I beg to move,
That this House condemns the Government for failing to take sufficient action to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls and for presiding over a fall in the rape charge rate to a record low; and therefore calls on the Government to increase the number of specialist rape and serious sexual offences units, improve police training to secure better outcomes for victims, introduce effective national management and monitoring of domestic abuse and sexual offenders and urgently publish the perpetrator strategy in full.
Next week is International Women’s Day, a time when we celebrate women across the world. However, it is also a time when we highlight the discrimination, violence and abuse that too many women and girls face. It is a time when we look back on the progress that we have or have not made, and it is a time to look forward and set out our demands for freedom, justice and equality, including the basic right to have freedom from fear. And we should face the hard truth, because when it comes to violence against women and girls, and that basic entitlement to freedom from fear, that progress has been far too slow. We have even seen in some areas the clock being turned back.
I welcome the work that the Government have done on tackling violence against women and girls, and I welcome some of the policies they have set out, but the reason for calling this debate today is that it is not enough. We are not being determined enough. We are not going far enough. We are not going fast enough to ensure that women and girls in this country feel safe in the way that they are entitled to be. The Government are right to agree to have a violence against women and girls strategy. The “Enough.” communication campaign they launched this week is welcome. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which we worked with the Government on and contributed to, raising a whole series of further measures to be added, is welcome. There are policy proposals that Labour Members have put forward over many years which the Government have now accepted, most recently treating domestic and sexual abuse as a serious violent crime as part of the duty—if we are honest, it is shocking that it was ever disputed that it should be treated as a serious violent crime—and adding violence against women to the strategic policing priority. There are, therefore, many things we should have cross-party agreement on, but we should also just be really blunt and honest: worthwhile as those changes are, they really do not meet the scale of the challenge we face, and in too many areas things have been getting worse.
Mr Speaker, as you know, I have stood at this Dispatch Box before doing the job of shadow Home Secretary. That means it can sometimes feel a little bit like groundhog day. As shadow Home Secretary, a job with responsibility for holding the Government to account on policing, one cannot avoid noticing that police officers are certainly getting younger. It also means, however, that I have been talking about violence against women many times over the years. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) has been campaigning on violence against women and girls for very much longer than I have. Seven years ago, I warned that the police were becoming too overstretched to properly tackle serious crimes such as rape and domestic abuse. I warned then about the risk of falling prosecutions, more criminals being let off and more victims being let down. I wish I had been wrong, but it has got much worse than I could possibly have imagined since then.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one way it has got worse is the huge escalation in waiting times to get to court? Many victims are waiting for such a long time to get into court that they end up walking away from the whole process, letting perpetrators get away with it. No strategy will tackle this issue unless the Government start to get on top of court delays.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That has an incredibly damaging impact on the prosecutions of rape and other sexual assaults in the criminal justice system. This has not just happened during the covid crisis—we should be really clear about that—because the delays have been getting worse and worse over many years. It is devastating for victims who may be desperate to get on with their lives. They can end up feeling hugely traumatised by the entire process of the rape being investigated and then being pursued through the criminal justice system. That is badly letting down the victims that the criminal justice system should be standing up for and ensuring justice for. My hon. Friend is right that those delays have got worse—getting worse by hundreds of days—but what it means is that a growing number of victims are dropping out now before it finally reaches prosecution. Some 40% of rape victims withdraw from prosecution because they just cannot bear it any more. That means the entire criminal justice system and this House, which ultimately must have oversight of the criminal justice system, is letting those victims down.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about a case in my surgery at the weekend? A young woman went to the police to report violence by her partner against her. She was concerned that the officer did not treat the matter seriously enough and made a complaint against the officer. Subsequently, she was then charged with stalking the person who had committed violence against her. I am afraid that this is the way our police in London seem to have got things entirely the wrong way around.
That is an incredibly disturbing case. Many of us as constituency MPs will have had deeply troubling cases where, at every stage from the policing response, the investigation and the court response, it feels like not only is there a deep injustice being done, but that the system does not understand what is happening and the nature of violence against women and girls. I would be keen to talk to my hon. Friend further about that individual case and how we can ensure—it is one of the issues we refer to in the motion—there is proper training for police officers across the board on violence against women and girls, and on some of the incredibly serious issues we face.
Following on from the hon. Gentleman’s point, which I think is absolutely fundamental to this issue, we are in a position where 90% of rape allegations are not referred by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service. We have a severe problem prior to charge in terms of how we deal with these matters. We have a conviction rate in the courts of 4%, so 4% of police referrals are put in that position. We have to concentrate on what is going wrong in police investigations. Does the right hon. Lady agree?
I agree. I think that things are going wrong at every stage in the process. Things are going wrong in the police investigation—I will come on to talk about Operation Soteria, and how we should go much more widely—in the referral process between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which is also breaking down, and in the prosecution. The hon. Member is absolutely right: at every stage in the process things are going wrong. That raises the challenge for us in Parliament, because there is always a risk that different bits of the criminal justice system end up blaming each other. We need the oversight to pull everybody together and demand that action is taken. My fear is that we are not seeing that oversight, because it is simply not delivering results.
I have respect for the Ministers in both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office who work on violence against women and girls, but I say to them that the work is not delivering results, and it is overwhelmingly not on the scale that we need. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue has said:
“Provision is at breaking point.”
It has said:
“Rape victims are continually and systematically failed by the criminal justice system.”
How have the Government allowed that to happen? How have the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice allowed that to happen? How have we allowed it to reach breaking point? Back in 2014, Labour called for action to increase prosecutions, but the opposite has happened. The rape prosecution rate is down to a horrendous record low of just 1.3%—lower than ever.
We should consider for a moment the reality of what that means. Around 63,000 rapes are reported a year. It is estimated that at least as many again are not reported. Of those reported, just 1.3% result in someone being charged. That means that across the country more than 300 women will be raped today—more than 300 lives devastated by a vile crime, according to those estimates. Those figures mean that, on average, 170 rapes will be reported today, but the figures also suggest that just less than three of those rapists will see the inside of a court room this year, never mind the inside of a prison cell.
These are the basic pillars of the criminal justice system: if a vile crime happens, the victim should expect to be able to get support, and for the police to investigate and the perpetrator to be pursued, prosecuted and brought to justice. Nothing can ever undo the damage that the crime has done, but at least we can give the victim justice, and protect others from the same thing happening again. The truth is that all of us should be ashamed of the reality of the way that the criminal justice system is treating violence against women and girls. I know that across the criminal justice system there are brilliant police officers who are working hard to get evidence and to get the prosecution rates up, brilliant lawyers and CPS prosecutors who are working incredibly hard to try to get prosecutions, and brilliant support workers and advisers who are working hard to support victims, but the total system is failing.
We have a system that still too often has blind spots around violence against women and girls. There could be blind spots, for example, on the way that domestic abuse prosecutions happen—something that I have been raising, and that the Government have accepted. A woman in my constituency told me how she had been assaulted while she was pregnant, but the case timed out. She could not get justice because of the six-month limit in the magistrates court, which works sensibly for common assault if it means fights in the street or in the pub, in order to speed up the justice system, but does not work for domestic abuse, where there may be countless reasons why someone cannot report a crime straightaway.
When I first raised that, neither the Home Office nor the Ministry of Justice had any research on it. Many in the criminal justice system and in organisations that had campaigned on violence against women and girls had assumed that it was just not possible to change that, because it was so embedded in the criminal justice system. I welcome the fact that the Minister talked to me about this, commissioned research and accepted the proposals that we put forward to change the system and to lift the six-month limit, but it reflects a deep blind spot that has been in the system for too long.
There is still a blind spot on spiking. Until the surge of needle spiking last autumn, it had been too often dismissed as a crime linked to young people drinking and drug taking, and particularly to young women drinking and not taking enough care to protect themselves. The best that would happen was that a bit of advice would be given young women on how to cover their drinks to stay safe.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that there is a lack of cohesion between presenting at accident and emergency and reporting the crime to the police? In a case that I was involved in recently, a young lady who had to stay in hospital overnight was then told by the hospital that she had to go to the police the next day when she was out of hospital. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this is a real issue that we have to resolve between A&E departments and the police?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point. I have also had cases raised with me where the victim of spiking was told to make an appointment with the police to have the tests done and could not get an appointment until considerably after the drugs would have left her system. Therefore, there was no possibility of getting the evidence needed that might then help with an investigation.
That is why we need a co-ordinated approach, but that requires leadership. Very often it is the nature of our criminal justice system and the support services, be they in health, mental health or other areas, that we need organisations to work together, but ensuring that that happens needs leadership from us and, ultimately, from the Government. That is the purpose of today’s debate: to call for much stronger leadership from the Government to tackle these awful crimes and the gaps where things are simply not happening.
There has now been recognition of the seriousness of spiking, but we still have to go much further to ensure that action is taken. I spoke to a college class of 17-year-olds in my constituency a few weeks ago. We started talking about this, and I asked them how many of them knew someone who had been spiked. They were 17-year-olds, and all the girls and half the boys said that they knew someone who had been spiked. That shows the scale of the challenge that is affecting young people. We have failed as a society and across the criminal justice system to take the action needed.
My right hon. Friend knows that in Leeds dozens of spiking cases have been reported just to me as an MP. I took action alongside the Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin. We had a spiking summit. We had a multi-agency approach. We worked with the nightclubs and bars. The spiking cases included not just drinks but injections. It had an effect of putting people off undertaking the spiking, but although people were assaulted and there were cases of theft, we still have not seen any prosecutions. We need the powers to go further. For instance, the rape and serious sexual offences unit is not properly funded at West Yorkshire police. We need that funding in place to ensure that we have action.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I sat in on the morning report sessions of senior officers in West Yorkshire police. They raised a couple of spiking cases that had come in that day in Leeds, and the action that they were taking. I strongly welcome the work that the West Yorkshire Mayor has done to highlight this and to call for stronger action, but we need to go much further.
There is still a blind spot across the country, and across the criminal justice system, around stalking. We have all heard awful cases where someone who had been stalked reported it to the police and then things got worse, and ultimately the awful result was that the woman was killed, despite reporting it to the police. I think that that sets out why we need so much more urgency. Although we welcome the work that the Government have done and the things that Ministers have said, there is still no sense of urgency or action at the scale that is needed.
I am very glad that the Government have made violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement alongside terrorism. Good. I wish they had done it immediately when the inspectorate recommended it back in the autumn. I would also say that we called for violence against women and girls to be treated as a top priority alongside terrorism in 2014. We need clear objectives and detailed outcomes against which the police and the criminal justice system will be judged. It should not just be made a priority and then passed over—we need clear follow-up.
The Government have set a target to get rape prosecutions back up to the level they were at in 2016. That was still too low, but at least it is a target. However, they are way off achieving that right now and it could take years at the current rate. That is a total disgrace, because women cannot wait for that.
Why does every police force not have a specialist rape and sexual assault unit? Why is that not a requirement for police forces when we have known for such a long time that specialist policing is crucial to investigating and prosecuting sexual assaults, and domestic abuse as well? Having that specialist expertise is crucial, which is why we are calling for a specialist rape and sexual assault unit in every force. It should just be a basic requirement.
Although the police, rightly, have operational independence, the Home Office sets the direction and has oversight. As the chief inspector told the Home Affairs Committee last year, the Home Secretary has powers that could and should—that was his word, “should”—be used to require and chase progress around violence against women and girls.
We need specialist prosecutors and the inspectorate’s most recent report also talked about the importance of specialist courts, such as specialist rape courts, to make progress on policing. And we need training. We desperately need comprehensive training across police forces in violence against women and girls, challenging some of the issues that have been raised and some of the myths and making sure that there is basic expertise and support. Every police officer has to deal with domestic abuse. It is one of the most common crimes we face, so every police officer should be getting stronger training in tackling it.
Yesterday, the Government announced that they will extend Operation Soteria, which works with police forces to investigate the perpetrator rather than the victim in rape cases, to a further 14 police forces. It still covers less than half of all forces in England and Wales, so does that mean that in the forces that are not covered, rape victims can still expect to feel investigated rather than the focus being on the rapist? That is truly unacceptable.
We need much stronger action against perpetrators. The inspectorate’s most recent reports have all repeatedly identified real problems with the identification and management of serial offenders in violence against women and girls. When we made proposals for much stronger monitoring and to add repeat offenders in domestic abuse, sexual violence and stalking to the multi-agency public protection arrangement process for managing the most serious offenders and to add them to the register, the Government refused and resisted. That is just not good enough. We need much stronger intervention and much stronger action, starting with those most dangerous perpetrators and those who we know are most likely to offend again and whose behaviour will escalate.
