Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 9 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office), Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding) 2:45, 9 Mehefin 2020

These clauses all relate to the powers of the domestic abuse commissioner; there is a huge area of the Bill about her powers and how this role is going to work. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hove and the Minister have said, we all welcome the commissioner.

I want to make some brief comments about the issue that clause 4 deals with, which is funding. It arises from a constructive concern that I had during the evidence sessions and on Second Reading, which is that it appears that if there is something that the Government have not yet got an answer for, possibly for a completely good reason, there is a tiny bit of a willingness for them to say, “We’re going to ask the commissioner to do this thing for us.”

For example, on Second Reading, there was a push from all sides of the House, as there was from the sector and from the commissioner herself, around the provision of community-based services. Off the top of my head, the statistic is that 70% of all domestic violence victims are supported in community-based services. The vast majority of people will never end up in refuge accommodation, and that is something that we should continue to facilitate; refuges are absolutely not for everyone.

What concerns me and what we heard from some in the sector—I think it came from the voice in the room that was Suzanne from SafeLives—is that what was announced on Second Reading related to a mapping exercise rather than a duty. In the Bill, we see—it seems like we will see it in many weeks’ time—a duty on refuge accommodation, which we certainly all welcome, but there is definitely a desire, which I share, to see a similar duty on community services.

It seems that rather than a duty, the Government are proposing a mapping exercise—they proposed it on Second Reading—by the commissioner, to understand what community-based support exists. As Suzanne told the Committee in her evidence—I have to say, I think I could probably do it here now. If I did not come to the Committee tomorrow, I could probably map out community services, because droves and droves of evidence have been gathered about what community-based support services exist. I feel for the Government, because people like me put in questions such as, “How many bed spaces are there?”, when I know full well what the answer is. I understand the concern and the need to map services, and to make sure that we are funding things.

What concerned me a little on Second Reading and in the evidence sessions was that there were a huge number of questions from Members asking the sector what they felt the commissioner should be doing: “What is the commissioner going to do for my group of women? What is the commissioner going to do about this and that?”. They were completely reasonable questions to ask, although largely they were asked not of the commissioner, but of the voluntary sector aides and the victims. With the greatest respect to Nicole and her position, I am not sure most victims of domestic violence are too concerned with who the commissioner is, but the sector is.

What concerns me is the commissioner’s funding model. I know that there was some argy-bargy and push and pull about the number of days, which letters presented to the Committee on the previous Bill said would be increased. What worries me on staffing, which is dealt with in the next clause, and funding is that the commissioner will end up with all these jobs because, rather than taking direct action, we do another review or more mapping. It starts to ramp up the amount of funding that somebody will need to take on all this extra responsibility.

I want to be absolutely certain and to understand from the Minister what the mechanism is if the commissioner says: “I cannot afford to do this exercise that you have said I should do because I no longer have the funding.” What I do not want to see is Parliament scrutinising the domestic abuse commissioner—she and whoever takes the role after her will undoubtedly many times in their career sit in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee—and her being forced to answer: “I couldn’t afford to do this exercise or this report into x because we just didn’t have the budget.”

There seems to be a tendency to push things on to the commissioner that would once upon a time have sat with civil servants in the Home Office. I want an understanding of how the review process and funding will be taken forward and what grounds it will take to make a case to increase the budget, including increases that might be needed for the local boards that are associated with this part of the Bill. I therefore seek reassurance from the Minister.

There is a game that gets played—although certainly not by the Ministers in this Committee—of the devolution of blame. We devolve power, whether it is to Wales or Scotland or to local authorities, whereby the Government hold the whip hand. I am certain that all Governments of all flavours have done this. The Government hold the whip hand in deciding the funding formula or within what constraints that money may be spent. When problems arise we say, “Well, that’s Birmingham City Council’s fault because they are rubbish.” Again, if I was given £1 for every time I heard the invocation of the Welsh NHS, I could fund all community services. What worries me and what I do not want to see is an underfunded commissioner, with the Government saying, “That is the commissioner’s responsibility,” given that ultimately all this policy—everything that flows from the Bill and everything that happens in every single one of our local authorities—