[Relevant Documents: First Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, HC 2075, and the Government Response, CP 137; ninth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Domestic Abuse, HC 1015, and the Government Response, HC 2172; and written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, reported to the House on
I will call the Secretary of State for Justice in a moment to move the motion, but before I do so, and in recognition of the fact that there are no time limits on Front-Bench speeches, I will tell the House that more than 40 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. I know that colleagues will want sensitively to take account of that in framing their contributions.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am mindful of the information with which you have kindly furnished the House, Mr Speaker. You will know that historically I have been generous in accepting interventions. I will tailor my generosity today, because I want to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to take part in this landmark debate. I look around the Chamber, and in all parts, I see colleagues who have made a huge contribution to getting where we are today. We still have a long way to go, but I am pleased, encouraged and proud to see parliamentarians of all colours who have put their shoulder to the wheel to tackle the challenge that we face. It is a challenge that has been too big for too long, and the Government have consistently made clear our continued determination to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse. Legislation, including the Bill, whatever its landmark status, is only one aspect of the work that needs to be done and that we are undertaking across Government to diminish the prevalence and impact of domestic abuse, and to make it clear to the public that we have zero tolerance of abusers.
This is not just a matter for the Ministry of Justice—it is for the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department of Health and Social Care. I am glad to be supported by Ministers from all those Departments and, indeed, all of Government, as we need to put our metaphorical shoulder to the wheel. The Bill puts the needs of victims front and centre, by providing additional protections, strengthening the agencies’ response, and amplifying the voice of victims. We are determined to ensure that victims feel safe and supported, both in seeking help and in rebuilding their lives.
As the daughter of a social worker who spent her entire career working alongside children and families, supporting victims of domestic abuse, may I ask the Secretary of State to join me in thanking the hard-working social workers and, indeed, police officers who are often the first line of response, as well as charities across the country who support victims of domestic abuse?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to remind us at the get-go of the importance of a co-ordinated approach. All of us, including Members of Parliament, need to be domestic abuse-aware. We need to understand that it presents in myriad ways and myriad circumstances.
Domestic abuse is a leading cause of homelessness, and some of the most harrowing cases I have dealt with as a constituency MP have involved the difficulty faced by survivors of abuse in accessing safe, secure housing. Will the Secretary of State undertake to ensure in the Bill that survivors of domestic abuse automatically have priority need status for housing and, most importantly, that local authorities are fully and sustainably funded to deliver that obligation?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that issue, and the Bill provides an opportunity to delve into it. It is important that we outline those principles on Second Reading. In Committee, we will have an opportunity to debate the detail. I am particularly interested in the points that she made. I want to make the Bill as good as possible, and I need the help not just of colleagues in government but of all hon. Members to do that.
May I make a little progress? As I have said, I will be as generous as I can.
Can I take the House back 25 years to a case in the Crown court at Carmarthen that involved a young couple? The man was charged with assault against his wife. A young barrister had been given that case. That was me, and I remember seeing photographs of the victim’s injuries. I was 24, and not very worldly-wise. I looked at the photographs of that woman’s eyes, which were bloodshot and bruised. The police had got there in time to take photographs of the injuries—something of a rarity in those days—and I immediately thought that she had been a victim of a direct assault by punching, but I was wrong about that. She had been strangled—strangulation causes those types of injury.
The victim came to court. Frankly, I could not see what the defence was for the case, but my instructions were to plough on none the less. I saw a frightened and terrified woman having to come to this grand and rather old-fashioned court. Luckily, the judge was humane, sensible and sensitive, but there was a problem: the woman did not want to follow through and give evidence. The judge called her into court and called her to the stand because he was concerned about what was happening. He asked her to explain why she did not want to give evidence. She said that she still loved her partner, that she wanted to be with him and that she did not want to put him through the stress of a Crown court trial. With that, the case was over. He was acquitted, they went on their way, and I was left thinking, “Is that really the end?” Was it in fact just the beginning of the domestic abuse that we all recognise?
That story has haunted me all my professional life. The evidence shows that victims of domestic abuse will often have been a victim on dozens of occasions before they call the police or the authorities. Victims are suffering in silence, often for years, and we are unable to reach them.
I will give way in a moment. I have not yet finished this part of my speech.
I believe that the days of the courts approaching abuse as “just a domestic” have, happily, gone, but my goodness me, we still have a heck of a way to go. I want to give the House one statistic before I give way. In the year ending March 2018, some 2 million adults between the ages of 16 and 59 experienced domestic abuse. That is 2 million people, like the woman I was talking about, whose everyday lives are blighted by abuse and who live with the effects, be they physical or emotional. So we have a high degree of duty to them to pass this legislation.
Another aspect highlighted by the Secretary of State’s incredibly moving story is just how long the survivors of domestic abuse have been waiting for this kind of legislation. They have been waiting for 25 years, and indeed for much longer, but for the past three years, the Government have been promising to outlaw cross-examination by perpetrators of domestic violence. People have waited for so long, so will he now give a commitment that this Bill will be seen through before the House is prorogued once more? If it was not, that would be the final straw for many very vulnerable people.
I pay warm tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has been an assiduous campaigner on this issue. Domestic abuse is predominantly experienced by women, but we also know that there are many relationships in our society in which men suffer in silence. We are speaking for everybody, whatever their gender, orientation or classification. This is for everybody. On the question of the carry-over, that motion is on the Order Paper and I know that hon. Members will want to support it. This Bill will be carried over. That is an important sign of our deep commitment to this issue.
I only wish that the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s very moving story was an exception, but sadly, as he and I and many others who have practised at the criminal Bar or as solicitors will know, it is still all too common a story today. I have two quick questions that I hope he can answer. First, will this Act ensure that our police change their attitude? He is right to talk about the courts and the judiciary, but what about our police, who I fear still think of these instances as “domestics”? Secondly, will he meet me to discuss what is happening in our courts? There is now far too long a delay between complaint and trial—there is often a delay of between two and three years, and that is not fair on the victims.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. On her second point, I will meet her. On her first point, the important thing is what we do to embed the legislation, and that has to be by way of further training and seeing the operational effect of the strategy we set out and the direction that the primary legislation takes.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I, too, have seen examples like the one that he quoted, and I particularly welcome the provisions in clause 75 relating to the prohibition of cross-examination by the abusive party. As the Bill goes forward, will he and his colleagues particularly bear in mind the legitimate improvements proposed by the Law Society and others in this field? They include a proposal for the proper remuneration of, and a proper system for instructing, the representatives instructed to carry out the cross-examination, in the interests of justice. Will he also consider whether examination in chief could be included in certain circumstances—for example, when the alleged abusive party seeks to call the child of the relationship in support of their case? That, too, can cause real distress.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to talk about his experience, the issues that we can tease out in Committee and how far we need to go.
I will give way again in a moment, but I would like to make some progress.
Abuse has not only a direct impact but an impact on the wider family, and most appallingly and sadly, on children and young people, who suffer the short and long-term emotional and behavioural effects of abuse. We know that children who witness domestic abuse in the home are far more likely to experience abuse by a partner as an adult. It is therefore our role as a Government and a Parliament to do all we can to protect our children from having to suffer as a consequence of abuse, and to ensure that national and local agencies recognise and respond to their needs.
My right hon. and learned Friend is making a powerful speech and giving some amazing examples. I am sure that most of us have come across stories, perhaps sometimes in our own families, where victims do not believe that the perpetrator is at fault and instead believe that they themselves are at fault. He has mentioned physical, emotional and economic abuse. That is the crux of the problem, and the definition has been widened out. I absolutely welcome the Bill. How does he expect it to provide protection for victims and help to expose the vile perpetrators and bring them to justice?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her continuing commitment to reform and improvement in this area. The widening of the definition from “financial” to “economic” abuse captures the manipulation that can happen, not only in relation to money but in relation to other benefits and through coercive control. I am proud to have played my part as a junior Minister in ensuring that coercive control went on to the statute book as a criminal offence some years ago. We must continue to reinforce the message that abuse is not just about violence, important though that is, and that its collective impacts can change the lives of far too many victims.
I commend the Secretary of State and, in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, for the work they have been doing on this issue. On a number of occasions we have stated that we want to embed legislation that provides the best protection, and the Secretary of State will know that this Bill contains particular definitions that are unique to Northern Ireland. However, one thing we are devoid of in Northern Ireland is legislative protection from stalking. I hope that he will give thoughtful consideration during the passage of the Bill to incorporating measures to include that, whether there be a domestic connection to the stalking or not. We need that legislation for the individual victims and their families. Will he also give thoughtful consideration to the inclusion of Northern Ireland Members of this House on the Bill Committee?
On the hon. Gentleman’s last point, the business managers will have heard him loud and clear. I am keen to ensure that the Bill maintains its focus on domestic abuse. I do not pretend that we can somehow hermetically seal the issue off from other aspects of criminal behaviour and abuse, such as stalking, but I think that the best place for stalking legislation would be in a discrete piece of work. I draw his attention to the work that we did in England and Wales. I was part of the all-party parliamentary group on stalking and harassment, which campaigned and worked at pace to get stalking criminalised in England and Wales. I will give him encouragement, but I really want to ensure that this Bill is focused.
I have just returned from the Council of Europe, where members across parties, especially in the Socialist Group, expressed horror that it has taken seven years and counting for the UK to ratify the Istanbul convention. One of the critical points in ratifying the convention is the treatment of women in Northern Ireland and the fact that they do not have the protections that the Secretary of State has just suggested should not be in the Bill. The Government gave a pledge and told the Council of Europe that the Bill was about ratifying the Istanbul convention, and there is a motion of recommendation about the convention in the UK right now at the Council of Europe. Can he give an assurance that he will not leave the women of Northern Ireland out of the Istanbul convention, let alone the migrant women in this country who also need us to put the legislation together?
The hon. Lady makes an important point about the Istanbul convention, and of course we passed domestic legislation about that. I want to make sure that every aspect of the convention is underpinned in domestic law throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I am simply saying, as a legislator and someone who wants to make sure that we get the Bill in the best possible position, that we need to make sure we get the issues in the right vehicle. If it is the will of the House that the Bill is the right vehicle, that will of course be respected, but I think I am entitled to make that point about what I regard as the real focus of the Bill. I speak as someone who has actively and enthusiastically supported the criminalisation of stalking— as has she—for many years.
I urge the Secretary of State to reconsider this point. We have a Bill before us and the opportunity to address the issue of stalking. There is considerable overlap: many cases that may begin as domestic abuse become terrible cases of stalking when the relationship splits up. There are serial perpetrators of violence and abuse who in some cases are involved in domestic abuse and in others in stalking.
Of course, and the right hon. Lady makes an important point. She will know that my decision to extend the unduly lenient sentence scheme to cover stalking offences reinforces my personal commitment and my deep understanding of the link between stalking and obsessional behaviour and the commission of sexual offences, offences of violence or homicide. I absolutely get that, but it is right that we tease out those issues in Committee and look at them again on Report. If it is the will of the House, we will of course do it.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work on this important issue and on getting that legislation through Parliament. I will make sure that that information is furnished to her in the course of the debate. Of course, we are brilliantly served by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, and she will respond to the debate.
We have talked about the moral case for pursuing this issue, but there is also an economic case—a case of financial responsibility. Research has established that the cost of domestic abuse was approximately £66 billion for victims in England and Wales in the year ending March 2017. The biggest component of that cost is the physical and emotional harm incurred by them, but the cost to our economy and our health service is also considerable. Domestic abuse makes up one third of all violent crime reported to the police. The case for removal is clear, but the challenge is not easy. The dynamics are complex and mean that much domestic abuse is hidden. Victims face significant barriers in seeking help and difficulties in escaping from an abusive relationship. That is why we need a cross-Government, multi-pronged approach to tackling it. The Bill is not only part of that approach but demonstrates the breadth of our ambition in showing strong leadership and taking decisive action to help to end the suffering and harm.
May I say how much I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to taking a zero-tolerance approach to domestic violence and to sticking up for the victims? Following his welcome speech at the Conservative party conference this week in which he pledged to end automatic early release of certain prisoners, can he confirm that people who commit violence as part of domestic abuse will be included, and they will no longer be eligible for release halfway through their prison sentence?
Yes, I can. People convicted of offences with a domestic element will often be convicted of the most serious violent and indeed sexual offences. Under my proposals, automatic release will therefore apply at two thirds, rather than one half of the sentence. I have furnished the House with a written ministerial statement on that.
Sexual exploitation is one of the most heinous forms of abuse that can be perpetrated in domestic situations. That is when the victim is coerced and forced to perform sex acts in return for money, accommodation, employment, services or goods. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is vital that the Bill explicitly recognises sexual exploitation as a form of domestic abuse?
The hon. Gentleman is right, and the definition does that. I look forward to more detailed debate to see how fully we can reflect the important point that he makes.
The Secretary of State will recognise that there is an interesting situation between England and Wales. This legislation will apply to England and Wales, but Wales has its own legislature and legislated in this area in 2015. Will he make a commitment to me that Wales will be properly represented on all the scrutiny and advisory boards affected by the Bill, including the answerability of the commissioner for domestic abuse?
The right hon. Lady was of course part of the Joint Committee and has an impressive track record on this issue. I have very much appreciated the work that we have done together on these issues. I can give her that assurance. It is clear that all parts of the joint jurisdiction need to be adequately represented.
The Joint Committee was chaired by my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, who did a wonderful and important job. I want to put on record my thanks to her and all the other members for what they have done. The Government have taken on board many of the Committee’s helpful recommendations, and the Bill is better as a result of its work. I am conscious that we have yet to respond to a small number of recommendations, but we will provide an update during consideration of the Bill in Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend has been characteristically generous in giving way. I welcome the establishment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner. There is no doubt that the Bill is important and vital, and will sail through the House, but I am concerned that people will abuse our well-meaning intentions, and I do not want to see people being able to get different answers in different parts of the country. Does he agree that the commissioner will make that less possible?
My hon. Friend is right to hail the appointment of the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner. We thought we should not wait for the Bill to go through both Houses, because we thought that the job was too urgent and too important. We have appointed a designate commissioner, but it is very much our hope that the House will support the appointment by passing the necessary legislation.
I am sure all hon. Members welcome the Government’s commitment to end economic abuse and to enable partners who are victimised to leave the relationship. I note that the Secretary of State did not include the Department for Work and Pensions in his list of Departments to work with. Does he share the concern of the Work and Pensions Committee at all the evidence we have received from charities that shows people are simply not able to leave violent relationships due to the benefits system? Will he commit to addressing that?
The hon. Lady rightly upbraids me, and I apologise. It is important and good that we now have domestic abuse advisers in every jobcentre, who can really help signpost and give support to people who are in abusive relationships. It is right to say that about 60% of claims are made by the primary carer, which will often be a woman, but in a number of cases individuals are trapped in a position of dependence. I hope that the Bill will be an opportunity for us to do more work on that.
I hope the Secretary of State has seen the work that has been done in Drake Hall women’s prison, which has shown that about two thirds of women prisoners—those who have been screened— have had a major traumatic brain injury or a history of it. Two thirds of those injuries happened prior to their first offending behaviour and were as a result of domestic violence. So would it not make sense, first, if we screened every woman prisoner before she arrived in prison to make sure that she had the right support, and, secondly, if we made sure that every woman who had potentially suffered from domestic violence was given the neuro-rehabilitation that she needs to make sure that she gets over the physical trauma?
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point—one with which I am familiar—about the cycle of abuse and then criminality. Women whom I have met in Eastwood Park recently were in a similar position, particularly women from south Wales. I could talk about individual meetings I have had with women prisoners, but the simple truth is that I get the point about acquired brain injury and we want to do more about it. Again, drawing that out in the debate will be really helpful for the Government.
May I just move on to deal with the provisions in the Bill? I will be as generous as possible in taking interventions.
As we know, the Bill introduces the first all-purpose statutory definition of domestic abuse. Why? It is because we need to do even more to raise awareness of this crime and tackle it more effectively. There needs to be a common understanding, because the outdated perception about violent crime, ranging from common assault through to more serious offences, does not understand the true nature of domestic abuse. It ignores the insidious, controlling or coercive behaviour, and the psychological abuse that, bit by bit, changes what may start as a loving and equal relationship into one that is completely unequal and controlling, where, without the victim realising it, they are turned into somebody who is being abused.
I commend the right hon. and learned Gentleman on his passionate commitment and speech. The Bill contains many important provisions. It is important to recognise that in Scotland we have a gold standard, and that this Bill is primarily about England and Wales, but one area on which we have not been able to legislate in Scotland has been concerning migrant women having no recourse to public funds. Does he recognise that there is a failing in the Bill and that much more needs to be done to protect migrant women who have no recourse to public funds?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that matter. Of course that issue is subject to a current review. I do not just want to park it there, as an excuse to do nothing, as we are looking at it carefully and it may well be that we can take action other than via primary legislation.
While I remember, let me answer the point made by Dr Wollaston: the proposal is to bring the law she mentioned into force early next year. We are talking about a matter of a few months. I know she will hold me to “early” meaning truly early, as opposed to civil service-speak. I get that, with respect to the wonderful civil servants who serve this Government well and who are dedicated and working hard to eradicate domestic abuse.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for making such a passionate speech. Does he agree that a mother of two children fleeing domestic abuse should not be living in a one-bedroom hostel for more than a year? Women who have experienced domestic violence need priority housing, and reasons such as I have mentioned force some women to remain with their abusers.
The hon. Lady is right about that. I am very hopeful that this Bill will allow us to tease out these issues and address the issue of secure accommodation for victims in abusive relationships. I will take a moment to pay tribute to the network of organisations such as Swindon Women’s Aid, in my constituency, which provides a gold standard service. She would agree that this is about not just the accommodation, but the wraparound support that women need—the advice, counselling and trauma counselling—to try to rebuild their lives. She is right to talk about the effect on the children of the relationship, too.
May I move on to deal with some other provisions in the Bill? I want to talk about the concept of financial abuse, which we have dealt with in interventions. I want the new definition to be used by service providers, justice agencies and schools, and promoted to the public at large, so that finally we have a shared understanding of the nature of this abuse. Only then can we really identify, challenge and respond to it. We have already heralded the appointment of Nicole Jacobs as our designated Domestic Abuse Commissioner. This Bill will put that post on a statutory footing. We will ensure that she has the necessary powers to drive this change, so that public bodies such as local authorities, NHS bodies and justice agencies will be under a duty to co-operate with the commissioner. They and Ministers will be required to make a timely response to each and every recommendation made.
I, too, served on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. One of our recommendations was that the post of Domestic Abuse Commissioner should not be part-time—it needs to be full-time. All the evidence we heard was that there was plenty of work to do. Will the Minister reassure us that it will now be a full-time post?
Yes, the hon. Lady makes a very proper point. We wanted to get this moving now and get it in place so that the work could begin. I want to see and fully expect the post to become full-time, certainly after it is embedded in law, so I can give her that assurance.
Let me say how powerful it is in this place to have such strong consensus on this important Bill, which focuses on England and Wales. Research shows that domestic abuse can last up to 25% longer in rural areas, as there are more complex obstacles to people exiting these situations and the police resources are spread over a vaster geographical area. Will the Minister therefore confirm that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner will have a renewed focus on rural areas, in order to ensure parity?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes a new and important point in this debate, which I readily take on board. The police and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire has been doing an important piece of work on the understanding of rural domestic abuse, the delay involved in that and all the points that my hon. Friend makes.
Victims of domestic abuse—
May I just press on for a moment? Victims of domestic abuse just want it to stop. They do not want to live in constant fear in their own home or to be forced to flee to a place of safety. That is why civil protection orders play such an important role in providing protection to victims and their children, but at the moment we have a rather confusing landscape, with non-molestation orders, restraining orders and domestic violence protection orders. Each of those is available in different circumstances. They do different things and they have different consequences where the order is breached. Victims are not well served by that plethora. In recognition of that, the Bill provides for a new go-to domestic abuse protection notice and the domestic abuse protection order. I hate acronyms but I will call it a DAPO on this occasion. The notice will give victims immediate protection following a crisis incident. It will be issued by the police—
I had better make a good point now! The Minister has been making a powerful speech, and I welcome this Bill, but I have to reiterate the point about migrant women. Leaders of the non-governmental organisation Liberty argue that migrant women face an “impossible” situation
“where they are forced to choose between the risk of detention/deportation or staying in a situation of violence.”
So I ask the Minister, once again: where is the support? The Bill is welcome in the most part, but it clearly is a missed opportunity to create an intergovernmental strategy to support migrant women who are at risk of abuse. Does he agree that all of us should work together to develop a framework of support in Committee? Will he commit to that?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s persistence, because it has resulted in an important point. I assure her that the review is not just an internal review; it involves the sort of agencies that she and I would want to be involved. Not only the review, but this Bill and the debates we can have in Committee can help us to get to a situation where we are providing the appropriate support for all victims, including migrant women. I thank her for her intervention.
May I make some progress? With the greatest respect to my colleagues, I shall finish the point about what the new DAPO will mean. It will be issued by the police. It may, for example, require the perpetrator to leave the home of the victim for up to 48 hours, and the issue of that notice will then trigger a police application to a magistrates court for a longer-term DAPO to protect the victim.
Of course, it will not always be the case that a single incident necessitates the issuing of a notice. That being the case, the Bill also allows for a victim, the police or any other person, with the permission of the court, to apply for one of these orders, and it would also be open to a judge or magistrate to decide for themselves to make a DAPO as a corollary to existing proceedings in the criminal, civil or family court. So, this is a fully flexible instrument. It can be tailored by the court to meet the needs of the individual victim, and it would be for the courts then to determine its length, or indeed to decide that it should be open-ended until such time as a further order was made. Really importantly, the court will be able to attach not just restrictions but positive requirements. For example, an order could prohibit the perpetrator from contacting the victim, require that perpetrator to attend a behavioural change programme and compel them to wear an electronic tag to monitor compliance with an exclusion zone around the victim’s home. Crucially, breach of that order will be a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
I take the opportunity to welcome the tone that is being struck this afternoon. That is incredibly important.
On the point that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making about DAPOs, we already have a system whereby if a person is convicted of a domestic abuse crime, there is a possibility that there will be a light sentence; they could end up with a suspended sentence. That is what happened in the case of a constituent of mine—the perpetrator got a suspended sentence. Processes were put in place to ensure that the perpetrator did not repeatedly harass or contact the victim, but nevertheless that continued, and there was no action, despite those breaches of conditions, to re-arrest the perpetrator. So what confidence can victims have that the new process will be any better than the present one?
The hon. Lady has given a powerful illustration of the importance of this order, because it can be run alongside a criminal conviction. So even if there is a suspended sentence, as in the case that she cited, an order can be passed—a DAPO—that will have its own criminal consequences. It gives that extra strength, that extra purchase, not just to the authorities but to the victim, to know that there is a mechanism by which the perpetrator can be held to account if they breach the terms. With respect, I think this is an important additional element, but I bear what the hon. Lady says very much in mind.
I want to ensure that we get these new orders right, so we need to make the whole process as simple as possible for victims, and also for the police and others when navigating it. I want these new orders to be effective in changing abusive behaviour and protecting victims. We shall pilot these provisions, therefore, in a small number of areas before rolling them out nationally, so that issues of the sort that the hon. Lady and others have raised can be ironed out and dealt with, to make the provisions as effective as possible. The worst thing to do in these circumstances—we have all been here before as legislators—is to talk nobly and grandly about our intentions, pass the legislation and then find that nothing has changed. When we do so, all we have done is to raise victims’ expectations, only to cruelly let them down. We are all responsible for that, so let us get this right.
If we are to strengthen the protection afforded to victims, we need to employ more measures to keep them safe. So, in addition to the DAPOs, the Bill seeks to build on two other preventive tools: the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which we all know as Clare’s law; and the polygraph testing of high-harm perpetrators.
Clare’s law has been in operation for over five years and I can see many Members—myself included—who campaigned very hard as Back Benchers to get that moving and to make a difference. It has been a success. Just to remind the House, the scheme has two elements: the right to ask and the right to know.
The right to ask allows an individual—or a relevant third party, such as a family member—to ask the police to check whether a partner, or ex-partner, has had a violent or abusive past. If police records show that an individual might be at risk of domestic abuse from their partner or ex-partner, the police can consider the disclosure of relevant information.
Under the right to know, the police may proactively decide to disclose information to keep a potential victim safe. In the year to March 2018, there were over 5,500 disclosures under that scheme—a welcome and encouraging statistic. However, I am clear, and the police accept this, that Clare’s law does not always operate as well as it should, which is why the Bill puts the guidance underpinning the scheme on a statutory footing, and places a duty on police forces to have regard to that guidance. We believe that will help to raise awareness of the scheme, increase the number of disclosures and ensure greater consistency across England and Wales.
I acknowledge that, in contrast to the rest of the Bill, there has been a degree of scepticism about polygraph testing, including from the Joint Committee, but I can assure the House that it is not a panacea—it is not a gimmick; it is a genuine attempt better to protect victims. I will tell the House why. It has been used successfully in the management of sexual offenders for the past six years. In that context, it has been shown conclusively that polygraph examinations provide useful information—useful intelligence—including what is disclosed by the offender, to help those responsible for supervision better to manage the risk of reoffending.
Given that evidence, I suggest that we at least test whether there are similar benefits to be secured in the management of high-risk domestic abuse offenders. To that end, the Bill allows the National Probation Service to conduct a three-year pilot among that cohort and, if successful, to roll the scheme out.