We desperately need the perpetrators strategy that the Government has long promised, which I hope will be strong and determined. Too often when we deal with issues of violence against women and girls, women end up feeling that it is all their responsibility to try to keep safe and to prevent violence rather than our having a system that says that the perpetrators need to be targeted and tackled. They need to be brought to justice and they need to be held to account, and women have a right to feel that freedom from fear and to feel safe, be it on our streets, in our homes or in our communities. Everywhere, women have that right to feel safe, but, too often, things have happened, the criminal justice system has been unable properly to take the action we need and, bluntly, there has been a lack of determination from the Government to drive the change and to ensure that it happens. I have recognised the Government’s good intentions many times , but words are not enough.
Enough is enough. That is what we all say, but we have to go much further. We need to see more progress. We need not just incremental change but the major, dramatic and substantial changes that will get us the justice and safety that women across the country deserve.
My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech. Does she agree that we also must not forget the online sphere? As we heard last week in the debate on child sexual exploitation, these things often start online. We have been so slow in catching up. Does she agree that we hope that all the recommendations from the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill will be incorporated into the Bill?
My hon. Friend is completely right. We all know that, just as we campaigned for many years to reclaim the streets from abuse and violence, we may need to reclaim the internet from abuse and violence against women and girls, because it is totally unacceptable that women can end up feeling harassed and targeted by misogyny and abuse. When he presented his ten-minute rule Bill just half an hour ago, we heard the powerful words of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) about the risks of incels and misogyny online and of young people, particularly young men, being groomed online into extremism and misogyny. We need the strongest possible action against that as part of the online harms Bill. I hope that the Government will bring that forward, because our approach needs to be about prevention and safety in all aspects of our lives, online and offline.
It does not matter how many women walk home with their keys between their fingers, how many women share their location with friends waiting at home or how many safety apps are developed. Unless we target the perpetrators, target prevention and have a complete overhaul of a system that just is not working and is not delivering, in 12 months’ time, in the run-up to next year’s International Women’s Day, we will say all the same things again. That is not good enough.
Let us all stand together and urge the Government to go much further and much faster and to be much stronger. Let us tackle violence against women and girls and let all of us say that we have had enough. We will take action. We will see change.
It is a genuine pleasure to be in the Chamber today to discuss this important issue ahead of International Women’s Day.
We can start with some areas of agreement, because that is how we are going to change things. We can all agree that we have had enough. We are half the population and we should not have to put up with some of the behaviours and crimes that are captured by the phrase violence against women and girls. The range of behaviours and crimes caught by that phase is truly shocking—the many ways in which our sex is used against us and we are made victims of the sorts of crimes that everyone in this Chamber finds absolutely abhorrent. That is why last year we published our tackling violence against women and girls strategy, because we wanted an holistic and societal response to these crimes.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) rightly urges us to do more and go faster, and there is will and determination in this Government to do exactly that. That is why we worked together last year to pass the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, for example—truly groundbreaking legislation that will help more than 2 million adult victims and the children who live in abusive households with this most invidious and hidden of crimes. We have to acknowledge, however, that this will take time. I wish solving the problem were as easy as pulling a lever in one part of the criminal justice system, but it is not. Fundamentally, we know that some of the behaviours and crimes that we will hear about this afternoon have arisen as a result of behaviours, societal attitudes and so on that we must tackle. Not only do we know that intellectually and academically, because we have asked researchers and worked with charities and campaigners, but we know it from the responses of women and girls, and men, to our call for evidence last year when we were drafting the tackling violence against women and girls strategy. More than 180,000 responses were received. That is an unprecedented response rate. It caught that moment, which I am sure we all remember, when there was a very urgent national conversation about how women and girls are suffering these behaviours and crimes.
The responses share the sorts of experiences that every woman and every girl will know. Holding our keys in our knuckles as we walk home, texting friends to say we have got home safely, batting away and avoiding eye contact in a bar if somebody is approaching us and is not taking no for an answer—those are all behaviours that we know and experience. The responses and the national conversation at the time said, “Enough”. That is why we want the strategy to be seen as the start of a decade of change—that is what I said when we launched it.
It will take us time to make sure that boys and girls learn from primary school about what healthy relationships look like, and it will take time to get the communications right. Part of that longer-term societal change is about drawing a line as to what is healthy and acceptable behaviour in relationships, because for all sorts of reasons that we know about—including, we all suspect, the influence of internet pornography—there seems to be some disconnect between what we know to be healthy and what our girls and our young women are facing. We are committed to helping to draw that line, so in our response to the women and girls who responded to the call for evidence—but also, importantly, to charities and campaigners—we committed in the strategy to a public communications campaign to begin that discussion.
I am delighted that this week we launched the campaign, “Enough”. Please google it and look at it—I urge every single hon. Member, regardless of party politics, to share the campaign, which was very well received by charities and campaigners when it was launched this week. The multi-year campaign will begin that vital work to make it clear to perpetrators that their crimes will not be tolerated. It will drive societal rejection of those crimes and help to give victims the confidence they need to seek help if they feel able to do so.
I know that the Minister takes the matter very seriously. I urge her not to just accept that it will take time. I do not think we should accept that; I think we should be much more ambitious about the changes that should happen immediately and the changes that should happen within the next few months, rather than starting from the position that it will take time.
I press the Minister for her diagnosis of why things have got so disastrously worse since 2016, with the massive drop in the prosecution rate and the pushing of the system to breaking point. I have a diagnosis around the scale of the cuts to policing and to the criminal justice system, not just the digital changes that have taken place. If the Government do not understand and recognise how things have got so much worse on their watch, people will not have confidence—women and girls will not have confidence—that things will be turned around.
If I may, I will develop that point in my speech. As the right hon. Lady knows, an enormous amount of work is going on, particularly in the rape review, and I want to take the House through it in detail. She is absolutely right that there is action now, this day, to tackle these crimes and behaviours, but we must acknowledge—as, in fairness, colleagues across the House have acknowledged throughout our domestic abuse debates and so on—that there are real, fundamental problems that we have to tackle at a societal level so that women and girls know we agree that this behaviour is not their fault, is not their responsibility and must be tackled.
We talk about wider societal change and bringing young people up with proper relationship training. I was a secondary school teacher; that sort of relationship training is done at the end of the day by maths teachers or foreign language teachers. Does the Minister believe that we need professionals to lead it? We cannot leave it to schools to pick up the pieces any more.
May I say that there has been progress since the hon. Lady has been in her place? I very much hope that she welcomes the progress that we have made. Importantly, there is now a statutory requirement and, what is more, there is specific training to help to roll it out. We take her point that it has to be done in a way that is appropriate and sensitive but also effective, so we get the messages through to children at the right stage and the right time in their lives.
There is one way in which every single person in this Chamber can help and do something today. When hon. Members leave the Chamber, will they please share the “Enough” campaign across their many social media networks? Not only are we bombarding social media, but over the weeks to come we will have adverts cropping up across our towns and cities on buses, billboards, television and so on. This is how, individually, we can make a real difference today.
I am sure we can agree with all the sentiments that the Minister has expressed. There is one other thing that we could do, which is naming this for what it is: not just violence against women and girls, but male violence against women and girls. If we start talking about it and naming it correctly, that will be a very big help.
Male colleagues are in attendance today, although perhaps not quite as fully as in previous debates, but in fairness male colleagues across the House have accepted their role and are very much working with us to tackle this. I have one slight caveat, though: when we talk about sexual violence, we know that it disproportionately affects women and girls, but I want us to acknowledge that men can be victims of sexual violence as well. We will be addressing that in our male victims paper in due course, but it is very important that we are clear about the causes and themes that run through this behaviour.
The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford rightly challenges us to share what we have done so far. I agree that we want to look over not just the next decade, but the past few months and what we have done. We have funded local projects and initiatives across England and Wales, totalling more than £27 million, to improve the safety of women in public places, particularly as we come out of covid restrictions on social distancing and so on.
Through round 3 of the safer streets fund, we are providing more than £650,000 to the west midlands to provide interventions, such as the bespoke VAWG public spaces-tailored programme offered to all schools in conjunction with the mentors in violence prevention programme and the violence reduction unit place-based pilot, to address harmful sexualised attitudes in boys. In West Yorkshire, we are providing more than £650,000 to implement interventions such as Student Safe Spot, safe routes and sexual assault referral centre walkthroughs.
Further to the point that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) made, relationships, sex and health education became statutory in schools from September. We are putting support in place to improve the quality of teaching so that we support children and young people through school.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) talked about online crimes. The Online Safety Bill is coming to the House shortly. Precisely because we wanted help, assistance and input from Members of both Houses, and indeed from charities and campaigners, we opened the Bill up to pre-legislative scrutiny. We are going through that scrutiny at the moment and are very respectful of the Joint Committee’s efforts to draw our attention to parts of it. We are working with determination to make the online world as safe as we possibly can.
I will give way to the hon. Lady and then to my hon. Friend.
I was on that Joint Committee, and I have heard some worrying concerns that some of the recommendations that we made will be watered down. We took evidence that a large proportion—I cannot remember the figure, but a majority—of primary school-age children are being sent unsolicited extreme porn images. As great as the “Enough” campaign may be, how on earth do we combat that unless we have strong legislation?
The world in the 21st century is having to grapple with some of those factors that we have seen emerge on the internet over the last two or three decades. I genuinely think this is the moment for our country to draw a line in the sand and say, “Enough is enough. We expect better from tech companies and we expect better in terms of regulation of tech companies.” That is what the Online Safety Bill will involve.
I give way to my hon. Friend, who has been so patient.
I think we have all been very patient as women, to be brutally frank. I want to return to the point made by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). Let us call it what it is: this is male violence against women and girls. I hear what my hon. Friend the Minister says. There are probably more men here than I have seen in a debate of this kind, which is fantastic, but we are only really going to tackle this if we get full societal change. That means that our communications outside this Chamber must make it very clear that it is not a women’s problem that men are committing these crimes against them; it is the fault of everyone in society. People should stop looking the other way and we should cease just sucking all this up. Let us call it what it is—male violence against women and girls.
I would very much welcome my hon. Friend’s views on the “Enough” campaign. We set out three scenes to tackle exactly that tendency to turn away, giving people the courage to call out so-called banter among their mates, and helping people who see behaviour in the street that they are not sure about to offer a helping hand and say, “We’re here if you want to talk.” That sort of approach is going to make the sort of societal change that I know we all want.
However, it is also vital that, when crimes sadly occur, victims get the support they need and deserve. That is why we have committed to increasing funding to vital support services to £185 million by 2024-25. Importantly, that includes increasing the number of independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers to more than 1,000. That is pivotal. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford rightly said that there are various stages in the criminal justice system, and as I move on to the rape review I will try to explain a little more the very technical work that we have been doing on this. We know that there are certain pressure points, and there is emerging evidence that the role that IDVAs and ISVAs play in supporting victims can really help to tackle victim attrition rates. It can mean that victims are nearly 50% more likely to stay engaged with the criminal justice system.
We are also—again, I have listened to the responses that we have received and to charities and campaigners—in the process of setting up a national sexual violence helpline in England and Wales. That will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so that victims of sexual violence can get immediate access to support when they need it and when they want it. I think that will be a step change for many victims, knowing as we do just how important the domestic abuse helpline has been in offering support. We are also, of course, introducing a victims law. That is a critical part of our plans to ensure that victims’ voices are at the heart of the criminal justice process. It will strengthen the accountability of the players in that process and improve support for victims.
On another point of agreement, we want to see perpetrators of violence against women and girls ruthlessly pursued and brought to justice. Yesterday the Safeguarding Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Rachel Maclean)—confirmed to the House that we will be adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement, meaning that it will be prioritised just as terrorism offences, for example, are prioritised. That is essential. I appreciate that it is the sort of technical thing that is all words and has very little meaning if one has just been raped and been the victim of a crime, but those of us who work in this process know how significant a commitment it is. We are now prioritising nationally the very crimes we are all so concerned about, in the way that serious organised crime and terrorism, for example, are prioritised.
However, we know that we cannot just look to criminal justice, so in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 we committed to giving the police new powers to help bring perpetrators to justice and to stop the abuse. Domestic abuse protection notices and orders were a very strong part of the Act. We will be publishing a comprehensive perpetrators strategy, which will set out our approach to detecting, investigating and prosecuting offences involving domestic abuse, assessing and managing that risk, and reducing the risk that individuals will commit further offences. The strategy will form part of the domestic abuse strategy, which is due to be published in the coming months.
Those announcements are welcome. Will the Minister recognise the work being done by the excellent Northumbria police and crime commissioner, Kim McGuinness, who has such a holistic approach to tackling violence—sexual violence and domestic abuse—against women? She has launched campaigns such as “Fun without fear”, and she commissions work with perpetrators, as well as with victims of domestic and violent abuse, to cover all aspects of work to stop this kind of violence against women.
