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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I concede that the noble Earl is getting into a grey area which I thought, from his experience, he would probably be able to identify. The answer is that regulations will have to cover such points to see on which side of the borderline such organisations would fall. In one sense I concede the point that the Youth Hostels Association would be seen by parents to be in a position of exercising some responsibility for the young persons. So I think we have to leave it to the regulations to see how that works out. But I thank the noble Earl for drawing that point to the attention of the House.

I return again to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope. He referred to the provision for payments to the Consolidated Fund. That is to cover the possibility of there being a surplus. However, we do not expect that there would be one. Indeed, in Great Britain there has been a deficit, although a reducing deficit, since the scheme was introduced. We simply have that provision in case the income should exceed expectations in relation to expenditure. But that is not very likely.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked whether there had been a cost-benefit analysis of the scheme in Great Britain. My answer is that the Great Britain scheme will be reviewed this year and therefore we will see what the outcome of that is. I again thank noble Lords for their helpful contributions to the debate.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Family Homes and Domestic Violence (Northern Ireland) Order 1997

11.7 p.m.

Lord Dubs rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th December 1997 be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order before your Lordships' House gives effect to the main recommendations contained in the Law Commission report entitled Family Law: Domestic Violence and Occupation of the Family Home. These recommendations have already been implemented for England and Wales in Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996 which came into operation on 1st October 1997.

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As noble Lords will be aware, domestic violence, as a problem, has long been overshadowed by sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. Yet it has always been with us in the background. Indeed, recent research has revealed that domestic violence has its own peculiar characteristics in Northern Ireland; for example, it is affected by the high availability of guns and an unwillingness by some to involve the RUC. These factors make it especially dangerous and more difficult to deal with.

The Labour Party's statement of aims and values says that we seek,

    "a just society, which judges its strength by the condition of the weak as much as the strong, provides security against fear ... nurtures families, promotes the equality of opportunity and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power".
Domestic violence runs counter to every aspect of this aim. It destroys families--recent research shows that it is a significant factor in marriage breakdown. It causes fear and intimidation, but because domestic violence takes place in the private sphere (in the home) its impact and consequences have, in the past, tended to be minimised. We in the Government, however, accept the need to raise awareness of the serious criminal and socially destructive nature of domestic violence.

So far-reaching are its consequences that it can no longer be seen as a private family problem; rather it should be dealt with as any other violent crime is dealt with. Furthermore, because the victims are predominantly women, a culture which somehow accepts or is blase towards domestic violence is a culture which will impede our goal of equality of opportunity for all.

We are also strongly committed to an inter-agency approach as the best means of creating a co-ordinated and effective legal and government response to domestic violence. We congratulate the Northern Ireland Regional Forum on Domestic Violence for the important work it has done in the relatively short time since its inception in fostering this ethos of inter-agency co-operation, the sharing of information and simply communicating.

We are also firmly committed to carrying through progressive and coherent policies and legislation which will provide effective and just remedies for victims of domestic violence; remedies which will respect their dignity and integrity and the order before your Lordships' House is a prime example of this approach. In fact, this new legislation is one of the strongest pieces of anti-domestic violence legislation in Europe and the Commonwealth countries.

The order streamlines and consolidates the existing law relating to domestic violence and occupation of the family home by replacing the remedies currently available to a narrow range of people, with a single code which both improves and extends the level of protection available.

The main features of the order are these. A non-molestation order replaces the existing personal protection order. This order is personal to the applicant or a relevant child and will protect her wherever she goes. An occupation order replaces the ouster order and

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exclusion order. This order regulates occupation of the home and can exclude a respondent from the home or indeed any specified area, including, for example, the applicant's workplace. Breach of certain orders is a criminal offence and the police powers of arrest have been clarified. Orders required for immediate protection will be able to be obtained very quickly in cases of emergency, without the respondent being present. The range of potential applicants is extended to include, for example, divorcees and wider family members. The Children (Northern Ireland) Order is amended with respect to the powers of the court to make residence and contact orders in molestation cases and to allow the court to exclude suspected abusers. An enabling provision is included to allow third parties to act on behalf of victims of domestic violence. The court's existing power to transfer certain tenancies between spouses is extended to cohabitees.

These features broadly parallel Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996, but there are a number of provisions unique to Northern Ireland, most of which reflect strengths in the existing Northern Ireland legislation, which consultees felt should be retained, as a good base to build upon.

First, in relation to enforcement, breach of an order made for protection purposes will automatically be an arrestable, criminal offence. Secondly, the balance of harm test contained in the order will apply in exactly the same way to married and unmarried applicants, so that in cases of domestic violence, the full and equal protection of the law will be available regardless of marital status. Thirdly, in relation to the duration of an occupation order, this will last for a maximum period of 12 months extendable on one or more occasions if necessary.

Finally, a linkage with the children legislation has been introduced so that where the court is considering whether or not to make a contact or residence order in favour of someone who has a non-molestation order made against him, it must consider whether the child is at risk of harm as a result of seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another person if the order is made.

These provisions received extensive support in a thorough and comprehensive consultation process in Northern Ireland. Support was forthcoming from a wide range of individuals and organisations including women's and children's interest groups, the churches, the police, legal interests and human rights organisations.

The order constitutes a timely and important measure of law reform which commands widespread support and which we hope will significantly improve the situation of the many innocent victims of this dreadful crime. Domestic violence is largely a hidden problem, not only in Northern Ireland but in other jurisdictions, but we believe that this legislation will go some way not only in raising awareness of domestic violence as an issue but in allowing more people to avail themselves of the protection that it affords.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th December 1997 be approved.--(Lord Dubs.)

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11.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, we are at one with the Minister in being concerned about the level of domestic violence in Northern Ireland. I am advised by those who know more about the problems than I do that this legislation is highly desirable in this context and will improve the ability of the authorities to deal with the problem. Therefore, we support the order. However, the Minister gave an indication as to why there might be a high level of domestic violence in Northern Ireland, for example that there might be a correlation between domestic violence and the security situation and the general difficulties that have existed over the years. The Minister suggested two possible contributory factors: first, the greater availability of firearms; and, secondly, the reluctance of some victims to go to the police in cases of domestic violence for what might be described as political reasons related to their attitude to the police in general. I would have thought that the strains and effect on people's nerves of the security situation might also be a contributory cause. Whatever those contributory causes may be, if they are related to the security situation one hopes and expects that during the recent ceasefires, incomplete as they have been, those factors have been reduced. Can the noble Lord inform the House whether there is any statistical correlation--in short, has there been a fall in the level of domestic violence during the ceasefires--to suggest that that is the case?

I have one nit-picking or particular point of interest to raise. I notice that the department for which I once had responsibility, the Department of Finance and Personnel, is to be given authority under paragraph 2(5) to make an order stating that a caravan or houseboat is no longer to be regarded as a dwelling-house for the purpose of certain of these paragraphs. It is rather odd that the DFP should be given that rather onerous responsibility. I do not press the point this evening, but it is an odd power to give not merely to this department but in general. There are certain provisions under which a dwelling-house can never be a caravan or houseboat or a structure other than a building, but the DFP is given power to issue an order, subject to the negative procedure, to extend that rather odd definition. I do not expect the Minister necessarily to respond to that matter this evening, but it was a point which occurred to me when looking at the order.

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