New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:30 pm, 6th July 2020

It is a delight to have heard the excellent points of Laura Farris. I put on record three fantastic women who have worked in this area in my constituency: Denise Marshall, who was the chief executive of Eaves, the wonderful Mary Mason, who was the chief executive of Solace Women’s Aid, and Harriet Wistrich, who is the director of the Centre for Women’s Justice and who worked hard on the Sally Challen case. That case is not dissimilar to those that the hon. Lady mentioned, although, of course, Sally Challen was acquitted after many years in prison and was subject to some awful coercive behaviour from her partner who she actually killed. My constituent Harriet Wistrich worked hard on that case, which is now a precedent. We need those important test cases to prove how we can improve the law and women’s experience.

I welcome three other elements of the Bill: first, the robust framework for the new domestic abuse commissioner; secondly, the two new civil protection orders, which will strengthen the everyday practice on domestic abuse; and thirdly, the secure lifetime tenancy in England housing authorities. I mention briefly the work of Hearthstone, which is Haringey Council’s excellent housing provision for women facing domestic violence. The fact that it is embedded in the local authority allows much better quality allocations for women who face uncertain housing situations.

The test of the Bill is not just how well written it is or what fantastic speeches we may give tonight, but the quality of the legal aid that women and victims of domestic violence can get day in, day out in our courts. I am sorry to say that legal aid still does not match the desperate need of so many women victims. I hope that the Government will look at the provision of legal aid in future, although not necessarily specifically in this legislation. In terms of the practice and the everyday experience, we need excellent legal representation for those women. I also put on record my support for amendment 35 looking at misogyny as a hate crime, which my hon. Friend Stella Creasy has spoken eloquently about as part of the ratification of the Istanbul convention.

I want to put on record my support for new clause 22 for women who have insecure immigration status and a fear of deportation. Looking through my casework of this month, I had the case of a woman who had no recourse to public funds and was not able to gain access to important financial provisions in that she did not have access to housing benefit and all the other provisions. Fortunately, having written to the Home Office, my caseworker had an amazing success—a huge thank you to my team—but this cannot be down to individual cases on a case-by-case basis such as this; we need a much more holistic look at “no recourse to public funds”.

I was very pleased to hear the Minister announce this evening that there will be a pilot scheme worth £1.5 million, but I fear that pilot schemes peter out, are introduced very late on in the financial year and tend to be very piecemeal. In my view, we desperately need to pass new clause 22 so that we can take in the most vulnerable women, including those with no recourse to public funds, whom we see in our surgeries. We cannot rely on the fact that they may pop into our surgeries and we can write to the Home Office. We need a much more inclusive provision, so hon. Members should please vote for new clause 22.