Skip to main content

Domestic Violence

Volume 587: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

[Dr William McCrea in the Chair]

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, as we discuss such an important issue. I pay tribute to the House of Commons Library and to Women’s Aid, both of which have been extremely forthcoming with information and statistics for today’s debate.

Domestic violence is a serious crime that costs the lives of innocent women and men across the UK on a weekly basis. The impact of domestic violence on women and children, and indeed men, is devastating and long-lasting.

What is domestic violence or abuse? Scottish Women’s Aid defines it well, saying:

“Domestic abuse is persistent and controlling behaviour by a partner or ex-partner which causes physical, sexual and/or emotional harm. It often gets worse over time…Domestic abuse is not an isolated incident; it isn’t a fight or an argument. There may be no bruises. It is a pattern of dominating and isolating someone through fear and threats or undermining their self-confidence and self-esteem. It can happen if you live with your partner, or if you don’t…It can happen if you have children, and if you don’t…It often involves serious and sustained physical and sexual abuse which can cause injuries and lead to long-term health problems. It can take the form of withholding money and finances, monitoring women and children’s movements, restricting what they wear, who they see, where they go and what they say, on and offline. It can be threatening to or distributing intimate images. It can be manipulating or forcing someone to do something sexual that they don’t want to. It can involve stalking, and isolating women from their friends and family. It can involve physical violence. Women (and their children) are sometimes killed by a partner or ex-partner. It is about control, manipulation and humiliation.”

I warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on an important subject. Does he agree that the coercive behaviour that is implicit in domestic violence is not currently covered by the law?

The hon. Lady is exactly right, and I will deal with that excellent point as the debate goes on.

The definition continues—here is the important point in all this—to say that domestic violence

“cuts across class, ethnic and social boundaries…The effects of domestic abuse are wide-ranging; much more than the stereotypical image of the bruised woman. Domestic abuse impacts on health, safety, prevents women and children being able to stay in their own home, limits their education and work opportunities—in short, there is no area of life into which domestic abuse doesn’t intrude.”

All that said, domestic violence is unfortunately not viewed by some as one of the highest profile problems in society, because it quite often happens behind closed doors. Today, I want to challenge the existing mindset, and I stand here to raise awareness and to pledge to my constituents that I will fight against this scourge. I will not wash my hands of this issue and say that it is for other agencies to deal with. I will seek to bring about a change in legislation and an awareness-raising campaign. I want our security forces to dedicate resources to fighting and tackling this hidden scourge.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing today’s debate. He talks about challenging the mindset. Does he also meet people in his constituency clinics who have been so abused, and in such an all-pervasive manner, that they think it is a normal part of domestic life? We need to challenge that mindset, because it is only when people realise how exceptionally bad and appalling the behaviour is that they seek help.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. Abuse can go on for so long that it becomes the norm and a way of life, but I will deal with that when I move on to reporting.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman—my hon. Friend—on securing this important debate. He is quite right to say that domestic violence cuts across sex, race and socio-economic boundaries, but it often involves men committing violence against women. He mentioned his pledge a moment ago, and I commend to him the White Ribbon campaign, which urges men to sign a pledge

“never to commit, condone, or remain silent about men’s violence against women in all its forms.”

We could all show some leadership by signing that pledge and by hosting public signings in our constituencies, as I plan to do at the end of the month.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Folk need to sign that pledge. Violence against women, men and children is totally wrong.

Today, people in my constituency are suffering at the hands of brutal, self-centred, manipulative individuals who are intent on destroying the lives of their partners and children. It is time that their actions were halted. I have spoken with women, men and children from Lurgan, Banbridge, Portadown and more rural areas who have been subjected to domestic violence, and I recognise the need for the abuse to stop. While this is a debate for the whole UK, I beg your indulgence, Dr McCrea, as I shall speak primarily about my constituency and Northern Ireland.

Research on domestic violence in Northern Ireland shows that one in four women have experienced or currently experience domestic violence, and that it accounts for approximately one fifth of all recorded violent crime in the Province. Over the past few years, an average of five people have been killed each year as a direct result of domestic violence. The Police Service of Northern Ireland attends an average of 60 domestic violence-related incidents a day, but it recognises that a large amount of such crime goes unreported. Every week, on average, police attend over 400 domestic incidents and deal with more than 100 domestic assaults. If there are 400 incidents in each of the 52 weeks of the year, that equates to over 20,000 call outs relating to domestic violence. It is well known that over 30% of all domestic violence starts during pregnancy. Since 1999, Women’s Aid across Northern Ireland gave refuge to 14,714 women, and 14,356 children and young people.

I join others in welcoming the hon. Gentleman’s securing of the debate. On Friday, I was at a fundraising event in Shotton for the Domestic Abuse Safety Unit, which has been operating for 25 years. Does he agree that such organisations give people hope and enable them to take the courageous first step towards escaping from abusive people?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the courage involved in taking that action. We should encourage such organisations, but Women’s Aid and others face massive funding problems.

During the past 16 years in the Province, Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland managed 282,869 calls to the 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline. According to an estimate in the Government strategy “Tackling Violence at Home”, the cost of domestic violence in Northern Ireland, including the potential loss of economic output, could amount to somewhere in the region of £180 million each year. Women’s Aid is at the forefront of providing care and support to the victims of domestic violence. I commend it on its most recent initiative, “SOS: Save Refuges, Save Lives”. It is the victims who need to be protected and supported, so I call on the House to ensure that victims and those at risk are kept at the centre of all that we do.

UNICEF research from 2006 shows that figures on incidences per capita indicate that up to 32,000 children and young people live with domestic violence in Northern Ireland. Domestic violence has an extremely worrying effect on children. In fact, I would go as far as saying that children are the hidden victims of domestic violence. In 90% of violent incidents, children are in the same or the next room. They witness the attack and often feel compelled to intervene. Within Northern Ireland, more than 100,000 children were affected last year. Some 1,077 women and 854 children were accommodated in refuges, while 2,938 women and 3,617 children were supported to remain in their home in the community. An astounding 32,349 calls were made to the domestic violence helpline, which represented a 17% increase on the previous year. The issue therefore affects many people, male and female, as well as many thousands of children and the entire family.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He was right to say that children are sometimes the forgotten victims, because they will bear the scars down the years. We must stop children who see such violent confrontation from thinking that that is how they should go about a relationship.