I do not want to remind the Minister, but in that by-election he actually lost his deposit, so I am amazed that the Conservative party allowed him to stand again. We have known each other a long time; we served together on the Justice Committee, where he showed that he was an extremely talented member of the Committee, and I am not surprised he has reached Cabinet level. However, he knows that when we served on that Committee we had major doubts about the technology of polygraph testing, and other Government Committees have noted problems with IT. IT is a problem of Government. Is he confident that the technology will provide for this type of Bill?
I am grateful. I do not know whether that was a compliment, but I will take it as such. I am very glad to see the hon. Gentleman in his place, representing that wonderful part of Gwent, where perhaps one day the electorate will take a different view—who knows? I hope not for a long time—[Interruption.] I was speaking on a personal basis.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about polygraph testing. I assure him, first, that this is a pilot; and, secondly, that this is not an attempt to use it as evidence. Clearly, there needs to be a high bar for the admissibility of evidence in criminal or family or civil proceedings. This measure is all about getting the sort of information—intelligence—that can help the police and other agencies to assess risk. Material of that sort can be invaluable and really make the difference for many victims.
Where prevention and protection has failed, some victims will seek remedies before the courts. I recognise that we must do better. In criminal proceedings against an alleged perpetrator, we want victims to be able to give their very best evidence to help convict the guilty. Giving evidence, as I said, can be a daunting, traumatic experience—and often a barrier—so there is already provision for what are termed “special measures”. It has been in legislation for 20 years. Those measures are designed to take some of the stress out of that process. If the quality of a victim’s evidence can be improved by allowing them to give evidence from behind a screen or via video link, or by playing a pre-recorded interview, we should do everything we can to allow that. The Bill, importantly, ensures that the victims of domestic abuse—the complainants in the trial—are automatically eligible for such special measures.
Few things are likely to re-traumatise victims more than being subject to direct cross-examination by their abuser in legal proceedings. Such an experience will inevitably cause immense stress, and would of itself be a continuation of the abuse.
I am so grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I congratulate him on making a powerful speech.
The issue of coercive control is highly complex, and such control can trap victims in debilitating and isolating fear. Sadly, friends of mine who have been victims of coercive control talk of almost being taken psychologically hostage by an abusive former partner. Does the Secretary of State agree that the hope is that the Bill would not only change the law for the better—although we still need to scrutinise it, however widespread the support is—but would change behaviour as well, and encourage women who are victims of coercive control to know that it is not right?
My hon. Friend has coined a very powerful phrase—psychological hostage—which is the right characterisation of the relationship he describes. I welcome his support and observations, and I am truly grateful to him.
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend and I congratulate him on the way in which he is making the case for this very important Bill.
My right hon. and learned Friend has talked about the confidence that we need to give domestic abuse victims in the experience they are likely to have within the criminal justice system. He is right to highlight special measures, and I know he will also talk about preventing defendants from cross-examining complainants.
In relation to special measures, may I ask him to consider something that he and I know has worked well elsewhere—not just pre-recorded examination in chief but pre-recorded cross-examination? The benefit, as we know, is not just the complainant’s ability to get their part in the case out of the way altogether—dealing with the point about delay that Anna Soubry made—but that it very often causes the defendant to recognise the position that he, and it often is he, is in and to plead guilty early.
My right hon. and learned Friend speaks with immense experience. He is absolutely right about what we call the section 28 roll-out, which proved in the pilot to be a really successful scheme whereby victims of sexual abuse—child victims—are both examined in chief and cross-examined on video. It is an immensely sensible use of resources. It saves time for the victims. It is all done much more quickly and, as he said, it often leads to a much more sensible resolution in terms of the admission of guilt.
I am very interested in taking that concept further. That does require discussions about resource, and requires me to consult fully with the Lord Chief Justice and the judiciary, as I am constitutionally obliged to do, on its impact. I will obviously have further discussions on that matter and I will discuss it with him and other hon. and right hon. Members who have both a knowledge of and a commitment to this important issue.
Stella Creasy mentioned the Istanbul convention and made a very proper point about the need to fill the gaps, which is why it is important not only to emphasise what the Bill is already doing but to remind ourselves what the convention requires us to do. We have to criminalise psychological violence and to take extraterritorial jurisdiction over that and certain other violent and sexual offences. This Bill, of course, gives effect to that.
I am incredibly grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning honour crime, which, of course, takes many forms. I have dealt with it myself in the context of other types of offending. The ETJ will, of course, extend to offences of sexual violence, and if this Bill does not do that, then, frankly, we need to ensure that it is as watertight as possible. Again, we can look in detail at those provisions in Committee.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. The Istanbul convention is not just about extraterritorial powers but about the provision that we make for survivors in this country. If we are signatories, it means that we give extra care to people who return having experienced abuse abroad. Will he make sure that we sign the Istanbul convention so that we can provide adequate support for victims in this country?
The hon. Lady is right to remind us of the wider implications of the Istanbul convention. Much of that provision will have to be done as a matter of operation, but, again, this Bill gives us an opportunity to set the framework correctly.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I welcome both his comments and the fact that some of the Bill’s provisions extend to Northern Ireland. The situation in Northern Ireland is stark. Figures released in 2017 and promoted by Women’s Aid in Northern Ireland, which does fantastic work, showed that by head of the population deaths among women was the joint highest in the entire European Union. In 2018, a domestic abuse call was made once every 17 minutes. Our law is very much falling behind what is happening in England and Wales.
Will the Secretary of State engage with me and my colleagues on what other provisions could be extended to Northern Ireland to offer that much-needed protection for women—and for men and others—who are impacted by this? I ask that because of the importance of this issue and because of the absence of a Northern Ireland Assembly.
The hon. Lady makes a very powerful case for making sure that we use this Bill as an opportunity to extend as much protection as possible to domestic abuse victims throughout the length and breadth of our country. Scots law and my friends in Scotland have been dealing with this at length. Where it is appropriate to legislate, this House has the opportunity to act.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend very much for giving way. It was a huge pleasure and privilege to serve as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, with all work that she did over many, many months, which is why I am delighted to see the Bill progress today.
No one who listened to Sally Challen be interviewed on the radio the other day can fail to appreciate how important this Bill is. We are talking about resource and about costs that will come with the Bill, but does he recognise that, currently, the cost of domestic abuse is £66 million a year—as of 2017—so if resource has to be put into the system it must be done?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to remind us of the economic as well as the moral cost of domestic abuse, and the Sally Challen case is one that will live with all of us as an example. Carolyn Harris and I have spoken about it at length. I look forward to her contribution because, although we are political opponents, we are also friends. Working together on issues such as this, we can show that, as friends, we can make that change.
The Government are absolutely determined not just to stamp out this crime but to provide better support for victims and their families. We have shown in our response to the pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposals that we are open to means of strengthening this Bill. Indeed, we expect to bring forward some proposals of our own. Before the summer, we made it clear that, subject to the outcome of the then open consultation, we would bring amendments to the Bill to place new duties on first-tier local authorities with regard to the support services to victims and their children in secure accommodation. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is currently considering more than 400 responses to that consultation, but it remains our intention to bring forward appropriate provision to enshrine those duties in law and to provide the necessary funding to do so.
I am very grateful to the Lord Chancellor for giving way. We have in Lambeth among the highest rates of domestic violence in the country, so I very much welcome the introduction of this duty on local authorities. Does he recognise that it is vital that coupled with that duty is a Government commitment to help to provide the sustainable funding for specialist services that is needed? Secondly, does he recognise that the provision of those services should not be done through competitive tendering, which is squeezing out many of the specialist service providers?
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, because he makes an important point about the way tendering is administered. I certainly want to make sure that the probation reforms unlock the genius of the small organisations that can really make a difference, but there is a read-across to the way in which we provide victim services. I am taking a keen interest the commissioning of those services. Police and crime commissioners clearly have a role, but I want fully to understand and work out the mix of the miasma that faces small organisations making those bids, so I take his point very much on board.
Services such as Survive in York, which provides trauma support to victims of domestic violence, are seriously under-resourced. It is crucial that the Bill gets trauma support services right, particularly mental health and psychological support services. How will the Lord Chancellor ensure that these services are properly funded as well as provided?
The hon. Lady draws together all the issues in her local community. The various agencies, including police and crime commissioners, have a part to play. I want to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner helps to provide a focus on where the gaps are and where things are going wrong, but my hope is that this overarching legislation can provide a framework within which we can get the greater consistency that the hon. Lady and I rightly want.
No one should have to face violence or abuse from their partner or any other family member. Millions are experiencing it, and we owe it to each and every one of those affected to do all we can to protect and to support them, to put an end to domestic abuse, and to bring offenders to justice. It might be 25 years since the case I mentioned at the start of my speech, but the fact that it lives with me—a mere observer—means that the experience is magnified 100-fold for those who have experienced the physical and emotional consequences of domestic abuse. We owe it to all those millions of people who suffer in silence to do something about it, and to do it now.
Let me take this opportunity to thank the Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, for the productive way in which we have managed to work together on this Bill to date. May I also say that, as a proud Welsh woman, I am delighted that most of the Front-Bench speeches today will be delivered by a Member with a Welsh accent?
Like many colleagues across the House, organisations throughout the sector and—most importantly—victims and survivors of domestic abuse, I am delighted that I am stood here today for the Second Reading of this long-awaited and desperately needed Bill. None of us can deny the utter chaos that has prevailed in this place in recent weeks. The Prime Minister’s political game playing very nearly cost us this Bill. Less than a week before Parliament was suspended, the Prime Minister said in response to my hon. Friend Jess Phillips that he would ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill received “proper consideration” and was “rolled over”. Despite that, and while domestic violence-related homicides in the UK hit a five-year high last year, the Prime Minister went back on his word and blatantly allowed the Bill to drop, alongside a dozen other important pieces of legislation. But thankfully Lady Hale ruled last week that the Prorogation of Parliament was unlawful, and we rightly found ourselves back here with the Domestic Abuse Bill firmly back on the agenda. It was very much a case that Hale saved the day and the Bill.
We cannot afford any more hold-ups. Time is not a luxury that victims of domestic abuse have. Every delay in getting this legislation through is critical. I was encouraged by last month’s announcement that Nicole Jacobs had been appointed as the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, but I do have grave concerns—also mentioned by hon. Friends—that the role is only part-time. I sincerely hope that the introduction of new legislation through this Bill will change that. If the commissioner is going to successfully deliver a whole-society response and radically improve the UK’s approach to domestic violence, a part-time position is just not viable.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. A constituent of mine came to me having left her abusive partner after many years. She did not go to a refuge, but instead went to stay with friends and family. She could not afford a lawyer, so she did not contest her divorce. She now finds herself homeless without any priority for housing and will potentially lose the house that her ex-partner is selling. Will this Bill help to provide the holistic approach that can support victims such as my constituent?
I will talk about housing later in my speech, as it is an issue that is very important to the Labour party.
This is our golden opportunity as parliamentarians to transform the domestic abuse agenda in this country. We have a duty to survivors, victims and their dependants —and to generations to come—to get this right.
I thank my hon. Friend for the amazing work that she has been doing in this field; she is one of our champions for victims of domestic abuse.
One of the things that has always been missing is the relationships education so that young people understand that abusive relationships often do not start with the first slap or the first thump. They can start with criticism, undermining and isolation—with perpetrators moving people away from their support network, and causing them to lack belief in themselves and believe that they have created the violence that is inflicted on them. Do we not need to tackle that problem, as well as addressing the issue when it gets to the point at which people report the crime?
I could not agree more. This is something that we all see every day when we talk to people who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence. In many cases, it is learned behaviour and we really need to look at that.
As it stands, although there are some welcome and vital changes in the Bill, it is too narrow. There are many areas that are crying out for wider scope. I hope that this can and will be addressed and incorporated through amendments in Committee.
I just want to make a little progress.
We have volumes of data relating to victims of domestic abuse, but at present this only accounts for those aged 74 and under, even though we know that domestic abuse has no age limit. Older people must have their rights protected too, and the Bill needs to recognise that. Statistics consistently demonstrate that the vast majority of domestic abuse victims are women and the vast majority of perpetrators are men, but we know that there are no barriers. Anyone—regardless of sex, sexual orientation, age or race—can be a victim or a perpetrator, so we must ensure that service and funding provision is appropriately proportioned.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the vital work that the Domestic Abuse Safety Unit in Shotton has been doing for many years. I have been there and have heard harrowing stories. To echo her point, so many people say that they have put up with this sort of behaviour for five, 10 or 20 years when asked, “How long had this gone on before you reached this stage?” We need to ensure that these centres are getting the finance they need to carry on with this vital work.
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point; I wholeheartedly agree with his sentiments.
The Bill needs to include a legal duty to fund a national network of accommodation-based domestic abuse services as a matter of priority, to meet the needs of all survivors and, very importantly, their children. The protection and provision of support for children who experience domestic abuse—either as witnesses or as victims themselves—also need to be consistently included in every aspect of the Bill.
Women’s Aid organisations, such as Lighthouse Women’s Aid in my constituency, are doing good work but have to survive hand to mouth, relying on money from lottery funding. Does my hon. Friend agree that this makes it extremely difficult for them to employ and retain the staff they need, with the experience and training to give proper counselling to women?
I do agree. I also join my hon. Friend in congratulating those organisations. I have yet to meet an organisation that deals with this issue that has not done excellent work, and all struggle for every penny they are able to get from wherever. They truly deserve our praise.
My hon. Friend is making an important and powerful speech. Does she believe that the Bill will do enough to support the role of schools in the lives of families? I know the amount of work that goes on in many schools in my constituency to support parents and children when there is domestic abuse at home. One primary school has told me that it suspects about five children in one class are subject to domestic violence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and later I will talk about a scheme that helps in that situation.
The protection and provision of support for children who experience domestic abuse—I am repeating myself. I have already read that bit, so we will scrap that, thank you very much. [Laughter.] That is the Welsh in me; never ashamed to say when we are wrong.
As well as ensuring access to support services, the Bill needs to legislate for those children and ensure protected places in all NHS waiting lists, as well as priority access to school places when they are forced to move to a new area to escape domestic abuse. There is already good practice in our communities that has been established to cater for the needs of children experiencing domestic abuse.
Does the hon. Lady agree that we need to protect those survivors of domestic abuse not just when they are children but throughout their lives? We need some means of following them and taking a holistic approach, because domestic abuse affects their mental and general health as they grow.
It certainly does and I think we all recognise, as I said previously, that experience and learnt behaviour can cause perpetrators of the future.
I am going to make progress.
Operation Encompass, which is an excellent example of what we are doing in communities, was set up to enable police forces and schools to confidentially and quickly share information about vulnerable children who need support and safeguarding.
I thank my hon. Friend for the passionate case that she is outlining. One of my local forces, Gwent police, have played a considerable role in pioneering Operation Encompass. Will she join me in congratulating and thanking not only Gwent police but forces across the country for the important work that they have done in rolling out that initiative?
I am delighted to congratulate Gwent police. On Monday, my hon. Friend Tonia Antoniazzi and I visited the Liberty stadium in my constituency, where South Wales police launched their Operation Encompass. I pay particular tribute to Russell Dwyer, the head of St Thomas Primary School, who was a pioneer in ensuring that it came to Swansea.
I am going to make progress.
We need to secure better outcomes for child victims of domestic abuse. The only way that we will do that is by ensuring that such initiatives are available throughout the country. The Bill also needs to legislate to improve the experiences of survivors and their children in the family courts. Contact arrangements must be based on the child’s best interests, and parental contact should not be automatic, especially where there is evidence that the child could be at risk.
A constituent of mine is desperately trying to prepare her child after a court order stated, against the child’s wishes and the recommendations of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, that he must spend half his school holidays with his father. In order to support her son, she has put in place resilience counselling through the school, but the father has refused his son this help to support their contact. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that parental rights are being used against children in a way that has a negative impact on their wellbeing?
I thank my hon. Friend. We have worked closely on many cases where children have been put at risk by being allowed access to potentially, if not very, dangerous parents. That is something that I feel passionately about. I believe we need a complete overhaul to ensure that the courts are prioritising the victims, not the perpetrators.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for giving way. She mentioned the family courts. A prominent campaigner against the injustice that domestic abuse victims face in the family courts is Rachel Williams, who recently organised the Stand up to Domestic Abuse conference in Newport, which my hon. Friend and I both attended. Will she join me in paying tribute to campaigners and survivors such as Rachel whose courage in speaking out make a real difference to legislation such as this?
Never not give way to a Whip—I have learnt that much since I have been here, and it always helps when it is a Whip with a Welsh accent. As I had a chair at the conference and my hon. Friend did not, I will certainly agree with her and say that Rachel is an absolute inspiration and someone we should all look up to.
Does she agree that, in order to protect children, we need to include them in the statutory definition of domestic abuse victims and that it is disappointing that the Bill currently does not do that?
I agree that we need to look at the definition and the impact on children. That is something that we can look at closely in Committee, and we would welcome amendments guided in that direction.
It is not just the courts that we need to look at; we also need to look at housing, which is another thing that currently allows perpetrators to control their victims. In cases of joint tenancy, only one tenant needs to end the lease, effectively allowing abusers to leave their victims homeless. The Bill needs to adopt changes to that law that would require both parties to end the tenancy and, in cases where perpetrators are convicted of domestic violence, automatically transfer the tenancy to the name of the victim. For victims who leave their accommodation by choice due to violence, the Bill needs to legislate to ensure that they automatically become a priority need for housing, irrespective of whether they have moved to emergency refuge accommodation.
My hon. Friend is making an important point, which I welcome. I have had a couple of cases in surgery of people in that very situation, whether in a housing association or whatever, who cannot get out and who are struggling because of the threat they face every day from having to stay in the same place. I very much endorse what my hon. Friend is saying and would like to hear more.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about housing. We have grave concerns about the housing of victims, which is another issue that we will pursue in Committee.
Reforms are also needed in the benefits system to ensure that survivors do not suffer further financially when escaping domestic abuse. The introduction of separate universal credit payments by default and the abolition of the five-week payment delay for all survivors will prevent abusers from using the welfare system as a means of continued economic abuse.
I thank my hon. Friend. Does she agree that the victim should be central to making decisions about housing? In Bradford, Staying Put will go in and change the locks at no financial cost to the victim and support them in obtaining injunctions and non-molestation orders, so that the victim feels empowered and the process is centred around them.
Without question, the victim is central and we need to look closely at that.
We also need to see changes in relation to migrant women and the economic abuse that they experience due to having no recourse to public funds—a situation that often leaves them in violent and dangerous relationships, as they simply cannot afford to leave. The Bill must change the legislation to ensure that all migrant victims are eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain irrespective of the visa that they are residing here on. The law must allow them to apply immediately for access to public funds under the destitute domestic violence concession and permit up to six months for their application for indefinite leave to remain to be submitted under the domestic violence rule.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly important point. Is it not also worth putting on record that, if we wish to ratify the Istanbul convention, we have to make sure that this legislation covers the rights of migrant women, as well as the rights of women in Northern Ireland, and has a gendered definition of domestic violence? Without those, we will not be able to say that we have ratified and, after seven years, I know that the Council of Europe will want to know why we have not.
That was a very powerful point from a well-known champion on such issues who has now taken the opportunity to put those sentiments on record.
I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend talk about migrant women. I represent a very diverse constituency and domestic abuse is a very significant problem among that community. Will she join me in paying tribute to Welsh Women’s Aid in my constituency, who provide so much help both to migrant women and women in south Wales?
I have no problem in congratulating Welsh Women’s Aid. I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Support must be available to all victims and survivors of domestic abuse, with no restriction due to immigration status. Safe reporting systems need to be introduced to allow victims to report abuse to police and other authorities without fear of immigration enforcement.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way; she is making a powerful speech. I would like to go back to the reference that was made to women in Northern Ireland. She and her colleagues will be well aware that we have not had a functioning Assembly in Northern Ireland for over two and a half years, since January 2017, so we have no Health Minister and no Justice Minister. Would the Labour party give a clear commitment to join the Government, if we have no Assembly up and running again in the near future, to extend this much-needed legislation to Northern Ireland to protect women—and, indeed, some men—from domestic abuse in Northern Ireland? That would be a very valuable commitment from both sides of the House today.
The hon. Lady will know of my commitment to legislation in Northern Ireland—I spoke this week on children’s funerals and gambling—and I would very much like to see the Assembly reconvened. Women everywhere—victims everywhere—need to be guaranteed every protection that we can offer them.
I have very real concerns about migrant victims when we eventually leave the EU. Under the EU settlement scheme, European citizens and their families will need to apply to secure their status in the UK. Survivors of domestic abuse are at particular risk of being left out of this by abusive partners in a bid to control and isolate them. The Government must ensure that legislation is in place to support these victims, allowing them to apply even after the deadline has passed in order to prevent a situation where survivors are forced to choose between staying with their abuser or being illegally resident in the UK. The Home Affairs Committee has already highlighted this scheme as running the risk of becoming another Windrush. We must ensure that the Bill gets it right in order to prevent that.
The Bill is vital legislation that will help some of the most vulnerable in our communities and undoubtedly save lives. Home should be a place of comfort, love and stability but, for an estimated 2 million adults, and very many children, it is anything but: it is a place of fear that brings with it pain and devastation. This is our opportunity to rectify that. The Government must ensure that they not only make the changes to the law but back it up with the necessary resources and funding.
Getting to this point today has been a rough ride, and there were times when many of us thought we would never see it happen, but we all recognise that this is our optimum opportunity to change the future for domestic violence survivors and their families. We must all commit to making the changes, funding the services and reducing the tragic consequences we are currently witnessing. We desperately need this legislation to be comprehensive, robust and fully funded so that we can start punishing the perpetrators and prioritising the victims. This Bill will go down in history as landmark legislation. Let us make it a Bill that we can all be proud of.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I am pleased that my first speech on my return to the Back Benches should be on this topic—a topic on which I have worked both in opposition and in government. It is an issue on which I am pleased to say that the Government of which I was a member, both as Home Secretary and Prime Minister, took forward action, building on work that had been taken by previous Governments—and crucially, of course, a topic that is of such importance and significance to our society. Domestic abuse blights lives; it can destroy lives, and not just the life of the immediate victim but of the children and other family members as well.
I believe that this is a landmark piece of legislation. I am very pleased that we have seen, I think, more than 40 Members of this House wishing to speak in this debate. That shows the degree of seriousness with which the issue is taken by Members across this House. That view is shared across all parties in this House. It is good to hear of the co-operation and collaboration that there has been, and I am sure will continue to be, to make sure that we get this legislation right. But of course passing the legislation is only one step. This is about changing the attitude that people take to domestic abuse. The challenge for Members of this House, the challenge for the Government and the challenge for us all is to make sure that the whole of society takes this issue as seriously as those who wish to contribute to this debate today are taking it.
As I say, I think this is a landmark piece of legislation. This Bill has been described by Government—and, indeed, by charities and others involved in working with the victims of domestic abuse—as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make sure that we make a step change in the approach we take to supporting victims and to dealing with domestic abuse. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller for the work that she and all the members of her Committee did in pre-legislative scrutiny. They did that assiduously, with great care and with great commitment. That was a very important part of the process of making sure that we get this legislation right. I would also like to thank the charities and organisations that contributed to that and have continued to push us all on this issue to make sure that we are doing more for the victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, who have championed this issue and continue to do so, and have worked so hard to ensure that this legislation comes forward and will be carried forward. It is imperative that this Bill is not lost and that we are able to see it go on to the statute book, because it will affect people’s lives—it will improve people’s lives.
The Lord Chancellor himself referred to the figure of 2 million adults experiencing domestic abuse in the last year for which there are figures. Two thirds of those, of course, were women. Domestic abuse accounts for a third of violent crime and, as we heard earlier, it is estimated to cost our society £66 billion pounds a year. This is not something that simply takes place behind closed doors and that others can ignore; it is something that affects us all. It affects our economy, it affects our society, and it affects our young people as they are growing up. We have heard various comments about experiences that people have had. Reference was made from the Opposition Benches to the issue of young people and their understanding of relationships. I remember as Home Secretary initiating a campaign of advertisements about what a good relationship was. The saddest thing was reading some of the comments that young people, particularly young women, made when they had seen those adverts in cinemas and elsewhere: comments like, “I didn’t know it was wrong for him to hit me.” This is the sadness in our society of so many people who do not know what a good relationship is, who suffer from their bad relationship, and who suffer in silence—too many, as we have heard, suffer in silence for many years before any action is taken.
I thank the right hon. Lady—I am awfully sorry, but I am still tempted to refer to her as the Prime Minister.
When I worked in child protection, I worked with a young mother in a second marriage. She said to me: “We all expect to be hit by our husbands, don’t we? It’s just this one is so violent.” That was absolutely shocking, but not half as shocking as when we were later in court, where we were taking wardship proceedings to protect the children. The husband informed the court that I was lying—there was nothing wrong with their family or their relationship, and I was just prejudiced. The judge asked him: “Are you saying that you have never struck your wife?” After a pause, he said: “Obviously I’ve given her the odd backhander to keep her in line, but no, I’ve never been violent.” That is what we have to combat and deal with, and that is part of what this debate and the Bill must tackle.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. That is why I trust that we will pass this legislation. We will pass it in good shape, and it will make a difference, but it is only one step. It is about getting that recognition out there of what is right and what is wrong. It is very simple: it is not right to hit somebody in a relationship. But it is more than that, which I will come on to in a minute—conscious as I am of the number of Members who wish to speak, I will touch on a small number of issues very briefly.
