Below is the text of the speech made by Caroline Nokes, the Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North, in the House of Commons on 28 April 2020.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate—arguably for the second time, having contributed back in October. What has been really interesting today is the quality of contributions from both returning and new Members. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe), who made a very powerful maiden speech, albeit in interesting circumstances. I reassure other Members that, although she sits on the Women and Equalities Committee that I now Chair, I have at no time found her to be remotely difficult.
I thank the Lord Chancellor for his opening comments. I would like to pay tribute in particular to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), the Minister with responsibility for safeguarding, who will close the debate this evening. She has proven to be a doughty champion of the Bill on the various occasions it has come back before us. She has also taken time, during the intervening months, to speak to various Members, including me, about the difficulties and challenges in bringing into legislation amendments or parts of the Bill that would tackle the cases that my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) highlighted so eloquently. I remember sitting behind him in October when he spoke of Natalie Connolly. What is tragic and sad about that case, although horrific and dreadful, is that it is not unique. We will see more individuals who are perpetrators of domestic violence trying to run that sort of defence. We have to find a way to stop that. I am certainly committed to working with my hon. Friend and the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) in that regard.
We know that domestic abuse can affect anyone: both genders, people who are able-bodied and disabled, and all ethnicities. It is no respecter of socioeconomic background. What we do know is that it impacts some more than others. LGBTQ people are twice as likely as the rest of the population to suffer from domestic abuse. We heard earlier about the impact of domestic abuse on people with disabilities, perhaps particularly those with sight impairments. Those are all issues that have been raised with Members by various charities over the course of the past few days. We all know that it is no respecter of age. I urge Ministers to look again at how they can include in their statistics victims of domestic abuse who are over 74. We know that the National Crime Survey does not pick up on that. Tragically, over the course of the past few weeks we have seen more pensioners who have been impacted. That is absolutely horrific and we have to find ways to include that in the Bill. There is a great deal to be done in Committee. I urge all Members who have the opportunity to serve on the Bill Committee to ensure that the changes that some of us wish to see can be reflected in it.
We debate the Bill at the time of pandemic, when there is even more pressure on individuals, relationships and families. I wonder whether the Minister, in her closing comments, might reflect on the increase we have already seen in referrals to domestic abuse helplines, both online and telephone. When locked down with the perpetrator of domestic abuse, it is much harder for women to report those crimes. I ask her to reflect on what we might see when the pressure cooker valve is released and whether we will see yet more people reporting.
I want to conclude by speaking about the issue I raised on Second Reading part one, which is that of migrant women. I vividly remember sitting with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), in his time as a Justice Minister, alongside Southall Black Sisters and other groups representing migrant women. We know that people will use finances and physical strength—they will use any means they can to control people. Sadly, they will also use immigration status and passports. They will seize their victim’s documentation and keep it from them so that they cannot assert their right to be in the UK legally. It is crucial, as all the Ministers in that meeting said, that we see people first as victims and not through the prism of their immigration status.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has a track record of standing up to those who seek to use power, influence and status to belittle and bully others. I reassure victims that they have a doughty champion in this Minister.