The Lord Bishop of Gloucester:
Moved by The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
70: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause— “Victims of domestic abuse: leave to remain and the destitution domestic violence concession (DDVC)(1) The Secretary of State must, within three months of this Act being passed, lay before Parliament a statement of changes in rules made under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (“the immigration rules”) to make provision for any person subject to immigration control who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom to have a route to apply for leave to remain.(2) The statement laid under subsection (1) must—(a) set out rules for applying for indefinite leave to remain by any person subject to immigration control who is a victim of domestic abuse in the United Kingdom; and(b) provide for those rules to be commenced no later than one month after the laying of the statement.(3) The Secretary of State must make provision for granting limited leave to remain for a period of no less than six months to any person eligible to make an application under the immigration rules for the purposes of subsection (2); such leave must include no condition under section 3(1)(c)(i), (ia), (ii) or (v) of the Immigration Act 1971.(4) The Secretary of State must make provision for extending limited leave to remain granted in accordance with subsection (3) to ensure that leave continues throughout the period during which an application made under the immigration rules for the purposes of subsection (2) remains pending.(5) Where subsection (6) applies, notwithstanding any statutory or other provision, no services shall be withheld from a victim of domestic abuse solely by reason of that person not having leave to remain or having leave to remain subject to a condition under section 3(1)(c) of the Immigration Act 1971.(6) This subsection applies where a provider of services is satisfied that the victim of domestic abuse is eligible to make an application to which subsection (3) refers.(7) The Secretary of State must, for the purposes of subsection (5), issue guidance to providers of services about the assessment of eligibility to make an application to which subsection (3) refers.(8) In this section—(a) an application is pending during the period—(i) beginning when it is made,(ii) ending when it is finally decided, withdrawn or abandoned;(b) an application is not finally decided while an application for review or appeal could be made within the period permitted for either or while any such review or appeal remains pending (meaning that review or appeal has not been finally decided, withdrawn or abandoned);“person subject to immigration control” means a person in the United Kingdom who does not have the right of abode;“provider of services” includes both public and private bodies;“services” includes accommodation, education, employment, financial assistance, healthcare and any service provided exclusively or particularly to survivors of domestic abuse.”Member’s explanatory statementThis would provide migrant victims of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, for a period of no less than six months, so they can access support services while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.
My Lords, I should like at the outset to acknowledge the assistance that I have received from Southall Black Sisters in preparing this amendment, and also thank the Minister for her time and compassion in discussing this with me. Amendment 70 is tabled in my name with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Hamwee, and I am grateful to every one of them.
I know that the protection of all victims of domestic abuse is a priority of noble Lords across the House, and I am grateful for the support shown for this amendment, which aims to provide migrant victims of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds for a period of no less than six months, so that they can access support services while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status. The mechanism for doing so is straightforward: extend the eligibility criteria of the existing domestic violence—DV—rule, which is a proven route for a limited group of survivors, including those on certain spousal and partner visas.
The Government raised concerns over the interpretation of the amendment, so we have made a couple of minor changes to proposed new subsections (1) and (2) to clarify the purpose of this amendment. There is also an updated explanatory note. I hope that what is now clear from the minor changes to the wording is that we are asking for temporary leave to remain and access to public funds while these extremely vulnerable people escape their abusers and regularise their immigration status. This is not about guaranteeing indefinite leave to remain to all migrant victims of abuse.
In Committee, I highlighted the need for such an arrangement and will not go over similar ground here or repeat the stories that I shared then. In response to the Government’s counter-arguments, received in Committee and in discussion, I make three points this afternoon.
First, I shall speak about legitimate expectation of settlement. When the DV rule was introduced, the stated purpose behind the measure was to enable abused migrant women who would otherwise remain trapped to leave an abusive relationship. There was no suggestion that the DDV concession, as it was then named, was being introduced primarily because of a legitimate expectation by spouses to remain in the UK. I would argue that the law should provide protection for people on all visa types when there is evidence of domestic abuse, since many have insecure status through no fault of their own. We know that domestic violence often dramatically changes women’s circumstances and expectations, and the Immigration Rules should reflect this. I say “women” not to exclude men but because the experience and data has come from those working with women.
The number of additional applications likely to be made each year if eligibility for the DV rule and the DDVC was extended is estimated to be in the low thousands, with an increase of possibly only around 2,000 annually, but the impact would be life-saving and life-changing. The DV rule and the DDVC already work well for those able to access them. Extending eligibility to women—it is primarily women—on other types of visas is a straightforward solution for what is often a complex and challenging situation for many migrant survivors of abuse. It will also remove the power of abusers to weaponise someone’s immigration status to exert absolute control and will allow people to hold their abuser to account by being able to report them.
Secondly, the Government are concerned that the expansion of eligibility for the DV rule and DDVC would, and here I quote the noble Baroness, Lady Williams,
“introduce a route to settlement that might lead to more exploitation of our immigration system—or indeed of vulnerable migrants.”—[
This claim has no basis in evidence. The DV rule and DDVC have operated since 2002 and 2012 respectively, but there is no evidence whatever that the routes have led to abuse of the immigration system. The reason is that robust criteria and assessment mechanisms are already in place to guard against false claims and exploitation of the immigration system. I therefore say that the claim is based on fear, not fact, and that is not a basis on which to make, or avoid making, good decisions.
