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Domestic Abuse Bill

Volume 811: debated on Wednesday 24 March 2021

Third Reading

Clause 85: Monitoring of serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators under Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 85, page 72, line 3, leave out “this Act” and insert “the Domestic Abuse Act 2021”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment clarifies a minor defect in the drafting.

My Lords, I am grateful for your Lordships’ patience in enabling me to table and move this short amendment, whose purpose is to correct a minor defect in my original drafting, for which I apologise. I am grateful to the clerks for their advice.

I understand from the Sunday Telegraph that the Government are going to create a super-database, which would include domestic abusers and stalkers, as well as sex offenders. If this were the case, I would naturally be delighted. This would enable police, prison and probation services to track offenders guilty of violence against women and would be a huge step forward in our efforts to tackle gender-based violence and misogyny.

I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned over many years to make this a reality, especially my formidable friend Laura Richards, as well as survivors and the families and friends of victims. I emphasise that we have never been asking for a separate register for stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence but rather that they should be included on ViSOR—the violent offender and sex offender register. I am sure that we will receive more details when the amendment agreed last week is considered by the Commons after Easter, but I hope that the intention, if not the details, will be on the face of the Bill. Likewise, I have outlined details of the perpetrator strategy which must be an integral part of the policy relating to the database. There must be a statutory requirement for police, prison and probation services to risk assess and manage perpetrators, in partnership with domestic abuse and stalking services. Unless this is mandatory, the key professionals will not always come to the table, and their participation is vital.

I thank the noble Lord the Minister for his work on these issues and, specifically, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for all that she has done and for her letter received this morning. Sadly, the letter was not as explicit as some of the media briefings, but I am grateful to her for recognising that there is a consensus that more needs to be done. I suggest that there is a consensus on the actions needed. As the noble Baroness has said in the past, we have already agreed on the ends; I think and hope that, as a consequence of the debate and vote on my amendment on Report, we are now close to agreeing on the means that will bring about a cultural change, focusing on the perpetrators and saving lives. I look forward to hearing the results of the discussions between her officials and experts in developing the database and the perpetrator strategy. I beg to move.

My Lords, I first apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, who is unable to be present today. The Home Secretary has asked my noble friend to deputise for her at today’s meeting of the G6, which the UK is hosting. The G6 meeting of Interior Ministers is one of the most important long-term, multilateral forums in which to discuss priority home affairs issues with some of our closest security partners. I hope that noble Lords will therefore understand the importance of my noble friend attending that meeting, but she is, none the less, disappointed that this means that she cannot be here today.

I turn briefly to the amendment which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, has explained, is purely a drafting amendment and, as such, the Government will not oppose it. My noble friend made clear on Report what the Government’s substantive view now is of Clause 85 of the Bill. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not repeat that position today. It is now for the other place to consider this and other amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for expressing the Government’s position on this amendment. I am sure we are all very proud of the fact that his noble friend Lady Williams, the Minister, is representing the Government at the meeting of the G6.

Amendment 1 agreed.


Moved by

My Lords, I hope noble Lords will permit me to say a few words to mark the completion of the passage of the Bill through this House. I say, with some hesitation, that this is one of those Bills which has shown your Lordships’ House as its best. My hesitation does not arise from the proceedings on the Bill. Those were marked by speeches of high calibre and engaged debate and, undoubtedly, led to an improved Bill. My hesitation is due to the fact that this was the first Bill on which I worked in my time in this House. When I began work on it, I had nothing to compare it to, but I was fortunate to have the support and wise counsel of my noble friends Lady Williams of Trafford and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay. They were right about everything else they told me so, as they have assured me that this Bill shows the House at its best, I am relying on them to be right about that as well.

Having mentioned my noble friends, I must pay tribute to them and give my thanks to those who have supported them and me in this endeavour. We have had the benefit of expert support from officials and lawyers across no fewer than eight government departments: the Home Office; my department, the MoJ; the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; the Department for Education; the Department of Health and Social Care; the Department for Work and Pensions; the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; not to mention the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which have also had a hand in this Bill. I also thank the Bill managers, Charles, Pommy, Oliver and Georgina, and the private secretaries, Rebecca and Patrick; their work has been exceptional. If nothing else, the range of government departments and people I have just mentioned shows that tackling domestic abuse is everyone’s business. We are very grateful to all those involved across government.

