Skip to main content

Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence against Women)

Volume 620: debated on Tuesday 31 January 2017

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision about the aggravated murder of, and aggravated domestic violence against, women, who are citizens of the United Kingdom, outside the United Kingdom; to prohibit the use of the term honour killing in official publications; to require the Government to arrange for, and meet from public funds the costs of, the repatriation of the bodies of female citizens of the United Kingdom who are victims of aggravated murder outside the United Kingdom and the provision of assistance to female citizens of the United Kingdom who are victims of aggravated domestic violence outside the United Kingdom in order to enable them to return to the United Kingdom; to provide for the prosecution in the United Kingdom in certain circumstances of citizens of the United Kingdom who commit the aggravated murder of, or threaten or incite domestic violence against, women, who are citizens of the United Kingdom, outside the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes.

Language matters. The use of the term “honour” to describe a violent criminal act—sometimes committed against a man, but more often against a woman—can be explained only as a means of self-justification for the perpetrator. It diminishes the victim and provides a convenient excuse for what in our society we should accurately and simply call murder, rape, abuse or enslavement. I want us in this House to send a clear message that the excuses end here. Even more than that, the term assumes that violence, in particular against women, is culturally sensitive—a sensitivity that allows the perpetrator to use further coercion to prevent the victim from seeking help and to intimidate the agencies of the state to stop them pursuing and prosecuting these violent crimes. The principles that every victim should be treated equally and with dignity and that our law enforcement agencies should respond to every crime with equal vigour are threatened when a separate set of cultural norms and practices are accepted for some victims of domestic violence.

We have one law in our country—one law that applies to everyone, regardless of their heritage or faith. The Bill builds on the progress already made by the strategies on ending violence against women and girls, tackling female genital mutilation and forced marriage; by coercive control laws; and by the brave work done by our Prime Minister to introduce the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I want to place on the record my special thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, and their teams, for their continued support and time.

Between 2010 and 2015, 11,000 incidents of crime to which the term “honour” was applied were recorded in the UK. During their constituency duties, Members will have encountered cases in which the police and other agencies, including the Crown Prosecution Service, have been reluctant to tackle domestic violence in minority communities for fear of being accused of racism or of provoking community unrest. Indeed, the CPS has acknowledged that it needs to improve its understanding of and response and support to victims—victims such as Sarbjit. Sarbjit was abused throughout her marriage. She was battered by her husband and treated as a domestic servant. She was terrorised and went to bed not knowing whether she would be alive the next day. She was told that the honour of her family would be at stake if she complained and that the police would just treat her as a number. Sarbjit told me that she did not feel alive, but nor was she dead. When she summoned up the courage, she called Crimestoppers as well as the police. She risked her life in reaching out. But after statements were taken, she was returned home to her abusers because it was just a “cultural misunderstanding”: shockingly, the evidence of her abusers was believed over hers. Sarbjit was reduced to going to a temple, falling to her knees and begging for help from community leaders. It was a desperate act from a desperate woman. She was sent home again and told to think of her family’s honour. She was trapped and, once she had been let down by the authorities she trusted to protect her, she had nowhere to turn.

Fozia’s husband beat her and secured a second wife. Like many domestic violence victims, she was nervous about asking for help. She told me that when she did call the police—three times—she was treated with indifference as the situation was dealt with as a community issue and an honour crime, not as bigamy and assault as she had hoped. She wanted equal treatment and support under our law, not culturally appropriate interventions.

In what way does the term “honour” describe these crimes, except as the pathetic self-justification of the perpetrator? It is a term used by those who see women as the property of men and who think women’s decisions, lives and loves belong to the family, community or religious institution. This Bill commits us to describing such crimes as they really are and being clear to the police, local authorities, community leaders, the CPS and victims themselves that cultural and religious sensitivities are not a barrier to justice.

We have no record of how many British women are taken overseas by family members to be abused or killed. However, we know that when it happens, their assailants believe that their crimes are beyond the reach of British justice. The Bill would change that, extending the provisions of the Modern Slavery Act, so that if someone is taken from the UK to anywhere in the world to be exploited, the offence can be investigated in the UK because the planning and part of the trafficking took place here.

Seeta Kaur was born in the UK, and she died in India. She was subject to domestic violence throughout her marriage, was terrorised by her in-laws and was told to give her eldest son to her childless brother-in-law in India. She was coerced into travelling to India and was forced to return home without her son. Seeta would beg until she was reunited with him. Her husband and his family saw this as a question of honour. There is no official confirmation as to the cause of Seeta’s death. Her husband said it was a heart attack, but her family bore witness to bruising around her neck and upper chest, and intended to bring her body home. Before they could, Seeta was cremated by her husband in the dead of night. While in shock and grieving, Seeta’s family reported her death as suspicious to the Indian police, but they saw it as a family matter and tried to reconcile the families, even offering the return of Seeta’s children—British citizens—in exchange for dropping the murder allegation. When that did not work, the case was simply closed.

The Bill extends extraterritorial jurisdiction to domestic violence. I hope it will re-emphasise our responsibility to investigate murder aggravated by domestic violence. At present, victims do not have the same level of protection, and there is not the same commitment to investigate, prosecute or provide desperately needed support to victims and families. Crucially, the Bill would end the near impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of domestic violence who often, with the complicity of foreign states, seek to escape justice by taking women abroad so they can continue committing their crimes. In this country, we make no distinction based on faith, heritage or background. There can be no exceptions to equality of treatment before the law or to the pursuit of justice. The words we use and the actions we take must reflect the values that we hold dear.

