Amendment 137

Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (4th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 3 February 2021.

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Baroness Newlove:

Moved by Baroness Newlove

137: After Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—“Offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation(1) A person (“A”) commits an offence if that person intentionally strangles or suffocates another person (“B”), where the strangulation or suffocation does not result in B’s death.(2) A strangles or suffocates B if A impedes B’s breathing, blood circulation, or both, by doing any of the following (manually or using any aid)—(a) blocking B’s nose, mouth, or both; or(b) applying pressure on, or to, B’s throat, neck, chest or more than one of these.(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—(a) on summary conviction—(i) to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months (or six months, if the offence was committed before the coming into force of paragraph 24(2) of Schedule 22 to the Sentencing Act 2020), or(ii) to a fine, or both;(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years, or to a fine, or both.”

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, Amendments 137 and 138 are in my name and the names of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Wilcox. I thank them for working with me on this, as have the noble Lords, Lord Marks, Lord Anderson, Lord Blunkett, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, and others. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have indicated their support to me. I am also grateful to the Government for listening to the arguments put forward on Second Reading and for meeting my colleagues on this.

I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s announcement that he wants to see this offence on the statute book, with a maximum sentence of seven years. The Government are minded to include the offence in the police, crime, sentencing and courts Bill rather than this one. I will argue that it sits best in this Domestic Abuse Bill; I very much welcome the Government being open to discussions on where it should sit and on the wording of the amendment.

This new offence should be in this Bill because it is concentrated in domestic abuse cases. One police force recently assessed a random sample of its cases featuring strangulation and found that 80% were intimate partner violence while 20% were other family abuse cases. This is clear evidence that this crime features predominantly within domestic abuse. It is important that this offence is regarded by the police and prosecutors as part and parcel of the criminal justice response to domestic abuse. Having it in this Bill will enhance the understanding that this type of offending is very much about domestic abuse. It is an offence used to frighten and have control over a person.

The amendments I am proposing would each add a new clause to the Bill to establish an offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation. Amendments 137 and 138 are alternatives. The first refers to all non-fatal strangulations or suffocations; the second limits the offence to those where the victim and perpetrator are personally connected, as defined in Clause 2. If the first amendment fails, the second will be next best. The first, Amendment 137, is preferable, as it would protect more women—for example, those attacked by acquaintances or strangers and those in a more casual dating situation.

Some might argue that as the Bill is for domestic abuse only, Amendment 138 should be considered. However, there are two reasons I urge noble Lords to accept the first alternative. First, it is consistent with the Istanbul convention, which forms part of the policy context of this Bill. The Istanbul convention sets out to prevent and combat violence against women in all situations, as well as to tackle domestic violence. The wider amendment is consistent with this. Secondly, the Government’s amendment, described as the “rough sex” amendment, introduced in the other place and now in the Bill as Clause 65, is rightly not limited to people who are personally connected. It covers any situation, as the Government accepted this was an opportunity to address such harm more widely. The same logic applies for non-fatal strangulation or suffocation, which affects 20,000 victims every year in the UK.

As noble Lords can imagine, being strangled is terrifying. Fear of imminent death is a primal fear—we can all imagine that—and victims of these attacks are right to be fearful. Less pressure than it takes to open a canned drink stops blood flowing to the brain. Loss of consciousness quickly occurs, normally in as little as 10 to 15 seconds. Incontinence of urine tends to happen at around 15 seconds and bowel incontinence at around 30 seconds. A strangulation can quickly be fatal if it triggers a heart attack, in which case death can occur within a few seconds.

When a strangulation is survived the victims may have other health problems, such as a fractured trachea, internal bleeding, dizziness, nausea and tinnitus. A break in the flow of oxygen to the brain causes neurological problems such as memory loss, facial droop and an increased risk of miscarriage—even a stroke several months later, as a result of blood clots. Many of these medical effects would come as a surprise to most members of the public, including the police, who therefore do not understand the seriousness of these crimes. Similarly, survivors of domestic abuse may not realise the true dangers they face.

In New Zealand, the introduction of a new offence triggered increased knowledge in the medical profession and the increased use of medical evidence in prosecutions. I am glad that the Government recognise that, as it stands, the law simply does not operate well for non-fatal strangulation. Our existing laws on assault are a very poor fit, as they focus on visible injuries. Here, there is a high level of violence but little or no visible injury. Having a stand-alone offence will make assessing cases much more straightforward for the police and prosecutors.

We can be even more confident about this knowing that the Police Superintendents’ Association supports this new offence. That speaks volumes because its members include the public protection police leads, who deal with domestic abuse. These are senior officers with specialist knowledge; they know what makes a difference on the ground. Given that this is a grave and frequently occurring offence, it is important to get it on the statute book as soon as possible. I appreciate that the Committee will not want to rush this. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said at Second Reading,

“hurried law can be bad law”.—[Official Report, 5/1/21; col. 92.]

However, in this case, given how much work and thought has gone into this already—and given the experience of other countries—I am confident that we can proceed with the offence in this Bill.

We are nearing the end a journey for the Bill which began four years ago. Placing this offence in another Bill that has not yet had its First Reading—and which, I understand, is unlikely to reach Royal Assent until the end of this year—would be a considerable delay. We know that, in the UK, two women are killed every week by a partner or ex-partner. By this time next year, another 100 women will have lost their lives—women very much loved by their families and friends. A high proportion of them will have suffered non-fatal strangulation before their deaths.

Clearly not all deaths can be prevented, but some can. Improving protection is so urgent. We must not delay. This is a real opportunity to save those victims’ lives. I look forward to working with Ministers on this issue, and I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the Government will introduce this offence, without delay, as part of this Bill. I urge all noble Lords to support this amendment and beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues) 7:00, 3 February 2021

My Lords, the important issue of non-fatal strangulation has been introduced comprehensively and powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I commend her on her tremendous work in campaigning and lobbying to bring this issue to public attention. We support these vital amendments and our stated preference is Amendment 137 as opposed to the wider Amendment 138. However, both of the amendments would make non-fatal strangulation or suffocation a standalone offence on the statute book and should be located within this Bill.