The hon. Gentleman is right that children suffer, and not only in childhood, but as they grow into adulthood. The experience remains with them and the visions of what they saw as children stick with them, and they might affect their own relationships, because they could feel that such behaviour is the right and natural thing to do.

I fully support what has been said. May I give a real example? Recently, I joined the police on patrol as part of the police parliamentary scheme and we attended a young lady who told us that she had been violently assaulted by her partner on no fewer than 50 occasions. Apart from her physical injuries, the saddest thing that evening was the story she told about her four-year-old son now hitting her. Making children witness domestic violence is child abuse and should be dealt with as such.

Absolutely. It almost becomes a natural thing for children to do, because they witness it and think it is the right thing to do.

I am aware that the PSNI is actively seeking to tackle the crime in Northern Ireland. It is startling to see that within the Province 9,546 crimes with a domestic abuse motivation were recorded in 2011-12, which was more than the total for robbery, armed robbery, hijacking, theft, arson, dangerous driving, recorded sexual offences, handling stolen goods and offences under anti-terrorism legislation put together. We can thus see the significance of domestic violence in Northern Ireland alone.

The statistics make that a bit more real: the PSNI responded to a domestic incident every 23 minutes; there was a domestic crime every 60 minutes, approximately; there were 20 recorded offences of murder, seven of which, or 35%, were classed as having a domestic motivation; and 550 people were raped or suffered attempted rape. The statistics are harrowing and that is why priority must be given by the Government and by the devolved regions to tackling the problem head on. Under-reporting is key, given that only around 25% of women ever report their worst assault to the police, and on average a victim is assaulted 35 times before reporting the incident or seeking support. That should not be the case, and it is time for us and for the Government to put our heads above the parapet and to be counted when it comes to tackling such behaviour.

I briefly mentioned the economic cost, but it is well documented that on average domestic violence costs the economy £180 million a year, owing to victims’ absence from work because of injury or disability, and the time taken by criminal justice and support agencies to seek alternative housing, financial and schooling solutions for victims and their children. Those are simply a few of the critical realities and choices that victims face when they seek to escape or address violence and abuse in their own home. Domestic violence also has a significant impact on the cost to our health service as a whole and to our policing and justice system. Nor can it be ignored, especially at a time of budgetary cuts and economic recession. Clearly, it is a significant sum of money and another reason, if one is needed, why it is important for the issue to be a priority.

We have looked at Northern Ireland and domestic violence-related statistics there, but the issue is a UK-wide one, which we should all take seriously. Let us look at the UK as a whole. Data from the crime survey suggest that 30% of women and 16.3% of men in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. In 2012-13 there were 1.2 million female and 700,000 male victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales, while 60,080 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by the police in Scotland, compared with 59,847 incidents in 2011-12, according to Government websites.

I welcome the efforts of the Home Office, in particular the proposals to strengthen the law on domestic abuse, a consultation on which was published in August 2014 by the Home Secretary. Furthermore, I welcome the four key principles of the approach in the strategy paper—to prevent, to provide support, to work in partnership and to take action to reduce the risk—and the extension of the definition which aims to increase awareness that young people in the age group between 16 and 17 can experience domestic violence, to encourage more of them to come forward to get the support that they need. There is also the work on domestic violence protection orders which, following the successful pilot scheme, have been rolled out across England and Wales from March this year. DVPOs give the police more powers in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence attack, in particular the power to ban a perpetrator from returning home and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days.

The domestic violence disclosure scheme, commonly known as Clare’s law, is also commendable, as is the fact that it was rolled out across England and Wales from March 2014. Under the scheme an individual can ask the police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past—the “right to ask”. If the checks show that a person may be at risk of domestic violence from their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information.

I have mentioned a few initiatives across England and Wales that I believe have gone some way in helping to address domestic violence. I am interested in hearing the opinions of other Members on those initiatives, and, in particular, their assessment of how successful the measures have been in their constituencies. However, the initiatives need to be rolled out across the whole of the UK. This House should also work with the devolved Governments to develop best practice that can be applied across the entire kingdom. The problem is too vast for us to bury our heads in the sand and say that we have tried our best; we need to redouble our efforts and work towards a zero tolerance of such dastardly deeds.

We also need to look, as a whole, at the increased dependency on refuges. Statements have been made about refuges such as:

“Going into a refuge saved my life, and gave hope and a future to my children”.

Another lady said that going into a refuge had given her

“the support and strength that has helped me rebuild my life”.

On hearing statements such as those, one would have to be a very hard individual not to stop and think about the need for such centres and the impact for good they have had.

We all know, however, that to better protect women and children who are survivors of domestic violence and empower them to access the Women’s Aid national network of specialist domestic violence refuges, that network needs to be protected and a new model of funding for refuges has to be developed. The law also needs to be strengthened to recognise coercive control, which is the essence of domestic violence. Women’s Aid has a leading national network of refuges, but we know that it is facing an urgent crisis. Across England, more and more specialist refuges are experiencing massive funding cuts and are being closed down. That crisis will cost lives.

Ultimately more funding is required to tackle these problems, and reform of domestic violence law is needed. We must ask ourselves as legislators whether there is a criminalisation gap that ensures that the pattern of domestic violence and coercive control remains outside the reach of the existing criminal law, which prohibits only single incidents of physical injury. That is food for thought for us all.

A recent report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary on police responses to domestic violence found

“alarming and unacceptable weaknesses in some core policing activity”.

It highlighted that the police often did not recognise or respond appropriately to domestic violence and coercive control. HMIC made particular recommendations about training for police and also recommended that there be a renewed effort to tackle domestic violence.

The HMIC report, work by Victim’s Voice and surveys by front-line domestic violence professionals all clearly underline the need for change, to create a culture in which victims report much earlier and are believed when they do, and where the dynamics and patterns of abuse are recognised and understood. I believe, as does Women’s Aid, that criminalising coercive control, psychological abuse and patterns of abusive behaviour would go some way to assisting in stamping out such activity.

I am well aware that these problems cannot be solved overnight. Addressing the issue of domestic violence will not be easy. It will require a great deal of hard work and co-operation. However, I hope that this debate will send a clear message to people in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, the rest of the United Kingdom—that domestic violence is never acceptable. It is my sincere desire that those who are suffering abuse will realise that this Government take the matter seriously, and that we will use the powers available to us to ensure that those who are at risk are protected, so that those who are guilty of the crime will have no hiding place in this society.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I was not intending to speak, but I was very impressed by the thoughtful, sensible and incredibly important contribution of the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson).

