New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:42 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women 4:42 pm, 6th July 2020

I am happy to take that intervention and I thank my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Justice Committee, for his support.

In new clauses 4 and 5, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest have, broadly, sought to codify the principles set out in current case law in this area, namely that which resulted from the case R v. Brown. That case involved a group of men who participated in sadomasochistic activities. We have taken up the challenge set by the right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend and, working closely with them, have tabled new clause 20 to achieve just that. More specifically, the new clause aims to make it clear that consent to serious harm for sexual gratification is not a defence in law. The new clause codifies, and therefore restates, the general proposition of law expressed in the case of R v. Brown, which is that a person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm and, by extension, their own death. Those interested in such matters will note that we have been careful to preserve the position in relation to sexually transmitted infections, but we have done so in a way very much in keeping with current case law. I hope that the House has been reassured that new clause 20 achieves the objective of providing the confirmation and clarification of the law requested.

I am very conscious that many Back Benchers wish to speak—sadly, many have put in to speak but will not be called due to the level of interest in this important piece of proposed legislation—but, if I may, I will take a little time to address an issue that I know is of great importance not just to those of us in this place, but to those who work in the world of tackling domestic abuse and, of course, to the victims themselves. That is the issue of migrant women, in particular migrant women who have no recourse to public funds. If I may, I will deal with new clauses 22, 25 and 26 in this part of my speech.

I hope hon. Members received a “Dear colleague” letter this morning from me and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, explaining our position. We are absolutely committed to doing what we can to support all migrant victims of domestic abuse as victims first and foremost. In 2012, we introduced the destitution domestic violence concession—the DDVC—to support migrant victims of domestic abuse who are living in this country on the basis of certain partner visas. Such people have come to the UK with the intention of living here permanently with the reasonable expectation of obtaining indefinite leave to remain. The DDVC is not available to people who enter the country on other visas, such as visitor, student or work visas, or, indeed, to anyone who is here illegally. This is because in order to obtain such visas they will have confirmed that they are financially independent and therefore require no recourse to public funds, and their stay will be for a defined period of time. They do not, therefore, have a legitimate expectation of securing indefinite leave to remain. Simply extending the DDVC to all migrant victims is therefore not the way to address the needs of migrant victims who currently cannot claim under that scheme. We need to find a way of ensuring that they have adequate support, rather than provide a pathway to indefinite leave to remain or a blanket lifting of the no recourse to public funds condition.

Last July, we committed in our response to the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Bill to review the Government’s response to migrant victims of domestic abuse. We published the findings of that review last week. Despite our call for evidence to support the review, there is currently a lack of evidence to demonstrate which cohorts of migrants are likely to be most in need of support, the numbers involved and how well existing arrangements may address their needs. Without clear information that identifies the groups of migrants who may be most in need of support, it is not possible to ensure that any additional funding or support services are targeted correctly and effectively.

We need to address those evidence gaps before we are in a position to take well-grounded decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term. That is why the Government are launching a £1.5 million pilot: the support for migrant victims scheme. As I announced on Second Reading, the purpose of the pilot is to determine how we can ensure that victims can obtain immediate access to support, and that any future strategy meets the immediate needs of victims and is fit for purpose.