The first issue is one that many people looking at this legislation might feel was insignificant, but it is hugely significant—the inclusion in statute of a definition of domestic abuse. Not that long ago, a number of Government Departments were working to different definitions of domestic violence and abuse. I recall that, as Home Secretary, I tried to ensure that we could at least try to get an agreement among Departments as to what a definition might be. Having it in statute is hugely important, as is having a definition that goes beyond what most people would answer if you asked them what domestic abuse or domestic violence was, which is physical violence, and recognises all the other types of abuse that take place.
It is chilling to sit and hear a woman who has been controlled by her other half for a period of time—often for years—say how it happened slowly, and that it was difficult to recognise when it started. Little by little, however, that control was exercised until that individual’s rights as an individual human being were taken away from them. That is what we are talking about when we talk about domestic abuse, so getting that definition right are incredibly important. As the Lord Chancellor said, I hope that others will use the definition in the Bill. It is referred to as the underpinning of this Bill, but I hope that others will use that definition and recognise it.
The second issue I will touch on was referred to earlier, and that is the courts. I am sure that every Member is aware of cases—indeed, the Lord Chancellor started his speech with a reference to his case 25 years ago—in which a victim of domestic abuse has not felt able to pursue, to give evidence and to go through the steps necessary to see the perpetrator brought to justice. Fear of what will happen in court often drives people, and there is also the fact that the perpetrator might well use and manipulate them to ensure that they do not give evidence in court.
I remember when I was Home Secretary talking about one case in the west midlands. An independent domestic violence advocate was describing how a woman almost did not turn up at court, even though they had done a lot of work for her to turn up. The IDVA had gone to the home to see what the problem was, and it was very simple: the perpetrator had locked the woman in a cupboard, so that she physically could not get to court to give evidence. We have to recognise the problems that victims face.
Another issue, which has been referred to by the president of the family division of the High Court, is the question of cross-examination by perpetrators. That can be an extension—in some cases, deliberately so—of the abuse that the victim has suffered. Having the prohibition of that on the face of the Bill is incredibly important.
I want to touch on the issue of children. For far too long in this country, we thought that if a child was in the room next door when someone was being hit or coerced, that child would not be affected. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think the figure for children who have been in a home where there has been domestic abuse is that they are 50% more likely to endure such abuse in a relationship later in their lives. That is why I said earlier that domestic abuse does not just blight or destroy the life of the victim, but does so for those around the victim too.
This is important. I recognise the pros and cons when looking at the issue, but I do not want us to miss this opportunity to ensure that we properly look after the needs of children in a home where domestic violence is being experienced. I ask the Government to look very seriously at recommendations to do with children, to ensure that we do not pass a Bill into statute only for people to ask, six months down the line, “Why didn’t you?” It is imperative to look at that.
I will touch briefly on two other issues, one of which is the question of perpetrators. This is a hugely difficult topic to talk about. I am sure that we would all prefer not to have the necessity of talking about domestic abuse legislation, because we want to eradicate domestic abuse—we are very far from doing that—but, if we are to get to that point, we have to deal with perpetrators. We talk a lot about supporting victims, and that is absolutely right, but finding a way to ensure that people do not become perpetrators in the first place or, where they are perpetrators, that they cannot continue to perpetrate domestic abuse, is hugely important too. It is difficult. From talking to organisations that work with perpetrators, I know that finding the interventions that will have the best impact is hard.
My right hon. Friend is making an important point about perpetrator programmes. I think she would agree that we have to be careful to ensure that programmes are tested and are the right ones, because we do not want to make the problem worse.
My right hon. and learned Friend has made a very valid and important point. That is why I say this is a difficult topic. Sometimes it seems hard to talk about working with the perpetrators, but it is important that we identify the programmes that work, and that will not be one size fits all. I think the Joint Committee made that point when they looked at this issue, which was very welcome. It has to be done carefully, but we should not shy away from it, because if we wish to see an end to domestic abuse, we have to deal with perpetrators. That goes alongside issues such as education on what a good relationship is, so that we see those sorts of behaviours being stopped at the first sign, rather than being allowed to continue.
Some might say that the last point I want to make is slightly tangential to the Bill, but I want to talk about the police. A huge amount of work has been done with the police to train them to deal with domestic violence. Many developments are very helpful. For example, body-worn video cameras can ensure that film is taken when the police turn up to a reported incident, so that someone cannot say later, “Well, no, it was okay, nothing happened.” Such evidence is hugely important. The ability through the use of technology for a police officer attending an incident to know in advance whether there have been reports of domestic violence or abuse there in the past is another important element. Also—I am sure that others have had this experience—domestic abuse victims talk about the fact that if they get a police officer who has been well trained, it works well, but when someone reports an incident, it is the police officer who is on duty who comes, and they will hand on to the response unit that comes out, and such officers often do not have the same experience. We need to look at that very carefully.
We also need to do something else—this point was made to me by one of the people involved in one of the charities dealing with victims of domestic abuse. Police forces need to look at how they deal with domestic violence and domestic abuse within the force when police officers themselves are subject to such domestic abuse. If they turn a blind eye, that gives a message to their officers about how they should treat people outside the force who are reporting abuse. That aspect has not really been focused on previously, but we should focus on it. We should be encouraging police forces to ensure that they have, within their forces, the means to support such officers properly. There will be police officers who themselves are the victims of domestic abuse, and we need to ensure that forces have the ability to support those police officers.
As I say, this is a hugely important Bill. It will, I know, be subject to very close scrutiny during the Committee stage. There is so much that is good in this Bill. There are obviously issues that the Government are being asked to look at again to make sure that we get this into the best shape that it can be. However, as I said earlier, I say to everybody across this Chamber that passing this legislation is but one move. It is up to all of us to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make clear to our society and to the public the horrific nature of domestic abuse, the impact it has on people’s lives and the need for us as a society to say, “Stop it.”
I am grateful for the chance to follow Mrs May. May I take this opportunity to take a different approach from the one we very often take on the Opposition side of the House, which is to pay tribute to her both for her approach as the former Prime Minister of this country and for her commitment and genuine passion? As the former Prime Minister, she committed her life’s work in this Parliament to making sure that the agenda of women and girls was recognised. I am sure that the successful passage of this Bill will be a legacy that she can be proud of, and that it will rightly go down in history as the landmark legislation of the second female Prime Minister of this country. I pay tribute to the right hon. Lady for the work that she has done.
To return to the point of order made by Stella Creasy, may I also acknowledge her dedication and commitment to women’s rights? I think no Member across this House should have to receive the treatment she has received. I am sure—I know—that the right hon. Gentleman the Speaker of this House will do everything in his power, as a champion of Back Benchers, to ensure that all the House of Commons authorities provide her with the necessary support that she requires, because no one in this House should come under fire for ultimately doing what is right and proper and what should be done, which is protecting the rights of women.
I welcome this Bill, and I agree in essence with its main principles, because domestic abuse can ruin lives and it needs to be tackled strongly. I recognise that the primary basis of the Bill will apply only to England and Wales. However, there are some limited provisions in the Bill that will have an impact on Scotland, and it is on those grounds that I want to speak today.
As the Lord Chancellor said, 2 million people in the UK are affected. Most of them are women, but not all. This is only an estimated number. It is based on the recorded statistics we have of the number of women who have bravely come forward and undergone the process of speaking out loud and saying, “I will not accept this treatment any longer”. However, it is only an estimated number because too many more women will suffer in silence and receive this ongoing treatment day to day.
I of course have nothing but the utmost respect for the law and justice and for our ability as Members of this House to produce legislation that can make a difference, but everyone in the House knows that legislation alone will not tackle this problem. I congratulate the UK Government on going some way towards taking the approach of really driving home the point that domestic violence cannot be tolerated and cannot be accepted. It is something that we want to change so that future generations will not grow up to experience this kind of world.
On this particular occasion, I think Scotland has taken a leading stance and a really strong stance against domestic abuse. In Scotland, domestic abuse accounts for almost a quarter of all violent crimes. Again, this is only an estimated figure; we have no real idea of the true figure or of the true cost that it has on people’s lives. About one in four women has experienced or reported domestic abuse at some time in their lives. It is usually perpetrated by a spouse, partner or ex-partner. Domestic abuse often includes physical violence, mental or emotional damage, or undue control or power over another person.
The SNP in government has taken a lead and taken the issue of domestic abuse seriously. I am very proud that we have been able to do that in the Scottish Government. The multiple forms of abuse are tackled by the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which for the first time introduced a “course of conduct” offence. This enables not just physical abuse, but psychological domestic abuse and controlling behaviours to be prosecuted at once. As many from a legal background will know, that in itself is really hard to pin down. How do we even begin to quantify undue influence or coercive control? How do we recognise that, and how do we prevent it in a criminal statute? The fact is that the Scottish legislation is designed to address the emotional abuse that Scottish Women’s Aid has said is, for most victims, the most traumatic and the hardest aspect of abuse to recover from. It is a really significant and important part of this legislation, and I hope that the Government will take that into consideration when they come forward with the Public Bill Committee.
In a similar vein, the Domestic Abuse Bill broadens the scope of domestic abuse legislation in England and Wales. This is the legislation we are here to speak about today, and it would be a great shame if the Bill were to be lost. Should this Parliament dissolve or prorogue again and we do not succeed in passing this legislation, it would ultimately be against all our better intentions. We want to see the Bill successfully brought through this Parliament during this term, regardless of when this term may cease.
On that very point, as Mrs May has said, this is landmark legislation. All of us may have reservations about certain aspects of it and things we may want to see amended in Committee, but it is incumbent on us to support it today and get it through so that, as the hon. Lady says, it is not lost.
Absolutely. Perhaps I should use this opportunity to say that should a future Government of any coalition have to carry forward this legislation, I hope their agenda will also be to deliver on this Bill should it not succeed in this parliamentary term. It would be a great loss and a great shame were we not to see it passed in this parliamentary term, and were the right hon. Member for Maidenhead not to have it as part of her legacy, because she rightly deserves such an opportunity.
In particular, it is welcome to see the measures to protect survivors in court, including the prohibition of the examination of domestic abuse victims by their perpetrators. It seems almost unimaginable that such a procedure is even possible. The inclusion of non-physical abuse in the statutory definition of domestic abuse, the inclusion of children aged 16 and 17, and the appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner are truly welcome. While these measures go some way towards tackling a broad and multifaceted problem, I believe there are several areas in the Bill that could be improved in Committee.
The hon. Lady is making a very good case. There is another dimension, because we very often get women whose immigration status, for want of a better term, is not secure. Does she not agree that the commissioner should really have her powers strengthened to look at that?
I wholeheartedly agree, and I will come on to that later in my speech.
In 2017, my colleague Eilidh Whiteford’s Bill to ratify the Istanbul convention was very much about pressing the Government to do exactly what this Bill sets out to do. I know that she, although no longer in the House, would love to see this Bill passed and to see the Istanbul convention ratified as part of her legacy. Although the Government stated their intention to bring the convention’s provisions into law, two years later we are still waiting. The Bill is an opportunity for the Government to meet those intentions, but in my opinion it fails fully to meet the requirements of the Istanbul convention. I hope more work can be done in Committee to ensure that the Bill gets us to the point where we can ratify the convention.
Women with insecure immigration status find it virtually impossible to seek protection when experiencing domestic abuse. As Mr Cunningham indicated, for many such women, their visa status is tied to their partner or their partner has control of the necessary documents and evidence, so they are unable to escape. That goes against the crystal clear language of the Istanbul convention, which states that protection must be afforded to survivors regardless of their immigration status. I am worried that, should the Bill fail adequately to promote equality, including for those with insecure immigration status, it would risk violating our existing human rights obligations under the European convention on human rights, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women—CEDAW, as we all know it. In essence, we must ensure that we get this legislation right.
I am conscious that many people want to speak, so I am doing my best to wind up as fast as I can. In taking forward the Bill, we must consider the needs of people whose insecure immigration status means they have no access to public funds or housing support. Such people are routinely denied refuge spaces, safe accommodation and welfare, and therefore are stuck between becoming destitute and homeless and returning to their abuser. Every MP in the House will have a constituent, or will have supported a woman, who has had to seek refuge in temporary accommodation. That may have been their first interaction with a Government office, be it the Department for Work and Pensions or the Home Office. They need our support, so we must do better.
Frankly, the Government’s approach to welfare only compounds problems for survivors of domestic violence. Universal credit provisions, include mandatory waiting periods and payments to heads of households, create an environment that allows economic abuse and control. The SNP has repeatedly argued for universal credit payments to be processed and paid in advance rather than in arrears, and be made to more than one householder, in the form of split payments. If the Government do not make those adjustments, victims of abuse will continue to be unable to access the resources they need to leave harmful relationships.
As the SNP spokesperson for women and equalities, it is an honour to work with colleagues across the House, including Mrs Miller, Jess Phillips and many others, as a member of the Women and Equalities Committee. The Bill relates specifically to England and Wales, but some of its provisions will have an impact on the lives of women in Scotland. The picture painted by the Minister only highlights that we have so much further to go. Let us not get another 25 years down the line and be having the same conversation.
I am proud of my honourable friend Christina McKelvie, who, as Equalities Minister in the Scottish Government, is delivering this policy in Scotland. We can do better. We must do better. Too many women and their families are relying on this Government to protect them, whether through policing or justice measures or through this legislation in and of itself. I hope this Prime Minister and this Government get this right so we can deliver for women across the UK.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, as the House will be, for being commendably succinct. Momentarily, a 10-minute limit will begin on Back-Bench speeches, and Karen Bradley will be the next speaker. However, just before I call her to contribute, I think that the House will be interested to know what I have just been advised by the Minister on the Treasury Bench; namely, that the designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, is observing our proceedings today. Welcome to the House. We very much appreciate your interest in the legislation from which we hope will flow your very important responsibilities. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
It is an honour to follow the spokesperson for the SNP, Angela Crawley. I welcome the Bill and the cross-party support for it.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who looks like he may be about to go and get himself a cup of tea—I cannot blame him for that—orated at length, although his speech was comprehensive, detailed and very passionate. I recall our joint work in Committee on the Serious Crime Bill; together, we introduced the coercive control measure that so many people have referred to. I remember being asked at the time, “Why are we doing something so difficult? How are we going to train the police? How are we going to do this?” If the answer is, “It’s too hard,” we will never do anything. I am very proud that we introduced that measure, and I was very pleased to work with my right hon. and learned Friend on that. I wish him well with this Bill.
I also pay tribute to some of the people who helped us get to the Bill being brought forward. They include my right hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), and my hon. Friends Sarah Newton and for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who both served in the same Parliamentary Under-Secretary role in the Home Office in which I had the privilege to serve.
However, I pay tribute above all to my right hon. Friend Mrs May. I stand here making my first Back-Bench speech for seven years, having been on the Treasury Bench in that time, to find that I am following my right hon. Friend. I feel quite a lot of pressure to live up to the speech she just delivered, which showed her commitment, her attention to detail and her absolute determination to deliver on this incredibly important issue. Without her, we would not be in this place today.
My right hon. Friend spoke about the challenges with tackling domestic violence. I recall, when I was in the Home Office, looking at what we could do to change things and at how we could change society on this matter. A number of contributors have mentioned attitudes. I am pleased that the old line, “Oh, it’s just a domestic; ignore it,” is gone, but it was there for far too long. The other thing on which we have seen a difference is training for police officers. It is not everywhere—my right hon. Friend mentioned that there are police officers who have not had training—but when I was in the Home Office I saw police officers being trained to believe the victim and to take belief in the victim as the first port of call. They are trained to walk in not with cynicism but believing what the victim says. If somebody has gone to the police to report domestic violence, they are not making it up; it has taken enormous strength of character for them to get to the point of reporting it, and they need to hear the police officer say, “I believe you.”
I was struck by that as a new MP, when a constituent come to a surgery appointment and told me how every police officer she had dealt with had refused to believe her. They had said, “Oh, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other,” and that she must have contributed in some way.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the other thing police do so often is to look at each incident as an individual incident, rather than looking for a pattern of behaviour?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is so important that we look not just at a pattern of behaviour but across the whole family. The troubled families programme was very good at looking at the family as a whole, seeing where domestic violence was happening and identifying its effect on children—on each member of the family.
Public awareness of the crime is another challenge we have always faced. We have talked about 2 million cases a year, but of course the number of reported cases is so much lower. Reporting is on the up, and that is very good news. We need these crimes to be reported; unless they are reported, nobody can tackle them. It is incredibly important that we improve public awareness and get an understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like versus an unhealthy relationship.
The right hon. Lady mentions something that a lot of people will be interested in: often, because the authorities do not necessarily believe them, the victim is sent back into the situation they are trying to get out of and subjected to further abuse. The other point I would make is that we should also be tackling psychological abuse.
The hon. Gentleman is right on all counts, and he takes me to my next point. One of the challenges is having the tools to tackle this crime. The problem with having only criminal measures is that the burden of proof is so high. Civil measures, which we introduced for various things, including honour crimes and domestic violence, and which of course are introduced by the Bill in the form of the new domestic abuse protection order, are very important because the burden of proof is so much lower. In the exact circumstance that the hon. Gentleman talks about, use of a civil measure means that the police can intervene earlier and prevent the crime.
I will not, if the hon. Lady will forgive me, only because I have run out of interventions. Now that I am on the Back Benches, I have to get used to not being able to take all interventions.
The other challenge is the multi-agency approach, which, again, has been talked about. We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We have to deal with it through prevention and education. There is a role for so many agencies and organisations in ensuring that domestic violence is tackled. I recall, when I was Minister, visiting the domestic violence team at the A&E in Royal Stoke University Hospital. A nurse there, Mandy Burton, received a national nursing award for her work in bringing to the A&E department a focus on domestic violence, and on identifying it. That was revolutionary at the time —this was 2015. We need all agencies to work together to make sure that they identify domestic violence.
I hesitate to take up my right hon. Friend’s time, but would she accept that the medical profession has a key role to play? One of the places where physical violence will first be picked up is accident and emergency; one of the first places where non-physical, psychological, violence will first be picked up is in general practice. Is there not a case for improving education, so that there is a high index of suspicion of domestic violence in both general practice and hospitals?
My right hon. Friend speaks with personal experience and great authority on this matter. He is absolutely right. So many agencies will have interaction with victims of domestic abuse. They need to understand the signs and indications, and need the ability and strength to intervene, because that may be an early point at which we can get in, before domestic abuse that may appear to some to be low-level—there is no such thing as low-level abuse—turns into something horrendous. We know the number of homicides a year; we need to make sure that we intervene as soon as possible, in order to prevent the very worst tragedies.
That brings me on to the Bill. It is right to describe it as landmark legislation. Putting into statute a definition of domestic abuse is incredibly important. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead talked about needing to have one definition that was recognised across all agencies and across the law. That is how we will help to identify this abuse, and get services and support in the right places at the right time. I referred to the civil powers; having more of them is very important. The civil powers mean that the victim can stay in her home with her children, while the perpetrator is removed. If abuse does not meet the criminal test, it may still meet the civil test, and of course breach of that civil law becomes a crime, which gives the police the power to act.
I am very pleased about the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. When I was in the Home Office, we introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, who often said things that were uncomfortable for Government, but was absolutely right to say them. It is right that we should have one person working for all victims of domestic abuse.
I am pleased to see the extension of the offence of coercive control to Northern Ireland; from my previous role, I know how important that is. That reminds me of the sentence that I have probably said far more often than any other in this Chamber in the past few years: it is time for the parties in Stormont to come back together and form a Government, and do the right thing by the people who elected them. In the absence of such a Government, it is right that we take steps in the Bill to make sure that coercive control is properly recognised and dealt with in Northern Ireland.
The Bill will make a difference only if we see outcomes from it. The outcomes in my county of Staffordshire over the past few years—since I was first involved in this field—have been really quite incredible. Our police and crime commissioner, Matthew Ellis, has really made the issue his focus during his stewardship of the police. He introduced a multi-agency approach, and the New Era service, which gives victims holistic support. Last year, it supported 25,000 people in Staffordshire. That is a great credit to him, and I pay tribute to him for the work he has done.
Victims need the power to speak openly, and the police need the tools to bring persecutions, so that perpetrators are punished. When I was a Minister in the Home Office, I recall clearly making a speech for a colleague, as we all do. I talked about my work in the Home Office. One of the people there, who had been enjoying a lovely dinner, stopped eating, and at the end of the speech she asked me for a private word. It was very emotional. She said, “Twenty-five years ago, I was a victim of coercive control, though I didn’t know it at the time. I’m out of that relationship now, but everything you described was my life.” She said, “I remember the police saying to me, ‘We know he’s abusing you and treating you in a way he shouldn’t, but there’s nothing we can do. The best we can hope for is that when he comes home drunk tonight, he kicks the door down; then we can arrest him for criminal damage.’”
We need victims to know that the police have weapons, tools and ways to help them, because they put their trust in the police—we all do, quite rightly. We need to make sure that the police have the weapons that they need, so that they can deliver. That is how we will help victims to bring things out into the open, and put an end to domestic abuse.
So what is domestic violence or abuse, and where do we get our ideas about it from? Often we see the same images and stereotypes on TV: housing estates, working-class families, drunk men coming home from the pub, women surrounded by children, and a sequence of shouting, followed by immediate physical violence or assault. But soap opera scenes tend to focus on only one or two aspects of a much bigger and more complex picture.
Domestic violence has many faces, and the faces of those who survive it are varied, too. There are 650 MPs in this place—650 human beings. Statistically, it is highly likely that some of us here will have directly experienced an abusive relationship, and we are just as likely as anyone else to have grown up in a violent household.
Abuse is not just about noticeable physical signs. Sometimes there are no bruises. Abuse is very often all about control and power; it is about abusers making themselves feel big, or biggest, but that is not how they present themselves. It is not how they win your heart. It is not how they persuade you to meet them for a coffee, then go to a gig, and then spend an evening snuggled up in front of a movie at their place. When they ask you out, they do not present their rage, and do not tell you that while they like the idea of strong, independent, successful women, they do not like the reality. They do not threaten, criticise, control, yell, or exert their physical strength in an increasingly frightening way—not yet. Not at the start. Not when they think you are sweet, funny and gorgeous. Not when they want to impress you. Not when they turn up to only your third date with chocolate, and then jewellery. Not when they meet your friends, your parents, or the leader of your political party. They do not do any of that then.
It is only later, when the door to your home is locked, that you really start to learn what power and control look and feel like. That is when you learn that “I’ll always look after you,” “I’ll never let you go,” and “You’re mine for life” can sound menacing, and are used as a warning over and over again. It is when the ring is on your finger that the mask can start to slip, and the promises sound increasingly like threats. It is then that you spend 12 or more hours at work longing to see the person you love, only to find that on the walk or tube journey home they refuse to speak a single, solitary word to you. Eventually, at home, they will find a way to let you know which particular sin you have apparently committed: your dress was too short, the top you wore in the Chamber was too low-cut, or you did not respond to a message immediately.
It starts slowly: a few emotional knocks, alternated with romantic gushes and promises of everlasting love, which leave you reeling, confused, spinning around in an ever-changing but always hyper-alert state, not knowing what mood or message awaits you. You tell yourself to be less sensitive, less emotional, to stop over-analysing every little thing. Ignore the moods—he never stops saying he adores you, right? All seems good again.
A whole week goes by: a week of summer evening walks home and maybe a drink on the way. A long weekend is booked and organised as a surprise while you are at work. The journey there is full of promise and promises—time away alone together in a place away from stress—but then it starts. In a strange city, his face changes in a way you are starting to know and dread, in a way that says you need to stay calm, silent and very careful. He goes for a walk. You sit in your hotel room and wait. You read a city guide and plan which sights you want to visit, mentally packing a day full of fun. But he seems to have another agenda. He doesn’t want you to leave the room. He has paid a lot of money and you need to pay him your full attention. You are expected to do as you are told, and you know for certain what that means—so you do exactly as you are told.
In the months that follow, those patterns continue: reward, punishment, promises of happily ever after alternated with abject rage, menace, silent treatment and coercive control; financial abuse and control; a point-blank refusal to disclose his salary or earnings, an assumption and insistence on it being okay to live in your home without contributing a single penny, as bills continue to pile up; a refusal to work, as your salary is great and public knowledge; false promises to start paying some specific bills, which you discover months later remain unpaid; and the slow but sure disappearance of any kindness, respect or loving behaviour.
You get to the stage where you are afraid to go home. After 15 hours at work, you spend another hour on the phone to your mum or a close friend, trembling, a shadow of your usual self. You answer the phone, and the sheer nastiness and rage tell you not to go home at all. So you leave work with your best friend, exhausted and shaking, and buy a toothbrush on the way, knowing that the verbal abuse followed by silent refusal to speak at all will be 100 times worse tomorrow.
Every day is emotionally exhausting. You are working in a job you love but putting on a brave face and pretending all is good, fine—wonderful, in fact. Then the pretence and the public face start to drop completely: being yelled at in the car with the windows down, no attempt to hide behaviour during constituency engagements —humiliation and embarrassment now added to permanent trepidation and constant hurt and pain. It is impossible to comprehend that this is the person who tells his family how much he loves you and longs to make you his wife.
But the mask has slipped for good, and questions are starting. Excuses are given to worried friends, concerned family and colleagues who have started to notice. One night, after more crying and being constantly verbally abused because you suggest he pay a bit towards your new sofa, you realise you’ve reached the end and you simply cannot endure this for another day or week, and certainly not for the rest of your life. Having listened intently for two whole weeks to the sound of his morning shower, timing the routine until you know it off by heart, you summon up the courage to take his front-door keys from his bag.
