victims of domestic abuse. It is for people to stay in their own homes and communities and, very often, for children to stay in the schools that they are used to, with their friends. This is obviously the right thing to do to support victims of domestic abuse and to ensure that abusers do not profit from the situation, as they are often left with the home, tenancy, control and their place in the community.
Amendment 66B, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, acknowledges that that is simply not always possible. Victims of domestic abuse, having fled to refuges, may have started to establish themselves in a new place, possibly on the other side of the country, and have started to make friends, and children have become used to schools. The amendments make an excellent package—in this case, the grouping works—to provide a bit more wraparound and support for the victims of domestic abuse, for whom we are all spending so many hours in your Lordships’ House trying to make this the best Bill it can be. These two amendments, or something very like them, are needed to make this the Bill that it should be, so I commend them to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I begin by commending my noble friend Lord Randall for the case he made for Amendment 66B. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on that. The case for Amendment 87C was capably made in Committee by a number of noble Lords and reinforced today by the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech, Lady Warwick and Lady Bennett. I will not repeat it, except to gently remind the Minister that in Scotland they have gone further than our modest amendment in giving security to victims of domestic abuse, even when they are not a joint tenant.
I want to focus on what has happened since Committee, and begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Parkinson for his patient and sympathetic approach in seeking to find a way forward. In his wind-up speech in Committee, he recognised that our amendment would simplify the current complex and uncertain legal mechanism available to victims, and would prevent perpetrators from exerting control over a victim. That was enormously helpful.
In our letter dated 15 February, we sought to address the concerns that he expressed on five separate issues. In particular, we amended the section on responsibility for arrears to clarify that the perpetrator remains liable for arrears before the joint tenancy is terminated. Then we added subsection (11) to the new clause proposed by the amendment, to give the Government time to assess progress in Scotland. We had a meeting with my noble friend earlier this month, for which again I am grateful, and he replied to our letter last week, in which he repeated his sympathy for the motives behind the amendment.
So where do we go from here? If there are defects in our drafting, we know that the Bill will go back to the other place, so there will be an opportunity for the Government to tidy it up. My preferred solution would be for the Government to accept the amendment, tidy it up in the other place and implement it as soon as it is successfully rolled out in Scotland.
I would understand the disappointment if the Government were to resist but, if they do, with some reluctance I would consider the more cautious approach suggested in my noble friend’s letter and referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, in her opening speech—namely consultation. I am not entirely convinced that this is necessary but, subject to some strict conditions—an early start date, a reasonable but not protracted time for consultation and a decision by the Government by the autumn—the proposition is worth reflecting on. The option would be even more attractive if there was also a commitment to include the necessary measures in the first relevant piece of legislation, be it on rights for renters or leasehold reform, both of which are likely to feature in the next Session. I will listen with more than usual attention to my noble friend’s response at the end of this debate, before deciding how best to proceed.
My Lords, first, I am happy to add my support to Amendment 66B in this group, from the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I am somewhat mystified as to why it was not included with Amendment 66A, to which I also added my name but was not present in the House at the beginning of the debate to speak to it. I take this opportunity to apologise to the noble Lord and the House for this confusion on my part. I hope that the Minister will enlighten the House as to why Amendments 66A and 66B were not dealt with together.
Just as Amendment 66A concerned hard-pressed authorities using their local connection rules to deny refuge places to victims and their families fleeing to another area, Amendment 66B deals with another criterion, “qualified persons” who want more permanent accommodation in their new area. Guidance is not a requirement and guidance is not enough. The case study given by the noble Lord, Lord Randall, speaks more eloquently than anything I could say in cogently making this point.
I have also added my name to Amendment 87C on joint tenancies. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, explained the amendment well, including the human rights implications. I start by expressing my gratitude to the Minister for the lengths that he and his team have gone to in investigating the practicalities of this amendment. I have no doubt of his sympathy for what it seeks to achieve.
The supporters of the amendment, assisted by Women’s Aid lawyers, have further amended our amendments proposed in Committee, in accordance with the points that the Minister made to us subsequently, including liability for debt if the perpetrator is removed from the tenancy, the interests of third parties and the interests and rights of the perpetrator.
In subsequent discussions with us, the Minister said that the Government would like time to assess how the implementation of a plan in Scotland similar to that which we propose will fare. But there are three issues with this. First, the changes in Scotland are not the same; they are much wider ranging than our comparatively modest proposal, so they will not be comparing the same thing. Secondly, property law is different in Scotland, so that will have to be factored in. Thirdly, it could take years before the implementation of the Scottish version is fully assessed. If it is or is not successful, how much will that tell us, given the differences that I outlined in the first and second points? We could potentially lose a huge amount of time for very little gain, given the prospect of a suitable Bill coming as a vehicle to implement it.
More promisingly, the Minister has offered a public consultation to help resolve some of the technical issues that he has raised in meetings and correspondence with us. This would bring interested parties from all sides of the argument to contribute and work together to find a solution fair to all. I am attracted to this idea, because I acknowledge that we are treading in quite a legally complex area, which incorporates several different aspects of the law. He tells us, in his most recent letter, when the consultation will start—this summer—but not when it will end, and he has not indicated any further steps to be taken and when they might take place.
Having been a Member of your Lordships’ House and the other place for over 15 years now, I have watched many times in frustration as consultations drag on for years, eventually for so long that the proposals under question can be forgotten and quietly dropped. So, if this kind offer of consultation is accepted, we would need some assurances on time. For example, an assurance that the Government would strive to have proposals in place in time for the next piece of appropriate legislation—say, for example, the renters Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, reinforced the important role that housing associations and social landlords can play. Could the Minister give the House this assurance today?
I hope that the Minister will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Young, and accept the amendment and tidy it up before presenting it to the Commons. We await his answer with bated breath, and if the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, decides to test the opinion of the House, I and my party will support her.
My Lords, I first declare that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Heart of Medway housing association and a non-executive director of MHS Homes Ltd.
I am pleased to offer my support for Amendment 66B, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge. As the noble Lord set out, victims of domestic abuse can often endure lifelong risk from perpetrators, even when a relationship comes to an end. The noble Lord is doing a good job of highlighting that, where victims want to get away from their perpetrators, the actions of some local authorities can make that difficult or impossible and that that should not be the case. The noble Lord has highlighted a very important issue.
I was delighted to add my name to Amendment 87C, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and if she is minded to divide the House, then these Benches will support her. In many ways, the amendment deals with the other side of the coin in respect of tenancies. Where a victim wants to stay in their home and a landlord is either the local authority or a private registered provider of social housing, the amendment would give the victim the power to apply to the county court for an order to remove the abuser as a joint tenant, and clearly sets out the approach the court must take.
Both these amendments are about enabling the victim to make the choice they want to, putting the power of choice in their hands—the choice that affords them and their children the protection they need and want. We all know that domestic abuse is all about power and control, and these amendments are about taking steps to address the balance and support victims, so that they can start rebuilding their lives. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, for his engagement on the issue; it is very much appreciated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, set out carefully why the option to wait and see what happens in Scotland is not particularly attractive to us. If we are going to accept the offer of consultation, we will need very clear timescales. I have raised many times before the whole range of government consultations that we never seem to get to the end of, so I do not think a consultation in itself is sufficient; we need very clear timescales. I will wait to hear the noble Lord’s response, but I repeat: if the noble Baroness wants to test the opinion of the House, then these Benches will support her.
My Lords, these two amendments deal with two separate aspects of housing law. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, asked why they have been glued together and why we could not take Amendment 66B with 66A. The simple reason is that it was tabled too late to do so, as my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge accepted in his speech on the previous day of Report, but I am very glad that we are able to take it as first business today, on the third day of Report, and pick up where we left off.
As my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge explained, his Amendment 66B seeks to prevent local authorities applying a local connection test to victims of domestic abuse when applying for social housing. Since 2012, local authorities have had the power to decide who qualifies for social housing in their area. Many local authorities use their qualification power to apply a local connection test to social housing, and statutory guidance published in 2013 generally encourages them to do so. However, the guidance also advises local authorities to consider making appropriate exceptions, including for people moving into an area to escape violence or harm. Additional statutory guidance was published in 2018 which strongly encourages authorities not to apply a local connection test to victims of domestic abuse who have escaped to a refuge or other form of safe temporary accommodation.
Despite this, as my noble friend pointed out, there is anecdotal evidence from the domestic abuse sector that some local authorities continue to disqualify victims of domestic abuse from social housing where they do not have a local connection. I understand and sympathise with the motivation underlying the amendment, which is to put that matter beyond doubt. However, the Government have some concerns with my noble friend’s amendment as drafted. A key concern is that the new clause it proposes would prevent a local authority considering the location of the abuser. We believe that that is an important consideration which the local authority should be able to take into account to ensure that the victim does not inadvertently end up living close to their abuser, which of course would undermine the purpose of the amendment and what my noble friend is seeking to achieve.
We have, however, listened carefully to and reflected on the points put forward by my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge on the use of a local connection test. We want to make absolutely sure that victims and survivors of domestic abuse who need to move to another local authority area are not put at a disadvantage when seeking a social home. I am pleased to be able to give a commitment today that we will consult on regulations to prevent local authorities applying a local connection to victims of domestic abuse applying for social housing. The consultation will consider the scope of regulations and the circumstances in which the exemption would apply. We believe that this level of detail is best left to secondary legislation, and we have existing powers to make such regulations.
Consultation will provide the opportunity to engage with the domestic abuse sector, survivors and local authorities, to follow up on the anecdotal evidence which my noble friend has outlined, and to ensure that all their interests are considered and that the regulations achieve the desired aim of improving the protections for victims of domestic abuse.
Turning to Amendment 87C, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has explained, this seeks to allow victims of domestic abuse who have a joint social tenancy with their perpetrator to transfer the tenancy into their own name. It also seeks to prevent the perpetrator ending the tenancy unilaterally. I am grateful to the noble Baroness and other noble Lords for bringing this issue to our attention again, and for the constructive conversations and engagement that we have had on this issue since Committee. We recognise and are sympathetic to the concerns which lie behind this amendment. We understand that, in the case of domestic abuse, the rules on terminating periodic joint tenancies may have the potential for perpetrators to exert further control over their victims. The amendment is intended to address this problem and enable the survivor to remain in the family home.
The proposed new clause would apply to social tenancies—both local authority and housing association ones. Most social tenants have lifetime tenancies, meaning that the tenant cannot be evicted provided that they comply with the terms of the tenancy. For this reason, a social tenancy can be an extremely valuable asset. That is why we are including provisions in the Bill which seek to provide security of tenure for victims of domestic abuse who have a lifetime tenancy and are granted a new tenancy by a local authority for reasons connected to that abuse.
Currently, where any joint tenant of a periodic tenancy serves a notice to quit, the law provides that the whole tenancy ends and that the landlord can seek possession of the property. This is a long-standing rule, established through case law and recently upheld by the Supreme Court in the 2014 case of Sims v Dacorum Borough Council. The rule seeks to balance the interests of each joint tenant as well as those of the landlord. This means that if a victim of domestic abuse has a joint tenancy with the perpetrator and has fled their home to escape abuse, they would be able to end the tenancy to ensure that they are no longer bound to a tenancy with their abuser.
When we debated this issue in Committee, I explained that the Government had several concerns with the amendment that had been tabled. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham and all the other noble Lords who have spoken today for meeting me to discuss those concerns in greater detail with officials—I thank them too for their time and work on this. I note that the new amendment seeks to address some of the concerns that we outlined and discussed. In particular, the amendment now provides for notice of the application to be given to the perpetrator, the landlord and any other tenant. In addition, it deals with the issue of joint and several liability by providing that the perpetrator remains responsible for any rent arrears or other liabilities accrued before the court order for transfer is made.
However, we continue to have some concerns about the amendment, even as redrafted. It cuts across a number of long-established principles of common law—for instance the principle that an individual cannot be “removed” from the joint tenancy or cannot relinquish their share, as well as the rule on the termination of periodic joint tenancies, which I mentioned a moment ago. Given that these rules have wider application, we believe that it is important that any changes be considered in the round.
The amendment would introduce some new concepts to an already complex area involving not just common law, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, mentioned, but housing law, contract law, family law, and matrimonial law. The history of litigation in the field of housing in particular means that we would want to consider very carefully the introduction of concepts of removal from a tenancy and a tenancy continuing as if one joint tenant had never been a party to it in order to think through the possible implications fully. I hope noble Lords will understand how important it is that any changes do not have unintended consequences in this complex area of legislation.
A key concern is that the amendment still fails to provide for how the interest of third parties might be taken into account by the court, including the landlord, any other joint tenant, or any dependent children. It is for landlords to decide whether to grant a tenancy for their property and on what basis. They may decide to grant a joint tenancy for a number of reasons, including affordability and because joint tenants are jointly and severally liable for paying rent or looking after the property. However, the amendment would mean that the number of tenants could be changed without consideration or consent from the landlord as the owner of the property.
We absolutely concur that it is essential for survivors of domestic abuse to have access to a safe and stable home. However, social landlords have to balance difficult decisions. In some cases where a property may no longer be suitable, or indeed safe, for a survivor to remain it might be more appropriate for a social landlord to offer a survivor of domestic abuse a tenancy on a different property.
In addition, the amendment could result in interference with a housing association landlord’s own rights under human rights law. Since this engages other parties’ human rights, including those of the perpetrator, we need to carefully consider the right approach to balance those rights, and to ensure that any interference is proportionate and justified. We also have some concerns about whether the proposals are sufficient for the purposes of the perpetrator’s Article 8 right to respect for home and family life. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that the victim’s rights should be uppermost in our minds, but these are considerations that a court must take into account in possession proceedings. In addition, the requirement for the court to make an order “if not opposed” is unusual.
We have listened carefully to and reflected on the points raised by this amendment and during our previous debates. We want to consider the different issues and interests carefully, including the human rights case law that the noble Baroness mentioned, to ensure that any solution has the intended outcomes for all parties concerned. That is why I am pleased to give a further commitment today, as I did in my letter to noble Lords, that we will carry out a public consultation on this issue to help us better understand the complex legal and practical issues involved. Consultation will provide the opportunity to engage with the domestic abuse sector, survivors and victims, and local authorities to ensure that their interests are all considered, and that any changes to the law achieve the desired aim of improving protections for victims of domestic abuse.
The public consultation would also allow us to consider other solutions that have been put forward to this problem. For example, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham mentioned, the Scottish domestic abuse Bill seeks to introduce a new ground for eviction that would enable social landlords to remove the perpetrator of domestic abuse from the property and transfer it into the survivor’s name. That has not yet been enacted by the Scottish Parliament, but if and when it is we will want to see how it works, albeit that I acknowledge the point correctly put by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, about doing that swiftly.
I understand that noble Lords will be concerned about the extra time that this consultation will take, so I will say something about timing. We would seek to issue the consultation this summer, following Royal Assent to the Bill. We would expect to carry out a standard 12-week consultation to allow for proper consideration of these complex issues, then consider the responses and publish a government response as soon as possible in the new year. Thereafter, we would seek to legislate, if appropriate, at the earliest available opportunity. I am happy to provide that answer.
I hope that provides sufficient reassurance to my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge and the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on how seriously we take these issues. We are committed to consult on both of them and to take forward the outcome of those consultations as soon as practicable thereafter. I hope that, having given those commitments, they will be content not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I thank those who spoke in support of my amendment, particularly my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, the noble Baronesses, Lady Burt of Solihull and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark. In particular, I thank my noble friend the Minister for his careful and considered reply. I am satisfied that the Government have listened and will take some action. Therefore, I am delighted to say that I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 66B withdrawn.
66C: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Medical evidence of domestic abuseProhibition on charging for the provision of medical evidence of domestic abuse
(1) No person may charge a fee or any other remuneration for the preparation or provision of relevant evidence relating to an assessment of an individual carried out by a relevant health professional in England or Wales under a qualifying medical services contract.(2) No person may charge a fee or any other remuneration for the preparation or provision of relevant evidence relating to an individual by a relevant health professional in England or Wales if the services provided by the relevant health professional are wholly or mainly services provided under a qualifying medical services contract.(3) In this section “relevant evidence”, in relation to an individual, means—(a) evidence that the individual is, or is at risk of being, a victim of domestic abuse which is intended to support an application by the individual for civil legal services, or(b) any other evidence that the individual is, or is at risk of being, a victim of domestic abuse which is of a description specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.(4) In this section “relevant health professional” means—(a) a medical practitioner licensed to practise by the General Medical Council; (b) a health professional registered to practise in the United Kingdom by the Nursing and Midwifery Council;(c) a paramedic registered to practise in the United Kingdom by the Health and Care Professions Council.(5) In this section “qualifying medical services contract” means—(a) in relation to England—(i) a general medical services contract made under section 84(2) of the National Health Service Act 2006;(ii) any contractual arrangements made under section 83(2) of that Act;(iii) an agreement made under section 92 of that Act;(b) in relation to Wales—(i) a general medical services contract made under section 42(2) of the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006;(ii) any contractual arrangements made under section 41(2)(b) of that Act;(iii) an agreement made under section 50 of that Act.(6) The appropriate national authority may by regulations amend the definition of—(a) “relevant health professional”;(b) “qualifying medical services contract”.(7) In this section—“appropriate national authority” means—(a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State;(b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers;“assessment” includes a consultation, whether in person or otherwise;“civil legal services” has the meaning given by section 8 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.(8) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply in relation to anything done by a relevant health professional before the coming into force of this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would prevent certain health care professionals who either assess a patient under an NHS contract, or provide services wholly or mainly under an NHS contract, from charging victims of domestic abuse for the provision of evidence of their injuries in order to support a claim for civil legal aid.
My Lords, when we debated the amendment tabled in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, which intended to prohibit GPs from charging domestic abuse victims for legal aid evidence letters, I made clear my intention to try to reach a satisfactory conclusion on this matter. I was also clear that the Government wholeheartedly agree that vulnerable patients should not be charged for evidence to support them in accessing legal aid. That remains the Government’s position.
In Committee, I gave an undertaking to give this matter detailed consideration before Report, while, I hope helpfully, pointing out some technical defects with the amendment tabled but ultimately withdrawn by the noble Lord. The current position is that GPs can provide services in addition to NHS contracted services. These are classified as private services for which GPs have discretion to charge the patient for their completion in lieu of their professional time. The provision of letters of evidence to enable access to legal aid is one such private service.
A GP is one of many professionals to whom a vulnerable person can turn for a letter to provide evidence of domestic abuse for access to legal aid. It is up to the discretion of an individual GP practice as to how much any charge for private services should be and, indeed, whether a charge should be levied at all.
As part of the 2020-21 contract agreement, the British Medical Association recommended to all GPs that a charge should not be levied for letters providing this evidence. That was a welcome and important step forward, and a recognition by the BMA that vulnerable patients with limited means should not be expected to pay for such letters. We recognise and commend the vast majority of GPs who are following this guidance, but we recognise that this is a non-binding recommendation from the BMA, so we now move with this amendment to remedy this gap, having considered the matter carefully since Committee.
Amendment 66C achieves our aim. It will provide that no person may charge for the preparation or provision of evidence demonstrating that a person is, or is at risk of being, a victim of domestic abuse for the purpose of obtaining legal aid. The “relevant health professionals” listed in subsection (4) of the proposed new clause are those providing services pursuant to any of the general medical services, personal medical services, or alternative provider medical services contracts. A “relevant health professional” who has assessed the patient in the course of providing services under any of those three contracts will be prevented from charging for such a letter.
Importantly, the same amendment also prohibits charging for this letter through any vehicle, the health professional themselves or the practice, be it a company or a partnership. Nobody who seeks evidence from such health professionals demonstrating that they are a victim of domestic abuse, or are at risk thereof, for the purposes of obtaining access to legal aid, may be charged under the government amendment. With the agreement of the Welsh Government, this amendment will extend to England and Wales, subject to a legislative consent Motion which is being debated in the Senedd tomorrow.