I am afraid that, for reasons that I will set out, I oppose this Bill as it is currently framed. For the benefit of the morons on Twitter, and for some in this House, I should make it clear from the start that obviously, along with everybody else, I oppose women suffering from honour-based violence, but it seems that I am the only one in this House at the moment who equally opposes honour-based violence against men too.

I certainly commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) for her wish to tackle the politically correct culture that sometimes surrounds certain cultures in this country and which can be very damaging to those caught up in them. I attended a meeting organised by Baroness Cox where three very brave Muslim women explained how they had been very badly treated by sharia courts. Unfortunately, despite all the people here who claim to be concerned about women, I was the only Member of the House of Commons at that meeting, so concerned were people about the violence that those women had faced through judgments from sharia courts.

This Bill deals, quite rightly, with dangerous political correctness, as it does not get any more serious than murder. I completely agree with my hon. Friend about the term “honour killing”—there is nothing honourable about murdering someone. I would encourage her to keep making this point, as even without legislation she could make some progress. I am afraid, however, that while tackling one element of political correctness, she has opened up another politically correct can of worms.

The main reason I oppose this Bill is that it relates only to female victims and not all victims. I fear that we are going to have a rerun of the debate on the Istanbul convention that we had not so long ago in this House. We cannot let—[Interruption.] I know that people do not like any other opinions being expressed, but this is a Parliament; this is a democracy. [Interruption.]

Order. Members will have noticed that I was keen to move on from Question Time on time today, not least because of the number of would-be contributors to the main Second Reading debate. I do not want matters to be delayed, but the hon. Gentleman must be heard.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

We cannot let this trend of having laws that are unjustifiably aimed at dealing with just one gender take hold, and I will continue to oppose all Bills and motions that do that. Why do we need to have just females mentioned in this Bill? Why can it not be for all victims of these terrible crimes? We do not have an offence of female murder or male murder—we just have murder. There are more male victims of murder in the UK than female victims of murder. If I introduced a Bill that said we are only going to care about the families of the male victims because there are more of them, I suspect that most of the Opposition Members who are complaining would be up in arms about such a Bill that focused only on the male victims of murder because they are in the majority—and the same should apply here. Yes, of course women are far more likely to be the victims of honour-based crimes than men, but they are not exclusively the victims of these crimes. As far as I am concerned, all these things are just as bad as each other.

I am no expert, but I am told that karo-kari, which is the Pakistani term for so-called honour killing, literally means “adulterer” and “adulteress”. These terms have wider definitions than their literal ones to cover all immoral behaviour, and it is quite clear that they cover both sexes and are therefore not gender specific.

In 2007-08, the Home Affairs Committee said that men are also victims of honour-based violence. In January 2015, the Henry Jackson Society published a report on so-called honour killings, where it said that

“men are also victims of ‘honour’ killings. In the cases of male victims reported in the media over the past five years, the perpetrators usually included the families of a current or expartner”.

It went on to confirm that in the UK there were 22 female victims, but seven male victims too. A report by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit says:

“In 2015, 980 cases…involved female victims and 240…involved male victims. This highlights that men can also be forced into marriage.”

The Crown Prosecution Service report, “Violence Against Women and Girls”, says that

“where gender was recorded, female victims accounted for”

about 76%

“and male victims were”

about 24%.

This means that nearly a quarter of all the victims of these crimes are men. That is not an insignificant number, and it is not something that we should ignore. I understand that this is particularly an issue for gay men, but they would certainly not be included under the provisions of the Bill.

As we are talking about crimes taking place outside this country, we ought to look at the victims of crime over there. The Pakistani Human Rights Commission, which monitors reports of such crimes, came to the conclusion that about a quarter of victims in Pakistan were men. People might want to bear it in mind that The Guardian has reported cases of male killings. The newspaper cited the case of Ahmed Bashir, who died after he was attacked with a sword and a machete in the garden of his west London home. It is very sad that the Opposition do not care about Ahmed Bashir, who was killed with a machete in his own home; it seems that that does not count because he happens to be a man. What kind of Parliament have we become? The Telegraph ran a piece that highlighted the case of another male victim of an honour-based killing. Phyllis Chesler, emerita professor of psychology at Richmond College of the City University of New York, has also written about how male victims are included in honour-based crimes.

There are other issues with this Bill, which I do not have time to go into now, but I believe that its discriminatory premise is wrong. Not all victims are female, and not all offenders are male. We should introduce gender-neutral legislation that is designed to help all victims of crime, whether they be men or women, and to punish all offenders responsible for such crimes, whether those offenders be men or women. [Interruption.] People are saying that that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden said, but I am looking at the annunciator screen, which reads: “Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence against Women)”. There is no mention of men. It is no good saying that this Bill includes men; it does not. That is there on the screen for hon. Members to see, if they cannot hear what is happening. They clearly have not read the Bill. Some people will ask, “Why not support something that might help somebody, if not everybody?” I say, “Why not help everybody from the start?” What possible reason is there for not including men and women in the terms of the Bill?

I end where I started. Of course, we all oppose women suffering from honour-based violence, but I, for one, equally oppose honour-based violence against men. To have a strategy for dealing with one but not the other is, in my opinion, not acceptable and not justifiable.

Question put and agreed to.


That Nusrat Ghani, Mr David Burrowes, Michael Gove, Yvette Cooper, Tim Loughton, Robert Jenrick, John Mann, Naz Shah, Craig Whittaker, James Berry, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil and Stuart C. McDonald present the Bill.

Nusrat Ghani accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill to be read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 129).

The sedentary observation of the hon. Member for Shipley that he will be here was, if I may say so, superfluous. None of us doubted it for a moment.