Photo of The Bishop of St Albans

The Bishop of St Albans (Bishop)

My Lords, there is a city in this country about which some serious research has been done on levels of domestic violence and the effect of that violence on children. The statistics make grim reading. They are: of the 90 per cent of recorded instances of domestic violence which took place in family units over two years, 1,100 children were involved.

It takes little imagination to see what devastating effects witnessing violence might have upon those children. I refer to the sense of powerlessness among young boys, unable to protect their mothers from their violent fathers and stepfathers—an anger which has to be dealt with in some way and which may well result in themselves becoming violent in adolescence and adulthood—and the same sense of powerlessness among young girls which may then become internalised and gnaw away at their own self-esteem.

If in two years in one English city there were 1,100 children caught up in domestic violence, and one multiplies that figure by the number of cities in the UK, thousands of children would be seriously damaged by all that they see and hear. I concentrate on the children because they are the hidden victims whose voice is rarely heard. I welcome the fact that Her Majesty's Government are going to ensure that the Minister for Children will be involved in monitoring some parts of the progress of this Bill and its implementations.

I also focus on children because at this time of year they are at the forefront of our attention. But so also is one of the causes of domestic violence, which is alcohol. Millions of pounds will be spent in trying to persuade us to enjoy ourselves and that that enjoyment can be associated only with alcohol. So the numbers of people getting "wasted", "trashed" or whatever phrase one wishes to use, will be huge. I speak as one who from time to time has drunks throwing up over my front doorstep. I can assure noble Lords that Bishops now live a very long way from the sweet calm of Barchester.

If we could persuade the brewing industry that the amount of money spent on trying to persuade us to drink should be matched by a similar amount devoted to trying to educate young men especially about how to drink sensibly, we might get somewhere. It is reported that between 5 and 10 per cent of all calls to Childline mention alcohol as a serious problem.

However, I want to suggest that within all the domestic violence that goes on there is also a profound spiritual malaise. If I am abusive or violent towards others or indeed towards myself, it suggests that I have no concept of my or the other person's inherent worth. It means that I do not regard myself or the other person as in any sense being made—as the Judaeo-Christian tradition would express it—in the image of God. So, I do not see myself coming from God, being surrounded by God or at death going towards God. Therefore, many of us are alienated in the profoundest way from our own inherent dignity and alienated from that worth, which in my view is conferred upon us by God as creator. That alienation is then expressed in cries of anguish.

I simply do not know how intervention at the spiritual level in domestic violence can be achieved. I recognise, of course, what the Probation Service and social services try to do, and what they do heroically, in running group-work programmes, for example, for the perpetrators of domestic violence. I recognise also that intervention has to be multi-agency, but I wonder whether the Churches and other faith groups might be bracketed in to such work rather than being bracketed out. It is not that in such activities the Churches would engage in evangelism or proselytism—not at all—but they could and should be included as pastors and reminders that the spiritual elements associated with domestic violence may require as much attention as other elements. To convert—I use the word advisedly—from one form of living in which violence is the norm to another in which violence is abjured requires enormous moral and spiritual courage.

I know that in some areas, churches are already involved in those issues through the provision of women's refuges and housing for the homeless, offering counselling and advice and our work in prisons. There are people and churches working absolutely at the front line and I hope that the Government will consult them.

I carry in my mind an image that will always stay with me. It was a dark autumnal night when I answered my front door and found a woman standing there with her anorak hood pulled over her face so that I could not see it. She was supported by two women friends. I had no idea who she was, but her friends said that she was desperate to speak to me, so I invited her in. It was 20 minutes before she brought back her anorak hood to reveal her face. Her face was black and blue; it was cut; it was bruised; it was shiny with lumps; and she had some teeth missing. She was a battered human being who wanted just for a moment to touch not only a physical place of safety but a pastoral and spiritual place of safety as well.

As we strive to understand the causes of violence, please let us not forget what volunteer organisations and faith communities already do to try to address those causes. As we, rightly, strive to offer compassion to the victims, please can we have some joined-up thinking that recognises that words such as "healing" and "wholeness" have a rich and long-standing religious, spiritual and human content?

No matter how well meaning and brilliant our law may be—I am among those who welcome this courageous Bill—there are deeper issues that we as a society need to allow to surface on our social language map if we are to make any headway in tackling that grave social problem.

4:43 pm
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Lord Desai (Labour)

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Bill. My knowledge on the question is mainly academic—I have supervised some research students studying domestic violence—so what I shall discuss comes mainly from that angle.

To begin with, I want to take up the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, of the lack of definition of domestic violence. There is a definition in the White Paper, Safety and Justice. It states:

"The Home Office defines domestic violence as:

'Any violence between current and former partners in an intimate relationship, wherever and whenever the violence occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse'".

That is a good definition if we consider domestic violence in the context of a two-person arrangement, but, as we have already heard in several speeches, one welcome feature of the Bill is that it extends the definition of domestic violence to include harm done to children. We then enter a wider definition of a family within which there may be more than just the co-relation of two partners. There may be in-laws and children involved and, especially in some of our ethnic minorities, a joint family with a number of complex relationships.

Something that definitely occurs on the Indian sub-continent but also here among South Asian families is the so-called suicide of young brides. Those suicides must be carefully investigated, because they are really an instance of domestic violence. It may not be exactly the male partner who may be responsible, but in the definition of who may be included in the net under Clause 4, we must ensure that such questions may be pursued. It may be that existing laws already account for such violence, but what happens within the family can be very well hidden by a conspiracy of silence and we must investigate such cases as questions of domestic violence.

I turn to the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses. I welcome that proposal, especially the fact that the commissioner will be allowed to commission research, because we need to know much more about patterns of domestic violence. One finding that one of my students was able to substantiate with statistical evidence is that it matters very much whether victims of domestic violence—women especially—have a network of support somewhere in the community, either in the wider family or among friends. They must be educated, literate and able to seek out such networks of support—whether through the local church, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned, or any other shelter group. That is very important. Some things will be known only once better research is commissioned by the commissioner.

I very much welcome the Bill. I should have liked the commission to have more than just a chairman and deputy chairman—perhaps a full commission—but that is a matter of detail. I welcome the Bill and look forward to detailed work on it in Committee.

4:47 pm
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Baroness Seccombe (Conservative)

My Lords, I join my noble friend in thanking the Minister for introducing the Bill. At first glance, it seems a sensible Bill with provisions to help what I am sure we can all agree is a vulnerable category of people. However, on closer inspection, there needs to be much more clarification of many clauses for the Bill to be workable.

I do not think that there will be any opposition from these Benches to the principle that those who commit acts of violence on a husband, wife or live-in lover, whether they are men or women, deserve punishment. I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of a similar protection for same-sex couples, as they can also suffer violence at the hands of a partner. We must always remember that violence against a man in a relationship, although not as prevalent in the news or as widely acknowledged, is also a big problem—perhaps even more so as it is not so easily accepted by society and most men are reluctant to come forward.

We have a wealth of legal knowledge with some very experienced politicians in this House who will, I am sure, achieve an excellent result in improving the Bill. I was a magistrate for more than 30 years and, apart from a few months, was on the domestic panel and its successor, the family panel. Over the years, I have listened to many women who have been victims of brutal and vicious violence. It must have been appalling for them and I assure your Lordships that it has left a lasting impression on me. I strongly believe that we must approach the Bill in a sensitive manner and from a human viewpoint.

I am sure that we all recognise that human relationships can be very volatile and personal. They can be loving, passionate and caring right through to loathing, indifferent and callous all in a short space of time. Many people act towards their partners in ways in which we ourselves would not act, and say things that we would not dream of saying. We must therefore be careful to intervene only where there is real or threatened abuse and where someone needs the speedy protection of the law.

I remember a case, when I was on the Bench, in which a young couple were having marital difficulties. In court the wife had become terribly upset relating the grizzly details of her husband's behaviour and was having trouble calming herself down, such was her anger. She asked for a glass of water in order to regain her composure. When it was handed to her, she threw it all over her husband. I am sure that once or twice we have all felt like doing the same thing, without ever having done it—and that happened in court in front of everybody. Many would have thought that such a gesture was the product of a doomed relationship. However, to my astonishment, by chance I saw them the next day walking hand in hand through a store as though nothing had happened.

That court appearance was in the family court, a closed court for parties and their advisers. It illustrates that there are times when perhaps the court should not get involved in people's relationships, as it can have a detrimental effect. Perhaps the order made on that occasion brought the parties to their senses, but I doubt it, as, I am sorry to say, we got to know them well as regular visitors to the court.

Although I understand the need for the power of arrest where a domestic incident is in progress or has just happened, and it is right that a vulnerable woman is not left alone with a violent man or vice versa, I worry that an enthusiastic police officer might use that power when he has interrupted a loud and regular argument. Once someone has been arrested and been through the adult court, an open court where anyone may attend, listen and report, is there any hope of a normal relationship prospering? I also worry that where children are involved, and one parent is charged under the Bill, the family would have a herculean task to make the relationship work again.

The police are key to the Bill's success, and I imagine that, in the main, they will welcome that extra power of arrest. I feel, however, that it will be an extra burden. Under Clause 7, I sense that it will be hard for police to make a snap decision at the scene of a domestic confrontation. It cannot be that easy to spot who the victim is; for example, is it the man who suffers daily verbal abuse for months and finally snaps and throws something at his wife, or is it the wife? I hope that the Minister can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and me that there will be appropriate and discerning training for the officers who will be called on to cope with such delicate, sensitive situations.

It is sad that at what should be a festive and joyous time, for many families there will be brutality and misery behind closed doors. I hope that, with today's increased personal debt, we shall not see even more violence in the home. Finally, I look forward to Committee stage, when many concerns can be addressed. I am sure that it will be as helpful, instructive and constructive as this Second Reading.

4:54 pm
Photo of Baroness Walmsley

Baroness Walmsley (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I welcome the Bill and wish to concentrate my remarks on Parts 1 and 2. Although I am conscious that there are men who are subjected to domestic violence, I shall approach the Bill from the perspective of women and children and shall judge it on its efficacy in protecting them. Domestic violence is more common than most people think. According to Home Office statistics, about one in four women experience it. Looking around the Chamber today, I notice that around 15 women are present. That means that probably three or four have direct experience of domestic violence. I am one of them. I speak from personal experience.

Any woman who has been attacked by a partner will never forget it, even if it took place 25 years ago, and even if she has had a second, very happy marriage in the interim. It is a searing experience. So when I talk about the issues that the Bill seeks to address, I have a very particular insight.

All violence is abhorrent but domestic violence is more appalling than most because it is a breach of trust. When someone whom you trust and used to love attacks you, it undermines everything that you used to think about yourself. It saps your self-confidence and your belief in yourself; after all, if the person with whom you chose to spend your life hates you so much as to attack you, what can you be worth? It is no small wonder that women often seem helpless, indeed hopeless, in the face of that treatment. But the very nature of domestic violence gives governments a particular problem, as it happens in the privacy of the home, behind closed doors and lace curtains, and the women who have been so undermined by it are often reluctant to admit to it because often they believe that it is their fault. An understanding of the situation should underpin government strategies.

So what can governments do? New legislation is not always the full answer, but it can be part of it. What is needed most is a cultural shift—that there will be zero tolerance of violence in the home and an accessible and supportive programme of support for women who need it. Of course, what women would want most is for the violence not to happen in the first place, but how can governments affect that? They cannot be in every home, spying on families, nor should they be.

There are two ways in which governments can help to prevent domestic violence ever happening. First, they can stop the cycle of violent abuse by sending out a clear message that violence against children will not be tolerated. Children are often involved. In recent research, referred to by the Minister, 70 per cent of children in refuges were found to have suffered violence themselves. We know that many child abusers were abused themselves as children. How unfortunate, therefore, that the Government did not take the opportunity when drafting Clause 7, adding common assault to a list of arrestable offences, to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement from defendants accused of assaulting children. Recently, the Health Select Committee in another place and the Joint Committee on Human Rights recommended that. That has been a good opportunity missed.

Secondly, we can ensure that schools assist parents to teach personal self-control and discipline, to develop in young people respect for each other as equals and to educate them about what successful life partnerships are all about.

The second best option is that, although violence starts, it then stops voluntarily. What can governments do to encourage that? Agencies such as Relate and other relationship counselling services do very good work and deserve more support.