A separate offence of non-fatal strangulation would help the police to spot domestic abuse and coercive control. This is our opportunity to help those women who have suffered this dreadful form of abuse and forced control at the hands of their perpetrator. At its heart, the Bill must be about providing services for people who have become the victims of abuse, and indeed torture, in their own home. The importance of the Bill and these measures has only grown during the coronavirus crisis as perpetrators have exploited lockdown to intensify their control and abuse. Calls to helplines and concerns have increased greatly across all the four nations of the United Kingdom.

My good friend Rachel Williams, who is from Newport, is a leading campaigner. She has set up her own charity, Stand up to Domestic Abuse. I am proud to wear the organisation’s badge through every day of these proceedings. Rachel’s abuse story is well chronicled and her support charity for survivors is simply outstanding. On the issue of non-fatal strangulation, Rachel has set up a petition to ask the Prime Minister to support its inclusion as a stand-alone offence. When I looked at it about an hour ago, the petition had secured 202,288 signatures. These are Rachel’s words:

“Strangulation is a very symbolic act of control which leaves its victim in no doubt that there is a real and visceral threat to their life. If you put your hands on someone’s throat and squeeze, the message and terror for the victim is clear. As a survivor of domestic violence, I know the impact it has.”

When Rachel knocked at my door at the civic centre asking for help and support for victims, I said that we would do our very best within the limited financial framework of a local authority in such austere times. But what I could never have foreseen a couple of years ago is that I would be in a position in your Lordships’ House where I have the privilege of speaking to improve and amend the laws of our lands so that survivors such as Rachel and support organisations will have the very best protection that can be afforded by the most appropriate legal framework.

We have such an opportunity before us today. Non-fatal strangulation or suffocation must finally become a stand-alone offence for the perpetrators of this most repugnant of crimes. I support the amendments.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I give my strong support to Amendment 137 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and I want to congratulate her on her comprehensive and extremely powerful presentation of the arguments in favour of these amendments. Of course, I wholeheartedly agree with every word that she spoke. I also want to thank our Ministers for their support for this amendment, and indeed thank the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary, both of whom, I understand, support the amendment. I thank too all those who have provided briefings for us, in particular Julia Drown, who has been absolute stalwart in support of our work on this issue.

I understand that the Government have accepted the principle of the amendment and agree that it should have general application rather than be limited to cases of domestic abuse; that is, between couples who are personally connected, albeit that the amendment should stand within the Domestic Abuse Bill. That is what I understand, and no doubt the Minister will update us on developments in the work of the Government’s lawyers, who I believe are drafting an amendment that would work in practice. It would be helpful if he could confirm that the Government support the broader amendment but also that it must be included in this Bill for the reasons already given. I do not want to repeat them.

In the circumstances, I want to keep my remarks extremely brief and will just spell out the key reasons why I feel so strongly that the amendment should be agreed. First, women who are victims of non-fatal strangulation are seven times more likely to be killed subsequently. If there is anything that we should do, surely it is to prevent murder.

Secondly, the fact is that these very serious crimes are not being dealt with effectively by our criminal justice system simply because of the peculiarity that there might not be much to observe in the way of immediate symptoms, while the medium or long-term consequences, both mental and physical, of this heinous and horrendous crime are extremely serious. Again, all that has been outlined by other speakers, so I will not repeat it.

I have a lot of sympathy for the police, who do not—of course, they cannot—handle this very well. There needs to be a very specific, stand-alone offence that they can grapple with and understand. The police are overloaded—they are very busy, as I know well from my work with the Police Complaints Authority some years ago—so all my sympathies go to them. For the police, as well as for the victims, we need to get this amendment on the statute book.

Thirdly, this is a particularly horrible way to be assaulted. The idea that it is not dealt with effectively and that people are not punished for doing it is completely unacceptable, so I say again that I very strongly support the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and her amendments.

Photo of The Bishop of London The Bishop of London Bishop

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have preceded me and those who will follow. I also thank the steady campaigners, researchers and wider members of civil society for their tenacity in bringing the issue of non-fatal strangulation to the forefront of the Bill. It is something so nuanced that, if addressed, it has the potential to change the trajectory of women’s lives post strangulation.

Researchers, lobbyists and specialist organisations alike have spent significant proportions of their lives trying to highlight the one thing that we all know to be true: that there is almost always more than meets the eye. That said, I am delighted to have heard that the Government are committed to addressing this issue, and it is good to have heard so many noble Lords speak in favour of the amendment at Second Reading and today.

We have heard powerful contributions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Wilcox, and many noble Lords will have received briefings and accounts of the impacts of this crime on victims. I add my voice in support of the amendment, which calls for non-fatal strangulation to be included in the Bill as a stand-alone offence.

International research by Glass showed that non-fatal strangulation by a woman’s partner was associated with a 700% increase in the likelihood that he would attempt to kill her and an 800% increase in the likelihood of him actually killing her. Data collected by organisations such as Stand up to Domestic Abuse suggests that non-fatal strangulation is not a single, spontaneous assault but a pattern used by some perpetrators.

I am sure that noble Lords have read the details of what it is like to face this type of assault. We have heard them today and previously in your Lordships’ House, so I will not repeat them. The reality is that the effect of putting this amendment in the Bill really will be a reduction in the number of cases whose details we might have to share on this matter in the future.

At present, the police too often deal with non-fatal strangulation as a tick-box exercise on a risk assessment form, rather than as a crime. Furthermore, the current law leads to perpetual undercharging or no charging at all. Work from organisations such as the Centre for Women’s Justice highlights how serial perpetrators of domestic abuse and coercive control should have an official history that reflects their potential risk to others.

The amendment that my co-sponsors and I are calling for will ensure that non-fatal strangulation can be charged as an indictable offence and not merely as a misdemeanour or summary offence. This will reflect the dangerousness of the perpetrator and the severe, traumatic injury non-fatal strangulation causes; it is something our peers across the world are already doing. Modernising our response to domestic violence is needed and one can imagine how much more it is needed in light of the stresses that the Covid-19 pandemic has induced. This is an opportunity to introduce an offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation in the UK so that others do not suffer unnecessarily. I am particularly pleased to hear the constructive comments from Ministers and note that the Government have a commitment to looking at this issue. I wholeheartedly support this amendment, which will confront this heinous crime.