I genuinely thank the hon. Lady for bringing to the fore the vital role that police and crime commissioners play in their local areas to do exactly the sort of the work that she describes. We are giving police and crime commissioners the funding and flexibility to commission plans and work in their own local areas, but we are now supporting that, as I say, with the national strategic policing priority so that there is a focus not just at local level but at national level. We have invested an unprecedented amount—some £35 million—specifically in tackling the perpetrators of domestic abuse. This is very significant work, and I am sure that we will begin to see the benefits of it very soon.
We also want to build an evidence base on perpetrators. In the strategy, we committed to creating a “what works” fund to see what is working, with risk assessment and changing behaviours, and to looking at some frankly under-researched areas such as abuse within adolescent relationships. I see the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) opposite me; we discussed this in the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee. We know that, as part of our wider societal work, we need to focus on what is happening in teenage relationships before the age of 16, when the Act kicks in, so that both adolescents and those over 16 are being looked after in their relationships.
As I hope I have already set out, we are going to be able to deliver this change by ensuring that each of the agencies and parts of the system that are responsible for tackling these crimes plays its part and that they play them together. The policing world and the Government have accepted all the recommendations made in previous HMICFRS inspections. We have already supported the introduction of a national policing lead for violence against women and girls, DCC Maggie Blyth, who is co-ordinating the policing response. She is playing a really important role in policing at the national level, which of course informs local policing on the ground, a point that I know has been emphasised and that I will develop in a moment. That means we have a national policing lead fully dedicated to looking at the police response to these crimes. DCC Blyth has already published a national framework so that police forces have clear and consistent direction.
We have also taken the opportunity in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to ensure that it is clear that domestic abuse and sexual offences are included in the definition of serious violence when local areas are determining how to fulfil their duty under the new serious violence duty in that Bill. This is a significant step forward at local level. I know that there have been grave concerns, particularly in recent weeks, about incidents of police attitudes and behaviour. The Home Secretary has commissioned a two-phase independent inquiry chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini QC to investigate the issues raised by events last year and also to scrutinise the robustness of vetting practices, professional standards, discipline and workplace behaviour. That is important work that needs to be done to help to restore public trust.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins) intervened on the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford to ask about the pressure on courts. I think the Opposition acknowledge the impact that the pandemic has had on the criminal justice system and on our ability to run courts. We kept the criminal justice system and the family courts operating for the most vulnerable cases through the pandemic. I must correct him on one point. I am told that court backlogs were 19% higher in the last year of the Labour Government than under the Conservative Government in February 2020, just before the pandemic. However, I understand the spirit in which he raised that point. I am pleased—although not complacent—that the pandemic backlog in magistrates courts is well on the way to being resolved, and significant changes are being made in the Crown courts as well.
I turn now to the motion’s emphasis on rape cases and investigations. The reason I want to focus specifically on this is that it is such an important part of the Government’s overall work to tackle violence against women and girls. For reasons that have been debated previously, there are significant issues at every stage of the criminal justice process, and we are determined to tackle them. We have a highly focused programme of work looking specifically at the investigation and prosecution of allegations of rape. It is called the end-to-end rape review report and action plan. We took a hard and honest look at how the criminal justice system deals with rape, and we are clear that into many instances it is simply not good enough.
I have been asked about oversight of the system as a whole. Just to help explain, the rape review action plan is precisely about that oversight and grip of the national systems. Everyone in the Chamber will understand that the police have their role to play and that the Crown Prosecution Service has its role to play, and of course we respect the independence of the judiciary and of juries, but there must be, and there is now, oversight of the system as a whole. This is why the publication of the first six-monthly progress report and quarterly scorecard on adult rape cases is so important. If anyone wants to look at the scorecards, they are on the gov.uk website. In them, we are shining a light on every stage of the criminal justice process, not just for those who work in the justice system but for charities, for campaigners and, importantly, for the public to examine. We have a theme of non-defensive transparency running through the scorecards because we want to share what is going well—there are areas where we are beginning to see small improvements—as well as the areas where the system needs to do much, much better.
I am pleased to confirm that in the coming months we will also publish what we are calling local scorecards, because we understand that local areas will want to know what is happening in their area. As part of that, we are also rolling out Operation Soteria, which has already been mentioned today. This is a significant programme of work for policing and for the CPS. The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford has called for rape and serious sexual offence—RASSO—units in forces, but Operation Soteria is even more ambitious than that. It is about transforming the approach that the whole of policing takes to investigating crime. We are taking the focus away from the victim and putting it firmly on the suspect.
Why, then, is the Minister not rolling out Operation Soteria to every single force straight away, and why not require RASSO units in the meantime? I would love her to go further, but surely we should be requiring RASSOs within three months.
We will be, but this is such a fundamental review of policing and CPS practice. The area where we have piloted it already—Avon and Somerset—is beginning to roll out lessons to other police forces, but we need to be clear as to what is working and what is not working. None of us wants unintended consequences in any of this work. It will be rolled out nationally, but we are just making sure that the academics uncover everything. We have a team of academics who go into a police force area, dive into the files and look at everything. From that, they come up not just with data but, importantly, with recommendations on what went wrong and what worked. This is an incredibly intensive programme, and it will take a bit of time before we roll it out nationally, but we are already on schedule with rolling it out to the five pilot areas and the next tranche of forces. That is what we are determined to do.
I hope that the right hon. Lady also supports the fact that as part of our efforts to improve rape convictions, referrals and investigations, we have listened again to victims. One of the areas that they are understandably most concerned about is the idea that their mobile phones will be taken away from them without good cause. The right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) has raised this with me on a number of occasions. We hear that and we get it, and that is why in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill we have included new criteria that the police must abide by in the decision-making process as to whether they should take a victim’s phone. What is more, we have piloted a phone swap-out scheme if a phone has to be taken for more than 24 hours. We are seeing whether having a swap-out will help to inform a national scheme. In addition, we are rolling out digital technology across forces so that it is much quicker for them to deal with these phones—[Interruption.] I very much hear your discreet coughing, Madam Deputy Speaker—in a non-covid way—but if I may, I will just deal with the national roll-out of section 28.
Those in the Chamber will know what section 28 is. It involves the ability of victims of sexual violence and modern slavery to give pre-recorded evidence, so that, rather than waiting a long time for a trial to come to court, they give evidence as quickly as possible after the event and it is then used at the trial. This is exciting work, and we have committed to rolling this out nationally as quickly as we can. There will be more news on this in the coming months. There is much more I can say, but I am going to take your hint, Madam Deputy Speaker.
There are many areas of agreement on this. It is absolutely right of Her Majesty’s Opposition to hold us to account and scrutinise what we are doing, but there is genuinely an enormous amount of good will in Government and across the House to tackle these invidious crimes. Please, the message must go out from the Chamber that enough is enough. We—half the population—will not put up with this behaviour any more, and by working together we really can make this the decade of change.
I thank the Minister. We have 15 speakers for this debate, so I urge colleagues to be considerate of one another. I think it boils down to about seven minutes each.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to debate male violence against women and girls.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) spoke about the online space, and I flag the work of the all-party parliamentary group on commercial sexual exploitation. We have taken extensive evidence on the prevalence of violent online pornography, which is ubiquitous and has, for some time, fuelled the epidemic of violence against women and girls.
Ministers have heard me talk about this many times, and I plea for them to look again at non-contact sexual offending and how it is a red flag for the possible escalation of offending behaviour into something far more serious. They will know of the case in my constituency where a man prowled the streets for months, flashing and taking part in acts of voyeurism. It was not reported, and he later got bolder and raped and murdered a student at Hull University, throwing her body into the river. I hope Ministers will look again at low-level offending.
The Government’s ending violence against women and girls strategy for 2016 to 2020 was clear about the outcomes they wanted to achieve by 2020, namely increases in reporting, police referrals, prosecutions and convictions for violence against women and girls, matched by a reduction in the prevalence of all forms of violence against women and girls, but sadly it appears that the opposite has happened. The volumes of police referrals, charges, prosecutions and convictions for offences of violence against women have plummeted since 2016-17, particularly for rape and serious sexual offences. Recent figures from the Crown Prosecution Service show that 1,557 rape-flagged cases proceeded to the prosecution stage in 2021, down from 5,190 in 2016-17.
I welcome the rape review, but I remain a little confused about which Minister is actually responsible for driving it.
Two hands are up on the Front Bench.
I am very glad to hear that because, of course, the Minister for Crime and Policing is also named as having responsibility for the rape review. There is a bit of confusion. As the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), will know, the Home Affairs Committee has carried out an inquiry on rape investigations and convictions, and we will shortly publish a report.
Precisely because this is cross-Government work, of course other Ministers are involved. We are bringing in everybody who needs to be in the room, but the Deputy Prime Minister and I are the leads. We own it, and we are monitoring it very closely and very frequently.
That helps. The issue I have is that, unless one person is driving it through, things often do not happen. If the Minister is responsible, that is good to hear.
We are still waiting on some of the Government’s commitments on tackling violence against women and girls. Although there has been some progress, as the Minister pointed out—and I particularly welcome Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth’s appointment as the national policing lead on tackling violence against women and girls—many campaigners have said that a number of central pledges in the most recent tackling violence against women and girls strategy, launched in July 2021, have not yet been implemented. For example, no timescale has been provided for the Home Office’s work on potential gaps in the law on public sexual harassment and how a specific offence might address them. A final version of the statutory guidance on the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 has also still not been published.
The tackling violence against women and girls strategy stated that the complementary domestic abuse strategy would be published in 2021, but it has been delayed. The perpetrators strategy, to which the Minister referred, is due by the end of April. When the Home Secretary recently appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, she did not give a date for publication and, concerningly, she did not say that it would be published in time. I know the Minister said the strategy will be published in the coming months, but there is a duty on the Home Secretary to publish a perpetrators strategy within 12 months of Royal Assent of the Domestic Abuse Act, which was given on 29 April 2021. This is urgent, and I hope we will see the strategy in time. The domestic abuse organisation SafeLives has highlighted the fact that less than 1% of perpetrators receive any form of intervention to help address their behaviour, which is why the perpetrators strategy is vital.
The support for migrant victims of domestic abuse pilot is due to end on 31 March 2022, and the external evaluation is not expected to finish until the end of August. The domestic abuse commissioner has raised concerns that the Home Office has not outlined what interim support will be made available after the pilot concludes, with survivors facing uncertainty and, potentially, a lack of support before a long-term decision is made. In its report on domestic abuse in 2018, the previous Home Affairs Committee stated:
“Victims of abuse with uncertain immigration status are particularly vulnerable because they can have difficulties in accessing financial support and refuge and other support services, so they have few options for escaping from abuse.”
I am concerned by the number of gaps and delays in the implementation of the male violence against women and girls strategy. This is now an endemic problem. The Minister said there is a cross-departmental approach, yet the Government seem to be struggling to enact reforms in one Department alone. I urge them to speed up the implementation of their commitments on this sadly growing issue as a matter of urgency.
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow Select Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson).
This hugely important issue and debate concerns men as much as women, which we need to emphasise. It is not easy, and there is no single silver bullet. A raft of reasons give rise to this appalling level of offending and the difficulties we have in dealing with it. As both Front Benchers said, it needs to be addressed on a wide front.
I will concentrate on the criminal justice issues, as my Select Committee is seized of these matters. As it happens, an interesting and useful report was recently published by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate. In fact, the four criminal justice inspectorates are giving evidence to the Justice Committee next week, which will give us an opportunity to probe a little more into the report’s useful recommendations. I hope that, by and large, the Government will look upon them favourably, although even there we have to recognise some of the complexities.
In my previous life as a barrister, I prosecuted and defended quite a number of rapes and other serious sexual offences. They are the most appalling offences, and most of us rightly regard them as perhaps only a little below homicide in their vile impact on individuals and in how seriously the system must take them. These offences must therefore be handled, at all stages of the process, with particular sensitivity and care, which the system always endeavours to do.
Given the time I spent at the Bar, I can say that the experience of complainants has markedly improved from when I first started in practice. We are much, much more aware of the myths that sometimes abound about why such offences are or are not reported. There is much greater sensitivity in the handling of complainants and witnesses in these cases. In particular, the Judicial Studies Board has produced much more up-to-date and much more sensitive model guidance to judges who try these cases in the Crown court on giving directions to juries to dispel some of the myths and on being alert to the particular sensitivities of witnesses giving evidence on such traumatic events. We have done much more on the use of special measures in courts to make it easier for witnesses in such cases to give evidence.
All those are positive things. That does not mean that we should rest on our laurels and that we should not continue to do more, but we have to recognise that there has been significant change and we must now build on that. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) pointed out one thing to our Committee that had been striking over the years. I am grateful for his support and work in the Committee during his time as a member, which was absolutely outstanding, and I congratulate him on being appointed a Parliamentary Private Secretary. The Committee was struck by the statistic he raised: that some 90% of the attrition of victims and complainants in these cases comes before the case even gets to the CPS to look at. That really has to be addressed most urgently.