I have had the pleasure of working with Women’s Aid on domestic violence. The point that domestic violence is out of sight and therefore out of mind was what struck me so strongly. In Swindon, between April 2012 and March 2013, there were 2,459 confirmed cases of domestic violence, but that is believed to be only 20% of the total, so the figures are just scratching the surface.

I visited Swindon’s women’s refuge with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. Olwen Kelly and her team do a fantastic job. It is only on meeting and talking to victims that we can even start truly to understand the challenges and difficulties they face—the living nightmare that they, their families and their loved ones will go through.

It is always a challenge to secure sufficient funding for refuges, a point that the hon. Member for Upper Bann rightly highlighted. One of the biggest challenges is that, by their nature, refuges cannot showcase their fantastic work because they have to be hidden away in local communities. If all people could see that work, there would be a groundswell of support. I also pay tribute to Layla Allen and her team at the victim support unit at our local courts. They provide support and assistance for those who are brave enough to go through the legal challenges to bring those responsible to task.

Having met representatives of Women’s Aid, I said I wanted to play a small part and see how I could help to highlight domestic violence and deal with the fact that it is out of sight and out of mind. I was proud to help launch the “Football United Against Domestic Violence” campaign in Parliament. The Minister kindly came along and showed complete support for that initiative. At the launch were Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, and its ambassadors, Charlie Webster—she carried out her own fundraising, and reached her £100,000 target, by running 250 miles between the grounds of 40 football clubs—and Jahmene Douglas. Women’s Aid is using the medium of football to highlight domestic violence to a predominantly male audience. It managed—those who understand sport will know how incredibly difficult this is—to unite the Premier League, BT Sport and the Football Association. We had a truly united front to highlight this important issue, and there was fantastic cross-party support.

Collectively, we must do all we can to champion the work done—it is predominantly done by volunteers in our community—to highlight domestic violence. I simply wanted to make a short contribution to support this important debate.

Once again, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing this important debate.

Domestic abuse is the silent shame that exists in all our communities. It is never the shame of those who suffer abuse at the hands of the person who is supposed to love them, yet deep shame and self-blame are often felt by victims and their families, to the point of denial that abuse is happening. Even when it is obvious to others, there is always an excuse that victims can come up with to cover their perceived shame. What assistance can victims count on when our communities have for so long lived in denial, operating a practice of non-involvement? How often have we heard, “Don’t get involved—it’s a domestic. Don’t come between a husband and a wife”?

I will focus on Scotland in my remarks, although I acknowledge that domestic violence is a country-wide problem. In Scotland, a domestic violence incident is recorded every 10 minutes. One in five Scottish women experience domestic abuse, although I concede that men also suffer it. The Scottish police recorded 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse in 2012-13, which compares with more than 59,000 incidents recorded the previous year—the figure is increasing.

No one deserves to be abused and no-one should have to put up with abuse. Domestic abuse may affect any person, regardless of class, race or age. There is no typical abuser, and about 80% of incidents of domestic violence involve men attacking women. Women have been killed because of domestic violence by former or current partners. Some 61% of incidents reported to the police in 2012-13 involved victims who had already experienced abuse in their home. That figure has not declined since last year, and is significantly higher than a few years ago.

Half of all incidents recorded by the police in Scotland last year led to the recording of a crime or offence, the most common being common assault, which accounted for 42% of all incidents. The second most common crime or offence was threatening or abusive behaviour. Incidents with a female victim and a male perpetrator represented 80% of all domestic abuse reported in Scotland last year. The reported percentage of domestic abuse suffered by males was around 20%.

Domestic abuse causes serious and long-lasting harm. Apart from physical injury, it frequently causes psychological damage, and abused people may lose their jobs or homes. Domestic abuse also affects the children who witness it. It undermines their relationship with their mother, disrupts their education and can even turn them into abusers later in life. We must stop that vicious circle.

I frequently speak to Women’s Aid in Inverclyde, which secured much needed funding from a lottery grant to hire two full-time people to work with children from households experiencing domestic violence. Those kids are often identified by their disruptive behaviour in school or falling behind in lessons through disengagement or withdrawal. I was pleased to assist Women’s Aid in Inverclyde to raise funds and to put together equipment so that they could go into schools and the community and educate the next generation that such behaviour is unacceptable. The project helps by offering more than just temporary sanctuary away from the abuser, and is helping to break the cycle.

Domestic violence corrodes and damages our communities and our society. The extent of the problem in Scotland is shocking. It is our true hidden shame. It is often, but not always, fuelled by alcohol, and over-consumption of alcohol often brings out a change in character, and a change for the worse. It is no coincidence that a Scot wrote about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and a potion releasing an evil personality. We need not look far to see where he took his inspiration from.

A recent study revealed at the Scottish Women’s Aid conference in Edinburgh showed that domestic violence in Scotland has risen by 66% in the past 10 years. That is an alarming increase. Dealing with the huge number of incidents in Scotland costs the economy £2.3 billion a year.

There is always a motivation behind the violence, whether it is physical or emotional. It is a way of maintaining control through fear. Unbelievably, many victims of domestic abuse blame themselves for the abuse. Over time, domestic abuse creates an emotional and psychological state that is unique among crimes and similar to the fear endured by survivors of violent atrocities.

It is essential to go into our schools to talk openly about this ongoing problem, and to educate the next generation that domestic abuse, whether physical, mental or sexual, is unacceptable, and in doing so hopefully to protect a future generation of women from violence. Society simply cannot go on closing our eyes and ears to domestic violence. It is disgraceful in this day and age that women are not safe in their own homes. There must be zero tolerance of domestic abuse. We must better protect women and children who survive domestic violence and give them access to specialist domestic violence services. The national network of specialist domestic violence refuges needs to be protected, a new model of funding for refuges needs to be developed, and the law needs to be strengthened to recognise coercive control, the very essence of domestic violence.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing the debate. There is no doubt that those of us in the Chamber are well aware of the issue in our constituencies and the importance of highlighting it.

