[Relevant documents: Second Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Home Office preparedness for Covid-19: domestic abuse and risks of harm within the home, HC321; First Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill of Session 2017-19, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, HC 2075, and the Government responses, CP137 and CP214; Written evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill, reported to the House on
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a great pleasure to open this Second Reading debate, albeit with a sense of déjà vu. Those of us who had the privilege of being in the House on
After the last debate, some Members approached me privately to share with me their own domestic abuse experiences—stories that are still raw and still cannot be told. For many of us, the sounds and sights witnessed in our homes, often as children, still haunt us many years on. The experiences we have heard recounted by Members are, sadly, all too frequently repeated across the country. I have heard no more harrowing account recently than that of Claire Throssell, whom I had the privilege to meet last October. Claire’s young sons, Jack and Paul, were killed at the hands of her abusive partner. No one can imagine the pain and suffering that she has had to endure, but we owe her a debt of gratitude for giving such a powerful voice to the survivors of domestic abuse.
Gratitude is also due to Tracy Graham, a victim of controlling and violent domestic abuse who this year chose to speak out, go public and share her experiences with my local community in Swindon via the new Swindon domestic abuse support service, which I helped to launch just before lockdown, seven weeks ago. Tracy is not only a domestic abuse ambassador for the service, but is volunteering with the local police as well, to help to support domestic abuse victims who are going through what she went through. She truly is an inspirational young woman—one of many who are standing up, stepping forward and sharing their harrowing experiences, to the benefit of current and future survivors and victims.
It is right, in this time of covid-19, to dwell a little on the impact that this pandemic is having on victims of domestic abuse and their families. We are seeing evidence of it in the increased calls to domestic abuse helplines. My local refuge had an increase in referrals of 80% in one week, and the helpline in my local area had an increase in the number of calls of nearly 30%. People are speaking up and speaking out about domestic abuse, but it is happening even at this time of great crisis.
The phrase “Stay at home”, which we so associate with the directions to deal with covid-19, should be words of reassurance and comfort. The home should be a place of safety, both physical and mental. The concept of the home as a refuge is such a strong one, yet for too many people it is not a refuge. At this time of lockdown, that fear, distress and suffering is multiplied. I assure all victims that help is available. The police continue to respond to incidents of domestic abuse, and anyone in immediate danger should not hesitate to call 999 and the emergency services. Where necessary, the existing civil order framework can be used to remove a perpetrator from the family home in order to protect victims of abuse.
We are working with and listening carefully to domestic abuse and victims organisations to make sure that we understand what their most pressing needs and priorities are, and we are committed to ensuring that victims have a comprehensive package of support available. We have launched a new campaign to signpost victims to the support services available and provided an additional £2.6 million to ensure that the national helplines have the capacity to respond to increased demand.
In addition, we are working with the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that refuges and other organisations that provide frontline support to victims will be able to access the £750 million fund set aside by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to bolster charities that are responding directly to the pandemic. I am happy to say to the House that allocations under the charities package will be made very shortly indeed. The Home Secretary and I have together been very much engaged in tailoring the requests to ensure that help is targeted where it will make the most difference. Having spoken to police and crime commissioners, I know that many are making available extra resources for safe accommodation.
I am grateful to the Home Affairs Committee for the report that it published yesterday on the pandemic’s impact on victims of domestic abuse. I welcome the Committee’s support for our public information campaign and the additional funding. We will of course respond promptly to the Committee’s recommendations.
In short, this is a concerted period of direct action being taken by the Government. Measures are being taken to address directly the concerns that I know the shadow Home Secretary, Nick Thomas-Symonds, whom I welcome to his post, will raise in due course.
Let me turn to the Bill, which is necessarily about strengthening protection and support for victims in the longer term. I share the frustration of Members from all parties that we are having to repeat a number of stages of this Bill, which was initially championed by my right hon. Friend Mrs May. All parties want to see this Bill on the statute book, but we have to put to good use the time available to us since the election to make it an even stronger Bill than the one that came before the House last October.
The aims of the Bill are fourfold: first, to raise awareness of this insidious crime; secondly, to better protect and support victims and their children; thirdly, to transform the response to the criminal, civil and family justice systems; and, fourthly, to improve performance across all national and local agencies. I shall take those objectives in turn.
If we are to tackle domestic abuse effectively, it is vital that the nature of that abuse is properly understood and recognised. Part 1 of the Bill sets out a statutory definition of domestic abuse. It will apply for the purposes of the whole Bill, but we also expect it to be adopted across all agencies that have a shared responsibility for combating this crime and for helping survivors to rebuild their lives. The definition makes it clear that domestic abuse is not confined to violent or sexual abuse, but includes controlling or coercive behaviour, psychological abuse and economic abuse, too. Identifying and calling out domestic abuse in all its manifestations is just a first step. We then need to protect and support victims. In terms of protection, a number of civil orders are already available to help to safeguard survivors, but the existing landscape of occupation orders, non-molestation orders and domestic violence protection orders is complex, and none are, arguably, wholly adequate to the task.
The new domestic abuse protection order—DAPO—will bring together the best elements of the existing civil order regimes. It will be available in the civil, criminal and family courts. It will be flexible, in that the court will determine the length of an order and decide what prohibitions, and positive requirements too, are appropriate to attach to it, including conditions that may compel the respondent to attend perpetrator programmes or require them to wear an electronic tag. The new DAPO will also have teeth, with a breach of conditions being a criminal offence punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.
We want to get these new orders right so that they work for victims and their children, the police, the courts and others who will have to operate them. We will therefore be piloting these new orders in a small number of areas before rolling them out nationally.
But protecting victims from abuse is never enough on its own. We also need to ensure that they are effectively supported as they reset their lives. The Bill, as reintroduced, includes a significant new measure to that end. When a victim of abuse has to flee their home and seek sanctuary in a refuge or other safe accommodation, it is not enough simply to provide that person with a safe place to sleep. In such circumstances, victims and their children need access to counselling and mental health support, advice about follow-on housing, help in enrolling children in a new school, or specialist support, such as translation services or access to immigration advice. We know that refuges and other providers of safe accommodation struggle to provide such support so, to plug that gap, the Bill will place new duties on tier 1 local authorities in England. Under part 4 of the Bill, such local authorities will be required to assess the need for accommodation-based support for all victims of domestic abuse and their children in the area. Having identified that need, the relevant local authorities will then be required to develop, publish and give effect to a strategy for the provision of such support in their locality.
Of course, these new duties will come at a cost—some £90 million a year, we estimate. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend the Housing Secretary is committed to ensuring that local authorities are appropriately resourced as part of the spending review.
I know from my own experience of the legal system that appearing as a witness in criminal, civil or family proceedings can be—shall we say—a daunting experience, so we need to make sure that the victims of domestic abuse can give their best evidence in court. In the criminal courts, that often means being able to give evidence hidden from view of the alleged perpetrator or via a video link. The Bill provides that these and other so-called special measures will be automatically available to victims. In the family courts, for a long time, there have been calls for a bar on the practice of perpetrators being able to cross-examine in person the victims of domestic abuse. Such an experience is bound to be traumatising for victims—it must stop. We have listened to the views of the Joint Committee that examined the draft Bill. Indeed, the Bill as reintroduced now extends the circumstances in which the automatic prohibition on cross-examination in person applies, which is a welcome further step to safeguard and prevent the perpetuation of abuse through the courts.
I know that there are wider concerns about the experiences of victims of domestic abuse in the family courts, which was why we established last year a specialist panel to examine how effectively the family courts respond to allegations of domestic abuse and other harms in private law proceedings, including around the provision of special measures. I aim to publish very shortly the panel’s recommendations, together with the Government’s response. One way we can improve the experiences of victims is by better integrating domestic abuse-related proceedings right across the various jurisdictions in our courts.
With that in mind, we committed in our manifesto to pilot integrated family and crime domestic abuse courts. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor set aside £5 million in his March Budget to allow that important pilot to progress. Again, I expect to be able to inform the House soon as to how the trial of these new integrated domestic abuse courts will be taken forward. I will take a close personal interest, to make sure that there is a genuine bringing together of the jurisdictions around the victim, around the family—around those people who need the support and benefit of any orders and sanctions that the court might impose.
It is not only the courts where there is room for improvement. The new independent domestic abuse commissioner will help drive consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse right across the relevant local and national agencies. The relevant agencies will be under a statutory duty to co-operate with the commissioner, and will be required to respond within 56 days to any recommendations that the commissioner makes. We are lucky to have Nicole Jacobs, who brings a wealth of experience to the role, and I fully expect her to perform her functions without fear or favour.
I know that, on the previous Second Reading, a number of hon. Members argued for the post to be full time. We reviewed—with Nicole Jacobs—the appropriate time commitment for this role and have now extended it from three to four days per week. The Minister for safeguarding, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, will keep this matter under review as we transition to the statutory arrangements provided for in part 2 of the Bill.
We did not want to wait until the Bill became law to make that appointment, and I am very glad we did not, because Nicole Jacobs is already making a huge difference. One area where we want to draw on her experience is in the provision of community-based support. As I described, the provisions in part 4 of the Bill will make sure that victims of domestic abuse in safe accommodation receive the support they need, but of course most victims of abuse remain in their own home, and they need to be able to access appropriate support while doing so.
Victim support services are provided in the community by police and crime commissioners, local authorities and other agencies, but the landscape is, frankly, complex, and there are undoubtedly gaps in the current provision. In order to determine what action needs to be taken, we must better understand the existing routes by which these services are commissioned and funded. To that end, the domestic abuse commissioner has agreed to undertake an in-depth exploration of the current community-based landscape of support. Once we have her findings and recommendations, we will work with her to understand the needs identified and to develop the right options for how best to address them.
Finally, I will say a few words about the amendments put forward in the last Session by my hon. Friend Mark Garnier and Ms Harman. It is absolutely right that we reinforce current case law that a person cannot consent to violence that leads to serious injury or death. To be clear, there is no such thing as the rough sex defence. I had a productive meeting with both Members to discuss the issue, and, as I made clear to them, we are looking at how best to address it. It is a complex area of criminal law, and we need to ensure that any statutory provisions have the desired effect and do not have any unintended consequences; we do not want to inadvertently create loopholes or uncertainties in the law that can then be exploited by those who perpetrate crimes. I am confident that we will be able to set out our approach in time for Report, and I am grateful for the continuing constructive engagement on this important and sensitive issue.
Domestic abuse is one of the most prevalent crimes in our society—let us be honest and frank about that. It is staggering that some 2.4 million people experience domestic abuse each year, and unforgivable that, on average, more than two individuals, the majority of whom are women, are killed each and every week in a domestic homicide.
Tackling domestic abuse needs to be everyone’s business, from prevention to protection to prosecution to support. Legislation alone can never have all the answers, but I believe that this landmark Bill will make a significant contribution and I commend it to the House.
I am grateful to the Lord Chancellor for his welcome. He and I have debated many times at the Dispatch Box in various roles, and I look forward to continuing to do so in future. I also look forward to debating with the Home Secretary when she is next in Parliament.
The Lord Chancellor was absolutely right to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bradford West (Naz Shah) for their very moving speeches in October, when the Bill was last before the House.
I welcome the Bill’s return to us today, in these extraordinary circumstances. The Opposition support it, and it is entirely right that, even in the midst of this crisis, we send the strongest possible message that tackling the appalling crime of domestic abuse remains a priority and that some of the urgently needed provisions in the Bill can progress.
However, it is not without bitter irony that we face the prospect of pushing forward with the Bill in such a constrained timeframe. After all, it was as far back as March 2018 when the Lord Chancellor’s predecessor but one, who no longer sits in this House, announced the initial consultation for the Bill, and it was promised long before that. The wait has been too long for those desperately needed provisions, and many others besides, that should be included in the Bill. I will come back to that.
The lockdown has changed patterns of crime. Over the weekend, the National Crime Agency announced that it had alerted the police to 1,300 potential child sexual abuse cases and that it had also recently arrested a British man possessing indecent images of children who was attempting to re-enter the UK from the Philippines. That paints a worrying picture and we must do all in our power to stop such abuses and prevent them from ever taking place. I pay tribute to the NCA, particularly its director general, Lynne Owens, who is leading the fight to tackle those heinous crimes.
Isolating victims from the support of others is what the perpetrators of domestic abuse often seek to do, so it is sadly no surprise that the coronavirus crisis and the lockdown required to deal with it have produced the conditions in which domestic abuse has sharply increased. At the end of last week, the Metropolitan police reported that in the six weeks up to
Clearly, the warning signals of abuse are flashing red. We have been seeing and hearing those warnings from the domestic abuse sector since the start of the crisis. Asking people to stay at home when home might not be a safe place is clearly a huge challenge. Add to that the massive operational challenge that the need for social distancing creates for refuges and related services and the drop-off in charity funding, and it is clear that services for some of the most at-risk people face extraordinary difficulty. That is why I have been clear since becoming the shadow Home Secretary that the Government must take action on tackling domestic abuse and supporting the wider sector that deals with violence against women and girls.
Government action, such as the £2 million of funding for a helpline, is welcome, as is the You Are Not Alone public campaign, but it is not enough to provide the emergency support necessary. For a start, that £2 million needs to reach the frontline. We will work constructively and responsibly, and we have repeated the offer to discuss what can be done to fast-track that support.
One of my first priorities was to meet representatives from the sector with the shadow Domestic Violence and Safeguarding Minister. Many of those women have put themselves in harm’s way throughout their working lives to stand up for people who are facing abuse, and that is even more true in the middle of the current crisis. The message they gave me was absolutely clear: not only does the coronavirus crisis seem to be pushing up the rate of domestic abuse, but it is putting extraordinary pressure on the services that people turn to for help. Refuges face a massive challenge in keeping their doors open while sticking to the social distancing rules. We are asking people to do the right thing and stay at home, so it is only right that the country is there to support the people put at direct risk by those measures.
The Government have yet to engage fully, and the action does remain too slow. It is our intention to try to set out in Committee amendments that would guarantee rapid support for the domestic abuse charities from the £750 million fund that the Chancellor announced to support charity work. I would like to say from the outset that that in itself is an inadequate amount, and I urge the Chancellor to think again. The Lord Chancellor mentioned making allocations, but let me make this suggestion to him. First, a dedicated proportion of the £750 million should be ring-fenced for domestic abuse and the wider violence against women and girls sector. We say 10%, which is not unreasonable and would keep services going. Secondly, a system should be in place to fast-track that investment to the frontline before charities have to close their doors for being oversubscribed or unable to pay their staff. Thirdly, an element of support should be earmarked for specialist services such as BAME services run with and for migrant women, men who are at risk of or suffering domestic abuse, and specialist LGBTQ services.
I do not want to stand here and criticise the Government. I want the Minister to show the grip and urgency that the challenge requires and needs urgently. It cannot be right that vital services for the most at-risk people are in the position of turning people away because of a lack of funding. As I set out in my recent letter to the Home Secretary, there are a range of ways that the Government can help the sector, such as co-ordinating access to under-used existing accommodation; ensuring that support workers have access to PPE; providing technological support; and ensuring that women are not trapped in abusive situations because they have no recourse to public funds. That requires grip and a more joined-up cross-Government approach. We have seen that happening in the devolved Administrations, such as the £1.2 million fund created by the Welsh Government to purchase community accommodation for victims, to enable move-on accommodation and prevent lack of bed spaces in refuges or, indeed, to provide other accommodation when a refuge is not the right answer. In London, the Mayor has dedicated £4 million to the London community response fund, taking the total to £16 million to help the capital’s community and voluntary organisations. The lesson is that, with political will, these changes can be made. The need is now and the Government must respond to that challenge.
I turn to the Bill itself. It clearly is, as the Lord Chancellor set out, a step forward to have a statutory definition in the first clause of the Bill that also includes, in addition to violent and sexually threatening behaviour, controlling and coercive behaviour and other forms of abuse, including economic, psychological and emotional. I welcome the appointment of a domestic abuse commissioner and pay tribute to the work that Nicole Jacobs is doing as designate commissioner, alongside the work of the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, and indeed the children’s commissioners across the UK. I welcome the domestic abuse protection orders and the notices, although I hope that they will be accompanied by support, training and resources our officers need. On the family courts, I agree with the Lord Chancellor that the prohibition of cross-examination of victims by perpetrators in person is welcome and long overdue, and I remember speaking on it myself in the Prisons and Courts Bill, which fell before the 2017 general election. I am glad the wait will not be even more protracted.
We will look to improve the Bill in Committee, and the sector must have its full say in giving evidence to the Committee. That process of scrutiny would be far more effective if we had more information before us. The Home Office has undertaken a review of how migrant women, especially those with no recourse to public funds, interact with domestic abuse provision. Having that review available to members of the Committee is very important.
The second issue on which there is a currently unpublished review is the family courts. Prior to the coronavirus crisis, it was thought that the family justice review panel would report this spring on how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences. Again, having that available would greatly enhance the Committee stage.
A victim is a victim. We will press the Government on protections for disabled victims. We cannot tolerate a situation where victims with insecure migrant status are not only prevented by that from coming forward, but actually have it used against them by someone abusing them. That is why, as I have argued, the Government should suspend the system of no recourse to public funds during the coronavirus crisis, so that victims can get the support they need, not only in their interests but in all our interests in this public health emergency.
In Committee, we will also press the Government on a clear statutory duty on public authorities in England and Wales to commission specialist domestic abuse support and services for all people affected by domestic abuse, regardless of status. That should include a duty on the Secretary of State to provide sufficient funding. The duty should be to all who are affected by domestic abuse, including those with insecure immigration status, children and young people. Let us make sure, too, that there are perpetrator programmes with proper quality assurance as to their standard.
We will also push the Government on measures on post-separation abuse. In fact, it is often the case that when perpetrators lose control of the situation, their behaviour becomes even more extreme and the victims require greater protection. I say to the Lord Chancellor that although there are existing laws, such as the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, more is required to be done to tackle the threat to people even after the particular relationship has ended. We will press that in Committee.
The Bill contains a series of measures that will clearly have wide support across the House. I pay tribute to all those people who worked on it, particularly in the last Parliament, including, on these Benches, my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris, who pushed it forward with her characteristic passion and determination. She is not sat in the House today, but I am sure she will be watching at home. She should have our thanks for the way that she conducted herself.
I implore the Government to keep an open mind in Committee as to how the Bill can be improved. If they decide that they want to ignore all the suggestions for improvement, that will be an extraordinarily grave mistake. The Bill is a real opportunity to consensually make vital changes in the interests of victims and potential victims up and down the country.
We should remember, too, that many services that we rely on to respond to the crisis, and to support women and girls at risk of violence, have faced a toxic cocktail of cuts to policing and preventive services for a decade. We did not go into the crisis with the resilience that we would all have hoped for.
