An amendment to the domestic abuse bill that would have introduced a register of serial perpetrators has been rejected by the Commons as the government instructed its MPs to oppose the measure, with 226 voting in favour and 351 against.
Opening the debate on the Lords’ amendments for Labour this afternoon, Jess Phillips told parliament that, after the public outcry over the death of Sarah Everard, “responding to such an outpouring of grief is our job”.
“Following the death of Sarah Everard, heartbreak, fear and anger ripped through the country. A response to the endemic violence that women and girls suffer. People felt it in their bones,” the shadow domestic violence minister declared.
“It is our duty and a privilege as parliamentarians to take that emotion, that fear, that rage, that passion and injustice and turn it into policy and law. It is our job to do something meaningful.”
Amendment 42 proposed creating a register of serial offenders and passed with cross-party support in the Lords last month. Priti Patel said the government would consider introducing such a register in the days before the vote in the Lords.
But performing a U-turn this week, the government ordered its MPs to vote against the proposed measure in the Commons. Junior minister Victoria Atkins argued that the mechanism “already exists” to monitor ‘high-harm’ individuals.
The government has said adding a category to the multi-agency public protection arrangements, which records dangerous sexual and violent offenders, as proposed today would “add complexity to those arrangements without any gain”.
Phillips highlighted the experience of Zoe Dronfield, who was attacked by her ex-partner Jason Smith with a meat cleaver. The victim later discovered that Smith had previously abused 13 other people before attacking her.
“There is a desperate need in this country to do something to identify, manage and monitor these high-harm perpetrators of stalking and domestic abuse,” she argued and said the current ‘mapper’ arrangements are insufficient.
She asked the government minister why, if the safeguards against repeat offenders do already exist under current arrangements, domestic violence perpetrators have have been able to continue abusing victims in so many cases.
Labour MP and chair of the home affairs select committee Yvette Cooper, who introduced a similar amendment at an earlier stage of the bill’s progress through parliament, also urged MPs to back the proposed register.
She highlighted the case of Hollie Gazzard and others. Gazzard was stalked and murdered by a man who had been involved in 24 previous violent offences, including 12 against an ex-partner, and had been reported to the police many times.
“Awful crimes happen against women, serious domestic abuse, awful violence, horrendous stalking and murder and lives are lost as a result of terrible crimes. And yet the perpetrator has committed crimes before,” she told parliament.
Labour supported all the Lords’ amendments, including ones which sought to give migrant victims protections on the same footing as permanent residents in the UK. They were rejected by MPs this afternoon as the government voted against.
Amendment 43 would have specifically required the Secretary of State to take steps to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse, irrespective of their status, receive protection and support. MPs voted down the amendment by 352 to 226 votes.
“Perpetrators know, at the moment, that they can use immigration status against vulnerable and frightened victims,” Phillips argued in the Commons this afternoon.
“If you tell the police, you’ll get deported and you’ll never see the kids again. If you go to the police, they’ll lock you up in a detention centre. I have seen this thousands of times.”
Currently when a person is subject to immigration control in the UK, they have no recourse to public funds (NRPF) and cannot access welfare benefits. NRPF applies across the board to people subject to a time-limited immigration status.
Phillips argued that the amendments today would not have given indefinite leave to remain for victims: “They are about getting victims out of an abusive and dangerous situation on an equal footing that any one of us in this House would expect.”
The government has offered to fund a pilot programme, Support for Migrants Victims, for a period of 12 months creating a fund to cover the cost of support for migrant women in refuge accommodation and to meet their basic needs.
Ministers also pitched the scheme as an evidence gathering exercise. Charity Southall Black Sisters has described the £1.5m fund as “wholly inadequate to meet the needs of all vulnerable migrant women” and said evidence is already available.
“Analysis by the domestic abuse sector suggests that thousands of victims could be left unprotected and unsupported under this pilot scheme. Students, for example, here studying might be raped, battered and abused,” Phillips said today.
“Thousands of students have this week talked on the Everyone’s Invited site about sexual assault on campus. Foreign students would currently not be able to seek refuge in the same way that I can.”
More than 14,000 users have posted testimonies detailing their experiences of misogyny, sexual abuse, harassment and assault on the Everyone’s Invited website. Ofsted and the government announced reviews after the site went viral last month.
Phillips closed her remarks by arguing that “now is the time for deeds not words”, explaining to MPs that Labour was seeking to improve the bill “not for political wins” but for “millions of victims and their terrified children in this country”.
“Eventually, on every single one of these amendments, a terrible case is going to come along that proves that we should have acted,” she said. “It won’t take long – they come every three days. Let’s try and make that happen less.”
Phillips has annually read out the names of women killed in a case, in which a man was convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator, in parliament over the previous year. She read out 118 names recently – almost one for every three days.
The World Health Organisation reported last month that one in three women across the globe, around 736 million in total, have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes according to analysis from the organisation.
But recent polling showed that 97% of UK women aged 18 to 24 have been sexually harassed, while 80% of women of all ages reported having experienced sexual harassment in a public place. UN Women UK has called it a “human rights crisis”.