Fay Jones is MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.
Lockdown has provided many with the chance to spend some rare family time together – learning a new Tik Tok dance or doing a Joe Wicks workout. But for an alarming number of people, Covid 19 has not been their biggest threat. For those suffering from domestic abuse, enduring lockdown with an abuser will only have increased the daily fear and anguish.
Consequently, I am enormously proud that this Government made the Domestic Abuse Bill one of its biggest priorities during the pandemic. It could have chosen to drop the legislation; it stalled during Brexit and then fell again at the general election – but such is this Government’s commitment to victims that Ministers were given license to push it through. From my spot on the Domestic Abuse committee, I saw just how much this Government wants to champion the rights of those who have been abused, and how good a track record the Conservative Party has on this issue.
While the Labour Party has always tried to argue it sits on the side of ‘the many and not the few’ – history does not support this, particularly in the field of criminal justice. It was a Conservative Government that brought forward The Children Act 1989. One of the last achievements of the Major Government was the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which created the offence of harassment. Making stalking an offence came from the Coalition Government’s Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Indeed, during Monday night’s debate, Theresa May rightly accepted plaudits from across the House for pushing through both the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and the early stages of last night’s Domestic Abuse Bill.
The Domestic Abuse Bill will deliver meaningful change; creating a Domestic Abuse commissioner designed to map the availability of services, establishing Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Orders to provide victims with extra protection, prohibiting perpetrators of abuse from cross-examining their victims in family courts and legally recognising children as victims of abuse for the first time. For many the biggest achievement of the bill is banning the ‘Rough Sex Defence’. An enormous step in itself, this is evidence that Parliament works best when it acts cross party. The combined campaigning strength of Mark Garnier and Harriet Harman have delivered a change in the law which will forever prevent murderers from arguing ‘they were asking for it.’
From my perspective, the Bill is also a good example of the strength of the Union. In 2015, the Welsh Government passed its Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Act. However in November last year, the Auditor General for Wales reported a ‘fragmentation’ in service availability as there was no single agency to coordinate the system. This is something that the Domestic Abuse Commissioner can look into – demonstrating that the ‘jagged edge of devolution’ can be overcome with tenacious, pro-Union Ministers.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is landmark legislation which will go a significant way to protecting the estimated 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse each year and it is by no means the stand-alone example of this Government putting victims first. It is the latest in a long track record of legislative milestones. Conservatives should never shy away from this record – it is a record of leadership and collaboration which is what the public wants to see from its Government. Above all, it is a record of standing alongside those who truly need our help.