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative 7:15, 3 February 2021

My Lords, I give my strong support to Amendment 137. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her determination and commitment on this issue and thank the Centre for Women’s Justice for all its work. I thank the Government for listening. It is right that non-fatal strangulation, for all the reasons that we have just heard, will be a new stand-alone offence. It is very encouraging that we are discussing this issue with a shared understanding. However, I hope the Government will listen again and agree that the Domestic Abuse Bill is the natural home for this amendment. The Bill has finally reached the stage where we can look forward to Royal Assent in the not too distant future. Let us take the opportunity and place this offence on the statute book now.

Having the offence in this Bill sends a powerful message that this kind of offending is concentrated in domestic abuse cases above all others. A rural police force in England selected 30 cases of strangulation at random from within its data. It found that all were cases of domestic abuse. That is not to say that there are not other situations where this form of violence is used—primarily against women and we do not forget them either—but the majority are domestic abuse cases, where strangulation is part of a wider campaign of terror and control that victims and survivors endure day after day.

It is important for our criminal justice agencies to understand this offence in its proper context as a well-established aspect of domestic abuse. This will help them recognise it and take a robust approach. It will aid increased training and better investigation techniques. We have heard that about 20,000 women suffer from this form of abuse. It is frightening, traumatic and deeply harmful. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was right to set out exactly what it means. It was not easy to listen to but we need to understand it.

As a society, we have been blind to this crime for far too long. We are now finally shining a light on it and need to protect those women as soon as we can. I lost my own cousin to fatal strangulation and I know that a greater understanding of non-fatal strangulation will save lives. We must not delay this.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I join everyone who has spoken in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for bringing forward this amendment, for the tireless way in which she has campaigned for it and for her powerful opening of this debate. I also want to record how grateful I and other noble Lords are for the careful and sympathetic way in which the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, have listened to the arguments and responded to this amendment since Second Reading.

I believe there is a clear consensus that the absence of a distinct offence of non-fatal strangulation is a serious defect in our criminal law, which allows many cases of appalling attacks to be treated with far too little seriousness—undercharged and insufficiently punished. We have long had an offence outlawed by Section 21 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 of attempting to choke, suffocate or strangle in order to commit an indictable offence. However, not only is that Act now seriously in need of replacement, but that offence does not answer the need because it criminalises strangulation only with an intent to commit an indictable offence, so leaving untouched the violent strangulation with which this amendment is generally concerned. As I said at Second Reading, this horrible form of violence is appallingly common and devastating in its physical and psychological effects. Yet because the injuries are difficult to prove, prosecutions, where they happen, are often for common assault, or ABH at most, demonstrably understating the severity the violence involved. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and all other noble Lords who have contributed of the appalling statistics and the overwhelming evidence that demonstrate how serious this form of domestic abuse is, how often it stems from or leads on to further violence, and how a history of strangulation is a tragic, but regular, predictor of later homicide.

I shall say a little about the legal aspects of the amendment and its drafting. In particular, I shall address the points raised at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who unfortunately cannot speak today but invites me to mention his continued strong support for the amendment and his gratitude to the Government for their commitment to taking the best possible technical advice to ensure its effectiveness.

The first point raised by the noble Lord was whether we ought to have a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation at all or whether a generic offence not confined to strangulation or suffocation would do as well. For the reasons so ably set out so far in this debate, strangulation and suffocation raise a particular issue because the violence involved is extreme and the consequences in terms of abuse and terror for the victims so serious, yet often there are very limited physical injuries to support a prosecution as a result. The New Zealand Law Commission, in its 2016 report Strangulation: The Case for a New Offence, accepted the case for a specific offence and recommended this approach. I understand that the former criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission, Professor David Ormerod, who generally favours generic offences rather than specific ones and so recommended in his 2015 on the reform of the 1861 Act, nevertheless sees a strong case for a new specific offence of non-fatal strangulation. I agree. As to the actual acts constituting strangulation or suffocation, the amendment closely follows the New Zealand legislation, the Family Violence (Amendments) Act 2018, which implemented the Law Commission’s recommendation, and there are no reports of any significant difficulties with the definition of which acts are required.

I turn to whether a new offence should be limited to the context of domestic abuse. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, explained, we are considering two versions of this amendment, one limited to domestic abuse and one general. My firm view is that the new offence should be generally applicable, as in Amendment 137, even though the evidence outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, establishes firmly that this is generally an offence involving domestic violence. However, I fully agree with the noble Baroness that the new offence of non-fatal strangulation should not be confined to the domestic context, particularly not as limited by the constraints of the definitions in the Bill, under which a similar intentional act which did not meet the definition of domestic abuse would be left to the inadequacies of the pre-existing law.

I turn next to the difficult question of intent. The amendment as drafted now provides that A commits the offence if he “intentionally strangles or suffocates” B. In my opinion, the use of the word “intentionally” is correct and appropriate. It makes it a requirement that the prosecution demonstrate that the act of strangulation or suffocation—that is, blocking the victim’s nose, mouth or both, or applying pressure to the victim’s throat, neck, chest or more than one of these—is intentional. It does not require that the offender be shown to have a further intent of causing any particular type of harm to the victim. The necessary intention is what lawyers call a “basic intent”, rather than a “specific intent”. In my view, that is right because it is difficult to see an offender doing any of these acts without either intending to cause injury or being completely reckless about whether such injury is caused. It should not be a necessary element of the offence that the exact state of mind should have to be proved, and this follows the New Zealand Law Commission’s report.

However, when the New Zealand Parliament implemented that recommendation in that report, the word “intentionally” was supplemented by the words “or recklessly”. In my view, the addition of possible recklessness to the basic intent adds nothing, because it is hard to see the acts involved in strangulation or suffocation being unintentional. I suggest sticking to the word “intentionally” as included in the amendment.

The question also arises whether consent should be a defence against the new offence. In my view, it should not, and the removal by Clause 65 of the defence of consent to the infliction of serious harm for the purpose of sexual gratification points the way. I can see no merit in permitting a defence of consent, which would doubtless lead to frequent court disputes when the defence case would involve an assertion that the victim consented to her own strangulation. I cannot believe that that would be right.