The third and worst though necessary option is to separate the perpetrator from the victim. That is where women need most help, because they are naturally reluctant to split up a family. Although abused children get considerable support from child protection units, family protection units are currently unable to offer the same level of support to women. We need an enormous increase in resources, and I very much welcome the new national helpline referred to by the Minister.

Women suffer enormous pressures to stay with their partner, particularly in the home, especially if they have children. Those may include financial difficulties; lack of confidence that they will be able to support their children if they leave the man in their life; lack of alternative accommodation; work commitments; reluctance to take their children out of school or to change their school; pressure from their family or their partner's family and even reluctance to leave behind the family pets—although I recently heard about a wonderful charity that fosters family pets until the family in a refuge can be properly re-housed. The fundamental issue to be addressed is the extent to which the state should step into a relationship to protect victims at the cost of destroying the family unit, because there is no doubt that children need their fathers as well as their mothers. Unless the children are also being abused, we should support the victim and allow her to choose how to deal with the problem whenever possible. That is where the measures in Clauses 1, 2 and 3 come in and why I heed the charity Refuge's warning about compelling women to give evidence, in case that should be an unintended consequence of the Bill. However, we will examine the balance of these issues when we scrutinise the Bill in Grand Committee.

I also welcome the proposals to deal with cases when two people may be guilty of a child's death but cannot be convicted because it cannot be proved which of them did it. I hope that the very existence of this Bill will send out a message that there is no hiding place for deliberate child abusers and killers. However, I have a question about Clause 5. When one of the two accused adults is a battered wife, to what extent will her subjugation to the violent partner be taken into account in a trial?

I also echo the point made by my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood. The Bill fails to take into account Home Office proposals to make sure that child contact arrangements guarantee the safety of all parties, especially the children. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us how the measures in this Bill will link with measures to protect children in the forthcoming children Bill.

I also wonder how the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses will link with the new Children's Commissioner. I look forward to your Lordships' House sending to the other place in due course a piece of legislation that will help to ensure that fewer women and children suffer the horror of domestic violence in the future. I urge the Government to surround the legislation with a vast increase and improvement in services for the families affected by it.

5:02 pm
Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen (Labour)

My Lords, it gives me tremendous pleasure to speak in this debate today because this is a Bill for which I have waited all my working life, as I will explain. As a Labour Party organiser, TUC official and national official for a large union, I came across domestic violence in all its horrors. One of the first cases that I encountered was of a woman who was beating up on a regular basis the man with whom she lived. That was in the 1960s. Domestic violence was not talked about, even when it concerned a man beating a woman. Women beating men was unheard of. The man in question had not sought help because he believed that it would show how unmanly he was. He was actually full of shame and self-hatred. I became involved only after he had been seriously attacked and had sustained a broken arm. Both people were members, I am sad to say, of a nearby Labour Party, and I became involved at the request of a bewildered male colleague. Of course, such cases are rare. The vast majority of cases involve men attacking women. I saw from an article in the Observer recently that 81 per cent of the cases of domestic violence involve men assaulting women.

Domestic violence is nothing new. A number of writers about working-class relationships at the turn of the century highlighted that a Saturday night beating after a drunken evening was almost a matter of course for some women living with men, especially in the poorer parts of our cities. However, such descriptions have perhaps skewed our thinking about domestic violence, because it occurs in all types of households—professional and non-professional, rich and poor, black and white, young and old. On the latter point, older women are more likely to endure violence before seeking help, according to the Observer article.

Because the terminology is "domestic" violence, it may surprise some that it is seen by the TUC and individual unions as a trade union issue. However, it most certainly is one. The results of domestic violence can be seen in far too many workplaces—offices, shops, schools, universities, the shop floor and any more. Domestic violence has a damaging effect upon employees' morale and upon the work in which they are involved. It impacts upon their health, attendance—particularly their punctuality—work performance and productivity. It is therefore an important industrial issue. It affects workers' job prospects and career development and, like other forms of bullying, it involves physical and sexual threats and intimidation. It often highlights financial dependence and increases a sense of helplessness and isolation.

The TUC and many individual unions have drawn up guidance for work forces aimed at helping members who suffered domestic violence. They are definitely needed. In a survey conducted by the TUC, it was found that 54 per cent of women in trade unions had, or knew colleagues who had, experienced domestic violence. For a number of years, the unions have argued that, although employers currently have no legal obligation to take action on domestic violence, they have a moral duty to do so. The drawing up of a public policy at the workplace covering the impact and effect of domestic violence is one of the most useful things that trade unions and employers can do to help.

The TUC's excellent guide highlights instances of domestic violence and how these have been dealt with: by providing a point of contact in a workplace; by ensuring confidentiality and discretion; by making special arrangements for employees to assist them to visit their solicitors, the police, a hospital or their GPs; and by taking steps to ensure that they are safe in their workplace. It is not unknown for men to arrive at the workplace to follow up their attacks upon women. It gives details of the excellent work carried out on all forms of violence by Leeds City Council. That work was sparked off by the Peter Sutcliffe murders and the violence involved in them. The TUC booklet also includes organisational contacts for those who need them in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Before I move on to the Bill itself, I will give one more example of the kind of work on domestic violence that I carried out for my union. It is often forgotten that trade unions have employees as well as members. One morning, I was asked by the head of the union's research department to talk to one of the research secretaries whose work had deteriorated notably and who was showing signs of great distress. Reluctantly, she told me why. Her partner was drinking heavily and becoming increasingly violent. They had two young daughters. When she knew that her partner was going out drinking, to save herself and her girls, she wrapped them in blankets, put them in the back of her car and drove them round London through the night, returning home only when she knew that her partner would have left the house for work the next morning. By the time that we met, she was doing this most evenings. She was utterly exhausted and did not know who to turn to. I am pleased to say that, in this instance, with the help of social services and a local women's refuge, she was able to escape her nightmare existence.

That story highlights why I am so delighted and grateful to the Government for introducing this Bill. It brings hope to those who have not had any before. It brings further assistance to those who have tried to help victims of domestic violence. It gives a voice to those whose silence has been at the cost of pain, fear and abuse.

Obviously, some criticisms have been made of the draft Bill. The Law Society is concerned, for example, that putting provisions for victims and witnesses in the same Bill as domestic violence may prevent full and serious consideration of all the issues involved. It pointed out that domestic violence brings its own special and particular needs, distinct from other victims of crime. I can see that reasoning, but we can overcome such difficulties in our considerations. I know that a number of children's organisations want to emphasise, quite rightly, how the needs of children—those suffering and witnessing domestic violence—must be recognised and borne in mind in our debate. The question of funding, which will be considerable, must be discussed in detail.

I am confident that the strengthening that is needed will be accomplished. I am sure that the Minister will listen sympathetically and with her usual intelligence and compassion to the points raised in our debates. The Bill is a major step forward in the fight against domestic violence and its consequences.

5:10 pm
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Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, I take the opportunity to thank the Minister for arranging a briefing meeting. I found it most helpful. I warmly welcome the main thrust of the Bill. The Bill contains a range of practical measures designed to ensure readier access to help and justice for victims of crime. Much of that was praised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and by my noble friend Lady Thomas of Walliswood.

We are dealing with something that is obvious on the surface: the extent of the violence that blights the life of the victim. What we have never fathomed is the hidden violence. There are the silent victims who will not complain for fear of the break-up of their relationships or, in many cases, loss of support, financial and otherwise. The violence is not peculiar to this country; no country is immune. We learn little about its impact on the quality of family life and the extent to which it affects young children growing up in such families. That is one reason why the Bill is a step in the right direction.

Part 1 of the Bill and some of the provisions of Part 2 relate to domestic violence. For a long time, domestic violence was taken insufficiently seriously by criminal justice agencies. I welcome and endorse much of what the Association of Chief Police Officers has done, but the facts remain. The British Crime Survey shows that such violence amounts to a quarter of all violent crimes. Thirty per cent of women experience an act of violence by a male partner at some point in their life. As the Minister pointed out, two women are killed in the United Kingdom every week by current or former partners. Measures providing better protection for victims of domestic violence will have the strong support of all those who believe that victims are entitled to dignity and respect.

It is one thing to have measures in statute that protect victims, but we also need a strategy to ensure that there is a programme of public education that spells out the rights of victims. It should cover questions such as how to seek help, who will provide help and what that help will entail. Nowhere is that more important than in our culturally sensitive communities. In many families, women endure violence but do not have the knowledge or resources to complain. That is unacceptable.

It is not just physical violence. There are other forms of violence that we should take into account. For example, somebody mentioned forced marriages, trafficking in human beings and the forcing of women into prostitution. The Home Office working party on forced marriages, on which I served, has laid down some good practice. We should evaluate the project and see how it helps women victims.

How far will the Bill achieve its objectives? Making common assault an arrestable offence will enable the police to act more speedily and effectively when such an assault occurs. However, it will still not be possible for an arrest to take place in all cases in which there has been a breach of a non-molestation order. Making a breach of a non-molestation order a criminal offence, as Clause 1 does, will enable an arrest to take place only if the victim wishes to pursue criminal proceedings. In other cases, the victim will first have to apply for an arrest warrant for breach of the non-molestation order to the civil court, unless that court attached a power of arrest when making the order in the first place. Will the Government consider providing for the attachment of a power of arrest to be standard when a non-molestation order is made?

I mentioned the need for a programme of public education, as victims are unaware of their rights. There are countless organisations and individuals who provide help. Equally, there are the passive victims of such domestic situations. Children in those families need protection and support. When scrutinising the legislation, we must first establish how effective the application of present powers has been. Have they been used adequately? Are victims aware of what protection they can receive? More importantly, we must establish whether existing powers are under-utilised? If so, we must ask, "Why? What lessons have we learnt, and how will we put things right?".

Extending the categories of persons who can apply for occupation orders to include same-sex couples is welcome, as is the extension of the categories of people who can apply for non-molestation orders. There is also logic behind extending the power of criminal courts to make restraining orders following conviction for offences other than those under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. However, there are problems about the provision for criminal courts to make such an order after an acquittal. It is undoubtedly true that, in some cases, victims need such protection, even though the criminal standard of proof cannot be established. The court best equipped to make such a judgment is the family proceedings court, and a streamlined procedure for a criminal court to refer the matter to the family proceedings court would surely be a better option.

If we are to tackle domestic violence effectively, we need not only an effective legislative framework but a funding strategy that is sustainable in the long term. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen. The £14 million announced by the Government in February for crime and disorder reduction partnerships to tackle the problem over a three-year period seems significant at first sight, yet it amounts to only £12,000 per crime and disorder reduction partnership a year. Some excellent work is being carried out to prevent domestic violence and to support those who suffer from it, including the provision of refuges, outreach work and helpline support. Many of those services are provided by the voluntary sector, including, in some areas, my own organisation, the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. However, the development of that work is often significantly undermined by short-term and insecure funding. That means that projects are set up, work effectively but then fold when their funding ends. Will the Government develop a strategy to ensure more effective funding arrangements for services to combat domestic violence in parallel with changes to the legislative framework?

I am a member of the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System. At a policy seminar, the commission heard evidence from leading academics and practitioners about the problems that face innovative projects in the voluntary sector. They are usually piloted for a period of between one and three years, so that they can be evaluated and mainstreamed, if successful. However, many fail because of funding or other resource problems. We believe that the voluntary sector offers a great deal of experience that should be utilised and properly resourced to deal with low-level offenders.

We welcome the provision for a new offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult. It will help to ensure that justice can be done in any case in which a child or vulnerable adult has been killed, following a lengthy period of abuse, even if it is not clear which of two co-habitants carried out the killing.

We unreservedly welcome Part 3 of the Bill, which contains a series of provisions relating to victims and witnesses. They include a statutory code of practice governing the services to be provided to victims by criminal justice agencies; provision for the Parliamentary Commissioner to investigate breaches of the code; the creation of a Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses; provision to put the Victims' Advisory Panel on a statutory basis; and the creation of a statutory basis for government grants to bodies assisting victims and witnesses. But I must add a word of concern about the code of practice. Clarity about the disclosure of information between the relevant agencies will be crucial to any move to give effect to the code of practice for victims. Without it, the beneficial effects of the code could be undermined. Although Clause 23 provides for the transfer of data, subsection (8) states:

"nothing . . . authorises the making of a disclosure which contravenes the Data Protection Act 1998".

