Commons Reasons and Amendments
1A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the definition of “domestic abuse” in the Bill to include abuse carried out against a disabled person by the person’s carer.
2A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the definition of “domestic abuse” in the Bill to include abuse carried out against a disabled person by the person’s carer.
3A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the definition of “domestic abuse” in the Bill to include abuse carried out against a disabled person by the person’s carer.
My Lords, the House will recall that these amendments sought to bring all carers within the definition of domestic abuse that applies for the purposes of the Bill. This would include carers who are unpaid, such as neighbours and friends, as well as paid-for carers and people in a position of trust who care for disabled people. The noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, and others were right to bring the issue of carer abuse to the attention of the House, and I was most grateful to have a discussion with both of them this morning. I just hope that, this afternoon, the tech of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, works so that we all have the benefit of her quite considerable expertise.
I fully accept that disabled people who are abused by a paid or volunteer carer are just as in need of effective protection and support as someone who is abused by an intimate partner or family member. We remain firmly of the view that the focus of the Bill should continue to be on domestic abuse as the term is internationally recognised in the Istanbul convention and elsewhere. The elected House has agreed that we need to maintain this focus and disagreed with Amendment 1 by a substantial majority of 139.
None the less, the Government have reflected carefully on the earlier debates in this House, and we want to ensure that the justice system and social care sector deal with carer abuse effectively, while preserving the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill as originally introduced. The Government are therefore committing to a review of the protections and support available to victims of carer abuse. The review will access existing criminal laws, safeguarding legislation, regulation by the Care Quality Commission, the protections available for non-regulated care and the support available for victims of carer abuse, including local authority and voluntary sector support. We would aim to complete the review within 12 months.
Of course, there will be an opportunity—we discussed this this morning—for organisations representing disabled people and others to engage in the review, and naturally we will want to discuss the details of the review with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I will confirm something that I said this morning: we will not just do a series of round tables. I agree with her that data is absolutely key to underpinning some of the work that might need to go forward. The review’s intention is to address the concerns raised regarding the adequacy or otherwise of the current protections and the support for victims of carer abuse. I hope that, with the discussion that we had this morning and the undertakings this afternoon, the noble Baroness and indeed the House will be content to support the Motion and not insist on the amendments.
My Lords, I will speak to Lords Amendments 1, 2 and 3 and Motion A, moved by the Minister. As I have stated, I will not oppose the Motion.
First, I thank the Minister for our helpful meeting today; despite the technological challenges, we had a very good exchange. At that meeting, I explained why I have decided not to pursue further attempts to incorporate carer abuse of disabled people in the Bill. Although I think we all agree that the abuse of disabled people frequently takes place within a domestic setting, it has become clear that the Bill is confined to abuse by an intimate partner or family member. There is no appetite to widen its scope at this stage.
In addition, this long-awaited Bill, with its multi- functional role, will demand a great deal of resources to change the domestic abuse culture. I would not wish to hold up the task of addressing the horrendous domestic abuse experienced by thousands of adults and children every day—no way.
I am currently confident—especially after our conversation this morning—that the Government have taken on board the deep concerns expressed across this House at the exclusion of disabled people from the Bill. I believe that they are committed to finding alternative means to address carer abuse, as the current protections are clearly inadequate.
I was therefore very pleased that, in the consideration of Lords Amendments in another place, the Minister, Victoria Atkins, announced in response to my amendments that
“the Government abhor all abuse, and we have every sympathy for the spirit of these amendments”
in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell.
“Abuse of disabled people by their carers must be called out and acted upon ... we have listened carefully to the experiences and concerns raised in this House and the other place ... That is why the Government intend to carry out a review of the protections for people at risk of carer abuse. We will engage with ... the disabled sector on the scope of the review, but it would broadly seek to examine the protections offered against carer abuse and the support available to victims. We have listened and we will act.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 519.]
I should be grateful if all sides of the House would strongly support and engage with this review. I hope it will not keep anything off the table, including further legislative protections if necessary. I hope that the review will commence as soon as possible. Of course, I shall be chasing it and look forward to working with the Government and especially with disabled people’s organisations.
Carer abuse—as evidenced throughout the pandemic and during earlier debates and pre-legislative scrutiny—must not continue unchecked. Disabled people deserve to have equivalent protection—no less.
My Lords, I am very disappointed at the outcome of this amendment. I pay tribute to the hard work of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and many others in bringing it forward.
In the Commons, the Minister, Victoria Atkins, said:
“We should steer away from diluting the purpose of the Bill.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col 519.]
She has promised a government review, pledging to engage with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, and the disabled sector to examine the protections offered and support available for this kind of domestic abuse.
Abuse by a paid or unpaid carer in the home constitutes domestic abuse. If it is not domestic abuse, then what is it? In responding to Victoria Atkins, Jess Phillips said that
“abuse of trust and power is experienced in exactly the same way as that perpetrated by a mother, a father or a partner”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 526.]
If it looks like domestic abuse and it takes place in the home by an individual—paid or unpaid—who is intimately involved with the victim, what else is it if not domestic abuse?
I sincerely hope that the promised review is not a sop to enable the Government to kick this really important issue into the long grass. I appreciate all the Minister’s efforts—even this morning. I welcome any assurances that she can give as to how and when this review will take place. Some of the most vulnerable people in this country are depending on it.
My Lords, I am disappointed that these amendments will not remain in the Bill, despite the tremendous work initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. She has worked tirelessly to bring these issues to the forefront during the debate on this landmark Bill. In mitigation, however, I welcome the Government’s commitment to conduct a review.
Trusting someone enough to let them provide either personal care, or support with day-to-day tasks or communication, is in itself an emotionally intimate act which creates a close bond but also the risk of abuse. It is not infrequent for abusers to target the disabled person and befriend them. They persuade the disabled person that this is done for altruistic motives while, at the same time, they exploit and abuse them. The victim will experience the same ambiguity about power and control versus emotional attachment as any other victim of domestic abuse.
I should stress that we will expect everything that is usually asked for in such a review. The Government must get on with it. They must ensure they are led by experts in the field—including engaging with services such as Stay Safe East which work with victims on the front line. The authentic voices of disabled victims must be heard. It is vital that carer abuse is recognised and tackled, and that no victim of abuse is left without support. We therefore support the Motion and the review.
My Lords, first I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, for her words. This morning, I stressed that I was concerned about all the abuse taking place behind closed doors throughout the pandemic. Carer abuse is not exempt from that. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asked, “what else is it, if not domestic abuse”? It is abuse which happens and about which we have been very concerned during the last 12 months. With the lifting of restrictions, this is a timely opportunity to look into carer abuse.
Noble Lords have asked about timings. These will be announced shortly. As we undertake the review, we intend to engage with the disability sector about its scope. If it is to be meaningful, we must listen to those who have lived experiences. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked if we shall talk to experts such as Stay Safe East. Yes, we will. The review will be open, with no preconceived outcomes. The Government will await its findings before deciding next steps. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and other noble Lords that we will keep all options under review.
Motion A agreed.
9A: Because it is unnecessary to provide for the accreditation of child contact centres by local authorities.
My Lords, the elected House has disagreed with Amendment 9 by a substantial majority of 130. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has subsequently tabled Amendment 9B. While removing the requirement for accreditation of child contact centres and services in relation to public and private family law cases, it still requires the Government to introduce a set of national standards to which organisations and individuals would be required to adhere—in effect, a form of indirect accreditation.
I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt of Solihull, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for taking the time yesterday to speak with me about the revised amendment. While the Government recognise that the provision of child contact centres and services is vital in supporting families and enabling parents to have contact with their children, this amendment remains problematic for a number of reasons.
First, there is not an issue in relation to private law cases of parties being referred to non-accredited child contact centres. That is because there are protocols in place, involving the judiciary, magistrates and Cafcass family court advisers, which require them only to refer parties in private law cases to NACCC-accredited child contact centres when referring parties in those private law proceedings for supported, supervised contact and handover contact. That protocol has been in place with the NACCC since 2000 and was revised a few years ago, in 2017. The memorandum of understanding between Cafcass and the NACCC has been in place since 2018. Cafcass has assured the Government, as well as NACCC, that it is compliant with that memorandum of understanding.
However, in light of what was said on Report, I have written to the President of the Family Division and to the CEO of Cafcass requesting that they raise awareness amongst their colleagues and officials of the judicial protocol and memorandum of understanding which has been agreed. I understand that the NACCC is updating that judicial protocol. It will be agreed with the President of the Family Division and reissued to the judiciary and magistrates.
Further to that, Jacky Tiotto, the chief executive of Cafcass, has responded to my letter to her confirming that she will write to all Cafcass operational managers and family court advisers, reminding them of the importance of the memorandum of understanding. While she is unaware of any evidence to suggest that Cafcass staff are not complying with the requirements, she emphasised that Cafcass is committed to working effectively with the NACCC to ensure that every child receives the best possible service.
That is in relation to private family law. I turn now to public law family cases where children are in the care of the local authority. Comprehensive statutory provisions are already in place determining how local authorities should discharge their duties, including in relation to meeting statutory requirements to maintain contact between a child and their family.
In that context, Section 22 of the Children Act 1989 places a general statutory duty on the local authority in relation to children looked after by it to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. Section 34 of that Act establishes the presumption that there should be continued contact between the child and their family while the child is in the care of the local authority. It places a duty on local authorities, subject to certain provisions and to their duty to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare, to allow contact between a child in care and their parents. Details of contact are set out in a child’s care plan, which is governed by the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010. Those regulations set out the role of independent review officers to ensure that contact is supported. They will consider whether contact commitments in care plans have been implemented and whether the child is happy. In 2015, the Department for Education published guidance on care planning, placement and case review; further statutory guidance was published in 2018. That is the statutory architecture.
I turn now to the safeguards in place before each contact between a looked-after child and a parent is made. Whenever contact is arranged by a local authority, the social worker should undertake a full safeguarding risk assessment, meeting the requirements of the guidance for the assessment of contact produced by each local authority. A broad range of factors is looked at: the risk of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, including domestic abuse, and neglect; the risk of abduction; whether there is a history of violent or aggressive behaviour and whether the child or supervisor is at risk; and the parent’s ability to prioritise the children’s needs above their own. In outlining all that, I seek to reassure the House that there is already adequate statutory and regulatory provision in place.
I have spoken about private and public law proceedings. In addition, I should mention that parents can self-refer to contact centre services. NACCC officials themselves have suggested that very few parents actually do that, so any concerns that parents may be self-referring to non-accredited centres are not borne out by the evidence, and certainly not to any significant scale.
What is the essential argument behind the amendment? Those supporting it argue that there are large numbers of unaccredited child contact centres and services, posing significant risk to children and parents around safeguarding and the risk of domestic abuse. The NACCC provided some initial data on the number of unaccredited contact centres, but the current evidence base is insufficiently robust to support legislating on the issue. While I am grateful to the NACCC for compiling the data, I have to note that some of the “unaccredited” contact centres initially identified by it in fact turned out to be regulated by Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission. There is plainly more work to be done to understand the issue. The Government remain ready to work with the NACCC in this regard, but outside this Bill. In particular, I am ready to explore further whether there is a case for ensuring that there are appropriate arrangements in place for anyone who seeks to set themselves up as a provider of child contact services to be subject to criminal record checks.
I can therefore assure your Lordships’ House that the Government are committed to ensuring the highest levels of care and safeguarding where circumstances have necessitated involvement with the family justice system. However, given existing mechanisms within private and public family law, and the extensive regulatory environment which I have set out, without further evidence of a problem we do not believe that this amendment is warranted at this time.
Given my commitment to continue to work with the NACCC on this issue, and to explore further the question of criminal record checks for freelance providers, I respectfully urge the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and all noble Lords, not to insist on their amendment. I beg to move.
Motion B1 (as an amendment to Motion B)
9B: In Clause 55, page 35, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) ensure all child contact centres and organisations that offer child contact services regularly check their employees, agency workers and volunteers for compliance with national standards in relation to safeguarding and preventing domestic abuse as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.””
My Lords, the amendment I have tabled is a modified and simplified version of the previous amendment regarding child contact centres. I am most grateful to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, for meeting the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Burt of Solihull, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and me yesterday. We were hopeful that the Government would want to commit to making regulations rapidly, but, alas, no.
In redrafting I have taken into account the concern expressed by the Minister in the other place that a statutory framework governing local authorities could be costly and bureaucratic. However, I take issue with the statement that the Government have not seen evidence to suggest that the framework used by the National Association of Child Contact Centres—or NACCC, as I will call it for short—and agreed with Cafcass through a memorandum of understanding, is not needed. A lack of evidence being brought forward does not mean that a problem does not exist; it simply means that it is currently going undetected.
I share with the House the words of our previous Prime Minister, the right honourable Theresa May, who said on this issue in the other place:
“May I say to the Minister that from my experience of more than 20 years as a constituency MP, telling me that CAFCASS has an involvement in something does not necessarily fill me with reassurance?”
She went on to say that
“it is important to make sure that those protocols are sufficient and that they are doing the job that needs to be done.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 531.]
Unfortunately, because there is no statutory requirement, such monitoring is left to voluntary sector services such as the NACCC.
There are individual cases of concern, but it is not appropriate to go into such details at this stage. Yet the Government’s own recent harm report, which assessed the risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases, identified that professionals involved in child arrangement cases show a
“lack of understanding of the different forms that domestic abuse takes, and of the ongoing impacts of abuse on children and victim parents”.
The report identified systematic minimisation of abuse and unsightly, unsafe child arrangements in an adversarial system with silo working. Some respondents felt the risk-assessment processes to be inadequate, providing examples of courts bypassing risk assessments altogether and simply ordering contact without assessing the ongoing risk for the non-abusive parent, without considering the risk of potential future harm and without consultation with the child. Surely the Government can see that their own report highlights that staff need specific training on domestic abuse.
That is why I find the Government’s email to me today about my amendment deeply worrying. In it, the Government recognise that individuals can set themselves up outside NACCC-regulated or Ofsted-regulated activities such as childminding. These people are not even eligible to seek such a certificate on criminal record should they wish to demonstrate their commitment to the welfare of those for whom they are providing a contact service. Parents using such contact services have no assurance that these people, who have not been screened by enhanced criminal record disclosure and barring service checks, do not have unspent or spent convictions and cautions. Those of malintent towards children and others who are vulnerable can hide.
The Government said that local authority arrangements safeguard public law cases, and in private law cases they did show that protocols are in place—but, again, there is anecdotal evidence that some parts of the judiciary are unaware off the full content of the judicial protocol and the memorandum of understanding between NACCC and Cafcass. In some communities where there is greatest suspicion of statutory bodies, child contact services may be harder to monitor and are not necessarily focused on a child contact centre. An individual may be complicit in abusive behaviours being perpetrated or have a history of inappropriate behaviour towards children that has gone unnoticed.
My amendment simply gives the Government powers to make regulation as they wish to ensure that all child contact centres and organisations offering child contact services regularly check for employees’, agency workers’ and volunteers’ full compliance with national standards in relation to safeguarding and preventing domestic abuse. At a minimum it is essential so that these vulnerable children are not exposed to further danger. All the personnel involved should have, as a minimum, the enhanced disclosure and barring service checks, and I hope the Government would also require them to have up-to-date specialist domestic violence training to be able to detect and appropriately manage situations of ongoing abuse.
We must not let domestic abuse legislation go through and leave a loophole in our protection of children who are victims. It is consistent with the approach in the Department for Education document Working Together to Safeguard Children and with the welcome given by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, to the Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Bill, debated last Friday in the House. The Minister said then that
“the provisions in the Bill will ensure that young people are accorded the highest protections to safeguard their physical and psychological health.”—[Official Report, 16/4/21; col. 1579.]
In January 2021, the Government published their tackling child sexual abuse strategy. So, I ask, when will the Government make sure that all those working with children and vulnerable people are subject to enhanced DBS checks? Can the Minister explain why the Government are resistant to providing the highest protections to children who are victims of domestic abuse and potentially open to ongoing abuse or even predatory activities from people with criminal intent who could masquerade as providing child contact services?
Unless I have a firm and comprehensive assurance from the Government that this loophole will be closed, and of when it will be closed, I will seek the opinion of the House, as I believe this House is committed to the welfare of children. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and I congratulate her on the work she has done in this regard and on bringing forward a revised amendment at this stage. I declare my interests: I am vice-president of the National Association of Child Contact Centres; I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Child Contact Centres; and I am a non-practising Scottish advocate, so I did have some limited experience of family case law at the Scottish Bar.
I thank the Minister for meeting us on a number of occasions—most recently yesterday. I took great heart from his confirmation, which his official gave us on the call, that the Government indeed have the power to make the regulations we are requesting, so that this amendment would not be needed. I draw attention to the letter sent by email today following the meeting yesterday, which states:
“At the meeting yesterday I indicated that my officials would look at the DBS regulations, to assess whether these could be amended to apply to individuals setting up contact centres and services, outside of the NACCC accredited services, in order to provide a level of safeguarding for both children and parents.”
I would like to know why the Minister has drawn back from what I understood was a clear commitment to make these regulations.
I remind the Minister that this is my second attempt at supporting this amendment. I had a Private Member’s Bill some two Parliaments ago as a relatively new Member of this House on this precise point. I welcome the fact that the Minister and others spoke in previous stages in support of this amendment, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Our starting point is simply, as the Minister explained, that we want to ensure that in a family breakdown, the break-up of a marriage or any other relationship, the absent parent—normally the father, but possibly the mother—will continue to have contact with the child. It is extremely important for both the family and society that that is the case. I care passionately about families, and family law is at the heart of British society.
I will put a point to the Minister today that he has not answered to my satisfaction. GOV.UK states:
“You will need to have an enhanced check with barred lists from the Disclosure and Barring Service, if you want to look after children for a living … Who needs to be checked …You may need to go through a DBS check if you work directly with children or run the childcare organisation, for example as a … childminder … childminding assistant … nanny … playgroup owner … children’s home director”.
