New Clause 15 - Children as victims of domestic abuse

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:00 pm on 6th July 2020.

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Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley 8:00 pm, 6th July 2020

Domestic abuse is a scourge on our society. We must take robust and meaningful action to tackle the perpetrators and protect the victims of this despicable crime. I warmly welcome the Bill and the Government amendments that recognise the vulnerability of children, victims giving evidence in court and those in sexual relationships.

I wish to speak on three new clauses. First, new clause 28 extends a temporary provision for abortion pills to be posted and taken at home, threatening to hijack the Bill and draw our focus away from the very serious subject matter at hand. Abortion is an incredibly sensitive matter that deserves close consideration. Such a seismic change to the law should not be tacked on to a domestic abuse Bill as an amendment, as it lessens some of its impact. Disturbingly, the new clause does not have a gestation period limit and is not limited to medical abortion. In terms of addressing domestic abuse, as we have heard, the new clause could in fact worsen the very problem that it tries to address. By removing confidential face-to-face meetings between women and a medical professional, it becomes impossible for clinicians to establish whether the woman was coerced into requesting the home pill or even whether it was in fact her on the telephone. This is a serious point. We should not do anything that could make domestic abuse any worse.

I now wish to focus particularly carefully on the two Government amendments. New clause 15 concerns children as victims of domestic abuse. It provides that references in the Bill to a victim of domestic abuse include children who see, hear or experience the effects of abuse. This is incredibly important, because someone can be abused but not actually physically harmed themselves. Some 831,000 children in England alone are living in households that have reported domestic abuse. It is the most common additional factor of need identified at the end of children’s social care assessment, being identified in more than half of relevant assessments. This is a shockingly high figure. Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on young people, resulting in emotional, social, physiological and behavioural difficulties, with short-term and long-term implications. Children are always blameless in these situations, and every child deserves to live in a stable and secure home. Witnessing abuse is frightening and damaging, and it is only right that children are regarded as victims, for in this situation they are clearly are, and it is a great change that is happening in this Bill. The new clause is clearly worded and gives protection to some of the most vulnerable people in society—our children.

I must also note my support for new clause 20. The existing defence in the law allows abusers to kill their partners and, by calling on the defence, to lessen their sentence. But not only does it lessen people’s sentence, it also increases the abuse, pain and suffering under this rough sex defence. This is deeply distressing for the family of the murdered victim. New clause 20 removes the defence and ensures that there can be no impunity or refuge from justice for abusers, in any shape or form.

New clause 15 and new clause 20 will protect children and partners in Rother Valley and across the country. The wide-ranging and detailed nature of this Bill is a clear reminder that the Government will pursue domestic abuse wherever it exists. I am pleased that so many from across this House have been working together to make sure that anything that can be ironed out in the Bill will be, to make sure that children are put at the heart of it. For that reason, I am proud to support these Government amendments to this transformative Bill.