Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:34 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 2:34 pm, 2nd October 2019

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.