Peterborough MPs vote against domestic abuse reforms

Peterborough’s MPs have voted against domestic abuse reforms.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 2:33 pm
Updated Saturday, 17th April 2021, 11:10 am

Amendments from the House of Lords to the Domestic Abuse Bill were considered in Parliament on Thursday, with the Conservatives voting down nine of them, including Paul Bristow (MP for Peterborough) and Shailesh Vara (MP for North West Cambridgeshire).

The measures would have extended support for ethnic minorities and survivors with disabilities, as well as compelling judges and magistrates in the family courts to undergo specialist training.

The amendments would also have allowed survivors to use reasonable self-defence and place perpetrators on the violent and sex offender register where they would be subjected to monitoring and management.

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Both MPs have been asked by the Peterborough Telegraph for their reasons behind the votes.

Mr Vara said: “The Domestic Abuse Bill is a very welcome piece of legislation that will create a legal definition that includes financial, verbal and emotional abuse, as well as physical and sexual abuse.

“This is a well-balanced definition to cover patterns of abuse over time, and the bill allows for children to be explicitly recognised as victims if they witness abuse.

Measures in the bill will significantly strengthen our laws and introduce new tools to protect victims, backed by an additional £19 million of funding towards tackling domestic abuse, on top of the £125 million for local authorities to deliver the Domestic Abuse Bill’s new statutory duty to support victims as announced at the 2020 Spending Review. I was pleased to support this bill in Parliament.

“Domestic abuse is a complex problem, but it is precisely because of this complexity that the blanket approaches proposed by the tabled amendments are not correct. The Government is introducing complementary measures in concurrent legislation to support domestic abuse victims, such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, by clarifying the powers of the police in supporting victims of domestic abuse and information sharing between organisations.

“This is not to say the challenge of domestic abuse is solved, and later this year the Government will be bringing forward a new, ambitious strategy to tackle the multiple causes of this abhorrent crime.

“Within this strategy, ministers will outline plans and ambitions to prevent offending as well as to protect victims and ensure that they have the support they need. Tackling perpetrators and preventing offending will form a key pillar of the strategy.”

During the debate in Parliament, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said there are too many cases of “awful crimes” against women, including stalking and murder, where the perpetrator has committed offences before.

She told MPs: “Perhaps other stalking offences, harassment, repeated domestic abuse or violence, moving from one victim to another, sometimes from one town to another, sometimes from one region to another, finding someone new to control and to abuse, and someone else whose life they can destroy.”

Ms Cooper said the existing system is “not working” and changes are required via the Domestic Abuse Bill.

Labour MP Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) added: “Janice Scott, Pearl Black, Linah Keza, Maria Stubbings, Kerri McAuley, Molly McLaren, Holly Gazzard, Justene Reece, Kirsty Treloar, Jane Clough, Linzi Ashton – all of them cases in which serial perpetrators who had been violent and abusive to other women were involved before they were attacked.

“Minister, no-one joined the dots, no-one asked if they were at risk and acted. These women were sitting ducks. That is the system that you are defending today.”

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins claimed the proposals to introduce a new category for managing high-harm domestic abuse perpetrators would add complexity.

She told the Commons: “This is an objective with which we can all agree but we have concerns about how the amendment would work out.

“The first limb of the amendment seeks, in effect, to create a new category of offender to be managed under multi-agency public protection arrangements, commonly referred to as Mappa.

“To put this into context, last year nearly 86,000 offenders were managed by the Mappa arrangements. The Government believes that creating a new Mappa category for high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators would bring in added complexity to the Mappa framework without compensating benefits.

“The Criminal Justice Act 2003 already provides for serial and high-harm offenders to be managed under Mappa. The real issue is not therefore the statutory framework, but how it is applied in practice. Here we accept there is more to do and we are strengthening the Mappa statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse.”

Instead, ministers tabled a new amendment in which the Government agrees to publish a strategy for prosecution and management of offenders involved in domestic abuse.

This must be published within 12 months of the legislation becoming law and be kept under review by the secretary of state.

MPs also removed amendments designed to prevent the details of a person seeking help being used for immigration control purposes and to enable domestic abuse survivors to resolve their immigration status.

Ms Atkins said the Government did not accept the proposition that an individual in the UK on a temporary basis should have a route to settlement “by virtue” of being a domestic abuse survivor.

She added: “We want to help such victims recover and escape such relationships.”

For Labour, shadow Home Office minister Jess Phillips said the pilot scheme of support for migrant victims of domestic abuse who do not have access to public funds is “not good enough”.

She also argued the Lords amendments do not “allow some mythical path to dodge immigration processes”.

Conservative former Prime Minister Theresa May said the Government had made a “clear commitment” on migrant victims of domestic abuse “ensuring that victims of domestic abuse are treated as victims whatever their immigration status is”.

The Bill aims to put an end to the so-called “rough sex defence”, recognise children as victims of domestic abuse and criminalise in England and Wales threats to share intimate images of another person without their consent.

Other reforms contained within the legislation include the first legal Government definition of domestic abuse, which would include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour.

The Government also made a concession in the Lords over recording misogyny as a hate crime.

The Bill will return to the Lords for further consideration as it bids to become law after more than three years of consideration.

Amendments voted down

1 - Extending the definition of domestic abuse to include abuse carried out against a disabled person by the person’s carer

9 - Ensuring that each local authority in England must make sure that all child contact services are accredited in accordance with national standards in relation to safeguarding and preventing domestic abuse

33 -  A requirement that all judges and magistrates in the family courts undergo specialist training in relation to rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control

37 - Extending the provision of self-defence using reasonable force by a householder to survivors of domestic abuse

38 - Providing a new statutory defence for survivors who have committed a crime as a result of being a victim of domestic abuse

40 - Ensuring the personal data of a survivor of domestic abuse that is used to support them is not then used for immigration control purposes

41 - Providing migrant survivors of abuse with temporary leave to remain and access to public funds for at least six months so they can access support services and apply to resolve their immigration status

42 -  Putting domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators on a database where they would have to be monitored and compelling the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers

43 - Requiring the Secretary of State to take steps to ensure that all survivors receive equally effective support and protection against domestic abuse, regardless of their status.