David Johnston – 2020 Speech on the Domestic Abuse Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by David Johnston, the Conservative MP for Wantage, in the House of Commons on 28 April 2020.

It is fair to say that there are several Members on both sides of the House who are more expert in this topic than me, but I wanted to speak in the debate because I have known a number of people in my personal and professional life who have been the victims of domestic abuse. I pay tribute to them today—they know who they are.

Our public understanding of domestic abuse has moved on quite a bit from an outdated notion of a man of a certain age hitting his wife. We know that the perpetrators can be white and black, young and old, able bodied and disabled, gay and straight. They can also be male and female. That point is important and I support the Government in not including gender in the definition in the Bill. Up to a third of victims are male —under-reporting has also been touched on—and it would not be right, when we are trying to uncover what is often hidden, inadvertently to hide that experience. ​However, I completely support the Government in making it clear in the guidance that the overwhelming majority of people who suffer are female. It is right to recognise that.

We should welcome several aspects of the Bill. To stick with the definition, it is right that we have included emotional abuse and economic abuse. Again, that gets away from the idea of just physical violence because emotional and economic abuse can crush the spirit and restrict the freedom, independence and confidence of the victims almost as much, if not more, than some other forms of abuse.

It is also right to prohibit the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in family courts. We should question why we ever thought that was acceptable.

I want to talk about three Cs: the commissioner, the charities and the children. I warmly welcome the appointment of a domestic abuse commissioner. We have seen in several other areas how such a person can put a clear, single voice in Parliament that keeps us all on our toes. We have seen that with the Social Mobility Commission and the Children’s Commissioner. I encourage the designated appointed officer to be fiercely independent. If she does her job correctly, there may be times when the Government regret appointing her, but that will only show that she is doing her job properly in holding their feet to the fire.

The second C is charities. Although not the only area by any means, domestic abuse is a key area where charities have done much to aid our understanding. They have done so much to put the issue on the agenda—in my judgment, more than any other key institution. There are many of them, but I want to highlight one that helps in Wantage and Didcot, and also across Oxfordshire and other counties: Reducing the Risk. It has trained 1,100 domestic abuse champions who support people for an average of between six and 18 months to help them try to be safe in their own homes. They place a heavy emphasis on prevention. We have probably not heard enough about prevention in the debate, although some Members have mentioned it. We need to have prevention always in our minds.

The third C is children. Again, I support the Government in not including children in the definition, but they should be uppermost in our minds. Children will not be involved in every case, but as the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) highlighted, when children experience domestic abuse around them, it contributes to toxic stress. It is right at the top of adverse childhood experiences. We know that some of those children will go on to become abusers and others will become the abused and recreate the relationships that they have seen at home. A far larger number will never escape the feelings they had when growing up in such a home, and it will affect their education, their employment, their relationships and most aspects of their lives. In supporting the Bill for what it does for the adults and its support for them, I have firmly in my mind the fact that it will also support the children.