§ (Sixth Day)
§ Monday, 9 February 2004.
§ The Committee met at half past three of the clock.
§ [The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Carter) in the Chair.]
§ Clause 25 [Grants for assisting victims, witnesses etc]:
Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 101B:
Page 14, line 7, at end insert—
( ) The Secretary of State may exempt victims of domestic violence and their dependants who are subject to immigration control from the restriction on public funds to enable them to access emergency accommodation and living costs, and may recover such funds from the sponsor (as defined by section 113 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999) of the victim.
§ The noble Lord said: I welcome the fact that in the immigration rules there is already recognition of the problem of domestic violence. However, it is my contention that that recognition is somewhat limited, and these two amendments are intended to broaden the scope of the provision. I am enormously grateful to a number of organisations that support the thrust of the amendments, particularly the Southall Black Sisters, which has been extremely helpful in giving me information and background data. Other organisations which support the amendments are Women's Aid, Imkaan and Amnesty International UK.
It is my wish that the domestic violence immigration rule, which currently allows some women, subject to immigration control and domestic violence, indefinite leave to stay in the UK, should be extended to all women in that position. I also propose that the "no recourse to public funds" rule be reformed, so that all victims of domestic violence are entitled to the financial support and safe accommodation they require to leave an abusive relationship, irrespective of their immigration status.
Women who do not have full immigration status are in an appallingly vulnerable position if subjected to domestic violence. I have some examples which I could give later if that is helpful. Secondly, even if they are secure in this country, they are invariably in a destitute situation because they cannot have recourse to public funds. That means that they may have to return to the man who subjected them to violence or leave the country which, in some circumstances, can be extremely difficult for them. In either event, the man who subjected the woman to violence gets away with it.
456GC We are talking of violence committed in the UK, and it is my contention that the deficiencies in the law which the amendments are intended to remedy allow activity that may be criminal to go unpunished or may deny the victim any civil remedy.
Let me spell this out in a little more detail. What sort of situation are we talking about? The one that is at present covered by the immigration rules concerns spouses and unmarried partners of persons with British citizenship or with indefinite leave to remain. That leaves a number of other categories—for example, women who may be regarded as overstayers, possibly for technical reasons, and women who have leave to enter or remain in the UK as the fiancee of a person with British citizenship or with indefinite leave to remain. There may be women who have leave to enter or remain in the UK in a variety of capacities— as visitors, students and workers—or who have temporary admission as asylum seekers. There may be women who have leave to enter or remain in the UK. dependent on their remaining in a relationship with a partner, spouse or relative who also has limited leave to enter or remain in the UK—for example, as a student or worker—or who has temporary admission in the UK as an asylum seeker. There may also be people in other situations.
It may be asked what evidence there is that anybody is suffering from domestic violence. I believe that that evidence is easier to demonstrate than in some other cases where people apply to enter the UK. It is even more straightforward than the case of asylum seekers. What sort of evidence might there be to show that we are not opening the doors to vexatious claims? For example, there may be abusers who have court orders and convictions. There may be police cautions; there may be police prosecutions; there may be court hearings. There may, indeed, be other acceptable evidence of domestic violence—for example, a medical report from a hospital doctor or a letter from a family practitioner. The perpetrator himself may have given an undertaking to the court that he will not approach the applicant who is the victim of the violence. There may be a police report confirming attendance at the home of the applicant, or a letter from a social services department confirming its involvement in connection with domestic violence, or a letter of support or report from a women's refuge. So there are many ways in which the allegation of domestic violence can be demonstrated as having a very high probability of being accurate. We are talking about small numbers of people, but there is an important principle involved.
It is estimated that, for all the categories that I hope will be covered by the amendments, one might be dealing with some 500 to 600 applications a year. According to the Home Office figures for the more limited situation already covered by the immigration rules, for the years 2000 to 2002, of the 119 women who applied for indefinite leave to remain under the domestic violence concession, 60 per cent were granted settlement.
457GC There is another factor that is relevant. If the provision were to apply, there is a possibility that the Government could recover moneys from sponsors of the abusers concerned. I believe that would be possible and would go some way towards dealing with the financial position.
The Government have indicated informally that they will consider ring-fencing to cover refuge spaces for some 200 to 300 women a year. However, there is a shortfall of such spaces, particularly in black and ethnic minority refuges. Would those people be entitled to other emergency accommodation? How would they cover their living costs, food, clothing et cetera, especially if there were dependent children? The Government have said that they will fast-track applications so as to shorten the period during which an individual does not have recourse to public funds. The question then is, how fast will the fast-track application work? With the best will in the world, we are talking about a number of weeks. This is not something that can happen instantly and overnight.
Evidence indicates that the experience of the first few days or weeks of leaving an abusive relationship will determine whether the woman feels that she has no alternative but to return to the home where the abuse took place. Women with children are especially vulnerable. Returning to an abusive relationship may be preferable to exposing children to uncertainty and destitution.
I believe that the case for these amendments is strong. I of course realise that, whereas Amendment No. 101B is spelt out in some detail, Amendment No. 103 A is rather vaguer; it had to be to fit in with the Long Title of the Bill. It is rather vaguer in terms of the intended outcome, but I believe that I have spelt out the outcome which I consider would be desirable, and the outcome which would help a small number of women in an extremely vulnerable situation for whom, on human rights grounds, we need to do more than is being done at the moment. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I warmly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. As the Committee will be aware from briefing from Southall Black Sisters—I also thank it very much for its assistance—the noble Lord's amendments had to be rather carefully crafted to come within the remit of the Bill. It is fortunate that they can be moved at this point in the Bill.
I raised issues connected with what the noble Lord has argued at an earlier stage in the Bill, as a consequence of which the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, kindly wrote to me with a lengthy answer which I am sure she intended in all courtesy to be a full answer. She will understand that I immediately sought the advice of Southall Black Sisters to see what its response was. It might be appropriate if I put its response on the record, so that the noble Baroness can address it today, if possible, or perhaps in a further 458GC letter. It is, of course, slightly broader than the amendment but follows on from the arguments put by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. The letter states:We note that Baroness Scotland states that women who are subject to the probationary period and who do not have access to public funds can get access to Supporting people funded domestic violence services 'such as refuges, and housing related support services'".It continues:This may give the impression that such women are able to access refuge space, which"—it believes—is not the case".The organisation refers to Supporting People: Guide to Accommodation and Support Options for Households Experiencing Domestic Violence, which was published in December 2002 by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. According to the group, the guide specified that,the Supporting People Programme will only fund housing related support costs in relation to refuges and other emergency accommodation",in particular circumstances. The heads of expenditure include:staff salaries; support and training costs; the costs of providing assistance in claiming benefits; liasing with professionals and resettling women in independent housing".The letter continues:In relation to black and Asian women the Programme will fund: time spent on advocacy and liaison with statutory agencies; the costs of accessing interpreting services and providing translated materials; [and] support in accessing specialist counselling and other specialist services".It goes on to state:In relation to women subject to immigration control and domestic violence the Guide states 'the Home Office is considering ways of securing funding for refuge places for women who have no recourse to public funds, without amending immigration legislation'".The trouble is that, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, neither the Home Office nor the ODPM has as yet provided information on how refuge spaces will be funded. Perhaps this is the first stage of debates in which the Government will start to give those answers.
