Amendment 17

Domestic Abuse Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 10th March 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Williams of Trafford:

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

17: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—“Duty to report on domestic abuse services in England(1) The Commissioner must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report under section 8 on—(a) the need for domestic abuse services in England, and(b) the provision of such services. (2) But subsection (1) does not require the Commissioner to report on the need for, or provision of, services provided to people who reside in relevant accommodation (within the meaning of section 55(2)).(3) In subsection (1)—“domestic abuse services” means any advice, advocacy or counselling services provided, in relation to domestic abuse, to victims of domestic abuse or their children;“the relevant period” means the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force (but see subsection (4)).(4) The Secretary of State, with the agreement of the Commissioner, may by regulations extend the relevant period for a further period of up to 6 months.(5) The power conferred by subsection (4) may be exercised only once.”Member’s explanatory statementThis new Clause requires the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to prepare and publish a report on the need for certain domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new Clause comes into force.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, this group of amendments brings us back to the provision of community-based support for victims of domestic abuse and their children. I share the ambition of my noble friend Lord Polak, the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Rosser, and all noble Lords to ensure that domestic abuse victims receive the support that they need, regardless of where they reside. The provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, which relate to the provision of support within safe accommodation, are a major step towards meeting that goal.

The issue before us is whether we can and should now be legislating for a parallel duty in respect of community-based support, whether by extending the provisions in Part 4, as Amendment 31 seeks to do, or by making freestanding provision, as in Amendment 85. The Government remain firmly of the view that the necessary groundwork for such legislation has yet to be undertaken and, accordingly, that it would be premature to legislate in this Bill by either method.

I can see the attraction of Amendment 31, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It seemingly accepts the government argument that we do not yet know how we should frame the duty in respect of community-based support, so a regulation-making power affords a mechanism to come back to this once the domestic abuse commissioner has completed her mapping work and the Government have consulted.

Let me make a couple of observations about Amendment 31. First, your Lordships’ House and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee are regularly critical of the Government for coming forward with skeletal delegated powers such as in the amendment. The framework for the provision of safe accommodation support is on the face of the Bill and it is right that any parallel duty in respect of community-based support should also be set out in primary legislation. Secondly, even if the route of delegated legislation was, in principle, an acceptable way forward, until we have developed and consulted on a scheme for that provision of community-based support, we simply do not know how properly to frame a regulation-making power to ensure that we have the necessary vires to give effect to a set of proposals post-consultation. The landscape for the provision of community-based support is more complex than that in respect of safe accommodation- based support, as Amendment 85 recognises, so a power simply to extend the provisions of Part 4 is not, in our view, the right approach.

Amendment 85, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and in Committee by my noble friend, seeks to navigate the complexities of the current provision of community-based support by placing a new duty on local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. This may or may not be the right approach, but I do not think that we are in a position to make that judgement yet. If the duty is to be split three ways, we need to know how the discharge of the duty is to be co-ordinated between the three agencies to ensure that there is not overlapping provision or that support for some victims does not slip through the cracks. In applying the duty across three agencies, Amendment 85 risks creating an environment in which accountability is unclear, presenting challenges for all bodies in ensuring that the necessary services are provided to those who need them.

It is the Government’s clear view that there are no ready-made solutions such that we would be in a position to legislate here and now. We need to better understand the existing landscape and the gap in provision, which is why the domestic abuse commissioner’s mapping work is so vital. We need to draw on the evidence provided by that work and other sources, consult widely and then come forward with proposals that command widespread support and, most importantly, deliver the necessary support in the most effective and efficient way possible.

As part of this work, we need properly to understand the resource implications of any new duty. The £125 million of new money that we have provided to fund the duty in Part 4 shows both the level of our commitment and the significant cost of any parallel new duty in relation to community-based support. Women’s Aid has suggested that some £220 million is needed. I make no comment on that or the accuracy of that estimate, but it at least demonstrates that Amendments 31 or 85, were either to be passed, would have significant financial implications, which this House should be alive to.

Recognising that the House is reluctant to let this Bill pass without it containing some provision that recognises the problem and provides a pathway to the solution, the Government have brought forward Amendments 17, 20, 22, 24 to 29 and 99. Amendment 17 places a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 of the Bill on the need for community-based domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. As with the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, we have limited this duty to the provision of community-based services in England in recognition of the fact that we are generally dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. The commissioner will be required to deliver a Clause 8 report on this issue within 12 months of commencement and then, by virtue of the provisions in Clause 16, Ministers will be required to respond to any recommendations directed at them within 56 days. This amendment will therefore set out a clear roadmap for the Government to set out definitive proposals for addressing the gap in the provision of community-based support.

