Committee (3rd Day)

Part of Serious Crime Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 15th July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench 3:30 pm, 15th July 2014

My Lords, I rise to make two small points on Amendment 40BZB, so ably introduced by my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss. First, I congratulate the Government on clarifying in Clause 62 that psychological effects on children have equal importance to physical effects. As my noble friend has just said, it is also my professional and personal experience that psychological damage to children is often more serious than physical injury—although, of course, it depends on the severity of both. This is an important step forward, albeit not an entirely new one. I know that the legislation has always alluded to psychological or psychological-type abuse. I strongly support Amendment 40BZB and hope very much that the Government will be able to support it, or something very like it. It seems to me that the clarification is altogether helpful.

I welcome proposed subsection (6)(b), which defines the term “wilfully”, and have no worries about it. Further elaboration will no doubt come in regulations. I should be grateful if the Minister would assure the House that in those regulations the Government will clarify that a parent with a drug addiction will be regarded as not having the competence to foresee that an act or omission regarding a child would be likely to result in harm, but nonetheless as unreasonably taking that risk. Clearly, if a drug-dependent parent is causing physical or psychological harm to a child, the matter must be dealt with. Again, I hope that regulations will be put in place to ensure that resources for the treatment of the addiction will be put in place and that the parent will be expected to make good use of them in order to avoid continuing damage to a child.

I think that the Minister knows that I do not believe in being soft on drugs, if a drug-dependent person is causing harm to others and above all to children. However, for the child, the best possible option is for the parent’s addiction to be brought under control through good-quality treatment and for the child to remain with their parent and for the parent or parents to avoid prosecution.

That brings me to my second point. As I have already said, full recognition of the importance of psychological injury to children through emotional abuse is most welcome. I want to underline that point; I do not question it for a moment. However, whatever the abuse, prosecution and lengthy court proceedings can be extremely damaging for entire families, including the children. Prosecution or care proceedings often take an enormous length of time and really must be seen as the last resort. I hope that clarity in the law about the existence of emotional abuse as a crime will ensure that resources are devoted to psychological treatments that will prevent such abuse or bring it to an end in order to minimise the use of the courts in this area as far as possible. I should be grateful if the Minister would give us some assurances on these points.