We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lady Newlove for initiating this timely debate and glad to have the opportunity to pay tribute to her for the enormously hard work she has put in as Victims’ Commissioner for the past seven years. Helen has been an inspiration to so many who have suffered through no fault of their own. As she said when she was created a Peer in 2010:
“I am just an ordinary woman, propelled into high profile by a set of horrifying circumstances which I wish with all my heart had never occurred”.
What she has achieved since then is more than most of us can ever hope to. Her family and friends must be rightly proud of her—and how proud her husband Garry would have been too.
It is extraordinary to think that it was only some 45 years ago, in a speech in the other place, that the late Lord Ashley first used the term “domestic violence” in a modern context, meaning violence in the home. Until then the term referred mainly to civil unrest, violence from within a country as opposed to violence perpetrated by a foreign power. That was at a time when no agency, police or otherwise, intervened in so-called domestics and it was normal to consider intimate partner abuse, if not exactly acceptable behaviour, at least none of anyone else’s business. Thankfully things have moved on, but anyone who knows anything about the subject or has received briefings from charities or other NGOs for this debate, let alone the Library document, knows only too well that violence is still on the rise—although the increase is possibly due, at least in part, to improvements by police forces in the identification and recording of incidents and the apparent increase in the willingness of victims to come forward.
The odds are that most of us will know someone who has experienced such abuse. Looking around the Chamber, the odds are that at least some of us—although not me, as it happens—may have experienced violence. I remember the testimony from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in a previous debate on this topic, describing the coercive behaviour he experienced from his partner, later developing into physical violence, all while he himself was a serving policeman.
Someone close to me had been physically abused for years by her husband before her injuries were so severe that she was forced to attend A&E, which finally led to the legal process taking its course. This is often the case. Through her attending hospital, the health service was finally able to reach her and she was taken care of, as are so many others in her position. The health service reaches everyone—victims, perpetrators and children—without stigma.
In this House we are lucky enough to have access to experts on almost every topic under the sun, and I for one am a bit disappointed and frustrated when—for technical reasons, I suppose—we are unable to hear from them on the subject of their expertise. I refer today to my noble friend Lady Barran, founder of the domestic abuse awareness charity SafeLives, who served as its chief executive from 2004 to 2017. We may not be able to hear from her today—although I am delighted that she is at least able to attend this debate—but I am sure my noble friend the Minister is consulting her as the Bill wends its way through the political process. I spoke to her in advance of this debate and asked her what motivated her to set up the charity. Like me, she had a friend who had experienced abuse and she realised that what women in particular really need is the ability to stay safe in their homes, to keep their children in their local schools and, if possible, to get help for their partners. It is also important to have one person to talk to who can assist and advise on all aspects of the abuse. Peer support from other women who have been through similar experiences is also crucial.
But why, in 2019, is it still an expectation that it should be the woman who leaves the family home, rather than that the perpetrator should be held to account and, where possible, helped to change? Unless the behaviour of these perpetrators is addressed, the size of the problem for both women and children will not be reduced. We may be making the current Mrs Jones safer, but Mr Jones is likely to find a new partner, will probably have more children and, in all likelihood, will repeat his behaviour. So I ask my noble friend to consider more provision for perpetrator programmes and one-to-one work with perpetrators to build on the progress made in recent years to support and protect women and their children.
These are complex issues. Every case is a tragedy and needs an individualised approach. But this is the first time in a generation that we have the chance to change and improve the system for millions of people. The Bill presents a huge opportunity to go beyond a traditional criminal justice system approach to domestic abuse. We must not waste that opportunity.