Thursday 10 April 2014
[Katy Clark in the Chair]
Domestic Violence (Police Response)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Amber Rudd.)
Thank you, Ms Clark, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee and the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) for granting it.
Why are we holding this debate and why is the issue important? First, we need to consider the context of and the facts about domestic abuse. Last year, 77 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners, and each of those horrific incidents carries with it a story of fear and abuse, often over many years. It does not matter where in the country one is; abuse takes place in so many homes and communities that we must address it. I am pleased to see a mix of male and female colleagues here, because I stress that the issue affects men, women and children, and the men affected are often forgotten. According to the survey done of England and Wales last year, there were 700,000 male victims, but I would say that that is probably an under-representation of the real numbers, as men are less likely to come forward and say that they have been victims of domestic abuse or violence. We should consider trying to change that perception.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and on the comments that she just made. To reinforce her point, the report stated that only 10% of men said they would tell the police about an incident of domestic violence, compared with 27% of women. Undoubtedly, men under-report domestic violence, although the figures for both men and women are still considerable.
I completely agree. Those numbers are sad, showing that people, especially men, do not yet feel that they can come forward. Additionally, abuse and violence against men is still more accepted: “It’s all right for a woman to hit a man.” Work must be done at all levels and across communities to say that that is completely unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable for a man to hit a woman.
The current crime survey showed 1.2 million female victims in England and Wales, but again, as my hon. Friend says, that is an underestimate. There has been an increase, but that may be partly due to the fact that more people feel that they can talk about the problem. Recent figures for England and Wales show an increase of 37% over the past five years, and the Metropolitan police in my constituency in west London report 41%. The figures are complex for the reasons that I have mentioned, but it is enough to know that it is a major issue in communities in this country and around the world.
It is also disturbing that one in three girls and 16% of boys aged 13 to 17 report having experienced some form of sexual violence, which highlights how much we need to do from a young age in our schools and communities to say that such violence should not be tolerated, especially now in the age of the internet, cyberabuse, sexting and digital means of communication, which are having an impact as well. At the moment, the cost to the UK economy is estimated at about £16 billion a year. If we can do something, not only will it transform people’s lives and change their futures, but it will help with the mountainous cost to the UK economy.
On any given day, more than 7,000 women and children in England are resident in a refuge. We do not have enough refuges; I am not sure whether there is a refuge for men in the country. I feel passionate about the subject because of those statistics, and because the world’s first refuge was set up in my west London constituency, in Chiswick, by Erin Pizzey in 1971. That is partly why I got so involved in the issue. Sandra Horley as chief executive of Refuge, as well as Women’s Aid and the many other organisations in the area, do incredible work to support women and children.
I have spoken at a number of conferences and visited several refuges to speak to the women and children there. They all have moving stories to tell, and one’s heart goes out to them, but that also highlights how important it is for us as Members to speak in schools and communities. I try to do so. At every school that I go to, whether primary or secondary, I talk about it, as I do in the churches, mosques, gurdwaras, Islamic centres or Hindu temples in my constituency. Wherever I am, I bring up such issues, because I feel that it is important to talk about them and get everyone engaged in supporting them. All stories are different. Just this morning, I received an e-mail from a constituent who fears for her safety and that of her son and is desperately seeking help to move to a different part of the country. Those are the people whom we absolutely need to help.
This debate is timely, because it follows a number of key publications: the Police Foundation report “Are we doing enough of the right things to tackle domestic abuse?” in November 2013; the Home Office report “A call to end violence against women and girls: Action plan 2014”; the report by the all-party parliamentary group on domestic and sexual violence, “Women’s access to justice: From reporting to sentencing”, which was supported by Women’s Aid, in March this year; and the recent report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, “Everyone’s business: Improving the police response to domestic abuse”.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate. Having listed those reports, does she agree that there is a gap? There are certainly two gaps that I would like to bring to her attention. One is in orthodox religious communities, where victims of domestic violence are often ostracised if they must leave the community, and that may not be reflected in the services provided. The other is the growing problem of domestic violence among same-sex couples. The police may not know how to handle two women or two men. Does she agree that we need more support and specialist training in those areas?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. I completely agree. The Minister may want to respond to that. Not enough has been done in those areas, and we need more specialist training in them across the country.
Looking ahead, in June this year updated guidance will be published on investigating domestic abuse. In September, new guidance will be published from the improved study on the cost-effectiveness of intervention programmes for children experiencing domestic violence and abuse. In January next year, research will be launched for Project Mirabal at the Centre for Research into Violence and Abuse. Work has also been done on a victims law by Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and others to see whether more can be done to encourage victims to come forward. I have been impressed in the past few years by the good cross-departmental working on this and related subjects, and I ask the Minister to reassure us that that will continue. The Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will hold an event in June on ending sexual violence in conflict, and in July the Department for International Development will hold a girls’ summit on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. All those initiatives on violence against women and girls have a part to play.
Some consistent themes have emerged from recent studies, including inconsistency between forces in the way cases are handled; lack of intelligent data gathering, training, and empathy for victims; and victims’ persistent reluctance to enter the criminal justice process. I want to speak about some of the key learning points in the reviews and how those can shape our response.
Faced with the disturbing statistics, the Government have made domestic violence a priority since 2010. The Home Secretary said in the document “Call to end violence against women and girls” in 2010:
“My ambition is nothing less than ending violence against women and girls. There can be no excuse for these horrific crimes that ruin lives, destroy childhoods and damage our society.”
Some valuable steps have been taken already to deal with domestic abuse. We have extended the definition of domestic violence to include emotional abuse and controlling behaviour and to include those aged 16 to 17. That was an important step forward: it is not just about physical abuse. Abuse goes far wider than physical violence. The lead-up to that—the financial, emotional and psychological abuse—is often as difficult to take as, and longer-lasting than, some physical abuse.
We have ensured that there is long-term funding for rape crisis centres. In London, where my constituency is, the Mayor has quadrupled rape crisis provision, opening three new centres and expanding the only centre in south London. We have piloted domestic violence protection orders, to be extended throughout England and Wales from March. We have introduced Clare’s law, the domestic violence disclosure scheme to enable people to find out whether a partner has a history of abusing. We produced the targeted “This is abuse” advertising campaign for teenagers, to get across the message about what constitutes an abusive relationship. The Government have allocated nearly £40 million in funding until next year for specialist local support services and helplines, and to part-fund 87 independent sexual violence advisers.
Does my hon. Friend agree that coercive control is often a pathway to violence, and far more debilitating than anything else? Should the Government consider at least criminalising coercive control in the same way as physical abuse is now criminalised?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I ask the Minister to look into it, because in many cases physical violence starts with emotional and psychological abuse. The stories of many victims show a pattern of behaviour: that can be manipulative or controlling, and financial or psychological. There may be an apology: it is always about making someone feel that they are at fault.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most worrying aspects of the HMIC report on the policing of domestic violence was that it found there were weaknesses in risk assessment and the identification of domestic violence trigger points that might tip an unstable relationship into a violent, dangerous one? The recommendations about action plans to be produced by forces, and about improving training on risk assessment, are vital. Action should be taken as soon as possible.
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend has addressed the fact that policing, or the legal system—perhaps the Minister can clarify this—do not make it possible to pick up a behaviour pattern. Domestic violence is brought to court on the basis of an individual case, whereas problems could be dealt with much earlier if there was a legal framework to deal with the creation of a pattern of behaviour.
My hon. Friend makes an important point.
The Mayor of London has developed a strategy on violence against women and girls for 2013 to 2017. The Metropolitan police have identified a senior officer to lead on domestic abuse, and established a continuous improvement initiative known as Operation Dauntless. One of the strands of the operation is targeting domestic abuse perpetrators and managing their behaviour to reduce reoffending. The top five highest-risk perpetrators in each borough will be identified, and tactical plans will be put in place.
The HMIC report on the police response focused on four key aspects of the issue, and showed that we cannot be complacent and that there is much more to do. They were whether a force is effective in identifying victims of domestic abuse—particularly repeat victims and vulnerable victims; whether the initial force response to victims is effective; whether victims of domestic abuse are made safer as a result of the police response and subsequent action; and whether the force has the appropriate systems, processes and understanding to manage domestic abuse and risk to victims in the future.
The study identified some good points. Domestic violence and abuse are a much higher priority—they are a top priority for the Metropolitan police in my constituency in the London borough of Hounslow. Another finding was that 79% of victims were happy with the initial police response. Multi-agency partnership working has become more commonplace. That is the right approach, and can include multi-agency risk assessment conferences and safeguarding hubs.
Eight forces were singled out for particular praise, and I am sorry that the Metropolitan police was not among those. They are Lancashire, Dorset, Durham, Warwickshire, Norfolk, Northumbria, Suffolk and Thames Valley; they were felt to be doing a reasonable job. In Hounslow the police hold a weekly one-stop shop where victims can seek advice. There are monthly multi-agency risk assessment conference meetings. Four independent domestic violence advocates are on hand, and there are action-trigger plans for repeat cases. The police have issued TecSOS phones to the most vulnerable victims, so that they can seek help at the push of a button.
Operation Dauntless contributed to the fact that more than 200 more domestic violence cases were investigated last year, so it made a difference.
My hon. Friend’s list did not include West Yorkshire police, the force in my area; but I have spent a lot of time out with the West Yorkshire police and have always found that they take domestic violence seriously as a crime. It is one of their top priorities. The report showed that for every 100 incidents of domestic violence that they went to, 88 arrests were made. That shows that they take the matter seriously. We should not think of forces as either failing or succeeding; there are many shades of grey in between.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I listed some police forces that appear to be doing well, but even they can improve. My police force and borough treat the issue seriously, and they know that they must treat it as a top priority for their local community, but there is still more that we can do to encourage them to improve.
My hon. Friend is being extraordinarily generous in giving way. Thames Valley police was one of the forces singled out for praise in the report. Domestic violence support has improved so much in the Thames Valley area, in Oxfordshire in particular, because of the work done with the voluntary sector and a network of domestic violence champions. Those champions are trained up by the domestic violence service in the county council, with three days of specialist training, going on to represent the domestic abuse service within the housing association, the local schools and all the different areas in which an individual might disclose abuse. There is therefore a shortcut to accessing the necessary services, and people do not find themselves being passed from service to service and person to person and among those who do not know how to respond. That has proved an effective way in which to increase reporting and to get help more quickly to people who need it urgently.