Amendments 20, 22 and 24 to 29 address the concerns raised in Committee that the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill may have unintended consequences regarding community-based support that is currently provided or funded by local authorities. I know that my noble friend Lord Polak was particularly concerned about this. As a result of the £125 million funding that we are providing to tier-1 local authorities to support the delivery of Part 4, we think that such concerns are unfounded. However, we recognise that there would be merit in making provision in Part 4 to monitor any unintended impact. These amendments do just that.

The amendments will also ensure that the domestic abuse local partnership boards, provided for in Clause 56, play an active part in such monitoring and that the results are recorded in tier-1 local authorities’ annual reports under Clause 57. These annual reports will feed into the work of the ministerially led national expert steering group, of which the domestic abuse commissioner will be a member, so that the impact, if there is any, of the Part 4 duty on the provision of domestic abuse support to people in the community by local authorities can also be monitored.

The Government are ready to take one further step. I can say that the Government are now committed to consulting on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming victims law consultation. I recognise the concerns about missing the legislative bus and the suspicion—it is unfounded—that the Government will kick this into the long grass. The government amendments that I have outlined will ensure that that does not happen, as will our commitment to consult on a victims law later this summer.

As to the concerns that this is all too far off and victims need support now, there is already significant provision. Since 2014, Ministry of Justice funding has helped police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime within their local areas, addressing the specific local needs identified within their communities. This core grant will be around £69 million in 2021-22, which includes an uplift for child sexual abuse services. Additionally, the Government have committed a further £40 million, which includes £9.7 million for domestic abuse community-based services commissioned by PCCs for the coming year, as well as £8 million for independent domestic violence advisers, the support of which will be felt mostly in the community. This does not take account of support provided by local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and others. It may not be enough, but these sums demonstrate the significant levels of community-based support that are already available for domestic abuse victims and their children, and for other victims of crime.

I am very much looking forward to hearing the other contributions to the debate on these amendments. I reiterate my thanks to my noble friends Lord Polak and Lady Sanderson, who are in the Chamber now, and to other noble Lords who have engaged so constructively on this. I hope that what I have said today is evidence of our intent and that the House will support this approach. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I welcome the Government’s amendments, but I am not yet convinced they go far enough. As the Minister explained, Part 4 places a duty on local authorities in England to deliver support to victims, including children, in accommodation-based services such as refuges. There is a risk though that, as the duty applies only to accommodation-based services, it could have the unintended consequence of diverting funding from community-based services to ensure the duty is met. It would indeed be a perverse incentive, resulting in victims having only one option left if they need support in accommodation-based services. Most victims— around 70%—currently remain at home or in the wider community, accessing community-based support. This can be through independent domestic violence advisers, outreach support and child specialist workers, helplines and perpetrator programmes, as well as specialist local agencies offering drop-in services for children.

As SafeLives commented:

“We have very serious concerns that, while well intended, the Government’s duty will push Local Authorities into reducing, rather than sustaining, vital services, leaving more vulnerable people in abusive situations … We know the financial pressure that Local Authorities are under, and a number have said that they can now only provide minimum requirements … and nothing further.”

The domestic abuse commissioner has similar fears.

The amendments that the Government have laid are clearly welcome in requiring the commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 on the need for community-based domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. It is also good to see that local authorities will be required to publish a strategy under Clause 55 to keep under review any effect of that strategy on community-based support in their area. However, welcome as they are, these amendments do not guarantee the maintenance or enhancement of community services, nor is there any guarantee that, following the commissioner’s review of the landscape of provision, action would then be taken by the Government.

I thought it was telling that the submission we received from the Local Government Association seemed rather lukewarm about these amendments. It said that nothing in the amendments provides long-term or sustained investment in these services.

This morning, the National Audit Office report on local government finance spelled out the financial challenge local authorities face. They will be under significant pressure in the next financial year and are likely to be operating with reduced tax bases and increased service demand as their local communities and businesses recover from the pandemic, and this is likely to go on for a number of years to come.

The NAO survey indicates that 94% of respondents from single tier and county councils, and 81% from district councils, expect to reduce service budgets. Some respondents considered that service users would be affected by their savings plans, due to reduced service levels from cutting staff and other efficiencies that they have to make. In other cases, authorities indicated that specific savings or income-generation measures would have direct and immediate effects on service users.

A key theme from the NAO case study discussions, stakeholder interviews and workshops is the long-lasting impact that the pandemic is likely to have on authorities’ finances. It is little wonder that, with the priority the Bill gives to accommodation-based services, there is real concern that community services will be starved of funds in the future.

My two amendments attempt to deal with the problem. Amendment 30 would give protection to community services. As part of the public sector equality duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, public authorities are required to have

“due regard … in particular, to the need to … take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it”.

Many domestic abuse services are specifically aimed at supporting people with protected characteristics, including women. The Equality and Human Rights Commission stresses the important role played by specialist “by and for” services, run by and for the users and communities they aim to serve. These include community-based services such as outreach, advocacy, information and advice services.

