Government defeated as peers back safeguards for migrant domestic abuse victims

Peers have defeated the Government in demanding steps to ensure migrant women are not deterred from reporting domestic abuse due to the fear of deportation.

The House of Lords backed by 321 votes to 262, majority 59, a change to legislation, which would prevent victims’ details being used for immigration control purposes.

It is the latest in a series of setbacks suffered in the upper chamber by the Government over the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has already been through the Commons.

Proposing the amendment which would block data-sharing for immigration purposes, independent crossbencher Baroness Meacher (pictured) said: “We know we need a clear statutory duty to ensure safe reporting by domestic abuse victims.

“To catapult these women into the immigration enforcement system without legal advice or support, just at the point when they are at their most vulnerable and have taken the first step to escape their abuse, is unnecessary, counterproductive and cruel.

“We know that almost all vulnerable women who are the subject of this amendment report that threats of deportation have been used by their perpetrators.

“The reality is that the Home Office is unwittingly supporting perpetrators in their criminal activities.”

Lending her support, fellow crossbencher and former High Court judge Baroness Butler-Sloss said: “It is extremely unfair that someone who is a victim of domestic abuse, that has sought help, is twice victimised.

“It shows an astonishingly unfeeling and indeed callous approach to these victims, which is entirely at odds with the understanding and caring approach the Government has shown in this otherwise excellent Bill.

“I wonder how the Government can allow the data of domestic abuse victims to be used in this way.

“Does it mean that immigration and deportation of victims trumps the importance of this legislation?”

Liberal Democrat Lord Paddick, a former Metropolitan Police deputy assistant commissioner, said: “We know for a fact that the police pass the details of victims of crime, including rape victims, to immigration officials for immigration control purposes and this needs to stop.”

Responding for the Government, Tory frontbencher Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay warned the amendment would “hinder the safeguarding of victims of domestic abuse”.

He told peers: “Our overriding priority is to protect the public and all victims of crime, regardless of their immigration status.”

He said police guidance made clear that domestic abuse victims “should be treated as victims first and foremost”, but added: “The Government is duty-bound to maintain an effective immigration system.

“The public rightly expects that people in this country should be subject to our laws.

“It is right that when people with an irregular immigration status are identified they should be supported to come in line with the law and where possible to regularise their stay.

“Immigration enforcement staff routinely help migrant victims of domestic abuse and other crimes by directing them to legal advice to help them regularise their stay.”

Earlier, the Government agreed to change the legislation to prevent GPs charging domestic abuse victims to provide evidence of their injuries to support a legal aid claim.

The move, which followed a long campaign, was welcomed by Labour frontbencher Lord Kennedy of Southwark.

He said: “We are ending the postcode lottery where a victim of domestic abuse could be charged by their GP for a letter that they need to gain access to legal aid.”

The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, said: “I regard the Government’s proposal as an excellent addition to the Bill, which will greatly assist a group of highly vulnerable people in securing the support they need.”

In a further defeat for the ministers, peers backed an amendment that would give migrant victims of abuse temporary leave to remain and access to public funds for a period of no less than six months, so they can access support services while they flee abuse and apply to resolve their immigration status.

Voting was 318 to 269, majority 49, after the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, said the change would be “life-saving and life-changing”.

She said it was not about “guaranteeing indefinite leave to remain for all migrant victims of domestic abuse” but about “temporary leave to remain with access to public funds while these extremely vulnerable people escape their abusers and regularise their immigration status”.

The move was backed by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. But Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said it was not an appropriate way forward as the issue must be the provision of support, not the immigration status of the victim.

Lady Williams, urging peers to reject the change, warned it would blur the principle on which settlement in the UK was based and open up the prospect of exploitation of vulnerable migrants.

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