Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Independent, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:50 pm, 2nd October 2019

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.