My aim, through Amendment 30, is to support the Government’s objective of inaugurating a more strategic approach to accommodation-based support, while at the same time making sure that local authorities that commission services are not deflected from their equality duty to cater for all the needs arising from protected characteristics. That is what my amendment seeks to do. It does not alter the public sector equality duty, but clarifies the way in which the duty applies to domestic abuse services. It does not touch, let alone conflict with, the Bill’s Clause 55 provisions on accommodation-based services, and it does not depend in any way on the commissioner’s mapping exercise.

My second amendment, Amendment 31, is very much related to the commissioner’s mapping exercise. It would give the Government the ability, through secondary legislation, to extend Part 4 to community services. So if the commissioner finds that local authorities are neglecting community services, a legislative vehicle would be immediately available to do something about it.

I listened with great interest to the Minister when she commented on this. It is very unusual for a Minister to turn down an extension of executive power, which I am very generously urging the House to give her. I confess that I am normally opposed to the extension of such executive powers, but needs must. In a situation where the mapping exercise has not been completed and the financial consequences of it have therefore not been calculated, it seems to me that there is a strong argument to say that the Government need some legislative provision in order to implement a policy in the light of that mapping exercise.

I listened very carefully to the Minister, and it was very helpful when she said that consultation on the victims’ law would be extended to embrace this. Clearly, we could see potential legislation in the future, but it will take time. Local authorities are under huge funding constraints, and I think there is a case for giving ourselves the ability in the Bill to ensure that, if community services are starved of funds as a result of the prioritisation of accommodation-based services, we have immediate levers to step in and deal with it. I hope the Minister will, even at this late hour, consider these amendments sympathetically.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative 1:45 pm, 10th March 2021

My Lords, I was pleased to table my amendment in Committee. I welcomed the debate and the overwhelming support from around the House. In particular, I acknowledge the support of the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby.

I am, perhaps, even more pleased that I have not tabled it again on Report. I am grateful to my noble friend and her ministerial colleagues for giving so much of their time to meet and discuss this; for the amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend; and for confirming the Government’s commitment to address issues around community-based services in a letter to me last Thursday.

We all agree that community-based services are vital in supporting the majority of domestic abuse victims who remain at home. Government amendments to ensure that local authorities monitor and report on the impact of their duties under Part 4 on other service provision, are most welcome, as is the Government’s commitment to consult on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming victims law consultation this summer. These have been welcomed not just by me but in a press release, published under the leadership of Barnardo’s, by the domestic abuse commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, domestic abuse campaigner Charlie Webster, Imran Hussain at Action for Children, the End Violence Against Women coalition, the NSPCC and SafeLives. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on uniting these groups and organisations in welcoming the Government’s commitments. This is an incredibly important step forward in understanding and addressing the provision of community-based domestic abuse services, so that all victims, especially children, will be able to access support, regardless of where they live.

I hope the consultation will take a holistic approach to tackling domestic abuse, carefully considering what is needed to support children and adults, as well as programmes to tackle the behaviour of perpetrators and break the cycle of domestic abuse. I am certain that my noble friend the Minister and her colleagues, working with the professional and deeply impressive domestic abuse commissioner—who I thank for her advice—will place community-based services on the same statutory footing as accommodation-based services. I appeal for her office to be properly and adequately funded.

Again, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her time and for the helpful letter she sent me. I am pleased to support the amendments in her name. I look forward to continuing to work with her and with all noble Lords as this important Bill becomes law.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, I shall be extremely brief, not least because of the happy coincidence that the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Polak, have largely said what I was going to say. I thank them. I can now go and have a late lunch.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Polak, I was impressed by the Barnardo’s press release last Thursday, with all the different voices speaking in unison. My own experience of dealing with voluntary organisations over many years is that hell hath no fury like different voluntary organisations in pursuit of similar goals and, in particular, similar pools of funding. Peace seems rather dangerously to have broken out in this case. I hope it will continue.

I thank the Government for listening. It was a bit of a no-brainer with a Bill in which 25% of the accommodation-based services for domestic abuse victims were dealt with but 75% were not. That was an open goal waiting to be filled. I am grateful that the Government have acknowledged this and acted on it.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I took note of the National Audit Office investigation and report into the state of local authority funding. I have observed a variety of individuals in this House—some of whom I have worked in co-operation with—who, for the best of reasons, ceaselessly plead with the Government to put more and more statutory duties on local authorities in a whole variety of different areas. In a sense, this is dangerous because, in a situation where local authorities are under the strains and stresses that they are, piling even more statutory duties or guidance on them runs the risk of mission failure and initiative fatigue. I am very conscious of this. It requires a joined-up approach from the different parts of Her Majesty’s Government.