In addition, we are grateful to Members from across the House. I thank those on the Front Benches opposite for the constructive way in which they have dealt with the Bill, and the very courteous and constructive way in which they have engaged with me. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—I am particularly pleased that this Bill is the culmination of his four-year campaign on the issue of GP fees. Last, but certainly not least, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for bravely sharing his own experiences of domestic abuse, and to his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Burt of Solihull, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.

I will also take a moment to thank other Members of this House who have worked very hard. I thank my noble friend Lady Newlove, as well as the organisations which aided her, on their work on non-fatal strangulation —something that is now part of the Bill as a Government-drafted amendment. I thank my noble friend Lady Morgan for her work on threats to release intimate images. Again, this is now part of the Bill as a Government-drafted amendment. In that context, I must give my personal thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who discussed with me some of the legal issues raised by that amendment.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friends Lady Bertin and Lady Sanderson—if I may respectfully group them together—for their campaigning on coercive and controlling behaviour, which also is now part of a Government-drafted amendment. I thank my noble friend Lord Polak, who campaigned tirelessly on community-based services. This is something we have now taken on board. We may not have agreed on all points, but I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Grey-Thompson, for raising the important issue of carers in the Bill, which will be explored further in another place. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Altmann and the other sponsors of the amendments dealing with get. It is a somewhat recondite point, but one which causes real distress and suffering.

Whether we have agreed or disagreed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned a moment ago, in scrutinising this Bill, we have all been striving for the same outcome: ensuring that victims of domestic abuse and their children have better protection and support, and that perpetrators are brought to justice. As she said, the differences have invariably been about the means of achieving this, not the ends involved.

We will of course reflect carefully on the nine amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House against the advice of the Government. We will set out our position when the Bill returns from the other place in due course. We will inevitably debate this Bill at a future date, but I know that all noble Lords will join me in hoping that it will soon be on the statute book, making a real, tangible and positive difference to the 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse each year. I therefore beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

My Lords, along with my noble friends Lord Kennedy of Southwark, Lady Wilcox of Newport and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I will take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, and the Bill team for the patience and willingness to listen that they have shown throughout the passage of this Bill—not just in the Chamber but in the very many meetings that have been held with noble Lords on issues raised in amendments, and in the debates that have taken place. There have been a significant number of instances when Ministers have acknowledged the arguments that have been made in support of amendments and accepted them, put down appropriate government amendments or given undertakings of progress towards the objectives being sought that did not require amendments to the Bill. Ministers deserve full credit for that, and for their willingness to consider the arguments presented.

We have also really appreciated the helpful and informative briefings we have received from outside organisations committed to addressing the issues covered by this Bill. Along with my Front-Bench colleagues, I thank Grace Wright in our office for all the extensive and invaluable work she has done, liaising with so many others involved with the Bill both in Parliament and outside, and keeping us fully briefed on the Bill and its amendments as it has progressed through this House.

There have been a significant number of occasions when this House has agreed amendments to the Bill against the advice of the Government. It remains to be seen what will happen when those amendments are considered by the Commons in what I fear will be a somewhat truncated debate in the other place. What has been interesting is the number of amendments that the Government have accepted, or that have been carried in this House, which have been led not by Front-Benchers but by Back-Benchers, Cross-Benchers and the Bishops’ Benches. That reflects the wide cross-party, Cross-Bench and Bishops’-Bench backing that there has been for so many of the issues debated during the passage of this Bill. It is a Bill that has had very little to do with party politics.

The Bill now goes back to the Commons, where I hope it will not just be the Lords amendments that have government support that will be fully considered. While much progress has been made, there is still scope for further improvement in, and addition to, the content of a Bill that is rightly regarded as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address head-on the major issue of the unacceptable level of domestic abuse in our society.

We have talked about the Istanbul convention at some length during our debates. The stated purpose of the convention is preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Turkey has just made a decision to annul its ratification of the convention and Poland appears set to follow. This is a major backward step. America under President Biden and European leaders have condemned Turkey’s action. Sadly, we cannot add our voice to theirs, because we have still not ratified the convention. Let us hope that by the time this Bill has had further consideration, completed all its parliamentary stages and become an Act, we will be in a position to ratify the convention in full, and no longer be outsiders.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, stole my line. I was going to say that this Bill represents the House at its very best. I can most certainly confirm that to him. The Government have not only listened but gone out of their way to examine the feasibility of good ideas brought forward from all parts of the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, have all gone the extra mile, and I would particularly like to thank their incredibly hard-working Bill teams.