My hon. Friend gives a perfect of example of how things can work well. We want to share such best practice in different communities and police forces among other forces, so that we can learn and ensure that more people’s lives are affected. Domestic violence is often a priority on paper, but not always in practice. We have to look at the outcomes. Some forces may be doing a lot of good things, but what are they delivering—what is the outcome? That is where sharing best practice, such as that which we heard about from my hon. Friend, would make a difference.
According to the HMIC report, there is also a lack of appropriate technology to give information on a repeat offender to officers before they deal with calls. Only 58% of those interviewed felt safer because of the whole police experience. Furthermore, the quality of information gathered at the scene is often poor, and the number of evidence-led cases—in which police take forward a case based on significant evidence even when the victim decides against pursuing charges—is small. Neighbourhood policing teams and their local knowledge are insufficiently used and repeat offences do not always trigger high-priority action. Moreover, some police officers lack the skills, or the experienced training discussed earlier, required to deal with the sensitivity of domestic abuse incidents; e-training is often not sufficient and something more is needed.
The report made many recommendations and called for a national oversight group to report quarterly on the achievement of its recommendations and for each force to have an action plan. I am pleased that the Home Secretary has already agreed to chair a national oversight group, as suggested. Will the Minister reassure us that that work will focus on effective outcomes and not only on the publication of endless statistics and reports? Those action plans and what they are delivering—the change on the ground and to people’s lives—are what is important.
As a result of such studies and the information in front of us, I can highlight four areas for the Minister that would help us to make progress. First, the role of leadership is key, as is often the case when we need to bring about a culture change within organisations. It is not enough to give domestic violence and abuse a high profile in the action plans, leaflets and noticeboards within each force; it is through deeds and action that the priority will become real. The police and crime commissioners and, in the case of London, MOPAC—the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—must ensure that that happens. Will the Minister reassure us that the Home Office will review the PCC priorities to check that domestic violence and domestic abuse are included? Will it monitor that on an ongoing basis?
Secondly, on professionalism, innovation and partnership working, domestic abuse cases are by their nature complex and need to be treated sensitively, but that means having in place a mix of the right trained resources, effective processes and intelligent use of technology. Individual officers often make the difference in the cases and for the victims to whom they talk. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) said, because some of those officers could take on the role of ambassadors to support cross-force training sessions and focus groups to build best practice, perhaps together with some of the victims who are willing to share their experiences.
The College of Policing will be publishing updated guidance on the approach to domestic violence cases, and professional, evidence-led policing should be fundamental to the review. No longer will it be acceptable for photos of abuse to be taken in only 50% of cases, for example, and tapes of 999 calls should always be available. There are also examples of some innovative technology that can be used, such as the Vodafone Foundation’s specially adapted TecSOS phones, which I mentioned earlier and which enable vulnerable people to get help at the touch of a button, or the body-worn cameras, which officers in my area are beginning to use. Those things will help. I would also like to see technology used to trigger an instant red alert to all agencies following repeated calls to the police about escalating violence. It was heartbreaking to read the recent story about Christine Chambers, whose increasingly frequent calls to police were not logged on to the system until after her death and that of her two-year-old daughter, Shania. How will the Minister ensure that guidance from the College of Policing is fully integrated into day-to-day policing operations?
Thirdly, on prevention, we also want to reduce the number of cases, so prevention is vital and the police can play an important role. The “This is Abuse” campaign has been effective in making it clear to young people what constitutes abuse in a relationship. The campaign lends itself well to work in schools and I am glad that it is due to be extended. I also welcome the recent “Sex and relationships education (SRE) for the 21st century” supplementary advice to schools, which was published in February. I am interested to hear whether the Minister feels that that is sufficient, or whether more needs to be done, but it will help teachers to adapt and update their relationship advice to take account of, in particular, the technological and social media changes of recent years. Both men and women need to be involved in spreading the message that domestic violence and abuse are completely unacceptable in today’s society.
Fourthly, on wider reporting, an estimated 80% of all domestic violence incidents are not reported to the police, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who gave more detailed statistics. Neighbourhood policing teams and multi-agency teams can play more of a role in encouraging wider reporting of domestic abuse. As Members of Parliament, we should be able to do that as well, as we go about our constituencies and talk about it, in particular when children are involved in cases. Women with children are especially reluctant to report incidents to the police, because of the fear that the children might be taken away. Victims must be reassured that the priority is all about protecting their safety and that of any children involved. If prosecution is not deemed necessary, procedures should still be in place to prevent future incidents. Will the Minister update us on what is being done to encourage greater reporting of domestic violence incidents?
I want to give hon. Members time to speak on this important issue, so I will draw to a close. I welcome the production of the reports, although they make for some depressing reading. We now have, however, a good body of data to help direct our work for the future. The more we talk about the issue and share our ideas, the better things will become. We have made good progress, as I have mentioned, but there is a long way to go, and the variation in the performance of different police forces is not acceptable, so there needs to be more cross-working between forces to learn from each other.
Locally, in addition to my work in schools and the community, I am hoping to host a domestic violence summit for west London, and I have invited the Home Secretary to participate. All of us, whether Members of Parliament or people in different roles in society, can keep putting the message across that domestic abuse in any form is completely unacceptable. We should all do something to help to change the lives of men, women and children so that they may have a safe and secure future.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) on securing this debate on a really important subject that is not given enough airtime in the House. It is encouraging the see the strong turnout on the Government Benches. I had not intended to speak, but my hon. Friend’s comments have spurred me on to add some of my own.
I want to look at the matter from the perspective of the effect on children. The simple fact is that in the United Kingdom the police receive a call every minute from the public for assistance because of domestic violence. That leads to the police receiving an estimated 1,300 calls every day, or more than 570,000 every year. We have heard that recognition of the problem is improving, but it is still a huge one and responsible for 14% of all violent crimes in this country.
I am particularly concerned about the estimate that at least 750,000 children every year witness domestic violence, and that has long-term implications, particularly on young children and how they will go through their childhood and adult life. It is important to protect women, and sometimes men, who may be victims of domestic violence; it is equally important to protect children from being influenced by it at an impressionable age.
Children who have witnessed violence and abuse are much more likely to become involved in a violent and abusive relationships as adults. Children tend to copy the behaviour of their parents. Boys learn from their fathers to be violent to women, and girls learn from their mothers that violence is to be expected and something that they just have to put up with. That is the most depressing response, and I saw it during the many hours and days I spent out on cases with social workers in my previous role.
When women and young girls who have been subjected to violence are asked why they did not just leave or do something about it, the response is along the lines of “I thought that’s what happens and is part of a relationship is about.” It is appallingly depressing that people can be conditioned to think that that is what they should expect, and that it is part of the deal of being in a relationship, whether married, cohabiting or whatever. That is why it is so important to get across to people from an early age that it is not the norm, and should not, must not and will not be tolerated. We must ensure that they are aware of how to access the power to do something about it because the long-term implications are frightening.
According to the Home Office, 200,000 children—1.8%—are living in households where there is a known risk of domestic violence, and that is probably an underestimate because of under-reporting of the problem. The definition of “harm” that is used in care proceedings under the Children Act 1989 includes
“impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another”.
That is not used enough, and we must ensure that our professionals are aware of how they should use it as a consideration for intervention.
Many public inquiries into the death of children in recent years have shown that the men responsible for such deaths often have a history of violence towards their female partners. A study of 139 serious case reviews—official reports when a child is harmed fatally or seriously—in England between 2009 and 2011 showed that 63% were found to have domestic abuse as a risk factor.
Some years ago, I spent a week as a social worker in Stockport in a sort of undercover operation. I went out with social workers on real cases away from the glare of television cameras, dressing down for the occasion. I saw at first hand the nature of many of the problems that those of us who have been Ministers have to deal with in legislation to provide the professions with the powers to do something about it. I knew that domestic violence was a big factor in child protection cases, but that week really brought home to me how many child protection cases have domestic violence as a key element—probably more than three quarters of cases have domestic violence at the heart of child protection issues.
What I saw in Stockport, which has a first-class child protection team, was that the addition of a domestic violence specialist social worker in the team made a huge difference. When new social workers in particular suspected a domestic violence element, they could get wise advice, and there were proper procedures for becoming involved in such cases, and recognising the symptoms of domestic violence and the effect it was having on children. They were better placed to produce a plan of action for taking the woman and children to a place of safety.
Training to deal with domestic violence should be a key part of social work training, particularly when it involves children. The multi-agency approach of that child protection team included a domestic violence specialist social worker, a family nurse partnership specialist representing the local health facilities and a police officer. They came together every morning to assess cases and had a wealth of intelligence and approaches for how best to intervene on behalf of vulnerable children. There are some good examples—Stockport is not an isolated one—of how the practice can work to provide much better and earlier intervention on behalf of abused women and children.
Children who experience severe maltreatment by a parent or guardian are between 2.7 and 2.9 times more likely also to have witnessed family violence. According to a report from the NSPCC, under-11s who have experienced physical abuse by a parent or guardian were almost five times more likely to have witnessed family violence. Another NSPCC study showed that 12% of under-11s, 18% of 11 to 17-year-olds and 24% of 18 to 24-year-olds had been exposed to domestic abuse between adults in their home during childhood, and that adult males were the perpetrators in 94% of cases when one parent had physically abused another.
Violence in the home may result in children suffering long-term emotional and psychological damage. The very young may show physical signs of distress. They may become anxious or depressed, have difficulty sleeping, have nightmares or flashbacks, complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches, and start to wet their bed. They may have temper tantrums, behave as though they were much younger than they are, have problems at school or start truanting, become aggressive, internalise their distress and withdraw from other people, and have a lowered sense of self-worth. Older children may start to use alcohol or drugs, begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves, and develop an eating disorder. All that may be down to being an unwitting participant in a home where domestic violence is being inflicted on them indirectly, and sometimes also directly. The physical and psychological implications for children are therefore deep-seated and not just a bit of a worry or a bit of a nuisance.
One could say that if parents are prepared to allow their children to be exposed to those sorts of experiences, they do not deserve to be parents and the state needs to step in—certainly against the abusive parent who is inflicting the violence on a woman and the children.
