Clause 55 - Annual reports

Domestic Abuse Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:09 pm on 26th April 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.

Lords amendments 40B and 40C, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (g) in lieu.

Lords amendment 41B, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendments 42D, 42E and 42F, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (d) to (f) in lieu.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank right hon. and hon. Members of this House and noble Lords who have worked tirelessly to make this a truly transformational Bill. It will make a significant difference to the lives of many women, men and children by better protecting them from their abusers and providing them with the support they so very much need. However, before the Bill can have any impact, we need to pass it, and we are fast running out of road to get us to that point. In the course of our deliberations, we should all be clear, therefore, about the risk of the Bill being timed out this week. None of us wants that—I hope I can take that as read. In the collegiate spirit of many of the debates on the Bill, we reflected carefully on the debates that took place in the Lords last Wednesday and we have tabled further amendments in the hope, and indeed expectation, that both Houses can now agree to submit this landmark Bill to Her Majesty for Royal Assent.

On child contact centres, there is no dispute that they need to be subject to appropriate regulation. It remains our contention that, on the evidence currently available, that is already achieved through accreditation by the National Association of Child Contact Centres, the agreements in place between the NACCC, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and the judiciary, and the comprehensive statutory provisions already in place that determine how local authorities should discharge their duties in public law family cases.

We listened carefully to the debate last week and recognise that there is an issue that needs to be examined further, but we cannot legislate on the basis of anecdotal—albeit pertinent—evidence. That is why the Government tabled Amendments 9C and 9D, which will require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report about the extent to which individuals, when they are using contact centres in England, are protected from the risk of domestic abuse or, in the case of children, other harm. The report will need to be laid before Parliament within two years of Royal Assent. We will engage closely with the NACCC and others in carrying out the work, which will provide a firm evidence base on which to introduce further regulation, including in the area of vetting, should that be necessary.

I turn to Lords amendments 40B and 40C. We remain concerned that the revised Lords amendments regarding data firewalls still pre-empt the outcome of the review recommended by the independent policing inspectorate in response to the super-complaint. We need to undertake that review without any preconceptions as to its outcome. To provide further reassurance on that point, Government amendments 40D to 40J introduce two new clauses. The first new clause will put the review of the current data-sharing arrangements on to a statutory footing and enshrine in law our commitment to report on the outcome of the review by the end of June. The second new clause will provide for a statutory code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes. Persons to whom the code is issued—notably the police and Home Office immigration staff—will be under a duty to have regard to the code, which will also be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Although the clause is framed in terms of a permissive power to issue a code, I assure the House that we fully intend to exercise that power.

On Lords amendment 41B, I welcome the fact that this revised amendment attempts to separate the issue of leave to remain from the provision of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. As I previously indicated, we need to focus on ensuring that victims with insecure immigration status can access the support they need. That is the priority. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, the amendment would not achieve the outcome it seeks. The question of leave to remain is inextricably linked to the conditions attached to that leave, so it is impossible to waive the “no recourse to public funds” condition in isolation from consideration being given to a person’s immigration status.

As I announced last week, we have now appointed Southall Black Sisters to oversee the support for migrant victims scheme. The scheme will provide access to safe accommodation and the associated support to migrant victims of domestic abuse who are not eligible for the destitute domestic violence concession or other existing support mechanisms. The scheme will be independently evaluated, and will provide us with the necessary evidence of the gap in current support arrangements, so that we can put in place sustainable long-term provision. That is the direction of travel we are on. Since the scheme will provide support to victims, Lords amendment 41B is not necessary, and waiving the no recourse to public funds condition for a full year will again have significant new resource implications. The support for migrant victims scheme will be up and running shortly. We should see it through to its proper conclusion and settle on a sustainable programme of support.

Lords amendments 42D to 42F bring us back to the issue of how best to strengthen the management of high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. Again, we are all in agreement as to the outcome we want to achieve. If I thought that the amendments would, of themselves, make women safer, I would be offering them my full support. However, it remains our firm view that they will not deliver the outcome they seek to secure. I say again that the legislative framework under which multi-agency public protection arrangements operate is not the problem. We acknowledge that those arrangements need to work better on the ground, but we need to look elsewhere for the fix.