Domestic violence affects men and women, but people are sometimes under the impression that only women are subjected to it. That is not always so, and my hon. Friend made it clear that men may suffer, as do children. Hon. Members probably have varying statistics on domestic violence, but the fact is that a colossal number of people are directly involved. People are not aware of the frequency of domestic violence and who is affected. Many perceptions of domestic violence are simply not true, such as that men are never the ones abused, that the behaviour is due to the abuser’s problematic childhood, that someone can always leave their abuser, and—this is the one that really winds me up—that the abuse happens because it is deserved. No one ever deserves abuse and no one should be subject to it.

Domestic violence may be described as any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse, whether psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional, between adults who have been intimate partners or family members. A relationship that was based on love may change completely, with violence becoming a key part of it. Figures show that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic abuse. On average, a woman will experience violence 35 times before her first call to the police, which indicates that many women are long suffering, with a long time passing before they decide that they must take action. It might be helpful if they did so earlier, but they first must acknowledge that they need help.

Two women in England and Wales die each week because of domestic abuse, which is too many. Domestic abuse is never justifiable but it is on the rise. In Northern Ireland, between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014, there were 27,628 domestic abuse incidents, which represented a 1.6% increase on the previous year. The situation is not regional, as the problem covers the whole United Kingdom: Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

The British crime survey showed that, in 2003, there were around 12.9 million incidents of domestic violence against women and 2.5 million incidents against men. Since then, the figures have increased. Most people are aware to some degree of what domestic violence is, and most agree that it is completely wrong, yet the number of incidents continues to rise. Is there a problem of acceptability within society? If so, we must address that.

Domestic abuse is often not reported, yet a call is made to the police specifically about domestic abuse every minute. It is estimated that they receive more than 1,300 calls every day, and more than 570,000 every year, yet according to the British crime survey, which is specific to England, less than 40% of domestic violence crime is reported to the police. It is difficult to know why that is the case, but several factors play a part. Many sufferers love their partner or spouse and, despite the abuse, simply do not want to leave. Others have children and do not want to split the family up. Unfortunately, some have convinced themselves that they are simply getting what they deserve, but we should be quite clear that they are not. Some feel threatened and are afraid to contact the police, or to leave, because they have been told, “I will find you,” or “I will come after you.” There are many cases throughout the United Kingdom in which such threats have, unfortunately, become a reality, with the result of violence against a partner—more often the woman. There is no safety for any person; in cases of domestic abuse, threats are very real and can be vital in ensuring that the man or woman remains at home and stays quiet.

Some—often women—feel a sense of shame. Many know their abusers, and some may even be married to them, so they do not see what is happening as abuse, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann said. We need to change that aspect of the British mindset. I am British, as are you, Dr McCrea, and the other Members in the room—and we are proud to be so—but people sometimes have a British mindset when responding to things, so we need to address that.

There is also an idea that abuse is real only if it comes from a stranger. Men and women who are being abused by their partners often feel a sense of shame and are embarrassed to tell people that their husband or wife is abusing them. That is something that grieves me greatly, and it is particularly true of women who are raped by their husbands.

The crime survey research found that women are most commonly sexually assaulted by men they know. When the researchers asked women about the last incident of rape they had experienced since the age of 16, they found that 45% of respondents were raped by current husbands or partners, and 9% by former partners, while 29% of perpetrators were otherwise known to the victim. Only 17% of women were raped by strangers. Let us be clear: sexual abuse in some relationships is distinct, violent, real and brutal, and we need to address that.

The figures also show that 30% of domestic abuse starts or intensifies during pregnancy. It is hard to imagine that someone would violently abuse or beat up a lady who is pregnant, sometimes to try to abort the baby, but that is the extent of the violence to which some ladies are subjected.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) referred specifically to children. For 90% of domestic violence incidents in family households, children were in the same room or the next room, and in more than 50% of known domestic violence cases, they were also directly abused, either because they heard what took place, or because they were physically assaulted. In Northern Ireland, the PSNI domestic abuse crime statistics show that from 1 April 2013 to 31 March 2014, 11,000 children were living in homes in which domestic abuse was a daily reality. If a child experiences direct violence against their mother in their home, that will have a detrimental effect on them as they grow up. We cannot ignore that, and we must be aware of how it will shape the children of today and the adults of tomorrow.

In Northern Ireland, the Rowan sexual assault referral centre was established last year to meet the needs of those who have suffered sexual assaults by providing physical, emotional and psychological care. During its first 11 months of operation, from May 2013 to March 2014, the Rowan received 442 referrals. Of those, 182, or 41%, were children; 86% were female and 14% were male. The centre has been able to help in some way, but there is a greater need across the whole of Northern Ireland, as there is across the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly, as the figures show, domestic violence is very much a reality for men, women and children throughout the UK, and we must ensure that it stops.

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on his sterling work in bringing the matter to the attention of the House and his work on human trafficking back home in Northern Ireland. He is to be commended on his tremendous work in those areas.

On the effects on children, is not one problem that, while a couple may be affected by domestic abuse—the victim is often the female—the damaging psychological effects on children, even if they are not directly assaulted or abused, but indirectly affected by what they hear or witness, will last for years or even a lifetime? However, children brought up in such an environment are not given a great deal of support, often because people are not aware of their background as they move on through education. More really needs to be done to help those children.

My right hon. Friend is right that we need to focus on the children of these broken relationships to help and mould them so that they are not seriously psychologically affected by what they see and experience in their homes over the years. We need better provision to do that, and I look forward to the Minister’s response, because I am keen to hear what the Government are doing collectively and what interaction there has been with other regions.

I want to mention some of the things that we have done in Northern Ireland. We have already had two strategies to defeat domestic violence—one in 2005 and one in 2008—and we are working on a new strategy for 2015. That is fantastic news, because we have made great progress as a result of those strategies, even though we have witnessed a 1.6% increase in domestic violence. It will take time for the strategies to filter through and for people to take on board the issues my right hon. Friend mentioned.

We cannot congratulate ourselves yet, because the figures for domestic abuse are still rising. We need to ensure that we change people’s mindsets towards domestic violence, and ensure that men, women and children have someone to speak to and are not afraid to contact the police. We also need to work on setting up a refuge facility—this is an issue we cannot ignore—for men who have been abused. Unfortunately, there is nothing for them at the moment. Just because they are fewer in number, that does not mean they should be ignored. Furthermore, evidence shows that the number of men subject to domestic abuse is much higher than we think. However, as a result of their pride and embarrassment, it often remains unknown.