In these respects, Amendment 66C will go further than Amendment 71 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. As I observed on a previous occasion, that amendment relies solely on the definition of a general medical services contract in Section 84 of the National Health Service Act 2006, therefore covering only one of those three types of GP contracts, and would not apply to almost 30% of practices. Obviously that was not his intention, but it is an important drafting point.
We have also taken the opportunity to future-proof this prohibition through the two regulation-making powers in proposed new subsections (3)(b) and (6). Proposed new subsection (3)(b) enables the Secretary of State to extend the scope of the prohibition beyond legal aid, should a health professional’s evidence of domestic abuse ever be relevant in other contexts, while proposed new subsection (6) enables the Secretary of State, or the relevant Welsh Ministers, to alter the lists of professionals and contracts caught by the prohibition. Should a change in the delivery of health service necessitate a change in the scope, we can do that with the appropriate regulations.
The remaining government amendments are largely consequential on Amendment 66C. Amendment 89A amends Clause 73 to provide that the Secretary of State can issue guidance about the prohibition. Amendment 103A provides for commencement on the first common commencement date following Royal Assent. Government amendments 95A to 95C, 98A to 98C and 99A to 99C make consequential amendments to Clauses 74, 75 and 76 respectively.
I remember well that in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, read out an impressive list of occasions when he had raised this matter. He went so far as to list the names of my illustrious predecessors with whom he had engaged, and I know that they worked hard to resolve this matter. On that occasion, I said that I hoped to escape the horrid fate of being added to his list, and I hope that I have achieved that very modest ambition. However, delighted as I am to be the Minister standing today at the Dispatch Box, moving these amendments to bring this very long-running problem to a close—I hope—I am conscious that many other Ministers, present and previous, have worked on this matter, and without their efforts we would not have got to where we are today.
We have listened carefully to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and other noble Lords, on this important matter. I am pleased that this Government have been able to table these amendments. I look forward to the contributions of other noble Lords, and I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted with the amendments tabled by the Minister. I thank him very much; the amendments have my full support. I will at the appropriate time not move my amendments on the Marshalled List.
This campaign has been a long one. I will spend a few minutes setting out how it started, thanking those people who have got us to this day, and paying tribute to those whom I cannot mention. The campaign was started by a domestic abuse survivor in the Wythenshawe area of Manchester, on discovering that their local GP was charging victims of domestic abuse for letters that they needed when applying for legal aid. They thought that this was wrong and decided to change the law. I thank Katy—I am not allowed to give her surname—who first raised the issue with my friend Tom Watson, when he visited Safespots Wythenshawe. He raised the matter in Parliament.
I thank Mike Kane, the local MP who supported the campaign for many years; Laura Hitchen, the local solicitor in Manchester who highlighted how widespread the problem was; Councillor Sarah Judge, who works at Safespots; all the Safespots women who are victims of abuse and who stood up and decided to change the law; Manchester City Council and the other local authorities that gave their support to the campaign; all the police and crime commissioners who gave their support, including my noble friend Lord Bach; Sue Macmillan, my good friend for many years, who got the Mumsnet campaigners on the case; Charles Hymas, the home affairs editor of the Daily Telegraph, for shining a light on the issue at the right time; my good friends Stephanie Peacock MP, for kindly raising the issue in the other place, and Stella Creasy MP, for her valuable advice and support; the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, who supported me in Committee, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Bull and Lady Burt of Solihull, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who has always been supportive and who encouraged me to carry on; and noble Lords of all parties and on the Cross Benches who have supported me in my numerous questions to a variety of Ministers, whom I thank for their responses to all the amendments to government Bills that I have moved over the years. I have involved officials from at least four government departments.
I also thank Victoria Atkins MP, a Home Office Minister who listened and was a great help in getting out of this position. I am also grateful to our Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar—who on 8 February, when I raised the issue in the House, listened, bringing these amendments back to the House today. My final thanks go to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford. I have tremendous respect for her, and she is also my friend. She listened and understood the points being made and played a key role in us getting to where we are today. I am tremendously grateful to her.
I have always said that this is a good Bill, and it is undoubtedly a better Bill because of the work that we have done in this House. With these amendments being agreed today, we are ending the postcode lottery in which a victim of domestic abuse could be charged by their GP for a letter that they need to gain access to legal aid. With these amendments, that position ends. This is wonderful. I am delighted to have played a small part in achieving this.
My Lords, I thank my dear friend the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, who has been a wonderful campaigner on this issue. I went back in history a little way because I have the privilege of being the husband of a retired GP. Under the old contract from the pre-Blair period, things were not quite as confusing as they subsequently became. We all know that any GP, when faced with this situation, would do a thorough medical examination. This has never been in doubt. In the period after the Major Government this became less clear; I do not know why, but it did. I thank all the people whom the noble Lord mentioned, and Her Majesty’s Government. It is not easy, particularly at times like this, when everyone is focused on Covid, to make progress on a difficult area. Obviously the Ministers have worked very hard on it, and I pay tribute to the hard work that they have put in.
My Lords, I too address Amendment 71. As the lead bishop for health and social care, and with the support of my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London—as we have heard, she supported this amendment in Committee—I also thank the Government for listening and for tabling amendments that prohibit charging for medical evidence under these circumstances. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his hard work in raising this matter. I regard the Government’s proposal as an excellent addition to the Bill, which will greatly assist a group of highly vulnerable people in securing the support that they need, and I am glad of this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those involved in bringing this about.
My Lords, I shall intervene briefly on Amendments 66C and 71, which I support. I have been involved as a beneficiary all my professional life with legal aid. Its roots go back to the Labour Governments of 1945 and 1951. When I began practising at the Bar in 1959, it was just about being given new life, and what a blessing it has been to people with limited or no means.
My noble friend Lord Kennedy has put down Amendment 71 which, together with the Government’s amendment, is a clear statement that no appropriate health professional may impose a fee for the purposes of obtaining legal aid by an applicant. Health professionals are paid in accordance with the terms of their contracts. My understanding is that on occasion, such as for medical certificates for insurance and travel purposes, they are entitled to charge extra fees. I am grateful for the Minister’s very careful explanation of what they can do.
There is obviously a loophole that needs to be filled. This is confirmed by the very fact of the result of the Government’s work, on which I congratulate them, in moving Amendment 66C. The need to fill in the loophole is confirmed. The Government seem to have covered all contingencies, and it obviously overtakes the Opposition’s amendment. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Kennedy on the hard work he and others have done; the result is what we see before us today. It confirms the value of this House as a reforming, confirming and improving Chamber. With those few words, I support the Government’s amendment.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on resolving the injustice of NHS providers charging for evidence of domestic abuse. It is an object lesson in persistence. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who I was hoping to follow, will meet the same eventual success with her plans on forced marriage. I am also grateful to the Minister for his amendments to ensure that this is properly and legally installed in law.
In my view, it is a scandal that it ever had to come to this. What hard-hearted group of medical practitioners ever made the decision to charge money for evidence that a woman has been subjected to violence as a qualifying condition for legal aid? I suppose that is what happens when you try to marketise the NHS.
The Minister spoke about the role played by the BMA, but according to the BMA this amendment should never have been necessary. It says:
“We believe that legal aid agencies should trust the word of victims without needing to consult with a medical professional, who themselves”
will rely on what the victim tells them and
“may not be best placed to confirm whether domestic abuse has taken place.”
It recommends that the MoJ should remove altogether the unfair requirement for medical forms in the domestic abuse legal process. It seems to me that this requirement is just placing one more obstacle in front of the victim, perhaps to test to destruction her determination to get justice. Will the Minister say why legal aid agencies are requiring these medical certificates in the first place? Should we not be legislating to remove this requirement, full stop?
My Lords, I begin by taking up the comment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, who said that this is a loophole that needed to be filled. I respectfully agree, and that is why the Government have tabled the amendments that have the effect that I set out earlier.
It was gratifying to hear the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, from my noble friend Lord Naseby, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull. I shall not rise to the challenge in her phrase about marketising the NHS, but I should respond briefly to her point about why any evidence is needed at all. The short answer is that there is limited legal aid spend. We must target it at those who need it most, and we believe that the evidence requirements ensure that the legal aid scheme strikes the best balance between ensuring that victims of domestic abuse can evidence their abuse and access legal aid and ensuring that the risk of fraudulent or unmeritorious claims is as low as possible. To that end, we have significantly extended the accepted forms of evidence. We have removed all time limits and the government amendments seek a clear resolution of the issue of victims being charged to obtain that evidence.
Other than that, it is fair to say that the debate we have just had was something of a tribute band to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, but on this occasion, tribute is entirely well merited. He has been indefatigable and resolute, and he was very generous, although I associate myself with it, in mentioning my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, who has also worked very hard to resolve this matter.
I shall not take up any more of the time of your Lordships’ House. For the reasons I have set out, the Government believe that these amendments will sort out this long-running problem, and I therefore commend them to the House.
Amendment 66C agreed.
67: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Victims of domestic abuse: data-sharing for immigration purposes
(1) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to ensure that personal data of a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom that is processed for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance related to domestic abuse is not used for any immigration control purpose.(2) The Secretary of State must make arrangements to ensure that the personal data of a witness to domestic abuse in the United Kingdom that is processed for the purpose of that person giving information or evidence to assist the investigation or prosecution of that abuse, or to assist the victim of that abuse in any legal proceedings, is not used for any immigration control purpose.(3) Paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018 shall not apply to the personal data to which subsection (1) or (2) applies.(4) For the purposes of this section, the Secretary of State must issue guidance to—(a) persons from whom support or assistance may be requested or received by a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom;(b) persons exercising any function of the Secretary of State in relation to immigration, asylum or nationality; and(c) persons exercising any function conferred by or by virtue of the Immigration Acts on an immigration officer.(5) For the purposes of this section—“immigration control purpose” means any purpose of the functions to which subsection (4)(b) and (c) refers;“support or assistance” includes the provision of accommodation, banking services, education, employment, financial or social assistance, healthcare and policing services; and any function of a court or prosecuting authority;“victim” includes any dependent of a person, at whom the domestic abuse is directed, where that dependent is affected by that abuse.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would require the Secretary of State to make arrangements to ensure that the personal data of migrant survivors of domestic abuse that is given or used for the purpose of their seeking or receiving support and assistance is not used for immigration control purposes.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Hamwee, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London who added their names to this amendment. It requires the Secretary of State to ensure that the personal details of a victim of domestic abuse or of a witness to domestic abuse which is processed so that the victim can seek support is not used for immigration control purposes. The amendment also requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance to ensure that victims, witnesses and relevant officials are made aware of this protection.
At the outset I thank the commissioner for putting at the top of her two key priorities for Report extending support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. The commissioner supports amendments, which certainly includes this one, to ensure equal access to support regardless of immigration status. She is concerned that without these additional provisions in the Bill, the Government will be unable to ratify the Istanbul convention. I hope that the Minister will comment on the significance of this amendment for the Istanbul convention.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for the meeting last week with those of us who have put our names to this amendment. The Minister made it clear that the Government are waiting for the results of their review of the Home Office treatment of the victims of domestic abuse and are therefore resistant to accepting this amendment.
The Government and I seem to be looking at two different sides of the mirror. The Government want to find examples of good practice where a victim’s immigration status is resolved and their life can move forward positively. The plan is then to publicise these happy stories. That is fine—in fact, it is splendid—but our concern is for the 50% of domestic abuse victims who never report the crimes committed against them for fear of detention and/or deportation if on leaving a marriage or relationship their immigration status is brought into question. These crimes cannot therefore be followed up by the police, which is surely a matter of great concern for the Home Office.
Is the Home Office more concerned about having access to information about vulnerable victims of domestic abuse in order to pursue issues of immigration status than it is about the inability of the police to pursue criminal perpetrators because victims are too afraid to report their crimes? I understand the Home Office’s dilemma but the moral imperative here seems overwhelming. For these extremely vulnerable women to face continued abuse and criminal acts against them to help the Home Office get information about other people is surely, quite simply, not right.
The Minister seemed to make it clear that the government review will not even be looking at the consequences for victims of the current free flow of information from victims to the police and then on to immigration officers at the Home Office. In fact, the Government have all the information we, and they, need to know that a firewall is needed to protect victims. We know that only with the firewall proposed by this amendment will 50% of these vulnerable women with insecure immigration status seek the assistance they need. As is surely important for the Government, this amendment would ensure that the perpetrators of domestic abuse against these women could be dealt with in the normal way by the criminal justice system. The review will not change these facts or throw any further light on the issue. Does the Minister accept that? That is how it is. During our meeting, the Minister was unable to respond to these arguments. This is not at all a criticism of the Minister—I believe there is no morally acceptable counterargument to make.
Before I conclude, I want to clear up a few misunderstandings. Some services may need to share data; for example, to establish an individual’s immigration status to determine whether or not they have the right to access the NHS. However, a victim’s data should never be used to trigger immigration enforcement proceedings. That is a completely different matter.
This amendment needs to be included on the face of the Bill. At present, the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance on data-sharing is inconsistently adopted by police forces up and down the country. The police need absolute clarity on this issue and this amendment would provide it. We do not need to wait for the review. We know that we need a clear statutory duty to ensure safe reporting by domestic abuse victims. If a survivor of abuse with unsettled immigration status comes to the notice of the police, the police should refer them to a specialist who deals with these issues. To catapult these women into the immigration enforcement system without legal advice or support, just at the point when they are at their most vulnerable and have taken the first step to escape their abuse, is unnecessary, counterproductive and cruel.
Finally, we know that almost all the vulnerable women who are the subject of this amendment report that threats of deportation have been used by their perpetrators. The reality is that the Home Office is unwittingly supporting perpetrators in their criminal activities. Is the Minister content with that situation? The UK’s treatment of these women is not consistent with our claim to be a civilised society; that is certainly my view. I hope that Ministers will reflect carefully on this issue. If the Minister cannot assure the House that the Government will address this issue within the Bill, I will want to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will be supporting the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Wilcox should they wish to press this amendment to a vote today. We all know that migrant women with no recourse to public funds face so many additional barriers to safety from violence. Abusers commonly use women’s fear of immigration enforcement and separation from their children to control them and stop them seeking the help that they need. Thanks must go to Elizabeth Jiménez-Yáñez, co-ordinator of Step Up Migrant Women, Janaya Walker of Southall Black Sisters, and all those organisations which work with migrant women and have kindly shared many heart-breaking testimonies with us.
We all, including the Minister, wish to ensure that safe pathways are established for migrant women to report abuse. To be honest, I am disappointed that our arguments for the Bill to play its part in achieving that have so far fallen on deaf ears. The Government are saying that the 2020 National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance simply needs better implementation. We are saying, however, that the super-complaint investigation, which several of us referred to in Committee, found that the guidance on data-sharing has been only inconsistently adopted by police forces in England and Wales; is discretionary, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said; and is therefore not fit for purpose.
If the guidance is not working adequately and there is no legal duty for the police to tell immigration enforcement if they know someone is in the country illegally, why are the Government not using this Bill to remedy the situation? Why also are the Government waiting until 21 June to respond to the super-complaint investigation by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters? Obviously, this will be too late for this Bill—and too late for so many women who are living in fear not only of abuse but of detection and of reporting that abuse.
Why are the Government also insisting that the police need to share the victim’s data to safeguard the victim? Surely, it is the role of the police to safeguard and investigate, and to refer the victim of abuse to specialist services, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said—and it is the role of immigration to enforce immigration policy and rules. These roles should not be conflated at the expense of the victim. The Stand Up Migrant Women campaign also insists that there is a distinct lack of data on any positive effects resulting from such information-sharing. I ask the Minister to think again about the importance of this amendment to so many migrant women who are trapped in the sinking sands of irregular identity and regular abuse.
My Lords, this amendment is about victims of domestic abuse who have—or, crucially, believe that they have—insecure status. Believing or being told that you are insecure is part of control, as the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, just said, and trust or lack of trust—indeed, fear of an authority figure—is a significant barrier to seeking help. In Committee, I quoted Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, who said:
“Victims should have every confidence in approaching the police for protection”,
“never be in a position where they fear the actions of the police could unintentionally but severely intensify their vulnerability”.
That was about organised crime but it applies precisely also to this situation.
The Government have, or will have, their pilot on the needs of migrant women. They are not a homogeneous group: there are different groups and communities, and so on, but the subjects of this amendment are characterised by the common factor of insecure status. The issue is about process. Without a firewall, quite a lot of women—and some men—will not even get to square one of “victims first and foremost”.
At the previous stage, the Minister spoke of the benefits to sharing information. I do not dispute that there are certain benefits in some situations but this is a matter for the individuals’ consent. I am very concerned that in Committee, in referring to victims’ needs being “put first”, she talked about there being a “clear position” on the police exchanging information about victims of immigration enforcement. There should indeed be a clear position, and the amendment provides it. She also said that the Government are
“equally … bound to maintain an effective immigration system”,
“individuals … should be subject to our laws”
and that if their status is irregular, they
“should be supported to come forward … and, where possible, to regularise their stay”.—[Official Report, 1/2/21; col. 1912.]
We could have a debate about safeguarding from exploitation, which I acknowledge that she mentioned, too, but that is not the issue here.
This sounds too much like “status first” and is not consistent with “victims first”, which is what we have heard throughout the debate, and rightly so. I support the amendment. We on our Benches will support it not only because of the Istanbul convention, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but because of its intrinsic importance.
My Lords, it is extremely unfair that someone who is a victim of domestic abuse and has sought help is twice victimised. It shows an astonishingly unfeeling and callous approach to these victims, entirely at odds with the understanding and caring approach of the Government, as shown in this otherwise excellent Bill. I wonder how they can allow the data of domestic abuse victims to be used in this way. Does it mean that immigration and the deportation of victims trumps the importance of this legislation, and that certain groups of victims are not to qualify for support?
The groups of victims include foreign wives of unregistered marriages, which are not seen in English law as lawful. This is an important amendment, and failure by the Home Office to recognise its significance sends a sad message: that the Government are not willing to treat all victims of domestic abuse equally.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her work on this amendment. It is also a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
Amendment 67, to which I give my support, speaks to an underlying issue with several amendments that concern migrant women: namely, the balance between the Home Office’s commitment to immigration enforcement and the support of victims, which is too often weighted too heavily towards the former. From my own work exploring how varying circumstances, such as migration, affect one’s health outcomes, I hear far too often of victims of crime too nervous to come forward to the police for fear that, rather than receiving the help and support that they need, they will instead find themselves indefinitely detained, split from children and families and deported. The result is that they simply do not come forward, for fear is weaponised by abusers to prevent their victims escaping. This is all too common.
Confidence in the authorities to protect migrant survivors is low, and the lack of a clear firewall to prevent data being used for enforcement is a significant contributing factor. By producing such a firewall, Amendment 67 would go a long way to build confidence and encourage survivors to come forward. I was grateful for the time given to us by the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, and officials who sought to explain how work was being undertaken to review what actually happens. Unfortunately, the results of this will come too late for the Bill—and even when they do, migrant women will not have access to such a review. All they will know is that they are at risk of their information being passed to the Home Office.
This amendment is one of the structural changes required to reduce violence against migrant women. We have heard the arguments from the Government, here and in the other place, against the amendment. I must admit to being disappointed by the lack of movement or engagement with some of the points which have been repeatedly raised by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service. We have heard from the Government that such data-sharing is necessary for safeguarding; it is not clear how this can be the case. The recent findings on police data-sharing for immigration purposes established that the investigation has found no evidence that sharing personal victim data between the police and the Home Office supports the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse.