I conclude by giving my deepest thanks to the frontline workers who are doing so much to keep our communities safe and who are working especially hard to protect those most at risk. They deserve all our gratitude and respect for all that they do, putting themselves at risk to keep us all safe.
Desperate as these circumstances are, I say to anyone who is at home and afraid: they are not alone. Since taking up this role, I have made it my priority to speak to senior and frontline officers, who all assured me that tackling domestic abuse remains exactly where it should be—right at the top of their priority list—and that anyone who feels that they need their support should reach out. The message that should go out from this House today is that they are not alone.
As you can imagine, a lot of people have put in to speak in this debate, so we are introducing a five-minute limit, apart from for the SNP Front-Bench spokesperson. Those contributing from outside the Chamber will not be able to see the clock, so I hope they have their own timers visible to them, because we have to be strict in order to get as many people in as we possibly can. I call Theresa May.
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
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.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is a pleasure to follow Mrs May. Whatever our political differences, I know that this is an area where she cares passionately and has made a difference. Before I address the Bill, I would like to welcome to his place Nick Thomas-Symonds. I congratulate him on his appointment as shadow Home Secretary, and I pay tribute to his predecessor, Ms Abbott.
With some important caveats, the Scottish National party welcomes this Bill. Most of its provisions will apply only to England and Wales; domestic abuse is a devolved matter, and Scotland passed its own consolidating legislation two years ago. The UK Government should look to the Scottish Government’s groundbreaking Equally Safe strategy, which has been hailed as one of the best strategies in Europe for tackling violence against women.
In the current covid crisis, there is ample evidence that social isolation is adding pressure to those who live in abusive domestic situations. There may be women and children watching this debate at home today who are in that position, and the Scottish Government have moved to reassure anyone experiencing domestic abuse that support is available to them during these difficult times. Scotland’s 24-hour domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline is available on 0800 027 1234, and I know that similar help is available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Of course, if anyone feels threatened or in fear of harm, they should call the police.
There is much to welcome in this Bill. The inclusion of non-physical abuse in the statutory definition of “domestic abuse”, the inclusion of children aged 16 and 17, and the appointment of the domestic abuse commissioner are all to be applauded. Like others, I pay tribute to the work she has done already. However, I regret that this Bill is a lost opportunity to tackle a number of important matters—these are reserved matters and therefore can be addressed only by the UK Government. For example, I would like the Minister, in her summing up, to explain why the Government have failed to take the opportunity to ensure that this Bill helps all women in the UK, regardless of their immigration status. I would also like her to address why, despite years of lobbying from the SNP, the Government have not used this Bill to address two important matters relating to the payment of universal credit. This Bill is a missed opportunity to introduce a system whereby UC is paid separately by default. The current system of single-household payments makes it even easier for abusers to perpetrate economic abuse. The Scottish Government have legislated to introduce separate payments, but are dependent on the Department for Work and Pensions’ information technology infrastructure to make this happen. I know that the Minister is likely to respond by saying that victims of domestic abuse can apply for separate payments, but she will be well aware that a survey carried out by Women’s Aid some time ago said that 85% of domestic abuse survivors would not dare to apply as an exceptional measure, because it would attract further abuse. That is why this needs to happen automatically. This Bill was the perfect opportunity to change the system, so why not just do it?
Likewise, when domestic abuse survivors leave their partner and apply for UC, the five-week wait leaves many in abject poverty, at a time when they are attempting to rebuild their lives and replace essential belongings. SNP MPs have repeatedly explained to the UK Government why it is vital that UC advances are paid as grants to survivors, yet, once more, the opportunity to achieve that, which this Bill afforded, has not been taken. I do not understand why, and I await the Minister’s explanation with interest.
I will devote the rest of my remarks to the provisions omitted from this Bill, which mean that it will continue to be impossible for the United Kingdom to ratify the Istanbul convention. In 2017, Dr Eilidh Whiteford, then the SNP Member of Parliament for Banff and Buchan, led a successful campaign to pass a law that required the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul convention. That was the first time an SNP MP had managed to get a private Member’s Bill into law, so it is particularly frustrating that three years later the United Kingdom has yet to ratify the Istanbul convention. It is also rather shameful that the UK is one of only six states in Europe to have failed to ratify it.
The Istanbul convention is based on the understanding that violence against women is committed against women because they are women. It makes clear that it is the state’s obligation to address fully violence against women in all its forms, and that the state must introduce measures to protect all women from violence, to protect all victims, and to prosecute perpetrators. Parties to the convention are encouraged to apply the protective framework that it creates to men who may also be exposed to violence in the domestic unit. However, it should not be overlooked that the majority of victims of domestic violence and abuse are women, and that domestic abuse is perpetrated against women as part of a wider pattern of discrimination and inequality based on their sex.
The Scottish Parliament has passed all the measures that are necessary and within its competence to enable ratification of the convention to proceed, but the UK Government are holding things up. The Bill before us introduces certain provisions regarding extraterritorial effect, which are necessary for ratification, but it falls short in the key area of provision of services to migrant women.
As others have said, some migrant women find it impossible to access emergency protection because of the no recourse to public funds condition. Two weeks ago, the Home Affairs Committee took evidence about that condition from the Victims Commissioner, the domestic abuse commissioner designate, and the Children’s Commissioner, all of whom were clear that the no recourse to public funds provision should be scrapped, not just during this crisis, but for good. The cross-party joint parliamentary scrutiny committee that preceded the first iteration of this Bill also recommended that the Bill should include proper protections for migrant women, yet all those recommendations have been ignored. I would like an explanation from the Minister of why they have been ignored.
I have no doubt that amendments will be tabled in Committee to rectify those omissions and enable all migrant women to access vital protections from abuse. Will the Minister accept those amendments? Will she look favourably on amendments that address the payment of universal credit, which I mentioned earlier? I look forward to hearing about that point later this afternoon, because if the UK Government do not address the matters I have raised, protection for victims of domestic abuse will not be universal. Gaps in provision will remain, particularly for migrant women, and the UK Government will continue to be unable to ratify the Istanbul convention.
It is a pleasure to follow Joanna Cherry, and to see the Lord Chancellor be supported, albeit at some distance on the Front Bench, by the Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Alex Chalk), who is the Minister responsible for the Ministry of Justice victims strategy. He is a former member of the Justice Committee, and we are delighted to see him on the Treasury Bench.
This is an important Bill that deals with a real and pressing social evil. The Lord Chancellor was right to bring it forward as swiftly as he has, and I welcome the tone of his remarks. May I concentrate in particular on the provisions that relate to legal proceedings and court procedures, starting with part 5? The prohibition on cross-examination by litigants in person in family cases is to be welcomed as a very important advance. It is something for which lawyers and the judiciary involved in family cases have been calling for a considerable time, and it is good to see it in the Bill. What I hope Ministers will take away is the detail of how we actually make that work in practice.
The first point that I hope the Government will take on board is that those advocates who are appointed to carry out that often sensitive and difficult cross-examination in often very sensitive and fraught cases must be properly remunerated in order to be prepared for that work. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor will know, one of the first things that we were taught at Bar school was that the key to good cross-examination is preparation. To do that, the lawyers have to be appointed in a timely fashion. They must be paid properly to ensure that they are of adequate experience and seniority to deal with these matters, and they must have time to access the material and be rewarded for doing so.
One issue in the family jurisdiction is that there is not the extent of disclosure that we see in criminal cases and therefore preparatory work may be harder in those cases. Perhaps we need to look therefore at what stage those advocates are appointed to carry out that work. It seems to me that, in order to have the ability to cross-examine properly, it may well be necessary for them to be able to read all of the papers in the case. They probably also need the ability to seek a conference in order to get from the person on whose behalf they are appointed the necessary detail to do justice in the case. That cannot be done on the cheap. I am sure the Government will not want to do that, but it is important that that is not missed out, as both the Bar Council and the Law Society have pointed out. It may also be important, as the professional bodies have pointed out, to consider extending that to instructions to carry out examination-in-chief as well. The example that is given is where an alleged perpetrator of abuse seeks to call a child in the family as a relevant witness to some of the proceedings before the court. It seems to me that the same risks of intimidation would be transferred under those circumstances.
It is also important to consider the nature of the proceedings. It may well be that the allegation of abuse relates to one part of the family proceedings, but the coercive behaviour would have an impact on that perpetrator cross-examining the victim under any part of the proceedings. If someone has a history of coercive control over another, it would be just as difficult for the victim to be cross-examined by them about financial provisions as it would in relation to the actual incidents of assault and abuse, or in relation to custody. I hope that we will be generous in carrying out the legal support that is made available. I hope, too, that we will recognise the need to use the review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to look at the re-introduction, as soon as possible, of early legal advice in these matters, so that the necessary issues are flagged up at the earliest opportunity.
I am glad to see that the Lord Chancellor is proposing to bring forward the report of the specialist panel. I hope that he will do that as soon as possible, not least because there has been concern that provision around special measures has never been as consistent or as advanced in the family jurisdiction as it has been in criminal courts. That is not because I think family practitioners and judges do not want it, but because the infrastructure has not been there. I hope that that will give us an opportunity to address that.
I am pleased that the Lord Chancellor is proposing to pilot the domestic abuse protection orders and prevention notices rather than going in immediately. We do need to see how those will integrate—
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow Select Committee Chair, Sir Robert Neill. When the Domestic Abuse Bill was first proposed, none of us could have imagined debating it in circumstances such as this: when there is evidence that the number of women and children killed as a result of domestic abuse in a few short weeks has increased sharply and at its highest level for over a decade; when the calls to helplines are up by 50% and visits to some support websites are up sevenfold; and when some victims are feeling more trapped than ever because perpetrators of abuse are exploiting the coronavirus crisis to increase control and to commit crimes. Those perpetrators are taking advantage of the fact that it is harder for their victims to seek help: the social worker is not dropping by, the bruises will not be visible at the school gate the next morning; and the GP will not be asking questions at the next appointment. This is not just about lockdowns; the period afterwards may be much higher risk for victims, too. In the face of this deadly virus, we know that staying home to save lives is important, but that it is also why we have a responsibility to help those for whom home is not a safe place to be.
All those reasons show why this Bill is so important, but also why it is not enough. I welcome the Bill, the new powers and the new statutory duty of support for victims, which the Home Affairs Committee called for, although I would want it to go wider. I welcome the creation of the domestic abuse commissioner, which I first raised with the then Home Secretary seven years ago, but I press the Government to go further, including on a stalking and serial abuse register and on making stronger reference to children.
There are things in the Bill that we should be doing better and faster now, as we set out in our Home Affairs Committee report yesterday. First, if we believe in a statutory duty of support, let us start delivering it now. In many areas, refuges are full yet at the same time their funding has dropped, so the Government should ring-fence the new charity funds now and get them urgently to refuges and domestic abuse support groups. They should talk to the national hotel and hostel chains to provide supplementary housing and get a national guarantee of safe housing in straightaway.
Secondly, the Bill is about using the criminal justice system to protect victims and prosecute criminals, but the system faces new challenges. We recommended extending the time limit for domestic abuse-related summary offences, and we should do that now in this Bill.
Thirdly, if we believe in having a domestic abuse commissioner, let us listen to what she says now, because Nicole Jacobs has been appointed already, even if her powers are not fully in place. She told our Committee that a lot of things are in the way of getting people support in a crisis. She raised issues around housing, support services and perpetrator programmes and called for a cross-governmental working group and an action plan to sort things out. The Victims’ Commissioner told us that we should adopt a French programme that would provide emergency contacts in pharmacies and supermarkets. I heard from a police officer in the north-west trying to do that, but they need national intervention with the supermarkets to make it work. The Children’s Commissioner warned us about vulnerable children whom no one is visiting and no one has seen since the crisis began and the need for face-to-face contact. We need national action to make that possible.
Some of those important things are not happening because, bluntly, we need more leadership and drive from the centre, and that is why the Committee has called for an urgent action plan to be drawn up by the Home Secretary with the domestic abuse commissioner and others as part of the Cobra planning process.
This Bill is important, but if we are serious about the sentiments behind it that we are all expressing, we should see it as a chance to do more. If we do not, we will be dealing with the consequences of the surge in domestic abuse that we are seeing now for very many years to come.
To start this second Second Reading debate, I thank again the Members of both Houses who were members of the draft Bill scrutiny Committee, which I chaired a year ago. It was a Joint Committee, and I particularly thank Baroness Bertin, who was battling the symptoms of morning sickness in our early sessions. To mark the significant amount of time that has passed since our Bill Committee reported, I am pleased to tell the House that the very young Edward Louis Grist was born on
In our extensive scrutiny of the Bill, we held seven evidence sessions. The Government have responded positively to many of the recommendations that we made because of that evidence. I welcome the Government’s decision to include in the Bill the duty on local authorities in England to provide support for victims and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation, and to provide funding to do that. I am sure Ministers will be pressed firmly in Committee on that funding promise.
At this point, I might want to welcome my hon. Friend Jess Phillips to her place on the Front Bench. I am very glad to see that she is still there, because I seem to recall a while ago her indicating that if funding for refuges were ever made statutory, her job would be done. I am sure she would agree with me that there is much more work for both she and I to do in this area and to make sure that the Government deliver on all their important promises.
Other recommendations from the Committee that have been taken forward by the Government include the issue of the interpretation of the definition of domestic abuse. We had a long and hard debate on this, and we are particularly pleased to see that the statutory definition will be coupled with guidance, particularly on how to deal with the effects that domestic abuse has on children. There is also the fact that, overwhelmingly, this is a crime where the victims are women, and that is an important thing the Government have acknowledged. The Government have also agreed, as a result of the evidence they heard from the Committee, that there will be a mandatory ban on cross-examination of domestic abuse victims by their perpetrators in the family courts, as well as in the criminal courts. The Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, referred to that.
However, there are two outstanding issues on which I would like to press my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. The first is making sure that we have the report from the panel considering the extension of special measures to family courts as soon as possible, and that there is no further delay on that being put in place, particularly given the current circumstances.
Secondly, and equally importantly, we must make sure that there are provisions for migrant women, and that they are made clearer by the Government not at any point in the future, but now and today, because there are currently no provisions in the Bill for migrant women facing domestic abuse, and that is not acceptable. As Nick Thomas-Symonds said, a victim is a victim regardless of their immigration status, which is an important point that we should all take away from today’s debate.
The Committee recommended that a firewall be established separating the reporting of crime and access to support services from immigration control. I was alarmed to see that a recently published FOI request showed that 27 out of 45 police forces routinely share details with the Home Office if victims have insecure immigration status, so this is a live issue, which I know my right hon. and learned Friend will be very well aware of.
We meet to debate the Bill in unprecedented times, and I know from speaking to my own local domestic abuse charity in Hampshire, Stop Domestic Abuse, that there are real concerns about the potential for funding issues in relation to a spike in cases when the lockdown is lifted. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud all the work that it is doing to support my constituents. Many domestic abuse organisations are concerned about this issue, and I would like to add my voice to the support for at least part of the very generous £750 million announced by the Chancellor to be earmarked for specialist services.
The impact of this pandemic on our lives is profound, but for those living with domestic abuse it is not only the virus that is life threatening, and we need to take this opportunity today to act.
This is a very important Bill, and much needed for tackling the horrific and often hidden crime of domestic violence. I completely agree with all the points that have been made by previous speakers on the Bill. The truth is that a lot of us have pushed for this Bill, but I do not think we would even be debating this today were it not for the former Prime Minister Mrs May, who has just spoken, and I want to acknowledge that.
I strongly support the Bill, but there is one glaring omission, and that is what I want to speak about this afternoon. We need the Bill to tackle the problem of the defence being used by men who kill women and then say, “It’s a sex game gone wrong”. This is where a man kills a woman by strangling her or by forcing an object up inside her that causes her to bleed to death, and he acknowledges that these injuries killed her and that he caused them, but says it is not his fault—it is her fault; he was only doing what she wanted; it was a sex game gone wrong—and he literally gets away with murder. That is a double injustice. Not only does he kill, but he drags her name through the mud. It causes indescribable trauma for the bereaved family, who sit silently in court with the loss of a beloved daughter, sister and mother, to see the man who killed her describe luridly what he alleges are her sexual proclivities. She, of course, is not there to speak for herself. He kills her and then he defines her.
That is what happened to Natalie Connolly. I see that Mark Garnier is in his place and will be speaking shortly. He was Natalie’s family’s MP. I urge everybody to listen very carefully to what he says about what happened in that case. Her brutal killer, John Broadhurst, escaped a murder charge by saying that it was what she wanted. We can stop that injustice. We can prohibit the rough sex gone wrong defence. We must do that by saying that if it is his hands on her neck strangling her, if it his hands that are pushing the object up inside her, then he must take responsibility. That is not a sex game gone wrong; that is murder and he cannot blame her for her own death.
There are two lessons that I think we have learned from previous struggles to improve the law on domestic violence and sexual offences. The first is that it always takes too long. This is the Bill in which this must happen. Secondly, it is never sorted until the law is changed. It will not be sorted by judicial training, by Crown Prosecution Service guidance or by a taskforce, welcome though they are. It will not be sorted by good intentions either; they are never enough. It needs a law change. I fully accept the Government’s good intentions. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland and his team, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk, have been very concerned and in listening mode on this issue. However, I say very directly to the Lord Chancellor that he is the man with the power here. He is the Government Minister and this is his Bill. I say to him, “Be the man who listens to what women are saying about this, not the man who knows better than us. Listen to what we are saying and make the change that we are asking for.”
Today, I make my maiden speech in circumstances I could never have imagined. I always said that I got into politics to serve the community I love and have lived in all my life. I always said that I would somehow redefine what it meant to be a constituency MP. Along with making history as the first female MP for the area and the youngest Conservative MP in the country, I am the first Member of Parliament ever to make their maiden speech remotely, from their own home. I do that because I wanted to stay here, rooted in my community, to rise to the challenges we face. As I have always said, we are stronger together. It would be remiss of me not to mention my predecessor, Graham Jones, for his nine years of service, and to remind the House that, for the first time in 27 years, Hyndburn returned a Conservative MP. Ken Hargreaves, before that, was a truly honourable gentleman, who sadly lost his life in 2012.
I want to tell the House about my home—what I consider to be the capital of Lancashire. Hyndburn and Haslingden have been at the heart of this country’s responses to our changing world time and again. They were at the forefront of the industrial revolution, and our local regiment, the Accrington Pals, led the charge to defend our peace and freedom. Today, as we face covid-19, businesses and community organisations in Hyndburn and Haslingden are being as innovative and resourceful as James Hargreaves, the Oswaldtwistle famed inventor of the spinning jenny. Our NHS, key workers and frontline services have proven to be as tough as the famous Accrington Nori brick: unbreakable no matter how much stress it is put under. While I hope we will soon be able to get back to supporting the local team of Accrington Stanley and enjoying the world-famous locally made Holland’s pies, it is that sense of community, in which we have been steeped for generations, that will get us through to that happy day—our children have also been steeped in it, as can been seen from my office wall.
