My Lords, my brief comments today will primarily focus on domestic abuse and serious violence. My key point regards how this legislation could be amended to help with the prevention of domestic abuse.
When this Chamber debated the Domestic Abuse Bill earlier this year, I raised the point that older people are often forgotten when discussing such legislation. A study by Hourglass—formerly Action on Elder Abuse, which I was proud to establish some years ago—found that 2.7 million people aged over 65 in the UK had experienced such abuse. It is totally unacceptable that anyone of any age should have to experience domestic abuse, where very often the perpetrator is a family member or someone close to the victim.
I will support the amendment led by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and co-sponsored by the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Russell and Lord Rosser, to extend the definition of “serious violence” to explicitly include domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence. Furthermore, I congratulate the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, on her superb commitment and leadership in raising awareness of these issues.
Currently, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill leaves it to local authorities to decide whether domestic abuse and sexual violence should be included in local strategies. Sadly, these crimes can happen to anyone of any age in any place. Any serious prevention strategy must start at the national level and include all local authorities. Home Office draft guidance currently says that local areas could consider including violence against women and girls as part of the new duty, if they choose to do so. This needs to be much stronger, and not optional, because we know that these crimes happen throughout the country, not just in certain areas. Preventing domestic abuse against not just women and girls but anyone of any age must be a top priority for us all.
When the Bill was debated in the other place, the Government rejected an amendment to extend the time that survivors have to report incidents of common assault to the police from the current six months to a maximum of 18 months. However, for many of those who are being abused, it is very difficult to report what is happening because coercive and controlling behaviour is sometimes part of the abuse. A mother being assaulted by her son or daughter may have a fear of stigma—of being seen as a bad parent—so she may be very reluctant to report the crime, and, if she does, it may be much later. Given that most domestic abuse, and certainly most of the abuse of older people, never gets reported, having a six-month time limit significantly reduces the chances of perpetrators being brought to justice. Can the Minister please explain why the Government wish to retain the current six-month limit?
Finally, there are significant issues relating to the Travelling community in Part 4—I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, has said about this. I also note the issues regarding the rights to protest under Part 3. There is always a fine balance between protecting the rights of free speech and protest and ensuring public safety. In its current form, the Bill has yet to get this balance right. Therefore, once again, it falls to your Lordships’ House to perform its constitutional role as a revising Chamber to correct this.