While some services may need to share data to ascertain an individual’s immigration status and the right to access the service, there is absolutely no reason that the police should need to share victims’ immigration status with the Home Office. This does nothing to enhance safeguarding and everything to undermine survivors’ confidence that they will be treated by police as victims of crime, rather than as perpetrators. This issue is of enormous importance. We must find a way of ensuring that survivors have confidence that they can come forward without fear. This is demonstrably not true at present, and a clear solution is present in this amendment. I therefore hope that the Government may think again on this amendment, which I wholeheartedly support.
My Lords, I support Amendment 67 and if it comes to a vote, the Green group will vote for it. It was a particularly nasty part of the Data Protection Act 2018, which contained provisions that allow the near-unlimited sharing of personal data for the purpose of immigration enforcement. A small group of us tried to fight that at the time, predicting problems as we see today. It was part of a trend by this Government towards turning every single person in this country into a border enforcement agent.
People are currently at great risk when they engage with any kind of public service that information will be passed on to the Government and used to deport them. This really should not be the case. When a survivor of domestic abuse reaches out for help, they should be treated as a human being and given the help that they need unconditionally. There should be absolutely no doubt in their mind that they will be helped and not harmed by accessing support.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked the Minister whether she could say what significance this amendment has for the ratification of the Istanbul convention. Perhaps I can assist the House. As we will hear in the next group, the Istanbul convention requires signatories, of which the UK is one, to take the necessary legislative steps and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and private spheres. It goes on to say that the implementation of the provisions of the convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground, specifically mentioning migrant or refugee status, among other things, in the convention.
If a migrant or refugee is deterred from seeking protection from violence because they believe that their details will be passed to immigration officials for immigration control purposes, the UK is in my view in breach of its obligations under the Istanbul convention, as well as it being morally reprehensible and, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, just said, callous and unfeeling.
We know for a fact that the police pass the details of victims of crime, including rape victims, to immigration officials for immigration control purposes, and this needs to stop. Amendment 67 seeks to stop it, at least in relation to victims of domestic abuse, and we strongly support it. If the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House, we will support her.
My Lords, I make it clear at the outset that, if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House, the Opposition Benches will strongly support her amendment. The amendment calls for the Secretary of State to ensure that the personal data of a victim of domestic abuse in the UK is processed only
“for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance related to domestic abuse”
and not for immigration control.
Government policy is clear: victims of crime should be treated without discrimination. Therefore, the separation of immigration enforcement and protection of domestic abuse victims who are migrant women must be delineated. A failure to do this puts migrant women at risk of the double jeopardy of both danger from their abusers and fear of deportation.
The Istanbul convention, the landmark international treaty on violence against women and girls which the Government have signed and are committed to ratifying, requires in Articles 4 and 59 that victims are protected regardless of their immigration status. Still, FOI requests reveal that 60% of police forces in England and Wales share victims’ details with the Home Office—prioritising immigration control over victims’ safety and access to justice.
While some services may need to share data to ascertain an individual’s immigration status and right to access the service—for example, some NHS services—there is no legal requirement for any data sharing with the Home Office related to domestic abuse victims. Without any national policy guidance on this practice, the police approach to safeguarding migrant victims of crime will remain inconsistent.
The blind spots contained in this Bill are resolved by this amendment. I fear that this blind spot enables offenders and abusers to use police involvement as a threat to their victims, rather than the source of protection that it should be. Various countries around the world have demonstrated that firewalls can be and are being implemented in different ways to create a separation between public services and immigration enforcement. It is entirely possible that the training and cross-sector relationships we are calling for through this Bill can establish safe reporting pathways that include access to specialist support services and legal advice to address a victim’s immigration status, as necessary.
Another consequence of putting immigration control above the safety of victims is that perpetrators can commit these crimes with impunity—a risk not only for survivors but for wider communities. Better trust in the police to protect victims of abuse and investigate crime for migrant women will improve responses for all survivors and the public.
I challenge the Government to establish safe reporting pathways by incorporating a clear statutory obligation preventing public authorities and other support services sharing data with the Home Office for the purpose of immigration control, to ensure that safe reporting is available to all women, regardless of their immigration status.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the other signatories of this amendment for setting out their case for a firewall so that the personal data of domestic abuse victims which are given or used for seeking or receiving support are not used for immigration control purposes. I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss the issue with the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Wilcox of Newport, and others after Committee.
While I appreciate the case they are making, the Government remain of the view that what is provided for in Amendment 67 would hinder the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse and that it is premature given the process set out by the policing inspectorate following its report on the recent super-complaint about this.
I fully understand the sentiment behind the amendment, which is to ensure that migrant victims of domestic abuse come forward to report that abuse to the police and are not deterred by concerns that immigration enforcement action might be taken against them. As my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford made clear in Committee, our overriding priority is to protect the public and all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status. Guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which was updated last year, makes it clear that victims of domestic abuse should be treated as victims first and foremost.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council remains clear in its view that information sharing between the police and Immigration Enforcement is in the interest of the victim. Sharing information can help prevent perpetrators of abuse coercing and controlling their victims because of their insecure or unknown immigration status. In such circumstances, bringing the victim into the immigration system can only benefit them. This amendment would prevent that and could cut against other assistance that can be provided to domestic abuse survivors.
It might assist the House if I give one example of the possible unintended effects of this amendment. We will shortly be debating Amendment 70 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. That amendment seeks to expand the destitute domestic violence concession so that any migrant victim of domestic abuse can apply for temporary leave to remain while making an application for indefinite leave to remain. I will leave the debate about the merits of Amendment 70 to my noble friend and the debate which will follow. For the purposes of this debate, I submit that an application under the destitute domestic violence concession is, in the words of Amendment 67, a request for
“support or assistance related to domestic abuse”.
Under this amendment, the Home Office could not lawfully process any application under the DDVC because the applicant’s personal data could be used for an immigration control purpose. I fully accept that that is not what the sponsors of this amendment have in mind but, were it to be added to the Bill, I fear that would be one effect.
More broadly, I hope that noble Lords will understand that the Government are duty-bound to maintain an effective immigration system, not least because of their obligations under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which permits the Home Office to share and receive information for the purposes of crime prevention and detection and effective immigration control. As such, it was particularly disappointing to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, say that the Labour Benches would vote in favour of this amendment, were it put to a Division. We have an obligation to protect our public services and to safeguard the most vulnerable people from exploitation because of their immigration status.
The public rightly expect that people in this country should be subject to our laws, and it is right that, when people with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come in line with the law and, where possible, to regularise their stay. Immigration enforcement staff routinely help migrant victims of domestic abuse and other crimes by directing them to legal advice to help regularise their stay.
Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 provide the statutory framework within which this information is exchanged. I remind noble Lords that the Government are committed to reviewing the current data-sharing arrangements in relation to victims of domestic abuse.
It was not very long ago that, in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, your Lordships’ House approved legislation establishing a system of police super-complaints. The first super-complaint to be considered under this new system was on this very issue. The outcome was published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in December 2020. It made eight recommendations in total: five for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, two for the Home Office and one jointly shared between them. HMICFRS said that the Government should respond within six months—that is, by June—and we are committed to doing just that. However, having legislated for the super-complaint process, we should not now undermine it by not allowing it to run its proper course.
It is only right that we take account of the recommendations in the report in proper detail. In response to the report, we have committed to reviewing the current arrangements, and, as I have said, we will publish the outcome of the review by June. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London lamented the fact that this would be too late for this Bill, but I reassure her that it is highly probably that the outcome of the review can be implemented through further updates to the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance or other administrative means—so action can be taken swiftly.
We understand the concerns that have been raised about migrant victims who do not feel safe in reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has proposed undertaking further research into the experiences of this cohort of victims, which we are committed to doing. We will engage with domestic abuse organisations to understand those concerns and assess what more we can do to allay those fears. We welcome the input of all noble Lords as we conduct this research.
In conclusion, while we understand the concerns that lie behind it, we respectfully believe that this is the wrong amendment and at the wrong time. If adopted, it would prevent victims of abuse from obtaining the support that they need, whether under the DDVC or other routes, and it prejudges the outcome of the super-complaint process, which was endorsed by your Lordships’ House just four years ago. I would be glad to undertake to keep the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and others informed about the progress of the review and to discuss its conclusions with them. On that basis, I hope that they might yet be willing to withdraw their amendment today.
My Lords, I thank most of all the many noble Lords who have contributed so powerfully in support of Amendment 67. I also thank the Minister for his response, but I do not accept at all his view that it would reduce the support or protection for victims of domestic abuse. It very clearly talks about the information process
“for the purpose of that person requesting or receiving support or assistance”.
Obviously, that information being passed from the police to the immigration officials would be unacceptable under this amendment. On the other hand, if the victim were to go to the immigration officials with a representative and with their information, saying, “I want you to sort out my immigration status”, the immigration officials could of course proceed absolutely without any problem. As such, this is a bit of dancing on a pin, if I may put it that way. Basically, I do not accept that at all.
The Minister referred to working to allay the fears of victims of domestic abuse. This is not about allaying fears; it is about removing a very real risk for these very vulnerable victims of domestic abuse. As such, simply trying to allay fears really does not deal with the problem at all.
The Minister suggested keeping us informed; certainly, that would be helpful, and I hope that Ministers would do that. However, in view of the very disappointing response of the Minister, I want to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 68 and 69 not moved.
70: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Victims of domestic abuse: leave to remain and the destitution domestic violence concession (DDVC)
(1) The Secretary of State must, within three months of this Act being passed, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in rules made under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (“the immigration rules”) to make provision for any person subject to immigration control who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom to have a route to apply for leave to remain.(2) The statement laid under subsection (1) must—(a) set out rules for applying for indefinite leave to remain by any person subject to immigration control who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom; and(b) provide for those rules to be commenced no later than one month after the laying of the statement.(3) The Secretary of State must make provision for granting limited leave to remain for a period of no less than six months to any person eligible to make an application under the immigration rules for the purposes of subsection (2); such leave must include no condition under section 3(1)(c)(i), (ia), (ii) or (v) of the Immigration Act 1971.(4) The Secretary of State must make provision for extending limited leave to remain granted in accordance with subsection (3) to ensure that leave continues throughout the period during which an application made under the immigration rules for the purposes of subsection (2) remains pending.(5) Where subsection (6) applies, notwithstanding any statutory or other provision, no services shall be withheld from a victim of domestic abuse solely by reason of that person not having leave to remain or having leave to remain subject to a condition under section 3(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1971.(6) This subsection applies where a provider of services is satisfied that the victim of domestic abuse is eligible to make an application to which subsection (3) refers.(7) The Secretary of State must, for the purposes of subsection (5), issue guidance to providers of services about the assessment of eligibility to make an application to which subsection (3) refers.(8) In this section—(a) an application is pending during the period—(i) beginning when it is made,(ii) ending when it is finally decided, withdrawn or abandoned;(b) an application is not finally decided while an application for review or appeal could be made within the period permitted for either or while any such review or appeal remains pending (meaning that review or appeal has not been finally decided, withdrawn or abandoned);“person subject to immigration control” means a person in the United Kingdom who does not have the right of abode;“provider of services” includes both public and private bodies;“services” includes accommodation, education, employment, financial assistance, healthcare and any service provided exclusively or particularly to survivors of domestic abuse.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would provide migrant victims of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, for a period of no less than six months, so they can access support services while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.
My Lords, I should like at the outset to acknowledge the assistance that I have received from Southall Black Sisters in preparing this amendment, and also thank the Minister for her time and compassion in discussing this with me. Amendment 70 is tabled in my name with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Hamwee, and I am grateful to every one of them.
I know that the protection of all victims of domestic abuse is a priority of noble Lords across the House, and I am grateful for the support shown for this amendment, which aims to provide migrant victims of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds for a period of no less than six months, so that they can access support services while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status. The mechanism for doing so is straightforward: extend the eligibility criteria of the existing domestic violence—DV—rule, which is a proven route for a limited group of survivors, including those on certain spousal and partner visas.
The Government raised concerns over the interpretation of the amendment, so we have made a couple of minor changes to proposed new subsections (1) and (2) to clarify the purpose of this amendment. There is also an updated explanatory note. I hope that what is now clear from the minor changes to the wording is that we are asking for temporary leave to remain and access to public funds while these extremely vulnerable people escape their abusers and regularise their immigration status. This is not about guaranteeing indefinite leave to remain to all migrant victims of abuse.
In Committee, I highlighted the need for such an arrangement and will not go over similar ground here or repeat the stories that I shared then. In response to the Government’s counter-arguments, received in Committee and in discussion, I make three points this afternoon.
First, I shall speak about legitimate expectation of settlement. When the DV rule was introduced, the stated purpose behind the measure was to enable abused migrant women who would otherwise remain trapped to leave an abusive relationship. There was no suggestion that the DDV concession, as it was then named, was being introduced primarily because of a legitimate expectation by spouses to remain in the UK. I would argue that the law should provide protection for people on all visa types when there is evidence of domestic abuse, since many have insecure status through no fault of their own. We know that domestic violence often dramatically changes women’s circumstances and expectations, and the Immigration Rules should reflect this. I say “women” not to exclude men but because the experience and data has come from those working with women.
The number of additional applications likely to be made each year if eligibility for the DV rule and the DDVC was extended is estimated to be in the low thousands, with an increase of possibly only around 2,000 annually, but the impact would be life-saving and life-changing. The DV rule and the DDVC already work well for those able to access them. Extending eligibility to women—it is primarily women—on other types of visas is a straightforward solution for what is often a complex and challenging situation for many migrant survivors of abuse. It will also remove the power of abusers to weaponise someone’s immigration status to exert absolute control and will allow people to hold their abuser to account by being able to report them.
Secondly, the Government are concerned that the expansion of eligibility for the DV rule and DDVC would, and here I quote the noble Baroness, Lady Williams,
“introduce a route to settlement that might lead to more exploitation of our immigration system—or indeed of vulnerable migrants.”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 99.]
This claim has no basis in evidence. The DV rule and DDVC have operated since 2002 and 2012 respectively, but there is no evidence whatever that the routes have led to abuse of the immigration system. The reason is that robust criteria and assessment mechanisms are already in place to guard against false claims and exploitation of the immigration system. I therefore say that the claim is based on fear, not fact, and that is not a basis on which to make, or avoid making, good decisions.
In 2018, 1,210 DDVCs were granted, out of which only 575 victims were subsequently granted leave to remain, demonstrating that there are established criteria that must be met for someone to be granted leave to remain. These criteria and the assessment procedure effectively prevent exploitation of the immigration system. It is simply not the case that those who make a claim of domestic violence will be able to easily exploit the immigration system, since the assessment procedure to obtain settlement under the DV rule is rigorous.
Not only is that concern lacking in evidence, it is lacking in logic. If, for example, an abuser manipulated a woman to regularise her status under the DV rule for the purpose of exploiting the immigration system, the abuser would be aiding a woman to report abuse that could lead to criminal proceedings against him, the abuser. Furthermore, it would lead that woman to access a pathway to support and protection that would enable her to get away from the control of the abuser. I would welcome some further explanation from the Government on this point because to me it simply does not stack up.
Thirdly, the pilot scheme, created by the Government to seek more evidence of the numbers of victims involved, is inadequate for a number of reasons. The pilot fails to appreciate the urgency and seriousness of the risk of abuse and destitution that abused migrants—mainly women—on non-spousal visas currently face. Even as an interim measure, the £1.4 million allocated to the pilot fund is nowhere near sufficient to address this urgent and mounting crisis. At a stretch, the pilot project is likely to provide only minimal and basic support for up to 500 women for a maximum period of 12 weeks. If the pilot seeks to collect more data, then I highlight again that that has already been submitted by key specialist organisations during the review process.
As I highlighted in Committee, there is no guarantee that any lasting change will follow when the pilot scheme ends. It is only legislative protection for this vulnerable cohort of mainly women that will ensure the Bill delivers its promise as landmark legislation that can deliver protection for all survivors in the UK. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say today, but I intend to press this to a vote.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 87 I will not repeat all my arguments from Committee, but I will reiterate two key points. First, it would allow us to ratify the Istanbul convention and, secondly, it relates primarily to access to services and is separate from the question of immigration control. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hussein-Ece and Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for joining me in sponsoring the amendment, to all noble Lords who supported it in Committee and are supporting it now, and to End Violence Against Women and Southall Black Sisters for their invaluable assistance. I add my support to Amendment 70.
Amendment 87 would ensure that all victims of domestic violence, whoever they are, get the support they deserve. When a crime is committed, when a man or a woman is abused, we offer them help, compassion and justice as our first response, not as a final stage. Domestic abuse cannot be hidden behind discrimination. That principle is central to the Istanbul convention, which insists on non-discrimination, including on the grounds of migration status. This will be the only area of the convention left outstanding once the Bill has passed and there is every sign that it will remain unresolved for some time yet.
Nine years after we signed the convention, we seem to have no plan to ratify it. Ratification enshrines the substantive requirements while still allowing the detail to be developed by the Government. Alignment of the legislative framework can be an ongoing process but it is clear that an international commitment is a powerful statement of intent. It has great symbolic meaning: that we are committed to treating every victim with dignity and will take every incidence of domestic abuse seriously from the point of disclosure. Ratification would be a signal to other countries around the world. It would also be a ray of hope for victims in this country.
In Committee, the Minister pointed to the Government’s pilot project, the migrant victims scheme. I am concerned for two reasons. First, it misunderstands the crucial purpose of this amendment. The pilot is a way of deciding what specific support migrant women might need but the amendment is about establishing their fundamental right to support as victims. Those issues are related but they are not the same.
Secondly, as other noble Lords have already explained and specialist organisations repeatedly tell us, the migrant victims scheme seeks answers that we already know to problems that we can address today. It is an unnecessary delay that creates the appearance of action without any lasting resolution to the terrible situation faced by migrant victims of domestic abuse.
The history of the Bill should be a cautionary tale for all of us. It has taken more than two years to get to this point. Set that alongside the nine years since we signed the Istanbul convention, and I fear that if we do not take our chance to ratify it now, we may be in for a very long wait indeed. If we insist on delaying for the migrant victims scheme, we are saying that migrant women can have protection but only at some unspecified time years in the future. That is not good enough. The Government’s failure to lay out a timetable for ratifying the Istanbul convention only confirms that. I was especially concerned to hear suggestions that the convention could be ratified with reservations so that the Government did not have to address this issue. That would be a very bad outcome indeed, above all for the migrant women themselves.
There is a point of principle here about fulfilling our international commitments. There is also a practical point: the amendment would ensure that the migrant women who are at such great risk could access those services they need. I reassure those who might have concerns about immigration that the amendment would not affect immigration control; it would not require changes to immigration regulations or to the Government’s ability to control who comes to Britain and who gets to stay. However, it would offer protection from serious crimes to those who are here. If someone is attacked on our streets, we do not stop to check their passport before offering them assistance. Abuse behind closed doors should not be any different.
A non-discrimination amendment would mean that public authorities would be expected to take into account migrant victims’ needs when dealing with them or making strategic decisions. It would ensure that survivors could access the services they needed to protect them from harm. It would make sure that the Government’s stated desire to treat victims first and foremost as victims was a reality. It would guarantee that the provisions of the Bill truly worked for and applied to everyone, which they do not currently do, rather than just those lucky enough to be born in the right place. This can be the landmark Bill that we need, for which the domestic abuse sector, and victims and survivors of abuse, are calling, but it cannot do that while it ignores a section of society at serious risk.
I will close with the words of one migrant survivor. She was sexually abused by her ex-husband and other men before finding support from a refuge. She said, “The centre has allowed me to get independence. I have learned so much about life. I have joined college. I am learning every day and I am doing well. I have my autonomy back. I feel safe and less anxious about my future. I can now finally focus on getting help and getting better. I have met many women from different cultures and religions, and we live in harmony at the refuge. We go on courses together and help each other with the homework. We taste all sorts of food that we cook, and we share our lives, our experiences and hopes for the future. I love it here at the refuge. It is my home. It has honestly made a massive difference in my life.”
