Motion A

Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 1:52 pm on 21 April 2021.

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Baroness Williams of Trafford:

Moved by Baroness Williams of Trafford

That this House do not insist on its Amendments 1, 2 and 3, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 1A, 2A and 3A.

1A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the definition of “domestic abuse” in the Bill to include abuse carried out against a disabled person by the person’s carer.

2A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the definition of “domestic abuse” in the Bill to include abuse carried out against a disabled person by the person’s carer.

3A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the definition of “domestic abuse” in the Bill to include abuse carried out against a disabled person by the person’s carer.

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

My Lords, the House will recall that these amendments sought to bring all carers within the definition of domestic abuse that applies for the purposes of the Bill. This would include carers who are unpaid, such as neighbours and friends, as well as paid-for carers and people in a position of trust who care for disabled people. The noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, and others were right to bring the issue of carer abuse to the attention of the House, and I was most grateful to have a discussion with both of them this morning. I just hope that, this afternoon, the tech of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, works so that we all have the benefit of her quite considerable expertise.

I fully accept that disabled people who are abused by a paid or volunteer carer are just as in need of effective protection and support as someone who is abused by an intimate partner or family member. We remain firmly of the view that the focus of the Bill should continue to be on domestic abuse as the term is internationally recognised in the Istanbul convention and elsewhere. The elected House has agreed that we need to maintain this focus and disagreed with Amendment 1 by a substantial majority of 139.

None the less, the Government have reflected carefully on the earlier debates in this House, and we want to ensure that the justice system and social care sector deal with carer abuse effectively, while preserving the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill as originally introduced. The Government are therefore committing to a review of the protections and support available to victims of carer abuse. The review will access existing criminal laws, safeguarding legislation, regulation by the Care Quality Commission, the protections available for non-regulated care and the support available for victims of carer abuse, including local authority and voluntary sector support. We would aim to complete the review within 12 months.

Of course, there will be an opportunity—we discussed this this morning—for organisations representing disabled people and others to engage in the review, and naturally we will want to discuss the details of the review with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I will confirm something that I said this morning: we will not just do a series of round tables. I agree with her that data is absolutely key to underpinning some of the work that might need to go forward. The review’s intention is to address the concerns raised regarding the adequacy or otherwise of the current protections and the support for victims of carer abuse. I hope that, with the discussion that we had this morning and the undertakings this afternoon, the noble Baroness and indeed the House will be content to support the Motion and not insist on the amendments.

Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to Lords Amendments 1, 2 and 3 and Motion A, moved by the Minister. As I have stated, I will not oppose the Motion.

First, I thank the Minister for our helpful meeting today; despite the technological challenges, we had a very good exchange. At that meeting, I explained why I have decided not to pursue further attempts to incorporate carer abuse of disabled people in the Bill. Although I think we all agree that the abuse of disabled people frequently takes place within a domestic setting, it has become clear that the Bill is confined to abuse by an intimate partner or family member. There is no appetite to widen its scope at this stage.

In addition, this long-awaited Bill, with its multi- functional role, will demand a great deal of resources to change the domestic abuse culture. I would not wish to hold up the task of addressing the horrendous domestic abuse experienced by thousands of adults and children every day—no way.

I am currently confident—especially after our conversation this morning—that the Government have taken on board the deep concerns expressed across this House at the exclusion of disabled people from the Bill. I believe that they are committed to finding alternative means to address carer abuse, as the current protections are clearly inadequate.

I was therefore very pleased that, in the consideration of Lords Amendments in another place, the Minister, Victoria Atkins, announced in response to my amendments that

“the Government abhor all abuse, and we have every sympathy for the spirit of these amendments” in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell.

“Abuse of disabled people by their carers must be called out and acted upon ... we have listened carefully to the experiences and concerns raised in this House and the other place ... That is why the Government intend to carry out a review of the protections for people at risk of carer abuse. We will engage with ... the disabled sector on the scope of the review, but it would broadly seek to examine the protections offered against carer abuse and the support available to victims. We have listened and we will act.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 519.]

I should be grateful if all sides of the House would strongly support and engage with this review. I hope it will not keep anything off the table, including further legislative protections if necessary. I hope that the review will commence as soon as possible. Of course, I shall be chasing it and look forward to working with the Government and especially with disabled people’s organisations.

Carer abuse—as evidenced throughout the pandemic and during earlier debates and pre-legislative scrutiny—must not continue unchecked. Disabled people deserve to have equivalent protection—no less.

Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat 2:00, 21 April 2021

My Lords, I am very disappointed at the outcome of this amendment. I pay tribute to the hard work of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and many others in bringing it forward.

In the Commons, the Minister, Victoria Atkins, said:

“We should steer away from diluting the purpose of the Bill.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col 519.]

She has promised a government review, pledging to engage with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, and the disabled sector to examine the protections offered and support available for this kind of domestic abuse.

Abuse by a paid or unpaid carer in the home constitutes domestic abuse. If it is not domestic abuse, then what is it? In responding to Victoria Atkins, Jess Phillips said that

“abuse of trust and power is experienced in exactly the same way as that perpetrated by a mother, a father or a partner”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 526.]

If it looks like domestic abuse and it takes place in the home by an individual—paid or unpaid—who is intimately involved with the victim, what else is it if not domestic abuse?

I sincerely hope that the promised review is not a sop to enable the Government to kick this really important issue into the long grass. I appreciate all the Minister’s efforts—even this morning. I welcome any assurances that she can give as to how and when this review will take place. Some of the most vulnerable people in this country are depending on it.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues)

My Lords, I am disappointed that these amendments will not remain in the Bill, despite the tremendous work initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. She has worked tirelessly to bring these issues to the forefront during the debate on this landmark Bill. In mitigation, however, I welcome the Government’s commitment to conduct a review.

Trusting someone enough to let them provide either personal care, or support with day-to-day tasks or communication, is in itself an emotionally intimate act which creates a close bond but also the risk of abuse. It is not infrequent for abusers to target the disabled person and befriend them. They persuade the disabled person that this is done for altruistic motives while, at the same time, they exploit and abuse them. The victim will experience the same ambiguity about power and control versus emotional attachment as any other victim of domestic abuse.

I should stress that we will expect everything that is usually asked for in such a review. The Government must get on with it. They must ensure they are led by experts in the field—including engaging with services such as Stay Safe East which work with victims on the front line. The authentic voices of disabled victims must be heard. It is vital that carer abuse is recognised and tackled, and that no victim of abuse is left without support. We therefore support the Motion and the review.

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

My Lords, first I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, for her words. This morning, I stressed that I was concerned about all the abuse taking place behind closed doors throughout the pandemic. Carer abuse is not exempt from that. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, asked, “what else is it, if not domestic abuse”? It is abuse which happens and about which we have been very concerned during the last 12 months. With the lifting of restrictions, this is a timely opportunity to look into carer abuse.

Noble Lords have asked about timings. These will be announced shortly. As we undertake the review, we intend to engage with the disability sector about its scope. If it is to be meaningful, we must listen to those who have lived experiences. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked if we shall talk to experts such as Stay Safe East. Yes, we will. The review will be open, with no preconceived outcomes. The Government will await its findings before deciding next steps. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and other noble Lords that we will keep all options under review.

Motion A agreed.