Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:00 pm ar 9 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 3:00, 9 Mehefin 2020

I appreciate that this debate has been probing clause 4 and the resources available to the commissioner. We have provided the commissioner with an overall annual budget of over £1 million, which, among other things, will provide for 10 to12 staff to support the commissioner in carrying out her functions. In addition to the money from the Home Office, under clause 8(3) we have given the commissioner the power to charge a person—and when we say “person”, we are not talking about an individual but an authority or an organisation—for providing them with advice or assistance under subsection (2). We appreciate that exercises such as mapping community-based services will take a great deal of staff time and resources: it will take relationships across the country.

On the subject of mapping, I remember that just after I was appointed, two and a half years ago, my officials had done a very quick and dirty analysis of community-based services in a particular county—I will not name the county. They had found that there were something like 80 charities in one county who were working to help victims of domestic abuse. They ranged from the largest, national-type charities to the sort of charities where it is my great privilege to meet and discuss their work with their founders, who perhaps have set up a charity to commemorate a loved one who has been killed by a partner, for example. In their individual ways these charities work sometimes at a very local level to provide services. I wish that trying to map that was as easy as one would like it to be, but it is a difficult task, which is why we are asking the commissioner to do that for us. That is not because she is going to be in charge of policy creation but because, with the powers she will have under the Bill, the commissioner will be able to request that information from the public authority, as set out in the Bill. Then she will be able to produce advice and a report.

That touches on the point that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised earlier about the meaning of the word “encourage”, and I apologise for not responding to it sooner. We believe that clause 14 is very powerful when read in conjunction with clauses 13 and 15. Clause 14 sets out the powers to request information and assistance from public authorities. Clause 15 sets out the requirement that the public authority must respond within 56 days to the report or the analysis by the commissioner. They report not just to the commissioner, but to the Secretary of State. I do not want to cast aspersions on any particular type of public authority; the public authorities mentioned in clause 14 include nationally known organisations as well as local councils and authorities. If there is a report by the commissioner condemning the conduct of one of those public authorities, and the authority has to respond within 56 days, that is quite a powerful tool for the commissioner. As we have already discussed, the commissioner is also required to lay annual reports before Parliament. It may well be that, as part of her general functions under clause 6, she will want to express her views on the conduct of public authorities in her annual report. Again, I do not want to direct her—she is independent—but this is a way to keep the commissioner and public authorities accountable.

On funding, we know that being in Government is about making tough choices. We have funding for the Home Office to be allocated across a whole host of deserving causes, including policing, counter-terrorism and maintaining a fair and effective immigration system. The budget we have set aside for the domestic abuse commissioner is what we have allocated. In setting that budget, we have looked at the budgets of other commissioners to ensure that it compares favourably, which it does. We will keep the budget under review, and the commissioner will discuss with the Secretary of State her budgetary needs for the forthcoming year. We have provided the commissioner with the available resources, because we want her to be able to fulfil her functions as set out in clause 6. It is not about attributing blame, but about trying to ensure that this new, powerful appointment will help us tackle domestic abuse and that, at both national and local levels, we can utilise what she will bring with her laser-like focus on domestic abuse. Her power and authority flow from clause 6, and I hope we will see real differences—not just nationally but in our constituencies over time, as public authorities realise that they are accountable not just to the public, but to the commissioner.