Motion G1 (as an amendment to Motion G)

Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 21 April 2021.

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon:

Moved by Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Leave out from “Amendment 42” to end and insert “, do disagree with the Commons in their Amendments 42A, 42B and 42C and do propose Amendments 42D, 42E and 42F in lieu—

42D: Before Clause 69, insert the following new Clause—“Identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators(1) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.(2) In section 325 (arrangements for assessing etc risk posed by certain offenders)—(a) in subsection (1), after ““relevant sexual or violent offender” has the meaning given by section 327;” insert ““relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” has the meaning given in section 327ZA;”;(b) in subsection (2), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrators,”.(3) After section 327 (Section 325: interpretation) insert—“327ZA Section 325: interpretation of relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator(1) For the purposes of section 325, a person (“P”) is a “relevant domestic abuse or stalking perpetrator” if P has been convicted of a specified offence and meets either the condition in subsection (2)(a) or subsection (2)(b).(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the conditions are—(a) P is a relevant serial offender; or(b) a risk of serious harm assessment has identified P as presenting a high or very high risk of serious harm.(3) An offence is a “specified offence” for the purposes of this section if it is a specified domestic abuse offence or a specified stalking offence.(4) In this section—“relevant serial offender” means a person convicted on more than one occasion for the same specified offence, or a person convicted of more than one specified offence; “specified domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;“specified stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.”(4) The Secretary of State must, before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed—(a) commission a review into the operation of the provisions in this section;(b) prepare and publish a document setting out a strategy for the prosecution and management of domestic abuse and stalking offenders.(5) A strategy under subsection (4)(b) must include provisions for—(a) detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse or stalking,(b) assessing and managing the risks posed by individuals who commit offences involving domestic abuse or stalking, and(c) reducing the risk that such individuals commit further offences involving domestic abuse or stalking.(6) The Secretary of State—(a) must keep the strategy under review;(b) may revise it.(7) If the Secretary of State revises the strategy, the Secretary of State must publish a document setting out the revised strategy.(8) In preparing or revising a strategy under this section, the Secretary of State must consult—(a) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and(b) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(9) Subsection (7) does not apply in relation to any revisions of the strategy if the Secretary of State considers the proposed revisions of the strategy are insubstantial.”

42E: In Clause 75, page 59, line 8, after “section” insert “(Identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators),”

42F: In Clause 79, page 60, line 32, at end insert—“( ) section (Identification, monitoring and management of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators);””

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, it has rightly been said many times that this is an excellent Bill of which we can be proud. However, in this National Stalking Awareness Week, we have an opportunity to make a further change that would demonstrate that the Government really have listened to the outpouring of anger and grief following the murder of Sarah Everard.

Since 15 March, when your Lordships last considered the Bill, 16 more women have been murdered—most of them as a consequence of domestic abuse, with many of them undoubtedly having suffered coercive control and stalking. If the perpetrators had been proactively identified, assessed and managed by police, prison and probation services, using the Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements and the violent and sex offender register—ViSOR—many of these women would still be alive. These victims are not just numbers or even names: they were mothers, sisters and daughters who were loved and whose murder will have torn families apart with pain.

For nearly 20 years, evidence has been provided by Laura Richards, charities, HMIC and others that the current system is not working, and that serious and serial stalkers and domestic abusers are treated with impunity. The Minister is right that more good practice is needed, but we have been told that for the last 10 or 12 years and little has changed. I know that there are many things in train, but women are dying. The answer from government has always been, “The current system is adequate. We acknowledge that there are problems, but it is the practice not the process that is the problem. We will issue more guidance and lessons will be learned”. The lesson that has been learned is that guidance is not enough. Real change will be effected only through statute.

After 15 March, there was a flurry of press coverage and we were told that domestic abusers, stalkers and sex offenders will be registered on a super-database under plans being drawn up by the Government. Some of that press coverage came from briefings. Survivors, the families of victims, charities and hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country were elated, relieved that women were no longer going to live in fear. Their hopes, however, were dashed when the Minister responded in the Commons last week and when the Government whipped against my amendment. Why is the Government so against this simple amendment that would make such a profound difference?