We have heard many difficult testimonies throughout these debates. This is a reminder of the hope that we can offer and of the power of support and dignity to transform women’s lives. That is what the Istanbul convention seeks to do; that is what the amendment can do. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can offer the necessary commitment on swift ratification.
My Lords, I wish to address just three issues in support of these amendments, which have been moved so powerfully. First, in Committee the Minister argued that the DDVC and domestic violence rule were designed to
“provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas.”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 98.]
The position of those who entered on other types of visa was addressed by the right honourable Theresa May on Report in the Commons. She took the point that generally they would have to show that they have independent financial support but noted that
“it is perfectly possible that they might find themselves in a relationship where the removal of that financial support is part of the abuse they are suffering. We have to take account of that as we look at this issue.”—[Official Report, Commons, 6/7/20; col. 712.]
I wonder whether the Minister has taken account of that.
Secondly, the Minister explained that
“we have worked with the sector to launch the support for migrant victims scheme.”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 101.]
This is welcome and, as I said in Committee, it is to the Government’s credit that they revised the scheme in response to some of the criticisms of the draft prospectus. However, as already noted, it remains the case that the sector does not believe that such a scheme is necessary and has real concerns that the funding made available will not meet the needs of many of the women who will be seeking help from it. I asked in Committee whether it would be possible to at least suspend the “no recourse to public funds” rule for this group during the lifetime of the pilot. However, I did not get a direct response, so I would appreciate one now.
Thirdly, with regard to the Istanbul convention, the Minister noted that
“the position on whether the UK is compliant with Article 4(3) … to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status, and with Article 59, relating to residence status, is of course under review, pending the evaluation and the findings from the support for migrant victims scheme”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 100.]
There is real anxiety that the Government may now try to reserve these articles in order to achieve faster ratification of the Istanbul convention, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I refer to the letter of 11 February about the convention from the International Agreements Committee to the Minister for Safeguarding, following her appearance before it. I apologise for quoting at length, but it is an important letter. It expressed deep concern,
“that you were unable to give us any assurances that the necessary measures would all be implemented this year to ensure ratification can take place promptly. This is particularly troubling in circumstances where the underlying agreement was signed by the UK in 2012 and subsequent progress has been so slow … it seems that the question of providing support to refugees and migrants experiencing violence and domestic abuse is not going to be resolved soon, and you acknowledged to us that work on this was unlikely to be completed until next year, at the earliest. We noted your suggestion that one way to expedite the process of ratification would be to enter reservations in respect of the provisions of the Istanbul Convention which relate to non-discrimination on the grounds of immigration status ... Under Article 79 of the Convention, any such reservation could remain in place for a (renewable) period of 5 years. We have serious doubts about this approach, which could result in the issue of non-discrimination remaining unaddressed for a prolonged period. We also note the proposal from the End Violence Against Women Coalition to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to make specific provision for non-discrimination. A clause of this type could allow for the process of ratification to be expedited and we would support efforts to introduce a clause which would provide adequate support to all victims of domestic abuse, regardless of their migration status.”
In other words, something on the lines of amendment 87. I share that deep concern. Can the Minister give an assurance that there is no intention to enter such a reservation, thereby potentially kicking the issue into the long grass?
In conclusion, I am afraid that Ministers can argue until they are blue in the face that the Bill’s provisions apply equally to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, regardless of immigration status and that migrant victims should be treated first and foremost as victims. However, so long as they refuse to accept these amendments, I am afraid they will convince neither Members of your Lordships’ House nor organisations on the ground—nor, most importantly, migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse themselves. I do hope that the Government will think again, even at this late stage, and, if necessary, come forward with their own amendments at Third Reading.
My Lords, I have put my name to both these amendments. The points made in the previous debate substantially apply, as well as the powerful speeches we have heard in Committee and today. I noted that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, ended on a very positive note. Amendment 70 is about the destitution domestic violence concession, and I found myself thinking about the meaning of each of those words. At the previous stage, the Minister said that the system was designed for a different purpose,
“to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who held spousal visas”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 98.]
and had a legitimate expectation of a permanent stay. However, given the definition of domestic abuse, the term included in the amendment as part of the Bill and defined in it, even if one thought that any extension beyond someone with a spousal visa was inappropriate, there would surely be unlikely to be any substantial numbers.
Even if one thought that an extension of limited leave to remain from three to six months was too generous, it is only limited leave, as has already been said. Do the Government really believe that this would
“lead to more exploitation of our immigration system”,—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 99.]
as was said in Committee? If we consider victims as victims first, what is the Government’s proposal for the victims we are discussing here, who are in a very particular situation on top of everything else that they have to contend with?
Amendment 87 is about equality—positive equality without discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status. This prompted me to think about the unconscious, sometimes perhaps conscious, prejudices that there are against equality and, indeed, against migrants—some migrants, sometimes all migrants. My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece made a very succinct point in Committee that the amendment would enshrine a more consistent and cohesive approach which must be adhered to by all public authorities in providing for victim protection. She had hoped to be able to speak on the second day of Committee, but was unable to, so withdrew her name, and the procedures mean that she cannot speak on it today. I am sorry, because her voice would have been welcome.
This is another amendment that would deprive an abuser of a means of control and abuse. We were told in Committee and on other occasions that the ratification of the Istanbul convention is, of course, under review, pending the evaluation and findings of the support for migrant victims scheme. I am afraid that “under review” and “pending” sound to me rather like “parked”. Both the noble Baronesses, Lady Helic and Lady Lister, mentioned the suggestion that we have heard from the Government—not in the debate, but before today—about ratification with reservations. I share their concerns.
I am baffled that there should be any resistance to ensuring that all victims of domestic abuse receive equally effective treatment and support, irrespective of who they are and how they came to be in the UK. In view of what has been called an inconsistent and even haphazard response by the police, we need to make clear that this is about equality. It is not about some victims qualifying and some not. Surely we accept equality. We accept that legislation is not necessary for ratification of the convention, but this is our opportunity to move ahead. What is the problem? Are the Government concerned about challenges to particular decisions? Is this in fact, as it was beginning to sound at the Bill’s previous stage, about not victims first but Treasury first? If so, could we at least hear that said?
To me, the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, are irrefutable, and she put them very clearly and powerfully. Our Benches support her. I hope that she will give the House the opportunity to support her. If she does not, I give notice that when we get to its place in the list, I will move Amendment 87 to put it to the House and, if necessary, take it to a Division, and I would be grateful if my voice could be taken accordingly.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I agree with everything she and the previous speakers, particularly the right reverend prelate Bishop of Gloucester, have said. These two amendments follow on from Amendment 67, and it really is time that the Government at last implemented the Istanbul convention without reservations, treated all victims of domestic abuse equally and made provision for those subject to immigration control to have a route to make the appropriate applications. The Government would retain control, but it would at least give these people, who are not married, or not treated as married, a possible route to remain in this country—without having certainty of it, which would remain in the hands of the Government.
Without these amendments, like with Amendment 67, there is a danger of serious discrimination against groups of victims and the creation of a flawed piece of legislation negating much of what would otherwise be, as so many people have said, a landmark Act. I add that the pilot project is just delaying an important and necessary decision.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I will not repeat what I said in Committee on this issue. Suffice it to say that migrant women are particularly vulnerable in an abusive situation because their insecure immigration status can be used as a tool against them. They often cannot access refuges or other safe accommodation because they have no recourse to public funds.
Women’s Aid, whose excellent briefing I acknowledge, considers that the Government may be in breach of several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and in breach of the Istanbul convention obligations because they have failed to ensure that survivors with insecure immigration status can access equal support for and protection from domestic abuse. Assurances by the Minister in Committee that
“the Secretary of State is taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 99.]
have not convinced anybody. Amendment 70 provides a way through by regularising survivors’ immigration status irrespective of whether or not they are on a spousal visa, and by extending the destitute domestic violence concession from three months to six months to underpin that.
In Committee, the Minister was reluctant to extend the rules in this way because it would undermine their original purpose. That rather begs the question of whether the original purpose was sufficient, and the trenchant points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and all the evidence from migrant survivors suggest that it is not. It also begs the question: how do the Government otherwise propose to assure the International Agreements Committee that they are fulfilling their obligations under the Istanbul convention, when all those most closely involved can show quite clearly that they are not? I would appreciate it if the Minister would address both these points directly in her response.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, who referred to the International Agreements Committee, on which I have the privilege to serve. We considered the question of the ratification of the Istanbul convention. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the chairman of that committee, will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate in a few moments, so I will not pre-empt what he has to say by way of an authoritative description of the committee’s views.
I want to add just three points. First, the Istanbul convention was signed by the coalition Government in 2012, a Government of which I was then a member. We would not have anticipated then that it would have taken so long for it to be ratified or that there would have been any difficulty in respect of non-discrimination in achieving that. I am glad the Government are bringing forward Clauses 66 to 68 to enable the extraterritorial jurisdiction measures to be dealt with. Surely now is the time and this is the Bill to take ourselves to the point where we can ratify.
Secondly, a number of us in your Lordships’ House served in the other place and realise what it takes to get as many as 135 Members of Parliament to turn up on a Friday morning to support a Private Member’s Bill, but that is what happened on 24 February 2017 to support what is now the Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017. There is a tendency in government to say, “Well, that was just a Private Member’s Bill.” No, it is an Act of Parliament that requires Ministers to set out in a Statement to the House when they have a timetable for ratification and, in the absence of such a timetable, to report annually on the situation. Back in 2017, the 135 Members who turned up on a Friday morning to support that Bill and turn it into an Act would not have expected that there would have been four annual reports, with no resolution yet in sight and no timetable published by the Government. The evidence from this House and, indeed, the other House, is that Parliament expects that to happen.
Thirdly, we looked at the whole question of a pilot scheme. I looked at the response of the review from July last year. It seems that even if a pilot scheme is required, what it is required to do is understand what the administrative processes concerned are—not suggest that we should be in contravention of our international obligations under the convention. We should accept Amendment 87 in the name of my noble friend Lady Helic, who was a distinguished adviser to that coalition Government, and say that whatever the outcome of the pilot scheme, whatever the administrative arrangements, we should not arrive at a position where we discriminate between people according to their status, including immigration status, in respect of the support they receive as victims of domestic violence and abuse. That cannot be the right outcome. Ministers, to be fair to them, have not suggested that they want to discriminate between people by their status. That being the case, we should use this opportunity to bring ourselves into compliance with our international obligations, then let Ministers work out subsequently what the administrative processes are for achieving that.
My Lords, that was a powerful speech by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, particularly in relation to the ratification timetable. I hope the Minister is able to respond positively.
Listening to the debate, both at Second Reading and in Committee, and indeed today, I fail to see how any Member of this House could not be concerned at the plight of migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. Given the vulnerability of these women in general, the Government need to agree and accept both these amendments. It is clear that the current, large proportion of migrant women who have no recourse to public funds are having real problems, being barred from accessing certain types of financial support from the state, including homelessness assistance and other welfare benefits.
As my noble friend Lady Warwick has just said, survivors staying in refuges most commonly support their stay using their housing benefit. The funding crisis within specialist domestic abuse services means that many are unable to support women who have no recourse to public funds. Migrant women in that situation have found it very difficult to secure a stay in a refuge.
We know that survivors in the UK on a spousal visa or one of a small number of family visas can apply for the destitute domestic violence concession, but only migrant women on a very limited number of visa types are eligible, and this arbitrarily leaves out an enormous proportion of migrant survivors with NRPF status, who have few options of where to go if they are experiencing domestic abuse. The Covid crisis has served to demonstrate how precarious the position of migrant survivors is and how essential it is they can access financial support from the state to keep them and their children safe.
I always thought it significant that the domestic abuse commissioner has stated that the no recourse to public funds rule means that a significant number of the most marginalised victims of domestic abuse in our society are unable to access the support they need. Not only does this leave people facing destitution, homelessness or staying with their abuser, it is discriminatory in the terms the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has just referred to.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the Minister’s comments at Second Reading and in Committee. They have commented on what she had to say about the use of the DDVC. But I would like to go back to her saying that the Government lacked data and, as a result, launched the pilot scheme. The problem I have with this is that this is the Bill that everyone is committed to supporting; noble Lords have worked very hard to achieve a consensus on the outcome. I, for one, find it difficult to allow this Bill to go forward without resolving these issues and the evident discrimination that applies to many migrant women.
As for the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, I thought the evidence from the Equality and Human Rights Commission was significant:
“Migrant survivors often find themselves in particularly vulnerable situations owing to their insecure immigration status being used as a tool of control by perpetrators. Their immigration status in turn bars them from access to essential services and support. These barriers are compounded by other factors such as language and a lack of understanding amongst services of relevant cultural and social issues.”
I hope the noble Baroness will put this to the vote.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who always speaks with great reason.
My meetings with the excellent charity Kalayaan during previous immigration Bills—which some here will remember—left me in no doubt about the exploitation of migrant domestic workers in London and elsewhere. We heard some chilling case studies of how their employers confined them, did not pay them and removed their passports, among other forms of flagrant abuse and exploitation, which continue today. Noble Lords will also remember that the strength of such stories led directly to the Modern Slavery Act.
I have not yet spoken on this Bill, but I speak now, more narrowly, as a member of the International Agreements Committee, like the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to support Amendment 87, persuasively argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and Amendment 70, which also concerns migrant workers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, the committee recently listened—with some surprise, I might say—to the Minister for Safeguarding proposing the pilot project to collect further evidence instead of ratifying the Istanbul convention. The Home Office problem is, as usual, that it cannot catch up with unregistered migrants. One can sympathise with that but, as was said, the procedure could take another 14 months at least. My noble friend Lord Kerr questioned her on this specifically, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will explain that we all thought the evidence was already running strongly in the other direction, and we were overwhelmingly in favour of the solution proposed originally by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, urging the Government to skip the pilot and adopt this amendment, which could then lead directly to ratification.
The relevant provisions of the convention relating to non-discrimination on the grounds of immigration status are Articles 3, 4 and 59. They say simply that all women, of whatever status, who are victims of domestic violence and abuse must be protected. Surely, delaying ratification any longer will seriously damage the UK’s international reputation. This message also comes from our Council of Europe delegation, which has already made its position clear. I support both these amendments.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who spoke as a member of the International Agreements Committee—I am its chair—as did the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and as will the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, when he follows me.
Reference has rightly been made to our inquiry into why the Government have not yet ratified the Istanbul convention, which is described by the Council of Europe as the gold standard for the protection of women against violence. That is why I speak in this debate. We had the benefit of the evidence of the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins MP; I believe we were all impressed by her determination to push the work forward, but I am afraid we were less impressed by the reason why this ratification had not yet taken place. She identified three reasons, two of which are being dealt with. The third was the issue covered by the amendment which has been spoken to so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and other noble Lords today.
We took the view as a committee, as noble Lords have heard from our letter—which I signed with the authority of the committee on 11 February 2021—that we were very concerned that the Minister could not give us assurances that the necessary measures would be implemented this year to ensure that ratification could take place promptly. Indeed, it appeared clear from the evidence that ratification might not take place until 2022 or 2023. I think it was in that context that the Minister suggested that a way to get to ratification earlier would be to enter a temporary reservation against certain provisions, particularly those under Articles 4(3) and 59. The committee did not welcome that at all, because its potential effect would be to leave these important provisions—including non-discrimination provisions—outstanding for even longer. In the committee’s view, that would be bad both in terms of the lack of protection for women covered by those provisions and for the reputational standing of the United Kingdom in this important area.
While I think the Minister, whom I commend on her frankness and candour, was trying to help in one sense by suggesting this reservation, it was not an answer to the problem. In the letter I have referred to, we said that what is in effect Amendment 87 would solve the problem and enable a much speedier ratification. She said she hoped the committee would recognise the direction of travel; I hope the Minister here today will recognise that the travel has now arrived at your Lordships’ House with this amendment. It is time to vote for it, as I will gladly do if it is put to a vote, and bring that obstacle to ratifying the convention to an end.
My Lords, this has been a passionate debate that has focused on a group of people who in normal circumstances—normal for them—have little opportunity to articulate their needs. That makes its importance all the more obvious and necessary. I have a carefully written speech, but its points have been made and I have no intention of repeating them.
I have nothing to add on the vulnerability of migrant women; this has been amply, eloquently and passionately described. Nor have I anything to add to the setting out of our long-overdue need to fulfil our international obligations by ratifying the Istanbul convention—that has been done in detail, again and again, by previous speakers. I also express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for painting a picture of the 135 Friday attendees, which is itself a considerable statement.
I am interested in the question because I and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, who is no longer in his place, are the two representatives from the delegation to the Council of Europe who sit on the Council’s migration committee. We met last Friday, where one of our major topics of discussion was how the Council of Europe, with its focus on human rights, the rule of law and democracy, could play its part in conscientising the European Union—which is establishing a pact to deal with immigration—and affect and engage it in bringing to fruition an outcome which will both in this area and across a broader spectrum of issues enhance the diligent observation of the human rights of these vulnerable people.
I look to the Minister beseechingly. I am the 12th speaker in this debate; looking at the names to come, she must not expect a divergence of view from all 12 of us who have spoken thus far. I really admire her industry and compassion and have a sneaking suspicion that, if she were not tied to the Front Bench, she might well be adding her voice to the case that we are making from all Benches. She has tried diligently to put as bold a face on things as she can on behalf of the Government she represents and speaks for. However, in 2017 the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice issued a statement under the heading:
“New Measures to allow ratification of the Istanbul Convention”
which went on to state that the Government intended the Domestic Abuse Bill as
“the final step to enable ratification of the … Convention”.
There can be no doubt that, four years later, the non-arrival at that destination—with the Bill currently before us and reaching its end phase, the prospect of its not including this provision and the likely lengthy delays that will ensue from the process that has been described—is really and seriously a travesty.
In my work on the migration committee of the Council of Europe, I want to be able to argue from a basis of strength, as a Member of a Parliament which has ratified the Istanbul convention, in making the case to other countries. At the moment we are in the waiting room with Hungary, Ukraine and Lithuania, which have not yet ratified, and we are weakened in trying to persuade Poland and Turkey, which are trying to withdraw from it. I believe this Parliament must therefore understand not only the passionate nature of the cause of victims and survivors of abuse in general but the way we put our argument and represent the cause on the larger stage beyond this place.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. He opened by saying that noble Lords before him had said almost everything he wanted to say and then managed to contribute a huge amount of valuable observation. It was very interesting to listen to him; I agree with every word.
Other noble Lords have said virtually everything. I add only that I am concerned by the Government’s hostile environment, which I have always found difficult to understand. It plays to a right-wing agenda with which I have no sympathy at all and poses a moral question as to what their aim is. What is the Government’s priority? Do they care more about helping survivors of domestic abuse end that abuse and making them safe, or about catching and deporting migrants, even where the only thing affecting their lawful residence in this country is the fact that they have fled an abusive relationship? I would very much like an answer. I also invite the Minister to put aside her bold face and perhaps tell us that the Government just want to help people—in which case, these two amendments do exactly that. I very much hope that the Government will perhaps accept these amendments and, to a tiny extent, drop the hostile environment for survivors of domestic abuse.
My Lords, as we have heard, the first of these amendments
“would provide migrant victims of abuse”
who do not have secure immigration status
“with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds … so they can access support services”,
such as refuge places,
“while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.”
Less than 6% of refuge beds are available to women without recourse to public funds, for example. It would extend the domestic violence rule and destitute domestic violence concession to a few thousand more migrant survivors of abuse who are not covered by the existing provisions, which cover only a limited group of survivors on certain spousal and partner visas. It would also extend the period covered from three months to six to allow sufficient time for their immigration status to be regularised.