I am told that, for many years, Victim Support has experienced severe problems in obtaining consistent referrals from the police for the purposes of providing support services to victims. That is despite Home Office Circular 44/2001, which was agreed by the Home Office, ACPO, Victim Support and the Information Commissioner, and a subsequent supporting agreement by Victim Support and ACPO. This is a problem for the other criminal justice agencies as well.

Following legal advice, Victim Support proposed an amendment to the draft legislation (before it was published) stating effectively that if transfer of data was for the purposes of the code, it would be deemed to be consistent with the Data Protection Act. Perhaps I may ask the Minister why that proposal was not included? Is it likely to be included as part of the code of practice?

At the same time as the Government propose to introduce this welcome legislation, they have brought forward proposals to devolve the funding currently given to Victim Support for local victim and witness services to local criminal justice boards so that they can make separate contracts for this work. Pilots are planned for the coming year, with a view to devolving the funding in all areas in the following year. That is a recipe for the fragmentation of services. It will jeopardise the effective work that Victim Support has carried out to ensure that local services sign up and operate high quality standards. We hope that the Government will reconsider this misguided proposal. Certainly, I will make sure that in Committee there is an amendment to ensure that the new funding arrangement is not counterproductive to work done by voluntary agencies, including Victim Support.

It is disappointing that in the Bill which, refreshingly, contains generally welcome provisions, the Government should choose to include yet another attempt to whittle away at the jury system. Clause 9 provides for some offences to be tried by the judge alone in cases of alleged multiple offending. There may be some merit since the Law Commission has given its weight to that change. However, it would be helpful to tease out the Government's intention on the clause to ensure that it does not set a precedent for other areas of criminal justice legislation.

Nevertheless, the majority of the Bill's provisions are positive and the intention to improve the treatment of victims and witnesses is shared by almost all noble Lords on all sides of the House. As one who sat in my earlier days in the domestic and juvenile courts, I have seen the trauma of victims of domestic violence. There is a need to put a stop to it—a full stop. In that respect, the Bill is a right step forward.

5:22 pm
Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (Crossbench)

My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Bill. Perhaps I may start by bluntly stating that, in my view, domestic violence essentially is an equal opportunities issue. I am not of course stating that no violence is perpetrated by women against men. As the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, said, that clearly is not so. Violence is about the inappropriate use of power; that is, the abuse of power. Just as violence against children is violence by powerful adults, the most likely victim in a domestic relationship is the female.

Children are direct victims of domestic violence as well as indirect victims. The NSPCC and the Minister have drawn our attention to some cases, which the NSPCC's impressive campaign, Violence to Children Must Stop—Full Stop, makes clear. During more than 20 years on the inner London juvenile bench, I came across innumerable instances when children appearing before the court for other reasons clearly came from homes with a background of violent behaviour.

In those early days, even the recognition of specifically sexual abuse of children within families was in its infancy. Straightforward domestic violence remained still barely a matter for the police to investigate, even in the unlikely event of the victim having complained. As we all know now, domestic violence occurs within all sectors of the community. But there are three major reasons why the problem has remained hidden for so long.

First, there is the belief that victims have brought the violence on themselves. Secondly, the financial dependence of women meant that they were unable to leave the matrimonial home with their children so that they could start again, quite apart from them having nowhere to go. Thirdly—and perhaps more in middle-class backgrounds—the fear of family shame if neighbours knew. Some 25 years ago, a few of the braver victims joined with Erin Pizzey in setting up self-help women's refuges to which frightened women from serial inflictors of domestic violence could flee with their children. That was the beginning of a major change in attitude and in the culture of domestic violence.

Today, thank heavens, there are many more voluntary and state resources to offer help, either through reconciliation or, failing that, rehousing and other forms of advice. In addition, women today have much more economic independence. As we have heard, despite all that, many victims of abuse remain reluctant to come forward. Even now, self delusion persists; in particular, the victim's belief that, even after repeated attacks, the violence will not happen again. As the Government's Safety and Justice paper points out, equally disturbing is the fact that research still shows domestic violence is, as the Minister said, sometimes deemed acceptable, even among the younger generation.

Although there has been some change in attitude, it is important to remind ourselves of the sickening role that domestic violence still plays in society. Almost half of all female murder victims are killed by a partner or a former partner. But perhaps most horrifying, 30 per cent of domestic violence occurs when the woman is pregnant.

Thus, the Government are right. Domestic violence remains an important issue still to be tackled. It is to be hoped that it is also an issue the public take increasingly seriously, as well as all political parties. When introducing his domestic violence Private Member's Bill in another place in June, John Bercow, a shadow Conservative spokesman, said that since his arrival in Parliament in June 1997, domestic violence had featured in no fewer than 365 written questions, 74 oral questions and at least eight Adjournment debates. Perhaps the issue has not been debated quite as often in your Lordships' House, but the number of occasions is growing here as well.

I agree with the right reverend Prelate that the most important aspect is that domestic violence is almost certain to damage victims physically and mentally for the rest of their lives. The cost to the individual and to the economy must be considerable. Even more important, its effects could be long lasting. Domestic violence will influence the children—tomorrow's citizens—in those families and will influence their behaviour for years to come.

Some of the most sickening cases of domestic violence occur when committed against both mothers and children or against mothers in the presence of children. Quite apart from the fear that children experience and the danger to them if, as some do, they try to intervene, we should not be remotely surprised when that pattern of behaviour—like sexual abuse of children, as mentioned by another noble Baroness—is carried into the next generation.

All that underlines the case for early help and intervention, particularly for vulnerable families. It demonstrates the need for all school children to learn from an early age what good parenting involves and the importance of acceptable behaviour in all kinds of relationships. I should like to think that that is now happening within the recently introduced "citizenship" classes. But I remain somewhat sceptical about whether anything like enough curriculum time is being devoted to parenting and relationship-building skills. Management training routinely involves instruction on how to get the best out of employees. How much more important it is for children to learn early how best to manage relationships within their lives.

In addition, we now need greater emphasis on, and respect and support for, the important and undervalued role of parents; that is, as others have said, fathers as well as mothers. There is a great deal more that I would like to mention and probe, but I shall limit myself to three points. First, we are told that the Government's strategy involves three stages; namely, prevention, protection and justice, and support, all of which are admirable objectives. One example of treatment, which could be both preventive and supportive, if available when a violent offender arrives in prison, is training in social and life skills. But what percentage of those convicted of such offences receive that form of basic education? Judging by the many complaints about the lack of resources for education in prisons, again I am not optimistic.

Secondly, the plan to criminalise breaches of non-molestation orders and to make common assault an arrestable offence will, one hopes, help to reduce concerns about danger to children and, indeed, mothers when a court order allows contact with fathers under so-called "strict supervision". From all accounts, this form of supervision varies considerably. No one wants to stop responsible fathers from seeing their children if, sadly, the parents are not living together, but children's organisations are worried that cases of physical harm and even death have resulted when supervision has been lax. Apparently, no figures are available nationally for the number of deaths that are believed to have resulted from situations of this kind. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, it would be most helpful if the Minister could advise us whether the Bill addresses sufficiently these concerns.

Thirdly, I turn to the new offence in Clauses 4 and 5 of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult. This is, of course, a new legal concept for the United Kingdom. However, as we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the Law Commission has commented that a considerable minority of respondents to its consultation had reservations about these proposals. If not at this point, it is important that at a later stage we are told how much account has been taken of those reservations in the Bill.

I want to end as I began by reminding the House that the elimination of domestic violence should be seen as part of the campaign for equal opportunities. The campaign in the UK has made considerable progress over the past 30 years. However, the most basic of all relationships, that between men and women, can provide a real basis for equality of opportunity only if violence in the home is rejected by all of us as absolutely unacceptable behaviour in a civilised society. To adapt the words of the NSPCC's campaign, domestic violence must stop—full stop.

5:32 pm
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Lord Clinton-Davis (Labour)

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, and I hope that she will avail the Committee on the Bill of her invaluable expertise.

I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend for the care the Government have taken to consult most, if not all, the people concerned with these issues. It is right to stress, as did my noble friend, the consequences of domestic violence: they are very wide. She was also right to stress the consequence in particular, although not exclusively, of the effect on homelessness. I know about that as a Member of Parliament for many years.

I also thank my noble friend for her outline of the Bill and for emphasising the value of the Committee stage in order to pursue further matters which need closer definition. I know that the House is agreed that this legislation is desirable, but I emphasise that, in certain respects, it is vital to peruse whether the Government have sufficiently defined certain matters. In that respect, a Committee stage with very few votes, and none from the Back Benches, is of great importance.

The concept of ensuring that the victims of domestic violence are protected is long overdue and much to be welcomed. The same is true of the protection and support to be made available for the witnesses and victims of crime. For a long time, when I practised in the magistrates' courts from the 1950s right up until the 1970s, I thought that witnesses should be afforded protection of this kind. Counsel for the prosecution were often embarrassed by the determination of the defendant to menace witnesses so that they would not come forward. From my point of view, as someone who acted as a defence solicitor, I derived no satisfaction whatsoever from that situation. I often wondered whether the witnesses would ever recover from the threats uttered against them in the first place. I do not know; I never found out. But I do know that, palpably, justice was not done in those cases.

I am glad that, under the Bill, the victims of domestic violence will include couples in same-sex relationships as well as those couples who have never cohabited. However, a problem which does give rise to some concern relates to the way in which such persons are defined. That is a point which needs to be aired in Committee and possibly at later stages.

Turning to common assault, it is high time that it should become an arrestable offence. It will be open to the police to intervene and make an arrest, thus providing more protection for the victims of violence, which is to be applauded.

I should like to ask my noble friend to be more specific than has been the case in the past as regards how much money is to be made available to implement the proposals set out in the Bill. That is enormously important so far as concerns the police and the criminal courts because they have the task of enforcing injunctions. How much can they spend? Furthermore, are the Government satisfied that, first, there are sufficient people properly trained in that behalf; and, secondly, that there are enough people available to do the job properly?

I turn to the question of the criminal courts making restraining orders after acquittals. Is it right that the criminal courts should be responsible for imposing ancillary matters, which may be of the utmost significance—in no way do I deny that? But should they have the jurisdiction to do that? Will that not undermine, in the most salient way, the acquittal concerned? Should it not be for the family court to have that jurisdiction rather than the criminal court? In my view, it is vitally important that the personnel concerned, the judges and the lawyers, should have experience of the matters involved and, by no means least, of the children who might be affected. In my view it is clear beyond peradventure that victims do need to be protected, but I question whether the Government have gone about this in an entirely satisfactory way.

I also support the idea of a Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses, as does my noble friend Lord Desai. It is an invaluable provision that the Government have advanced but will it extend to the families of victims of crime and witnesses? It is right that the provision should cover all witnesses—both defence and prosecution—in all kinds of proceedings, including inquests and civil proceedings, in the same way that it covers criminal proceedings at the moment.

I turn now to the victims' code that is envisaged. The complaints system which, via the commissioner, may be used by witnesses is wholly to be welcomed. Victims and witnesses should have an independent voice, and regrettably that is not always true at the moment.

I also support the idea of a parliamentary investigator who will be able to make complaints and raise issues, but I should like to know exactly how that is to be done. How is the parliamentary commissioner to function? Is there a risk that other methods of raising complaints will become otiose? Is there a risk, too, that there will be some confusion between victims of domestic violence, who have special requirements, and those of other victims of crime?

As I have intimated, I believe that the purposes of the Bill are wholly to be supported, but various important issues need to be broached in Committee without in any way endangering the main implications of what is at stake and which I and others fully support.

5:42 pm
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Baroness Linklater of Butterstone (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, our debate today reaches to the very heart of our society, the essence of which concerns the quality of people's lives within families. The family forms the foundation for all subsequent relationships, growth and development and should be a place of love and security. We endlessly talk about it for we are all members of families of one kind or another. Where a veil of secrecy descends, where understanding and the possibilities of succour and support become so hard, is where the desperate depths of domestic violence exist. It is a hugely important and enormously complicated subject for, as we know, domestic violence crosses all boundaries of class, age, income, sex, race or geography.