I beg to differ with the Minister. Minister Atkins reiterated that the current system was adequate. All that was needed was the

“strengthening of MAPPA statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 522.]

Ministers say that the real issue was not the statutory framework but how it is applied in practice. The statutory framework must be amended, otherwise the relevant authorities will continue, as they have done for 20 years, to ignore patterns of behaviour that end in murder. The Minister said that a new category of MAPPA, as proposed by my amendment, is

“not needed … because these … people can be included in the existing category 3.” —[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 534.]

However, this category has historically been interpreted very narrowly, which means that police, probation and other agencies are not treating repeat perpetrators as high-risk offenders. Yet they are high risk.

The Minister added:

“Creating a new MAPPA category for high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators would bring added complexity to the MAPPA framework without compensating benefits.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 522.]

This was an affront in the Commons. We are striving to save women’s lives and the excuse for inaction is “added complexity”. The compensatory benefit would be to include more people in the system who are high-risk and endanger women’s lives. We were informed in a meeting yesterday by an official that it would trigger bureaucratic processes; I take that to mean that it would lead to effective action which they do not wish to take or in which they do not wish invest. Yes, more resources would be required, but women’s lives would be saved and the cost would be far outweighed by the cost of murder inquiries, each of which costs £2 million.

It is no wonder that among the people who felt let down and wept with anger when they heard the Minister last week were 17-year-old Georgia Gabriel-Hooper, whose mum was killed by an ex-partner in front of her; Zoe Dronfield, who was almost murdered by a man who had stalked some 13 other women; John Clough, father of Jane Clough, who was stalked and murdered by a violent ex-partner even though he had a history of abusing other women; and Nick Gazzard, father of Hollie, who was murdered by her stalker, who was involved in 24 previous violent offences. None of the perpetrators were on a high-risk offenders’ register, and the police were not monitoring them. Zoe lives in constant fear, as do many other survivors, especially when those that attacked them leave prison and are not on a register. We know of many survivors and their families who are literally living in hiding—hiding from men who should be on a database so that they can be managed and police can be accountable for the management of their behaviour.

Why are the Government so against including serial domestic abusers and stalking perpetrators on a database? I heard what the Minister said, however, and I am pleased to learn that they recognise that ViSOR is not working and that a new system, the multiagency public protection system, will be introduced. The Minister said that this would include perpetrators of domestic abuse, but she did not mention stalking. Will the new system include perpetrators of stalking? If not, why not? I think we must insist that it does.

I welcome the Government’s intention to draw up a perpetrator strategy and have included it in my amendment, as the Minister suggested, but the amendment in lieu before us today does not mention stalking. It is weak. It is not a replacement for the high-risk register, proper monitoring and interventions underpinned by statute that are desperately needed. It is simply not good enough. The domestic abuse commissioner, who strongly supports the aim of this amendment, believes that in order for the perpetrator strategy to be effective, it should be underpinned by a statutory duty placed on public sector bodies and agencies to comply with its aims. Will the Minister agree to such a statutory duty?

I shall also ask about the funding for such a strategy. Does the Minister agree with the commissioner that to ensure that public sector bodies and agencies are able to implement the duties required of them, it is crucial that they receive full guaranteed funding for this work and that such funds must be guaranteed on a longer term, four to five year-basis to ensure continuity of provision rather than a piecemeal, annual or two-yearly funding approach. Will the Minister give me that commitment on both a statutory duty and the funding?

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust published a powerful report, Unmasking Stalking: A Changing Landscape, to mark National Stalking Awareness Week. Among many other shocking facts, it revealed that 60% of stalking victims receive no protection after reporting to the police and that nothing is done about the stalkers. Stalking is about fixation and obsession. Stalkers must be identified, treated and managed. That is what my amendment seeks to do.