You have tried everything else on earth and know for certain, 100%, what awaits you that night if you do not act today. Heart banging, you hide them carefully and creep back into bed, praying he won’t discover what you have done. You know for certain what will happen if he does. You know an apology will not follow. You know for sure it will be because of what you have done and that it is all your fault. He leaves for the gym, telling you how much he adores you. He tells you to remember that you will always be his. He kisses you lovingly, as though there has not been months of verbal abuse, threats and incidents he knows you will never disclose. He tells you he will bring something nice home for dinner.
Sure enough, the next few days and weeks are a total hell—texts and calls and yelling: “You’ve locked me out like a dog”, “No one treats me that way”, “This is the last thing you will ever do”. You cry, you grieve for your destroyed dreams, you try to heal, you ignore the emails from wedding companies, but it is like withdrawal, and it takes six months.
But one day you notice that you’re smiling, that it’s okay to laugh, and that it’s been a week or two since the daily sobbing stopped. You realise you are allowed to be happy. You dare to relax and you dare to start to feel free. You realise it is not your fault and that he is now left alone with his rage and narcissism. You dare to start dating someone, and you realise that you have survived, but the brightest and most precious thing of all is realising that you are loved and believed by friends, family and colleagues who believe in you and support you.
So if anyone is watching and needs a friend, please reach out, if it is safe to do so, and please talk to any of us, because we will be there and we will hold your hand. [Applause.]
I thank the hon. Lady for that speech, which was simultaneously as horrifying and as moving a contribution in the Chamber as I have heard in my 22 years of membership of the House. Thank you.
I echo your words, Mr Speaker. Rosie Duffield is an extraordinarily brave woman. It takes the most enormous courage to stand up in this place and say what she has said. If any of us needed a reminder why we are here today—why it is so important that we unite across the Chamber to take this action today—she has provided it. She will have given so much hope to so many people across the country. Knowing that it can happen to someone so beautiful, brave, strong and successful—successful enough to get to sit on these Benches—will give them the confidence, self-belief and self-worth to take action and break free from the torture she had to endure. I would like to thank her, as I am sure would everyone in the Chamber and listening at home, for being so brave as to do what she has done today. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]
In the few minutes remaining, I want to raise one or two things that I would like the Minister to think about. This is an extremely good Bill. As we have heard, many Members across the House, not least my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, have spent a huge amount of time on pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and as a result it is already in really good shape.
As has been mentioned, at the heart of the Bill is culture change. The Bill starts in the right place because it talks about how we need to change our attitude towards relationships so that everybody knows what a good relationship is. That must start with every child in every school being given extremely good education about what makes a good relationship.
Does the hon. Lady agree that, as well as educating every child, we need to support children who have specific difficulties as a result of witnessing violence in their homes, and that child and adolescent mental health services need beefing up and proper funding in order to do so?
I completely agree with the hon. Lady that, in addition to education, every child must be supported. We know, as has been said today, that when children grow up in a home where there is controlling or coercive behaviour, economic control or any sort of abuse, including physical abuse, they will be affected by it. Boys and girls will think, “That’s what love looks like.” Is it any wonder that so many of those affected go on to become perpetrators or victims themselves? Of course, we need to help those perpetrators understand that this behaviour is totally unacceptable, and to help those victims understand that they can be survivors and that their lives need not follow this cycle. We need to make sure that every adult who comes into contact with children understands what domestic abuse is. That means statutory training for all people in the public sector who will come into contact with children, so that they can support them to get what they need to break that cycle.
There is a group of people who are often neglected in this debate, namely older people and people with disabilities. The briefing given to us by Age UK highlights work that is replicated—I have seen it at first hand—in my constituency. I recently attended a meeting with the excellent women’s centre, which does absolutely fantastic work in my constituency, as does an organisation called SEEDS—Survivors Empowering and Educating Domestic Abuse Services. So many older women are the subject of domestic abuse, but they are the least likely to speak out about it or to have access to services. The same goes for disabled people.
Although I very much agree with the definition in the Bill, I ask the Minister to consider gathering an evidence base of the prevalence of undisclosed domestic abuse of people with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, as well as of those with physical disabilities and older people, to make sure that we have got the definition absolutely right. I know from the homicide reviews conducted in Cornwall that there are many more examples than any of us would like to think of family members financially, economically and physically abusing and even killing an older member of their family. Clearly, much more needs to be done to recognise those families who are at risk and really struggling, so that we can prevent those avoidable deaths.
It is not just family members; it can be people who deliberately befriend vulnerable people, including those with disabilities or older people. They can work their way into people’s affections with the sole purpose of abusing them. Often it is economic abuse. The definition really matters. I would like the Minister to consider the prevalence of undisclosed abuse. If it is the case, as I feel it is, that there are people beyond the family who become close and trusted friends of vulnerable people and commit this abuse, those perpetrators’ activities should come within the purview of the Bill.
In conclusion, people are right to say that victims and survivors have waited a long time for us to have this debate. They have been campaigning vigorously to get to this point. It is now down to all of us to take really important action through this Bill, so that we can prevent the avoidable deaths and the terrible suffering that goes with domestic abuse, and make sure that we consign this appalling behaviour to the history books.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady, and I think the whole House will be, both for what she said and for the extraordinarily sympathetic and empathetic manner in which she said it. I knew she would do that, which is why I called her.
It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Newton. I absolutely agree with everything she said. I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, because what she said will save lives. We are incredibly proud of her, and she should be incredibly proud of herself.
There is so much hope and expectation surrounding this Bill. Every woman who has suffered from domestic violence and every child who has lived in a house subjected to the terror of domestic violence will be watching what we are doing today and wishing us forward. All those who work in the charitable sector and in refuges will be watching what we are doing and supporting it, as will all those who work in the police services. Up and down the country there are police officers who want to do more about domestic violence and are dismayed at how little they are able to do. The Bill will strengthen their elbow in their own police forces, and the same applies to the Crown Prosecution Service and the court services. The Bill will be a focus, not just as a piece of legislation, but in the context of a determination to provide more support, including proper financial support—proper funding for services—and to see the whole issue in the round.
I pay tribute to every Member who is present to support the Bill, and to all the organisations that have given their support. I pay particular tribute to the Minister for Women, Victoria Atkins, who has doggedly pressed forward with the Bill. Let me also point out, however, that we would not have a Bill to provide this focus had not Mrs May made it a priority. It is our Bill, but it is also her Bill, that we are discussing today.
Men used routinely to get away with murder and be charged only with manslaughter, because a man could say that, although he had killed the woman, it was not his fault but hers, as she had provoked him. That was the provocation defence, which led to a charge being reduced from murder to manslaughter. A man would say, “It was only because I loved her: I killed her because I loved her, and she was having an affair”, or “She drove me to it, because she nagged me and wore me down, so she provoked me into killing her.” I am afraid that it used to be called, at the Bar, the “nagging and shagging” defence, while in Scotland it was called the infidelity defence.
It was as recently as 2009 that the provocation defence, used in that way, was put a stop to. Now, however, another version of “She drove me to kill her—I killed her, yes, but it was her fault” has reared its ugly head. Men are now, literally, getting away with murder by using the “rough sex” defence. Although the man has to admit that he caused injuries which led to the woman’s death, he claims that it was not his fault, as it was a “sex game gone wrong”. She, of course, is not there to say otherwise. In the witness box, he gives lurid, unchallengeable accounts of her addiction to violent sex, and explains that the bruises that cover her body were what she wanted. The grieving relatives have to listen to his version of her sexual proclivities, and see them splashed all over social media and the newspapers. He has killed her, and then he defines her. She is dead, so only he gets to tell the story. I will just say a few words about the case of the constituent of Mark Garnier—the case of the young woman Natalie Connolly. I know that the hon. Gentleman will be talking about it in due course, but this is why we want to change the law to prevent men from being able to argue that “the injuries that she died by, she consented to.”
On the subject of responsibilities, does the right hon. and learned Lady recognise that the way in which the details of such cases are reported in the media, and the way in which the narrative has grown around these issues, has a huge impact on public perception and on the behaviour of men, and violent men?
Absolutely. I completely agree. Men are using the narrative of women’s sexual enjoyment of being injured to escape murder charges and face only manslaughter charges. Instead of being imprisoned for life, they are out in just a few years. The woman’s grieving family, though, are never free from their loss or the stain on her reputation. What an irony it is that the narrative of women’s sexual empowerment is being used by men who inflict fatal injuries. It is what I describe as the “Fifty Shades of Grey” defence.
The killing of Natalie Connolly is the worst case that I have come across, but it is far from the only case. In that case, not only were the relatives absolutely distraught, but the jurors were dismayed that the man had not faced a murder charge. They approached the relatives on the steps of the court and said, “What on earth happened?” They even approached me, which was unprecedented: jurors had never come to me before. We can change the law in the Bill. There is case law on this. In 1993, in R v. Brown, the House of Lords, which preceded the Supreme Court, ruled that if injuries are serious a defendant cannot claim as a defence that the victim consented. We need that in statute, so that it is right there under the noses of the Crown Prosecution Service and the judges.
For years, men got away with murder, claiming, “She asked for it.” Now we have to shut down this modern version of the defence. I want to say to the relatives of Natalie Connolly that we can see that she was a wonderful young woman. We can see that she was a precious daughter, a devoted mother, a twin sister, a beloved granddaughter. We recognise who she was, and that is what we want them to remember. We will get justice for her in a change in the law.
It is a great pleasure to follow Ms Harman. I thank her for the evidence that she gave the Joint Committee, as it helped our deliberations. I also pay tribute to Rosie Duffield, who had enormous strength to come to the Chamber to share such a personal story. I am sure that she will take strength from the fact that those who have heard her will feel more empowered to act to put themselves into a safe position. She and I have campaigned a great deal for a number of years to get more women into the House, and I count myself lucky to have worked alongside her, given the strength and courage that she has shown today.
I commend my right hon. Friend Mrs May, because without her I am not sure that we would be here today. She had the vision to pull the Bill together and, along with Ministers on the Front Bench, to create an opportunity for a step change in the national response to this issue. I was privileged to chair the Joint Committee on the draft Bill, and I thank Members both here and in the other place who gave so much of their time, those who gave evidence and related their personal experiences and, above all, the staff of the House, who gave us the most extraordinary professional service.
This is an incredibly important Bill, but I would like to make a couple of points. First, the Government need to make clear what the Bill deals with. They have tabled some amendments and promised others, but I am not sure that the Bill is in its final format regarding what the Government want to do. The Minister might want to make sure that Members of both Houses are thoroughly briefed on the final Bill, including all amendments, before Report. This is an important Bill, but the Government introduced amendments midway through our deliberations with regard to the statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge places. The consultation still needs to report, so perhaps the Minister will confirm that she will ensure that the House is fully briefed before Report.
Secondly, I make a plea not to Ministers but to colleagues. Members need to resist the temptation to use the Bill to remedy all the issues, concerns, and campaigns in recent years to do with domestic abuse. Some of them have been quite open about their wish to include abortion reform in the Bill, and while there is clearly a strong case for reform, with which I would agree, this is not the place to do it. I do not believe that we have the time in this Parliament to give that issue the attention that it demands. My plea is for a separate Bill, sponsored by a Back-Bench MP in the usual way, to deal with that, and to deal with it swiftly.
I take the point that the right hon. Lady makes about time, but we should look at making the Bill as broad and detailed as possible. We should also look at the issue of data sharing. I have a constituent whose data was shared by the Department for Work and Pensions. She was being protected by the police from her violent partner. Her data was shared, and she had to be moved again. Those kinds of issues need to be addressed in the legislation.
I have a huge amount of respect for the hon. Lady, but we run the risk of derailing a Bill that is long overdue. I urge people to have some sense of restraint on what we might do to amend it.
I am afraid I cannot take any more interventions.
I want briefly to turn to the Government’s response to our Joint Committee report and to make one point—I should like to have made a lot of others—on the inclusion of an age in the definition. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead is absolutely right to say that the definition is key, but Committee members were particularly concerned about the issue of the age limit. We decided not to recommend a change in the definition of domestic abuse from 16 years and above, but that was not an easy decision for us, particularly given the personal testimony we heard from young people who felt that the police and other people in positions of authority did not take seriously violent behaviour that occurred in relationships under the age of 16. This is not right, and it has to be tackled. It may not need legislation in the Bill, but it needs the Government to urgently review the police’s response in these areas.
I would like to go on to certain other issues that I believe have to be looked at carefully in Committee. The first concerns migrant women, because the Bill makes no provision for that particularly vulnerable group. The Government have reiterated the importance of treating those individuals as victims first and foremost, regardless of their immigration status, but we need to look at how safeguards are put in place to ensure that the right support is there for those individuals, including by extending the three-month time limit to six months for the destitution domestic violence concession.
I want to talk about the importance of an independent commissioner. We like commissioners, but we do not make them very independent; we need to make sure that we do. The Government must also give details of how they will fund their statutory duty on local authorities for the provision of services.
I cannot give way; I have only 20 seconds left.
The Committee was also concerned about the absence of a definition of domestic abuse victims who are children. I am reassured by some of the Government’s comments in their reply to us, but that needs further thought, as does a confirmation that the Istanbul convention will be ratified as a result of this Bill being put into force.
I too want to begin by paying a huge tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield for her bravery in speaking out, because that is a message not just to those across the country who experience coercive control or abuse but to everybody else, including those of us across the Chamber who think she is wonderful but who did not know all she was going through and who want to support her and other people who experience abuse, control or violence across the country.
It is also really important, at a time when this Parliament and the country can feel hugely divided and angry, that we have seen so many people from both sides of the House come together on an area that is so important and in which radical reforms are needed. I pay tribute to all on the Opposition side of the House, and also to Mrs Miller for the work that she and her Committee have done on this legislation. This comes at a time when the number of people dying from domestic violence is increasing, and we should not ignore the fact that in some areas the problem is getting worse; it is not an area in which improvements are happening and we just need to go further.
I welcome the introduction of the Domestic Violence Commissioner. I raised that issue with Mrs May in 2013, so it is good to see this happening now, but I do think that the role has to be more independent. We have seen from the experience with the anti-slavery commissioner and the immigration inspectorate that there is a need for greater independence. Many of these issues were also raised by the Home Affairs Committee in our report last October, and I welcome some of the measures for stronger powers, including prevention powers, and the inclusion of economic abuse in the statutory definition.
I want to raise four areas where I think more action is needed. First, the creation of a commissioner is not an alternative to having a proper action plan from the Home Office and the Government. The number of domestic abuse cases reported to the police has gone up by 40% in the last two years. However, over the past four years the number of cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service has gone down by 20%. The number of prosecutions for domestic abuse has gone down by 20%. A huge systems failure is going on, and we cannot just tell ourselves it is about changing attitudes, crucial though that is. Action is needed to make the system work and to address the fact that so many cases now involve online abuse, stalking and control, making them more complex.
Our police and social services are often also badly overstretched. I have seen cases in my constituency in which obvious things were not done for victims of domestic abuse: the police were too overstretched and did not gather crucial evidence from A&E departments, for example, or individual police officers—although well intentioned—did not know about the coercive control legislation introduced in 2015. It is not enough just to change the law; we need a proper action plan to deal with the reduction in prosecutions.
My right hon. Friend is so right about why we are here today to discuss the Bill. I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, who spoke so eloquently and emotively. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason why we cannot get to grips with this issue is that the resources and support for the support network—the wonderful women’s charities and domestic abuse charities—have dwindled and been taken away? If we do not support them, they cannot support the women who need their support.
My hon. Friend is right. Refuge, for example, has faced funding cuts of some 80% of its services over recent years—that was the evidence given to the Joint Committee. We also heard that 60% of referrals to refuges were unsuccessful because of a lack of bed spaces. I hope that in Committee we can look more closely at the recommendation from the Home Affairs Committee to have a statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge places with sustainable funding supported by Government.
I want to raise the point about what happens to serial perpetrators, including serial stalkers. We recommended in our report that the Government should introduce a national register of serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators. We know from the ONS evidence that around a third of victims of domestic abuse suffer from more than one type of abuse, with partner abuse and stalking being the most common combination. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust told us that 55% of callers to the national stalking helpline were being stalked by an ex-partner. We need more co-ordination between police and social services to address that.
In a case in my constituency, a man has just been sentenced to 11 years for violent assault. He tied a noose around his partner’s neck and lifted her off the ground. It was part of a series of sustained attacks. At the time, he was on bail for other attacks, including punching his previous partner in the face, trying to suffocate her and wrapping a phone cord around her neck. He also threatened to tie a rope round her child’s neck and drag him behind his van. Laura Richards of Paladin, the anti-stalking charity, warned that this particular man had abused at least four women before, including some years ago grabbing a 17-year-old by the hair and kneeing her in the face, and the following year grabbing another woman by the throat and headbutting her in the mouth. Yet this man was able to go on and commit the abuse for which he has now been sentenced. There are so many other cases that involve serial abuse, yet the onus is still on potential victims of domestic abuse or stalking to raise their concerns with the police, rather than agencies having a responsibility to manage the risk, identify those who are committing serial violence and make sure that action is taken before it is too late.
Let me briefly raise the other concerns we had. As well as seeing the commissioner be more independent, I hope the Government will also take further account of the gendered nature of abuse. Of course men and women can both be victims of domestic abuse, but the Minister will know that women are more likely to be the victims of abuse and of the most serious abuse. That is part of a wider context of violence against women and girls. We owe it to those who experience terrible coercive control, and to their children, who can bear the greatest scars, to ensure we use this Bill to make the maximum possible change in people’s lives.
It is always a privilege to follow Yvette Cooper. She and I do not always agree on things, but I absolutely concur with her final comments to the Minister about this being a gendered crime. Of course it happens to men as well as women, but we have to look at the reality of the statistics.
I welcome the opportunity this afternoon to get this Bill off the blocks and use this unexpected week wisely. I must also pay tribute to Rosie Duffield for her moving contribution. I wish, in a limited period of time, to concentrate on one element alone. Some may look at me with some surprise when I do this, and fear I find myself in the role of gamekeeper turned poacher, rather than the other way round. I am sure the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins does not need reminding of the meeting that she and I attended in May, alongside the Minister for countering extremism and my hon. Friend Edward Argar, then an Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice. I was pleased to see him on the Treasury Bench for the opening of this debate. He made the point during that meeting that when considering domestic abuse it is imperative that we consider people as victims first, rather than alongside any other considerations that the Government might have. That meeting was attended by Southall Black Sisters, Imkaan and Jess Phillips, who has not yet spoken in this debate but who has such a wealth of experience and expertise on these issues.
I was pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor talk about the need for a cross-Government approach. The meeting that I chaired and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle attended was a cross-Government one, but, as I said to those agencies represented, it was not sufficiently cross-Government. There was no representation from the Department for Work and Pensions or the Department of Health and Social Care. If we are going to address domestic abuse in all its forms, we must have all bodies around the table.
I just wonder whether we should be looking at one other Department, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, because in my constituency and in the south Wales valleys the worst spikes, when there are so many instances of domestic violence that the police are simply not able to cope, occur when there is a big rugby or football match. I simply do not understand why all the sporting bodies cannot come together to run a major publicity campaign to try to tackle this.
I welcome the comments that the hon. Gentleman makes and those that my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, a former Culture Secretary, made when she said that she was trying to do what he suggests. Of course the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government must also be involved. We have heard so much about health, relationships and sexual education in schools, so the Department for Education also of course has a role to play.
I urge the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle to do what she can to make sure that we are doing more for migrant women, bearing in mind that the destitute domestic violence concession is currently available only to those who come here on a family visa. We must consider those who are here as partners of refugees, those who are here en route to settlement but who have not yet got their protected status, and those who are here on tier 4 visas. We have heard much about older victims, but younger people, those who might be here as students, can also suffer from domestic abuse.
My right hon. Friend is making a valid point about the breadth of this issue and the need for Departments to co-operate. One of the most disturbing cases ever brought to my surgery—we all know how disturbing surgery cases can be—was that of a disabled man whom I had known in a different context as a cheerful, light-hearted person but who had been abused for years by his wife, who was of course much stronger and more powerful than him. Disabled people and other vulnerable people need to be taken into account here, which is one reason why we need to work across Government.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; we must work across Government and we must consider all vulnerabilities.
We have heard this afternoon about the varied forms that domestic abuse takes. It might be physical, financial, emotional. We have heard about coercive control. However, there is also the controlling behaviour that relates to immigration status. A victim is a victim first, and the law and agencies must recognise that.
The role of the Minister is not simply to speak—it is to listen; it is to understand. Earlier, I mentioned the cross-Government meeting held back in May. As I said, it was not cross-Government enough, but I certainly listened very carefully that afternoon to the voices of Southall Black Sisters, the End Violence Against Women coalition, and Imkaan, and their message was that we had to extend the domestic violence concession and must not allow immigration status to be weaponised—as we know that, by perpetrators, it very much is weaponised. That can be physical, in the sense of a passport being withdrawn, but it can also take the form of the simple threat that a victim is in this country only because of the status of the perpetrator, and that if they were to approach an agency they would do so at their peril, and might then be excluded from this country.
Carolyn Harris, who is no longer in her place—I venture into this space with some trepidation—spoke of the EU settled status scheme and EU citizens. I urge hon. Members to make contact with Home Office officials and talk to them about the amazing amount of work that has gone into the resolution centre in Liverpool. When I was a Minister, I visited the centre and spoke to a wide range of brilliant caseworkers there. I hesitate to name her, but the awesome Gabi, who was passionate about helping those in the most vulnerable situations, spoke about recognising that there will be people who apply to that scheme who no longer have their passport, and who have no paperwork evidencing their stay in the United Kingdom, because their controlling partner has seized that from them and prevented them from having access to it.
We heard this afternoon about Government data sharing. Again I hesitate to go there, but there are occasions when data sharing can actually be a force for good. I would highlight the EU settled status scheme, which can combine evidence from the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC in order to draw a picture of someone’s life in the UK that enables those who are vulnerable, who have been victims, to pull together sufficient information. There is a call centre. I sat in on some of the calls, which were handled in the most compassionate and understanding way so that victims were not put through a gruelling process but were helped to obtain their status. When I left office, there were in the region of 1,500 people working on the scheme. I hope to goodness that there remain 1,500 people working on it today, because it is absolutely imperative that we get that right for all EU citizens who are in this country.
I know that the Minister takes this matter very seriously and I am delighted that she has seized the opportunity provided by a day that we were not expecting to be in Parliament to give the Bill a Second Reading and allow us to make progress. I urge her to continue listening to the words of current and former Ministers. I know that the current Chancellor of the Exchequer was very passionate about ensuring that the review on migrant women enabled the Bill to cover more ground and enabled us to consider the domestic violence concession and do more.
I hope that the Minister heeds that, and that when the Bill moves into Committee we can all play an active part to ensure that we make it every bit as good as it can be, embracing as many individuals in this country who have been subjected to domestic abuse as possible, to give them the help that they need.
It is a pleasure to follow Caroline Nokes and others—especially my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, who is no longer in her place; I hope she is getting a nice cup of tea after making that incredibly moving and inspiring speech.
I declare my political approach: I am, as I have called myself many times, a professional feminist, and have been for 32 years; and I have been involved in domestic violence work for 32 years. That is the value that underpins my involvement, for all those decades, in anti-domestic violence work. That is not an accident; it is because the nature of domestic violence is incredibly gendered. We can acknowledge two things at once: we can acknowledge the gendered nature and at the same time acknowledge that there are male victims, and victims in same-sex relationships. I also work with the Men’s Advice Line, which supports male victims, and with Respect, the national organisation for work with perpetrators. As a perpetrator group worker at DViP—the Domestic Violence Intervention Project—I am very proud of what I learned there and hope to bring that to my speech today.
I first got involved in this work 32 years ago, as I said, in a refuge for young Asian women in Manchester. One of the things that used to break my heart was that the young women themselves would say, “What is there to try to fix him?” When I went on to work at the Women’s Aid national office in Bristol in 1991—that is what brought me to Bristol—women used to say, “What is there that might change him?” To be fair, so did the perpetrators themselves—men who use abuse. Many of them, not all, wanted to change. Professionals I worked with—police officers, social workers and refuge workers—would say, “Why isn’t there anything that we can at least try?”
I became wary of the idea that something would always be better than nothing, and so, indeed, it proved to be, as I went on to develop the country’s first accreditation standard and a system of inspection for perpetrator programmes. The Minister is very kind, as she graced me with her first meeting as a Minister to talk about exactly this issue. She will probably recognise some of what I am going to say today. I am grateful to her for her continued interest in this matter.
We found in our work, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, that separation alone does not increase safety for survivors and, sadly, this is often the time of highest risk for homicide, serious injury, stalking, murder of children and further harassment. Women wanted the programmes because they wanted their partners to be held to account. They found that, otherwise, their partners were going to mainstream therapy, marriage guidance, drug and alcohol services, or anger management. All of those services have something to offer, but none of them has the specific focus, skills, knowledge and understanding that is necessary to do good quality work with domestic violence perpetrators, and to do it safely, because, as I have said, something can be worse than nothing—a bad programme can do more harm than good.
