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Violence Against Women

Volume 579: debated on Thursday 1 May 2014

1. What recent discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on reducing levels of violence against women. (903795)

The Ministers for Women and for Equalities attend the quarterly Home Office inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls and are committed to supporting the Government action plan, published on 8 March, to end violence against women and girls. The Government have taken recent key actions such as rolling out the domestic violence disclosure scheme and domestic violence protection orders, and we commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s review of domestic abuse and have announced steps to ensure the recommendations are acted on. I highlighted the action plan when the Minister for Equalities and I gave a presentation to Cabinet this Tuesday on policy issues of particular relevance to women.

I welcome the Minister to her new position, which is well deserved. How will she, in her new role as Minister for Women, support the Government’s commitment to ending violence against women and girls?

I know that my hon. Friend is a dedicated campaigner in this area. The Government recognise that violence against women and girls is strongly linked to gender inequality. Our action plan sets out work to raise the aspirations and ambitions of women and girls and the Government are also taking strong action to support women’s economic empowerment and making lasting changes to ensure that our workplaces match the needs of women in modern Britain, including by extending the right to flexible working, increasing child tax credits and extending the free entitlement to early education.

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role. Two women a week in England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner and in my constituency we have had two violent murders of women in just eight months. Both of the women were in their 20s with a young child or children. Women’s Aid has warned that cuts to services mean that women and children are likely to remain in abusive situations or are more likely to return after they have left. Is it not time for the Government to accept Labour’s idea of an independent commissioner on domestic and sexual violence to champion victims such as those in my constituency and to drive improvement?

This is an incredibly serious issue and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House have dealt with tragic cases of women who have been put at risk of violence or who have suffered violence at the hands of their partner or someone close to them. Protective injunctions remain within the scope of legal aid, and immigration cases in which domestic violence is a factor continue to qualify for funding. We have also recently scrapped the application fee for those injunctions to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers between people and the help they need, and we have said that if there are any other areas in which legal aid is not being made available, we want to be made aware of them. I am happy to look again at the issues that the hon. Lady has raised.

Most police officers are sympathetic and helpful when women report incidents of domestic violence, but sadly some still have a negative attitude. What more does my hon. Friend think can be done to ensure that police responses are consistent, which is particularly important for women reporting serial offences?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there are many excellent police officers up and down the country who respond incredibly sympathetically and supportively to those who make complaints or allegations of violence. It is important that victims of sexual abuse feel empowered to come forward to report that abuse and I know that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and all Ministers across Government would like to encourage people to do that and to encourage the police to take all allegations seriously. If there is anything further we should be doing, I am happy to look into it.

I welcome both Ministers to their new roles. We have the new Minister for Equalities, and it is always good to see people from ordinary backgrounds at the top table of politics, and the new Minister for Women, and it is a pleasure to shadow another woman from the east midlands in this role.

Violence against women is one of the many examples of how women’s equality cuts across all Departments. In fact, all Government decisions are relevant to women, so will the Minister for Women be attending all Cabinet meetings?