Although many parents report trying to shelter their children from marital violence, research suggests that children in violent homes commonly see, hear and intervene in episodes of marital violence—they try to step in—in some cases thinking, “Is that my fault?” Children may get a hang-up that they are, in some way, contributing to or responsible for the horrible things that are going in their homes.
As I said, domestic abuse accounts for 14% of all violent crime. On average, women contact 11 agencies before they receive the help they need. For black women, that figure rises, appallingly, to 17 agencies before they receive the help they need, according to a report from Barnardo’s.
We are talking specifically about the police, and interestingly, we have just discussed in the Chamber the Public Administration Committee’s report on the reliability—or not—of police crime statistics. The Minister made a brief response to that report. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), mentioned the under-reporting of rape and downgrading, or attempted downgrading, of allegations of rape, to flatter the crime figures. The figures that we have on domestic violence and, in its extreme form, rape—particularly ongoing rape—may underestimate the real state of the problem. It is absolutely key that the police are completely honest about the extent of the problem that is reported to them, that it is properly investigated as the serious crime that it is, and that it is pursued and investigated, and that charges are brought wherever possible. We all know the appalling record we still have on the number of rape charge cases ending in successful convictions in court. We need to do a lot more on that.
According to Women’s Aid, 30% of domestic violence starts when a woman falls pregnant. Pregnancy can exacerbate the severity and frequency of the violence and the woman’s abdomen is often specifically targeted during attacks, according to the charity website, protectingchildren.org.uk. Domestic violence has been identified as a prime cause of miscarriage or stillbirth. I find that appalling, particularly because yesterday I spoke to one of my constituents who suffered a stillbirth and several miscarriages—she is campaigning with me for a change in the law to recognise the registration of stillbirths under 24 weeks—but for someone to have that imposed on them by the violence of the partner who is the potential father of that child is doubly appalling.
Domestic violence is also a major factor leading to death in or related to pregnancy and childbirth. During the three years 2006 to 2008, 34 of the 261 women who died around the time of giving birth showed signs of domestic abuse, 11 of those having been murdered by partners or family members. Previous reports indicated an even higher proportion of deaths in childbirth being related to domestic abuse. Between four and nine women in every 100 are abused during their pregnancies and/or after giving birth.
Given the influence of and contact with midwives, GPs, health workers, clinicians doing scans, health visitors—and the increasing number of health visitors that we are trying to recruit—those professionals must be the early-warning systems to see, identify and know how to identify signs of domestic violence before it is too late, and before some of those extreme outcomes come into play.
Earlier, my hon. Friend mentioned the importance of multi-agency risk assessment conferences and multi-agency working. One problem that we experienced in Oxford with a similar but related issue of child sexual exploitation was the difficulty that different agencies had in sharing important information and intelligence that would have resulted in earlier identification of victims, and the ability to intervene and protect those victims at an earlier stage and bring prosecutions in those cases. I believe that exactly that kind of problem is preventing better work from happening with domestic violence. As my hon. Friend said, we should have better information sharing between GP services, health services, social workers and the police, so that victims can be identified at the earliest possible stage and action can be taken. There is often a feeling that sharing that information would break data protection law, which is not, in fact, the case. I wonder whether he would comment on that.
My hon. Friend, who has a great interest in the subject, is absolutely right in her final comment. It is an excuse. Data protection has for too long in child protection cases, just as in domestic violence cases, been used as a reason for not acting, and that just should not be the case. Nothing under data protection prevents people from sharing the data in a responsible manner with other proper professionals, be it through MARACs or other structures, when clearly it is in the interests of the potential victims or victims that they are looking after.
We have a very good MARAC in West Sussex, where the agencies work well together. I also flag up MASHs—multi-agency safeguarding hubs. I visited many of them round the country and what matters there is getting all the professionals around the table eyeballing each other and talking to each other. It was interesting to visit the MASH in Haringey, an authority that has gone through a pretty traumatic time, with baby P, Victoria Climbié and others. I saw the way that its MASH works: when an incident comes in, around the same table very quickly will be social workers, police, people from the housing department and from education. They will all be sharing information quickly. They do not have to go through protocols about getting information; they will be on the phone and on the computer getting that information.
I also saw that in Stockport. People knew far more from talking to each other and they rarely had to go to the computer. If they did, it was usually to check something that they knew already. That is why it is so important that professionals talk to each other face to face, rather than through the internet and electronic communications. There is no substitute for the experience of professionals who have been on the front line—and often know a fact about a family going back many years—and can come up with the right information. They are more likely to make the right judgment and intervention.
I want to finish with three points about what should be done. We need to make this a high-profile taboo subject. Mariella Frostrup rightly wrote in an article some time ago:
“We need a Man Army”
that is able to stand up and say that domestic violence is “for cowards.” We know that an awful lot of people in this country—particularly young people—are unduly influenced by celebrities, and we need a few celebrities to come forward and say exactly that and use their influence for good, rather than appearing too often in our Sunday tabloid newspapers creating the wrong impressions for our young people to follow.
The United Nations’ “Real men don’t hit women” campaign is another thing that we need to make available to our young people. I absolutely echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth that we need better education. We need better hands-on education about respectful relationships, and we need to tailor it particularly to certain black and minority ethnic communities where we need to handle the issue very carefully.
Children are better able to cope and recover when they get the right help and support, for example, from other family members, peers and school. Some children find it helpful to speak to a professional—a trained counsellor or whoever—but it is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence and abuse to take a long time to recognise what is happening. For some families, domestic violence and abuse are a normal part of family life. Even when children realise that a situation is wrong, shame can make it difficult to speak out. As my hon. Friend also said, there is often a fear that children may be taken into care if a woman comes forward to say that there is a domestic violence problem.
We need to ensure that social workers can recognise who is to blame and are as open as possible, so that those women can open up to them without fearing that they will lose their children through no fault of their own. Having a trusting relationship outside the home can increase the chances that someone affected by domestic violence and abuse will manage to talk about their experience. Sharing the secret with someone outside the family is the first step in breaking out of the cycle of violence and abuse. We need to ensure that there are trusted confidants. In school, they will be teachers, school nurses and perhaps social workers working in schools, of which there are good examples. Children will be able to go to them, trust them and pour out their experience, so that someone can recognise that and do something about it.
Secondly, I have a concern about the legal aid changes. We had an event in the House on that issue last week. Necessary changes are being made in legal aid, and domestic violence cases should be exempted from them, but in some cases that is not happening. In some cases, women are not getting the professional support that they need to ensure that they are getting the full protection of the law. That is not acceptable. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to look at the matter in more detail to see whether there are unintended consequences from some of the changes being made to the availability of legal aid.
My third point was also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth in opening the debate. We need to ensure that there is better training of police and other professionals working with all the agencies. I am very glad to say that in my area and that of the Minister, largely due to the new police and crime commissioner, Katy Bourne, domestic violence has become one of the priorities. She has done a lot of work to ensure that Sussex police are sensitive to and able to cope with incidents of domestic violence. I pay tribute to the excellent women’s refuge services in Adur and Worthing in my constituency.
Housing is a particularly important element in all this. Too often, women are confined in accommodation where they are experiencing domestic violence because housing services are not liaising properly with the police, social workers and others to ensure that those women are appropriately relocated out of harm’s way, which often means across local authority boundaries. We need to have a better networking system between local authorities, so that safe accommodation can be made available, often at short notice.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised the issue of children, because that is a critical part of the debate. He is considering housing. Part of the problem is often that a woman will go into a refuge for some time with her children, but then they end up getting put in temporary accommodation until something else is found. That is still unsettling for the children. I want to push councils to try to get families quickly into not temporary accommodation, but more stable housing, so that the lives of the children are not disrupted again and they can go on to live fulfilling lives.
Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, because we look at this issue as primarily about getting the victim out of harm’s way and into a place of safety—that is clearly the biggest priority—as well as the children. However, that situation may pertain for some time, and children need stability. They need continuity in their education and access to other people and friends around them. We therefore need to ensure that there is some long-term planning so that the children can still access all the services and facilities that they need as children growing up, but in safety. There are complications with that, but again, early intervention involving housing services, police, social workers and specialist domestic violence people and charities can make the process easier, rather than it just being a case of out of the frying pan into the fire.
I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) about psychological violence, because the issue is not just bruises and broken bones, although they are easier to see. As important in many cases but much less easy to see are the effects of the psychological violence of a controlling person—coercive control, as my hon. Friend puts it. We need to be better at detecting that. That means better psychological training for some of our social workers and more specialist domestic violence social workers who are able to bring in all the different aspects of the issue, as I have said.
There is also, of course, the question of what we do about sexual violence. We have talked about physical violence. I have just mentioned psychological violence. There is a worrying and growing trend of sexual violence. In this Chamber earlier this week, we had a very interesting debate about the pornification of the young and the influence that violent pornography in particular is having on impressionable young children. I remember a particularly appalling case on “Woman’s Hour” in which a 15-year-old girl had been forced to watch violently pornographic films, videos, by her boyfriend and then to re-enact the sex that had been portrayed in them. That was seen as normal by the boy, but when the girl was asked, “Why didn’t you just tell him where to go?”, her response was, “Well, I didn’t think I had the right to say no.” Again, that was a very depressing response. We need to ensure that our girls in particular have the confidence and the know-how to be able to say no and mean no, and that our young boys do not normalise pornographic violence and unacceptable hard-core sex as what growing up is all about. That goes back to the education process as well.
In terms of helping to stem domestic violence from a very early age, does my hon. Friend agree that our education system needs to be teaching the importance of express consent in our schools, rather than just this implicit “You have to say no”? Boys need to be taught that express consent is required.
My hon. Friend is right. I alluded to that in relation to respect for relationships and what that means. It needs to be learned by boys and it needs to be learned by girls. We are talking about another aspect of the cancer that is domestic violence that needs to be spotted early. We need to protect the victims, but we also need to ensure that we can protect the children against the long-term and highly damaging consequences of being in a home afflicted by domestic violence.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who demonstrated why he was excellent as a Children and Families Minister; he brought his experience to bear in this debate. I thank in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) for bringing this important debate to the House today. Notwithstanding the fact that the recess is almost here, it is a pity that there are not more hon. Members in the Chamber to participate, given the importance of the issue.