In 2018, 1,210 DDVCs were granted, out of which only 575 victims were subsequently granted leave to remain, demonstrating that there are established criteria that must be met for someone to be granted leave to remain. These criteria and the assessment procedure effectively prevent exploitation of the immigration system. It is simply not the case that those who make a claim of domestic violence will be able to easily exploit the immigration system, since the assessment procedure to obtain settlement under the DV rule is rigorous.
Not only is that concern lacking in evidence, it is lacking in logic. If, for example, an abuser manipulated a woman to regularise her status under the DV rule for the purpose of exploiting the immigration system, the abuser would be aiding a woman to report abuse that could lead to criminal proceedings against him, the abuser. Furthermore, it would lead that woman to access a pathway to support and protection that would enable her to get away from the control of the abuser. I would welcome some further explanation from the Government on this point because to me it simply does not stack up.
Thirdly, the pilot scheme, created by the Government to seek more evidence of the numbers of victims involved, is inadequate for a number of reasons. The pilot fails to appreciate the urgency and seriousness of the risk of abuse and destitution that abused migrants—mainly women—on non-spousal visas currently face. Even as an interim measure, the £1.4 million allocated to the pilot fund is nowhere near sufficient to address this urgent and mounting crisis. At a stretch, the pilot project is likely to provide only minimal and basic support for up to 500 women for a maximum period of 12 weeks. If the pilot seeks to collect more data, then I highlight again that that has already been submitted by key specialist organisations during the review process.
As I highlighted in Committee, there is no guarantee that any lasting change will follow when the pilot scheme ends. It is only legislative protection for this vulnerable cohort of mainly women that will ensure the Bill delivers its promise as landmark legislation that can deliver protection for all survivors in the UK. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say today, but I intend to press this to a vote.
My Lords, in speaking to Amendment 87 I will not repeat all my arguments from Committee, but I will reiterate two key points. First, it would allow us to ratify the Istanbul convention and, secondly, it relates primarily to access to services and is separate from the question of immigration control. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hussein-Ece and Lady Hamwee, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, for joining me in sponsoring the amendment, to all noble Lords who supported it in Committee and are supporting it now, and to End Violence Against Women and Southall Black Sisters for their invaluable assistance. I add my support to Amendment 70.
Amendment 87 would ensure that all victims of domestic violence, whoever they are, get the support they deserve. When a crime is committed, when a man or a woman is abused, we offer them help, compassion and justice as our first response, not as a final stage. Domestic abuse cannot be hidden behind discrimination. That principle is central to the Istanbul convention, which insists on non-discrimination, including on the grounds of migration status. This will be the only area of the convention left outstanding once the Bill has passed and there is every sign that it will remain unresolved for some time yet.
Nine years after we signed the convention, we seem to have no plan to ratify it. Ratification enshrines the substantive requirements while still allowing the detail to be developed by the Government. Alignment of the legislative framework can be an ongoing process but it is clear that an international commitment is a powerful statement of intent. It has great symbolic meaning: that we are committed to treating every victim with dignity and will take every incidence of domestic abuse seriously from the point of disclosure. Ratification would be a signal to other countries around the world. It would also be a ray of hope for victims in this country.
In Committee, the Minister pointed to the Government’s pilot project, the migrant victims scheme. I am concerned for two reasons. First, it misunderstands the crucial purpose of this amendment. The pilot is a way of deciding what specific support migrant women might need but the amendment is about establishing their fundamental right to support as victims. Those issues are related but they are not the same.
Secondly, as other noble Lords have already explained and specialist organisations repeatedly tell us, the migrant victims scheme seeks answers that we already know to problems that we can address today. It is an unnecessary delay that creates the appearance of action without any lasting resolution to the terrible situation faced by migrant victims of domestic abuse.
The history of the Bill should be a cautionary tale for all of us. It has taken more than two years to get to this point. Set that alongside the nine years since we signed the Istanbul convention, and I fear that if we do not take our chance to ratify it now, we may be in for a very long wait indeed. If we insist on delaying for the migrant victims scheme, we are saying that migrant women can have protection but only at some unspecified time years in the future. That is not good enough. The Government’s failure to lay out a timetable for ratifying the Istanbul convention only confirms that. I was especially concerned to hear suggestions that the convention could be ratified with reservations so that the Government did not have to address this issue. That would be a very bad outcome indeed, above all for the migrant women themselves.
There is a point of principle here about fulfilling our international commitments. There is also a practical point: the amendment would ensure that the migrant women who are at such great risk could access those services they need. I reassure those who might have concerns about immigration that the amendment would not affect immigration control; it would not require changes to immigration regulations or to the Government’s ability to control who comes to Britain and who gets to stay. However, it would offer protection from serious crimes to those who are here. If someone is attacked on our streets, we do not stop to check their passport before offering them assistance. Abuse behind closed doors should not be any different.