We must do all that we can to guarantee the safety of men, women and children. When their safety, well-being and security are in jeopardy, we must make sure they have a safe place to turn to, where they need not feel shame, embarrassment or fear.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this afternoon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing a debate on this important issue. I should say at the start that I have been a member of Scottish Women’s Aid for more than 30 years, in a paid and unpaid capacity. I am also a former chairwoman of Women’s Aid, and I currently chair my local group, East Ayrshire Women’s Aid.

Some years ago, we had a strategy of zero tolerance of violence against women to address such violence in general. It had three planks: prevention, protection and provision. We must acknowledge that domestic violence, like all violence against women, has its roots in the patriarchal structure of society throughout the world. It is about an abuse of power. There can be no equality in the public sphere until there is equality in the private sphere. Without that analysis of domestic violence, we will simply get nowhere.

On the issue of protecting those—mainly women, but also men—who have been subjected to domestic violence, we have come a long way. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about a strategy in Northern Ireland; it is great that it is in place, and I think the situation is the same in Scotland and England. This is a UK issue, so we must acknowledge that there are no borders for domestic violence and work together as much as possible. However, strategies are no use without funding; they must be backed up by the funding to carry them through.

We have come a long way in recognising domestic violence as a criminal offence. Thirty years ago, when I got involved in the issue, it was not recognised as one, and certainly not by the police, but that situation has improved greatly. There is now far more inter-agency partnership working, there are things such as interdicts, and there is support for women at court. However, there have also been cuts to legal aid. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—in England, unless abuse has been reported to the police, legal aid is not available. In most cases, as we all know, it takes a long time for women to report abuse to the police and to get into the court system. There are, however, several measures that some women might want to take, and they might need legal aid to do so.

On the subject of protection, and in line with the Women’s Aid campaign, we must recognise coercive control, and there must be a specific law to deal with it. That would represent a progression from all the laws of the past 30 to 40 years. It would recognise the nature and extent of domestic violence—that it is matter of control and an abuse of power, not just an individual instant when someone loses their temper. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) rightly talked about Scottish men being like Jekyll and Hyde. I have witnessed that many times and concur with his view, but we must ask why that happens. Why do men and some women, not just in Scotland but throughout the world, behave in that manner? There must be something collective about it, not just an individual response. Clare’s law, which was mentioned, is being piloted in my constituency and it will be interesting to find out how that goes, and whether it can be applied throughout the country. I think it already is in England—[Interruption.] The Minister concurs.

It is disappointing that Women’s Aid in England has had to start an SOS campaign. It states that there is a risk of losing the network, and that some refuges have closed. How can that be called progress in 2014, after everything that we have achieved? I believed that there was a cross-party commitment throughout the UK to dealing with the issue, but that is a retrograde step and cannot be allowed to continue. Current provision needs to be maintained and we must have a new model for funding. I remember that in the 16 years when I worked full-time with Women’s Aid, all our time was spent thinking about how to get funding—from the lottery, and from this and that. That is all very well, but there is a need for secure provision, which means putting our money where our mouth is. We need secure funding for Women’s Aid throughout the UK, and I am very supportive of that aspect of the campaign.

The nature and extent of domestic violence is now recognised far more than previously, but still not to the extent it should be. The resources available are not adequate. Studies have shown that men as young as 15 believe that it is okay to hit their partner or girlfriend in certain circumstances. If that is the case, we are failing to educate young people. Last year or the year before, I took part in a cross-party inquiry with the hon. Members for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and for Solihull (Lorely Burt) about sex and relationship education for young people. One of our recommendations was to make that compulsory so that all young people should have not just sex education—about the mechanics of the situation—but the opportunity to learn about relationships, so how to conduct relationships in which people treat each other with respect. I know that that happens, but it is not compulsory, and I strongly believe that it should be.

I welcome this debate. I hope that the Government will take on board the concerns of Women’s Aid, although I know I would say that, because I am very much involved with it.

I extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on securing the debate. He powerfully set the scene in relation to domestic abuse and domestic violence, recognising the work of Women’s Aid, the wider issues of domestic and sexual abuse, controlling behaviour and the impact on children. He also raised the question of how domestic violence cuts across class, ethnicity and background, and the fact that it is an issue for all of us. He showed how important it is to recognise the impact of domestic abuse and violence on people’s life chances, education and so on.

It is clear that domestic and sexual violence is little short of a national scandal and we need to do much more. Statistics have been shared in the debate, and however we look at things, the scale of reported incidents is staggering. Women reported more than 12 million incidents of domestic abuse last year. At least 750,000 children a year in the UK witness violence in their home, and two women a week are killed by their partner, or an ex. In some areas almost one in five 999 calls is about domestic violence. We also know that one in three 16 to 18-year-old girls has experienced groping or otherwise unwanted sexual touching at school and elsewhere. There are wider issues as well, if we treat violence against women and girls as the broader theme: thousands of girls are at risk of female genital mutilation and others disappear to become victims of forced marriage or honour violence—and it has been more comfortable for us to turn a blind eye to those issues.

I was proud to be at the launch of Plan International’s campaign to face up to violence against girls, and the launch of the END FGM campaign at the south bank just a few weeks ago. I pay tribute to the work done by many campaigners to raise our awareness of these issues which take the lives and health of millions of women and girls around the world, and to enable them to tackle them in their own families and communities. Domestic violence is a huge drain on the economy, as well as a blight on society. Domestic abuse alone costs the UK almost £16 billion a year.

The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) talked about the importance of women’s refuges, and about under-reporting and funding issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) described domestic abuse as a silent shame and spoke eloquently about those who suffer in silence, and about the need for support that victims can rely on. He also talked about our reluctance to get involved in what we see as something that happens behind closed doors, and about the idea that it is not for society to question what happens in the family sphere. We have come a long way from the time when rape in marriage was legal, but we have much further to go. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) spoke about strategies that are in play in Northern Ireland. Hon. Members are united in arguing that we need to do far more to prevent domestic abuse and domestic violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) talked about prevention, protection and provision—the core strands of the strategy that we need.

