Advisory Board

Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 9th June 2020.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:30 pm, 9th June 2020

I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 11, page 7, line 7, at end insert

“in England;

(aa) at least one person appearing to the Commissioner to represent the interests of victims of domestic abuse in Wales;”.

This amendment would require representation for domestic abuse victims in Wales, ensuring that both the interests of domestic abuse victims in England and Wales are equally addressed.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Ms Buck. Amendment 28 would protect the interests of domestic abuse victims in both England and Wales as it recognises that the experiences and challenges faced by victims in both countries are in some respects different. It endeavours to smooth the jagged edge of the victim’s experience of justice in the context of devolution, as was mentioned earlier. The amendment calls for at least one person from Wales to be given a position on the commissioner’s advisory board in order to adequately address the specific concerns of domestic abuse victims in Wales. I note that it is the commissioner’s role to appoint board members. None the less, the Bill already specifies six roles of members, of which there are four that specify England. I also note the Joint Committee’s recommendation on a duty to consult, and Wales deserves a mention, given that there are so many other roles—six roles—already specifically mentioned, four of which specify England.

Although the designate domestic abuse commissioner has already done excellent work in co-operating with organisations in Wales, my amendment would formalise the relationship. I spoke earlier to the domestic abuse commissioner on this matter, and I welcome her actions so far. She has been in regular contact, as many of us are, with Welsh Women’s Aid and many other organisations on covid-19. She is intent on appointing a member of staff who will be able to specialise in Wales matters, but the specific point of ensuring a voice from victims ideally in Wales, but certainly a voice from Wales on the board, is critical, given that this is a piece of England and Wales legislation and we do, as we have already heard, have legislation specifically on this matter in Wales. I beg the Minister sincerely to consider putting this in the Bill, regardless of what she said previously about the commissioner’s role to appoint the board. It is specified for the other roles and it is becoming apparent that the interplay between England and Wales is quite complicated, so I think that for this to be effective Wales deserves representation to be specified on the board.

We also heard about the importance of differentiating our response to domestic abuse in both England and Wales from the CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid, Sara Kirkpatrick, in last Thursday’s evidence session. She rightly pointed out that clarity is incredibly important in the context of devolution, especially when it comes to understanding what funding is devolved and what is not, and how services are then actually available. That can have an impact on survivors and victims in Wales.

Ms Kirkpatrick made the point that Wales is physically different from England, in that our population overall is more rural. We must therefore provide frontline services to victims of domestic abuse that are adapted to the specific nature and geography of rural communities. I say that representing a constituency such as Dwyfor Meirionnydd, in which we do not even have a court any longer. The nearest court can be 60 miles away from people; I know that will be true for other Members here. That is the true experience for people on the ground in Wales, particularly those who are distanced from the southern, urban areas. Welsh Women’s Aid published a brief in the last month on rurality and domestic abuse, which includes a significant analysis of specific issues faced by survivors in rural communities in Wales.

I am aware that time is going by, so I will touch on some points, in part to have them on the record but also to reflect the fact that Wales has specific issues. The first point is that services are not always available to Welsh speakers through the medium of their first language. Particularly in my constituency, many service users who come into contact with public services are used to receiving their services through the medium of Welsh. It is a matter of rights for the individual, but it is also what people expect day to day. That is a significant area and evidently unique to Wales.

I will touch briefly on the matters that came up in the Welsh Women’s Aid report, “Are you listening and am I being heard?”. On the ability of survivors to access and engage with services, there is a fear within rural areas that if people gain access to services where they may well know the people who are providing them, they do not know how confidential those are likely to be. That in itself creates a reluctance to come forward to people such as the local police officer, the GP, court officials and other community leaders. If people are reluctant to come forward, how do we overcome that in a way that is accessible to them?

I touched on the matter of courts. Public transport issues are also a real issue in areas of Wales. In this age of digital by default, broadband access in certain areas of rural Wales is also patchy.

Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

I sympathise with many of the points the right hon. Lady is making, but some of the areas and obstacles that she has highlighted are issues that are relevant in England and Scotland. Why is the experience of a Welsh victim so singularly different, when those characteristics are the same in England, Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom?

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Indeed. The experience of rurality will be common across other nations of the United Kingdom, but overlying that is the fact that we have a separate legislature in Wales that is producing separate legislation. We want to make sure that with the different range of provision, interested bodies and services providers, we are none the less cutting through to survivors, victims and perpetrators, in the way that is intended, and that the fact that we have a difference between England and Wales is not missed out. If we can specify four roles on the board for specifically English aspects, I cannot imagine the justification for Wales not to be represented there as well, with its separate legislation.

In the report. points are made about hospital services being provided at a distance, as well as legal practice and provision. The reality of the experience of survivors is that access to legal services is more challenging in Wales than in many areas of England, for no specific reason, as is access to services for survivors who have fled from abusive relationships and been placed in rural areas. This is often combined with the fact that survivors do not know the community around them, and that certain properties will be known to be places where survivors are placed. We have to be very careful how we handle that.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am not sure whether this is just by virtue of Birmingham being relatively near Wales, but in refuge accommodation services the connection between women moving across borders between Wales and Birmingham services is very common, for example women from Cardiff or Swansea were crossing the border to be housed in Birmingham and vice versa for safety reasons. I am sure that is one of the right hon. Lady’s concerns: how we can ensure this all works well together.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

Without mentioning them, there are certain communities in my constituency where private landlords are very inclined to take people in from public service sources in England, and from those individuals’ experience, they are used to one set of services being available to them in one place, and they find themselves receiving an entirely different set of services, often with their children going into Welsh medium education, in another. Survivors have to undertake the experience of that difference.

I am grateful for the opportunity to explain some of the experiences and scenarios on the ground in my own constituency and other places in Wales, but the fundamental thing that is crying out to be remedied here is the fact that it is possible for this legislation to specify certain roles on the advisory board. Alongside the fact that the Joint Committee recommended that consultation be undertaken with Wales, I beg the Minister to consider that it would be deeply appropriate to include Wales in this, because, otherwise, we will set the domestic abuse commissioner up to be falsely accused of not taking into consideration aspects that we have considered in this place, and this would be an obvious remedy to do that. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Labour, Pontypridd

I thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd for her contribution, which I support. I am always one for standing up and giving a voice to Wales and I feel that Wales desperately needs a voice in the Bill, which straddles both nations and they should be equally represented.

One in four women in Wales experience domestic violence at the hands of a partner in their lifetime. They need a voice on this advisory board too. We have seen the ground-breaking legislation in Wales. Thanks to the Welsh Labour Government, we have the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015. We have already discussed the importance of the legislation aligning with the devolved Government, so that we do not have any gaps and inconsistencies, which people can fall through.

It is vital that Wales has a voice and is represented. We know that the domestic abuse commissioner has an effective consultative remit with survivors and services in Wales, to ensure there is an understanding of the context as to how devolved and non-devolved competency areas interact, but this must be done effectively to ensure that the board has representation from Wales, so that non-devolved survivors and services are given that voice. Currently the Bill only allows representation for voluntary organisations in England and that must be changed. I fully support this amendment and I urge members across the House to do so. I know there are hon. Members from Wales who would want Wales to be represented at all levels in the Bill, so I urge them to support this amendment.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I wonder about specific issues that this Bill—perhaps not yet, but potentially—covers, such as welfare and immigration. We heard from the commissioner herself that an onus was put on what she would be expected to do around the issue, specifically, of migrant women. Obviously, that does not sit within the remit of the Senedd, so there is a vital need for Wales to have representation.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Labour, Pontypridd

Absolutely. There definitely needs to be a cohesive relationship between the Senedd, the UK Government and the commissioner to ensure that all gaps are filled and that nobody falls through the gaps, in terms of competency of what is devolved and what is not, so I absolutely would support that.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd for standing up for Wales. I do not want to get into a comparison of rural areas, but I do not have a court in my constituency either, nor do I have any train line, but that is a campaign for my constituency—other than the Lincolnshire Wolds steam railway, I should say.