A non-discrimination amendment would mean that public authorities would be expected to take into account migrant victims’ needs when dealing with them or making strategic decisions. It would ensure that survivors could access the services they needed to protect them from harm. It would make sure that the Government’s stated desire to treat victims first and foremost as victims was a reality. It would guarantee that the provisions of the Bill truly worked for and applied to everyone, which they do not currently do, rather than just those lucky enough to be born in the right place. This can be the landmark Bill that we need, for which the domestic abuse sector, and victims and survivors of abuse, are calling, but it cannot do that while it ignores a section of society at serious risk.
I will close with the words of one migrant survivor. She was sexually abused by her ex-husband and other men before finding support from a refuge. She said, “The centre has allowed me to get independence. I have learned so much about life. I have joined college. I am learning every day and I am doing well. I have my autonomy back. I feel safe and less anxious about my future. I can now finally focus on getting help and getting better. I have met many women from different cultures and religions, and we live in harmony at the refuge. We go on courses together and help each other with the homework. We taste all sorts of food that we cook, and we share our lives, our experiences and hopes for the future. I love it here at the refuge. It is my home. It has honestly made a massive difference in my life.”
We have heard many difficult testimonies throughout these debates. This is a reminder of the hope that we can offer and of the power of support and dignity to transform women’s lives. That is what the Istanbul convention seeks to do; that is what the amendment can do. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can offer the necessary commitment on swift ratification.
My Lords, I wish to address just three issues in support of these amendments, which have been moved so powerfully. First, in Committee the Minister argued that the DDVC and domestic violence rule were designed to
“provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas.”—[
The position of those who entered on other types of visa was addressed by the right honourable Theresa May on Report in the Commons. She took the point that generally they would have to show that they have independent financial support but noted that
“it is perfectly possible that they might find themselves in a relationship where the removal of that financial support is part of the abuse they are suffering. We have to take account of that as we look at this issue.”—[
I wonder whether the Minister has taken account of that.
Secondly, the Minister explained that
“we have worked with the sector to launch the support for migrant victims scheme.”—[
This is welcome and, as I said in Committee, it is to the Government’s credit that they revised the scheme in response to some of the criticisms of the draft prospectus. However, as already noted, it remains the case that the sector does not believe that such a scheme is necessary and has real concerns that the funding made available will not meet the needs of many of the women who will be seeking help from it. I asked in Committee whether it would be possible to at least suspend the “no recourse to public funds” rule for this group during the lifetime of the pilot. However, I did not get a direct response, so I would appreciate one now.
Thirdly, with regard to the Istanbul convention, the Minister noted that
“the position on whether the UK is compliant with Article 4(3) … to the extent that it relates to non-discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status, and with Article 59, relating to residence status, is of course under review, pending the evaluation and the findings from the support for migrant victims scheme”—[
There is real anxiety that the Government may now try to reserve these articles in order to achieve faster ratification of the Istanbul convention, as noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. I refer to the letter of
“that you were unable to give us any assurances that the necessary measures would all be implemented this year to ensure ratification can take place promptly. This is particularly troubling in circumstances where the underlying agreement was signed by the UK in 2012 and subsequent progress has been so slow … it seems that the question of providing support to refugees and migrants experiencing violence and domestic abuse is not going to be resolved soon, and you acknowledged to us that work on this was unlikely to be completed until next year, at the earliest. We noted your suggestion that one way to expedite the process of ratification would be to enter reservations in respect of the provisions of the Istanbul Convention which relate to non-discrimination on the grounds of immigration status ... Under Article 79 of the Convention, any such reservation could remain in place for a (renewable) period of 5 years. We have serious doubts about this approach, which could result in the issue of non-discrimination remaining unaddressed for a prolonged period. We also note the proposal from the End Violence Against Women Coalition to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to make specific provision for non-discrimination. A clause of this type could allow for the process of ratification to be expedited
In other words, something on the lines of amendment 87. I share that deep concern. Can the Minister give an assurance that there is no intention to enter such a reservation, thereby potentially kicking the issue into the long grass?
In conclusion, I am afraid that Ministers can argue until they are blue in the face that the Bill’s provisions apply equally to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, regardless of immigration status and that migrant victims should be treated first and foremost as victims. However, so long as they refuse to accept these amendments, I am afraid they will convince neither Members of your Lordships’ House nor organisations on the ground—nor, most importantly, migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse themselves. I do hope that the Government will think again, even at this late stage, and, if necessary, come forward with their own amendments at Third Reading.
My Lords, I have put my name to both these amendments. The points made in the previous debate substantially apply, as well as the powerful speeches we have heard in Committee and today. I noted that the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, ended on a very positive note. Amendment 70 is about the destitution domestic violence concession, and I found myself thinking about the meaning of each of those words. At the previous stage, the Minister said that the system was designed for a different purpose,
“to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who held spousal visas”—[
Even if one thought that an extension of limited leave to remain from three to six months was too generous, it is only limited leave, as has already been said. Do the Government really believe that this would
“lead to more exploitation of our immigration system”,—[
Amendment 87 is about equality—positive equality without discrimination on the grounds of migrant or refugee status. This prompted me to think about the unconscious, sometimes perhaps conscious, prejudices that there are against equality and, indeed, against migrants—some migrants, sometimes all migrants. My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece made a very succinct point in Committee that the amendment would enshrine a more consistent and cohesive approach which must be adhered to by all public authorities in providing for victim protection. She had hoped to be able to speak on the second day of Committee, but was unable to, so withdrew her name, and the procedures mean that she cannot speak on it today. I am sorry, because her voice would have been welcome.
