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Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:36 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton 5:36 pm, 2nd October 2019

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 20 June. As it happens, the three-month standstill period with the EU ends at midnight tonight. Assuming the EU does not come back tonight with any serious concerns—I think it might be preoccupied with other matters—can the Minister assure me, or perhaps obtain urgent assurance from her DCMS colleagues, that the British Board of Film Classification age verification guidelines will be laid before Parliament tomorrow, so that the implementation date can be three months from tomorrow, on 3 January? This is really important. Last week, the BBFC, which is and will be the age verification regulator, published a summary of research. It is a concerning document setting out that young children are coming across violent pornography and feel that it is affecting their views of relationships and the opposite sex. There are many other findings confirming this. In 2017, the UK Council for Child Internet Safety reviewed the 2017 internet safety strategy Green Paper and said that

“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.