On the last question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, the sentences proposed lie somewhere in the middle of the range applicable to similar offences around the world. They seem to me to fit in with our general sentencing guidelines. Setting maximum sentences is always an art and not a science. The sentences proposed are, of course, maximum terms of imprisonment, and actual sentences in practice always vary with the facts. However, this amendment seems to me to have the tariff about right.

Finally, our Law Commission and Professor Ormerod, with his wide experience in the field, have both been consulted as to the formulation of a new offence, and will continue to be so. Professor Ormerod has expressed his willingness to assist the Government and the House with further consideration of the details of a new offence before Report stage. I express the hope that the Government and we will take advantage of that generous offer.

Photo of Baroness Redfern Baroness Redfern Conservative

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Newlove for her powerful introduction to this standalone offence. I am pleased to have the opportunity to take part in the debate and to give my support to the many victims who have endured violence—for them, it has been a long wait for justice.

I rise to speak to this amendment, which addresses the offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation whereby a person commits such an offence if they intentionally strangle or suffocate another person but it does not result in death. This must be recognised as a distinct offence in its own right and not just treated as common assault, as has happened in so many cases, particularly given that many victims display hardly any external signs of abuse even after serious assault. Crimes of strangulation and asphyxiation are the second most common method, after stabbing, of killing in female homicides. The amendment would also help the police identify the harm which has occurred, thereby enabling them to respond appropriately to this method of domestic abuse. This offence should be embedded in the Domestic Abuse Bill and should carry a maximum term of imprisonment of seven years.

Non-fatal strangulation is used as a weapon to exert power and control and to instil fear in an abusive relationship. Most victims experience a real fear that they will die, and many go on to suffer long-term mental health issues.

Given the aims of the Bill, this amendment provides us with a real opportunity to save lives. We must not miss this opportunity to introduce the offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation in the UK. We must do all we can to protect victims and help them to recover and rebuild a life free from abuse.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Labour 7:30, 3 February 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern. I support the important Amendments 137 and 138, particularly Amendment 137, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Meacher, my noble friend Lady Wilcox and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. I am pleased to be in the company of so much wisdom and experience.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, as we know, is the distinguished former Victims’ Commissioner, and I understand that Dame Vera Baird, the present commissioner, and Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner designate, are also committed to these amendments. The noble Baroness has said today that the Police Superintendents’ Association—comprising all chief superintendents, who are in charge of public protection units across the country, which will include domestic abuse specialist officers—also support the amendment. It sees the benefits of a stand-alone offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation to charging regimes, to more serious custodial sentences and to better police training and information.

It is very good news that the Government are now openly in favour of filling this gap in the law in future legislation, but our argument today is that we have a completely appropriate Bill in front of us now that could incorporate these amendments and could get this offence on the statute book this year, with all that that could imply for victims and survivors. The highly respected charity SafeLives estimates that 37% of high-risk abuse victims experience non-fatal strangulation. Research in America, where 37 states have introduced a specific offence, estimates that victims of non-fatal strangulation are seven times more likely than non-victims to be killed in domestic abuse incidents, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said. New Zealand and Australia have also been proactive in this area of law. The Centre for Women’s Justice has argued that this is a gender-specific crime that should be recognised in the Bill.

Dame Vera Baird and Nicole Jacobs, in a joint statement, have called attention to the fact that this terrifying experience of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation can cause significant long-term mental and physical trauma, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has so powerfully described, and that at present the law is not fit for purpose. Non-fatal strangulation is a common feature of domestic abuse and a well-known risk indicator, yet, given the inadequate tools available to them at the moment, the police are often only able to deal with it on a risk assessment form rather than as a crime. When a charge is brought it is often common assault, which does not reflect the severity or hidden scale of the offence, as the noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, has said.

Ultimately, non-fatal strangulation is a highly effective tool of power and control, used to engender fear and terror in families, and is no doubt being used today with enthusiasm by perpetrators behind the closed doors of another Covid lockdown. There is really no time to delay in coming to the aid of such vulnerable victims and survivors. We need to see these amendments incorporated into this Bill, rather than waiting for future Bills, especially in these very uncertain times.

I am sure that the Minister, who appears to be a good listener, recognises the urgent need to resolve this matter and to fill this gap in the law. I look forward to his response.

Photo of Baroness Finn Baroness Finn Conservative

My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 137 and 138 and pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Newlove and many others for their tireless work and campaigning. I, too, thank Julia Drown for her help and support, and I very much welcome the Government’s acknowledgement of this issue and thank Ministers for their support.

I stress that this is the right Bill for this offence: non-fatal strangulation is about fear, control and a toxic mix of physical and psychological abuse, and it is often done with the express intent and insidious subtlety of evading detection. As such, it can be protracted and cause lasting and even permanent harm. Crucially, the current law is letting victims down; this Bill is our chance to put that right and protect them.

Many other noble Lords have already spoken about the horrific nature of non-fatal strangulation, but the current problem of undercharging highlights that the true nature and intent of the crime is not fully understood. As always, context matters: the current narrow approach not only limits the sentencing options but has other serious consequences, as it impacts on future risk assessments and public protection decisions. These include future bail applications, sentencing decisions—including dangerousness determinations—and Parole Board decisions.

As the seriousness of the crime is not currently understood, neither, unfortunately, is the management of its consequences. This is particularly the case when it comes to contact arrangements for children. To protect the welfare of children, these arrangements should reflect the seriousness of the crime; unfortunately, they do not.

I am conscious that, to tackle non-fatal strangulation as effectively as possible, we need all relevant agencies to work together. Early intervention is needed to mitigate damage and even save lives. Unfortunately, current understanding of symptoms and consequences will likely lead to cases being missed and narrow or absent diagnoses offered. If those in the health service seeing patients with the relevant physical and psychological conditions are conscious of the links to non-fatal strangulation, the problem can be picked up earlier and the victims supported.

This would not only save the victims from further and more serious harm; it would also be better for society, as the earlier intervention would be easier and more cost-effective, compared with dealing with the horrific further abuse and deaths of victims. In many of these cases, this will be about protecting children as well as the victims themselves.

