New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Theresa May Theresa May Conservative, Maidenhead 5:15 pm, 6th July 2020

May I say how much I welcome the fact that the Bill has returned for its Report stage and Third Reading? This is a very important Bill. I will not be able to speak on Third Reading, so I shall take this opportunity to thank the Ministers who have shown their significant commitment to the Bill in taking it through the Committee and the House. I thank all the officials in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, who I know, from my time in the Home Office, also have a very real commitment to seeing that we have improved legislation to help the victims of domestic abuse. I also thank all Members of this House, because this is truly a Bill where there has been cross-party support and where every effort has been made to ensure that the Bill can go through in the best shape that it can. I will come to an area where there is obviously, as we have seen, a difference of opinion across the Chamber, but I think that this has been an excellent example of the House at its best, working with Government to improve the lives of victims up and down the country.

I want to welcome, particularly, two of the amendments that the Government have put forward—first, new clause 15, which relates to children. I have said before in the Chamber that this is, as my hon. Friend the Minister referenced, an important area. For too long, we turned a blind eye to the impact that domestic abuse had on children in a home in which that abuse was taking place. It is absolutely right that we should now recognise that those children are also affected. Their lives are affected and for so many, their whole future adulthood has been affected by what they have experienced, seen or heard within their home, where domestic abuse is taking place.

I also particularly welcome the way in which the Government have dealt with the issue of the rough sex defence. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mark Garnier and Ms Harman for the campaign that they have fought to keep this at the forefront of thinking and ensure that some changes could be made in relation to the Bill.

I want to pick up on what is—as is clear from what the shadow Minister, Jess Phillips, has just said—an area of disagreement across the Chamber in relation to migrant women. I and others across the House will of course have dealt with cases of constituents who have come to this country, very often with the hope and expectation that they would marry and have a happy and settled life here in the future, only to find themselves the victims of domestic abuse and to find that their immigration status, or their uncertain immigration status, is used by their abusers as a further way to abuse them and keep them within that abusive relationship. Obviously the DDVC acted in relation to those who are here on partner visas, but there is concern that there are those who still fall through the net and find themselves unable to access the support necessary for them.

I take the Minister’s point that those who have come on other visas have generally, if not in all cases, had to show that they have independent financial support, but it is perfectly possible that they might find themselves in a relationship where the removal of that financial support is part of the abuse they are suffering. We have to take account of that as we look at this issue.

Having heard the Minister and the shadow Minister, it seems to me that there is an intention on both sides of the House to identify the numbers of these cases and the evidence for them, but a difference of approach on how to do that. In these cases, it is particularly important—it is important when dealing with all domestic abuse, but particularly so in these cases—that no action is taken to achieve something that has been enabled by the legislation but that inadvertently leads to further abuse, an increase of abuse or to people finding themselves the subject of abuse. That is why I take the view that the Government’s approach of having a pilot to look at cases to find the best ways to target support is the right way forward, but it is a difficult area. We know that there are those who find themselves unable to access support despite the abuse they are receiving. It is important, therefore, that the Government put the pilot together in a way that ensures they can identify the evidence they are looking for and then take the measures necessary on the basis of that evidence in a timely fashion.

On the Bill more generally, I will mention two or three other issues. The shadow Minister has just referenced healthcare in talking about other organisations providing support and services. I want to say how important it is that within our healthcare system, those who are interacting with victims of domestic abuse can be in a position to identify where that domestic abuse is taking place. There is some evidence that when GPs are trained, they are able to identify such abuse at a much earlier stage, which means that intervention and support can start at an earlier stage. The healthcare system needs to place greater emphasis on domestic abuse, particularly as it can lead to other issues affecting not just physical health, but mental health. Sadly, in some cases it can lead to suicide.

I want to mention employers. Post covid, many employers are going to think it is wonderful that everybody can work at home, but for victims of domestic abuse, home is not a safe place. I urge employers, when they are looking at encouraging employees to work at home, to think about those who might need to be in the workplace in order to be away from an abuser.

The Government have taken some important steps during the covid-19 crisis not only on funding, but on publicity around domestic abuse issues. I urge the Government to maintain those steps.