I have always believed in supporting those who need it the most, and that resonates now more than ever. While lockdown will help us defeat covid-19, it has resulted in an increase in domestic violence. Organisations like Hyndburn and Ribble Valley Domestic Violence Team in my constituency are working tirelessly to respond to this. We—now, more than ever—have to do right by those in such distressing and potentially life-threatening situations, which is why I wholeheartedly support this Bill.
But this leads me on to what I want to personally champion during my time in office. Through the devastating effects of alcohol misuse and mental health issues, I lost my mum when I was nine years old. I witnessed a woman who I and many others adored, crumble before my eyes and a father who had to pick up the pieces. Sadly, my family’s experience is not an isolated case, and that is why it is so important that the right support is available—something I will be campaigning hard for as an MP.
Over the coming months, I am sure we will beat this pandemic, and I will be ready to return to my main mission in this Parliament—fighting for levelled-up funding and investment in the north. The term “forgotten towns” only really became a common phrase since the seismic shift in votes in the general election, but it cannot just be a phrase—a one-off response to an election result. We northerners pride ourselves on our no-nonsense, straight-talking approach, so I apologise in advance to Ministers: I will be pestering for investment in infra- structure—support for businesses to thrive and grow the northern economy and to give our children the same opportunities in life whether they are from Hyndburn, Haslingden or Hertfordshire. To do this, I will have to follow the long and proud Conservative tradition of being, in Ken Clarke’s words, a “bloody difficult woman”.
But first we have to beat the virus. This lockdown is hard but necessary, and I see the sacrifices that people are making even within my own family, as my dad, Peter Britcliffe, stays at home in isolation this week to celebrate his 70th birthday.
My virtual speech today is a first, but it will not be the last norm that is challenged. We can learn from how we have all utilised technology in this period to run even better and more efficient public services in the future, as well as remembering that the challenges people face cannot only be dealt with online. People need the sense of familiarity and humanity that shared space and face-to-face contact afford. This creates communities of geography—of belonging—that cyberspace cannot offer.
Finally, I would like to reassure my constituents in Hyndburn and Haslingden that when we get through this—and we will get through this—I will continue to stand up and do what is right for our home, because these forgotten towns, under my watch, will be forgotten no more.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I hope that you can hear me.
I start by congratulating Sara Britcliffe on her extraordinary maiden speech. It is difficult to make a maiden speech at the best of times. I think that her mum would have been extremely proud of her, and I join her in wishing her dad a happy birthday. Many Labour Members are extremely grateful for what she said about her predecessor.
This is a Bill that many of us have fought for, waited for and wanted for a long time. Before the covid-19 crisis, we had already seen the highest levels of domestic abuse in our society for the past five years, so we know that the pressure is as urgent as it is. I join my Front-Bench colleagues in calling for an emergency fund to tackle the issues created by covid-19 by providing a safe environment for everybody to stay at home in. I support the work of my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman and my hon. Friend Dame Diana Johnson in relation to the Bill to ensure that we give women the rights they deserve.
In the short time available to me, I want to take up the Secretary of State’s challenge on how we can strengthen the Bill by setting out a number of areas in which I hope we, as a House, can make progress together. As my hon. Friend Jess Phillips reminds us in a powerful speech every single year, when we get this wrong, we see the human cost.
First, we must see every victim in their own right—they are not a generic group of people. That is why we need to go further in protecting women who otherwise would find their immigration status a barrier to seeking help. It is also why we must recognise disabled women and ensure that our law works for them. We must look at the concept of what a personal relationship is. I look at the work that Stay Safe East has done on that; it makes a powerful case.
If we are to protect every woman and see her in her own right as a victim, we must also ensure that we protect every woman where she is a victim. I am very moved by the words of Claire Throssell, who talked about the tremendous strength of her sons, Jack and Paul, and the horrific experience they had in the family courts. As Claire has said:
“No parent should have to hold their children in their arms as they die knowing it’s at the hands of the other parent, someone who should love and cherish them.”
We need to go further in protecting people from unsafe contact, because we see in Claire’s case the damage that is done when that does not happen.
We need to push for the stalkers register that we were promised many years ago. There are too many women—Alice Ruggles, Jane Clough and many more—whom we have to honour, and Paladin is doing work in that area. We must also ensure that housing does not become a barrier to a victim of domestic abuse getting help. I stand with SafeLives and Barnardo’s in calling for an amendment to the Bill to ensure that there is a statutory duty on local authorities.
In my final minute, I want to flag the importance of us being a leader, not a follower, when it comes to tackling domestic abuse internationally. It is extremely concerning that although the UK, as a member of the Council of Europe, signed the Istanbul convention in 2014, we are one of the few countries that has not yet ratified it. As Joanna Cherry pointed out, that means that there are challenges in how we treat women from minority communities, particularly migrants.
Ratification of the convention is also about our recognition that this is a gendered crime. Through the Bill, I hope that we can make progress on something that the Law Commission is looking at: recognising the misogyny behind crimes against women, and looking at misogyny as a hate crime. In particular, I look at the evidence from Nottinghamshire, where treating violence as a misogynistic act has transformed the way in which the police and other services are able to deal with it.
I hope that Ministers look forward to debating not only how we protect migrant women and disabled women, but the need to call this out for what it is: a hatred of women. It is about not creating a new crime, but recognising the importance and value of identifying it as such within our criminal justice system. When we hear the words of victims such as Claire or the families of Jane Clough and Alice Ruggles, we know that we cannot afford to lose this precious legislative moment. We have fought for it for so long. All of us across the House want the Bill to be the best it can be, so I look forward to working with Ministers to make sure that it is.
I share the Lord Chancellor’s sense of déjà vu after the previous Second Reading of this Bill on
I am delighted to make my debut in this virtual Parliament but, most of all, I am delighted to be called after the fantastic maiden speech made by my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe. It was the first virtual maiden speech, but there was nothing virtual about its content. We all welcome the latest bloody difficult woman to this Chamber. She achieved her third first today; it was also the third for the Britcliffe family. Following her father’s two unsuccessful attempts to win that seat, she did so on the third try, and this place is greatly enriched by her success.
I said in our October debate that domestic abuse was an important subject, but the coronavirus crisis has emphasised what a big problem it is and how urgently we must find practical solutions. I welcome many of the measures in the Bill, which I am sure will be further improved during its passage. However, in 2019, according to the organisation Attenti, nearly 2.4 million people—overwhelmingly women—reported being subject to domestic abuse. Some 173 women and 13 men were killed by a partner or former partner in 2019, an increase of 32 from 2018. Two thirds of them were killed in their own home. But we forget the hidden toll of the estimated 400 people, again mostly women, who commit suicide each year having attended hospital for domestic abuse injuries in the previous six months.
We know, as many have said, that domestic abuse has flourished during the coronavirus lockdown. As the Home Affairs Committee report shows, calls to helplines have increased by some 50%, and there were some 16 killings in the first three weeks of the lockdown, double the average of previous years. We need smarter ways for women to be able to present and to escape domestic abuse, and smarter ways of safeguarding children who, in many cases at the moment, do not have the early warning system of schools and calls from social workers.
I welcome the measures on the domestic abuse commissioner, domestic abuse protection orders and so on, but they will not have the desired effect unless there are sufficient and appropriate support services available, with long-term, sustainable funding, particularly for refuge place planning and so on. We need suitably trained front- line service personnel receiving cross-agency, complementary and ongoing training to identify and intervene on all forms of abusive behaviour—the sort of cross-agency approach we are beginning to see in response to child sexual exploitation. We must also encourage victims to come forward, and give them the confidence that they will be supported and the perpetrators dealt with, to keep them and their children safe. We need effective intervention, enforcement, support and safekeeping.
I want to focus for a few minutes on children, although I should point out that, contrary to perception, domestic abuse affects older people, too. One in five victims of domestic homicides is aged over 60, and there has been a 40% increase in the last two years in the number affected by domestic abuse. There is also a disproportionate impact on those from BAME communities.
When I was children’s Minister, I never ceased to be shocked that over 75% of child safeguarding cases were linked to households with domestic abuse. Some 770,000 children live with an adult who has experienced domestic abuse. It is the most prevalent risk factor affecting children in need, and we must not forget that around half the residents of refuges are children.
Millions of children are affected by domestic abuse, many traumatised by its impact on their health, their life chances and their life, yet they are seen merely as witnesses to domestic abuse, not victims themselves. That is where I have a criticism of the Bill. As a supporter of Hestia and the “UK Says No More” campaign, I hope that the Government will ensure that children feature more prominently in the Bill, starting with a reform to the Children Act 1989 so that it reflects more clearly children’s experiences of domestic abuse and how that constitutes harm to children.
Support services that understandably were commissioned for adult victims of abuse must also cater for the physiological, psychological and geographical impact on children. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children helpline carried out 663 counselling sessions in the middle week of April alone, showing that child abuse goes hand in hand with domestic abuse. I welcome the Bill and the measures in it, but we need more focus on children, too.
We live in extraordinary times. Unfortunately, there is nothing extraordinary about domestic violence. It affects women of all classes and in all walks of life, and the figures show that it has got considerably worse in the course of the coronavirus lockdown.
I welcome this important Bill. There are ways in which it could be improved, but in principle it represents a real step forward. First, however, I want to honour the campaigners. It was they who moved domestic abuse from something that the police and politicians did not necessarily take seriously to the very seriously regarded crime it is today. Without those campaigners, this Bill, although it is by no means perfect, would not have been brought forward.
Domestic abuse and domestic violence are often hidden. The victims are frightened and even too ashamed to speak out. There are no more frightened and desperate victims than women of colour, whether they are refugees, asylum seekers, migrants or—[Inaudible.] Women of colour are fearful of approaching the authorities, because of their immigration status or general fear of the police. I have had to support—[Inaudible]—who were too frightened to report abuse, because they were worried that their partner might report them to immigration.
I think it is important for the House to say that all women have the right to be protected from domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status. To achieve that, this Government need to move away from the hostile war between immigration control and public services, including services for women who are victims of domestic violence. The women of colour who are reluctant to approach—[Inaudible]—so Government and local authorities need to recognise the importance of providing support for refugees and of services that provide specialist services to black women and migrants. I pay tribute to Ngozi Fulani and her project Sistah Space in Hackney, which has helped so many black women who are victims of domestic violence.
We know that “no recourse to public funds” regulations stop many women of colour who are the victims of domestic violence from accessing support at all. For this and many other reasons, “no recourse to public funds” should be scrapped, but I have a practical proposal in relation to all victims. Labour’s new Front-Bench team is dealing very ably with the Bill and they will make the case for their amendments—[Inaudible]—for extra funds. I fully support that case, but the service providers who operate—[Inaudible]—conjure up additional living accommodation overnight every day, so I propose that the Government should acquire vacant hotel accommodation to house these victims until alternative, decent accommodation can be found. We know that some hotel chains have offered to help by providing accommodation, and they should be taken up on that offer. The policy has already been announced in France, and Britain should do the same. If, at a later date, more appropriate accommodation can be found, that is excellent, but the victims need accommodation now. Mine is a practical proposal that could be announced immediately. I hope that it will command widespread support across the House.
To any women and men at home today who are watching this debate, I think the message of this House to you is that you are not alone.
Following on from the Second Reading of the Bill’s previous incarnation, I have now been able to draft some of the amendments I mentioned, which I believe will help to improve this Bill. I do not have much time today, but I just want to highlight a few of those.
As I have said on numerous occasions, one of my biggest priorities regarding domestic abuse is that we must treat male and female victims equally. Some of my amendments would ensure that this Bill is completely non-sex specific and that it supports male and female victims. While there are more recorded female victims of domestic abuse, there are still many male victims, and a further body of evidence shows how their numbers are also likely to be underestimated. They should not be ignored. I really want to reiterate for the record that we need to be very clear that women are not the only victims of domestic violence and that violence against women is not always perpetrated by men either.
I have grave concerns about the definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse. The Government’s own guidance on this states:
“Examples of economic abuse include…having sole control of the family income”.
I am not sure why that should in itself constitute domestic abuse, and I hope that the amendment I will table can at least alleviate the potential damage of that current wording, as it is not caveated by saying that this does not apply where, for example, there is good reason. There could be a very good reason for something that could be classed as economic abuse under this definition—for example, where the person the money has been withheld from has a drug problem or a gambling addiction or because they are too sick. I have spoken to the Secretary of State about this, and I got the impression that he felt there was something he could do to improve the wording here. I sincerely hope that the Government will look favourably on the amendments I am tabling on this point.
Another amendment I will be tabling would extend the definition of domestic abuse to include parental alienation. This is where one parent deliberately alienates the other parent from a child. I have heard horrific stories affecting parents and children, which I would love to expand on today but cannot because of the time available. However, if we are to save future generations of children from having non-existent relationships with one of their parents, something needs to be done, and my amendment would be a start.
I also want to amend the Bill so that false allegations of domestic abuse would be classed as domestic abuse in their own right. Some parents have their reputations and lives trashed by malicious, vexatious accusations, particularly in relation to domestic abuse. By including false allegations of domestic abuse in the definition of domestic abuse, we can hopefully reduce the instances of this occurring. The definition of domestic abuse should also include cases where one parent deliberately denies the other parent contact with their children for no good reason. As far as I am concerned, this is just as abusive as other forms of abuse that are regularly mentioned; it causes significant distress, upset and harm. In some cases the harm is so bad that it can tragically lead to suicide.
This leads me on to the current situation. According to the charity ManKind, a number of fathers are now contacting the charity stating that their exes are using the covid-19 lockdown as a reason to breach agreed child arrangement orders awarded as part of shared parenting. There have been media reports of lawyers being inundated by divorced parents arguing over lockdown custody. It is always wrong to use a child as a weapon, but it seems that coronavirus has made things worse on this front, too.
In terms of domestic abuse generally during this pandemic, I have heard a lot about female victims on the news—quite rightly so—and about women’s organisations, but not so much about male victims, so I thought I would mention them today, given the limited time available. According to the charity ManKind, calls to its helplines since lockdown are 30% higher than normal, and visitors to the ManKind Initiative website are 50% higher. I hope that any victims of domestic abuse, male or female, will call the police and get in touch with individuals or organisations that can help them in these difficult times. Meanwhile, I urge the Minister to consider my amendments properly, because I genuinely believe that they will improve the Bill, not least by making it fairer for male victims as well as female victims, but also by providing a chance to improve the lives of children.
Nearly one in three women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and that number is sadly on the rise, because during this public health crisis we are not all safe at home. As has been mentioned in the debate today, calls to domestic abuse helplines have surged during lockdown. Frontline domestic abuse services such as IDAS in Barnsley are doing their best to support victims and to provide refuge accommodation and community-based support, but they need even more funding to maintain the crucial support services they are providing during this crisis.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is welcome, but it can and must do more. It has the potential to stop abusers exerting control over their victims long after they are supposedly free. I would like to praise the former Member for Ashfield, who stood up for the rights of domestic abuse survivors in this country. Her campaign to ban attempted murderers from recovering joint assets in probate and family court hearings is something that I believe should be reflected in the Bill. Right now, our legal system enables abusers to continue to inflict damage even when they are in prison for the attempted murder of their partner. This is an issue that I would like to focus some of my remarks on today.
I spoke to a domestic abuse survivor who faced the possibility of having to sell her home to pay her attempted murderer’s £100,000 divorce settlement. She survived 30 stab wounds to then be served with a huge bill by her abuser’s lawyers—effectively paying her abuser to finally be free of him. We have an opportunity with this Bill to remove the automatic entitlement to joint assets in domestic abuse cases, to stop the re-victimisation of survivors in our legal system and to get them the justice that they deserve.
At every level, our justice system lets down domestic abuse survivors while handing abusers the tools and means of exerting control over partners long after they have left, from divorce proceedings that force survivors to disclose their bank details, where they shop and what they spend money on, to compelling victims to live in the homes that their abuse happened in until their abuser gives them permission to let or sell the property. Family court proceedings allow perpetrators to cross-examine their victims, making them relive their original trauma again and again. I welcome the provision to prohibit that kind of direct cross-examination in cases where there is evidence of domestic abuse, but the issues surrounding domestic abuse in family courts go much wider and deeper than that alone.
Family courts have come under repeated scrutiny because of their failure to protect victims of domestic abuse and the children of abusive relationships. One of the gravest abuses in the family courts is the presumption that contact with both parents is preferable, which is frequently put ahead of children’s welfare. There is little understanding of domestic abuse, and particularly coercive control, among judges, who frequently award contact to abusive fathers. Research by the “Victoria Derbyshire” show shows that four children in the last five years have been murdered by fathers following forced contact in the family courts.
This campaign, led by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh, led to the Ministry of Justice setting up a review of the family courts and domestic abuse. Its report was meant to be published in the spring, and its findings will clearly be extremely relevant to the Bill, so it makes no sense that it is not being published alongside the Bill and its recommendations incorporated. The Secretary of State referred to its publication in his opening statement. I hope he will now ensure that it happens imminently, so that the Bill can be amended at a later stage to reflect the report’s findings.
Our justice system needs to be reoriented to protect domestic abuse survivors, instead of being a means through which abusers can continue their abuse.
I welcome the Bill. I will cover two topics that I hope Ministers will take on board. First, we have taken a leading role internationally as a force for ending child marriage. However, our domestic law is undermining these efforts, as demonstrated by comments from Bangladesh that we are hypocritical because we allow children aged between 16 and 18 to marry, when they should be in school, completing their education.
When the sustainable development goals were being drawn up, with the UK led by Prime Minister David Cameron, he wanted to ensure the inclusion of child marriage within goal 5 of the SDGs. The Bill gives a timely opportunity to bring domestic legislation in line with global commitments to end child marriage, which is child abuse, which happens behind closed doors and which is also domestic violence. However, it is aided by parents and the state. The Bill should close this loophole.
Children who are likely to live at home under the influence of their family and community, who tell them that this is their culture, are unlikely to report a forced marriage in order to be protected from it. Current civil law permits child marriage to be registered under the age of 18 in England and Wales through the legal exception of parental consent, which too often amounts to parental and community coercion. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will look at this, to see how he can help these particular victims of domestic abuse.
