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Standing Committee Debates
Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords]

Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords]

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Standing Committee E

Thursday 24 June 2004

(Afternoon)

[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]

Domestic Violence, Crime and
Victims Bill [Lords]

Clause 7

Establishment and conduct of reviews

Amendment moved [this day]: No. 84, in clause 7, page 4, line 42, at end insert—

    'Mental Health Trusts

    Members of any educational establishment'.—[Mrs. Gillan.]

2.30 pm

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): It is good to see you, Mr. Benton. Forgive me, but I am not quite sure where I had got to in my opening remarks.

Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East) (Lab): You were at the end.

Mrs. Gillan: There's optimism. I apologise if I repeat myself. It will only be one sentence, I am sure.

This very simple amendment was spawned from my looking closely at the Bill and the categories laid out in subsection (4). It is intended to add mental health trusts and members of any educational establishment to the list. I can anticipate the Solicitor-General's response: I am sure that she will say that she relies on clause 7(6), which grants the Home Secretary the power to vary the list of persons and bodies in subsections (4) and (5) by order. In all probability, she will need to rely on that subsection sooner rather than later, given that local probation boards will disappear and the catchily named National Offender Management Service will come into play. In fact, the service started on 1 June. It would be interesting to know when the anticipated changeover will take place and whether the provision will hold good on the statute book until legislation in the next Session makes the changes to the probation service.

However, to dispel the argument before the Solicitor-General deploys it, I want to consider the persons and bodies she has already included in the list in subsection (4)(a). The list appears broadly to cover health, education, social services, the probation service and the police. I want to establish whether the two groups that I want to add to the Bill are presumed to be covered, or whether, as I suspect, they have been left out and could be included only by relying on clause 7(6) or the discretion of the Secretary of State.

Although my amendment does not cover this, it would have been comforting to see the coroner mentioned. The coroner obviously has a tremendous contribution to make to domestic homicide reviews. I would like the Solicitor-General to consider that.

In debates so far, concern has been shown over the gaps that exist in the case of a family that has never had contact with the statutory agencies and which

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therefore may not become the subject of a serious case review. I admit that the Solicitor-General has sought to put our minds at rest, but I am still not particularly convinced that what she says is necessarily the case. Women's Aid has identified the lacuna in relation to so-called middle-class families.

I want to add the two extra categories to subsection (4)(a) for the following reasons. A young person—albeit over the age of 16—may have attended a private school, college or university, or another educational establishment. Equally, he or she may have been at a state school. By including in the Bill the additional category of members of any educational establishment, we can ensure that vital information can be captured from that source to inform the lessons to be learned from the death.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): The hon. Lady is making a good point. I am reminded of a case in my constituency, in which a young person at an independent school committed suicide. When the police spoke to me about it, it was clear that they had no idea what investigations were being carried out, independently, by other statutory organisations. I would not want any legislation to be passed that could not pick that up.

Mrs. Gillan: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I agree. I have a constituency case at the moment, which is allied to that, although it is not strictly about this type of domestic abuse, in which a constituent is particularly worried about children in independent schools and the duty of care offered to them in any sort of child abuse case. The Solicitor-General may wish to note that I am trying to take that constituent to see her colleague, the Minister for Children. If the Solicitor-General has any influence with her, I hope that she will use it and encourage the Minister for Children to see my constituent, because he has some valid points to make about independent schools and the duty of care towards children in them.

We are all aware of the increasingly high incidence of people with mental health issues, particularly in our prison populations. If the Minister included mental health trusts in the Bill, she would recognise the important dimension that evidence from mental health workers could add. Mental health trusts may be covered by

    ''NHS trusts established under section 5'',

in subsection (4)(a), but I do not believe they are, nor do I understand the logic of identifying primary care trusts, local health boards and section 5 NHS trusts without specifically mentioning mental health trusts. It has already been mentioned, and I think that all members of the Committee accept it, that mental health is an issue in many domestic violence cases, particularly in relation to ethnic minorities. Therefore, it is even more important that mental health trusts are included in the Bill.

