*Update 29th April* This Bill has now received Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament
Many constituents have contacted me regarding the Domestic Abuse Bill and proposed Amendments.
I am sure you will be pleased to hear our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill passed through the House of Commons, without amendments, which is the first step towards protecting victims and their families of this heinous crime and ensuring perpetrators are properly punished. I will provide you with an update on my thoughts as to why I voted against these amendments and why I will continue to champion this Bill.
Too many people can find themselves trapped in a relationship in which they are subjected to abuse, every single day -both men and women. In many situations, these people feel that they are alone and have no escape, they blame themselves for being in this situation and believe it is their fault that their partner subjects them to anger, abuse, violence, and coercive and controlling behaviour. It is imperative that people know that their Government and local services is there for them. They may not have friends or families, but they do have a government that cares and wants to help. The Domestic Abuse Bill is a magnificent step forward but only if the people are aware of this soon to be Act and its impact. Every MP, Councillor, and local activist need to work hard to make sure the awareness is present.
Financial constraint is often a significant factor in stopping women and men from leaving their partner. As a Minister, the Department for Work and Pensions and I know the team have worked excessively hard to make sure that split payments and advances of Universal Credit are available for people in domestic abuse situation, however this can only be possible on request, and as we know many women and men are unaware of this option and it is the dominant partner who as the ‘managers’ of the finance. Not only do the victims need to be aware of this funding, but also employees of the Local Authorities. Under the new Bill the LA will be responsible for composing strategies and highlighting areas which need support. The Local Authorities need to feel financial secure to do this job; so I am happy to hear the Government is committed to ensuring that English Tier 1 local authorities receive appropriate financial support to meet the new duty and the Barnett Formula will apply in the way, set out in the Statement of Funding Policy.
I welcome the fact the Government and the new Domestic Abuse Commissioner are working closely to ensure charities on the frontline receive a share of the Government's £750 charitable support package. In addition, £2 million has been announced to provide technological support for domestic abuse services and £600,000 to allow victim helplines to remain open for longer. Furthermore, I encourage the opening of suitable refuge for women and men in the Mid-Sussex area. I have been assured by Katy Bourne, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner, that they will do everything in their power to highlight and support this issue. Whether that means enforcing awareness posters in Supermarkets, pubs, shopping centres or being proactive when issuing the newly established Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders. In Mid Sussex 25% of all violent crime is domestic abuse, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse, 1 in 11 men will experience domestic abuse, so I will continue to work hard at establishing a safeguard for victims of Domestic Abuse.
As you can see my passion for this bill is immense and the emphasis should be focused on the protection for victims, whilst also tackling perpetrators at the earliest stage. I understand, in cases of domestic abuse where a woman is seeking an abortion is subject to coercive control. The proposed new clause 28 would’ve remove the legal requirement for attendance at a hospital or licensed premises in order to access lawful abortion services. I do not believe this is the right place for such legislation. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government has put in place two temporary measures to enable all eligible women to take both sets of early medical abortion pills in their home in England, following a telemedicine consultation, up to 10 weeks gestation and these provisions remain in place. However, NC28 goes much further than the current measures. As drafted and if accepted, NC28 would’ve allowed abortion to take place outside of hospitals or approved abortion clinics for victims of domestic abuse for pregnancies up to 24 weeks gestation, and in certain circumstances – such as abortion for fetal abnormality – beyond. This amendment had the potential be very dangerous to women and I believe it is an area that needs to be addressed in the Abortion Bill and not the Domestic Abuse Bill. Furthermore, my thoughts are similar with the proposed New Clause 29 which would decriminalise abortion and create a new offence of non-consensual termination of pregnancy, which would include the example where a woman’s abusive partner intentionally or recklessly caused her abortion through abusive behaviour. It does not just remove the criminal liability for the pregnant woman if she acts outside of the Abortion Act. It also removes criminal liability for anyone who performs an abortion with the consent of the woman (including, for example, someone who is not medically qualified). And, up to 24 weeks, it renders the rules of the Abortion Act redundant (i.e. no longer the need to get two doctors to sign it off). Therefore, I did not support either of these amendments and would have voted against, and I am happy to see the Bill has passed into its third stage. They concerned me greatly as felt they could put women at further risk.
As a government we are absolutely committed to doing what we can in support all migrant victims of domestic abuse as victims first and foremost. The New Clause 22 proposed certain provisions under this Bill which would affect the Immigration Act, including exclusion from public funds and certain types of support and assistance and the right to rent. The Minister for Safeguarding, Victoria Atkins, explained why the government was resisting this new clause – at the at the dispatch box “in 2012, we introduced the destitution domestic violence concession (DDVC) to support migrant victims of domestic abuse who are living in this country on the basis of certain partner visas. The DDVC is not available to people who enter the country on other visas, such as visitor, student or work visas, or, indeed, to anyone who is here illegally. This is because in order to obtain such visas they will have confirmed that they are financially independent and therefore require no recourse to public funds, and their stay will be for a defined period of time. Simply extending the DDVC to all migrant victims is therefore not the way to address the needs of migrant victims who currently cannot claim under that scheme. We need to find a way of ensuring that they have adequate support, rather than provide a pathway to indefinite leave to remain or a blanket lifting of the no recourse to public funds condition.”
That is why she explained we will invest a further £1.5m in the Support for Migrant Victims pilot scheme, to be launched later this year, that will be key support migrant victims of domestic abuse who do not have access to public funds to access safe accommodation and services. The pilot scheme will not only support more people to find safe accommodation, but it will also crucially help gather the data that is needed to develop the sustainable solutions for all migrant victims of domestic abuse over the long-term. In developing such long-term solutions, we will work closely with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and charities.
You can track the final progress of the Bill via https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2019-21/domesticabuse.html
You can watch the debate that took place in the House of Commons on: https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/7a4b98aa-319c-4379-960b-e27997e2fd18?in=16:41:41
Alternatively you can read the Debate on https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-04-28/debates/AABF0D9C-D3BC-40C5-830A-52073E09ED35/DomesticAbuseBill
I hope you found this helpful.