New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 6:00 pm, 6th July 2020

This is a really good Bill that has been made better by scrutiny. I pay tribute to the Prime Ministers, Ministers and shadow Ministers past and present who have made such fantastic contributions to it. The cross-party working, as ably demonstrated with regard to the rough sex defence, is a particular tribute to this House. I pay tribute, too, to Ms Harman and my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Newbury (Laura Farris). There are other good additions to the Bill that have not had that level of publicity that I will speak to before I reference my new clauses 35 and 36.

I am really pleased that, with new clause 15, children have been added to the Bill. We know that about three quarters of child safeguarding cases involve domestic abuse. I hope that the Bill will apply to all children and babies—none should be outside the definition. It needs to apply to unborn babies as well, because, again, disgracefully, we know that something like a third of domestic abuse begins during a woman’s pregnancy. The impact that that can have on the woman herself, of course, and on the relationship with the baby, and the stress levels that are caused, are considerable and could be with that child throughout their whole lifetime.

New clause 15 is important to view children and the impact that the perpetrator has on them as part of the equation and to make sure that support is available to help them. I hope that the domestic abuse commissioner, when she makes the community based services assessment, will make sure that appropriate provision for children is included in it.

I certainly support new clauses 16, 17 and 18, which will hopefully counter the re-traumatising of victims in the court environment, as we have done for rape cases as well. I have added my name to new clauses 32 and 33 with the Home Affairs Committee Chair. One item that is not included in the Bill—I also raised this on Second Reading and I hope the Minister will take it on board—is recognising suicides that are caused as a result of domestic abuse. It is really important that they are investigated properly by the police, as they would be if they were domestic abuse homicides, and that they are recorded as suicides. I would be grateful if that could be looked at.

My new clauses 35 and 36 are not rocket science. New clause 35 contains a duty to co-operate in relation to children awaiting NHS treatment. I want to thank the domestic abuse charity Hestia, which is one of the largest providers of refuges in London and the south-east, and its UK Says No More campaign, which has been so powerful. According to the Children’s Commissioner, 831,000 children are in households where there has been domestic abuse. About half the residents in refuges are children. The traumatic impact on children cannot be underestimated, particularly on their mental health in the short, medium and long term. Those who have to flee their home to go to a refuge, sometimes moving out of area altogether, should not lose out on timely access to the healthcare services they have relied on before the domestic abuse impact, as well as those that have resulted from it. Waiting lists and approved treatments can differ from one clinical commissioning group to the next, so this new clause is modelled on the priority access for military veterans under the armed forces covenant for servicemen, servicewomen and their families when they move around the country. It would maintain children’s places on waiting lists with the co-operation of various parts of the NHS.

New clause 36 follows a similar principle for school admissions. Local authorities have a duty to provide school places for looked-after children and adopted children as a priority. As we know, it can be highly disruptive when children are forced to leave their school, and in cases of domestic abuse, that can happen all of a sudden and through no fault of their own. Based on the principle that we apply to looked-after children, we need a simple revision by the Secretary State for Education to the schools admission code. These two new clauses are simple but important measures to ensure that, at such a traumatic time for children escaping domestic abuse, their health and education should be impacted as little as possible.

Finally, I would like to comment on new clause 28, on abortion, tabled by Dame Diana Johnson. As she knows, I have been supportive of the temporary measures and of the measures to include women from Northern Ireland in the ability to access these services, but I believe that this is a step too far. This is the wrong place for such a measure. It would make a temporary emergency provision long term and permanent. As my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, the Chair of the Justice Committee, has said, this could have a detrimental impact, with abusers forcing an abortion on their partner without the scrutiny of clinicians. On that basis, if the hon. Lady does force her new clause to a vote, which I hope she does not, I will be voting against it.