So I ask my noble friend a very simple, direct and straight question: why are those either working at child contact centres or offering services of contact being put in a less safe situation in relation to the children they are going to be dealing with than every other person working with children?
Let me remind the House that the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, has a Private Member’s Bill going through this House at the moment looking to close a similar loophole in the provision of education to children aged between 16 and 19, and I support that Bill. That loophole shows that safeguarding should extend to 16 to 19 year-olds, and the Government are seeking to close that loophole for a very good reason: nobody wants a terrible incident to happen, leading to a potential court case and huge trauma for all concerned, not least the Government, whose responsibility it is to protect 16 to 19 year-olds in education or enjoying educational services in any setting. So for what reason, as we seek to close that loophole for 16 to 19 year-olds, is a child or family in this case not enjoying the same level of protection as they do with every other category of a person providing a service?
I would like to humbly correct the Minister on one point. He stated that those supporting the amendment were claiming that there are large numbers of unaccredited centres at risk of domestic abuse. That has never been our claim. Our claim is that this small category is unacceptable because it is putting children at risk, and they are the most vulnerable in society. I would just like to correct my noble friend on that single point.
As for the judicial protocol, the very fact that it is being revised by the National Association of Child Contact Centres goes to the heart of the fact that it is not working. As all those involved in the judicial protocol agree, including Cafcass and the Family Division, it is not working as intended. I welcome the fact that it is under review, but we have to pause and point out to my noble friend that it is not working as it should. I think we have established that there are instances where it could work better, and that is of great concern to us and raises questions as to why the MoU is perhaps not being as respected as all those involved would hope.
Regarding the allegations that we have not put sufficient evidence, to my noble friend’s satisfaction, in the public domain as to why the amendment is needed, I make a plea to his human side and hope he will realise that this is a deeply sensitive area. It is very difficult, given the nature of some of these issues— I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is well versed in them, as a practitioner—to put many of these cases in the public domain and, in the limited time available, we have refrained from doing so. Perhaps the Government should take it upon themselves to look for this evidence, rather than a cash-strapped voluntary organisation such as the National Association of Child Contact Centres, which is working to keep our children safe.
I am clearly disappointed at the Government’s apparently dismissive refusal to recognise this issue. This amendment is actually doing the Government and families a great service by pointing out a loophole in the law, as we have done previously. The type of screening that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has encapsulated in this amendment is precisely what is needed to close the loophole and to ensure that those working in the public setting, through local authorities, and the private setting, to which the Minister referred, are covered by the same provisions. As I have informed those who need to know, I will support this if it is pressed to a vote.
My Lords, I support the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, particularly Lady McIntosh in what she has said about child contact centres and organisations offering child contact which are not accredited. It seems to me, as a matter of principle, that all contact centres and organisations involved in providing this crucial service should be accredited in some way or another. As for the idea that they can set up without anybody having to check, it seems blindingly obvious that this should not happen.
As a judge, I used to be very involved with the National Association of Child Contact Centres, and with individual contact centres. I was a patron of several of them, so I have some knowledge of the importance of child contact centres as places where children can meet their parents or parent. It is crucial that the safeguarding issue be recognised in such a way that no one can fall through the gap, so I support this amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay of Llandaff and Lady McIntosh of Pickering, and to others whose knowledge far exceeds my own, for all their efforts to bring this amendment forward. I have to join my cross-party colleagues in expressing disappointment at the Government’s eventual response to this amendment, despite the undoubted work and good will of the Minister.
The Minister in the Commons, Victoria Atkins, seemed to consider that a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, to the President of the Family Division and the chief officer of Cafcass requesting that they “raise awareness” would resolve the issue. It will not. The problem here is that the Government are talking about one thing, the formal requests from the family courts—not that they are all up to speed in using registered child contact centres—while the main problem lies elsewhere, in less formally constituted organisations sent by local authorities and other cash-strapped bodies. The Government seem to think that the existing guidelines will filter through by osmosis to everyone who is commissioning a child contact. There is a lack of awareness on the part of courts and local authorities and, if an unfortunate incident occurs because centre staff have not been trained properly and a child suffers or is put in jeopardy, the likely outcome is that the matter will be hushed up. We will not hear about it in the public domain, which is why it is difficult to provide evidence on the extent of the problem.
The revised amendment we are discussing today is far less prescriptive than its predecessor previously discussed by your Lordships. As noble Lords have said, it simply applies the same criteria to child contact centre staff as to anyone working with children— for example, a DBS check. The requirement for a register is gone. No protocol and no policies are being stipulated: that will be down to the Government themselves. A child minder or a nursery assistant will have the same requirement imposed on them. These are national standards for anyone working with children, so who could argue that this bare minimum should not be applied to child contact centre staff, volunteers or agency workers? The national standards and regulations would be for the Government to determine.
For goodness’ sake, let us at least weed out the bad people, so that we do not expose our children to them at arguably the most vulnerable time of their lives. For that reason, if the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, decides to test the opinion of the House, I and my party will support her.
My Lords, as is often the case, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, put the point simply and persuasively: that there should be common standards for all those who provide services under child contact centres.
We have heard about the welcome exchange of views between the signatories to this amendment and the Minister. In the email we received from him, he seemed to acknowledge that the DBS regulations should be assessed, and potentially amended, to see whether they apply to individuals setting up contact centres—so, he has acknowledged that deficiency in the existing arrangements. Further to that, in the concluding paragraph of the Minister’s email he undertakes to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place for anyone who seeks to set up as a provider, and to explore further whether that is indeed the case.
The starting point is that there are uneven levels of regulation across the network of child contact centre providers. I accept what the Minister has said regarding private law in our courts and that the existing memorandum of understanding is going to be updated and revised, but that very fact may be an acknowledgement that improvements are needed. I have to say, speaking as a family magistrate, that all the child contact centres I have ever referred children to have been accredited by the NACCC. The Minister also set out the existing public law statutory architecture, which is more complex, but as so many speakers have said in this debate, we are talking about private providers—providers who may come and go and may come from particular communities which do not trust existing services. Those are the difficult cases that we are seeking to include in this extension of regulation.
As the Minister will be aware, we are talking about some very difficult cases—cases which are difficult to put in the public domain—and a few cases, not the many cases which he claimed. The Bill is an opportunity to close this loophole. We on the Labour Benches will support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, if she chooses to press it to a vote.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I am mindful of the views which have been expressed across the House. I start with a point on behalf of the Government and of myself. So far as the Government are concerned, like the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, they are committed to the welfare of children—that is not a phrase with which any of us would disagree. For myself, if I may accept the point put by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I do have a human side. Notwithstanding that I am a lawyer and a Government Minister, something of a human side still pokes through occasionally.
There is nothing between us on the aim; what is between us is the means. I therefore remind the House of two points. First, of course anything said by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, in this area has to be heard with care and listened to diligently, but it is the case already that the vast majority of people in child contact centres will have to have certain checks through NACCC accreditation and because of the local authority obligations. That is the first general point.
The second general point in response to one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, is that the fact that the memorandum of understanding is being updated and revised is no indication whatever that there is a problem with it. For example, one of the revisions which is being made is to substitute the name of the previous President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, with the name of the new president, Sir Andrew McFarlane. Updating and revision of an MoU does not indicate that there is a problem. A lot of very good documents are continually updated and revised.
One is therefore back to the essential point, which is: what is the evidence which underpins the proposed amendment? It is all very well to talk of a loophole, but the real question is whether there is an underlying problem. It is the evidence base with which we have concerns. I say with genuine respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that anecdotal evidence is not a sufficient basis in this area on which we should be legislating. Of course, staff must be trained and we must look to see whether there are legislative gaps, but we have to proceed on proper evidence.
So far as my email is concerned, I do not pull back from that at all; I stand by every single word of it. In particular, with regard to DBS checks, I am happy to repeat from the Dispatch Box precisely what I said in the email: “I am ready to explore whether there is a case for ensuring that there are appropriate arrangements in place for anyone who seeks to set themselves up as a provider of child contact centres to be subject to criminal record checks. The issue is that the regulations with regard to DBS are about eligibility for DBS checks, not whether they are mandatory.”
I suspect that where we end up is on the question of whether there is a proper basis to legislate in this space, given my assurances that we would be looking at the DBS point and that there is no cogent evidence that the current system is not working. The protocol is in place and has been endorsed at the highest level by the judiciary and Cafcass. There are statutory and regulatory requirements in the public law cases. Indeed, the only first-hand evidence which we have heard this afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, has been that the matter is working well. As he confirmed, he sends his cases to an accredited centre only.
That is the position. Even at this late stage, I respectfully invite the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all who have spoken, and particularly to my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss for her support, which I view as weighty. I stress to the House that a call for common standards seems to have come through in all the speeches in support of my amendment. I am slightly concerned that the Government decry an evidence base because I have seen no evidence that they have undertaken a systematic review of the standards of all the child contact centres and services around, nor have they looked at them systematically. When they asked for evidence, we brought it, and did what we could in the time available, and now it is being dismissed as anecdotal. We have gone round in circles and I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
33A: Because it is unnecessary and is contrary to the principle of judicial independence.
My Lords, the elected House has disagreed with Amendment 33 and by a substantial majority, in this case of 143. In inviting this House not to insist on the amendment, I first take the opportunity to underline the Government’s recognition that comprehensive, high-quality and up-to-date training on domestic abuse is of critical importance for judges and magistrates involved in family proceedings.
Perhaps I may also take a moment again to record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and other noble Lords who have taken time to discuss this matter with me, including most recently on a call to which the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, was also party. While the Government recognise that victims and survivors of domestic abuse can face difficulty in the family justice system, especially during proceedings and in particular when giving evidence in them, there are serious and fundamental concerns with regard to the substance of Amendment 33.
The first point is a constitutional one, which I have made on previous occasions but reiterate today. Training for the judiciary is the responsibility not of the Government but of the Lord Chief Justice—not the Lord Chancellor. The elected House disagreed with this amendment on the basis—correctly, I would submit—that it fundamentally undermines the important constitutional principle of judicial independence. We have a number of constitutional principles in this country; some have been debated in your Lordships’ House in the last several months. But perhaps I may venture that judicial independence is among the most important principles, if not the most important.
The statutory responsibility for ensuring that the judiciary in England and Wales is properly trained rightly sits with the Lord Chief Justice and is exercised by way of the Judicial College. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor does not have a role beyond providing the resources required by the judiciary, through which the Judicial College is funded. As such, the Lord Chancellor simply cannot direct the judiciary on training with either a strategy or timetable, as would be required by this amendment.
Amendment 33B would therefore replace the reference to the Secretary of State in the original amendment with one to the Lord Chancellor. That correctly reflects the constitutional role of the Lord Chancellor, who, as opposed to the Secretary of State, has duties in respect of the judiciary. The amendment also adds the Lord Chief Justice to the list of those who must be consulted before the strategy and timetable are published. However, it does not alter the fundamental way in which these amendments impinge, I suggest, on the independence of the judiciary. That is the first point and it is an important constitutional proposition.
The second is a practical point. It is already mandatory for any judge or magistrate to have training in domestic abuse before they hear cases in the family court. More than 50% of the content of private law induction training for judges is now focused on domestic abuse, such is the judiciary’s recognition of its importance. There is not only induction training but ongoing training as well. Continuation training annually is compulsory for judges and any judge authorised to hear public family law cases must also attend the appropriate seminar for that authorisation at least once every three years.
Domestic abuse is covered in all family law cases run by the Judicial College, and training reflects the wide nature of domestic abuse. Therefore, it covers all areas recognised by the Government as abuse, ranging from serious sexual and other assaults, emotional abuse to coercive or controlling behaviour, including financial coercion and control. Let me explain what the training includes. This is not just one judge talking to other judges. The training includes practical exercises and role play and is delivered by a wide range of experts, including academics and experts in psychiatry, psychology and other professions and agencies working in this area, as well as victims. The Judicial College also advocates the use of specialists to co-train and provide an annexe of specialist organisations. In the e-learning, SafeLives, Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru and IDVAs have all contributed to the films provided to the Judicial College.
Thirdly—and importantly going forward—the Judicial College is committed to reviewing and improving training on domestic abuse for both the judiciary and the magistracy. The senior judiciary, including both the President of the Family Division and Lady Justice King, the chair of the Judicial College, both acting on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice, are working to further develop domestic abuse training.
As part of my departmental responsibilities, I meet regularly—albeit at the moment virtually—with the President of the Family Division. My last such meeting was, in fact, yesterday and we discussed judicial training on domestic abuse in the context of this amendment. He has given me his categoric assurance about the importance he places on effective training in the area of domestic abuse. He has said that the training will continue and, importantly, that it will be updated in light of the Bill, the harm panel, and the recent Court of Appeal judgments in four conjoined domestic abuse cases. Lady Justice King has given me the same assurances. Specifically, I have been assured that the Judicial College already has in hand the training that will be required as a result of this Bill, which is a landmark piece of legislation, as we all agree.
While I respectfully commend my noble friend Lady Helic for raising this important issue, for the reasons I have set out, specifically the constitutional and practical reasons, I respectfully ask her and all noble Lords not to insist on Amendment 33 or to press new Amendment 33B in its stead. I beg to move.
Motion C1 (as an amendment to Motion C)
33B: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Lord Chancellor must within six months of the passage of this Act publish—
(a) a strategy for providing specialist training for all magistrates and judges hearing cases in family proceedings in the Family Courts concerning rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control; and
(b) a timetable for the delivery of the training mentioned in subsection (1)(a), to include the training of all judges and magistrates who are already hearing or who are to be appointed to hear Family cases and to include continuing professional development training for all such judges and magistrates.
(2) The training mentioned in subsection (1)(a) must include but is not limited to training concerning—
(a) the impact upon victims and witnesses, both adults and children, of the trauma of rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control;
(b) the risks and difficulties for victims and witnesses in giving evidence and taking part in proceedings concerning rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control;
(c) the risks and difficulties for victims and witnesses of being involved in proceedings where one or more other parties may be the perpetrators of rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control or persons connected to such perpetrators.
(3) Before publishing the strategy and timetable mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b) the Lord Chancellor must consult—
(a) the Lord Chief Justice;
(b) the Chairman of the Board of the Judicial College;
(c) the President of the Family Division;
(d) the Chief Executive of the Magistrates Association; and
(e) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.
(4) After commencement of this subsection, which must be not more than two years after the passing of this Act, the Lord Chancellor must ensure that no Family cases are heard by judges or magistrates who have not successfully completed the training mentioned in subsection (1).””
My Lords, I express my thanks to everyone who has supported this amendment in its previous guises, especially the noble Lord, Lord Marks, my co-sponsor; the London Victims’ Commissioner, who played an instrumental role in its early stages; and the domestic abuse commissioner-designate.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for meeting me several times and engaging with what I have had to say, even if he does not agree with it. He raised two fundamental objections: that the amendment is unnecessary, and that it is contrary to the principle of judicial independence. I am yet to be convinced of either of those points. We are assured that all judges and magistrates already undergo training on domestic abuse, but there is very little transparency around the form of the existing training. I am grateful to my noble friend for offering more detail than we have previously heard on this point.
I am pleased that domestic abuse makes up more than 50% of the content of private law induction training. However, I am afraid, that makes the case for this amendment only stronger. Based on the real evidence that comes out of the family courts day in, day out, the existing training is simply not working. Judges and magistrates do not have the necessary understanding of domestic abuse. We still hear of judges who do not believe in coercive control, do not recognise domestic abuse unless it leaves physical injury, and say that there was no conviction for abuse so therefore there was no abuse. Survivors—both men and women—are unable to trust the courts and are afraid to go to them. Abusers know that they can use the courts to continue their abuse.
If the existing training is not working, we must reform and improve it. That is why the requirement to consult the domestic abuse commissioner is so important. I am pleased to hear that the senior judiciary takes this issue seriously but, when the system is so flawed, it is hard for effective change to come from within it. If the Judicial College could open itself up to and work with experts such as the domestic abuse commissioner, that would make a real difference. It is the sort of commitment that we need but which we have not yet heard. It is worth stressing this point: without specific detail on the nature of training, it is hard for specialist organisations to assess whether it is up to date and appropriate. I hope that my noble friend, and indeed the senior judiciary, will look hard for ways to improve the transparency around training and engage with a wider range of experts and organisations in providing that training.
On the question of judicial independence, of course I recognise that my noble friend is right to be cautious. Judicial independence is hugely important and I would not want to suggest anything to undermine it. However, I do not accept that this amendment does that; I hope that I have made this even clearer in its revised version in Motion C1. The Lord Chancellor is sworn to defend the independence of the judiciary. In drawing up a strategy for training, he would have to act within the terms of that oath. The amendment also makes clear the important roles of the Lord Chief Justice, the chairman of the board of the Judicial College, the President of the Family Division and the chief executive of the Magistrates’ Association. That is a powerful judicial voice in the process.
I know that my noble friend the Minister recognises that training is necessary to make all the provisions in the Bill work as they ought to—as we hope they will. I am grateful to him for raising this with the President of the Family Division and the head of the Judicial College, and I am pleased to hear their assurances on reform. I note, however, that we have heard similar assurances for some time now without seeing real change. For example, the harm panel implementation plan made commitments on training that we have not yet seen implemented. This is why I still believe that legislation is an appropriate and necessary route in delivering the improved training that we both think is required. If my noble friend cannot accept this, I hope that he will prove me wrong. Perhaps he could play a convening role, bringing together judges and domestic abuse experts. I hope that he will continue to make the views of your Lordships’ House, which contains eminent lawyers and former judges who support this amendment, very clear to the senior judiciary.
The current training is not working. Reform is desperately needed. If we hope to build a system that works for victims and survivors—not their abusers—we must not forget that.