Two women each and every week die as a result of domestic violence. In the past year, an estimated 1.2 million women in England and Wales have experienced domestic violence. Domestic violence can be suffered by both men and women but, statistically, men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators and women are overwhelmingly the victims. This speech is dedicated to women who have suffered domestic violence, but it is especially dedicated to my constituent Christine Chambers, who was brutally murdered, with her daughter Shania, in 2012 by her ex-partner after years of physical and psychological abuse.
Much of what I have to say is reflected in an excellent report by Women’s Aid entitled “Women’s Access to Justice”, which was produced for the all-party group on domestic and sexual violence and is in addition to input that I received from Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service and the Sara Charlton Charitable Foundation.
I begin by commending the Home Office for the steps that it took last year to redefine the definition of domestic violence to include coercive control. Unfortunately, coercive control often goes hand in hand with physical abuse. However, without a legal framework to support the new definition, there is a limit to the impact it can have on victims of domestic violence. In ongoing intimate relationships, the law prohibits only physical abuse, despite the change in definition.
Many victims of domestic violence say that physical violence is not the worst part. There is a gap that allows the pattern of controlling behaviour and intimidation to remain outside the reach of the law. In simple terms, the law does not conceive of victims—mostly women—as victims of ongoing abuse, but sees them rather as victims of isolated events involving physical violence. As a result, women become entrapped in abusive relationships and no one goes to prison without the physical evidence of an isolated incidence of physical violence with enough injuries.
Research by Women’s Aid shows that the majority of women in abusive relationships reported violence to the police only after it had been going on for between six months and five years. Even when women report abuse, it is treated as a single incident without taking into account a pattern of behaviour, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth. As such, it is often treated as a low-level misdemeanour, and a man who has been violent on one occasion is punished in the same way as a man who might have committed dozen assaults against his partner. That is unacceptable.
Given the lack of statutory framework, the current remedies focus on changing the victim’s behaviour rather than addressing the perpetrator. Because of the lack of freedom often experienced by victims, those remedies are limited in their effectiveness. I firmly believe that criminalising all aspects of domestic violence, including coercive control, would increase public awareness of the problem and send a strong message that controlling and psychologically abusive behaviour in a relationship is not acceptable. It would also ensure that courts could take into account a pattern of behaviour, which would allow the appropriate response.
According to studies, early intervention would reduce domestic violence by some 80%. Countries such as Spain, France, Portugal, Sweden and the US have already taken steps to enact laws with reference to intimate partner violence that offers a wider criminal definition than physical violence. The effects have been significant, and have saved lives and money. Stalking laws allow the justice system to take into account patterns of controlling behaviour after a relationship has ended, but not enough is done to prevent controlling behaviour from escalating during a relationship. We should be calling for a change in the legislative framework so that patterns of controlling behaviour and psychological intimidation are targeted far earlier, to protect victims better.
I strongly believe that domestic violence needs to be criminalised in a way that allows the controlling and psychological aspects of it to be recognised. By developing our current legal system to close the gap between the current response and the way in which we should respond to domestic violence, we will be able greatly to reduce the suffering and oppression of victims. In many cases, victims have commented that the control and psychological damage exerted on them by their partners was far more harmful than any physical abuse.
The main concern of the various women’s groups I have spoken to is that coercive, abusive and intimidating behaviour are tools used by a perpetrator to exert control. When a victim finally gathers the strength to leave, the abuser may feel as though the only way in which they can reassert control is through physical violence, and in the worst case death, as tragically happened to my constituent Christine Chambers. For that reason, we must do more to criminalise psychological abuse at an earlier stage. I would like that to be given greater recognition in the criminal justice system to stop ongoing abusive behaviour and save victims much sooner than is currently possible.
I want to make a number of recommendations to the Minister on behalf of the groups that I met. First, there should be better data collection. Many advocacy groups have said that the Government are failing to collect vital statistics relating to domestic violence. They have suggested that the Government should review data collection procedures as a first step to building a greater understanding of domestic violence. Secondly, we must improve training and awareness. All front-line police officers and justice officials should receive domestic violence awareness training to bring about a change of culture in the way in which victims, particularly women, are treated. Thirdly, legislative loopholes must be closed. The Government should review the current legislation on domestic violence to close legislative loopholes by, for example, giving consideration to criminalising coercive control and patterns of abusive behaviour.
Fourthly, we need more effective prosecutions. Law enforcement agencies should move away from evidence that is based solely on victim testimony. The police should begin to build a case against a perpetrator the moment they walk through the door, through better evidence gathering. Finally, we must develop a more victim-centred approach. Governments should work to break down barriers to justice, increase information and communication with survivors about their cases and invest in better court facilities and technology. If the Government implemented those changes, I believe that they would take the steps required better to protect victims of domestic violence.
Too many women have suffered already, and we must take steps to ensure that no more women have to suffer at the hands of a partner or ex-partner. I would like to end by thanking Polly Neate and Clare Laxton of Women’s Aid, Laura Richards, the founder of Paladin, and Antonia Packard and Rhea Gargour of the Sara Charlton Foundation.
I apologise for the fact that I was not here for the start of the debate. I was at the dentist, but I got here as soon as I possibly could. I want to raise a particular issue in the context of a series of general issues on domestic violence and police investigation.
I start by congratulating Thames Valley police, which had a pretty decent showing in the recent report on the police response to domestic violence by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. That report shows the extent of domestic violence in the area that I am proud to represent. Domestic abuse in the Thames valley accounts for 7% of all recorded crime and for 12% of assaults with intent. One third of assaults with injuries are domestic violence related. More than half of harassment cases are domestic violence cases, as are 10% of sexual offences. Those figures are pretty enormous, and they show that it is important for police services to make tackling domestic violence a high priority. On the whole, I think, Thames Valley police does that. I was pleased when the new commander in Slough told the local newspapers that his priority was dealing with domestic violence. Making it a focus in such a way begins to help to make women safe.
The problem is that even where the police are reasonably effective, as I think they are in the area that I represent, victims are often not fully protected in practice. One reason for that is that the criminal justice system fails them. One of the recommendations in HMIC’s report is that Thames Valley force
“should develop further the investigative process for domestic abuse, to ensure that officers collect all available evidence, to help build strong cases against perpetrators.”
There is a real failing to secure effective convictions, and one of the reasons for that is a practice that I hope the Minister can ensure is changed.
When it prosecutes men for domestic violence, the Crown Prosecution Service does not automatically ask the victim whether she wants a non-molestation order. If the victim has to get a non-molestation order on her own, she has to do it through the civil court and has to pay for it. The civil courts in the Thames valley do not allow victims to have McKenzie friends or other non-solicitor people to argue their case. Consequently, vulnerable victims of domestic violence are trying to make the case that their abuser is liable for a non-molestation order without legal advice because, frankly, they cannot afford that.
The Home Secretary said that victims of domestic violence will qualify for legal aid, but what does that mean in practice? Let me tell Members about my constituent, Mrs Busse, who, fed up after years of domestic violence, phoned the police; she reached that point of bravery that victims so rarely manage to get to on their own. She was given the telephone number of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, which told her that a lawyer would be found for her. She was put in touch with a nearby solicitor, who got her emergency legal aid. She then had to get that legal aid extended, because the solicitor told her that it had to cover the cost of her husband’s interpreter. It turned out that the solicitor was wrong about that, but we will come to that later.
When her legal aid assessment came back, Mrs Busse was told that she had to pay £560 a month. Mrs Busse is a carer in a care home. She has two children who are older teenagers, but still in education. If she had paid the assessed amount, she would have been left with a monthly disposable income of £682.25 for herself and her two teenage sons. In my view, that is grossly unrealistic. What did she do? She had to pay the first instalment because otherwise she would not have been represented at all at the original case and her solicitor would have taken away all the papers. She borrowed the money from her employer to pay the first instalment, but then cancelled the legal aid certificate and represented herself. Luckily, in the civil court she got a sensible judge who said that it would be sufficient for her to interpret the documents for her partner. She now has a non-molestation order, but what happened is not tolerable for a victim of chronic domestic violence. It just is not acceptable.
The problem seems to be that, even where a police service is quite well organised in dealing with such matters, too often in our system actually getting the things that the victim needs to make themselves safe becomes a burden. One reason why women stay with violent partners for a long time is poverty: they are often financially dependent on the violent partner. We must ensure that women in such circumstances are not burdened with extra spending.
I would like the Minister to promise that he will talk to the CPS immediately about ensuring that in every prosecution the victim is asked whether she wants to proceed with a non-molestation order as part of the criminal prosecution. That does not automatically happen, but it should. I would also like the Minister to discuss how we can better inform women in such circumstances about the possibility of free representation. Independent domestic violence advocates have made a huge difference, but they are no good if the civil courts will not allow them to represent victims.
I want to follow up on the comments made by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who rightly focused on how a culture of violence and violent pornography can make children feel that such behaviour is normal, and that they are disempowered and unable to say no. Victims of domestic violence talk about how hard it is to say no—it is a real struggle for them to give up and leave someone. We seem to be preparing children for becoming victims, which is just not acceptable. We should be giving them the resources, as children, to be more resilient. The issue is not just about getting effective prosecution and policing, although we need both; it is also about people being able to protect themselves more effectively.
One way for people to protect themselves from domestic violence is for them to know their rights, to know what is reasonable and to stop thinking that it is their fault when they are hit. That requires really good quality sex and relationships education for children. We have all been mimsy about that, but unless children have it, they will not know in every household what is right and wrong in relation to sex, because sex is this adult mystery. We must prepare them, as children, to protect themselves.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it is also important to teach children about emotional abuse? On the physical side, in a way it is quite easy to say, “If you get hit, that is unacceptable”, but emotional abuse is much more complex, difficult and disruptive to any victim who goes through it.
That is why relationships education is so important. It is important to tell children that if something makes them feel uncomfortable, it is their right to say, “Stop—I don’t like this.” Other European countries that have robust sex and relationships education teach children how to deal not just with violence as adults but with bullying. That is important. If we start by enabling children to know what is not appropriate, safe, right or kind, we give them the ammunition they need. I am sorry to use a warlike analogy, but in that way we will give children the skills that they need to protect themselves.
We would all like to reduce the number of victims. One way to do that is to improve prosecution and make victims safe, because so many are repeat victims—nearly half of those in Thames valley are. It seems that to help to prevent abuse in the first place through child education is utterly essential. If we dip out on that, we will have on our consciences more children who will become victims when they are adults.