The Home Office is doing its bit. The Ministry of Justice is going to do what may not come easily to it and talk more openly with the communities department —and vice versa. It was not terribly helpful that the Secretary of State, while acknowledging the councils’ problems, could not resist the political dig of accusing them of poor management. This is a bit rich coming from a national Administration who have spent the amount of money they have on initiatives such as test and trace, or who have presided over the highest number of deaths per million in the world during the current pandemic. Before one starts throwing political missiles at one’s opponents, it does one a lot of good to look in the mirror and have a degree of humility. None of us gets it right all the time.

When the domestic abuse commissioner comes back with her recommendations, I would plead with the various parts of national government and the local authorities to talk to one another, agree, buy into whatever is recommended, and put in place properly thought-through, long-term plans to deliver on this strategy and to fund it properly.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, government Amendment 17 requires the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report on

“the need for domestic abuse services in England, and … the provision of such services.”

The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new clause comes into force.

Other government amendments require local authorities to keep under review the impact of the duty to provide accommodation-based services on their provision of other domestic abuse services in the community.

Amendment 30, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, makes it clear that the public authority may not prioritise accommodation-based support services for persons with a protected characteristic over other support services for the same person, except in so far as those persons have a greater need for accommodation-based services than for other support services.

Amendment 31 would give the Secretary of State power through regulations to extend the duty in Part 4 to include community services, instead of just accommodation-based services. I agree with the points made and the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in his powerful contribution.

Amendments 85 and 86 in my name are the community service amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Polak, re-tabled. We tabled them pending sight of the Government’s specific commitments and amendments. I will not move them. Like others in the House and outside, we welcome the Government’s amendments and commitment to consult on community-based services as part of the consultation on the victims law. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and to other noble Lords, as well as to all the organisations which have worked on this issue. I also pay tribute to the shadow Minister in the Commons, Jess Phillips, who pursued the proper provision for community-based services with some vigour and determination during the Bill’s passage through the other House.

We now need to see the Government’s words and commitments translated into real progress and meaningful action. The key to achieving this is for services, victims and perpetrators to be looked at holistically; to see what needs to be done in the round to prevent abuse, and to support victims who experience it. This also means providing services for children who are victims, for older victims and for perpetrators, as well as ensuring that there are specialist services for black and ethnic minority victims. Healthcare services are also vital.

The government amendments also require local authorities to keep under review the impact of the duty to provide accommodation-based services on their provision of other domestic abuse services in the community. We do not regard the current level of community-based domestic abuse services as sufficient, so I simply register that, if local authorities conclude that carrying out their duty to provide accommodation-based services has no adverse impact on their current provision of other domestic abuse services in the community, we would not regard that as meaning that those community-based services do not need enhancing and extending.

The welcome commitments that the Government have now given will result in meaningful change and improvement for victims of domestic abuse only if the necessary financial and human resources are made available to increase and extend community-based services. I am sure that we will not be the only ones in this Chamber or outside it who will press the Government to ensure that welcome and worthy intentions today are not thwarted by an unwillingness by Government tomorrow to provide the necessary additional resources for the future provision of much-needed and enhanced community-based services.

Photo of Baroness Bertin Baroness Bertin Conservative 2:00 pm, 10th March 2021

My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am greatly relieved that he said what he said—he made some powerful points—but it is right that we back the government amendments. I will speak to that today.

The Bill’s commitment to giving refuges statutory status is vital, but we knew that giving no statutory recognition anywhere in the Bill to community-based services posed a clear risk to inadvertently downgrading their status, which we absolutely had to prevent. I believe that these amendments do that, but I agree that we will all keep a close eye on their execution to check that they genuinely safeguard the status of community services.

I thank the designate domestic abuse commissioner, as well charities such as Barnardo’s and SafeLives and my noble friend Lord Polak, for being so determined and tenacious. I am greatly relieved that these charities have welcomed these amendments. I know that they are satisfied and greatly relieved, but of course we will have to keep a close eye on whether they do the job. I also extend my thanks to my noble friend the Minister. She has given us a lot of time on this issue and genuinely cares about it. I know that she was integral to getting these amendments over the line.

I back other Peers’ calls to make sure that the domestic abuse commissioner’s office has the proper resourcing to carry out these additional responsibilities. Throughout this Bill’s passage, we have been sending her more and more work, so reasonable adjustments should be made. Helping victims to stay in their homes, stemming the abuse before it damages families beyond repair and prevention must be at the heart of our strategy over the coming years. These amendments point to that. I fully support them and urge noble Lords to do the same.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 31 and 85. I underline that domestic abuse services, which I very much support, should include victims being forced into marriage. I particularly have in mind the special needs of those being forced into marriage who are under the age of 18. I know that the Minister is well aware of the points that I am making. I am sorry to keep pressing them, but I want them on the record.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, having listened to other speeches from noble Lords, I realise that the comments that I have prepared are far too mild. I was just going to congratulate everyone who has campaigned and fought for proper provision and thank the Government for working constructively. It is not often that I find myself on the mild end of things. I think that there is now a clear understanding of the need for community services, including supporting survivors of domestic abuse in their own homes. I feel strongly that the abusers should have to leave and not the survivors. The Green group is very supportive of Amendment 85 from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am sure that we will come back to it at another time in another place. In the meantime, well done everyone.