With the greatest respect to the Minister, the phrase
“we require a more complete and reliable evidence base”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 99.]
is being a little overused in the course of the Bill; she has already deployed this argument in relation to community support services. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester said in Committee, the evidence
“has already been submitted by key specialist organisations”
“response to the Home Office’s migrant victims of domestic abuse review in September 2020.”—[Official Report, 8/2/21; col. 80.]
The government pilot announced at Second Reading in the other place covers only about 500 women for a period of 12 weeks. I am always sceptical of pilots announced in the face of amendments designed to make permanent changes.
Amendment 87 would require the Secretary of State to take steps to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, receive equal protection and support; this would include the migrant victims of domestic abuse in Amendment 70.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the Istanbul convention. I was particularly struck by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who was a member of the coalition Government that signed the convention in 2012. He also mentioned the Private Member’s Bill, now an Act, that was passed by Parliament in 2017. Getting 135 MPs to turn up on a Friday when their allowance, unlike ours, does not depend on their attendance—and they were giving up valuable time in their constituencies—showed the strength of feeling on this issue.
This amendment cites Article 4(3) of the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Article 4 requires parties to
“take the necessary legislative and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and the private sphere.”
I mentioned this in the debate on the previous group. Article 4(3) states:
“The implementation of the provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground”.
It then goes on to list a whole range of factors in the convention, specifically listing the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and “migrant or refugee status”.
We support Amendments 70 and 87, and expect Divisions on both of them. We will support their movers when it comes to the votes.
My Lords, I seek to be relatively brief. Amendment 70, moved so compellingly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, would extend the destitution domestic violence concession to all migrant victims of abuse, providing them with
“temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, for a period of no less than six months … while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.”
Amendment 87, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, spoke so powerfully, would ensure that
“all victims of domestic abuse are protected, regardless of their status, in line with Article 4(3) of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.”
Amendment 70 addresses a major gap in the Bill—namely, the lack of provision for migrant women in particular. They are probably one of the most vulnerable groups suffering domestic abuse. Despite that, they do not get the same level of support as other domestic abuse survivors, with the suspicion being that migrant women in this position are all too often regarded as immigration cases rather than victims of domestic abuse—making it even more likely that abuse of migrant women will take place and simply continue.
This is because the reality is that migrant women who do not have established immigration status find it difficult, if not impossible, to access refuges and other essential support services to escape abuse. Also, their abusers know that they do not have funds of their own—their abusers make sure of that—and have no recourse to the public funds necessary to access that support because of their lack of status. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, reminded us, less than 6% of refuge beds are available to women without recourse to public funds because refuges cannot carry out their vital work without income.
I await the Government’s response, particularly to see whether it still seeks to put off making any meaningful specific commitment to address the plight of migrant women suffering domestic abuse, and whether the response also suggests that, at heart, the Government still regard migrant women without established immigration status who suffer domestic abuse as primarily an immigration issue rather than a domestic one.
In Committee, the Government spoke about a pilot exercise. Again, the right reverend Prelate highlighted the inadequacy of that exercise and the fact that it does not actually commit the Government to doing anything.
The domestic abuse commissioner-designate supports this amendment, and the evidence in support of it is already there in the public domain. The terms of this Domestic Abuse Bill have been debated and discussed for a number of years, going back to when Theresa May was Home Secretary. No doubt as a result of that discussion and consideration, the Bill marks real progress in a number of areas.
However, the fact that the Government still say that they do not know enough about the plight of migrant women faced with domestic abuse to agree to this amendment says a great deal about their attitude to, and the priority they give to, this particular highly vulnerable group. The time to act is now. Action should not be delayed or kicked into the long grass any longer.
We support Amendment 70. We will also support Amendment 87, which seeks to ensure that
“all victims of domestic abuse are protected, regardless of their status”,
if it is taken to a vote.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic for their continued commitment to providing support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. I want to take this opportunity also to thank the International Agreements Committee, which is represented so well this afternoon.
As I highlighted in Committee, I know that we all share the view that anyone who has suffered domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status, should be treated first and foremost as a victim. Although the Government appreciate the sentiment behind these amendments, we still do not think that they are an appropriate way forward.
Amendment 70 seeks to provide at least six months’ leave and access to public funds to all migrant victims of domestic abuse, as well as providing them with a route to apply for leave to remain. Amendment 87 seeks equally effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, while also referring to Article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention.
Starting with Amendment 70, I think that the right reverend Prelate is still seeking expansion of the existing destitution domestic violence concession—or DDVC—and the domestic violence rule so that they make provision for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of the very wide range of circumstances represented in this group. As I highlighted when this amendment was debated in Committee, while the Joint Committee which examined the draft Bill recommended that the Government consider some changes to the DDVC and DVILR, its recommendations fell short of suggesting incorporating the DDVC into the Immigration Rules.
Furthermore, it concerns me that Amendment 70 is based on a misunderstanding of both the purpose and rationale of the destitution domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rule. Both have only ever been intended to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas because, had their relationship not broken down as a result of domestic abuse, these victims would have had a legitimate expectation of staying in the UK permanently.
Moreover, those eligible under the DDVC have consciously set aside a permanent home in their country of origin to adopt a permanent home in the UK with a British citizen or someone to whom we have granted settlement. I emphasise that neither the DDVC nor the domestic violence rule were designed to support those without this legitimate expectation. Expanding the scope of both provisions would undermine the specific purpose that gave rise to them. It would introduce into that simple purpose a whole set of ancillary considerations, blurring the principle on which settlement in the UK is based, and opening up the prospect of exploitation of vulnerable migrants.
Those risks aside, I put it to the House that many people in this country would find it hard to understand why a person who has come to the UK on a temporary basis, perhaps as a visitor or student or on a short-term contract, should be provided with a route to apply for leave to remain by virtue of the fact that they are a victim of domestic abuse. That is arguably the effect of Amendment 70, which states that new immigration rules must make provision for any person subject to immigration control who is a victim of domestic abuse to have a route to apply for leave to remain. We need to focus on the provision of support, not the immigration status of the victim.
With regard to the suggestion that the DDVC be extended to six months, I highlight to noble Lords that support provided by the DDVC can already extend beyond three months. We know from internal management information that the majority of applications under the DDVC lead to an application for DVILR—domestic violence indefinite leave to remain—being made within three months. However, even for those who require longer than three months, provided that the application for indefinite leave to remain is made to the Home Office before the three months has expired, leave continues under existing terms and conditions until the application is decided. To all practical effect, the support can continue beyond three months. Even if an application for DVILR is not made within the three-month window, the DDVC can already be extended on a case-by-case basis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, made reference to NRPF—no recourse to public funds—which of course is a long-standing principle, supported by successive Governments, started initially in 1999 under Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act under Labour. The scheme that we are referring to will provide accommodation-based services, so of course the NRPF condition does not need to be disapplied here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about the hostile environment. Again, that was coined under Labour, and the previous Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Sajid Javid, stated very clearly that that environment would no longer be in place.
As noble Lords will be aware, we committed to undertake a review into the Government’s overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse, including those with no recourse to public funds. We published the findings of the consequent review last July. Although some evidence was provided, it was insufficiently robust to demonstrate which cohorts of migrant victims are likely to be in most need of support, the numbers involved and how well existing arrangements may address their needs. It was clear that a robust evidence base is needed to ensure that funding is appropriately targeted to meet the needs of migrant victims.
We encountered similar issues with the evidence gained from the tampon tax fund. Since 2017, the Government have provided over £1 million from this fund to support migrant victims with no recourse to public funds. While it is clear that this fund has helped deliver much-needed support for a number of individuals and much has been learned, we require a more complete and reliable evidence base to enable us to take long-term decisions.
Against this backdrop, we have committed to providing £1.5 million for the Support for Migrant Victims scheme to address those evidence gaps, as well as covering the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation for migrant victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access public funds. This evidence will be used to help inform decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term. The competition for the scheme closed on 8 February and we are looking to award funding in due course. The scheme will then run to the end of March next year.
I am conscious that, when we refer to migrant victims of domestic abuse, it is easy to fall into the trap of dealing with the latter as a homogenous group with similar, if not identical, circumstances and needs. However, that could not be further from the truth and from what these vulnerable victims require from us. We need to recognise each victim as an individual, with different and diverse needs that warrant further investigation. In achieving this, we want to establish a robust data set that we can interrogate about the circumstances in which support is most needed, the duration of the support needed, what kind of support works best, and how different individuals exit from support to regain their independence. The Support for Migrant Victims scheme will enable us to do just that, to ensure that the information we need is available to inform future policy-making and ensure that decisions taken are sound.
On Amendment 87 in the name of my noble friend, it is our view that the Support for Migrant Victims scheme and the associated evaluation work clearly illustrate that the Government are taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse. This scheme will be available to all migrant victims at the point of need while their eligibility for the scheme is assessed and other routes of support are explored.
What is more, the data collected through the Support for Migrant Victims scheme will provide the information we need to assess current provisions and ensure that effective protection and support is available to migrant victims of domestic abuse. I thank my noble friend for her continued commitment to support migrant victims, but we do not think that the amendment is necessary in the light of the action that we are taking.
My noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and others talked about the Istanbul convention. As set out in the latest annual report on our progress towards ratification of the convention, published on 22 October last year, the position on whether the UK is compliant with Article 4(3) of the convention to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status, and with Article 59, relating to residence status, is “under review”—noble Lords have quoted me on this—pending the evaluation and findings from the support for the migrant victims scheme. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, pressed me on whether we were just trying to park it—no; ultimately, we would not be doing this scheme unless we wanted to see where the gaps were and evaluate it.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, talked about it too, and I think it was he who talked about equally effective protection. That is obviously outlined in Amendment 87, which goes beyond the requirements of Article 4(3) of the convention. The latter requires that the parties ensure that the implementation of the convention, particularly measures to protect the rights of victims, are secured without discrimination on any ground. The duty not to discriminate reflects the principles of non-discrimination under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights—as set out in the explanatory report to the convention—that any difference in treatment between groups must have an objective and reasonable justification. It does not require that all groups are always treated equally. Amendment 87 arguably goes further than that, because it then imposes a public duty to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse, regardless of status, receive equally effective protection and support.
The provisions in the Bill apply equally to all victims of domestic abuse whatever their status, including the ability to apply for a domestic abuse protection order or the provisions in respect of special measures and the prohibition of cross-examination in person. We think that the amendments are not the way forward and that the central issue for migrant victims of domestic abuse must surely be the provision of support, not the immigration status of the victim.
I appreciate that the support for migrant victims of domestic abuse is a significant issue for many noble Lords. We know this and have worked with the sector to launch the support for migrant victims scheme, which will run to March next year. For those who argue that we should not lose this opportunity to legislate, I remind noble Lords that the DDVC has operated successfully as an administrative scheme, so we do not necessarily need legislation to provide further support to other cohorts of migrant victims. In light of the action that we have taken, and continue to take, I would like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester to withdraw her Amendment 70. If she does push it to a vote, I invite noble Lords to reject it.
I thank the Minister for her very full reply. She said, rightly, that I had pressed her and that there was no intention to park the issue, but what I really pressed her on was an assurance that there is no intention to enter a reservation to the Istanbul convention on the question of migrant women.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. Again, I thank the Minister for her very full response and for her real passion about providing support for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
I do not want to repeat everything I said in my opening speech, because I think we are at risk of going round in circles. But the Minister herself said that this is not a homogenous group and that it was about treating each person as an individual. That is why we are asking for this temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, so that each person can be treated as an individual and the right action can be taken.
There is a lot of confusion around visas and the real division between spousal and non-spousal visas, when we know that there is actually a lot of nuance within that. There is no point us simply saying that it is working for people, because we know that it is not. Further, the consequence of the exclusion of many of these women from the DV rule and the DDVC is not that they will return home—the result is that they will remain in abuse. We know that from the charities and the stories that we have heard.
I really do not have anything to add, apart from what has already been said throughout this debate. I do not want us to go round in circles. I want to ensure that support is available for every person. In reference to Amendment 87, which we will come to later if the House is divided, I echo everything that has been said on the ratification of the Istanbul convention, and I hope that the Government will move on this.
I believe that Amendment 70 is limited and workable. I also think that it is imperative that the other place has an opportunity to look at this issue again, because the details of the pilot project had not emerged when they discussed it before, and we now have those. I therefore seek to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 71 and 72 not moved.
73: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Monitoring of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements
(1) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.(2) In section 325 (arrangements for assessing etc risk posed by certain offenders)—(a) in subsection (1), after ““relevant sexual or violent offender” has the meaning given by section 327;” insert ““relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” has the meaning given in section 327ZA;”;(b) in subsection (2), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators,”. (3) After section 327 (Section 325: interpretation) insert—“327ZA Section 325: interpretation of relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator (1) For the purposes of section 325, a person (“P”) is a “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” if P has been convicted of a specified offence and meets either the condition in subsection (2)(a) or the condition in subsection (2)(b).(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the conditions are—(a) P is a relevant serial offender; or(b) a risk of serious harm assessment has identified P as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm.(3) An offence is a “specified offence” for the purposes of this section if it is a specified domestic abuse offence or a specified stalking offence.(4) In this section—“relevant serial offender” means a person convicted on more than one occasion for the same specified offence, or a person convicted of more than one specified offence;“specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;“specified stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.(5) Within 12 months of this Act being passed the Secretary of State must commission a review into the operation of the provisions of this section.(6) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report setting out the findings of the review under subsection (5) which must include a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers for the purposes of—(a) improving the early identification, assessment and management of perpetrators;(b) increasing the number of rehabilitation programmes;(c) increasing specialist work to tackle abusive attitudes and behaviour; and(d) ensuring a co-ordinated approach to data collection and management of perpetrators across England and Wales.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment amends the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides for the establishment of MAPPAs, to make arrangements for serial domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators to be registered on VISOR and be subjected to supervision, monitoring and management through MAPPA. It would require the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers within one year of the Act being passed.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who moved my amendment in Committee; to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for also adding their names to the amendment; to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, whom I regard as my noble friend, who cannot speak due to procedural issues but who has given me her strong support; to my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper MP, who moved a similar amendment in the Commons; and to the Minister, for all the work that she has done on this important Bill—as she knows, I hold her in the highest esteem.
We have been on a long journey, but there is more to do to tackle gender-based violence and misogyny. Following the appalling murder of Sarah Everard, it is with deep sadness but increased determination that I speak to my Amendment 73. The disappearance and murder of Sarah highlights yet again the fear and reality of male violence for all women. The one thing that unites all women is the fear of male violence. As Margaret Atwood once said, men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them.
Women are tired of domestic abuse and stalking being considered a women’s issue. They have spent years being told that they should change their behaviour, they have made thousands of reports to the police which have not been listened to or properly recorded and they are desperate for change. The culture of misogyny has to change. Just last week, women were told not to go out after dark—the same advice that was given after the Peter Sutcliffe murders 40 years ago. As ever, the onus was put on women, whereas violence against women is a man’s problem. We need men to step up, to take ownership and responsibility and to create the urgently needed change that holds other men to account for their behaviours. We need to focus on perpetrators.
This is a time to look to the future to prevent the violence, abuse, coercive control, stalking and murder of women in our society. I cannot help but reflect, however, on the fact that, together with victims, survivors, their families and professionals, we have been urging the Government for many years to legislate for the effective identification, risk assessment and management of perpetrators and their inclusion on a national register.
Laura Richards, in the 2004 report Getting Away with It, a profile of domestic violence, sexual and serious offenders, published by the Metropolitan Police Service, highlighted that many domestic abusers and stalkers are serial perpetrators who go from victim to victim and that one in 12 of them raped inside and outside the home. The recommendation was made for serial domestic abusers and stalkers to be proactively identified, assessed and managed by police, prison and probation services, using the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements and the violent and sexual offenders database. However, 17 years later, this is still not happening.
Two HMIC inspections revealed deeply troubling findings. The 2014 inspection into the police response to domestic abuse revealed no risk management of perpetrators, and the 2017 HMICFRS report into stalking revealed 100% failure by every police service and Crown Prosecution Service in six areas. Recommendations were made in both reports, but action was there none.
I draw your Lordships’ attention to four cases that are personally known to me, in which women were failed abysmally by lack of action and by not having a register or a perpetrators strategy including risk assessment and management. Jane Clough, an A&E nurse, warned police that her violent ex-partner Jonathan Vass was going to kill her when she separated from him. Vass coercively controlled Jane and threatened to kill her when she left him. He raped her repeatedly and assaulted her. Jane was terrified when Vass was bailed, having been charged with seven counts of rape and three assaults. She moved to her parents’ house, the extraordinary John and Penny, with her baby. She did not leave the house for three months because she was so scared, but Vass started stalking her on Facebook. He waited for her to return to work from maternity leave and arrive at the hospital car park, and stabbed her 71 times. He had a history of abusing other women that was not joined up.
Hollie Gazzard was stalked and murdered by Asher Maslin in the hairdressing salon in which she worked. Hollie reported to police many times. There was no proactive investigation, risk assessment or risk management, despite Maslin being involved in 24 previous violent offences, including three on Hollie, 12 on former partners, three on his mother and four on others.
Helen Pearson called Devon and Cornwall Police 144 times over five years. She told police that she thought the person writing threatening graffiti saying, “Die, Helen, die”, damaging her car and putting out the windows of her flat was a man called Joe Willis. Helen was terrorised and became a virtual prisoner in her own home. Each time she reported another terrifying event, Helen told the police that it was part of a pattern and she read out the crime report number. The police closed the investigation and Helen attempted to take her own life, as she was at her wits’ end, but the abuse continued to escalate. Not only was Helen and her property targeted, but he targeted her parents and made their lives a living hell. The police did not investigate him, nor was he ever spoken with despite the fact that he had a history. Two weeks before he grabbed Helen off the street and stabbed her eight times with a pair of scissors, he left a dead and tortured cat on her doorstep. At no point was Helen or Willis proactively risk assessed or managed. The police in fact focused on investigating Helen, as they believed that she was making it up.
Zoe Dronfield was almost killed by Jason Smith, who had previously abused 13 women. No one checked his history and she was told to get a nicer boyfriend. His history was all at one police force, the West Midlands. He had victimised a police officer before Zoe, who said that he would seriously harm or kill a woman one day, yet nothing was done.
On 10 October 2017, the Minister told me, in answer to an Oral Question:
“Domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators can already be captured on the dangerous persons database and managed by police and probation under multiagency public protection arrangements, or MAPPA.”—[Official Report, 10/10/17; col. 106.]
We knew at the time that that was not working and now we have even more proof, with more women living in fear, being abused physically or mentally or, at worst, being murdered.
In that time, a great deal of guidance has been issued: a new framework has been adopted by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, setting out arrangements for working with people whose convictions or behaviours include domestic abuse; and the College of Policing has adopted a set of eight principles on the
“identification, assessment and management of serial or potentially dangerous domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators”.
The amount of money being spent by charities on programmes to work with perpetrators has increased, thanks to the Government. All of this is very good, but not enough.
Since the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordships’ House on 5 January, 30 women have been killed—the perpetrators all men: Sue Addis, Carol Hart, Jacqueline Price, Mary Wells, Tiprat Argatu, Christie Frewin, Souad Bellaha, Anne Turner, N’Taya Elliott-Cleverley, Rose Marie Tinton, Ranjit Gill, Helen Joy, Emma Robertson Coupland, Nicole Anderson, Linda Maggs, Carol Smith, Sophie Moss, Christina Rowe, Susan Hannaby, Michelle Lizanec, Wieslawa Mierzejewska, Bennylyn Burke, Judith Rhead, Anna Ovsyannikova, Tina Eyre, Samantha Heap, Sarah Everard, Geetika Goyal, Imogen Bohajczuk and Wenjing Xu. We honour these women, including through our determination to bring about change.
