Domestic Abuse

– in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 1:47 pm, 16th July 2019

Home should be a place of safety and of love, but for 2 million people it is not. Domestic abuse takes place behind closed doors, turning people’s homes into places of fear, abuse and violence. We recognise the importance of building trust with victims to tackle this hidden crime—victims who for too long have felt scared or unable to come forward. I am very pleased to announce today that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are introducing the Domestic Abuse Bill in the House. Led jointly by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Edward Argar and me, we are also publishing our response to the pre-legislative scrutiny report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill.

Domestic abuse is complex and multifaceted. In addition to physical violence, it can include emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse, and at its heart is often controlling or coercive behaviour. We were the first Parliament in the world to recognise that when we introduced the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in 2015. But our understanding of domestic abuse continues to grow and evolve, and this Bill gives us an opportunity to ensure that our legislation keeps pace.

Each year in this country, scores of people, mainly women, are murdered by their partners. Domestic abuse of all kinds destroys the lives of thousands more, including male and LGBT+ victims. Each and every day, those working on the frontline of our public services see the extent of the damage that it causes and the demands that it places on those who are there to help. I take a moment to thank those who work tirelessly to prevent abuse, protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice, particularly for their support in the consultation process, but there is more to be done.

In January 2019, we issued a written ministerial statement setting out our commitment to transforming the response to domestic abuse. In that statement we announced the publication of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, as well as the publication of the response to the Government’s domestic abuse consultation undertaken last year. We also published a set of non-legislative measures, because we recognise that although the Bill is vital, so too is our practical day-to-day response.

Taken together, the Bill, the consultation response and the non-legislative measures set out an ambitious programme of cross-Government action that puts victims at the heart of our response in a co-ordinated effort to tackle domestic abuse. That includes setting out our intention to address perpetrators’ behaviour and to break the cycle of abuse through perpetrator programmes, domestic abuse prevention orders and even piloting polygraph testing to ensure compliance with programmes.

The Bill was published in draft to allow for prelegislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of Members of Parliament and peers, chaired by my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller. The Committee published its report on 14 June, and the Government are grateful to all parliamentarians on the Committee for their detailed scrutiny of the draft Bill and to all those who provided evidence to the Committee—they have my personal thanks and the thanks of all Ministers involved.

We have carefully considered the Committee’s report and have accepted many of its recommendations, either in part or in full. We have committed to giving other recommendations full consideration over the next few months, with the aim of publishing a further response to the report later this year. Where appropriate, we will table amendments to the Bill to address those recommendations.

That includes our work on refuge services. Subject to the outcome of the consultation currently under way, we will table amendments to implement the Government’s proposals to improve support to victims and their children in accommodation-based domestic abuse services in England. I ask all hon. Members to encourage their networks to respond to that consultation by 2 August.

During the development of the Bill, hon. Members have raised the issue of migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will today publish an updated asylum support policy on domestic abuse. The Home Office is using the asylum support budget to close a gap that has, until now, prevented asylum seekers and their dependants from accessing specialist domestic abuse refuge places because they are not entitled to housing benefit.

Further, we have listened to charities and victims who say that people feel trapped in abusive relationships by their immigration status. That is not acceptable, which is why we are committing to reviewing the response to all migrant victims of abuse, as recommended by the Joint Committee.

We have also listened to victims about their journeys through the legal system. The Bill prohibits perpetrators from continuing their reign of abuse through cross-examining their victims in person in the family courts, and it gives victims automatic eligibility for special measures in the criminal courts.

We want to recognise the devastating impact that domestic abuse can have on children and young people. Among the measures to achieve that is the requirement that the statutory guidance must recognise this adverse effect. We also want to meet our international obligations. The Bill includes the necessary provisions for all parts of the United Kingdom to meet the requirements of the Istanbul convention in respect of the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the criminal courts.

The Government wholeheartedly agree with the Joint Committee that victims of domestic abuse in all parts of the United Kingdom deserve effective protection and support. There has been a controlling or coercive behaviour offence in England and Wales since 2015, and the Scottish Government legislated for such an offence last year. Northern Ireland, however, has no such legislation in place. We are therefore pleased to inform the House that following a consultation undertaken in 2016, before the collapse of the Assembly, the Bill, as introduced, will include a bespoke domestic abuse offence for Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland and who take their seats in this place for their support on this measure.