Robert Buckland has campaigned on stalking for many years and I admire his work. Yesterday, he tweeted that this Government are committed to stamping out stalking. One can only wonder why the Justice Secretary voted against the amendment, which would have done more than anything else to stamp out stalking.

We have 20 years of evidence to demonstrate that the current system is not working. It is too late for more guidance and more words; it is time to act. I therefore urge the Minister to accept my amendment, so that perpetrators are no longer able to act with impunity, so that fewer women and girls live in fear and fewer lives are tragically lost at the hands of serious and serial domestic abusers and stalkers. I look forward to the Minister’s response, specifically on the inclusion of perpetrators of stalking on the register and new database and on the perpetrator strategy. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health) 6:15, 21 April 2021

My Lords, I strongly echo all the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, but am profoundly upset that Ministers seem to have gone backwards since we last debated this matter in the Lords on Report. The Minister referred to the 30 deaths that we reported at that time, but at least 16 further women have been murdered since Report on 15 March—a mere 36 days ago. This is deeply shocking evidence of the current failures.

As a new Member of your Lordships’ House, I was invited to join the independent parliamentary inquiry into stalking law reform chaired by Elfyn Llwyd MP. At the start of its report, there is a quotation that is important in the context of Amendment G1 today. Tracey Morgan, a victim and now a supporter of many other victims, said to us then,

“The victims I hear from are saying the same things I was 15 years ago—what’s changed? We need to do more. This is about murder prevention.”

Ten years on, nothing has changed. That is 25 years of Tracey’s experience and hundreds of murders. One key perpetrator recommendation from our stalking inquiry remains outstanding, which is having a register of serial stalking perpetrators. Why are they not mentioned in the Government’s amendment?

The Minister insists that Motion G1 is not needed because the problem is one of better management to make the various parts of the multiagency system work better everywhere. We all know that there are pockets of excellent practice, but the safety of victims and the de-escalation of the behaviour of these dangerous perpetrators should not be a postcode lottery. It should be consistent and should give confidence to victims and all those working with them. It should save lives.

I think we all agree that the current MAPPA arrangements need to improve. In 2017, HMICFRS inspected a number of MAPPA cases; this resulted in its report, Living in Fear. The headlines in that report are deeply shocking, with 100% failure in 112 cases inspected across six police force and CPS areas. Victims were left at risk and let down by under-recording and inconsistent services, with patterns missed and incidents being treated as isolated. Victims said that they wanted the police to understand the bigger picture and to receive specialist-led training. There was often no risk identification, assessment or management of stalkers.

In Committee, I talked about the need for a golden thread to run through all interactions with victims and perpetrators. This is particularly vital for perpetrators because we know that their behaviour escalates and becomes more obsessive and violent as time goes on. Only by getting them into the MAPPA process can we achieve that and ensure that this golden thread provides an oversight of behaviour.

Last week, Channel 4’s excellent documentary “24 Hours in Police Custody” had an episode called “Death Us Do Part”. It focused on the 2019 Bedfordshire Police investigation into a severe attack by a female perpetrator on her male partner. She gave him two bleeds on his brain and a fractured eye socket. We saw the frustration that the excellent police domestic violence team faced. The attack on Paul Jenner came just two days after his partner’s early release from prison after a previous serious attack on him. It was evident that there was no contact with HM Prison and Probation Service. The custody sergeant even commented that they knew her well and that it is as if a switch gets turned on and she cannot stop herself attacking him. The investigating officer was struck that after she was arrested, she was already texting her partner, who became frightened and unwilling to co-operate. The officer and her team finally persuaded him that they could help him, but their efforts were constantly undermined by the coercive control that the perpetrator had over him. Sadly, he died a few days later. Given the number of attacks she had made on him over many years and the increasing severity of those attacks, she was well known to everyone in the system. That is why serious and serial domestic violence perpetrators need to be on the register and why there needs to be a duty for all the multiagency partners to work together. If that had happened, this “never event”—a predictable event that should never have been able to happen but did—could have prevented because that golden thread would have prepared and supported Paul Jenner and his partner on her release from prison.