One argument for educating children that might appeal to the Government is that it will save money. Protecting victims better saves money in a whole load of areas. First, it saves money for businesses; domestic violence costs them millions of pounds, as it affects the health of their employees. Baroness Scotland, who used to be a Home Office Minister, did a great deal of work with businesses on the cost of domestic violence.
Domestic violence also imposes imprisonment costs on the Government. I am chair of a charity called Commonweal. We set up a project called Re-Unite, which aims to house women who have left prison, so that they can reunite with their children. After independent assessment by criminologists from Oxford university, the evidence is that that makes a great deal of difference to those children’s futures. It also makes a great deal of difference to the women, as they are able to look after their children in secure housing.
To qualify for entering Re-Unite’s housing, women have to have been victims of domestic violence, and in our criminal justice system there is no shortage of such women. We know that a large number of women prisoners have mental health conditions, but we also need to address the fact that a large number are long-term victims of domestic violence; the emotional abuse and control that Government Members have been talking about form part of their history.
For those women to be able to become autonomous, positive, rehabilitated and contributing members of society—as some of the women who have been through the Re-Unite programme have been able to become—one of the things they need is the skills and resources to protect themselves and to be able to say no to their violent partner, who, frankly, is sitting outside the prison gate waiting for them to come out; he controls the home, he can beat her up again and he has been missing his punchbag.
It is essential that we try to ensure that every police force in the country recognises that domestic violence is a priority. We need much better prosecuting to bring the perpetrators to justice much more effectively. We need better prevention, through the education of children and victims; in that way, they can protect themselves more effectively. If these three things happened, this would be a much safer country for women to live in.
First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) on securing this debate?
Domestic violence is a very important subject and extremely difficult to resolve. I start by apologising to my male colleagues, as I prepared my speech from the female perspective. However, I absolutely accept and acknowledge that all my comments could equally apply to male victims of domestic abuse.
Rather like my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), I will particularly focus on emotional bullying and intimidation, which is the most difficult type to deal with. It does not leave any visible marks. There are scars, which can persist for many years, but they are mental ones. Many culprits are the type of man who cannot accept his partner as an equal and who has to control, diminish, humiliate, bully and intimidate them, to give himself power, disguise his own inadequacy and boost his own self-esteem.
Women who suffer that sort of treatment habitually hide the truth from the outside world. Why? First, they are ashamed—ashamed that their partner thinks so little of them that they can treat them like that. Secondly, it is because they fear they will not be believed, because their partner’s public behaviour and private behaviour are so very different. Thirdly, the longer the bullying continues, the greater the relentless erosion of confidence, self-esteem and self-worth, and the woman is progressively less able to fight back, especially if she has children and uses appeasement tactics to protect them, or if she has no money to leave home and live independently.
The men who commit such abuse score very highly on the recognised scale of characteristics of psychopaths. They are controlling. They need to be in charge all the time, and are unable to give and take, even in relation to trivial domestic matters such as what meals will be eaten and when or what television programmes will be watched. They can be superficially charming and glib, and can put on an act in social circumstances, entrenching the woman’s view that she will not believed if she tries to share her experiences of abuse with others.
Such men have a grandiose sense of self-worth. They are never wrong; everything is somebody else’s fault. They are manipulative. They enjoy making other people do something that they do not want to do, such as leaving a social occasion they happen to be enjoying or eating something that they do not like. They lack remorse, guilt and empathy for others. They also have poor behavioural control—for example, giving in to outbursts of uncontrollable rage—and they are unable to accept responsibility for their actions.
That list is not comprehensive; there are about 30 typical traits of a psychopath. We all know people like that. There are many in the business world. They are able to make big decisions, because they have no interest in how other people will be affected by them.
When a victim finds the courage to go to the police, her situation can worsen. Her tormentor knows that she has complained. There is no visible evidence of his behaviour. It is one person’s word against another’s, and I can understand how difficult it is for police to intervene. Her partner will be adept at denying his behaviour, doing so with confidence and superficial charm, on occasion even turning the tables and putting the blame on her.
I know of a particular case where the woman found the courage to report what was happening to her to the police—in this case it was the Essex police, as Essex was where she happened to live—and continued to do so regularly. However, the attitude of the police varied widely from occasion to occasion, depending on the officer involved. Some were very understanding and sympathetic; others were disbelieving and dismissive. Even police cautions did not moderate the man’s behaviour. At least every incident was recorded and the file on him grew, but every time the woman went home to her own house she suffered continuing intimidation and harassment, until it became unbearable and she was forced out.
My main point is that whether or not the police are sympathetic in such circumstances, their hands are largely tied. They are unable to take action without evidence. Even if the woman had a broken arm, there would be no evidence that the man was responsible, unless someone had seen it happen, but abusers ensure that there are no witnesses to their actions as they cannot confront their own failings.
In the police station that that woman went to, there are posters all round the walls advertising Clare’s law, which we heard about from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth. This law is new and enables victims of domestic violence to check the record of their partner to see whether he has a history of abuse. The posters also say:
“Verbal, mental and physical abuse is a crime.”
I congratulate Essex police, because at the beginning of March it had a domestic abuse awareness week. I have the press release for that; it says that Essex police has a
“new Domestic Abuse Crime Unit”,
which is great. It also says that Essex police has a
“commitment…to offer better protection and support to victims of domestic abuse.”
Interestingly, it also says:
“We are determined to take a hard-line approach with offenders; to make them the focus of police attention and prosecute them for any and all offences they commit.”
On the ground, the police say that domestic violence is a civil matter. As the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) said, if the victim wants an injunction or a non-molestation order she has to pay for it herself. Unless she is on benefits, there is no financial help available to her. The person I am talking about earns just too much from her part-time job to be eligible for any assistance, but she is unable to self-fund any legal action. However, if the perpetrator were charged, he would be entitled to legal aid. Domestic violence is a very serious crime and I welcome the opportunity to draw attention to it in this debate, but how can the person I am talking about and the many other women like her get justice?
In his summing-up, will my hon. Friend the Minister say that he will raise this issue with the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, and any other of his colleagues who can join together to explore ways to make justice accessible to victims of verbal and mental abuse who cannot afford legal representation? At the moment, their only option is to leave their home, in the interests of their personal safety, while their abuser stays put. That is not justice. The problem is less about identification and awareness, and more about developing solutions that are fair to the victims.
[Mr Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) on securing this debate. She has raised a serious issue of particular concern to many women. Although the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) was right to say that men can suffer from domestic violence too, and the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) rightly reminded us of the need to consider violence between same-sex couples, it is, overwhelmingly, women who suffer from domestic violence and the most serious assaults. That is a fact of life. Yet the report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary makes it clear that there are some shocking failures to tackle this crime and that there is often a failure to believe the victim of the crime.
A number of hon. Members have mentioned the serious nature of the issues that we are dealing with and how varied they can be. The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth rightly mentioned what is happening among young girls. Anyone who has read the Children’s Commissioner report about violence in gangs should be seriously concerned. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), a former Children’s Minister, rightly highlighted the effect on children of domestic violence, which can persist down the generations if it is not tackled early enough. I commend the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) on his moving tribute to his constituent, Christine Chambers, and her daughter, who were murdered. The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) highlighted the nature of coercive control and set out clearly the nature of some of the perpetrators of this violence, which is often not properly understood.
As well as highlighting the extent of domestic abuse, my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) also highlighted the failures in the criminal justice system, as did the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth did, which let victims down time and again. My hon. Friend also mentioned tackling this issue by having proper sex and relationships education in schools, which is needed.
These are difficult issues. The HMIC report, which I read recently, itemises the shocking failures. I am surprised—I say this gently to the Minister—that the Home Secretary has not yet come to the House to make a statement about this serious report and say what is going to be done about it.
We have heard the statistics this afternoon, which we can repeat over again. Two women a week are murdered by a partner or former partner. Statistically, women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more at risk from domestic violence than from cancer. Every 30 seconds the police receive a call relating to domestic abuse. If this was any other crime, it would be making headlines in the papers every day and would be leading the news, and there would be demands for action. But domestic violence is a silent epidemic, despite the fact that it accounts for one in five violent crimes, shatters families and can ruin children’s lives. If that was happening at football matches, we would hear about it every day. It is shocking that we do not hear more.
Despite the best efforts of some in the police force—I commend those officers who have taken this issue seriously—this issue is still is not being tackled properly. Indeed, in some respects the situation is getting worse. The last set of figures, for 2010-11 to 2012-13, show that reports of domestic violence to the police increased by 11% in that period, and that is only the tip of the iceberg.
During that period the percentage of successful prosecutions dropped by 14%. Some 90% of domestic violence incidents result in no further action. Although in 2009-10 the police were referring 12.1% of domestic violence incidents to the Crown Prosecution Service for decisions on prosecution, which I think all hon. Members in this Chamber would regard as unreasonably low, by 2012-13 that number had fallen to 10.5%. Figures from the Library show that only 6.3% of cases currently result in a conviction, despite the number of cases.
I have to say bluntly that, despite the Government’s action plans and their cross-departmental strategy, we are, in many respects, going backwards. The HMIC report sets out reasons for that, including some long-standing problems in the police and some that are new. However, the plain fact is that, despite the examples of good policing, of victims being protected and of perpetrators being brought to justice, there are far too many examples of poor practice, evidence not being collected, victims not being protected and arrests not being made.
The comment “This is not acceptable” appears in the report again and again, like a refrain, and underlines the extent of the failure. In fact, almost a quarter of police forces—13 in total—could not even provide the data on repeat offenders to HMIC. That is a huge failure by itself. Again, I have to ask whether we would tolerate that if it related to burglary or to any other crime of violence.
A number of items in the report are important. Although I cannot mention them all today, I want to use what time I have to deal with a couple of issues of failure from which a lot of subsequent failures emerge. First, there is often a failure to believe the victim. If I reported a burglary, or if the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster did, we would be believed. However, if we reported domestic violence we would have much less chance of being believed. The report highlights some poor practice and lack of empathy towards victims on the part of some—not all—officers and the fact that many victims feel judged when they report.
Along with that, the report highlights a failure to recognise what a number of hon. Members have spoken about: a failure on the part of some officers to understand the nature of coercive control and its impact on the victim, which is likely to make victims tell officers that they do not want to proceed with a case. Unless officers on the front line understand the psychological impact of that, they will find it difficult to act effectively.