I declare an interest. As I have already mentioned, I helped to develop the first accreditation system, along with my colleagues Neil Blacklock and Jo Todd. I feel incredibly proud that we decided to aim high. We decided that we should aim for, not one size fits all, but a programme that, whatever its shape, conformed to a very high set of standards. We make no apology for that. As Neil reminded me on the phone only this morning, for most things which are potential causes of risk such as schools, healthcare facilities, old people’s homes, and places for vulnerable people, there are regulations and a strong system of monitoring enforcement. No system is perfect—we know that—and there are people who will not benefit from perpetrator programmes, which by definition are managers of risk and places where dangerous people are at work, and who will continue to be violent. It is vital, therefore, that we have a good system on a statutory footing, so I urge the Minister to consider my plea that the accreditation system, which I am so proud to have helped to develop, is put on a statutory footing by some means during the passage of this Bill. I say that because colleagues in the women’s sector who work with women victims of domestic violence—I am sure that my hon. Friend Jess Phillips will confirm this—are rightly sceptical. They challenge us to do the best that we possibly can. Being held to account by the women’s sector is, in my view, essential for any decent perpetrator programme.
I knew that, when I turned up to co-facilitate a group of violent men, I could not do that without a proper linked safety service for women and ex-partners, as well as partners, and without there being proper evaluation and monitoring. While I was at Respect, I helped to commission research that evaluated the effectiveness of good programmes. I am pleased to say that, contrary to what some people say, there is good evidence on good programmes doing good and effective work. There is also evidence that bad programmes do bad work. I urge all hon. and right hon. Members, and particularly the Minister, to grasp this opportunity in both hands and to develop a really good, sound, meaningful strategy for perpetrator programmes so that we do not have the gaps that currently exist, and to ensure that the domestic abuse protection notices can have the meaning and purpose that I and—I am sure—the Minister want them to have. I thank all hon. Members for their attention and hope that, if they want to know more, they will join the all-party group on perpetrators of domestic abuse.
It is a great pleasure to follow Thangam Debbonaire, chair of the all-party group on perpetrators of domestic abuse. I am sure that her work is extraordinary and really important.
I also follow the speech a little earlier of the Mother of the House, Ms Harman, who talked about my constituent Natalie Connolly. Natalie Connolly, as she so rightly said, would be 28 years old now. She has a young daughter and she comes from a family of loving parents, loving grandparents, a loving sister and, of course, a loving daughter.
Natalie Connolly fell into a relationship with John Broadhurst in 2016. She was, I guess, impressed with him. He was a millionaire and she came from a relatively normal background. One Saturday afternoon, they went off to a rather extensive party. That evening, they were driven home by his driver. They went back to their house, which they were renting while their main one was being renovated, and indulged in intimate activities of an aggressive nature, which were allegedly consensual—I believe was consensual.
When John Broadhurst went to bed that night, he stepped over the bleeding, unconscious body of Natalie Connolly on the steps of their house and went upstairs, leaving her there. He came down the next morning, stepped across her now lifeless body, went and had breakfast, washed the car and called the emergency services, telling the police and paramedics that she was “dead as a doughnut”—which seems extraordinary.
Broadhurst was obviously charged with murder—the Crown Prosecution Service was going to maintain a murder case. The trial happened at the end of last year and was quite high profile at the time. The injuries that Natalie suffered were unbelievably extensive, extraordinarily intimate and, frankly, utterly, utterly brutal. She had lost a lot of blood from her injuries. But the problem was—this is where the law comes in—she bled into a carpet, so it was impossible to measure the extent of her blood loss. As a result, whether she died as a direct result of the injuries, or as a result of overuse of alcohol and possibly narcotics, could not be absolutely confirmed. The charges were therefore dropped from murder to manslaughter by neglect, owing to the fact that Broadhurst had left her behind to bleed to death overnight.
The problem was that to get the change of the charge, someone had to sit down and talk to the family. I have met the family—an immensely kind and loving group of people. I sat down with them and we had a conversation about their daughter, who had been besmirched by this vile man. Their last memories of her will be of the court case—people discussing what he alleged about her and her hideous, unbelievable injuries. As I sat with this family, I looked at a group of people whose memories of Natalie should be of buying her first Snow White costume or Barbie doll when she was a child—all the stuff we want to do as parents who love our families. Being asked to understand the risk-balances of complicated legal issues put this family in an intolerable position, as they had to work out the right way forward to get a prosecution.
One of the unbelievably brilliant things about this House is that we are actually not divided when it comes to this sort of thing. The Mother of the House, Ms Harman, reached out to me before Christmas and said, “Are you aware of this case?”, so the two of us worked together. I am not a lawyer, so I do not particularly understand these legal issues, but she does; this illustrates how good we can be as a House. We visited the Attorney General to see whether there could be a retrial, but he said, “Actually, no. In this particular case, the sentence was right because of the reduction of the charge.” So together—actually, me being led by her and learning from her—we want to table a couple of amendments.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend.
There are two points. The first is that “she was asking for it” cannot possibly be a defence when somebody dies. Apart from anything else, the individual does not have the ability to defend themselves, and their reputation is being destroyed in front of the people they loved, the people who care for them and their friends. That is absolutely wrong. The “Fifty Shades of Grey” defence cannot be allowed.
The second point is that victims’ families are not qualified to make the decision about changing the charge so that there can be a better chance of a conviction. We need people who are brilliantly clever at this—brilliant barristers who are brave enough to fight these cases on behalf of the victims. But what we can do is ensure that the decision is made by somebody who really understands the process, so that the Director of Public Prosecutions is the one who is consulted if a change is going to be made in a case pertaining to this type of injury and homicide in a domestic abuse setting. In that way, these families will get the support they need.
Natalie Connolly would have been 28 now, with a young daughter growing up in a warm family, but she is no longer with us. If there is any way in which we can remember her, we have to do something to make sure that this can never happen to anybody ever again.
There have been many days recently when I have not been particularly proud to be a Member of this House, but today I am intensely proud, particularly following that wonderful speech, which I will find it difficult to follow, and the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and from the Mother of the House and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. Each and every one of them has made us feel something.
There have been too many times in this place when we have had to be hardened and stoical or put on a brave face. Today I am not going to put on a brave face. Today we have a huge opportunity to make a difference for victims of domestic abuse in our constituencies. We all know them and care for them, and I do not think there is a woman alive in this country who has not experienced some of that behaviour or who knows somebody well who has. Now we have a chance to do something about it. This is a good day.
I will be resisting, though, those who say that we should show some restraint and not try to widen the Bill. This could be a rare opportunity. We might not get another such Bill for some time. We need to look to Departments other than the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, such as the Department for Education, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Department of Health and Social Care, to find out what we can do more broadly to support victims of domestic abuse.
I have seen the journey in my constituency that this field and the women’s organisations that support victims have been on. In 1976 in Darlington, we first had what was then called a refuge for battered wives. Thank God we have come a long way since then. It is now a safe haven for survivors. I want to take the opportunity to celebrate those who worked together to provide that vital service. They were the Rev. John Wright, Harry Cass, Val Portass, Louie Hutchinson, Isobel Hartley, Dot Long and Lillian Elliott. They are heroes, because if they had not done what they did then, my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) would not have had the opportunity to make the impact that they have. Those people were pioneers and they deserve that recognition and to be celebrated.
I am very worried that the Bill is limited to abuse experienced by people over the age of 16. I would accept that as appropriate if Ministers could show us where abuse under the age of 16 is sufficiently dealt with in other legislation. If it is dealt with adequately in other Acts of Parliament, fine. I just do not believe that it is at the moment.
I very much agree that children are often massive victims themselves, which can often have lifelong consequences for them. Does the hon. Lady agree with the Children’s Commissioner that the lower age limit of 16 should be removed from the Bill?
I do not know whether I agree with that or not, but this issue needs to be examined in great detail as the Bill progresses. This is the first opportunity that we have had to raise it in this place in this way. It needs further thought and consideration, and I am certain that it will get it.
I understand the point that Norman Lamb made, but does the hon. Lady agree that this issue is the best argument for every child in this country having relationship education and that we should absolutely dismiss anybody who says otherwise?
I completely agree, but relationship education is not enough, because I am afraid that the horse has already bolted. The University of Central Lancashire has done some research that will reinforce what I think everybody, particularly if they have teenage children, will know in their gut. Half of young people in relationships between teenagers are reporting emotional abuse and a fifth are reporting physical abuse. A third of girls have reported sexual violence. A quarter of boys have reported some form of sexual violence. Over 50% have reported abuse via new technology. Controlling behaviour through surveillance and being pressurised into sexting is the most common form of abuse reported by girls. If there are two teenagers and one of them is insisting that they check the other’s phone and use apps to monitor their location, that is a red flag if ever there was one.
The fact is that we are not adequately supporting young people and intervening. Given my background, I understand very well about not wanting to criminalise young people—I completely get that—but I am not seeing a framework, criminal or otherwise, for intervening and adequately tackling these kinds of problematic behaviours. This must not be dismissed as somehow less important because it is about two people who are under the age of 16; in fact, it is more important. There is an opportunity to intervene that we are missing repeatedly.
The problem with this Bill is that we are focusing on how the system should work. In the Bill Committee, we will receive assurance after assurance from Ministers saying, “Your worry will be taken care of because of this or that measure.” I have been through this far too many times to take those kinds of assurances at face value. We must be forensic and persistent, and we must continue to debate this in the way we have this afternoon.
I have high hopes for this Bill—I really do. I think it could be Parliament at its very, very best. But we must be persistent, we must be clear about what we want, and we need to work with those heroes outside this place who really do know what they are talking about, and who we will have to go back to when we have completed this process and say, “We’ve done our best by you.”
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. We have heard two of the most powerful speeches I have heard in my time in Parliament. First and foremost by a country mile was that by Rosie Duffield. It was one of the bravest and most powerful speeches I have ever heard not just in this place but anywhere. Her contribution to this debate will be remembered for an awfully long time, and this debate will be remembered for her contribution to it. Following hot on her heels was my hon. Friend Mark Garnier, who also made an incredibly powerful speech regarding his late constituent. If those examples do not force us into some kind of action, nothing will. It is a pleasure to follow their speeches.
I want to make points that I do not think anyone else will make, which is often my role in these debates. I want to try to stop all the consensus in terms of the idea that we have had throughout this debate that domestic violence is a gender-based crime. It is not, and we would be doing a huge disservice if we were to run away with that idea and make this legislation work only on that basis. Men are perpetrators of domestic violence; men are victims of domestic violence. Women are perpetrators of domestic violence; women are victims of domestic violence. I will go through the figures in a second to show why it is not gender-based. We in this House have a duty to treat everybody equally before the law. I hope that it does not matter whether the perpetrator is a man or woman—they should face the full rigour of the law regardless—and whether the victim is a man or woman, they should have exactly the same safeguards from this House. I hope that that is what this legislation will do and I do not want to hear any ideas that it should not be like that.
For the record, the latest official figures that are available show that someone is one and a half times more likely to be a female victim of domestic violence in a lesbian relationship than in a heterosexual relationship. We should not be leaving behind those victims of domestic violence by running away with the idea that it is gender-based. In fact, 5.1% of men reported being victims of non-sexual partner abuse with a male partner, which is exactly the same level as women have with a male partner. Men are just as likely to abuse a male partner as they are a female partner. So this is not gender-based violence—it is unacceptable violence by all sorts of people and we should treat them all equally before the law.
My hon. Friend needs to accept the fact that women are more affected by domestic violence than any other group. Does he not agree with the Joint Committee recommendation that, rather than putting it on the face of the Bill—perhaps for some of the reasons he is talking about—we should take the approach that the Government have accepted and have statutory guidance to ensure that those who commission services are clear about the need to reflect the needs of women in the services that they provide?
I want all victims to get the services that they need, but we have just been hearing on our Women and Equalities Committee about instances of male victims of domestic violence. We heard very moving accounts of that recently. We all want to ensure that they get the services that they require too. This is not about either/or. I want to see everyone who is a victim of domestic violence get the treatment and support that they need. I do not care whether that is a man or a woman, and nor should anyone in this House. We should want to provide those facilities and services for everyone—whether someone is in a majority or a minority category is irrelevant.
Having got that on the record, there is much in the Bill that I support and some things that I would like to be added to it. In the time available, I want to mention the two things that I would like to see added. In recent years, one of the things that I have been increasingly troubled by is the level of parental alienation, where one parent tries to turn the children against the other parent, using the child as a weapon in their dispute. That is a growing phenomenon, which I see in my surgeries and is well documented.
Clearly, in some cases, in particular when domestic violence is taking place, it is right for the parent to be removed from the whole family. I am a hard-liner on crime, as most people know, and I would have the courts treat perpetrators of domestic violence much more severely than they are at the moment. However, where there is no good reason for a parent to remove the other parent’s contact with the child, that parental alienation should in itself be seen as a form of domestic abuse. One thing that has come out in this debate, rightly, is that often the people who are the biggest victims of domestic abuse are the children. When a child is deliberately turned against the other parent for no good reason, that should be included in the definition of domestic abuse—[Interruption.] I am surprised that the SNP think that is a particular problem, but that is a matter for them to explain. They ought to meet some parents who suffer from parental alienation and then they might realise what a massive issue it is for them; often it leads to suicide. The SNP ought to think about those people.
When people make a false allegation of domestic abuse—which is also a very serious thing—the Government should consider that to be a form of domestic abuse as well in this legislation. That is one of the most terrible things that someone can be wrongly accused of.
After the terrible scenes in the House last week, it is reassuring that this House can also be a force for good. However, there remain things on which we passionately disagree, and I refer to what Philip Davies has just said. But I have a limited amount of time, so I will concentrate on what I want to say about the Bill.
I can testify personally to the importance that the Bill holds for survivors of domestic abuse, both in my constituency and further afield. It is a progressive reform that should be celebrated, but the Bill could go even further to protect survivors. and I am disappointed—I have mentioned this before—that children who have witnessed abuse have not been included in the statutory definition of domestic abuse victims.
People know that I am passionate about the issue of adverse childhood experiences and preventing them. Witnessing domestic abuse in childhood is a traumatic experience and we must recognise that. Adverse childhood experiences greatly increase a child’s likelihood of ending up in the criminal justice system, or of being part of an abusive relationship themselves. This is not about when they are directly abused, but about when they are witnesses. That in itself is such a traumatic event. For that reason alone we must make sure that children are included in the statutory definition. I urge the Minister to look at that again.
The Bill fails to safeguard survivors against homelessness. Under the current system, survivors of domestic abuse are not automatically placed on priority needs lists for social housing. Instead, they are required to undergo a vulnerability test—they have to go through traumatic evidence of their abuse to prove that they are vulnerable. We have already heard testimony about how retraumatising certain things are when people have to relive their experiences. We must not retraumatise survivors. This approach means that all too often survivors end up homeless because they do not want to go through the retraumatising event. Recent studies suggest that 12% of homeless families cite domestic abuse as the reason for their homelessness, while only 2% of priority housing lists are made up of domestic abuse survivors, so we can do better: we can have a system that assumes that survivors of domestic abuse are all vulnerable, as all our evidence on the subject suggests, and ensures that they are prioritised in housing allocations, therefore keeping survivors off the streets. We can do better.
Another part of the legislation I worry about—it has been mentioned—is the use of polygraph tests. I understand it is only a pilot, but its use even only to determine an offender’s licence after release is troubling. Polygraphs are not reliable and the inclusion of polygraphs in this legislation goes against the grain of the Bill, confusing modern reforms with outdated methods.
I disagree that the cost of domestic abuse prevention orders should be shouldered by the police force taking those orders to court. That undermines the whole idea of domestic abuse prevention orders. It puts policemen in the position of having to use resources that simply are not there, or convincing a victim to go to the courts on their own because they do not have to pay. We can do better. We can use proven methods to determine if rehabilitation has worked and we can create funding methods that do not place burdens directly on to local police.
Finally—I have already said this today—I must mention the Istanbul convention, which is still unratified by this Government. Ratifying the Istanbul convention would go a long way towards addressing the concerns about the Bill. It would also prove that this Government are not afraid to match global standards on care for survivors. Ratification would mean that support systems were not just promised but guaranteed for survivors. It is time that this Government step up not only with warm words, but with meaningful actions.
The Bill will allow many more survivors to seek justice, but alone it is not enough. We must try to support survivors beyond the courts to rebuild their lives.
It is a pleasure to follow the many fantastic and powerful speeches that we have had today. When I have spoken before in this place about domestic abuse, I have talked about the fact that it can happen to anybody. Over the last year, a number of people have come forward with very similar stories, including that they have subsequently found out that the person involved was a repeat offender, and they were perhaps the second, third, fourth or fifth individual that that person had got to, abused and then discarded.
There are some really important measures in the Bill; I will not go through them all for reasons of time. We have been working for a long time with organisations such as Women’s Aid on cross-examination in the family courts. Although this does not particularly need legislation, I would also like more awareness in the family courts of cluster B personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder, so that people hearing the evidence are not taken in by a perpetrator’s superficial charm.
We have talked about economic abuse. I commend the work of organisations such as Lloyds bank, which is offering extra support to people it discovers are experiencing financial, economic and domestic abuse. It is so important that we educate others, including GPs. We heard from the former Secretary of State for International Trade, my right hon. Friend for—
My hon. Friend could have intervened and given me an extra minute, by the way.
My right hon. Friend Dr Fox talked about the advice GPs have given about perpetrators. In the case of Luke and Ryan Hart, the GP explained that he thought their father, who went on to shoot their mother and sister in broad daylight, was a fine, upstanding member of society. Clearly, he was totally taken in by that gentleman’s narcissistic personality disorder.
The Bill’s measures on secure tenancies raise a few more questions. Crisis raised with me and other Members the fact that people who flee abusive relationships and request emergency housing have to keep telling their story at every level. It would be fantastic to have a single advocate with whom those people could go through that process, easing the burden on them. There is nothing worse for people than having to rehash their story time and again. Not everybody is as bold and brave as Rosie Duffield and can use their story for such powerful advocacy. Extraordinarily, the perpetrator often stays in the property; the person fleeing has to give up everything rather than being supported to stay in their house.
I welcome the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, which means we can start to talk about awareness. We are working on an awareness campaign that talks about entry-level red flags to stop people getting into abusive relationships in the first place. That is being led by the Daily Express, along with my former staff member, Robyn Thackara, who has become a formidable campaigner on emotional abuse issues and in particular highlights narcissistic personality disorder. They are doing a wonderful job to explain those basic things to stop people getting involved.
There is no domestic violence without emotional abuse in the first place, whether that is gaslighting or projection. Often, women—although, as we have discussed, this is not necessarily solely about women—are less like a frog in boiling water, which will leap out when it first senses danger and pain, than a frog in cold water that is heated up slowly. Women are often drawn into an abusive relationship over a period of time, until it is too late—until they have been brainwashed and, in effect, kidnapped in plain sight.
It is important to understand that, when we highlight narcissistic personality disorders and cluster B disorders, we are talking about people who cannot easily change. We therefore need to put the emphasis back on ensuring that people do not get involved in the first place and that all the organisations around them, and all of us, are aware. We need to talk about these things in the same way we talk about things such as “stranger danger” so we can look out for each other and people do not get in this position in the first place.
May I start by saying how much I and many others present appreciate the consensual nature of the debate? As well as praising the leadership of my own party’s Front Benchers, who have been fantastic on this issue, I thank the Government Front Benchers for the remarkable leadership they have shown. In particular, I thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, who has met me many times to discuss this and other issues. She was the first Member from the 2015 intake to go into government, so I see her as an ambassador for all of us in that intake, and she has done very well. The Minister for Health, Edward Argar, was previously in the Ministry of Justice. Although he has now been moved to another Department, he is back here supporting the Bill. Those things do not get noticed by people observing us from outside, but they really matter to those of us who are here.
I was made very aware of the problem of cross-examination by perpetrators of domestic violence when a woman came to see me at a surgery soon after I became a Member of Parliament. She had suffered so much abuse—she had been raped multiple times, she had been knocked unconscious and she had been hospitalised more than a dozen times—but the perpetrator of those crimes, from prison, summonsed her to family court on three separate occasions. She told me that on the third occasion she had to ask the taxi driver to stop on the way home so she could vomit in the gutter because of the experience of being cross-examined by the perpetrator of the crimes against her. She told me that if she was summonsed a fourth time, she would capitulate and give him whatever he wanted. She was broken, not just by the criminal who raped and abused her, but by the system that allowed her to be cross-examined by him, and that allowed the abuse to continue under the nose of judges, and in front of police—the very people the state appoints to support and protect women like her.
After a huge campaign, both from Members from across the House and in the media, the Government finally gave way and agreed to make a change. I credit Mr Speaker with granting me an urgent question on the subject in January 2017, almost three years ago, at which the Government relented for the first time and promised to change the law. Sir Oliver Heald, then Minister for Courts and Justice, said in response to the urgent question:
“This sort of cross-examination is illegal in the criminal courts, and I am determined to see it banned in family courts, too.”—[Official Report,
He reiterated the urgency thus:
“work is being done at a great pace…the urgency is there.”—[Official Report,
That is important. The woman I mentioned cried with joy at the news that there would be a change. In her words, she felt liberated; a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
However, we must recognise the scale of the suffering that there has been since the Government gave that commitment almost three years ago. While we celebrate the Bill finally bring brought in, there has been much suffering as a result of the delays. As Lord Justice Munby said on Radio 4 recently:
“Every day that passes exposes more victims to what is intolerable. Today, in court somewhere in this country, there will be someone—a frightened victim—being let down by the system. It must stop”.
I pay tribute to Lord Justice Munby for the support that he has shown for the changes.
In the time left to me, I want to mention quickly the role of Domestic Abuse Commissioner. It is essential that we get that role right. We have seen how Brexit eclipses everything in this Chamber; we urgently need an independent, strong voice for victims of domestic violence that can rise above that.
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. The Home Affairs Committee, after much deliberation, wanted the commissioner to be independent of Government and to report directly to Parliament, and I agree. The Joint Committee on the draft Bill suggested that there be Cabinet Office involvement to avoid conflicts of interest in the Home Office reporting line. It is important to stress that the Children’s Commissioner is independent of Government and Parliament. The Information Commissioner’s Office is independent, even though it is supported and sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. The independence of those organisations, even though they report every year to Parliament, is absolutely essential. That kind of independence would give a credible, powerful, unignorable voice to victims of domestic violence.
We hope that Brexit is in its endgame, but even if Parliament passes a deal, we will then enter years of negotiation and turmoil in this House. We need to make sure that we never lose our voice on domestic issues such as this, and particularly on support for victims of violent crime such as domestic violence. As the Bill moves into Committee, I urge a detailed re-examination of the reporting line to the commissioner, to ensure maximum independence for them, the greatest voice for abuse survivors, and maximum benefit to our body politic from the commissioner’s role. The commissioner-elect is here; I say to her and others observing the debate that I am not criticising her role but making sure that she has all the powers she needs. If she uncovers something that needs to be voiced and that needs to change, and we are too busy, or the media are too occupied, to listen to her voice, and if that is buried in the normal Home Office reporting line, that will be to her detriment.
I am delighted to follow my constituency neighbour, Peter Kyle, but I am also rather daunted—daunted because I am not a woman, because I am not Welsh and because whatever I say I am fated, along with everybody else, to be in the shadow of the outstanding contribution from Rosie Duffield. If ever anyone needed evidence that domestic abuse takes on many guises, puts on many faces and can insidiously target anyone in any place, it was her emotional, harrowing and brave contribution.
I agree with everything that has been said, and I very much welcome the Bill. I want to comment on a few things that are not in it, however, rather than on what is in it. As we have heard, this is not just about changing legislation; it is about changing culture and the way we look at domestic abuse. We must demonise it wherever it rears its ugly head.
I want to concentrate on the impact on children. As we heard from the former Prime Minister, that is often overlooked. When I was Children’s Minister, I was shocked to find that over three quarters of safeguarding cases had domestic violence at their heart. Incredibly, one third of domestic violence cases start during the pregnancy of the woman victim. When women are abused in the home, the impact can traumatise the children. When they are forced to flee, the disruption to the lives of those children, particularly if they are of school age, is immense. Refuges tell us that around half of their residents are children, while 770,000 children live with an adult who has experienced domestic abuse in the previous year, according to the Children’s Commissioner. It is the most prevalent risk affecting children in need.
I was very proud, along with Carolyn Harris, to be part of the “On the Sidelines” report by the London domestic abuse charity, Hestia, in collaboration with Pro Bono Economics and the “UK Says No More” campaign. It highlighted that one in four women and one in six men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, but that the millions of children exposed to it in their homes are too often considered merely witnesses to the abuse, rather than victims themselves. When children are exposed, they can suffer in the short, medium and longer term, and it is also intergenerational, as we have heard in so many cases. Over half of people suffering domestic abuse as an adult experienced it as a child: “Well, it happened to my mum when I was growing up, so inevitably it’s going to happen to me, isn’t it?” That is an extraordinary culture that we absolutely must dispel.
Children need to feature more prominently in the Bill. Domestic abuse is the single most common factor that leads to children requiring support from local authority children’s services—and we know the pressure they are under. I have spent a lot of time on the doorstep with social workers. I spent a week being a social worker in Stockport. I met a fantastic and very experienced domestic violence specialist social worker who was the linchpin of that safeguarding team, a great authority who joined together various agencies. It is, however, a postcode lottery whether that experience is available in local authorities.
We need to embed in local authority delivery domestic abuse specialists able to draw together all the agencies involved to ensure an effective and comprehensive local offer. I welcome the national Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who started two weeks ago, but there is also a case for local domestic abuse commissioners—a high-profile figures who can ensure that local authorities are living up to their duties to provide a local service. I believe that can be done only by including in the Bill a statutory duty on funding. By working with this cohort of expert frontline providers, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner could have a stronger role in strengthening planning at local and national levels to ensure that all are protected from abuse. That would help to embed the impact of domestic abuse on children in local safeguarding teams as well.