The other interesting statistic we found was that when a charge has been brought and the case has gone to the Crown Court, the conviction rate in rape and serious sexual offences cases is not broadly dissimilar to that for other offences of serious violence against the person—section 18s and so on. When we get these cases to court and when they are presented properly, by experienced counsel and with properly trained judges, we can get the same results as we do for other offences of violence. We really need to tackle why we are not getting to that situation in the first place. That is why Operation Soteria and the end-to-end rape review are so important.
We must also deal with specific issues on delays in disclosure, which we have all seen over a number of years in relation to such offences. The Minister rightly refers to the issue of digital evidence and mobile phones in particular. That is much more significant now, and we must get to a situation where the evidence can be downloaded. It has to be disclosed, where relevant, because there is an obligation in holding a fair trial to make legitimately disclosable material available to the defence. I have been involved in cases where the disclosure of material demonstrated that there was a genuine defence and therefore a miscarriage of justice was averted—I can think of two such cases. So that has to be done, but it has to be done sensitively and swiftly, so that the victim can get their phone and material back as soon as possible. That is the key thing: we need to invest in that and make sure it is done consistently, in the same way as we need to invest in making sure that victim support services are consistent in all the courts across the country and that the level of communication between prosecutors, police and the witnesses is consistent in the way that the latter are dealt with.
There is a suggestion in the inspector’s review of specialist rape courts, and I would be interested to see how that works in practice. A suggestion was made for that in Scotland. I am not sure where the evidence base is for that in England, but the real issue is not so much specialist courts, but the delay in listing. That is one thing we could ask the Courts Service to look at. I know that listing is a judicial function, but we need to work with the judiciary on this to give them the resources. I find it shocking that rape cases are listed as what the Minister and I will remember as “floaters”, or back-ups, where they do not have an allocated court and are there to be called on if another case collapses. It is not fair to be listing cases in this way, where victims who have to relive the trauma of a rape or sexual assault are hanging around not knowing whether they will get on that day or not. Surely all such cases ought to be fixtures.
We should also be doing more to avoid the late vacation of fixed dates for trial. As the report details, there have been too many instances where cases were adjourned more than once, with the victim—the witness—having worked themselves up to give evidence only for the case to be taken out of the list, often because there is not judicial availability or because barristers are not available. The point is that these cases have to be tried by “ticketed” Crown court judges: judges who have undergone training in handling sensitive witnesses and such cases, and who understand the issues that have to be gone through. We need to make sure that there is an adequate supply of ticketed senior Crown court judges and, where necessary, highly experienced recorders as well. We also need to make sure that there are enough experienced advocates available.
Unfortunately, I have seen evidence from the Bar Council and others of too many instances recently where cases have had to be adjourned—one or two of the cases have been well publicised, so I am sure the Minister has seen them—because a prosecutor of sufficient seniority was not available to take then on. We have to look at that in the criminal law legal aid review and its implementation, because it is a healthy, independent Bar that provides most of the prosecutors and defenders in these cases. Getting that right is important, too.
There also has to be proper remuneration to make sure that people of sufficient experience and status handle these really serious cases. There are specific things that I hope can be done. The section 28 hearings are certainly important. The one caveat I would enter is that we should keep a careful eye on how that works in practice. It may well have the advantage of getting early guilty pleas, which are particularly important in cases involving offences of this kind, as we save the complainant from having to give evidence and relive the incident, but some concern has been expressed by practitioners that when the case is contested, the impact of recorded evidence can seem more remote to a jury. That may or may not be right, but we should keep an eye on it, because we want these proceedings to work if they can.
It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. We should all be supporting the “Enough” campaign, not only with rhetoric, but with action. That means investing properly in the justice system. There is much good will and expertise, but we need to make sure that there is resource to enable the system to function with consistency and to keep up to date with developments in technology and other matters in the field.
We see domestic abuse, misogyny, sexual violence, threatening behaviour, economic abuse, sexism—I could go on. Whether it is behind closed doors or on our streets; a hidden secret or something that makes the front pages of the national press, violence against women and girls is endemic, and tackling it must be a priority. I regularly spend time with my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi) talking to the women in Swansea who are selling their bodies on the street. They are working as prostitutes, and we go to talk to them and ask them, “Why are you here and what more can we do to help you?” Most of them do not want any help, because they are doing what they are doing because someone “loves” them—someone who takes the few pounds they are earning in return for a place to sleep or a quick fix. Often there is no physical abuse—no cuts or bruises—but the psychological impact and the economic hold that these men have over those women is so damaging.
That is not unique to Swansea; it is the same, on streets and in homes, in towns and cities the length and breadth of the country. At a recent event, I met the team from One25, an outstanding charity based in Bristol—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) is a big supporter of its work. Its vision is of a world where women feel safe, feel loved and can thrive. It reaches out to some of the city’s most marginalised women and gives them practical support to move from crisis and trauma towards independence, without any kind of judgment. But the stories behind the charity’s work paint a very dark picture. In 2020-21, One25 worked with 237 women, 97% of whom had experienced domestic or sexual violence. All the women it works with have experienced trauma—for some it is childhood abuse which is deep-rooted and has led to a lifetime of marginalisation and pain. Most have ended up in crisis, on the streets and selling their bodies, which makes them vulnerable to further violence and abuse.
Worryingly, we have seen a sharp increase in violent behaviour towards women selling sex during the pandemic, both in the levels of it and in the intensity. One25 saw an increase of 82% in reported cases last year, and it is a similar story on domestic abuse; data is limited on the exact impact, but in May 2020, just two months into lockdown, the Office for National Statistics reported a 12% increase in the number of cases referred to Victim Support. The national domestic abuse helpline also recorded a 65% increase in calls in the second quarter of 2020, the height of the first lockdown, compared with the first quarter. However, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, we know that domestic violence remains a huge problem and we must do more to tackle it. No one is immune, but a recent study run by the charity AVA—Against Violence & Abuse—called “Stuck in the Middle with You”, exploring the impact of menopause on survivors of domestic abuse, found that women’s experiences suggest a two-way relationship between the two.
Menopause impacts on women’s relationships, particularly those with an intimate partner, which can lead to an escalation in violent behaviour. On the flipside, those experiencing domestic abuse may find that this leads to worsening menopause symptoms. This month, the Welsh homelessness charity, Llamau, will launch its “Break the bias” campaign. Its aim is to remove the stigma and create a society where women do not fear being judged by their experience. Domestic abuse does not discriminate, so those who survive it should not feel discriminated against.
There are some fantastic organisations right across the country, such as the Swan project in Swansea, which are working hard to tackle violence against women and girls and to support survivors. Today, I have shared just a few wonderful examples, but there are so many more. We must stand together and work together so that we can make sure that the threats, the abuse and the hate stop. Every woman and girl affected—every survivor—needs to know that there is support, that we will not tolerate this, and that we will all do everything that we can to tackle the violence that so many face.
There is, I suppose, a grim sense of bookending in this debate. We all know that we are very close to the anniversary of a particularly appalling murder—one of the most appalling crimes that I can recall. It was a grotesque breach of trust by a serving Met police officer. Most recently, though, there was the admission of guilt by the murderer of Sabina Nessa, who we now know drove miles from his home, found her at random, killed her in the most brutal and degrading way and pleaded guilty at the Old Bailey last week. There is no doubt that there is an epidemic of violence against women and girls.
I understand why the Opposition have brought this debate to the Chamber, and I respect their reason for doing so. I think it is reflected in the tone that everybody has taken so far that it would not serve well to use this debate as a political tit for tat. The truth is that, when we debate these issues, it is always the same faces who are here, and we know that it will be our collective endeavour, if anything, that will improve the situation.
I want to align myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), who said that finding out what is happening and how we improve it is complex and difficult. I think that that was revealed a little bit on Monday night when we debated making misogyny a hate crime. I heard the impassioned speech of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and what she said about women’s safety, but, as a matter of law, she did not engage at all with the issue of whether all violence against women and girls is motivated by hatred, or whether there are other more complex causes, and how, if at all, it fits within the framework of section 28 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which governs all hate crimes. She also could not explain why the reporting pilot that had been conducted in Nottingham had not actually resulted in any more prosecutions or convictions. I do not believe—I say this very respectfully—that there was consensus on the Labour Benches about whether it should be made an offence. Even if I am wrong about that, and there is no desire here to humiliate, it exposes the fact that there are complex questions about causation and legal framework that are not that easy to resolve. Even people whose mission is the same will disagree on the mechanics of how we get there.
Before I get into the substance of the debate, I want to spend a moment talking about what I think the Government have achieved, because it is quite easy to overlook that. I am not just going to give a shopping list of the things that the Government have criminalised, from stalking to coercive control and to revenge porn, because everybody is familiar with that and most people have participated in debates where we have talked about that. One thing that we have achieved in the past 10 years is looking at violence against women through a much more expansive lens. In the old days of domestic abuse, for example, many will recall the shorthand of “knocking her about”—think how far we have come from that. We do not even see it as just a question of violence. We view these crimes as issues of power, control, obsession, jealousy, and a desire for revenge. We recognise that coercive control is a criminal offence, even if the relationship has long since finished. We recognise that revenge porn, something that would have been the shame of the victim for many, many years, is actually the crime of the perpetrator. We have tackled toxic assumptions. It was the Mother of the House who used the phrase for the first time, “the nagging and shagging defence” that used to be frequently and successfully deployed in the criminal courts. We have also dealt with the fact that there is no such thing as consent to rough sex as a defence for sexual violence. I think that we can probably agree that we still have further to go on some of this.
The Centre for Women’s Justice has written very recently that we still have issues around culture. One thing we need to be careful about in the “she was just walking home” labelling is that we are not saying that there are deserving victims and that the woman who was out getting drunk or even looking for sex or doing something that is not seen as ladylike is not a deserving victim. That is all still there, I think.
What we are doing on rape is important. I understand the collective concern on that issue. Section 28 procedures —the ability of a victim to give evidence behind closed doors with counsel and to be cross-examined without having to wait for trial—have made a huge difference. Members of the Home Affairs Committee—I think that this only applies to the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) on the Front Bench—will recall that, when the chairs of the rape reviews for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales gave evidence, they did not agree on everything, but the one thing on which they did agree was how important section 28 procedures are, and I am so glad that the Justice Secretary is now rolling them out nationwide.
I also have to mention criminal justice scorecards. I am not sure whether we are using that official language yet, but, about four weeks ago, I was contacted by a young lady in my constituency who had recently been raped outside the constituency. When she approached the force where it had happened, her treatment was lamentable. The rape statistics of that force had been published and were in the public domain. When I wrote to them—a letter of complaint essentially on her behalf—pointing out their absolutely diabolical rape prosecution rates, they responded to me the next day with an extremely helpful and supportive letter, setting out what they would do and making contact with her, and I think we turned it around.
My hon. Friend is making a most important point and I entirely agree with her. Does she agree that that links into the importance of proper, careful and sensitive investigation by the police? We will increase the rate of charging only if, in a sufficient number of cases, there is admissible evidence that affords a reasonable prospect of conviction, and it is the evidence gathering, therefore, that must be tackled. It is the failure to gather sufficient admissible evidence to give a reasonable prospect of conviction that means that a person cannot be properly charged.
I accept that. I also accept the point that my hon. Friend made. Members of the Select Committee will recall Mary Prior QC saying emphatically that we need continuity of counsel, but the judicial listing function is detrimental to that.
There are three points on this issue.
The hon. Lady mentioned the police culture and revenge porn. Does she accept that there is a cultural problem in the police in terms of reporting revenge porn, telling people whose drinks have been spiked that they are just drunk, all the misogyny in WhatsApp groups, and the behaviour at both Bristol and Clapham? Twenty people have been put in hospital by police unaccountability. Is there not an issue there about accountability and culture that we need to confront?
I thank the hon. Member for his contribution, which pre-empts what I was coming onto—the three issues that are serious and that we have not really tackled. The first is the prevalence of online porn. On checking the figures today, I found that more than half of children up to the age of 13 have viewed porn, and that rises to two thirds by the time they get to 15. Most of them say that they have seen some violent content when they were not looking for it. The numbers of children under the age of 16 who have viewed rape porn is unbelievable. I think that, when I am an old lady, we will look back at this moment in our history and think that it is absolutely unforgiveable that this form of child abuse—that is what it really is—is still operating, and it really affects the attitudes that boys have towards women. In my day, it was lad mags and lap dancers; now it is something far more pernicious.
The second point is the police culture. We have heard recently that Wayne Couzens had WhatsApp groups and those police officers have been named. We have PCs Denis Jaffer and Jamie Lewis who pleaded guilty to the grotesque crimes that they performed on the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman. Then there is the Charing Cross branch of the Met, a member of which described a domestic abuse victim as “mad and deserving a slap”, and then talked about whether they would rape or chloroform somebody. There is a serious issue that goes beyond one bad apple, and I look forward to the outcomes of those inquiries.
