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Police and Crime Commissioners (Women’s Services)

Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on providing high-quality services for women within the criminal justice system following the election of police and crime commissioners. (114720)

The Ministry of Justice has been working with the Home Office to ensure that local areas are prepared for the introduction of police and crime commissioners, who will have duties to work with local criminal justice bodies, including in relation to the provision of women’s services.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, but the proposal to devolve some victims’ services to police and crime commissioners is not without risk. What will he do to ensure a minimum standard of provision throughout the country, regardless of the area in which the victim lives?

First, it is important to point out that some specialist services, such as the homicide service, rape crisis centres and so on, will continue to be commissioned nationally, but we think it right in principle that elected police and crime commissioners should commission victims’ services locally. It will mean that there is a champion for victims in every single area; it will ensure the greater integration of such services with the police, who have a very important duty in relation to victims; and it will be for elected police and crime commissioners, accountable to the public, to ensure that they provide a high-quality service to victims.

In March, in recognition of the specific problems that women experience in prison, the Government committed to deliver a document setting out the strategic priorities for women in the criminal justice system. When will it be published, and how will it link with the work that Louise Casey is doing on troubled families and, of course, the work of elected police and crime commissioners?

The stock answer to all such questions is “in due course”, but my right hon. Friend is right that we need to ensure that such services are integrated. There is important work going on in the local criminal justice system in relation to women’s offending. Police and crime commissioners will have a role, in liaison with the local criminal justice agencies. The troubled families work being led by Louise Casey is very important in efforts to prevent crime. I believe that police and crime commissioners will be in a strong position to ensure local coherence in work to divert people from the criminal justice system and from crime.

In his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), who has considerable experience in providing victims services, the Minister confirmed that there will be no minimum standards for victims. To give just one example, two thirds of victims of stalking said that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service did not take their complaint seriously, and offenders are not charged in almost nine in every 10 cases. There is a risk of specialist services falling between the cracks—looking after the detail makes a difference—and such services are not likely to win PCC votes. Will the Minister consider intervening if the loss of specialist services for women continues after the election of PCCs?

But the whole point of the change is to ensure that there will be accountability for the provision of victims services, which will lie at local level with people who are already responsible for the police and who will be champions for victims. The cross-party Association of Police and Crime Commissioners has already welcomed the proposal, and the youth charity Catch22 says it believes that police and crime commissioners generally have the potential to bring real coherence at the local level to the planning and commissioning of services designed to reduce and prevent crime and support victims. I am sorry that Opposition Front Benchers do not support what I believe is a very good idea that will strength victims services at the local level.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that community women offender facilities, in which this Government have invested substantially, provide a real alternative to custody for many women in the criminal justice system?

I agree with my hon. Friend. The number of women in custody has been declining, in contrast with the number of men. We have been developing intensive treatment-based alternatives to custody for offenders with drug or mental health problems, including four women-only services in Wirral, Bristol, Birmingham and Tyneside. They are an important part of our strategy to ensure that offending by women is dealt with as effectively and appropriately as possible.