My Lords, I will speak briefly on this Motion because we are well on course to achieve what we set out to do. I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, for the commitment and assiduity with which she has pursued this topic in the face of assurances that, at times, have seemed to her complacent and misplaced. The seriousness with which this topic is now being addressed is a credit to her and many others.
I understand and accept entirely the Government’s concerns about judicial independence. Indeed, noble Lords will know that I have argued the case for it on any number of occasions in this House. I am not sure that either the amendment we put forward or the Motion that is now there in its place would have compromised judicial independence to the extent that the Government thought. However, we accept that judicial training is a matter for the judiciary. We also accept that, for many years, judicial training has been mandatory on induction and on a continuing basis for judges sitting in family cases, but it is important to ensure that such training is comprehensive, up to date and, above all, successful. That, I believe, is an objective we all share.
It is also important to recognise that there has been a problem with domestic violence victims feeling that they have been treated unsympathetically by the courts in the past. There is a deeply held feeling that the trauma that they have suffered has been insufficiently recognised, and that the particular trauma involved in court processes and reliving the violence that they have suffered has not been properly addressed. A great deal of evidence to that effect has been given in speeches to this House during the passage of the Bill.
We have made significant progress with the Bill towards making the courts more humane places for domestic violence victims. We have been assisted enormously by the many groups and individuals who have briefed us, particularly Women’s Aid, Claire Waxman —the Victims’ Commissioner for London—and many others. We are very grateful to all of them for their insights and suggestions.
There is room for much more progress. I am particularly concerned to see faster progress towards more judicial diversity. Throughout the debates on this Bill, it has been clear to all of us that ethnic-minority victims and parties to proceedings have suffered unduly from the difficulties and hardships caused by domestic violence. I believe that many share my view that a judiciary that more clearly represents the people who appear before it—in colour, background, age and gender—would appear, and be, more attuned to the challenges and traumas that victims face.
Throughout this process the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has been ready to meet us and listen to the concerns expressed. I am extremely grateful to him for all his help. We are particularly heartened by his assurances today, passed on through him from the senior judiciary, not only to the effect that there is a strong commitment to improved judicial training but also to the effect that considerable emphasis is placed on domestic abuse training. Particularly important is his telling us that the Judicial College already has in hand arrangements for judicial training in the light of both the provisions of the Bill and, no doubt, the discussions in this House and the other place concerning them.
In the clear expectation that judicial training directed at addressing the particular difficulties facing domestic violence victims is a high priority, I welcome the progress that we have made and agree with the decision made by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, not to divide the House on this Motion.
My Lords, this amendment is understandable but misconceived and I am relieved that it will not be put to a vote. I declare an interest as a former chairman of the Family Committee of the Judicial Studies Board, which was the forerunner of the Judicial College.
I have recently been in touch with the Judicial College to find out what training there is at the moment and what is intended when the Bill becomes law. I hope that the House will bear with me as I bring noble Lords up to date. I propose to say quite a lot, despite noble Lords having heard from the Minister. I do not accept that the current training is not working. The Judicial College trains all judges at every level and all magistrates sitting in the criminal and civil courts. Judges and magistrates are identified as appropriate to sit in particular work such as domestic abuse, and they are ticketed to do so only after they have had sufficient training. They are not allowed to sit until they have had that training. The training involves a three-day induction course in a residential setting, followed by continual professional residential training throughout their time as a magistrate or judge.
The training in domestic abuse includes hearing from victims and victim organisations. A lot of online extra information and advice is also sent to judges and magistrates. However, the Judicial College is only part of the training. The president sets out instructions to judges in practice directions. PD12J, updated in 2017, which I have no doubt will be updated again, sets out how family cases involving domestic abuse should be tried. The Court of Appeal sets out instructions and advice on how to approach and try domestic abuse cases. An important judgment for the Court of Appeal, Re H-N and Others (children) (domestic abuse: finding of fact hearings), was given earlier this year. The three members of the court were the President of the Family Division, the chairman of the Judicial College and a member of the criminal sentencing panel, all of whom are involved in the training of family and criminal judges and magistrates. The president himself takes a personal interest in the training of family judges.
The House may be interested to know that in the H-N case, the Court of Appeal invited the various victims’ organisations, such as Women’s Aid, to be represented at the court and to give their views, which were carefully listened to by the court—and that was shown in the judgments. In the H-N case, the president set out some statistics which showed that 1,582 full-time family judges, some part-time family judges and 2,744 family magistrates sat in family cases in England and Wales. The president said that it is thought that domestic abuse allegations are raised in at least 40% of cases in which parents dispute the future of their children. That means that domestic abuse issues are raised in about 22,000 child cases each year. In addition, the courts received last year 29,285 applications for injunction orders seeking protection from domestic abuse.
It is obvious, as we have heard during proceedings on the Bill, that some judges get it wrong. That is obvious from the H-N case, where in four cases things went wrong. It is helpful that the Court of Appeal saw that and put it right. However, from the large number of cases tried by the courts, there are very few appeals to the Court of Appeal and I would suggest, despite what has been said—particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, who said that the training is not working—that only a comparatively small number of people have in fact had bad experiences and that most judges have got it right.
I am told by the Judicial College that the domestic abuse training is being updated in the light of the forthcoming Act and instructions from the most recent Court of Appeal cases such as H-N and several others. The new Act will become an integral part of the family training of judges at every level, and of magistrates. It will form part of the courses taken by the judges and magistrates trying criminal cases as well. It is across the board. The president has also set up a private law working group which includes domestic abuse. There is, therefore, a great deal of information, guidance and instruction to judges and magistrates on how to try domestic abuse cases, which it is their duty to follow, and they are given the training to do so.
It is not in my view that there is a lack of good training; it is that some judges do not seem to have benefited from it. I cannot see how any statutory guidance from the Lord Chancellor will improve how judges deal with such cases. It is a matter of trying to make sure that the limited number of judges who do not do well enough will do better. Much of that comes from appeals to the Court of Appeal, which can put the matter right and give sensible and helpful advice.
I am relieved that this matter will not go to a vote because, although I have not dealt with it, this is also, as the Minister has said, a constitutional issue of judicial independence. I hope that the House will now be satisfied that the Judicial College is doing the best job that it possibly can and will, with the new Act, do somewhat better.
Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak? No? I call the next speaker on the list, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, has said, with the best will in the world, much of the legislation that this House passes will be ineffective if judges do not understand the issues. Sadly, in some cases—albeit a limited number—it is clear that they do not understand the issues surrounding domestic abuse, in particular, coercive control, rape and sexual abuse, despite current training.
To the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, I would say that there is a difference between outputs and outcomes. I am not sure whether this is an appropriate analogy, but I know from my own experience of race relations training, for example, that the cultural shift needed is difficult to achieve. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and, at times, the training of the judiciary has failed the test. Despite the Minister’s assertion, I fail to understand how mandating such training without dictating the specific content can be contrary to the principle of judicial independence, as my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames has said.
However, we are grateful for the reassurances that the Government have given as a result of the concerted efforts by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames.
My Lords, we on these Benches support the intention behind the noble Baroness’s amendment. The case for improved training is well made. The amendment’s wording does not dictate what the training should be but puts the requirement for it in the Bill. Around the House, I think that we can all agree on the need for updated, quality training and to ensure that it happens.
I have said many times that this is a good Bill and will be a good Act of Parliament, but it is important that everything is done to ensure that all aspects of the law are correct. That includes ensuring that our judges and magistrates are properly trained. We owe that to victims, because domestic abuse is something that we now talk about in the country and in the House. That was not the case many years ago and we should not just assume that judges and magistrates completely understand the issues. That is why it is important that we get the training right.
I accept entirely the point the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, makes about judicial independence. I think we all support that, but there have been one or two occasions at the other end of the building when other parts of the Conservative Party were not so keen on judicial independence, when the judge made a decision that they did not like—we should get that on the record. It is not always the case that there is a great call of support for judicial independence, but I will leave the point there. I do not in any way bring the noble Lord into that; I have the highest respect for him.
It is important that people fully understand the effect of domestic abuse on victims and on witnesses. That is why this amendment was brought forward. I thank the noble Lord for his reassurances. From the discussions he has already had on these issues, how does he think he will ensure that the work the Judicial College will do will bring about that change, so that all judges and magistrates fully understand this horrific crime, in all its many facets, and take that into account properly when doing their work in our courts? With that, I thank the noble Lord for his response and look forward to hearing what he says.
My Lords, I am again grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I first pick up the contribution from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. On the previous Motion I respectfully commended her experience. Even though I lost that vote, I do so again, because she has given the House a lot of detail as to the training that is actually provided. The House now ought to be reassured that, right from the top of the judiciary through to the Judicial College, there is a commitment to the importance of training, to ongoing training, to training from a variety of providers and not just judges, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, picked up, to specific training on the Domestic Abuse Bill—or, as I hope it will soon be, the Domestic Abuse Act. I hope that that level of detail has been helpful to the House and, in particular, helpful and reassuring to my noble friend Lady Helic.
I also tried—I hope I succeeded, to an extent—to reassure my noble friend as to the extent and content of the judicial training. I repeat the constitutional point that we cannot force the judiciary on the nature, content or extent of that training. But there is, as I have said, commitment from the very top to make sure that the Judicial College fulfils its role and that all judges and magistrates are properly trained on domestic abuse generally, and specifically on this Act. The House can be assured that in my ongoing discussions and meetings with senior judiciary, including the President of the Family Division, I will keep the question of training on domestic abuse on the agenda. Even if I did not, the President of the Family Division would be totally focused on it anyway, but none the less I will ensure that it is part of our discussions.
I also respectfully agree with the point make by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, that we must remember the particular difficulties—and the judiciary is increasingly aware of this—that victims of domestic abuse have in court proceedings. The House will be aware that we have made a number of other provisions in this Bill to do with witnesses, parties and cross-examination that will improve the lot of victims of domestic abuse in our courts. That is something I personally am very conscious of and focused on. Courts can be intimidating places at the best of times, and if you are a victim you can double, quadruple or quintuple the amount of intimidation you feel merely from the process. We have made some good improvements there.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, correctly says that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The danger with metaphors is stretching them too far, but in this context we are all committed to making the best possible pudding. The way you do that, if I can stretch the metaphor, is to have the best set of ingredients. That is why the Judicial College, in its training, has already engaged, and will continue to engage, training from a wide variety of providers—though the decision as to who those providers are has to be ultimately that of the Judicial College.
I hope I have dealt with all the points raised in this debate. I will take literally 30 seconds to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on the judicial independence point. It is such an important point that I must not let it go past, if the House will indulge me. My approach to judicial independence is really very simple: you can disagree with the decision but you respect the decision-maker. It really is as simple as that. I fear that, for the second time this afternoon, I have touched on points of important constitutional principle. I will not continue the lecture any further. I hope that my noble friend Lady Helic will indeed withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I will be brief. I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed and agree with a great deal of what has been said. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, has been an invaluable support throughout this process, not least on navigating the constitutional issues, and I commend his words on the feelings of survivors and the importance of up-to-date training.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has been a powerful voice on training across all stages of this Bill. I am pleased we agree on the importance of training, even if we do not agree on the mechanism for reform. Her update on the specifics of training is very interesting. It is reassuring that the courts are at least heading in the right direction, even if I believe that there is still some way to go.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, makes the important point that not all training is equal. It is not enough to have training; it needs to be good training. That is why reform is important. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, adds his support for updated, quality training. This really is a cross-party issue, and I hope that this will be noted by the judiciary, which I hope is following these debates.
My noble friend the Minister has been generous with his time and in his response. I also value his role as an intermediary with the judiciary. It is very good to hear from him that reform is under way. I hope he will continue to raise this issue in his meetings with the President of the Family Division and others, and to keep an eye on training, even if the Government will not direct it. I am certainly grateful for the assurances he has offered us today.
I hope that, in debating judicial training, we have helped raise its status as an issue and made clear to the Government and the judiciary how important it is in tackling domestic abuse. The greater detail on existing training that my noble friend offered was important. The assurances and commitments we are hearing from him, and from the judiciary via him, are very welcome. There is much more work to be done. I hope that this can be the beginning of a process, rather than the end. For now, I will withdraw the Motion.
Motion C1 withdrawn.
Motion C agreed.
37A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the so-called ‘householder defence’ to victims of domestic abuse who use disproportionate force against their abusers in self-defence.
38A: Because it is inappropriate to provide a new defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, as the existing common law defence of duress is sufficient.
83A: Because it is inappropriate to provide a new defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, as the existing common law defence of duress is sufficient.
My Lords, the elected House disagreed with these amendments by a substantial majority. In inviting this House not to insist on these amendments, I remind noble Lords that the amendments seek to create two new statutory defences. Although the Government are sympathetic to the aims behind the new defences, we were, and we remain, entirely unconvinced of their necessity.
Amendment 37 sought to extend the provisions contained in Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. In effect, if I can shorten what is a bit of lengthy law, the amendment essentially seeks to extend the special householder defence, where force is used for the purposes of self-defence. Amendment 37 sought to extend those provisions to any person who is, or has been, a victim of domestic abuse and who has been accused of a crime involving the use of force against their abuser. The current householder defence in Section 76 recognises the acute circumstances of dealing with an unexpected intruder and makes it lawful to use disproportionate force. Amendment 37, however, made the disproportionate use of force defence available at any time and any place if the person accused has suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the person they assaulted.
Although the Government are sympathetic to the aim behind Amendment 37, we remain unpersuaded of its necessity. We are not aware of any significant evidence that demonstrates that the panoply of the current full and partial legal defences available are failing those accused of crimes where being a victim of domestic abuse is a factor to be taken into consideration. Full defences, such as the defence of self-defence, are defences to any crime and, if pleaded successfully, result in an acquittal. In the circumstances of domestic abuse, there are partial defences available relating to loss of control or diminished responsibility that can be argued. Additionally, the fact that an accused is also a victim of domestic abuse will be considered throughout the criminal justice system process, from the police investigation through to any CPS charging decision, down to defences deployed at trial under the existing law and, if relevant, as a mitigating factor in sentencing. We are also concerned that the proposed defence could, because it provides a full defence to murder, be open to misuse, potentially even by an abuser who sought to claim that they were the victim of domestic abuse—which is very widely defined in this Bill, which is a very good thing—rather than the actual victim.
Turning to Lords Amendment 38, I remind the House this sought to create a new statutory defence for victims of domestic abuse who, by reference to a reasonable person in the same situation as the victim and having the victim’s relevant characteristics, are compelled to commit certain crimes on the basis of having no realistic alternative. Amendment 83, which would insert a rather long and somewhat intimidating schedule, set out the offences to which this proposed defence would not be available, but even though that schedule is long, it would still mean that the defence would be available for many serious criminal offences, such as drug dealing, serious assaults occasioning actual bodily harm and most non-fatal driving offences. Although, again, the Government absolutely understand that victims of domestic abuse may also be compelled to resort to crime, we are not persuaded that the model on which this amendment is based, which is Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, is either apt or effective with regard to domestic abuse. As I have stated previously, we have several concerns in relation to this amendment in terms of the nature of the defence itself and the nature of the offences for which this would be a defence. I will not detain the House by setting them out again, especially as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has now put forward an alternative amendment, Amendment 37B. It instead calls for independent review of the defences available to the victims of domestic abuse. However, I thought was worth briefly restating our arguments against the original Lords amendments because we contend that the existing full and partial defences are up to the task, and because of that, we have significant doubts about the case for a review of the kind proposed in Amendment 37B.
We are of course aware of the horrific impact and often devastation posed by domestic abuse, not only for direct victims but also indirect victims, such as children and the wider family and the House has noted the way the early clauses of the Bill have been drafted with that in mind.
We also recognise that there are some women offenders who have been subject to domestic abuse and have been compelled to commit crime as a result of their involvement in an abusive relationship. The Government have, therefore, given a commitment—and this is, I hope, an important point—to a review of sentencing in domestic homicide cases. The parameters and details of that review are currently being refined, but we intend to explore the use of sentencing legislation and guidelines in relation to use of a weapon, how aggravating and mitigating circumstances are taken into account, particularly those relevant to domestic abuse and, to the extent possible, the way in which defences to charges of murder or manslaughter affect sentencing, in both cases with a prior history of domestic abuse and those without. By undertaking that review, we will gain a greater understanding of how sentencing in domestic homicide cases works in practice, while avoiding a rush to make changes that could have unintended consequences. With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, we feel that this is a more appropriate response, both to the original Lords Amendments 37, 38 and 83 and also, if I may say, to her latest Amendment 37B. For those reasons, I believe the principles and ethos behind this Bill will improve and provide better support for victims of domestic abuse and highlight the impact of offensive behaviour. We have raised the profile of domestic abuse. We will, obviously, continue to work in this area but, for the reasons I have set out, the Government are unable to support Amendment 37B, and I therefore beg to move Motion D.
As tabled, this new amendment, is in lieu of my earlier amendments which sought to create statutory defences for survivors who offend due to their experience of domestic abuse. One of the devasting impacts of domestic abuse is the unjust criminalisation of the victim. This is a landmark Bill, and I pay tribute to all who have been perfecting it and adding to it. I think it will be a hugely important piece of legislation, but I am afraid it does not prevent this criminalisation of victims.
I am not resisting the Motion, but my new amendment would commit the Government to establishing an independent review of the effectiveness of self-defence. It is my view, as a barrister in the courts who has done homicide cases involving domestic violence where the victim has killed her abuser, that there is need for legislative reform. A great deal of research has now been done. A study recently conducted by the Centre for Women’s Justice has produced a very persuasive report concerning the limitations of the defences available to women and, particularly, how self-defence fails women because often, in circumstance where their abuser is not using a weapon, they reach for a weapon. This is then deemed to be disproportionate to the threat, but in the circumstances, and the fear created in her is so great, and she is so unmatched physically with abuser, that she will often reach for a weapon where others might not. The report produced by the Centre for Women’s Justice calls into question the ability of self-defence to cover many of the women, and it provides serious evidence of that.
