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Women: Domestic Violence

Volume 699: debated on Thursday 6 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How the United Kingdom compares in its progress in tackling domestic violence with other countries which have ratified the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

My Lords, unfortunately, the United Nations does not provide a country-by-country comparison on tackling domestic violence, which means that we cannot compare progress in this way. However, I am pleased to report, on this International Women’s Day, that the UK Government have been determined since 1997 to tackle this most disgraceful of crimes, which devastates the lives of women, children and families, through a whole range of legislation and activity, some of which is leading the way in the world.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and for underlining that domestic violence is still a very serious issue in this country, with two women a week dying from it. But what would she do about the gaps that have been identified in a Map of Gaps drawn up by the End Violence Against Women coalition showing that it depends on where you are as to whether you have access to a refuge—many women do not—or on who you are? Some women do not qualify for any recourse to public funds and have no option but to end up on the streets or stay in their homes, with violence being perpetrated against them. What will the Minister do to end those gaps?

My Lords, I am very familiar with the Map of Gaps report; indeed, one of its authors is known to me. The Government welcome the report and its useful analysis of gaps in the geographic coverage that it provides. It is an excellent piece of work that yet again underlines the debt we owe to women in organisations who campaign ceaselessly on this issue. However, the report highlights more the need to press local authorities that are not taking action in this way. The Government have provided commitments to increase the number of, for example, special domestic violence courts, and reduce serious sexual offences through the Making Communities Safer public service agreement, which sets the national direction in this area.

My Lords, I am disturbed by the Minister’s comment that since 1997 people have been dealing with this issue in this country. When I was the representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Britain was the first country ever to state in public that violence against women existed. After that, all other nations were willing to admit that it existed everywhere in the world, but was covered up. The previous Government were just as keen to deal with domestic violence and I was unhappy with the Minister’s statement that we have been looking at this only since 1997.

My Lords, I am accounting for the Government’s work since 1997, but it is absolutely the case that a coalition of women across all parties and all sections of this community has made this change happen over many years. I would like to put it on record that women from voluntary organisations and across all parties have worked to push the Government to make sure that these changes happen. Indeed, I have worked on that with women across this House. The noble Baroness is completely correct in that, and we will be reporting this progress, which has taken place for many years, to the special session in July 2008.

My Lords, have the Government taken note of the progress of circle programmes in the United States and of the research by New York University into their success? Will she undertake to read, when it is published soon, the work of my kinswoman, Linda G Mills, on the subject, which lights a path forward in this work?

I am not familiar with this research, but I will undertake to read it and to make sure that it is fed into the right places.

My Lords, will the Minister kindly look into another aspect, which is that—amazingly, despite all the campaigning and government efforts—some women still cover up these acts of violence? Will the Government consider, therefore, extra public service advertising from time to time to try to encourage all women to denounce such odious matters?

My Lords, the noble Lord is completely correct. We must ensure that victims’ interests and needs are put at the heart of the criminal justice system and that those who experience this insidious crime have the confidence to come forward and report it.

My Lords, in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 the use of restraining orders was one of the measures that the Government hailed as being one of their most important. These have still not been introduced. Why not and when will they be?

My Lords, Section 12 of the 2004 Act is designed to protect victims through legal measures. The Government have always chosen to protect the most vulnerable victims through more immediate, non-CJS interventions, such as the multi-agency risk assessment conference, with which the noble Baroness will be familiar. It is targeted at victims who are in danger from the most serous and persistent domestic violence.

My Lords, if the Minister does not have the answer to my noble friend’s question about why this measure has not been introduced and when it will be, could she please send a copy of that letter and put it in the Library?

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that police forces across the country have a uniform policy in dealing with domestic violence?

My Lords, there have been improvements across the criminal justice system in relation to domestic violence. Domestic violence training is being rolled out to all police and CPS prosecutors by 2008. Every police force and CPS area now has a domestic violence co-ordinator. Every police force also has a domestic violence champion—a slightly unfortunate phrase. Every probation area now has an accredited perpetrator programme and, indeed, a domestic violence training package has been distributed to all the judiciary.

My Lords, domestic violence champions are there to ensure that the actions I have just enumerated are carried out in their area. There will be a report on this over the summer which will tell us how effective they have been.