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"continues in effect until the application has been determined",
Mr. Hogg: I want to make only three points, two of which are essentially on drafting. However, I shall first address a few remarks to the points made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), with whom I think I agree.
It is proper, when considering the issue of a notice, that the officer takes account of persons under the age of 18. Understandably, we have been contemplating, and concentrating on, the relationship between P and P's partner-that is the most usual state of affairs. However, of course, within a household, there can be more than one relationship. There might well be a relationship of violence between P and partner, but one cannot exclude the possibility of a relationship of violence between the partner and the person under 18. In those circumstances, P might be a protector or bulwark for the person under 18 against the partner. That is one point to keep in mind.
Another quite different but related point is that there might well be an important relationship of dependency between P and the person under 18, and I can imagine other relationships that are relevant to whether a notice should be issued. Therefore, for those reasons, and indeed for the reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, it is right that the interests of the person under the age of 18 should be taken into account as a relevant factor.
The other two points that I wish to make are essentially drafting points, as I said. For amendment 64, which is in my name, I depend very much on the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), and I have proposed an end date of 56 days on the running of the notice very largely for the reasons that he gave. He draws on his experience as a district judge, which will include repeated adjournments in magistrates courts. That coincides with my experience, although mine is not quite as contemporary as his.
My last drafting point would be addressed by amendment 54, which deals with a matter I raised in Committee. The court of course has a power to make non-residence requirements as part of the order, but one must contemplate that other legal orders may already be in place that could, for example, require P to reside at the matrimonial home. At least two examples rapidly occur to me. First, it may well be that as a condition of bail, somebody is required to live at the matrimonial home. Secondly and alternatively-this arises not under an order of the court, but nevertheless under the order of a lawful authority-a control order may well require P to live in a specified place, where he or she is residing with the partner.
It seems quite plain that the court that is in the business of making the order should take account of, and not contravene, other, earlier legal obligations. Clearly, one could say, "The matter should be adjourned until
the other court or lawful authority has had the chance to amend," but I am not sure that that would be a satisfactory approach. Upon whom does the burden of testing the other court rest? It would also lead to a considerable delay. My bet is that the Bill should state that the non-residence requirement in the order should issue only if it is not inconsistent with some other obligation imposed by a court or legal authority. That is the thinking behind proposed amendment 54.
Mr. Hanson: I am grateful to hon. Members for their contributions to the debate. I especially appreciate the contribution from the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), and I hope that I can reassure him. He said that very little comes out of the discussions on amendments in Committee. That may be his recollection of what life was like when the Conservatives were in power-I certainly spent five years as an Opposition Member without having a single amendment accepted on any Bill-but even this evening we have considered amendments that I have tabled to reflect suggestions made by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) in Committee. Some 14 amendments this evening are based on discussion in Committee, and amendment 1 was also tabled in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello). We wanted to change the wording slightly, and I discussed that with my hon. Friend. He listened to what I said, and he has tabled an amendment that reflects his concerns in Committee and we will accept it this evening.
Mr. Hanson: In that case, I shall not kick the hon. Gentleman too hard this evening. That is only fair, as he may be in his final 12 or so weeks in this House-[Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Well, it is 12 weeks until 3 June and Dissolution could happen at any time before then.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman, from my 12 years as a Minister in five different Departments, and including four years in No. 10 Downing street, that I know that Ministers have an impact on policy decisions. They listen to amendments and develop policy, and they also test policy that is suggested to them by civil servants. I hope that that will continue for a long time to come. He may feel that his points are not adequately reflected in my reply, but we do wish to make changes to domestic violence protection orders in response to the discussion in Committee.
I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for tabling amendments 1 and 2, which reflect concerns expressed to members of the Committee by the NSPCC, which wanted to highlight the important issue of domestic violence protection orders and to consider how children can be impacted by domestic violence in the most serious and unfortunate ways. I want to ensure that these new measures help to protect children from any further harm at the hands of this terrible and very immediate form of violence.