Before I finish, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. She has worked tirelessly over many years as a Member of Parliament, as Home Secretary and as Prime Minister to ensure that the vulnerable are heard and protected and that perpetrators are brought to justice. Her determination and dedication to helping the 2 million victims of domestic abuse shines through this Bill.

We remain determined to do all we can to eradicate domestic abuse. Through this landmark Bill and our wider non-legislative programme, we will transform our response to this appalling crime and end the suffering caused by abuse. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Shadow Minister (Equalities Office) (Women and Equalities) 1:55 pm, 16th July 2019

I thank the Minister for meeting me last night and for giving me an early view of her statement, and I thank colleagues who sat on the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill for their time and commitment and for the comprehensive report and recommendations they produced.

As the Minister alluded to, the Bill is not yet finalised, but we welcome some areas that we know will be included. We hope the Bill will begin to transform how we deal with domestic abuse. Although we agree that establishing a domestic abuse commissioner is key, we will be seeking assurances on the authority and funding of that role. Can the Minister give further clarity on the role and independence of the commissioner?

The improvements to proceedings in family courts, which will include prohibiting the cross-examination of victims, is very welcome. However, we will seek assurances that, in cases of custody and access to children, all victims will be treated equally and that the courts will not be prescriptive and inflexible but will look at cases individually.

Controlling and coercive behaviour will be included in the definition of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland. This change across the rest of the UK has been instrumental in changing the outcomes for many victims. None more so than Sally Challen, whose murder conviction was overturned and reduced to manslaughter earlier this year, which meant she was freed owing to time already served. I was very pleased to welcome her to the Terrace two weeks ago to listen to her story. We are pleased to see this definition being extended to Northern Ireland.

We know the Government are committed to helping migrant victims of domestic abuse, and we welcome their intention to review it, but we must ensure that these women are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain, irrespective of the type of visa they reside under, and are able to access public funds.

Although the Bill will not be gender specific, as has been called for by some in the sector, it is my understanding that commissioning services will be, which is a welcome step towards ensuring that all victims of domestic abuse receive parity in the provision of support services.

We still believe that the Bill may be weak when it comes to the impact of domestic abuse on children, both as victims and as witnesses. By not focusing enough on the impact, there will be a knock-on effect on the specialist support made available to them. Can the Minister advise on the plans to strengthen this area of the Bill to ensure that services for child victims are widely available, robust and adequately funded?

We all know that funding for women’s refuges has been cut in recent years, meaning that refuges have had to close and that women have been forced to stay in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go. We need assurances from the Government that this Bill will ensure that funding is available to enable women to leave their family home and have a safe alternative for themselves and their children.

There are other issues to consider in relation to the education of perpetrators; housing; personal, social, health and economic education; healthy relationship education; a wider use of schemes such as Operation Encompass to allow schools to be more supportive of pupils experiencing domestic abuse within their families; and an increase in the number of independent domestic abuse advisers in hospitals. Those are all areas on which we will be seeking clarity on Second Reading and beyond.

This Bill was a commitment made by the outgoing Prime Minister in her final Queen’s Speech, just over two years ago. Although it has arrived very late in her leadership, and without time for her to see it through, I am pleased that she has finally set things in motion for this long overdue and much-needed legislation. We would, however, like assurances from this Government that whoever will be Prime Minister next week has the same commitment to this, and can guarantee that the Bill will be robust and that funding will be available to fulfil everything it promises. It is the intention of Opposition Members to work with the Government and the sector to take this Bill into legislation. There will be challenges, but we hope that with sensible debate, negotiation and compromise, we will help to form a lasting piece of legislation that will benefit all victims of domestic abuse. This Bill is a golden opportunity for the Government and for all parliamentarians to transform the domestic abuse agenda, and it is our duty to ensure that we get this right.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for her response, and for the constructive and co-operative approach she has taken to this Bill and to many other matters. She is always a constructive critic of the Government, and rightly so, but I thank her and her colleagues for the spirit in which they are engaging in this. I must also pay tribute to and thank colleagues from across the House, on both sides, who have always been incredibly constrictive in their approach to this. I hope that that will continue, because I am sure we all want to see domestic violence stop.

