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Violence against Women

Volume 579: debated on Monday 28 April 2014

The coalition Government published our updated action plan on 8 March, setting out recent progress to tackle violence against women and girls. We have begun the national roll-out of the domestic violence disclosure scheme and domestic violence protection orders; commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s review into domestic abuse, and announced steps to ensure the recommendations are acted on; and criminalised forced marriage. We are continuing a robust programme to tackle female genital mutilation.

As the Minister is aware, the all-party group on domestic and sexual violence recently published a report on women’s access to justice, with a number of recommendations. I am grateful to the Minister for giving evidence to that inquiry. Will he set out what steps he will take to review our findings and to implement the recommendations?

As the hon. Lady knows, I very much welcome that particular inquiry. She has considerable experience in this field, as I readily recognise. We are giving proper consideration to the recommendations, as she would expect, and we will make an announcement in due course. I very much welcome the work that has been done.

In Greater Manchester last year, over 10,000 more domestic violence incidents were reported to the police, which is a 21% increase on the year before; yet 29% fewer domestic violence cases were referred for prosecution. Will the Minister explain the reason for that, and what will he do about it?

Let me first say that the Home Secretary and I share a concern about some figures that come out from individual police forces. That is why my right hon. Friend has written to chief constables and police force leads on domestic abuse, making clear our expectation as a Government that every police force will have an action plan in place by September to improve their response to domestic violence and abuse. It is important, however, to stress that three out of four cases of violence against women and girls do result in convictions.

Will the Minister update the House on what progress has been made towards involving general practitioners and other medical practitioners in exposing and bringing to justice those who engage in the horrific and despicable crime of FGM?

I am happy to tell my right hon. Friend that there is good co-operation across Departments. The Department of Health is closely involved in the matter and the public health Minister in particular, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), has been very supportive of the efforts of the Home Office. My right hon. Friend will know that under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, anyone who has information showing that a child is at risk is required to inform social care or the police. He will also know that the Department of Health has taken steps to ensure that FGM cases are monitored in the health service so that we have a full picture by later this year.

22. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Metropolitan police and the Mayor of London on securing the first UK prosecution for female genital mutilation? Will he update us on what progress has been made towards making it mandatory to share key information with all the relevant agencies? (903707)

Obviously, as my hon. Friend will appreciate, I cannot comment on cases that are before the courts. I strongly support the efforts of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that prosecutions take place, and the police forces who are taking the matter forward in a productive way. I mentioned a moment ago the action that the Department of Health is taking and she will be aware that guidance has been issued to schools by the Secretary of State for Education, so there is a joined-up approach across Government. The question of mandatory reporting will be considered by the Department of Health and others as the initiative unrolls.

In the past month, two women in Hackney have been killed by violent partners, one with her 23-month-old child. Those women had talked to their friends about the risks that they faced. What action is the Minister taking to ensure that funding for organisations such as the Family Rights Group, which is based in Hackney, is not stopped by the Department for Education so that friends and family members, as well as potential victims, have somewhere to go?

I am not familiar with the DFE funding, but I can tell the hon. Lady that the Home Office has allocated £40 million to deal with these important matters. I am deeply sorry to hear of the events in her constituency. We seek to learn lessons from each case. I remind her that we have introduced domestic violence disclosure orders and protection orders to help women in such situations.

Last year, 1.2 million women suffered from domestic abuse and 330,000 suffered from sexual assault. Does the Minister agree not only that those are terrible figures in themselves, but that the initiative to drive women’s rights across the world, which was announced recently by the Foreign Secretary, will stand a chance of gaining credence or traction only if we sort the problem out at home?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that those are appalling crimes. There is a call to the police about domestic abuse every 30 seconds, which is a shaming statistic for our society. There is also a cost, which is obviously a secondary consideration, of £15.7 billion a year. We have to do everything we can, as the Home Office is doing, to get a grip on this matter. Colleagues in the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office are similarly concerned and are taking action within their portfolios.

The shocking report on domestic violence by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary revealed that high levels of vacancies in domestic violence units and unsustainable case loads were leading to quotas being imposed on victims that were deemed to be high risk. Given that evidence, does the Minister accept that the Government’s hollowing out of the police force has resulted in the loss of specialist officers, inhibited the ability to pursue cases and, most importantly, left victims at risk? When will he accept responsibility for the Government’s actions, instead of blaming others?

I am sorry to hear that contribution from the hon. Lady, because this is an issue that all Members of the House, irrespective of gender or party, feel strongly about. To politicise it in that way is not helpful. She talked about the police force, but she ought to remember that crime is down by more than 10% under this Government and that there are therefore fewer crimes to investigate. To imply that the police are unable to deal with this matter is simply not right. We attach a high priority to the matter. That has been made clear by the Home Secretary, by myself and by the action that the Government is taking.