Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Tracy Brabin Tracy Brabin Shadow Minister (Education) 5:41 pm, 2nd October 2019

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.