This is another amendment that would deprive an abuser of a means of control and abuse. We were told in Committee and on other occasions that the ratification of the Istanbul convention is, of course, under review, pending the evaluation and findings of the support for migrant victims scheme. I am afraid that “under review” and “pending” sound to me rather like “parked”. Both the noble Baronesses, Lady Helic and Lady Lister, mentioned the suggestion that we have heard from the Government—not in the debate, but before today—about ratification with reservations. I share their concerns.
I am baffled that there should be any resistance to ensuring that all victims of domestic abuse receive equally effective treatment and support, irrespective of who they are and how they came to be in the UK. In view of what has been called an inconsistent and even haphazard response by the police, we need to make clear that this is about equality. It is not about some victims qualifying and some not. Surely we accept equality. We accept that legislation is not necessary for ratification of the convention, but this is our opportunity to move ahead. What is the problem? Are the Government concerned about challenges to particular decisions? Is this in fact, as it was beginning to sound at the Bill’s previous stage, about not victims first but Treasury first? If so, could we at least hear that said?
To me, the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, are irrefutable, and she put them very clearly and powerfully. Our Benches support her. I hope that she will give the House the opportunity to support her. If she does not, I give notice that when we get to its place in the list, I will move Amendment 87 to put it to the House and, if necessary, take it to a Division, and I would be grateful if my voice could be taken accordingly.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I agree with everything she and the previous speakers, particularly the right reverend prelate Bishop of Gloucester, have said. These two amendments follow on from Amendment 67, and it really is time that the Government at last implemented the Istanbul convention without reservations, treated all victims of domestic abuse equally and made provision for those subject to immigration control to have a route to make the appropriate applications. The Government would retain control, but it would at least give these people, who are not married, or not treated as married, a possible route to remain in this country—without having certainty of it, which would remain in the hands of the Government.
Without these amendments, like with Amendment 67, there is a danger of serious discrimination against groups of victims and the creation of a flawed piece of legislation negating much of what would otherwise be, as so many people have said, a landmark Act. I add that the pilot project is just delaying an important and necessary decision.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the National Housing Federation. I will not repeat what I said in Committee on this issue. Suffice it to say that migrant women are particularly vulnerable in an abusive situation because their insecure immigration status can be used as a tool against them. They often cannot access refuges or other safe accommodation because they have no recourse to public funds.
Women’s Aid, whose excellent briefing I acknowledge, considers that the Government may be in breach of several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and in breach of the Istanbul convention obligations because they have failed to ensure that survivors with insecure immigration status can access equal support for and protection from domestic abuse. Assurances by the Minister in Committee that
“the Secretary of State is taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse”—[
In Committee, the Minister was reluctant to extend the rules in this way because it would undermine their original purpose. That rather begs the question of whether the original purpose was sufficient, and the trenchant points made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and all the evidence from migrant survivors suggest that it is not. It also begs the question: how do the Government otherwise propose to assure the International Agreements Committee that they are fulfilling their obligations under the Istanbul convention, when all those most closely involved can show quite clearly that they are not? I would appreciate it if the Minister would address both these points directly in her response.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, who referred to the International Agreements Committee, on which I have the privilege to serve. We considered the question of the ratification of the Istanbul convention. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the chairman of that committee, will have an opportunity to contribute to the debate in a few moments, so I will not pre-empt what he has to say by way of an authoritative description of the committee’s views.
I want to add just three points. First, the Istanbul convention was signed by the coalition Government in 2012, a Government of which I was then a member. We would not have anticipated then that it would have taken so long for it to be ratified or that there would have been any difficulty in respect of non-discrimination in achieving that. I am glad the Government are bringing forward Clauses 66 to 68 to enable the extraterritorial jurisdiction measures to be dealt with. Surely now is the time and this is the Bill to take ourselves to the point where we can ratify.
Secondly, a number of us in your Lordships’ House served in the other place and realise what it takes to get as many as 135 Members of Parliament to turn up on a Friday morning to support a Private Member’s Bill, but that is what happened on
Thirdly, we looked at the whole question of a pilot scheme. I looked at the response of the review from July last year. It seems that even if a pilot scheme is required, what it is required to do is understand what the administrative processes concerned are—not suggest that we should be in contravention of our international obligations under the convention. We should accept Amendment 87 in the name of my noble friend Lady Helic, who was a distinguished adviser to that coalition Government, and say that whatever the outcome of the pilot scheme, whatever the administrative arrangements, we should not arrive at a position where we discriminate between people according to their status, including immigration status, in respect of the support they receive as victims of domestic violence and abuse. That cannot be the right outcome. Ministers, to be fair to them, have not suggested that they want to discriminate between people by their status. That being the case, we should use this opportunity to bring ourselves into compliance with our international obligations, then let Ministers work out subsequently what the administrative processes are for achieving that.
Listening to the debate, both at Second Reading and in Committee, and indeed today, I fail to see how any Member of this House could not be concerned at the plight of migrant women who are victims of domestic abuse. Given the vulnerability of these women in general, the Government need to agree and accept both these amendments. It is clear that the current, large proportion of migrant women who have no recourse to public funds are having real problems, being barred from accessing certain types of financial support from the state, including homelessness assistance and other welfare benefits.
