Mrs Newton indeed, Mr Speaker.
We introduced the new offence of controlling and coercive behaviour to shift the focus of the criminal justice system from single incidents to identifying and addressing patterns of abuse. The Home Secretary will chair a working group to drive change in how we think about and tackle domestic abuse, and this will include closely monitoring the implementation of this new offence.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but existing police powers to remove perpetrators of domestic violence from a property are tremendously under-used, largely because costs and cuts in police funding have made the situation worse. What is the Minister going to do to help protect women affected by domestic violence?
This new offence was brought in right at the end of 2015, so the Office for National Statistics will not report on the level of uptake of the new police powers until later this spring. From my conversations with the police up and down the length and breadth of the country, I know that they are making very good use of the new powers.
My hon. Friend is quite right to talk about stalking, which can be a truly devastating crime. This Government are placing an absolute priority on keeping women and girls safe across our country through extra resources, extra training and new forces so that they can go after the perpetrators of these terrible and devastating crimes.
The Opposition welcome the introduction of this legislation—it was, after all, Labour party policy—but when are the Government going to put their money where their mouth is on domestic violence? We know that local authority spending cuts have severely impacted on specialist domestic abuse services, which has meant cuts and closures. Women and children are being turned away daily at the point of need. Data from the Women’s Aid annual survey showed that on just one day in 2015, 92 women and 75 children were turned away from a refuge. When are the Government going to address the financial pressures on women’s refuges?
This Government have done more than any other to keep women and children in our country safe. It is very disappointing when the right hon. Lady takes a partisan approach to something that should unite the House rather than dividing it. As she knows, we have committed £20 million to refuges, and we have an £80 million transformation fund. Grassroots organisations throughout the country are benefiting from our record level of investment in services to keep women and children safe.
It is very disappointing that the Minister is not prepared to accept that, as a result of local government cuts, services are being reduced and refuges are closing. As for the question of resources, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary recently flagged up failings on the part of the police when they were dealing with the most vulnerable victims. In at least two forces, domestic abuse risk assessments were being conducted over the telephone. This is a consequence of trying to deal with increasing levels of demand with few resources, and if the Government are serious about combating domestic violence, they must make those resources available.
I very much welcome HMIC’s work in inspecting the police response to domestic abuse and violence. It is making excellent progress, as we saw in the police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy programme—PEEL—reports last week. However, the right hon. Lady is right to point out that some force areas have more work to do. That is why we are helping the College of Policing to ensure that training is available, and why we are investing record amounts in the police transformation fund, which is enabling more organisations to provide the services that women and girls all over the country deserve.
Coercion and controlling behaviour take different forms. Will the Minister undertake to extend the legislation to the postal voting regime? At every election, the votes of thousands of women are stolen through abuse of the postal voting system during so-called community voting, largely in the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities. That is not acceptable, and the Government need to act now.
My hon. Friend has raised an incredibly important issue. What could be more important than people’s fundamental right to express their opinions at the ballot box, and to elect representatives to town councils and the House of Commons? We shall be taking a very close look at what more we can do to use those powers, and any others, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to vote.