I quite understand why the right hon. Lady has raised this, and I hope that she is reading particularly clause 11(4); she will see that we have been meticulous in respecting the devolution settlement in Wales and drafting the membership accordingly. The reason subsection (4)(b) refers to

“charities and other voluntary organisations that work with victims of domestic abuse in England”,

is that we respect that under the devolution settlement Wales is able to do, and indeed is doing, so much to look after its own victims. The same goes with healthcare services and social care services in England; they are specified precisely because of the devolution arrangements.

We have been very sensitive to the wish of the Welsh Government to continue their own programmes of work on this—indeed, the right hon. Lady has set out some of them—so we have been clear that the commissioner’s remit in Wales is restricted to reserved matters such as policing and criminal, civil and family justice. The membership of the advisory body, as set out in subsection (4), reflects the division of responsibilities.

However, in addition to seeking advice from the advisory board, the commissioner is not prevented from consulting Welsh bodies, whether devolved or not, to learn from their experience or to conduct joint work. I welcome that sort of co-operation and I expect the commissioner to work closely with the Welsh Government’s national advisers.

Photo of Fay Jones Fay Jones Conservative, Brecon and Radnorshire

It is important to bear in mind that the designate commissioner last week made clear her intention to work hand in hand with the Welsh Government. I think she told us last week that she speaks to them on a weekly basis. That is evidence that we must bear in mind of the way in which we can work so closely together.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is about respecting the devolution settlement and being alive to different approaches that each may take, while also supporting each other and co-ordinating work. I hope that explains why the compulsory membership of the board is set out as it is. Of course, the commissioner can appoint up to four members outside that list, and I trust her good judgment to get the balance right. I reflect on the fact that we have been having conversations about how independent the commissioner must be, and we have tried in to keep that balance right.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I think that would be very unfair on the commissioner. Let us not forget that, alongside the advisory board, the commissioner will be required to establish a victims and survivors advisory group. That is in the terms and conditions of her employment, and it is left to the commissioner to draw the group together herself. Again, I am sure she is watching these scrutiny proceedings very closely, and she will have listened to that concern.

I will draw back from making any requests or directions of the commissioner in that regard, but she has been clear throughout this process that she is keen to respect devolution, but also to work closely with the Welsh Government and Welsh national advisers where it is appropriate and possible to do so. As I say, given that there is the flexibility, given that we have heard from the commissioner herself about her intentions and given that she is required to establish a victims and survivors advisory group, I hope that the concerns expressed by the right hon. Lady will be allayed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Rebecca Harris.)

Adjourned till Wednesday 10 June at Twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

DAB36 Dr Ruth Lewis (Northumbria University), Dr Matthew Hall (Arden University), and Professor Jeff Hearn (University of Huddersfield and Hanken School of Economics, Finland)

DAB37 Violence Abuse and Mental Health Network (VAMHN)

DAB38 AVA (Against Violence and Abuse)

DAB39 Action for Children

DAB40 FiLiA

DAB41 The Law Society of England and Wales

DAB42 Women Against Rape

DAB43 Children’s Commissioner

DAB44 Joint submission from 18 children’s, domestic abuse and VAWG sector organisations and experts

DAB45 The London Assembly

DAB46 Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales

DAB47 Cassandra Wiener, Doctoral Researcher and Associate Tutor at the School of Law, Politics & Sociology, University of Sussex

DAB48 Mayor of London

DAB49 The Children's Society

DAB50 HM Government

DAB51 Mark Tierney

DAB52 NSPCC

DAB53 Carla James

DAB54 Chartered Institute of Housing

DAB55 Vanessa d'Esterre - Domestic Abuse specialist and expert by experience

DAB56 Tim Tierney

DAB57 INCADVA (Inter-Collegiate and Agency Domestic Violence Abuse) Forum

DAB58 Attenti

DAB59 Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

DAB60 Mr Andrew Pain

DAB61 Ian McNicholl

DAB62 Philipp Tanzer