It is shocking that, in this country, thousands of victims experience the trauma of non-fatal strangulation every year. Given that the current criminal justice system is clearly not able to protect these victims, we cannot afford to let this Bill pass without addressing this issue. We all know how commitments to introduce something in a future Bill can get derailed through no fault of those making those commitments. There is a suggestion that this new offence could go in the police, crime, sentencing and courts Bill, but that is not the Bill before us now; it has not even started its journey in the other place, and it may well be delayed for months into the future.

We need to get this right, and there is no reason why this offence cannot be included in this Bill to get the victims the protection they need now. If we miss this opportunity to introduce this offence, many women will die, others will suffer unnecessarily and we will be behind most of the English-speaking world on domestic abuse protection.

The UK has been rightly proud of its leading role on the world stage on gender-based violence over many years; this amendment is needed to ensure that we stay ahead and do all we can to protect victims. Rather than have the uncertainties of a future Bill, we can address this issue now in a Bill that will come into law very soon. I urge the Government and Ministers to work with my noble friend Lady Newlove and to include this new offence in this Bill.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

I join every speaker in this rather large group of speakers in offering my support for Amendments 137 and 138, with a preference for 137. I join all of the others in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her very hard work on this issue. However, when the idea of a new offence was first put to me, I started from a position of scepticism. We all know that there are far too many cases in history where Governments who are wanting to be seen to be doing something say “Oh, we will have a new law and create a new offence”.

However, when I looked at the evidence and saw the extensive briefings and data assembled by campaigning groups and NGOs, I found that there is clearly a case. There is a specific set of behaviours that constitutes an offence. The case is made very clearly that non-fatal strangulation and suffocation is not generally a failed attempt to kill, but rather a deliberate attempt to control and exert power. The law currently has no real proper way of dealing with that. The fact that there is little visible injury in many cases means that at best it may appear as a charge of common assault, and many others have pointed out how inadequate that is. It is also worth pointing out that it means there is a six-month limit for charges being brought. We know that domestic abuse is very often disclosed only after a large number of incidents have occurred. It also means that, as a summary offence in a magistrates’ court, it does not get the level of attention and resources that this proposed new offence would attract with the charges.

The other point which has not been made but should be, is that I very much do not believe in reinventing the wheel in terms of law and government policy. We can look around the world to see other places that have been leading on this. Reference has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, to the 37 states in the US which already have comparable laws, and most Australian states do.

The real leader in this has been New Zealand. I note that this started with the Aotearoa—New Zealand—Law Commission 2016 report, which in December 2018 led to its introduction of a new law. I would imagine that the Minister is well aware of the recent report from the Chief Victims Advisor to the New Zealand Government to the Centre for Women’s Justice, which notes that in the first year after the offence was brought in, there were 2,000 charges—most occurring in a domestic violence context. A calculation has been made that, comparing our populations, that means in the first year we could see 26,400 charges in the UK. Of course, no two countries are exactly comparable, but I think that rough comparison tells you that if we delay introducing this charge, there will be thousands and thousands of women who will not have the protection of the law who should and could have the protection of the law if it is included in this Bill. It is very good to hear that the Government are listening on this issue, but the case for action now is overwhelming. I commend Amendment 137, in particular, to your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Baroness Featherstone Baroness Featherstone Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I greatly support Amendment 137 and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for such a powerful and comprehensive introduction, thus making it necessary for me to make only a few brief remarks. During my time at the Home Office, I remember a particular incident that demonstrates the attitudes at play in the issues before us.

In 2014 a so-called pick-up artist, Julien Blanc, was due to visit the United Kingdom giving lectures to men on how to successfully pick up women and get them into bed. On Twitter, the photo he used to advertise his tour showed Blanc with his hand around the throats of women. He then tweeted the photo with the hashtag #ChokingGirlsAroundTheWorld.

I spoke out, as my responsibility was for tackling violence against women and girls, to say how concerned I was by the sexist and abhorrent statements Julien Blanc had made about women and that if he was allowed to perform in the United Kingdom, I had no doubt cases of violence and intimidation of women would follow, because his thesis was that physical aggression made you more attractive as a man and would give you more success and more sex. Someone who, in my view, wishes to incite sexual assault should not be granted a visa.

I simply use this as an example of the mindset that is out there that illustrates how women are in jeopardy. In days gone by, that mindset echoed down the corridors of our judicial system; to an extent, it still does so, because we are debating it today. It is part of the history of women being blamed for their own rape. Not that long ago, a woman’s previous sexual history was used to exonerate a male rapist. There is a long tradition in matters sexual to blame the woman for her own downfall: she wore a short skirt or a low top; she was asking for it, and so on. It put the onus for male behaviour on to the woman.

Men often use non-fatal strangulation as a control mechanism or say that their partner consented to it or wanted it. Non-fatal strangulation is a crime in its own right, so it should have an amendment in its own right. It is great that the Government clearly acknowledge the need for this to become law. They tell us they will bring it forward in another Bill, but the Domestic Abuse Bill is exactly the right place for it because of that very close connection between strangulation and domestic abuse. As has been said, non-fatal strangulation often ends in fatal strangulation. We know that, where there is domestic abuse, any strangulation increases the odds of murder sevenfold. There is a clear path from escalating violence to homicide, with non-fatal strangulation as the final step before murder.

The chief executive of the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention in the USA said,

“Statistically, we know that once the hands are on the neck, the very next step is homicide ... They don’t go backwards.”

We cannot consent to this.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour 7:45, 3 February 2021

My Lords, like other noble Lords I pay warm tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove, Lady Wilcox, Lady Meacher, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for their tremendous campaign to deal with this abhorrent crime. It is so pleasing to know that the Government have agreed to put this offence on to the statute book.

I cannot really add to the extraordinary speeches we have heard tonight but I give my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in proposing why this Bill—as opposed to the police and sentencing Bill—is the right vehicle for this offence. We have heard in this debate and at Second Reading about the issues facing the police; the problems they have experienced in giving the right attention to non-fatal strangulation and, subsequently, the undercharging of the offence. Surely then, if we want to change this around, it is better for this new offence to be part of a cohesive package of measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill. When the Bill is enacted—as it will be in a few weeks’ time—accompanying the rollout of the new legislation will be a package of training and support measures, so that people in the field are prepared for it. It also makes sense for the police that it is dealt with as a cohesive package of measures.