The hon. Lady asked me about the domestic abuse commissioner. I am happy to confirm that we are appointing the commissioner, because we want the commissioner to hold national and local government to account. The commissioner will have the power to publish reports and make recommendations, and, crucially, statutory agencies will be required by law to respond to those recommendations publicly. We believe that will exert great pressure on local authorities to ensure that they are doing right by their local communities. Of course, in line with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation, albeit that we are not prejudging its result, there will possibly be a further statutory duty through that route, to ensure that we have co-ordinated effort.

The hon. Lady raised the matter of family courts. We are reviewing practice direction 12J and the operation of the family courts more widely. I understand that we are aiming to report in September, and I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, has this very much at the forefront of his mind.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments on migrant women. She knows how complex these issues are, but we are very much entering into this with the right spirit and we look forward to help from across the House on what more we can do to protect migrant women.

I absolutely understand charities’ campaigns and the emphasis that they put on children, given the terrible impacts that domestic abuse has on them and their life chances. I often see that myself in the context of youth workers working with gang members; domestic abuse is a prevalent factor in the lives of some of those children. We will be ensuring that statutory guidance recognises the effect of domestic abuse on children, which is significant because it will have an impact on local commissioning. The domestic abuse commissioner will also be encouraging good practice in the identification of children, and we will consider whether we need to amend the definition of “harm” in the Children Act 1989 to explicitly include the impact of domestic abuse on children. The hon. Lady will know that we are investing £8 million to deal specifically with children who are the victims of domestic abuse, and of course, as I say, the MCHLG consultation plays an incredible part.

I am also delighted to confirm that this is not just a commitment of this Prime Minister, but a commitment of the Government. We have the extra confirmation of both leadership candidates’ teams having confirmed to me that not only do the candidates support this Bill, but they will progress with it in the autumn.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee

I welcome my hon. Friend’s statement. I thank the Government for introducing a groundbreaking piece of work, and I thank the Prime Minister personally for her incredible leadership in making this issue central to this Government’s programme of work. It was a great privilege to be able to chair the Joint Committee, and I thank members of that Committee, from both this place and the other place, for their commitment, hard work and tenacity. Above all, I thank our Clerks, who did an incredible piece of work in a very truncated time, producing a top-quality report. I am pleased to see that the Government have welcomed the majority of its recommendations and have either accepted or partially accepted them.

The Joint Committee’s most significant concern was the plight of migrant women with no recourse to public funds. In her statement, my hon. Friend underlined the Government’s support for action on this issue to make sure that the gap in support is closed. Is it her objective to ensure that migrant women can be treated in the same way as any other victim of domestic abuse in terms of support, particularly given the welcome announcements by the Government on the introduction of the statutory duty in respect of the provision of refuge places? Will she assure me that she will redouble her efforts to make sure that any new support that is in place cannot be open to abuse, as that would discredit that support and affect the women who need it in order to survive?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank my right hon. Friend for her sterling work chairing the Committee. She has given so much time, effort and service to the House in doing so, and I am extremely grateful. It was a pleasure when she agreed to chair it, because I knew not only that it would be chaired well, but that the Committee would leave no stone unturned in its scrutiny of this Bill and of the Government’s action. Again, I place on record my thanks to members of that Committee.

I also thank my right hon. Friend for raising the issue of migrant women. She knows, as the Committee does from the evidence it has taken, just how complex this issue is. She has alighted on the point about possible abuse of the system. That is one of the many factors that the Government must consider as part of their review, and it is fair to say, from meetings and roundtables that I and other Ministers have held with hon. Members and stakeholders on this issue, that everyone recognises that we need to deal with it, but in a sensitive way that does not have the potential for unintended consequences. I am delighted to put on record the fact that women who are victims of domestic abuse are just that—victims of domestic abuse—regardless of their migration or other status.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for advance sight of her statement, and for the courtesy that she and the other Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Edward Argar, have afforded me in this regard. I welcome the introduction of the Bill. In general, the matters it covers are devolved to Scotland and, as she alluded to, Scotland passed a domestic abuse consolidation Bill last year, providing for statutory offences and for some changes on criminal procedure, evidence, sentencing and special measures. I am pleased to see England and Wales follow suit, and I particularly wish to applaud the Joint Committee’s work. It noted that there is much to be learned from the devolved Administrations regarding guidance, training and multi-agency working, and I would like the Minister to confirm that the Government will follow that advice.

