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Violence Against Women and Girls

Volume 527: debated on Monday 9 May 2011

1. What progress has been made on the Government’s action plan for ending violence against women and girls; and if she will make a statement. (54317)

4. What progress has been made on the Government’s action plan for ending violence against women and girls; and if she will make a statement. (54320)

The action plan on tackling violence against women and girls was published on 8 March this year, and we have already delivered in several areas. We have provided more than £28 million of stable Home Office funding until 2015 for local specialist services, £900,000 of which has been made available until 2015 to support national helplines, and we have implemented legislation on multi-agency domestic homicide reviews after every domestic murder.

In the light of our terrible economic position, will my hon. Friend reassure me that the vital work being done by women’s refuges in Northampton will not be cut?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of women’s refuges. The Home Office has sent out a loud and clear message to local authorities by ring-fencing stable funding of £28 million and by saying to them, “You should do the same. These are not soft targets.” It would be a great shame if Northampton council chose to ignore that message.

Further to the Minister’s reply, will she respond specifically on female genital mutilation, which is a significant problem in this country as well as in the developing world? The Metropolitan police are taking it very seriously, but hundreds of women in London alone present every year with appalling complications associated with pregnancy and childbirth. Can we make this matter a priority, and work with all the agencies and charities to eliminate this abominable practice?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with my hon. Friend—female genital mutilation is a brutal act of child abuse. On 24 February, I launched new multi-agency practice guidelines to raise awareness of FGM. One important symptom that I imagine hon. Members and others do not know of is that girls can be absent when they go to the toilet for a long time—say, 30 minutes. It is important that teachers and nurses understand that, and that we all highlight such symptoms.

Specialist police domestic violence units have saved lives and improved the way in which police forces handle domestic violence across their force areas. What pressure is the Minister bringing to bear across Government so that chief constables are encouraged to protect those vital front-line services?

The message we continually send to forces throughout the country is the importance of supporting the sector and taking action on domestic violence, and I hope chief constables are listening today.

May I press the Minister on domestic violence? I chair Chrysalis, the Liverpool domestic violence charity, and Merseyside police force is one of a number that have cut their domestic violence units. Will the Home Office intervene to ensure funding so that forces such as Merseyside can have domestic violence units?

The Government’s message is loud and clear, but, as I said, it is up to the local chief constable on the ground. I hope chief constables are listening to that important message, which the hon. Gentleman is right to raise.

Is the Minister aware of a campaign with which I am involved to introduce changes to the Protection From Harassment Act 1997 in respect of cyber-stalking? Many young women and girls are terrified by what is happening to them day after day and the law needs changing. Will the Minister meet a small group to discuss where the law is failing and where we need to put it right?

The Government recognise people’s concerns about the legal definition of stalking—cyber-stalking or stalking in other contexts—and about how the 1997 Act is applied. I am happy to meet the group that the right hon. Gentleman mentions.