I am fully aware of course that the Government will say that they do not need legislation or that the matter can be dealt with in other Bills. The important thing is that we start the debate in earnest now.
The group, the Southall Black Sisters, points out that the current situation is quite stark:women subject to immigration control who are victims of domestic violence are not entitled to: the rent to pay for refuge spaces either by way of a grant/fund or housing benefit; [nor] to living costs including food, transport, medication and clothing".It states:There are no government proposals on whether these women will be provided with living costs".I return to something the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. He said that the number of people about whom we are concerned may be small, but in each and every case it is a serious situation in which they find 459GC themselves. I know the Minister is apprised of that and has shown sympathy to it, so I look forward to her response today.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I also warmly support the amendment. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for tabling it. I also thank the Minister for sending me a copy of the letter to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has just referred.
This is an important and serious issue. It applies only to a relatively small number of women, but it can mean life and death to them. It is worth noting that other jurisdictions, such as the United States and Australia, take a broader view of the help that can be given to women coping with domestic violence and immigration issues. I hope that the United Kingdom Government can move in the right direction on the issue. In fact, we need to reach a situation where all women who are subject to immigration laws and domestic violence can get the sort of help they need. The continuing restriction on public funds preserves the economic dependency of those women on their spouses, partners or relatives and prevents a significant number of women escaping from what could be serious injury and possibly death.
Although the Minister outlined in her letter the kind of help that is available, we know that the Government's heart is in the right place on this issue. In Safety and Justice: the Government's Proposals on Domestic Violence, the Home Office acknowledges that victims are often deterred from seeking help or leaving a violent relationship because they have nowhere to go. The paper describes the availability of safe and secure accommodation as crucial and life-saving.
Sadly, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, there is not enough accommodation. The Southall Black Sisters survey showed that respondent agencies dealt with 383 cases of women with immigration and domestic violence problems and no recourse to public funds during its 12-month survey. On a particular day, it dealt with 77 cases. However, the refuges that responded were able to accommodate only about one third of the women with no recourse who approached them for emergency accommodation. That is an indication of the number of women who are not able to get help as matters stand.
Leaving the situation undealt with is a violation of the human rights of those women. Failure to extend to them the help that they need is against the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and is also against the European Convention on Human Rights. Women have the right to be protected against violence. Violence aggravates their sense of dependency, their sense of worthlessness and humiliation. That is not the way we want women who come to this country to feel about themselves in the early days of their residency here. I know that the Government want to help these women. It is just a matter of finding the right way to do it. I submit that nobody can live without cash, not even for the short time it takes for a fast-track 460GC application to be processed. Something will have to be done about it. I hope that the Minister can be encouraging to us about this when she comes to reply.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I rise with some hesitation. If one looks at the amendment, it is concerned with immigration control and public funds and it relates to both asylum seekers and immigration. At the outset one has to draw a fundamental distinction between them. I agree with my noble friend Baroness Anelay of St Johns that a short debate should start in earnest now, but I have a feeling— indeed, a conviction—that it would be premature to seek to resolve this intricate and complex problem in this Bill.
I have to hoist a danger cone, albeit that I have had contact with some of the black sisters, in a curious way because I am a little deaf and could not exactly understand what they were saying—but I got the drift of it. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whom I greatly admire, put the drift of it. I wholly accept the spirit of his amendment and indeed the well researched details of the argument with which he supported it. However, is it right to seek to resolve this question on this Bill? There are two cases in the Times today which are bound to go to the House of Lords. We will get to the stage where we all know that the immigration legislation is a total mess and that something will have to be done to improve it. That is not wholly the fault of government; it is such a complex problem, and raises such intricate issues of human rights that it is not my wish to blame anyone.
Looking at the matter objectively, it would, in my view, be a great mistake to seek to resolve this by nibbling at part of the problem in a Bill where the problem is a very large cake. I therefore suggest that we go on debating it because what we say may be heard and considered. What we say can only improve the situation: it cannot worsen it. I am afraid that I disagree with my noble friend Baroness Anelay of St Johns and think that it would be a great mistake to pre-empt the whole situation by nibbling at this Bill.
§ Lord Dubs
Before the Minister responds, perhaps I may deal with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said. I do not want to put words into his mouth, but he said that it is a big problem and a big issue and that we should not deal with bits and pieces but should solve every problem in one big bang. In politics, I have learnt that when one sees a problem, an injustice or an abuse of human rights, one tackles it. In issues as complex as domestic violence and immigration, it is extremely difficult to say, "Let's deal with everything in one go".
It seems to me that this Bill clearly deals with the issue of domestic violence. A problem clearly arises in that a very small number of women who are victims of domestic violence will be missed out of what is essentially an important Bill to move forward support. Surely it is right to say, "No, we're not going to subject these women to years of more delay until someone thinks of a piece of legislation which covers absolutely 461GC all aspects of the problem". I am not even sure whether the noble Lord was referring to everything to do with asylum and immigration policy or simply everything relating to domestic violence.
However, it seems to me that, having identified an abuse and having identified that there are victims, the right way forward is to ask, "Is there any way of dealing with it within the scope of the legislation that we have before us?". It seems to me that there is. It is a Bill about domestic violence and about remedying an appalling wrong for certain people in this country. Here, with the help of the Southall Black Sisters, we have managed clearly to identify a way forward for people who have been missed out. I submit to the Committee and to the noble Lord that it is better to move forward on the basis of solving one problem rather than saying, "It is all difficult. Let's solve all the problems in one go". It may never happen.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for what he said. Of course, I was talking about domestic violence. On that, the Court of Appeal very recently ruled that the existing system of parallel—criminal and civil—jurisdictions is wholly unsatisfactory and that a new, integrated court must be set up. An amendment to deal with that and with the interim position pending the setting up of that integrated court is tabled, admittedly in my name, but I hope to improve it slightly for the Report stage. I mention that only because it is a matter that has also affected my reluctance to go for an amendment now. Many things are going on and I do not believe that now is the time to pre-empt them in this Bill.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)
I thank each noble Lord who has participated in this debate. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord Dubs for giving me an opportunity to address some of the issues which have been alive for some time and to explain how we think this matter should be dealt with.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, has a point when he says that we need to keep a clear distinction between the asylum legislation and this matter. He also has a point when he says that the issue about which we have spoken so far is unlikely to be capable of being resolved within the Bill. However, I believe it to be true—I want to recognise this straight away—that victims of domestic violence who are subject to immigration control can face particular difficulties in leaving a violent relationship and seeking help. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is absolutely right when she says that the Government are very much aware of that problem. They are exercised about it and want to do something to assist. That is why my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Dubs is so warmly expressed.