In Committee, we had a helpful debate on this issue, and these amendments reflect those discussions. I was able to discuss the amendments with my hon. Friend so that I could accept them, and I am pleased that he has
tabled them in the form before us tonight. The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that the welfare of children is taken into consideration before a DVPN or DVPO is made, and that this is included on the face of the Bill.
These amendments will require that, before making a DVPN or a DVPO, the police and the court must consider the welfare of any individual under the age of 18 whom the officer deems is relevant to the case. That is in addition to other considerations about the opinions of the victim, perpetrator, and any other associated persons. These amendments will not change the primary focus of the provisions, but will ensure that the children are taken into consideration in the granting of the DVPN or DVPO. The impact of domestic violence on children is relevant and should be a consideration.
I hope that I can assuage the concerns of the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) by saying that, as with gang injunctions, domestic violence orders are intended as a pilot scheme to start with. We are looking at piloting them in two areas, if the Bill makes progress in the other place and Royal Assent is achieved. In Committee, I made it clear that DVPOs would not be rolled out across the whole country immediately, for the very reasons that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. We want to introduce an effective scheme, and there is a gap in provision that domestic violence protection orders and notices can fill.
However, I want to ensure, for the very reasons that the hon. Gentleman set out, that the court facilities are available, and that the police understand the process and have senior officers available to authorise approvals. We also want to ensure that the process makes a difference, that it is compliable-as we think it is-with the human rights of those excluded from their properties, and that it meets the need to protect individuals who are vulnerable to domestic violence. Therefore, whatever else I say today, I hope that the things that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned, as well as the concerns expressed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, are reflected on as part of the pilot, so that if those circumstances arise, we can measure that and make changes accordingly.
The time limit of seven days contemplated by amendments 21 and 22 is simply too short for the consideration of every possible case. Amendment 64 sets the longer deadline of 56 days, but in my view that time limit is unnecessary and undesirable. Let me say to both the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the order-the pilot will test it-is to be put in place as soon as possible after the police officer concerned gets approval from a senior officer for the case to be progressed accordingly.
James Brokenshire: Does the Minister not think it somewhat strange that a notice that could contain largely the same provisions as an order subsequently conferred by the court could in effect be for longer than the order itself? As he will appreciate, there is a maximum period of around 28 days for the order granted by the court. Therefore, an administrative sanction given by a police officer could extend for considerably longer than something decided through a court process with judicial oversight, which seems somewhat strange, given the relative balance of who should be making such decisions. Is the Minister comfortable with that?
Mr. Hanson: I am comfortable with it, because the objective of domestic violence protection orders is to be expedited as quickly as possible, and I hope that the pilot will test that. That is the purpose of the order. It is intended to be an immediate response where there is insufficient evidence to ensure an immediate prosecution, but where there are concerns about the safety of an individual or-after I accept amendment 1, in the name of my hon. Friend-young people who are also part of the family circle.
The purpose of the order is to be expedited extremely quickly. My view is that orders will be expedited quickly, and that will be the expectation. The pilot will test whether that is the understanding, but our expectation is that that will happen. We have said that we intend to issue guidance to the police under the Bill that will impress upon them the importance of acting expeditiously in gathering evidence for the DVPO application to be determined. Also, the courts will be alive to the risk of injustice if a DVPN is allowed to continue for too long, and will, I am sure, refuse requests from the police to adjourn applications if there is an unreasonable length of time. The purpose of the orders is to be speedy and to be expedited accordingly. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press amendments 21 and 22, but if not, I shall unfortunately have to reject them.
Amendment 54, standing in the name of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, also covers a matter that we discussed in detail in Committee. I can understand that there might be circumstances where a parallel order of some sort might be in place, and this evening he used the example of control orders. However, as we discussed in Committee, it is highly likely that the police officer who authorises a domestic violence protection order will be aware of the history and of any other order to which the individual in question is subject. As we discussed extensively in Committee, the chances are that the police national computer will show up any other orders that are in place. The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned control orders. Currently there are 11 control orders in place, and there have been only around 43 to 45 in total. The chances of an individual being subject to a control order at the same time as being subject to a domestic violence protection order is therefore relatively remote, although I respect the way the right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised the issue.