I hear what the Minister says about the Istanbul convention, but it is disappointing that the UK Government have yet to ratify it, despite the fact that the Bill introduced by my former colleague Eilidh Whiteford on ratifying it is law. So will the Minister confirm that that is going to be done and make a statement on her intention to do so before the recess, giving us a bit more detail on that? I realise that it is not an entirely straightforward procedure, but we are rather overdue with our ratification.

My hon. Friend Dr Whitford has tirelessly campaigned on the issue of universal credit separate payments. The Bill is explicitly making economic abuse a form of domestic abuse, but the current system of a single UC payment by default can facilitate economic coercion. The Joint Committee notes that the Select Committee on Work and Pensions recommended that the Department for Work and Pensions should use the Scottish Government’s intention to introduce split payments by default as an opportunity to “test and learn” the different possible approaches to splitting payments and whether they would help survivors in this area. Will the Minister commit to introducing default separate payments in universal credit, and will she do that before recess?

Finally, I note what has been said about migrant women and welcome the points made so far. However, it was alarming that the Joint Committee heard evidence that some police forces share details of victims with the Home Office for the purpose of immigration control, rather than to help the victim to access appropriate support. The Joint Committee recommended that the Home Office policy should be robust and should be developed to determine the actions that may be taken by immigration authorities with respect to victims of crime who have approached the public authorities for protection and support. The Joint Committee also supported the Step Up Migrant Women campaign recommendation that a firewall be established at the levels of policy and practice to separate the reporting of crime from access to support services. Can the Minister give me some comfort that the Home Office will take those recommendations on board and that migrant women who seek help because of domestic abuse will not be shopped to the immigration authorities?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her kind words about the Bill, and I thank the Scottish Government for responding and working so quickly with the UK Government to ensure that legislative consent motions will be passed when they are needed. I am always happy to acknowledge best practice and good practice wherever it happens; indeed, I intend to copy it quite shamelessly, where appropriate. I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her efforts.

We now publish annual reports on progress towards ratification of the Istanbul convention, with the next one due by the end of October. The fact that the law in each part of the UK needs to be compliant with the provisions of the convention before the UK as a whole can ratify it has led to some of the delay that the hon. and learned Lady set out, but it is absolutely our intention that the Bill will help us to arrive at that destination.

On universal credit, we are working with the Scottish Government to establish the practicalities of delivering split payments in Scotland, and we will further observe their implementation when that occurs. We think that around 60% of universal credit claimants are the main carer, who tends to be the woman in the relationship. We are keen to ensure that, because Jobcentre Plus can be the first touchstone, as it were, between a victim and the state, the staff there are properly trained to recognise the symptoms of someone in an abusive relationship. That could be a positive turn of events to help to ensure that when victims come into contact with the state, they are recognised and identified, and then, as it were, scooped up and helped.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Conservative, New Forest West

I think the Minister said there were 2 million victims; if that is the case, they will overwhelmingly be women, and if they are to be freed, that means changing the attitudes of men. How is that to be achieved?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

My right hon. Friend may be volunteering for a role. He is right to make the point that of the 2 million victims, we estimate that around 1.3 million are female and around 695,000 are male, and within that 695,000 we believe—it is very difficult to identify this, and there are problems in doing so—that the majority of perpetrators are male. Within the huge range of abusive behaviour in relationships, there are many, many manifestations, and what may be experienced by a couple in a heterosexual relationship may be very different from what is experienced in a homosexual relationship, for example. That is why we are so committed to ensuring that our response, particularly in relation to accommodation-based services, addresses those specific needs. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, because part of the purpose of the Bill is to raise awareness and to make the point that men can be victims of domestic abuse as well, but the overwhelming majority of victims are female, and that starts from the very beginning, so we need to teach boys and girls what to expect from healthy relationships. That is precisely why relationship education in schools is such a vital part of our programme.

Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Chair, Human Rights (Joint Committee)

I thank the Minister for her statement. I appreciate the commitment she has shown to the Bill and to working across the House, not only with the Labour Front-Bench team but with Back Benchers from all parties. I recognise the frustration that I know she has felt as she has pushed forward on this issue. As far as I am concerned, I hope that when the inevitable reshuffle happens, the Minister will keep her position so that she can push the Bill forward, and I hope that her colleague the Victims Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Edward Argar, will stay in his position too.

I welcome the Bill, which I see as an important step in what has been a long struggle to tackle the scourge of domestic violence. The Bill rightly brings forward a new definition, new powers, new duties, a new office and an extension to Northern Ireland. Many of us want to add further things to it when it goes through further scrutiny. The question is, though: what happens next? Neither of the two leadership candidates has been what we might call a champion of the cause of tackling domestic violence. That is simply a fact. I hope the next Prime Minister recognises that this Bill is the will of the House and that there is commitment to it on all sides. The Prime Minister will be gone next week, but this Bill—her Bill—must go forward.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for the enormous work she has done in her time in this place to advance the cause of women, and particularly to tackle the injustices that many women face. I reiterate her point that not only have the Front Benchers have been wonderful in their support and collaboration, but Back-Bench MPs have been incredibly important, too.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her reference to the future Prime Minister; my hon. Friend Edward Argar and I are grateful for that assistance. We are both determined to see the Bill through. Although the Prime Minister may be stepping down next week, she is not leaving the House. I am sure she will be a strong advocate for the Bill from the Back Benches.

The right hon. and learned Lady is absolutely right that this is not just a Government commitment, which it very firmly is, but has support across the House. We have been talking about it for long enough now that the public understand where we want to get to, and the House certainly will not let any future Government off the hook in delivering on it. That is why I am so pleased that both leadership candidates have committed to progressing with the Bill in the autumn. There will be many colleagues making sure that they keep to that pledge.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean Conservative, Redditch

It was a great pleasure to support the Minister when I was her Parliamentary Private Secretary. I have seen all the hard work that she has put into the Bill, which is an enormous tribute to her determination and, as she says, that of the Opposition Members, including her opposite number on the Front Bench, Carolyn Harris, and other Members across the House. I pay tribute to everybody, because I know how much work has gone into the Bill.

The Minister knows as well as anybody else that changing the law on its own is not enough. She has been clear from day one that a number of other measures have to be put in place to stop this horrific crime. Will she update the House a bit more on what those measures include?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. This is beginning to turn into a bit of a lovefest, which is rare for this House, so we should just revel in it. I thank her genuinely, because she has been a great help, is a huge supporter of this agenda and has raised with me many times particular issues arising in her constituency.

My hon. Friend is right to raise the point, which has been made previously, that this is not just about the law. We all know that the law is really important in setting the definition, putting the commissioner in place and so on, but this also comes down to societal change and awareness. We have moved on a great deal from where we were perhaps 20 years ago. When people talked about domestic violence they tended to think of physical violence, and we now know that it can be much wider than that. That is thanks to the work of Members from all parties who have raised awareness, but importantly it is also thanks to charities. Many great charities work in this policy area and support victims day in, day out. It is through their campaigning and their help on the Bill that we will ensure that legislative and non-legislative measures are put in place to give victims the support that they deserve.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