Equally, the Prison Reform Trust has done a great deal of research into women in custody, serving sentences in our prison estate, many of whom have been forced to commit crimes by their abusers.
We hope that this review might be added to the review that has just been mentioned by the Minister. The fact that sentencing is being looked at is welcome, but that does not deal with the fact that women unable to avail themselves of self-defence are often being left with a conviction. This has serious consequences for people’s lives, even if they are dealt with more compassionately by a court because of their history of abuse that the court has heard.
I ask that this review be undertaken in conjunction with the review on sentencing in homicide cases. I remind the House that the Lord Chancellor is contemplating such a review on homicide cases because, having spoken to the Victims’ Commissioner and the domestic violence commissioner, who explained to him the ways in which women might seem to take disproportionate action because of their physical disadvantage, he felt compelled to. I would not have thought that it was particularly complicated to add to the review the issue of whether the matter of self-defence and duress works for women and men experiencing domestic violence.
My amendment seeks a formal response from the Minister to my suggestion. I will not be pushing the amendment to a vote. My earlier amendments would have provided effective defences for survivors of domestic abuse who, as a result of the appalling experience, are driven to use force in self-defence or are coerced by their abuser into offending. The amendments were based on legal precedents already in place to protect other groups. Since we already make this special concession for householders facing an intruder, I cannot understand why the same kind of concession in seeking proper justice cannot be made available to victims of domestic abuse.
One might also look at how victims of trafficking who are compelled to offend are dealt with, as suggested by the statutory defence in the second of the two propositions that I put before the House. They would have provided equivalent protection to survivors who, far from receiving protection and support, as this Bill seeks to ensure, find themselves in the dock for offences that they had no realistic alternative but to commit.
When the Minister and I met last week to discuss these proposals with members of the Centre for Women’s Justice, we were joined by a survivor who spoke powerfully of her experience of terrible abuse, including how she was coerced by her terrifying abuser into handling stolen goods. I feel sure that the Minister would agree that there is no material difference between the circumstances that led her to offend and the way in which victims of trafficking are coerced into offending. Yet, had she been caught, it is highly likely that she would have received a caution or conviction, given the impossibly high threshold required for the defence of duress, and that she would have gone to prison.
This is far from being an isolated case. Many other examples, including cases in which self-defence has failed, have been collated and presented to the Government. The misery and injustice faced by victims in these cases will simply go on and on until reforms are implemented. Other common-law jurisdictions have dealt with these challenges through legislation, and I have never been more convinced than now that we need legislation in this jurisdiction to ensure that these cases are dealt with justly. I know that the Minister disagrees, but I also know that he sympathises with our aims. I hope therefore that he will take action today by confirming that the Government will hold an independent review of this matter, and do so in conjunction with the review of sentencing, as he has already outlined.
My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendment 37B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, having supported her in earlier amendments on Report.
I always think that it is a danger for a non-lawyer to get involved in some of these discussions. I remember that very often people asked why we had so many lawyers in the House of Commons, and when I got there I realised that it was because we make laws. This of course is a good example of why we need the great legal brains that this Chamber has in plenty. So I feel a little in awe not only of the noble Baroness but of my noble friend the Minister.
I declare an interest as the deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. There is a similarity with the Modern Slavery Act, which covers people who commit crimes under duress because they have been trafficked or are enslaved, although my noble friend the Minister does not think so. I find it difficult not to see it, and it is a shame. The last thing we need is to fill up our prisons with people who should not be there and who committed a crime only because they were forced to. I heard what the Minister said, and what the noble Baroness said. It would be very useful if he could move a little more and extend that review to look at the issues that the noble Baroness mentioned. I heard what the noble Baroness said about the meeting that she had with my noble friend and the fact that there was a survivor there. I have always believed that listening to survivors, whether of domestic abuse or modern slavery, normally for me swings the balance in favour of the victims. Those poor, innocent people who have had to endure so much should not have to face criminal proceedings as a result of their abuse.
I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister says in winding up this debate. I fear that I may be disappointed, but I hope that perhaps at the last minute there will be a glimmer of hope.
My Lords, I support this amendment, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. In Committee and on Report, I spoke in favour of amendments to this Bill that proposed a statutory defence of domestic abuse, recognising the significant number of women coming into contact with the criminal justice system who have experienced domestic abuse and previous trauma, and how that becomes a driver for their offending. I do not want to repeat all that the noble Baroness has said, but I will highlight again the statistic of almost 60% of women supervised in the community or in custody who have an assessment have experienced domestic abuse—and the true figure is likely to be much higher.
Regrettably, these amendments have not been included in the Bill, and I therefore strongly support the call to hold an independent review of the effectiveness of existing defences, as proposed by this amendment.
My Lords, I had a few calm sentences worked out in response to this Motion, and completely scrapped them once I read the Commons disagreement amendments in lieu and reasons, because the reasons that the Commons have given for rejecting our amendments are absolutely pathetic.
I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, of whom I am very fond, when he says that non-lawyers should not get involved in lawyerly debates. Here in your Lordships’ House I see lawyers arguing ferociously about tiny issues on opposite sides of the Chamber. Lawyers often do not agree, and therefore at times we have to have some common sense.
It is no secret, or at least it might not be, that I am extremely intolerant of this Government. Quite honestly, the Minister referring to a “substantial majority” in the other place cuts no ice here when the Government have an 80-plus majority as well as some quite unsavoury little people from other parties.
I am sorry, but I now just have scribbled notes on these sheets of paper because of my fury at what I have heard. One of the points about lawyers in the other place is that they have given up their practices to become MPs. That means they are relatively inexperienced, whereas here we have experienced lawyers who do their best to give the Government good advice, but somehow that is very rarely enough.
The Commons reason for disagreeing with Amendment 37 is:
“Because it is inappropriate to extend the so-called ‘householder defence’ to victims of domestic abuse who use disproportionate force against their abusers in self-defence.”
I would argue that inherent in that phrase is the deep misogyny that we see all through society, because a householder who uses force against an intruder is almost invariably going to be a man while the person who attacks their abuser is almost invariably going to be a woman. Misogyny is written into that wording.
The Commons disagree with Lords Amendment 38:
“Because it is inappropriate to provide a new defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, as the existing common law defence of duress is sufficient.”
That is clearly not true because women are still being sent to prison for, in many cases, quite justified aggression against their abusers. The same claim is repeated later in rejecting other amendments of ours. I just do not see how the Government can persist in their blindness towards what is happening in society and not at least try to make it a bit better. I fully realise that the Bill is a very valuable one and we absolutely need it, but why not make it as good as we possibly can?
I very much support the new amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I am very glad that she has persisted on this issue. I hope the Minister will actually listen to what we are saying now and take back to—I was going to say “his masters”, but your Lordships know what I mean—his department the fact that this would be a good addition to the Government’s review of sentencing. I cannot say that forcefully enough.
I just have one question—well, I have lots of questions, including “Why won’t the Government see sense?”—but this particular question is: when will the Government’s review of sentencing actually report?
I must ask at this point: does anyone in the Chamber wish to speak? No? In that case it is over to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, it really is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for reasons that will become apparent, not least because we are three non-lawyers in a row.
On Report, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, wondered whether I was accusing the Government of being misogynistic, following on from what the noble Baroness has just said. I say very clearly that that is not what I said or intended to say. I shall clarify. The essence of misogyny, as I understand it, is hatred of women who fail to comply with the sexist stereotype of a compliant, subordinate woman—hatred of women who stand up for themselves. I am not accusing the Government of hating women, but in my opinion there are echoes of that view of women being subordinate in their approach to this issue.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has said, on the face of it the Government’s refusal to extend the so-called householder defence to victims of domestic abuse who use disproportionate force against their abusers in self-defence in the same way that a householder is allowed to use disproportionate force against an intruder appears to smack of the view that men should stand and fight but women should run away.
I do not intend to go over the arguments that I made at previous stages of the Bill; suffice it to say that I do not believe the Government’s arguments hold water. As a result, I am led to the conclusions that I have expressed. I would not be averse to the Government repealing the so-called householder defence, but I believe that to allow predominantly male householders to avail themselves of such a defence while not extending it to predominantly women victims of domestic abuse is inconsistent and incompatible.
While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, about Lords Amendment 38, in my view the Government’s approach is again inconsistent. The law specifically provides a statutory defence to victims of modern slavery when those victims are compelled to commit an offence, even though there is an existing common-law defence of duress. When it comes to victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, the Government argue that the existing common-law defence of duress is sufficient. Either the existing common-law defence of duress is sufficient for both victims of domestic abuse and victims of modern slavery or it is not. In my view, the Government should not be able to have it both ways.
Clearly, these anomalies need to be addressed. Motion D1 provides for an independent review of defences for those who offend due to domestic abuse, which we support. The review of sentencing as suggested by the Government does not appear to us to go far enough.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws set out in detail the case for her amendments in Committee and on Report, and it is disappointing that they have been rejected by the other place. In response, she has tabled Motion D1 in her name. As we have heard, she is seeking an independent review to look at the issues that we have been talking about throughout our consideration of these matters. I think that is the right way forward.
I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, is resisting the new Motion from my noble friend, but she made the point, as have others, that if the Government are resisting the issues raised in the amendment, he ought to address the question of whether they could be looked at by the review of sentencing—or is that a step too far for the Government?
There is a huge issue here. I recall the debates that we had when my noble friend and others presented harrowing cases. There is a real point here: if there is an intruder in someone’s house then, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, often a male can defend himself there and has a defence, but a woman attacked by her partner in her own home, which should be a place of safety, cannot rely on such a defence. That cannot be right.
The Bill is seeking to address the whole issue of domestic abuse in all its various facets. It is a good Bill, but it would be an even better one if we could make sure that all the gaps were plugged here. The fact is that women in their own homes, their place of safety, can often find themselves in very dangerous situations. If they have to defend themselves and end up injuring or killing their partner, we should understand that and ensure that they have the proper defences to take account of the difficult situation that they have found themselves in, often over many years. After all, these things escalate; they do not happen overnight.
My noble friend has identified an important point here, and I hope that when the Minister responds he can address it. We need to find a way to look at the issues that my noble friend raised in the review of sentencing, as he referred to in his earlier remarks.
My Lords, I am again grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to these exchanges. Right at the start, I say that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, was spot on when she characterised my position as disagreeing but sympathising—that is absolutely right. For the reasons that I have set out, I disagree but sympathise with the aims of the amendments.
Like the noble Baroness, I found the meeting with the representatives from the Centre for Women’s Justice extremely helpful. I have read a lot of material that they have produced, and, in particular, like her, I found the conversation with the survivor who joined us extremely powerful. Like my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, we have to remember that, while we may be debating what sometimes seem here to be quite dry and technical issues of law, there are real people—if I may use that terrible phrase—and, in this case, real victims of domestic abuse, who are affected. The House can be assured that I have that at the very front of my thinking.
I will not go over the substantive points that I made—I hope I am excused for that. As I explained, the review is of sentencing in domestic homicide cases, but it is a broad review. The terms of reference are still being developed, but it will look at the impact of defences on sentencing, and, while I appreciate that that is not as far as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, would like me to go, I hope that it is an indication of the seriousness with which the Government take this matter and, in particular, the review of sentencing.
I pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We respectfully disagree that there is a read-over to either the householder or the trafficking issue. As to the latter, I have made clear on previous occasions that we have concerns with the way that that defence is used in practice. Indeed, if I remember correctly, one of Her Majesty’s judges recently explained that in a case that he was hearing in, I think, Bradford—I may be misremembering that. As such, there is an issue as to how that trafficking offence is applied in practice.
Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, I am well aware that there is a substantial proportion of women in prison who have themselves been victims of domestic abuse—that is of course why a review of sentencing is so important. Without being trite, they are in prison because they were given a prison sentence; therefore, a focus on sentencing in the review is entirely appropriate.
I do not know whether there is anything I can do to help the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her apparent dichotomy between lawyers on the one hand and common sense on the other. The point I was making about the majority in the other place was actually that it was not the standard government majority, so to speak: it was a significant majority—with the greatest respect, that is something that this House ought to bear in mind. However, my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge did perhaps solve an age-old conundrum about a justification for the existence of lawyers, particularly in Parliament. He even came close to giving an explanation for their possible utility, so I am grateful to him for that.
My noble friend was also right when he said that people should not go to prison if they have been convicted of a crime that they were forced to commit—“forced” is a critical word, and that is where you get into the defence of duress. However, as I said, it is not only the question of the defence of duress: if there is a conviction, the nature of the force—if it does not amount to a defence—would still be relevant to sentencing and to mitigation.
As such, I hope that I have set out the reasons why the Government disagree. I hope that I have also responded to the particular point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on the scope of the review. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will indeed not press her amendment.
I have received no requests to speak after the Minister. I beg your pardon; I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, wishes to speak.
As I explained, the review’s terms of reference are being set out. The date will depend on how broad the review is, which will obviously affect the date by which it reports. Certainly, as soon as there is a date fixed or anticipated, I can perhaps write to the noble Baroness to inform her of it.
My Lords, I am of course disappointed that there has not been any movement—because the suggestion of there being a review in relation to the defences was posited last week, and I had hoped that, in the interim, we might have heard that some movement had taken place behind the scenes. Given that the terms of reference have not been finalised, I will write to the Lord Chancellor and seek to persuade him that the terms of reference might extend to a look at the defences as well as the sentencing in homicide cases where there is a background of domestic violence or abuse.
As I indicated, I will not press this Motion. I beg leave to withdraw it, but I ask that the good offices of the Lord Chancellor’s Department might be open to some reconsideration.
Motion D1 withdrawn.
Motion D agreed.
40A: Because the Government has committed to reviewing the processing of migrant victims’ personal data for the purposes of immigration control in response to the report on Liberty and Southall Black Sisters’ super-complaint on policing and immigration status published by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary on 17 December 2020, and the Commons consider that the Amendment would preempt the outcome of that review.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, I beg to move Motion E—that this House does not insist on its Amendment 40. Noble Lords will recall that this amendment seeks to establish a firewall so that the personal data of victims of domestic abuse that are given or used for the purposes of their seeking or receiving support are not used for immigration control purposes.
While we appreciate the case that noble Lords have made throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government remain of the view that what is provided for in Amendment 40 would actually be detrimental to the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse—and that it is premature, given the process set out by the policing inspectorate, following its report in December on the super-complaint made by Liberty and Southall Black Sisters. This view was shared in another place, where your Lordships’ amendment was disagreed by a majority of 80.
None the less, the Government have of course reflected carefully on our earlier debates on this issue. We want to ensure that all victims of crime are able to come forward to report such crimes to the police, regardless of their immigration status, and that they are not deterred from doing so because of concerns that immigration enforcement action may be taken against them. As I have previously made clear, 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 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. Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe, the national policing lead on domestic abuse, concurred with this view when she gave oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in another place.
There can be many benefits to sharing information, as it can establish whether a victim has a status of which they are unaware. It can also help to prevent perpetrators of abuse from coercing or controlling their victims because of their insecure immigration status. In cases like these, bringing the victim into the immigration system and providing them with a clearer understanding of their status can only help them, enabling them to obtain appropriate legal advice to regularise their stay if necessary.
I hope that noble Lords will also appreciate that the Government are duty bound to maintain an effective immigration system, to protect our public services and safeguard the most vulnerable people from exploitation due to their immigration status. The public rightly expect that everyone in this country should be subject to our laws. It is right that, when people with an irregular immigration status are identified, they should be supported to come under our immigration system and, where possible, to regularise their stay. Immigration Enforcement staff routinely help migrant victims of crime by directing them to legal advice to help them regularise their stay.
Since April 2020, Immigration Enforcement has improved its data collection and has recorded crime type on all victim referrals from the police. Between April and December last year, 128 victims of domestic abuse were referred to Immigration Enforcement. Of those 128, 75—just under 60%—already had legal status in the UK, of which some of them may have been unaware. Only 32 of these referrals—25% of them—had enforcement action taken in the form of the serving of papers to notify them of their immigration status. This was often days after the initial referral and once the individual had been safeguarded by police officers. Records show that none of the individuals has been detained and none has been removed from the United Kingdom. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these findings demonstrate some of the misconceptions which have arisen regarding the actions that Immigration Enforcement takes with migrant victims of abuse.
We understand the concerns raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about migrant victims who do not feel safe reporting their abusers to the authorities for fear of enforcement action being taken. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the time she made yesterday to discuss this, and her amendments, with me. As part of our review, we will engage with domestic abuse sector organisations better to understand those concerns and assess what more we can do to allay such fears. We are also engaging closely with the domestic abuse commissioner’s office throughout the review.
The amendment would also have wider-reaching impacts on domestic abuse victims receiving the NHS treatment they are entitled to. The NHS can seek information from the Home Office about a person’s immigration status to inform its assessment of their eligibility for free treatment. Data sharing of this kind may help some victims of domestic abuse to establish their eligibility for free NHS treatment when seeking treatment not covered already covered by the exemption for medical conditions caused by domestic violence.
Finally, and perhaps most pertinently, as the Commons set out in their reason for disagreeing with your Lordships, this amendment is pre-empting the super-complaint process. The outcome of the super-complaint was published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services in December last year and made eight recommendations. It is only right that we properly take account of the recommendations in this report, not least as this is the first ever super-complaint made under the provisions of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which were supported on all sides of your Lordships’ House.
In response to the report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, we have committed to review the current arrangements. We remain on track to publish the outcome of that review by the end of June, as I previously set out. To legislate now would pre-empt the outcome of that review. Moreover, it is highly probable that the outcome of the review can be implemented through further updates to the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance or other non-legislative means. If legislation is needed, there will be other opportunities, including the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which has already been introduced to Parliament.
I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and indeed the whole of your Lordships’ House, to support Motion E so that we can complete the review in line with the inspectorate’s findings and recommendations. I beg to move.
Motion E1 (as an amendment to Motion E)
40B: 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.”
