Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development) 10:15 pm, 20th March 2012

My Lords, when we debated these amendments in Committee my noble friend Lord McNally was able to tell the Committee how sympathetic the Government were to the thinking behind them, borne out of the circumstances of the tragic murder of Clare Wood by Clare's ex-boyfriend who had previous convictions for violent offences. I pay tribute to Clare's family and to the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, and others on this issue.

As the noble Baroness has flagged, the Home Secretary has announced the Government's intention to pilot a domestic violence disclosure scheme for one year in the four police force areas of Greater Manchester, Gwent, Nottinghamshire and Wiltshire. The pilot will start this summer, and I hope that noble Lords will welcome it. The pilot, which is similar in spirit to that envisaged by the noble Lady's amendment, will be established under existing police powers and test two types of process.

The first will be triggered by a request by a member of the public, in other words, a "right to ask". The second will be triggered by the police, where they make a proactive decision to disclose the information in order to protect a potential victim, which we are calling a "right to know". The Government believe that a disclosure scheme, which establishes a framework with recognised and consistent procedures for disclosing information, will enable new partners of previously violent individuals to make informed choices about how and whether they take that relationship forward. I note what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said on this, and it may be that she would prefer the second pilot.

The Home Secretary's announcement follows a consultation held by the Government. A clear majority of respondents favoured the introduction of a national disclosure scheme. However, the consultation raised important issues about the scope and proportionality of the information that should be disclosed to potential victims, the safeguards that will be needed against malicious applications and the paramount need for the safety of victims to be taken into account. These are serious matters, and the Home Secretary has concluded that it is therefore right that these issues are addressed and tested in a pilot to ensure that the disclosure scheme is compatible with all relevant law and accounts for the safety and needs of potential victims. The Home Office is undertaking further scoping work to decide how the disclosure scheme will work.

Amendment 156ZA would require the Secretary of State to commission an independent review of the pilot and to publish its findings. I can confirm, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee indicated, that we will conduct an assessment of the domestic violence disclosure scheme as part of the pilot process and make our conclusions public. I hope that that reassures the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. The assessment will be used to inform decisions about whether the scheme should be expanded further after piloting.

The House may be assured that the Government's aim is to end all forms of violence against women and girls. Soon after coming to office, we set out a new strategy to end violence against women and girls, and on 8 March we published an updated action plan in this area. The domestic violence disclosure scheme pilot announced by the Home Secretary is part of that updated action plan. The fact that approximately two people are killed by their current or former partner each week underlines the need for action. The Government believe that the domestic violence disclosure scheme will be an important additional tool that enhances the protection available to victims. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, for her work in this area, and I hope that with these reassurances she will be willing to withdraw her amendment.