Last year a distinguished professional in the field described at a conference how her own father had survived years of violence to become a loving father himself but how his brother did not. The result was that the brother's son suffered mental collapse, tormented by the violence inflicted on him and troubled why his own father was so different from his uncle.

Even if we have been fortunate enough to have avoided such dreadful experiences, we all have various relationships within families, friends and the wider community which imbue us with attitudes which bear on our beliefs and our behaviour. As the Minister pointed out, one in five young men and one in 10 women believe that violence towards a partner is sometimes acceptable. Where has that been learnt?

The Bill is therefore to be welcomed in its aim of preventing and protecting victims and witnesses of violence as well as punishing perpetrators. Indeed, I would hope that the protection of those suffering from domestic violence should be the absolute priority, taking precedence over the punishment of the offender. I welcome inter alia making common assault an arrestable offence and the new provision of joint liability in cases involving the death of a child.

The Bill suffers from weaknesses that I sincerely hope will be addressed—I am sure they will be—during its passage through your Lordships' House. For instance, the blurring of the criminal and civil law is concerning—as, for example, with the breach of non-molestation orders becoming a criminal offence and restraining orders being imposed following an acquittal in a criminal court. The former carries with it the risk that victims may be deterred by the criminalisation of a breach from seeking this useful remedy in the first place, particularly if the relationship is ongoing and where there is already the facility for attaching a power of arrest to orders where there is any suggestion of violence being an issue. However, I respect the support given to this provision by many women's groups and I am sure it will be discussed further. The latter risks the precious presumption of innocence if the order is imposed following an acquittal. Also, the adverse inference from a defendant's silence has serious fair trial implications and for the right of silence.

Lastly, there is the provision for a two-staged trial where multiple offences are being considered and where the second stage of the proceedings may be conducted in the absence of a jury, thus reviving the question of the limiting of trial by jury. I am confident that my infinitely more able legal colleagues will be addressing these issues in more detail from these Benches, but I would welcome the Minister's comments.

Domestic violence is defined in the Home Office White Paper Safety and Justice—and here I echo and totally agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai—as:

"Any violence between current and former partners in an intimate relationship, wherever and whenever the violence occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse".

This is too vague. While the definition does now include same-sex relationships and people who have never lived together, there are a range of other relevant relationships such as forced marriages, honour killings, foster carers and, above all, those with children which are not specifically included. I understand that the definition in New Zealand is a very clear one. It might be worthy of some consideration by the Government, for clarity is all.

While children may not be a "partner" in the "intimate relationship" of the Government's definition, or the primary object of direct physical violence in many cases, they are still integral to the domestic setting in another kind of "intimate relationship". Ninety per cent of children are present or in the next room while violence occurs—and if that is not direct emotional violence I do not know what is.

Indeed, 70 per cent of children are at risk of direct violence from their mother's violent partners and, as we have already heard, one of the hideous statistics is that at least one child a week dies at the hands of their parents or carers. The Law Commission found that between 1998 and 2000, three children under the age of 10 were killed or suffered serious injury each week. Yet in the Bill children are relatively invisible whether as victims or witnesses of domestic violence.

There is now enough evidence to show the causal link between a significant number of children who suffer violence and who then become perpetrators of violence themselves, even before they are grown up. Here I should declare an interest as I am on the committee for Barnado's, Scotland. In Stirling we have a project called Matrix, working with a group of anti-social, disruptive boys aged between eight and 11 and already into offending. There we have found that 90 per cent lived with domestic abuse.

Another project, the Tayside domestic abuse initiative, gave me an example of work with a nine year-old boy who had real behavioural problems and had assaulted his teacher. His mother was being abused by his father. The assault happened on the day that his mother and sister were appearing in court for the equivalent of a non-molestation order. Some time later, when the court was considering allowing the father contact, the boy's behaviour seriously deteriorated once again and he was considered for exclusion. It emerged that the father had been back at the home, intimidating and violent. Thanks to the intervention of the worker, the boy remained at school, and the contact was not allowed by the court. Here was a child so at risk and completely vulnerable to the aggression experienced at home. Without professional intervention, he was trapped in a cycle of violence which was already being replicated in his own behaviour. He was both victim and aggressor.

It is the internalising of violent behaviour repeated into adulthood which is the desperate additional dimension where children are concerned. We must address it and do all in our power to break this vicious cycle of violence.

I, too, urge the Government to look carefully at including provisions on the face of the Bill around contact arrangements for children where the parent or carer is separated and violence has been suspected, and to require the sharing of all information on the situation between all parties so that the safety of all is guaranteed. The best interests of the child must come first, before those of the parent. My Tayside example demonstrates just how fearsome the prospect of contact with the father was in this case and how important the input of the support worker was, which resulted in contact being refused.

Finally, I commend an initiative in Montgomeryshire, where the family crisis centre also helps male abusers with, among other things, the possibility of crisis accommodation. Helping perpetrators to change goes to the dark heart of the problem. Punishment alone changes little. Sometimes the reality of a refuge for a woman who has taken the brave step of leaving the family home is that she finds herself in a situation which presents new terrible difficulties. If she has a son with her, he may not be allowed in. She may find the children harder to control in the new situation and end up going home with nothing but a confirmation of the abusive partner's accusations of her inadequacy. On the other hand, if he leaves for other accommodation, the suffering all round is diminished and progress is possible. The fact that 23,000 children are accommodated in refuges each year and 110,000 need refuge support services speaks for itself. These refuges are a lifeline beyond price and are sorely stretched.

The words of the children speak volumes, and more eloquently than we ever can. One girl said:

"My friends don't want to listen anymore—it's been going on too long—I've become a broken record".

A boy said:

"I was petrified when Dad hit Mum and the police were called. I hate him . . . but I miss him too . . . I miss the things we did together".

He is 12.

I wish the Bill well. I also hope that some of its shortcomings will be constructively addressed so that its aims of protecting these children—who are our future—and preventing their suffering, are truly achieved.

5:54 pm
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The Earl of Rosslyn (Crossbench)

My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest as a serving police officer. During my 23 years' service, I have had operational responsibility for the investigation of domestic violence offences. More recently, when director of training for the Metropolitan Police, I have tried to provide a coherent programme of development and training for colleagues working in the field.

I think it is fair to say that during those 23 years the police service has developed a more thoughtful, creative and robust approach to confronting domestic violence. Regrettably, the cost of operational failure along the way has been very high, but today, police and other agencies generally collaborate more harmoniously and effectively. This has been a key determinant in the progress that has been made. The development of good practice is also more widely shared between forces. Indeed, that collaboration extends internationally, and I feel particularly proud that we were able to develop a project to train police officers and volunteers as far away as the Kirov district in St Petersburg. This led to the creation of the city's first domestic violence unit which, during its initial 48 hours, received more than 1,000 calls. I know that all involved felt hugely encouraged when the Prince of Wales went to see the project during his visit to the city in July.

Nearer to home, domestic violence, at its most serious, accounts for a quarter of all the capital's homicides. It accounts for one in four of all assaults in the United Kingdom, as we have heard, and for two murders a week. In the Metropolitan Police district alone, there were more than 100,000 recorded incidents in a year, and that in the context of the British Crime Survey estimate that only 25 per cent of domestic violence incidents are ever reported.

Domestic violence is, as we know and other noble Lords have said, not limited to any social group, although some individuals are particularly vulnerable. However, the wide range of abuse experienced by victims distinguishes it from attacks by strangers. In addition to physical assault, threats and intimidation, domestic violence is often accompanied by other forms of humiliation and deprivation, typically repeated over many years and often incremental in scale and intensity. The long-term psychological effects on victims have been clearly demonstrated in research, likewise the impact of growing up in a household where domestic violence occurs.

With such distinct and corrupting features, it is surely right that tackling domestic violence should be a priority for the police service, as it is in London, and there is much in the Bill to assist us.

I particularly welcome the proposal to make common assault and breaches of non-molestation orders arrestable offences. The benefits to victims of a positive pro-arrest approach are increasingly understood, but at present the powers available to officers are somewhat ambiguous and often misinterpreted. The distinction between criminal and civil cases is also confusing for victims. These new measures would enable evidence to be gathered more effectively and for action to be taken to protect vulnerable victims at the earliest opportunity. The extensions proposed in Clauses 2 and 3 are equally welcome, enabling the police to protect the vulnerable without discrimination.

I also hope that a full register of civil orders and injunctions, referred to in the Government's White Paper, will in due course be added to the police national computer, allowing police officers to deal appropriately with incidents with the fullest available information, no matter where in the country the incident occurs. I wonder whether the Minister is able to say anything more on that point.

I also welcome the Bill's proposals for domestic homicide reviews. Working together with other agencies, the Metropolitan Police has, for the past two years, routinely reviewed domestic violence homicides. Such reviews seek to establish whether there are lessons to be learned from the case about how local professionals and agencies work together to safeguard victims of domestic violence. Those reviews demonstrate very vividly the impact of such crimes, beyond the horror of the offences themselves, with 30 per cent of such homicides being witnessed by children.

The sharing of information between agencies has emerged as a critical feature, and the reviews have enabled us to identify a range of high-risk factors associated with domestic violence. A clearer understanding of these, and their early identification, may allow for more effective interventions for which—returning to an earlier theme—appropriate training will be critical.

Finally, may I say a very brief word about the Government's proposal to create a parliamentary commissioner for victims and witnesses and for a code of practice to put their rights on a statutory basis? If I were to be mildly critical of the criminal justice process as a whole—and I acknowledge our own responsibilities here—it would be to reflect that it still too often seems to revolve around the offender and that there is still too little community or victim focus. Although there have been positive developments, the process is still too often slow and expensive, concentrating on punishment and blame rather than repairing the harm that has been caused. More attention to the needs of victims is therefore warmly to be welcomed and is a worthwhile objective in itself. It is also an important principle to assert, since there is widespread evidence that many victims continue to feel alienated by the criminal justice process. But for all its imperfections, witnesses remain the bedrock of the adversarial process, and I am very pleased to see their interests and importance recognised in this way.

6:00 pm
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Lord Borrie (Labour)

My Lords, to my mind, personal violence is no less objectionable or criminal when it takes place in private than when it takes place in the street or in some other public place, and I welcome the points to that effect made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. In many cases, domestic violence is more heinous because it is furtive and secretive and the perpetrator knows that generally there is no witness other than the victim. Moreover, the perpetrator often knows that he—and of course it is usually a "he"—can take advantage of the fact that if there is another witness besides the victim, that witness is a co-habitee who is too loyal, too scared or too financially dependent on him to give evidence against him.

Even when a small baby or child has been killed deliberately by one or other of two adults—and that sort of case has been referred to more than once in this debate—if it cannot be demonstrated which one is responsible, under the present law they will both be acquitted of murder or manslaughter. Clauses 4 and 5 create a new offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult. The name of the offence is "familial homicide", which is a bit of a complicated mouthful. It will not be necessary to show which member of the household caused the death or failed unreasonably to prevent it.

The new offence, carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years, is much more appropriate and proportionate in many cases than the more modest charge of wilful neglect, which at present is the rather pathetic fall-back offence for prosecutors. However, I echo some of the points made by of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. It will be important in Grand Committee to ensure that a blameless member of the household, who may perhaps be only 16 or 17 years old, is not improperly put at risk by Clauses 4 and 5.

Clauses 1 to 3 tighten up the law very properly on domestic violence, by making breach of a non-molestation order a criminal offence. Many noble Lords have welcomed the widening of the application of such orders to cover same-sex couples. Because the maximum penalty for the new offence is five years, the offence is arrestable, so there is no need any more for the victim to apply to a civil court for an arrest warrant for civil contempt. Although under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, the maximum penalty for contempt is two years, I recollect that prior to 1981 the common law allowed an indefinite sentence to be imposed. Therefore, the penalty of two years is not a great legal tradition going back for centuries.