Secondly, I raise the issue of women and girls in ethnic communities. Apparently, the Home Office literature related to the campaign to help victims of domestic abuse does not speak to these victims, who are in real danger in their communities, because it suggests that they speak about and report abuse to their families and/or their communities—the very people who are often the perpetrators, which would explain why there is so much under-reporting in this area.
There may have been increases of more than 100% in the number of calls to the national helpline that the Government have funded, but some victims have more challenges than others. For instance, translations are available on the national helpline but the victim has to wait and hang on for the translator to come on to the call. Organisations such as Karma Nirvana, which was founded in Derby some years ago, have bilingual counsellors who can relate much more to victims for whom English is not their first language. Unfortunately, the Government helpline does not always signpost this successful organisation, or many others that may be able to help the vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour-based violence or female genital mutilation, especially in respect of where they have advocated the broader domestic abuse agenda and access for victims. These vulnerable women and girls will not wait for long, because it has taken an enormous amount of courage for them to pick up the phone in the first place.
Apparently, the head of the Government’s forced marriage unit has said that calls to its helpline have dramatically fallen: between 1 and
The Home Office has sent a letter suggesting that we disseminate information about domestic abuse among our communities—often the very communities where the problem lies. How do we, as MPs, reach these victims? It is really important that we do so. I recommend that the Minister look into these issues.
First, may I put on record how much I welcome the Bill? I dedicate my words today to Denise Keane-Barnett-Simmons, 36 years old, who was murdered by her former partner in Brent just two weeks ago. She did everything that she could to live her life without fear. May she rest in peace.
Some of the most disturbing cases that I heard as a magistrate were those involving domestic violence. I was continually told that I needed to be less of a social worker while making decisions. I kept saying that for there to be real impact, we need more cross-departmental working. The Government need to do that with this Bill.
I do not have enough time to talk about many cases, but I heard one case in which the violent man argued that it was not his handprint on his ex-girlfriend’s face because it did not show his thumb. Just imagine how hard he hit her for that to be the case and his argument.
The Government have said that having this Bill in statute is a once-in-a-lifetime, generational opportunity, but I am afraid that the Bill falls short of that vision. However, if we all work together across party lines, we can make it better.
Government and Opposition Members have mentioned the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, who has said that there is a “postcode lottery”, and that is still the case. She says that domestic abuse charities turn away one in three people; the Bill could change that.
She also highlighted that the Government must provide support to charities that provide life services, particularly smaller charities, such as those who provide support for BAME women, disabled women and men. We must remember that, because of the cuts, 50% of specialist refuges have closed in London. Women with insecure immigration status should have all barriers removed and not face deportation, and the Government should offer hotels free of charge to women fleeing domestic abuse who have been unable to access a refuge. The domestic abuse commissioner also says that, as has been mentioned, the banning of the rough sex offence must become part of the Bill. I am sure that the Minister, when he replies, will confirm that he supports everything that the commissioner has said and highlighted, but if he does not, he should make it clear to the House which proposals he does not support and the reasons why.
In addition, I have a few questions that I would quickly like to put on record to the Minister. Will he confirm today that the Government will ratify the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence? Will he confirm that at least £50 million of the Chancellor’s £750 million must be made immediately available to domestic abuse charities? The £15 million tampon tax fund must be immediately repurposed as grant funding for specialist businesses.
Independent domestic violence advisers have not yet been mentioned today in this debate. Brent Council has an innovative way of using IDVAs that has shown a 9% drop in domestic abuse injuries. Will the Government commit to rolling out a more comprehensive IDVA policy, and will the Minister adopt Labour’s policies for 10 days of domestic violence leave? As we know, the first 10 days when leaving an abusive relationship are the most dangerous.
Universal credit has been mentioned today and, while it has been reviewed during lockdown, will the Government commit to split payments, as they have in Scotland? Honour-based violence is domestic abuse and should be included in the Bill. If there is something that we can take from the lockdown, it is to ensure that all of those suffering domestic violence and abuse know that they are not alone.
I do not have time to thank all the people who have written to me, but I thank End Violence Against Women, Hestia, EDA, Age UK, the Mayor of London and everybody who has written to me about the Bill. Together, we can help those people who are suffering domestic abuse and violence to be safe, if not at home, then somewhere provided by the Government.
It is a pleasure to follow Dawn Butler and, of course, my new colleague and hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe—I congratulate her on her fantastic maiden speech. Such passion was shown. I look forward to hearing more from her.
I declare an interest in this debate in that I have practised as a barrister in the field of family law for more than 25 years. It is the great strength of this House that it brings together 650 people from a great number of backgrounds. There are right hon. and hon. Members who have first-hand experience of working in the field of law that we are debating today. They will, I am sure, agree that it is particularly distressing and very traumatic for those caught up in domestic abuse to go to court. At the same time, it has been hidden from view for far too long. Many victims have for too long been reluctant to come forward and that must stop. This legislation will encourage them to do so.
There are many examples of the sorts of pressures on the victims of domestic abuse. Many of them are confronted by abusive and controlling partners, who threaten to kill themselves, sometimes by threatening to set fire to themselves, if their partners have the courage to leave them or report the abuse to the police. I have represented the subjects of such threats. I recall the abject fear of one such client, many years ago, when they faced the prospect of being cross-examined by in person by their former partner who had done just that with a can of petrol in front of small children, and I shall never forget that experience. Over many months, I watched that client forge a new life, with support, and become truly independent.
Domestic abusers come from all sexes, and I do not differentiate by saying that it can only be one sex as opposed to another. This House should not differentiate between the sexes and the law certainly should not. The level of fear and intimidation such witnesses face is hard to describe and very harrowing to listen to. In many instances, legal cases have fallen by the wayside as the prospect of being cross-examined in person in court by an aggressive ex-partner has resulted in the reluctance or inability of that witness to give evidence. If they give evidence, their life may be changed forever. Their evidence might not be believed because of the very nature and way in which it was drawn, but that does not make it untrue.
The impact on a witness of the fear of being questioned by an abuser cannot be understated. It is definitely a continuation of a pattern of abuse, and it must stop. As a cab-rank barrister, I have also on occasion represented those accused of being domestic abusers, some rightly and some not, so I have seen it from both sides.
I therefore strongly support clause 59, which is an innovation that prevents cross-examination in person where one party has been convicted of, given a caution for or charged with certain offences against the other party. The ban will also extend to circumstances where one party has an on-notice protective injunction in place against the other. That should be wholeheartedly supported by everyone in the House.
I have represented parties in cases in the family courts on many occasions where evidence has been heard precisely in the way envisaged in the new legislation. As a former practitioner, I reassure all hon. Members that it can be done in a way so as to provide a fair hearing for all. Again, it does not differentiate in relation to the sex of the abuser or the alleged abuser.
It is wrong to suggest that the change could result in an unfair or limited trial for an alleged abuser. Further protection can be given by the court and afforded to such alleged abusers. There will be the possibility, and in fact the power, for the court to appoint an advocate to undertake difficult cross-examination in the event that the alleged abuser is not legally represented. Such advocates need to be experienced and sufficiently paid.
The clause seems particularly prescient as we go through the covid-19 pandemic. There has been a dramatic increase in domestic abuse due to the confines of the present lockdown. I have spoken to the chief constable of Derbyshire, Peter Goodman, who has keenly followed these issues. He and his officers are aware of the need to be proactive and extra-vigilant in these areas. He also pressed me last week on the need to protect vulnerable witnesses. I have also spoken to many constituents about the issue.
I have been involved in the wider debates around these issues for a long time. I have no hesitation in supporting the Government on the Bill. As well as drawing on my own experiences—
I am grateful for the chance to contribute to this important and over-subscribed debate. As a nation, we are experiencing an extended period of living at home. It is a shared experience, but not an equal one. It has highlighted how different isolation is in a shared house, or with limited access to technology, or without access to green space. That is brought into sharp relief when we consider the lives of those living with supposed loved ones, but living in danger of abuse or of losing their lives. In general, the Bill might not be considered core covid business, but for a great deal of people hidden and scared, it could not be more important.
To an extent, I feel as though I am completing a set today. I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee that considered the draft Bill, the pre-legislative Committee for the Bill, the original Second Reading debate, and even the nascent stages of the original Bill Committee. I have been part of the process throughout, as has the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, whose leadership has been welcome.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for her outstanding leadership during the process, which has been so good that she has now been sent to sort out the parliamentary Labour party. We are well served on the Opposition Front Bench by my hon. Friends the Members for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). In the case of the latter, we have all been following her anyway—the act has simply been formalised.
What I remember most is not the important parliamentary elements or conversations with parliamentary colleagues, but the afternoon I spent with an experts by experience group convened by Women’s Aid. Over a series of sessions, they developed a Bill for survivors—essentially what they think should be in the Bill—so I will use my privileged platform in this place today today to give them a voice. I would love to cover the whole of their Bill, and I recommend that colleagues read it, as I know the Minister has, but I will pick on a few elements in the short time I have available.
First, we should establish a long-term sustainable model of funding for specialist services. It seems a long time since we fought off the Government’s plans for changes to supported housing, which would have led to generic and dangerous commissioning, but we have not finished the job. Refuges are a precious national asset. A survivor in Nottingham is just as likely to need a refuge in Birmingham. They should not be at the mercy of a patchwork quilt of commissioning decisions and funding availability. We know that there is currently a 30% shortfall in places. Last year, nearly two thirds of referrals were turned away. It is time to move to a national, nationally funded universal offer.
Secondly, we should remove local connection rules for survivors who move across local authority boundaries to access housing. That speaks for itself. It is easy to do and we should do it now. We should ensure that those people are given priority needs status when they access housing. That is critical at the moment given the experiences we know survivors are having in the covid context.
Thirdly, it is time to guarantee support for women who have no recourse to public funds due to their migration status by ensuring access to specialist support services, enabling access to the domestic violence concession and stopping public services sharing details of survivors with immigration control. Essentially that asks the Government to enshrine a simple principle: protection from harm is more important than a person’s immigration status. Otherwise, that individual will not leave when they are at risk of being hurt. In this place, we have 650 people with, I suspect, 650 different views on migration, but surely that is one element we can agree on.
Fourthly, there should be a duty on the Government to engage meaningfully with survivors about the Bill, any future review and the non-legislative guidance. Ministers know how frustrated I and other hon. Members have been about how much the Government have been unwilling to put on the face of the Bill, instead asking us to rely on the guidance. That is a big risk for us to take. One way to make us feel better about it is providing that when that guidance is being developed, survivors will be listened to and help shape it.
Finally, we should gender the Bill. It is a failing to have a Domestic Abuse Bill that does not once mention women or girls. Men are victims too, and should be supported, but the overwhelming proportion of victims are women and the overwhelming proportion of perpetrators are men. Sanitising the Bill of gender stops us as a society confronting the ugly truth that culturally, we condition young men, whether through music, sport, media or popular culture, to see women as lesser. That is where abusive behaviour stems from. A gendered Bill in Wales has been effective for men and women and we are missing a generational opportunity to do something important. It is striking that both the Home Affairs Committee and the prelegislative Committee, which are cross-party bodies, reached that conclusion, having examined the evidence properly. It is time the Government caught up.
I may have spoken the words, but they are those of survivors. It is time to meet their expectations.
Like my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, I shall recycle a speech I made on the first Second Reading of this important Bill. I feel incredibly strongly about the subject, so much so that I thought it was worth driving to make a 300-mile round trip to speak here in person about the appalling events that resulted in the loss of the life of my constituent, Natalie Connolly.
The Natalie Connolly case is well known and Ms Harman has already spoken about it, but it is worth rehashing what happened to Natalie. Natalie was a run-of-the-mill girl who came from Kidderminster in my constituency. In early 2016, she took up with John Broadhurst, a successful property man—a millionaire—who was presumably potentially quite a big catch for someone like Natalie. During their seven-month relationship, Natalie displayed many of the signs of domestic abuse. Her effervescent character became less and less bubbly and she started wearing more concealing clothes as the bruising across her body became more profound. She revealed to her sister that John Broadhurst was into dominating types of sexual activities. It became apparent that Natalie was suffering a lot of abuse, including profound sexual abuse.
In late 2016, Natalie, after going out to a party with John Broadhurst, tragically died at the bottom of the stairs in their house. She was covered in what turned out to be 40 injuries, some of which were profoundly brutal, profoundly intimate and very extensive. They had had a horrible afternoon. The following morning John Broadhurst went downstairs at 6 o’clock and stepped across Natalie’s lifeless body on a number of occasions. He had breakfast, washed his car and then called the emergency services to see what they could do for her.
It was horrific for the family, as Members can imagine, but to make it even more horrific Broadhurst called Natalie’s father the following day to attempt some sort of horrific, possibly misogynistic pact to say that the boys could sort it out. What sort of man was this? Natalie’s sister Gemma was asked to identify the body in a formal identification. Her nose had to be put back together with straws because it had been crushed, and the side of her face had collapsed because of her shattered eye socket.
John Broadhurst was charged with murder, as Members will understand, but the problem was that the trial did not work to Natalie’s advantage. There were three problems. First, the prosecution case was protracted, responding to the defence case rather than prosecuting a sound case. In the end the prosecuting barrister reduced the prosecution case from murder to manslaughter by negligence, as he felt that that made it more certain that he would get a conviction.
Secondly, the defence centred on the “rough sex gone wrong” defence. How can it possibly be the case that somebody dies through sex? It just does not make any sense. It is completely wrong. That is why the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham and I have been working so hard to try to right this wrong that happened to Natalie.
The third problem was that John Broadhurst traduced Natalie’s reputation after she died. He conducted post-mortem abuse, having abused her for the previous seven months. It is appalling that this happened. A rape victim is offered anonymity during the course of a trial. The fact that Natalie was dead should not have meant that she received that post-mortem abuse.
The right hon. and learned Lady and I propose to table three amendments. The first would ensure that there are no errors of judgment by the prosecuting barrister. Any potential dropping of the charge by the prosecuting barrister needs to be checked by the Director of Public Prosecutions or a peer review. The second amendment would stop once and for all the defence of “rough sex gone wrong”, and the third would stop post- mortem abuse similar to that suffered by Natalie. That could include the judge issuing reporting restrictions.
The right hon. and learned Lady and I recognise, having spoken at length to Ministers, that those proposed amendments are not necessarily good pieces of law. It is very difficult, and we understand that there are issues, which is why I stress to those on the Government Front Bench that they will be probing amendments.
In my remaining moments, I just want to say that I have been here for 10 years and as a Back Bencher I have never found a more engaging Front-Bench team when it comes to talking about this type of thing. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, who is in his place, has been phenomenally helpful in talking about anonymity. I will also mention the Justice Secretary. Finally, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, has visited the family. She has been an astonishing individual.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your indulgence in allowing me to go a few seconds over.
It is an honour to follow Mark Garnier, who put so passionately why we need this Bill.
I could say a huge amount about this subject, but in the brief time available to me I want to link the Bill to two key areas of interest. The first is the importance of early intervention and a cross-departmental approach. The Bill very much focuses on crisis intervention and criminal justice. Of course it is right that immediate help for victims is a top priority. However, my work as chair of the Youth Violence Commission has highlighted time and again that we need to intervene as early as possible if we are to break the cycle of violence.
The domestic abuse charity SafeLives has found anecdotal evidence of a strong crossover between domestic abuse and violence-affected young people. Practitioners state that when we speak to teenagers about healthy relationships, although important, it is already too late. We need to go back not just to primary schools but to nurseries, childhood centres and support for pregnant women.
Colleagues may be familiar with the adverse childhood experiences framework, which treats traumatic childhood events as indicators of an increased likelihood of risky behaviour and certain illnesses in adulthood; experiencing domestic violence is right on top of the list. As we have heard, it is therefore vital that children are properly recognised as experiencing abuse, not just witnessing it, and are given priority access to support. Related to that is a need for a trauma-informed public health approach to tackling domestic violence. Domestic abuse cuts across multiple policy areas, and our response must incorporate not only health, housing and education, but youth services, communities and local government. A full understanding of trauma and the impact it has on every part of a young person’s life is vital if we are to provide early intervention.
My second point relates to my brief as shadow Minister for disabled people. Office for National Statistics data demonstrate that disabled, deaf and blind women are at greater risk of gender-based violence. Domestic abuse among those groups is often perpetrated by those they rely on for care, and the barriers to escaping are often even greater. As the Women’s Aid briefing for this debate highlighted, it can often take numerous attempts to leave, because of the lack of understanding of disability within statutory and non-statutory organisations, a lack of information available in suitable formats and poor provision of accessible refuge space. I do not mind admitting that I was shocked when I read that during 2018-19 only 0.9% of refuge vacancies were in wheelchair accessible rooms and a further 1% were suitable for someone with limited mobility.
Many organisations will be promoting amendments to this Bill, but I wish briefly to touch on two promoted by Stay Safe East. The first seeks to repeal the existing provisions of the Serious Crime Act 2015 that provide for a so-called “carer’s defence” if the perpetrator can demonstrate that in controlling their victim they were acting in his or her best interest. The defence is open to misinterpretation and particularly has an impact on those who have, or are perceived to have, capacity issues. The second amendment proposes that the Bill should provide further protection for disabled people by broadening its definition of the relationships covered by domestic abuse to include both paid carers and non-family members working as unpaid carers. I am sure that so many other important amendments will be discussed in Committee, and I very much hope that this Bill is strengthened as it passes through its remaining stages.
The measures outlined in this Bill send a clear message both to survivors and perpetrators: domestic abuse should not and will not be tolerated. Domestic abuse is a heinous, horrific crime, not just because of the lasting damage it will do to its survivors but because it strikes at the heart of what most of us hold so dear: our family; our home. The place where we are meant to feel safest, most loved and cherished becomes a prison—a dark and frightening place, and, in the very worst cases, a mental and physical torture chamber. Domestic abuse does not discriminate. It can occur in any relationship, gay or straight, in any family behind any closed door. There is not a single community or socioeconomic group that is unaffected by this crime. Its victims, its survivors and its perpetrators are our friends, family members, neighbours and colleagues.
In the past month, all our lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis, and covid-19 has shone a dark light on domestic abuse. For some families, things are incredibly hard, trapped at home for most if not all of the day, creating the perfect storm that makes domestic abuse much more likely. I welcome the Government’s recently launched domestic abuse campaign, You Are Not Alone, as part of their corona emergency response.
When we talk about domestic abuse, we generally think about adults. However, children and young people are often the hidden victims of domestic abuse, simply considered to be witnesses and not directly affected. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Barnardo’s for the help it has provided me with preparing for this speech. It is an outstanding charity, one among many, whose phone line and policy work help thousands of children and young people experiencing domestic abuse directly or indirectly. It is estimated that one in five children aged under 18 experience domestic abuse at some point in their childhood. Three quarters of Barnardo’s frontline staff are working with children impacted by domestic abuse.