Stalking Awareness Week started on Monday. Robert Buckland QC—incidentally, he was a member of the stalking law reform inquiry with me a decade ago—made a moving video as Secretary of State for Justice, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that he has been a champion for getting on top of stalking. He said of stalking: “We need to call it out. We need to stamp it out. We need to do all we can to deal with the menace of stalking in our society.” I agree. However, that will never happen until a duty for multiagency response is enshrined in legislation, with a database and register to provide that golden thread to identify and stop stalking and domestic abuse perpetrators and save lives. I beg the Government to reconsider.

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

My Lords, I am not a fan of acronyms at the best of times, but I feel that this evening does call for one, and it is DVAOA—which, as everybody will know, stands for “déjà vu all over again”. So here we are again.

Last Thursday, in another place, there was a lamentable performance by the Government, I must say. For those who have not watched it, I suggest you take a stiff gin and tonic and then sit back and enjoy it. Particularly if you are of the Government’s persuasion, it is not very nice to watch. To her credit, the noble Baroness the Minister, as one might have expected, has performed immeasurably better, and I am very grateful to her for the opening speech, which I thought contained some very positive elements. Because of that, I will rein in the rant that I was going to deliver and make it a rather smaller rant than I would have delivered otherwise.

Why am I and others on our feet again? Some of what the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, have said very comprehensively has already covered that, but I was going to wave three exhibits. The first was the report that Robert Buckland, our Justice Minister, undertook about stalking and the recommendations that he made. The second, exhibit B, would be one of a certain Alex Chalk, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, who, in his own stalking review, which he did with a fellow Gloucestershire MP, strangely used exactly the same wording as Robert Buckland’s report, basically saying

“Consideration should be given to the production of a register of serial perpetrators”.

Last but not least, exhibit C is from our Home Secretary herself, Priti Patel, who in 2013 edited a report called Rebalancing the Scales for victims. One of the contributions, which she was responsible for editing, said very clearly that a database should be established comprehensively to cover all perpetrators and stalkers.

On Thursday in another place, the Government effectively admitted that the current system is not working as it should, that the current database is out of date and is not working as it should, and the Minister in the Commons, in a much more pared-down way, indicated some of what the Minister said earlier this evening. But what we are really talking about, and this goes back certainly as far as 2004, is a fundamental failure of management and leadership.

I do not have a background in government or public service; I have a background in business, and where I come from, over all those years, the sort of failure of management and leadership that has been consistent through changes in government, changes in Minister, changes in special adviser, would be regarded as a sacking offence, and certainly as a career-limiting offence. Given the awful, relentless toll of women dying, week in and week out, I think that, in the world I come from, it would also be regarded potentially as corporate manslaughter. Noble Lords know what the penalties are for corporate manslaughter: they are considerable. But because this is a Government, and because we are dealing with statutory agencies, that is not an option—but it really is not far off, and it is shameful. And the death toll relentlessly keeps going up, and will keep going up, whatever fine words we say.

As I said, the Minister has been very helpful. I was going to say that, until the point she spoke, I was much clearer about what the Government did not want to do than about what they do want to do, and I am very grateful that she has given some clear indications about the direction they want to go in. We have had, as I am sure the Minister has, some fairly intensive conversations with the domestic abuse commissioner’s office about how she sees things, going forward. She too knows and admits that the current system is not working, but, naturally, given her role and the nature of her relationship with government, she wants to be positive and to try to make it work. I am very keen to be positive, too, and to try to make this work.

So what I am looking for is a tangible demonstration that there is a commitment to provide a level of leadership, energy and joined-up administration, and another commitment to putting in statute an absolute responsibility to deliver whatever the strategy produces. The strategy has to have teeth; guidance is not enough. Voluntary initiatives are not enough.