Let us continue with this love fest for a little longer. As a member of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, may I pay tribute to Mrs Miller, who chaired this Committee so well? I, too, think that we produced a very good report. May I also pay tribute to both Front-Bench teams for the way that they are conducting themselves and working on this really important issue? However, I do want to add a little bit of grit into this debate in relation to the domestic abuse commissioner who is mentioned in the draft Bill and who will obviously be debated. I understand that the Home Office took the view that it would advertise, recruit and, as I understand it, fill the post prior to the legislation going through this and the other place. Is that correct? Perhaps the Minister can update us on that. Do we have a name of the domestic abuse commissioner?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am very happy to acknowledge her important work on the Committee and, indeed, in many other areas of helping women and girls and of tackling violence. On the domestic abuse commissioner, we have been very anxious to get parts of this entire package moving as early as we could. We are in the process of appointing a designate domestic abuse commissioner, whose name will be announced soon. We have done that because, with the best will in the world, we are very aware that the Bill will take time to get through, so we are appointing a designate commissioner to get on with some of the really important work, such as mapping services and beginning to draw together the plans when it comes to children’s services and so on. That will enable us to see what works, because I note that the Committee queried why it was a part-time role. Look, let us see how it works and if it requires more than that, we will, of course, look at that as well, but we are just very keen to get moving.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

I warmly welcome this statement, and I congratulate the Minister on the leadership that she has shown on this important issue. May I ask her about the automatic entitlement for special measures for complainants in allegations of domestic abuse? I warmly welcome that and ask her to clarify whether this means that those giving evidence in court will increasingly be able to do so by way of video-recorded evidence in chief and, indeed, video link cross-examinations, so that they do not have to experience the trauma of coming into court and sometimes facing their tormentor?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He brings his expertise as a criminal practitioner into this Chamber. I know that he has great experience of making those applications for special measures where it is painfully obvious to everyone concerned that, of course, special measures should be granted. I am extremely grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, for pressing very hard on this, and, yes, that is the expectation. We want victims of domestic abuse to be able to give their best evidence in court, and if that means through a video link or whatever, then that is what we must do.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment and Climate Change)

The Liberal Democrats also warmly welcome this Bill. I thank the Minister for her statement. May I reinforce the call on the Government to urgently ratify the Istanbul convention, because any delay means a delay for victims of rape getting support? I would like to mention children who witness domestic violence. I welcome the fact that the Government recognise that witnessing domestic violence is a trauma and an adverse childhood experience. Will she clarify whether the Government went along with the recommendation of the statutory definition of children as victims who witness domestic abuse? If so, what does that mean for children in the future?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady and make the point that this Bill is critical to our being able to ratify the Istanbul convention. I very much hope that colleagues across the House will have that in mind as well as many other factors when it comes to the progress of this Bill. She mentions children. This has been one of the thorniest issues that we in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have grappled with, because we have wanted to reflect the impact that domestic abuse has on children living in an abusive household. We have also been mindful of the fact that the age of 16 is a significant time when it comes to how children are treated in law and the welfare of children. Traditionally, offences committed against children below the age of 16 are seen in terms of child abuse, and above 16, we move into the parameters of adulthood. We have very much taken advice from the consultation. Most responses suggested that we stick at the age of 16 with the statutory definition, so it has been a balancing act. I am grateful to the Joint Committee because it has reiterated the need for children to be at the heart of our response. The impact of having children in the statutory guidance will be very significant when it comes to the commissioning of local services, and that will make such a difference to children’s day-to-day lives.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

I also want to congratulate the Ministers, the Front-Bench teams and particularly the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee on getting this Bill to this place and on its safe passage. Because of the Government’s changes to pre-charge bail in 2017, there are serious safety concerns for victims, survivors and the general public. In February, Her Majesty’s inspectorate found a 65% drop in the use of police bail in cases of domestic abuse. Earlier this month, my freedom of information requests found a 56% drop in the use of bail for child sexual abuse cases. Will the Minister accept the recommendations of the Joint Committee and the all-party group on adult survivors of child sexual abuse to create a legal presumption of pre-charge bail in cases of domestic and sexual abuse?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, who does so much work not only in her constituency, but in a national context, to ensure that children and adults who are subjected to sexual exploitation are looked after properly. We are very aware of the concerns around the changes to pre-charge bail. The reforms were introduced to reduce the number of people and the length of time spent on pre-charge bail, but we do recognise that there are concerns in the criminal justice system about the way that that has worked out on the ground. We are working with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, HM Courts and Tribunals Service and others to ensure that these are addressed satisfactorily, including the consideration of both legislative and non-legislative options. I cannot give her an answer at the moment, but work is under way, and I hope that I can give her some information in due course.