Finally, I do not even know whether the two sides of the House disagree on this, but there is clearly more to do on perpetrators. I think that we have all come to understand that there are gateway crimes—stalking is a prime example—and there needs to be now, which the Government are getting to, a perpetrator strategy that records escalating violence.
I need to remind Members that the case relating to Sabina Nessa is still sub judice, and will remain so until sentencing or the conclusion of any appeal.
This debate is tragically timely for women across my constituency, who will tomorrow mark the one-year anniversary of the murder of my constituent Sarah Everard at the hands of a serving police officer. As our prayers and thoughts go out to Sarah’s family, I remind everyone of their request for privacy, and particularly the media; given what the family have suffered, that is the least they can offer them. That murder shocked the nation and my constituents; it struck fear into the hearts of women across the country, but particularly women who walked around the same area, who contacted me saying that they no longer felt safe. No one should feel unsafe walking anywhere at any time.
I cannot raise that case without also mentioning the vigil that followed on Clapham Common and the conduct of the Metropolitan Police. Women present at the vigil were there to remember those who had lost their lives at the hands of male violence, and some were there to process their own trauma. They were forcibly kettled, manhandled and dispersed. The police response was called “controversial” at the time; I would say it was not merely controversial, but disgraceful.
There have also been great efforts to make it seem as though the murder’s happening at the hands of a serving police officer was a matter of one bad apple, but evidence has consistently revealed a deeply misogynistic culture in the Metropolitan Police. In the past 10 years, 750 Met police officers have faced sexual misconduct allegations, yet only 83 have been sacked.
We have heard tales of officers sharing inappropriate and offensive material and taking pictures of the dead bodies of women as a joke. The report into the vile misogyny and racism at the Charing Cross police station led the Home Secretary herself to declare that the Met had a “cultural and attitudinal” issue with misogyny. I do not say those things to berate the police, but because women need to be able to turn to the police to deliver justice and to prosecute the perpetrators of male violence. What confidence will they have in police forces that are known to do such things?
Since the murder in my constituency last year, a number of attacks have taken place in the area, leading to even more women being fearful of walking by themselves. Several of those attacks even happened during the day or in relatively open spaces. There is a culture of misogyny running rife through our society, and it is emboldening men to commit more heinous crimes against women in broad daylight. The systems in place to deliver justice for female victims continue to fail, as rape is effectively decriminalised.
One thing we must do is look at education and schools, teaching boys from a young age that as they grow up to become men, women should not be treated as objects or be spoken to or about in certain ways. That said, we must look to what they are seeing and hearing online, something hon. Members have frequently mentioned today, with the ever-growing presence of incels. We hope the online harms Bill will actively look at that and puts more responsibility on social media companies to take down some of that horrible content and make people realise that, as Mr Speaker has reminded us, words have consequences. It is not just banter or general viewing. It is not just a joke.
Does the hon. Lady agree that social media is normalising hate speech—particularly aggressive hate speech directed towards women and girls—and that we must address that through the online safety Bill to ensure that the normal legal standards that exist offline are applied online and to create real responsibilities for companies such as Facebook, YouTube and TikTok to ensure that they do that?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman—he is absolutely right. I wish more responsibility was placed on social media companies. There should even be a levy for them to pay for the perpetrating of the crimes that sometimes happen online but are not considered to be serious because they happen in a virtual space.
While it seems obvious to point out the impact of past cuts to police funding, it is important to make people realise that the ability to investigate crimes against women and girls is greatly impacted. The impact is not just in the lower numbers of police available, but in the cuts to police training and vetting. Between 2010 and 2018 the Met faced over £600 million in Government cuts, which saw a reduction in police posts and no doubt resulted in corner-cutting in training and vetting of officers. No wonder there are individuals who we know are clearly unfit to act as officers and have used their positions to commit heinous crimes against women and girls.
The answer to violence is not simply having more police on the streets, but they must be there, they must be appropriate and they must be vetted and we must ensure that, when dealing with cases of violence against women and girls, they take them seriously. If the police are to regain our trust in them to keep women and girls safe and tackle the spiralling issue of male violence against women and girls, they must first address the culture of impunity that allows violence against women and girls to thrive, by actively investigating these matters and taking them more seriously.
If the Government are to regain our trust in their commitment to tackling violence against women and girls, they need to assess and review all their cuts to services dealing with violence against women and girls right across the country. Those services have been cut in such a way that when women need support, there is hardly anybody to go to. We are talking about refuges and other services that have been cut right to the bone, and meanwhile the incidence of violence is increasing. If the Government are committed to tackling this issue, they must seriously look at the issue of funding, restore it where it has been cut and continue to work with those organisations that have done so much to end violence against women and girls.
It is a year since the nation held its breath, prayed in hope, and then received the terrible news. It was a body blow felt by women everywhere. Those grim headlines alerted us to the enormity of the problem, the sheer scale of male violence against women and girls. Women shared stories, organised and collectively shouted “No!” Every one of us had had, and has had, enough.
In a country such as ours, there is no acceptable excuse or reasonable explanation on earth for the rise in violent crime against women and no excuse or explanation for the abysmally low prosecution rates. Most women never receive justice for rape; most do not even get to try. Author Julie Bindel, a lifelong feminist campaigner, wrote this morning:
“If conviction rates for rape fall any lower in the UK, it might as well be decriminalised.”
That has also been said many times in this place by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips). Why is that still the case? Whatever the reasons are, they cannot be used as excuses. They must be fixed urgently. We need to see changes immediately.
If every person who has been raped lay down in the street as though they had been murdered, we would be tripping over the bodies. If the bodies of women who had been killed by their former or current partners were there too, we would run out of space to walk. I welcome the Minister’s launching the Enough initiative as part of her Department’s strategic changes and Operation Soteria, but we in this place are all on notice. We cannot just allow the scale of male violence against women and girls to keep growing. It is our problem, it is society’s problem, it is everybody’s problem, but it is largely our responsibility.
In the meantime, the Office for National Statistics data released at the end of January showed that police forces recorded the highest-ever number of rapes and sexual offences last year—more than 63,000 rapes, 13% up on the previous period. Perhaps we need another lockdown so that women and girls can just live out our daily lives without the risk of being brutally hurt? Should women all stay quietly at home after dark, or maybe carry weapons?
The men who commit those crimes need to know that they will be caught, stopped and locked up. If they ruin a life, they should live with that action every single day, as their victims are forced to. Instead—what? They just go home after work, rape a woman, go to bed, catch a train the next morning, plan a bit of DIY at the weekend, knowing they will not be caught or prosecuted. Meanwhile, the person that they have brutalised slowly opens her eyes, tries to move her limbs in order to stand, walks slowly in a state of shock, checks her injured body, and then sits motionless, her brain attempting to make any sense of what happened to her and reliving the bits she remembers over and over. Stuck, paralysed and alone, she will have to piece together her sense of herself and the world anew. Every decision and thought will now carry weight like never before. A new way of living will be hers, her life interrupted and broken because a man decided to use his body to hurt, control and violate her.
Some of those women are able to speak up—they attack the useless system we have in the hope that that might bring about change—yet the majority will carry on being daughters, mothers and workers, changed for ever, mostly unnoticed by others who will not know their story. But we are here to make things better. Women should not simply have to accept that violence is a real and daily threat to bear in mind constantly. Male violence against women and girls should be seen as being as socially unacceptable and shocking as kicking an animal. The pursuit of justice must be a priority, reflecting the punishment lived by victims.
Dame Vera Baird reacted to today’s grim figures by saying:
“Much as we hope each year to finally witness the green shoots of a recovery, we are once again faced with the crushing reality that the criminal justice system is continuing to fail rape victims in ever-increasing numbers.”
Let us treat that as an emergency, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, and fix this broken system once and for all.
It is a real pleasure and privilege to speak in this debate. We have talked about this issue many times, and I could not agree more with the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) that the time for talking should be over and we need to see a lot more action.
I want to praise the organisations in Bath that are working on tackling violence against women and girls: the Southside project, which supports families affected by domestic violence and abuse; Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support, or SARSAS, a specialist support service for women and girls who have experienced any form of sexual violence at any point in their lives; and Voices, a survivor-led charity supporting those living with and beyond domestic abuse to recover from their trauma, which redoubled its efforts during the pandemic to make sure that no one was forgotten. I was delighted to recognise Voices with the first Best of Bath award last year.
But we should not leave it to charities to tackle violence against women and girls. We must do a lot more not only to support survivors but to prevent the terrible violence from occurring in the first place. We absolutely need to improve police training so that victims and survivors are properly supported. Many crimes do not even enter the criminal justice system. Over 600,000 women are sexually assaulted each year, but only one in six of those assaults is reported to the police. We must give women and girls the reassurance that their concerns are taken seriously whenever they report crimes of assault or domestic abuse.
I would like to add something to the motion before us today. Supporting victims of violence and sexual abuse begins at a local level. The Government must support local authorities to perform this vital task by giving them the duty and funding to provide accommodation for survivors of abuse. Our criminal justice system is failing women. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to not only report sexual abuse but then to relive that trauma in the courts. To add insult to injury, 1.6% of reported rapes lead to a charge. I need to repeat that: 1.6% of reported rapes lead to a charge. We are letting survivors down; it is shocking. We absolutely need better training and more resources for prosecutors and judges to punish perpetrators and deliver the justice that victims and survivors so desperately need.
We are still waiting for the Government to ratify the Istanbul convention, 10 years after signing it. We are one of only 13 countries that are dragging their feet. The Istanbul convention enshrines rights of survivors of sexual violence, including the right to access crisis counselling and mental health support. The Government have yet to give a good reason for that delay. This is really about the number of support centres that the Government should support and fund, and I think that is the reason they are dragging their feet: it is simply about money. I hope that the Minister can give her commitment to ratifying the convention without delay, and do so today. I ask the Government: please sign the Istanbul convention.
Violence against women and girls is endemic in our society. If we are serious about tackling it, then we need a dramatic culture change. We in Parliament, and Government, have to lead that change: it is our duty. It starts with better age-appropriate sex and relationship education in schools. I welcome the Minister’s announcement today that something will be done, as I was a teacher six years ago. It was just not good enough for tired teachers to give some relationship training in the afternoon after all the lessons had finished.
I want to support and highlight the hon. Lady’s comments about teaching staff. Having been a head of modern foreign languages myself, I know how difficult it is, when you are not trained, to give this specialist advice and to talk to young people, whose formative years are the most important, about relationship forming. I completely agree that specialist services are needed in schools.
Once again, it is simply a matter of resources. Schools must be given extra resource to have specialists who guide young people into proper relationships. It will probably save us a lot of money if we get this right, but we need to spend the money in the first place.
To back this up, a 2021 Ofsted report highlighted just how early sexual harassment begins, to the point where it becomes “commonplace”. According to the report, 92% of girls said that sexist name calling happens a lot or sometimes; and 80% of girls—80%—reported being put under pressure to provide sexual images of themselves. These figures speak for themselves and say that we need urgent action.
It is hugely disappointing that the Government continue to rule out making misogyny a hate crime. Yes, we discussed this at the beginning of the week, but I need to repeat what I said just two days ago: we have to get to the root causes of violence against women and girls. We must send a powerful message that negative attitudes towards women that lead to hate and lead to offences—from harassment all the way to very serious sexual assault—are not acceptable, and that is what making misogyny a hate crime would do. Hate crime legislation, as we have established, does not add to an offence, but it has made a clear difference to crimes based on racial or religious hate. Why do women not deserve the same treatment? I still cannot understand why the Government are not supporting this. Making misogyny a hate crime is not a silver bullet, but existing hate crime legislation has made a clear difference. So let us get on with it and make misogyny a hate crime.
None of the steps that I have pointed to will make violence against women and girls stop overnight, but the time of inaction and making excuses is up—we owe it to all women and girls who suffer violence and harassment on a daily basis.2.48 pm
I am really pleased that the Labour party has chosen to use one of our precious Opposition day debates for this subject today. It is a matter of tremendous importance. There is obviously a huge amount on the parliamentary agenda at the moment, so it really sends a positive sign that the party has chosen to debate this today.
I want to speak a bit about why this matters so much to me. As Members of Parliament, we on occasion have things that influence small numbers of our constituents—maybe just one of them. Sometimes it might be something that matters to a reasonable number of our constituents. If we had a factory closure that affected 5% of our constituents, we would be racing to Parliament to speak about it, but here we have an issue that not only affects the 51% of our population who are women, but demeans all of us who live in a society where our sisters, our partners, our wives and our daughters experience this and are not safe to go about their lives.
