Earlier this week, Member of Parliament for the Cities of London & Westminster, Nickie Aiken, gave the speech below, complete with interventions, during the third and final reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21.
As mentioned in her speech, Nickie was a member of the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee which scrutinised the Bill before it returned to Parliament for its final reading. She helped successfully secure an amendment to the Bill which recognised children as victims, not just witnesses, of domestic abuse.
Nickie Aiken (Cities of London & Westminster, Con)
This Bill, as it stood at Second Reading, was a remarkable piece of legislation, but having gone through Committee, I believe it has been improved further. After Third Reading, when it comes, it will be legislation that the whole House can be very proud of.
The Bill sits on a long and impressive list of legislation that successive Conservative Governments have introduced over the past 30 years—the Children Act 1989; the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which created the offence of harassment; the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which created the offence of stalking; and the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Theresa May) took through the House, which created the offences regarding slavery, servitude and human trafficking and made provision for the protection of victims.
Fay Jones (Brecon and Radnorshire, Con)
My hon. Friend and I served on the Bill Committee together. I completely agree with everything she has said, but does she agree that bringing forward the Bill during the coronavirus pandemic and pushing it forward throughout lockdown is further evidence of the Government’s support for victims?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Also on the list is the Serious Crime Act 2015, which created the offence of coercive control. In 2017, the Conservative Government doubled the maximum sentence for stalking and a couple of years later passed the Stalking Protection Act 2019, creating stalking protection orders. That leads us to today and the Bill, which I dearly hope we will see become law shortly. That is an impressive history from Conservative Governments, taking strong, decisive and meaningful action to protect those who are unable to protect themselves and giving a voice to the most vulnerable. It is also important to note the notable gap in such laws between 1997 and 2010.
I was honoured to sit on the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, my first as a Member of Parliament. It is important to say that on Second Reading and in Committee I highlighted the need to amend the definition of domestic abuse to include children within households where such abuse is present, and to recognise children of the victims of abuse, not just as witnesses. It is estimated that up to 30% of children live in a household where abuse is taking place. Until now, children were seen as the hidden victims of domestic abuse who were never directly affected, but we know that that is not true. Every day, children’s services teams up and down the country, and children’s charities such as Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society, see the devastating effects that witnessing such abuse can have on a child’s development, educational attainment and long-term mental health. I saw this myself as children’s services lead at Westminster.
Home is meant to be our place of safety where we are loved and cherished the most, but for some children home becomes a torture chamber. They wake up every morning not knowing whether a tiny mistake will lead to violence and the type of abuse that most of us could never imagine. My campaign to seek this amendment to the definition was sparked not only by my experience in children’s services but by hearing the experience of a constituent of mine who has become a friend: the broadcaster Charlie Webster. Charlie has told me her story of growing up in a home where domestic abuse at the hands of her stepfather had a devastating effect on her, her mum and her brothers. Charlie is a survivor and now a strong campaigner for better understanding of the effects that witnessing domestic abuse can have on a child, and I thank her for helping me to understand why the definition had to be amended.
I therefore wholeheartedly support and welcome Government new clause 15, on recognising children as victims of abuse within their households. I am pleased that, for the purpose of this new clause, a child is recognised as someone under 18. It will therefore include teenagers and young adults who, although perhaps more developed than their young peers, are still forming an understanding of the world around them. It is important to me to highlight the need to amend the definition to include children. I lobbied Ministers to accept the need for the amendment, and I am delighted that they listened. In fact, the Government have listened throughout this process.
In closing, I would like to pay tribute to the Ministers who have led on this legislation: the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk). As a new MP, I have been in awe of their attention to detail and their willingness to listen to those on both sides of the House, to victims and to organisations working with domestic abuse. I also pay tribute to the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor for their work on this. The amendments that have been accepted are testament to the Government’s ambition for this legislation to make a long-lasting and fundamental difference, and I commend this vital and groundbreaking Domestic Abuse Bill to the House.