We have made considerable progress in improving the position of domestic violence victims who do not have settled immigration status. It is important to remember that those claiming asylum will, in all probability, not have outstanding applications under the domestic violence provisions. In order to qualify 462GC under the domestic violence provisions, the person must already have valid leave to remain as a spouse and must be married to a British citizen or to someone present and settled in the United Kingdom. They are not likely to claim asylum until a domestic violence application is turned down. Most asylum seekers neither have valid leave to remain nor are married to British nationals.
The immigration rules now make specific provision for an application to be made on the basis about which we have just been speaking—domestic violence. We have extended the types of evidence that can be used as proof of violence. Even if it is not possible for victims to produce evidence of a relevant court conviction, police caution or protection order against their spouse or partner, they can provide medical reports, letters of support from a refuge or a letter from social services, for example. The Committee will know that, in the past, there have been difficulties if there has not been an order. We have tried to address that.
Applications made on this basis are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and my noble friend Lord Dubs indicated, already flagged and dealt with as a matter of priority in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. That means that, if the application is successful and indefinite leave to remain granted, the length of time without recourse to public funds is kept to a minimum. I hear what has been said to the effect that a day can seem like a long time: we have done everything that we can to make sure that that time is as short as is humanly possible. In addition, if the applicant is destitute, applications for settlement on the basis of domestic violence are exempt from the fee charged for processing such applications. That is a significant exemption, as I said in my letter. The charge for postal applications is £ 155; for personal callers, it is £250.
We have also ensured that domestic violence victims in such circumstances can get access to housing-related support services funded through the Supporting People programme. Supporting People is a working partnership of local government, service users and support agencies. The programme offers vulnerable people the opportunity to improve their quality of life by providing a stable environment that enables greater independence. Current expenditure by the Supporting People arrangement is £54.7 million.
I listened with great care to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns about the detail of Supporting People, particularly the matters raised by the Southall Black Sisters. I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness about them. They are detailed, and, as the noble Baroness can probably imagine, they need to be put in context. I will be happy to do that.
We will continue to examine the best way to assist victims of domestic violence, for instance by ensuring that information is readily available about what support they can expect. We are actively considering a request for funding to cover the living expenses of women and children in such circumstances, a matter that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, 463GC raised. However, I am afraid that I cannot accept the amendment tabled by my noble friend and the noble Baronesses. We have been clear about the fact that we must protect the integrity of the immigration and benefit rules. Allowing recourse to public funds for this category would stand in marked contrast to other applications under the immigration rules. We cannot rule out the risk that any relaxation of the rules might lead to exploitation, if this were seen as a way to access public funds. If more applications of this nature were received, it could cause delay in the processing of applications. Clearly, that would not be in the interests of the real victims. I assure the Committee that we are actively considering ways in which we can assist.
In any event, the amendment is unnecessary. I say that for the following reasons. The immigration rules already make it clear that a sponsor of a person seeking leave to enter, or a variation of leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, may be asked to give an undertaking in writing to be responsible for that person's maintenance and accommodation for the period of any leave granted, including any further variation that includes indefinite leave to remain. The relevant government department may seek to recover from the person giving such an undertaking any income support paid to meet the needs of the person in respect of whom the undertaking has been given.
In practice, to date, that has been used mainly for sponsors of elderly and dependant relatives coming to settle in this country. I am very happy to look at the matter again but, given that we do not intend to make an exemption to the "no recourse to public funds" rule, I do not believe that it would add anything to the current system. The noble Lord raised a very interesting avenue which I am happy to pursue. However, for the reasons that I have given, we are not able to accept the amendment either.
Nor can I accept Amendment No. 103A, for the reasons that I set out when the Committee last met. It would be unfair for victims of one particular crime type to be singled out on the face of the Bill for the commissioner's attention. I acknowledge the points made in our debate last week and recognise that because Part 1 of the Bill focuses on domestic violence, organisations and individuals with a specific interest in tackling that crime may well wish to see it written explicitly into the commissioner's role. I assured the Committee then and I assure your Lordships now that we are committed to tackling domestic violence and supporting its victims. That is why we are bringing forward specific legislation in Parts 1 and 2 of the Bill; that is why we are working across government through the inter-ministerial group and spending £84 million on a three-stage strategy to tackle domestic violence; and that is why victims of domestic violence are one of the groups highlighted in our national strategy for victims and witnesses.
As I have said in debate previously, given the priority that we attach to tackling domestic violence and the prevalence of that crime, we expect it to be an area in which the commissioner will take a significant interest. As the commissioner has a wide range of government departments within his remit, he will be 464GC able to take a holistic view of the problems suffered by victims of domestic violence, including the particular problems faced by victims who are still subject to immigration control.
Lastly, I gently take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I believe that she said that the current rule is in breach of ECHR and other human rights legislation. It is not. That does not mean that I do not feel the force of her argument that we need to do all that we can to ensure that women who are put in that intolerable situation are better supported and supported, at least, in the most creative way that we can craft. I absolutely agree with her on that. I hope that with those assurances my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I was interested to hear the Minister's offer to look again at how the rules operate with regard to undertakings required of and given by sponsors. I recall that was the policy initiative coming forward when I was a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee and in the debates that ensued at that time. In effect, this is a different generation—that was some 10 or more years ago. Sadly not enough attention was given to a group of people such as those suffering from domestic violence who may benefit from the operation of these rules. It was brought forward with the object of ensuring that elderly people were properly maintained while they were in this country. I found her offer very interesting. I take her up on that offer and I would be grateful if she would look at the matter again. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will say that it is not the whole answer, but certainly it is a constructive move in the right direction.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I was interested in the Minister's explanation about the resources available through Supporting People. Is she totally satisfied that sufficient resources are available for the everyday living expenses of women in this intolerable situation through the mechanisms that she described, and that there are enough safe places for them to live? If not, some women will be deterred from leaving a violent relationship. If those resources are there, on the other hand, how will the Government ensure that the information about their availability gets through to the women who need to know about them? Unless they do know about them, they will have to stay in situations that none of us in this place would want them to stay in.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
We are investing a considerable amount of money in the domestic violence campaign to raise women's awareness of the facilities available to assist them. In addition, the noble Baroness—and other Members of the Committee— will know that Women's Aid has a "last resort" fund, which it has run for several years and from which its members can apply for funding to cover living expenses of women making an application for 465GC indefinite leave to remain because of domestic violence. I know that such applications have been made and are under consideration.