40C: In Clause 79, after subsection (7) insert—
“(7A) Regulations under this section bringing section (Victims of domestic abuse: data-sharing for immigration purposes) into force may not be made until both Houses of Parliament have approved a resolution to the effect that it should be brought into force, moved either after debate in that House of any publication of the outcome of a review by the Secretary of State of existing data-sharing procedures in relation to victims of domestic abuse for purposes of immigration control, or after 1 July 2021, whichever is the sooner.””
My Lords, I rise to move Amendments 40B and 40C, which need to be taken together. Again, I thank supporters across the House, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, for their support and I thank the Minister for our very helpful meeting yesterday. I was very grateful for a very open discussion about the issues.
The purpose of our original Amendment 40 was to protect victims of domestic abuse whose migration status is uncertain. About half of these victims are too afraid to report the crimes committed against them. Their perpetrators threaten that the victim will be detained or deported if they report the abuse. Irrespective of what their immigration status is, it is a very useful threat for perpetrators to use. The victims have good reason to be afraid because, at present, if the victim reports a crime of domestic abuse to the police, there is every reason the police may pass that information along to the immigration authorities. This is at a moment of crisis for the victim, when they have quite likely been made homeless, they may have been thrown out of their home and are completely vulnerable. The idea that the immigration authorities begin to look for them at that point is utterly inappropriate.
To make clear what we were trying to achieve: our amendment was intended to prevent information about the victim, or any witnesses, being passed from the police to the immigration services. I understand the reasons for the Commons’ rejection of the amendment. They argue that the Government have committed to the review that the Minister has referred to about the processing of migrant victims’ personal data for the purposes of immigration control and that the amendment would pre-empt the outcome of that review. I totally understand that.
Incidentally, the Minister referred to the need for information to be passed to the NHS. We agree with that and we are not talking about blocking the sharing of information with the NHS; we are simply talking about the police passing information to the immigration services, which is a completely different issue.
Our compromise amendment fully respects the Government’s position and takes account of it. The only reason given by the Commons for rejecting the amendment was the fact that the review is ongoing. Amendment 40C, linked with Amendment 40B, makes clear that regulations under this section will not come into force
“until both Houses of Parliament have approved a resolution to the effect … after … any publication of the outcome of a review … or after 1 July 2021, whichever is the sooner.”
As the Minister has explained, it is expected that the review will be published in June. Therefore, the review will need to be completed, and it will need resolutions from both Houses before these protections could be introduced. So we are allowing time for the review to be completed and also putting quite an onerous block in the way of this reform by saying “we need a resolution from both Houses.”
The Minister referred to the National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance, but I am told that the guidance is implemented very unevenly across the country. If we simply enhance the guidance, that is no guarantee that these victims of domestic abuse will be protected. It simply is not sufficient or strong enough.
The Minister explained to me that, if protection of domestic abuse victims is needed, there may be a Bill in the next Session. However, these things are very uncertain, and all we are doing is leaving open the option of resolutions of both Houses. If there is an alternative Bill, then clearly this matter could be picked up in that Bill. The Government rightly said that the original amendment was not acceptable because it pre-empted the review, so we have taken that on board fully.
One of the issues is that the review will need to illustrate that there is a problem with these victims of domestic abuse having such fear that they do not report the crimes committed against them. I worry that the review sounds as though it will be focusing on the positive experiences of some domestic abuse victims whose immigration status is settled or quite straight- forward.
In our meeting the Minister referred, as he did today, to the 128 domestic abuse victims who are in touch with immigration officials. About 60% of them have settled status and the remaining 30%-plus have not been detained or deported. This is welcome information, but we have no idea whether those 128 represent 1% or 10% of these migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. It would be extremely helpful if the review tried to identify this cohort of about half of domestic abuse victims who have an immigration status issue to find out exactly what is happening to them. I ask the Minister to make sure that the review adequately covers that half of the cohort about which we are talking.
The compromise amendment would await the outcome of the review and leave the Government in control, as Governments understandably need and like to be. It recognises the need for the review to report but also provides an avenue for the protection of these extraordinarily vulnerable domestic abuse victims to be put in place if the review shows a need for that protection. We know there is a need. The question is whether the review will throw up that evidence and information.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for sponsoring this amendment, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and everyone who has faithfully backed the inclusion of migrant women in this Bill. As we already know, the Government voted against the amendment, which would have improved access to justice for migrant women. The Commons outcome does not secure any long-term legislative protection for migrant women. That is a shame.
We have seen some great breakthroughs in this Bill, some of which I have had the honour of co-sponsoring and which the Government have warmly supported, but their response on migrant women is quite glaring. Stuart McDonald of the SNP said it best when he asked:
“what is more important, protecting and supporting victims, or protecting Home Office powers over migration?”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 533.]
The Commons vote on 16 April has given us the answer.
The #MeToo movement caught on in waves in 2017 because many people across countries, societies and cultures could say that they too had experienced some form of sexual violence. We cannot in all good faith leave the outcome for migrant women to a principle that undoes the very aspiration of this Bill, which was to be ground-breaking.
We have heard women campaigners speak loudly about how abusers can turn to using a woman’s insecure immigration status as a tool to deter them from reporting abuse and to oppress them with the fear of deportation. Women’s rights campaigners have said that the Government’s policy is creating an enabling environment for abuse against women. We know that, because reports have shown that some 92% of migrant women have reported threats of deportation from their perpetrator. While I understand that the Government’s response to data sharing is still under review and that the outcome will be published in June, if we do not accept these amendments we miss the opportunity to enshrine in legislation protection for migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse.
It is my faith that has driven me to speak today. It is my faith that drives me to stand alongside the marginalised and to ensure that we design together spaces in which they can flourish. The original precedent for this Bill, which set out to treat victims as victims first and foremost, is what drew me to it. Will the Government believe migrant women? Will they partner with them so that they can be safer? Will they hear what the campaigners have been saying and write into law safety for migrant women, or will they wait to hear other choruses of women’s voices saying, “Me too”? We must ensure safe reporting for migrant women who experience domestic abuse so that they can be assured that, if they approach the police, they will be treated as victims first and foremost and given the right form of support to protect them from abuse.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. It seems perfectly sensible that we should all wait until the report has come out. What worries me is what appears to be a lack of understanding by the Government. It is perfectly obvious that if a victim thinks that she—particularly she, but sometimes he—will be subject to immigration control, she is not going to come forward and say that she has been abused. It is an obvious way for a victim to be kept under the control of the abuser. I worry that, in looking at this, the Government have not taken into account the obvious dangers to a victim of the use of their data by immigration control.
I am also concerned about the DDVC. A number of victims of domestic abuse do not manage to come within its rules and are therefore in danger of being deported despite being sufferers from domestic abuse.
Does anyone else in the Chamber wish to speak at this point? No? I therefore call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, the Commons reason for disagreeing with Lords Amendment 40 relies on a government review of a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. In light of the two recent reports by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on the policing of protests, I now have serious concerns about HMIC’s political independence. As a result, any Commons disagreement based on a government review of immigration control, let alone one based on an HMIC report, provides me with no reassurance whatever.
Motion E1 would ensure that the personal details of victims and witnesses of domestic abuse were not used for immigration control purposes. Victims of rape or sexual assault, as well as victims of domestic abuse, who have gone to the police have been deported as a result of coming forward as vulnerable victims of serious crime. Perpetrators of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence threaten victims that, if they go to the police, they will be deported.
Can the Government help with what I understand to be their position on how the sharing of information between police and immigration enforcement can benefit victims of domestic abuse? Is it their position that were a victim to be subject to coercive control on the basis of their immigration status, sharing information with immigration enforcement could establish that the victim’s immigration status was in fact compliant, removing the mechanism of coercive control? If that is the Government’s argument, how is that sharing of personal information without consent compliant with GDPR? It is outside the exemption provided by paragraph 4 of Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 2018, which provides an exemption only for the maintenance of effective immigration control, or the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control.
As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has just said, it matters not what a victim’s immigration status is, if the victim fears that the consequences of reporting a crime of which they are the victim or witness might be their deportation. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London has said, there is one other question for the Government: what is more important, ending violence against women, girls and other vulnerable victims of serious crime, or immigration control? If the Government oppose Motion E1, they are sending a very clear message that they care more about immigration control than protecting vulnerable victims of crime. We on these Benches will always put ending violence against women, girls and other vulnerable victims first, by voting with the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, if she divides the House. The noble Baroness has taken full account of the concerns of the other place and there appears to us to be no reason not to support her alternative amendments.
My Lords, I make it clear at the outset that if the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, divides the House then the Opposition Benches will strongly support her. This amendment would provide for the circumstances where victims’ data cannot be shared for immigration purposes if they come forward to report abuse. However, and importantly, it provides that, for this section to come into force, there must be a vote in both Houses to approve it, after either the Government have published their review and Parliament has debated it, or after 1 July if the Government have regrettably not lived up to their word and published their review by then. This amendment rightly and democratically gives Parliament the ability to hold the Government to account on taking action after they publish their review. It is needed to allow victims to feel able to report abuse without fear, so that dangerous perpetrators are reported and stopped.
One of the consequences 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 indeed the public.
This revised amendment is a thoroughly reasonable backstop. It gives the Government the time they have asked for to publish their review, but it gives Parliament the power, and indeed the responsibility, to hold the Government to account and to demand action on this issue if there is no subsequent implementation. I wholly recommend the amendment to the Minister and to the Government.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for setting out the case for her revised amendments and to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. Amendments 40B and 40C seek, in essence, to make the same provision as her original Amendment 40 but add a mechanism for deferred commencement. I certainly appreciate the fact that the noble Baroness has tried to seek a helpful middle course by adding this deferred commencement and engaging with the reasons given in another place for rejecting Amendment 40. However, I am afraid that we still do not think that her amendments quite solve the problem.
Until we have completed the review which I spoke about, we do not want to prejudge the outcome by writing into law the provisions of Amendment 40. The noble Baroness’s amendment provides for one outcome only, namely a blanket prohibition on the sharing of the personal data of victims of domestic abuse for immigration control purposes. To write this on to the face of the Bill, even with her suggested deferred commencement procedure, would still be prejudicial to what needs to be an open review, without any predetermined outcome. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London spoke of her anxiety about missing the opportunity of doing something in this Bill, but we could be left with a provision which is simply not the right way of addressing the issue noble Lords are concerned about. As I set out earlier, the outcome of the review can, in all likelihood, be given effect through non-statutory means, such as revised NPCC guidance, but we want to complete that review and make a decision once that has been done properly.
I will address some of the other points which noble Lords raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was anxious that the review did not simply focus on the positive experiences or the people we know about. Throughout these debates, she has made the point that we do not know what we do not know. We do not know how many people might be fearful of coming forward, because they have not. That is why we want to engage with domestic abuse sector organisations through the review. They are well placed to make sure that issues such as that can be raised and those whose voices have not yet been heard can be. That engagement is starting next month, and we are also working with the designate commissioner to address those points. The noble Baroness was also concerned that the guidance to which I referred is not uniformly understood across all police forces. As I said, it was updated last year, but we will certainly work with the National Police Chiefs’ Council to make sure that it is fully embedded in operational practice across all forces.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about data sharing and consent. The Home Office does not process personal data on the legal basis of consent, as we are obliged to discharge the obligation laid upon us in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Consent also has to be informed consent, and it is arguable whether a person who is vulnerable could be said to have given such. However, we do have protocols and procedures in place to support people who are vulnerable because of their reliance for their status on a partner who is an abuser, in the way the noble Lord set out. Data is also processed on the basis of public task, as laid out in Articles 6 and 9 of the general data protection regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018.
We have asked the elected House to consider this matter again; it has done so and has disagreed with your Lordships’ Amendment 40 by a substantial majority. I submit that we should not now send it back to the other place in the same form, even if it is accompanied by an additional amendment which provides for delayed commencement. The Government are committed to completing their review of the current data-sharing arrangements in a little over two months’ time. Noble Lords do not have long to wait for that. We should allow the super-complaints process to take its proper course. We will soon publish and then implement the findings of the review. I know that your Lordships’ House will scrutinise the Government’s actions closely, as indeed it should. I urge the noble Baroness not to press her Motion, and noble Lords to agree Motion E.
My Lords, I express my sincere and deep thanks to those who have spoken so powerfully and eloquently in support of this amendment—my heartfelt thanks to all of them. I know that those who represent these very vulnerable women will also be extremely grateful.
I also want to thank the Minister for his response, but my greatest disappointment is that he misrepresents our amendment. He talked about a “deferred commencement”. The whole point about this revised, compromised amendment is that it provides very clear provisions which leave it to the Government, first, to complete their review but, secondly, to decide whether they want this to go through both Houses of Parliament. The Government have a huge majority in the Commons and can certainly prevent a resolution going through. This is not a deferred commencement, it is a conditional commencement: conditional on the outcome of the review and on support from the Government, to be perfectly frank about it. It is not exactly a wild amendment at all; it is very, very modest.
I welcome that the review will be talking to the relevant organisations to try to understand the appalling consequences of this sharing of information with the Immigration Service. I hope they get at that information and publish it in the review, because it is there, we know it is—I have heard lots of information about these appalling cases. We depend on the review being thorough—we do not know whether it will be—and on the Government supporting the protections this amendment seeks to provide. On that basis, I want to test the opinion of the House.
41A: Because the Amendment would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
43A: Because the Amendment would involve a charge on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.
My Lords, noble Lords will recall that Amendment 41 sought to provide at least six months of leave to remain and access to public funds to all migrant victims of domestic abuse and provide them with a route to apply for settlement. In so doing, this amendment effectively sought to expand the existing destitution domestic violence concession so that it made provision for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of the wide range of circumstances represented in this group. The underlying objective of Amendment 43 was similar in kind to Amendment 41; that is, to secure equally effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, as provided for in the Istanbul convention. The Commons disagreed with these amendments on the basis that they gave rise to a charge on public funds.
Given the Commons’ reason, I welcome the fact that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic have come forward with substantially different amendments. I will take the new Amendments 41B and 43B in turn. Amendment 41B, in essence, seeks to lift the no recourse to public funds condition for migrant victims of domestic abuse until the conclusion of the support for migrant victims scheme. The amendment also provides that within two months of the scheme’s conclusion the Secretary of State must consult the domestic abuse commissioner and specialist sector and publish a strategy for the long-term provision for victims who do not have leave or have leave subject to the no recourse to public funds condition.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for her careful consideration of debate thus far and acknowledge the effort she has made to separate out the immediate needs of victims from their immigration status in the revised amendment. However, the Government still do not think that this amendment would provide an appropriate way forward. The notion of an automatic waiver of the no recourse to public funds condition raises some concerns. Furthermore, I highlight to noble Lords that, like its predecessor, this revised amendment will inevitably also involve a significant charge on public funds.
Our concerns about Amendment 41B are practical and principled. Perhaps I may deal with the practical difficulties first. The support for migrant victims scheme will commence imminently—by which point, under the terms of this amendment, a process by which to lift the no recourse to public funds condition for migrant victims of domestic abuse would need to be operating. This would carry with it both considerable cost and logistical difficulty. It is not a change that could be delivered in time for the start of the scheme. Even assuming such practical difficulties could be overcome, we have, as I have said, more fundamental concerns about implications of this amendment.
Broadly speaking, successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly-funded benefits and services should normally reflect the strength of a migrant’s connections to the UK. We think that such access should become available to migrants only when they have settled here. These restrictions are an important plank of immigration policy, operated, as I have said, by successive Governments, and they are applicable to all migrants until they qualify for indefinite leave to remain. The policy is designed to assure the public that controlled immigration brings real benefits to the UK but does not lead to excessive demands on the UK’s finite resources, and that public funds are protected for permanent residents of the UK. Automatically waiving the no recourse to public funds conditions for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their diverse financial circumstances and needs, would not seem to be an appropriate course of action.
What is more, to provide access to public funds one must also necessarily confer leave. The two cannot be disaggregated in the manner suggested by the amendment. It is for this reason that we have launched the support for migrant victims scheme, which can provide support for migrant victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds. We think the support that will be available through the scheme will, in practice, ensure that the majority of migrant victims without recourse to public funds will receive the support they need directly from the support organisation, without the need to access those funds.
As I have pointed out during earlier debates on the Bill, we still need more information and evidence to inform longer-term policy decisions and to ensure that funding is appropriately targeted to meet the needs of migrant victims. I am therefore very happy to inform the House that we have now awarded the funding for the £1.5 million support for migrant victims scheme to Southall Black Sisters. We will work together with Southall Black Sisters and an independent external evaluator to ensure that this scheme provides protection and support for migrant victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds, as well as supplying the evidence that we need to inform subsequent policy.
The scheme is designed to provide support to those individuals who fall through the gaps of other support mechanisms, such as the destitution domestic violence concession. It provides a safety net of support through provision of accommodation in a refuge or other relevant safe accommodation. Also, the scheme can offer wraparound provision, including emotional support and more practical support such as immigration advice to aid victims in their recovery and in navigating the options available to them to move on from that support. In that sense, it already goes further than the rather blunt mechanism of simply granting access to public funds; the support that it provides can be tailored to the needs of individual victims.
Amendment 43B was put forward by my noble friend Lady Helic. I assure her that the Government remain committed to ratifying the Istanbul convention as soon as practicable, and the swift enactment of this Bill will be a significant milestone in enabling that to happen. I welcome how her revised amendment now focuses on the provision of accommodation-based support under Part 4, but I contend that it is not needed because the duty on tier 1 local authorities operates in respect of all victims of domestic abuse and their children in need of accommodation-based support in their area. We will make clear through the statutory guidance under Part 4 that local authorities and local partnership boards will be required to take steps to understand the additional barriers that may prevent victims with protected characteristics accessing support in safe accommodation services. Local strategies will also need to set out clearly how tier 1 authorities, working with and through the board, will address the barriers identified.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, my noble friend Lady Helic and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are to be commended for championing the cause of migrant victims. We all broadly want to achieve the same outcome, albeit that we have different views on how best to achieve it. I hope that in the light of the votes in the elected House and the reasons that it has given for disagreeing with these amendments they and all noble Lords will be content to agree Motion F. As I have indicated, the support for migrant victims scheme will soon be up and running. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate and others will be as keen as me to see the outcome of the scheme and will, quite properly, continue to press the Government to act on its conclusions. I beg to move.