In a recent meeting with the Minister and her officials, for which I am grateful, it was agreed that the current system is not working. It was suggested that the problems resulted from gaps in practice, rather than gaps in process, and that more strategies and guidance will suffice. It will not. No matter how many tools are added to the tool-box, the gaps between practice and process will not be narrowed, as they must be, until there is a coherent and co-ordinated national system and those implementing the process have to do so by law. It is, for example, not good enough to rely on best practice; we know that that does not work. There are some great examples of best practice, but they are rare. That is why we need a clear, consistent, national approach, which must include the proper identification, assessment and management of serious perpetrators.
The amendment makes explicit the importance of utilising data and technology in the prevention of domestic abuse and the management of perpetrators. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, will focus on this. However, it is important to stress that, at the moment, perpetrators travel with impunity, but information about them is static.
On process, domestic abuser and stalker cases are currently not heard at MAPPA meetings. Ofttimes the cases are not seen as “serious”, despite guidance, and specialist domestic abuse and stalking services are not invited to attend MAPPA. Ofttimes there may be no physical abuse but high levels of coercive control. This is not seen as a risk by most professionals, yet research shows that it correlates significantly with femicide. In 94% of murders of women there was coercive control preceding separation and stalking post separation. That comes from a report from the University of Gloucestershire in 2017. The fact that a perpetrator is serial also increases the risk, yet this is not currently taken into consideration.
That is why my amendment requires a change in the law to create a new category—category 4—to ensure that serial and high-harm domestic abusers and stalkers are identified, monitored and managed by MAPPA-plus. MAPPA-plus would include domestic abuse, coercive control and stalking specialists around the table. This would create much-needed clarity that these perpetrators must be proactively identified, assessed and managed by police, prison and probation via the statutory body of MAPPA. A new category would arguably create more clarity and ensure that perpetrators did not get lost or deprioritised among others. Guidance could include that each area must identify 10 to 20 serial and high-harm domestic abusers and stalkers to be heard at MAPPA under category 4. Equally, “serial” has been defined as two or more victims, and offences can be specified just as they currently are at MAPPA. The perpetrators must also be included on ViSOR, the violent and sex offender register. Data collection is needed as perpetrators travel and their detailed history must follow.
I was delighted to read in the Sunday Times:
“Ministers are considering plans for a national register to monitor men who harass or are violent to women in response to an outcry over the murder of Sarah Everard.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, and Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, are understood to support a ‘super-database’ that would log details of the estimated 50,000 men convicted annually of offences including harassment, coercive control and stalking.
Police and social services would be given access to the register, which would act as an ‘early warning system’ when men commit certain crimes or move into local areas. A minister involved in discussions over possible legislation”
is alleged to have said:
“‘These people are often in the system, but who’s keeping tabs on them?’”
Speed is of the essence. We need the Bill to deliver the register of perpetrators, but this amendment is not just about the register; is it also about a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers that would improve the identification, assessment and management of perpetrators and ensure a more co-ordinated approach to data collection across England and Wales. Following the murder of Sarah Everard and the outpouring of concern, anger and grief by hundreds of thousands of women who live in fear, it is time to act. It is not for women to modify or change their behaviour: it is for men to change, to cease their violent actions; it is for society to bring about a cultural change in which misogyny is unacceptable; and it is for government to take leadership.
We can no longer rely on guidance, past or impending strategies or the potential sharing of best practice. We can no longer simply focus on victims; we have to focus on perpetrators. I am therefore pleased to support Amendment 81, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, and I strongly urge the Minister to accept this amendment. If she is not minded to do so, I will seek the view of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 73, to which my name is added. I also support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Strasburger. I too extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Sarah Everard, but also to all the families and friends of those murdered since the beginning of this year. That there have been 30 murders of women since your Lordships’ House had its Second Reading of this Domestic Abuse Bill in January this year is deeply shocking. I suspect, as many of their cases come to court, that we will hear details time and again of how women sought help but were not able to get it from the people they should have been able to trust: the police and other parts of our judicial system.
I will briefly focus on three women murdered in the last five years, because what went wrong for them is still going wrong on a regular basis for this most heinous crime. They are Shana Grice, Pearl Black and Janet Scott.
Michael Lane stalked and murdered Shana in 2016. He had abused 13 girls before Shana and they had reported him for stalking. Shana herself reported him multiple times to Sussex Police. Despite this, there was no focus on Lane’s behaviour or his history, only on Shana’s. Outrageously, she was issued with a fixed penalty notice for wasting police time. She was polite and terrified, and went to the police for help. Shana did everything right, but there was no proactive investigation of Lane. In fact, he was interviewed by the police for just 12 minutes. There was no intelligence or information sharing, or referral to MAPPA.
Simon Mellors murdered two women, Pearl Black and Janet Scott. He murdered Pearl in 1999 when she split up with him. When he came out of prison, he began a relationship with Janet Scott. He coercively controlled her, threatened her and tried to kill her, which she reported to Nottinghamshire police and probation. At this point, Mellors should have been recalled on licence but no action was taken, despite her repeated reports. She was brutally murdered in 2018. The probation officer had told Janet that he doubted Mellors would reoffend, yet, when he did, police and probation took no action, saying that they just did not identify stalking behaviour. So why is it that a man who has killed his previous partner is not seen as a risk when Janet is terrified and reporting him for threatening to kill her? Janet did everything she could, and, despite the fact that Mellors had killed before, nothing was done to manage the risks and to stop him doing it again.
That is why Amendment 73 is necessary. I also heard yesterday that the Government are now considering consulting on a register for stalkers and serious and serial domestic abusers. That is not good enough. The need for a register is now and, as important, arrangements for MAPPA and ViSOR need to be strengthened. There is some very good practice, but it is not consistent, because the agencies are not being forced to work together and the impact that it is having on victims is appalling, as evidenced by the 30 murders we have seen this year alone.
My own experience was when a campaign of harassment, intimidation and then stalking started against me when I was the general election candidate in Watford. The perpetrator was my Conservative candidate opponent, a man called Ian Oakley. One of his particularly unpleasant traits was to harass and intimidate members of my local team to get to me, including poison-pen letters delivered to many houses in my area about our councillors, alleging that one of them had not supported his child in a previous marriage, and then later that he was a child sex abuser. None of this was true. He also perpetrated increasing levels of criminal damage to properties of people who supported me at election time. He sent obscene hand-drawn cartoons showing me in graphically sexual acts to our constituency office on postcards so that Royal Mail staff would see them too.
But for me, as his main target, on top of all these things happening day after day, week after week, there was more. He sent false letters about me to the weekly newspaper, the Watford Observer, making allegations about my family circumstances, trying to have us investigated by children’s services, as we were guardians and carers to two bereaved children. He reported me to Special Branch for falsifying my nomination papers; I had not. He dropped letters through my letterbox just so I knew that he knew where I lived. He phoned me very late at night and then did not talk. He sent me the most disgusting pornographic magazines in envelopes, but without stamps on, so I had to go to the Royal Mail collection office and pay for an envelope without knowing that it was yet another form of abuse. His messages would let me know that he had been following me at night when out canvassing. It was utterly relentless for three years.
Initially, I coped by cataloguing, reporting and helping others to report incidents to the police; I had a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet that grew. For the first 18 months, each reported incident was dismissed as “not serious”. Then the incidents grew and became more serious. Once we were at over 130 incidents on my spreadsheet, two detectives suddenly got it—they joined up the dots. By this time, we knew who it was, but there was no proof. We were issued with an operation name and mobile numbers for the detectives.
Publicly, I was very angry and determined that he would be caught, but privately, I felt constantly sick and nervous most of the time. I became tearful and anxious about having to go out campaigning in the evening in winter months; always watching, anywhere I went. I also felt personally responsible for the incidents targeted at my friends, colleagues and supporters, and I know that other victims of stalkers feel the same when their families and friends are targeted too.
Even when we had the evidence, after my husband bought and installed 10 CCTV cameras at the sites repeatedly targeted by Oakley, two things happened that still shock me today. The first was that a very senior police officer warned the detectives that they would be unlikely to prosecute a case like this, seen as political. That changed when Oakley started on my noble friend Lady Thornhill, who was then the elected Mayor of Watford, and an arrest was made very swiftly, thank goodness. The second thing was that not one of the more serious charges—to which Oakley had pleaded not guilty—was taken any further. This included incidents using 10-inch knives to slash car tyres, defamatory poison-pen letters distributed to large numbers of people, and the sending of pornographic images. For all of this, he received an 18-week suspended sentence—for a three-year campaign—and a year’s community order.
I relate my experience because the nature of the progression of the stalking is of utter relentlessness, and the police reaction is still not unusual. In 2016, eight years after my case, only 37 stalking offenders and 93 harassment offenders received a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment or more and were therefore automatically eligible to be managed under the MAPPA process as category 2 offenders. However, we do not know how many of these offenders were either referred to or subsequently managed under MAPPA, but as the number of automatically eligible offences is low, and the number of prosecutions for serious harassment and stalking is considerably higher, we can infer that a substantial number of potentially dangerous individuals were not managed under recognised offender management processes.
The Violence Against Women and Girls report shows that in 2017-18 80% of stalkers did not face a charge. Out of over 10,000 only 1,800 were charged, 212 were convicted and only 48 went to prison. Furthermore, most cases were recorded as harassment or something lesser, as in my case, and in 2018-19 there was a further 10% decrease in stalking prosecutions. It is probable that the new stalking protection order will make sure that this continues to decrease as it is an easy alternative. In many domestic violence and stalking case prosecutions—where it is rare that convictions occur—unduly lenient sentences resulted for stalking, domestic violence and coercive control: namely, weeks, months or suspended sentences, which in no way reflects the severity of the crimes.
Stalkers have specific and complex needs to address due to their fixated and obsessive behaviour. For some, this behaviour becomes more serious as time goes on. There is a lack of suitable programmes for stalkers that will reduce the likelihood of reoffending and protect members of the public. It is vital that police, prosecutors, probation, judges and magistrates are trained to understand stalking, including the risks and dangers of stalkers, as well as the stalking legislation which was introduced in 2012 following the stalking law reform inquiry, which I worked on with Robert Buckland. This assumes even more significance if there is to be a stalkers’ and serial perpetrators’ register database, which we are calling for in this amendment. We believe it is urgently needed—now. We urgently need the elements to ensure that people such as stalkers are included in MAPPA.
My goodness me, I am almost left speechless by the account of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of what happened to her; I am so sorry that she had to endure that, and it is hard to disagree with a word that she said. Having taken the now enacted Stalking Protection Bill through this House, I understand the very serious nature of this issue. I would also like to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has spoken passionately to her amendment.
One note of caution is that MAPPA adviser arrangements are far from perfect as they stand. Only one thing that could be worse than not monitoring serial offenders and stalkers in this way is to say that we are keeping track of them, but in fact the opposite turns out to be true, due either to poor resourcing or a systems failure. So, if my noble friend the Minister is minded to reconsider this amendment, we must make sure the systems have the resource and the capacity—but it is hard to disagree after hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, make that speech.
I will now speak to Amendment 81. Sometimes events happen that make society stand up and say, “No more”. The tragic murder of Sarah Everard has done exactly that. As we know, she is the 118th woman to be killed over the past year. Their names may be less familiar, but each and every one of them must be remembered. I praise the honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley for doing just that in the other place, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who just now read out the 30 women who have been killed since the Bill was brought to this House.
I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I mention my own cousin once again. Her name was Christine Bertin. At the age of 18 she had her whole life in front of her. Instead, she was murdered by a complete stranger. He had been harassing local girls in her neighbourhood in a suburb in Paris and she, also, had caught his eye. Unbeknown to her and my family he stalked her movements over a period of time, and when he knew she was alone in the house he forced himself in and he strangled her.
My heart therefore goes out to all those families who have lost loved ones at the hands of a killer. The journey they are now on is a long and lonely one, with no real end in sight. My cousin died many years ago now, but the sorrow we still feel is as acute as on the day she was murdered. No family should ever feel this. Sympathy and anger can and will spill over, but the only real thing we can do for them and their dead daughters, sisters and mothers is to ensure that they have not died in vain. We have to match heartfelt words with the far harder task of making changes that will actually drive down this death toll for good. I believe there is a lot in this Bill that will work towards that.
Stranger attacks and domestic abuse are inextricably linked. The media will alight on the former, and the latter, quite unacceptably, often just gets a shrug, as though it is some kind of inevitability. But the reality is that abuse and misogyny in the home flows freely into the street; they are the same crime. I often reflect that, if the police at the time of my cousin’s murder had taken that man’s harassment of young girls more seriously, if his behaviour had been called out as grossly unacceptable by his peers, or if he had been put on a perpetrator scheme such as the ones we now know work, my cousin just might still be alive today. His behaviour, and that of so many potential murderers and serial abusers, was simply allowed to carry on unchecked and unstopped. This must end.
However, the debate should not be about men versus women. If a boy is seeing only abuse and violence at home, compounding it with violence and abuse online, without the right support and guidance there is a chance that he will carry on that cycle. Early intervention and recognition of this are essential. I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, for relaying this amendment. It was in my name in Committee and I support it wholeheartedly.
In the interests of time, I will not repeat what I said in Committee, but it feels more urgent than ever to focus attention on the perpetrator—the person actually committing the abuse. We will never see any real change in behaviours and attitudes if we carry on putting this as an afterthought. The new funding for perpetrators announced in the Budget was very welcome; more will be needed if we are to ensure a quality response everywhere, but it is certainly a really important move to building up a quality-assured national capacity to respond to perpetrators. We know that fewer than 1% of perpetrators receive any kind of intervention; that is a shocking statistic.
Experts have been calling for a strategy for more than a year now. In Committee, my noble friend the Minister acknowledged that it was needed. Will the Government now press on with developing a strategy and do it properly, in a way that is commensurate with the problem? It does not matter whether the strategy is self-contained or part of something wider; what is important is that it is comprehensive and consulted on. It should make clear what the Government want to see different parts of public service delivery do and how they will help them do it, whether in housing, probation or health. The domestic abuse commissioner has also highlighted that quality assurance is vital for effective perpetrator programmes, as is multiagency decision-making, something we have heard time and time again throughout these debates. Given that she has been mapping perpetrator services, the Government should take note of the clear gaps in provision before any rollout of schemes. There have been lost opportunities with this year’s £10 million fund as it was granted to parties so late. To make best use of the £15 million fund announced this year, work should be done to scope and plan the pilot properly prior to the summer. I also hope the Minister will change her view on the timing of a year, given the urgency that policymakers now face.
This amendment, alongside the Bill generally, which I support enormously, could go some way to building genuine change over the coming years.
My Lords, I am in an unusual situation. When I am fourth on the list, I would usually feel that I had something to contribute, but listening to the harrowing experiences of the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Bertin, it makes me feel that this is the most challenging amendment I have ever spoken on. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, very clearly explained the need for this amendment and the fear that women face. I feel very privileged that I have met the family of Jane Clough, whom she mentioned, and listened to their heart-breaking experiences and how time and time again they felt that they were not being listened to.
Like so many women in public life, I have experienced very uncomfortable situations where I have had unwanted attention, been bombarded and had threatening behaviour. I have been incredibly lucky that people have helped and supported me through it, but even with that support and police support around me, I was not able to sleep, I could not eat, I was scared to go out and I was constantly looking over my shoulder. It changed how I felt about myself and my ability to cope with everyday life, and that was with help and support around, so imagine what it must be like to feel that nobody is listening to you and nobody is helping. That is why I strongly support Amendment 73 and the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger.
I thank the London School of Economics, which provided incredibly useful information and support on this amendment. Gathering data is important, but so is sharing that information with police forces. It does not seem right that this data is not systematically shared and is shared only through the Police National Computer, which records only charges.
I urge the Minister to listen to the speeches tonight. A comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers is essential. It is needed more urgently than a year from now. It must help the identification, assessment and management of perpetrators. We must focus on perpetrators’ behaviour and not blame victims. We must support the victims to enable them to have a chance to get through it. I shall not say any more on amendments tonight, but I strongly support the amendment and will vote favour of it if the noble Baroness divides the House.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, I strongly support my noble friend Lady Royall. Like her, I essentially want to see a co-ordinated, consistent and mandatory approach to the flagging and targeting of perpetrators, with a statutory obligation on police, prison and probation services to identify, assess and manage serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. Without such a comprehensive approach, we will not get anywhere with this problem.
The appalling murder of Sarah Everard yet again highlights the fear and reality of male violence for all women. Femicide is at an all-time high; a woman is murdered by a male ex-partner every three days. These are not rare occurrences, as the police so often claim to justify the lack of priority given to the protection of women. The list of women killed by men since this Bill had its First Reading, read out by my noble friend, is surely testimony to that. Throughout the first lockdown. five women a week were killed by a male partner or ex-partner.
It is so striking that most of those men had a history of harming other women—yet there is no proactive risk identification or assessment or management of the perpetrators. Ministers attribute this, essentially, to poor practice. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has argued that offenders should be managed under MAPPA—but the reality is that domestic abuser and stalker cases are just not heard at MAPPA meetings; they are screened out as cases not seen as serious.
In a moving, courageous speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to three cases. I want to talk about another one: that of Cherylee Shennan. Cherylee was stabbed to death outside her home by convicted killer Paul O’Hara in March 2014 in front of police officers who had been called to investigate reports of domestic abuse. She had suffered a broken nose, repeated facial bruising and a broken jaw at O’Hara’s hands. She was held hostage at knifepoint at least twice before O’Hara killed her.
O’Hara was previously given a life sentence in 1998 for killing ex-partner Janine Waterworth, but he was released on licence in 2012. He had other previous serious convictions for violence against women. He had been assessed in prison as displaying traits of psychopathy. At the time of his release, he was assessed as posing a serious risk to women. Despite his history, O’Hara’s risk was not required to be managed within MAPPA.
Cherylee’s family first suspected that O’Hara was abusing her when they saw her with serious facial injuries at a family gathering on bonfire night. At the time, Cherylee gave an alternative explanation for the injuries but, on 1 March 2014, she told her sister Ellen that it was O’Hara who had caused them, that he had also fractured her jaw and that he had held her hostage at knifepoint. She also told her sister his offending history.
The family called the police. Police officers attended what they believed to be an ongoing domestic violence incident, without any knowledge of O’Hara’s history. They discovered his history on doing a PNC check at Cherylee’s home, but they took no positive steps to arrest or risk-manage O’Hara. They also did not take a full account either from Cherylee, who was fearful of the consequences of police involvement, or from the family members present who could confirm the injuries.
Coroner James Newman published a “prevention of death” report, raising alarms over the lack of interagency communication between probation services and the police. In his findings, he questioned the role of MAPPA. He said that, following O’Hara’s release,
“there were no local MAPPA meetings, no inter-agency meetings and no significant inter-agency communications regarding the perpetrator, no detailing of his licence conditions, and no information regarding either his nature or the trigger factors of his offending. My concern is despite this, and the findings of the report, there is still no mandatory process for the sharing of information between agencies where the offender, despite a known extensive history of domestic abuse and identified trigger factors, is then managed at MAPPA Level 1.”
This is the tragedy of the current system. Chief constables apologise when these cases come to light and promise to do better, but history repeats itself time after time. The Government set great store by guidance; the police and probation services are awash with it, but it is not read, it has no teeth and very little has changed in 20 years. Serial perpetrators and stalkers are simply not visible or held to account, even though past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. We know that they are transient; they seek to control the most vulnerable women and children, and if that includes moving across borders to meet their needs, they will do so.
There is no duty on the police to add any information or intelligence about a perpetrator’s previous offending to a local or national system; if information is put into the local system, it often lacks the detail required. The burden is placed on the victim and too often the perpetrator’s narrative is believed rather than the victim’s. As my noble friend said, how many times do we see the depressing response from the police that women in the wake of these terrible crimes should stay indoors at night for their own safety? It is as if it is women’s responsibility and, essentially, they are to blame.