The Government are aware of the difficulties but we are also aware of the need to preserve the integrity of the immigration rules. Therefore, we are seeking to find a way that is as creative as possible in which to assist those women.
§ Lord Dubs
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate on the amendments, and to my noble friend the Minister for her response. I want to read and ponder her speech in some detail when I have the chance to do so, but she made a number of remarks that suggest she is sympathetic to the problem that we have been discussing, if somewhat constrained by the integrity of the immigration rules process. Nevertheless, she wants to be helpful, although she said that she believed the amendments to be unnecessary. That was the one negative aspect that I got out of her speech; the rest of it was very positive.
The domestic violence that we are discussing may well be a criminal offence in some circumstances. The difficulty is that if we do not give protection to the women who are victims of what may be a criminal offence, we are in effect condoning criminal behaviour. We do not intend to do so, but that may be what happens in effect, because the victim may have to leave the country out of fear of further abuse or go back into the abusive relationship, which would give the abuser carte blanche to continue with it. There is a difficulty there with the criminality of the behaviour that we have been discussing.
I appreciate that not all domestic violence is criminal. Some of it may require civil rather than criminal remedies, but the criminal element seems to me to make this situation different from others, in that we are saying that we may breach the integrity of the immigration rules if we do something. We have the integrity of criminal justice to consider as well, and the fact that criminals should not be allowed to get away with anything. I say that to my noble friend the Minister as input to her consideration of the whole issue.
My noble friend the Minister said that we have the concept of sponsors, who must accept responsibility for the support. I suppose that it is possible that the sponsor may be the abuser, in which case it would make that more difficult. However, in any event, if the victim has gone back to the abusive relationship, whether the sponsor is the abuser or somebody else, it is very hard then to say that there needs to be further support. It is the lack of assurance of support that may well drive the woman back into the abusive relationship. That is a real difficulty.
I appreciate that the Minister's sentiments are sympathetic and hope that she will reconsider the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.466GC
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 102:
After Clause 25, insert the following new clause—
AMENDMENTS TO THE YOUTH JUSTICE AND CRIMINAL EVIDENCE ACT 1999 TO EXTEND THE CATEGORY OF WITNESSES ELIGIBLE FOR ASSISTANCE ON GROUNDS OF FEAR OR DISTRESS ABOUT TESTIFYING
§ The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 102 stands also in the names of my noble friend Lady Anelay, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The purpose of the amendment is to extend eligibility for special measures currently afforded to victims of sexual offences to victims of domestic violence. It amends the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 using the definition of domestic violence given in the Family Law Act 1996.
The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act provides for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses to be eligible for special measures, such as screens or giving evidence via a TV link. That means that witnesses who may have concerns about being intimidated do not have to face the defendant. Witnesses defined as "vulnerable" include those under 17 and some adults with physical and mental disabilities.
The definition of "intimidated" witnesses relates to fear or distress about testifying. The Act lists factors which the court should take into account in deciding whether a witness should be eligible for special measures because of intimidation. The Act includes the domestic circumstances of the witness under Section 2(c)(ii). However, for domestic violence victims, that simply means that the police and the CPS will consider whether to apply for special measures and the court will decide whether or not they should receive them.
The system, therefore, depends on the police, the CPS and the court all recognising that the victim in each individual case is in fear or distress. We may therefore have a situation where a victim is intending to report a crime, knowing that as a result he or she may have to face the perpetrator across a courtroom. Experience shows that a court is likely to grant such measures to victims who are considering whether to report the situation to the police. That will be of small comfort to a witness faced with the often agonising 467GC decision of whether or not to report the offence in the first place. The amendment simply removes any uncertainty.
We understand that the interdepartmental working group on vulnerable or intimated witnesses, which produced the report Speaking up for Justice in 1998, expected victims of domestic violence to be covered by these special measures.
Victims of sexual offences already have this reassurance. They have a rebuttable presumption that they will be eligible for special measures under Section 17(4). That means that such a witness will be counted as eligible unless he or she says that he or she does not want to be.
We believe—and we are strongly supported by Victim Support—that there should also be such a presumption for victims of domestic violence. We believe that victims will be more prepared to report an offence and to stick with the case through the court procedures if they know that they will not have to face the perpetrator across the courtroom—unless they want to. The amendment has been proposed to provide victims of domestic violence with this reassurance. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I rise on behalf of my noble friend Lord McNally and myself to support the amendment. It is very important that we do everything we can to encourage women who are being subjected to domestic violence to report it so that the perpetrators can be dealt with. I believe that this measure would encourage some women to do that. That was the thinking behind the introduction of such special measures for the victims of sexual offences— that it would encourage them to report these offences if they did not have to face the perpetrator across a courtroom.
We must not forget the state of mind of a woman who has been abused over many years: the fear with which she beholds the person who has committed that violence against her and the difficulty that she would have if she knew she had to face him, even across a courtroom with the protection of the law around her. It is an element that might discourage her from reporting the problem. If there is something that we can do to take that fear away, I hope that we can do it during the course of the Bill. For that reason, I support the amendment.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides for special measures, such as screens around the witness box and allowing witnesses to give evidence from outside the court room by live link, to enable vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give their best evidence. Under the Act, it is for the court to decide whether vulnerable or intimidated witnesses should be provided with special measures to assist them in giving evidence.
The one exception to that is where the case deals with a sexual offence—the exception to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has already alluded. 468GC In such cases, access to special measures is automatic for the complainant unless he or she does not wish to be given access to special measures. This provision was made in recognition of the special nature of sexual offences and the sensitive nature of the evidence that will be given.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, spoke about the necessity for the police, the CPS and the court all to recognise that. I was very pleased to hear him acknowledge that it is likely that such measures will, indeed, be granted in relation to the kind of cases that, in the main, we would find before the court. I agree with him in that regard.
