Harriet Harman – 2020 Speech on the Domestic Abuse Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Harriet Harman, the Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham, in the House of Commons on 28 April 2020.

This is a very important Bill, and much needed for tackling the horrific and often hidden crime of domestic violence. I completely agree with all the points that have been made by previous speakers on the Bill. The truth is that a lot of us have pushed for this Bill, but I do not think we would even be debating this today were it not for the former Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who has just spoken, and I want to acknowledge that.

I strongly support the Bill, but there is one glaring omission, and that is what I want to speak about this afternoon. We need the Bill to tackle the problem of the defence being used by men who kill women and then say, “It’s a sex game gone wrong”. This is where a man kills a woman by strangling her or by forcing an object up inside her that causes her to bleed to death, and he acknowledges that these injuries killed her and that he caused them, but says it is not his fault—it is her fault; he was only doing what she wanted; it was a sex game gone wrong—and he literally gets away with murder. That is a double injustice. Not only does he kill, but he ​drags her name through the mud. It causes indescribable trauma for the bereaved family, who sit silently in court with the loss of a beloved daughter, sister and mother, to see the man who killed her describe luridly what he alleges are her sexual proclivities. She, of course, is not there to speak for herself. He kills her and then he defines her.

That is what happened to Natalie Connolly. I see that the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) is in his place and will be speaking shortly. He was Natalie’s family’s MP. I urge everybody to listen very carefully to what he says about what happened in that case. Her brutal killer, John Broadhurst, escaped a murder charge by saying that it was what she wanted. We can stop that injustice. We can prohibit the rough sex gone wrong defence. We must do that by saying that if it is his hands on her neck strangling her, if it his hands that are pushing the object up inside her, then he must take responsibility. That is not a sex game gone wrong; that is murder and he cannot blame her for her own death.

There are two lessons that I think we have learned from previous struggles to improve the law on domestic violence and sexual offences. The first is that it always takes too long. This is the Bill in which this must happen. Secondly, it is never sorted until the law is changed. It will not be sorted by judicial training, by Crown Prosecution Service guidance or by a taskforce, welcome though they are. It will not be sorted by good intentions either; they are never enough. It needs a law change. I fully accept the Government’s good intentions. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland) and his team, particularly the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins) and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), have been very concerned and in listening mode on this issue. However, I say very directly to the Lord Chancellor that he is the man with the power here. He is the Government Minister and this is his Bill. I say to him, “Be the man who listens to what women are saying about this, not the man who knows better than us. Listen to what we are saying and make the change that we are asking for.”