Tory leadership candidates ‘backing new domestic violence laws’

Both Tory leadership hopefuls have committed to supporting new domestic violence laws, a minister has claimed.

Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told MPs she has spoken to both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson’s campaign teams who have given their support to the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which she said will be brought forward in the autumn.

Ms Atkins delivered a statement in the Commons on Tuesday as the Domestic Abuse Bill is introduced to Parliament.

Senior Labour MP and former deputy leader Harriet Harman welcomed the Bill and said it is “an important step in what has been a long struggle to tackle the scourge of domestic violence”.

She added: “But the question is what happens next?

“Neither of the two leadership candidates have been what you might call champions of the cause of tackling domestic violence. That is simply a fact.

“So I just hope that the next prime minister recognises that this Bill is the will of the House that there is commitment on all sides to it.

“The Prime Minister will be gone next week, but this Bill, her Bill, must go forward.”

Responding for the Government, Ms Atkins said: “Though the Prime Minister may be stepping down next week, she’s not leaving the House.

“So she will, I’m sure, be a strong, strong advocate from the backbenches on this Bill.

She added: “This House certainly won’t let any future government off the hook, as it were, from delivering on it.

“That’s why I’m so pleased that both leadership candidates have committed to progressing with this Bill in the autumn and there will be many colleagues making sure that they keep to that pledge.”

Labour’s Jess Phillips (Birmingham Yardley) asked for reassurance that Mr Johnson’s campaign supports the legislation.

She said: “I wonder if the minister could specifically share with us in this House – far be it from me to suggest that the member for Uxbridge is not always completely straightforward – if she could share specifically what has been said to her on this matter.”

Ms Atkins said: “I had a confirmatory conversation only yesterday with a very senior member of the right honourable member for Uxbridge’s team that they’re delighted to support this and make progress.”

The junior minister said she has “not declared for either candidate so is coming at this with genuine clean hands” as she espoused the work both Mr Johnson did as mayor of London and Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary for women.

DUP MP Gavin Robinson (Belfast East) said it was “clearly in the public interest” for Northern Ireland provisions to included in the draft Bill, adding: “On this issue, there is a complete political consensus in Northern Ireland”.

Mr Robinson urged ministers to go further and include protections against stalking in the new law.

He said: “We have no legislative protection from stalking in Northern Ireland.”

Ms Atkins replied: “Clearly, the omission of the offence of stalking from the statute book of Northern Ireland is an omission that no-one wants and we will certainly look into whether we can include it in this Bill.”

Shadow women and equalities minister Carolyn Harris earlier said she was pleased Theresa May has “finally set things in motion for this long overdue and much-needed legislation”.

She added: “We would, however, like assurances from this Government that whoever will be prime minister next week has the same commitment to this and can guarantee this Bill will be robust and that funding will be available to fulfil everything it promises.

“It’s the intention of the Opposition benches to work with the Government and the sector to take this Bill into legislation.”

The proposals will give better protection to those fleeing violence by placing a new legal duty on councils to provide secure homes for them and their children.

It would also introduce the first legal Government definition of domestic abuse, which would include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour.

A domestic abuse commissioner to champion survivors is also proposed.

Of the Bill, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “We have a duty not only to bring the perpetrators of these vile crimes to justice but to support victims as they rebuild their lives.

“This bill will help us do just that and represents a true step-change in our approach.”

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