I welcome, as I am sure that many noble Lords do, the current view of the police as expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. Too often in the past, the police have regarded domestic violence as nothing to do with them. The fact that breach of a non-molestation order was termed a matter for the civil courts did not exactly help. The police could say that it was a civil matter. Now not only is breach of a non-molestation order to be a criminal offence, which I welcome, but the offence of common assault is to be given added seriousness by being made an arrestable offence in Clause 7. Most domestic violence cases are, at least at the beginning, common assaults. When the Bill is passed, the police will no longer have to satisfy the complex of conditions before they have a legal basis for making an arrest. As the Law Society says in its briefing, Clause 7 enables the police to intervene decisively—I like the word "decisively"—and so give greater protection to victims of violent domestic crime.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis mentioned a more controversial topic. Under Clause 8, restraining orders may be made even when a court has acquitted someone of a charge of common assault, for example, but the court believes that such an order is necessary to protect someone from harassment. On the face of it, as my noble friend said, such an order seems inappropriate when there has been an acquittal. However, an acquittal is not necessarily a verdict of innocence. It means that the prosecution has not satisfied the heavy criminal burden of proof. A restraining order under this Bill, following an acquittal, may be made only if it is necessary to protect someone from harassment. Why should one object to that?

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Lord Thomas of Gresford (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, since the 14th century, after an acquittal there has been a power to bind over a person to be of good behaviour? There is no breach of ancient principle.

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Lord Borrie (Labour)

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's intervention. I had that in mind when considering the subject this morning, although I did not introduce it into my speech.

The changes in the law that we are asked to give support to in the Bill are useful rather than major. This is not a grand criminal justice Bill such as we had in the previous Session—and I am sure that many noble Lords are glad of that. The Bill amends statutes from as recently as 1996 and 1997. Your Lordships are not usually keen on being asked to return to the same subject so frequently. However, experience of the courts, the police, lawyers and social workers shows that some strengthening of the remedies is needed and some tweaking of the procedures required. Sanctions need to be imposed in respect of domestic violence. Surely, therefore, it is right that following consultation and the 2002 White Paper we should seek not to make a meal of things but to improve the law as it stands, in considerable detailed directions, as the Bill does.

6:08 pm
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Lord Campbell of Alloway (Conservative)

My Lords, I echo the broad support of my noble friend Lady Anelay and share her reservations. In the same vein, I share the reservations of the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, who made a quiet, proportionate speech. I am grateful to the Minister for her invitation that we should co-operate on problems of definition. She shall certainly have my co-operation.

The concern is with the manner in which it is proposed to implement the variety of the good intentions in the Bill. On domestic violence, the breach of a non-molestation order under civil jurisdiction is to be dealt with as a criminal offence. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, pointed out—and this arises also in another context—the power to bind over has always been there in the criminal courts. As I see it, there is rarely any need to criminalise the position on one breach of one non-molestation order. If there is an element of persistent breach or injury, there may be such a need. But I think that, in principle, it is going to raise difficulties that are all too obvious, as neither the man nor the wife, when it comes to the point, wishes to indulge in a criminal prosecution. It is a practical problem. Apart from that, it is not necessary unless there is the persistent element, and that could be cured as a matter of drafting.

Clause 4 deals with causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult. All I wish to say to your Lordships is that there has to be some clarification of the burden of proof as drafted—it is not satisfactory as it stands—and also some consideration of the definition of a member of the household.

Clause 5 deals with the drawing of the inference where there is no case to answer. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns pointed to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. At her request—and I would ask for the co-operation of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, on this—the Joint Committee on Human Rights has been apprised that the Committee stage will be about 5th January. It is disposed to provide a provisional opinion, an opinion or to entertain correspondence on the incidence of the convention on Clause 5. That would be helpful when we came to debate in Grand Committee.

So much for Part 1. I turn to Part 2 and the restraining order on acquittal under Clause 8. The order is far too widely drawn. Indeed,

"anything described in the order",

could constitute a wholly unacceptable invasion of privacy, quite apart from the convention on human rights.

One then comes, in Part 2, to Clauses 9 to 12, which make a general provision of a procedural nature applicable to all multi-count indictments that inhibit the right to trial by jury save on sample counts. I quite agree that a way has to be found on how to deal with these multi-count indictments, but I respectfully suggest that this is not the way. For your Lordships' critical consideration, it is proposed to table an amendment in substitution for Clauses 9 to 12; that is, to introduce the procedure to be implemented by rules of court for such matters to be dealt with by a judge of the High Court at a pre-trial hearing, subject to review by the trial judge, and in effect to provide a procedure to reduce complexity and length of trial on all multi-count indictments in the interests of due and expeditious dispensation of justice.

On implementation of these provisions, there should be introduced rules of court to ensure that appropriate directions on the form of the indictment and on other matters arising on the definitions should be given by the judge of the Crown Court at a pre-trial hearing, subject to review by the trial judge before arraignment. As part of that procedure, the judge of the Crown Court would have to consider these matters on the depositions before the hearing and give an indication of his views, on which he would receive representations and then make up his mind, not only on this point, but generally, because this is a general provision. I refer to severance of counts, directions for trials, designation of sample counts, directions of other counts to lay on the files, election whether to proceed on the conspiracy count or on substantive counts where there is a replication of the substance, and all sorts of ancillary directions which could produce and reduce the length and complexity of trial.

I turn, finally, to Part 3. Something has to be done about victims; but, indeed, it has to be done about victims where no complaint is made and where no person has been charged. I respectfully question whether the complex, tiered, bureaucratic structure of Clauses 13 to 25 is really at all appropriate and will serve the end to which we all wish it to be put, or whether indeed it is apt or requisite, with a commissioner in Schedule 1 and the advisory panel. I share the concern as it was put by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood. She gave a shrewd warning of muddle and ineffective and inadequate consultation. I could not put it better than she did. She put it very moderately, but it was a very telling speech.

I come to the last issue that I shall raise, in Clause 15, which also concerns the victims. There are two limbs as regards the status of the code of practice. The two limbs, in context with legal efficacy, are self-contradictory. A code of practice means nothing unless you understand its status in terms of legal efficacy. So what you have is the old oxymoron. That, assuredly, will require attention.

6:20 pm
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Baroness Greengross (Crossbench)

My Lords, I, too, very much welcome the Bill. It deals with extremely important issues about which we all care deeply. I shall concentrate my remarks on domestic violence and the abuse directed against older people. I do so partly as a patron of Action on Elder Abuse, which I helped to set up in 1993 when I was director general of Age Concern.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said when she spoke about domestic violence generally, abuse against older people can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial, verbal, mental or sexual. It can lead to death but more often involves cruelty of varying degrees, and it is often of a domestic nature.

When caring for a frail older person at home, a carer can be marooned for 15 years or more in a job that will end only with the person's death, be that person a wife, husband, aunt, uncle, grandparent or whoever. This is a very difficult set of circumstances for anyone to cope with emotionally. It can lead to guilt, despair and unspoken wishes when, for example, a loved one with dementia becomes completely unrecognisable as the person he or she once was.

Vulnerable adults vary enormously. We all know that some can be delightful, charming and grateful for the care that they are given. However, others who displayed negative traits in their younger days may find that those traits become exaggerated as they get older leading to very much more demanding behaviour than anyone can cope with. They can make life hell for a carer. In those kind of cases action to prevent abuse is absolutely essential—real respite care, quality community care and so on. Just as important as this Bill is the need to ensure that care is there when it is needed and that it works for the benefit of the carer and of the cared person. However, when abuse occurs, domestic or not, we have to make sure that the law is there to protect the victim.

For many years it was thought that this type of abuse was very rare and restricted to certain groups and sectors in society, and that it never occurred among some minority groups, for example, for whom respect for their elders was part of their culture. However, research over recent years has shown that to be a fallacy. Unfortunately, it occurs among all ethnic and socio-economic groups and is much more widespread than was previously imagined.

Action on Elder Abuse estimates that between 500,000 and 900,000 older people suffer elder abuse, but we need more information on its prevalence and what proportion of this is domestic. For example, much of this abuse might be a continuation of domestic abuse in a family with a history of violence.

I therefore welcome the Bill as it is a firm step in the right direction, but I am a little unclear—given the Minister's understandable focus on women and children in her opening speech—how much attention in the genesis of this Bill was given to tackling domestic elder abuse. I hope that the Minister can reassure me.

I welcome in particular Part 1 of the Bill, which includes the new charge of unlawful killing of a vulnerable adult. In Clause 4(6), the definition of a vulnerable adult is very broad. While old age is not as such a defining factor of being vulnerable, age plays a significant part for some very old people as they are unable to remain independent. They no longer earn their keep and their resulting poverty, and their need for help in every-day tasks can lead, and often does lead, to their vulnerability. The important words here are,

"a person aged 16 or over . . . [who] is significantly impaired through physical or mental disability or illness".

Can the Minister confirm that I am right to assume that the Bill's provisions apply to people who have never cohabited but live together, for example, two sisters, a mother-in-law with a son and so on? I welcome the provisions of Clauses 2 and 3 to extend coverage to same-sex couples and non-cohabiting people.

As I have said, vulnerability can be multi-faceted and is not just caused through mental incapacity. We have to do more to recognise elder abuse. I mean by this that we must educate the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, nurses and social workers, among others, to recognise it and tackle it. Frankly, we must also educate the general public that it is as unacceptable as child abuse, and seek to give its eradication as high a profile as that very worthy cause gets in the media. If even cases of alleged unlawful killing can go unpunished, is there any hope that we can deal with less serious but more common cases of elder abuse unless we tackle the matter? For example, a 78 year-old woman died five weeks after moving in with her son-in-law and was found to have a catalogue of 60 injuries—razor blade cuts, cigarette burns, bruises and so on. More than 2 years later no one has been charged with her murder.

I have one further question about Part 1. I am unclear what is the definition of a household. Will it, for example, cover domestic violence in sheltered housing, other communal living arrangements or long-term care homes, which become the home or domestic setting for a long-term resident? I wonder whether this might have to be spelt out more clearly in the Bill.

Part 3 of the Bill concerns support for victims. My worry here is that victims are often unwilling to make a complaint, or may not be able to do so due to their vulnerability. For example, the elderly mother of a violent son may feel that making such a complaint reflects on her failure to raise her child successfully. Another victim may fear reprisals. For example, a victim in sheltered housing may worry that the warden against whom she makes such a complaint could take revenge for that. In that respect I welcome the announcement of the new helpline. The helpline of Action on Elder Abuse has been running for six years and has taken more than 5,000 calls, of which less than one-third were from victims; the majority were from relatives and care workers. I also welcome the Victims' Advisory Panel. I hope that it will include experts from the field such as experts from the charity, Action on Elder Abuse.

In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on introducing this important Bill. I hope that it will play a role in helping to tackle domestic abuse of all kinds against people of all ages.

6:27 pm
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Baroness Pitkeathley (Labour)

My Lords, like all noble Lords who have spoken and like anyone who has been witness to the effects of domestic violence in their professional life, or indeed, in their personal life, I, too, welcome this Bill and commend the Government for being willing to tackle an issue which was for too long ignored in our society.

As a social worker I must own my share of responsibility. Like other noble Lords, I remember when this issue, and, I am ashamed to say, that of sexual abuse of children, was a no-go area.

The results of turning a blind eye are all too apparent in the fear, injury and even death which vulnerable adults and children have suffered. Tributes are due not only to the Government for tackling these issues in the Bill but also to the many voluntary organisations that have long campaigned to obtain protection for victims and adequate punishment for the perpetrators of domestic violence.

Anyone who has been a social worker could tell many a tale of police who would not interfere in what was then called a "domestic" and of women who measured the worth of their husband by the fact that he did not "knock her about" on a Saturday night in societies where physical abuse of women was commonplace. However effective we become at punishing those who are violent to their intimates—I believe that this Bill will be effective in that regard and, indeed, at closing loopholes in the law—our prime concern must surely be to ensure that violence is prevented in the first place. I want to raise issues in connection with that which I hope your Lordships will not think are sidetracks or diversions. I preface those remarks by reminding your Lordships—several speakers have alluded to this—that violence is not always of a physical nature. Verbal violence can also be extremely damaging to those who suffer or witness it.

Let me first mention violence within a relationship where one person is the carer for another—a matter so eloquently referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. I welcome answers to the questions that she raised, although in the interests of time I shall not set them out again. As she reminded us, the issue of elder abuse is very well documented thanks to the splendid work carried out by organisations such as Action on Elder Abuse. The stress which can result from being a full-time or even a part-time carer is similarly now well understood thanks to the work of carers' organisations, such as Carers UK, and the attention given to carers by the Government.