The third reason why it should be in this Bill is the one spelled out by my noble friend Lady Crawley: we are dealing with an abhorrent crime. This Bill, with its huge support around this House and in the other place, will be law in a matter of weeks. Why wait for a new Bill, which would take months to come through and be enacted? Ministers have shown that they are listening. It is much appreciated. I hope they will listen to our arguments that this Bill is the right vehicle.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I too welcome these amendments. However, if this law is going to be passed it should be accompanied by clear advice for the young. Having been guided around TikTok by a young, adult female, there seems to be something of a fashion for strangulation among young women. They say, “I like this”; they say that a boy who will not do it is a pussy, not sexy enough, not interesting enough and not man enough to do what the girl wants. Under those conditions, it is really important that the Government issue clear, unambiguous and easily found advice on the consequences that the introduction of this amendment would have for that sort of activity. I would be grateful if my noble friend would let me know what the Government’s intentions are in this regard, in writing if not this evening.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, the Committee has heard some extremely powerful and focused speeches this evening. I add my voice to those commending the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the signatories of these amendments, and give my support to Amendment 137. Given what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has just said, I hope that the online harms Bill will deal with social media outlets that perpetrate the kind of messages that he enunciated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and all those who have spoken, have done so with clarity and unusual brevity for the hybrid House; I will try to emulate that. I have two things to say. First, women police officers who have spoken to me are crying out for this focused and clear piece of legislation, as enunciated in Amendment 137. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said, they do not want a tick-box approach. They want to change the relevant form—124D—to be able to obtain the Crown Prosecution Service’s direction to take those who are perpetrating this crime through to a successful criminal prosecution. As has been said so often this evening, this is clearly about domestic abuse.

Secondly, why should this Bill be the vehicle to take this forward? There are two reasons. One is that it is self-evident from everything that has been said, the briefings that have been received and offline discussions, that everyone accepts that this legislation is needed and is needed now. There is no reason whatever to delay until another criminal justice or sentencing Bill which may take its turn after a forthcoming Queen’s Speech, somewhere down the line, where this amendment would have to be moved all over again. We would have to go through all the same campaigning, representations and speeches to gain something that the Government themselves have thankfully conceded is a necessary improvement to the law.

I have one plea for the Minister. He has taken to this House like a duck to water, but there is one lesson that those of us who have been around in politics know all too well: you do not ask your own colleagues in another House to vote down something that they know is eminently sensible and required, in some vain hope that they will forgive you for not having done it as quickly and effectively as possible because someone in the legislative committee of government—it changes its name from time to time—has decided that they do not want to have any further substantive amendments to the Bill. We all know that this would be arrant nonsense: the Minister knows it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has been extremely helpful on this, knows it. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in his erudite speech, indicated that even the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has changed his mind since Second Reading. I am glad if he has, because I was going to refer him to the excellent Second Reading speech by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, about his experiences in 1975.

All of us can coalesce and praise the Government and applaud the campaigners, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for what is tonight a unified approach to dealing with a horrendous crime, which has led to so many deaths and can be stopped from doing so in the future by a single agreement by government Ministers.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

My Lords, I speak briefly in support of Amendments 137 and 138, especially Amendment 137. It has been introduced extremely powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I do not think that any of us would be here at this stage of the evening, late in the Bill, if we were not absolutely convinced of the importance of a stand-alone offence of non-fatal strangulation, and of course the Government also recognise this.

Perhaps we could pause briefly to pay tribute to, first, those victims of domestic violence—particularly those affected by non-fatal strangulation—and their bravery in coming forward, to the campaigning groups that have been willing to take up the issue on their behalf, and to the parliamentarians, both in the other House and in this place, who have been willing to respond to it. In a dark time, it is good to celebrate the fact that something is working in our democracy in this kind of way.

The key issue this evening for the Government to face is not whether there should be such a stand-alone offence—I think everyone is convinced of that now—but whether or not it should be in this Bill. It seems to me that the Minister has to face two real questions put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and also very powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others. First, if 80% of non-fatal strangulations take place in the context of domestic violence, is there any reason at all why it should not be in this Bill? That is where it belongs. Secondly, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and many others as well, the police are crying out for something clear and associated with this Bill, because it will both raise awareness of this terrible form of cruelty and ensure that there is appropriate training in order to help the police to recognise it.

I very much hope that, when the Minister comes to respond, he will be able to look at these two issues in particular and agree that there is a proper place for this in the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—and other noble Lords, but particularly she—on her determination and her excellent speech in explaining the horrific nature of this crime and its repercussions. Like many noble Lords, I was delighted to receive a letter from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, regarding the Government’s willingness to introduce a new offence of non-fatal strangulation on to the statute book as soon as possible, albeit not within this Bill.

I had thought that the Minister would be at the Dispatch Box this evening, so I am going to put a number of questions to the noble Lord, which I hope he will do his best to answer, although of course he cannot stand in the Minister’s shoes. Can he tell us what the Minister meant by

“a commitment to consider a new offence of non-fatal strangulation”?

Are the Government going to introduce one or are they not? Something a little bit definite would be very much appreciated. Could the noble Lord elaborate on what she meant by making the offence “proportionate”? She spoke of ensuring that more convictions can be achieved, but can he please give any indication of what this might look like?

Of the two amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and others, it was good to be able to understand why she tabled a general offence and an offence where the victim and perpetrator were personally connected as defined in the Bill. One can see the difference between the two immediately.

In Amendment 137, which seems to have attracted the most favour from supporters of these amendments, one would construe that this offence could be used in a way to prosecute individuals who had threatened with a view to a specific outcome—for example, to silence a witness or achieve compliance in a criminal act, as well as the intimidation of women and the “rough sex” defence so convincingly squashed in the Bill. In Amendment 138, where the victim and perpetrator are personally connected, it is a much more sinister, calculated and long-term offence. Both are important. Can the Minister tell the House whether both offences will be introduced, whether they will be treated differently in law and whether the personally connected offence will attract a potentially higher tariff? I apologise for bombarding him with questions, but can he give the House an idea? If this offence is not to come in this Bill, what legislation do the Government have in mind to introduce it, and, realistically, how soon can this come about?

