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Istanbul Convention

Volume 672: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2020

2. What steps he is taking to implement the Istanbul convention on action against violence against women and domestic violence. (900812)

The United Kingdom signed the convention in 2012 to reaffirm our strong commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, and, as required by the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Act 2017, we published the latest annual report on our progress towards ratification on 31 October. I can assure the hon. Lady that in forthcoming legislation we will include the necessary measures to cover all parts of the United Kingdom to ensure compliance.

The Istanbul convention enshrines the rights of survivors of sexual violence; it includes the right to access crisis counselling and mental health support. Over 6,000 people are currently waiting to be seen by mental health specialists after experiencing sexual violence. Most of them have been told they will have to wait over a year to get help. What will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do to urgently address this?

As well as introducing our important domestic abuse Bill, we are already committing more resources to rape crisis centres. For example, rape and sexual abuse support services have had their funding increased to £32 million over the next three years—an increase of over 50%—which will provide free advice, support and counselling at 94 rape support centres, which is more than ever before. That is encouraging progress.

On International Women’s Day last year, Ireland became the 34th country to ratify the Istanbul convention, but unfortunately the United Kingdom is one of only six countries yet to do so. Can we take this as an indication of where the UK intends to position itself on the world stage in terms of rights and protections of citizens post Brexit?

I can reassure the hon. and learned Lady that not only is the United Kingdom committed both internationally and domestically through legislation—I know that she actively supported that back in 2017—to implement the convention, but in many respects we are ahead of the obligations that the convention places upon us, and we are among the leaders of the world in our support and in our approach to violence against women and girls and the victims of sexual abuse. We should not be complacent about that, but it is worth reminding ourselves of how far we have come.

That is all very well, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s own Government’s report identified two major respects in which UK law has yet to comply sufficiently to make us able to ratify the convention. The legislation to which he refers, introduced by my former colleague Dr Eilidh Whiteford, was introduced three years ago, so what we need to know today is what is stopping the UK Government following the lead of the Scots and the Irish. Is it by any chance the requirement to support migrant women experiencing domestic abuse, who often find it impossible to access emergency protection because of the no recourse to public funds condition? His own Government identified that as one of the two major problems. What will be done about that, and when?

The hon. and learned Lady knows that in response to the Joint Committee on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill the Government are taking careful account of the evidence that has been provided on that specific issue. In previous annual reports we have indicated compliance with the articles, but we have to make sure that the concerns raised in the Joint Committee are properly addressed. We will no doubt have an opportunity with the forthcoming Bill to debate these issues, and I look forward to engaging with the hon. and learned Lady on the subject.