When I speak with those who I know intimately enough to have this kind of conversation, it is remarkable to me how absolutely everyday it is for women to face some kind of sexual harassment. Almost every woman I know who I am in a position to know this about has had an experience of something reasonably serious in this epidemic of violence. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) was right to say that we need to accept that we are talking about male violence against women and the extent to which it is culturally everyday and normalised.
This issue matters to me not just as a Member of Parliament representing all the women and girls in my constituency, but as a partner, a father, a brother and a friend of women who suffer from it. It also matters to me as a constituency Member of Parliament. My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) spoke about how we all have constituency casework trying to support women who have been victims of rape and victims of sexual and domestic violence. We recently had the appalling murder of Gracie Spinks in my constituency. Because of the ongoing police investigation, I am not able to go into detail about that at the moment, but Gracie was murdered by a man who had been stalking her. She had no relationship with him previously, but he had become obsessed with her, and that case has touched the hearts of every person in Chesterfield and led to a very passionate debate in Westminster Hall a few weeks ago.
The Government’s approach is failing at every level. The number of offences committed is shocking enough. The number that do not get reported is shocking enough. The number of reported offences that get inadequately investigated is shocking. The number of cases that have been investigated that get submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service is shocking. The number of cases that get referred to the CPS, but that wait so long to get into court that the victim removes their support for the trial is appalling, as is the number convicted. At every level, this is an absolute crisis and an epidemic that the Government and we all collectively are failing to address.
It is regrettable that the Home Secretary is not responding to this debate, because it would have sent a powerful message if she had come and said, “I am fronting up here. I am taking this seriously. I am not going to delegate this to my junior Minister. I will be the one to respond to this debate.” I put that on the record.
One of the important things that came across very strongly in the debate that we had about stalking was that, when it comes to sexual and domestic violence and stalking, there is such a responsibility on the victim of crime to prove that an offence has taken place, in a way that does not happen if we report to the police that we have been attacked and beaten up or that something has been stolen. In those cases, it is accepted there is a likelihood that the offence has taken place. When it comes to these kinds of offences against women, there is a huge burden of proof on the woman to prove that something has taken place.
I want to talk particularly about the important issue of stalking. The motion does not talk about stalking, but the matter is incredibly important to us in Chesterfield in the light of the Gracie Spinks murder. We need police forces across the country consistently to provide stalking advocacy services for victims and to ensure that every police officer recognises what stalking is all about and the impacts of that offence. Importantly, we have been talking about online violence against women, but often if the police investigate the online case, they will get the evidence they need to back up the stalking case.
Alongside all the pressures that this motion places on the Government, there is a need for us collectively to have a candid conversation about the culture of male violence and the culture, particularly among younger men and older boys, of watching porn and in particular the kind of porn, readily available on the internet, that normalises vicious sexual violence against women. The Government have been too quiet on that, and it needs to be said.
“condemns the Government for failing to take sufficient action”.
I do not think that anyone who has listened to the statistics that have been put out today can have any doubt that insufficient action has been taken. I welcome the positive tone we heard from the Minister, but we all need to be relentlessly saying to the Minister and the Government that the time for talk is over. We need to see a collective approach that addresses the manifold failures we have here so that more of our sisters, wives and daughters can live more peacefully in the future.
Since I entered this place, I have given much political headspace to the issue of male violence against women and girls, and I wish that was not the case. However, there is a duty on every one of us to speak out about this issue, which is endemic in our society. It is not getting better; the difference is that it now occupies more column inches and headlines than it did. We need to ensure that that remains so until the problem gets better, but even now, in this instance, I fear we are some way off from making any real progress.
We should be talking about closing the gender pay gap, delivering for working-class women in low-paid sectors such as social care, bettering access to affordable childcare for young mothers and encouraging young girls and women to enter the arena of science and technology but alas, no—yet again, we are in this place debating and talking about just keeping women and girls safe from male violence. We are yet again discussing our inability as a society to protect 50% of our population from harassment and sexual assault, from rape and from murder. That is how imbalanced the scales are, and frankly it makes me angry that we as lawmakers do not seem to grasp the size of the task at hand.
With that in mind, I would like to make a comparison to another incredibly important subject to provide some context. Since 1970, we have lost around 3,400 people to terrorist-related incidents, while more than 6,000 women in that time have been killed at the hands of men. For starters, how about we start treating femicide as seriously as terrorism? This Government are far too relaxed about the femicide taking place right under their nose.
In my own city of Liverpool, were it not for covid, we were due to hold a vigil back in November for women murdered by men, not least the number that occurred across Merseyside in the preceding weeks and months, which would be enough to send a shiver down anyone’s spine. Next week, I hope to take part in a debate called by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) on sexism in the Metropolitan police, which supposedly is an organisation meant to keep us safe.
Despite all that, we have continuously been subject to the endless nonsense from Government Ministers, such as the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who repeatedly celebrates all crime as coming down. When he does so, he demonstrates a complete ignorance and insensitivity to the fact that women have no confidence in the system and often do not report the crimes they have been victims of, and an ignorance of the damage that austerity has caused to refuge services, support services, the justice system and much more. I have no faith in a system that spends more on perpetrators than it does on victims, and I will outline some figures in relation to that.
A Merseyside charity that runs a programme aiming to challenge the behaviour of men who have been identified as potential perpetrators was provided with £217,000 of funding from the Ministry of Justice to be spent over a six-month period. The programme stated that, “All males have access to wrap around support including a Mindfulness programme. This has previously been shown to significantly increase engagement, improve sleep, and improve positive mental wellbeing”. That is £217,000 to support 40 perpetrators, which equates to £5,425 per head.
In comparison, Liverpool Domestic Abuse Service in my constituency is given £120,267 per annum by the Ministry of Justice, which equates to £60,133 for the same six-month period. It assists 1,284 women, meaning that only £46 is invested in supporting women and girls in the community who had no choice over the abuse committed on them for the same six-month period.
Let that sink in: there is £5,425 per head for a male identified as a potential perpetrator as opposed to £46 per head for a woman who has suffered abuse at the hands of a male perpetrator—how shameful. How on earth can that be right? That is the value placed on the wellbeing and safety of women. Yesterday, during Home Office oral questions, I called for misogyny to be made a hate crime. That is the scale and breadth of the task at hand, and we have barely begun to scratch the surface on the matter. Acknowledging the problem is not enough; immediate and robust action is required.
Order. I think the hon. Lady might have referred to another hon. Member in her speech. I am sure she knows that, if she were to do so, she should notify them. Perhaps we can have a discussion about that.
Next Tuesday is International Women’s Day, when we could be celebrating the progress and achievements that we have made not just in recent years, but over decades to protect women and girls. I sadly feel, however, that we have gone backwards in so many areas, especially violence against women and girls.
Some 40 years ago, us young women marched the streets chanting, “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”. Just over 30 years ago, as a young councillor, I led on a local strategy to bring the council, police and voluntary sector together to ensure that we had proper support for rape victims and a police suite that was staffed by women who had been raped. Gradually, particularly in London over the ’80s and ’90s, improvements were made and funding was made available. We saw improvements in schools, in the curriculum, in the police force and in local councils, and we saw the establishment and growth of many community-based organisations that built expertise and served the needs of victims of different forms of violence against women and girls. They had proper funding.
Today it feels as though we have not progressed much in 30 years—in fact, we have gone backwards. There are still not enough women officers to properly support raped women; police officers are sharing obscene comments and propositioning victims; and those specialist sensitive support services—the rape and serious sexual offences units and the community organisations—are closing.
There is a pattern in the experience of constituents who have come to me recently—victims of all ages, women experiencing domestic violence, stalking and serious sexual violence targeted by men—which is that they have been let down when they have done the right thing and reported their cases. Some 30 years after the strategy I worked on, the police, the probation service, the courts and others are frankly not working together. When one does act and raise an issue, it is not being taken up across the others. In the Minister’s opening speech, she mentioned the new stalking protection orders, but it is pointless having them in place if they are not enforced, if police officers cannot pull up the relevant data when a victim asks for immediate help or if a victim has to repeat the same information in the order again and again.
Breaches of those orders are not being acted on by the police. The police are not aware when a dangerous stalker or domestic abuser is released from custody, and police forces are not sharing information with each other. Of course, such crimes do not all happen with the victim and perpetrator within a particular police force area, and in London each basic command unit is the size of many police forces across the rest of England and Wales. Stalking protection orders—a piece of paper—are not an adequate shield for victims of violent, obsessive men.
The Opposition have called for multi-agency public protection arrangements to include serial domestic abusers and stalkers. We cannot continue with a piecemeal approach and with different agencies not talking to each other. The Government should heed our call and make street harassment a crime, as in France. They can also require police forces to record misogyny as a hate crime. We do not just need RASSOs to be established in every police force, but what about the four forces that have closed theirs? It is not surprising that 40% of victims are dropping out of the criminal justice process before their cases even get to a charge.
There should never be any question that a raped women should be seen by women officers who are properly trained in the care and support of rape victims. As I say, 30 years after we first established that in our London police stations, it is still not the norm.
Time is short, so I cannot cover everything, but I will mention one other aspect of violence against women and girls, which is so-called honour-based violence and abuse. Such crimes have not stopped, but the specialist support that those victims need has all but disappeared.
Over the last year, we have talked more in this place about violence against women and girls than in the past, which of course I welcome, but we need to go beyond talking and we need to see action. I wish we were building on the achievements of the past, not reinventing the wheel. We need action from the police, the probation service and the Government and we need proper support for victims.
There is no point having strategies and pilots, which the Minister mentioned in such detail, without support services for victims, proper criminal investigations and convictions for perpetrators. Nothing changes—the feeling of being beholden to somebody for a lift or of walking with our keys clutched between knuckles; the ever-growing fear that somebody is walking behind us at night; and the day-to-day acts of harassment that still plague the lives of many women. We deserve better, and we deserve change.
This time last year, we met in this House and talked about the outpouring and sharing of stories of violence and harassment that women and girls were experiencing across the UK. Hon. Members shared their own experiences, talked about domestic abuse and the harassment that they had faced, and raised the concerns of their constituents, many of whom had personal experiences of violence. Across the country, women and girls, and men and boys, lit candles on their doorsteps and laid flowers.
My inbox was full of emails from constituents who wanted to share their stories and thoughts on violence against women and girls. More than ever before, I saw a real outpouring locally from young people, especially young women, who wanted to do something about male violence and who sadly already had their own stories to tell. We must ensure that those women are at the heart of our policy making, because their stories matter.
Before Christmas, I spoke at a white ribbon day vigil in Pontypridd where we were joined by a group of girls from a range of high schools in the area. They told me about the harassment that they had experienced walking around town and highlighted the myriad ways that they had been harassed online. They had all been sent unwanted nude pictures, some had been pressured to take pictures of themselves only to have them shared round the school, and some had been sent abuse by strangers on social media platforms. When we talk about tackling violence against women and girls, we have to be talking about this too, which is why I will be doing everything I can in the next few months to make sure that our online space is as safe as our streets.
It is fundamentally clear that in both areas we have work to do, and part of these conversations must focus on the work we can do with perpetrators. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), has quite rightly said, the focus of the debate today fundamentally should be male violence. When we focus too much on “violence against women and girls”, we exclude and minimise the role of the perpetrator. Of course, the violence that women and girls experience is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men, and so is the violence that men experience.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse, I know that understanding and tackling male violence must be at the heart of policy to address these issues. I am grateful that organisations such as Respect, which supports the group, exist to bring these issues to the forefront. However, this is not about legislation or policing strategy; we need a complete culture change in this country if we are truly to make women and girls feel safer on our streets and keep them safe in their homes. We are done asking women and girls to take action themselves; it is time we asked men and boys to take action.
The Government have long promised to publish a domestic abuse strategy, with a much-needed pillar looking at perpetrators, but as with many things this Government promise, we are still waiting. Can the Minister therefore update the House on when exactly this much-needed strategy will be published? The UK Government and the Home Secretary have talked at length about violence against women and girls and they make promises, but what do we actually see happening? Charge rates for sexual offences and rape have fallen, yet again, to a record low of just 1.3%, and women and girls face harassment on the street trying to go about their daily lives. The police recorded a total of 845,000 domestic abuse-related crimes in 2021. How have we got to that number? In fact, almost a fifth of all crime reported to the police in the year ending March 2021 was domestic abuse, and these are just the crimes we know about.
Thankfully, in the absence of any action from the Government, we have the likes of the incredible Karen Ingala Smith and her team, who have dedicated their lives to counting the deaths of women who fall through the cracks. I have also been privileged to speak to Professor Jane Monckton-Smith and the team behind the “Hidden Homicides” podcast, who have been campaigning hard to push for greater awareness and investigation of so-called hidden or unexplained homicides. These domestic abuse-related unexplained deaths or suicides must be properly investigated by the police, and the UK Government have a responsibility to make sure this is happening.