If the introduction of this new offence is anywhere as effective as in New Zealand, as has already been described by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, it will be transformational in terms of reporting and police response. At present in the UK, this cruel and controlling practice is usually prosecuted—when it is prosecuted at all—under the heading of “common assault”, which does not even start to get near the severity of the offence. As one noble Lord recently said of the arresting policeman for this new offence, “It’ll give him something to hang his hat on”.

Very soon the game of so many abusers will be up, and it cannot come soon enough. I join all the other speakers to ask why this offence cannot be put in this Bill. How many women does the Minister think will die if the Government wait for another Bill to come along?

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 8:00, 3 February 2021

My Lords, first and foremost, I offer my sincere thanks to my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Wilcox, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for the clear case they have submitted today before the Committee on why the offence of non-fatal strangulation is necessary. All the matters that we have discussed today are important, but this may well be the most important. In that context, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not acknowledge each of the contributions individually, both because of time and because, if I may say, many of the contributions were to the same effect. I will seek to respond to the substantive points made without always a personal reference; I hope I will be forgiven for that.

I must, however, make a personal reference to my noble friend Lady Newlove. I join with others in paying sincere tribute to her for the way in which she has promoted this issue. She explained how non-fatal strangulation can be terrifying and the effects long lasting. As the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, said, it is often used as a method of control and, to adopt the phraseology of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, there is a real and visceral effect. I also mention in particular the personal and very moving speech by my noble friend Lady Bertin, with her mention of some circumstances very close to her.

As noble Lords will have noted, there are two amendments on non-fatal strangulation before the Committee. Amendment 137 would have general application: it would apply to all cases where non-fatal strangulation or suffocation has occurred, including cases where non-fatal strangulation or suffocation featured as a factor during a domestic abuse incident. By contrast, Amendment 138 creates the same offence, but the application is limited to cases of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation where this occurs in a domestic abuse context. The maximum penalty for the new offence in each proposed clause is the same—that is, on conviction or indictment, seven years’ imprisonment or a fine, or both.

I am aware that the proposal to create a stand-alone non-fatal strangulation offence stems from campaigns conducted last year by the Centre for Women’s Justice and We Can’t Consent to This. Specific clauses to create a new offence were tabled in another place, although they were different to those before us today. Those proposed clauses were, however, withdrawn on Report in the other place and were not put to a vote.

Before setting out the Government’s position on this matter, let me start by saying that we entirely sympathise with and fully understand the strength of feeling. We unequivocally support the intention behind these amendments and have given a firm commitment to legislate for a new offence of non-fatal strangulation. I hope that, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London explained, this will indeed lead to a reduction in the appalling details that we may have to hear in the future. In answer to my noble friend Lady Redfern, that would be a stand-alone offence.

Several contributors have mentioned the position in other jurisdictions. It is right to say that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and several states in the USA have created a non-fatal strangulation offence. Those offences have been cited by the two groups that I mentioned as offering a basis on which any new offence in England and Wales could be modelled. Those stand-alone offences, however, differ across those jurisdictions. Some apply widely but are dependent on certain factors being met, such as the victim not giving consent, or the act causing them to lose consciousness. Other variations of the offences are narrower in scope, in that they are restricted to instances of strangulation that occur in a domestic abuse context. Those offences are not without criticism. Some people claim that they are too broad and can capture behaviour that is not intended to harm and should not be criminalised.

It is also worth pointing out that the offences in those jurisdictions have not been placed on the statute book without significant prior review to assess their impacts on other areas of law. In addition, most of those legislative measures tend to be accompanied by a package of non-legislative measures—for example, programmes for seeking to change perpetrator behaviour, toolkits for the police to assist in identifying non-fatal strangulation cases and guidance for agencies to support victims of non-fatal strangulation.

I also draw the attention of the Committee to the current law and how non-fatal strangulation is currently captured. Such behaviour can be captured, depending on the seriousness of the crime, under offences ranging from common assault and battery to attempted murder. However, in addition to those offences, there are others that can cover non-fatal strangulation and suffocation. For example, it can be part of a pattern of behaviour amounting to an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Additionally, a specific offence under Section 21 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 makes it an offence to attempt to choke, suffocate or strangle any person, or to choke, suffocate or strangle a person in an attempt to render that person insensible, unconscious or incapable of resistance. That offence also requires there to be an intention by the perpetrator to commit another indictable offence.

It is that range of offences that initially led the Government to believe that the law was sufficient in covering the diverse circumstances and levels of seriousness that may be involved in non-fatal strangulation cases. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, set out, one would not want to create a stand-alone offence if it were not necessary to do so. However, we have now been persuaded that this may not be the case.

We are also aware of claims of evidential difficulties in prosecuting any allegation of strangulation, particularly if there is no—or insufficient—evidence of injury, not even reddening or minor bruising to the skin. Further, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out in relation to the Section 21 offence, there is the additional requirement for evidence that another indictable offence had been intended, and that may create difficulties.

Our concern had been that the same difficulties would apply to any new offence, as there would still be a requirement for proof beyond reasonable doubt that a serious offence was intended. We have also been concerned about the risks associated with creating a new offence and that it could limit the circumstances covered and create additional evidential burdens when compared with existing offences.

More importantly, as was pointed out by a number of contributors, non-fatal strangulation is relevant to and found in, but plainly not limited to, domestic abuse circumstances. Although I understand and accept that it is more likely to occur in a domestic abuse setting, it is nevertheless the Government’s position to ensure that if we create a new criminal offence, it applies equally to all parts of society, does not create any loopholes, or conflict or impact on other parts of the legal framework.

I turn now to the detail of the amendments: as drafted, both are deficient and could not be accepted by the Government. Importantly, both amendments seek to create a new offence to criminalise conduct that is already unlawful. In addition, the proposed maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment for conviction or indictment is problematic—the level of the penalty needs careful consideration. Our main concern here is that seven years exceeds the maximum penalty for serious offences such as GBH, when the injury caused by non-fatal strangulation may be significantly less than the injuries that amount to GBH.

