Maria Miller – 2020 Speech on the Domestic Abuse Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Maria Miller, the Conservative MP for Basingstoke, in the House of Commons on 28 April 2020.

To start this second Second Reading debate, I thank again the Members of both Houses who were members of the draft Bill scrutiny Committee, which I chaired a year ago. It was a Joint Committee, and I particularly thank Baroness Bertin, who was battling the symptoms of morning sickness in our early sessions. To mark the significant amount of time that has passed since our Bill Committee reported, I am pleased to tell the House that the very young Edward Louis Grist was born on 5 December and is almost five months old. General elections, Brexit and pandemics may have got in the way of the legislation, but we have a chance to put that right today.

In our extensive scrutiny of the Bill, we held seven evidence sessions. The Government have responded positively to many of the recommendations that we made because of that evidence. I welcome the Government’s decision to include in the Bill the duty on local authorities in England to provide support for victims and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation, and to provide funding to do that. I am sure Ministers will be pressed firmly in Committee on that funding promise.

At this point, I might want to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) to her place on the Front Bench. I am very glad to see that she is still there, because I seem to recall a while ago her indicating that if funding for refuges were ever made statutory, her job would be done. I am sure she would agree with me that there is much more work for both she and I to do in this area and to make sure that the Government deliver on all their important promises.

Other recommendations from the Committee that have been taken forward by the Government include the issue of the interpretation of the definition of domestic abuse. We had a long and hard debate on this, and we are particularly pleased to see that the statutory definition will be coupled with guidance, particularly on how to deal with the effects that domestic abuse has on children. There is also the fact that, overwhelmingly, this is a crime where the victims are women, and that is an important thing the Government have acknowledged. The Government have also agreed, as a result of the evidence they heard from the Committee, that there will be a mandatory ban on cross-examination of domestic abuse victims by their perpetrators in the family courts, as well as in the criminal courts. The Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), referred to that.​
However, there are two outstanding issues on which I would like to press my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. The first is making sure that we have the report from the panel considering the extension of special measures to family courts as soon as possible, and that there is no further delay on that being put in place, particularly given the current circumstances.

Secondly, and equally importantly, we must make sure that there are provisions for migrant women, and that they are made clearer by the Government not at any point in the future, but now and today, because there are currently no provisions in the Bill for migrant women facing domestic abuse, and that is not acceptable. As the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) said, a victim is a victim regardless of their immigration status, which is an important point that we should all take away from today’s debate.

The Committee recommended that a firewall be established separating the reporting of crime and access to support services from immigration control. I was alarmed to see that a recently published FOI request showed that 27 out of 45 police forces routinely share details with the Home Office if victims have insecure immigration status, so this is a live issue, which I know my right hon. and learned Friend will be very well aware of.

We meet to debate the Bill in unprecedented times, and I know from speaking to my own local domestic abuse charity in Hampshire, Stop Domestic Abuse, that there are real concerns about the potential for funding issues in relation to a spike in cases when the lockdown is lifted. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud all the work that it is doing to support my constituents. Many domestic abuse organisations are concerned about this issue, and I would like to add my voice to the support for at least part of the very generous £750 million announced by the Chancellor to be earmarked for specialist services.

The impact of this pandemic on our lives is profound, but for those living with domestic abuse it is not only the virus that is life threatening, and we need to take this opportunity today to act.