Speaking of which, I thank our own one-woman Bill team, Sarah Pughe, who has responded to my pretty much daily calls with good humour and total dedication. Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I would also like to thank all the outside organisations which have given freely of their time and expertise to help us with this Bill.

However, the wins in the Bill are not for us; they are for the victims and their children. So I thank the Government on their behalf, especially for accepting some of the major amendments on non-fatal strangulation, threats to share intimate images and the extension of the ban on cross-examination. I thank them also for accepting the amendment on post-separation abuse, although I was sorry that this was won at the cost of not moving the amendment that would have added disabled people’s carers into the definition of “personally connected”, the initial vote on which had previously secured a huge majority.

We were also promised a public consultation on evicting perpetrators who are joint tenants and who sit pretty in the family home while the victim is forced to leave. The cross-party group that moved this amendment and others will be holding the Government’s feet to this particular fire, to see what measures they will take to redress this injustice.

Despite strong votes in favour of measures to support them, migrant women were losers in the Bill. There will be no information firewall between the police and immigration, no recourse to public funds and no equality of protection, even though the latter is prescribed by the Istanbul convention. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, we still have to ratify this, and it weakens our position internationally while we are in that situation.

All victims were potential losers, with the failure of the Government to acknowledge strong support for perpetrator strategy amendments. There will be no multi-agency co-operation, no register of perpetrators and no overall perpetrator strategy—yet. But the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, certainly gives us hope. Victims who commit violence against the perpetrator will not have the justification of reasonable force, despite usually being weaker and having to resort to using a weapon to defend themselves, and nor will those who commit offences under coercion. The Government also rejected a registration system for child contact centres. All these amendments commanded strong majorities, so we may well see them again once they have been discussed in the Commons. I hope some further movement can be made by the Government to give these victims the protection they deserve.

Finally, I thank our Bill team, especially my co-leader and noble friend Lord Paddick, who has done so much of the heavy lifting where the police are concerned. He has helped and guided me throughout. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, is not the only one for whom this is the first Bill he has led on. I thank my noble friend Lord Marks, whose amazing skill and knowledge has brought us through the courts issues, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who did so much in the preparatory stages and on migrant women, and whose support for me has led to a close personal friendship. Other noble Lords have added their passion and expertise, including my noble friends Lady Brinton, Lady Hussein-Ece, Lady Jolly and Lady Walmsley, my noble friends Lord Strasburger, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill and Lord Alderdice, and last—but certainly not least—my noble friend Lady Benjamin. I also give great thanks to my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Featherstone for their contributions in Committee.

It has long been an ambition of mine to play a leadership role on this historic Domestic Abuse Bill. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to play my part. Thank you.

My Lords, I am delighted and honoured to make the concluding Cross-Bench speech at the Third Reading of this important—indeed, landmark—piece of legislation. I first thank, as so many others have, the three Ministers who have piloted the Bill through this House and the hard-working Bill team. They are so essential to the whole process. The Ministers have been most courteous and extremely hard-working, and they have listened sympathetically, sometimes, to the large number of amendments and the enthusiasm—sometimes passion—with which we have put forward our points of view.

This has become a very good Bill. The Government are to be congratulated on much of the draft Bill and on their amendments, which go a long way, but not quite the whole way, to making it an excellent Act. The widening of the interpretation of domestic abuse and the groups personally connected is excellent. I am particularly delighted by the recognition of the adverse effect of domestic abuse on the children of the family. The appointment of a domestic abuse commissioner is very helpful and I hope the Government will listen sufficiently to her recommendations. There remain areas of considerable importance, which we are sending back to the other place for their reconsideration. I hope that many of our amendments may eventually be accepted and incorporated into the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has already said, it really will be time, when this Act is passed, to ratify the Istanbul convention.

