Herald Column: April 30

This week I ventured back briefly to an eerily deserted Westminster having been selected to take part in the debate on the Domestic Abuse Bill and to ask a question at Prime Minister’s Question time, without falling foul of the broadband cutting out and turning my speech into Dalek speak. I also took the opportunity to collect papers from my office to work on from home and attend the Home Affairs Select Committee in person. The rest of the time I have been following proceedings in Parliament remotely which has worked surprisingly well, not least the facility for the Speaker to switch off the live feed from colleagues rambling on too much.

I have never seen Victoria Station or the Tube so deserted in the middle of the morning as people overwhelmingly continue to observe the call to stay at home. I know how frustrating it is for so many of my constituents subject to the strict regulations but I would ask for their continued patients as we begin to see the results and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I strongly welcome the return of the Domestic Abuse Bill which was prevented from becoming law last year when the General Election ended the session abruptly. The Bill introduces a new definition of domestic abuse in law; establishes a new Domestic Abuse Commissioner; brings in Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and gives people escaping violence at home new entitlements to housing amongst other innovations.

In 2019 173 women and 13 men were killed by a partner or former partner, over two-thirds of them in their own homes. Added to this is the hidden toll of an estimated 400 people who took their own lives who had attended hospital for domestic abuse injuries in the previous 6 months. Tragically this scourge has been compounded during the current Coronavirus lockdown which has already seen calls to domestic abuse hotlines double and the number of killings in the first 3 weeks double on the previous year’s average. Hence this legislation is more needed and more urgent than ever.

As former Children’s Minister I was always horrified that at least three quarters of child safeguarding cases were linked to domestic abuse and these two evils so often go hand in hand. Not surprisingly cases of child abuse have increased during the lockdown as social workers find it more problematic to do their important work, often remotely. I have therefore recommended amendments to the Bill which will recognise children often traumatised by being brought up in a home subject to domestic abuse not just as witnesses but as victims too.

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