Photo of Gavin Robinson Gavin Robinson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Defence)

May I praise the Minister and her colleague the Minister for victims—the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Edward Argar—for the determined and principled position they have taken in championing the Bill? I am delighted that it is being introduced today and am particularly grateful that Northern Ireland provisions are contained within it. It is clearly in the public interest to include such provisions. We are grateful that they are taking this step and mindful that, on this issue, there is complete political consensus in Northern Ireland, so it is the right thing to do. I have also raised the issue of stalking with the Minister and would be grateful for her involvement. We have no legislative protection from stalking in Northern Ireland. Although it is not primarily attached to domestic abuse situations, I think that it is tangentially linked. I ask the Minister to engage with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, as she has been doing on the domestic abuse provisions, and consider whether there is provision or space within this Bill to ensure that we get protection from stalking as well?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. We are grateful to everyone who represents Northern Ireland and take their seats in this House for their support. We are also grateful for the very clear message from him and others that they are keen for this offence of coercive controlling behaviour to be included in the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, and I are very happy to look into the situation that he has described. Clearly, omitting the offence of stalking from the statute book of Northern Ireland is not what anyone wants, and, certainly, we will consider whether we can include it in the Bill.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Labour, Birmingham, Yardley

I am delighted to welcome the Bill today. It feels like the first parliamentary step in what has seemed like a marathon to get to this point, but I think that we can all agree that this Bill still has quite a way to go before it is exactly what everybody in this House wants it to be, which is for it to be the best thing for all women. I am delighted by the concessions and by the fact that we have been heard, specifically around migrant women, and I thank the Minister for that. We shall obviously keep our eyes focused on pushing for the Bill to be the best that it can be. I know that she has said several times that both leadership candidates to be the Prime Minister in our country have agreed to take this forward. Unsurprisingly, a number of journalists have been in touch with me today and have told me that they have been in touch with both teams; the Foreign Secretary’s team has confirmed that it would take this forward, but the team of Boris Johnson has yet to confirm that that is the case. Far be it from me to suggest that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip is not always completely straightforward, but will the Minister share with the House specifically what the right hon. Gentleman has said to her on this matter?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady; as always, I take my hat off to her for the very practical experience that she brings to the House, given that she worked so avidly in domestic abuse refuges before she entered this place and given all the work she has done since then.

I had a confirmatory conversation only yesterday with a very senior member of the team of my right hon. Friend Boris Johnson who told me that they are delighted to support these measures and to make progress. I should say, by the way, that I have not declared for either candidate, so I am coming to this with genuinely clean hands. I feel obliged to point out that my right hon. Friend did some pretty impressive work drawing up a violence against women and girls strategy as Mayor of London, so that bodes very well. I am also conscious of the great work that the Foreign Secretary has done in his role at the Foreign Office and when he was at the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that the wishes of women are met. I have great confidence that the message from this statement will have got through loud and clear that this House will make sure that it gives as much commitment to this agenda as we all have so far.

Photo of John Woodcock John Woodcock Independent, Barrow and Furness

I pay tribute to the many campaigners who have brought us to this day, many of whom are survivors of abuse themselves, and I thank them for opening my eyes to the issue. To build on what the Minister has already said about the need for public awareness, will she commit the Government to a public awareness-raising campaign so that the men who perpetrate these crimes—an overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men—know that they face severe sanctions and, perhaps most importantly, so that the people suffering in abusive relationships know that what is happening is wrong, that there is a way out and that if they take those steps people will be there to help them, backed up by the full force of the British law?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Gentleman, who has been a strong advocate on this agenda. Through him, I also thank the survivors who I have met who perhaps do not dwell publicly on their own experiences, but whose accounts I have listened to very carefully and taken to heart.