Mr. Hogg: I am grateful for what the Minister has said, but I think that he is accepting that if a court or other lawful authority had previously imposed a requirement that an individual should reside at, say, the matrimonial home, it would be inappropriate to make an order that had a contrary effect.
Mr. Hanson: What I have said is, first, that the circumstances that I have described are likely to be a rare occurrence, and secondly, that the court will be fully aware of the circumstances and have those facts before it when making the order. Indeed, in the extremely unlikely situation that incompatible conditions were to be imposed by mistake, that would be taken into account by the police when enforcing the various conditions. I am not saying that such a situation would be impossible because, self-evidently, these things can happen.
If such a situation were to arise, however, it would be a mistake. Furthermore, all the information about the current obligations on an individual would be before
the court, and my contention is that it would also be before the police before the domestic violence order was approved by the senior officer charged with approving it. I mentioned to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, even if that were not the case, following our discussions in Committee-and following this debate tonight-no senior officer would approve an order unless they were certain that it was compatible with any other order that might be before the courts. I hope that he will therefore not press his amendment to a vote.
The Government support amendments 1 and 2, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for tabling them. I hope that the House will accept them, and that the other amendments will not be pressed to a Division.
Mr. Flello: I appreciate the fact that my right hon. Friend the Minister has accepted amendments 1 and 2. I would also like to put on record my appreciation of the fantastic work that the NSPCC does around the country, and of all the other charitable and third sector organisations, as well as those in the statutory sector, that do so much work to support people suffering domestic violence.
I should like to respond to the points about the courts raised by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins). The pilots will have to take on board these points and thoroughly explore them in order to ensure that no one could be required to leave the matrimonial home and then have to go through a lengthy court wrangle. We need swift and effective justice, and I hope that the pilots will take that into account.
The right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made some good points about the interrelationship between children and under-18s in families. Ultimately, this is a test of this House and of all of us as Members of Parliament, and it is a poor look-out if we cannot protect the most innocent, vulnerable people in our communities. I hope that, in accepting the amendments, the House is demonstrating that it takes seriously its responsibilities to the most vulnerable in our society.
'( ) the welfare of any person under the age of eighteen whose interests the court considers relevant to the making of the DVPO (whether or not that person is an associated person), and'.- (Mr. Flello.)
Mr. Hogg: The amendments fall into three categories. The first covers amendments 55 to 58, the second encompasses amendments 59 and 61, and the third takes in amendment 60. I shall deal with them separately. Amendments 55 to 58 are designed to alter the penalties that can be imposed in respect of offences attributable to wheel-clamping. In substance, I do not think that a sentence of imprisonment should be available in the magistrates court. So far as the Crown court is concerned, the maximum sentence should be two years, not five years. That would be the consequence of amendments 55 to 58.
The justification for that view is as follows. First, we have an overburdened prison system, and we are constantly urging the courts not to send people to prison unless it is absolutely necessary. For that reason, we should be very slow to impose the potential of prison sentences for offences. These offences can be tried either summarily or on indictment. Those tried summarily-that is, in front of a magistrates court-are in my view offences that should not attract a prison sentence by definition, because they will in any event be trivial ones. However, if the prosecution authorities believe that the offence is a serious one-for example, it is a continued offence: that is, one committed previously by the organiser-that person can be tried on indictment. Although I have reservations about this, I accept that there may be some circumstances in which a prison sentence is appropriate, but it seems to me that two years rather than five are quite adequate.
I have a strong suspicion that the Minister will say in response that if we look at other relevant legislation, we will find that five years is treated as the maximum for those other offences. All I would say to the Minister is that if someone sins once, it is not a reason for sinning again. I am against five years on principle, notwithstanding the fact that some previous decision might have been made in a contrary way.
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