The history of voluntary initiatives—there are some very good ones in this area, which are producing good results—is that they are voluntary. They rely usually on a single, charismatic leader who galvanises the organisation to get behind something. It starts working, and everybody is very excited. What then tends to happen is that that charismatic leader moves on and another leader comes in. They may be equally charismatic but may well have a different set of priorities, so what was previously driven by the charismatic leader drops further down the list. It becomes less of a priority and the results start tailing off. The only way you can defeat that is to have a systematic, joined-up statutory duty to deliver, knowing that you will be held to account if you do not. That is what the strategy needs to contain.

I heard what the Minister said about stalking: that it will be included in the strategy on violence against women and girls. She has heard me say previously that my natural reaction over many years whenever I hear the word “strategy” is to reach for my tin hat, and I confess that I still have that inclination. We may end up with too many strategies and I do appeal to the Government to make sure that it is all joined up, in the interests of the victims, the women and the men, we are talking about.

As I think I have said previously, when the Minister gets up to respond, will she remember that it is not only we who are listening but the families of the victims? In particular, there are a large number of people who, perhaps wrongly, had their hopes and expectations inflated as they rejoiced at what they thought was going to be the creation of this all-singing, all-dancing national database. It now turns out that that is not quite the case, but it behoves us all to be aware that an awful lot of people are listening very carefully to what we are saying, and will listen very carefully to what the Minister has to say, and I hope and pray that what she says will give them some sense of peace and optimism for the future.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:30, 21 April 2021

I have received requests to speak from the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson of Welton. I call first the noble Lord, Lord Polak.

Photo of Lord Polak Lord Polak Conservative

My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Russell, who I have had the pleasure of working with on different areas of the Bill. He is very wise.

Let me congratulate the Government on reaching this important moment, as the Bill will soon finally become law. I pay tribute to so many people who have made this happen, in particular my noble friend Lady Williams, who as the Minister has dealt with such sensitive and important issues in a sensitive and caring manner. In fact, she seems to have been surgically attached to the Dispatch Box for months. I will always be grateful to my noble friend for her help and advice on the specific areas that are of concern to me in relation to children and the importance of the provision for community-based services. Let me also pay tribute to Claire Stewart of Barnardo’s for her help and professionalism.

As we have been told, we are in the middle of National Stalking Awareness Week and I was pleased to see the video message from the right honourable Robert Buckland, the Lord Chancellor, which has been mentioned. He said in that video:

“Our job is to raise awareness of this wicked crime, to increase support for victims” and address the perpetrators. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, he ended by saying:

“We need to call it out. We need to stamp it out. We need to do all we can to deal with the menace of stalking in our society.”

The Lord Chancellor is right and the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, make strong arguments that I will not repeat.

I have had discussions with my noble friend Lady Newlove, who is unable to be in the Chamber. She asked me to convey the following message: “Sadly, the Government voted for Amendment 42 to be quashed out of the Bill. I am ashamed. Why? Because, despite many conversations through the usual channels, MAPPA category 3 will still have so many gaps it resembles a string vest. The response from the Government of proposing more guidance is not worth the paper it is written on. Treating those families whose loved ones have been needlessly taken with lack of respect and dignity—the Government is proposing more guidance—has not worked over the years. What is it going to take in order for Government to stop this pattern of behaviour in order to protect innocent lives taken by the hands of offenders of coercive controlling and stalking? Government rhetoric serves only to shamefully value human life after the horse has bolted and to protect those accountable by these two insensitive words ‘lessons learned’, instead of saying ‘enough is enough’.”

We can all understand my noble friend’s frustration. While it is clear that Nicole Jacobs supports the principle of this amendment, she also understands that ViSOR and MAPPA are overloaded systems. I seek the Minister’s help. We are all on the same side and we all know where we want to reach. As the Lord Chancellor said about stalking, we all want to call it out and we all want to stamp it out.

I noted the welcome announcement in the Minister’s speech about the upgrading of ViSOR and MAPPA. On the one hand we are told that putting stalkers on to a register is problematic but, on the other, we are told that putting them on to a register can save lives. Can the Minister persuade me why I should not vote for this amendment?