As an aside, I believe that health visitors have an important role to play, too, as an early warning system of trusted professionals going into houses to meet new parents. I reiterate, therefore, that it is a false economy to have reduced the number of health visitors by 30% since the excellent work the coalition Government did in building up their numbers by more than 4,000 by 2015.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. He was an excellent Children’s Minister and speaks with great authority on these matters. I was struck in the briefing document by the cost of domestic abuse and the fact that just a 0.1% decrease in the prevalence of domestic abuse would pay for the measures in the Bill. As he says, it is a false economy to stint on this.
As with so much to do with child safeguarding, getting it wrong is the most expensive thing.
We need to do much more work on prevention. We should task the Domestic Abuse Commissioner with looking at not just how we respond and making sure that perpetrators are locked up, but how we can prevent it in the first place, and better education in schools about what constitutes an appropriate relationship is an important part of that.
I want to make a few other quick points. Proper funding of refuge places, which has been promised by the Government, is essential. There was still a shortage of refuge places last year. It is not just a question of money, though; technical factors are also impeding the availability of urgently required beds. Women without children who are fleeing violence and who seek safety in refuges are not automatically considered to be in priority need of housing. I have been told by refuges that in some cases women are staying in hostels for several years, which is again a false economy, when they could be in independent housing, living safely with their children. We also need to give children who are living in refuges priority access to schools, as we have done for children in care and adopted children.
We have to look holistically at the issue. It is not just about better funding for refuges; it is also about making sure that we have better services across the board, including specialist domestic abuse service providers, child support workers, outreach workers and especially better joined-up working for women fleeing out of local authority areas when they have to go to a refuge. We need a network of refuges across the country.
This is a fantastic Bill. It can be improved. It is long overdue. Let us not ruin it by making it too complicated.
I am pleased to follow Tim Loughton, who concentrated on and spoke eloquently about the impact of domestic abuse on children. I, too, want to concentrate on putting children first and will focus my remarks on how domestic abuse is considered in the family courts.
Members will recall the debate I secured on this issue in September 2016. In my speech I referred specifically to a tragedy suffered by my constituent, Claire Throssell, as a way of illustrating as powerfully as I could the need for reform. Claire is with us today, sitting in the Under-Gallery, and I welcome her to the debate. I make no apology for recounting again in this Chamber her account of what happened on that dreadful day when her boys were murdered at the hands of their own father. I only wish Philip Davies was in his place to listen.
“It took just 15 minutes on the 22nd October, 2014, for my life and heart to be broken completely beyond repair. I had warned those involved with my case that my happy, funny boys would be killed by their own father;
I was right.
My boys were both with their father on that October day, and at around 6.30pm he enticed Paul, nine, and Jack, 12, up to the attic, with the promise of trains and track to build a model railway. When the boys were in the attic, he lit 16 separate fires around the house, which he had barricaded, so my sons could not get out and the firemen could not get in.
Only 15 minutes later…the doorbell rang at my mum’s. (We were staying there temporarily after the separation.)
‘It’s the boys, they must be early,’ my mum said—but I knew that wasn’t right. The boys would have run into the house and straight into my arms;
they always did after a visit to their dad. They were frightened of him—he was a perpetrator of domestic abuse. The statutory agencies involved in our case knew this.
I opened the door. Blue lights were flashing.
‘There's been an incident at your former home;
the boys have been involved in a fire…’
Running into the hospital, the first thing I saw was Paul receiving CPR. A doctor, drenched in sweat and exhausted, told me they were withdrawing treatment.
I held Paul in my arms. I begged him to try, to stay, to not leave me.
He looked at me, smiled, and the life left his beautiful blue eyes. His hair was wet with my tears as I kissed his nose. Then Paul, my boy, was taken out of my arms and into another room. There was no further chance of touching him;
his little body was now part of a serious crime enquiry.”
I can never read those words or hear them—and I know the Minister feels the same, because she has sat with me and listened to Claire—without feeling the enormous loss Claire has suffered. But Claire is brave. She has chosen not to turn in on herself but rather to embrace love as a means of dealing with her tragedy. She has chosen to protect all children, if she possibly can, by making sure that the law is changed.
By that I mean reform of the family courts. We need access to special measures in those courts to separate survivors from the perpetrators, as well as special protection rooms, entrances and exits, and screens and video links. Clause 53, in part 1, provides for that to apply in the criminal courts, but we need to amend the Bill to ensure that it is extended to the civil and family courts.
Does the hon. Lady agree—and Claire’s case speaks to this more loudly than almost any that I have ever heard—that the presumption of access by an abusive parent has to end?
I completely agree. Indeed, I was about to say exactly that.
We need to extend the ban on cross-examination by perpetrators to the family courts, because the Bill does not do that at present, and, more than anything else, we need to change the culture of the family courts. Claire’s children died after their father won the right to unsupervised contact. The domestic abuse that she had suffered from Darren Sykes was not taken seriously by any agency, or by the courts themselves. It was assumed that his children would be safe in his care. The judge who made that judgment is still practising in the family courts in Barnsley.
The research on this indicates clearly that a man who abuses his wife or his partner is more likely to abuse his children. We therefore need to end the assumption of contact when there is a risk to a child from domestic abuse, as called for by Claire and by Women’s Aid, and we need a ban on unsupervised contact when a father is awaiting trial, or is on bail, for domestic abuse offences. The Bill, as it stands, does not deliver such a provision. We also need to ensure that the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill includes coercive control as a source of harm to children. That point has been made by many other Members today.
The Bill needs to be amended along those lines if it is to be fit for purpose. That is the legacy that Claire has campaigned for—a positive legacy that would stand as a tribute to her children—and, in the name of Jack and Paul, we have a moral responsibility to secure these protections for all our children. Let us not miss this golden opportunity to secure the change that we need.
I support the Bill, but it can be better, and I hope that the Minister will agree when she sums up the debate.
It is very difficult to follow the speech of Angela Smith, who talked of the terrible tragedy that happened to Paul and Jack, and to Claire Throssell, who is here in the Chamber today. I commend her bravery and courage in coming forward, and that is actually quite relevant to what I am going to speak about.
I am particularly pleased to speak in such a collaborative debate about such an important subject, and I commend the Government for introducing this landmark Bill. We have heard about harrowing cases today, and all of us will be supporting survivors of domestic abuse in all its forms in our communities. I welcome the focus on supporting survivors, because I have seen in my own constituency the enormous, positive difference that effective support can make.
The Ministry of Justice recently funded the brilliant Women Out West centre in Whitehaven, which was founded by the equally brilliant Rachel Holliday, and it is in that centre that I have met domestic abuse survivors. The recurring theme that I find so awful is the family courts system, and, specifically, the most dreadful cases in which mothers have been victims and, as survivors, have bravely and courageously sought help, only for a secretive family court to decide on the cruellest act, which is to remove their children. There can be no stronger bond than the bond between mother and child, and to have that bond torn apart is unthinkable, but it is far too often the outcome for mothers who seek help, or flee an abusive home and an abusive relationship. In some cases, the children are placed—by the state, by the family courts—directly in the hands of the perpetrator, with devastating consequences, as we have just heard.
I have been working with Safelives. I support its calls for cultural change in children’s social care, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the judiciary, and for the prohibition of unsupervised contact for any parent who is on bail for domestic abuse-related offences or undergoing the hearing process. The fear of social services is too often cited as the single main source of stress, and the cases of perpetrators of domestic abuse going on to abuse and even murder the children we are supposed to protect are a tragedy of our times.
At my local women’s centre, I learned of a survivor of domestic abuse. She is a qualified nanny who can continue to look after other people’s children, but her own children were taken away from her by the family courts and placed in the care of the perpetrator, who has no biological connection with them,. I commend the work of everyone who is campaigning to #getmhome. In support of the Bill, I commend all those—the organisations, the survivors and everyone else—who have worked hard to shape it and steer it to be as effective as possible. I reiterate the requirement for specialist domestic abuse training before cases reach the family courts which, I add, need to be looked at seriously.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate. It is really pleasing that the atmosphere is one of unity, dignity and calm, as we all work together to get this Bill through and improve it.
I pay tribute to many hon. Members in the House who are strong champions of fairness and equality, who refuse to allow the Bill to die. Many of them have been in the House a lot longer than me, and should be proud of their record. I specifically want to mention my hon. Friends the Members for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott and, of course, my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, who is no longer in her place. Her contribution this afternoon was amazing, and many people outside the House will take heart from it.
The Bill has the potential to transform our response and reaction to domestic abuse. We have an opportunity to make history and genuinely protect those who need our solidarity, and to raise up those who have been ignored for too long. However, the Bill as it stands falls far short of meeting and achieving its full potential. One in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime; two women a week are killed at the hands of their partner or ex-partner; three women a week die by suicide as a result of the abuse they have experienced; and 2 million people experience domestic abuse in England and Wales every year. I make no apology for restating those shocking statistics. That is why it is essential that this incredibly widespread, devastating form of abuse is given the attention that it deserves, and that we use the Bill to deliver the reform that we all know is well overdue.
To deliver those reforms we need to improve the Bill, which must be amended to include reforms to universal credit and to housing and immigration law. Most importantly, the statutory definition of domestic abuse must be amended to reflect the reality of this crime—namely that women make up the overwhelming majority of victims and survivors, and more than 25% of victims are over 60. The Bill must be amended so that all survivors are protected from the traumatising practice of being cross-examined directly by the perpetrator. Can we imagine how horrific and intimidating it must be to have broken free of an abuser and come face to face with them once again in the courtroom?
I hope that the Government will advance the Bill through the House and the other place as swiftly as possible. The Minister must guarantee that it receives the attention and support that it deserves. Opposition Members and, I suspect, many Government Members will hold the Government accountable until the Bill receives Royal Assent and the funding from the Treasury that it needs and deserves.
Lastly, I would like to say a word about strong women: the strong women on the Opposition Benches to whom I pay tribute for their activism, campaigning and championing of this issue; and the victims of domestic abuse, to whom I say, “Stay strong, ask for help, and Members of the House are with you.” With a strong Domestic Abuse Bill, strengthened in Committee, we will be able to prove that inaction, apathy and ignorance will come to an end once and for all.
I have sat here listening to this debate and been taken to thoughts and memories of my own, which has led me to cross out almost the entirety of my speech, to the great frustration of my staff. I have probably wasted a lot of their afternoon. I often find in this place, particularly when I end up with a very short time to speak, that I need to skip things that would duplicate what others have said. Perhaps I will stick to talking about personal experiences.
I want to pay tribute, as many others have done, to my right hon. Friend Mrs May for her incredibly considered, experienced and passionate speech. Although many people have worked on this issue, the Bill should be considered a flagship and a real bastion of her time in No. 10. It is a hugely important legacy for her as an individual, as well as for the House. I also want to pay tribute to Rosie Duffield for her incredibly passionate and moving speech, which took me back to an experience that I will mention shortly. Her speech has every right and reason to lead the news later, but it will not do so because Brexit will once again kick other news off the agenda. Her speech was incredibly important in its own right and it will help people, even aside from this legislation.
I said that the hon. Lady’s speech reminded me of something. I recently ran the Mansfield 10K, which also made me cry, albeit in a slightly different way. That was a painful cry, but I survived it none the less. I ran the 10K to raise money for the charity Nottinghamshire Independent Domestic Abuse Services—NIDAS. I have been working with it for two years, since I was elected. Like so many charities around the UK, it helps people in their time of need, and it has helped more than 5,000 people in Mansfield and Ashfield over the past five years. That is an area of roughly 180,000 people, and the fact that it has supported 5,000 people in five years just goes to show the extent of this issue in my part of the world. We have some of the worst figures for domestic abuse anywhere in the country.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, came to visit NIDAS, and we both had a really interesting time hearing about the services it provides. It was also a very emotional visit. I find myself feeling increasingly emotional since I had children —I do not like to admit how much that is the case—and I sat in that room crying as I listened to the accounts of some of the women who had been supported by the charity. In particular, a piece of creative writing that one of the women had done through her therapy, supported by the charity, was really moving. The contribution from the hon. Member for Canterbury brought that back to me, so I thought I would recount that experience.
Many of the Bill’s obvious benefits have been discussed in this debate, including preventing victims of domestic abuse from being cross-examined by their perpetrators, and the creation of the new Domestic Abuse Commissioner role, which I hope will ensure that the focus of scrutiny continues long after we stop talking about the Bill in this place. Another example that brought me back to a personal experience was the idea of broadening the domestic abuse definition in law.
Carolyn Harris on the Opposition Front Bench mentioned older people and talked about how the over-75s do not necessarily get the same support. I can give the House an example from a working-class community that I represent. For a lot of people who were married in the 1950s or 1960s, the husbands would have had the money and paid their wives a housekeeping allowance on a weekly basis. In many parts of my community, that is still the case. It is something that we do not necessarily see or recognise, and these days we in the Chamber would all probably think that it was unacceptable, but it persists and we do not even notice it in many cases. I was reminded of it by a point made by the Opposition Front Bencher, and it is something that we can now prevent, hopefully through the passage of this Bill and by providing a clear definition to help some of those women to come forward and say, “Actually, I now realise that this is not right.” Obviously there is a more detailed debate to be had throughout the community if we are to get all this right. As was mentioned earlier, even a tiny reduction in domestic abuse will make the Bill pay for itself. If these measures make anybody feel safer or bring perpetrators to justice, the Bill will have done its job, and for that reason I trust that it will have unanimous support in the House today.
I would like to put my thanks on record for the leadership shown by both Front Benches on this important Bill.
For me, the debate is very personal, because domestic abuse has shaped everything I stand for and is what put me on the journey into Parliament. It is brilliant that once the Bill goes through women will have services available and we will have enshrined the definition of abuse in law. That was not always the case, and some women experienced so much abuse, when the services were not there, that they were driven to kill. Twenty-seven years ago, there was such a woman who killed her abuser and went to prison for 14 years. That woman was Zoora Shah, and she was my mum.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent case of Sally Challen has given voice to the issue? Hopefully, legal change will continue through the Bill to allow people to understand that some of these issues are not simply black and white, but the reality of the lives of people who have been terribly abused. The worst that can happen to a family can easily happen, as she is saying.
I agree with my hon. Friend and thank her for that timely intervention.
Twenty-seven years ago, when Zoora Shah did not have the right services, she went to prison for 14 years. At the time, she did not tell her story. I am talking about this in this debate because I want to talk about specific services for BAME women, especially specialist services that understand domestic abuse, as my former colleague on the Home Affairs Committee mentioned.
It is more complicated for women of BAME heritage. My mother did not talk about being abused because of the concept of honour. I have talked about honour crimes before, and I shall give an example. Had Zoora Shah been arrested by an officer who was non-white, she might have had a different experience. Had she been arrested by a woman of colour, or even a woman of her background, they might have understood her experience of abuse, which drove her to kill. Had she been represented by a female solicitor from her cultural background, she might have had a different experience. Had her case been dealt with by a judge with an ethnic background or who understood her culture, the outcome for her might have been very different. The outcome of my life might have been very different, and that of my siblings and my family.
That is why it is important to have a reflective workforce. It is about having specialist services for women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who understand the culture. When a lady called Tahmina rang me on a Saturday morning three years ago to say that a girl in Pakistan had been murdered, I could identify it straight away as an honour crime. That girl was not just murdered and buried: she became a campaign and a cause, ensuring that we talk about honour crime and about her rape, and continue to try to seek justice for her.
I have an understanding of honour and the impact of it on me. I will describe it in the words that my dear friend Sal used to me last week:
“is the shroud that covers me, weaved from the threads of my identity, integrity, values and the decisions that I make.”
I am emphasising honour because my mother served extra time in prison—she could not speak up because of the impact of honour. It is a code of conduct in my community by which we behave.
It is apt today that I talk about honour in a different context. Yesterday, The Guardian reported that in my election campaign in 2017 I had felt suicidal because I was dishonoured. My opponent, having a background from my community, knowingly ran a campaign in which a man in the community stood up and actually said, “When we buy a dog, we check its pedigree. Look at Naz Shah’s character, look at her demeanour, her chaal chalan”—as he put it—“and how she presents herself”. What The Guardian did not report was that in this email I equated that to honour abuse, and I do not say that lightly, as a daughter of a woman who at one point in giving evidence about her abuse referred to herself as having become a “mattress” to men. When someone who comes from that background ends up being a Member of Parliament and the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, sitting on these Green Benches and able to represent the voices of those who are dead and buried thousands of miles away—
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for her speech, which is very wide ranging. She is cramming a huge amount into a short time, but we are learning a huge amount. She has mentioned the importance of having staff who are trained in issues relating to different ethnicities and BAME backgrounds and cultures. Does she agree that now that the Government are finally recruiting more police officers, it is essential that these issues are taken into account, as we have the opportunity to get more people into police enforcement?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comment. I absolutely agree with it, which is why I am so passionate. I teach and deliver the diversity session at the national police strategic command course, because I want my experiences to influence that change so that we have a reflective workforce—the police officer, judge and solicitor I mentioned—for all these women.
Importantly, we must recognise that the experiences of women from BAME backgrounds are different. They impact upon us differently and they have ramifications for us. I was literally feeling suicidal during that campaign because my very fabric was being attacked publicly—honour really does play a part. When we talk about men who kill women because of “honour”, because they have been “shamed”, because it has impacted upon their izzat, I want this House to recognise the severity of that—of what it means. Even today, as a woman, I did not recognise my own forced marriage until I was in my 30s. I did not recognise that I was involved in marital rape until I was in my 40s. That is what domestic violence is.
As a proud survivor, I will say this to this House: we may be taking this into account and putting £300,000 into BAME specialist services, but that is not enough. We need much more for those women. We need that specialist service, in order to understand the experiences of migrant women—the experiences of women who do not have English as a first language. We need specialist services.
It is a privilege to follow Naz Shah and to take part in this landmark debate. We have heard so many memorable contributions from all around the Chamber. This Bill has been a long time in coming, and although there has been much prior scrutiny it is very welcome. It provides the framework for tackling a crime that has scarred people’s lives for generations. The personal cost is enormous and the impact upon society is devastating. Good work is already being done, whether by the Waveney Domestic Violence Forum or the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, Tim Passmore, but in many ways they are working with one arm behind their back. We need to empower them. This Bill can do that, but to be fully successful it must be underpinned by adequate funding, proper support for victims, and the promotion of a cultural change in society and across the whole public sector.
The Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, must take great credit for doing an enormous amount of preparatory work on this Bill. They have done much of the heavy lifting, but, as he stated, this Bill must not be viewed as the sole responsibility of his Department; it must be owned across government. We need to take down those departmental silos.
Refuge draws attention to one of the unintended consequences of universal credit that must be addressed—the need to reform those aspects of UC that currently facilitate and exacerbate economic abuse. Those reforms would include paying universal credit separately by default and abolishing the five-week delay for survivors. Refuge is also seeking an amendment to protect survivors of domestic abuse from the trauma and intimidation of being directly cross-examined in court by their perpetrator, which is inappropriate and wholly unacceptable. SafeLives urges the need for reform in the court system, and highlights the need for specialist support for adult and child victims through the family courts. It also emphasises the need for better funding of a larger number of independent domestic abuse advisers.
Nowhere—no home, no workplace—is a guaranteed sanctuary from domestic abuse. No one can be sure that they will never be a victim, but there are those who are more at risk—women, rather than men; children, who will carry the devastating impact throughout their life; and, as our society ages, older people, as my hon. Friend Sarah Newton highlighted. That is a concern that Age UK has also highlighted. To age-proof the Bill, it has made four recommendations as to how it can be improved; I hope that the Government will take those on board.
The Bill has a great deal to commend it. It provides the framework in which we can eliminate a stain on society that has been there for too long. It must be a catalyst for change. This debate has provided an opportunity for the House to be seen at its best, led by Rosie Duffield and ably supported by my hon. Friend Mark Garnier and the hon. Members for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah). We need to put aside our differences, come together and put in place a new of doing things that can mean such a great deal to so many.
This has been a very hard debate to listen to, with some truly remarkable speeches.
When I became the MP in Hull North, I was told that it would be possible to fill the local football stadium, which holds 25,000, with all the domestic abuse perpetrators in the city, and that in a class of 30 pupils, you could expect three or four to be living with domestic abuse at home. This morning, a constituent emailed me to say:
“I was abused domestically for 30 years which included physical abuse—including getting my head smashed against a wall. I suffered the range of coercive control in which for periods of time I could not access money.”
I know that police in Hull respond to 800 calls per month around domestic abuse. I am very aware how important this Bill is, therefore, and I was very pleased to be asked to serve on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee. That Committee made strong recommendations, and the Bill would be better if all of those were accepted.
However, the Bill is only part of the solution. We need to ensure that work on domestic abuse is properly resourced, and that it co-ordinates with the ending violence against women and girls strategy that the Government have put forward. Hon. Members have spoken about many issues. The need to ratify the Istanbul convention and the needs of migrant women must be addressed, as must our concerns about the DWP, especially universal credit, and the role of the health service.
I want to comment on two issues. First, the recruitment of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is widely welcomed; the commissioner could be a very powerful agent for change. However, I have already expressed in the House my surprise that the Home Office went ahead and recruited to that post on the basis of the December 2016 job description, which was a part-time post with accountability to the Home Office alone. The scrutiny Committee’s recommendation was that it should be a full-time post, and that accountability should be looked at and addressed. When we took evidence from the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, we heard from him that the best way of doing that was to put the accountability on the Cabinet Office and have the reporting mechanism into the Cabinet Office, not the Home Office, to provide that cross-Government approach to this issue. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that, because I am sure that amendments will be tabled in Committee to that effect.
My second point relates to women who are suffering domestic abuse and having their lives controlled. In particular, I am referring to their fertility being controlled and to them being coerced into unwanted pregnancies. This, of course, goes to the heart of women’s bodily autonomy. The Bill before us is an opportunity for us to recognise this particular problem. As the Minister knows, sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 says that, where a woman procures an abortion, she faces life imprisonment. The Abortion Act 1967 allows abortion in certain limited circumstances, but we know from Women on Web, which provides assistance to women who are seeking terminations, that the current law is not working for women, particularly for women who are suffering domestic abuse. Between May and June 2019, of 100 women who came forward, a third were not able to access abortion services because of domestic abuse and controlling behaviour, seven were hiding their pregnancy from a non-supportive partner, and one had been raped.
A few weeks ago, this House agreed to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, which means that sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Act will no longer apply from early next year. We now need to do the same in this Bill to protect the women in England and Wales who could face the full might of the law under sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Act and ensure that women, including those in very desperate circumstances, are not criminalised. I am sure that the Minister will expect that, at some point during the passage of this Bill through the House of Commons, this issue will be raised, and the House will be asked to a vote on it to put women in Wales and England in the same position as, hopefully, women in Northern Ireland.
It is a real privilege to speak in this debate. Over the past few weeks, the House has been criticised for some of our performances. Much of that has been set right by many of the speeches that have been made across the House today.
As other colleagues have mentioned, the majority of the Bill is devolved. However, just two weeks ago, when I was visiting Connect Alloa, a new youth club in my constituency, I was asked by a young person to raise the profile of domestic abuse, which is why I am speaking in this debate. There are several issues in the Bill that are pertinent to Scotland and I will come on to them shortly.
I am lucky that my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire covers the two counties of Perth and Kinross and Clackmannanshire. In Perth and Kinross, we have below average rates of domestic abuse—incidents per head are far below the Scottish average—whereas rates in Clackmannanshire are consistently higher than the Scottish average. In fact, in Clackmannanshire, we have the highest incidence of domestic abuse per head in all of Scotland, so we have an issue. This is something that I have raised in this House before. I have also raised it when visiting Women’s Aid, locally and nationally, and local women’s refuges. My office works regularly with police and community groups to help various constituents with many different issues, which manifest themselves not only in deprivation, but in domestic abuse.
One of the problems we have when we come into this is that constituents not only face truly harrowing situations and real difficulties, but find it difficult to navigate a system that often relies on local government authorities to supply the majority of support, and the standards in different local authorities are inconsistent. For example, a constituent who moves between Clackmannanshire and Perth and Kinross will sometimes experience different levels of support in those two counties. Furthermore, we have many examples of people who have been married in the south or in Northern Ireland and swap into different parts of the UK. The transfer becomes an issue as there are issues about support and agencies are not talking to each other. When people are at their lowest point, the services are not delivering the level of support that they require. There are also issues about protection and about trying to provide people with a proper opportunity to start again when, of course, they are leaving a seriously abusive relationship.
A lot of this policy is devolved and, as many people in the third sector have said, some of the legislation in place in Scotland has set a gold standard, for which I praise my MSP colleagues. It is good that England, Wales and other parts of the UK will now be joining that standard. One thing to note, though, is that there is currently no commissioner in Scotland. When going through the Bill, there was an element of disappointment and frustration on my part as someone who has raised this issue in the House and Westminster Hall several times, and had promises from the Dispatch Box that the UK commissioner would cover the entire United Kingdom. This is important because of the transfer issues that I just mentioned—the fact that many constituents live their lives day to day, not through different levels of government.
People transfer between the counties of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland on a very regular basis, and we need to ensure that they are getting the same level of support and the same standards wherever they are in the UK. I hope Ministers will address that when summing up, and tell us how they are going to take this forward in the next stage of the Bill. Indeed, I will be working with colleagues across the House to table amendments to ensure that the UK commissioner is UK-wide—not in order to take powers away from anyone, but to maintain and promote good practice through the way in which the role is defined in the Bill.
