Amendment 149

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 8th February 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative 9:00 pm, 8th February 2021

My Lords, I support Amendment 149, as so excellently moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who I warmly congratulate on all her work in this area. Amendment 149 relates to the abuse perpetrated after people have separated. I too thank Surviving Economic Abuse for its excellent work and briefing.

Economic abuse after separation can particularly affect older women, many of whom have been financially dependent on a partner who traditionally managed the family’s finances and then, after they have stopped living together, continues to try to withhold money or run up debts in the woman’s name, without her realising it in time. I also support Amendment 157, spoken to so well by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, which relates to the problem of abuse suffered by older people generally. They can suffer many different types of abuse. Further, I add my support to Amendment 171, which looks at carers and the abuse that can be perpetrated against elderly or disabled victims; this need to be covered as well.

As my noble friend Lord Cormack has said, the Domestic Abuse Bill is a ground-breaking, landmark piece of legislation. It contains some important measures to ensure that the statutory definition of domestic abuse is really wide-ranging. Amendment 149 seeks to ensure that this legislation is clearly consistent with other legislation. The Domestic Abuse Bill is an ideal avenue to address inconsistency with the Serious Crime Act 2015, and to extend the current offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in Section 6 of that Act to ensure that it covers abuse post separation.

Currently, Section 76 limits this offence to those situations where the perpetrator and victim are either in an intimate relationship with each other or living together as either members of the same family or having previously been an intimate relationship. Under the 2015 Act, the two people have to meet the definition of being personally connected, but this would exclude two individuals who are no longer in an intimate relationship or living together.

Without the changes in these amendments, abusive behaviours such as economic abuse by one partner towards the other cannot necessarily fall within the existing offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. This is a crucial gap in the law, which Amendment 149 seeks to close by unequivocally making the 2015 Act and the definitions in this Bill consistent, so that abuse perpetrated when people are not living together can still be counted as a criminal offence. Indeed, if this amendment is accepted, my own Amendment 168, debated on the first day in Committee, will automatically be covered.

Existing legislation on stalking and harassment is not suitable to address post-separation abuse, and I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify to the Committee that the Government support the aims of this amendment and, if they do not accept these words, may come forward with their own wording on Report that can ensure that the coercive control offence will be brought into the criminal law in line with the statutory definition of domestic abuse to remove the current anomaly, so that victims need wait no longer for this much-needed protection. Whether this is about controlling or coercive behaviour, alienating behaviour or other forms of abuse, the criminal law will then be able to catch up with the more enlightened understanding of domestic abuse enshrined in the Bill.