Photo of Baroness Sanderson of Welton Baroness Sanderson of Welton Conservative

My Lords, I understand the strength of feeling on this issue. I completely agree on the need to do more to stop serial offenders. Too often in the worst cases we discover that the perpetrator has had a long and shocking history of previous abuse. I am not clear about how a register or, effectively, a new category under MAPPA would improve the situation.

Members in this House and in the other place have said that new guidance is not enough to deal with the problem. I can understand why there might be some scepticism on that front. The truth is that this comes down to better guidance, proper training and more effective information sharing about the worst offenders.

Throughout the passage of the Bill, we have heard distressing details of what some of those offenders have done. But the fact remains that the vast majority were already covered by current MAPPA categories. Merely shifting their names into a new category or on to a new register will not change matters. If anything, it could make the situation even more difficult, for this is not straightforward. Working through the finer details of this so-called super-database as to exactly who will be on it and for how long they will remain there will take time, which we have all agreed we do not have. How do we avoid ending up with something so unwieldy that it inhibits the process of tracking and managing these people?

While I understand why a new category or database might seem appealing, I genuinely believe that in practice it will not deliver what we want. Surely it is better to focus our energies on improving the system that we have. We all agree that it is not working as it should, but the Government are investing in improvements to the ViSOR database that will enable better risk assessment and information sharing. I really believe that this, together with the new guidance and frameworks which have already been promised, will be more effective in dealing with the very real problem before us.

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

My Lords, we have had some immensely knowledgeable, cogent and passionate contributions tonight, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and my noble friend Lady Brinton.

Several noble Lords have referred to National Stalking Awareness Week and, like others, I was greatly heartened to hear the Secretary of State, Robert Buckland, say that he would do what he could to address this issue. He has campaigned for years on stalking so, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, said: why vote against the amendment considering what would be achieved by it?

There is a well-known saying—I am not the only one who can trot out the old things—which is, “Do what you’ve always done, and you’ll get what you’ve always got.” In 2012, the stalking law inquiry report recommended exactly what this amendment, retabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, would do. Since 2012, the Government have insisted time after time that the implementation of the rules is the issue, not making recording mandatory. Victoria Atkins said last week:

“The real issue … is not the statutory framework but how it is applied”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/4/21; col. 522.]

In this case, doing “what you’ve always done” has not even got us to where we used to get, as the harrowing figures given to us have demonstrated. Clearly, from the testimonies of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, my noble friend Lady Brinton and others, what we have now is worse than ever. From a pre-pandemic level of about two women being murdered per week, that number has more than doubled—with 16 since the Report stage of this Bill. You can be sure that all the gradations of fear, pain and misery proportionately cascaded all the way down the line. Why will the Government not be brave enough to do something different with the changes contained in these amendments?

We know that the danger comes with an escalation from minor offences to major ones. Stalkers can be helped, but, without a co-ordinated effort to identify them at an early stage, the real danger they pose may come too late. The Government’s alternative is not strong enough, although I acknowledge they are trying hard to do something with their own amendment and that is greatly appreciated.

We have heard many harrowing testimonies over the course of these amendments. No one in your Lordships’ House wants to have to hear the sickening details of another one—no “DVAOA”, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said—no “déjà vu all over again”. While I welcome the government amendments, including MAPPS as opposed to MAPPA, my party and I are fully behind the amendment put by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall. We will support her if she sees fit to push it to a vote.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, the Government have accepted that a perpetrator strategy should be in the Bill and have brought forward their own amendment. As far as it goes, it is pleasing to see that and I am happy to welcome it—but their amendment completely ignores the key provisions of my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon’s amendment: that there must be concrete plans for the management and monitoring of serial domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. I am pleased that my noble friend has tabled Motion G1, and these Benches will support her if she decides to divide the House.

