Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 5:03 pm on 21st April 2021.
My Lords, noble Lords will recall that Amendment 41 sought to provide at least six months of leave to remain and access to public funds to all migrant victims of domestic abuse and provide them with a route to apply for settlement. In so doing, this amendment effectively sought to expand the existing destitution domestic violence concession so that it made provision for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of the wide range of circumstances represented in this group. The underlying objective of Amendment 43 was similar in kind to Amendment 41; that is, to secure equally effective protection and support for all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, as provided for in the Istanbul convention. The Commons disagreed with these amendments on the basis that they gave rise to a charge on public funds.
Given the Commons’ reason, I welcome the fact that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lady Helic have come forward with substantially different amendments. I will take the new Amendments 41B and 43B in turn. Amendment 41B, in essence, seeks to lift the no recourse to public funds condition for migrant victims of domestic abuse until the conclusion of the support for migrant victims scheme. The amendment also provides that within two months of the scheme’s conclusion the Secretary of State must consult the domestic abuse commissioner and specialist sector and publish a strategy for the long-term provision for victims who do not have leave or have leave subject to the no recourse to public funds condition.
I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for her careful consideration of debate thus far and acknowledge the effort she has made to separate out the immediate needs of victims from their immigration status in the revised amendment. However, the Government still do not think that this amendment would provide an appropriate way forward. The notion of an automatic waiver of the no recourse to public funds condition raises some concerns. Furthermore, I highlight to noble Lords that, like its predecessor, this revised amendment will inevitably also involve a significant charge on public funds.
Our concerns about Amendment 41B are practical and principled. Perhaps I may deal with the practical difficulties first. The support for migrant victims scheme will commence imminently—by which point, under the terms of this amendment, a process by which to lift the no recourse to public funds condition for migrant victims of domestic abuse would need to be operating. This would carry with it both considerable cost and logistical difficulty. It is not a change that could be delivered in time for the start of the scheme. Even assuming such practical difficulties could be overcome, we have, as I have said, more fundamental concerns about implications of this amendment.
Broadly speaking, successive Governments have taken the view that access to publicly-funded benefits and services should normally reflect the strength of a migrant’s connections to the UK. We think that such access should become available to migrants only when they have settled here. These restrictions are an important plank of immigration policy, operated, as I have said, by successive Governments, and they are applicable to all migrants until they qualify for indefinite leave to remain. The policy is designed to assure the public that controlled immigration brings real benefits to the UK but does not lead to excessive demands on the UK’s finite resources, and that public funds are protected for permanent residents of the UK. Automatically waiving the no recourse to public funds conditions for all migrant victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their diverse financial circumstances and needs, would not seem to be an appropriate course of action.
What is more, to provide access to public funds one must also necessarily confer leave. The two cannot be disaggregated in the manner suggested by the amendment. It is for this reason that we have launched the support for migrant victims scheme, which can provide support for migrant victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds. We think the support that will be available through the scheme will, in practice, ensure that the majority of migrant victims without recourse to public funds will receive the support they need directly from the support organisation, without the need to access those funds.
As I have pointed out during earlier debates on the Bill, we still need more information and evidence to inform longer-term policy decisions and to ensure that funding is appropriately targeted to meet the needs of migrant victims. I am therefore very happy to inform the House that we have now awarded the funding for the £1.5 million support for migrant victims scheme to Southall Black Sisters. We will work together with Southall Black Sisters and an independent external evaluator to ensure that this scheme provides protection and support for migrant victims of domestic abuse with no recourse to public funds, as well as supplying the evidence that we need to inform subsequent policy.
The scheme is designed to provide support to those individuals who fall through the gaps of other support mechanisms, such as the destitution domestic violence concession. It provides a safety net of support through provision of accommodation in a refuge or other relevant safe accommodation. Also, the scheme can offer wraparound provision, including emotional support and more practical support such as immigration advice to aid victims in their recovery and in navigating the options available to them to move on from that support. In that sense, it already goes further than the rather blunt mechanism of simply granting access to public funds; the support that it provides can be tailored to the needs of individual victims.
Amendment 43B was put forward by my noble friend Lady Helic. I assure her that the Government remain committed to ratifying the Istanbul convention as soon as practicable, and the swift enactment of this Bill will be a significant milestone in enabling that to happen. I welcome how her revised amendment now focuses on the provision of accommodation-based support under Part 4, but I contend that it is not needed because the duty on tier 1 local authorities operates in respect of all victims of domestic abuse and their children in need of accommodation-based support in their area. We will make clear through the statutory guidance under Part 4 that local authorities and local partnership boards will be required to take steps to understand the additional barriers that may prevent victims with protected characteristics accessing support in safe accommodation services. Local strategies will also need to set out clearly how tier 1 authorities, working with and through the board, will address the barriers identified.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, my noble friend Lady Helic and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are to be commended for championing the cause of migrant victims. We all broadly want to achieve the same outcome, albeit that we have different views on how best to achieve it. I hope that in the light of the votes in the elected House and the reasons that it has given for disagreeing with these amendments they and all noble Lords will be content to agree Motion F. As I have indicated, the support for migrant victims scheme will soon be up and running. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate and others will be as keen as me to see the outcome of the scheme and will, quite properly, continue to press the Government to act on its conclusions. I beg to move.