Frankly, we simply do not see the scale of the problem of violence against women and girls reflected in the Government’s policing and funding priorities. Our police services are facing huge challenges. They have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, dealing with enormous difficulties, and I know that the vast majority of officers are doing everything they can to tackle male violence, but they simply do not have the support that they need. The UK Government proposals lack serious funding commitments, and more than a decade of austerity followed by a pandemic has left much-needed services struggling to cope under the strain.
It is absolutely vital that the Government commit to making violence against women and girls a strategic policing priority, so that it can be given the same prominence and resource as organised crime and terrorism. I therefore urge the Minister to please listen, and to commit to meeting me and other members of the all-party group to discuss these issues further. Tackling violence against women and girls is something colleagues across the House can clearly unite behind, and it is only by co-operative working that all of us will put an end to this unnecessary violence once and for all.
I am delighted to be speaking in this debate, but I am also angry that I am having to speak in this debate. I am angry that the Opposition have had to call the debate, because the House has not been given the Government time it should be given to address this issue.
This shows my age, but 30 years ago I was on the streets campaigning and marching with other women for reclaiming the streets. I am just heartbroken that I feel our streets are less safe for women and girls than they were 30 years ago. I am just angry that we are still having to talk about this issue and that we are not making any progress, or enough progress, on this issue.
I recently spoke to someone who did not want to report their rape. They just did not want to go through the system: they did not want to talk about it and they did not feel that the system would be on their side if they did. How many others are there? If I know just some people who face this, we know that it is goes on across the country. I have also spoken to a constituent who did report it—she went to hospital—but had to relive and retell her story again and again, and she found that more traumatising than the criminal act that started it. I have also spoken to constituents who, when they reported a rape, went to the police, but then had their phones taken off them, and they found that that was traumatising in itself. They could not contact people they wanted to contact, and their phones were taken for a very long time. The whole system seems to be stacked against the victims of rape, instead of against the criminals—the male criminals—who are perpetrating it.
I would like to thank the Law Centres Network, which regularly gives free advice to my constituents in Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, and to those at Citizens Advice Wandsworth, who are on the side of people who go to them.
It is shameful that this epidemic still exists across the UK. Under this Government, to be honest, a safe space has been created for rapists and attackers. Too many male criminals are being let off and too many victims are being let down. The Minister outlined the scale of the Government’s action, and I welcome all the new proposals being made and all the new strategies, but I just do not think they go far enough.
I would like to have heard more targets, such as for the charge rate for rape, of a certain number by a certain time. I would like to have heard of specialist rape courts being set up, with a number of judges, recorders and advocates being put into the system to be really sure that it will make a difference. The overwhelming majority of rape victims do not see justice. As we have heard many times, and this should be said again and again, the charge rate for rape has plummeted to just 1.3%, down from 5.9% in 2016. It is just outrageous, and we need to have some actual targets for that if we are to see any change. It is clear that more specialist support is needed, so will the Government today back Labour’s plans to increase the number of RASSO units for each police force? Every police force should have one.
The Government have finally added violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement. I have had conversations with my own borough commander about the difference that will make in the police force, but it seems very late. I welcome it, but Labour has been calling for it for months and years, and far more is needed to crack down on dangerous male perpetrators and to support victims. I want to ask the Minister why this action has taken so long. Why, when the Government have been in power for 12 years, has it taken this long to get not very far at all, and what is actually going to change?
Talking of delays, the perpetrators strategy is due by the end of April, so the Government now have two months, and Opposition Members are awaiting it. Can the Minister give us an actual date for its publication, or will we have to wait longer for that one as well?
This House is at its best when we work together and put aside our party differences. In that spirit, Labour has published an entire green paper with serious, sensible, common-sense measures to end violence against women and girls. To be honest, however, this is a whole-society issue. It is just a symptom of the misogyny that we have throughout our society. When women have lower social and economic status, it is what we see; we must do far more to tackle the whole issue.
Will the Government now commit to working more with us to implement these important proposals, so that in a year’s time we do not see the same figures and the same results, with the same number of sixth-formers raising this issue with me when I go around schools as a real concern day by day? Fear on our streets means that women have to change the way they live every single day. I do not want to come back here in a year’s, two years’ or three years’ time and see the same thing. We must see change.
I know I speak for every woman in the country when I say that we have had enough. It is time to turn the balance of power in this epidemic on its head: to stop the whole criminal justice process being traumatising, to fast-track justice, to bring male perpetrators to justice and to make our streets safer. I want to live in a country where we have reclaimed the streets and the internet, where the power lies with the victims of violence against women and girls and the number of those violent incidents is going down, and where criminals have nowhere left to hide.
I thank every Member who has spoken today; it is always good to hear passion on this subject.
I must start by saying that I welcome the fact that men’s violence against women—that is absolutely what it should be called; if we do not name it, we will not deal with it—has been added to the national policing priority. I have stood in this exact spot calling for such violence to be a serious crime and for that to happen—for over a year initially, and then since it was required last autumn by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services. I am very glad that is now going to be the case, although I look forward to having more detail on how it is going to play out.
“calls on the Government to increase the number of specialist rape and serious sexual offences units, improve police training to secure better outcomes for victims, introduce effective national management and monitoring of domestic abuse and sexual offenders and urgently publish the perpetrator strategy in full.”
As is customary, I will go through some of the things said in the debate by some brilliant Members on both sides of the House, starting with the funny feeling of déjà vu of my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper)—I wrote her constituency down as I always get the names in the wrong order—having called for similar things and having stood here and said the same thing in 2014. I often say to young women who come to me and ask how to become an activist, “Practise saying the same thing over and over again, because that is basically the gig.”
For me, there is not as much of a sense of déjà vu, because at the time my right hon. Friend was referring to I was working in frontline service and had been for some time. Back then, there was some legacy, before some of the worst ravages of the cuts came in. We had specialist domestic abuse courts in operation, for instance; most of those that I worked in have now gone. I know that Government Ministers will stand here and talk about some of the funding they have been put in and, as always, say it is more funding than ever before, without ever considering that the vast majority of funding that goes to victims of domestic abuse, certainly in community-based support services and definitely in refuge-based services, does not come directly from the Government. It slightly jukes the stats to say that central Government are giving more money, because actually most of the money came from local authorities. I stand here representing the Labour Home Office team, and Home Office and Justice Ministers sit opposite us. The reality is that this is a completely cross-cutting issue across health, education and local councils, more than any other, and it is not accurate to suggest there is more funding going in now without taking into account measures such as the Supporting People funding that used to come down.
My right hon. Friend talked about what has been done not being enough—not matching the reality of what people feel on the ground. I understand it is a Government Minister’s job to stand in front of us and tell us the good things they are doing, and they do it well. Without question, every single Minister in front of me right now absolutely feels as strongly as I do about this; I have absolutely no doubt about that. I know they have to stand here and say, “We have done this and we have done that,” but out there it does not feel like anything has been done. Out there, if we speak to victims—as I am sure they do—they tell a completely different story; it feels as if it is getting worse.
My right hon. Friend talked a lot about political will and I want to share something said by Laura Bates from Everyday Sexism. She was on an event with me last week and she said that last year there were two big crises that she wished to compare. Obviously, in March we had the outpouring of the country and women coming forward again and again and saying, “This is it”, and it really felt like a moment in the country; it really felt like this is a national crisis—“You get it; it’s an epidemic.” So, a few little things were announced here and there in that period, none of which, I have to say, really came to fruition. I am not criticising that, as I did not think they were particularly good ideas. A few months later, however, it was announced that there might be a European super league—Members will have to stay with me on this one. For seven days after it was announced, a European super league floated across the consciousness of our country. God forbid, I could not say what the European super league was, and I do not know what the other leagues are; I know nothing about the leagues and I do not need to pretend. I do know which team is Aston Villa; that is literally the beginning and end of my knowledge. In that time, however, we had a moment where our Prime Minister called an emergency and said, “The culture in our country is threatened; it will undermine the very fabric of British culture to have a European super league”, regardless of the fact that I believe he may have said some different things before, but he picks and chooses. He had everybody into No. 10. The then Health Secretary said there should be a special tax to penalise those clubs planning to be involved in the super league. The Prime Minister said, “I’m going to put a legislative bomb up this; we will get emergency legislation on the Floor of this House.”
Oh, to be the European super league! What I would not give to be the European super league. Where is the legislative bomb for the epidemic of violence against women and girls? Where is it? Where is the new tax—the new tax being proposed to penalise those football clubs for their bad behaviour? Where is my new tax? Where is it? Where is the same gumption? Where is the Prime Minister, stopping everything and calling everybody in? It does not happen and that is why we get frustrated. The Minister can say it does happen, but out there it does not feel anything like that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and many other Members talked about the need for escalation of this issue and the problems when escalation of the problem is not being dealt with, which I will come on to specifically with regard to our call for perpetrator strategies. Many Members mentioned the lack of a current perpetrator strategy. I realise we are awaiting it; however, these things often get delayed and I would appreciate the Minister saying when it might come.
My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) spoke passionately about the issue of complex needs, which often gets forgotten. I was never in favour of the Government removing domestic abuse from the violence against women and girls strategy. The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) talked about the attrition rate in court, and what rarely gets discussed is that the reason there is a huge attrition rate in court for rape and a lack of charging is that those rapes are happening in people’s relationships. When we talk about rape convictions we often think of them in terms of stranger rape or people being raped in nightclubs, but the vast majority are in people’s relationships. What happens is that there is a jockeying in a courtroom or at charges: “Look, I reckon we can get him on this charge, but he’s not going to wear being called a sex offender, so how about we take through this charge and not that one?” I have seen that hundreds of times, such as at charge: “Well, it will be very hard to get a rape charge, but we will be able to get him on a summary offence of this or that,” and the victim’s response is just, “Okay.” The reality of the removal of the two strategies is in what my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East was talking about. These are people with complex needs. There are cases of substance misuse, domestic abuse, mental health and the prostitution of women, but they do not affect separate women. In most cases—in the domestic abuse and rape cases—it is the same woman, and we have not done anywhere near enough to make that part of the strategy. Actually, as I and everybody in the sector said at the time, separating the strategies was potentially not wise, and I would very much say that that needs to be discussed again.
With regard to what the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said on disclosure, of course we recognise that evidence must be gathered, but searching somebody’s phone should not take a year. The rape review says that by the end of this Parliament—who knows when that will be, but I am hoping that it will be sooner rather than later—it will be down to one day. So we will have to wait two years for that. But why on earth do people raped by a stranger have to give up their phones? When I have suffered from a crime, I have never been asked to give my phone in. No one says, “Your car was nicked? Give us your phone.” That does not happen, yet it does for stranger rape cases—I have seen many cases like that. How can that be?
I am proud to work alongside the hon. Member for Newbury (Laura Farris). Everything that she said in her three points was exactly right. We should all listen to everything that she said. I genuinely feel the spirit of cross-party working on this issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) made it clear what it feels like for victims when they are failed. Actually, we hear that quite a lot. What we do not hear is the brilliant thing she said about how perpetrators are probably just planning when they will do their DIY. Ministers stand in front of us and say that the very good campaign that they have launched has shown that perpetrators will not be tolerated—[Interruption.] Okay, the Minister says that she launched it only yesterday. However, while she said it will show perpetrators how their actions will not be tolerated, every single man bar one who rapes somebody tomorrow will walk out of a police station with nothing having happened to them. That is what shows rape being tolerated—that is what victims say to me—and that happens far too often, again and again. That has to change.
We do not have a functioning criminal justice system, and as the Victims’ Commissioner said, that has allowed for the decriminalisation of rape. A system where one in six female rape victims feel completely unable even to report a rape to the police is not a functioning system that does not tolerate harm.
In recent weeks, I have been meeting survivors of domestic abuse as part of the Labour green paper process. The conversations have been heartbreaking and infuriating as well as inspiring. Resilience in the face of such horror drives many of us in the Chamber, but the one point repeatedly raised was how abusive the criminal justice process was from the first interaction with the police through to the courts. The level of abuse that we currently tolerate deserves a legislative bomb.
Many people have called for a perpetrator strategy to be brought forward. This morning, along with my brilliant hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), I was on a call with Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who said that at the moment she could not speak to the operational issues with monitoring repeat offenders. Every single report, whether through Operation Soteria, Operation Bluestone or Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services, says that the most violent abusers and offenders—those who offend again and again—are not being monitored or managed. If they were, that would have stopped every single case raised today of a woman who ended up dead. But there is nothing in what the Government announced yesterday and there is no perpetrator strategy in front of us. There is nothing that says how we will stop that and monitor those people as we would monitor terrorists or those suspected of terrorism.