As my noble friend Lady Warwick has just said, survivors staying in refuges most commonly support their stay using their housing benefit. The funding crisis within specialist domestic abuse services means that many are unable to support women who have no recourse to public funds. Migrant women in that situation have found it very difficult to secure a stay in a refuge.
We know that survivors in the UK on a spousal visa or one of a small number of family visas can apply for the destitute domestic violence concession, but only migrant women on a very limited number of visa types are eligible, and this arbitrarily leaves out an enormous proportion of migrant survivors with NRPF status, who have few options of where to go if they are experiencing domestic abuse. The Covid crisis has served to demonstrate how precarious the position of migrant survivors is and how essential it is they can access financial support from the state to keep them and their children safe.
I always thought it significant that the domestic abuse commissioner has stated that the no recourse to public funds rule means that a significant number of the most marginalised victims of domestic abuse in our society are unable to access the support they need. Not only does this leave people facing destitution, homelessness or staying with their abuser, it is discriminatory in the terms the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, has just referred to.
A number of noble Lords have referred to the Minister’s comments at Second Reading and in Committee. They have commented on what she had to say about the use of the DDVC. But I would like to go back to her saying that the Government lacked data and, as a result, launched the pilot scheme. The problem I have with this is that this is the Bill that everyone is committed to supporting; noble Lords have worked very hard to achieve a consensus on the outcome. I, for one, find it difficult to allow this Bill to go forward without resolving these issues and the evident discrimination that applies to many migrant women.
“Migrant survivors often find themselves in particularly vulnerable situations owing to their insecure immigration status being used as a tool of control by perpetrators. Their immigration status in turn bars them from access to essential services and support. These barriers are compounded by other factors such as language and a lack of understanding amongst services of relevant cultural and social issues.”
I hope the noble Baroness will put this to the vote.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who always speaks with great reason.
My meetings with the excellent charity Kalayaan during previous immigration Bills—which some here will remember—left me in no doubt about the exploitation of migrant domestic workers in London and elsewhere. We heard some chilling case studies of how their employers confined them, did not pay them and removed their passports, among other forms of flagrant abuse and exploitation, which continue today. Noble Lords will also remember that the strength of such stories led directly to the Modern Slavery Act.
I have not yet spoken on this Bill, but I speak now, more narrowly, as a member of the International Agreements Committee, like the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, to support Amendment 87, persuasively argued by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and Amendment 70, which also concerns migrant workers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, the committee recently listened—with some surprise, I might say—to the Minister for Safeguarding proposing the pilot project to collect further evidence instead of ratifying the Istanbul convention. The Home Office problem is, as usual, that it cannot catch up with unregistered migrants. One can sympathise with that but, as was said, the procedure could take another 14 months at least. My noble friend Lord Kerr questioned her on this specifically, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will explain that we all thought the evidence was already running strongly in the other direction, and we were overwhelmingly in favour of the solution proposed originally by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, urging the Government to skip the pilot and adopt this amendment, which could then lead directly to ratification.
The relevant provisions of the convention relating to non-discrimination on the grounds of immigration status are Articles 3, 4 and 59. They say simply that all women, of whatever status, who are victims of domestic violence and abuse must be protected. Surely, delaying ratification any longer will seriously damage the UK’s international reputation. This message also comes from our Council of Europe delegation, which has already made its position clear. I support both these amendments.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who spoke as a member of the International Agreements Committee—I am its chair—as did the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, and as will the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, when he follows me.
Reference has rightly been made to our inquiry into why the Government have not yet ratified the Istanbul convention, which is described by the Council of Europe as the gold standard for the protection of women against violence. That is why I speak in this debate. We had the benefit of the evidence of the Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins MP; I believe we were all impressed by her determination to push the work forward, but I am afraid we were less impressed by the reason why this ratification had not yet taken place. She identified three reasons, two of which are being dealt with. The third was the issue covered by the amendment which has been spoken to so powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and other noble Lords today.
We took the view as a committee, as noble Lords have heard from our letter—which I signed with the authority of the committee on
While I think the Minister, whom I commend on her frankness and candour, was trying to help in one sense by suggesting this reservation, it was not an answer to the problem. In the letter I have referred to, we said that what is in effect Amendment 87 would solve the problem and enable a much speedier ratification. She said she hoped the committee would recognise the direction of travel; I hope the Minister here today will recognise that the travel has now arrived at your Lordships’ House with this amendment. It is time to vote for it, as I will gladly do if it is put to a vote, and bring that obstacle to ratifying the convention to an end.
My Lords, this has been a passionate debate that has focused on a group of people who in normal circumstances—normal for them—have little opportunity to articulate their needs. That makes its importance all the more obvious and necessary. I have a carefully written speech, but its points have been made and I have no intention of repeating them.
I have nothing to add on the vulnerability of migrant women; this has been amply, eloquently and passionately described. Nor have I anything to add to the setting out of our long-overdue need to fulfil our international obligations by ratifying the Istanbul convention—that has been done in detail, again and again, by previous speakers. I also express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, for painting a picture of the 135 Friday attendees, which is itself a considerable statement.