We must always be mindful, however, of the fact that there is a huge difference between a carer temporarily losing patience and being angry or even lashing out, and sustained abuse over a long period. Similarly, there is a major difference between someone who is suffering from, say, dementia verbally or physically abusing their carer as a result of their condition, and someone who is habitually violent towards the person caring for them.

The research shows that, when there is repeated violence in a caring relationship, it is almost always a result of a pre-existing abusive relationship. All family caring takes place within a pre-existing relationship. If someone was not already the spouse, daughter or son, they would never become the carer, and we all know that family relationships are very variable in their history and quality. Would anyone be surprised if a daughter who has been sexually abused by her father as a child and is then expected to be his carer, carrying out the most intimate of personal tasks, used her new position of power over her father to perpetrate violence against him? There are women in that position; I have met many of them.

Can we really blame a wife who has been regularly beaten by her husband in the past if she is tempted to retaliate, either physically or verbally, now that he has Parkinson's disease? Indeed, it seems to me that the only wonder is that those situations do not occur more frequently and that most people, whatever the history of the relationship, care willingly and, when they can, with love, considering it their family and public duty to do so. Out of 6 million carers, who are often in the most stressful of situations, incidents of violence are in fact extremely rare.

What we have to do is ensure that no carer who has faced such problems is ever placed in the position of having to agree to be a carer when all his or her instincts rebel against it. All carers or would-be carers are now entitled to an assessment of their circumstances, and it should be part of that assessment process to review the relationship, including the wishes and needs of both the carer and the cared for. No carer should ever be expected to take on the role where the relationship is or has been an abusive one, and no person in need of care should be put in that position either. That will be an important step to reducing the risk of violence.

Aside from caring situations, we can help to reduce the incidence of domestic violence by ensuring that professionals who are likely to come into contact with the results of abuse at an early stage—nurses, health visitors, casualty officers and so on—are alert to the signs and see it as part of their treatment to provide information about protection and redress and, when it is enacted, the extra protection that the Bill will provide. The message that domestic violence is simply not acceptable, no matter in what circumstances it occurs, must be understood and spread by everyone. Changing society's attitude to violent behaviour of any kind is the key.

A further contribution can of course take place by changing the attitudes of those to whom we refer as victims. If such people can be more assertive, and if they can be encouraged to have more self-esteem and be more empowered, they will be less easily oppressed or allow themselves to remain in a risky situation. We must pay tribute to the tremendous work which has been done in that regard by voluntary and community organisations.

Another way to prevent violence to which I would like briefly to draw to your Lordships' attention is the use of new technology. Other noble Lords may be aware of it, but I have only just realised that personal alarms, long used to help older people maintain independence, are extremely useful in situations of potential violence and are widely used, as I understand it, by police forces throughout the United Kingdom. Personal alarms can alert the police or a professional response centre to potential dangers immediately, enabling the potential victim to feel safe and maintain independence.

In short, I hope that we shall remember that the Bill and its effects need to fit into a programme of prevention of violence as well as tackling it when it occurs.

6:34 pm
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Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Labour)

My Lords, I wish to join others in congratulating the Government on the introduction of this legislation. I pay special tribute to the Solicitor-General, Harriet Harman, for her energy and commitment in driving the Bill so that we now see it coming through Parliament.

As many have said, domestic violence has been for too long a trivialised issue. It has not been treated like other crimes. For a very long time, many of us who have campaigned on it have felt that it has been a slow process to get to this stage, where there is wide acceptance that it is the root cause of many other social ills. If we could engage with domestic violence with proper seriousness, many other areas of crime, misbehaviour among children and problems of an emotional and psychiatric nature would be much lessened.

It is a long time since the idea of the domestic being something that took place behind closed doors and should be sorted out within the family has been spoken about. We no longer have that view expressed publicly, but there are residual feelings that, somehow, domestic violence is not the same as other crimes. The reason for that is that there are evidential problems, which have been referred to by others including the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. It is a difficulty when events take place in privacy between two persons, as that sets up problems in our courtrooms.

Even where there are witnesses, the problems concern people coming forward. If the witnesses are children, particularly very young children, the sense that it really would not be good for them to be introduced into the court process is accepted by us all. Neighbours very often simply do not want to get involved. I have often represented women in the courts who have been beaten in public places, and they will describe how others have rushed by rather than be in any way drawn into the event.

It is great that the taboo has been lifted. We now accept that domestic violence is a social ill that crosses all classes and is found in all communities. I work very closely with an organisation called Southall Black Sisters, which has done incredibly powerful work, particularly in the Asian community, around issues of domestic violence, which were unspoken for so long. In close communities there is often a sense of shame about even speaking out about domestic violence—about the ignominy that it brings on the community—so the community closes ranks to prevent discussion of the issue.

I welcome the fact that this legislation has broadened the debate, and that it has been very clear that it extends to all manner of couples and, indeed, might extend beyond that to violence within a household. I want to endorse what was said so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. Like me, she is a patron of Action on Elder Abuse, which covers a serious area where abuse still takes place. It is very rarely spoken of, and I cannot think of many cases that come before the courts.

The reason that the police had difficulty with the cases for so long was often that women themselves would not want to testify against their partner. They would be prevailed on to withdraw their complaints, not only by their spouse—the man who was battering them, the father of their children—but by his relatives due to the effect that those complaints about the main breadwinner would have on the family as a whole. For those reasons, women would often retreat from the prosecution on which they had been encouraged to embark.

The Bill will help in expediting the processes so that those women—so often mothers of young children—do not have to go trailing between criminal and civil courts, trying to get injunctions but also to proceed with a prosecution, and that we do not have the terrible problem of delay that allows pressure to be brought to bear on women to withdraw their complaints.

So I very much support the pro-arrest approach that is at the base of the Bill. I believe that we need to have an arrest attached to common assault, so that the abuser can immediately be taken into custody to give the woman some space and evidence can be gathered from her and those around, without the problems of having to obtain a warrant. It is also important that a power of arrest is attached to the non-molestation orders which the criminal court can now make. That business of having to go from the criminal court to the civil court to obtain an order became a nonsense.

We have also had some distortion of the proposal that a judge might be able to make such an order when there has been an acquittal. I have often appeared in cases where someone is charged with a particular assault. For example, in one case I represented a man who was charged with pouring boiling fat over his wife. He accepted that he had been fighting with her; that there had been assaults upon her; and that they were screaming at each other. He said that he saw fat smoking in a chip pan on top of the cooker. He ran to take hold of the pan, but the handle was so hot that he let go, fat went everywhere and his wife was scalded. He said that it was not a deliberate assault. He was acquitted by the jury of that assault, I think rightly, but the history of abuse was still present. I think that it would have been right for the judge in those circumstances, given the man's own admission of those assaults, to have been able to make a non-molestation order based on the evidence of the other matters.

I would like to see that reflected in the press reports; that there would have to be evidence before a judge could do that. He would not make such an order if there were an acquittal and no evidence of anything else. Only where there was clear evidence of a course of behaviour would a judge seek to rely upon it. Unlike my noble friend Lord Borrie, I do not believe that it is a question of a judge gainsaying the verdict of a jury with the words: "Well the jury may have acquitted you, but I think you were up to no good". It is not for a judge to do that, and that is not the intention of the Bill. The intention is that where there is other clear evidence of a course of conduct, the judge can act by making a non-molestation order based on proper evidence.

An issue that causes me some anxiety is standards of proof. We must be clear that before a person has his liberty removed, and where there has been an alleged breach of a non-molestation order, it is critical that there is a high standard of proof. We do not want to see people's liberty removed on the balance of probability. So the breach of an order would have to be made, I submit, on the normal criminal standard. I hope that that can be ironed out in Committee.

I am glad that there is to be a homicide review. I am unhappy about hearing provocation being described as something that is used only by men. I represent many women in homicide cases who are able to invoke the provocation defence and I would be reluctant to see that removed on the basis that it does not serve women well. In recent years, the law has developed in such a way that it can be positively used for battered women. The defence should be gender-free, if that is possible.

I turn to the new offence of allowing both parents in a household to be charged with a domestic homicide to prevent them both escaping conviction over the death of a child. While I understand the sentiment attached to the issue, like the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I am concerned about one matter. A number of years ago, I represented a young woman who was on trial with her partner, both charged with causing the death of a baby. The little girl died in horrible circumstances. It was clear that she had been punched in the stomach and that there had been rupturing of internal organs. The young woman I represented was a battered woman. She was terrorised by a deeply violent, psychopathic man. Eventually, evidence came to light showing that she was so traumatised that she was unable, even at the police station, to feel free from his power and to speak of his behaviour. She was in such terror of him.

When someone is so tyrannical, there could be a failure of justice if both partners are automatically convicted on the basis that they remained silent. I hope that in Committee we will tease out that charge to allow for circumstances in which there clearly is domestic violence of such a level that one of the partners might feel incapable of speaking out.

It has become fashionable to say that domestic violence is perpetrated on men as much as on women, but I want to put that statement to rest. Of course there are women who are violent towards men and I am sure that there are men who live in terror of their female partner. But it is very rare indeed to find such a level of fear inculcated that a man ends up being incapable of freeing himself from a relationship. It is rare to come across men in that situation, but I am afraid that one comes across women in that situation—and more often than people imagine. There is a sense of being paralysed and of suffering such a degree of helplessness that one cannot free oneself from a relationship. I have seen that with women clients on a number of occasions, but I do not believe that that level of terror is often created by women on men. It relates to the imbalance of power within relationships, and we all know from where that derives. It is to be hoped that in the new world we are creating, in renegotiating relationships, we will see much less of that, but I want to put paid to the idea that there is an equality of arms in this area. There is not.

The terrible pain and anguish felt by children on seeing parents involved in violence has been spoken to by many in the Chamber. We heard the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, speak with such humanity about the way in which children suffer. We also heard my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley speak of people's complicated feelings about loving those who abuse them. The complicated nature of the human condition can allow those things to live in the same heart so that you can hate the person who abuses you or your mother, yet at the same time care for that person and want him or her still to be a part of your life. That is a problem that we face in the courts in dealing with domestic violence. It is why the problem is so difficult. It is not an easy path to go down. It is not exactly the same as all other crimes, but we must try to get it right.

Finally, while I pay tribute to the Government for all the good stuff, I feel that yet again we are seeing the rearing of that ugly head—a despising of the ordinary person who performs his role on a jury. The Government seem unwilling to see the benefits of jury trial and we are again seeing the salami slicer coming at juries, even in this Bill. I therefore ask them to look again at the part of the Bill which suggests that it would be enough for a jury to try a sample charge and for the judge to deal with everything else thereafter. It is a recipe for clearing the books and the situation that many lawyers involved in criminal trials can describe. When someone is brought before the courts charged with burglary, everyone assumes that every burglary that has taken place in the area must be down to him. The difficulty is that such assumptions are readily leapt to.

The pressure on the police in respect of clear-up rates is so considerable that this part of the Bill may well be misused. Therefore, I ask noble Lords to examine the Bill very carefully and to consider some of the reservations expressed by others in this House, which suggest that there must be better ways to deal with the matter. I also hope that we may see an end to attacks on the jury system.

6:50 pm
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Lord Thomas of Gresford (Liberal Democrat)

My Lords, the Bill has been warmly welcomed on all sides of the House. First the Minister and then the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, agreed that legislation is only part of the solution to the problem of domestic violence. Amnesty International expressed it very well when it said it believed that women and children who are affected by domestic violence deserve the very best protection, support and access to justice that the Government can provide. It said that this legislation should be a starting point and added:

"We welcome the Bill but believe that it must be supplemented by a broad, comprehensive and fully resourced national strategy to eliminate violence against women".

I believe it was with that sentiment in mind that the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen, called for more resources. My noble friend Lady Linklater said that preventing violence and protecting a partner and children takes precedence over punishing the offender—a sentiment with which, somewhat surprisingly but welcome none the less, the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, agreed.

Like the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, my experience in this area is in domestic homicide. However, for about 13 years earlier in my career, both as a solicitor and as a young junior counsel, I was concerned with domestic violence. I found that its typical cause was the desire of one partner—sometimes influenced by drink or drugs and usually through feelings of inadequacy—to exercise power and control over his partner. It would manifest itself not only as physical attacks but also as isolating and humiliating the woman, reinforcing her sense of worthlessness and threatening her and her children with physical violence. Then, by contrast, and in an attempt to make things better, the partner would make himself seem vulnerable with comments such as, "If you leave me, I'll kill myself" or "I've been a real bastard with you but take next weekend off with your friends". Having persuaded the partner to remain, the cycle of violence would continue. In my experience, that is a typical case.