Motion F1 (as an amendment to Motion F)
41B: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Recourse to public funds for duration of pilot scheme
(1) For the duration of the pilot Support for Migrant Victims Scheme announced by the Government on 14 April 2021, the Secretary of State must make provision that a person who—
(a) is a victim of domestic abuse; and
(b) provides evidence in one or more of the forms in subsection (3); shall not be subject to restrictions on recourse to public funds, due to their immigration status, provided for in the provisions listed in subsection (2).
(2) The provisions referred to in subsection (1) are—
(a) section (3)(1)(c)(ii) of the Immigration Act 1971;
(b) section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999;
(c) Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002;
(d) section 21 of the Immigration Act 2014.
(3) For the purposes of this section, evidence that a person is a victim of domestic abuse may consist of one or more of the following—
(a) a relevant conviction, police caution or protection notice;
(b) a relevant court order (including without notice, ex parte, interim or final orders), including a non-molestation undertaking or order, occupation order, domestic abuse protection order, forced marriage protection order or other protective injunction;
(c) evidence of relevant criminal proceedings for an offence concerning domestic violence or a police report confirming attendance at an incident resulting from domestic abuse;
(d) evidence that a victim has been referred to a multi-agency risk assessment conference;
(e) a finding of fact in the family courts of domestic abuse;
(f) a medical report from a doctor at a UK hospital confirming injuries or a condition consistent with being a victim of domestic abuse;
(g) a letter from a General Medical Council registered general practitioner confirming that he or she is satisfied on the basis of an examination that a person had injuries or a condition consistent with those of a victim of domestic abuse;
(h) an undertaking given to a court by the alleged perpetrator of domestic abuse that he or she will not approach the applicant who is the victim of the abuse;
(i) a letter from a social services department confirming its involvement in providing services to a person in respect of allegations of domestic abuse;
(j) a letter of support or a report from a domestic abuse support organisation; or
(k) other evidence of domestic abuse, including from a counsellor, midwife, school, witness or the victim.
(4) The Secretary of State must, within 2 months of the completion of the pilot Support for Migrant Victims Scheme announced by the Government on 14 April 2021—
(a) consult the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and specialist organisations that work with victims of abuse on the impact of this section on victims;
(b) publish a strategy for the long-term provision of support for victims of domestic abuse who do not have leave to remain or have leave to remain subject to a condition under section 3(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1971.””
My Lords, I will listen carefully to what the Government say in response but, as things stand, I am minded to test the opinion of the House. I draw attention to my interests as stated in the register. I thank the Minister for her work and thank the team of Ministers who have remained so committed to this Bill and have listened deeply. I am grateful for all the time that I have been given to discuss this, but I remain hugely frustrated.
I listened very carefully last week as the other place considered the amendments that we made to the Bill. The Government’s solution to this issue, as we have just heard, is the pilot support for migrant victims scheme. This is insufficient. Although the Minister has just spoken warmly of what it will provide, it is for a limited number of people only. It is estimated that the pilot project will not be able to provide the holistic wraparound support needed to aid recovery, even by those women who access it. It is likely that organisations will need to provide extra support, using donations and other funds, to cover services such as counselling and therapeutic support and medical, travel and legal costs. The pilot project will therefore remain an inadequate means to assess needs.
I remain committed, as I know others do, to ensuring that the Bill is as good as it can be for all victims of domestic abuse. Amid all the debate and discussion, I return again and again to the people—the men, women and children—behind the words and policies. No person should be subject to the horrors of domestic violence, coercion and control. The degradation of humanity in this manner is an evil, and we must do all that we can to stamp it out.
I know even as I say this that the Minister and the Government will agree with me on this, for which I am thankful. However, the Government’s answer regarding the rejection of the original amendment is the solution of the pilot project. I want to stress again how woefully inadequate that is. It was my sincere hope that the other place would retain the addition to extend access to support services for the small but vulnerable group of migrant victims of abuse, mainly women. Without it, the Bill will not be all that it could be.
As I said, I am delighted that the pilot support for migrant victims scheme has been awarded to Southall Black Sisters, which has assisted me with this amendment. Organisations such as this have extensive experience in supporting victims of domestic abuse, restoring dignity and giving hope. Having undertaken a great deal of research already, they know the extent of the problem regarding migrant victims who have no recourse to public funds and who, when refused services such as accommodation, will in all likelihood return to abusive partners or find themselves at the mercy of those who exploit their vulnerability.
Mindful that financial privilege has been applied, the provisions proposed in this revised amendment are time-limited to 12 months, the duration of the pilot support for migrant victims scheme, so will run for the length of the pilot. This greatly reduces the cost implications and has the added benefit of ensuring that no person who needs support is excluded. It will also allow really informative data to be collected.
If the Government truly believe the game-changing pilot will meet the needs of the current eligible population, it stands to reason that the cost implications are not high at all. If the Government’s projection is that the pilot will be insufficient to such a degree that the amendment would create serious additional costs, the pilot is clearly inadequate. It cannot logically be true that the pilot is sufficient and game-changing and that the amendment would create significant extra costs. In addition, this amendment seeks agreement from the Government that the domestic abuse commissioner and specialist organisations will be consulted at the end of the pilot scheme. It asks for agreement to publish a strategy for the long-term provision of support for victims of domestic abuse who do not have leave to remain or have leave to remain subject to a condition.
I will take a few moments to draw attention to a contradiction in the Government’s reasoning. During the passage of the Bill, we have heard about the devastating impact of revenge porn. The Law Commission is currently reviewing the law on intimate image abuse, while at the same time the Government have recognised the need for immediate action. We ask that the same logic be applied to migrant victims of abuse. We know that the pilot scheme, although arguably insufficient, will report on the extent of this issue. At the same time, we hear that vulnerable migrant victims of abuse will be left out. We ask simply that support be offered to these victims for the duration of the scheme and that a thorough review is undertaken on its completion.
I will make one last point. The New Plan for Immigration states as follows for victims of modern slavery:
“We will make clear, for the first time in legislation, that confirmed victims with long-term recovery needs linked to their modern slavery exploitation may be eligible for a grant of temporary leave to remain (subject to any public order exemption) to assist their recovery, building on our end-to-end needs-based approach to supporting victims. We will also make clear that temporary leave to remain may be available to victims who are helping the police with prosecutions and bringing their exploiters to justice.”
While I welcome this approach, I am interested to hear from the Minister why a route to leave to remain to assist recovery is possible in the case of one set of victims of serious crime, but not in another. I am interested to hear all that will be discussed today, and I am very grateful to noble Lords who support this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I know how hard she and the other noble Lords who have backed amendments on support for migrant victims have been working on this issue. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support on Report. I am also tremendously grateful to End Violence Against Women for its assistance; I would like to take one last opportunity to praise it and organisations such as Southall Black Sisters and the Latin American Women’s Rights Service for the extremely important work they do.
My noble friend the Minister has been generous with her time and has worked tremendously hard on this Bill, and I recognise that the Government have made some very important concessions elsewhere. I am sorry that we have not yet been able to put in better protection and support for the migrant victims who so desperately need it. However, I am grateful for the Minister’s commitment on the statutory guidance just offered.
Of the various amendments relating to migrant victims, the original Amendment 43 passed with the largest majority in your Lordships’ House. I believe that this in part reflects the strength of feeling around the Istanbul convention. Since we last debated this amendment on Report, Turkey has withdrawn from the convention—a serious backward step for millions of women. It is one that makes our own failure, or inability, to ratify almost nine years after we signed all the less excusable. We should be leading the charge for women’s rights around the world, yet we cannot get our own house in order.
Motion F2 is a significant concession. It would not create any additional financial duties. It is much more limited in scope than its predecessor, dealing only with local authority strategies—not with all aspects of support and protection—and making non-discrimination a consideration rather than an absolute requirement. I am glad that my noble friend recognised that this amendment does not pre-empt the pilot project and reviews currently under way but could still improve the lives of some of the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse. It could make all the difference for them between getting the support that they need to escape to build a new life and remaining trapped, stuck with abusers who use immigration status as one more weapon in their arsenal.
I fear that we will have missed an important opportunity if we do not manage to embed greater protection and support for migrant victims in the Bill. I know that the demands on the Government are many and varied, and that future action, though promised, can easily slip. We have before us legislation and a ready opportunity to improve the lives of desperate, vulnerable victims and give them some protection, support and dignity, and a chance to become something more than victims. The various amendments being proposed—Motion F2, Motion F1 and, earlier, Motion E1—are chances to act. They are more limited in scope and ambition than earlier amendments, but they could still make real improvements to the lives of women and men experiencing abuse. I am sorry that the Government have not embraced them.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will at least be able to offer us some prospect of progress on the Istanbul convention. She said “as soon as practicable”, but I am afraid that that is still indefinite. A timetable for ratification—a yardstick by which we could monitor and observe progress in the future—would be very welcome. If we cannot legislate, at least we can scrutinise. A firmer commitment to full ratification without any reservations, sooner rather than later, would be a point of light in a world where women’s rights are slipping backwards as often as they are marching forwards.
I do not want to hold up this Bill. I know that timing is tight, and the last thing anyone wants is for it to fail. I am grateful to have taken this issue this far and to have had such resounding cross-party support for both the Istanbul convention and the important issue of non-discrimination—which, I should note, goes much wider than just migrant victims, although they have been my main focus in your Lordships’ House. I hope that the Government will not forget the strong arguments that have been heard across all stages of the Bill. Above all, I hope that they will not forget the powerful testimonies of survivors that have featured. Their voices are our inspiration and courage. I hope that we can give them the support and protection they deserve.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has withdrawn. I have no notification of unlisted speakers, but does anyone in the Chamber wish to speak? No. In that case, I call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
My Lords, I start by joining other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who has been a passionate campaigner on these issues. I was going to say that she had stepped down from the Front Bench, but she has stepped up to bigger and better things in the House, and I personally will miss her greatly.
Lords Amendment 41 would have provided a route for victims of domestic abuse who are subject to immigration control to be given the opportunity to apply for leave to remain—not given leave to remain but given the opportunity to apply—by allowing them to stay in the UK pending the outcome of their application and to be supported financially during this time. Many of these victims are reliant on their abusive partner for support, making escape from domestic abuse almost impossible. Initially, the Government said the reason they objected was that they thought people might falsely claim to be victims of domestic abuse in order to seek leave to remain in the UK. Again, we have to ask: what is more important, protecting vulnerable victims of domestic abuse or immigration control? The Commons reason is simply
“Because the Amendment would involve a charge on public funds”.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester has presented an alternative amendment, a very modest amendment, that seeks to address all the concerns the Government have previously expressed. There is a £1.5 million 12-month pilot supporting such victims of domestic abuse, and the amendment simply ensures that, during the pilot period, victims are not turned down because of a lack of funds. It then sets a timetable for the introduction of a permanent solution once the results of the pilot have been evaluated. The amendment comprehensively sets out the evidence necessary to show that someone is a genuine victim of domestic abuse. This alternative amendment is the very least the Government should do for these particularly vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, and we would support the right reverend Prelate were she to divide the House.
Lords Amendment 43 would have ensured that all victims of domestic abuse received equal protection and support irrespective of their status, including their immigration status. The Commons reason for disagreeing was that it would
“involve a charge on public funds”.
Indeed it might—but it would also have been a significant step towards the UK finally being able to ratify the Istanbul convention. The noble Baroness, Lady Helic, has proposed an alternative amendment that would at least ensure that local authorities consider the needs of all victims, including migrant women, when they make strategic decisions about tackling domestic abuse. This cannot be the landmark Bill the Government intend it to be unless it puts the final pieces into place to enable the UK to ratify the Istanbul convention. I recall an expression my mother was fond of: “Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar.”
I was hoping that this Bill could be, like the Modern Slavery Act, a magnificent piece of legislation of which all sides of the House could be justifiably proud. We have already vastly improved the Bill in this House; it would be a shame if we now left it less than watertight.
As we have heard, Lords Amendments 41 and 43 were both disagreed by the Commons because they would involve a charge on public funds. The Commons did not offer any further reason. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, have now tabled Amendments F1 and F2. The amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, provides that local authorities “must have regard” to Article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention when they are preparing their strategy for accommodation-based services under the Bill. Article 4(3) of the convention provides that protection for victims must be secured without discrimination based on any ground such as race, religion or migrant status. We support the aim of this amendment, which also serves to remind the Government of their commitment to ratify the vital Istanbul convention, for which they have not yet set a timeframe. Perhaps we will hear something definite on this point in the Government’s response to this amendment.
We cannot claim to be seriously tackling domestic abuse unless we are tackling it for every victim. That means providing support to anyone living with this awful crime. Abuse does not stop because of a person’s immigration status, and potentially life-saving support should not be stopped because of a person’s immigration status.
The Motion moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester simply asks that no recourse to public funds be lifted for all migrant victims of domestic abuse for the duration of the Government’s pilot programme, titled Support for Migrant Victims. The pilot programme covers migrant victims of domestic abuse on, for example, student, visitor or work visas, or who are here without authority, who are not eligible for existing support schemes. It is intended to provide access to safe accommodation and specialist services for these victims. The Government have accepted that there is a need for the pilot and for victims of domestic abuse to have access to services for a 12-month period. If they have accepted this for some victims, how can it not be right to ensure that all victims have access to support for that short timeframe?
Southall Black Sisters, who will run the pilot, estimates that the resources the Government have made available for it can support only 300 to 500 women so, as the shadow Minister in the Commons said:
“What happens … when the 501st victim visits?”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 524.]
The answer is precisely what happens now. Victims of domestic violence remain trapped in the abuse they suffer because, without access to public funds and the associated support and protection, they have nowhere they can go away from their abusers and those who exploit them. Safe accommodation is not available to them because they do not have the resources to pay and they cannot afford such key things as counselling, children’s costs and travel costs.
Lifting no recourse to public funds for the duration of the pilot programme would address this and assist in delivering the Government’s declared aim of gathering data to determine the scale of the problem and the needs of victims in order to build a sustainable programme of support arrangements for migrant victims. How can you fully assess the scale of the problem and the needs of all the victims of abuse that the pilot is intended to cover if, in the absence of access to public funds during the pilot, many victims are not able to come forward and seek help and thus remain largely hidden from view? The right reverend Prelate commented on the contradiction between the Government arguing, on the one hand, that the pilot scheme is “game-changing” and, on the other hand, that the amendment will have a significant impact on public funds.
This amendment is a significantly reduced ask from the previous amendment on this issue, with which the Commons disagreed but which had the support of the Victims’ Commissioner and the designate domestic abuse commissioner. In the Commons, when debating the previous amendment on this issue passed on Report in this House, the government Minister said:
“We accept that not all migrant victims have access to the necessary support and we need to address that … we want to help such victims to recover and escape such relationships.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 521.]
Accepting Motion F1 will help to achieve those objectives, at least during the pilot scheme. Opposing it will not. We will support it if the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester decides to test the opinion of the House. It is one last ask on access to Support for Migrant Victims. It is only short term for the duration of the pilot exercise but it could save lives.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. I start by quoting the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who said that this should be a “magnificent” Bill of which we can be rightly proud. Some of the work that noble Lords have done is turning the Bill into a magnificent Bill of which we can be rightly proud, and the Government have gone some way in meeting the concerns of your Lordships’ House. A significant number of amendments from the Government and from noble Lords have been accepted. The Bill is well on its way to being a magnificent Bill and this has been a good debate.
We all agree that all victims of domestic abuse should be treated first and foremost as victims and have access to the support that they need. I welcome the fact that the right reverend Prelate’s revised amendment now seeks to draw a distinction between the issue of leave to remain and the provision of support. As I said, her Amendment 41B does not quite achieve that, in that the no recourse to public funds condition is intrinsically bound up with a person’s immigration status. In any event, we continue to believe that the Support for Migrant Victims scheme, together with other existing arrangements such as the destitute domestic violence concession, are the right mechanisms to ensure that victims of domestic abuse who are subject to immigration control get the support they need.
On costs, the revised amendment lifts the no recourse to public funds conditions for the duration of the scheme—that is, for 12 months. Even under the DDVC, leave is granted for three months, so waiving the NRPF condition for a year incurs significant new costs. My noble friend Lady Helic and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about progress towards ratifying the Istanbul convention. We are already under a statutory duty to report annually on that progress towards ratification and the next report is due in October.
In conclusion, I welcome this constructive debate and the efforts of the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend to find alternative legislative solutions. However, Amendment 43B will still result in a significant call on public funds and I suspect will invite the same response from the Commons as Amendment 43. In the context of Part 4 of the Bill, my noble friend’s Amendment 43B is unnecessary, as the duty in Part 4 will operate in respect of all victims of domestic abuse and their children. As I have indicated, we remain firmly of the view that the Support for Migrant Victims scheme is the way forward. It will provide access to safe accommodation for migrant victims who need it and the evidence that we need to take decisions for the long term about how best to support this group of victims. On that basis I invite the House to agree to Motion F.
I thank the Minister for her words and I thank deeply all noble Lords who have spoken so passionately in this debate and really added extra substance to my arguments. I am left still feeling very frustrated. I hear the Minister talk about the support that is available, but I still feel that what is not being named is all the people for whom the support is not available while this pilot happens.
