Provision that may be made by notices

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 10th June 2020.

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Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 10:45 am, 10th June 2020

When the Minister stands up, I am sure that she will urge us all to take part in the consultation on the current review and say that very thing. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is another issue on which this Bill, although it is for England and Wales, is up against some potential differences in Wales—there might be different guidance—and I very much hope that the statutory guidance that comes with the Bill will look at that. The specific issue is that of the DAPO.

I want to talk about how little the issue of violence against women and girls at work is currently considered. As a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I raised the issue of abuse in the workplace with the Health and Safety Executive as part of our inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace. Obviously, we know that there is much crossover in this area. I said—this is like a script; I could act it out, but I am definitely better at being Jess Phillips than I am at being Philip White from the Health and Safety Executive. I said:

“Do you know what caused the most deaths of women at work last year?”

The answer, of course, is violence against women and girls. Philip White said, “I don’t know.” That is from the Health and Safety Executive. I asked:

“Would you consider that deaths of women at work came under Health and Safety Executive legislation?”

This is the best answer I have ever received in Parliament; it has stayed with me and will stay with me forever. He said:

“If they were killed by a reversing vehicle or an exposure to gas—”.

I asked:

“So when their safety is not their interpersonal safety, it would come under the Health and Safety Executive?”

The then Chair of that Committee, Mrs Miller, tried to push the issue, asking:

“Surely a death at work would come under you?”

We talked through different incidents of violence at work that would fall under the Health and Safety Executive. As hon. Members might imagine, it did not fill me with much hope, so I asked him

“do you think that the Health and Safety Executive has a role in making sure that workplaces have safety practices at work that keep people safe from violence at work?”,

to which the response was a simple yes.

I pushed further, asking

“does the Health and Safety Executive have any specific guidance for violence against women and girls at work?”

Philip White answered:

“We don’t have any specific advice regarding violence against women and girls at work.”

I mean, we are only 52% of the population. He said that there was some evidence on the website and that HSE was part of

“a European piece of guidance that has been developed”,

which has nothing to do with violence against women and girls. I pushed him further, saying:

“Three women were murdered at work last year due to violence against women and girls, so it might be worth looking into.”

While the amendments we are proposing would not improve the role of the Health and Safety Executive, my encounter with it points to the current lack of proper understanding about the effect of interpersonal violence and abuse in people’s workplaces. It is stark. From my scrutiny of the Health and Safety Executive, I was left with the firm feeling that an employer had a role to protect me as a woman if I was hit by a van, but not if I was hit by a man. The extension of the DAPO to include protections based on people’s workplaces would have not only a material effect by literally protecting people at work, but the effect of forcing employers to take on the role of protecting their workforces from this very real problem.