However, two issues concern me about this amendment. First, while it is possible to be clear about what is a sexual offence, the situation relating to domestic violence is not so clear. It comes back to the request made earlier in Committee to make domestic violence an offence in itself. But there is the rub because domestic violence covers a whole spectrum of behaviour. At one end, it is pernicious and difficult but perhaps not overtly violent. However, at the heavy end, if I may express it in that way, is the controlling, oppressive behaviour, which often escalates and becomes more burdensome, more pernicious and more abusive.
Members of the Committee know that we very much wish to catch the whole spectrum of that behaviour and that we do not wish to concentrate simply on the lesser end. We know that often the pattern, established over time, escalates. We want to nip it in the bud at its inception and not wait until it ripens into dramatic violence.
Therefore, as I said earlier, we do not intend to create a separate offence of domestic violence. We believe that to do so would downgrade the seriousness of domestic violence by requiring the prosecution to prove a domestic relationship as well as the offence itself, and that may make it harder to prove. In addition, a single offence of domestic violence would not be specific enough to take into account the nature of the violence, which might vary from common assault to murder. That would make it difficult to ensure that the punishment matched the crime.
It is clear that at the sharper end of the violent behaviour, special measures would be necessary but, at the very lightest end of the spectrum, it might not be automatic. Therefore, if I may respectfully say so to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, the amendment is too widely drawn. It would catch other offences where a witness might not need special measures.
Secondly, the evidence given in domestic violence cases may not be as sensitive as that given in sexual offences cases and, therefore, witnesses would not automatically need the additional protection that the amendment would offer. It is important to rely on the good sense of the courts when judging whether the quality of the evidence would be diminished as a result of the witness's vulnerability or intimidation and to provide the special measures as a necessity.
469GC In Safety and Justice, we asked whether continuing to implement the special measures provisions of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provided the right level of support to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in domestic violence cases. Respondents were more or less evenly divided as to whether access to special measures should be automatic or whether witnesses should continue to apply for them. However, respondents were clear that special measures, whether applied for or automatic, provided an important support for domestic violence victims. We shall continue to implement those provisions.
Therefore, I do not believe that the amendment is necessary. Victims of domestic violence can already apply for access to special measures where the court believes it will ensure that they give their best evidence. I would expect courts to be sensitive to the needs of victims of domestic violence and to grant special measures where appropriate.
We also want to continue to do all that we can—this again reflects what I said earlier in Committee—to ensure that women know what opportunities are available to them so that they receive the succour they so desperately need to enable them to have the courage to come forward, to come forward early, and to be supported through the process so that they are not discouraged from obtaining the justice they so rightly deserve.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
I am grateful to the Minister for that very helpful reply, particularly as regards recognising the vulnerability of so many witnesses in these cases. We shall want to consult the agencies further on the matter but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 103:
After Clause 25, insert the following new clause—
AMENDMENTS TO THE YOUTH JUSTICE AND CRIMINAL EVIDENCE ACT 1999 RESTRICTION ON REPORTING
§ The noble Viscount said: This amendment stands in my name and in those of my noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Thomas of Gresford. I am grateful for their support.
The purpose of the amendment is to extend the anonymity currently afforded to victims of sexual offences to victims of domestic violence. The amendment would amend the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 by using the definition of "domestic violence" given in the Family Law Act 1996. In the Government's consultation on domestic violence entitled Safety and Justice, to which the Minister referred, one proposal was to provide reporting restrictions for domestic violence cases. However, that has not been followed up and therefore Victim Support would like the idea to be reconsidered in discussing the Bill.
Currently, victims of sexual offences and children are all afforded anonymity through reporting restrictions on cases which involve them. We support Victim Support, which believes that that should be extended to domestic violence victims. We are advised by Victim Support that victims often do not want their neighbours to know what is going on in their home and that therefore reporting restrictions would support the victim. We consider that if victims can be told early in the proceedings that they need not worry about any part of the case being reported, that will be one less anxiety for them to face. It may well be one factor in helping them to decide to take part in the case and to see it through to its conclusion.
Currently, the court can grant reporting restrictions in cases where it believes that the quality of the witnesses' evidence will be diminished because of fear or due to the distress that they would suffer if members of the public were able to identify them. That is covered by Section 46(3) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. The Act lists factors that the courts should take into account in making that decision, including the domestic circumstances of the witness. However, as with eligibility for special measures, which we discussed in the previous amendment, there is uncertainty in this. Decisions again depend on the police, the CPS and the courts all recognising that this is an issue. Knowing for certain that their case will not be reported will provide reassurance to victims. It will also help them in making decisions about whether to go to the police or will encourage them in seeing the case through the criminal justice process.
In addition, more often than not, the criminal case will involve some evidence that relates to children, such as details of contact arrangements. This information is subject to reporting restrictions in the civil courts and, therefore, it is logical that it should also be restricted in domestic violence cases in criminal courts.
We recognise that that could mean that there will also be anonymity for the defendant, as identifying him or her would also identify the victim. Parliament has already considered anonymity for the defendant in relation to sexual offences and has decided against it. 471GC The difference here is that in a domestic violence context we are proposing anonymity to safeguard the victim's interests rather than the defendant's.
However, there may be situations where a serial perpetrator is accused of a domestic violence offence. In such cases, it may be in the interests of the current victim of that offender for the public to know of the accusation. That is because previous victims may then feel encouraged to report the offences against them, and that could provide similar-fact evidence which might strengthen the case of the current victim.
The amendment suggests that there should be reporting restrictions unless the victim does not want them. This gives the victim the opportunity later in the proceedings to consider having the restrictions lifted if he or she thinks that there may be previous victims who might come forward and that that could support his or her case. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I support this amendment on behalf of my noble friends Lord McNally and Lord Thomas of Gresford. This is another measure that would help to encourage victims of domestic violence to come forward in the first place. Briefing from Victim Support tells us that, in its experience, victims often do not want their neighbours to know what is going on behind the doors and the net curtains of their home. Reporting restrictions would therefore support that kind of victim.
From personal experience, I can tell the Committee that that is so. I had a neighbour who eventually confided to me that she had been subjected to domestic violence over a very long period. I was astonished. It only came out in the end when matters came to a head. I am convinced that if that woman had had the opportunity of anonymity, she would have come forward a long time before she eventually did and she, and her children, would not have been so damaged by the domestic violence that she suffered and they observed. For those reasons I support this amendment.
As the noble Viscount has mentioned, Parliament has already rejected anonymity for the defendant in relation to sexual offences, but I emphasise that the difference here is that we want the availability of anonymity to support and encourage the victim to come forward. I do recall that the argument against anonymity in the Sexual Offences Bill was that it would prevent serial perpetrators being detected because it would prevent other victims coming forward. This amendment has been crafted in such a way as to allow for that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, outlined. For these reasons, I support this amendment.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
I say to both the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, that their remarks amounted to— and I paraphrase—"The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provisions are there, so can you please tell us when you are going to get on and implement them?" The language that they used was far more polite than that, of course. I will deal with that matter straightaway.