Photo of Baroness Sanderson of Welton Baroness Sanderson of Welton Conservative

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness and her mild comments. I will speak to and welcome Amendments 17, 24 and 28. As we have said many times before, this was already a very good Bill. I thank the Government and particularly my noble friend Lady Williams for the lengths to which she has gone to improve it further. She has been unstinting in her determination to address many of the outstanding issues, always putting the victims’ needs first. With these amendments, I believe that the Government have addressed the potential unintended consequences of a two-tier system.

The Government are wary of specifying what the independent commissioner should and should not report on, and I agree with them. The Minister has also made the point that the commissioner is already undertaking the relevant mapping exercise. None the less, Amendment 17 sends a signal about the importance of community-based services. Together with the requirement for local authorities to assess the impact of the duty under Part 4 and the further requirement, via Amendment 28, for local partnership boards to advise on other local authority support, I believe that this provides a robust and, importantly, ongoing mechanism and structure for ensuring that community-based services are not adversely affected by the duty.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to consult on the provision of community-based services and congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak on all the work that he has done in this area. I also welcome the amazing number of charities and stakeholders that have welcomed these amendments. As I have said before, I understand why the Government cannot extend the duty in this Bill. On this issue and so many others, they have come forward with significant changes. They have moved where they can and altered their position in areas where we thought that they would not.

I realise that I am still relatively new to this House. I also realise that no Bill will ever be perfect and that noble Lords will fight for the changes that they think are right, but this Bill has cross-party support, and for very good reason. It will create a genuine step change in the way we tackle domestic abuse. It has already raised so much awareness. Someone who works on the front line said to me on seeing the raft of government amendments:

“You should see the amazing survivor messages I’m seeing this morning. I’m quite emotional seeing their excitement. We feel the tide is turning.”

The tide is turning but, as we all know, we have only a limited period to get this Bill through. I believe it is now up to us to bid it safe passage.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I call the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock. No? Perhaps we should hear from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, since she is with us.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of my noble friend the Minister and congratulate her on bringing forward this group of amendments. It shows that a serious issue has been raised and the Government have risen to the challenge and addressed it. It is extremely important, for the reasons that others have set out. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak and others on the work that they have done in bringing us to this place.

I will raise one concern with my noble friend the Minister, which was addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and which I think we are all aware of. We are yet to assess the implications of the pandemic and the recent Budget on local government finances. I seek assurance from my noble friend because there is a genuine concern out there. I know that many authorities, such as North Yorkshire and many others in rural areas, prioritise the most vulnerable in society—young people, children and the elderly—but there is concern that their budget and resources are severely stretched. While I welcome the amendments, particularly government Amendment 17 and the others set out by my noble friend, we are entirely dependent on local authorities having the provision to make this happen. Is she entirely convinced that they will have the resources to enable them to do so?

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I should make it clear that the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, has withdrawn from the debate, so we shall not be hearing from her on this occasion. I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff

Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I should declare that I chair the Commission on Alcohol Harm. I added my name to Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Hollins. It is very welcome that the Bill will, for the first time, give local authorities a formal role in the provision of domestic abuse support. The voluntary sector has done a heroic job in protecting survivors, victims and their families, but this vital task should not be left to the voluntary sector alone.

The words of the Minister were welcome, reflecting her deep and sincere commitment to tackling domestic abuse. The government amendments recognise the need to ensure that regulation will meet need and are certainly to be supported. If I heard correctly, some of the additional finance will apply only to England. How will parallel community services be financially supported in Wales? Without that additional funding also coming to Wales, there will be a serious risk that women fleeing abuse will also have to flee Wales to get the support they need.

We must not ignore those outside refuges, some of whom are turned away due to their alcohol and substance-use needs, which makes them ineligible for support from their local authority. However, they still need support. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is needed in addition to the Government’s amendments. It would ensure that the necessary support is available and would support the whole scoping exercise without any discrimination. I really urge the Government to support it.

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated

My Lords, the new statutory duty on local authorities to provide safe accommodation-based services for victims of domestic abuse and their children is widely welcomed, but I am still sympathetic to the ongoing fears that this might mean local authorities simply redistributing funding away from community services in order to meet that statutory need. I welcome these thoughtful amendments and the discussion that focuses on protecting specialist community service provision. While I am still not sure whether this issue should be dealt with through legislation, it is very important that it has come up. I am minded to consider seriously Amendments 30 and 31 in particular.