A comprehensive programme of work is in place to deliver a step change in the protection of vulnerable women, and men, from domestic abuse perpetrators. First, we will update and strengthen the MAPPA statutory guidance so as to include sections on domestic abuse. That will ensure that all agencies involved take the necessary steps to identify offenders who are domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multi-agency management, and to put in place an action plan that reflects the risk. We will ensure that domestic abuse perpetrators captured under category 1 and category 2 are included in the threshold guidance being developed. That will assist relevant agencies in making decisions on the appropriate level of MAPPA management needed in individual cases.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 9:15 pm, 26th April 2021

Will the Minister clarify what she just said? At the moment, repeat domestic abuse cases and stalkers will often not be included in categories 1 or 2 because the offences are not treated as serious enough in the way those categories are listed. Category 3 currently involves a tiny number of people. Will the Minister include all repeat domestic abusers and high-harm stalkers—all of them—under MAPPA in future?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As the right hon. Lady will know, category 1 perpetrators have to have committed a specified sexual offence under the legislation, and for category 2 they have to have been convicted of a violent offence and received a sentence of imprisonment for at least 12 months. If they are domestic abuse perpetrators, they will be included in the threshold guidance. This is very much about drawing out in the guidance the factors that local agencies should be concentrating on.

Although domestic abuse is already mentioned in section 6 of the guidance, we have listened to concerns that at local level the preponderance and patterns of behaviour are not necessarily being picked up in offenders in categories 1 and 2, as well as category 3. That is why, in discussions with Baroness Royall, we have been clear that we want to better capture those people under the existing framework. We will consult MAPPA responsible authorities on the draft revised guidance by the summer recess, and we will inform Parliament when the updated guidance is promulgated. Today, Baroness Williams of Trafford has written to Baroness Royall to confirm that past patterns of behaviours will be explicitly referred to in the guidance.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

There are countless serious repeat domestic abuse cases that are not sexual offences. There are also countless very serious repeat domestic abuse offences that do not pass the 12-month threshold. All the Minister is saying is that she is going to try to include little bits of lines about domestic abuse in categories 1 and 2, which we know will not include huge numbers of repeat domestic cases, so she has actually gone backwards on some of the things that Baroness Williams was saying.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not accept that. The point is that category 3, as we have always said, is the flexible category. It is meant precisely to fit those cases that the hon. Lady has described. These offenders do not fit in category 1 or 2, but because they are considered to be dangerous offenders—they may, for example, have received a sentence of imprisonment of less than 12 months—they are in category 3. We want to join up that understanding in the guidance across all three categories.

We will consult with MAPPA authorities and will also invite views from across the House, but we have been working closely with Baroness Royall to try to address some of the issues that were rightly raised in the other place about past patterns of behaviour and so on. We give that undertaking today: we will look at that phrasing within the statutory guidance that is being drafted to help address some of the concerns in both Houses.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I am very grateful to the Minister, who is being very generous with her time. May I specifically ask about category 3? There are only around 300 offenders in that category, compared with the thousands or nearly tens of thousands of people that we are talking about. Will she undertake to include all convicted serial domestic abusers in category 3?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The flexibility of category 3 means that that is already possible, if there has been a conviction. I gave the example on 15 April of criminal damage, such as if somebody kicks down a door. On the face of it, a criminal damage offence would not fit into category 1 or category 2. That is where the professional curiosity of professionals on the ground—police, probation and prison officers and so on—comes in. If someone has been convicted of that offence, he or she may not be in category 1 or category 2, but if those professionals believe that it is part of a pattern of past behaviour, on which Baroness Royall has rightly focused, that is how they will be put on to the system under MAPPA. We very much want the concerns that have been raised to be reflected in the guidance as well as the national framework.

I have already announced that we need to be sure that action is taken when there are indicators of escalating harm for those who are managed under the least intensive level of MAPPA—so, level 1. To that end, Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service will issue a new policy framework setting out clear expectations for the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1 by the National Probation Service. This includes domestic abuse perpetrators. That will further help improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews, and the identification of cases where risk is increasing and additional risk management activity is required.

Thirdly, as I announced on 15 April, we are bringing in the new multi-agency public protection system, or MAPPS, which will be piloted from next year. All category 3 offenders will be on MAPPS, which will have much greater functionality than the violent offender and sex offender register, or ViSOR, which is the existing database. That will enable criminal justice agencies to share information in real time and improve their risk assessments and the management of MAPPA nominals, including domestic abuse perpetrators.

Fourthly, we are legislating in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to clarify the information sharing powers under MAPPA. For example, GPs and domestic abuse charities can very much be part of that data sharing. That is the intention of the clauses in the Bill, and I hope we will be able to persuade Opposition Members to support us on that.

Fifthly, we are committed to bringing forward a new statutory domestic abuse perpetrator strategy as part of our holistic domestic abuse strategy to be published later this year. Our revised amendment makes it clear that the strategy will address the risks associated with stalking. We will also include a perpetrator strand in our complementary violence against women and girls strategy, which will cover stalking that does not take place in a domestic abuse context.