The amendments are minor: they are additions to a list.

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman): Welcome to the Committee this afternoon, Mr. Benton. Was it indeed your good self who was on the television last night? Was it the same Joe

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Benton in the company of Charlie Dimmock and the ''Ground Force'' team? If you can get other organisations to transform your constituency for you in a way that your constituents want, have you considered the pressure that it would put on the rest of us to try to live up to your example?

The Chairman: I confirm that it was indeed me. I apologise unreservedly if I embarrassed any Member of Parliament by doing that. It was a delightful project to be associated with, and I hope that it happens to all members of the Committee eventually.

The Solicitor-General: We all congratulate you, Mr. Benton, on an excellent thing for your constituents.

Clause 7(4) sets out a list of statutory bodies with a duty to have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to domestic homicide reviews. Amendment No. 84 would extend the list of bodies to include mental health trusts and members of any educational establishment. Members will recall that the purpose of domestic homicide reviews is to identify the lessons to be learned from the death. To that end, the Government would not wish to exclude any agency that might have been involved with the victim. As the hon. Lady mentioned, mental health services are important, and I assure her that mental health trusts are already covered by, and included in, the list of bodies in subsection (4) because they are part of NHS trusts.

The amendment is therefore unnecessary; however, the spirit behind it is important: such bodies should not only be included, but know that they are included. It is one thing to get legislation right, but another to ensure that those covered it know that it applies to them. In working with colleagues responsible for mental health in the Home Office and the Department of Health, I will make sure that, just as we want general practitioners and accident and emergency departments to know that the legislation includes them, we want mental health trusts to think through the difficult issues and to know that they must participate in those reviews. The amendment is technically unnecessary, but it brings a point well to the Committee's attention.

On the arguments in favour of extending the list of bodies to include members of any educational establishment, I make no promises, but I would be grateful if the hon. Lady would allow me to consider such arguments at greater length and come back to her on Report.

The bodies listed in subsection (4) have a duty to have regard to any guidance, and may be directed by the Secretary of State, under subsection (2), to set up or participate in a review. The definition of members of an educational establishment could be quite wide, and perhaps include school pupils. I assure the hon. Lady that we get her point, but we do not want inadvertently to create a situation in which the Home Secretary is given powers to direct school pupils to set up reviews. We have to consider how wide the provision should be and whether the drafting uses

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the correct terms, and we will establish whether the drafting can be done in terms that would take things forward in the way that we all want.

As the hon. Lady acknowledged, local education authorities will be covered by subsection (4); we are not sure whether it would be right to place such duties on head teachers or governing bodies. She also mentioned private schools and universities. If experience showed that further bodies should be added, there would be a power to do so by statutory instrument under subsection (6).

We must also bear it in mind, however, that we will want a number of organisations to participate in the reviews but will not necessarily want them to be put under the power of the Home Secretary. For example, an employer might well know of a pattern of absence on sick leave, because of a broken arm or rib; sometimes the employer will have a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes, the victim's colleagues at work will have the jigsaw pieces, and we want them to be involved as well.

The Metropolitan police reviews and those of organisations such as Cardiff Women's Safety have shown that often it is already clear that Victim Support and Women's Aid might have information, and we want them to participate in the reviews. If they can help the agencies learn lessons, and they have information about a case, they must come forward and share in the review. It would not be right, however, to give the Secretary of State the power to direct them to conduct or participate in a review.

As with the previous amendment, we all agree on what we want to do, but there is a question about what role legislation should play. I will get back to the hon. Lady about the educational point.

2.45 pm

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) said something important about teachers. There has been a lot of discussion about what to do if a child says, ''I am being beaten,'' and teachers are now very aware of how to deal with that. However, they are not so aware of what to do if the child says, ''My mother is being beaten.'' Often, children will tell their teacher not about being subjected to abuse themselves but about something else that is going on at home. That is why an education Minister is on the interdepartmental group. Education has a key role to play, as does health. The key question is what extent the power of direction should have. We will consider that further.

 
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