Almost three years ago, after a months-long campaign, Mr Speaker granted me an ‘Urgent Question’ which summonsed a minister to the Commons to answer my issue. That issue related to domestic abuse.
I had got to know several survivors of domestic abuse very well. Most are women but some men too. Many of the stories I have heard will haunt me forever so I can’t even imagine what it must be like to live it. But one aspect of what I heard staggered me: men who’d raped and beaten their partners and been convicted for it were suing for custody of their children *from prison*. If you have to read that sentence again before you believe what you’re hearing I quite understand. Why are they doing this? Unbelievably, because they know they can directly cross examine the victim of their crime, therefore continuing the persecution and abuse directly under the noses of judges and police – the very people appointed to protect us. I was disgusted by this and threw my heart and soul into getting this outlawed.
So, in January 2017 the minister came and listened to my question and for the first time agreed to outlaw this practice. He said it would be done quickly, but it never happened. Time and time again I railed against ministers. On one occasion I was even handed a copy of an amendment by a minister and told ‘here it is, we’re going get this done!’. Then, a month later Theresa May called the election and the amendment was buried.
Because of the Supreme Court judgement, parliament has sprung back into life but there’s nothing on the agenda, so many, many MPs begged government to give us a landmark piece of legislation that covers many aspects of domestic abuse and coercive behaviour. It’s an issue that transcends party politics and MPs from all sides supported the call. Yesterday it was introduced to parliament for its second reading which is the first major stage to becoming law. One section of this new bill is dedicated to outlawing the cross examination of abuse survivors by perpetrators.
I wasn’t going to miss this for anything! I sat in the debate for the full six hours and heard some of the most moving speeches I’ve ever heard. Two MPs spoke about their own experiences as survivors of abuse of coercive behaviour. Rosie Duffield, the amazing MP for Canterbury, was unbelievably brave and outlined how a relationship had descended into abuse, control, and outright fear and this had continued after she’d become an MP until finally breaking free. Nas Shah, an MP for Bradford, also spoke about her own and her mother’s suffering. It’s so brave and generous of these two people to open up and allow us all to learn from them and also for people to realise that this kind of thing can happen to anyone, MPs included.
With all the division and acrimony in parliament lately, it was also a chance for the kinder, supportive side of life in the Commons to take centre stage for once. There is a lot of compassion in this job, and anyone watching yesterday’s debate saw our politics, politicians, and political system at its best. It was a welcome change for everyone, you and us! And it was the first piece of legislation that we’ve had for ages too, it made a nice change!
I got to my feet and spoke about two issues, the first was cross examination, and the second is about the new role of Commissioner to give voice to survivors. I believe this role needs more independence and more resources to make the issue unignorable.
For the eagle-eyed among you who’ve noticed that we’re going to be prorogued again next week at which point all legislation falls, I have some good news! Government have included an order, included into the bill, which means that the bill continues its passage through parliament uninterrupted by a new parliamentary session.
This is a really big moment for me, but I know its a much bigger moment for many thousands of abuse survivors. Nothing can change what they have endured, but we can make the system of justice fit to serve their needs. We’re not there yet but this is one step forward. Having looked many survivors in the eye and promised I would never stop until the practice that tormented them was outlawed, I’ll end this week very, very happy – I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d let them down.
You can watch my speech here: https://www.facebook.com/hoveandportslade/videos/3261729183860877/