I saw this years ago when I used to get emergency domestic violence injunctions for people. By the time the full injunction was heard, often the victim would come back and say that they did not want to proceed, as the perpetrator had promised not to do it again and everything would be all right. I knew that I would see that person again, beaten up, perhaps with a broken arm or worse injuries, because the situation was never going to change, but the victim was made to feel that it was probably their behaviour that was at fault and that their partner would change. But they never do. That is the psychological impact of coercive control and examples of poor practice show that people do not understand that.
I have spoken to victims who are not allowed out of the house without their partner and whose partner will take the phone with them when they leave, so that they cannot contact anyone, and who are not allowed to see friends. To interview these victims of violence within the hearing of their partner—asking them if they want to proceed, for example—is not to understand the psychological impact of the abuse on them and to fail to understand the nature of this kind of violence. They may also, as hon. Members have mentioned, fear that their children will be taken from them if they proceed.
Along with that often goes the failure to understand how perpetrators behave. The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster set that out well. Perpetrators are often in complete denial; they blank out the abuse. A police officer will arrive at the scene to find the perpetrator perfectly calm and the victim appearing to be agitated. The perpetrator often makes counter-accusations. There was a counter-allegation in 30% of the cases that HMIC reviewed. I have known cases where victims who have suffered repeat domestic violence have finally called the police, only for the perpetrator to make an allegation against them; the victim has been cautioned. That is outrageous.
Unless the police are properly trained to understand the issue, we will continue to see poor practice. As the report states:
“Many frontline officers, and in some cases specialist police officers, lack the skills they need to tackle domestic abuse effectively.”
Often, the police simply do not build a case. In an analysis of case files relating to actual bodily harm, the inspectors found that in only 46% of cases were photographs of the injuries taken at the time and in only 23% of cases were house-to-house inquiries made. That would be routine for any other sort of crime.
The report also found a failure to use intelligence-led policing and targeting to tackle repeat offenders and a failure to use domestic homicide reviews to tackle poor practice. I hope that the Minister will respond to some of the report’s recommendations on speeding up domestic homicide reviews so that lessons can be learned.
It is that kind of failure—failure to do what we would accept as normal for any other crime—that leads many victims to think that they are not believed or taken seriously. The report states that a third of victims did not feel any safer after their dealings with the police, and that should worry us all.
Although many of the issues are of long standing, the Government cannot escape responsibility for the impact of some of their decisions. The plan to lose 15,000 police officers by 2015, with many of them already gone, is having a huge impact on the police. The inspectors highlight the gaps in the capability and capacity of specialist domestic abuse units, with high levels of vacancies and unsustainable case loads. Even worse, they draw attention to a number of cases where they have found police imposing a quota on the number of cases that they assess as high risk, based on what a multi-agency risk assessment conference or specialist unit can cope with rather than the actual risk to the victim. The inspectors are absolutely right to say that that should stop, but it can only stop if we end the hollowing out of the police service and invest in the right training and support for officers dealing with domestic abuse.
It is also important that victims are supported, if they are to see a case through. We have seen reductions in the number of independent domestic violence advisers and closures of specialist domestic violence courts, which are successful in taking a rounded approach to seeing cases through and supporting victims. Women are turned away from refuges every day and the scale of cuts to local authorities is leading to the knock-on effect of reductions in support for domestic violence services. As the report points out, even closing police stations and locating them with other services can have an impact on victims of domestic violence, who see the police station as a place of safety.
Getting better at tackling this issue requires changes, but not only to the police. There has to be a joined-up approach. The Government have to think seriously about putting the resources in place to tackle this crime. One assistant police commissioner recently said to me, “We should stop calling it domestic violence. It is violence, pure and simple—violence, the same as it would be anywhere on the street.”
I have some questions for the Minister, which I hope he will answer. First, HMIC recommended a fundamental review of police training. Will he tell us how that review will be funded and what funding will be available to meet the cost of any recommendations that it makes? The report also says that outdated and antiquated information systems are hampering call handlers’ ability to access information and identify repeat victims. What will he do to assist forces in updating those systems? Will any extra money be allocated, or will it have to come out of existing police budgets, in which case I fear the updating will not happen?
In addition, there is considerable worry among many people that as victim support funding goes to police and crime commissioners, domestic violence will not have the high profile it should have. I hope he will think seriously about offering guidance for police and crime commissioners, because anecdotal evidence is already coming through of refuges and specialist support services not knowing whether their funding will be in place.
The Home Secretary said that she will chair the national oversight group and although she has called on chief constables to change—it is clear that some of them do need to change—the Government need to commit that funding and support for those changes will be provided. We cannot protect victims on the cheap or bring perpetrators to justice without the necessary funding. Women’s safety is at risk and there is less chance than there was of their attackers being brought before a court. That is a moral disgrace, but it is also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough pointed out, economic nonsense. If the cost of domestic violence is estimated to be £15.7 billion a year, there is no logic in continuing to fail to tackle it. We need police officers who are properly trained and can intervene early enough and a system to give people the support they deserve. There is an economic cost in not doing that, but also a cost in wrecked lives, broken families and fractured communities.
It is time that we treated these crimes like any other crime and used evidence-based prosecutions. There is no other crime where we expect the victim to build the case, but that is often true for domestic violence. It is up to the police, but it is up to all of us, too. Someone said earlier—it is quite true—that we need more men to stand up against domestic violence. Since we are giving commendations to our local area, I commend my local rugby team, Warrington Wolves, who participated with me earlier in the year in a campaign against domestic violence. To really tackle this issue, we need more role models for men.
We need to ensure that when violence does happen, victims are kept safe and perpetrators are brought before the courts and dealt with properly. Currently, either they are not brought before the courts or, if they are, far too many community disposals are being used for serious cases of violence.
If we are serious about tackling this issue, it is time that it was tackled in the way that any other crime would be tackled: with the police finding the evidence, passing it to prosecutors and people being brought before the courts. We cannot allow the issue to carry on in the way that it has, unchecked and often in silence, with people not willing to speak about it. The victims—those who suffer every day, and those who have, sadly, lost their lives—expect better of us than that, and they deserve better. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will be able to reassure us that we will turn a corner in dealing with this awful crime.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) for the opportunity to debate this important topic. Members have referred to the review of domestic abuse by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary commissioned by the Home Secretary, which has brought the matter into sharp relief and raised serious questions for the police in particular. I pay tribute to hon. Members from all parties who have spoken in the debate for their worthwhile and thoughtful contributions. I will do my best to respond to each of the points raised.
I think that we can make progress and turn a corner, to pick up the last point made by the Opposition spokesperson; I think that we are turning the corner. One reason is that there is unanimity within this House that domestic abuse and violence must be tackled more seriously than they have been, particularly in the past 20 or 30 years and before that. We must consider it differently, and the HMIC report helps us in that regard.
Domestic abuse is a sinister way of undermining the trust that those in close relationships place in one another. It ruins lives and, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) pointed out, it can affect children significantly as well. As we know, in the worst cases it can lead to death. Domestic abuse happens every day in homes across this country. In most cases it goes unreported, which makes it difficult to know exactly how many people are affected. The crime survey for England and Wales estimates that 1.2 million women were victims of domestic abuse last year, and 77 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners.
We can take some comfort, I suppose, from the fact that that is the lowest number of intimate partner homicides since 1998, but in my view and, I am sure, that of everybody in this Chamber, one such death or loss of life is too many. I think that I speak for my colleagues not just in the Home Office but across the Government when I say that I am determined to see a society in which violence against women and girls is not tolerated, people are able and encouraged to speak out, their concerns are taken seriously and no woman or girl must suffer domestic abuse.
One or two Members have said that every 30 seconds, a victim of domestic abuse summons up the courage to call the police. When a victim reaches out for help, it is vital that the police are equipped to respond effectively and sensitively to help end the cycle of abuse, which in many cases will have been going on for years, as Members have correctly said. That is why, in September, the Home Secretary commissioned HMIC to review the police response to domestic abuse across all 43 forces in England and Wales, following a series of reports on individual domestic homicides by the Independent Police Complaints Commission that caused the Home Secretary concern that the police were not doing all that they could to safeguard victims.
As has been mentioned, on 27 March, HMIC published its findings, which made for depressing reading. The review was thorough and rigorous and showed, frankly, that the police response is not good enough and is failing victims. Crucially, it is clear that the priority that police and crime commissioners have given on paper in their crime plans to tackling domestic abuse is not in many cases, or even most, translating into operational reality.
Although the main findings have been referred to, it may be helpful if I reprise some of them. First, on leadership, the report highlights that poor management and supervision in the police fail to reinforce the right behaviours, attitudes and actions among officers. It also highlights that some officers lack the basic skills and knowledge necessary to engage confidently and competently with victims of domestic abuse. HMIC found that many chief constables and their top teams still focus more on volume and acquisitive crime reduction than on domestic abuse. Leadership on the issue is simply not present.
HMIC also identified many examples of officers who work tirelessly to keep victims safe, sometimes with little support from their wider force. I wanted to put it on the record that such people exist and are doing their best. However, there are also officers who have shown a poor attitude towards victims and failed to treat them with the empathy that they deserve. That is simply not good enough. It is clear that the police must change how they respond to victims of domestic abuse.
At nine focus groups that HMIC held with 70 victims, the majority of participants had experienced poor attitudes from responding police officers. They felt that they had been judged and not taken seriously. I was horrified that one victim told inspectors she had overheard officers dismissing her report:
“Last year one officer came out and his radio was going and I heard him say ‘It’s a DV, we’ll be a few minutes and we’ll go to the next job’. And I thought—thanks a lot, that’s my life.”
That is a significant and harrowing example of what is happening. I was also disturbed to read the account of a victim in Manchester whose 13-year-old daughter was asked to act as a language interpreter for officers investigating allegations against her father. There is no excuse for those attitudes from police officers, and chief constables must act immediately to stamp them out.
It is that failure to see domestic abuse as the serious crime it is that is stopping officers responding effectively. Basic evidence collection that could help to support a prosecution to bring a perpetrator to justice simply is not happening. The hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) referred to the failure to take such basic steps as capturing photographic evidence. I have been concerned about the fall-off in referrals by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, so I was particularly worried to see that HMIC has exposed a wide variation in the number of arrests for domestic abuse crime. The arrest rate is anywhere between 45% and 90%. The report also draws out wide variation in cautioning and reveals that some forces are even routinely using restorative justice in domestic abuse cases. I am clear—I put it on the record—that if there is enough evidence to caution, there is enough evidence to charge.