I shall direct my remarks, first, to access to justice. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley reminded us, today abused children are given considerable support through child protection units. They and their families are told how cases are progressing and they are supported through the trauma of court proceedings, which are generally fast-tracked. By contrast, a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence makes a complaint but then becomes lost in the system because cases are not fast-tracked. They take time to be heard, and courts do not offer the same level of support in their procedures. Unless complainants have the network of support to which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, referred, they develop a sense of helplessness.

Some police officers have regarded a "domestic" as low-level crime and have not understood domestic violence at all—in particular, why abused women return to their abusers and refuse to support criminal proceedings. I was delighted to hear the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, say that police attitudes are beginning to change. The reasons that women suffer such pressures were outlined very movingly by my noble friend Lady Walmsley.

The difference between civil and criminal proceedings is that the former are victim-led—that is, the victim institutes the proceedings and controls how they progress with the assistance of legal advice—and criminal proceedings are evidence-led, whereby the police and the CPS institute and control the proceedings and are entitled to act, regardless of the victim's views. As referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, the fundamental issue raised is the degree to which the state steps into a relationship to protect a victim, sometimes at the cost of destroying that relationship altogether.

However, domestic violence is not a private matter; it is a matter for the state. The state must become involved because of the effects upon the family in the broad sense—upon the children. Very frequently, abusers are adults who were abused themselves as children, as, again, my noble friend Lady Linklater pointed out. However, legislation which tilts the balance towards greater state involvement must be carefully examined, and we hope to do so during the passage of the Bill.

Any assault or breach of the peace is already a police matter and may lead to criminal charges. But the proposal in Clause 1 is for the Crown Prosecution Service to bring a breach of the molestation order already made in the family court on the civil burden of proof. The suggestion is that it should bring that breach before magistrates or before the Crown Court; in other words, that there should be a cross-over from civil to criminal proceedings. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, in querying that proposal and, for the first time that I can remember, I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, on this issue. I believe that such matters are better dealt with in the civil court.

At present, a breach of a non-molestation order is treated as a contempt of the civil court. However, that is the court that made the order. The application will have been heard initially in the family court and will be heard again, often by the judge who made the order and who will be fully appraised of all the issues which caused the order to be made in the first place, including those of contact with the partner and the children and so on. The standard of proof that the victim must satisfy is the civil one—the balance of probabilities. I am not sure that I agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, when she said that a breach of a molestation order must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. I believe that the civil balance is sufficient.

The Government's purpose in making the breach of a molestation order—a civil order—a criminal offence is not clear from the White Paper, Safety and Justice. Is it a matter of speed? The decision to prosecute for breach of a non-molestation order must go through the police to the Crown Prosecution Service and the criminal court must address the family problem afresh. We learn from paragraph 11 of the White Paper that the CPS is against the setting up of specialist domestic violence units within its own organisation. Therefore, the CPS does not want that burden.

Will things go faster than if the victim, with the assistance of a lawyer, takes the matter to the civil court? Perhaps the idea is to utilise the specialist domestic violence courts. They were promised in the Labour Party manifesto and have been piloted in Leeds, the West Midlands and west London. However, so far, those courts have dealt only with criminal offences and not with molestation orders and so on. If one changes from one system to another, one must carry over the papers, the evidence and the information about the family from the civil court to the magistrates' court. Instead of dealing with a professional judge, who must give his reasons for his decision and who bases them upon the evidence that he hears, the magistrates, who may not be as well trained in domestic issues as the professional judge, will give a simple answer as to the solution. Paragraph 51 of the White Paper may give a clue. It is said that if the proposal is taken forward, it will free up the county courts. But that is simply administrative convenience and has nothing to do with victims.

Perhaps the Government's thinking is that in the criminal courts one can take proceedings even if the victim is against that and does not want the family to be broken up. I do not know that the state should step in and say, "You have been knocked about; your family ought to be broken up". Some decision making has to be left with the victim of domestic violence. In its response to Part 3 Refuge states:

"Although Refuge supports a vigorous prosecution policy, compelling women to give evidence should not be an unintended consequence of this action".

It would not be right to drag an unwilling partner into the criminal court to give evidence. Other agencies have suggested that women may be unwilling to use the criminal process in any event to enforce a civil order.

Perhaps the Government want to take such cases into the criminal courts to set out a scale of punishment. Five years is the sentence proposed for conviction on indictment. As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, pointed out, at one time punishment for contempt of court was entirely at large. It was for the court to decide the fine or the length of imprisonment to be imposed, but about 10 years ago that was pulled back to a maximum of two years. However, this Bill could usefully give powers to the civil court to extend the period of sentencing and, more particularly, to order community sentences that might include parent relationship-building skills, lectures or talks or whatever in that field, to which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred.

Is the Government's purpose to make arrest easier? Where there is any suspicion of violence in any case, the county court judge adds a power of arrest to the order. That did not happen in the past. In the old days the non-molestation order or its equivalent had one strike; there was no power of arrest the first time, but when the order was breached the power of arrest was added. But that has gone. I have the figures from the Judicial Statistics annual report of 2002 and in that year 19,208 non-molestation orders were granted by the county court with a power of arrest and in only 2,855 instances was no power of arrest attached.

There have been calls from all sides that a power of arrest should automatically be attached to a non-molestation order, which would solve the problem. If that happens I see no reason why we should introduce the concept of making common assault an arrestable offence. The power in the Bill to make common assault an arrestable offence is not limited to domestic violence, but covers the whole shooting match—65 per cent of the criminal cases that are reported to the police, common assault or violence. If it were made an arrestable offence that would apply to all those cases.

In 2002, 8,722 occupation orders were made in the county courts with a power of arrest and only 1,588 were made without that power. An occupation order is an order by which one partner can prevent the other partner coming into the house. Conditions can be laid down as to who is to occupy the house, what contact there is to be with the children and so on.

Curiously enough, breach of an occupation order will not, under the Bill, become a criminal offence, so it will still be treated as a contempt of court. I believe that the Government should answer why they have a cross-over from civil to criminal proceedings for non-molestation orders but not for occupation orders. No doubt we shall hear about that from the noble Baroness, if not today certainly in Committee.

If the powers of arrest are confusing to police officers, as the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, suggested, that is a matter of education. If it is confusing at the moment, what will it be like when a police officer does not know whether he is dealing with a civil or a criminal matter? I cannot see that that is going to make it simpler for the police to operate.

I turn to the new offence of causing or allowing the death of a child. I declare an interest: in one particular case that has been referred to in all the press releases from the Home Office in relation to this matter I happened to defend the husband. As both the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, have pointed out, Clause 4(1)(d) requires to be examined very closely because a partner living in the same household is liable to be convicted of such an offence if he or she fails to take reasonable steps to protect the vulnerable victim. What is meant by "reasonable"? If a battered partner, the kind of client to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, referred, or a mentally unstable partner is involved, is he or she to be found guilty of this new offence because he or she does not match up to the standards of the reasonable person? We are back to the problem of provocation about which I shall wait eagerly to hear from the Law Commission.

The fundamental problem about provocation has always been comparing the action of a particular defendant with that of the objective, reasonable person. Does the word "reasonable" in Clause 4(1)(d) mean that one must ask whether a particular person has acted reasonably or are we to carry out the difficult comparisons that have plagued the courts in relation to provocation, with which I have—some of you may have forgotten—wearied your Lordships in relation to other Bills?

Clause 5(1) is very odd. It suggests that a defendant could be found guilty, not just of this new offence, but of murder or manslaughter although the evidence, apart from his or her failure to give evidence, would not sustain the case. That means that there is no case to answer, but because the defendant does not give evidence, there is a case to answer. A jury could think that a defendant did not give evidence, so that can be taken into account in looking at what otherwise would not amount to a case. That is totally contrary to Article 6 of the European convention.

The Explanatory Notes point out that it is subject to the safeguard in Section 38(3) of the 1994 Act which explicitly states that a defendant may not be convicted solely or mainly on the basis of an inference drawn from silence. We now have a provision that conflicts with Section 38(3) of the 1994 Act. Unless Clause 5(1) is made explicitly subject to this limitation, it is unenforceable or at least it is certain to go to Strasbourg. It is not in accordance with the views of the Law Commission on this topic.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, have pointed out, the provision that leaves the determination of a case to answer until the close of the defence case on a charge under this clause is all right, but I am dubious that it should extend to all cases with a domestic element of murder or manslaughter. How would leaving the question of a case to answer in a domestic case of murder or manslaughter until the end of the defence case work? What is meant by a domestic element to murder or manslaughter? How would one define it or distinguish it? The problems of Clause 5 at the moment are insuperable. From these Benches we shall do our best to overcome those difficulties.

I do not wish to weary your Lordships any further at this time. I am sure that I shall do so a great deal more in Committee. We give a general welcome to the aims of the Bill, but clearly there are matters within it that require much further consideration and examination.

7:09 pm
Photo of Viscount Bridgeman

Viscount Bridgeman (Conservative)

My Lords, this has been a most interesting and informative debate. I thank all noble Lords who have made contributions. It is a reflection of the experience which this House commands that we have had expert contributions from the Bar, the police and social workers, to name only three.

I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Anelay: there is much that we can welcome in the Bill. New legislation on domestic violence has been a long time coming. We have heard from all sides of the House moving, and in some cases personal, accounts of the pain and suffering, both physical and emotional, that is caused by domestic violence. The victims have to deal not only with physical threats—although 62 per cent of domestic violence incidents were reported to have ended in injury, with 18 per cent requiring medical attention—but also with the emotional harm such incidents can cause and which can have such long-term effects. Such emotional harm can extend to any children who may be involved. It can have a great effect on their future relationships and can affect a whole new generation.

The Bill contains some very sensible provisions on important topics, such as violence in the home, familial homicide and creating better support for victims. However, predictably, there is much that we will wish to probe, analyse and in some cases change. I look forward to the Committee stage when we can discuss our concerns in detail.

My noble friend Lady Anelay has given notice of our particular concerns on the practicability of Clauses 4 and 5. We are privileged to have had the benefit of the practical court experience recounted by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, in respect of Clause 4. But we shall certainly return to the subject in some detail in Committee.

Domestic violence has been a terrible problem for many years. It is hard to determine how much actually goes on as so much of it is unreported. However, according to the British Crime Survey of 2001–02, there were between 518,000 and 752,000 incidents of domestic violence in 2001, which means that the problem affects a large number of families. Interestingly, the Family Law Bar Association points out that,

"violence in the home should be considered to be a more serious matter than violence, of an identical level in terms of force or injury, outside the home".

As we heard, the Bill will increase the powers of the police to deal with domestic violence. Both the Bar and the police find domestic violence a most distressing and frustrating offence. I am sure that they will welcome the increased powers given under Clause 7. My noble friend Lady Seccombe has drawn attention to the need for the police to be trained in the additional powers of arrest granted by that clause. However, I was reassured by the confidence expressed in this respect by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, with his police background.

I turn towards the later stages of the Bill and Part 3. We on these Benches recognise the need for a more focused approach to the victims of crime in this country. The Audit Commission's report on victims, which was published earlier this month, stated that last year around one-quarter of the population of England and Wales were victims of crime. That is a staggering number of people who can now be classed as "victims".

The summary in the Home Office publication, A New Deal for Victims and Witnesses: National Strategy, published in July this year, advanced four points. They are:

"very few victims see 'their' offender brought to justice; victim satisfaction with the police has gone down from 68 per cent in 1994 to 59 per cent in 2002–03; fewer than a third of all victims feel they have been kept well informed by the police; and in many parts of the country, people will not report a crime—either as victim or witness—because of fear of reprisals, or because of disengagement from the system.

The Audit Commission has called for national targets to be set across the sectors for the care of crime victims and witnesses after research showed that only one in 10 crimes results in conviction and two out of five witnesses said that they would not want to repeat the process of reporting crime.