I have had some discussions since I took on my new role as the shadow Minister for preventing violence against women and girls, and I have heard of shocking experiences, but I want to speak about those things in the context of three important areas. The first is prevention, and stepping up the challenge. The history of the issue includes reforms made under the Labour Government, such as specialist domestic violence courts, multi-agency risk assessment conferences and independent domestic violence advisors. That work has continued under the present Government. If we consider things collectively, we see that we have not managed to stem the tide of the prevalence of domestic abuse and violence. The second area I want to mention is support services—something frequently raised by hon. Members in the debate. Those who are victims of domestic violence, men or women, should be able to have confidence that services are available for them, and that they will get such services without delay.

The third area is improved access to justice, which has also been raised today, in terms of the performance of police, and by the HMIC in its report earlier this year. Hon. Members who have talked to women in refuges will know the struggle that they have to be heard in the court system and the lack of speed with which our court systems work to tackle some issues of domestic violence and issues between couples—I am referring to both the civil and criminal courts.

Let me start with prevention. I want to talk a little bit about sex and relationship education, which has been raised. Let us consider the challenges that young people face today and what they experience: they are under a lot of pressure to conform, whether that is through accessing pornography online, or through gang culture in some areas and in our schools. Having compulsory sex and relationship education is important, and it is not just about theory. Talking to those who have been delivering courses in schools, I have heard about how young people have developed the confidence to start talking about what is happening to them at school and, sometimes, at home. It is not just about theory, but about giving young people the resilience to stand up and be able to voice what is going on in their lives, and to be able to make very positive choices for the future. It is also very important in interrupting behaviours that may be learned at home if young people are experiencing domestic violence themselves, and watching it happening between their parents. It is also true to say that 88% of parents want sex and relationship education to be compulsory to tackle the dangers of pornography.

Labour has called for SRE in all state-funded schools from key stage 1, because there are aspects of age-appropriate sex and relationship education that are important for every age. Many young children at school today are not part of a huge family. Many are single children or have siblings who are younger, and they are learning how to share and about relationships for the first time. Having a way in which children learn about the values of respect, with others their own age, is incredibly important. A mum called me about an experience that her six-year old daughter had in her school: she was effectively assaulted by young boys her age. The school did not take it seriously. The trauma that the girl went through could be regarded as parallel to that experienced by someone of 16 or 26. In the end, she left school, and her mum is campaigning for change.

On support services, I pay tribute to the work of Women’s Aid, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Rape Crisis and others. They do incredible work, not only in delivering services but in raising the profile of issues at a national level, and in making sure that we are getting the message of prevention and support out there.

We have talked today about the importance of funding. Labour and the shadow Home Secretary have committed to a new £3 million annual fund for refuges supporting victims of domestic violence. As we have said, we want to see the continuation of a national network of refuges. A 31% cut in funding for refuges and specialist advice is undermining action against domestic violence. In some areas, there is absolutely no specialist refuge. Refuges have also been disproportionately affected by cuts to local government, and according to Women’s Aid, eight refuges are under imminent threat of closure and are currently running on reserves.

Labour’s commitment is fully funded, through a small percentage of savings from abolishing the expensive police and crime commissioner elections. We are also calling for new FGM protection orders to stop children suspected of being at risk of FGM being taken abroad. On that, there is some commonality but also some differences between us and the Government, and we are looking at other measures that we will be able to bring in from the women’s safety commission, led by Vera Baird, QC, and Diana Holland. We hope to be launching those next month.

Before closing, I want to say a few words about improved access to justice. We need to ensure that there is a joined-up justice system that works fast, gets it right and is cost-effective and easy to access. We believe that we need a new commissioner for domestic and sexual violence who sits at the heart of Government to ensure that victims’ voices are heard, that there is a way they are heard fast, and that there is a fast response to the challenges that are being raised. I am working closely on that with Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, because we need to see a new agency—a new body—that can sit alongside the Victims’ Commissioner and the Children’s Commissioner to say we need to join this up, but we need some challenge to the centre in order to make sure that victims’ voices and victims’ challenges come through to the system as a whole.

We also need new national standards for policing to drive up performance across the board. We have all heard harrowing stories of victims who do not feel that they have been believed. I met a woman at a refuge who told me that the policeman who attended when she was a victim of serious violence at the hands of her partner thought that she was drunk when, in fact, she was concussed, having been hit around the head by her partner. Police training needs to be updated and refreshed. We need to make sure that there are minimum standards so that victims will be believed; so that we know such incidents will be dealt with within an allotted time; so that evidence will be collected and the follow-up will be done; and so that the Crown Prosecution Service’s advice will be sought early to build a case. Those are all vital to maintaining public confidence in policing.

I close by saying that this has been an incredibly important debate. We know that we are a long way from the end of this, and that we need to bring in measures, as Labour hopes to do in its first Queen’s Speech, in a Bill addressing violence against women and girls. The fact that we have come together in this debate this afternoon and that this debate has also been led by men is an incredibly important step that we are taking, collectively as the British Parliament, to say that we want to make sure that there is zero tolerance of violence in relationships, that that message goes early to schools and our young people, and that we address these matters with the utmost seriousness in every way that we can, from every part of Government.

I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) for providing us with the opportunity to debate this important topic, and for the way in which he presented his case. It has been a useful debate and I am encouraged by the degree of agreement across all parties on tackling this appalling crime, and indeed, by the progress that has been made, not just in this House but in the public’s perception in recent years.

I want to put it on record right away that the coalition Government is absolutely determined to tackle domestic abuse, and indeed, I would argue, has a good record so far in doing so. It is a core priority for me and for the Home Secretary. Our approach is set out in the violence against women and girls action plan.

In the same way that the hon. Gentleman began the debate, let me say that I welcome the measures being taken by the devolved Administrations in tackling domestic abuse. I understand that the Northern Ireland Executive is currently developing a new joint domestic and sexual violence strategy, which builds on its five-year victim and witness strategy published in June 2013. I welcome that and I am sure that it will enhance services within Northern Ireland to protect victims of domestic abuse.

As has been said, domestic abuse is a sinister way of undermining the trust that those in close relationships place in one another. Most of the time it takes place behind closed doors, but of course that need not always be the case. It can, in the worst cases, lead to fatalities.

Domestic abuse happens every day in homes across the UK. In most cases, it goes unreported, which makes it difficult to know just how many people are affected. The crime survey for England and Wales estimates that 1.15 million were women victims of domestic abuse, of which 845,000 suffered partner abuse. In addition, 77 women were killed by their partner or ex-partner last year. That is the lowest number of intimate partner homicides since 1998, but of course everyone in the House would agree that any partner homicide is one too many.

