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PM ‘delaying domestic abuse and animal cruelty reforms’

Brexit has pushed attention away from a lot of underlying issues in society that affect people's day-to-day lives.

Campaigners trying to change the law on key issues like domestic abuse, animal welfare and divorce law have therefore been left crushed by bids to overhaul current laws being wiped from the long list of bills making their way slowly through parliament.

Charities, lawyers and politicians spoke to Sky News to reveal the human toll of the prime minister's decision to end the current parliamentary session.

MPs voted to force ministers to release no-deal documents and private messages over the suspension of parliament
Image: A new parliamentary session will wipe the slate clean of bills not yet law

Boris Johnson wants to have a Queen's Speech on 14 October laying out his new government's plans.

But the move automatically culls all bills that were progressing through the Commons and Lords that have not become law in time.

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Sky News analysis has found 385 pieces of draft legislation have been ditched.

The figure includes 12 government-backed bills, and hundreds more tabled by backbenchers – many of which never had the chance of becoming law.

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Only three bills have been carried in to the next parliamentary session – on HS2, sentencing and the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

These are some of the key legal overhauls that have been pulled, and what campaigners fighting to push them through said about their delay.

Stock photo ID:688591980  Upload date:May 25, 2017
Image: Parliament is suspended until 14 October

Better help domestic abuse survivors

A bid to create a Domestic Abuse Commissioner and better help survivors has been stalled.

It would have enshrined a definition of domestic abuse in law, automatically given survivors special measures in criminal court to stop them being cross-examined by their victims and created a new domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland.

Labour MP Jess Phillips, who used to work for the domestic abuse charity Women's Aid, said Mr Johnson had "killed" the bill by wiping the statute book clean.

Colour backlit image of the silhouette of a woman with her hands on her head in a gesture of despair. The silhouette is distorted, and the arms elongated, giving an alien-like quality. The image is sinister and foreboding, with an element of horror. It is as if the 'woman' is trying to escape from behind the glass. Horizontal image with copy space.
Image: Survivors and experts worked for 'years' on the domestic abuse bill

Jo Sharpen, Director of Policy and Projects at the charity Against Violence and Abuse (AVA) told Sky News: "We are very concerned about the delay to implementing the domestic abuse bill.

"Survivors and specialist organisations worked for years to create this bill and the two million people who experienced domestic abuse in the last year deserve support and protection.

"With two women a week still being murdered by partners/ex partners, and a 13% overall fall in the number of domestic violence cases being referred to the CPS it is vital that the bill be re-introduced in the next Queen's Speech."

The prime minister said on Thursday that he was "fully committed" to tackling domestic abuse and so his Queen's Speech will "confirm we will be reintroducing domestic abuse legislation in the next session".

Making divorce more amicable

Another legislative overhaul canned was to make it easier for couples to get divorced.

It would have scrapped the need for the person seeking a divorce to give the reason as one of five facts – adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for two years, or separation for five years.

Divorce
Image: The ex-justice secretary said he was 'disappointed' at the move

That would have been replaced with a single notification process, with the aim of reducing unnecessary distress caused by the allegations of adultery and behaviour that feature in the majority of divorces.

The bill nearly made it through most of the hurdles in the Commons, then would have needed completing in the Lords.

David Gauke, the justice secretary until this summer, said he was "disappointed" the bill had been dropped.

Young boy looking sad at drawing of a broken family
Image: The delay could impact children of couple's splitting

"Divorce reform is long overdue and the bill had overwhelming support amongst the public and in parliament," he added.

Deborah Jeff, head of families at law firm Seddons, told Sky News said it means husbands and wives who want to split have to do so on "more acrimonious terms" that are "very unpalatable".

Deborah Jeff, head of family at Seddons
Image: Deborah Jeff said couples still have to split on 'more acrimonious terms'

"The ripples outwards are huge, and they're touching all parts of society, all different backgrounds, professions, and we're all feeling the impact of the significant delays now," she said.

"It's a very delicate time, wounds are quite raw and when they have to change course and blame the other party for the marriage having come to an end, it can – not always – but it can then impact on their discussions about the children because it increases the temperature, there's a lot of bad feeling that needn't be there.

"It really creates an undertone that the legislation was designed to eliminate. So it's really unhelpful to say the least."

Tougher penalties to protect animal welfare

Another legislative delay is to a bill that would have toughened up sentences for animal cruelty offences.

The maximum penalty would have been extending the current penalty of six months in jail and/ or an unlimited fine to five years and the same fine conditions to target "deliberate, calculating and sadistic behaviour".

Abused abandoned dog in exile looking sad
Image: A new law would have increased sentences for animal cruelty

The RSPCA told Sky News it was "disappointed" the bill had been dropped after long campaigning for a change in the law.

Current laws were "simply not acceptable" for "a nation that prides itself on its love of animals" because they do not reflect the severity of cruelty against animals or act as a deterrent," the charity added.

"The bill came so close to being enacted – let's not allow this important change to animal cruelty sentencing to slip through our hands."

Cat
Image: The RSPCA told Sky News it was 'disappointed' at the delay

Becky Thwaites, head of public affairs at Blue Cross pet charity also told Sky News the government had "long promised to deliver increased sentences for animal cruelty and yet they haven't managed to deliver on this".

"That means England and Wales will still have some of the lowest sentences for animal cruelty in Europe," she added.

Scrapping business rates on public loos to stop them disappearing

Another bill culled was one to remove the business rates that public lavatories have to pay.

Campaigner say there is fast decline of the number available due to the upkeep costs, particularly impacting elderly and disabled people.

Toilet wing of the arts and craft shelter at Christchurch Park, Ipswich, UK. (Photo by David Potter/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)
Image: The Lib Dems were trying to stop the closure of public toilets

They were hoping to use the legislation to incentivise the building of toilets that are accessible to disabled people.

Baroness Thomas of Winchester, the Liberal Democrats' Lords spokesperson on disability, told Sky News that while "perhaps not the grandest of bills", it was "set to have a significant impact on the lives of many".

"This bill was supported by all sides of the Lords, and there was no reason for the Government not to carry it over," she added.

What does the government say?

A senior government source told Sky News: "The Queen's Speech will allow government to bring forward an ambitious legislative agenda after too much dither and delay in parliament .

"Complaints from MPs who have prioritised their time in the commons to sabotage EU negations rather than delivering on domestic priorities will ring hollow with the public."

Boris Johnson
Image: Boris Johnson wants a new Queen's Speech to push through his agenda

When he revealed his plan to suspend parliament, Mr Johnson said: "We're not going to wait until 31 October before getting on with our plans to take this country forward.

"This is a new government with a very exciting agenda, to make our streets safer.

"It's very important we bring violent crime down, we need to invest in our NHS, we need to level up education funding across the country, we need to invest in the infrastructure that's going to take this country forward for decades.

"And we need to deal with the cost of living, moving to a high wage, high productivity economy, which is what I think this country needs to be.

"To do that we need new legislation, we've got to be bringing forward new and important bills, and that's why we are going to have a Queen's Speech and we are going to do it on 14 October."

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