My final point is a minor one about the extraterritorial powers included in the Bill. Obviously it is incredibly important that the legislation pertains to the entire United Kingdom, and I hope that all the national agencies will co-operate. Domestic abuse has an enormous impact on our constituents and their families’ lives. Everyone should be entitled to the support and services that are available across the United Kingdom. When people are at their lowest point, they should have access to services that support them when they need it. We must ensure that no constituent is left behind.
It has been a privilege even to sit and listen to the debate, never mind to contribute to it, particularly given the contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah). It took extraordinary personal courage to make such contributions, and I know that they will resonate with the individual experiences of a lot of people watching at home and make a real difference to their lives.
Like many colleagues present today, I have been waiting eagerly for this debate over the last couple of years, since the Queen’s Speech in 2017. We thought for a while that we might not see the Bill in this Session, but happily we are here today. That is a testament to the lobbying and campaigning efforts inside and outside this place; and, I have no doubt, to the persuasive efforts of Ministers too. I think it is important to recognise the extraordinary leadership of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, and the now Minister for Health, Edward Argar, in getting us to this point. I hope that the Minister will take my comments today in that spirit as we seek to build on this work.
If we rewind the clock seven days to pretty much exactly this time last Wednesday, hon. Members will remember that we had a very difficult session in this place. We all have our version of events and our reasons why we think it was as it was. But collectively we know that, whatever those reasons, we all left with our reputations diminished. More importantly, the reputation of this place was diminished, and that is bigger than all of us. It is therefore really good and important that a week later, we have shown that when we come together in a spirit of co-operation and compromise, sharing our mixed and diverse experiences, we truly make an impact. It shows that the best days for this place are truly ahead—no more so than with this Bill.
This Bill will stand up for thousands of people across the country who are currently suffering abuse, and will hopefully avert it for many thousands of others. My views on the Bill are a matter of public record. I was lucky enough to serve on both the Home Affairs Committee when we had an inquiry on the Bill, and on the Joint Committee so ably chaired by Mrs Miller, so it is pretty clear what I think about the Bill and where we should go next, but today I want to focus briefly on three things.
Refuges are a precious national asset, and we ought to think about them as such. They are literally the difference between life and death for a vulnerable individual. High-quality, accessible provision is critical, but it needs to be a national network too, because a woman in my community in Nottingham is as likely to need a refuge in Birmingham tonight as they are to need a refuge close to home. But at the moment there is a toxic combination of a reduction in support—Refuge reports cuts to 80% of its services since 2011, at an average of 50%—and significant demand, with almost 60% of all refuge referrals being declined. This does not and will not work, and the Bill is a golden opportunity to get us to a position where we have a fully-funded national network underpinned by statutory status. It is therefore disappointing that the Bill does not have a legal duty to provide. I hope that the Minister will expand a little on the thinking behind that, because both the pre-legislative Committee and the Home Affairs Committee majored on the value of this duty, which I believe is shown by the evidence.
There is also scope to be clear about the need for specialist services. I was lead councillor for commissioning in my local authority for three years. Local authority commissioners are under extraordinary financial pressures, which pushes councils to more generic commissioning, which is cheaper and more flexible. That will not work for refuges, so we should be clear in the Bill about our expectations.
Order. From now on, if we have interventions, it will mean that other people will not get in, which would be a great pity, so it would be better not to intervene at this stage. If the hon. Gentleman insists, he will of course be in order, but he will be stopping other people speaking.
We heard in both Committees about the dangers that single payments were creating. We know that split payments on request will not work. No one is going to march their abuser down to the jobcentre and ask for split payments. If the Bill is not the vehicle for addressing split payments by default, what is that vehicle? If the change does not require primary legislation, why do we not get on to it?
With reference to having a gendered definition, it is welcome to have a statutory definition of domestic abuse for the first time, but it is a failure to define it and not even mention women or girls. Of course men are victims too and require the best possible support, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that domestic abuse is a gendered crime. It is gendered in the volume of victims, in the level of violence perpetrated and what it leads to and, crucially, in its root causes. I have heard Members from across the House today talk about our noble and lofty goal to eradicate domestic abuse. I join Members in that cause, but if we think we can do that in a Bill that does not talk about why domestic abuse happens or what we are doing when we condition our young boys and men to value themselves differently from women, we will never eradicate it.
We must take a stand. I remind Ministers that, in both the pre-legislative Committee and the Home Affairs Committee, we came up with workable solutions after great discussions. I hope that they will consider adopting them at the next stage in the Bill’s progress, because this is going to be a great Bill. We are coming together, we are doing a great job on it and I cannot wait to see it proceed.
I welcome this Bill. Having sat through the whole of this debate, I want to pay tribute to the many Members from across the House who have made such moving speeches, which I cannot even begin to follow. I want to record my support for the Bill and the support that it enjoys across the House. It has been a privilege to be here today. Last week we saw the House at its worst; today we have seen it at its very best.
I agree with colleagues from across the House who have said that we should learn from reviewing the role of the Anti-slavery Commissioner and ensure that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is truly independent of Government. I agree, too, with the many Members who have said that we must remember the impact of domestic violence on children. We must help to break the inter- generational cycle of abuse.
The Joint Committee on the Bill said:
“The cost of domestic abuse to the health service is high. We believe that a campaign to raise awareness and challenge behaviour should be undertaken…Such a campaign could be targeted particularly on online pornography sites.”
I want to touch on that point, because I want Ministers to give more thought to the fact that watching pornography online, particularly violent pornography, is clearly recognised as a causal factor in domestic abuse. I hope that the Government will take action to counter it through amendments to the Bill, but there is also—if I may mention it in this debate—action that Ministers can take today.
The Government have rightly said that one of their achievements is having
“committed to introduce age verification for viewing online pornography through the Digital Economy Act”.
However, there has been an unfortunate delay in the implementation of that world-leading legislation because of a failure to notify the EU. The Government acknowledged that on
“there is…evidence that viewing extreme pornography may be associated with…coercive behaviour.”
The Joint Committee that reviewed the draft Bill said that
“the access young people have to often extreme online pornography…can shape their view of what a normal sexual relationship might be.”
Young people’s access to online pornography needs to be tackled now. There should not be any further delay in the implementation of age verification. The Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into sexual harassment of women and girls concluded last October. There is significant research suggesting that there is a relationship between the consumption of pornography and sexually aggressive behaviours, including violence. The Government should take an evidence-based approach to addressing the harms of pornography. This is an opportunity for them to do so.
I thank my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller for her work on the Bill, and also for today stating that this is not a Bill to have tagged on to it the issue of abortion. That is right because, leaving aside the question of under what circumstances abortion should be available, reform of the technical aspects of the law underpinning abortion is extremely complex and should not be undertaken by using Back-Bench amendments to an unrelated Bill. To learn our lesson on this, we need only look to the unforeseen circumstances now about to play out, sadly, in Northern Ireland later this month, with a five-month lacuna in the law on abortion there about to start because this place rushed through, with completely inadequate scrutiny, amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill.
It has been an absolute honour and privilege to be part of this debate. Certainly, no one was unmoved by the contributions by my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah). These personal contributions make so much difference to women outside this place.
In attempting to write my speech, and also listening to contributions from other MPs, what strikes me is the names of women and children throughout the year, and years previously, who were murdered as victims of domestic abuse. This Bill could not be more needed. The Home Secretary said yesterday at the Conservative party conference that the Conservatives are now the party of law and order once again. I would gently encourage Conservative Members to say to the Home Secretary that the way to bring murder numbers down is by committing 100% to this Bill.
We need to encourage the Government to accept the gendered nature of domestic abuse, with women being twice as likely to experience domestic violence and men far more likely to be perpetrators. As the Istanbul convention says,
“it should not be overlooked that the majority of victims of domestic violence are women and that domestic violence against them is part of a wider pattern of discrimination and inequality.”
I urge the Government to think again about ratifying the Istanbul convention.
I want to congratulate the family of Clare Wood for creating Clare’s law, including Clare’s dad, my constituent Michael Brown. The domestic violence disclosure obligation is vital in fighting domestic violence, but the heartbreak is that it is a postcode lottery, and only 45% of requests are granted. Early disclosure could save a woman’s life, so it is heartbreaking that this right to know and right to ask is a postcode lottery. When women are desperate—when they do need to get away—the Government must accept this obligation.
As my colleagues have said, refuges must be available. Over 400 women a week are denied a place of safety because there is not capacity. This is absolutely criminal. They go back to situations and we know what the conclusion is. We have heard their names today. We need greater clarity on the definition of domestic abuse, including distinctions between intimate partner abuse and other forms of family abuse. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West that BAME victims of abuse must also have extra special resources to support them.
In the short time remaining, I will mention some of my constituents. Lucy, a young woman with a son, has suffered. Trudy Harrison alerted us to the Kafkaesque nature of the family courts. Her son has been taken from her and placed with the dad, and the mum is really concerned about the son’s welfare. We must support these women to ensure that no child suffers because of the arcane nature of some of the family courts.
Jess and Kirsty were victims of economic abuse, driven to the brink by partners stealing from them and blocking legitimate sales of joint properties. The problem is that the banks have no legislation and cannot support. The police cannot support because no legislation is in place. These women are therefore pushed into poverty, often on to benefits and into temporary bed and breakfast, and the children suffer, all because the men in their lives are able to afford to drag them through the courts and strip them of their hard-earned cash and safety net. The Bill needs to go further with the banks so that they show flexibility and understanding when survivors are struggling to get out of financial agreements, such as a joint bank account or mortgage.
I pay tribute to my own council, Kirklees, in particular cabinet member Councillor Viv Kendrick, for taking a proactive approach to the issue. Just this week, Kirklees launched its own domestic abuse strategy based on a model used by the SafeLives charity. The partnership approach recognises that domestic abuse is not just a criminal problem or problem affecting children. It brings together, holistically, the police, clinical commissioning groups, safeguarding groups, community rehabilitation companies, the probation service, housing associations, drugs misuse services and more to tackle the problem, sharing information and pushing prevention and early intervention.
I must also mention meeting a young woman who was a victim of domestic violence and was saved by Sure Start. I also encourage the Government to think about those services for women with children.
It is always a pleasure to follow Tracy Brabin. I echo all hon. Members who rightly said that, following what we might describe as the rumbustiousness of previous days, today we have seen the Chamber at its best, with some amazing, moving and powerful speeches, not least that of Rosie Duffield.
I strongly the support the Bill, but I want to raise an aspect that is not covered by it, which is that of coercive control in a professional relationship, specifically the relationship between therapist and client. This relates to the traumatic case of a constituent of mine. Her daughter was one of a group of young women—all from very affluent backgrounds, not coincidentally, because they were targeted as such—who in 2008 attended an art school in Italy, where they came into contact with a self-appointed therapist or, as she called herself, life coach.
The therapist practised dream therapy and professed to specialise in personal development. Over the course of the next year, the therapist saw up to a dozen of those women for regular therapy sessions. By early 2014, only three women were still seeing the therapist, one of whom was my constituent’s daughter. By that time, two of the women had broken off all contact with their friends and families, and had rejected their inheritances. The reason was that the therapist had used a tactic known as false memory placement. She placed into the minds of those girls, those impressionable young women, false memories of being abused by their own mothers. That has been proven and substantiated since, but when the case came to the Crown Prosecution Service, it had to conclude that legislation did not cover that specific outrage.
That was a case of domestic abuse, and I entirely understand that, but existing legislation refers to abuse only in a domestic setting. Nevertheless, in the case of my constituent, there was a crime—call it what one might, but it was theft, the theft of love. The love between mother and daughter was indoctrinated out, being replaced by false hate based on false memories. This is a terrible story, which previously received quite some media coverage, but I will not name anyone because parts of it are still ongoing.
The key thing is that, for me, it would be preferable if the definition of A and B in the Bill was confined not just to family members, partners or ex-partners, but to other types of relationship where coercion and control can happen. I can tell the House that I am aware from other parliamentarians that this problem is not restricted to the case I have mentioned. There have been other cases. Geraint Davies has tried to bring forward a Bill connected with the qualifications of therapists. Previously, Lord Garnier tried to amend the Bill so that it could be a crime to use coercion and control in a professional setting. That is certainly what I would like to see.
I do appreciate the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins—she is doing brilliant things—has previously seen me about that case. I understand that the desire in the Home Office is to focus on the domestic context, but the fact is that the incident has had profound domestic ramifications, as hon. Members can quite imagine. The good news is that my constituent’s daughter did eventually get in contact and has returned, but there are many ongoing implications of the case.
As I say, I know from other parliamentarians, including Lord Deben, that there are many other cases like that one. I hope that, in the course of the Bill’s passage, we can look at the specific, relatively niche cases in which the crime of coercion and the use of certain psychiatric tools can emerge but that would not be covered by the Bill as it is currently drafted. I hope to be able to explore that at a later stage, if at all possible.
May I take this opportunity to thank those on both Front Benches for their work on this Bill? I would also like to thank colleagues, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), for their contributions.
Before I talk about the Bill, I would like to pay tribute to Leanne McNuff. Leanne was the sister of my soon-to-be brother-in-law. Leanne was murdered in 2012 by her ex-partner in the most horrific circumstances—in front of their then four-year-old son. I know how this has affected the lives of all involved, and that grief will never go away, but I would like to think that this debate and any legislation passed by this House will go a long way to protect victims—and give Leanne’s family some comfort—so that crimes like this do not happen again.
May I welcome the broad intentions behind the Bill? It is a step in the right direction to give victims greater support and protection, but it is only a small step. A recent local case has exposed just how enormous the burden is that victims of stalking are expected to carry, and it has displayed gaps in support that these proposals will not fill. My constituent Nikita contacted me after she was subject to a horrific stalking ordeal, which included threats to her life and her children. Her perpetrator has now thankfully been moved to a psychiatric intensive care unit, but this has not been the end of her ordeal—far from it. He has been placed in an NHS unit less than a third of a mile from Nikita’s house. She has bumped into him in a local shop, and she has found him outside her house. Nikita can also see the NHS unit from her bedroom window.
Understandably, this is causing Nikita severe anxiety and concern for her safety and the safety of her family, but instead of moving the perpetrator away, Nikita finds herself offered new housing by the local authority, and she is expected to accept this move away from her support network. The expectation seems always to be on the victim to change their life. Indeed, when I wrote to the local NHS about their decision to place the perpetrator so close to Nikita’s home, it referred to its policy of placing individuals where they are close to local connections with friends and family in the community that they are familiar with.
The system has totally failed Nikita, and I am concerned that the Bill may become a lost opportunity to implement meaningful reform that protects the victims of domestic abuse and stalking. That underscores why we need a whole-system approach from across society not only to provide immediate support, but to prevent the unacceptable guilt or sense of wrongdoing that many victims feel when they are expected to change their life so dramatically. While this Bill contains many steps in the right direction, even if they are long overdue, it should go further. Until every victim of domestic abuse is given the protection, support and justice they deserve, we cannot rest. I hope that stories such as Leanne’s and Nikita’s bring to light just how far we have to go before society treats the victim with the dignity, compassion and basic respect that they deserve.
One of my frustrations with being in this place is that I am often harangued by constituents who tell me how appallingly behaved the House is, but when I give them examples of the House at its best, they have rarely seen them; they tend to watch only when the House is full and in a rather febrile mood. I very much hope my constituents have watched what has unfolded this afternoon. It is heartening to have such cross-party support on such a vital issue, but it has also been incredibly moving to listen to hon. Members talk bravely about their own experiences.
I have always promised my constituents I would never break out into applause in the Chamber, but such was the feeling I had when Rosie Duffield spoke that I did so for the first time. I also pay great credit to Naz Shah for her bravery and for shining a light on issues for particular groups that, to be frank, it is very difficult for me to talk about in the same manner. She represents her community so well. I pay tribute as well to my right hon. Friend Mrs May. It is much easier to say “the Prime Minister”, and I wish I was still saying it, but it was remarkable to hear our former Prime Minister talk about this Bill, which she worked so hard to bring forward. I pay great tribute to her for all the work she has done to serve us.
It is hugely important that we not only shine a light on domestic abuse but do something about it. It is important that we raise awareness and understanding, but we must also improve the justice system and strengthen delivery for victims of abuse. If we do that, we will give them a voice and the ability to vanquish those who ruin their lives. It is essential that the Bill delivers for victims.
That is why I want to focus on what may occur in Committee. It is essential that the Bill remains roughly in a shape that allows it to succeed. There is great danger that if it is overloaded with too many amendments, it ultimately will not deliver in the way we have discussed. Therefore, although I agree strongly with my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce about abortion reform, which I very much favour, I do not believe this is the right Bill to deliver that reform. I will vote for that reform when it comes, but I worry that there would be an impact on this Bill if it were used in that manner.
I also note the understandable desire to look again at the definition of domestic abuse. It is absolutely right that we recognise the disproportionate impact it has on women, which is understated, but if we insert that in the definition, we may well lose sight of what should be the definition in legislation. It is more important that we have strict guidance that ensures that, for example, local authorities take that disproportionate impact into account when making funding decisions. I look to Ministers to ensure that the Bill is strong enough that services reflect the disproportionate impact of domestic abuse on women.
There have also been calls for relationships between under-16s to be included in the definition of domestic abuse. If we did that, we would need to be very aware of the impact of criminalisation on under-16s and ensure that there were age-appropriate consequences. If the perpetrator is over 16 and the victim is under 16, that is child abuse. We must ensure that we do not lose sight of that.
On barriers to justice, it makes a great deal of sense to extend the prohibition on cross-examination by perpetrators to family courts and, indeed, civil courts. However, I have received petitions suggesting that we would need to think very carefully about how our family court system, for example, would look if we also prohibited cross-examination where domestic abuse was alleged rather than demonstrated, and if we widened the definition to include online abuse.
I am very concerned about the difference in local authority funding for statutory and non-statutory services. We are losing far too many non-statutory services, which are often those to do with prevention and early intervention, and which prevent us from needing statutory services. Looking closely at statutory requirements in the Bill would help us to deliver its aims.
I pay massive tribute, as everybody has done, to those who have spoken, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), and Mark Garnier, whose contribution was so moving. When we in this place talk about these things, people really are watching. Victims of domestic abuse will today feel that we care about them, and even if that is all we achieve today, that is a good thing to have done.
I notice that during this debate, Prorogation 2.0 has been announced. Somebody sent me a tweet saying that there is a view that Parliament will prorogue—sorry, shut down—again. I want assurances from the Minister, when she sums up, that we will use
I am delighted to be able to confirm that. Indeed, the carry-over motion is on today’s Order Paper. The Bill is carrying on.
Super-duper. I am delighted to hear that.
As everybody else has said, it has been an honour to work on the Bill over the past three years—I wish it had been only one or two—not only with Front Benchers on both sides on the Chamber, but with Mrs May and others who are no longer on the Front Bench, including Caroline Nokes. She spoke of having listened; I feel delighted to have been in the meeting about migrant women under the Bill that she spoke about so eloquently. Also, I should mention the people sitting in the Box—the civil servants we have worked with to get the Bill in front of us today, and to carry it over. It has been a real privilege to help ensure that this place recognises the effect of domestic abuse on our communities.
For the past three weeks, I have been fighting for us to come back to this place just for the sake of this moment, this day—just so that we could get this Bill back into this place. I found myself in the treasured position of defender of the Domestic Abuse Bill, as though it were mine. It is not mine; it is a Government Bill, and that needs saying. However, as a defender of the Bill, I will defend the point that improvements certainly need to be made to it.
As the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North stated, in the Bill’s next stages, we absolutely must aim for it to be for all victims and all women—I am not afraid to say “all women” in this context. I truly mean that. It does not matter what a person’s status is; if my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury has taught us anything today, it is that it does not matter who someone is; the primary thing we should see when they first disclose abuse is what happened to them. It should not matter if they were born in this country, if they are here on a spousal, student or refugee visa, or if they are an EU citizen. What we should see in front of us is the person, and we should ask what we can do to help them. The Bill needs a huge amount of work in that area—not just around migrant women, but around disabled and older women and LGBT people.
With all the good work being done in here and across Departments we still need to stop essentially just seeing a benefit-dependant woman with a couple of kids in a refuge. Disabled women are being turned away. I ran refuges and I think we had two disability access beds out of hundreds of beds. It is simply not enough any more. We live in a society where we have to take need into account, no matter what. We have to take into account the likelihood of someone being abused if, for instance, they are a carer or have someone caring for them who can easily control them.
I want to say one final thing—I could speak for weeks and weeks, but I won’t. The statutory duty on refuge accommodation is so welcome. I had to explain to my husband what it was when the Ministers rang to tell me they were going to do it. I was not allowed to tell anyone, but I really wanted to tell someone. My husband was slightly nonplussed. We were promised at the time of that brilliant step forward that there would be £90 million in the next comprehensive spending review. We have now had that comprehensive spending review and it was not in there. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us where the cash will come from.
It has been a true honour to listen to this historic debate. It is a landmark Bill and this needs to be a watershed moment, not only in how we protect victims of domestic abuse, but in how we stop that abuse happening in the first place.
I would like to put on the record my deep respect for my right hon. Friend Mrs May, who never forgot the importance of this work, despite the many other responsibilities she had as our Prime Minister. I also thank the Minister and my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller, whom I enjoy working with on the Select Committee, and I particularly thank Rosie Duffield for letting us into her heart today.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a barrister who spent decades specialising in family law cases and who shared with me many examples. We spoke about some of the specifics of the Bill—the importance of a legal definition, the practical support—but what he said was most important was the overall message it would send: that domestic abuse is simply not acceptable, that society stands behind the victim, and that we will not tolerate giving a hiding place to perpetrators.
As a constituency MP over the past couple of years, I have often had victims of domestic abuse come to speak to me because they do not know where else to turn. They are fearful of their abusers and that if they speak out the system will be loaded against them. Those who are brave enough to call for help are fearful during the investigation and in the court process, especially if they have to give evidence in front of their abuser, because they have heard that witnesses can sometimes be intimidated. That fear leads them to suffer for years in silence. It is the fact that the Bill takes action to address these issues that has been welcomed by so many organisations that support victims up and down the country. I would especially like to put on the record my thanks to Safer Places in Essex.
Many Members have called for action in specific areas, and I would like to mention three. First, I have had cases of parents or siblings who suspect that their son or daughter, or brother or sister, is the victim of violence—they have seen the evidence with their own eyes—but who do not know where to go for advice, and if they report the situation, they find themselves powerless to protect their loved one. Can we look again at these cases of family members who want to help?
Recently, I had a case of a couple where the victim was renting a shared private property with her abuser. Both tenants needed to give permission to cancel the tenancy, so one tenant could not get out of the property without the other’s approval, meaning they were trapped in their home. Can we look at the tenancy law in these cases?
Finally, we have seen time and again how online abuse tips over into real-world violence. I recently met representatives of the Revenge Porn Helpline. They are helping thousands of people, and nearly all of the cases involve women. They explained to me how threats of revenge porn trap the victim of violence in the abusive relationship. They shared their concerns that, as the internet moves into deepfake videos, it will be possible to superimpose someone’s face on to another person’s actions, send the video over the internet and use it as a threat to hold that person in an abusive relationship.
The digital world is evolving at an exponential rate. Time and again we explain to people that we are working on online harms in order to keep people safe, but the work in that space has to accelerate.
It is a privilege to participate in this debate, and I congratulate all colleagues who have been involved in bringing the Bill to this point.
I will speak briefly about a particular group of women who have experienced domestic abuse and violence: women who offend. According to Ministry of Justice data, 57% of women in prison and under community supervision who have had an assessment are, or have been, victims of domestic abuse. Research suggests that the true figure is, in fact, likely to be very much higher. Some women are particularly vulnerable—for example, those with learning disabilities—and, as we heard earlier from my hon. Friend Chris Bryant, some will suffer traumatic brain injury, a situation disproportionately reflected in women in the penal system.
The Prison Reform Trust report of 2017, “There’s a reason we’re in trouble”, makes clear that for many of these women it is specifically the abuse that drives them to offend. Many offend as a result of coercive control or abuse or threats by an intimate partner. That can lead them to commit offences such as shoplifting, theft, fraud or dealing in illegal substances. The Crown Prosecution Service and sentencers do, of course, take account of that context for a woman’s offending behaviour, but the approach can be patchy and inconsistent. It would be appropriate, therefore, to consider introducing, through the Bill, statutory protection in such circumstances.
We have a precedent for that in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, section 45 of which provides victims of human trafficking and modern slavery with a statutory defence if they are compelled to offend. That opens up a route to proactive early case management. It allows all agencies, including the courts, to become more adept at recognising and responding to circumstances that should indicate either that there is no public interest in prosecuting a case or that a statutory defence should apply.
We do not have equivalent statutory protection in relation to victims of domestic abuse who are driven to offend in not dissimilar circumstances. There is a common law defence of duress, but it applies only in restrictive circumstances. Introducing for victims of domestic abuse a new statutory defence equivalent to that in section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act would lead to improvements in how they are dealt with in the criminal justice system, including identification of victims and provision of support. It would also help the UK meet its international legal obligations.
I understand that Ministers are considering that possibility. Indeed, it was pleasing to hear the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Lucy Frazer, who has responsibility for prisons and probation, refer specifically to that at the Prison Reform Trust’s recent transforming lives conference. As the Bill continues its parliamentary passage, I hope that the option will be taken to include statutory protection for survivors of domestic violence and abuse who offend. I look forward to hearing from the Minister, in her final remarks, the Government’s attitude to that proposal.
