Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:35 pm on 28th April 2020.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 2:35 pm, 28th April 2020

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

May I add my thanks to all those who have made this hybrid debate possible, because this Bill is hugely important? Domestic abuse damages lives. It can cost lives and it can scar adults and children for the rest of their lives. Of course, it also costs our society and economy dear. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who have had courage to speak out about their experiences. I would also like particularly to commend the hon. Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for their contributions to the debate on 2 October.

This Bill is an incredibly important opportunity for us to ensure that we improve the legislative environment for dealing with domestic abuse and that, by doing so, we improve the response of Government and other agencies. If we get it right, it will not only improve people’s lives; it will save lives.

It is important, as those on the Front Benches have said, that we are debating this Bill during the covid-19 crisis, because as covid-19 has required people to stay at home, to be locked down in their homes, it has set an environment where perpetrators have greater freedom to act, where victims find it harder to leave an abusive situation. The figures are clear: domestic abuse increases during lockdown.

We know, as the Justice Secretary told us, that the services are still there. The police are still there to respond to reports of domestic violence. We must reiterate today that the lockdown legislation specifically allows people to leave home to escape the risk of harm, so those who are in a domestic abuse situation can leave and seek the support they need. What we must also recognise, however, is that it is much harder for them to leave and to report domestic abuse, because perpetrators have been given greater control of them in the lockdown situation. They can take their mobiles away and stop them walking out of that front door.

I urge police officers and local authorities to look at the past experience of the New York Police Department, and to consider, as I know some already are, the random contact with or visiting of homes where there are known perpetrators or where there have been reports of domestic violence. It must be done carefully to ensure that it does not exacerbate a situation, but it can help those victims.

I also urge Government, as they consider the exit strategy from lockdown, to think of the impact that lockdown has had on domestic abuse. I want Government to look not just at the impact of relaxing restrictions on capacity in the national health service, although we must all have a concern for our wonderful NHS staff and care workers and for those who contract the disease, but at the impact of lockdown on our overall health and wellbeing as a nation. That of course includes the economy, but it must also include the impact on domestic abuse and mental health. We cannot have a situation where the cure for the disease does more damage than the disease itself. When it is in place, this Bill will help victims and improve the criminal justice response, but as lockdown is eased the Government also need to ensure that the criminal justice system and services for victims can cope with what could be a significant increase in reports of domestic abuse.

On the detail of the Bill, I welcome the important step of setting a clear definition of domestic abuse. I just want to touch on three quick points. We need to ensure that the Bill properly recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children. Just because they are in a different room from the abuse does not mean that they will not be affected by it.

The role of employers is important. A good employer can set the scenario where their employees are able to report and speak about the domestic abuse that they are the victims of and to know that they will be supported. I commend the work of Elizabeth Filkin and the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse. I have tried to find a way of recognising employers’ work in the Bill. I am not sure it is possible, but I hope the Minister will be able to recognise it in winding up.

Thirdly, as well as supporting victims, we need to stop perpetrators. We need to ensure that perpetrator programmes can be properly accredited. It is a difficult area, but we need to give it far more attention than we have in the past. So this is a hugely important piece of legislation. Too many lives are damaged and too many lives are lost because of domestic abuse. If we get this Bill right, it can help to achieve our ultimate goal, which is eradicating domestic abuse.