My noble friend also referred to the 2014 to 2017 inspections by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the police response to domestic abuse perpetrators. The recommendations from these reports still have not been put in place locally or nationally. It is the same with homicide reviews. Why is that so? The reality is that domestic abuse and stalking responses are woefully underresourced. Misogyny and institutionalised sexism are rife and no amount of guidance will change that.
On data, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, is so right. Police forces do not have systematic ways of recording the same person, victim or perpetrator; hence, repeat victims or perpetrators are not spotted and no action is taken to protect and prevent. As she said, police forces do not share data systematically with each other apart from through the Police National Computer, which records only charges. The advice of LSE researchers Professor Tom Kirchmaier, Professor Jeffrey Grogger and Dr Ria Ivandic—which suggests that police forces should use machine learning predictions based on two-year criminal histories because it would be more effective—is ignored.
Last year, over 80 signatories, including charities such as Women’s Aid, Respect and Action for Children, as well as academics and individuals, called on the Government to invest in a perpetrator strategy. Nicole Jacobs, the designate domestic abuse commissioner said:
“I support the call on Government to publish a Strategy on Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse.”
As she said:
“Current prevention work is patchy and too often perpetrators go unchallenged and are not offered opportunities to change their abusive behaviour.”
If we are to better protect women and girls, the Government must act now to support these amendments and shift the focus onto the men who cause the fear, terror and violence. It is time, too, that we eradicated misogyny and sexism from our criminal justice system. It is time these dangerous domestic abusers and stalkers were registered and monitored in the same way as sex offenders, and that the victim’s right to safety and to live free of fear was realised and prioritised over an abuser’s right to freedom.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who has made several powerful speeches during the passage of this Bill. I shall speak to Amendment 81 in my name. It requires the Government to devise a perpetrator strategy to prevent, identify and assess perpetrators. It would increase the number of rehabilitation programmes and better tackle attitudes before they lead to a crime. It goes without saying that it is far better to prevent repetition of domestic abuse before it occurs. Even better, we should aim to prevent abuse happening in the first place.
At a time when violence against women is sadly in the headlines once again, we have a duty to do all we can to prevent crimes that can be entirely predictable, as we have heard, and often follow a multitude of warning signs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, illustrated in her four examples and as other speakers have done. Domestic abuse is a crime hidden in people’s homes. Behind the doors of ordinary homes, tens of thousands of victims live in pain and fear with their own families. Domestic abuse is a terrible, secret crime.
Several noble Lords have used the phrase “murder in slow motion” because when domestic abuse reaches its logical end, often after years, the murder is so very predictable. And yet it still happens, time after time—women mostly, dying after years of injury at the hands of the men they loved. The Bill sets out to help those victims when they leave their abuser and report them—when they have had enough.
However, Amendments 73 and 81 seek to prevent the crimes happening in the first place, so that victims do not have to leave and perpetrators can see what they are doing and choose to stop before another tragedy, of which there are so many, ending in injury, pain or death. We need to step in before children who witness this tragedy grow up and take everything they have learned into their own relationships, playing out the same tragedy again 20 years down the line.
Good-quality perpetrator programmes help those who assault, coerce or frighten those closest to them to stop. The best programmes help perpetrators realise that they do not do it because anyone makes them; they do it because they choose to, and they can choose not to. Good perpetrator interventions have stunning success rates, which I and other noble Lords have already rehearsed in this House. How can we possibly fail to do everything we can to stop the pain, the destruction and the transfer of this tragedy down through the generations? The Government must do everything they can to discover the best of these programmes, roll them out over the entire country and fund them in such a way as to make them a part of a well-used and reliable method of reducing this sickening secret crime.
We must do more. In their sex and relationships education classes, the children of this nation must be taught not only what good relationships look like and how to treat their future partners with respect, but also what an abusive relationship looks like. Then they will be able to recognise when a relationship of their own, which may have started well, begins to sour. Once we have shown them what it looks like, we should tell them where they can get help, what they can do, how they can stop it, or how they can escape it and who they can call.
In Committee, the Minister responded to this amendment with an assurance that a perpetrator strategy will be included within the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy. It has also emerged that a total of £25 million of initial funding is available. However, the Minister’s statement was rather short on important detail and I hope she will be able to fill the gaps in her reply. I invite the Minister to tell the House the Government’s position on the following matters, for all of which I provided her with advanced notice.
Will the Government not only fund behaviour change interventions but stimulate changes across public service delivery to better detect and prevent abuse in the first place? Will the perpetrator strategy set measurable targets? Will the Government lay out plans to stimulate social change to end any lingering tolerance of abusive behaviour? Will the Government commit the Home Office to work with other departments to shape the perpetrator strategy and ensure their buy in? Will they consult experts outside government across public services and the specialist women’s sector?
Will the perpetrator strategy contain clear guidance on quality for commissioners to ensure that there is no risk of public money funding poor practice? Will the perpetrator strategy set out the Government’s funding intentions for the next three years? Above all, will the Government no longer allow perpetrators to fly under the radar and abuse time and again? We must stop asking: “Why doesn’t the victim leave? Why doesn’t she keep her children safe?” We must start putting responsibility to change on those who are being abusive, until the abuser can ask himself: “Why don’t I stop?”
I look forward to the Minister’s response. If necessary, I will test the opinion of the House, depending on what she has to say.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 73 and 81. I applaud the intentions of both amendments but will raise a couple of practical points. I hope that they do not seem inappropriate after the shocking testimony of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the very powerful and moving speech by my noble friend Lady Bertin.
In relation to establishing a register, the aim of adding serial abusers and stalkers to ViSOR is to make it easier for agencies across the country to identify and monitor perpetrators. In principle, this seems sensible. It puts the burden on the perpetrator, not the victim, and, given that many high-harm perpetrators are repeat offenders, it could help manage the risk. However, there are concerns from some working on the front line as to whether it would achieve that goal in practice.
ViSOR is a vital tool for the police, prison and probation services, but its effectiveness depends on the quality and timeliness of the information recorded within it. If we are to extend it, then there must be questions about who goes on it, how long they stay on it and, given the potential size and complexity of such a database, how we ensure that it is fit for purpose. Will it be able to do the job for which it is intended? No one has yet found satisfactory answers to these questions. As I said, I applaud the intention, so I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could outline some of the alternative ways in which the Government can and will strengthen oversight in relation to perpetrators.
The call in Amendments 73 and 81 for a perpetrator strategy is more straightforward. Thanks to the innovative work of SafeLives and its partners in the Drive project, we know that targeted intervention programmes work. As they say, domestic abuse is not inevitable. We can and must stop it recurring and, indeed, occurring in the first place. I question whether we need to call for this on the face of the Bill, given that the Minister has already assured us that it will be part of the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy. However, like others, I do not question the need for it. As recent events have shown us, the focus should be on the perpetrator, not the victim.
Like others, I put on record my deepest sympathies for Sarah Everard’s family and friends. We all hope that something good can come out of something so unfathomably bad, but we should never forget that at the centre of this national debate is a very personal tragedy and a private grief.
My Lords, I could not believe the three opening speeches we had. Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, I thought, “Well, that’s unbeatable.” Then we heard the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, which was equally unbeatable, and then from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, who was also unbeatable. I am not sure that I have very much to contribute except that, over the past week, I have had several hundred abusive emails. Those men—virtually every single one was a man—felt that it was all right to send to my parliamentary account the most incredible abuse. I am well aware that some women MPs at the other end have this sort of thing all the time, sometimes thousands of emails every week. It is just staggering that these people think that they can write this abuse, send it and let someone else read it. I am absolutely astonished at this.
The problem is that misogyny is embedded in our society, and we have not dealt with it. The only way we can deal with it is through education, and this is education that starts with children—but it also starts with educating our police force. We have heard these stories about how the police just do not take it seriously, because they do not understand it. Just as there is a lot of misogyny in wider society, there is misogyny in the police. Many times, 20, 30 or 40 years ago, one would hear police officers saying about domestic abuse incidents, “Oh, it’s just a domestic.” It sounds very much as if they are not taking it seriously now, all these decades later.
I am going to repeat myself—and I know that I am not allowed to do so on Report—but I have said on several occasions that police forces should have mandatory training on how to recognise and deal with domestic violence. Some forces have done it and, where they have done it, it is noticeable that they have a better attitude to women, but we also see the prosecution and sentencing of male offenders increase dramatically. Nottinghamshire Police has had that training and improved its rate of prosecution of male abusers, and it behaved phenomenally well on Saturday night, when our dear Met police really messed up.
Here we have these amendments, which pose the question: how seriously do we want to take domestic abuse and domestic violence? There are processes in place administered by specialists for managing and monitoring serious sexual and violent offenders, and I do not understand why this apparatus is not being used for domestic abusers and stalkers. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said that best practice does not work, but why does it not work? I just do not understand. Perhaps the Minister can explain why it is not working.
It is high time that we got serious about domestic violence. The perpetrators should wear a label and have to disclose it with anyone they try to form an intimate relationship with, and they should be monitored and managed in line with the seriousness of their offending behaviour. These people are generally very unlikely to display one-off behaviours of domestic abuse and violence; these patterns of behaviour are totally engrained into their personality, for whatever reason. Perhaps they saw domestic violence as a child or perhaps there is some other underlying reason—but whatever it is, it happens and we have to protect women against it.
We can have all the support for the survivors that we possibly could, but it is infinitely preferable to have a world where there are no perpetrators, rather than supporting survivors. Without stamping out the behaviour of perpetrators or forcing serious consequences on their behaviour, we cannot stamp out the evil of domestic abuse—and, yes, I am afraid that it has to be in the Bill. First, most of us do not actually trust the Government to do it if it is not in the Bill. Secondly, if it is there it is visible, and people understand that it is being taken seriously—so I ask the Government to accept these amendments. Obviously, the Green group will vote for whichever are brought to a vote.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and I associate myself with many of the comments made by previous speakers. I pay tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall of Blaisdon and Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lady Bertin for being so brave as to share their thoughts and experiences. Obviously, we are all deeply touched by the murder of Sarah Everard. I also record my growing concern. In 2009, Claudia Lawrence disappeared on her way to work as a chef at the University of York and has never been found. No one knows whether she is alive or dead, and, very sadly, her father passed away without knowing any more. I am very aware of the extent of the concern about the crime of stalking and more serious offences against women.
Some of the thoughts I would like to share this evening are my own, but I am also grateful for the briefing I have received from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. We should also remember the tragic loss of Suzy Lamplugh.
Amendment 81, as I think my noble friend Lady Sanderson said, is to a certain extent more straightforward. There is much to commend a strategic plan for perpetrators of domestic abuse. I await with great interest my noble friend the Minister’s response to that.
My understanding is that the Criminal Justice Act 2003 already places a statutory duty on agencies to co-operate to manage certain categories of offenders. This does not exclude stalkers, so it is unclear how creating a register, as proposed under Amendment 73, would work in co-ordination with that duty. During the 18 years when I was a Member of Parliament—for two separate constituencies—my limited experience with MAPPA, the multiagency approach, was not an entirely happy one. It would be much better to have one lead agency, and I leave it my noble friend the Minister to decide which agency that should be. Of course agencies should co-operate and collaborate, but it is much more satisfactory when one agency is in control.
There is a problem which I hope my noble friend will address either through the forthcoming consultation or when dealing with Amendment 73, which is before us. As it stands, the amendment does not allow for information pertaining to perpetrators to be shared with other services and agencies. My understanding is that ViSOR is a confidential system that many professionals dealing with stalking cases would not be able to access and, further, that hardly any police officers have access to ViSOR. The information on it would not necessarily be immediately available to front-line officers responding to calls about a perpetrator. Apparently, the current situation is that checks on ViSOR have to be justified, while ViSOR terminals and their locations must be risk-assessed for security. That surely has to change; ViSOR must be more readily available to prevent future stalking offences, given the events of the last three months that were put so graphically and emotionally to us this evening.
I understand that the provision also already exists to ensure that perpetrators can be managed beyond their licence conditions. MAPPA is currently not being used as it potentially could, therefore more emphasis should be placed on upskilling criminal justice agencies to use MAPPA. Does my noble friend the Minister expect that her department will authorise that? Apparently, there is a requirement for two stalking convictions to have taken place in order to get a stalking perpetrator on the register, which adds an unnecessary obstacle, whereas they could already be placed on ViSOR without conviction if they are considered dangerous. Again, might my noble friend be minded to consider this?
The numbers speak for themselves. It has also been raised by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust that Amendment 73 has appeared in the context of a Domestic Abuse Bill. Does the Minister share my concern that this could potentially create a two-tiered system between domestic and non-domestic stalkers? That would be very regrettable? Clearly, this is a gender-based crime and it is on the increase. Current legislation is not dealing with it, I am sure, to the satisfaction of the House.
Stalking is a serious crime that is currently underreported and under-prosecuted. Figures for 2019-20 from the Office for National Statistics reveal that there were only 3,067 charges for stalking offences, let alone convictions. I hope that my noble friend will take very seriously the two amendments before us and that she will consider the reservations I have expressed to ensure that we have the best legislation that is fit for purpose, either through this Bill or in subsequent Bills. I believe that this would be best addressed either through the amendments before us or in a government amendment, if my noble friend was minded to bring one forward in due course.
My Lords, I am pleased to support these two amendments. Many of the points that I would have made have been covered much more eloquently by others, so I shall try to be brief.
My first point is that we are not even accurately recording stalking and other domestic abuse cases. There have been consistent failures in this respect: apparently no common form of data recording is being applied, so flitting from one police area to another seems to be the workaround of choice for the serial perpetrator. That really has to stop.
Secondly, even when incidents have been reported, and one assumes recorded, they are not being followed up. The problems around information sharing have been voiced widely by other noble Lords, and I agree with them.
Thirdly, it is therefore not surprising that multiagency attempts to deal with this issue have not been sufficiently effective. I will pause to applaud the many instances of good and effective work being done in this field, but it is not universal and domestic homicide reviews have pointed out consistently how earlier and/or effective intervention could and should have been made, but was not. There may be multiple reasons for this: differences in available skills, divergences in policies and priorities, sectoral protocols, funding streams, management or policy direction, and gaps between policy and operational decisions. There may also be a deficit in accountability on the latter point, not only in the police but in other public institutions. Perhaps no one is in overall charge, a point that has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and others. Even if there was, as matters stand, funding and co-ordination would remain questionable.
Further than that, as noted by others, the provision for perpetrators is utterly inadequate—although I appreciate that the Government now appear to be minded to start addressing this.
At Second Reading I pointed out the work described by the Sussex police and crime commissioner about the cost-benefit of dealing with perpetrators. This is the critical point of this group of amendments: the proper identification, assessment, monitoring, management and application of therapy to perpetrators is cost-effective and of lasting general societal benefit. My information is that, while some perpetrators may be psychopathic and incurable—with apologies if I have used the wrong term—many are themselves suffering from deep-seated inadequacies that can and should be addressed.
Amendment 73, which has been put forward so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, addresses the need for a coherent approach. If I have any reservations at all, it is that it may not go far enough, which might have been the point behind the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh.
Amendment 81, which is specifically about perpetrator strategies, has been spoken to eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. I agree with him for all the reasons he has given. He covered everything that I would have addressed, and more besides. This needs to be the stuff of a national network to which any court in the land can effectively refer the convicted and in which those who want to change their ways voluntarily may also participate. The programme would have to be coherent and delivered to consistent standards. We should aim to rehabilitate offenders and those who may not yet be in the criminal system. I noted with satisfaction that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, did not advocate locking up and throwing away the key, which has been the subject of some of the comments that I have received from outside the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, noted the many indicators that can and should be picked up to facilitate early intervention. So, despite all the shortcomings that I recognise, I would simply remind noble Lords of the research done by the University of Manchester and others: it is not that we cannot afford to deal with this resolutely but that we cannot afford not to. The amendments get my wholehearted support and, if it comes to a Division, will get my vote.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to give maximum support to my noble friend Lady Royall, but in effect to all speakers, since I have not heard anything that I disagree with.
I have four short points to make. First, I was very struck that buried in the short but useful briefing from the London Assembly was a warning that carrying on on a more casual, non-statutory basis does not work. It points out that in London from January to November 2019, the current domestic abuse protection order was used in only 0.5% of domestic abuse offences recorded by the Metropolitan Police. So the warning is that we have these well-intentioned tools but they are not used by the police or magistrates. I was very struck by a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, in her powerful speech, and it is a warning to the Minister: saying “We’ll do it” but then not doing it makes the position far worse. It is a question of resources in finance and of course in will, and that is a crucial point that has to be made.
Secondly, I share the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, having read the briefing from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust about domestic and non-domestic stalking. As the previous speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, said, Amendment 73 probably does not go far enough.
Thirdly, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath made a point about the numbers affected each week, but we also have to remember not just what happened last week and what has happened since the Bill came into your Lordships’ House, but the fact that we know for certain that by the end of this week another two females will have been murdered.
Fourthly, regarding perpetrators, we have heard the range of examples that noble Lords and noble Baronesses have given. Now I know this might be classed as fanciful because it is not correct, but I ask the Minister to think of perpetrators as an organised perpetrators’ grouping. I know they are not and there would be very little evidence for it, but there is a pretty consistent pattern, not only over some cases but over many years, as if they were such a group. If they were treated as an organised perpetrators’ group by Parliament, the Home Office and law enforcement then by now we would be having strategic views, risk management and people’s names on registers in the same way as with existing registers. We would really be toughening it up. I would take that as a starting point for the debate today, not a finishing point.
As I said originally, I do not disagree with anything I have heard today and I give my full support to these two amendments, both verbally and if they are pushed to a vote.
And so, my Lords, we come to tail-end Charlie. What is probably not obvious to those listening or watching today’s proceedings who are not around the Palace of Westminster is that they have been taking place with the sound of helicopters circling almost ceaselessly. I think that is because a group of people who feel strongly about what we are discussing, some of whom may even have been on Clapham Common on Saturday evening, have decided to come to Parliament Square today while we are having this discussion, and I suspect while another place is beginning to talk about the policing Bill, to voice their concern and—in a respectful way, I am sure—are trying to demonstrate how strongly they feel about this issue.
What an irony that we have a female Home Secretary and a female head of the Metropolitan Police, and that it was a female assistant commissioner who, under huge pressure, took a decision on Saturday evening that with the benefit of hindsight she may possibly regret. The evidence around the country of demonstrations taking place where the police decided to be judicious and hold back is that they seem to have gone off without event, while the two that I have heard of—one in London and one in Brighton—where the police decided to take a different decision have ended badly. I hope lessons have been learned from that.
In preparing for this debate, I looked back very carefully at the Minister’s replies in Committee. I will not go through them in detail but, broadly, they say that there is a range of laws, forms of guidance, processes and technology systems, all of which have been carefully designed to try and produce particular results. However, when you look at those results, they are very mixed. I know from talking to people who are involved in this area that some of them would say that parts of this are working extraordinarily well. All I can say is that, as and when we come up with a new, all-singing, all-dancing strategy to deal with domestic abuse, part of it must be—as when a strategy is formulated and rolled out in any organisation—to tell the world what is going well, what is working, that you are doing more of that and improving it; not, as we do mostly with domestic abuse, listening to an unspeakable litany of the occasions when it clearly is not working.
I suspect that that does a disservice to the many people in the various organisations that are dealing with domestic abuse, which is probably one of the most difficult areas to deal with, and who are working their guts out. In some cases, they are probably achieving excellent results. However, I ask the Minister to reflect on why, if that is the case, we do not know about it. If we are doing some things well, why can we not find a way of talking about that, and communicating it in a way that is not triumphalist, or scoring political points, but in a way that is actually helping the people who it is designed to help?
