Domestic Abuse Bill – improved but not as well as possible

On Thursday in the House of Commons as our agencies were approaching the end point of the Domestic Abuse Bill a lengthy debate did take place. The debate was intended to cover the 86 amendments that have been provided by the House of Lords and it was clear that 74 of them were accepted by the Government as well as the opposition parties. However the other 12 were rejected by the Government with sadly only two of their MPs who appeared willing to support some of the amendments in opposition to their bosses. That said there were only 9 that were voted for and it is not clear why the other 3 were debated and rejected but not voted for. The two MPs who supported some amendments were mentioned in my blog yesterday along with the amendments they voted to support. I recall how a few weeks ago in the House of Lords on the 24th March there was the completing of the Bill with their 86 amendments and sadly at that point some of the amendments were acknowledged as not being supported by the Government. Perhaps in a deeply naive way of thinking, the concept of a debate and even some votes made sense to try to adopt more than the 74 amendments that the Government had already accepted. Sadly nearly all of the Conservative MPs apart from Jason McCartney and Robert Halfon did not appear willing to pay any attention to the content and so the votes went through for the Government by nearly 100 votes more than the supporters on each occasion.

Lord (David) Wolfson of Tredegar was the person who spoke about the Bill on 24th March stating as part of his speech some of the following words. Which help to express that some approaches were adopted by the Government and others would need to be debated.

My Lords, I hope noble Lords will permit me to say a few words to mark the completion of the passage of the Bill through this House. I say, with some hesitation, that this is one of those Bills which has shown your Lordships’ House as its best. The proceedings on the Bill were marked by speeches of high calibre and engaged debate and, undoubtedly, led to an improved Bill. My colleagues have assured me that this Bill shows the House at its best, I am relying on them to be right about that as well. We are grateful to Members from across the House. I thank those on the Front Benches opposite for the constructive way in which they have dealt with the Bill, and the very courteous and constructive way in which they have engaged with me.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy—I am particularly pleased that this Bill is the culmination of his four-year campaign on the issue of GP fees. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for bravely sharing his own experiences of domestic abuse, and to his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I thank my noble friend Lady Newlove, as well as the organisations which aided her, on their work on non-fatal strangulation —something that is now part of the Bill as a Government-drafted amendment. I thank my noble friend Lady Morgan for her work on threats to release intimate images. Again, this is now part of the Bill as a Government-drafted amendment. In that context, I must give my personal thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, who discussed with me some of the legal issues raised by that amendment. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friends Lady Bertin and Lady Sanderson—if I may respectfully group them together—for their campaigning on coercive and controlling behaviour, which also is now part of a Government-drafted amendment. I thank my noble friend Lord Polak, who campaigned tirelessly on community-based services. This is something we have now taken on board.

We may not have agreed on all points, but I also thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Grey-Thompson, for raising the important issue of carers in the Bill, which will be explored further in another place. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Altmann and the other sponsors of the amendments dealing with get. It is a somewhat recondite point, but one which causes real distress and suffering.

Whether we have agreed or disagreed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned a moment ago, in scrutinising this Bill, we have all been striving for the same outcome: ensuring that victims of domestic abuse and their children have better protection and support, and that perpetrators are brought to justice. As she said, the differences have invariably been about the means of achieving this, not the ends involved. We will of course reflect carefully on the nine amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House against the advice of the Government. We will set out our position when the Bill returns from the other place in due course. We will inevitably debate this Bill at a future date, but I know that all noble Lords will join me in hoping that it will soon be on the statute book, making a real, tangible and positive difference to the 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse each year. I therefore beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

After he had finished speaking another member of the House of Lords called Lord Richard Rosser who is a Labour Peer responded. Amongst other things he stated

There have been a significant number of occasions when this House has agreed amendments to the Bill against the advice of the Government. It remains to be seen what will happen when those amendments are considered by the Commons in what I fear will be a somewhat truncated debate in the other place. What has been interesting is the number of amendments that the Government have accepted, or that have been carried in this House, which have been led not by Front-Benchers but by Back-Benchers, Cross-Benchers and the Bishops’ Benches. That reflects the wide cross-party, Cross-Bench and Bishops’-Bench backing that there has been for so many of the issues debated during the passage of this Bill. It is a Bill that has had very little to do with party politics.