The damage and devastating impact that witnessing domestic abuse can do to a child’s development, their educational attainment and their long-term mental health can have a lasting effect on their life. It affects their ability to form happy, healthy relationships, and often leaves them trapped in a lifelong cycle of violence, either as a victim or even as an abuser themselves. Can you imagine the effect on a child who has had to endure watching and listening to a parent, often a mother, being screamed at, beaten, their every moment controlled by their abuser, day in and night out, for many, many years? Imagine growing up in a home that is meant to be your sanctuary—your safety net—where every morning you wake up and dread going downstairs, not knowing whether a wrong word or look will start the abuse off again.
I would like to pay tribute to a constituent of mine, the broadcaster and journalist Charlie Webster, who is a domestic abuse survivor herself. She has told me her story of the systematic physical, emotional and coercive abuse that she suffered from the age of seven at the hands of her stepfather. It is hard to believe that she is still alive when you hear her story. She told me last week that she is convinced that if her abuse occurred today, during lockdown, she and her mum would not have survived. It is Charlie’s experience of Barnardo’s policy work that has led me to conclude that a desperately needed amendment to this Bill is required if we are going to help children through the trauma of growing up in a domestic abuse home.
The Government have added a welcome clause, clause 53, putting a duty on public authorities to ensure support for victims who live in safe accommodation, usually a refuge. My fear is that, as currently drafted, the Bill risks creating a two-tier system, helping those in supported accommodation, but not those still at home, and we already know that the majority of adults and child victims remain in their family home or elsewhere in the community. It is therefore vital that we fix this anomaly in the Bill so that all victims of domestic abuse can expect and receive the support they need to recover from harm and move on with their lives. I hope that Ministers will accept that clause 53 should be amended. Domestic abuse does not discriminate and neither should the law.
I commend the Second Reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, and I pray that when it finally does become law, it will lead to a better understanding of domestic abuse among the public and public agencies, and that it will ensure that no vulnerable child or adult will be left to suffer.
I would like to thank all those who have made this possible—in particular Mrs May, whom I also thank for her kind words earlier.
A few months ago, when I rose to speak on the Domestic Violence Bill, I had no idea just how much of an impact those eight minutes would have on my life. Within a couple of hours my speech had gone viral on social media, it was all over the globe, in the press and on television and radio. I chose to speak about something extremely personal because I felt it was important to remind others, the vast majority of whom are of course women, that they are not alone, and to make the point that they have not been singled out because of who they are, their social or financial status, their profession, their lifestyle or their physical appearance.
Anyone can find themselves in a situation like I did, and nobody attracts another person with the truth about their brutal temper or their ulterior motives. A witty description of their controlling behaviour will not feature on their dating site profiles, and their work colleagues will have absolutely no clue that, when they return home from work, they do so to an extremely anxious partner, who will have spent their day trying to anticipate any bear traps or tripwires that could trigger the familiar pattern of a night that then spirals downwards through an exhausting routine of aggression, accusation, rage, threats and pain.
I wanted to speak directly to those women, like me, struggling to make sense of the conflicting message of words of endless love dished out with actions of brutal hate. That simply is not love. Love should never hurt like that. We can spend years trying to make excuses for our abusers, justifying their terrible behaviour and blaming ourselves, just as they do, but it is not your fault: it is never your fault. The only person to blame is the person who uses their fists or their physical power as a weapon.
After my speech, I received hundreds of emails. They still arrive every day as reminders of the grim reality in many households across the UK. The stories are often shocking and provoke reactions of horror and sorrow, but also relief because, mostly, these are survivors’ stories, told to me from their past. The ones I do not hear from as much, however, are those who are right in the middle of this reality right now. They are living locked down, locked in, locked away: threatened and terrorised by someone who thinks it is okay to use his wife, partner or family as an emotional or physical punch bag. What almighty cowards they are—bullies who seize the opportunity of a global crisis to show those smaller and weaker than them that they are in control. Whether you are a manual worker or a magnate with millions, if you use your fists or your fury to frighten those closest to you, you are certainly not in control, and you need to stop.
During these extraordinary last couple of months, we have rightly come to recognise those in our communities who carry out the vital services that we mostly take for granted. From refuse collectors to surgeons, and from teachers to council officers, all have played an incredibly important role in ensuring that things still work while all that we know is upside down. Those people have shown such dedication and love for our country when we need them the most. They have worked under enormous pressure, and above or beyond their pay grade or basic training.
Our police forces are not only upholding brand new emergency legislation, but keeping an eye on the most vulnerable in our communities, which includes those at risk of or suffering from domestic violence. They are dealing with a huge increase in incidents and doing their utmost to protect those who need to be protected. Likewise, there are wonderful people who work as counsellors, run helplines, or organise emergency refuge and shelter for those who need to flee from a situation in their home that poses more of a threat than a potentially deadly and incurable virus.
I thank the incredible women who have come into my life over the past few months and worked tirelessly to campaign for recognition of, and desperately needed funding for, the services that put women’s lives back together. They include women such as Elaine from my local domestic violence refuge, Rising Sun. She is listed on my phone if I need to talk to her for a bit or to have a boost, just as she is for many other women in my part of Kent. However, services such as Rising Sun, and national services such as Refuge, Women’s Aid and SafeLives, have had their funding cut. At a time when calls on such services have doubled, it is essential that the Government listen to Labour Front Benchers today as they explain what funds are urgently needed. I join them in urging the Government to ringfence 10% of the £750 million fund for domestic abuse charities.
The coronavirus is devastating lives, families and professionals, and we know that it will damage our economy for many years to come. It is, however, a false economy not to invest in the women and families whose lives are stunted and stifled by domestic abuse. Given the right support, those people can and will grow and soar. They will help to stop the cycles of violence surrounding them, and they will probably give back to society far more than they have taken out at their time of greatest need.
Let me take this opportunity to praise the excellent maiden speech made by my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe. She was not only eloquent, but also very IT savvy, and we can all learn from her example in this age of a digital Parliament.
I thank the Government for their hard work in bringing the Bill to the House, and also my right hon. Friend Mrs May for her tireless work on the issue. The Bill is truly a landmark piece of legislation that builds on the work done by the Government to protect victims of domestic abuse, and there is much to welcome in it. By enshrining the definition of domestic abuse on the statute book once and for all, we can eliminate the confusion and hesitation around pursuing domestic abuse-related charges. By strengthening the powers of the police and courts to protect victims and their families from perpetrators, we can help victims to find the courage to speak out and seek help.
Another aspect of domestic abuse has been thrown into even sharper relief by the current coronavirus pandemic. With the lockdown requiring us all to do our part by staying indoors, many victims will currently be experiencing a living hell, trapped inside with their persecutors, unable to escape or take a break, or even to go outside for some fresh air. Potentially, they will be unable to call for help.
Finally, a critical problem for many families—men, women and children who are fleeing domestic abuse—is housing. The all-party group on ending homelessness is calling for everyone who is homeless as a result of fleeing domestic abuse to have a legal right to a safe, permanent home by extending the automatic priority need category of housing to domestic abuse survivors who are seeking emergency accommodation. That measure is supported by Crisis, the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance, St Mungo’s, Shelter, Centrepoint, and the Chartered Institute of Housing. Under the current situation, survivors of domestic abuse have no guarantee of access to settled housing from their local authority. Survivors have to prove their vulnerability and the extent of the abuse they have experienced to be eligible, which can be traumatic and distressing for them.
Research by the all-party group on ending homelessness found that nearly 2,000 households fleeing domestic abuse in England each year are not being provided with such assistance because they are not considered in priority need for housing. Crisis UK argues that many survivors of domestic abuse are, by definition, vulnerable and should therefore be placed in a priority-need category for housing allocation. Given the lockdown measures currently in place, it would be near impossible for a survivor to gather the necessary evidence to qualify for priority-need housing accommodation. I invite the Minister to consider the case for adding to the Bill the requirement for local authorities to put homeless victims of domestic abuse into the category of priority need for settled housing.
It is a pleasure to follow Joy Morrissey. It is three years since the Bill was first promised to Parliament by the Government of the former Prime Minister, Mrs May. I welcome her earlier remarks, but it is no exaggeration to say that the progress of this Bill, in which she invested so much, has been dogged by delay. I do not think that any of us who were Members in the previous Parliament will ever forget the highly emotional accounts that we heard in the previous debate, particularly from Rosie Duffield, whose contribution today will, again, be one that many people will take notice of and that we should all take with us when the debate is over.
The fact that we are discussing the Bill today is important in many other ways, coming as it does at a time when, all around us, we are being encouraged to stay home and stay safe, although for the many people for whom this Bill is critical, that message brings an additional threat. During this crisis, we have seen an escalation in domestic abuse, which makes getting behind the Bill even more pressing. Reports this week indicate that calls to Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline increased by almost 50%. Tragically, in the first three weeks of lockdown, 16 women and children died—the highest figure for this period in more than a decade. The need to act could not be more pressing.
Earlier this month, I was joined by MPs across the political spectrum in writing to the Home Secretary to demand immediate action to improve support for survivors of domestic abuse through this crisis. We called on the Government to pay for empty hotels to be open to those at risk. We sought guarantees that local authorities have access to ring-fenced funding to ensure that existing refuges and support services stay open. We asked the Government to make it clear that the stay-at-home rule should be disapplied to those most at risk of abuse. Those asks have not changed.
Some progress has been made. For example, many hotels have opened their doors to survivors, but support measures remain piecemeal and something of a postcode lottery. That is why I and the Liberal Democrats are determined to play our part in bringing this badly needed legislation into law as soon as possible. We will also continue to work to ensure that the final legislation is as robust as possible. In doing that, we want to thank those organisations with which we have worked: the End Violence Against Women Coalition on the need for more rape crisis centres; Action for Children on including children in the definition of domestic abuse; and the Step Up Migrant Women campaign and Amnesty, which is a part of it, on the issues facing migrant women.
I am not satisfied that, eight years on from the UK signing the Istanbul convention on preventing and combating domestic abuse, it is still not enshrined in our laws. Yes, the Bill is a step forward, but it will not deliver on that promise and we must keep up the pressure until the Government do. That will also mean targeted measures to guarantee support for all victims, not least the children and young people for whom the trauma of having witnessed domestic abuse can cause lifelong damage. I want the Government to amend this Bill to recognise that.
By the same token, we will continue to press for the £195 million needed to expand the number of rape crisis centres in the UK. Support must be provided to all those who need it most. For migrant women, that must mean eliminating the fear that reporting violence or seeking sanction will throw a judgmental spotlight on their immigration status and could compromise their personal safety.
At the moment, we talk a lot about the urgency of the covid-19 crisis, but for those who suffer it, domestic violence is always in need of an urgent response. The Bill gives us the opportunity to make a dramatic difference to the lives of those people, to ensure that they have somewhere they can feel safe, and to protect children from the scars that the trauma of witnessing domestic violence can leave. I believe that every one of us elected to this Parliament has at our core the desire to make a difference—to improve lives. This Bill will give us the opportunity to do that. We must not let the progress that we have made slip through our grasp.
I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe for her truly moving maiden speech. She will go down in history as having given the first maiden speech to be performed virtually, and having been—[Inaudible.] —father for the past 17 years, I know that he would be immensely proud of her, if not a tad jealous.
I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction, and I hope that the Bill—[Inaudible]—fully tackling domestic abuse—[Inaudible]—
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the sound quality is very bad. Those in the Chamber are not really able to hear the hon Gentleman—and now he has disappeared completely. I am afraid that we have lost the hon. Member for Bury South for the time being, but we will try to retrieve him for later in the debate. For now, I call Sarah Owen.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield. Her bravery on this issue has been nothing short of inspirational, as she has put words to feelings that many are unable to. Hers and others’ experiences demonstrate why the Bill is so desperately needed.
As we have heard, the recent findings of the Home Affairs Committee make for devastating reading, with domestic abuse killings doubled and national abuse helplines seeing a 49% increase in calls. It was a horrific consequence of lockdown, which would come as no surprise to anyone who experiences domestic abuse. It is becoming apparent during this pandemic that people from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds are disproportionately affected.
Domestic abuse affects all genders, races and sexualities, but BAME communities are likely to face additional barriers in accessing the services and help that they need, even outside a lockdown, so my concern is heightened at this difficult time. Although the statutory duty to support all those in refuges and supported accommodation is welcome, I echo Barnardo’s/Ipsos MORI in saying that victims, especially those who are BAME or have disabilities, are unlikely to be in that type of accommodation. For wonderfully diverse areas such as my constituency of Luton North, it would be helpful to have a comprehensive strategy that addresses domestic violence in BAME communities, especially regarding violence against migrant women.
The Bill needs to look beyond lockdown, which is why I want to speak about provision for protections in the world of work. This is where I declare an interest as a proud member and former employee of the GMB trade union.
Domestic abuse does not start and end once someone closes the door to their home. It haunts every part of your life, including work—the incessant phone calls; the texts; the emails; being stalked; the questioning why you are late, leaving work early or having to take days off sick. The anticipation of what awaits you after work fills you with an increasing sense of dread as the clock ticks closer to the end of the working day. Justifying every minute away from an abuser while trying to maintain a presence at work makes it a far cry from the sanctuary it could actually provide.
The reason for my earlier declaration was that, as a former trade union officer, I worked with union members from across the country who had experienced domestic abuse, including the inspirational Claire Throssell. We produced a workplace charter on domestic abuse to ensure that employers provide proper protection to their staff. Indeed, many Members of the House have signed it. That charter called for measures that are vital to any worker experiencing domestic abuse, such as paid leave, access to information and support, flexible working, and ensuring that managers are properly trained. It is not an understatement to say that those provisions can be life-saving.
One brave woman told me:
“After a few months in my role, my partner at the time started constantly calling to see what I was doing, turning up at my workplace at lunchtimes unexpectedly, or demanding that I be home for a certain time…I was walking around on eggshells at home, and now at work. The calls and visits became more frequent…I found myself making excuses for not being able to attend social events with colleagues, wearing clothes to hide bruises or taking sick leave when I couldn’t cover them up.”
Rather than this woman’s employer understanding the situation, the response was to suspend her.
We are not asking the world from employers, just that their workers are kept safe. Reasonable adjustments, such as changing a work number, and staggering start and finishing times, as well as having the option of stepping back from public-facing roles to avoid interacting with perpetrators, could make all the difference, especially when fleeing an abuser. Although nearly 50,000 workers are now covered by GMB’s workplace charter, it is not nearly enough. It will never be enough until every worker is protected. It should never be an optional extra for employers to keep their staff safe or ensure that they are not financially penalised. Without these measures, I am afraid that the Bill will be a missed opportunity to protect victims of domestic abuse in every part of their life.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate—arguably for the second time, having contributed back in October. What has been really interesting today is the quality of contributions from both returning and new Members. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe, who made a very powerful maiden speech, albeit in interesting circumstances. I reassure other Members that, although she sits on the Women and Equalities Committee that I now Chair, I have at no time found her to be remotely difficult.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for his opening comments. I would like to pay tribute in particular to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins, the Minister with responsibility for safeguarding, who will close the debate this evening. She has proven to be a doughty champion of the Bill on the various occasions it has come back before us. She has also taken time, during the intervening months, to speak to various Members, including me, about the difficulties and challenges in bringing into legislation amendments or parts of the Bill that would tackle the cases that my hon. Friend Mark Garnier highlighted so eloquently. I remember sitting behind him in October when he spoke of Natalie Connolly. What is tragic and sad about that case, although horrific and dreadful, is that it is not unique. We will see more individuals who are perpetrators of domestic violence trying to run that sort of defence. We have to find a way to stop that. I am certainly committed to working with my hon. Friend and Ms Harman in that regard.
We know that domestic abuse can affect anyone: both genders, people who are able-bodied and disabled, and all ethnicities. It is no respecter of socioeconomic background. What we do know is that it impacts some more than others. LGBTQ people are twice as likely as the rest of the population to suffer from domestic abuse. We heard earlier about the impact of domestic abuse on people with disabilities, perhaps particularly those with sight impairments. Those are all issues that have been raised with Members by various charities over the course of the past few days. We all know that it is no respecter of age. I urge Ministers to look again at how they can include in their statistics victims of domestic abuse who are over 74. We know that the National Crime Survey does not pick up on that. Tragically, over the course of the past few weeks we have seen more pensioners who have been impacted. That is absolutely horrific and we have to find ways to include that in the Bill. There is a great deal to be done in Committee. I urge all Members who have the opportunity to serve on the Bill Committee to ensure that the changes that some of us wish to see can be reflected in it.
We debate the Bill at the time of pandemic, when there is even more pressure on individuals, relationships and families. I wonder whether the Minister, in her closing comments, might reflect on the increase we have already seen in referrals to domestic abuse helplines, both online and telephone. When locked down with the perpetrator of domestic abuse, it is much harder for women to report those crimes. I ask her to reflect on what we might see when the pressure cooker valve is released and whether we will see yet more people reporting.
I want to conclude by speaking about the issue I raised on Second Reading part one, which is that of migrant women. I vividly remember sitting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and my hon. Friend Edward Argar, in his time as a Justice Minister, alongside Southall Black Sisters and other groups representing migrant women. We know that people will use finances and physical strength—they will use any means they can to control people. Sadly, they will also use immigration status and passports. They will seize their victim’s documentation and keep it from them so that they cannot assert their right to be in the UK legally. It is crucial, as all the Ministers in that meeting said, that we see people first as victims and not through the prism of their immigration status.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has a track record of standing up to those who seek to use power, influence and status to belittle and bully others. I reassure victims that they have a doughty champion in this Minister.
Madam Deputy Speaker, may I add my gratitude to you, the Speaker’s team and everyone in this place who is ensuring that we can continue to scrutinise the Government in these unique and challenging times?
I thank the Government for bringing this legislation back at this difficult time. It is good to see such broad cross-party agreement on this issue. I congratulate the new shadow Home Secretary, my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds, and his Front-Bench team on their leadership, their constructive engagement and their early involvement on this issue.
On a personal note, may I say how wonderful it is to see my hon. Friend Jess Phillips on the Front Bench? Her formal role on the Bill and her participation from the Labour Front Bench are long overdue. Her all-party parliamentary group on domestic violence and abuse worked with the APPG on ending homelessness, which I co-chair, on the “A Safe Home” campaign, which is backed by Crisis, Women’s Aid, SafeLives and many more organisations and individuals. As Joy Morrissey indicated, the campaign also has cross-party support.
Sadly, there is a huge overlap between domestic abuse and homelessness. Last year, almost 24,000 families who were homeless or on the brink of homelessness had experienced or were at risk of domestic abuse. “A Safe Home” seeks to ensure that the Bill enables everyone who is homeless because they are fleeing domestic abuse to have access to a safe permanent home.