Sixthly, we are investing new resources, with an additional £25 million committed this year, to tackle perpetrators’ behaviour and to stop the cycle of abuse. Finally, more broadly, I can assure right hon. and hon. Members that this Government are committed to supporting vulnerable victims. Having published a new victims code to guarantee victims’ rights and the level of support they can expect, we will consult over the summer on the victims’ law, which will enshrine those rights in law.

The other place has asked the Government to consider again these four issues. We will do so in the next hour. We have listened carefully to their lordships’ concerns and responded with a substantial new package of commitments, both to strengthen this groundbreaking Bill and to further our wider programme to protect and support victims of domestic abuse and their children and bring perpetrators to justice. It is time for the Bill to be enacted and implemented, for the sake of the 2.3 million adults and their children who are victims of domestic abuse each year. Let us agree to the Government amendments in lieu, let us pass this Bill, and let us help victims.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I thank the Minister for running through the amendments in lieu. I am sure she will not be surprised to hear that the Labour party remains in agreement with the Lords amendments. I will also run through some of the amendments in lieu and ask some questions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castleford, Normanton and Pontefract—sorry, Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper); I went in alphabetical order—has rightly pointed out some of our concerns, although I recognise and want to place on the record our thanks for the constant work that is going on between our two Houses trying to settle this once and for all.

On the Government amendment in lieu on child contact centres, the Minister mentioned the NACCC as one of the safeguards already in place, but in fact it is that very organisation that seeks to make the provision more robust. I am sure she received the message today from Sir James Munby, the former head of family justice in this country, who says that the Government’s reservation to support Baroness Finlay’s amendment, which was drafted in partnership with the NACCC, would be a missed opportunity to address an anomaly in safeguarding children and improving standards in general. Specifically regarding domestic abuse, Sir James urges Members of this House to back the amendment in this afternoon’s—it was wishful thinking on his part that we would have got to this in the afternoon—consideration of Lords messages, to ensure that standards in child contact centres and services are consistent and high, and that domestic abuse and safeguarding is appropriately handled through high-quality staff training.

I welcome the review offered as an evidence-gathering measure. Although the Minister might say that there is not necessarily such evidence, I have certainly heard about case after case where there was poor practice, including bad handovers and perpetrators able to access victims. That is really problematic, so we will continue to support their lordships.

I am also grateful for the review offered on the firewall. I feel like I have to say that, but I really am grateful for that review, which has been greeted with some cheer in the sector. However, I seek some clarification specifically on the code. Under part 2, it states that the code must be kept under review, but it is not clear by whom. It also says that the code may be revised or replaced, but again, by whom? Can we ensure that at every single stage, there is buy-in by services for the very victims we are talking about and that they are consulted throughout the process? I also seek an assurance that the whole point of the code is explicitly to ensure that data can be shared only to enable victims to receive protection and safety. I will share with the House why that matters. For example, in a case in my constituency, a woman was applying for leave to remain and going through the process. She had been here on a spousal visa. Her husband threatened to kill her. When she called the police, she was taken to Yarl’s Wood detention centre, where I had to go and get her out. She came forward to the police because there was a threat on her life, and that information was used to put her in detention. She is now legally in this country with indefinite leave to remain. That is why there is a need for a code.

The Minister cited the victims code in her remarks. What happens when there is a breach of the code? That needs to be made incredibly clear. I mention the victims code as somebody who has recently been a victim of crime myself. In that case, the way that my case was handled breached the victims code on a number of occasions. What recourse will people have when the code is breached? That needs to be made clearer and more understood. Even I, as an elected representative, am not entirely sure what I am meant to do when a breach of the victims code occurs. It is all well and good having codes, but we seek to have things written into primary legislation so that there is a check and balance in the system. I know it does not sound like it, but I am truly grateful for the progress we have made in that regard, with those caveats.

The Minister and I could spend the rest of our lives disagreeing about whether it would mean “indefinite leave to remain” if we took no recourse to public funds away from migrant victims. I imagine by the end of this week, we will have finally agreed to disagree, but the question I still cannot answer is about the Minister’s £1.5 million pilot. As she said, it will be handled by Southall Black Sisters. What happens in the first year if that £1.5 million runs out? Does the 500th victim go back to destitution or back to their perpetrator? It is not necessarily a solution even for a year, let alone for the future, and I hope it has legs way beyond the pilot, although I am sure the Minister has absolutely no doubt that I will continue saying that for the entire year of the pilot and thereafter.