HMIC also carried out a file review of 615 actual bodily harm cases connected with domestic abuse. Photographs of injuries were taken in only half the cases, and in 30% officers’ statements lacked important details about the crime scene or the victim. The Government has spent £1.4 million on body-worn cameras to help officers gather evidence at the scene. Yet HMIC has revealed that body-worn cameras are not routinely available for officers attending domestic abuse situations. Those unacceptable failures to gather evidence effectively mean that opportunities to stop perpetrators in their tracks are being missed and victims are left suffering. As the HMIC report makes clear, the police need to build the case for the victim; they should not expect the victim to build the case for the police.
HMIC has exposed similar weaknesses in police action to safeguard victims. Risk assessment tools can be seen as tick-box exercises that are slavishly followed by officers who do not have the skills to tailor their response to the situation in front of them. A third of all victims surveyed by HMIC felt no safer as a result of police intervention. In more than half the cases that HMIC looked at, there was no evidence of safety measures being considered. Police officers must understand that they have a responsibility to make victims safer, not just while they are on the scene, but once they have closed the front door and gone on to the next call. Chief constables need to take urgent action to make significant changes to front-line policing so that victims are protected and perpetrators brought to justice.
I am encouraged that the majority of chief constables have signalled their commitment to deliver lasting change in response to the HMIC review. Some forces have already taken action to address the issues that HMIC highlighted. Merseyside police identified a problem with the initial evidence collected by officers in domestic abuse cases and trained 1,500 front-line officers to improve their investigation skills. HMIC found that Lancashire constabulary has made domestic abuse “everyone’s business” and delivered an excellent service for victims in partnership with independent domestic violence advisers. That is commendable. It also shows that the police can improve their response.
That is particularly important given that some police leaders have suggested that the problem is wider than the police service and extends to other front-line agencies. It is of course true that all such agencies have a critical role to play, and we are taking steps through our violence against women and girls action plan to improve the response of all front-line professionals. However, domestic abuse is a crime and is accordingly core police business. The report is about police performance and it identifies police failures. Police leaders can and should work to address HMIC’s findings because that can and must make a difference to victims’ lives.
Some senior police officers have said in response to the findings that they cannot deliver better standards without more resource. Indeed, the hon. Member for Warrington North suggested likewise. I want to be clear: this is not about extra resource for the police service. This is about the police changing their culture and getting basic policing right, such as collecting evidence that ought to be collected and dealing with victims as they ought to deal with them. Improving how they listen to victims and getting the basics of investigation right are not to do with resources.
The Minister is absolutely right that there have to be changes in culture, but does he not accept that to achieve that—the understanding among front-line officers about some of the realities of domestic violence and the improvement of call handling—there must also be an investment in training and equipment?
I will come on to training, but the issue is too serious to digress into—dare I say it—a normal debate about resources for the police. The reality, to deal with that quickly, is that we have seen a reduction in crime of around 10% since 2010, which means that fewer crimes are being committed and the police have more time to investigate those that have been committed, even with fewer police officers than previously. Also, significant investment under my colleague, the Policing Minister, such as digitalisation in the police service, is freeing up a great deal of officer time by removing paperwork. Opposition or Government Members may think that this is a matter of resources, but I genuinely believe that it is not; it is about attitudes and practice in the police—as well as training, to pick up on the hon. Lady’s point.
I am sorry, but I cannot allow that to go by without comment. Changing a call-handling system to enable call handlers to identify repeat victims, for example, is not a question of attitude; it is a question of having the right system in place, so that they can immediately check whether they have a repeat victim calling.
I do not mean to undermine the Minister, but training is about more than simply an attitude; one has to invest, which means some real money, perhaps a reallocation of resources. He is absolutely right, there has been a fall in crime and I have seen that locally in Braintree, but as we are saving money, I would like to see some reinvestment made to address specific recommendations, such as those which I made in my speech, which include better technology and better training, so that we get a change not only of mindset, but in the education of the police as to what domestic abuse is really about.
I want to pick up on that point and approach it logically. Body-worn cameras, for example, have been an investment, but they are not being used as they ought to be, so there is also a matter about how the police deal with the technology that they are given. In addition, I confirm that the College of Policing—a good innovation introduced by the Government—will deliver better training in such matters within their resources. It is prioritising what it wants to do on domestic abuse, which is something that we are dealing with on a number of fronts, as I will explain.
Responding to domestic abuse is and must be seen as a core part of the police’s job. I want the priority to be in practice, not only on paper. HMIC has found that the coalition Government’s introduction of directly elected police and crime commissioners and the establishment of the College of Policing, which I have just mentioned, are two significant changes that will make a difference in supporting forces and in holding them to account. Change, however, must be driven by police at all levels. The report is an opportunity to make a real and lasting difference. Chief constables need to take personal oversight to ensure that things happen. We need leaders to recognise and reward officers who are working hard to improve the reality for victims of domestic abuse.
The Opposition spokesperson suggested—she said “gently”—that the Home Secretary should have made a statement as soon as the HMIC report came out. I want to put it on the record, however, perhaps as a Liberal Democrat rather than anything else, that the Home Secretary has been absolutely rigorous and determined to make progress on domestic violence since 2010—the whole House recognises that—and even more so subsequent to the report. On day one of the report’s publication she produced a written ministerial statement, she wrote to all colleagues in the House of Commons and she wrote to all chief constables and police force leads, making it clear that her expectation, in line with HMIC’s recommendations, was that each force will have a plan in place by September to improve its response to domestic violence and abuse.
The Home Secretary has committed to chairing a national oversight group to lead immediate improvement. She has not delegated that to me or to officials; she will lead it herself, and I will serve on that group with her. The group has a clear and specific mandate to monitor delivery against each of HMIC’s recommendations, so people’s feet are being held to the fire. The group will bring together the organisations that must make change with experts on domestic abuse, and it will sit for the first time shortly. The Home Secretary will issue quarterly reports on progress. The coalition Government will ensure that those important recommendations do not become yesterday’s news. They are live issues to be continually monitored, and progress must be pursued.
My officials are already working on delivering the actions for the Home Office that were identified by HMIC. The Home Secretary has advised chief constables that she will mandate the collection of performance statistics on domestic abuse by the police, which several colleagues mentioned, and work to build victim satisfaction into the picture so that we can meaningfully monitor progress to deliver improvements. We will also review the domestic homicide review process—a point that was also raised—to ensure that it provides the best possible opportunity for local areas to learn from individual tragedies.
Police action to address HMIC’s findings will build on work already being carried out by the coalition Government. We have introduced Clare’s law, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth mentioned, and we have introduced domestic violence protection orders to give the police a broader range of tools to break the cycle of abuse. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) referred to that issue in her speech, which was rather moving, when she said that a victim would sometimes be forced out of her house. It is precisely because of that problem that we have introduced domestic violence protection orders, which allow the victim to stay put and require the perpetrator to leave the premises. That puts the victim centre stage, rather than making them something of an add-on, as they have been in the past.
I raised the point about people being unable to have legal representation in getting such orders. If the orders exist, that is fantastic, but how can people get access to them if they cannot afford legal representation? The hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) and I are eager to hear that the Minister will do something to help on that.
I have got notes, but I will respond to the specific points raised by the hon. Lady in a moment. I would expect the police to be helpful in ensuring that the protection orders are taken forward in such circumstances.
We have also been clear that changes to the law or new powers alone are not sufficient. The Home Secretary is determined to use the extra resource that the Government has injected into HMIC to continue to monitor performance on domestic abuse, and I join her in welcoming HMIC’s commitment to revisit those issues as part of its annual review. The HMIC report is clear that multi-agency approaches are vital to improving practice in the area. The Government has ring-fenced nearly £40 million of stable funding for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services until 2015. That is used to part-fund 54 multi-agency risk assessment conference co-ordinators and 144 independent domestic violence advisers. Up to 60% of abuse victims report no further violence following intervention by independent advisers, so they appear to work.
The work that the police will undertake to improve their response must be supported by the wider response of the criminal justice system. On 10 December 2013 the coalition Government brought in a victims’ code that gives victims of crime clearer entitlements from criminal justice agencies so that they get the right support at the right time. The new code provides an enhanced level of service to vulnerable or intimidated victims.
We are piloting pre-trial cross-examination in three Crown courts, recognising that if we are to encourage victims to come forward we need to ensure that they are offered the support they need to go through the court process. The Director of Public Prosecutions is currently updating guidance for prosecutors to complement that work. I have also asked that we consider what guidance may be issued to juries. Juries are, of course, independent but some juries conclude, for example, that an inference can be drawn from the fact that someone is wearing certain clothes. Such attitudes must be challenged, and that work is ongoing.
Let me pick up some of the points that were raised in the debate. The hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) asked about non-molestation orders. The domestic violence protection orders that I have mentioned go a long way towards closing the gap, and they do so more quickly than a non-molestation order might. Police officers can issue a domestic violence protection order on first call-out. That is an immediate response, which does not involve going through the legal system. In the meantime, of course, during the period granted by the protection order, the victim can be referred to specialist services for support. Non-molestation orders do not add to the framework in the short term, but I will raise the issue with colleagues at the Ministry of Justice and the interministerial group on violence against women and girls, which I sit on with the Home Secretary. I hope that is helpful.
I thank the Minister for that. What struck me was that when my constituent phoned the police and was passed on to the solicitor, she was told that her contribution to legal aid would be around £40, which she could afford, but in the end it was more than £500. We must ensure that people are properly informed of the costs that they may incur in such cases. She was trying to make herself safe from her husband rather than prosecute him.
I entirely understand that. The hon. Lady made the point about the cost of implementation very well. I was dealing with the non-molestation point in the sense that I was trying to ensure that someone who had been subject to domestic violence was secure from further attack or violence. The protection order that we have just introduced provides a period when the victim can stay in their home, the perpetrator is removed, and a specialist independent domestic violence advocate can give advice. IDVAs should be allowed to support victims throughout the criminal justice process. I am happy to take the matter up with the Ministry of Justice and to take it forward with the interministerial group that I mentioned.