That was necessary before the virus struck; the most recent Office for National Statistics figures show that the number of women murdered in the UK increased to 214 in the 12 months to March 2019, including a rising number killed at the hands of their partner or former partner. It is even more crucial now we know that the lockdown has brought with it a rise in attacks. Refuge’s national domestic abuse helpline has seen a 49% increase in daily calls and a quadrupling of web traffic.
Sadly, for some, the threat is fatal. The Counting Dead Women project estimates that 14 women were killed during the first three weeks of the lockdown. “Stay home, stay safe” is not true for everyone. I hope Ministers will ensure that safe long-term accommodation is guaranteed, to give women a better chance of escape without fear of ending up homeless.
Currently, anyone fleeing domestic abuse must prove that they are significantly more vulnerable than anyone else to be guaranteed help from councils for a permanent home. Some local authorities use that as a gatekeeping tool. Awful examples include women being told to go and get a letter from their abuser to prove they have been abused. Research last year for the APPG on ending homelessness revealed that almost 2,000 people were unable to meet the vulnerability threshold in England alone. Those are women who were not provided with a safe home after initial help in refuges—women left facing homelessness or a return to an abusive relationship. The Bill must end that fatalistic situation.
Helping those 2,000 people would not be a huge commitment for the Government. My council, the London Borough of Southwark, is already adopting that measure. Although I hope the Government follow where Southwark leads, this issue should not be dependent on leadership in any one postcode, borough, town or city. Ministers have the chance to address this issue nationally through the Bill, and they must rise to the challenge.
When Ministers announced the statutory duty on local authorities to provide temporary accommodation-based support last year, it was welcomed across the House and the country. An extension to an automatic guarantee of safe long-term housing would be similarly welcomed and is just as essential. I also hope Ministers recognise that the Bill needs to extend the statutory duty on local authorities so that it covers not just accommodation but all the specialist support necessary to rebuild lives.
Nearly 70% of survivors access other services that are provided in the community, including independent domestic violence and abuse advisers, counselling, and young people’s and children’s workers. Children who have experienced domestic abuse should be able to access counselling and support, but that is not currently covered by the Government duty and is poorly delivered at local level. A full statutory duty and resources are required to commission the full range of specialist domestic abuse services that are needed, and the Bill is the right vehicle to provide that.
The current crisis has made the issue far more acute, but there was already insufficient funding in the system. Two thirds of the people referred to refuges in 2018-19 were turned away. With more people at risk during this lockdown and after it ends, the Government must act now to provide sufficient sustained funding in the longer term. I hope to join the Bill Committee to raise those and other issues in more detail for all the organisations working on the frontline. Those issues include splitting universal credit payments to prevent economic abuse; ending no recourse to public funds restrictions on essential support for women and children currently denied help—shamefully—in this country; introducing a gendered definition, given the higher prevalence of women experiencing abuse; fully ending cross-examination in courts; criminalising the use of threats to share naked or sexual images in order to abuse or control someone; and the proper enforcement and monitoring of non-molestation protection orders, which is far too patchy currently, and which I hope Ministers will act on, given the heightened risk now, more than ever, in lockdown Britain. I hope to see progress on all those issues as the Bill makes progress and look forward to the Minister’s reply.
I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe on a truly moving maiden speech. It will go down in history as the first maiden speech to be delivered virtually. Having been a councillor with her father for the last seven years, I know that he will be immensely proud of her, if not a tad jealous.
I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction, and I hope that it is just that—a step towards fully tackling domestic abuse in our society. Some 2.4 million adults were victims of domestic abuse in 2019. That is unacceptable, and it is important that we shine a light on that heinous crime. Domestic abuse is not just a heinous crime. If not stopped, it can, and often does, lead to further crime, such as sexual abuse or even murder. Far too many women have been lost as they were unable to access the support they needed or their cries for help were not heeded.
Since the lockdown began, domestic abuse agencies and refuges have reported a huge increase in demand, and are increasingly under pressure, with one charity reporting a 700% increase in calls to its helpline. Children are witnessing more abuse than previously, with no escape available because schools are also closed. It is, however, anticipated that there will be a further increase in demand once lockdown measures are relaxed and victims can more freely access the support they need. With that in mind, and while previously announced funding is appreciated by victims and agencies, can the Minister advise what plans are in place to help victims after the lockdown restrictions are relaxed and to ensure that the perpetrators of domestic abuse will face justice in a speedy manner?
As many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, many aspects of the Bill are to be commended, including the introduction of the domestic abuse commissioner, along with civil protection for victims in the form of the domestic abuse protection notice and domestic abuse protection orders, but that needs to be coupled with adequate funding to ensure that no victims slip through the net. While the Bill is a step in the right direction, I trust the Minister will continue to review the issue and take further action where needed to support victims of this awful crime.
This legislation has been a long time coming, and for those on the Front Bench on this side and across the Floor of the House it has been a labour of love. I commend my right hon. Friend Mrs May and the Lord Chancellor and his ministerial team for all their work.
There is so much that the Bill will achieve. I start by praising the creation of the post of domestic abuse commissioner. The Home Affairs Committee had the benefit of hearing from her a fortnight ago when she gave evidence on the impact of the lockdown on women with abusive partners. The cogency of her evidence, and her understanding of the pressure points and the unique challenges for women seeking escape, left no doubt in my mind about how vital her role will be.
Then there is the simple act of creating a statutory definition that expresses domestic abuse in all its myriad forms, which is what I think makes the Bill so much more than the sum of its parts. When the Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, it was on the face of it a law that gave women the right to bring cases to employment tribunals, but in fact it was a piece of great social reform that said to women, for the first time really, “We understand the wrong that you experience. We give it definition as a statutory tort and we give you a right of enforcement.” The Bill has many of those features. It shines a spotlight in the darkest corners, and it puts women centre stage.
It is with the darkest corners in mind that I speak in support of the amendments jointly proposed by the Mother of the House, Ms Harman, and my hon. Friend Mark Garnier on the rough sex defence. Through that defence, acts of extreme violence are given a different complexion because they occurred during sex, and it is said that the victim wanted it—something that the Prime Minister himself has said is unacceptable. I know that there are big brains on the Front Bench giving this serious thought. Their task is technical, and it must avoid unintended consequences.
The Lord Chancellor was correct when he said that rough sex is not a defence. That is true, but it does not prevent a defendant from establishing that there was consent when the victim is not alive to tell the tale. The Natalie Connolly story is a case in point. I cannot imagine how hard it was for her family to hear how John Broadhurst inflicted more than 75 catastrophic injuries on their daughter, sprayed bleach in her face and left her in a pool of blood. And yet he established in court that one of the most extreme and violent of those acts—the intimate insertion of a bottle of carpet cleaner—when he had beaten her black and blue, and she was very close to death, was done with her consent. In fact, at paragraph 31 of the sentencing remarks, the court found that it was done at her instigation. It is easy to see why her father, Alan, told The Sun in an interview last month that at times, it felt like Natalie was on trial. That is why I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest for affording Natalie the dignity in this Chamber that she was deprived of in her death.
Natalie’s case is by no means an isolated example. Take Laura Huteson, who in 2019 had her throat slit by her partner, or Anna Banks, who was throttled to death by her partner a few years earlier. In all these cases, what is really just extreme violence against women is given a veneer of complicity through the sexual element. The victim has no voice. The lurid details of a private encounter are made public in circumstances where, had she lived and the case proceeded as one of rape or sexual assault, she would have been anonymised, and the man receives a derisory sentence on a manslaughter conviction.
We must recognise that violence of this nature is becoming normalised. ComRes undertook a survey last November of a large group of women aged between 18 and 39. Of them, 70% said that they had experienced strangulation during sex, and of that cohort, more than half said that the man had not sought their consent before doing so. They had not wanted it, and some of them gave moving interviews to the BBC in which they said they thought the man was going to kill them.
This landmark legislation offers an opportunity for the Government to show cultural leadership. I hope that it will look to the horizon and build in statutory protections that will keep women in relationships safe for the future.
I welcome the introduction of this legislation and the work being done by MPs from across the House and voluntary organisations to ensure that the needs of victims are recognised and prioritised in the Bill. I would also like to thank my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield for her bravery on this.
In 2018-19, the number of domestic violence-related crimes increased by a quarter. Since lockdown measures were introduced in the UK, calls to the national domestic abuse helpline have soared by 49%. Victims of domestic abuse have been waiting for the introduction of more thought-out protections for decades, and this Bill truly has a chance to be transformative. However, we must get this right to ensure that the huge increase we have seen in domestic violence is not an annual expectation.
I want to start by making representations to the House on behalf of victims of domestic violence, who are often denied even the most basic provisions. This ongoing public health crisis has highlighted the plight of people with no recourse to public funds on a regular basis. I have been contacted by several constituents since the emergency covid measures were introduced who have no recourse to public funds and have found themselves completely abandoned by this Government and, in some cases, destitute. The inability to work, seek help from friends and family and move around freely means that people with no recourse to public funds are having to rely solely on the income earner in their household. Without access to welfare or housing support, victims of domestic violence are forced to remain in their abusive household for fear of homelessness and absolute poverty.
Alarmingly, over 50% of migrant women surveyed said that they believed that the Home Office and police would believe a perpetrator over them and therefore were fearful of seeking help. Unfortunately, that fear is supported by the fact that more than half of police forces in England and Wales confirmed that they share victims’ details with the Home Office for immigration control purposes. When a call to 999 may be a person’s only option for survival, it is disgraceful that those deterrents exist. That is especially important during covid-19, when the usual survival mechanisms for victims have been cut off. The lockdown measures introduced against coronavirus have made accessing the usual support systems difficult for all victims of domestic violence, and it is clear that that is not being addressed with the seriousness necessary.
The Bill does not go far enough to provide LGBT and disability specialist provision. The Government must act urgently so that the needs of domestic abuse victims are represented during emergency covid-19 discussions. They should therefore ensure that the domestic abuse commissioners include the senior covid-19 planning forums, including Cobra. The Government must also start making preparations to support victims of domestic violence after lockdown measures are eased.
Voluntary organisations providing support for domestic violence have warned that costs are likely to surge post-covid. If the Government are serious about tackling domestic violence, there must be adequate long-term funding that reaches diverse specialist services. It is essential that funding for charity organisations is made available and that local authorities are given clear guidance on supporting victims of domestic violence going forward.
Local authorities have been working at the forefront alongside voluntary organisations to provide support and assistance to victims of domestic violence during this crisis. However, there is a clear lack of specialist support available in many areas of local government. When the crisis is over and the Government declares business as usual, what will happen to those victims who are currently being housed in hotels and empty homes? Local authorities do not have the funding or expertise to tackle this looming crisis going forward. Without clear guidance, that will cost lives. I ask the Government to take clear and decisive action, alongside the introduction of the Bill, to urgently support the most vulnerable in our society and ensure that a social crisis does not follow this covid-19 crisis.
I strongly welcome this Bill and I add my words of tribute to those from Members from all parts of the House for those who have helped get us to this stage. It is, regrettably, a timely Bill. Many Members have touched on the current situation, and I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend Miss Dines about the importance of Members of Parliament speaking to their local police force and ensuring that we are dealing with the issue on the ground, as it happens. Her comments were well placed, and I join our weekly calls with Derbyshire police to make sure that they are taking the issue as seriously as we are.
The symbolism of the Bill and the importance of that symbolism was beautifully summarised by my hon. Friend Laura Farris in a fantastic speech. It is incredibly important that we hear male voices adding their support for the Bill, because this is not a women’s issue, but a societal issue, and it is vital that male voices make themselves heard, saying, “This must not go on.” The Bill is a wonderful starting point. There have been many suggestions for what should be added to make it stronger, but the symbolism of it is this House at its finest.
My hon. Friend Tim Loughton made a wonderful speech earlier and stole almost all the suggestions that I was going to make. As he got there first, all I will say is that I strongly support what he said about the impact on children.
Very sadly, I grew up in a household where we encountered incidents of domestic violence. Let me say that it casts a lifelong shadow on those children who are affected. Behind closed doors, many things go on. There are many secrets. Those doors do not have to be those of people who are lower class, middle class or upper class; they do not have to be of members of one socioeconomic group or one minority characteristic or another. Those doors do not discriminate. There are secrets behind them.
I echo the comments of my right hon. Friend Caroline Nokes, who touched on the impact of domestic abuse in the LGBT community. That is an incredibly important consideration.
Unfortunately, I had a step-dad who reigned with physical terror. I regret that I remember the difficulties we had when he became violent, when he decided, one day, to come home and beat my mum to a point where she needed strong support, and when he came upstairs and blamed me—an 11-year-old kid—and used words that I would not repeat in Parliament ever. Those are things that shape you. Those are things that, unfortunately, you can never forget.
I do not remember particularly well the period afterwards of economic manipulation in which he took, or tried to take, control of the family’s money, but I do remember the visit of the psychiatric nurse to help my mum. I remember her shame—her shame—for nothing that she had done, her shame at not being able to tell the authorities, when she denied it to the police and when I was lying to my school. I remember that shame. That is something that nobody should have to go through. If there is anything that we should take away from this Bill, and this fantastic session of Parliament today in which we have heard so many brilliant contributions, it is a very simple message: this must end.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate on behalf of my constituents and to follow such a powerful speaker. I declare an interest in that I was an expert witness in domestic abuse cases in the Scottish courts. I welcome the Bill and thank the campaigners who have been wholeheartedly at the forefront of the legislation.
Domestic abuse is much more than physical violence. It has coercion, psychological abuse and financial abuse at its core. During the lockdown, cases of domestic abuse are reportedly rising, because proximity is heightened and escape for survivors is limited. Although home is safe for us, it is dangerous for survivors. As a psychologist, I want to take some time to highlight the particular impact of domestic abuse on the needs and experiences of children and young people, and to ask that the Bill is strengthened in that regard. The current proposals are narrow and require to be absolutely transformative for children.
Domestic abuse is not just witnessed by children; it has an impact on them emotionally, developmentally, socially and behaviourally, and on their health and wellbeing. It is one of the significant adverse childhood experiences that leads to long-term comorbidity and decreases life chances.
Domestic abuse also leads to childhood abuse in many cases. We know that children may become anxious and depressed, have sleep difficulties, nightmares or flashbacks, have a heightened startle response to danger, wet their beds due to trauma, become aggressive, identify with the aggressor themselves, fall behind at school, and experience low self-esteem for years to come. They will often suffer feelings of fear and helplessness, anxieties about their safety and the safety of their family at risk, and fear of parental loss and abandonment.
It is vital that the needs and experiences of children are reflected in the Bill. We need a child-focused approach. We know that women who are pregnant are often at increased risk of domestic abuse, and we must do all we can to protect them and their unborn child from that abuse. Child protection responses must therefore be strengthened. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I hear from survivors about the impact on them of childhood sexual abuse and its clear link with domestic violence. The needs of survivors of sexual violence are not fully addressed in the Bill. I will work constructively across the House to ensure that the Bill is as strong as possible for all survivors and that children have the support they need to ensure that the terrible legacy of domestic violence that they have experienced does not transcend generations.
Nearly 10 years ago, one summer’s day, I remember sitting in a stifling hot room looking at a photograph of a cute, blond four-year-old boy who was beaming up at the camera. Nothing remarkable in that, you might think, and I expect that many of us have similar photographs of our own children smiling and laughing at the camera, just as they should be at that age, making happy memories. The difference on this occasion was that I was in court, sitting as a magistrate. The photograph had been taken by a police officer, and the little boy had an enormous black eye. He had been trying to protect his mother from being attacked by his father and had strayed too close to a flailing fist. He was just four years old, and he had already been subjected to more emotional and physical trauma than most of us can imagine. Domestic abuse is a crime and an abomination against victims and their families. It is a crime against our whole society. I have been lucky; I have never personally experienced it, but other Members of this House have done so, and they have spoken incredibly movingly about their experiences.
I will be supporting the Bill today, and I am proud that the Government are taking this lead. I pay tribute to all those involved in the development and drafting of the Bill. It is remarkable that until now there has been no cross-government statutory definition of domestic abuse, and no commissioner to give a voice and prominence to this issue and to hold the Government to account. I welcome those measures, along with the trial of protection orders and protection notices and the extra cross-court safeguards in the justice system, which will give more effective protection to victims and their children—explicitly, whatever their immigration status might be. I very much welcome the legislative inclusion of Clare’s law. I would also like to take a moment to recognise the pioneering work of my right hon. Friend Mrs May, who worked tirelessly for this legislation and to ensure that provisions on coercive control would be included for the first time.
In Hertford and Stortford, we are fortunate to have Future Living, a charity founded and run by the amazing Sandra Conte, which provides outstanding community support and services for victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse, male and female alike. Everyone who meets Sandra and knows what she and her colleagues do at Future Living becomes an evangelist, and I am no different. Unapologetically, I shall use this opportunity to encourage the Government and our local authorities in Hertfordshire to continue to provide Future Living with the support and resources it needs to do its vital work, especially as Sandra has told me today that she is seeing a significant increase in cases, particularly where a separated, abusive parent is using the covid crisis to keep children away from their victim and flouting contact orders. We expect even more of an increase in demand for the charity’s services as we come out of lockdown.
I truly understood the dynamics of domestic abuse for the first time only after I experienced the training given to magistrates. It opened my eyes and completely changed my perspective. It is vital that those involved in policing and the justice system have rigorous training so that they can recognise the abuse cycle, from subtle control to murderous violence, and the fact that the most dangerous moment for a victim is often when they leave the relationship and try to regain control of their own lives.
Domestic abuse is a dangerous and destructive cycle. It was about 10 years ago when I saw that photograph. That little boy will be 14 or 15 by now, and what I wonder most is whether he spent his childhood in that environment or whether things might have changed for him. Perhaps his father received the justice or indeed the help he needed; perhaps his mother managed to escape. Heartbreakingly, that boy might be condemned to repeat the cycle of control and abuse he grew up with, knowing no different and believing that that was normal family life. I support this Bill, because I think it will help children like him. It has been a privilege to contribute to this debate.
I, too, welcome this long overdue Bill and many of its provisions. Since becoming the Member for Bristol South in 2015, the impact of domestic violence has been one of the most heartbreaking and dominant parts of my casework. My surgeries have been filled with women, mainly in their 20s, with children, who have been desperate to remain part of their community and have had family support but who have been seeking refuge from their perpetrator. The impact is wide, and when in recent discussions with headteachers and local police we have been trying to identify behavioural problems locally, we have often come back to a background of young men experiencing violence at home and then repeating it.
