The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill has finally passed its third reading in the House of Commons, and is set to become law once it passes through the Lords. It is a “landmark” in the true sense, a piece of legislation that will be the historic marker of when domestic abuse was defined in UK statute for the first time, accompanied by wide-ranging legislative and practical changes that will see perpetrators brought to justice more effectively, and their victims supported both within the justice system and more widely.
It is, unquestionably, an example of politics at its very best. From its first beginnings in a consultation that launched in 2018 to the final product that passed the Commons last night, it has seen been a passion project of politicians, campaigners and officials across the political spectrum. Theresa May has been a key proponent, and then supporter, of the bill; prominent Labour MP and “mother of the house” Harriet Harman has spearheaded campaign to prohibit the “rough sex” defence; Jess Phillips and colleagues have campaigned for greater protections around family courts and recognition of the impact of domestic abuse on children; the current ministers, Vicky Atkins and Alex Chalk, have taken on these suggestions and scrutiny to produce a stronger piece of final legislation, which isn’t always a guarantee from the parliamentary process, however much the system is designed to promote detailed scrutiny of legislation.
The process has exemplified productive scrutiny, cross-party cooperation, and offered a genuine and comprehensive reflection of the reality of domestic abuse, not least from Labour MP Rosie Duffield, who delivered what is undoubtedly one of the great parliamentary speeches of all time when the bill first appeared before parliament in October, with her own account of suffering from domestic abuse while a sitting MP. Yesterday she decided it would be too difficult to speak in the debate for the bill’s third reading, in the light of the difficult subjects under discussion. Once more, this communicated the reality of domestic abuse, and the need for this legislation, with the profound resonance that has characterised the bill’s passage through parliament.
It has been a long time coming, after a consultation that began in early 2018. The bill didn’t have time to pass through parliament in 2019 due to time lost during Boris Johnson’s attempted prorogation of parliament, and parliament’s subsequent dissolution for the last general election meant that the it “fell”, and had to be reintroduced after the election. It is also imperfect: one area where MPs have been unable to find cross-party consensus has been on the provision of support and protection for migrant women, who remain excluded from this bill while further research is conducted by government.
But it is a start, and a reminder, both to us, and to MPs themselves, of what they can do in a spirit of co-operation, detailed work and sincere commitment to addressing the things that really matter.