New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:45 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 6:45 pm, 6th July 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Edward Leigh. In fact, it is a pleasure to have reached this stage in the journey of this Bill. As the Minister said earlier, it has in some ways been a very collegiate experience. Jess Phillips also referred to that as well. It was certainly something that I felt about the Committee. Perhaps that has been because it is a journey that we all appreciate will be life changing for the hundreds of thousands of women particularly, who in this country and every year, face domestic abuse. If there is one message that we all want to go out from this place today, it is that we will accept no excuse for domestic abuse against anyone, whether physical, emotional or financial. It will simply not be tolerated.

In the time I have been involved in the Bill, I am happy to acknowledge that the Government have moved their position in several significant ways, and I am particularly pleased to see children now included on the face of the Bill, because we all recognise the impact that domestic abuse can have on them.

I also acknowledge the fact that the Government have listened to calls from the Liberal Democrats to improve protection of abuse survivors in family courts, where often perpetrators have been able to continue to coerce and control the person they have abused. However, there are still significant changes that many of us in this House would like to see—I will come on to migrant women in a moment—but we also want to strengthen support available from local authorities and measures to support teenagers involved in relationships that are abusive.

As I said, most importantly before us today are the amendments particularly relating to migrant women who encounter domestic abuse. That could enable the ratification of the Istanbul convention—it is now eight years or more since this country signed it. On that subject, I would specifically like to mention new clauses 26 and 27. I am mindful of the Minister’s comments on supporting the support for migrant women scheme, and I look forward to seeing that come to fruition, but new clause 26 would give migrant women who survive domestic abuse the right to remain in this country.

I note that the Government said in their letter that they did not believe a blanket proposal was appropriate, but as Amnesty International points out, expanding the domestic violence rule to offer leave to remain to all survivors is by far the simplest and surest way to stop anyone falling through the cracks. During covid-19, we have seen that it is all too easy for people to do that, regardless of good intentions.

The other relevant new clause I would mention is new clause 27, which would prevent the sharing of data between Government agencies such as the police and the Home Office and reassure those afraid to come forward and report violent and unacceptable abuse for fear that their immigration status might be investigated and they could ultimately be deported. How can we help people? What would it matter what steps were put in place to support them when they are too afraid to come forward in the first place? Surely we must offer those facing the most horrific of personal circumstances the comfort and security of knowing that they will be helped unconditionally. Numerous charities, such as Southall Black Sisters, End Violence against Women and other organisations, have called for these measures, and we heard heart-breaking evidence in Committee from a woman who had come here from Brazil only to find herself eight years later facing the most difficult of situations because of domestic abuse. I believe the Bill can change that, and all survivors of domestic abuse, regardless of where they come from or who they are, must have the same protection in law.

There is one other vital issue and that is misogyny as a hate crime, in the amendment in the name of Stella Creasy, which I have supported throughout the passage of the Bill. The reason is simple for me: if we are truly to tackle domestic abuse effectively—not just respond after the fact but prevent it in the first place—we have to understand where it comes from. That is the aim of amendment 35 in requiring police to record and act on offences that are motivated by misogyny—a hatred and disregard for women. It has been in place in Nottinghamshire since 2016, and campaigners there say that the approach has given women the confidence to report abuse.

In commending those various amendments to the House, I would also like to pay tribute to Mrs May and hope that when we conclude the proceedings she is happy with what we have done with the Bill she first brought forward.