I am doing my best to follow the change in policy. Will the Minister clarify whether the sort of harassment charges that we have been talking about are now criminal and not civil? That seems to be the crucial point. If it is a civil matter, the victim is liable for the cost of obtaining a non-molestation order. If it is a criminal matter, will it be free of charge?
I will write to my hon. Friend on that specific point. However, the protection order is an alternative that is immediate—it immediately protects the victim. I will write to hon. Members here about the nature of the non-molestation order so that the information is more widely available.
When introducing the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth asked for an assurance that the work that is under way will focus on effective outcomes and not simply on the production of endless statistics and reports. I am happy to give her that assurance. We need culture change and that is certainly central to the work that the Home Secretary and I are taking forward. We are not simply interested in statistics; we want to see real change on the ground to benefit the people who are adversely affected by this terrible crime.
My hon. Friend asked what could be done to encourage greater reporting of domestic violence incidents. I am happy to tell her that domestic violence reporting is on the rise and although the figures from the crime survey for England and Wales suggest that the level of domestic abuse and violence is roughly flat, the number of incidents reported to the police has risen, which suggests that more people are confident about reporting such incidents to the police. More of the incidents that are occurring are being formally reported. That is good, and shows that sometimes when crime is officially rising, it may be because more people are coming forward to report crimes that hitherto were hidden. That must be helpful.
My hon. Friend asked whether the Home Office would review the priorities set by police and crime commissioners to check whether domestic abuse is included. The Home Secretary has already taken these matters up with each PCC, and I think PCCs throughout the country now understand not only that this is an important issue for the Government, which it certainly is, but that their own populations are drawing it to their attention rather more. I am confident that more and more attention will be given, in a more structured way, to taking that issue forward in local police plans. The challenge, as I have mentioned, is not simply getting PCCs to include it in their plans; it is to make sure that police follow it through in a way that is effective to protect victims of domestic violence. As a general point, the national oversight group, which the Home Secretary has set up and will chair, and which I sit on, will make sure that domestic abuse is a priority for all areas. If there are any areas where it is not taken seriously, that will change, because we intend to make sure of that.
As to how we would ensure that guidance from the College of Policing will be fully integrated in day-to-day policing operations, the Home Secretary and I expect that all chief constables will have plans in place by September, as I have mentioned, to drive a culture change in front-line policing and, again, a national oversight group will bring together the College of Policing and police leadership to ensure that training is effective and that it is rolled out across the UK.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is not in his place, and one or two other hon. Members referred to domestic violence affecting men. Figures were quoted to suggest that a large number of men are affected. I have asked for that to be dug into more, because I want to make sure that we compare like with like. I suspect that female victims of domestic violence are, overwhelmingly, those in a relationship with a man who commits domestic violence or abuse against them. I want to make sure that male victims represent the same thing. The figures may include male-on-male cases such as fathers and sons, or brothers. I want to make sure that the figures do not misrepresent the situation. Vera Baird, the PCC for the north-east—I cannot remember what the area is called—mentioned that to me. There is, of course, some domestic violence against men, and that needs to be factored in. I was asked whether there are refuges for men, and I am aware of at least one, which opened in Berkshire in 2012, which accommodates males, including those with children, who have had to flee domestic abuse. There may be others that I am not aware of.
The hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) asked what we were doing to deal with religious groups that ostracise victims. That is of course a difficult matter to deal with, but the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), and I have met religious leaders to talk about female genital mutilation in particular, and to try to engage their help in tackling that version of domestic violence—or violence against women, anyway. I am keen to go further with that, so I shall be looking to make more progress with religious leaders in that regard. I think that the hon. Gentleman also asked whether there was any guidance for police on same-sex couples when there is violence. The current police guidance on investigating domestic abuse, which was issued in 2008, covers same-sex relationships. The intention is that it will be updated to build into it the findings from the HMIC report.
The hon. Member for Braintree raised the issue of coercive behaviour and asked whether a pattern of such behaviour can constitute domestic abuse. The answer is yes. He also asked whether there are problems in proving that, and the answer is yes. We believe, and the HMIC report suggests, that police forces do not keep good data on repeat victims, which makes it hard to prove a pattern. It is not, however, impossible. The situation must change, and that will be a focus of the national oversight group, which, as I mentioned, the Home Secretary chairs. I do not think that it is a question of the law, because domestic abuse is a crime, and coercive behaviour is part of the definition, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth, when she referred to the change that we made. Indeed, the hon. Member for Warrington North also mentioned the change in the definition of domestic abuse. The issue is ensuring that the evidence is collected in order to enable a successful prosecution to be carried through, rather than necessarily finding a new law. The law to deal with coercive behaviour and repeat patterns is already there. However, it is of course an important matter and I fully accept that it is easier to deal with isolated incidents than ongoing, what might be called low-level, domestic abuse. I am sure that that will also be covered by the work of the national oversight group.
From speaking to women’s groups, my impression is that the problem is that there is no legislative framework. Simply saying that it will be taken into account does not deal with the substantive issue. The Minister said that it is low-level, but coercive abuse can sometimes be far more pernicious because of the psychological damage that it does. One should not say that physical violence is somehow that much worse than coercive behaviour. The Government should at least be looking at trying to find some form of legislative framework to encompass coercive behaviour.
When I said low-level, I was referring to perhaps each individual instance, but I very much accept that the accumulation of such instances may, of course, have a result that is worse than an instance of violence. I am sorry for giving the wrong impression.
As I said, we think that the behaviour we are discussing is already covered by the law; the issue is that the data are not being collected and the evidence accumulated in a way that leads to successful prosecutions in many cases. Nevertheless, we do believe that it is possible to deal with such behaviour under existing laws. I am reluctant to move towards having narrowly defined, specific laws, because the thrust of the Government’s intention has been to move away from that. Narrowly defined law can lead to people finding loopholes, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Warrington North. An example of our intention is that we have amended the antisocial behaviour legislation to make general offences easier to deal with, because exemptions have been found that made prosecutions unsuccessful. I believe that a general definition that can include coercive behaviour will be a more successful way forward, provided that the police are collecting the evidence and a system is in place to enable that to be successfully followed through to a prosecution.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned the provisions of the Children Act 1989. He made an important point and, as he said, it has not been given sufficient attention in the past. I will undertake to see what we might do to tie the Department for Education rather more into these matters—he will be aware of my wish to do so—and to ensure that legislation that is specifically children-orientated is given proper attention. He is right to say that children are not necessarily attacked physically, but can suffer significantly, as he very eloquently outlined, as a result of being in a place where domestic violence occurs, particularly when it occurs over a long time. That will be very damaging to children.
The hon. Member for Warrington North was right to refer to the work on gangs, because the work by the Deputy Children’s Commissioner in the harrowing report on gangs demonstrated how teenage girls in particular are often subject to appalling violence. That is one reason why we have been running the “This is Abuse” campaign, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth referred. That is also why it is targeted particularly at boys, why the message is very clear that no means no, and why we are trying to educate young boys in particular about what consent is. Clearly, there is an issue about people understanding consent, and that needs to be rectified.
We are also using role models who will be effective in getting these messages across, so that it is not Ministers or police officers who are communicating the messages to young boys; it is, for example, pop stars. We have used the band The Wanted, Jason Derulo and people like that, and we have also used outlets such as MTV. We have tried to use the outlets and the people who will be effective in getting the messages across, and I think that we have been quite successful in doing that.
The HMIC report states that an
“HMIC inspection on child protection is currently underway. It will review how effective the police are at keeping children safe.”
The Department for Education believes that it is important that police advise children’s social care when children are in an abusive environment. In the most severe cases, children at immediate risk should be immediately protected by being removed if necessary. If there is further work to do to link up the police and children’s services, I hope that will be considered by the oversight group as well.
One of the important points that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) talked about was the impact that domestic violence has on children in the long term. It is almost as though it is subconscious, learned behaviour that could affect them. Although yes, the issue is absolutely about immediate safety, it is also about ongoing support, counselling and mentoring to support those children, so that they can get over some of the experiences that they have been through—the learned behaviour can sometimes be very much in the subconscious—so that they do not go on and repeat such behaviour later on in their own lives.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a clear generational pattern, in that those who have been abused are more likely to abuse others in future, or to allow themselves to be abused in the future, than those who have not suffered such abuse in their formative years. Therefore, cutting the generational link is very important, so she is absolutely right to draw attention to that.
I want to mention Cumbria constabulary, which is currently running a pilot in one area of the force. For medium and high-risk cases involving children, the force will make contact with a nominated person at the child’s school to alert them that the child has been at home when a domestic abuse incident took place, so there may be a risk. That seems to be a very good example of the police working sensibly with those who have responsibility for caring for children. Leicestershire police is also piloting a similar approach with a number of schools in Leicester, where the force notifies the school if the child has witnessed a domestic violence or abuse incident.
I have mentioned one or two matters to which the hon. Member for Warrington North referred, but I will pick up one or two other points to try and be comprehensive in my response. She referred to police IT systems. I mentioned the digitisation that is going on in the police, which is both making the police more effective and saving money. The other steps that are being taken through technology are doing those two things as well. Police IT will be discussed with police leadership as part of the agenda for the national oversight group that the Home Secretary has established. I had not yet addressed that point of the hon. Lady’s.
The last point I wanted to make was about saving money. The hon. Lady referred to the fact that dealing with domestic abuse will save money, as though that were a motivation for the Government. It will save money; she is right in the analysis that doing the right thing and reducing the number of cases of domestic abuse will end up benefiting the public purse, but I want to be absolutely clear to all Members today that that is not a motivation that is driving the Government. What is driving the Government today is our horror at domestic abuse and domestic violence, and our determination to stamp it out. If it saves money, that is a beneficial side effect, but it will not be the driver either way. Even if it costs money, we will be taking action on this front.
I do not wish to have a dispute about that particular point, but the impression I gained from the hon. Lady’s contribution was that she was suggesting that a motivation for the Government to do more might be that we might save money. I want to put it plainly on the record that that is not a consideration in taking forward the agenda. Our consideration in taking forward the agenda is to do the right thing by those who are victims of this appalling crime.
I think we have made a good start and that the Home Secretary has made a good start following the HMIC report, to add on to all her previous work. We will take the matter very seriously and it will be subject to very close scrutiny by myself and by the Home Secretary. We are determined to do all we can to eliminate this appalling crime.
Question put and agreed to.