However, there is one category of specialist services that I am worried the Bill has inadvertently not focused on: women’s domestic abuse services, whether community or accommodation-based, which are under threat. Ironically, council funding does not help. The Bill’s increase in funding and the new legal duty on councils will not resolve this issue. There seems to be some muddled thinking about how councils should deliver specialist services more broadly. I would appreciate it if the Minister would take that into account in this set of amendments or in guidance notes.

I declare a minor interest, in that I am a long-standing columnist for the MJ – for the uninitiated, the Municipal Journal. It has been eye-opening watching councils in recent years trying to negotiate equalities legislation in the context of new political trends such as gender-neutral policies. The Equality Act 2010 clearly protects single-sex exemptions that allow women to have legitimate access to women-only services and spaces: gyms, hospitals, changing rooms and, of course, crucial services such as Rape Crisis, women’s refuges and women’s advice services. The newly launched organisation Sex Matters notes that rules and explanations are now confused and controversies around gender identity mean that organisations can be reluctant to communicate their women-only services clearly, and, when they do, councils can use this against them. This needs to be clarified as we go forward; otherwise, all the good will will be undermined.

One example of the unintended consequence of fudging championing women’s refuges is how councils are interpreting equalities impact assessments. In the drive for more inclusive, non-gendered service provision that caters for the needs of all protected characteristics, women’s refuges are in danger of losing funding for not being inclusive enough.

One recent example that I mentioned in relation to another Bill is the Brighton-based organisation RISE, which has lost a contract worth £5 million over seven years. After 26 years of stalwart work, its existence is now threatened. RISE is predominantly, but not exclusively, a women-for-women service, but the briefing from Brighton & Hove City Council’s bids evaluation team explained that RISE needed to cater more for heterosexual and gay men and specifically address the barring of services experienced by the trans community. The message was clear: that RISE should stop mainly focusing on women victims of domestic abuse. RISE has an LGBTQ domestic abuse casework service and it has co-piloted an LGBTQ refuge. Surely, its women-only services should not need to be anything other than exemplary for women, whether accommodation-based or community-based. However, the council was clear that the contract would not be continued because RISE is primarily a service for women. As Women’s Aid’s Nicki Norman said:

“We are at serious risk of losing our network of refuges run by women for women.”

We should not be naive or disingenuous here. One reason why there is a coy reluctance to demarcate services for women only is the controversies over definitions of a woman, as defined by biological sex. Gender neutrality can become a shield to avoid any accusations of transphobia, and councils can hide behind that. Even this Bill, in its attempts at being gender neutral, seems reluctant to defend or bolster the women’s refuge movement or women’s services in the community, without which, to be honest, the whole issue of domestic abuse would not even be on the political agenda at all.

Perhaps the Minister can just assure us that the Bill will not lead to a new type of procurement of less-specialised service provision or the downgrading of essential services for women, whether accommodation-based or community-based, and that communities will not lose the unparalleled expertise, garnered over decades, of women’s refuges and women’s services in the enthusiasm to hand over funding and procurement to councils. Do not forget some of the risks involved in that.

Photo of The Bishop of Gloucester The Bishop of Gloucester Bishop 2:15 pm, 10th March 2021

My Lords, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who regrets that she cannot be here today, was pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Polak, when his amendment on specialist and community-based services was discussed in Committee. We really warmly welcome the government amendments, which represent significant improvements on the Bill. All that being said, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, introduced Amendment 85 so that we might just press a little further. I do not want to repeat what other noble Lords have said, so I will make just a few brief comments.

We have heard repeatedly in debates in this House of the value of specialist and community-based services which allow survivors to remain in their homes and retain their community, their faith links and their workplaces and to keep children in their schools. Finding a long-term solution, as others have said, to supporting these services is essential. With colleagues on the Bishops’ Bench, I look forward to engaging with the victims’ law consultation and to reviewing the promised Clause 8 report from the domestic abuse commissioner to Parliament on the provision of, and need for, community-based support services.

I look forward to the excellent intentions being translated into provision of what is much needed.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will refer to Amendments 20, 22, 24 and 29.

I understand that the Minister has committed to consulting on community-based domestic abuse services as part of the victim’s law consultation this summer; that is extremely welcome. I thank the Government for this, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for his commitment to this issue. I also thank the Minister, who rightly responded to concerns raised by Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as the vice-president of that charity—and many other charities and organisations representing adult and child victims. As we know, children are often the hidden victims of domestic abuse. Can the Minister confirm that a statutory duty to deliver community-based services is a possible outcome to ensure that the majority of victims are supported in future?

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo.