I am grateful for the work that has been going on with the extra lists of stalkers and serial domestic abuse perpetrators. For me, over the weekend it felt like an ever-changing feast. Even today, as the Minister mentioned, Baroness Williams has written to those who tabled the amendments in the Lords to outline some more safeguards. However, I strongly share the concerns of my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, who rightly made the point about sentencing. In all my years of going to court and handling court cases of domestic abuse, I can think of less than a handful where more than a 12-month sentence was given. I am afraid to say, I can think of less than a handful where any custodial sentence was given. Last year, 58% of all stalking charges led to a community order or a fine.

These are not cases that will be picked up in categories 1 or 2. The Minister rightly points out the flexibility that exists in category 3, but for me that is part of the problem, because the flexibility has led to a deficit in the past. That is why we wish to remove the level of flexibility from those frontline workers. Many of them rightly have, as the Minister said, professional curiosity, which drives them to seek more, but when we are up against resources that are stretched, it is very difficult for professionals to say, “Well, he kicked her door in, and two years ago, he did this”, when actually, do they have the resource base to do it? I am afraid to say that decisions are made on the ground where harm comes secondary to resource, and that is our concern.

I seek further assurances that serial perpetrators will be included in the new MAPPS database and that it will include perpetrators with a past history, not just convictions. We also seek to take into account past patterns of behaviour under section 1B. The Minister has mentioned past patterns of behaviour, and case after case tells us that they are important. We hope the Lords will consider putting explicit provision into the Bill. An idea of the oversight arrangements is also important. Will the DA Commissioner have oversight of progress?

The peers of the realm will no doubt send the Bill back to us. I only brought enough clothes for one day in London and fear I am going to be here for four days. However—[Interruption.] The Minister says from a sedentary position that that is not fair, but she will agree that we are all seeking the best outcome. My remarks and the way we will vote are about only that: getting the best outcome for victims of violence, abuse and stalking in this country.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 9:30 pm, 26th April 2021

This is a very short debate and I want to bring in the Minister by five past 10 at the latest, to give her four minutes to wind up. That means speeches need to be four minutes each.

Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak so early in this debate. It seems to me that what has changed since only a few days ago is that the Government have clearly been in listening and amending mode. In the previous debate, I raised the concerns of two constituents: first, Bishop Rachel, who was concerned about the treatment of those who have suffered domestic abuse who are immigrants; and, secondly, Nick Gazzard, who was concerned about databases and risk registers in the context of the terrible murder of his daughter Hollie Gazzard. I asked questions at that time that have largely been answered today, so I wish to focus on two themes.

The first theme seems to me to be a question of trust. The Government have made various commitments in relation to the Lords amendments on child contact centres, Lords amendment 40B on data firewalls and Lords amendment 40C on data processing for immigration purposes. I believe that the time has come for this House to accept in good faith the Government’s commitments to the Home Office review on data sharing and on the code of practice, which uses the word “may” rather than “must”, but we have a clear statement of intention from the Minister that these things will happen.

The second theme is more complicated: the use of data and systems. In relation to the concern of Nick Gazzard, it seems to me that the main issue the Minister has addressed this evening is not so much the system and the risk register but how it is used and, in a sense, the reverse of the earlier issue in respect of data processing for immigration purposes, which is how to have effective data sharing so that things known by GPs and domestic abuse charities can be accessed by people who really want to access them. That seems to me to be crucial in the inclusion of category 1 and 2 and some category 3 domestic abuse offenders in the new MAPPS process.

I strongly believe that what has been said today about looking at firm guidance by the summer recess on a strategy for perpetrators, with action taken by the National Probation Service when there are “indicators of escalating” concern, will make a difference. On that issue, the time has come for the Opposition to recognise the incredible value of the Bill as a whole. As the Opposition spokesman, Jess Phillips, said, there is much to support and much to be grateful for. Amendments have continually been made to take on board a whole series valuable points made by experts in the sector and, indeed, individuals from their own personal experience.

The one other thing I would like to contribute, if I may very briefly, is the use of Clare’s law and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which I do not think has been raised recently in debate. It is interesting to note that the figures for 2020, compared with the year ending 2019, have actually seen double the number of right to ask applications, and the number of applications that resulted in disclosure has gone up by 50% from roughly 2,500 to 4,200. We probably need to make more of that in communicating to the wider public. I think it would be reassuring for people to know that Clare’s law is in practice, being used, and increasingly being accepted and the information provided.