With all due respect, the Minister has not answered my questions about the inconsistency in the Bill regarding the sharing of intimate sexual images and the Government recognising that there is a case for immediate action there, despite the fact that there is an ongoing Law Commission review—so we already have that situation happening in a different part of the Bill.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for quoting Jess Phillips MP in the other House, who raised that really important question: what happens when the 501st victim comes forward? There will not be anything. There seems to be a lot of fear going on here, and a lot of assumptions. The whole point of this amendment is that it is time limited and not risking the immigration system being exploited, because it will be subject to a review at the end of 12 months.
So I do feel frustrated. I hear what is being said, but I want to seek the opinion of the House because I believe that this amendment would improve what is already a good Bill. This would make it really good. I beg leave to seek the opinion of the House.
Motion F2 not moved.
42A: Before Clause 69, insert the following new Clause—
“Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders
(1) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for—
(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse,
(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving domestic abuse, and
(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences involving domestic abuse.
(2) The Secretary of State—
(a) must keep the strategy under review;
(b) may revise it.
(3) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.
(4) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and
(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(5) Subsection (4) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.”
42B: In Clause 75, page 59, line 8, after “section” insert “(Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders),”
42C: In Clause 79, page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Strategy for prosecution and management of offenders);”
My Lords, noble Lords know that Amendment 42, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and provide for a new category of offender to be managed under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, otherwise known as MAPPA. The intention is that such offenders are recorded on ViSOR, the dangerous persons database. The new category would cover perpetrators who had either been convicted on two or more occasions of a relevant domestic abuse-related or stalking offence or who had been convicted of a single such offence and had been assessed as presenting a risk of serious harm. Those features are retained in exactly the same form in Amendment 42D.
The noble Baroness’s original amendment would also place a duty on the Government to issue a report on these changes 12 months after Royal Assent. The amendment specifies that the report would need to include a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers. The noble Baroness’s new Amendment 42D modifies this aspect of her original amendment by incorporating the provisions of government Amendment 42A but with the key difference that Amendment 42D would provide for a strategy to tackle domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators.
Following the decision by this House to agree Amendment 42, we have once again reviewed the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness and others in favour of her amendment. I will now outline our thinking and detail the conclusion that we have reached.
It was impossible not to be moved by the many personal accounts that were shared during the course of debates in Committee and on Report. However, I think there has been some misunderstanding of what the amendment would actually achieve, and that is worthy of clarification. An example of this concerns the report that has been circulated, which many noble Lords have raised, that outlines 30 harrowing and extremely distressing cases of women and children who have been murdered or seriously injured by violent perpetrators. Based on the information provided in the report, in many of these examples the perpetrator would already have been eligible for management under the current MAPPA provisions or the proposed amendment would not have made a difference because the perpetrator had not been previously convicted.
What is clear from those examples is that the systems were not always working as they should and victims were let down. Those cases illustrate the need for a changed agency response to perpetrators so that they are brought to justice earlier and agencies work together to reduce the risk that perpetrators will commit future offences that might lead to death or serious injuries of women and children. That is why we have continued to argue that simply providing for a separate MAPPA category covering serial domestic abuse or stalking offenders, as Amendment 42D seeks to do, would not strengthen the way in which MAPPA operates or indeed address the underlying issues.
It is worth disaggregating the amendment a bit to see what practical effect it would have. The argument put forward by the proponents of this amendment is that the discretionary category 3 of MAPPA—if I could use the term—is not working and what is required is to ensure that high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators are automatically brought within the MAPPA framework, but the amendment does not achieve that outcome and I will say why.
As I have said, the proposed new category 4 would capture two types of offender. First, it would capture serial offenders who had at least two convictions for a domestic abuse-related or stalking offence. However, the list of trigger offences for categories 1 and 2 of MAPPA runs to 153 offences, including ABH, GBH and sexual offences, which are commonly charged in domestic abuse cases. Serious domestic abuse offenders will already come within categories 1 and 2 of MAPPA and there is nothing to be gained from a category 4.
The second cohort of offenders to be included in the proposed new category 4 are those with just one relevant conviction but who have been assessed as being high risk. The key word here is “assessed”. This second group of domestic abuse or stalking offenders will need to be assessed as being high risk by the MAPPA responsible authorities before they are brought within the new category 4. However, this is no different to how category 3 operates. I add here that the existing MAPPA statutory guidance makes it clear that:
“Offenders demonstrating a pattern of offending behaviour indicating serious harm … that was not reflected in the charge on which the offender was actually convicted”—
as is often the case with domestic abuse—
“should be considered for category 3 management.”
The amendment simply does not achieve what it purports to achieve. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, knows that if it did, I would be the first to be fighting for its inclusion. We do not have a principled objection to amending the current statutory framework if we thought that it will make a material difference by better protecting victims of domestic abuse and stalking. I regret to say that this is not the case here. As I have said before, the issue we need to address is not the legislative framework but how it operates on the ground to ensure that agencies actively identify those offenders who pose the highest risk and put plans in place to manage them. If further legislation were the key to ensuring that, I would be happy to support the noble Baroness’s amendment, but that is not the case here.
I outlined on Report the actions we are taking to ensure that the system works as it should, including strengthening the current statutory guidance with dedicated entries relating to domestic abuse perpetrators. I also explained how enhanced provisions for agencies to share information under MAPPA are included in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will be with your Lordships’ House in the summer. The Bill puts beyond doubt the information-sharing powers of those agencies subject to the duty to co-operate under MAPPA. It will also explicitly clarify these information-sharing powers for those agencies or individuals who can contribute to the assessment and management of risk, for example GPs. This will give greater confidence to those agencies when sharing information, supporting more effective risk management. These are all extremely important practical steps and will make a difference to how MAPPA works on an operational level with regards to domestic abuse perpetrators.
I will also touch on the reporting in the media that the amendment creates a register for domestic abuse and serial stalkers, and that it has now been included in the Bill. This is misleading and inaccurate, and it is also unhelpful to victims of domestic abuse. However, again, we are committed to doing more to ensure the effective recording and sharing of information—this is absolutely crucial.
Noble Lords will recall that I also said that we will improve the MAPPA shared database, also known as ViSOR, which is used to manage offenders. I am delighted to inform the House that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have jointly funded a project to introduce the new the multiagency public protection system, or MAPPS, which will have much greater functionality than the existing system. It will enable criminal justice agencies to more effectively share information, improving the risk assessment and management of high-harm offenders and MAPPA nominals, including domestic abuse perpetrators. Once MAPPS is operational, we will be able to decommission ViSOR.
We want to be held to account on our commitment to do more in this area. Therefore, the Government have brought forward Amendments 42A to 42C, to which the Commons has agreed. Amendment 42A places a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy, and I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness has incorporated this provision into her new Amendment 42D. In our Amendment 42A, we purposefully confined the scope of the strategy to domestic abuse perpetrators to reflect the focus of the Bill. We are separately committed to publishing a complementary violence against women and girls strategy, which will, among other things, address stalking that is not domestic-abuse related. The House of Commons rejected Amendment 42.
In conclusion, we are committed to ensuring that MAPPA works as intended to better protect all those who might be victims of domestic abuse or stalking. Lords Amendment 42D will not help in that regard; it will no more guarantee the effective management of high-harm perpetrators than the current MAPPA framework. I repeat: I would be pressing for it if it did. Amendments to the MAPPA framework in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are not the answer here, and the Commons agreed with this view by some margin. What is needed here is the more consistent application of effective operational good practice, supported by the new multiagency public protection system and the additional resources announced in the spring Budget. That is what the practitioners on the ground would tell you, and we should listen to them.
I urge the noble Baroness and the whole House not to send back to the Commons an amendment that is substantially the same as one already rejected. Instead, we should move forward on the basis of the programme of work that I have set out, which will be brought together in our comprehensive, and now statutory, domestic abuse perpetrator strategy, which we will publish later this year. I beg to move.
Motion G1 (as an amendment to Motion G)
42D: Before Clause 69, insert the following new Clause—
“Identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators
(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 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.”
(4) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—
(a) commission a review into the operation of the provisions in this section;
(b) prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for the prosecution and management of domestic abuse and stalking offenders.
(5) A strategy under subsection (4)(b) must include provisions for—
(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse or stalking,
(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving domestic abuse or stalking, and
(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences involving domestic abuse or stalking.
(6) The Secretary of State—
(a) must keep the strategy under review;
(b) may revise it.
(7) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.
(8) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and
(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(9) Subsection (7) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.”
42E: In Clause 75, page 59, line 8, after “section” insert “(Identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators),”
42F: In Clause 79, page 60, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) section (Identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators);””
My Lords, it has rightly been said many times that this is an excellent Bill of which we can be proud. However, in this National Stalking Awareness Week, we have an opportunity to make a further change that would demonstrate that the Government really have listened to the outpouring of anger and grief following the murder of Sarah Everard.
Since 15 March, when your Lordships last considered the Bill, 16 more women have been murdered—most of them as a consequence of domestic abuse, with many of them undoubtedly having suffered coercive control and stalking. If the perpetrators had been proactively identified, assessed and managed by police, prison and probation services, using the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements and the violent and sex offender register—ViSOR—many of these women would still be alive. These victims are not just numbers or even names: they were mothers, sisters and daughters who were loved and whose murder will have torn families apart with pain.
For nearly 20 years, evidence has been provided by Laura Richards, charities, HMIC and others that the current system is not working, and that serious and serial stalkers and domestic abusers are treated with impunity. The Minister is right that more good practice is needed, but we have been told that for the last 10 or 12 years and little has changed. I know that there are many things in train, but women are dying. The answer from government has always been, “The current system is adequate. We acknowledge that there are problems, but it is the practice not the process that is the problem. We will issue more guidance and lessons will be learned”. The lesson that has been learned is that guidance is not enough. Real change will be effected only through statute.
After 15 March, there was a flurry of press coverage and we were told that domestic abusers, stalkers and sex offenders will be registered on a super-database under plans being drawn up by the Government. Some of that press coverage came from briefings. Survivors, the families of victims, charities and hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country were elated, relieved that women were no longer going to live in fear. Their hopes, however, were dashed when the Minister responded in the Commons last week and when the Government whipped against my amendment. Why is the Government so against this simple amendment that would make such a profound difference?
I beg to differ with the Minister. Minister Atkins reiterated that the current system was adequate. All that was needed was the
“strengthening of MAPPA statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 522.]
Ministers say that the real issue was not the statutory framework but how it is applied in practice. The statutory framework must be amended, otherwise the relevant authorities will continue, as they have done for 20 years, to ignore patterns of behaviour that end in murder. The Minister said that a new category of MAPPA, as proposed by my amendment, is
“not needed … because these … people can be included in the existing category 3.” —[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 534.]
However, this category has historically been interpreted very narrowly, which means that police, probation and other agencies are not treating repeat perpetrators as high-risk offenders. Yet they are high risk.
The Minister added:
“Creating a new MAPPA category for high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators would bring added complexity to the MAPPA framework without compensating benefits.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 522.]
This was an affront in the Commons. We are striving to save women’s lives and the excuse for inaction is “added complexity”. The compensatory benefit would be to include more people in the system who are high-risk and endanger women’s lives. We were informed in a meeting yesterday by an official that it would trigger bureaucratic processes; I take that to mean that it would lead to effective action which they do not wish to take or in which they do not wish invest. Yes, more resources would be required, but women’s lives would be saved and the cost would be far outweighed by the cost of murder inquiries, each of which costs £2 million.
It is no wonder that among the people who felt let down and wept with anger when they heard the Minister last week were 17-year-old Georgia Gabriel-Hooper, whose mum was killed by an ex-partner in front of her; Zoe Dronfield, who was almost murdered by a man who had stalked some 13 other women; John Clough, father of Jane Clough, who was stalked and murdered by a violent ex-partner even though he had a history of abusing other women; and Nick Gazzard, father of Hollie, who was murdered by her stalker, who was involved in 24 previous violent offences. None of the perpetrators were on a high-risk offenders’ register, and the police were not monitoring them. Zoe lives in constant fear, as do many other survivors, especially when those that attacked them leave prison and are not on a register. We know of many survivors and their families who are literally living in hiding—hiding from men who should be on a database so that they can be managed and police can be accountable for the management of their behaviour.
Why are the Government so against including serial domestic abusers and stalking perpetrators on a database? I heard what the Minister said, however, and I am pleased to learn that they recognise that ViSOR is not working and that a new system, the multiagency public protection system, will be introduced. The Minister said that this would include perpetrators of domestic abuse, but she did not mention stalking. Will the new system include perpetrators of stalking? If not, why not? I think we must insist that it does.
I welcome the Government’s intention to draw up a perpetrator strategy and have included it in my amendment, as the Minister suggested, but the amendment in lieu before us today does not mention stalking. It is weak. It is not a replacement for the high-risk register, proper monitoring and interventions underpinned by statute that are desperately needed. It is simply not good enough. The domestic abuse commissioner, who strongly supports the aim of this amendment, believes that in order for the perpetrator strategy to be effective, it should be underpinned by a statutory duty placed on public sector bodies and agencies to comply with its aims. Will the Minister agree to such a statutory duty?
I shall also ask about the funding for such a strategy. Does the Minister agree with the commissioner that to ensure that public sector bodies and agencies are able to implement the duties required of them, it is crucial that they receive full guaranteed funding for this work and that such funds must be guaranteed on a longer term, four to five year-basis to ensure continuity of provision rather than a piecemeal, annual or two-yearly funding approach. Will the Minister give me that commitment on both a statutory duty and the funding?
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust published a powerful report, Unmasking Stalking: A Changing Landscape, to mark National Stalking Awareness Week. Among many other shocking facts, it revealed that 60% of stalking victims receive no protection after reporting to the police and that nothing is done about the stalkers. Stalking is about fixation and obsession. Stalkers must be identified, treated and managed. That is what my amendment seeks to do.
Robert Buckland has campaigned on stalking for many years and I admire his work. Yesterday, he tweeted that this Government are committed to stamping out stalking. One can only wonder why the Justice Secretary voted against the amendment, which would have done more than anything else to stamp out stalking.
We have 20 years of evidence to demonstrate that the current system is not working. It is too late for more guidance and more words; it is time to act. I therefore urge the Minister to accept my amendment, so that perpetrators are no longer able to act with impunity, so that fewer women and girls live in fear and fewer lives are tragically lost at the hands of serious and serial domestic abusers and stalkers. I look forward to the Minister’s response, specifically on the inclusion of perpetrators of stalking on the register and new database and on the perpetrator strategy. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly echo all the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, but am profoundly upset that Ministers seem to have gone backwards since we last debated this matter in the Lords on Report. The Minister referred to the 30 deaths that we reported at that time, but at least 16 further women have been murdered since Report on 15 March—a mere 36 days ago. This is deeply shocking evidence of the current failures.
As a new Member of your Lordships’ House, I was invited to join the independent parliamentary inquiry into stalking law reform chaired by Elfyn Llwyd MP. At the start of its report, there is a quotation that is important in the context of Amendment G1 today. Tracey Morgan, a victim and now a supporter of many other victims, said to us then,
“The victims I hear from are saying the same things I was 15 years ago—what’s changed? We need to do more. This is about murder prevention.”
Ten years on, nothing has changed. That is 25 years of Tracey’s experience and hundreds of murders. One key perpetrator recommendation from our stalking inquiry remains outstanding, which is having a register of serial stalking perpetrators. Why are they not mentioned in the Government’s amendment?
The Minister insists that Motion G1 is not needed because the problem is one of better management to make the various parts of the multiagency system work better everywhere. We all know that there are pockets of excellent practice, but the safety of victims and the de-escalation of the behaviour of these dangerous perpetrators should not be a postcode lottery. It should be consistent and should give confidence to victims and all those working with them. It should save lives.
I think we all agree that the current MAPPA arrangements need to improve. In 2017, HMICFRS inspected a number of MAPPA cases; this resulted in its report, Living in Fear. The headlines in that report are deeply shocking, with 100% failure in 112 cases inspected across six police force and CPS areas. Victims were left at risk and let down by under-recording and inconsistent services, with patterns missed and incidents being treated as isolated. Victims said that they wanted the police to understand the bigger picture and to receive specialist-led training. There was often no risk identification, assessment or management of stalkers.
In Committee, I talked about the need for a golden thread to run through all interactions with victims and perpetrators. This is particularly vital for perpetrators because we know that their behaviour escalates and becomes more obsessive and violent as time goes on. Only by getting them into the MAPPA process can we achieve that and ensure that this golden thread provides an oversight of behaviour.
Last week, Channel 4’s excellent documentary “24 Hours in Police Custody” had an episode called “Death Us Do Part”. It focused on the 2019 Bedfordshire Police investigation into a severe attack by a female perpetrator on her male partner. She gave him two bleeds on his brain and a fractured eye socket. We saw the frustration that the excellent police domestic violence team faced. The attack on Paul Jenner came just two days after his partner’s early release from prison after a previous serious attack on him. It was evident that there was no contact with HM Prison and Probation Service. The custody sergeant even commented that they knew her well and that it is as if a switch gets turned on and she cannot stop herself attacking him. The investigating officer was struck that after she was arrested, she was already texting her partner, who became frightened and unwilling to co-operate. The officer and her team finally persuaded him that they could help him, but their efforts were constantly undermined by the coercive control that the perpetrator had over him. Sadly, he died a few days later. Given the number of attacks she had made on him over many years and the increasing severity of those attacks, she was well known to everyone in the system. That is why serious and serial domestic violence perpetrators need to be on the register and why there needs to be a duty for all the multiagency partners to work together. If that had happened, this “never event”—a predictable event that should never have been able to happen but did—could have prevented because that golden thread would have prepared and supported Paul Jenner and his partner on her release from prison.
Stalking Awareness Week started on Monday. Robert Buckland QC—incidentally, he was a member of the stalking law reform inquiry with me a decade ago—made a moving video as Secretary of State for Justice, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that he has been a champion for getting on top of stalking. He said of stalking: “We need to call it out. We need to stamp it out. We need to do all we can to deal with the menace of stalking in our society.” I agree. However, that will never happen until a duty for multiagency response is enshrined in legislation, with a database and register to provide that golden thread to identify and stop stalking and domestic abuse perpetrators and save lives. I beg the Government to reconsider.