I am interested in the question because I and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, who is no longer in his place, are the two representatives from the delegation to the Council of Europe who sit on the Council’s migration committee. We met last Friday, where one of our major topics of discussion was how the Council of Europe, with its focus on human rights, the rule of law and democracy, could play its part in conscientising the European Union—which is establishing a pact to deal with immigration—and affect and engage it in bringing to fruition an outcome which will both in this area and across a broader spectrum of issues enhance the diligent observation of the human rights of these vulnerable people.
I look to the Minister beseechingly. I am the 12th speaker in this debate; looking at the names to come, she must not expect a divergence of view from all 12 of us who have spoken thus far. I really admire her industry and compassion and have a sneaking suspicion that, if she were not tied to the Front Bench, she might well be adding her voice to the case that we are making from all Benches. She has tried diligently to put as bold a face on things as she can on behalf of the Government she represents and speaks for. However, in 2017 the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice issued a statement under the heading:
“New Measures to allow ratification of the Istanbul Convention” which went on to state that the Government intended the Domestic Abuse Bill as
“the final step to enable ratification of the … Convention”.
There can be no doubt that, four years later, the non-arrival at that destination—with the Bill currently before us and reaching its end phase, the prospect of its not including this provision and the likely lengthy delays that will ensue from the process that has been described—is really and seriously a travesty.
In my work on the migration committee of the Council of Europe, I want to be able to argue from a basis of strength, as a Member of a Parliament which has ratified the Istanbul convention, in making the case to other countries. At the moment we are in the waiting room with Hungary, Ukraine and Lithuania, which have not yet ratified, and we are weakened in trying to persuade Poland and Turkey, which are trying to withdraw from it. I believe this Parliament must therefore understand not only the passionate nature of the cause of victims and survivors of abuse in general but the way we put our argument and represent the cause on the larger stage beyond this place.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. He opened by saying that noble Lords before him had said almost everything he wanted to say and then managed to contribute a huge amount of valuable observation. It was very interesting to listen to him; I agree with every word.
Other noble Lords have said virtually everything. I add only that I am concerned by the Government’s hostile environment, which I have always found difficult to understand. It plays to a right-wing agenda with which I have no sympathy at all and poses a moral question as to what their aim is. What is the Government’s priority? Do they care more about helping survivors of domestic abuse end that abuse and making them safe, or about catching and deporting migrants, even where the only thing affecting their lawful residence in this country is the fact that they have fled an abusive relationship? I would very much like an answer. I also invite the Minister to put aside her bold face and perhaps tell us that the Government just want to help people—in which case, these two amendments do exactly that. I very much hope that the Government will perhaps accept these amendments and, to a tiny extent, drop the hostile environment for survivors of domestic abuse.
My Lords, as we have heard, the first of these amendments
“would provide migrant victims of abuse” who do not have secure immigration status
“with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds … so they can access support services”, such as refuge places,
“while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.”
Less than 6% of refuge beds are available to women without recourse to public funds, for example. It would extend the domestic violence rule and destitute domestic violence concession to a few thousand more migrant survivors of abuse who are not covered by the existing provisions, which cover only a limited group of survivors on certain spousal and partner visas. It would also extend the period covered from three months to six to allow sufficient time for their immigration status to be regularised.
With the greatest respect to the Minister, the phrase
“we require a more complete and reliable evidence base”—[
“has already been submitted by key specialist organisations” in
“response to the Home Office’s migrant victims of domestic abuse review in September 2020.”—[
The government pilot announced at Second Reading in the other place covers only about 500 women for a period of 12 weeks. I am always sceptical of pilots announced in the face of amendments designed to make permanent changes.
Amendment 87 would require the Secretary of State to take steps to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, receive equal protection and support; this would include the migrant victims of domestic abuse in Amendment 70.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the Istanbul convention. I was particularly struck by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, who was a member of the coalition Government that signed the convention in 2012. He also mentioned the Private Member’s Bill, now an Act, that was passed by Parliament in 2017. Getting 135 MPs to turn up on a Friday when their allowance, unlike ours, does not depend on their attendance—and they were giving up valuable time in their constituencies—showed the strength of feeling on this issue.
“take the necessary legislative and other measures to promote and protect the right for everyone, particularly women, to live free from violence in both the public and the private sphere.”
I mentioned this in the debate on the previous group. Article 4(3) states:
“The implementation of the provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground”.
It then goes on to list a whole range of factors in the convention, specifically listing the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and “migrant or refugee status”.
We support Amendments 70 and 87, and expect Divisions on both of them. We will support their movers when it comes to the votes.
My Lords, I seek to be relatively brief. Amendment 70, moved so compellingly by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, would extend the destitution domestic violence concession to all migrant victims of abuse, providing them with
“temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, for a period of no less than six months … while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.”
Amendment 87, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, spoke so powerfully, would ensure that
“all victims of domestic abuse are protected, regardless of their status, in line with Article 4(3) of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.”
Amendment 70 addresses a major gap in the Bill—namely, the lack of provision for migrant women in particular. They are probably one of the most vulnerable groups suffering domestic abuse. Despite that, they do not get the same level of support as other domestic abuse survivors, with the suspicion being that migrant women in this position are all too often regarded as immigration cases rather than victims of domestic abuse—making it even more likely that abuse of migrant women will take place and simply continue.