My noble friend’s amendment is clear, simple and effective. It would add serial abusers and perpetrators to the existing MAPPA system. My noble friend has made a compelling case today and on previous occasions. I agree that this amendment would provide further protection to victims living in fear and having to hide away. It is outrageous that people have to hide away from abusive partners or ex-partners, at risk of attack, and we must do everything we possibly can to ensure that these perpetrators are effectively managed and controlled. That is what we need to do today.

The government response, though, is generally weak and does not deliver the certainty we need. All through these debates over the months the Bill has been in this House, we have heard the most harrowing, distressing, tragic stories. I am sure we have all been moved by what we have heard. What has been going on is horrific. My noble friend Lady Royall and others, Members of both Houses from all parties, have been calling for change for over a decade, but not much has actually happened. Serial abusers are slipping through the net and being allowed to reoffend repeatedly. The harm of domestic abuse only escalates in its severity and frequency—we all know that is the case—so we need effective, early intervention to prevent women being seriously hurt or even killed by their abusive partner or ex-partner.

Since we last debated these matters, as my noble friend Lady Royall told the House, 16 women have been killed—16 lives lost and families destroyed in the last few months. It is horrific. It is shocking to even think of that figure over the last few months. Violence against women—it is usually women, but not exclusively —is an epidemic. The Home Secretary is failing to take the action required to make a real difference, and that is most disappointing.

The noble Lord, Lord Russell, helpfully set out the support for a register—the support for action—that we have from the Home Secretary. The report she wrote and the work she is doing are excellent. There is support from Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary. I like Robert Buckland very much; I have known him for many years. He is a really nice guy and we get on very well. I always enjoy my chats with him in the House. There is also support from Alex Chalk—again, a very nice guy.

They are doing their work on Twitter, are they not, these little Twitter warriors? What is really good for these Twitter warriors is that they are in power. Unlike the rest of us—we can only ask to get things done, campaign for them or say they should happen—they are actually in power and can do something about it. What a place to be. There is an issue you are really passionate about; you want it changed and—lo and behold—you are in office and can do something about it. I am really hopeful that those I mentioned can take the campaigns they have had on Twitter, on social media and elsewhere, and do something about it. All the rest of us can do is campaign and make the points. I am quite good at making points repeatedly—I can keep on doing that—but that is all I can do. I cannot do more at the moment—well, I am standing up here. I hope we will see action taken, because, otherwise, it is just cynical use of social media. I am sure none of the people I mentioned would do that, but of course I have seen other members of the Government campaign for stuff on Twitter and social media and then not actually do it in practice, which is worrying.

I hope the Government will take advantage and actually deliver on this. That is why the House should support my noble friend Lady Royall of Blaisdon’s amendment today—to give all those campaigners in the Government who want these things to happen the chance to vote for it again. Clearly, they must have been confused and did not realise what they were doing, because they voted against what they wanted in the first place. I hope we all support my noble friend today, because we are failing to stop, monitor and prosecute dangerous offenders. My noble friend is asking the other place to think again. I hope we will take the opportunity to support her.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 6:45, 21 April 2021

My Lords, rather than going over the arguments about why we do not agree with the amendment, perhaps I might stress that we all seek the same ends. Like the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, I am at risk of repeating myself.

My noble friend asked, quite logically, why putting offenders on a register was problematic. It is not problematic. So many noble Lords made the point about improving things in practice. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, would ask, I am sure—although I do not want to think for him—what we will do now to make things any different from how they were before, and that is a totally reasonable question, particularly in National Stalking Awareness Week. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, is right to say that some of the stories we have heard have been absolutely horrific. Noble Lords may recall that I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, pointing out that these stories were horrendous. Would they have fared any differently with this additional category? I contended that they would not, but said that I felt we could all agree that the current arrangements had to be improved.

I will address what I think the noble Lord, Lord Russell, would ask, which is, “What are we going to do that will make a difference?” The answer is: several things. We will revisit and refresh the statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse. It will ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires active multiagency management, and to put in place a plan of action which reflects the risk, no matter what the category. We are legislating in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to clarify the information-sharing powers under MAPPA.