We want to build a society in which violence against women and girls is not tolerated, in which people speak out and no victim has to suffer domestic abuse. The coalition Government’s strategy is backed by ring-fenced funding of nearly £40 million for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services. Facilities funded with that money include 144 independent domestic violence advisers, who help victims of domestic violence to get their voices heard, and 54 multi-agency risk assessment co-ordinators, who protect the interests of those who are most at risk. Up to 60% of abuse victims report no further violence following intervention by independent advisers. However, all parts of the United Kingdom have a responsibility to ensure that we are doing all we can to reach out to those caught in cycles of abuse.

Although we have looked at the figures and the Minister has said that the Government will do all they can to help victims, there seems to be an issue to do with male reporting. Perhaps it is a masculine thing: men do not want people to know that they are being battered or whatever. We know that the vast majority of domestic violence is committed against women and children, but what more can the Government do to encourage men to come forward? There seems to be a lack of men coming forward.

Some of the £40 million—not a great proportion, it has to be said—goes towards helping organisations that are there directly to provide an outlet for men who wish to report such matters. We think that the number of men who were victims of domestic abuse was 721,000, and of that number, 517,000 experienced partner abuse. That may be same-sex partner abuse or by women on men. Nevertheless, it is also a very high figure, and the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to it, although it would be wrong of me not to point out that the majority of domestic abuse is by men on women.

I was about to mention two powerful initiatives that we have been rolling out across England and Wales to support victims. The domestic violence disclosure scheme is a system whereby anyone can seek disclosure of a partner’s violent past. Those with the legal right to know are provided with information that could well save lives, empowering them to make an informed choice about their future. As the Minister for Crime Prevention, I say that if we can prevent crime in the first place, that is the best outcome.

Domestic violence protection orders offer respite to victims in the immediate aftermath of domestic abuse. They have the power to ban a perpetrator from the home and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. That offers both the victim and the perpetrator the chance to reflect on the incident. In the case of the victim, it provides an opportunity to determine the best course of action to end the cycle of abuse. In my view, it is a welcome change that it may be the perpetrator who is required to leave the house, rather than the victim leaving, as has all too often been the case in the past. Together, the two initiatives significantly improve the reality for victims of these appalling crimes.

Will the Minister give his assessment of the take-up so far of domestic violence protection orders?

The early indications are encouraging. The orders are certainly working, but as the hon. Lady will appreciate, we have rolled them out just recently so we do not have the full-year figures yet. Of course, we will, as a matter of course, publish those figures as and when they are available, but the early indications, as I said, are positive.

Also important is the Government’s decision in April 2011 to place domestic homicide reviews on a statutory footing. Now, every local report on a domestic homicide is reviewed and quality-assured by a panel of independent and Home Office experts. Each review results in a tailored action plan that must be delivered by the area in question to ensure that we learn from those individual tragedies. The Home Office has published a document collating the national lessons learned from those reviews and making recommendations to local areas to drive improvements in practice.

Of course, we have more to do. I think that the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said that every 30 seconds a victim of domestic abuse summons up the courage to call the police. That is a huge percentage of the number of calls that the police receive. When a victim reaches out for help, it is vital that the police are equipped to respond effectively and to end a cycle of abuse that in many cases will have been going on for years. Sometimes a person will have been subjected to abuse 50, 60 or 70 times before they make that call to the police. It is also vital that victims have confidence that the criminal justice system will prosecute the perpetrators of these appalling crimes and will work for the victims.

Following a dip in referrals from the police to the Crown Prosecution Service, I am encouraged to see that the volumes of referrals, prosecutions and successful convictions are rising. For example, the volume of referrals to the CPS rose to 103,569 in 2013-14. That represents a rise of 17.5% from the previous year and the highest level ever. It compares with 91,184 referrals in 2009-10. Following action that we have taken with the Attorney-General, the number of defendants being charged has risen from about 60,000 to almost 73,000 in the last year. That represents a 21% increase and, again, the highest level ever achieved. It is subsequently translating into a rise in conviction rates, from 72% of those facing a charge in 2009-10 to 74.6% in 2012-13. However, I am the first to say that, despite the encouraging rise in referrals and prosecutions, we need to do more to ensure that front-line agencies treat domestic abuse as the serious crime that it is.

Hon. Members will be aware that HMIC published its report in March this year on the police response to domestic abuse across all 43 forces in England and Wales. That report made for depressing reading. It showed that a combination of poor leadership, bad culture and basic policing skills being lacking was failing victims. For example, on leadership, the report found that many chief constables and their top teams still focused more on volume and acquisitive crime reduction than on domestic abuse. Leadership on domestic abuse was not present, translating into poor management and supervision in the police to reinforce the right behaviours, attitudes and actions of officers.

On culture, HMIC identified that there were many examples of officers who work tirelessly to keep victims safe and sometimes with little support from their wider force, but there were also officers who showed a poor attitude towards victims and failed to treat them with the empathy they deserve. Victims reported feeling judged and not taken seriously.

On core policing skills, basic evidence collection that could help to support a prosecution to bring a perpetrator to justice simply was not happening. When HMIC reviewed 615 actual bodily harm cases connected with domestic abuse, photographs of injuries were taken in only half the cases and, in 30% of cases, officers’ statements lacked important details about the crime scene or the victim.

The failings I have described meant that, crucially, the priority that police and crime commissioners give domestic abuse in their crime plans, which is quite general, I am happy to say, was not translating into operational reality. That is completely unacceptable. People in desperate circumstances should know that they can rely on the police to respond quickly, effectively and professionally. Chief constables must take urgent action to make significant changes to front-line policing so that victims are protected and perpetrators brought to justice.

To ensure that real change happens, the Home Secretary and I sit on a new national oversight group that she has established and that meets quarterly to drive through the recommendations in HMIC’s report. I am pleased to inform hon. Members that we will shortly publish our first progress report, a copy of which will be placed in the Library of the House.

All police forces in England and Wales have now submitted action plans to HMIC to address the report’s findings. HMIC will quality-assure those plans over the next two months with voluntary sector partners, and will report its findings at the next national oversight group meeting in December. I expect police and crime commissioners and the College Of Policing to use the plans, plus the outcomes arising from the national oversight group, to support their forces and hold them to account.