Let me add my congratulations and thanks to everyone who has been involved in the Bill’s introduction. Let me also pay tribute to the many moving speeches we have heard today. The debate has brought out the best in this place, but I want to mention in particular the moving accounts given by my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah).
We need to recognise that, although we are taking a momentous step, it is sad that we need to be here to introduce a Bill such as this. It is a sad indictment of our society. Given that leaders have such an important role in determining the culture and tone of society, we have to ask what that says about the quality of our leaders and our leadership. Although we have legislation which says that women are equal to men, we all know that that is not the case. Unless we address the power inequalities that women face in their jobs, whether they relate to gender pay gap or glass ceilings, it will be a challenge to tackle the power inequalities in their relationships. We need to address the two together. I should like to hear from the Minister how the Government will go about adopting the “whole society “ approach—not just a cross-departmental approach—that has been recommended by Women’s Aid.
In the remaining time that I have, I want to add to the comments that have been made today, and also to ask specific questions about our public services and, in particular, our social security system. We need to ensure that the system is supportive, and does not impede women—or men—who may want to escape from abusive relationships. We have already talked about universal credit and the single household payment that is the norm. I know that the Minister will refer to the alternative payment arrangements that are available, but someone in an abusive relationship may have problems with access to those. The wait of at least five weeks for universal credit is a penalty in itself, but women in refuges may wait for double that time, especially if they have had to leave without any paperwork. One of my constituents, Suzanne, was very brave and left an abusive relationship, but was moved from tax credit to universal credit because of her changed circumstances—the so-called natural migration—and is now £400 a month worse off. The two-child limit is another issue that must be addressed.
I also want to say something about disabled women. As I told the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities when it was investigating breaches in the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities back in 2015, disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse as non-disabled women. That abuse may be physical, emotional, sexual or financial, and the abusers may be personal assistants or, in many cases, carers. We must ensure that that is recognised.
Finally—I am being quite brief today, Mr Speaker, which is not like me at all—the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said that there needs to be a statutory approach to ensure that public services support both men and women, and has drawn particular attention to the importance of the social security system, which I have already mentioned. That needs to be a human rights approach, and those services need to be adequately funded.
In my time as a GP and also as a forensic medical examiner, I learnt very quickly never to make assumptions about who are the victims of domestic abuse, or about how much courage it takes to come forward because of the extent to which such abuse isolates and terrorises its victims.
I pay particular tribute, as others have done already, to the hon. Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for sharing their deeply moving personal stories. They will have done so much to encourage others to come forward and take that first step to safety—and this is about safety. Two women a week are killed at the hands of their current or former partners. We also need to do something about the under-reporting of the number of women who take their own lives as a result of being in abusive domestic relationships. We must ensure that there is proper reporting, and also better reporting of the gendered nature of this crime.
It is the job of this House to do all those victims justice and to make sure that the services are there to meet them when they come forward. Likewise, we must ensure that the criminal justice system responds rapidly and sensitively, and that services are also there for perpetrators and we do more on prevention and early intervention, because this crime goes through cycles of generations. Those who have witnessed terrible abuse may be more likely to become abusers themselves.
I will touch briefly on protection orders, on tackling variation, and on alcohol and services. I welcome the change in the Bill to domestic abuse protection orders rather than orders for domestic violence prevention. Those provisions will take us a lot further. It is encouraging that the Bill gets rid of the 28-day limit and that there will be an increased number of settings in which people can apply for the orders and more individuals who can do so.
There is much to welcome but, as the Minister has set out, that takes time. The Stalking Protection Act 2019 received Royal Assent in March, but sadly it will not come into force until the new year. However much we welcome the legislation, we know that there will be a delay. When the Minister responds to the debate, will she explain how we tackle variation in the existing orders? She will know from Home Office data that there is huge variation. For example, three orders were applied for in one assessment period in Cambridge, as opposed to more than 250 in Essex. There can be no reason for that kind of variation. Some data from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary show that the use of the orders had gone down. Will the Minister set out what we are going to do to encourage the uptake of existing orders while we are waiting for the improved version to come into force?
I would particularly like to touch on the role of alcohol, because I do not think it has come up in the debate so far. Of course, alcohol is never an excuse for violent crime, but typically 25% to 50% of perpetrators have been using alcohol at the time of the offence. In particular, we know that there is a link with the very violent forms of domestic abuse—in those cases, alcohol is twice as likely to be involved. Will the Minister look at how we can take an evidence-based approach to alcohol in our policy? Will she set out what she is going to do to review alcohol policy so that we can make a difference to domestic abuse, as it is a significant factor?
Services must also be available for perpetrators. We are going to introduce protection orders, and it is welcome that there will positive as well as negative requirements. If people are referred, those services need to be in place so that they can respond. I am out of time, so I shall conclude.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a contribution to this important debate. It has been my privilege to be here for the whole debate and to hear many brilliant speeches, particularly the amazing speech by my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield, whose courage in speaking about the domestic abuse and coercive control that she suffered will give others the hope and courage they need to speak up and get away.
I pay tribute to the Mother of the House for raising the issue of the “S&M” defence in relation to the terrible death of Natalie Connolly, which was the subject of a powerful speech by Mark Garnier; and to my hon. Friend Naz Shah, who spoke courageously of her own family experience and the needs of BAME women under the Bill.
I particularly want to raise the effect of domestic abuse on children and their inclusion in the Domestic Abuse Bill. Under the Bill, the definition of domestic abuse would not extend to relationships between persons under 16 years old, but this subject have been hotly debated. The Children’s Society is arguing for a wider definition and suggests that an age limit of 13 years would be more appropriate, to include teenagers who are in relationships and experiencing violence or abuse and to allow for an early response to prevent abuse from escalating. This view is supported by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, but opposed by Action for Children to ensure that abuse of under-16s is always regarded as child abuse. However, the NSPCC makes the point that child abuse can include the emotional impact of being exposed to harm as a result of witnessing the abuse of one parent by another. It says that by failing to recognise children as victims in law, the Government are missing a crucial chance to give young people an extra layer of protection.
At the Labour party conference last week, I met a representative from Barnardo’s. She was delighted that the Bill was going to be discussed, and she welcomed the Government’s commitment to it. However, she talked to me about the impact of domestic abuse on the lives of vulnerable children. Living in an abusive household is hugely traumatic for children and can cause long-lasting emotional scars. Without the right support, children in this situation are at risk of becoming trapped in a lifelong cycle of violence. These children need access to vital services such as counselling and mental health services so that they can recover from the harm they have suffered and work towards a positive future.
Research demonstrates that specialist children’s services reduce the impact of domestic abuse and improve children’s safety and health outcomes, which is why it is so concerning that dedicated support for children and young people is falling. The Joint Committee supported retaining the age limit of 16 because of concerns that a consequence of lowering it would be the criminalisation of perpetrators under 16 years old. However, the Joint Committee recommended that the Government conduct a specific review on how to address domestic abuse in relationships between under-16-year-olds, including age-appropriate consequences for perpetrators, and I hope to see the results of that review and that guidance colouring the way in which we debate this Bill.
Women’s Aid has recently launched a website called LoveRespect to support teenage girls at risk of relationship abuse and to challenge myths around the nature of coercive control. Teenage girls may not realise that they are experiencing relationship abuse, and they are less likely than older women to call a helpline. Researchers found that two thirds of teenage girls who had been in abusive relationships did not recognise the behaviour as such. This highlights the importance of educating young people on what healthy relationships should look like. Having a bad boyfriend should not be seen as an acceptable rite of teenage passage. We need to get the impacts of coercive and controlling behaviour into the Bill, given that it will inform efforts to address domestic abuse and guide the response of agencies and statutory services. It is vital that the needs and experiences of children are reflected on the face of the Bill.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate and the spirit in which it has been conducted across both sides of the House. There has been an atmosphere of support, particularly to those who have experienced coercive control and violence, and that is very welcome.
I also very much welcome the bravery of my hon. Friends who have spoken out about their own personal experiences. We need people to recognise across the House and across the country that this can happen to anyone, and that everyone can need our support at some time. I hope that the atmosphere of this debate can feed through into a zero tolerance of domestic abuse and coercive control, because these things are happening too widely. With 2 million adult victims and millions of child victims, this is happening in a substantial number of households across every constituency and across every walk of life.
There are so many areas that we need to cover in the Bill, in other Bills and in other Departments, as I said to the Secretary of State in an intervention earlier. From my personal experience on the Work and Pensions Committee, I can say that the first is the way in which the benefit system does not support women who are leaving violent or coercive relationships. They can be left without even the fare for a taxi to get away from the household they are living in. It is welcome that each Jobcentre Plus now has a domestic violence specialist, but unless people are prepared to come forward and declare that they are a victim of domestic violence—or exhibit the signs strongly enough for it to be recognised—it will not be recognised.
The former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions declared that universal credit payments should go to the main carer in the first instance, and I hope that that will be done. Just 60% of payments go to the main carer, and that is not good enough. It means that for 40% of parents on universal credit the money does not go to the main carer, and it is important that that happens.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the local connection rules for housing, which often mean that women who have escaped a relationship simply cannot get by and have to return to a violent environment. That is just not good enough.
We also need to make sure that employers support victims of domestic abuse. I worked for the shopworkers union, USDAW, and the reps did some fantastic work learning about the signs of domestic abuse and how to support victims. We are still seeing employers seeking to avoid giving paid leave to victims of domestic abuse; failing to allow them flexible working; and refusing to allow them to change to another branch of the firm if they have had to move away from their original address. Those are all simple ways in which employers can support victims of domestic violence.
We also need to make sure that those who work on the frontline are protected from third-party harassment. In a shocking case, one of my constituents had been abused in a long-term relationship. She left the relationship, and her ex-partner came to the shop where she worked to threaten, harass and violently assault her. Even though she had a protection order against him, her employer told her that it was not good for the image of the company for her harasser to turn up, and if she did not stop him doing it, she would lose her job. We cannot have victims of third-party harassment from any member of the public—and, particularly, victims of abuse—not receiving protection under the law. I hope that the Minister will look at including that protection in this Bill or another that comes forward very soon.
We need to make sure that victims of domestic abuse feel that they can come forward in any situation, whether they are claiming benefits or in work. I hope that the Bill will enable us all to make that happen.
It is a pleasure to be the final contributor from the Back Benches in this amazing debate. It has been a fantastic debate in which we have heard the personal stories of my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield)—and how moving were their accounts.
I want briefly to pay tribute to three of my constituents who are experts in this field. The first is Harriet Wistrich, a barrister from the Centre for Women’s Justice, who led the work on the Sally Challen case. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford West will appreciate the work that Harriet has done in driving forward legal change so that other women who have been forced into a situation in which they have killed their husbands or partners receive a fair trial and access to the law.
The second person I briefly wish to mention is the outgoing chief executive of Solace Women’s Aid, Mary Mason, a constituent of mine and an expert in her field. Her life has been dedicated to improving the situation for women, and I am sure everyone in this House would like to thank her for the years and years she has given to women who have been facing violence.
The final person I wish to mention is a woman who has tragically passed away but who also did an amazing amount of work. I understand that she worked closely with Mrs May in developing not only the beginnings of this Bill but the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I refer to Denise Marshall, who tragically passed away due to cancer a couple of years ago but who did an incredible amount for Eaves, a fantastic charity that works closely with government to promote better services for women.
Each of us will have a domestic violence charity or statutory sector service in our constituency, and mine is Hearthstone. What is wonderful about it is that it is based in the local authority but it has its hands on the allocation of housing. Before, when best practice was considered to be in the voluntary sector or civic society, it could be an advocate, but being based within the council allows Hearthstone to keep a close eye on allocations. It is therefore in a great position to assist women who are escaping domestic violence.
I wish to make two quick points that we have to consider when we finalise the Bill. The first relates to women and families who have no recourse to public funds and the second relates to women on different spousal visas. A number of Members have mentioned that today, and I want to mention it so that we can be assured that it is looked at once again before Third Reading. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified what view she is taking on different immigration arrangements, as there are women who are trapped in violent relationships because of their spousal visa arrangements. We desperately need that element of the Bill to be sharpened up before it goes to Third Reading.
My hon. Friend is making some extremely important points. Does she agree that there are two issues here? The first is about access to accommodation, particularly for women who have been in refuges. There is a lack of capacity in council house provision, so authorities are struggling to place women out of refuges and those women are then spending considerably longer than expected in refuges. The second issue is the lack of provision within local police forces of specialist officers who can deal with victims of domestic abuse.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead put it well in her good speech: this is not just about the legislation. We have to have resources, more police and more services at local level. We can have the best legislation in the world, but if we cannot enforce and we cannot prevent, what is the point of our sitting here and having beautiful legislation?
It is a privilege to reply to the debate this evening, which has shown the House of Commons at its very best. I wish to start by paying tribute to Mrs May, who made what I believe to have been her first speech from the Back Benches since leaving office as Prime Minister. She set the tone of the debate and said that domestic violence was not something that should ever be viewed as being “behind closed doors”. That attitude was prevalent in the past and we must do all we can to ensure that it is not prevalent in the future.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield for making a courageous and extraordinarily moving speech. Not only did it have a considerable impact on everyone in the House who heard it, but it will have an extraordinary impact on everyone outside this House and give them extraordinary confidence about speaking out in the dignified way she has done today.
I also pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, and to Mark Garnier, for their remarks about the harrowing Natalie Connolly case. I am sure that amendments will be tabled in Committee that relate to the issues that were identified in that case.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper for her remarks about serial perpetrators; to my hon. Friend Thangam Debbonaire, who drew on her experience of working in the domestic violence field in the past; to my hon. Friend Jenny Chapman, who spoke very well about the Bill’s potential impact; and to my hon. Friend Peter Kyle, who spoke very well about an issue to which I shall return—the cross-examination of victims in the family courts by their perpetrator.
My hon. Friend Ruth Jones spoke about the various people who have had an impact on the Bill’s coming into being. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Naz Shah, for her extraordinarily moving contribution, both about her mother and her experience as a survivor. Her speech, too, will reverberate far beyond this House. Her achievements are an inspiration to others.
I thank my hon. Friend Diana Johnson, who spoke about controlling behaviour; my hon. Friend Alex Norris, who spoke about refuge funding; my hon. Friend Tracy Brabin, who also mentioned the need for reform of the family courts; my hon. Friend Jo Platt, who spoke very movingly about the experiences of Leanne and Nikita; my hon. Friend Jess Phillips, not just for her speech but for all her extraordinary work in this area; my hon. Friend Kate Green, who spoke very movingly about experiences in prison; my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams, who talked about the importance of a whole-society approach; my hon. Friend Liz McInnes, who spoke about the impact of domestic violence on children, and my hon. Friend Ruth George, who spoke about reform of universal credit. It was fitting that my hon. Friend Catherine West ended with a tribute to charities in this area, who do so much across all our constituencies to make lives better.
The Bill has produced a remarkable degree of welcome consensus in the House today, but it will clearly need work in Committee. I will start with the definition of domestic violence. I agree with the former Prime Minister, who said that it was clearly a step forward to have a statutory definition. Reading clause 1, though, it seems to me not to include abuse perpetrated by a person in a position of trust. I believe James Cartlidge mentioned an example of it, but there may be other examples in the domestic context that are not quite covered by clause 1. I ask the Minister to go away and look at that issue. Hon. Members across the House have picked up other issues, including the impact on children and the gendered nature and impact of domestic abuse, that need to be considered as the Bill progresses.
I welcome the appointment of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, although I consider that person should be full time. The commissioner must obviously have the powers to provide the strategic oversight that we need, and to hold public authorities in this area properly to account.
I welcome the domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders, and the extension of special measures for complainants mentioned both by the Lord Chancellor and the Chair of the Justice Committee in their opening speeches. I consider that the domestic violence disclosure scheme should be on a statutory footing, and I am pleased to see that in clause 55. As many hon. Members have mentioned, one of the issues with domestic violence is that it is often the victim who ends up homeless. I welcome in the Bill the suggestion of new secure lifetime tenancies in England, which is a step forward.
I return, though, to the issue of cross-examination in the family courts. It has been the case for some time in the criminal courts that perpetrators of domestic abuse could not cross-examine their victims in person. It is high time that that protection was extended to the family courts. However, as I think the Joint Committee picked up, it does not seem to be mandatory; it still seems to be at the discretion of the court. The last thing we would need is for that to be inconsistently applied; it should be consistently applied across the system. That point that has been picked up already.
There are other issues, of course, that are not a part of the Bill as it currently stands. There is, for example, no statutory duty to fund refuges, but we all know that refuges are in dire need of more funds. There also needs to be a whole look across Government at other policies that have a huge impact in this area, including, for example, to whom universal credit is paid and the five-week wait, just to mention two particular issues that clearly have an enormous impact on domestic violence that the Government need to consider.
My hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, in an intervention, mentioned migrant women, which is a very important issue. They are too often denied the chance to apply for indefinite leave to remain and prevented from accessing the public funds and the services they require. I urge the Government once again to go away and look at that situation.
This Bill before us today clearly contains a series of measures that will be welcomed across the House, but I urge the Government to keep an open mind in Committee about various issues that will arise in the course of this Bill. If the Government are willing to be constructive, we can, together, make it a much better Bill. I do pay tribute to those on the Government Front Bench and, indeed, to my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for the work that they have done so far. I urge them to continue working together to make this a truly historic Bill of which we can all be proud.
I hope that colleagues will forgive me if I depart from what Ministers normally do in winding up—which is to look at our files and the prepared speeches that our wonderful officials write for us—and speak from my heart because this has been an extraordinary debate. We have had the most compelling, the most heartfelt, the most heartbreaking examples of domestic abuse laid out before us. I cannot hope to do justice to those accounts in the short time that I have, but I will do my best. Any points that I have not been able to cover, I will, of course, write to hon. Members and put letters in the Library.
There have been 38 Back-Bench speeches in this debate and every single one has had an extraordinary contribution to make to the Bill. I should say that I am particularly grateful to the Lord Chancellor, who joins me on the Front Bench. I also want to record my thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Wendy Morton, who is replacing—if he can be replaced—my hon. Friend Edward Argar in working through this Bill. I want to record my thanks to them.
In those 38 speeches, many, many experiences—horrific experiences—have been put before us. Hon. Members have very much drawn us into the lives, the suffering and, as I have said, the heartbreak of millions of our fellow citizens, whether constituents or not.
There are a few names out of an incredibly long list that I will mention because they have caused such an impact in the Chamber and, indeed, outside the Chamber. The first is that of Natalie Connolly. My hon. Friend Mark Garnier and, indeed, Ms Harman, the Mother of the House, set out the agony that the Connolly family have gone through in the case coming before the court concerning their dear daughter, Natalie, the facts of that case and of similar cases. I cannot help but be horrified by some of the experiences that victims of sadomasochistic sexual acts, which defendants then claim as a defence in court, have gone through. It is extraordinary and I will very much go away and reflect on the matter. It may not be this Bill that deals with that, but I do think that we must look at it very carefully and see what more can be done.
The next set of names that I think the House was touched by—I am very mindful that Claire is here in the Gallery—are those of Claire, Jack and Paul Throssell, represented very ably by their Member of Parliament, Angela Smith. I have had the privilege of meeting Claire and listening to her experiences at first hand. I would challenge anyone not to be incredibly moved by Claire’s story and not to be haunted by her story for many, many days after they have heard it, so I thank and salute Claire for being here today and working on behalf of other victims.
Jo Platt mentioned Leanne and Nikita. I thank her for bringing their experiences into this debate.
Then we move on to our friends and colleagues who have themselves been incredibly brave in describing their own experiences. My friend, Naz Shah, talked about her mother Zoora, and of course about her own experience of forced marriage. I am very keen that we all understand that although the words “forced marriage”, “FGM” and so on are not in the Bill, they are examples of the categories of behaviour that we have set out in the definition, and they will be in the statutory guidance, so people should be under no illusion: we consider those acts within intimate relationships to be examples of domestic abuse.
Then, of course, there was the account of our friend, Rosie Duffield. I sat here listening and thinking, “She is doing a very good job of representing her constituent. This is a terribly sad tale.” It was not until she said, “and then you introduce him to the leader of your party” that I shook myself a bit and thought, “My goodness—are we on a journey different from the one that I had anticipated?” She used words that every person who works in the field of domestic abuse will recognise, such as “hyper-alert” and “abject rage”. She spoke of bills piling up and finding out months later that they were unpaid. And then there was the final phrase: “emotionally exhausting”. The hon. Lady has done more to further the cause for victims of domestic abuse today than we have seen in a very long time, and I thank her sincerely for her contribution.
This Bill is truly groundbreaking, and I am delighted that we have agreement on that. I fully accept and acknowledge that we are not all agreed about parts of it, and of course that will come through in the scrutiny of the Bill. But we have this Bill before us today because of the determination, commitment and grit of my right hon. Friend Mrs May. I think it is extremely telling that, after some 20 years on the Opposition and Government Front Benches, she has chosen as her first contribution to speak in this debate about a cause that is very close to her heart. I am extremely grateful to her not just for her contribution today, but for the fact that we have this Bill and are driving this work forward in Government.
There are other colleagues I feel obliged to mention, because I see this as a Bill that is owned by the entire House. I must thank my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley, who started the journey by bringing in, with the Lord Chancellor, the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. I also thank my hon. Friend Sarah Newton, who was my predecessor in this role and who insisted on the terminology of economic abuse being included in the definition, because our understanding of it is so much better than it was even a few years ago. At the risk of sparing the blushes of a member of the Whips Office, I must also thank my hon. Friend Mr Jones because when he was on the Front Bench in another guise, he worked hard on the secure tenancies provision that we now see in the Bill.
As I say, I consider this to be a Bill that is owned by the whole House, and I thank colleagues across the House for their work not just today, but in the run-up to Second Reading. That includes, of course, Carolyn Harris. I tried to learn some Welsh before I got to this part of my speech, but I am afraid that it is beyond me. I also thank the “professional feminist”, Thangam Debbonaire, who does so much work —work that we are now much more comfortable talking about—tackling the perpetrators, including serial perpetrators, to stop the cycle of abuse.
I also thank Peter Kyle for his work on cross-examination—it is always a pleasure to work with him—and, of course, Jess Phillips, who has been and continues to be a staunch advocate for victims of domestic abuse. I look forward to grappling with some of the more difficult issues with her in due course.
I am delighted that the Bill received the level of pre-legislative scrutiny that it did through the Joint Committee, which was chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend Mrs Miller. Her leadership and that of others on the Committee has meant that the Bill is in a better place than it was before they scrutinised it. We have accepted many of the Committee’s recommendations and there are still recommendations that we are working on and may add in Committee. I thank every member of the Committee and its Chair.
Nick Thomas-Symonds asked Ministers to be open hearted. We are absolutely open hearted in admitting that this Bill is not yet in the place that it should be. It has to be perfected through scrutiny. In particular, hon. Members have rightly raised the issue of refuges. Hon. Members may recall that, when the Bill was introduced, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s consultation on refuge accommodation was still live, so by definition we could not make amendments to the Bill or add clauses at that stage. However, we are working through the consultation responses and I am confident that we will be able to move amendments in Committee, which I very much hope will meet with hon. Members’ approval.
I am conscious, too, of the comments made by the hon. Member for Bradford West and others about specialist services. I myself have been on a learning curve when it comes to the particular requirements of women who are perhaps suffering cultural difficulties as well as abuse, in the more conventional sense that we would understand, in the home. That will very much form part of our review of those services.
Colleagues have also rightly been holding me to account on funding. This year’s spending review, being a one-year review, is unusual, but we are clear that funding will be a priority in the 2020 spending review and we will push for appropriate funding for all the important services that hon. Members have mentioned.
I also acknowledge the concerns about migrant women. Women—all people who are suffering domestic abuse—must be viewed as victims first and foremost. We have not got it right yet with migrant women, but we are conducting a review, as we told the Joint Committee we would. We are looking at everything and will do our very best to bring forward those proposals in Committee. There might be things that we can do that do not need to be in primary legislation. The House should bear with us while we work through the review and we will see what more we can do.
Colleagues have rightly mentioned the definition. There have been many thoughts about whether it goes quite far enough. I am very conscious of the contribution from my hon. Friend James Cartlidge, who raised the impossible situation that a constituent and their family found themselves in with a person—a therapist—in a trusted position. There are concerns about positions of trust. [Interruption.]
I have just had my dress tugged, because if I do not sit down before 7 o’clock, the Bill will fall, so forgive me if I stop mid-sentence, Madam Deputy Speaker. I very much hear colleagues’ concerns about the definition and, if I may tackle the gendered point, we absolutely acknowledge that domestic abuse predominantly affects women. However, we are conscious that, of the estimated 2 million victims in our country, about a third are male. We cannot ignore those victims. In fairness, I do not think that anyone is suggesting that we should, but we are going to make the gendered nature of the crime apparent on the face of the statutory guidance, which I think will be significant.
To sum up, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead said, this statute is only part of the solution. There is consensus that we all have to ensure that people begin to understand what domestic abuse entails, that the relationships that they are entering into are not healthy and that girls growing up can expect much better from relationships in their adulthood. That is absolutely what this law and the non-legislative measures are directed at. The Bill is vital, but there is so much more that we need to do to ensure that everybody understands that domestic abuse is everyone’s business.
Thank you. What an excellent, thoughtful, constructive, calm debate. I sincerely hope that those who observe our proceedings will see just how well Members of this House behaved when we were bringing about an important piece of legislation that actually affects the lives of millions of people.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.