Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 2nd October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security) 6:38 pm, 2nd October 2019

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.