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Crime: Honour-related Violence

Volume 699: debated on Monday 10 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the extent of honour-related violence in the United Kingdom; and whether adequate measures are available to treat victims of such violence.

My Lords, the Government do not routinely collect data on the extent of so-called honour-based violence. We are working closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Crown Prosecution Service and others to develop a programme of work on so-called honour-based violence. We also provide a range of help and support to victims of so-called honour-based violence; for example, through the Forced Marriage Unit.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the recent report by the Centre for Social Cohesion on honour-related violence in the United Kingdom, documenting widespread forms of such violence, especially against vulnerable women living in communities dominated by traditional religious values, and evidence that police, schools and local authorities often do not take effective action for fear of being accused of racism or Islamophobia? Will Her Majesty’s Government take much more decisive action to ensure that every woman in this land lives free of violence and forced marriage inflicted in the name of “honour”?

My Lords, the Government welcome that report. We are determined to tackle so-called honour-based violence and to ensure that any gaps in services can be filled. We know that we have to do more. Our task is to take all these issues forward in a more dedicated way in the next few years. Part of that is raising awareness of these issues and ensuring that all the agencies involved understand their duties and take appropriate action to safeguard the victims. That is an essential part of our work programme to address these terrible crimes.

My Lords, when I was preparing my Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill—the Minister will not be aware of this—I went to Derby. I do not know whether he is aware of the report in Saturday’s Times that indicated that in Derby the local education authority and schoolteachers are reluctant to display information about forced marriage and the need for the Forced Marriage Unit and others to be contacted because they are worried about upsetting the community. Will the Minister make representations to ensure that when the Forced Marriage Unit guidelines are published under the statute, they deal specifically with the need to make sure that education authorities and teachers do not emulate Admiral Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen by turning a blind eye to this problem but, on the contrary, give clear instructions and guidance to teachers and pupils?

My Lords, I understand exactly what the noble Lord is saying and I have great sympathy with it. I find it difficult to refer to the murder of, generally, young women, even with the proviso that it is a so-called honour crime. Honour has nothing to do with it. How much honour is there in, for example, raping and killing a young woman whose crime was to date someone her family did not approve of? There is no culture or religion that condones that sort of practice and it is wrong to say that there is. Rather, it is an issue of power, domination and control. It is a form of domestic violence that we wholeheartedly condemn, and we are taking steps to get rid of it.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us that there is effective policing in all areas of the UK so that women exposed to violence are adequately protected?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important point. At times, nervousness has been felt that this behaviour might step across cultural or religious divides, but there are no cultures or religions that condone it. We have not been good at collecting all the required data. Part of the work that we are doing is to establish the number of incidents. We must better compile the data so that we can then take the appropriate action.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the victim of violence is frequently imprisoned in the house and has no way of communicating with anyone outside, and that even if she escapes, she may find no council refuge in her area because government funding for the purpose is inadequate? Is he further aware that, for the first two years of her residence in this country, she will not qualify for government benefits? Does my noble friend accept that all other steps taken, such as amending the criminal law, are pointless unless the victims can avail themselves of those?

My Lords, my noble and learned friend raises some very important points. It is clearly an extremely difficult matter. These things take place within a family. When we looked at whether we should make it a crime, we were advised by the people we talked to that that would drive it underground, because even the people involved in these dreadful things do not wish to get their family involved in criminal proceedings. On escape and ability to report, we have made provisions and are looking at third parties reporting these events, but there is no easy silver bullet to achieve it. We are looking at and will produce proposals to ensure that victims can get some government benefits during the period before these matters are resolved.

My Lords, the Minister said how horrific the offence of forced marriage is. The same arguments as those advanced today were used for not making domestic violence a crime. We did make it a crime and we put down a benchmark to say that it was intolerable. Is it not time now to make forced marriages a criminal offence and to say very clearly that this will not be tolerated and people will be prosecuted for committing this offence?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very good point. It is interesting to note that, as a result of domestic violence being made a crime, the number of cases in 1997, 814,000, was almost halved to 407,000 in 2006-07. As I said, the difficulty is that these things happen within families. We have taken a lot of advice and talked to many people. There is a feeling that the crime would go even further underground, because people generally do not want to put their families through it. It is an interesting debate which we will have to consider further as we enter more dialogue on this issue.

My Lords, the Minister has been very clear in indicating that the softly-softly approach no longer works. Will he back that up with some measures to give teeth to what the solution is? I do not believe that he answered the question of my noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the guidance he is about to issue. Will he also tell the House about attempts to tighten extradition arrangements whereby the people who commit these crimes escape to Pakistan, Iraqi Kurdistan and other countries mentioned in the report and cannot be brought back to justice?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a number of points. I am aware that I did not specifically answer the question about schools. We have been encouraging them, through guidance, to make available information about helplines—helplines are available—and access to support for victims and people in fear of forced marriages. We have a criminal law on female genital mutilation. There are real difficulties in chasing down people in Pakistan or whatever country might be involved. I would not call how we are going about this too softly- softly; this is very much a crime. It is domestic violence and we want to bear down on it. It is right that we should try to do that by making sure that all the agencies are aware and by talking to everyone involved. We can then move forward and stop this appalling crime.