Some forces have already taken action to address the issues that HMIC has 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. Following a re-inspection, Gloucestershire police have been deemed by HMIC to be much improved. We are seeing good progress, and it shows that the police can respond in a positive and effective way.

I am clear that the work that the police are undertaking to improve their response must be supported by the Government and the wider response of the criminal justice system. Last month, the Secretary of State for Justice announced a victims package, which launched a new package of reforms including the establishment of a new victims information service and strengthening the protection for vulnerable victims by improving the court experience. We are also piloting pre-trial cross-examination in three Crown courts, and the Director of Public Prosecutions is updating guidance for prosecutors to complement that work.

The Government will ensure that front-line criminal justice agencies have the tools they need to tackle domestic abuse effectively. Hon. Members will be aware that the Home Office has recently concluded a consultation on whether the law on domestic abuse needs to be strengthened, a point that many hon. Members have made this afternoon. There is widespread understanding that domestic abuse is not simply about physical violence, and the expanded definition that we introduced last year makes it clear that domestic abuse extends to coercive and controlling behaviour. We want to ensure that the legal framework is unambiguous in recognising and prosecuting domestic abuse in all its forms. We received more than 750 responses to our consultation, which we are currently analysing, and we will publish our response shortly.

Let me pick up some of the points that hon. Members have raised. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Upper Bann for referring to the White Ribbon pledge. I can inform him that I have signed it, because it was initiated by my local authority, which has a good record on the matter. I encourage other hon. Members to do likewise.

The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the effect of domestic violence on children. That is a serious issue, and he is quite right that the effects can remain with children throughout their lives. Although I cannot provide a statistical analysis, I have a suspicion that those who witness or are subject to domestic violence at an early age may be more vulnerable to sexual violence later in life than those who do not. Witnessing violence in the home at an early age cannot be good for children.

Several hon. Members spoke about refuges. I have made it plain that local authorities that provide money for refuges should not see cutting refuges as an easy saving. I appreciate that local authorities are under considerable financial strain, but they should not be cutting services for vulnerable people. I understand that the case has been made for looking afresh at national funding for refuges, and I have met Women’s Aid and other groups to discuss the matter. We are currently considering where we go with that, but I want to make it plain that we should see no further closures of refuges in this country.

Although hon. Members have not raised this point, we must do everything we can to help local authorities to commission services properly, because there is clearly a problem with that. Some local authorities have commissioned services in a way that does not help refuges, and that must be addressed. For example, some refuges have said that they will accept references only from the local community, but if a woman has been subject to physical abuse, the last thing that she will want to do is to stay in her community. She will want to escape from it, so that condition, which some local authorities have imposed, is nonsensical. The Home Office is working with local authorities to help them with commissioning practices, to ensure that they get the best value for money and the best service for those—predominantly women—who use refuges. More can be done on that. Current commissioning practices waste money by imposing requirements that are not necessary for the operation of the refuge service, and that money could be better spent on protecting women.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) mentioned the engagement of football authorities. As he recognises, they responded quite well to the initiative that he mentioned. I have had a meeting with the various elements of football—the FA, the Premier League and others—to discuss what they might do further to deal with domestic violence, and how they might use their voices to help tackle that societal problem. They have gone away to consider what they can do to help, and I am waiting for them to come back with their offer. We are very much on the case with that, and I am grateful to the football authorities, in their various guises, for the positive way in which they have engaged with me and the women’s organisations to which my hon. Friend referred.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) mentioned a figure for the increase in domestic violence. I urge caution, because it can be difficult to determine to what extent there has been an increase in domestic violence, and to what extent there has been an increase in reporting. Those are not quite the same thing, as he will appreciate. The Government is encouraging victims of violence to come forward—that is a common approach across the House—and they are doing so, partly because they now have more confidence in the police than they used to. When we see figures for the number of reported incidents of domestic violence, we must be careful not to assume that that represents an increase, because it may simply represent a welcome increase in reporting. That is not to be in any way complacent about the figures, because they are far too high. I simply want to put a cautionary marker on the use of such figures. The hon. Member for Strangford raised that point as well, and I hope I picked his point up, too.

The question of legal aid was raised by the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne), and I want to provide her with some reassurance. We have retained legal aid in key areas that impact on women, particularly injunctions to protect victims from domestic abuse, and in family cases such as child contact or division of assets after separation where domestic violence is a feature. We continue to provide civil legal aid for the victims of domestic violence to apply for protected injunctions, such as non-molestation orders. We will also continue to waive the financial eligibility limits in such cases. Our changes to the scope of legal aid do not affect those cases.

The hon. Lady expressed her view that personal, social, health and economic education should be mandatory in state schools. The Home Office has done a great deal to help to educate boys, in particular, about the nature of appropriate relationships. We have run a successful campaign, as I hope the hon. Lady knows, called, “This is abuse”, involving stars from “Hollyoaks” and various pop bands. We have used MTV and other channels to ensure that the campaign reaches young people, and the response to it has been quite good. I understand entirely the point about compulsory PSHE, which several others have echoed, and I have raised that with the new Education Secretary. I do not want to commit her to anything, but I think she is prepared to look at the matter, so we might make some progress on that front.

I welcome the shadow Minister to her post, in what I believe is her first outing in such a debate, and I agree with much of what she said. I agree that we must have the confidence of victims if they are to come forward, and I have tried to address that point in my response. I also agree that the performance of the police and the Courts Service must improve. I hope she acknowledges that we are taking steps to bring about such improvements, as I have outlined.

The shadow Minister mentioned the figure of 31% in relation to cuts to refuges. That is not a figure I accept. It comes from a survey based on an average from 63 local authorities that made cuts to their refuge service, which did not take into account the responses from 201 authorities that did not make cuts. That figure, therefore, is inaccurate and misleading, and I would be grateful if she did not use it. As I have made clear, I am in no way complacent about refuges, but we must make sure that the figures we use are accurate.

The situation that faces us is no small challenge. The Government has introduced significant initiatives to enhance victim safety, but we have also made it clear that changes to the law or new powers alone are not sufficient. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that the statute book is the answer to everything, because it is not. The police have significant changes to make following HMIC’s report. I am determined to create an environment in which all victims of domestic abuse who find the courage to seek help have their needs met. That will, ultimately, encourage more victims to come forward, which will mean that more perpetrators are brought to justice, more cycles of abuse are disrupted and we take a giant step closer to becoming a society in which domestic abuse is a thing of the past.