Noble Lords who know me know that I am very supportive of multiagency information sharing, and that Bill puts beyond doubt that the information-sharing powers of those agencies are subject to the duty to co-operate under MAPPA. That is absolutely crucial. It will also explicitly clarify these information-sharing powers for those agencies or individuals who can contribute to the assessment and management of risk: for example, GPs. It will give greater confidence to these agencies when sharing information and will support more effective risk management. So, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in terms of the statutory duty to co-operate with the aims of the DA strategy, the Bill makes provision for statutory guidance that bodies exercising public functions must have regard to offenders convicted of a stalking offence who are managed under level 2 or level 3 of MAPPA having to be on ViSOR. The guidance is not voluntary. That is a very important practical step.

HM Prison and Probation Service will issue a policy framework setting out clear expectations for the management of all cases at MAPPA level 1 by the National Probation Service, including domestic abuse perpetrators. This will further help improve the quality of information sharing, the consistency and regularity of reviews and the identification of cases where additional risk-management activity is required.

We will decommission ViSOR, which is now almost 20 years old, and bring in the new MAPP system, which will be piloted from next year. As I have said, we will also bring forward a new statutory domestic abuse perpetrator strategy as part of a holistic domestic abuse strategy, to be published later this year. In terms of resources, I totally concur with the noble Baroness. We are investing in new resources, with an additional £25 million committed this year, but she is absolutely right that we need ongoing certainty in funding, and I give a personal guarantee to her that both Victoria Atkins and I will be lobbying the Chancellor as we head towards the next SR period—because she is right; we absolutely need sustainable funding.

We do want to be held to account on our commitment to do more. I started trying to deal with the perennial problem of getting huge improvements in our response to domestic abuse when I was at MHCLG, and I continue to do so through this Bill. We brought forward Amendments 42A to 42C, which the Commons have agreed, and I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness has incorporated Amendment 42D into her amendment. I hope that I have outlined the tangible action that we are taking and that the House will support our Motion and reject the noble Baroness’s. However, in rejecting it we are not, ultimately, on a different page in what we are seeking to achieve.

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Labour

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of my amendment. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister, who has outlined many tangible actions. We all agree that the current system is not working, and many of the actions which she outlined are indeed going to improve things. I am delighted by her announcement that ViSOR does not work and is therefore going to be replaced; that is great. As she mentioned earlier, the perpetrators of domestic abuse are going to be part of the new data system, but I do not think that she said that the perpetrators of stalking are going to be included on that register. I feel extremely passionate about that because stalking and domestic abuse are inextricably linked. There is a pattern of behaviour: one thing leads to another and, ultimately, women are murdered. I therefore think it extremely important that the perpetrators of domestic abuse and of stalking be dealt with in the same way.

The noble Baroness mentioned many things about the perpetrator strategy, and I will have to look carefully at what she said. As I understand it, there are going to be two distinct strategies, one for stalkers and the one covered by Amendment 42. There, again, I do not understand why there would be two strategies when the perpetrators of both offences need to be dealt with in the same way. If I am wrong, and there are not going to be two strategies, please tell me. But as it is, I find the solution to some of these problems quite confusing and frustrating.

I think—I know—we are all willing the same end. I do not yet agree with the means by which we are getting to that end, but I am confident we can agree in due course. There are more conversations to be had, and I would like more conversations following this evening and before we get to the next stage of this Bill, which I very much want to reach the statute book, and of course it will. Because I still have questions and there are things I wish to insist on, I am going to test the opinion of the House. But with that, I thank the Minister very much. I look forward to our conversations, and I am sure we will find a way through in the coming days.

Ayes 291, Noes 228.

Division number 4 Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments — Motion G1 (as an amendment to Motion G)

Aye: 291 Members of the House of Lords

No: 228 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Division conducted remotely on Motion G1

Motion G1 agreed.