With all those things to bear in mind, and being conscious of your strictures on the time, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I encourage everybody in this Chamber, from whatever party, to put aside differences and to come together in accepting this Bill as it now is?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am going to move to the SNP’s spokesperson, and I am sure colleagues will know that I cannot put a time limit on him, but after that I will put on a time limit of four minutes, because otherwise we simply will not get everybody in.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to speak briefly in relation to the amendments on data sharing for immigration purposes tabled by Baroness Meacher, which are Lords amendments 40B and 40C, as well as the Lord Bishop of Gloucester’s amendment on the domestic violence rule and concession, which is Lords amendment 41B.

On the former, it is good to see that the Government have at least come to the negotiating table with their own amendments in lieu. However, our view is that the other place has sent us what is already a very reasonable compromise, which would mean awaiting the outcome of the review of data processing, as insisted on by the Government, before action is then required in response.

In contrast, the Government alternatives have several problems. First, unlike the Lords amendments, they create for the Government, as we have heard, the power to act, but not an obligation, and also unlike the Lords amendments, that power is not granted for the specific purpose of achieving any specific aim, such as protecting victims of domestic violence. Secondly, Parliament would not be able to amend any code, albeit that either House could reject one. However, if either House did reject a code because it had concerns, the Government could simply then walk away, as there is no requirement to lay a new code that addresses any such concerns.

In short, the danger is that the amendments in lieu could lead to inaction and leave us no further forward. The Minister has sought to assure us that the Government are going to take action informed by the review, and that is welcome, but having given that assurance, the question then is: why are Lords amendments 40B and 40C a problem at all?

Finally on data sharing in relation to the consultation, if any such code is being drawn up that will apply in Scotland—and similar issues may arise for Northern Ireland—it would surely be really important to consult Police Scotland, Scottish Ministers and relevant stakeholders there, given the devolution of criminal justice issues. There is no express requirement for this in the amendments in lieu, so can the Minister give a firm commitment that such consultation would be considered appropriate in advance of issuing any such code?

Turning to the Lords amendment on the domestic violence concession and rule, it is disheartening that the Government have not yet even come to the negotiating table on this one. Instead of offering an amendment in lieu, they are sticking to outright rejection, justified by something I think has really been a moving feast of excuses. A pilot scheme is not even a comprehensive temporary solution, never mind a comprehensive and permanent resolution of the urgent problems that have been highlighted in debate after debate.

The Lord Bishop of Gloucester set out exactly why the pilot, though welcome, is not enough in itself. It is restricted in the numbers it can provide for, restricted in the time it can support people for and restricted in its ability to provide holistic wraparound support, even for the limited numbers who access it. While the Government may hope that the pilot scheme ultimately leads them to find the best solution, it is not acceptable to do nothing else in the meantime. Indeed, if the Government are confident about the scope and reach of the pilot, they should have nothing to fear from this amendment. All the new amendment asks for is a safety net, just for the duration of the Government’s pilot scheme, for those who cannot access that scheme. It is a safety net designed to complement, not undermine the pilot scheme, and surely the Government must now come to the negotiating table to discuss how we can make this work.

Again, this is about where our priorities lie—reserving immigration powers or protecting victims of domestic abuse. Of course, it must be protecting the victims, and that is why we should support amendment 41B.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I recognise the progress that has been made on these issues through the process with the other House. But as somebody who has been in the House for 11 years seeking to amend legislation to effect change, I gently say to the Minister that every Minister has told us that a Bill is at threat because of the parliamentary process and every Bill seeks to be a landmark Bill, so we are asking her to go the extra mile on these final issues in this Domestic Abuse Bill. In my short contribution, I want to look at the counterfactual: what happens if we do not include these amendments?

Will the Minister tell us the conditions under which she would want somebody’s immigration status to be a factor in whether they can access help? Like others, I welcome the pilot scheme, but, like the bishops, I am concerned that it can run out and we will be back at square one, where women are frightened to come forward, or are pushed back into the hands of perpetrators because of their immigration status. We will therefore not meet our conditions under the Council of Europe requirements for the Istanbul convention, and we will see women living with their perpetrators as a direct result of our failure to include them in this legislation.

I thank Baronesses Royall, Brinton and Newlove, and Lord Russell, for their work on Lords amendment 42B. However, from the fantastic work that Karen Ingala Smith has done with the Counting Dead Women project, we know that one woman is killed every three days in this country by a man, and that many of those men have a history of abuse. What does the Minister think will stop the cycle of violence, if not to clarify who these men are and monitor them—not to ask, as Clare’s law does, for victims to come forward, looking after their own safety, but for us to take collective responsibility?

