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Baroness Anelay of St Johns rose to move Amendment No. 1A, as an amendment to the Motion that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".

The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 1B, 1C and 1D, which I tabled in lieu of government Amendment No. 1. I thank the Public Bill Office for its kind assistance in giving me guidance on how to get through the various rules for consideration of Commons amendments. I could not have done without that help.

Before I address the issues raised by the amendments, it is right for me to refer briefly to the problems that noble Lords will no doubt face today as a result of the Government's handling of the Bill in another place. I make it clear that I do not in any way reflect on the admirable handling of the Bill in this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland.

It is certainly an age since we last considered these matters. Indeed, the Bill left this House on 25 March and wended its way through another place in a somewhat dilatory fashion. The only speed that ever seemed to occur happened just before a Committee day, when the Government would table yet more amendments at the last minute. Because the Government have used the Bill as a skip into which to
 
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toss extra gifts from the Home Secretary, we now face a Bill that is twice as long, with regard to the text, as that first introduced into this House.

Another 19 clauses and the odd schedule or two face us today. The Government launched a consultation on some of those new clauses after the Bill had started its life here and in the full knowledge that the timing that they had set meant that this House could not consider those new clauses at any stage before the Lords consideration of the Commons amendments. That makes debate today somewhat stilted and difficult. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to continue the example that the Minister has just set by giving the House a full and clear explanation of some of the new clauses that we shall deal with today—although we are dealing with an old friend, in this amendment.

With regard to my amendments, I echo exactly the Minister's opening sentiments when she made it clear that none of us could tolerate the death or abuse of a child, and that when two people know who committed that crime and have a responsibility, it is right that they should pay for that responsibility by being properly prosecuted. Our only differences throughout have been on the basis of how that process should be dealt with. The Minister will recall that one of our difficulties was that we felt that the Government, in abandoning the Law Commission's proposals and coming up with something else, which seemed a bit of a mish-mash—to use unparliamentary language—had ended up satisfying nobody.

Today we return to the issue of how much recognition there should be of the vulnerability of domestic violence victims, when they find themselves accused of the new offence that the Government have created in Clauses 4 and 5, whereby someone has to show that they have taken reasonable steps to ensure that a child or vulnerable adult within their sphere of action or household has not suffered death.

As the Minister was speaking, I crossed out virtually the whole of my speech in response. The attention to detail that she gave today has met most, if not all, my objections. The Government have perhaps refined their stance—it is narrowed down to saying that they object to the fact that I am being unfair in singling out one particular group of people to be given special mention. I certainly did not apologise for that in the first instance, as I believe that victims of domestic violence are worthy of mention. But I agree with the Minister that there are difficulties when one gives special mention in court circumstances to particular groups.

I am aware that it is very difficult for amendments such as mine to go into the Bill, given that we were unable between us in Committee and Report to come to any agreement as to the definition of "domestic violence". I suspect that we shall return to that constructive debate on many future occasions, and I hope that at some time we shall resolve it between us.

I was reassured by the detailed information that the Minister gave with regard to the action that the Home Office is taking. I am always very sceptical about
 
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Home Office initiatives. For one thing, the Home Office seems to announce them about four times before actually doing them—but never mind. We have a date in November for the announcement of the police launch of guidance. That is most welcome indeed. Certainly the JSB training for magistrates will be needed before any of the provisions can be put into practice. We welcome all that good practice.

Of the two amendments that I tabled today, the first intentionally simply changes by one word my original amendment, so it will seen by the Government not to be threatening them. The second amendment, which the Minister dismissed, was tabled simply because in another place there was no time to speak to it, so the Minister had no opportunity to explain why the Government objected to it. The Minister has done so today, and I accept her explanation. Although at this stage I must formally move the amendment, I do so in the happy expectation that I shall soon withdraw it.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1, leave out "agree" and insert "disagree".—(Baroness Anelay of St Johns.)

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, we on these Benches associate ourselves with the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. We all agree in this House that we totally abhor anyone who culpably does anything to kill a child or vulnerable adult. However, we very much support the spirit of Amendment No. 1C. We feel that there is a good reason for mentioning particularly the effect of domestic violence on someone who finds herself in a household where, unfortunately, a child is physically abused and killed, simply because of the very frequent correlation between domestic violence and abuse of a child and what we all know of the effect of that violence on the person—usually the mother.

I am afraid that I cannot really accept what the Minister says, that if one takes particular account of one reasonableness test, the court will not then take account of others. I believe that the court certainly would take account of others. The correlation is so high and the effect so marked in this particular case, that we feel that there is a great deal of merit in Amendment No. 1C tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. That is why we support it.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, of course, I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has said. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for the way in which she proposed her amendments, and I understand the sentiments behind them.

With regard to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the very fact that there is that marked correlation presents us with a difficulty. The noble Baroness will know that, tragically, many cases in which familial homicide takes place are situations in which violence or a high level of dysfunction have occurred in that family. From my
 
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own knowledge, I can think of few cases when that was not true. Those cases give rise to very high levels of difficulty.

I agree with the noble Baroness that a proper understanding of the nature of domestic violence, the effect that it can have on the individual and the likelihood of its debilitating that individual and preventing him from behaving as one would normally expect him to behave, has to be better understood. All the training that we are doing for practitioners should create a better understanding of those issues.

When we are dealing with a homicide, however, it cannot be right that special, overriding and particular regard must be had to the domestic violence alone, without taking into consideration similar special circumstances that may arise as a result of age, disability, lack of opportunity and matters of that sort. All those things will be taken into account. The context is almost, tragically, bound to be one of domestic violence or dysfunction of one sort or another.

I respectfully suggest that in most cases it would simply be impossible to separate those two things. That is why we believe that particular regard would make it particularly difficult, and we do not believe that it is necessary. However, we absolutely agree with all those who said that clear guidance training—so that people understand what they are dealing with—is absolutely vital. I understand the import of the noble Baroness's comments, but I believe that we have got it about right in the drafting.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, that is the right place to end. We all hope that the drafting is right, although some of us are more sceptical than others. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that we would like to have achieved greater change in Clause 4. But we have gone as far as we can, and we have had what I hope are effective reassurances from the Minister today. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 1B not moved.]

On Question, Motion agreed to.


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