Those statistics show that many victims will be unhappy with the criminal justice system and need strong support from the criminal justice agencies. We need to ensure that the provisions in the Bill actually address the needs of victims rather than just being another layer of bureaucracy, to which they will be subject.

I say a brief word about the code of practice. Your Lordships will be aware that there is a great temptation to use codes of practice in legislation as a "cop out" to avoid having to address difficult issues on the face of the Bill; I detect some scepticism from my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway in that respect. I very much hope that that is not the case. I welcome the details of the proposed working of the code of practice in Clauses 13 and 14. That of course is set out in considerable detail in the code of practice itself, which I must say only came into my hands this morning.

Nevertheless, in Committee we shall be subjecting these provisions to close scrutiny. We will ask how the new commissioner will operate; how he will interact with the other commissioners; and what real powers he will have to make changes. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made an important point about relations between the commissioner for victims and violence and the proposed children's commissioner. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, spoke of some practical considerations that need to be addressed in setting up the post of commissioner.

The Bill, effective though I hope it will be, must not deflect all those concerned—government and agencies—addressing the basic causes for domestic violence which caused the Bill to be needed in the first place, a point made in an impressive contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, who quoted previous speakers on the subject.

We support the idea that attitudes towards victims need to change in order to make a real difference. Victims need more consultation and feedback at every stage along the criminal justice process. Many noble Lords have spoken on that point. The noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, with some frankness, acknowledged the part the police need to play. The noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, also particularly made that point.

We must address the culture to which both the Minister and my noble friend Lady Anelay referred—the culture of acceptance; a culture called into question so movingly by the account given by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.

In conclusion, there is so much to be welcomed in the Bill, but with all the proposed additional support for victims, we must not raise their hopes only for the Bill to prove disappointing and ineffective in its working. That is the challenge posed for this House in the first stage of the Bill's passage through Parliament. However, the Minister can be assured that we on this side will do all we can in Grand Committee and in later stages to ensure that the Bill leaves this House as an effective instrument to address this serious and tragic problem.

7:18 pm
Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal

Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State, Home Office; Labour)

My Lords, I take the opportunity to thank the noble Viscount for his support and indeed every noble Lord who has participated in the debate. I am basking in the warmth of approval that has been showered upon the Bill from every part of the House, not least from these Benches and those who have spoken behind me. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I particularly thank my noble and old friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, for the fact that on this occasion she joins me with full voice. We have always walked together; I am glad we are back in step.

Nothing that I say detracts from the passion with which several noble Lords have spoken about the iniquitous nature of the offence. I join my noble friend Lady Gibson, the noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater and Lady Walmsley, and others who made it absolutely clear that domestic violence is no respecter of race, class, religion, ethnicity, region, occupation or anything else. It is a breach of trust, as was so clearly said by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. It disables those who are put under its spell. Most iniquitous of all, as several noble Lords—not least, latterly, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—said, it produces more in its image. Those children who are either abused or watch their parents abuse can go on to abuse themselves. The pernicious nature of that ill has been rightly recognised by all noble Lords who have spoken about it.

I also tell the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans that the Government recognise that it will take the efforts of all good men and women if we are to succeed in overcoming the adverse effects of that terrible behaviour. We need the spiritual and the non-spiritual; those of faith and those of none. We welcome the engagement of the faith communities and all others who will willingly take up arms with us against that terrible ill.

I mentioned the cyclical effect of the offence, but I must also make clear that, as I said in opening the debate, we want the blanket of comfort and succour that we provide not to be limited to the Bill but spread much more broadly. Many noble Lords will know that we have an inter-ministerial committee on domestic violence, which I am privileged to chair, and which involves the Department of Health, the Department for Education and Skills, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Solicitor-General—who has been rightly praised for her great efforts on the issue of domestic violence—the Home Office, which I represent, the Welsh Assembly, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Northern Ireland Office and the Department of Trade and Industry. All of us are working together to try to thicken and strengthen the net to ensure that we catch those who need our support.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her collaborative approach and the warmth of her support and reassure her that we expect careful scrutiny of the provisions because we want to get them right. We think that they are right now, but things can always be improved and we are open to any such justifiable improvement. We believe that the provisions for familial homicide are ECHR-compatible and will of course explore the reasons why we say that in greater detail in Committee.

I turn directly to some of the issues raised later in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, in supporting the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, went on to comment on how we will deal with the criminalisation of the breach of non-molestation. I should make plain that the Bill retains the civil enforcement route for non-molestation orders. So victims who do not want to go to the police will still be able to use the civil route. The Bill also retains undertakings for parties who do not want to pursue cases through civil orders.

I hope to give considerable pleasure to my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws by saying that we believe that proceedings for breach of a non-molestation order, if held in a criminal court, will be to the criminal standard of proof. My noble friend was right to make plain that many cases, at the end of the trial—the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, mentioned that there could be a bind-over—give rise to justifiable evidence from which, if it had been produced before a civil court, an injunction could flow in accordance with civil standards. Indeed, sometimes such cases are also proved beyond reasonable doubt. The noble Lord will know that the more serious the allegation, even if the civil standard applies, the weightier the proof needed to satisfy the court. So sometimes the difference between the civil and criminal standard can be very small.

We seek to consider matters from the victim's point of view and ensure that the victim gets as much support as the victim is entitled to receive without putting the victim through the whole process of going to another court on another day at another time. Noble Lords will know that there is sometimes a hiatus between the end of the case and the time when the victim can go to another place to get a civil order. Regrettably, sometimes, during that period further offences are committed.

I shall say a word about breach. The reason why it is so important for common assault to be arrestable is that often, as the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn, made clear, when the police attend an incident, a common assault is witnessed, which is not arrestable. So the wife or woman involved—regrettably, as my noble friend Lady Kennedy made clear, it is usually a woman—cannot get immediate relief and respite, which is what we seek.

To answer the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about making a power of arrest attached to each injunction, the reason we have phrased the provision as we have is further to assist the police. Again, we will have a register of civil orders, so that when the police go to an address they will know that there is an injunction relating to that family. If a common assault is being committed in breach of an injunction, the police will be able to act. So the clarity for which officers have been asking for a long time will exist.

It is right for us to remember the wise words of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, when she said that this is an equal opportunities issue as well as an issue of power. Many women feel under the power of their husbands and at the very instance at which they need greater succour, they may say to the police officer, "No, no, no; I wish nothing to be done", but the officer may have been present when the breach was committed and be able to arrest none the less.

I take on board what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said about the nature of relationships and that people may change their minds, but we must be absolutely clear that fights take place in the home that would never be tolerated if they were committed between two strangers on the street. That is a public issue.

Regrettably, we know that men who abuse can escalate that abuse as they move, like a butterfly, from one women to another. It is a tragedy that sometimes when a man kills his latest partner, we subsequently hear that there was a long line of women who were ritually abused by him before he finally killed. So it is not simply a personal choice for an individual woman: it may have many consequences for the women who may replace her in that man's affections. So that must be dealt with.

I turn to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. I know that we have emphasised the issue of domestic violence between partners, but I reassure her that elder abuse is much in our minds as a significant issue because of individuals' vulnerability. Her comment on the nature of the relationship, which was reinforced by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley—that it was a wonder that many more carers did not behave and respond aggressively—has been taken on board. The noble Baroness will know that the Family Law Act 1996 already covers sisters and people living together but not cohabiting. Under the Act they are already recognised as associated persons and are therefore eligible for non-molestation orders. Relatives are also covered. That is a broad definition that could offer protection to many elderly people.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, supported the provisions, for which I warmly thank her, and raised issues about the definition of domestic violence, asking why it had been left as it was. The Government recognise the difficulties caused by the different definitions used by the Home Office and other key agencies. We are working with partners towards a single definition. We will ensure that the definition is as broad as possible and that it takes on board the responses that we have received on the consultation paper, including those from a wide range of minority communities. However, a statutory definition of domestic violence is not needed for the purposes of the Bill, and it would be difficult for any statutory definition to reflect the breadth of domestic violence and to keep it up to date, as it will change. If we look back at what we classified as domestic violence even 10 years ago, we know that we have advanced. We need that breadth to ensure that all are covered.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas of Walliswood and Lady Seccombe, were right to say that training for domestic violence agencies would be important. We recognise that. Training for all agencies involved with victims of domestic violence, including the police, is of great importance. The Government will review all the domestic violence training available across the agenda and the professional bodies with a view to ensuring a more consistent, multi-agency approach.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and others teased me gently about the report on provocation. We expect the final report in late spring and wish to take what it says very seriously. There has been an open debate—the proper type of debate that we should have—on the definition of provocation. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, is absolutely right to say that the defence of provocation is used not only by men but by women who have been ritually battered by their partners. We want whatever we come up with to be an improvement on our current position, not a regressive act. We shall therefore look carefully at the recommendations, considering all the different permutations and the other defences to reduce murder to manslaughter. The Law Commission may suggest a hybrid. Some noble Lords asked whether self-defence should be changed. We shall look at all those matters. We wish simply to be as open as possible and to craft something that better meets the needs that we have identified. We make no commitment on change because we simply do not know.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Thomas and Lady Walmsley, and, I believe, my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis discussed the link between the Children's Commissioner and the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses. We understand and agree that the two roles must be dealt with very carefully, and that the commissioners will have to work together across government to ensure that both effectively meet the needs of children affected by crime, either directly or through witnessing it at home.

I commend the comments made by my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen. In her very thoughtful presentation she outlined how we have developed since the 1960s. I pay tribute to the work done by individuals such as the noble Baroness, and in the unions, to make clear that employers can, and should, take the issue very seriously—fortunately, many employers do. We welcome the fact that my noble friend raised the issue, as the Government are very keen that the opportunities presented by the workplace to prevent domestic violence should be pursued. We shall introduce throughout the Civil Service guidance for all government departments.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned the right of reasonable chastisement. The Government have consulted on where the line has been drawn on that. The noble Baroness should know that that has been an ongoing consideration. We do not propose to change that line at present, but I can reassure her that we will take on board her comments on how children are treated and the need to set them proper examples of good behaviour.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis raised the issue of funding. Many have said that the proposals are all well and good but asked about the money. The Government are making a major investment in domestic violence this year. We are investing £84 million, including £19 million from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Housing Corporation, towards refuge provision. The Home Secretary also announced in February a further £14 million over the next three years. This year we have provided £30 million to Victim Support to deliver services to victims and witnesses. That helps to support almost 1.5 million victims of crime and more than 300,000 witnesses of crime each year. The Government's annual grant to Victim Support has more than doubled in recent years, from £11.7 million in 1996–97 to £30 million in 2003–04.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the issue of devolution of funding for witness services. It is not just about taking away money from the centre in terms of victim support, but about taking money away from the Home Office and putting it into the hands of local criminal justice boards, which will be in a much better position than we are to know what is needed locally and to ensure that it is delivered. We will pilot the devolution of witness services funding in four areas next year: Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Essex and Surrey. Subject to the success of those pilots, we shall roll out nationally in 2005–06. Devolution of funding for victim support services will probably be allowed to happen from 2006–07, but no decision has been taken on the date. We will review how that progresses.

I have already commented on and, I hope, commended the contribution by the noble Earl, Lord Rosslyn. He asked how we would deal with the civil orders register. The police will have on the register information about names and addresses, but we are most keen to ensure that they can monitor serious, violent offenders. The civil orders go through the civil courts and are not always directly linked to a crime. The register of civil orders will improve the protection of domestic violence cases that go through the civil courts. Around 14,000 non-molestation orders are made each year. The more dangerous offenders are already registered on the violent and sex offenders register (VISOR) when they have been convicted of specific violent and sex offences and given a sentence of 12 months or more. That covers the majority of domestic violence offenders, who will be convicted of offences such as actual bodily harm and wounding with intent. VISOR gives the police a way of risk-assessing.

The local initiatives in various areas are working very well. Fulham and Hammersmith, for instance, runs the project Standing Together, as part of which information is being collated. We are seeking to address the issue of data protection, because we are working together to get one hymn sheet from which all departments can sing in harmony, it is to be hoped, without finding any discord. We hope thereby to strengthen the net.

I hope that I have answered the main thrust of noble Lords' comments. I look forward very much to working together in Committee, as I am sure that we will be able to fashion something that is not only fit for purpose but will better protect the individuals whom we seek to serve.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.