Photo of Baroness Primarolo Baroness Primarolo Labour

My Lords, like the other speakers this afternoon, I welcome the Government’s amendments. However, I remain concerned about two matters, to which I will speak briefly; I will also ask the Minister to try to assure the House on them.

Many speakers have mentioned my first concern. Although having a statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation is welcome, if we do not deal with the question of community-based services, there is—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said—a huge danger of money being transferred into the provision of the accommodation and away from such services. The Minister, who has done an excellent job on this Bill, has not explained clearly to the House why Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Lord cannot be accepted so as to protect these services in the interim while the commissioner undertakes her mapping exercise. If she is not prepared to accept that amendment, will she explain to the House what steps the Government will take to protect community-based services in the period when the mapping will be undertaken?

The second area that I want to refer to briefly is that of joint commissioning and the work being done in localities to provide these valuable services. The Minister touched on the lack of clarity over what this meant. I made inquiries of these services in Gloucestershire, a large county where localities have been undertaking community-based commissioning since 2013; this involves working across local authorities, health authorities, the police and crime commissioner and other services. The joint commissioning model has enabled them to offer far more women help than would be possible under an accommodation-based offer only. The service, they tell me, has taken referrals for 6,000 women in the past year, whereas an accommodation-based model would not have been able to deal with more than around 100 a year.

When we understand this perspective of the importance of community-based services and how they support victims and their families, it is incumbent on the Minister to explain why she is not prepared to take the route of Amendment 85. In Gloucestershire, the emphasis is on safely keeping victims in their homes, allowing them to maintain family and community networks and avoid isolation, and enabling their children to stay connected to their school friends. These are clear objectives that can be distilled in demonstrating what a community-based model looks like. The services also offer places of safety through a scheme in which they provide safe accommodation in the form of individual properties for victims and their families, who can access this accommodation alongside outreach support.

We are talking about specialist services that are there to support victims of domestic abuse aged 16 and over. They provide help desks, phone lines, specialist group work and independent domestic violence advisers to support victims in the courts. They provide independent advisers to support young people and encourage them to confront the perpetrators and the type of behaviour that is developing. They also work with the health services and GPs to identify domestic abuse and respond to it rapidly.

This model is not unique to Gloucestershire. The Government have enough to make provisions in Amendments 30 and 85 to move us forward. This does not mean that the services will be available tomorrow, but it does mean that we understand what types of services are necessary. Even at this late stage, with the excellent work that has been undertaken by many noble Lords in this area, I sincerely hope that the Government will think again, give a much clearer lead on the pathway to deliver jointly commissioned community-based services and make the provision of such services a statutory duty.

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

My Lords, in Committee, the need to consider help for victims in the wider community as well as in refuges was raised again and again. These amendments put other local authority services for domestic abuse victims and their children front and centre, giving them the recognition and attention they deserve. However, it must be said that concerns have been expressed across the House about funding because we cannot enforce the provisions in the Bill and in these amendments without it.

We already know that most help and services are accessed in the community; the noble Lord, Lord Russell, described it as a no-brainer. I am therefore absolutely delighted by the Government’s response. I want to give the Minister full credit for the way in which she has listened and acted.

I support government Amendment 99, which would, for the first year only, give six months’ leeway for the Government’s new clause duty to report on domestic abuse services in England. That seems entirely reasonable to me. Who knows what challenges and obstacles the first report will encounter?

This has been an extremely useful and succinct debate. When I looked at the number of speakers, I thought “Oh my goodness, we’re going to be here a while”, but we have not. I hope that noble Lords, both those in the Chamber and those listening from home, will appreciate that we have a lot to get on with; their succinct comments are very welcome.

I will take a leaf out of their book and conclude by saying that peace has broken out. This debate is an example of the Lords working at its best. I congratulate noble Lords, the Minister and all the charities and organisations that have worked together in the best way possible to ensure that we have got to this situation.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 2:30 pm, 10th March 2021

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is absolutely right to say that peace has broken out, but I do not think that your Lordships were ever at war. We have all been seeking the same ends. This has been a good and succinct debate—long may that last—and from what several noble Lords have said I know that they will keep a close eye on developments over the next few months.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Primarolo, made specific points about perpetrators being brought to book and that victims should be able to stay in their own home. The importance of community-based services for the victims of domestic abuse and their children is unquestionable. We share noble Lords’ ambitions to see all the victims of this terrible crime being supported.

