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Crime: Domestic Violence

Volume 714: debated on Wednesday 11 November 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the level of domestic violence nationwide.

My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing the impact of domestic violence on victims and their families. The Government’s programme for tackling domestic violence can be found in the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan, which was published as part of the fourth national domestic violence annual report on 21 August 2009. I have arranged for a copy to be placed in the House Library.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Does he support the view that a greater focus on educating perpetrators of domestic violence is necessary to reduce the domestic violence problem? Can the Government provide additional help for setting up and supporting such initiatives?

My Lords, we take this matter extremely seriously. One of the biggest studies of violence against women and girls, following the violence against women and girls consultation, was published earlier this year. As a result, we are working with private groups, local councils and the police in a raft of areas to make progress with what is a most horrible crime. Some of the statistics in this area are quite awful.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the example of the charity Standing Together Against Domestic Violence? Part of its aim is to help organisations in this area to integrate and co-ordinate their work, and it has been a model for other parts of the country. Could we do more to advertise what it does to other local authorities, courts and police services? It is a very good model to follow.

My Lords, it is a very good model to follow and it is part of the package of work that is going on in this area. I think that we can advertise the charity’s work more, as there are whole areas, such as refuges, where we deal with local area agreements. For example, the amount of money funding the Supporting People scheme has gone up from £61.6 million to about £65 million over the past two years. Therefore, we are putting money into these areas but I do not think that we can be complacent. We have to do more because, as I said, domestic violence accounts for something like 14 per cent of all serious violent incidents that come into our courts. It is a very serious issue.

My Lords, the police have recently been criticised across the board for issuing too many cautions. One of the main recommendations from the Home Affairs Select Committee was that the police should not issue cautions for breaches of injunctions relating to domestic violence. Have they been so instructed and what has been the result?

My Lords, I do not believe that they have been told specifically that they are not to do that. It is very interesting that in 2003 only 46 per cent of domestic violence cases brought to court resulted in a conviction, whereas now the figure is 72 per cent. Therefore, I think that we are focusing on and pushing down into these areas. However, the noble Baroness makes a very valid point and I shall take it away and ask whether the police have specifically been told to do that. It is important that we move in that direction.

My Lords, given the important role of social workers in supporting these families and, in particular, protecting the children in them, does the Minister share my deep concern at reports today in the media that six out of 10 local authorities are having difficulty retaining their social workers—a 50 per cent increase—since the death of Baby Peter? Will he communicate to his colleagues the deep concern that social work must be prioritised still further if we are to resolve these issues?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Earl that the Government take this very seriously indeed. It is, of course, an extremely difficult area to work in, so I can understand why there is a shortage of people going into it. We are pursuing this issue, but it is worth looking at the good news and what we have achieved. We now have in place 127 specialist domestic violence courts. We were aiming for a total of 128 and we are about eight months earlier than we thought we would be. We have provided £7.8 million to roll out independent domestic violence advisers and the multi-agency risk assessment conferences. We now have 700 advisers and 200 advisory conferences. This is a huge step forward. In the past 12 months we have been able to protect 29,000 victims of domestic abuse. It is a horrible number but the fact that we are doing that is quite an achievement by the Government.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one woman a week in the United Kingdom is murdered as a result of domestic violence? Will he accept that in my work as the chair of the Fawcett Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System it has been evident that the Government’s initiative on domestic violence courts, independent domestic violence advisers and sexual assault referral centres has gone a long way towards addressing the seriousness of this crime and its designation and treatment as a crime throughout our statutory services, including the police in many constabularies?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend who has put it much more succinctly than I have in my previous answers. We have achieved a great deal but that does not mean that we are complacent. There is more to do but her question shows that we are pushing in a huge number of areas. It is important that we keep doing that.

Does the Minister have details of how much domestic violence is fuelled by alcohol or drugs and whether any special response is provided for such cases?

My Lords, I do not know the specific answer to that but I would guess on my feet that it is dramatically fuelled by alcohol and drugs. We know that they have a huge impact on violence generally. I do not know the exact percentages but I shall get back to the noble Baroness in writing.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that alongside the very important work done by statutory agencies a huge amount of work on domestic violence is done by local community groups, many of which find survival difficult because of inconsistency of funding?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. Indeed, a couple of those groups have been unable to get over the bar for funding in the past year. We have not reduced the amount of funding; it is just that the demands for it are that much greater. It is an issue that we must look at as it is important to keep them fully involved.