The Minister has set out some welcome proposals, but we need clarity and detail, so will she tell us how past behaviour will be identified and defined in the guidance so that it will be part of category 3? My right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper has pointed out that a handful of people are in category 3. With suggestions that there could be 50,000 people on a stalkers and serial abusers register in this country, what is the Minister’s metric of success? For example, will the number of people in category 3 go up under her proposals? What training will the police, probation service and Prison Service have to ensure that they are using these categories? How will we ensure that it is about not just community orders, but recognising the risk that women face?

Just this weekend, a woman in my constituency came to me, terrified of somebody who was stalking her—and, yet again, faced with police inaction. How will that change under the Minister’s proposals? It is not clear that it will. In the absence of that, let us go the extra mile and introduce all these amendments to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill will truly be something of which we can all be proud.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee 9:45 pm, 26th April 2021

I also welcome the progress that has been made on the Bill and the cross-party consensus that exists on many of the important measures, but I want to take this opportunity to pursue further the issues around stalking and repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse, and to discuss what more needs to be done to keep other victims safe from those whose violence escalates and who pose some of the greatest threats.

I welcome the Minister’s commitment now to a perpetrators strategy. It was one of the issues that we raised previously through these amendments, so it is very welcome. I hope that she or her colleagues in the other place will be able to give more clarity about how stalking will be included in the perpetrators strategy. The wording is slightly constrained, which I assume is partly about reflecting the scope of this particular legislation, but it would be helpful to have some clarification of the Government’s commitment to including stalking and repeat patterns of behaviour as part of the perpetrators strategy. I am still very concerned about lack of strong underpinnings to the commitment to take action against these most dangerous perpetrators whose abuse continues and escalates.

The Minister spoke about being able to change the interpretations of categories 1 and 2 to include domestic abuse among perpetrators already included in those categories. That is fine and it will be welcome in order to take account of their domestic abuse threats, but it will not include the thousands—if not tens of thousands—of repeat perpetrators of domestic abuse, stalkers and high-harm perpetrators who will not be included in either category 1 or 2. As a result, they will not appear on the register or be included in the MAPPA arrangements.

The Minister says that those people will, in the future, be included in category 3, but there would need to be a massive shift in the way category 3 currently operates—not a minor tweak to the guidance, not a few tweaks and changes, not a bit of adjustment here and there; we need a massive change. At the moment, there are only 330 people on that category 3 list. That is half the number there were 10 years ago, and we know that awareness of stalking and of repeat perpetrators of abuse has increased.

That 330 includes a whole load of other offences, not just domestic abuse or stalking. It is tiny in proportion not just to the more than 80,000 people who are already on the high-risk offenders register, but to the number of stalkers and repeat-convicted domestic abuse perpetrators who go through the courts every week and every month, but do not make it on to these registers so that a proper assessment can be made and proper action can be taken to prevent them from committing more crimes and putting more lives at risk.

That is what we seek reassurance from the Minister about. That is why we wanted this to be in legislation, not just tweaks to the guidance. We need legislation in order to deliver a substantial shift in the response from the police, from probation and from specialist agencies. We are just not doing enough. We have talked many times before about how two women a week lose their lives as a result of a partner or an ex. It was two women a week 10 years ago. Not enough has changed. Why is anything going to change now?

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

It seems like an age since I spoke on Second Reading, and I commend those involved in the massive amount of work that has been done on both sides of the House and in the Lords. I spoke at that time because, unfortunately, the rates in Bristol South are double the national average and the highest in the city. It is no coincidence that it also contains some of the most deprived areas of the country. That link between poverty and abuse, and particularly the impact on children, must be addressed. Although the Bill is welcome, it does not go far enough in some of those areas.

I shall speak briefly about Lords amendments 42D, 42E and 42F. As we have heard, we all agree on the outcome, but I defer to my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper and my hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who all, while recognising the Minister’s personal commitment and intent, eloquently expressed concerns about how we will hold the Government to account on behalf of the women we all know and represent if legislation is not brought forward on these things.

I know from speaking to women who are expecting a more defined register and legislation that they do not really understand why serial abusers and perpetrators are not more easily registered and tracked. Those are stories that we all know come before us repeatedly. If those amendments are not accepted, I know that the Minister will continue to do this work, but it will be incumbent on her and her Government to prove to those women that these measures are remotely enough.