We have already funded a campaign for teenagers called Disrespect NoBody, which we believe has had some success in spreading the message. Relationships education in schools will also very much be about teaching people what a healthy relationship looks like. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about a public awareness campaign. If I may, I will take that away and have a think about it because I do not want to make any promises that I cannot follow up with spending.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Labour, Barnsley East

I welcome today’s statement, but there was nothing in the draft Bill about employers’ duty of care to workers who are suffering domestic violence, so will the Minister look at that during the passage of the Bill?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this matter. This is an example of the non-legislative measures that we are running alongside the Bill itself. There are wonderful organisations including the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse and Hestia that the Government have funded to help on exactly this point. It is in everyone’s interests to help identify people in the workforce who may be suffering from abuse so that employers can give them time off to attend hospital appointments and perhaps to help them to set up bank accounts so that they can siphon off part of their salary and so on. It is everybody’s businesses, and it is through these initiatives that I think we will make some real change.

Photo of Melanie Onn Melanie Onn Labour, Great Grimsby

Can the Minister confirm that the Bill will consider social housing allocation and prioritisation policies to ensure that domestic abuse, including financial coercion, is taken into consideration and recognised when it comes to rehousing and debt management?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and it was a pleasure to visit a refuge in her constituency. We are very much looking at social housing as part of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government consultation. In fact, part of the Bill already deals with secure tenancies. It is a careful balancing act to ensure that we are looking at the issue on a needs basis, but I am happy to take on board the hon. Lady’s point about ensuring that victims and children get the housing they need.

Forgive me for not having raised this matter before, but there has been a lot of talk about change in mindset and awareness. Where possible, we would like the victim and children to stay in their home and the perpetrator to leave. That is where we are coming from. That is our primary aim, but of course we recognise that there will be circumstances where the victim must flee for her or his own safety.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

There is a lot to welcome in this statement. However, almost 2,000 people fleeing domestic abuse last year were able to access refuges and hostels, but not safe homes on a longer-term basis. Will the Minister meet Women’s Aid, Crisis and representatives of the all-party parliamentary groups on domestic abuse and on ending homelessness to look at how the Bill could provide the guaranteed prioritisation of long-term accommodation that everyone fleeing domestic abuse needs?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point and for his work on the all-party parliamentary group on ending homelessness. Ministers meet regularly to discuss this and other matters, but of course we would be happy to meet him and associated partners to discuss this issue. We have got to get it right. I might even meet Jess Phillips—again.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

I hardly know where to start with my appreciation for this Bill and for the cross-party consensus that has broken out. Of course, there are things that I would like to be better and the Minister knows that, but I want to draw the attention of the House to some very strange cross-party consensus, and that is between myself and Sir Desmond Swayne, who is no longer in his place.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about changing the attitudes of men. When I worked with perpetrators of domestic violence not 100 miles away from here—mostly men—we always used to worry about what would happen to the attitudes that we were working so hard to change, because even in the space between leaving the group work session and getting to the tube or bus stop, they would have been bombarded with other influences from friends, adverts, pornography and all sorts of places. I therefore reiterate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments. Has the Minister or the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Edward Argar, visited a perpetrator programme to get a view on that? I encourage all Members to do so and to join the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse.

Will the Minister also work across the House to try to spearhead a campaign that is about not just raising the general public’s awareness about being a victim, but the things that people need to change about how they behave in their own intimate relationships and men’s attitudes in particular towards sexual entitlement in relationships, which is a specific concern to me.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for yet again demonstrating the complexity of this subject area. I am very conscious of the experience that she brings to the Chamber and her work on perpetrator management. Indeed, she has helped me to understand far more about the issue than I did before taking up this role.

I very much welcome the work that Respect and other organisations do to drive these programmes forward. The hon. Lady will know that there is a range of work happening, a lot of which takes the form of pilots because we are at the forefront of discovering what helps to break the cycle of abuse and violence. However, we are very clear that the longer-term impacts for society can be fundamental. For example, the life chances of boys and girls growing up in abusive households can be very poorly affected by their childhood experiences when it comes to what they expect from their own relationships when they are older.

I have been to so many conferences with Respect and other organisations that I have to confess that I cannot quite recall whether I have been to a perpetrator programme. Believe you me, if I have not, my very efficient officials—to whom I must pay tribute because they have turned this response around in a month, which is unprecedented—will ensure that we fill that gap very quickly.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sorry but I have to make a slight correction. When I asked my question, I forgot to mention my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I used to work for Respect and for a perpetrator programme. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Lady for that point of order, clarification and apology. I am sure the House will appreciate her offering it so speedily.