Amendment 149

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 8th February 2021.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 8:30 pm, 8th February 2021

My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 149, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for the reasons that she has set out so cogently.

Everyone, including the Government, recognises that post-separation economic abuse exists and is serious. Its full seriousness has been well documented by Surviving Economic Abuse, to whose work I also pay warm tribute. Along with others, I drew attention to this evidence at Second Reading, and it has been very ably set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

It can be summarised very briefly in two points. First, 95% of abused women experience economic abuse, as a result of which 60% of abused women are left in debt. Secondly, one in four abused women continues to experience economic abuse even after they have left their abuser. Economic abuse does not require physical proximity: it continues and/or escalates after a couple separates. It can also begin after the separation, when an abuser’s opportunity to continue other forms of controlling and coercive behaviour has been removed and when the only way left is through access to their former partner’s resources.

Vivid examples of the ways in which economic abuse can continue, escalate or even begin, as a form of coercive control, have been given by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and there is no need to repeat them. In short, as one abused woman put it:

“He can’t physically get me, he can’t emotionally hurt me, and yet still, economically he can cripple me.”

However, despite this overwhelming evidence, the Government have, up to now, resisted having post-separation economic abuse in the Bill, on the grounds that such abuse can be captured by a harassment or stalking order—and this is indeed theoretically possible.

However, if you told someone you happened to meet in the street that this was what was being proposed by the Government, they would find it very strange indeed. Stalking brings to mind something quite different from economic abuse. As SEA has rightly put it:

“Clear labelling is the primary function of the criminal law—clarity is essential in order for the criminal law to fulfil its preventative function.”

If people are asked to abide by the law, they need to be clear what it says. As the person in the street would say, words should mean what they say. As such, it is quite clear that, from the point of view of clarity for public order and the public good, we need to include this in the Bill.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, it is entirely possible that judicial resistance to convicting a defendant of stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act where there is evidence of economic abuse but not of stalking would mean that it simply would not go through. Quite simply, we should call things by their proper name. I very much hope that the Government continue to reflect on this issue and that they will see that it makes total sense to include this amendment in the Bill, where it properly belongs.