This is because the reality is that migrant women who do not have established immigration status find it difficult, if not impossible, to access refuges and other essential support services to escape abuse. Also, their abusers know that they do not have funds of their own—their abusers make sure of that—and have no recourse to the public funds necessary to access that support because of their lack of status. As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, reminded us, less than 6% of refuge beds are available to women without recourse to public funds because refuges cannot carry out their vital work without income.
I await the Government’s response, particularly to see whether it still seeks to put off making any meaningful specific commitment to address the plight of migrant women suffering domestic abuse, and whether the response also suggests that, at heart, the Government still regard migrant women without established immigration status who suffer domestic abuse as primarily an immigration issue rather than a domestic one.
In Committee, the Government spoke about a pilot exercise. Again, the right reverend Prelate highlighted the inadequacy of that exercise and the fact that it does not actually commit the Government to doing anything.
The domestic abuse commissioner-designate supports this amendment, and the evidence in support of it is already there in the public domain. The terms of this Domestic Abuse Bill have been debated and discussed for a number of years, going back to when Theresa May was Home Secretary. No doubt as a result of that discussion and consideration, the Bill marks real progress in a number of areas.
However, the fact that the Government still say that they do not know enough about the plight of migrant women faced with domestic abuse to agree to this amendment says a great deal about their attitude to, and the priority they give to, this particular highly vulnerable group. The time to act is now. Action should not be delayed or kicked into the long grass any longer.
We support Amendment 70. We will also support Amendment 87, which seeks to ensure that
“all victims of domestic abuse are protected, regardless of their status”, if it is taken to a vote.
My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic for their continued commitment to providing support for migrant victims of domestic abuse. I want to take this opportunity also to thank the International Agreements Committee, which is represented so well this afternoon.
As I highlighted in Committee, I know that we all share the view that anyone who has suffered domestic abuse, regardless of their immigration status, should be treated first and foremost as a victim. Although the Government appreciate the sentiment behind these amendments, we still do not think that they are an appropriate way forward.
Amendment 70 seeks to provide at least six months’ leave and access to public funds to all migrant victims of domestic abuse, as well as providing them with a route to apply for leave to remain. Amendment 87 seeks equally effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, while also referring to Article 4(3) of the Istanbul convention.
Starting with Amendment 70, I think that the right reverend Prelate is still seeking expansion of the existing destitution domestic violence concession—or DDVC—and the domestic violence rule so that they make provision for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of the very wide range of circumstances represented in this group. As I highlighted when this amendment was debated in Committee, while the Joint Committee which examined the draft Bill recommended that the Government consider some changes to the DDVC and DVILR, its recommendations fell short of suggesting incorporating the DDVC into the Immigration Rules.
Furthermore, it concerns me that Amendment 70 is based on a misunderstanding of both the purpose and rationale of the destitution domestic violence concession and the domestic violence rule. Both have only ever been intended to provide a route to settlement for migrant victims who hold spousal visas because, had their relationship not broken down as a result of domestic abuse, these victims would have had a legitimate expectation of staying in the UK permanently.
Moreover, those eligible under the DDVC have consciously set aside a permanent home in their country of origin to adopt a permanent home in the UK with a British citizen or someone to whom we have granted settlement. I emphasise that neither the DDVC nor the domestic violence rule were designed to support those without this legitimate expectation. Expanding the scope of both provisions would undermine the specific purpose that gave rise to them. It would introduce into that simple purpose a whole set of ancillary considerations, blurring the principle on which settlement in the UK is based, and opening up the prospect of exploitation of vulnerable migrants.
Those risks aside, I put it to the House that many people in this country would find it hard to understand why a person who has come to the UK on a temporary basis, perhaps as a visitor or student or on a short-term contract, should be provided with a route to apply for leave to remain by virtue of the fact that they are a victim of domestic abuse. That is arguably the effect of Amendment 70, which states that new immigration rules must make provision for any person subject to immigration control who is a victim of domestic abuse to have a route to apply for leave to remain. We need to focus on the provision of support, not the immigration status of the victim.
With regard to the suggestion that the DDVC be extended to six months, I highlight to noble Lords that support provided by the DDVC can already extend beyond three months. We know from internal management information that the majority of applications under the DDVC lead to an application for DVILR—domestic violence indefinite leave to remain—being made within three months. However, even for those who require longer than three months, provided that the application for indefinite leave to remain is made to the Home Office before the three months has expired, leave continues under existing terms and conditions until the application is decided. To all practical effect, the support can continue beyond three months. Even if an application for DVILR is not made within the three-month window, the DDVC can already be extended on a case-by-case basis.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, made reference to NRPF—no recourse to public funds—which of course is a long-standing principle, supported by successive Governments, started initially in 1999 under Section 115 of the Immigration and Asylum Act under Labour. The scheme that we are referring to will provide accommodation-based services, so of course the NRPF condition does not need to be disapplied here.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, talked about the hostile environment. Again, that was coined under Labour, and the previous Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Sajid Javid, stated very clearly that that environment would no longer be in place.
