Clause 7 - Establishment and conduct of reviews

Part of Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 24th June 2004.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 2:30 pm, 24th June 2004

We all congratulate you, Mr. Benton, on an excellent thing for your constituents.

Clause 7(4) sets out a list of statutory bodies with a duty to have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to domestic homicide reviews. Amendment No. 84 would extend the list of bodies to include mental health trusts and members of any educational establishment. Members will recall that the purpose of domestic homicide reviews is to identify the lessons to be learned from the death. To that end, the Government would not wish to exclude any agency that might have been involved with the victim. As the hon. Lady mentioned, mental health services are important, and I assure her that mental health trusts are already covered by, and included in, the list of bodies in subsection (4) because they are part of NHS trusts.

The amendment is therefore unnecessary; however, the spirit behind it is important: such bodies should not only be included, but know that they are included. It is one thing to get legislation right, but another to ensure that those covered it know that it applies to them. In working with colleagues responsible for mental health in the Home Office and the Department of Health, I will make sure that, just as we want general practitioners and accident and emergency departments to know that the legislation includes them, we want mental health trusts to think through the difficult issues and to know that they must participate in those reviews. The amendment is technically unnecessary, but it brings a point well to the Committee's attention.

On the arguments in favour of extending the list of bodies to include members of any educational establishment, I make no promises, but I would be grateful if the hon. Lady would allow me to consider such arguments at greater length and come back to her on Report.

The bodies listed in subsection (4) have a duty to have regard to any guidance, and may be directed by the Secretary of State, under subsection (2), to set up or participate in a review. The definition of members of an educational establishment could be quite wide, and perhaps include school pupils. I assure the hon. Lady that we get her point, but we do not want inadvertently to create a situation in which the Home Secretary is given powers to direct school pupils to set up reviews. We have to consider how wide the provision should be and whether the drafting uses

the correct terms, and we will establish whether the drafting can be done in terms that would take things forward in the way that we all want.

As the hon. Lady acknowledged, local education authorities will be covered by subsection (4); we are not sure whether it would be right to place such duties on head teachers or governing bodies. She also mentioned private schools and universities. If experience showed that further bodies should be added, there would be a power to do so by statutory instrument under subsection (6).

We must also bear it in mind, however, that we will want a number of organisations to participate in the reviews but will not necessarily want them to be put under the power of the Home Secretary. For example, an employer might well know of a pattern of absence on sick leave, because of a broken arm or rib; sometimes the employer will have a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes, the victim's colleagues at work will have the jigsaw pieces, and we want them to be involved as well.

The Metropolitan police reviews and those of organisations such as Cardiff Women's Safety have shown that often it is already clear that Victim Support and Women's Aid might have information, and we want them to participate in the reviews. If they can help the agencies learn lessons, and they have information about a case, they must come forward and share in the review. It would not be right, however, to give the Secretary of State the power to direct them to conduct or participate in a review.

As with the previous amendment, we all agree on what we want to do, but there is a question about what role legislation should play. I will get back to the hon. Lady about the educational point.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) said something important about teachers. There has been a lot of discussion about what to do if a child says, ''I am being beaten,'' and teachers are now very aware of how to deal with that. However, they are not so aware of what to do if the child says, ''My mother is being beaten.'' Often, children will tell their teacher not about being subjected to abuse themselves but about something else that is going on at home. That is why an education Minister is on the interdepartmental group. Education has a key role to play, as does health. The key question is what extent the power of direction should have. We will consider that further.