472GC Noble Lords will know that the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provided for the courts to impose reporting restrictions about adult witnesses in criminal cases where the witness's fear or distress about publicity would otherwise prevent him giving evidence or co-operating. It set out a number of issues that the courts would have to take into account when considering whether an adult witness was eligible for protection, including the nature of the offence, the witness's personal circumstances and the behaviour of the defendant. It also allows the court not to grant reporting restrictions where it would not be in the interests of justice to do so. I hope that I will give considerable pleasure to the Committee by saying that this provision will be brought into force this spring.
We say that the amendment tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, supported so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is unnecessary at this stage. It seeks to create a special category in this provision for adult victims of domestic violence to give them anonymity in a similar way to victims of sexual offences.
Your Lordships have already rightly highlighted the fact that this issue, not this precise matter, has been debated on a number of occasions. Noble Lords will remember that when we discussed this in the Safety and Justice consultation paper, we asked whether allowing victims to apply for reporting restrictions would encourage greater reporting of domestic violence or whether it was necessary to have automatic reporting restrictions. Noble Lords will remember that people were split on this issue. Some respondents felt that automatic reporting restrictions, removing public-reporting on domestic violence, would have the potential to minimise public awareness of the extent of the problem and drive the issue underground. Furthermore, the offender would not publicly be held to account for his or her criminal actions. Others felt that reporting restrictions were not the issue, and that it was fear of the abuser and the consequences of reporting the violence to the police that prevented people from reporting in the first place. The debate or argument—not only among us but among people who suffer—is very lively, and there is no unanimity of view. Therefore, we believe that enabling victims or witnesses to apply, making out a clear case for restrictions, is in the best interests both of the individual and the criminal justice system.
The amendment deals with a provision that has not yet been implemented or tested in the courts. As I have said, we hope that it will be introduced in the spring, when we shall have an opportunity to test it and see how it works. The provision has been carefully drawn to make clear what criteria the courts should take into account. If it turns out that the courts do not use the provision to protect anonymity in appropriate cases, I suggest that that would be the time when the amendment would be appropriate.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
Does my noble friend agree that in certain circumstances, armed by the powers of the 473GC court in any event, publicity can be a very useful factor? I have noted that myself as a practising solicitor. Would she also agree that the defendant in such cases can sometimes ensure—
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
I understand my noble friend's point. He is right in saying that there are cases in which publicity can be very useful and helpful. That is why we have kept the balance as it is. We hope that, once the provisions are implemented, we shall be better able to judge whether further or other adaptation is necessary. I do not balk at being kicked very gently into saying when the provisions are going to be introduced, because I know that a number of interested parties have been very anxious about the implementation date. This is an entirely appropriate opportunity for me to give the Committee what I hope is very good news.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
I am most grateful for the Minister's assurance. We shall certainly not kick her, but we shall watch, possibly together, the operation of the new provisions. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 103 A not moved.]
§ Clause 26 [Amendments and repeals]:
Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 104:
Page 14, line 12, leave out "enactments mentioned in Schedule 5 are repealed" and insert "provisions mentioned in Schedule 5 are repealed or revoked
§ The noble Baroness said: The amendments in this group deal with the transitional and transitory provisions. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has raised issues in relation to Northern Ireland and has said that these matters are ones that she and her colleagues wish to consider further. Therefore, unless she indicates to me that this would be an appropriate point, I am minded to withdraw the amendments and to bring them back on Report, when the noble Baroness has had the opportunity to consider the position. We can then have a proper debate. If, in the interim between now and Report, the noble Baroness finds that there are issues upon which we can agree, I shall be most grateful to receive any such indication.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 26 agreed to.
§ Schedule 4 [Minor and consequential amendments]:
§ [Amendment No. 105 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 105A:
Page 23, line 35, at end insert—
(3B) The court shall take into account the wishes of the sufferer when deciding whether or not to accept an undertaking, and nothing in this subsection will prevent the court from accepting an undertaking in a case where the sufferer particularly wishes the court to do so."
§ The noble Baroness said: I tabled the amendment as a result of briefing by the Solicitors' Family Law Association. The association points out that the experience of family lawyers working with sufferers of domestic abuse shows that many sufferers would not wish to criminalise the perpetrator. Their sole wish is to secure protection. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, made that point earlier in our debates, at col. 229 of Grand Committee on 19 January, when we were discussing Clause 1. In the light of that, the association argues that it would be right that the individual's wishes should be taken into account by the court and that the court should be able to accept an undertaking in such cases, rather than making an order so as to avoid the implications of the new Section 42A—the criminalisation of breach of a non-molestation order.
When Section 42A was debated on our first day in Grand Committee under Clause 1, reservations were expressed about the clause. In moving Amendment No. 7, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, at cols. 229 to 242, made a strong case for rejecting the Government's proposals for making the breach of a non-molestation order a criminal offence. He argued that the objectives could be better achieved through the civil route, and he made it clear that we would have the opportunity to return to that issue on Report. I welcome that.
In the mean time, I felt that it was important to table the amendment so that we could debate one more aspect of the implications of Clause 1. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
I hear what the noble Baroness says. I listened carefully to the way in which the previous amendments were moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. However, I immediately need to say that the outcome of what is proposed, in effect, would be a "no change" rule. At the moment, we already have an ability to enforce the orders through a civil route. That has been found not to be the most ideal way of dealing with the matter. The purpose of the Bill is to try to give women better protection and the orders more teeth so that they can operate smoothly.
We are concerned about the most appropriate protection under the Family Law Act 1996 and to ensure that the most appropriate protection is available for all victims of domestic violence. That is why we are making a breach of a non-molestation order a criminal offence in the Bill and why we are making the court consider a non-molestation order at the same time as an occupation order. We appreciate that we are doing more than we have done before. As I have said in earlier debates in Committee, we are doing that because we believe it to be necessary.
We are conscious that in certain circumstances the victim may not wish to seek a remedy that could bring the partner or ex-partner, who may be the co-parent, into the criminal courts; it may not be the most appropriate course of action for the victim and any children. Therefore, we have retained the option of undertakings set out in Section 46 of the Family Law 475GC Act 1996. The Committee will remember that there were those who argued that we should expunge undertakings in their entirety.