The Bill now goes back to the Commons, where I hope it will not just be the Lords amendments that have government support that will be fully considered. While much progress has been made, there is still scope for further improvement in, and addition to, the content of a Bill that is rightly regarded as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address head-on the major issue of the unacceptable level of domestic abuse in our society.

The third voice I would like to provide is Jenny Jones who is the Green Party Baroness of Moulsecoomb and indeed I included her words a few weeks ago in this blog. However it is worth repeating them

My Lords, in the seven-plus years I have been in your Lordships’ House, I have been involved in a lot of Bills but this is the first of its kind. There was never one like this, because it has been special. The Bill was universally welcomed but then attracted about 200 amendments, which were fiercely argued. The Government suffered nine defeats in votes and made many concessions. There are still gaps. Other noble Lords have listed them but, for example, there is the Istanbul convention. However, the process has turned a good Bill into a very good Bill.

For me, making misogyny a crime was a priority. I am deeply sad we have not done that but we have moved towards it, and it is a step in the right direction by the Government which we can use to test the process. The Minister said something about this showing your Lordships’ House at its best, but I would argue the Bill shows the Government at their best as well. I wish this were the pattern with all Bills—that this House does its stuff and the Government listen. That would mean we produced much better legislation every time.

The tragic aspect of all of this is how the Government on Thursday with two exceptions demanded that their MPs support them and the MPs did so in most cases. We clearly need to find a way for the MPs to pay attention to these words and consider following the activities of people like Halfon and McCartney who did not oppose the Government in each case but did support amendments they believed were correct and worth supporting. It may now be too late for this to be corrected but if it is possible, it needs to be. Victoria Atkins, a Minister in the Home Office started the debate on Thursday at just after 12.30 by stating

We support the vast majority of the 86 amendments that the Lords have sent to us. Indeed, we have worked with peers in many instances to bring those amendments forward. There are 12 sets with which we do not agree and I will deal with those in due course.

And at just before 5pm at the end of the debate she ended her statement with the following few words and they were then completed by Jess Philips who was the Labour MP who opposed Victoria’s attempts to block the 12 amendments that were sadly all blocked. Following on from Jess there was a statement regarding how the blockage of these amendments will be handled

VA: Referring back to the comments I was making earlier about the progress that has been made in the past few decades, let me say that, by definition, our understanding has grown, even, as some have said, during the passage of this Bill. Of course, that knowledge must continue to be deployed and trained. Domestic abuse is covered in all family law courses run by the Judicial College, and the debates held in the other place and in this place will I know—I have faith—have been watched and listened to very carefully by the President of the family court and others.

JP: I admire the hon. Lady’s faith, but I would like something more than faith. The triumph of hope over experience will, I fear, leave us in the exact same position with the exact same problems. Faith is well and good—I have it in spades—but I would like to know about a monitoring process that will be done to review how well people are trained and how well this is working.

A Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 1, 2, 3, 9, 33, 37, 38, 40, 41, 43 and 83. That Victoria Atkins, Tom Pursglove, Michael Tomlinson and Chris Elmore be members of the Committee. That Victoria Atkins be the Chair of the Committee. That three be the quorum of the Committee. That the Committee do withdraw immediately. (Michael Tomlinson.)

The fact that apart from Victoria, the other three were male and that apart from Chris Elmore the other three were Tories does not make it a very good balanced Committee. However such decisions are not as important as the opposition of the amendments. It is very sad that all of our Sussex Tory MPs apart from Peter Bottomley voted to oppose the amendments and it is not clear why he was not voting. However the other three MPs including Caroline Lucas all voted for all nine of the amendments.

About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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