There will be financial challenges, especially for local authorities, in carrying out the requirements of the legislation. It is important that there is no pecking order and that specialist community-based services are sufficiently funded. Migrants and refugees need to be put higher up on the list of those who need help. Those who are victims of domestic abuse ought not to be at risk, especially of the possibility of deportation. I have, as chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage, referred many times to the victims of forced marriage, especially the young women and men—some under 18—who are at risk of being forced into marriage. Equally, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, I remain concerned about some groups of victims of modern slavery, especially those in domestic servitude. I am glad that the draft statutory guidance refers specifically to these groups. In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on the Bill and hope there will be even more improvements made in the other place.

I am delighted to have played a small part in this Bill, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wolfson and his colleagues: my noble friend Lord Parkinson, and, especially, my noble friend Lady Williams, who has been involved in so many Bills in this Session. I believe the Bill will leave the House in a better place.

I pay particular tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for supporting what I believe is a key amendment on recognising standards for all child contact centres and services. Just as a loophole which has been identified in safeguarding 16 to 19 year-old children will be closed by the important Education and Training (Welfare of Children) Bill, which passed its Second Reading last Friday, I believe this small but important amendment, moved so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and passed by the House, will close a potential and existing loophole by safeguarding children in all child contact centres. I hope my noble friend will embrace this small but important amendment, and that it will be maintained when the Bill passes to its next stages. I am delighted that the Bill has passed this House in a much-improved state. The Minister should take some credit for that.

My Lords, in the seven-plus years I have been in your Lordships’ House, I have been involved in a lot of Bills but this is the first of its kind. There was never one like this, because it has been special. The Bill was universally welcomed but then attracted about 200 amendments, which were fiercely argued. The Government suffered nine defeats in votes and made many concessions. There are still gaps. Other noble Lords have listed them but, for example, there is the Istanbul convention. However, the process has turned a good Bill into a very good Bill.

For me, making misogyny a crime was a priority. I am deeply sad we have not done that but we have moved towards it, and it is a step in the right direction by the Government which we can use to test the process. The Minister said something about this showing your Lordships’ House at its best, but I would argue the Bill shows the Government at their best as well. I wish this were the pattern with all Bills—that this House does its stuff and the Government listen. That would mean we produced much better legislation every time. On behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and myself, I thank the Ministers for all their hard work and co-operation. I say a big thank you to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, and the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar and Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay. It has been an experience, and I think it has worked wonders.

My Lords, I see the time and I hope the House will not think me discourteous if I respond very briefly. I am very grateful for the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. He was quite right to remind us that the Bill had cross-party support. He was also right to remind me to thank—I fear that I did not, but I do now—the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, who brought his experience as a magistrate in family matters to the attention of the House, which was very helpful in number of issues, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, with whom I debated some of the legal matters. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for stealing her lines. I would put it this way: she reassured me that I was, in fact, correct when I said what I did.

The House benefited, as it always does, from the considerable experience and wise counsel of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. I am sure we are all grateful to her. As for my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I hope she will allow me to disagree with her when she said that she played a small part. She did not; she played an important part and, with that very important correction, I very much endorse what she said.

Last but certainly not least, if I may put it in those terms, to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, praise the Government is a wonderful thing. It shows that miracles do happen. I can assure her that the Government always listen, we just cannot always say yes. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for being brief, but I do see the time and I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

My Lords, I thank the House for its leniency. I welcome the super register that has been proposed. I convey my thanks and respect to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It has been my long-standing hope to participate in a small way in this debate, and an honour to have done so. I extend my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lords, Lord Wolfson and Lord Parkinson, for their contributions and dedication to this cause. It has been much noted that the sisterhood across the House was incredibly powerful, and I wanted to state that. We have a common purpose in making real changes to the lives of survivors, so will there be a public information campaign to empower women with a message that our society has marked this day to say that we utterly reject violence against women? It is everyone’s business, as has been said, to begin the process of eliminating violence and abuse. It will send a very powerful message to all, around the world, that we intend to stand against violence and abuse in every form.

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness. Of course, this Government oppose violence in all forms, especially violence against women. As to the publicity campaign she mentions, she will be aware that there are a number of areas where the Government already have publicity in this area. I am very happy to speak to her to understand particularly what she has in mind, and I will arrange to have that conversation in due course.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

My Lords, I believe it is the intention of the House to proceed straight to the next business, but we shall have a short pause for the rearrangement of Front Benches and so on.