Sexual offences, especially rape and child sexual abuse, are devastating crimes, and across Government we are looking into how we can improve conviction rates and prosecutions in this area of law. As part of the March 2019 violence against women and girls strategy refresh, we have been collecting evidence to help to inform the making of policy going forward. That collection of evidence is now complete and we are now looking across Government at how we can improve the criminal justice system in this area.
Court business continues to be dominated by historical sex abuse cases, while conviction rates for recent crimes remain depressingly low. Does the Minister agree that the securing of convictions needs more up-front working, with victims, witnesses, social services, Victim Support, the police and other agencies, to make it easier for victims to come forward and to make the court system more user friendly? What discussions does she have with ministerial colleagues to that end?
It is absolutely right that we need to investigate those cases and work closely with stakeholders and inter-agency partners at an early stage, and that is exactly what the CPS and the police are doing. There is an inter-ministerial group on this matter, on which I serve, and we met last month to discuss these issues. A large number of stakeholders are involved in the study we are doing, including Women’s Aid, Refuge, Citizens Advice, the Survivors Trust and the Victims’ Commissioner, and they are all inputting in this important policy area. I am due to meet the Victims’ Commissioner this afternoon to discuss these issues further.
Newcastle’s sexual exploitation hub brings together the police, victim support and social services to provide a wrap-around service for victims of these horrendous crimes, particularly for vulnerable young women who often cannot access the support available for children, which is something that the Spicer review said needed to change. But there is no statutory funding for the hub; at a time when police and local authority funding is under such pressure, it risks losing its funding and ability to provide this remarkable support. Will the Minister look at providing statutory funding for hubs of this kind?
I am very pleased that the hon. Lady has raised the important work that is going on in her constituency and am very happy to discuss that with her. I was very pleased to see some joint working when I went to Wales: I saw how the courts and all the inter-agencies were working together—I attended an inter-agency group that was working collaboratively. Collaborative working is essential. I am very happy to meet and to discuss the issue with her.
It is ambition, Mr Speaker.
Fantasists wrongly and unsuccessfully twice accused me of serious sexual offences.
When my hon. and learned Friend attends her inter-departmental group, will she please make sure that each person reads the book “Behind the Blue Line” by Sergeant Gurpal Virdi? It is a deeply shocking account of how one of Britain’s largest institutions brought the apparatus of the state to bear on a campaign to destroy the life of one of its own finest officers.
I would welcome the chance to meet my hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney General, or both, preferably with the Home Secretary there as well, to decide on an investigation into how the CPS and the police did such shocking things.
In relation to conviction rates for sexual abuse trials, I would like to ask the Minister whether she can comment further and perhaps in more detail—perhaps in a meeting with me—on how she is pursuing prosecutions, or how she is helping the court to pursue prosecutions, for women who are trafficked here for the purposes of sexual exploitation. They are often among the most vulnerable and often the hardest to reach as witnesses, but often the ones suffering the most egregious and appalling abuse.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measure:
Non-Domestic Rating (Preparation for Digital Services) Act 2019
Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) (Amendment) Act 2019
Church Representation and Ministers Measure 2019.