Having been in business for many years, working with very large companies, going through all sorts of strategies, S-bends, U-bends, takeovers and all the rest of it, my normal reaction when somebody proposes a new strategy is to reach for my tin hat. If the Government are going to proceed with their ambition to have this wonderful, holistic, joined-up domestic abuse strategy, we have to learn from our failings in the present and our many failings in the past. If we do not, we are simply going to repeat them. As somebody once memorably said about the situation in Ireland:
“In Ireland there is no future—there is only the present and the past”,
endlessly repeating itself. With domestic abuse, we run the risk of doing that unless we recognise what has not worked; unless we recognise that some of the promises that have been made, some of the semi-answers that are given, are not satisfactory.
The discipline that I always apply in a situation such as this is to imagine that the Gallery up there is filled entirely with victims and their families. I wonder what they think as we talk, pirouette, and demonstrate our rhetorical flourishes; as people are, occasionally, unable to resist making political digs. I wonder how they feel as they listen to us talking about incidents which have, in many cases, pulled their lives completely apart. It behoves us to think about them always when we are talking about these subjects. It is their graves that we are treading on, so we need to be very careful and mindful of that.
I would like to put on the record the experience of another woman who was killed, to do justice to her and to the many people who obsessively look into these cases. For them to have to live with what they do day in, day out, must be extraordinarily difficult. This is the story of Kerri McAuley—and this means she will now be remembered in Hansard.
Kerri was brutally murdered in Norwich by Joe Storey in January 2017, just over four years ago. She suffered 19 injuries to her head and face following an attack by the perpetrator, who then smeared her blood on his face and took a selfie, then left her there to die. He had previously violently attacked five former girlfriends, dating back to 2008, nine years before, and at the time he murdered Kerri, he had no fewer than—I stress—three restraining orders to prevent him abusing his former partners. Prior to that, Kerri had endured hours of being attacked and locked away and, in the last violent incident before she died, she managed to escape, wearing only her underwear, by jumping out of one of her windows. She called 999 and for 22 minutes she pleaded for help, telling the call handler about the previous assaults on her, which was the first time she had ever told it to anybody, saying that she was scared of further attacks and that she was afraid he might kill her. In July 2016, Storey—guess what?—received a restraining order for this prolonged and vicious attack, just like the other ones he had accumulated like a badge of honour with his previous assaults. Therefore, even with this additional restraining order, six months later, he murdered Kerri.
There can be no excuse for having a system that is trying to deal with domestic abuse which has been built on repeatedly over the last 20 years and which tolerates results like that. It is simply unacceptable, and we need to fix this. We need to do so for the victims, for their families but, most of all, we need to do it so that we can live with ourselves. I support both amendments and I hope the Minister will be able to give a convincing reply.
My Lords, this debate has been filled with harrowing examples, including powerful personal testimony such as the moving account the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, gave of her cousin.
In Committee, a similar amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, was introduced to make it a legal requirement that serial domestic abuse offenders or stalking perpetrators are registered on ViSOR, the violent and sex offender register, and that they be subject to supervision, monitoring and management through existing Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA. In Committee, I suggested that existing legislation and codes of practice may already require dangerous serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators to be supervised, monitored and managed through MAPPA, and that the issue may be one of the police and other agencies not complying with existing legislation rather than a problem with the legislation itself. The Minister appeared to agree with me. However, clearly something needs to change, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, so powerfully set out. Women are dying because serial offenders are slipping through the net and, if this part of Amendment 73 is not the answer, the Government need to explain very clearly what they are going to do.
My noble friend Lady Brinton’s personal experience, so bravely and powerfully put, and the personal experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, should leave the House in no doubt that action is needed urgently. Unlike the amendment in Committee, this amendment includes a requirement to review the operation of its provisions and to lay a report before Parliament that includes a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers. Amendment 81 in the name of my noble friend Lord Strasburger also requires the Government to lay before Parliament a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abuse, the case for which he has so clearly set out.
I will not repeat the arguments I made in Committee. Suffice it to say that we on these Benches support both of these amendments, and were the opinion of the House be tested, we would support them.
My Lords, Amendment 73, proposed by my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon with my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has my full support, as does Amendment 81, tabled and moved by the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger.
Like other noble Lords, I send my condolences to the family of Sarah Everard and of all the other women who have been murdered since Second Reading. As was pointed out, 30 women have been murdered since Second Reading, which is an absolutely horrific figure.
My noble friend Lady Royall made a powerful case and laid out a comprehensive framework to deal with the perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalkers. Her amendment would require there to be a report before Parliament within the next 12 months looking at the operation of the provisions as set out in the amendment. My noble friend was right when she said that it is time for men to step up and take ownership, and take responsibility for this issue. The cases she referred to are harrowing but, sadly, they are only the tip of the iceberg: horrific abuse and a catalogue of failure by the authorities to understand the risk that these women were at, often only understanding that risk when it was too late and they had been killed. As has been said, 30 women have died, murdered by their partner, between Second Reading and today’s debate. That figure should be enough in itself for the Government to want to act. We have had a complete failure of practice and process, and we need to ensure that there is a proper, national framework to identify, assess and manage perpetrators. It is most important that people are not lost in the system. We need a comprehensive perpetrators strategy: nothing less will do.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in setting out the case for women who are murdered, demonstrated the need for that national solution and the failed system. I am very sorry to learn of the personal abuse the noble Baroness has suffered at the hands of a political opponent. Sadly, it means that she can speak with first-hand experience as a victim of appalling abuse and stalking. It seems to me, from what she told us, that the perpetrator was treated very leniently for the crimes that he committed. I was not aware of the murder of the cousin of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and she is absolutely right that we have to match heartfelt words with actions. We have to break this horrific cycle, and that needs a proper multi-agency approach that leads to action. We need to ensure that we bring up better boys to become better men. That is what needs to happen here. That happens in the home, but if people in the home are seeing violence and abuse as part of their daily lives, are we surprised that when they become older, they behave in an equally appalling way and we get these dreadful, horrific crimes?
The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, reminded the House of the abuse that women in public life have suffered, which, again, is totally unacceptable. One of my best friends—I will not mention her name—is a Member of the other place. We used to work together at the Labour Party. She was proud to be elected to Parliament to represent the constituency she lives in. She and her family suffered appalling abuse from a stalker, who found out where they lived and would turn up outside their front door, sent abusive emails and generally made their lives a living hell. In the end, my friend and her husband sold their home and moved to another part of the constituency, and the perpetrator went to prison for his crimes. In the new home, there are panic alarms, a special thing on the letter box and other security measures. This is no way to live, just because you want to represent your community and are good enough to stand for a party and get elected. It is appalling. I remember my friend telling me, when we had a coffee in Portcullis House, “Actually, Roy, I’m quite safe here. But I’ve left my husband and two kids under 16 at home, where this person knows we live. That is what really worries me while I am down in London during the week.” It is awful. She is not the only person; there have been horrific cases of women of all parties facing horrific abuse, particularly in the House of Commons. That is outrageous, and we must stop that.
I was talking to someone about the abusive emails that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, received last week. Again, it reminded me of the total failure of the social media companies, which have not dealt with abuse or vile, disgusting threats. I look forward to the day the Government bring forward their online harms Bill and we can finally make the platforms that host these vile messages responsible. I suspect that when they are criminally responsible, things will change very quickly—and may that day come along.
The noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, rightly makes the point that domestic abuse is a hidden crime, committed over years, often leading to the death of a victim, and committed behind closed doors by the person who is supposed to care for, love and look after you. It is a horrific crime, and the more we talk about it, the more we can deal with it.
I agree with the comments from my noble friends Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Rooker and, like him, I agree with every comment made so far in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Russel of Liverpool, drew attention to past failures and how we recognise those, learn the lessons and move on. Governments of all parties have made mistakes. This is not a party-political point. We have all got things wrong; we have all got things right. I deeply regret, though, the destruction of the Sure Start programme. Sure Start centres were the hubs that the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, often talks about when he debates here. Again, it is about ensuring that we have proper skills to address the problems and ensuring that things are better—that we bring up better boys and better men. That was very much an achievement of a much-loved and missed friend, Baroness Jowell. She gave that support to families who needed it.
I will leave my comments there. I am clear that if either amendment is moved to a vote, these Benches will support it.
My Lords, I join others in sending our thoughts and prayers to the family of Sarah Everard. We do not know the history of her murderer, but we do know that she is just another murdered woman. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, there have been 30 such women since Second Reading. I heard the story of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, as a horror story; it is something you would never wish on anybody. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, paid tribute to Jane Clough and her wonderful parents. I have met Jane Clough’s father, and I pay tribute to her parents, who have campaigned so tirelessly so that what happened to their daughter will not happen to somebody else. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned some of the horrendous things parliamentarians have to put up with. I am so sorry for the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for the abuse she has suffered in the last week or so, and I am sure I speak on behalf of every other noble Lord in the House. And the story of my noble friend Lady Bertin was awfully sad and horrific.
To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, this set of amendments is not about political digs. I totally agree with him. We all seek the same end, so it might seem odd that the words I am going to say disagree with noble Lords’ amendments. The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and I have campaigned and worked together for years, trying to fix the gaps that we find in the provision.
Amendment 73 seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003, so that individuals assessed as high risk and high harm, as well as those convicted of more than one domestic abuse or stalking offence, should automatically be subject to management under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, commonly referred to as MAPPA. Management under MAPPA may result in these individuals being recorded on VISOR, which is the dangerous persons database. The amendment would also place a duty on the Government to review these changes to the Criminal Justice Act and issue a report 12 months after Royal Assent. It specifies that the report would need to include a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers. This links to Amendment 81, which also calls on the Secretary of State to issue a perpetrator strategy.
Noble Lords have spoken passionately about this issue and it is impossible not to be moved. I am simply horrified by some of the stories raised, not only today but in Committee. I indicated then and say again that I totally agree with the intention behind these amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Russell, said, so much works, so why are there gaps? We want to make sure that there are no gaps and that we have the right systems in place to enable the police and partner agencies to accurately identify the risks posed by high-harm, repeat and serial perpetrators, and to act accordingly to protect victims.
We recognise that there is more that can be done to fill the gaps and ensure that the system works as intended, but we do not think that Amendment 73 addresses or resolves the underlying issue of improving risk assessment and case management. We fear, therefore, that it will not achieve the outcomes that it is intended to achieve.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said—I will paraphrase—that serial and high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators can be managed under the current MAPPA legislation, but that it is not always happening in practice. My noble friend Lady Bertin echoed this and we agree, which is why, instead of amending the current legislation to add an additional category, we think there is more value in making better use of the existing MAPPA framework and related police systems.
My noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering talked about upskilling. There is a range of things, of which upskilling is one, which will drive an improvement in the system, including a better focus on the outcomes that we seek. We have already taken steps to improve MAPPA and related systems. Last spring, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service published the Domestic Abuse Policy Framework, which sets out arrangements for working with people whose convictions or behaviours include domestic abuse. The framework mandates an adherence to the referral pathways for domestic abuse perpetrators and ensures that the required actions for these cases are fully laid out. It focuses on the need for an investigative approach, sets clear expectations about information exchange and the use of MAPPA, and draws together expected practice into a clear framework. This will significantly strengthen the consistency of our approach. It is right that we put our focus on embedding this framework, which will have a real operational impact to ensure that it is working to better safeguard victims and those at risk.
We are also introducing measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which was introduced in the House of Commons on 9 March. These measures will clarify the information-sharing powers of those agencies subject to the duty to co-operate under MAPPA. It will also explicitly extend these information-sharing powers to those agencies or individuals who can contribute to the assessment and management of risk—for example, GPs.
As my noble friend Lady Bertin says, we know that there is still more we can do to address the areas of concern that this amendment intends to resolve. I would like to outline the programme of activity that we will undertake to best achieve this. First, the Ministry of Justice will revisit and refresh all relevant chapters of MAPPA statutory guidance to include the sections on domestic abuse. This will ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify offenders who are domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multi-agency management.
Secondly, we will introduce a thresholding document for local MAPPA strategic management boards to improve the consistency of assessments of MAPPA levels to ensure that those requiring greater oversight are correctly identified. We will ensure that there is a reference to domestic abuse perpetrators to assist relevant agencies in making decisions on the level of MAPPA management needed for individual cases.
Thirdly, HMPPS will issue a policy framework setting out clear expectations of the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1 by the National Probation Service, including domestic abuse perpetrators. This will further help to improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews, and the identification of cases where additional risk management activity is required.
Finally, we will improve the MAPPA sharing database —known as ViSOR—used to manage offenders, including through exploring alternative digital offender management systems, building on the success of the existing system in bringing agencies together to share information, and strengthening risk assessment, management and mitigation. To answer the point of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, as I said before, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill makes provision for that better data sharing under MAPPA.
There are provisions in the Bill which will also help to improve the management of risk posed by domestic abuse perpetrators. The new domestic abuse protection orders—or DAPOs—will provide an additional tool for managing the risk posed by perpetrators by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions and positive requirements. DAPOs will also require perpetrators subject to an order to notify the police of their name and address and any changes to this information. This will help the police to monitor the perpetrator’s whereabouts and the risk that they pose to the victim.
Stalking protection orders, which were introduced last year—I am glad that my noble friend is in the Chamber—can also impose positive requirement conditions on perpetrators. These orders enable early police intervention, pre-conviction, to address stalking behaviours before they become deep-rooted or escalate.
Ultimately, adding an additional MAPPA category into legislation specifically for domestic abuse offenders will not improve the practical issues it is truly seeking to resolve—and if it did, I would be fighting for it to happen. In fact, if we were to use the definition of domestic abuse offender as outlined in the amendment, we would make a large group of offenders not defined by specific offences automatically eligible for MAPPA. This would risk creating a level of complexity not reflected in the current legislation that will distract resources and could overwhelm the current system.
The definition of “specified stalking offence” in the amendment is given as an offence contrary to Section 2A or Section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The Section 4A stalking offence, namely
“Stalking involving fear of violence, alarm or distress”
can attract a sentence of up to 10 years in custody, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for working with me on this. Where someone is sentenced to 12 months or more, they are already automatically subject to management under MAPPA. Crimes charged under Section 2A would be likely to involve episodes of stalking which do not involve fear of violence or serious alarm or distress and could be referred to MAPPA on a discretionary basis. We think this is the right balance to ensure that we are capturing the most harmful offenders. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for bringing attention to this issue, but we think the package of actions that I have outlined today will be the most straightforward approach to achieving the intended outcomes and, most importantly, will make the biggest difference at an operational level.
I now turn to the part of Amendment 73 and to Amendment 81 that would place a duty on the Government to prepare a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers. The Government are committed to holding perpetrators to account for their actions. As I mentioned in Committee, later this year the Government will bring forward a new, ambitious strategy to tackle the abhorrent crime of domestic abuse. Within this strategy, we will outline our plans and ambitions to prevent offending as well as to protect victims and ensure that they have the support they need. Tackling perpetrators and preventing offending will form a key pillar of the strategy, as my noble friend Lady Sanderson said.
The noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, asked for reassurance about what will be in the strategy with regard to perpetrators and prevention. He will appreciate that we are still in the early stages of our thinking, so I cannot pre-empt what the content of the strategy will look like at this stage, but I can commit that we will take all his points into consideration during its development. I know the noble Lord is particularly concerned about prevention, so I would like to provide reassurance that we recognise that to address a problem properly, we must tackle the root causes as well as the symptoms. I can also confirm that we will be consulting specialist organisations, including the Drive Partnership, other government departments and partner agencies during the development of the strategy.
The noble Lord’s amendment provides for a 12-month timetable for the publication of the strategy. While we aim to improve on that timetable, I hope noble Lords will recognise that we cannot have all the answers now. On the principle of a separate strategy, while we agree with the need to take a strategic approach to tackling perpetrators, we think it is right to do this in a holistic domestic abuse strategy and not in a standalone perpetrator strategy, to echo my noble friend Lady Sanderson again.
We continue to build up our evidence base to inform this work. As part of the spring Budget last year, the Chancellor allocated £10 million to fund innovative approaches to tackling perpetrators and preventing domestic abuse. This included more than £7 million for police and crime commissioners to support the adoption of a range of domestic abuse perpetrator-focused programmes in their area. This funding included a requirement for PCCs to conduct an evaluation of their project to strengthen the evidence base of what works to prevent reoffending. I am very pleased to confirm that we have now also provided more than £500,000 to 11 research projects to help improve our understanding of who carries out domestic abuse, how and why it occurs and how to prevent it.
I am delighted that in his Budget earlier this month, the Chancellor announced a further £15 million for the upcoming financial year to fund work on domestic abuse perpetrators. In addition to this, as part of the package to tackle serious violent crime, last week the Home Secretary announced an additional £10 million towards expanding domestic abuse perpetrator programmes. This more than doubles the total funding for tackling domestic abuse perpetrators and is an unprecedented amount of money in this area. This demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to this agenda.
I apologise for detaining noble Lords for so long. I conclude by saying that we are absolutely committed to ensuring that MAPPA works as intended, but do not feel this amendment achieves that aim. I hope noble Lords will be reassured by the extensive programme of work under way that will help to address the concerns about the current MAPPA arrangements. The recent announcement by the Chancellor demonstrates the Government’s commitment to tackling perpetrators. I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, what an extraordinary debate—powerful, passionate, distressing and harrowing in many ways. I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have participated, especially the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Bertin and Lady Grey-Thompson. It is extremely painful to relive the sort of experiences that they have relived today, but I hope their courage in putting their experiences on the record will help others.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell, was right when he said we need to fix the system for victims and their families, and for us to live at ease with ourselves as a society. Today, having named so many victims and cited the cases, we must remember the families of those victims and the great pain that such debates must cause them. Equally, I hope the fact that we are debating ways of improving systems will ensure that other young women, older women or girls will not be subjected to the same abuse, the same stalking and the same murders as their loved ones had to experience.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for her comments, and she is right: we all seek the same end. But we have always had a slight difference in how to get to that end. If she does not mind, I would like to ask her something before she sits down, as it were, although I know she has sat down. I quoted some words from the Sunday Times suggesting that the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary were thinking of a register for stalkers and perpetrators of domestic abuse. I wonder whether she can give us any further information about the comments made to the Sunday Times.
Like the noble Baroness, I saw that article. I have not had a chance to corroborate with the Home Secretary and my right honourable friend Robert Buckland the contents of that article. I can get some more information for the noble Baroness, because it would be useful to have their thinking on it.
My Lords, apparently in answer to a question from my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper, the Home Secretary said, “I will be very candid: I will look at all measures”. That was in response to a question about this very amendment.
The noble Baroness mentioned the fact that more guidance is coming and that there are more policy frameworks and strategies. All that is very good, but unless people have to do what we need them to, and unless they can be accountable to the law in some way, these things will not happen. We know that, for the last 20 or 30 years, there has been a plethora of guidance et cetera, but, still, people are falling through the cracks. This is why it is extremely important to have something in the Bill to put these things in statute. As my noble friend Lord Hunt said, police forces are awash with guidance—people do not need guidance; they need to know exactly what they have to do, and we have to hold them to account and ensure that they do it.
As the noble Baroness pointed out, my amendment might not be perfect—I have no doubt that it is not. However, I would like to test the opinion of the House, so that I can perhaps enter into some discussions with the Government, especially as they are now—from what we know from the newspapers and what the Home Secretary said in the House of Commons today—looking at a register. I suggest that perhaps the amendment before us provides the basis of such a register and of the way in which the Government might move forward.
Therefore, I would like to test the opinion of the House, so that we can, I hope, enter some negotiations. It will be up to our colleagues on all sides of the House of Commons to take this forward. I am very grateful to noble Lords who have supported this amendment in the Chamber today, and I have had messages from many other Peers, on all sides of the House, who are very supportive of what we are doing.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, that I think his amendment is excellent. I do not know if he will test the opinion of the House, but I am delighted to have been able to participate in the debate on his amendment. With that, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 74 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.