My Lords, I am not a fan of acronyms at the best of times, but I feel that this evening does call for one, and it is DVAOA—which, as everybody will know, stands for “déjà vu all over again”. So here we are again.
Last Thursday, in another place, there was a lamentable performance by the Government, I must say. For those who have not watched it, I suggest you take a stiff gin and tonic and then sit back and enjoy it. Particularly if you are of the Government’s persuasion, it is not very nice to watch. To her credit, the noble Baroness the Minister, as one might have expected, has performed immeasurably better, and I am very grateful to her for the opening speech, which I thought contained some very positive elements. Because of that, I will rein in the rant that I was going to deliver and make it a rather smaller rant than I would have delivered otherwise.
Why am I and others on our feet again? Some of what the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, have said very comprehensively has already covered that, but I was going to wave three exhibits. The first was the report that Robert Buckland, our Justice Minister, undertook about stalking and the recommendations that he made. The second, exhibit B, would be one of a certain Alex Chalk, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, who, in his own stalking review, which he did with a fellow Gloucestershire MP, strangely used exactly the same wording as Robert Buckland’s report, basically saying
“Consideration should be given to the production of a register of serial perpetrators”.
Last but not least, exhibit C is from our Home Secretary herself, Priti Patel, who in 2013 edited a report called Rebalancing the Scales for victims. One of the contributions, which she was responsible for editing, said very clearly that a database should be established comprehensively to cover all perpetrators and stalkers.
On Thursday in another place, the Government effectively admitted that the current system is not working as it should, that the current database is out of date and is not working as it should, and the Minister in the Commons, in a much more pared-down way, indicated some of what the Minister said earlier this evening. But what we are really talking about, and this goes back certainly as far as 2004, is a fundamental failure of management and leadership.
I do not have a background in government or public service; I have a background in business, and where I come from, over all those years, the sort of failure of management and leadership that has been consistent through changes in government, changes in Minister, changes in special adviser, would be regarded as a sacking offence, and certainly as a career-limiting offence. Given the awful, relentless toll of women dying, week in and week out, I think that, in the world I come from, it would also be regarded potentially as corporate manslaughter. Noble Lords know what the penalties are for corporate manslaughter: they are considerable. But because this is a Government, and because we are dealing with statutory agencies, that is not an option—but it really is not far off, and it is shameful. And the death toll relentlessly keeps going up, and will keep going up, whatever fine words we say.
As I said, the Minister has been very helpful. I was going to say that, until the point she spoke, I was much clearer about what the Government did not want to do than about what they do want to do, and I am very grateful that she has given some clear indications about the direction they want to go in. We have had, as I am sure the Minister has, some fairly intensive conversations with the domestic abuse commissioner’s office about how she sees things, going forward. She too knows and admits that the current system is not working, but, naturally, given her role and the nature of her relationship with government, she wants to be positive and to try to make it work. I am very keen to be positive, too, and to try to make this work.
So what I am looking for is a tangible demonstration that there is a commitment to provide a level of leadership, energy and joined-up administration, and another commitment to putting in statute an absolute responsibility to deliver whatever the strategy produces. The strategy has to have teeth; guidance is not enough. Voluntary initiatives are not enough.
The history of voluntary initiatives—there are some very good ones in this area, which are producing good results—is that they are voluntary. They rely usually on a single, charismatic leader who galvanises the organisation to get behind something. It starts working, and everybody is very excited. What then tends to happen is that that charismatic leader moves on and another leader comes in. They may be equally charismatic but may well have a different set of priorities, so what was previously driven by the charismatic leader drops further down the list. It becomes less of a priority and the results start tailing off. The only way you can defeat that is to have a systematic, joined-up statutory duty to deliver, knowing that you will be held to account if you do not. That is what the strategy needs to contain.
I heard what the Minister said about stalking: that it will be included in the strategy on violence against women and girls. She has heard me say previously that my natural reaction over many years whenever I hear the word “strategy” is to reach for my tin hat, and I confess that I still have that inclination. We may end up with too many strategies and I do appeal to the Government to make sure that it is all joined up, in the interests of the victims, the women and the men, we are talking about.
As I think I have said previously, when the Minister gets up to respond, will she remember that it is not only we who are listening but the families of the victims? In particular, there are a large number of people who, perhaps wrongly, had their hopes and expectations inflated as they rejoiced at what they thought was going to be the creation of this all-singing, all-dancing national database. It now turns out that that is not quite the case, but it behoves us all to be aware that an awful lot of people are listening very carefully to what we are saying, and will listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say, and I hope and pray that what she says will give them some sense of peace and optimism for the future.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell, who I have had the pleasure of working with on different areas of the Bill. He is very wise.
Let me congratulate the Government on reaching this important moment, as the Bill will soon finally become law. I pay tribute to so many people who have made this happen, in particular my noble friend Lady Williams, who as the Minister has dealt with such sensitive and important issues in a sensitive and caring manner. In fact, she seems to have been surgically attached to the Dispatch Box for months. I will always be grateful to my noble friend for her help and advice on the specific areas that are of concern to me in relation to children and the importance of the provision for community-based services. Let me also pay tribute to Claire Stewart of Barnardo’s for her help and professionalism.
As we have been told, we are in the middle of National Stalking Awareness Week and I was pleased to see the video message from the right honourable Robert Buckland, the Lord Chancellor, which has been mentioned. He said in that video:
“Our job is to raise awareness of this wicked crime, to increase support for victims”
and address the perpetrators. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, he ended by saying:
“We need to call it out. We need to stamp it out. We need to do all we can to deal with the menace of stalking in our society.”
The Lord Chancellor is right and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, make strong arguments that I will not repeat.
I have had discussions with my noble friend Lady Newlove, who is unable to be in the Chamber. She asked me to convey the following message: “Sadly, the Government voted for Amendment 42 to be quashed out of the Bill. I am ashamed. Why? Because, despite many conversations through the usual channels, MAPPA category 3 will still have so many gaps it resembles a string vest. The response from the Government of proposing more guidance is not worth the paper it is written on. Treating those families whose loved ones have been needlessly taken with lack of respect and dignity—the Government is proposing more guidance—has not worked over the years. What is it going to take in order for Government to stop this pattern of behaviour in order to protect innocent lives taken by the hands of offenders of coercive controlling and stalking? Government rhetoric serves only to shamefully value human life after the horse has bolted and to protect those accountable by these two insensitive words ‘lessons learned’, instead of saying ‘enough is enough’.”
We can all understand my noble friend’s frustration. While it is clear that Nicole Jacobs supports the principle of this amendment, she also understands that ViSOR and MAPPA are overloaded systems. I seek the Minister’s help. We are all on the same side and we all know where we want to reach. As the Lord Chancellor said about stalking, we all want to call it out and we all want to stamp it out.
I noted the welcome announcement in the Minister’s speech about the upgrading of ViSOR and MAPPA. On the one hand we are told that putting stalkers on to a register is problematic but, on the other, we are told that putting them on to a register can save lives. Can the Minister persuade me why I should not vote for this amendment?
My Lords, I understand the strength of feeling on this issue. I completely agree on the need to do more to stop serial offenders. Too often in the worst cases we discover that the perpetrator has had a long and shocking history of previous abuse. I am not clear about how a register or, effectively, a new category under MAPPA would improve the situation.
Members in this House and in the other place have said that new guidance is not enough to deal with the problem. I can understand why there might be some scepticism on that front. The truth is that this comes down to better guidance, proper training and more effective information sharing about the worst offenders.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have heard distressing details of what some of those offenders have done. But the fact remains that the vast majority were already covered by current MAPPA categories. Merely shifting their names into a new category or on to a new register will not change matters. If anything, it could make the situation even more difficult, for this is not straightforward. Working through the finer details of this so-called super-database as to exactly who will be on it and for how long they will remain there will take time, which we have all agreed we do not have. How do we avoid ending up with something so unwieldy that it inhibits the process of tracking and managing these people?
While I understand why a new category or database might seem appealing, I genuinely believe that in practice it will not deliver what we want. Surely it is better to focus our energies on improving the system that we have. We all agree that it is not working as it should, but the Government are investing in improvements to the ViSOR database that will enable better risk assessment and information sharing. I really believe that this, together with the new guidance and frameworks which have already been promised, will be more effective in dealing with the very real problem before us.
My Lords, we have had some immensely knowledgeable, cogent and passionate contributions tonight, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and my noble friend Lady Brinton.
Several noble Lords have referred to National Stalking Awareness Week and, like others, I was greatly heartened to hear the Secretary of State, Robert Buckland, say that he would do what he could to address this issue. He has campaigned for years on stalking so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said: why vote against the amendment considering what would be achieved by it?
There is a well-known saying—I am not the only one who can trot out the old things—which is, “Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.” In 2012, the stalking law inquiry report recommended exactly what this amendment, retabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, would do. Since 2012, the Government have insisted time after time that the implementation of the rules is the issue, not making recording mandatory. Victoria Atkins said last week:
“The real issue … is not the statutory framework but how it is applied”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 522.]
In this case, doing “what you’ve always done” has not even got us to where we used to get, as the harrowing figures given to us have demonstrated. Clearly, from the testimonies of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, my noble friend Lady Brinton and others, what we have now is worse than ever. From a pre-pandemic level of about two women being murdered per week, that number has more than doubled—with 16 since the Report stage of this Bill. You can be sure that all the gradations of fear, pain and misery proportionately cascaded all the way down the line. Why will the Government not be brave enough to do something different with the changes contained in these amendments?
We know that the danger comes with an escalation from minor offences to major ones. Stalkers can be helped, but, without a co-ordinated effort to identify them at an early stage, the real danger they pose may come too late. The Government’s alternative is not strong enough, although I acknowledge they are trying hard to do something with their own amendment and that is greatly appreciated.
We have heard many harrowing testimonies over the course of these amendments. No one in your Lordships’ House wants to have to hear the sickening details of another one—no “DVAOA”, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said—no “déjà vu all over again”. While I welcome the government amendments, including MAPPS as opposed to MAPPA, my party and I are fully behind the amendment put by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. We will support her if she sees fit to push it to a vote.
My Lords, the Government have accepted that a perpetrator strategy should be in the Bill and have brought forward their own amendment. As far as it goes, it is pleasing to see that and I am happy to welcome it—but their amendment completely ignores the key provisions of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon’s amendment: that there must be concrete plans for the management and monitoring of serial domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. I am pleased that my noble friend has tabled Motion G1, and these Benches will support her if she decides to divide the House.
My noble friend’s amendment is clear, simple and effective. It would add serial abusers and perpetrators to the existing MAPPA system. My noble friend has made a compelling case today and on previous occasions. I agree that this amendment would provide further protection to victims living in fear and having to hide away. It is outrageous that people have to hide away from abusive partners or ex-partners, at risk of attack, and we must do everything we possibly can to ensure that these perpetrators are effectively managed and controlled. That is what we need to do today.
The government response, though, is generally weak and does not deliver the certainty we need. All through these debates over the months the Bill has been in this House, we have heard the most harrowing, distressing, tragic stories. I am sure we have all been moved by what we have heard. What has been going on is horrific. My noble friend Lady Royall and others, Members of both Houses from all parties, have been calling for change for over a decade, but not much has actually happened. Serial abusers are slipping through the net and being allowed to reoffend repeatedly. The harm of domestic abuse only escalates in its severity and frequency—we all know that is the case—so we need effective, early intervention to prevent women being seriously hurt or even killed by their abusive partner or ex-partner.
Since we last debated these matters, as my noble friend Lady Royall told the House, 16 women have been killed—16 lives lost and families destroyed in the last few months. It is horrific. It is shocking to even think of that figure over the last few months. Violence against women—it is usually women, but not exclusively —is an epidemic. The Home Secretary is failing to take the action required to make a real difference, and that is most disappointing.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell, helpfully set out the support for a register—the support for action—that we have from the Home Secretary. The report she wrote and the work she is doing are excellent. There is support from Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary. I like Robert Buckland very much; I have known him for many years. He is a really nice guy and we get on very well. I always enjoy my chats with him in the House. There is also support from Alex Chalk—again, a very nice guy.
They are doing their work on Twitter, are they not, these little Twitter warriors? What is really good for these Twitter warriors is that they are in power. Unlike the rest of us—we can only ask to get things done, campaign for them or say they should happen—they are actually in power and can do something about it. What a place to be. There is an issue you are really passionate about; you want it changed and—lo and behold—you are in office and can do something about it. I am really hopeful that those I mentioned can take the campaigns they have had on Twitter, on social media and elsewhere, and do something about it. All the rest of us can do is campaign and make the points. I am quite good at making points repeatedly—I can keep on doing that—but that is all I can do. I cannot do more at the moment—well, I am standing up here. I hope we will see action taken, because, otherwise, it is just cynical use of social media. I am sure none of the people I mentioned would do that, but of course I have seen other members of the Government campaign for stuff on Twitter and social media and then not actually do it in practice, which is worrying.
I hope the Government will take advantage and actually deliver on this. That is why the House should support my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon’s amendment today—to give all those campaigners in the Government who want these things to happen the chance to vote for it again. Clearly, they must have been confused and did not realise what they were doing, because they voted against what they wanted in the first place. I hope we all support my noble friend today, because we are failing to stop, monitor and prosecute dangerous offenders. My noble friend is asking the other place to think again. I hope we will take the opportunity to support her.
My Lords, rather than going over the arguments about why we do not agree with the amendment, perhaps I might stress that we all seek the same ends. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I am at risk of repeating myself.
My noble friend asked, quite logically, why putting offenders on a register was problematic. It is not problematic. So many noble Lords made the point about improving things in practice. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, would ask, I am sure—although I do not want to think for him—what we will do now to make things any different from how they were before, and that is a totally reasonable question, particularly in National Stalking Awareness Week. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is right to say that some of the stories we have heard have been absolutely horrific. Noble Lords may recall that I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointing out that these stories were horrendous. Would they have fared any differently with this additional category? I contended that they would not, but said that I felt we could all agree that the current arrangements had to be improved.
I will address what I think the noble Lord, Lord Russell, would ask, which is, “What are we going to do that will make a difference?” The answer is: several things. We will revisit and refresh the statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse. It will ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multiagency management, and to put in place a plan of action which reflects the risk, no matter what the category. We are legislating in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to clarify the information-sharing powers under MAPPA.
Noble Lords who know me know that I am very supportive of multiagency information sharing, and that Bill puts beyond doubt that the information-sharing powers of those agencies are subject to the duty to co-operate under MAPPA. That is absolutely crucial. It will also explicitly clarify these information-sharing powers for those agencies or individuals who can contribute to the assessment and management of risk: for example, GPs. It will give greater confidence to these agencies when sharing information and will support more effective risk management. So, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in terms of the statutory duty to co-operate with the aims of the DA strategy, the Bill makes provision for statutory guidance that bodies exercising public functions must have regard to offenders convicted of a stalking offence who are managed under level 2 or level 3 of MAPPA having to be on ViSOR. The guidance is not voluntary. That is a very important practical step.
HM Prison and Probation Service will issue a policy framework setting out clear expectations for the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1 by the National Probation Service, including domestic abuse perpetrators. This will further help improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews and the identification of cases where additional risk-management activity is required.
We will decommission ViSOR, which is now almost 20 years old, and bring in the new MAPP system, which will be piloted from next year. As I have said, we will also bring forward a new statutory domestic abuse perpetrator strategy as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy, to be published later this year. In terms of resources, I totally concur with the noble Baroness. We are investing in new resources, with an additional £25 million committed this year, but she is absolutely right that we need ongoing certainty in funding, and I give a personal guarantee to her that both Victoria Atkins and I will be lobbying the Chancellor as we head towards the next SR period—because she is right; we absolutely need sustainable funding.
We do want to be held to account on our commitment to do more. I started trying to deal with the perennial problem of getting huge improvements in our response to domestic abuse when I was at MHCLG, and I continue to do so through this Bill. We brought forward Amendments 42A to 42C, which the Commons have agreed, and I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness has incorporated Amendment 42D into her amendment. I hope that I have outlined the tangible action that we are taking and that the House will support our Motion and reject the noble Baroness’s. However, in rejecting it we are not, ultimately, on a different page in what we are seeking to achieve.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of my amendment. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister, who has outlined many tangible actions. We all agree that the current system is not working, and many of the actions which she outlined are indeed going to improve things. I am delighted by her announcement that ViSOR does not work and is therefore going to be replaced; that is great. As she mentioned earlier, the perpetrators of domestic abuse are going to be part of the new data system, but I do not think that she said that the perpetrators of stalking are going to be included on that register. I feel extremely passionate about that because stalking and domestic abuse are inextricably linked. There is a pattern of behaviour: one thing leads to another and, ultimately, women are murdered. I therefore think it extremely important that the perpetrators of domestic abuse and of stalking be dealt with in the same way.
The noble Baroness mentioned many things about the perpetrator strategy, and I will have to look carefully at what she said. As I understand it, there are going to be two distinct strategies, one for stalkers and the one covered by Amendment 42. There, again, I do not understand why there would be two strategies when the perpetrators of both offences need to be dealt with in the same way. If I am wrong, and there are not going to be two strategies, please tell me. But as it is, I find the solution to some of these problems quite confusing and frustrating.
I think—I know—we are all willing the same end. I do not yet agree with the means by which we are getting to that end, but I am confident we can agree in due course. There are more conversations to be had, and I would like more conversations following this evening and before we get to the next stage of this Bill, which I very much want to reach the statute book, and of course it will. Because I still have questions and there are things I wish to insist on, I am going to test the opinion of the House. But with that, I thank the Minister very much. I look forward to our conversations, and I am sure we will find a way through in the coming days.