May I begin by welcoming the work that Mrs May has done on domestic abuse over many years, the personal interest that she has taken in the issue, and her work on coercive control and on getting this Bill started in the first place?
I welcome the Bill and the amendments that the Government have tabled, particularly those around strengthening protections for children, strengthening protections in court and ending the appalling rough sex defence. I welcome the Government’s response to Members right across the House, who have been campaigning so powerfully for added measures and for changes to protect people from this awful crime—this torture in the home. The importance of this Bill and these measures has only grown during the coronavirus crisis, as perpetrators have exploited lockdown to increase their control and abuse, and calls to helplines and concerns have increased. Since the beginning of lockdown, 35 women and children have been murdered by a partner or ex.
I particularly want to speak to new clauses 32 and 33, which have cross-party support. I pay tribute to Laura Richards at Paladin who was behind a lot of this work, and encourage the Government to look at the report that she has published today which shows that there is a serious gap in the way our system responds to the risk from serial perpetrators of abuse. There are systems in place, such as multi-agency risk assessment conferences, to manage the risks to repeat victims, but there are no proper systematic approaches in place to monitor or tackle repeat perpetrators. These are dangerous people—predominantly dangerous men—who may go on to become ever more dangerous.
We need to make sure that when the call comes in about domestic abuse by someone who has been convicted before for abuse against someone else, it is not just treated as a new or one-off offence. We need to ensure that there are systems in place to join up the dots to link police, probation and support services together and to monitor people who have a series of previous domestic abuse or stalking convictions so that if they start a new relationship, the police and local services know that a new family are at risk and can take action. Too often, that does not happen. Clare’s law does not solve the problem because it relies on an individual asking about an offender’s history. What if they do not know to ask? What if they are too scared? Why is it still left to victims to ask for help, rather than having a proper system in place to monitor serial abusers and offenders? As Laura Richards points out,
“professionals load the victim up with actions and a safety plan and rarely do any multi-agency problem solving and risk management regarding the perpetrator.”
New clause 32 calls on the Government properly to review the way in which serial abusers are monitored and managed, and to publish that review swiftly. New clause 33 sets out a stronger way to respond to serial abusers, by bringing them into the process for managing serious offenders—the multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPAs—so that serial domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers can be properly addressed. So far, the Government have resisted this.
In response to the recommendation in our Home Affairs Committee report on this subject a few years ago, they said, “Well, we will work with the police and with existing information systems.” Those information systems are not working. The police national database is far too sporadic and patchy with regards to the way in which police officers respond to this issue across the country. The Government have said that they do not want a stand-alone register, but this does not have to be a stand-alone register. The whole point is to bring this into the existing MAPPA and violent and sex offender register—ViSOR—processes that are currently used for sex offenders and the most serious violent offenders. We have processes that can work. Why not use them for serial domestic abusers who can escalate that abuse?
Nor is it good enough for the Government to simply say, “Well, there’s a lot of good work under way. We’ve got to respond to pilots.” We have already heard them say in response to the powerful speech from my hon. Friend Jess Phillips, on the need to address the issue of no recourse to public funds for migrant women, that we need to wait for pilots. In that case, it is not enough to respond to pilots. We should be taking some action while we wait for those pilots to conclude.
Similarly, on serial domestic abusers, by all means let us have pilots and different measures in place on how best to respond to perpetrators, but let us get on with having the systems that can join up the information so that the police and probation can work together and know who those dangerous serial abusers are. The tragedy is that Laura Richards’s report lists case after case where that did not happen, where someone has been murdered and the killer had a history—the killer had abused many times before—and the police, probation services and others did not have a system in place to identify that and to respond. It has happened too many times.
If Ministers will not listen to me and will not listen to the Select Committee when we make these recommendations, perhaps they will instead listen to the calls from the families of victims. Perhaps they will listen to the words of John Clough, the father of Jane Clough, who said,
“It’s way past time serial abusers and stalkers were treated with the same gravitas as sex offenders and managed in a similar fashion”,
or those of Celia Peachey, daughter of Maria Stubbings, who said,
“My mum was failed and the lessons have not been learned. Our current system is failing women and children—violent men must be made visible. Men with violent histories must be checked and joined up.”
I urge the Minister not to simply reject these amendments out of hand. Even if the Government are not yet able to accept new clause 33, which would set up the system and process to manage serial offenders, I urge them to at least accept new clause 32, to urgently review the risk management of these serial abusers and offenders across the country and report back, so that we can keep more women safe.