This Bill is crucial for many of my constituents, because our area has some of the highest rates in the city. In 2018-19, police figures for Bristol showed more than 10,000 domestic violence and abuse incidents, but there is a shocking disparity between levels of violence across the city. A 2017 report on women’s health showed that the rate of domestic violence against women in some wards in my constituency was double the national average. There has been a problem for some time, and one that I raised with the UN rapporteur on human rights in 2018. In some of our communities it is embedded, normalised and long-term, and often not discussed. A significant part of the problem is that cases are not reported, which presents huge difficulties for people supporting the victims. Some 14% of the population in one of our wards think that abuse is a private matter—compared with a figure of 7% across Bristol as a whole. Sometimes a reluctance to speak out against abuse is related to the amount of time it has been going on. A report by the south-west rape crisis centre partnership entitled “The chilling silence” identified sexual abuse among older women in particular, and often not much publicity is given to those women. I would like to see that issue addressed in this Bill.
In February, I held a surgery especially for women who had come through domestic violence—they were largely on the other side—and I asked them what services they would like to see changed. I am grateful to them for sharing their experiences and being brave. Most of the suggested changes centred on the justice system, but many related to mental health support once a victim has managed to flee their abuse, because the trauma does not end when someone leaves. I heard many examples of how the state apparatus is then used to manipulate the victim from a distance; for example, childcare arrangements and child maintenance payments can all add to the psychological trauma once someone has left.
I wish to focus my comments on part 4 of the Bill. Bristol City Council is doing some excellent work in this area, alongside some brilliant partner organisations, but I am deeply concerned that the duty placed on local authorities to support and protect victims is not sustainable without the Government providing the necessary funding. After the past 10 years of cuts locally, this is an unrealistic ask, and funding must accompany duty and responsibility. Housing is also key. Having enough accessible and appropriate housing to accommodate victims quickly is essential, but far too often I have seen women and their children forced to move out of local areas, away from support networks and their families, while the perpetrator remains in the house. Where it is safe and appropriate to effect change, I hope that measures will be taken forward in this Bill.
The Justice Secretary, in his opening remarks, identified a complex landscape locally, and the role of local authorities and police and crime commissioners. He said that the new commissioner would seek to understand that. I hope that she works closely with those in Bristol, as people there are doing a remarkable job. I wish to highlight the work being done by Avon and Somerset police, and I pay tribute to the police and crime commissioner, Sue Mountstevens, who over eight years has led tremendous work in this area, working with voluntary organisations.
The police could not do such work without our excellent voluntary sector’s work with victims. The sector is coming particularly to the fore at this time, doing tremendous work to support women locally. However, if the Government are really serious about making an impact, they should support the call from my hon. Friend Nick Thomas-Symonds for a duty to provide funding for this work, and particularly to ensure that good, quality-assured perpetrator programmes are in place.
I am honoured to have the chance to speak in the debate. Having listened all afternoon, I am proud of so many colleagues for their brave testimony, but I particularly applaud my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe, who made an historic maiden speech. I congratulate both Front-Bench teams on the dedication they have shown to this issue. We have heard from strong Welsh voices on both Front Benches, but I am proud to be the first female Welsh speaker in the debate.
The Bill could not be more timely. While most of us take refuge in our homes from covid-19, it is important to recognise that the virus is not the biggest threat to those enduring the lockdown with an abuser. At the heart of the Bill is a new definition of domestic abuse that will ensure that all domestic abuse is properly understood, as it is evident that abuse can be perpetrated in many forms and knows no bounds.
As I am sure is the case for many colleagues, I have been contacted by several different organisations with views on the proposed definition. Particularly compelling was the call to include so-called honour-based violence. Although it is important not to limit the understanding of domestic abuse to specific acts, I hope to see recognition of the abuse experienced by specific groups and communities included in the Government’s guidance for the Bill. I am pleased that the Government have begun a review into what support can be provided to migrant victims of domestic abuse, but I ask that the Government revisit there being no recourse to public funds for victims with certain immigration statuses. I congratulate the Government on the Bill’s gender-neutral status, thereby including the 2.9 million men who have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetime—a figure thought to be considerably under- reported—and reiterating the Government’s commitment to seek to protect everyone from abuse.
I am particularly pleased to see the new definition include economic abuse. An incredibly brave constituent recently contacted me who had moved to my constituency to start a new life after leaving an abusive marriage. She was subject to physical and mental abuse from her ex-husband, and left with nothing but the clothes on her back when she fled. It took her three years to obtain a divorce, but a divorce in and of itself will not address the financial relationship that arises in a marriage and that can often continue after separation. This lady’s ex-husband would not agree to a fixed period to address their joint mortgage. In her words:
“It has been over 7 years since we parted, and I am still tied to the person who emotionally broke me. It is like a hold still over me—something he always wanted.”
Her story convinces me that we must review the financial ties that can exist within abusive relationships and find ways to help victims free themselves completely. We must ensure that the Bill helps those in situations such as my constituent’s. Our courts cannot simply allow financial ties to facilitate coercive control over victims long after relationships end. I have spoken to the Minister about this privately, and I look forward to working with her on this point.
My constituent had the courage not only to leave her abusive relationship but to find herself a new career, in the Dyfed-Powys police force, where she deals with domestic abuse reports almost every day. I know my constituent is watching this debate, and I take this opportunity to repeat that I find her courage and service a genuine inspiration, and I know that others do as well.
I also applaud the work of Welsh Women’s Aid, which has been supporting women and campaigning for change in Wales for more than 40 years. One area where I agree with it is around reforms to the family justice system. The Bill will ban perpetrators from being able to cross-examine their victims in family courts, and will also provide domestic abuse victims with automatic eligibility for special measures in criminal cases, but I believe that we could go further. I urge the Government to look at extending the ban to any family, criminal or civil proceedings in domestic abuse, sexual abuse, stalking or harassment cases.
I have one final point. The beauty of areas like Brecon and Radnorshire can often mask issues such as domestic violence. I know that the safeguarding Minister represents a heavily rural constituency, as I do, so I urge her to give careful consideration to the challenge of policing and safeguarding in rural areas as the Bill goes through its later stages.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak. I give the Bill my firm support. It gives me huge pride to be part of a Government who, at this time of national crisis, prioritise legislation that protects vulnerable people from harm.
I thank Fay Jones for her speech. I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to participate in this important debate.
In paying tribute to the Secretary of State for Justice, Mrs May and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, I am mindful that in the circumstances in which we live—the stresses and strains of enforced isolation and the consequential pressures on family life—the Bill is now perhaps more important and timely than we could have predicted.
I am acutely aware that the Bill is no longer the same as the one we considered in October last year, and that with the restoration of devolution at Stormont and the Northern Ireland-specific sections removed, our devolved Assembly at Stormont has this afternoon given a Second Reading to its own related Bill. I support the Northern Ireland Assembly in its quest to locally shape and advance important safeguards at home, and I know that my immediate predecessor in this House, Naomi Long MLA, will, as Justice Minister, robustly and purposefully advance the protections required in Northern Ireland.
As I said, the Northern Ireland Assembly has today made progress on its legislative provision on coercive control in Northern Ireland, providing protection that abuse victims in our Province have not had to date. There are also additional replicating provisions relating to evidence given in court, which has been referred to throughout this debate. I am concerned, however, that despite that attempt to level up today, the passage of this Bill will consequently mean that Northern Ireland will remain behind the curve, with the provision of a domestic abuse commissioner available only in England and Wales; domestic abuse protection notices available only in England and Wales; domestic abuse protection orders available only in England and Wales; and a statutory duty on the provision of hostel accommodation and support services available only in England and Wales.
Women’s Aid in Northern Ireland, which is one sterling example of the important and vital work that is done, has provided 654 woman with refuge accommodation over the past year, but has highlighted the fact that 381 others could not secure a necessary space. None of the important progressive provisions that I have just mentioned feature in the Northern Ireland Bill that was before the Assembly today. I trust that through the passage of the Northern Ireland legislation, the Minister and my colleague Paul Givan MLA, who is Justice Committee Chair, will resolve that in Committee, if they can draw on the benefits of the legislation that we are considering. In catching up with one aspect of protection for Northern Ireland victims of domestic abuse, we do not want to lag behind in others.
I have never spoken on this legislation without highlighting the lack of legislative protection against stalking in Northern Ireland. As is clear from the Bill, in part 2 of schedule 2, the extraterritorial provisions that apply in Scotland specifically include stalking; those provisions are absent from part 3 of that schedule, which relates to Northern Ireland, because in Northern Ireland we do not have stalking legislation as part of our framework. I earnestly hope that that is yet another absent gap that the Northern Ireland Assembly will consider and incorporate; it is a glaring disparity in the protections for victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.
Additionally, I trust that the rationale for failing to incorporate in the Bill at an earlier stage provisions on stalking for Northern Ireland—that it would have been out of scope—will similarly apply to the enthusiastic suggestion that some hon. Members would seek to hijack this Bill to make sweeping changes to the Abortion Act 1967.
With femicide rates in Northern Ireland being the highest in Europe, and comparable to Romania, and with a high-profile domestic murder in Northern Ireland last weekend, these changes could not come quickly enough.
It is fair to say that there are several Members on both sides of the House who are more expert in this topic than me, but I wanted to speak in the debate because I have known a number of people in my personal and professional life who have been the victims of domestic abuse. I pay tribute to them today—they know who they are.
Our public understanding of domestic abuse has moved on quite a bit from an outdated notion of a man of a certain age hitting his wife. We know that the perpetrators can be white and black, young and old, able bodied and disabled, gay and straight. They can also be male and female. That point is important and I support the Government in not including gender in the definition in the Bill. Up to a third of victims are male —under-reporting has also been touched on—and it would not be right, when we are trying to uncover what is often hidden, inadvertently to hide that experience. However, I completely support the Government in making it clear in the guidance that the overwhelming majority of people who suffer are female. It is right to recognise that.
We should welcome several aspects of the Bill. To stick with the definition, it is right that we have included emotional abuse and economic abuse. Again, that gets away from the idea of just physical violence because emotional and economic abuse can crush the spirit and restrict the freedom, independence and confidence of the victims almost as much, if not more, than some other forms of abuse.
It is also right to prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts. We should question why we ever thought that was acceptable.
I want to talk about three Cs: the commissioner, the charities and the children. I warmly welcome the appointment of a domestic abuse commissioner. We have seen in several other areas how such a person can put a clear, single voice in Parliament that keeps us all on our toes. We have seen that with the Social Mobility Commission and the Children’s Commissioner. I encourage the designated appointed officer to be fiercely independent. If she does her job correctly, there may be times when the Government regret appointing her, but that will only show that she is doing her job properly in holding their feet to the fire.
The second C is charities. Although not the only area by any means, domestic abuse is a key area where charities have done much to aid our understanding. They have done so much to put the issue on the agenda—in my judgment, more than any other key institution. There are many of them, but I want to highlight one that helps in Wantage and Didcot, and also across Oxfordshire and other counties: Reducing the Risk. It has trained 1,100 domestic abuse champions who support people for an average of between six and 18 months to help them try to be safe in their own homes. They place a heavy emphasis on prevention. We have probably not heard enough about prevention in the debate, although some Members have mentioned it. We need to have prevention always in our minds.
The third C is children. Again, I support the Government in not including children in the definition, but they should be uppermost in our minds. Children will not be involved in every case, but as Vicky Foxcroft highlighted, when children experience domestic abuse around them, it contributes to toxic stress. It is right at the top of adverse childhood experiences. We know that some of those children will go on to become abusers and others will become the abused and recreate the relationships that they have seen at home. A far larger number will never escape the feelings they had when growing up in such a home, and it will affect their education, their employment, their relationships and most aspects of their lives. In supporting the Bill for what it does for the adults and its support for them, I have firmly in my mind the fact that it will also support the children.
I apologise for being here in person rather than virtually. I thank the Speaker’s Office for confirming that earlier today. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Rosie Duffield for her powerful and brave contribution, which I watched from my office earlier today.
This week saw a tragic and terrible set of domestic killings in Ilford, just over the border in the constituency of my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, just next door to where I used to go to Scouts as a young man. The full motives that led a father to brutally murder his two very young children before killing himself are not yet known. It brought home to all of us in Ilford, though, the dark reality that in this time of lockdown and isolation, there are too many families and too many victims—more than we may yet be aware of—suffering anguish. Indeed, when I spoke earlier this week to our Metropolitan police borough commander, as I do each week, he noted an approximate 60% increase in DV-related calls to the police in our area.
There will be other people suffering domestic violence who are isolated with a perpetrator and who do not have the space to escape and raise alerts, so there is bound to be under-reporting and I fear what may be revealed when children eventually return to school. After all, children can be the victims of domestic violence. Even if it is not directed at them, the emotional pain of seeing a parent hurt can leave trauma for a lifetime. Barnardo’s says that the number of calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline has increased by 49% and only 5% of those vulnerable children are attending school at the moment. As other Members have mentioned, the charity Refuge has reported that the National Domestic Abuse Helpline experienced a 25% increase in calls during the first week of the covid-19 lockdown and its website has experienced a 700% increase in traffic. That is a truly chilling statistic.
Like many MPs before lockdown, I sat in my non-virtual surgeries and heard heart-wrenching and chilling stories of domestic abuse. Truth be told, I often found it difficult to offer words of comfort in response to some truly harrowing testimonies. All I could do was listen and promise to work my hardest to help them find the housing or the way forward they needed to try to begin to rebuild their lives. Ilford South, as many Members will know, is a constituency of vibrant diversity, but it also has challenges in terms of the provisions needed to tackle domestic violence and abuse.
It is my view that this Bill needs to be expanded to protect all women, regardless of immigration status, to reach the level set out in article 4.3 of the Istanbul convention and recommended by the Joint Committee of MPs and peers who undertook the pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill. Unfortunately, the Government have chosen not to include it at the moment, although they say that they do want to ratify the convention. In my view, and that of many in my constituency, it is unacceptable that migrant women with no recourse to public funds are forced to choose between destitution and remaining with a perpetrator, or risk being treated as an immigration offender if they seek help, instead of getting the protection and support they need. Currently the domestic violence rule and associated access to funds are available only to those on spousal visas. In my view, that needs to be expanded and NRPF abolished so that women and those abused in my constituency can get the support they need, no matter what their status.
There is a great deal of evidence that perpetrators of domestic violence can use immigration status as a coercive tool to control people, to take their liberty and to abuse them. This Bill could and should eliminate that threat. Charities supporting migrants have proposed an amendment to introduce a statutory duty on public authorities to ensure that services and support are accessible to all victims of domestic abuse, without discrimination on any grounds, including migrant and immigration status. This would be a welcome step and I hope the Government will listen and ensure that compassion, justice and human rights are not dependent on the status of someone suffering abuse.
We have heard a lot about the indiscriminate effects of coronavirus over the last few weeks. We have seen its ability to reach into the lives of people up and down the country, and I start by saying that domestic abuse, similarly, respects no boundaries. No one is immune to it. It will affect one out of three women and girls over the course of their lifetimes. For those who suffer from domestic abuse, time is not the best healer. Healing takes excellent specialist services, such as the vital outreach and support provided in my constituency by ESDAS—East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services—and it takes life-saving refuges, such as the Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid refuge. I thank Michelle, Charlotte and all their staff for the crucial work that they are doing at this time. It also takes a web of health, housing, financial and legal support to help survivors to rebuild their lives.
This ambitious Bill brings many of those elements together. I welcome in particular: the introduction of a statutory definition of domestic abuse, including economic abuse; the appointment of a new domestic abuse commissioner to scrutinise gaps in provision; and the new statutory duty on tier 1 authorities to appoint domestic abuse local partnership boards that must assess and provide for domestic abuse support. I also thank my right hon. Friend Mrs May and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Victoria Atkins—during my time in Government, I saw how tirelessly they worked to bring this historic Bill to bear.
Many from across the House today have spoken about why domestic abuse should be at the forefront of people’s minds now. Sadly, the surge that we have seen at a national level is being mirrored locally, too. ESDAS has reported an increase in physical violence, including in head and face injuries inflicted by perpetrators, who know that survivors will not be seen. As people’s financial positions deteriorate, it has seen perpetrators both withholding maintenance and using promises of food and money as leverage in exchange for access to property and children.
For many, the recovery will be a long process. The abuse has often been a long process; the average length of time for abuse is three years. Therefore, the specialist services, some of which will quite rightly be supported by the Government’s £750 million charity package, will need a sustainable funding plan too, so that they can carry out this work in the years ahead. I also look forward to the Government’s long-term addiction strategy. We know from studies that the likelihood of domestic violence can be increased by eight times on a drinking day and the likelihood of severe violence increased by 11 times, so that strategy will be key as well.
However, if there is one ask I could make of Ministers, it would be to address the urgent need for refuge capacity after lockdown. Sixty-four per cent. of the total refuge referrals in England were declined last year. My local refuge had an occupancy rate of 98.8%, and we know a surge in demand is likely to come. The £16 million that the Government provided specifically for this in February is welcome and the £3.2 billion that is going to local government will undoubtedly help as well, but the question in front of us is how to bring additional capacity on stream in weeks. I would therefore like to share the work being done by Charlotte Kneer of Reigate and Banstead Women’s Aid, Surrey County Council and others to ensure that we are ready here.
Surrey County Council is funding a number of self-contained units of accommodation and the surrounding support needed in anticipation of a surge in demand. If each local authority with a refuge were asked to find just five units to fund rent and the specialist service needed to support five families for three months, and accept the duty to house those families at the end, that would translate to an extra 1,345 refuge spaces across the country. It would also spread the demand for refuges, specialist services and councils, so that they can manage as well. I have heard from providers that this scheme is miles ahead of other areas nationally. I therefore urge Ministers to look at how it could be replicated across the country so that it is the norm, not the exception. This would ensure that these vital lifelines stand ready for when lockdown ends.
It is intolerable that there are people right now who feel unsafe from the virus outside and yet will be unsafe from abuse at home. It is intolerable that this abuse is rising both in incidence and extremity, but I look forward to the Bill being a springboard in the years to come to help survivors to get the support, safety and wellbeing they deserve.
It is very welcome that, seemingly against the odds, we are finally debating this Bill—a Bill that sadly could not be more needed in the situation we now find ourselves. Lockdown has been hard for many, but none more so than victims of abuse, where the domestic prison already exists. During lockdown, no flags are raised when a woman and her children are not seen by friends or family members, or when they fall out of their social circle, no longer hanging out with friends at work.
Covid lockdown is an abuser’s nirvana. Too many women are suffering today and they need urgent action, especially when this surge in cases was foreseeable. Mass isolation, children no longer in school, and the closure of many routes to safety and support: this is fertile territory for those who wish to assert control and increase physical and emotional harm. Sadly, during the lockdown we have seen an escalation of domestic violence, from two women a week murdered by their partner or ex to the shocking number of five women, on average, being murdered a week.