We all know that we need better action across a range of service providers. Again, that needs much greater support from the Government. Finally—I am conscious of time—I touched last year on the nature of domestic abuse among older women. That is often a much-neglected area, and it would be good to see changes to the Bill that reversed some of the perceptions about the abuse that older women face and made them feel more empowered to come forward, safe in the knowledge that their experiences will be justly dealt with too.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

I share what I believe was possibly the frustration of many other speakers tonight that we are so close to achieving what we want the Bill to achieve, yet we seem unable to cross that final line. I appreciate the efforts made by the Government and everyone else, and by the Minister in particular, but I still have reservations about the Bill—particularly about the vulnerability of migrant women, and specifically about amendment 40B. The amendment in lieu laid down by the Minister is a start, but it still does not go far enough and it fails to capture the one key thing that all our amendments and speeches have said, and everything we have heard this evening: waiting for a stalker or serial domestic abuser to get a conviction for 12 months before considering them for this is way too late.

We know that most stalking victims do not go to the police. This is about cumulative obsessive behaviour. Well-intentioned though the legislation is, we simply do not feel it is going far enough. Between 15 March and 19 April, another 16 women have been murdered—that is between the Report stage in the Lords and ping-pong last week. The Government’s inaction has to end. We have to address this issue now. We have to ensure that the Domestic Abuse Bill that so many people in this place have worked so hard for over the past four years is achieved by the end of this week.

The same recommendations have been made over the years and the same reviews have been repeated over and over, yet nothing is changing. Rarely are the recommendations put into place and we have seen systemic failures over many years, with widespread misogyny, institutionalised sexism and a gender bias. No amount of guidance or training has changed that across the past two decades. In fact, matters are getting worse. That is why we need this to be in the legislation.

Many Members have mentioned the overwhelmingly depressing statistics about one woman being murdered every three days by a man, and a woman being murdered every four days by an ex or a current partner. It is simply not acceptable. We are all agreed, but we must find a solution. I appreciate the steps that the Government have taken so far to compromise to meet people halfway, but I still think that this will take another step. That is why I, like the Liberal Democrats, will be rejecting the Government’s amendment in lieu this evening.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

Briefly, I wish to highlight my concerns on the issue of the identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators, and the provisions that refer to that. I base most of the comments I make in this Chamber on personal experience—on the people I meet in my constituency office and have helped and tried to help over the years.

I recall sitting in my office looking at the face of a victim, sometimes sitting beside the perpetrator, and feeling helpless and hopeless. I could see what was going on. I could also understand that my words could make the situation more difficult for the victim. So I found myself on some occasions just being silent and listening, when everything within me cried out to speak, act and help. That is what I wanted to do, but I felt that sensitivity was more important. All too often, I have tried to distract a partner while the staff attempted to assure the victim that they were here to help wherever they needed and in confidence. All too often, I have offered help, only to hear a victim say, “No one would believe me because he is a pillar of society.” That proves that, irrespective of position, those in the highest positions and the lowest positions of the land can abuse ladies.

The Lords amendment on this brings clarity on repeated offences, broadening things to include serious harm, sexual violence and stalking, among other specifications. It makes it crystal clear and a little easier to help those victims. It offers them greater scope and, with that, greater support. It makes it clear that the offences clearly listed will never be acceptable. It makes it clear that all those listed offences are taken seriously and that a strategy to deal with this must be a Government priority.

This clarity is welcome. This House must send a unified message on this Bill today. I believe that the Minister is very much committed to making the changes that are necessary to pull all of the concerns and thoughts of Members together, and provide reassurance that when we pass the Bill it is not simply the best we can do, but the best possible—not that we offer help, support and recognition to as many victims as possible, but that we have left no victim alone without legislation to protect them.

It is my desire, when I am faced with cases of domestic abuse—unfortunately, my staff and I have been faced with such cases—to have the confidence to be able to tell the victim, “All the elements, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland to the courts, are designed with your needs in mind. You do not have to do this alone. The police and the courts will walk alongside you, and give you the protection you want.” I long to send that message. I look again to the Minister for clarity that this is what we are saying tonight in this Chamber.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 10:00 pm, 26th April 2021

I thank hon. and right hon. Members across the House for the constructive tone they have maintained not just tonight but throughout. I am particularly moved by the comments Jim Shannon has just made. He speaks of the constituents he meets in his office. He knows they are sitting next to their perpetrators and he tries to distract them. I am sure many of us can understand and sympathise with that. It is precisely those people we are trying to help with the Bill.

I will try to deal with some of the issues raised but I am very conscious of time, so forgive me if I am not able to. My noble Friend in the other place will have more time tomorrow and will try to deal with some of the points that will no doubt be raised then.