When we asked, in the Safety and Justice consultation paper, whether undertakings should be retained, opinion was divided between those who felt that we should abolish them, as they were insufficient protection for victims, particularly where there has been evidence of violence, and those who felt that it was important that as many options as possible should be made available to the victim. Taking away the option of undertakings would restrict that choice.
To address the issue of whether a victim could be pressurised by a violent partner into accepting an undertaking in circumstances where it was clearly inappropriate, we have made it clear in Schedule 4 that an undertaking shall not be accepted by the courts where it appears that the respondent has used or threatened violence against the applicant or relevant child, and where it is necessary for the protection of the applicant or child to make a non-molestation order, breach of which can be punishable as a criminal offence.
Members of the Committee will be familiar with the cycle in many domestic violence cases: a man persuades his partner that the violence was an aberration and that it will not happen again; he loves his partner dearly and in a lasting way and he believes that the matter should be forgiven and put to one side. That is a pattern that is repeated many times before the partner has the courage to come to the courts for the first time.
This reflects the current position that the court may not accept an undertaking in a case where it is required, by Section 47(2), to attach a power of arrest to the order because the respondent has used or threatened violence. We believe that that strikes the right balance between retaining undertakings, to which no power of arrest may be attached, and ensuring that where there is evidence of violence, victims cannot be coerced into accepting undertakings that will not provide the right level of protection.
There is another view that we should attach the breach of order to undertakings as well. In the current sphere, if you breach an undertaking of the court, you can be held in contempt and you can be dealt with. There are those who would argue, and argue quite vociferously, that there should be no distinction between "undertaking" and "order".
The amendment in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, would override the court's duty not to accept an undertaking even where there has been evidence of violence and it is clearly in the victim's interest and in that of any relevant child that a non-molestation order is made. This would, I fear, open the way for the violent partner to exert influence on the victim to accept an undertaking in the full knowledge that any breach of the undertaking would not be a criminal offence.
476GC In addition, the first part of the amendment to require a court to take into account the wishes of the sufferer is, if I may respectfully say so, unnecessary. It has always been for the court to take into account the wishes of the victim when considering whether to accept an undertaking. It is, of course, a matter for the applicant and respondent to agree any such undertaking.
The amendment would reduce the level of protection for domestic violence victims which, I am absolutely certain, is not what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, or the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, wish to happen. For those reasons, I am not able, on this occasion, to accept the amendment, although I understand entirely the concern of the noble Baroness to enable those who wish to rehabilitate their relationship and/or their marriage to be in a position to do so. We agree, but not in this way.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I am grateful to the Minister. I entirely accept her point that this would effect no change in the situation from that which persists before the Bill becomes law.
There is a difficulty, as the Minister says, that people who are abused in domestic relationships can be persuaded by the perpetrator that all will be well if only they will stick by him or her for a little longer. One can then enter into a cycle of abuse and forgiveness from which it is very difficult to escape. However, there are people who genuinely do not wish to criminalise their partner but do not wish to carry on living with them either. There is a concern among some who have briefed us, lawyers and others, that we are taking away that freedom of action from some people.
I entirely accept what the Minister says with regard to the difficulties of ensuring that undertakings are not given in circumstances in which the victim—the sufferer—is being pressured. That is always a problem. The difficulty in this case is that although the Government put this out to consultation some time ago and there were, as the Minister said, different views about how the problem might be resolved, the fact that the Bill is now being debated is only just beginning to be known. That is one of the problems with Bills that begin in the House of Lords. Necessarily, they tend to get ignored by the press, particularly when they are stuck in Grand Committee. As far as the press are concerned, this does not exist— it is not even published in the timetable in the newspaper each week. It is only occasionally, when titbits from noble Lords' speeches are put on the web that people become interested and motivated. So although we have already rehearsed some of the arguments in Clause 1, I am only now beginning to receive representations about the difficulties involved. I have heard from some members of the judiciary, who sit every day in county courts dealing with these matters.
I would be failing in my duty to Victim Support if I did not point out that it agrees with the Minister when she said that some people would like undertakings to go altogether. In its response on the amendment, Victim Support says that it considers that 477GC undertakings can be seen as an easy option for the court but they provide no safety net for the victim. It suggests that some research is carried out to investigate whether undertakings have any benefits for victims or whether the risks are such that they should be abolished.
I have undertaken to meet Victim Support again between now and Report and also the Solicitors Family Law Association, among other organisations, so that we can look very carefully at Clause 1 and its ramifications for the rest of the Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.45 p.m.
Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 106:
Page 24, line 17, after ""relative"," insert "after "nephew" insert "or cousin" and
§ The noble Baroness said: I rise to move Amendment No. 106 in the names of my noble friends Lord McNally and Lady Thomas of Walliswood. The purpose of Amendment No. 106 is to put right an apparent omission that was noted by Women's Aid after the passing of the Family Law Act 1996. It relates to the definition of "associated persons" for the purposes of the Act. It includes in Section 63— interpretation of Part 4—a definition of "relative", which includes a wide range of family members including aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, but does not include cousins, who may well be a member of the same household or in a domestic relationship.
The omission appears simply to be an oversight. Cousins are as relevant as the other relatives that are named, therefore we seek to insert "cousins" into the Bill. This appears to be an appropriate opportunity to put right that apparent omission. We hope that it will be received favourably by the Minister. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for highlighting the fact that cousins are not currently included in the definition of "associated persons" in Sections 62 and 63 of the Family Law Act 1996. That definition controls the type of relationships, which are eligible for protection through non-molestation and occupation orders. It already, as the noble Baroness rightly says, includes a wide range of family members, including aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces, but, as she says, not cousins.
We would like to consider further whether cousins without a more precise definition may cover too wide a category of relative. For instance, should it cover first and second cousins? I believe that in some cultures "cousin" can be used to describe almost any blood relative. In our House, that may have some very interesting ramifications. It is important that we make any additions to the relevant person category of the Family Law Act consistent with what is already included. If the Committee is content, I would like to 478GC consider this matter further. I give notice to all noble Lords who currently say "my noble kinsman" that they may wish to consider their positions.
§ Baroness Walmsley
I thank the Minister for that response. I would have thought that first cousins would provide the same level of affinity as uncles, aunts and nieces and nephews. It may not be appropriate to extend it beyond that, but I hope that the noble Baroness's further consideration will at least include a consideration of putting in "first cousins". With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 107 to 110 not moved.]
§ Schedule 4 agreed to.
§ Schedule 5 [Repeals]:
§ [Amendment No. 111 not moved.]
§ Schedule 5 agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 112 not moved.]
§ Clause 27 [Transitional and transitory provisions]:
§ [Amendment No. 113 not moved.]