That is why Labour’s motion calls for the most basic level of training. I should not have to ask for every police force area to have a rape and serious sexual offences unit—that is not a legislative bomb; it is barely a banger. I should not have to ask for specialist training for police forces. The public probably think they already get it, but by and large they do not. [Interruption.] The Minister can nod, but they don’t. All the data and all my experience say that they don’t. We also should not have to ask for violent perpetrators to be monitored so we know where they are and can stop them killing. The Labour party is asking here today for very low-level things that everybody thinks should be happening already. What I really want is a legislative bomb.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing time for this important debate. I thank all Members who have contributed. I also thank Members for the tone in which most of the contributions have been made, because I have a real sense that this is a collective effort we are all engaged in. Our colleagues in the police force, local police and crime commissioners, and local authorities, with whom Members engage, also bear that responsibility, and that has come over loud and clear.
I want to start by addressing the points made to me by individual Members. I have made copious notes and I hope I can give due credit to the points that have been made. I thank the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, for her points. We will, absolutely, commit to publishing the perpetrator strategy within the legislative timelines that we have set out and legislated for very clearly. I hope that will command some welcome from the Opposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), the Chair of the Justice Committee, made, in his detailed speech, some extremely useful comments and challenges for us. I listened carefully to his points, as did the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins). He highlights a very important matter that the House should reflect on, which is that we are now prosecuting rape in a digital age. We are grappling with challenges on phones that simply did not exist a few years ago. We are setting out how we will tackle some of those challenges in our rape review and the end-to-end taskforce.
My hon. Friend mentioned specialist rape courts. We are looking at those as part of the report and will come forward with our response to that. Members will be interested to know—this was also referenced in the debate—about domestic abuse courts. We are taking steps on that matter. We have set up domestic abuse courts pilots to look at how we reduce the re-traumatisation of survivors of domestic abuse. We are taking a more investigative and less adversarial approach to limit the trauma victims have to go through in family court proceedings. Pilots are ongoing and we will report on them.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for all her fantastic work on the menopause. She is absolutely right to highlight the link between domestic abuse and traumatisation. My colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care are bringing forward the women’s health strategy, which, largely down to her, will reference that.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) for all her points and for her very balanced comments about the somewhat fraught issue of misogyny as a hate crime. She highlights how complicated the situation is. Members need to reflect that the House voted overwhelmingly against making misogyny a hate crime, but that is not to say there are not steps we need to take to tackle misogyny in society. The Home Secretary is carrying forward that work with Maggie Blyth and the National Policing Board.
The hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) spoke very sensitively about the constituency case that I think we are all aware of. She has represented her constituent and her family extremely well. I want to highlight the funding that is going into refuge spaces. I announced just last week an additional £125 million for specialist support to go into refuges to help victims to rebuild their lives after the awful experience they have suffered.
The hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) highlighted the rise in reports. Obviously, we want to stamp this out and we do not want victims, but all of us recognise the issues around reporting and recording crime. She mentioned that, and said that those crimes have gone up. It is important that we continue to capture those crimes and that people come forward. There is a positive sign there, although obviously we recognise that there is much to do.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) talked about the Istanbul convention. We are already virtually fully compliant with the Istanbul convention. We already have those protections for women and girls. There are some legal technicalities, which we are resolving with our friends in the devolved Administrations, and we will be able to fully ratify it soon.
We have signed it but not ratified it. Is it really just a legal delay? I cannot understand it. We have been asking for this for about two years and we keep being fobbed off. Can the Minister please explain why there is this delay?
I am afraid that I do not have the capacity in this debate to go into the technicalities. I have a lot to go through. As I have said, they are legal technicalities that we are working through with our friends in the devolved Administrations, which have a different legal jurisdiction. We can discuss that at another opportunity.
I thank the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Perkins). We debated another tragic case in his constituency, or near to it, I believe. It was an honour to meet the family, and he is absolutely right to raise awareness of the importance of stalking protection orders. That is work that I am doing through the National Police Chiefs’ Council, to ensure that it is taking up those stalking protection orders.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) asked why we are not taking femicide as seriously as terrorism. That is precisely what the strategic policing requirement sets out to do. I am afraid that I must take issue with her comments about the allocation of funding in her area going to perpetrators, not victims. Those funding matters are local decisions. The Home Office will make funding available to her locally elected Labour police and crime commissioner, so she needs to take that up with her Labour party colleagues in the area. We have put aside national funding of £300 million for victims, so I suggest that she has those conversations.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) talked about honour-based violence. Just last Friday we banned child marriage thanks to the incredible hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham). We fund many services helping victims of that horrific crime.
The hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who was very passionate in her remarks, asked why we do not talk about this as male violence against women and girls. Many Members have responded in that way. We do not shy away from talking about this as a gendered crime. As I said, we will publish the perpetrator strategy and all the associated guidance soon.
The Minister is being very generous with her time. Will she meet me, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse, to discuss this more fully with the wider members of the group?
Of course I will. All Members across the House know that I am happy to meet them; I have met many of the Opposition Members present already. I was delighted that many of them came to the launch of our communications campaign on Monday night. They will know that the sector was there—people I interact with and meet on a regular basis. We have extensive conversations, but I am always delighted to have more.
The hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) complained that we are not having this debate in Government time. I do not know whether she was here yesterday afternoon, when I spent two hours answering questions in Government time on the reports, which cover many of the same topics that we are discussing today.
I think that we are all agreed that it is a collective mission to address violence against women and girls. It is one of the most pressing and important tasks facing the Government. Many Members present have rightly challenged us that the time for talk is over. We agree, which is why we have significant action already under way. I welcome the fact that Members noted some of that in their remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle and I spend a considerable amount of our time working flat out on the rape review, that taskforce and all the work that underpins it.
I do not want anyone to underestimate the scale of the challenge, and how difficult it is. We are trying to change the culture across the entire criminal justice system. Many Members in this House have experience of how difficult that is. They will know what we are dealing with and they will respect, I hope, that we have been transparent about the objectives. We have set ourselves clear ambitions for where we want to go in tackling such a crimes and we are already driving action through legislative means and the other means available to us.
I was challenged by the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who started the debate, on why we are not doing anything on spiking. Today I had a cross-Government group set up to work on the Government’s response at 3 o’clock. I had to cancel it, because I was coming to the House today. Of course, I will reschedule it.
That group is a subsequent step to a lot of the work that the Home Secretary has already been doing, as the right hon. Lady would expect, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council. It is paramount that we address the issues she has challenged me on, such as what happens when young girls go to A&E. That is why I would have had the Health Minister in that group, along with the Security Industry Authority, the NPCC, the night-time economy and so on. I will reschedule that.
I am glad that the Minister is doing something. She will know that Labour tabled an amendment in the Lords that she initially resisted. May I ask, however, whether she did anything on this subject before it became a needle spiking story in the autumn?
I am happy to respond that as soon as the reports reached us—that very day—the Home Secretary called in the police—[Interruption.] I cannot respond to the right hon. Lady’s comments from a sedentary position. I am answering the question she has put to me. As soon we were aware of the new issue of needle spiking, we commissioned the police to come to the Home Secretary and set out what they would do. All the work has followed on from that.
I want to make a few concluding remarks. Many Members have challenged the Government on why we did not do things earlier, and why we have not fixed things. If a silver bullet could fix all of this, I think we would have used it by now, believe you me. We have already taken action across a significant number of priorities, many of which were mentioned by my hon. Friends. We have been open and honest that it will take time, because we are dealing with a number of complexities. However, the work is backed by a significant funding settlement, not only through the victims funding I have already referred to, but through the funding the Home Office is putting into multiple support lines, helplines, charities, non-governmental organisations, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and many others who are working across the whole system to help us improve our results.
I do not think I have heard any Opposition Member mention the significant funding we have put in through the safety of women at night funding and the safer streets funding, which is operational in Birmingham and the west midlands—I just want to say that to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips).
Will the Minister give way?
I will in a second, when I have actually completed my remarks. The hon. Lady has talked a lot about the systemic issues. Why are not we tackling misogynistic attitudes among young boys? That is what the work is doing. Why are not we tackling keeping women safe at night? That is what the work is doing, with additional patrols on the streets of Birmingham and other urban centres. We have safe student support zones and we have street pastors doing vital work out in the night-time economy as a visible presence on the streets. I will give way.
I can only apologise to the Minister that I did not act grateful enough for the money that has gone towards trying to keep women in Birmingham safer. I am not here to doff my cap to the Ministers; I am here to fight for the rights of women and girls. I will continue to do that, with every single bit of my tone just exactly as it is.
I want to address one of the substantive points in the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, but may I just check that I have a couple of minutes to do so?
Many Members have mentioned the perpetrators strategy, and, as they will know, in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 we committed to giving the police new powers, including domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders to provide flexible longer-term protection for victims from all forms of domestic abuse. In addition to imposing negative prohibitions such as exclusion zones, the DAPO will be able to impose electronic monitoring requirements and positive requirements such as attendance at perpetrator behaviour change programmes. I think that that is right, despite some of the comments that have been made about spending on perpetrators. How can we expect to tackle the problem unless we spend money trying to stop perpetrators perpetrating? Are hon. Members suggesting that that is free? Yes, we are spending money on perpetrators—because we want them to stop offending. We want them to stop abusing their partners. That is why we spend the money, and I challenge any hon. Member to tell me that it is not a good use of Government funding.
The Minister is being generous with her time. Does she agree that although perpetrator funding is essential, the funding that goes to the victims of violence should be increased? They are often the ones fleeing the domestic home and having to set up anew. Does she not agree that they should get more funding than perpetrators?
With respect to the hon. Lady, I think I have addressed that point. The funding is allocated to her local Labour police and crime commissioner, and those are choices that are made on a local level. We have introduced a huge number of measures through the Domestic Abuse Act to address the issues that she has mentioned.
Many hon. Members referred to education, which is vital. They will know that funding and support are going into schools to enable teachers to deliver that education in a respectful and age-appropriate way. All children deserve to learn about what healthy relationships are and about their importance, as well as how to develop mutually respectful relationships in all contexts, including online.
Several hon. Members commented on the online safety Bill. In response to the Chair of the Joint Committee—my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins)—and others, let me say that we are strengthening the Bill. We will require all companies to take swift and effective action against illegal content, including criminal abuse and so-called revenge pornography. We confirm that stalking and harassment offences relating to sexual offences, including revenge and extreme pornography, will be specified as priority offences in the Bill. Companies will have to take proactive steps to tackle such content and prevent users from encountering it. There is no watering down going on. The Government are going to make tackling VAWG online a priority.
We must continue to drive a cultural change in attitudes and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to these crimes. I genuinely hope that every hon. Member across the House will take the time to share the “Enough” campaign, because a lot of the groups that have been referred to were in the room on Monday night, and they all welcomed the work that we are doing. They all said that we have to tackle this at the source; that is what we are doing. We launched the campaign this week to help us to make it clear to perpetrators that their crimes will not be tolerated, and we will consider where further action is needed to protect the most vulnerable in society and bring perpetrators to justice.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House condemns the Government for failing to take sufficient action to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls and for presiding over a fall in the rape charge rate to a record low; and therefore calls on the Government to increase the number of specialist rape and serious sexual offences units, improve police training to secure better outcomes for victims, introduce effective national management and monitoring of domestic abuse and sexual offenders and urgently publish the perpetrator strategy in full.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you please advise me how the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip can be called to this House to explain the behaviour of their candidate in the Birmingham, Erdington by-election? It was made clear on GB News earlier that she was caught on camera saying—[Interruption.]
Order. I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman. I have to hear him because I have to understand his point of order. Would he start again, please?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you please advise me how the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip can be called to this House to explain the behaviour of their candidate in the Birmingham, Erdington by-election? It was brought to my attention by GB News that she said she was torn between the gun and the ballot box to achieve political ends. It is crucial that the Leader of the Opposition comes to this place to say that if this individual is elected, she will not receive the Labour Whip. If someone does not believe in democratic values, they should not be in a democratic party in this country. [Interruption.]
Order. Let us stay calm about this—and we will stop having speeches made while people are sitting down.
I can understand the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) suggests that it is an abuse of privilege. I do not think that the hon. Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) has said anything as yet that I had to stop him saying, but I should say that during a by-election situation, tensions are heightened, and we do not want to bring those tensions into this Chamber.
The hon. Gentleman has made his point. I think he appreciates—and the whole Chamber appreciates—that it is not a matter for the Chair. What is said and done during a by-election is said and done in the heightened atmosphere of political banter in a by-election. If a person is then elected to this House, there are ways in which their public pronouncements can be considered, but we should wait to see if somebody becomes a Member of this House before having to make any such judgment.
I have now to announce the result of today’s deferred Divisions. On the draft Social Security (Contributions) (Rates, Limits and Thresholds Amendments and National Insurance Funds Payments) Regulations 2022, the Ayes were 302 and the Noes were 1, so the Ayes have it.
On the draft Tax Credits, Child Benefit and Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating Regulations 2022, the Ayes were 303 and the Noes were 11, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]