There are other significant problems. The amendments do not deal with the element of consent, do not consider any exemptions and do not provide explanation of how they would work with, and alongside, the current legal framework. The amendments are also limited to a person’s breathing, or blood circulation, or both, being impeded manually—by hand or through the use of an aid. We are, however, aware of offences of this nature where a person’s breath or blood circulation has been impeded in other ways, such as the use of other body parts—a knee placed hard upon a neck, for example—or, simply, using bodyweight.

As noble Lords will have seen in the media over the weekend of 9-10 January, the Government have now committed to creating a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, for which the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, characteristically generously, was thanking Ministers. It will be important, however, to ensure that any new offence is proportionate—I hear the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and I will come back to it—allows for more prosecutions to be brought and for convictions to be secured. There is a number of legal and technical issues to be addressed for this to be achieved that are not addressed by the amendments as currently tabled.

The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, as has been said, rightly pointed to some of these issues on Second Reading, and we should not underestimate the challenges of getting this right. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for passing on the later comments from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I can say, particularly given his reference to Professor David Ormerod, that officials have already taken up the offer of meeting the learned professor. They have had initial discussions with him and will continue to have such discussions, which I am sure will be extremely useful.

As I am sure noble Lords will agree, it is important for any new offence to work in practice and not pose difficulties for other parts of the law. In creating any new offence of non-fatal strangulation, the Government will have to consider several factors. Let me set out just four. First, the Government will have to consider whether the behaviour should be captured through a single offence or through two offences to capture lower-level and more serious cases of non-fatal strangulation. Secondly, we have to define the term “strangulation and suffocation,” and consider whether any terminology about serious harm requires definition. Thirdly, although I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, we have to consider the issue of consent—when consent becomes invalid is a notoriously thorny legal issue. Fourthly, we have to consider the application of public policy exemptions, such as for some sports or medical treatments.

The Government are therefore looking at these issues, which may take some time to resolve, but we intend to introduce a new offence at the earliest opportunity. I have been pressed on timing by Members of the Committee—I will not list them all, for which I apologise. The fact that I am a good listener—I hope—does not mean that I do not remain a careful lawyer. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, was kind enough to say that I had taken to this House like a duck to water. I still feel that I am dipping my toe very gingerly into water which is sometimes freezing. However, I heard his point about the political realities most clearly. He can be assured that I have that firmly in my mind.

We will do our very best to achieve this outcome in the Bill but, until we have made further progress with the drafting, I cannot give an absolute commitment to bringing forward a government amendment at the next stage. However, I give a firm commitment that we will do our very best. In response to the points that were put to me and summarised on behalf of many noble Lords by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth—why not this Bill, if the majority of cases are of domestic abuse?—as I said, we will do our best to bring this amendment forward at the earliest opportunity. As he said, in so far as the police are crying out for something clear, again we do not have to be convinced of the importance of the point.

Turning to the questions put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, I understand it to be an infallible rule of this House that all questions are asked of the Minister by the last speaker. She is quite right that I do not stand in the shoes of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams—no one can stand in her shoes—but allow me to try answering the four questions. First, I hope I have already made absolutely clear what we mean by “commitment to consider”. Secondly, on what we mean by “proportionate”, I refer the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, back to my comment on thinking about the appropriate penalty for the offence when read against penalties for other offences. Thirdly, I hope I have dealt already with whether it would be limited to cases of domestic abuse, and, fourthly, on what other legislation could be used, there are several putative legislative vehicles, but I have already said that we will do our very best to introduce a new offence at the earliest opportunity.

Finally, in response to the point put to me by my noble friend Lord Lucas on guidance, I say that there is always police guidance when a new offence is introduced. So far as public guidance is concerned, he raises an interesting point. We will consider how best to address that. If he can leave that with me, we will give it further thought.

I am conscious that I have not been able to go quite as far as my noble friend Lady Newlove and other Members of the Committee would like this evening. I hope that she will bear with me and with the Government. I will keep her informed and updated on progress. In light of what I have said this evening in the clearest terms that I can at this stage from the Dispatch Box, I hope that she is content to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:15, 3 February 2021

My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in support of these amendments. It has been quite emotional listening, and I am very grateful for the praise, but it goes to the great team behind me. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Bertin for her contribution, which was quite personal. As someone who has gone through the criminal justice system and who knows what it feels like to speak from the heart, I thank her.

I was very grateful to the Minister for his winding-up speech and his answers to questions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that he seems to be a very good listener, and I am very grateful for that, but when one listens to judgments, which I have done in the appeal court, one always needs to pay attention to the last few paragraphs. I am a little disappointed because I heard words that seem to go far away from what the amendment seeks to do in this important Domestic Abuse Bill. The Minister suggested that he had concerns that seven years’ imprisonment exceeded the maximum penalty for GBH. The amendment suggests seven years as a maximum as that is what the Secretary of State for Justice said would be appropriate. It is the maximum for the offence, given its coercion and control elements, and it may well be appropriate to have a higher maximum penalty than for grievous bodily harm.

The amendment covers instances of putting a knee on a person’s throat, as it covers applying pressure to a person’s throat. These examples demonstrate that we have thought very carefully about these amendments. I agree that we can work together and look at the right amendments, but I feel that we are now looking at non-fatal strangulation being placed further down the legislation programme in a police and sentencing Bill. The commitment is a very grey area because it can go on for as long as a piece of string. I ask noble Lords to bear with me as I am not a lawyer, so I do not speak in that terminology. I come from passion and from going through the system and listening to victims and survivors of this horrendous crime.

I have listened to the Minister. He is a good listener and a careful lawyer; that is what the survivors of this horrendous, repugnant offence want him to be. I ask the Government to place non-fatal strangulation in the correct Bill—and the correct Bill is the Domestic Abuse Bill. I do not want any more blood on my hands knowing that non-fatal strangulation is going to have to wait to go into another Bill. How will the Government face families who have lost a loved one when strangulation has been a pattern in a relationship? At this stage I will withdraw the amendment but, if we can make more progress before the next stage, it would be welcome. I draw attention to the fact that I may test the opinion of House on Report, because this matter has to sit in the Domestic Abuse Bill, for all the survivors listening to this debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 137 withdrawn.

Amendment 138 not moved.

Clauses 66 to 68 agreed.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, it has been agreed that a short break of 15 minutes would be welcome.

Sitting suspended.

Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 8:38, 3 February 2021

My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 139. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate, and anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.