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Violence Against Women and Girls

Volume 709: debated on Monday 28 February 2022

4. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s tackling violence against women and girls strategy. (905730)

5. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the Government’s tackling violence against women and girls strategy. (905731)

As part of the violence against women and girls strategy launched last July, we are bringing forward legislation against stalking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation and wider domestic abuse. The strategy is overseen by the VAWG inter-ministerial group, which I chair.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the importance of the continuing work of police and crime commissioner Jonathan Evison, his team and the Humberside police service on the You Are Not Alone campaign, which aims to raise awareness of support for victims of domestic violence and, indeed, perpetrators? I think that it is really important work, and I hope that she will recognise it.

I thank my hon. Friend for her comment and for the work that the police and crime commissioner and her local police force are undertaking. The You Are Not Alone campaign was launched during the pandemic. I recommend it to anyone who is a victim of any form of domestic abuse or violence. It is a successful campaign, and I pay tribute to police and crime commissioners and to our police officers across the country, who have been supporting it and making sure that they provide support to victims of abuse.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that the shadow policing Minister, the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones), has said:

“Harsher sentences don’t act as a deterrent.”

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is wrong, that harsher sentences actually do work, and that we are prepared to put domestic abusers and violent and sexual offenders behind bars for longer to make our streets, especially in Rother Valley, safer for women and girls?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is right that we change our laws, have tougher sentences and make sure that perpetrators absolutely feel the full force of the law. He is right to make that case. The Government are also undertaking wider work on perpetrator behaviour and education campaigns across all Departments.

We all agree that women should be able to go about their lawful business free from intimidation and able to use public spaces, yet every day thousands are affected by protests outside abortion clinics that are designed to shame women out of their legal rights to healthcare. Will the Secretary of State meet me to ensure that we have consistency nationally on the situation and that protesters who seek to control women’s bodies and stop them making choices are stopped and moved away from the clinic gates?

I commend the hon. Lady for much of the work that she has been doing. I would be very happy to meet her. All the points she raises are absolutely valid: women should be able to go about living their lives freely, safely and without harassment.

The all-party parliamentary group on commercial sexual exploitation is conducting an inquiry into the pornography industry in response to growing concerns that online pornography is fuelling violence against women and girls. Will the Government establish the necessary legal framework to prevent and address the harm associated with the production and consumption of pornography?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I agree with the sentiments that he echoes and would be very happy to meet him to discuss the matter. There are many, many legitimate concerns about pornography and the wider harms—age access, age verification and all sorts of issues, some of which the Government are picking up right now. The online harms Bill is one area, but there are other things that we can and should be doing.

Since the publication of the VAWG strategy, rape charging has fallen to an all-time low, leaving more people accused of rape in communities than ever before. Operation Bluestone found that the monitoring of previous offenders was failing to use

“intelligence to establish whether suspects had been named in previous offences.”

Operation Soteria found that

“officers were not routinely monitoring known offenders of sexual crimes”,

leading to a “total lack of morale” among police. This week the inspectorate said that alleged rapists were escaping justice, citing a case in which an alleged rapist was acquitted after the police and the Crown Prosecution Service had failed to present evidence in court showing that he had allegedly raped two other people previously.

I ask the Home Secretary to set out for the House exactly where, in the strategy and in her plans, are the proper monitoring and offender management that will stop any offender, let alone the most violent and repeat rapists, because that is not even nearly happening now.

As the hon. Lady will know, both the rape review and the criminal justice taskforce have been clear and explicit about the actions that are being taken across Government. Operation Soteria, which she mentioned, is being rolled out to 14 other police forces. It is important for us to fix these key gateways—the way in which the police investigate cases, the handovers to the Crown Prosecution Service, and how it all works throughout the criminal justice system—and that is being done as a result of the rape review and work with the Justice Secretary. [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) talking about “12 years”, but the rape review report was published last year. This Government are fixing many of the long-established problems in the criminal justice system that have led to some of the most appalling outcomes. We can all agree, if on nothing else, on the need to fix those appalling outcomes for rape victims.

North Wales police recently received half a million pounds of UK funding for the safer streets and safety of women at night campaigns. Having been out with the police on foot patrol, I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in congratulating Inspector Claire McGrady of Wrexham town police and Wrexham Council on acknowledging the issues involved, increasing CCTV and lighting provision, and providing a weekend welfare centre.

My hon. Friend is right; the safer streets fund and many other initiatives that the Government are leading to protect citizens and the safety of women across our communities are making a difference. The work of police forces with police and crime commissioners demonstrates how targeted resources can keep the public safe, and give the public, including women, confidence in their communities.

The Home Secretary has talked in a muscular fashion about the need for exemplary punishment of the perpetrators of violence against women and girls. She will recall her commitment to the deportation, where appropriate, of offenders in Rochdale, and indeed in other parts of the country. She also committed herself to meeting me to discuss the issue, and I still await that meeting. May I have an update?

Absolutely. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. I cannot speak about that case in the House, and he will know exactly why, but I will meet him to go through the specific details.

The work of organisations such as the Sexual Abuse and Rape Advice Centre in my constituency is vital. I have seen at first hand how SARAC supports survivors of rape and domestic abuse. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that she will work with such organisations to ensure that they have a chance to feed in their expertise on how we can support victims and tackle violence against women and girls?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has personally led in campaigning and raising awareness, and also on the work of her local organisations—I have visited her constituency in the context of other issues. The role of the third sector is vital; it provides an important gateway and a lifeline for so many, and of course the Government continue to support it.