Jess Phillips asked questions about the code in respect of the firewall review. We are very much in listening mode. We have not yet drafted the code and will consider the consequences she raised. I draw her attention to the fact that in the new clause we have said we will consult the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and the Information Commissioner’s Office. I very much hope that the fact that we have thought about the point she makes about accountability and so on, and included it in the new clause, gives her some comfort.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend Richard Graham for raising Clare’s law. We have not talked about it in the context of recent debates. The right to ask and the right to know is an incredibly important tool for victims and the police. We can spread the message across our constituencies that if someone is worried about a new relationship they can ask the police whether there is something they should know about their new relationship, or if the police are worried about a serial perpetrator and want to warn the new partner, then this facility exists. Again, this is why it is so important that the Bill is passed.

Yvette Cooper rightly and understandably raised questions about our approach to the point on MAPPA. I know this is an issue to which she has given a great deal of attention and consideration during the passage of the Bill and previously. If I may, I just want to clarify something. I do not know whether there has been a misunderstanding in translation, but I am aware of my duties at the Dispatch Box. I think she said that I had said that category 3 will include all serial perpetrators in future. I hope I have not misquoted her. To clarify, categories 1 and 2 will include domestic abuse perpetrators by definition of the qualifying offences under categories 1 and 2.

We very much hope and expect that the updated guidance we are issuing as a result of the discussions on the Bill and the improvements we will make to data sharing, not just in terms of guidance and framework but also, importantly, through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, will see an increase in category 3 offenders. We want local agencies to be applying the system in the improved way we all want. Of course, domestic abuse protection orders will also include notification requirements. I just wanted to clarify that. Perhaps there has been a misunderstanding in translation, as it were, or in debate.

Photo of Yvette Cooper Yvette Cooper Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I think the confusion is that I was asking whether it would be possible to include all repeat domestic abusers and high-harm stalkers in category 3. That is what we were trying to achieve. Can the Minister include all of them through the change to guidance to include them on category 3?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for clarifying that. This is the nub of it: through the framework that already exists—improved guidance, the national framework that I described, and the wording in guidance and so on that has been discussed recently—we want those offenders whom local agencies judge to pose a risk to be assessed as such. They will either already have been automatically included in category 1 or 2, or assessed under category 3. That is the point of this—it is the professional curiosity that I talked about. We want this framework to work better, in addition to the work in MAPPS, which is being piloted next year.

I know that this is incredibly technical. I have spent the past three years trying to de-jargon—if that is a word—some of this very technical language so that we may all communicate with the victims whom we are desperately trying to help in our constituencies. This is one of those instances that is very technical. I have tried to de-jargon it as much as I can, but it is incredibly technical. We have to look to local agencies and professionals using their best endeavours to protect our constituents across the country.

Karin Smyth asked the question—which I might have just answered—how we reassure women in her constituency that we are, first, acting with the best of intentions and, secondly, being held to account. I make this point, not just to us but to Members of another place: this is not the end of the road for our work on domestic abuse. We have been very clear that the Bill is a landmark one, but it is setting up a whole programme of work, locally through things such as our specialist services for people in safe accommodation, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and all the measures we have put into local family courts.

This programme of work will, I hope, outlast many of us and our time in this place. By virtue of that, I point the hon. Lady to things such as our announcement that we want to publish a VAWG—violence against women and girls—strategy later this summer, looking at some of the behaviours that we have discussed during the passage of the Bill. Later this year, we will publish a domestic abuse dedicated specialist national strategy to tackle abuse. The momentum that the Bill has created will be continued through both those strategies. This is very much the start of the journey as far as I and this Government are concerned. We very much look forward to listening to ideas and suggestions from across the House as we take through those strategies and other pieces of legislation.

To return to the people to whom the hon. Member for Strangford referred, those constituents whom he faces in his office to help—as we all do—I have talked before about my commitment to helping victims of domestic abuse. This is not just about those victims whom we are trying to help today, or in the future; for me, this is about the women, the victims, I could not help when I was working in the criminal courts at the very beginning of my career. In that day and age, it was all too inevitable that the victim would hand in her withdrawal statement, because the abuser had got to her before she had been able to give her evidence and to put her case forward. It is for those victims, as well as victims now and in the future, that this Bill is so critical. I very much hope that the Lords will help us to pass this piece of legislation as quickly as possible this week, so that we can start to help those victims as soon as possible.

Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 9B.

Division number 273 Domestic Abuse Bill — Clause 55 - Annual reports

Aye: 351 MPs

No: 219 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 352, Noes 219.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 9B disagreed to.

The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.

More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83G).

Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 9B.