It might assist the House if I briefly recap the Government’s reasoning on why now is not the appropriate time to legislate on this issue. I shall return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. The current landscape is complex. Unlike accommodation-based services, those in the community are funded and commissioned not only by PCCs but by local authorities and clinical commissioning groups. Further, as another noble Lord said, the third sector is prominently involved in this. Introducing an undeveloped statutory duty in the Bill would run the risk of cementing in legislation a complex landscape that we are working hard to simplify. Equally, placing the duty on only one of these public bodies would be to risk legislating for responsibility in the wrong place. This is far too important an issue on which to legislate in a rush.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Russell, the noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Burt of Solihull, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh talked about the funding behind this, which is crucial. In fact, it has gone to the heart of the position taken by the Government. We must understand fully the cost of such a duty before we can implement it. The MHCLG duty has been funded at a cost of £125 million, so any action around community-based services must be funded appropriately. As I have said, significant government funding is already provided for these services, with an additional £17.7 million for them having been announced only last month. The results of this funding will be a further crucial piece of information to help us understand further need. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others that funding for the commissioner also has to be in place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about the position in Wales and Amendment 17 placing a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 on the provision of domestic abuse services in England. As with the provision made in Part 4, we have limited the duty to the provision of these community-based services in England in recognition that generally we are dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to ask the question. We recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords, which is why we have tabled amendments to demonstrate our commitments in this space.

The statutory duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to publish and lay before Parliament the Clause 8 report on the provision of and need for community-based support services, and the statutory duty on tier 1 local authorities to monitor and report on the safe accommodation duty on the provision of community-based support in their area, will together ensure that the Government have all the information they need to protect and support safe accommodation and services in the community. In addition, I have committed today to consulting this summer on a statutory duty around community-based services in the upcoming victims’ law consultation. This is a commitment to explore precisely the issues that noble Lords have highlighted in this debate. It will give us the time to do them justice. To rush legislation now would, as I have said, risk solidifying into statute the wrong framework and accountability mechanisms, as well as the wrong arrangements for ensuring that responsible public authorities collaborate to ensure that victims receive the services that they need.

We also cannot take a shortcut with a regulation-making power, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. As I said in my opening speech, your Lordships’ House does not like the kind of skeletal powers that would be provided for in Amendment 31. Any new duties in respect of community-based support should be set out in primary legislation, as we have done for accommodation-based support in Part 4. This issue must be given thorough and thoughtful consideration. We will use the consultation to interrogate fully the current landscape of community-based services and to develop effective proposals on how we might ensure that it remains robust and effective in order to give all victims access to these vital services.

My noble friend Lord Polak pointed to the fact that Amendment 85 also seeks to make provision for perpetrator programmes. I agree entirely that more is needed here. The noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, also talked about the issue. I will set out our plans in this area when we come to debate other amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. The needs of victims and perpetrators are clearly of a different order, but we recognise that both issues need to be addressed. However, we are not persuaded that they should be conflated in a single provision such as that provided for in Amendment 85.

I turn finally to Amendment 30. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that for the reasons I have explained, we would not expect local authorities to give priority to accommodation-based support services over community- based services, so the circumstances addressed in the amendment should not arise. In response to his question, once the new duty under Part 4 becomes law the public sector equality duty will apply to local authorities in delivering their functions under it.

In assessing needs, local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims. This goes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, because that will include those with relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, as well as victims who might come in from outside the specific local authority area. As set out in the draft statutory guidance, tier 1 local authorities should make it clear in their strategies how they plan to make support services available that will meet the needs of all victims. The strategy should set out the support needs that have been identified as part of the local needs assessment, along with a clear breakdown of the differing needs of victims’ groups such as, but not limited to, those from BAME backgrounds or who identify as LGBT, and how they will address the barriers faced by victims with relevant protected characteristics and/or multiple or complex needs. I hope that that will answer the point put by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.

We want the same outcomes here. I think and hope that the road map that I have set out, underpinned by our amendments, has reassured noble Lords that the Government are committed to taking this issue forward at pace. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, not to move his amendment. I thank all noble Lords for taking part in what has been an incredibly constructive debate and I hope that these government amendments will be universally supported.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I have received a request to ask the Minister a short question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Labour

My Lords, I want to ask the Minister a couple of quick questions. The first relates to the additional money she mentioned today and in Committee that is going to local authorities to help to implement the legislation. Given what the NAO has said this morning, is she confident that local authorities will actually spend the money in the areas in which the Government wish them to? Secondly, on the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about the jeopardy that women-only spaces in refuges are coming under because of local authority commissioning policies, will the Minister remind those authorities of the need to implement fully the Equality Act 2010 and not try to reinterpret it?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I will answer the last question first. The Equality Act 2010 is of the utmost importance here. Whether or not I actually remind every local authority of its obligations under that Act, they have statutory duties, and under- pinning the work of every single local state body is the Equality Act.

Will local authorities necessarily spend the additional money on what they have been tasked with spending it on? It is being given to them in conjunction with a duty. I know, because of what she has said, that both the domestic abuse commissioner and the local boards will be scrutinising the spending and commissioning of those services locally.

Amendment 17 agreed.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We come now to the group consisting of Amendment 18. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.

Clause 37: Breach of order