§ Clause 27 agreed to.
§ Clause 28 agreed to.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 113A:
After Clause 28, insert the following new clause—
COMMENCEMENT OF PARTS 1 TO 3: CERTIFICATION OF SUFFICIENT RESOURCES The Secretary of State may not make any order under section 28 bringing any provision or provisions of Parts 1 to 3 of this Act into force until he has laid a certificate before both Houses of Parliament stating that he is satisfied that sufficient resources have been provided to enable the provision or provisions concerned adequately to be given practical effect.
§ The noble Baroness said: I can be briefer than expected, as I shall explain soon because of the time at which we meet the issue. The amendment would require that before any element of Parts 1 to 3 of the Bill were brought into force, the Secretary of State would have to certify to both Houses that sufficient resources were being provided in order adequately to give the provisions practical effect.
My objective is to draw attention to the significant call upon resources that will be made by the implementation of the provisions of the Bill. The police, the Prison Service and the Probation Service are currently overstretched and the Bill will bring extra burdens. It is important that the Government should take those into account when the various parts of the Bill are implemented.
The Bill will also have, as noble Lords have pointed out, a significant impact upon the voluntary agencies which must implement the victims' code. No doubt they will take on that work with good will. Victim Support has pointed out that it supports the improvement of services to victims that were heralded in the Government's 2001 general election manifesto and which are finally—three years further on—finding their way onto the statute book.
479GC I had a second reason for tabling the amendment. It was to draw attention to the fact that we are being asked to allow the Bill to progress from Committee to Report, and perhaps even further, without being given information about provisions that could be the impetus for even greater resource implications. I refer, of course, to the provisions that the Government intend to introduce, if they can, as a result of their consultation document, Compensation and Support for Victims of Crime.
I am grateful to the Minister for offering to meet me, together with my colleagues from another place, to brief us on the Government's work thus far. That was very helpful. We have taken her up on that offer and shall be meeting her tomorrow. When I tabled the amendment, I had thought that we would reach it after the meeting. However, we are now dealing with it before the meeting. Therefore, I have given notice of what I am doing. A substantive part of the amendment is still relevant to today's debate, although, in some respects, it is a lesser part. It is obviously an issue to which I shall need to return on another occasion. In the mean time, I beg to move.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
Perhaps I may delay this gallop to the finishing line for 20 seconds by asking the Minister, when she responds, to bear in mind the famous remark of the late Lord Wilberforce:Those who will the end must will the means".
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Precisely, and the other place will be seized of that matter. The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness would prevent the Secretary of State commencing provisions in Parts 1 to 3 of the Bill unless he had laid before both Houses a certificate stating that he was satisfied that sufficient resources had been provided to enable the provision to be given practical effect. When she tabled the amendment, the noble Baroness was very aware of the effect that it would have and, indeed, of the control that we in this House, as opposed to the other place, have on those matters. However, I understand her intent as she expressed it.
Of course, the Government are committed to ensuring that sufficient resources are available before the Bill's provisions are commenced. The regulatory impact assessment, which was published at the same time as the Bill, gave our best estimates of the costs of commencing the provisions. I am sure that the noble Baroness has looked at those.
Noble Lords will know that I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the Government's current spending review process, even if I wished so to do. However, during the Bill's passage, I have made clear the importance that the Government attach to the Bill. It will be implemented as and when the necessary resources are available to do so but, so far as I am aware, it is unnecessary and unprecedented to require the Secretary of State to certify that before commencement. As I indicated, it is also more proper for these matters to be considered by the other place, which, as convention has it, still holds the purse 480GC strings—unfortunately for this House. For that reason, as the noble Baroness would already have known, I cannot agree to the amendment.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
Within such confines, of course I am grateful for that response. However, we shall need to return to the matter. The noble Baroness refers to the regulatory impact assessment. It does not make for very happy reading and, indeed, the regulatory impact assessment for the consultative provisions simply states "partial". Therefore, we have much work ahead of us on the Bill both as it stands before us and as it might stand when it returns from another place. It is hoped that the Government might manage to delay the Bill so that it can be properly Christmas-treed by them and considered before it leaves here. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 29 [Orders]:
Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 113B:
Page 15, line 11, leave out "6(5)" and insert "6(4) and (5)
The noble Baroness said: This amendment follows up a query I made at a briefing meeting. I asked, the Minister why the order-making powers did not appear to relate to the correct subsection. Subsection (3) of Clause 29 states:
A statutory instrument containing an order under section 6(5) or 14(7) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament".
At the meeting, I asked the Minister about subsection (4) of Clause 6, which is also subject to an important order-making power. When I followed the matter up, the answer I was given by the Public Bill Office and the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was that the matter did not concern subsection (4) or subsection (5) of Clause 6 but rather subsection (6).
I thought that the Government would table an amendment because the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report stated that the Government had told that committee that they would either table an amendment in Committee or make a printing change. I could not understand how what appears to be a substantive amendment could be effected by a printing change. Therefore, I have tabled my amendment to see what response I am given. I spoke to officials in the Home Office who in turn spoke to officials in the Public Bill Office, who said that the amendment would be effected by way of a printing change. We need an explanation on the record of how that can be achieved. If a matter as significant as that can be effected by way of a printing change, that has serious implications for later amendments. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Scotland of Asthal
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Clause 29 incorrectly refers to orders made under subsection (5) of Clause 6. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the issue when I briefed 481GC your Lordships shortly after introduction of the Bill. I can confirm that the error will be corrected as a matter of printing after Committee stage has concluded.
I can assist the noble Baroness to the following extent. One asks officials in the Public Bill Office and others how the matter can be addressed. They then tell you, in convention terms, how it can be done, and after that we tend to say, "Thank you". With that in mind and given that the amendment as tabled would incorrectly refer to order-making powers under subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 6 rather than subsection (6), I hope that the noble Baroness can withdraw her amendment. I have found that it is better to say "Thank you" because the officials are invariably correct.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I am grateful for that reply. Of course, one has to ask what the situation would be if there were order-making powers in 482GC subsection (4) of Clause 6. I assume that then the Government would not have been able simply to say "Thank you, let us effect this amendment by a printing change". I thought that it was important for that explanation to be put on the record; otherwise, it looks as though we are conniving at something behind the scenes. Sometimes, Front-Bench spokesmen are accused of that, but, of course, it is never the case. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Clause 30 [Extent]:
§ [Amendment No. 114 not moved.]
§ Clause 30 agreed to.
§ Clause 31 agreed to.
§ Bill reported with amendments.
§ The Committee adjourned at two minutes before five o'clock.