As noble Lords will be aware, we committed to undertake a review into the Government’s overall response to migrant victims of domestic abuse, including those with no recourse to public funds. We published the findings of the consequent review last July. Although some evidence was provided, it was insufficiently robust to demonstrate which cohorts of migrant victims are likely to be in most need of support, the numbers involved and how well existing arrangements may address their needs. It was clear that a robust evidence base is needed to ensure that funding is appropriately targeted to meet the needs of migrant victims.
We encountered similar issues with the evidence gained from the tampon tax fund. Since 2017, the Government have provided over £1 million from this fund to support migrant victims with no recourse to public funds. While it is clear that this fund has helped deliver much-needed support for a number of individuals and much has been learned, we require a more complete and reliable evidence base to enable us to take long-term decisions.
Against this backdrop, we have committed to providing £1.5 million for the Support for Migrant Victims scheme to address those evidence gaps, as well as covering the cost of support in a refuge or other safe accommodation for migrant victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access public funds. This evidence will be used to help inform decisions on how best to protect these victims in the long term. The competition for the scheme closed on
I am conscious that, when we refer to migrant victims of domestic abuse, it is easy to fall into the trap of dealing with the latter as a homogenous group with similar, if not identical, circumstances and needs. However, that could not be further from the truth and from what these vulnerable victims require from us. We need to recognise each victim as an individual, with different and diverse needs that warrant further investigation. In achieving this, we want to establish a robust data set that we can interrogate about the circumstances in which support is most needed, the duration of the support needed, what kind of support works best, and how different individuals exit from support to regain their independence. The Support for Migrant Victims scheme will enable us to do just that, to ensure that the information we need is available to inform future policy-making and ensure that decisions taken are sound.
On Amendment 87 in the name of my noble friend, it is our view that the Support for Migrant Victims scheme and the associated evaluation work clearly illustrate that the Government are taking steps to ensure effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse. This scheme will be available to all migrant victims at the point of need while their eligibility for the scheme is assessed and other routes of support are explored.
What is more, the data collected through the Support for Migrant Victims scheme will provide the information we need to assess current provisions and ensure that effective protection and support is available to migrant victims of domestic abuse. I thank my noble friend for her continued commitment to support migrant victims, but we do not think that the amendment is necessary in the light of the action that we are taking.
My noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and others talked about the Istanbul convention. As set out in the latest annual report on our progress towards ratification of the convention, published on
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, talked about it too, and I think it was he who talked about equally effective protection. That is obviously outlined in Amendment 87, which goes beyond the requirements of Article 4(3) of the convention. The latter requires that the parties ensure that the implementation of the convention, particularly measures to protect the rights of victims, are secured without discrimination on any ground. The duty not to discriminate reflects the principles of non-discrimination under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights—as set out in the explanatory report to the convention—that any difference in treatment between groups must have an objective and reasonable justification. It does not require that all groups are always treated equally. Amendment 87 arguably goes further than that, because it then imposes a public duty to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse, regardless of status, receive equally effective protection and support.
The provisions in the Bill apply equally to all victims of domestic abuse whatever their status, including the ability to apply for a domestic abuse protection order or the provisions in respect of special measures and the prohibition of cross-examination in person. We think that the amendments are not the way forward and that the central issue for migrant victims of domestic abuse must surely be the provision of support, not the immigration status of the victim.
I appreciate that the support for migrant victims of domestic abuse is a significant issue for many noble Lords. We know this and have worked with the sector to launch the support for migrant victims scheme, which will run to March next year. For those who argue that we should not lose this opportunity to legislate, I remind noble Lords that the DDVC has operated successfully as an administrative scheme, so we do not necessarily need legislation to provide further support to other cohorts of migrant victims. In light of the action that we have taken, and continue to take, I would like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester to withdraw her Amendment 70. If she does push it to a vote, I invite noble Lords to reject it.
I thank the Minister for her very full reply. She said, rightly, that I had pressed her and that there was no intention to park the issue, but what I really pressed her on was an assurance that there is no intention to enter a reservation to the Istanbul convention on the question of migrant women.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. Again, I thank the Minister for her very full response and for her real passion about providing support for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
I do not want to repeat everything I said in my opening speech, because I think we are at risk of going round in circles. But the Minister herself said that this is not a homogenous group and that it was about treating each person as an individual. That is why we are asking for this temporary leave to remain and access to public funds, so that each person can be treated as an individual and the right action can be taken.
There is a lot of confusion around visas and the real division between spousal and non-spousal visas, when we know that there is actually a lot of nuance within that. There is no point us simply saying that it is working for people, because we know that it is not. Further, the consequence of the exclusion of many of these women from the DV rule and the DDVC is not that they will return home—the result is that they will remain in abuse. We know that from the charities and the stories that we have heard.
I really do not have anything to add, apart from what has already been said throughout this debate. I do not want us to go round in circles. I want to ensure that support is available for every person. In reference to Amendment 87, which we will come to later if the House is divided, I echo everything that has been said on the ratification of the Istanbul convention, and I hope that the Government will move on this.
I believe that Amendment 70 is limited and workable. I also think that it is imperative that the other place has an opportunity to look at this issue again, because the details of the pilot project had not emerged when they discussed it before, and we now have those. I therefore seek to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 318, Noes 269.