So this Bill is welcome, especially the statutory definition of domestic abuse that includes emotional, coercive and economic as well as physical abuse, as well as the legal establishment of a domestic abuse commissioner, putting the guidance supporting Clare’s law on a statutory footing, and the new domestic abuse protection notice orders prohibiting cross-examination of the victim by the abuser in family courts. However, with cases of abuse rising every day, urgent action needs to be taken now. At least £75 million of the £750 million package announced by the Chancellor for charities should be released as a matter of urgency. Once women are free to ask for help, there will inevitably be a surge of requests for support, and we must be ready.
We all know that economic and physical abuse are not two different issues, and I welcome this addition to the new statutory definition of domestic abuse. They are both about power and control. Women’s Aid has said that a woman is more likely to leave an abusive relationship if she has £100 in the bank. Access to money is access to freedom. Those who wish to harm their partners and exes know this. Economic abuse ranges from keeping a woman in poverty to not letting her handle her finances, spending money from the victim’s own bank account, running up bills in the victim’s name, prolonging the sale of a house that is jointly owned, interfering with a woman’s employment—risking her only source of income—or refusing to pay child maintenance.
I have heard many examples of this abuse from a number of very brave constituents from Batley and Spen. I am so impressed by their courage and their resilience. One constituent, Kirsty Ferguson, was coerced into signing up for a number of mortgages against her will. After their separation, her ex refused to pay any bills, refused to sell the houses, even when instructed by the courts, and refused to take her name off the paperwork. His words to her were: “I am going to destroy you.” Without any support from the building society, banks or police because of a lack of legislation, she was left alone in this fight. When the properties were repossessed, her credit rating plummeted, making it almost impossible to rebuild her life. She is still unable to get a loan, a credit card or a mortgage. Kirsty and others have been abandoned by the system. Some 60% of domestic abuse survivors are in debt as a result of economic abuse. Government must ensure that joint claimants of universal credit are offered separate payments as a default. Domestic abuse survivors must be made exempt from the legal aid means test, and provided with paid employment leave. A duty of care must be placed on banks and financial institutions to support domestic abuse survivors.
I have also seen in the cases brought to me in my constituency surgeries that the family courts are not fit for purpose. They offer the abuser a second bite at the cherry, driving the victim through painful and unnecessary hearings. Currently, a perpetrator of domestic abuse is seen as a violent criminal in the criminal courts but a good enough parent in the family courts. We desperately need a safer family courts and child contact systems.
Finally, I would like to take a moment to add my support to the campaign by my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman to prohibit defendants’ reliance on the rough sex defence that their victim consented to her injuries. In 1996, two women a year were killed or injured during what defendants called consensual rough sex. By 2016, this figure had rocketed to 20 women per year—a tenfold increase. I am sure that it has gone up further, with BBC research revealing that a third of UK women under 40 have experienced unwanted slapping, choking, gagging or spitting during consensual sex. In the cases of the 20 women killed, only nine men were convicted of murder, while nine were convicted of manslaughter and one case resulted in no conviction. I believe that the men who use this claim do so because they see it working. We must do all we can to end this horrific travesty.
It is an honour to follow Tracy Brabin, and also an honour to support the campaign of Ms Harman. To speak generally, and I am very glad to be able to speak right at the end of this debate, I am truly glad to see this Bill back on track, to be able to work with others in the spirit of co-operation and to hear so many excellent speeches today. I will just raise a few specific points because the vast majority of what I would like to say has already been said very well.
I would like to mention that I appreciate the conversations with safeguarding and Justice Ministers—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk—on the matters raised in the Government response to the Joint Committee report last year. I am delighted that so many of the matters have been moved forward, especially those in relation to special measures and the changes to the family and civil courts in the way that evidence may be given.
There are three issues I would like to raise specifically. The first is the domestic abuse commissioner and how her role is set to complement devolved initiatives. I have spoken with the Welsh Government’s adviser on violence against women and girls, Nazir Afzal, and she reports a working relationship characterised by the spirit of co-operation. It is very much to be hoped that we will be able to work across the devolved Governments, and that they will be able to work together especially on matters such as commissioning research, as I believe that the domestic abuse commissioner will have a considerably larger budget in that respect.
I note clause 53 in the new Bill—namely, the statutory duty on local authorities in England to provide support and accommodation for victims of domestic abuse—but could it please be confirmed that population-equivalent funding will be made available to the Welsh Government from sums allocated to English local authorities for this purpose? That will enable Welsh legislation and solutions to be as well resourced as possible.
The final point I would like to raise is about the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which is also known as Clare’s law. Although in and of itself it is beneficial, it continues to place responsibility on the potential victim to act and to take the initiative: to request information from the police when that person has concerns about a partner’s past as a domestic abuse perpetrator. I would continue to ask the Government to consider again the value of a domestic abuse register for repeat perpetrators as a way to shift the responsibility to where it belongs—away from the potential victims and on to the authorities and the offender themselves.
To close, I very much hope to work and look forward to working with all other Members to co-operate on a Bill that will make a real difference to people’s lives, particularly at this time when it has been brought home to us how vulnerable we can be in our own homes. I hope that we will be able to make a difference in this respect.
I want to thank everybody who has spoken in this debate. In a rare moment, I agreed with almost all of it. I think I will have a chat with Philip Davies another time; we like our little chats. I want to pay a special tribute to Sara Britcliffe, who appears on the call list as a virtual maiden, which I just think is an absolutely brilliant thing to be called. Her speech was full of heart—it is very odd that I cannot look at her—but from one bloody difficult woman to another, I am sure she will have an impact in this place.
I want to thank Ministers and the officials of the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, who have always been co-operative. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris; I have worn leopard print in her honour today. She was my predecessor, and she acted with characteristic tenacity in the brief. Ministers will know how often I have fought for this Bill to progress. However, there is still such a long way for it to go for it to be truly groundbreaking. It wants to be that groundbreaking, and we have to allow it to be that.
Covid-19 has laid bare the lack of protection for women and girls from violence. The lockdown has allowed the public to imagine what it would be like if their home, a supposed place of safety, contained the danger they feared most. The Bill is of course about the long term, but we cannot ignore the crisis facing millions of people in this country today—a crisis that is threatening our precious domestic abuse sector. To all those working with victims of violence and abuse and with victims of coercion, both adult and children, I pay tribute. They deserve access to extra, emergency, ring-fenced funding, as laid out by my hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary, and they deserve it now.
So far, the sector has not received a single penny. Not from the £2 million that was announced, or from the proposed £750 million. That money was needed weeks ago. That issue was highlighted today by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and I could not agree more that the Minister must listen to the domestic abuse commissioner and the Victims’ Commissioner on this issue. We need a ring-fenced fund, and we need it now.
I pay tribute to the Mother of the House, my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, and Mark Garnier for their dogged campaign to end the rough sex defence and post-mortem abuse. I have heard some of the worst cases, and it never stops being alarming to listen to stories such as those we have heard today. They have my full support, and from this House I hope that the hon. Gentleman will pass on our love to Natalie’s family.
I praise my hon. Friend Stephanie Peacock for her nominatively determined wallpaper background, and for her effort to continue the campaign of our friend, Gloria De Piero, to end the asset grabbing of attempted murderers. My hon. Friend Rosie Duffield was as moving this time as she was last time, and I repeat the praise to Mark Fletcher. It helps so much for people watching these debates when people like them speak out.
In a strange moment today my hon. Friend Sarah Owen, a firebrand union activist, joined forces with a Conservative ex-Prime Minister to call for better workplace measures and rights for workers. I am sure Ministers will be delighted to join in that union with them.
There is much to cheerlead in this Bill. I welcome proposals for a dedicated commissioner, not just in theory but in practice, and Nicole Jacobs is already breathing life into that position. I also welcome the long fought for statutory duty to ensure future sustainable accommodation-based services. I shall not retire just yet, even though we might have got that, but it is a change I have championed since I worked in refuge, let alone since I have been in this place. Finally, being able to stand here after four years and say that no perpetrator will be able to cross-examine a victim is a welcome relief.
As the Bill progresses, however, I do not want to give the impression that there are not areas that will be contentious. There are currently huge gaps in what the Bill proposes. Members across the House, including Mrs May, Tim Loughton, my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft, and, movingly, the hon. Member for Bolsover all highlighted gaps in the Bill regarding children. The Bill cannot simply be words written on goatskin in some attic in Parliament that Ministers lean on to prove how much they are doing.
For every part of the Bill I will ask how it would have helped or hindered the victims and their children whose hands I have held over the years. Which of those victims have we forgotten? The only qualification for access to support, housing, refuge, social security, and police protection for victims of domestic abuse in this country should be this: are you human? The issue of migrant women’s access to support was raised by my right hon. Friend Ms Abbott, my hon. Friends the Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), for Nottingham North (Alex Norris), for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), and for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), and by no means only by Labour Members. Across the House, the issue of no recourse to public funds was raised again and again. We cannot pass a Bill that discriminates against migrant women, or that has a blind spot about the effect of domestic abuse on the children who live with it. Currently, the Bill would not change the lives of those groups for the better.
The past few weeks have shown that we are a community. How can it be that there are care workers, NHS workers and key workers serving the public right now in this crisis who would not be equally protected if they needed to escape abuse? Surely it is about all of us, or it is about none of us. Let the new Bill reflect that.
I am troubled that in this area the Home Office is currently in the middle of a review into migrant women. The gaps are already well known. Mrs Miller spoke about how migrant women were an issue raised in the report by the Joint Committee, and they remain an issue today. Yesterday, a report by the Home Affairs Committee stated that migrant women are still an issue. This is not something new that we do not know about, or that needs to wait for a review. We need to act now. How can this House or the other place possibly scrutinise and seek to change the Bill without the outcome of this review or the Family Justice Board review? Surely the Minister can see that this seems back to front and that, actually, political will says that she can act today.
Joy Morrissey and my hon. Friend Neil Coyle made eloquent cases for the priority housing need, and I hope that Ministers heard their calls, because I am certain that they will only get louder as we head to Committee.
Although we welcome the statutory duty on housing support, 70% of known victims of domestic abuse accessing support do not receive it in a refuge setting. The vast majority of support for domestic abuse victims and their children happens in the community, and the Bill is currently not addressing those needs. These are the women whose names I read out each year. The high-risk women on that list are served by our community services and our independent domestic violence advisers. The domestic violence protection orders regime proposed in the Bill, which seeks to place more of the burden on the perpetrator rather than the victim, is incredibly welcome. However, there must be an agreed set of standards in this area and a proper Government strategy on how we manage perpetrators. It has been done in a wild west fashion in the past, and that needs to change. Without that, these orders will, at best, not change people’s lives, and, at worst, place them in further danger.
The Lord Chancellor and my hon. Friend Stella Creasy, who we could actually hear when she thought we could not, mentioned Claire Throssell, and I am grateful that they did. I have to ask: what does this Bill offer to Claire Throssell and the mothers of the other 19 children murdered by known violent perpetrators following decisions in the family court? For three years, Claire has told her story to us policy makers, yet I do not see the loss of Jack and Paul reflected back at me in this Bill. I hope that I will. Many Members spoke ably about their experience of the family courts, but, alone, the changes to cross-examination are not enough to make it better. They would not have saved Jack and Paul.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North did a great job of giving voice to victims. I ask the Minister to ensure that, during the Bill Committee evidence sessions, we can hear the voices of victims such as Claire Throssell. I ask her to assure me that that will be the case.
Standing at the Dispatch Box in this Chamber, making my closing speech to a handful of people and a few more on computer screens, I am reminded more than ever that the decisions that we make in this room have huge consequences on the lives of the British public. Sometimes the decisions that we make here determine who lives and who dies. This is one of those moments. I hope that Ministers will work with us to make this Bill everything that it can be. This is the first major legislative Bill of a post-covid-19 world. Let it help all those who need it. Let it reflect who we want to be.
I thank all Members who have contributed to today’s debate. I also thank those Members who tried to contribute but, because of the new procedures, were unable to speak. I thank each and every one of the 87 Members who put their names forward.
The harrowing stories that we have heard today underline the horror of domestic abuse and the devastation that it leaves in its wake. Time after time—not just today, but in debating previous iterations of the Bill—we have heard stories of families shattered and of lives torn apart or even ended by this terrible crime.
One of the most moving speeches today was, of course, that of my hon. Friend Mark Garnier, who talked incredibly emotionally about Natalie and her family, and the experiences that Natalie had before she died. I went to his constituency to meet Natalie’s family, the Andrews, and they set out to me very clearly the journey of domestic abuse that Natalie had suffered before that fateful night. I know that my hon. Friend wanted to include in his speech the sentence that this perpetrator got for his behaviour—a mere three years and eight months for that course of conduct. It was a case that I am sure will live with many of us for a very long time indeed.
Another speech that I would like to highlight for its power was that of my hon. Friend Mark Fletcher, who brought to the Chamber his perspective as a child living in an abusive household. Many Members have raised the plight of children living in abusive households, which I will deal with in more detail in due course, but I want to thank him for being brave in laying those experiences before us in the Chamber. It does help victims; I know that for a fact.
The speech made by Rosie Duffield on the Bill’s last Second Reading was one of those parliamentary moments that those of us who listened to it will remember for a great deal of time. One of the most moving aspects of her speech today was setting out the wall of support that she has received and the network of women who have risen to support her. I wish her and that network all the very best.
Other Members set out the experiences of their constituents most eloquently. My hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Fay Jones) and Sarah Owen really did justice to their constituents. If these stories are difficult to listen to, they are unimaginable to live through. In all their stark horror, those stories and all the stories that we know through the experiences of our families—or, indeed, in our own families—and of our friends, colleagues and constituents show us why this Bill is so urgently needed.
We all understand this. It is to the credit of all the parties that the Bill enjoys cross-party support. I know that there will rightfully be discussions about various aspects of it in due course, but it is to our collective credit that the parties can unify around this Bill. I would like to thank Carolyn Harris for her work in her previous role, and I welcome Jess Phillips to her position. I spoke to her this week, and she said that it was the only job she would accept— I absolutely believe her, so I am delighted for her.
I am conscious that I have to sit down by 6.34 pm, otherwise the Bill falls. We do not want that to happen, so forgive me if I do not address all the points that have been raised. I will write and put a copy in the Library to answer the detailed points that Members have raised.
I must take the trouble to mention the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe. It is a rather extraordinary experience to want to pay tribute to colleagues but not be able to see them in the Chamber. She described herself as the youngest MP, the first female MP for her constituency and the first Member of Parliament to make a virtual maiden speech—what an extraordinary set of achievements. I was so grateful for her speech, because she told us movingly about the struggles that her mother had with substance misuse and the terrible loss that she endured as a child. I can only say to her that I think any mother watching her today would have been extraordinarily proud. I also pay tribute to her father, who had to step into the role of sole parent in such difficult circumstances, and wish him a very happy birthday, which he is having to celebrate alone in these circumstances.
I thank Gavin Robinson for his steadfast support for the Bill. We have had to remove some sections from the Bill because the Assembly is back, but I pay tribute to him for his contributions to the Bill thus far, and to the Northern Irish Assembly and the Minister there, who I hope will be bringing legislation forward quickly.
We have worked tirelessly to ensure that the risks of domestic abuse in the covid-19 crisis are understood and met. We must be clear with anyone contacting us regarding domestic abuse cases that social distancing does not prevent people from leaving their homes for a place of safety if they need it because they live in an abusive household. Since social distancing came into force, we know that domestic abuse charities have reported a surge of activity in people contacting helplines and accessing web-based services, and we are working closely across government and the charitable sector to ensure that vulnerable people can access the support they need.
Local authorities have access to a £3.2 billion support fund to bolster their services, and Ms Abbott and my hon. Friend Claire Coutinho both raised a point about refuge accommodation in the circumstances. The Under-Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend Luke Hall, wrote to local authority leaders yesterday about domestic abuse services and has suggested help with additional accommodation sources, should local authorities require that.
Other colleagues have mentioned the report by the Home Affairs Committee on that topic, and I very much thank the Committee for its report. I want to reassure Members about the actions we are taking. We have been working closely with the domestic abuse commissioner to ensure that frontline charities will receive a share of the £750 million charitable support package announced by the Chancellor. I cannot go into details at this point, but we are actively working on it. Of course, we have also announced £2 million in addition to that to support technological capability for domestic abuse services, and a further £600,000 from the Ministry of Justice to allow victim helplines to stay open longer. The national campaign, which I know many hon. Members have been kind enough to join, was launched by the Home Secretary earlier this month to raise awareness of domestic abuse and help victims to access support.
Many colleagues have raised the topic of migrant victims. We understand the problems that such victims face, and we are absolutely committed to ensuring that all victims of domestic abuse are treated first and foremost as victims, regardless of their immigration status. As part of our response to the Joint Committee’s report, we undertook to complete a review. We have now completed the evidence gathering phase of the review, including focus groups and a final call for evidence from the sector, but if we are to put in place new support mechanisms, we need a clearer evidence base so that it can be targeted properly to meet the needs of those for whom it is intended. That is why today I am announcing that later this year we will invite bids for grants from a £1.5 million pilot fund to cover the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation. We will use the pilot to assess better the level of need for that group of victims and to inform spending review decisions on longer-term funding. We aim also to publish a full response to the Joint Committee’s recommendation ahead of Report, and we will of course take into account the comments made during this debate.
Another large topic for discussion was that of children. My right hon. Friend Mrs May, who did so much in her previous role to spearhead this legislation, my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), and Sam Tarry, all described the impact that domestic abuse can have on children. It is vital that we recognise that in the statutory functions of the domestic abuse commissioner. Indeed, Vicky Foxcroft and my hon. Friend David Johnston both explained about ACEs and the impact that domestic abuse has on them. One of the key functions of the commissioner will be to encourage good practice in the identification of children affected by domestic abuse and the provision of protection and support. Clause 66 places a duty on the Home Secretary to issue guidance on the effect of that.
I wanted to move on to the gender definition and mention my hon. Friend Philip Davies and Lilian Greenwood, but I think I will be denied the time to do that. So, in closing, this debate has shown the House at its very best. Across the country, far too many people are experiencing the awful reality of domestic abuse. There is not a single constituency untouched by this terrible crime. Bringing an end to this awful crime is our collective responsibility. Legislation alone cannot provide all the answers, but where it can, the Government are steadfast in our determination to see this Bill enacted and implemented as quickly as possible.
To those suffering today, I can say only this: you are not alone. Help is available, and we will do everything in our power to protect you. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.