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Honour-related Violence

Volume 716: debated on Thursday 14 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to recent reports of an increase in honour-related violence in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, in recent years, the Government have taken a range of measures to tackle so-called honour-based violence, which are likely to have encouraged more victims to report incidents of honour-based violence. For example, a series of Home Office awareness raising road shows were held in 2008-09 to stimulate local action to protect victims and in February 2009 the police adopted a risk assessment tool-kit to assist officers handling cases of so-called honour-based violence.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his encouraging reply. Is he aware that the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Human Rights Organisation is dealing with four times more complaints of honour-related violence associated with religious fundamentalism than it dealt with just two years ago? According to an excellent report by the Centre for Social Cohesion, some women who had fled their communities to the authorities for safety were returned to those communities by police or by local taxi drivers, or had personal details divulged to their families by local authority personnel. Does the Minister agree that there is nothing honourable about this form of violence? What are the Government doing to identify, protect and support these victims?

My Lords, the noble Baronesses raises three questions. I absolutely agree that there is nothing honourable in this at all. It relates to power, ownership of a chattel and other things, but the people involved see it in terms of honour and a reflection on them and perhaps their masculinity or whatever. I think that it is totally abhorrent and I see nothing honourable in it at all.

I am aware of the Iranian-Iraqi issue. We are working very closely with Iranian and Kurdish women’s rights organisations to look at how we can best support this. Some of that work includes an appropriate consular response to British nationals facing forced marriage or violence in Iraqi Kurdistan. We are trying to map out developing police links and are working to integrate the forced marriage and honour violence within our broader political work with women’s rights in Iraqi Kurdistan, and we are launching specific projects in Kurdistan.

The issue of the police and community advisers returning people to their families is very difficult. This is really a case of having to teach people the full implications of that. The Forced Marriage Unit is leading on work to engage with communities and the people involved to ensure that that does not happen. But it is very difficult and complex. Of course, very often, it involves very young women who are children almost. They are within a family and people are not willing to report things. We are increasing this awareness, but we have to do more. It is very sad that these things happen and it is something into which we have got to put even more effort.

My Lords, what proportion of this problem arises in the Islamic community, within Islam? What proportion arises among the Jews, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists? Have the Government made that calculation?

My Lords, I do not have details in exactly the way in which the noble Lord has raised them. It is fair to say that a recent Crown Prosecution Service pilot to identify and monitor this, because we want to get more information and data on it, found that of 35 cases, there were 33 victims, 18 of whom were female and 15 were male. All the defendants who had done this were male and the majority were of Asian ethnicity. That is about the maximum detail that I can go into.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of guidance issued by the Foreign Office entitled Handling Cases of Forced Marriage? It effectively states that the FCO is obliged to ask the person or their trusted friends to find the cost of repatriating a forced marriage victim. In exceptional cases it will provide them with a loan. Is the Minister aware that that loan is subject to the victim handing over her or his passport and being allowed only a single journey back to the UK? Is that the most appropriate way to deal with forced marriage victims?

My Lords, I have to say that I was not aware of that detail. It does not sound to me the most attractive thing. Perhaps I may take it away and come back to the noble Baroness in writing. If it is the case, it is something that I should like to look into.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is absolutely nothing in Islamic teaching which condones honour killing? This kind of killing is a matter of culture, not religion, and is banned by most Islamic countries, as well as being unacceptable in this country.

My Lords, that interjection by the noble Baroness is extremely valuable. I was aware of what she has said, and indeed there is nothing in the Koran which says that this sort of thing should happen, so she is absolutely right. It does take place within certain groups and there are cultural aspects to it, but that does not make it any less diabolical. It is the most appalling thing and we have got to put all our effort into it. Historically it is possible that we did not do as much as we should have. We are now getting a flavour of the scale of it. The Metropolitan Police Service is reporting the statistics and we intend to make sure that that is done in other parts of the UK as well. As we get a grip and realise the full scale of it, we shall have to do more and more in this area.

My Lords, I am certain that the House welcomes my noble friend’s strong condemnation of these practices—

What more do the Government intend to do to encourage the victims of this kind of persecution or others who may be aware of such persecution being planned or taking place to report what is going on? Is he able to refute suggestions that organisations set up to help the victims, including the one mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, may have their funding reduced? Can he give people a reassurance on that point?

My Lords, given the position on funding issues in general, I do not think that I can give a commitment that there would not be any reduction. That does not mean that we have any less desire to do more in this area. It is just a reflection of the reality of life in terms of what money is available. I know that a number of voluntary agencies are involved in this area and are doing extremely good work, which is important.

I have already mentioned the number of areas we are working in to put the message out about this issue so that people know who to contact. As part of the Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, which was launched recently, we are carrying out a review of what additional powers the police need and we are taking the recommendations forward. We are looking at the possibility of the development of a domestic violence protection order to see whether that is worth doing, and we are consulting on multi-agency risk assessment conferences to see whether that should be put on a statutory basis. We are doing quite a lot in this area.

My Lords, there is widespread concern that the Government are not doing enough in this area, both in relation to honour crimes and forced marriages, so I am glad to hear the Minister say that we must do more. Along with his colleagues at the Ministry of Justice, will he consider, first, specifically making sure that local authority social services departments understand their obligations under the guidance; secondly, that proper training is given; thirdly, that specific funding is provided for community self-help groups, including for their help lines; fourthly, that in respect of the court system, proper protection is given to victims in these cases; and lastly, that a European protection order is considered?

My Lords, while I have said that we must and should do more, actually this Government have done a lot in the area. Perhaps I may look at exactly what is set out in the noble Lord’s long list because I think a number of them concern issues that we are addressing already. This is a quite horrendous crime and some horrible things are being done. We are aware of that, so we need to get the message out more and do everything we can to stop it. This also relates across to issues such as female genital mutilation, which we have discussed in the House before. Again, I have seen no prosecutions for this crime. I have been pushing the police and asking why there have been none. The problem is that these issues are buried deep within families and it is really difficult to get to the roots. We know how bad it is, but we are working hard to achieve results, and I am sure that we shall get them.

Can the Minister say whether there are any specific education proposals with regard to men and boys in order to tackle this issue?

My Lords, my noble friend has raised an interesting point. I am not aware of any specific programmes of education for males within these cultural groups, and it is a thought. Again, I can see all the difficulties that would arise, but perhaps I may take the point away and look at it.

My Lords, the noble Lord agreed with the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, that there is no religious precept for honour crimes. However, the rate of report appears to be escalating at roughly the same speed as the rate of radicalisation. Will he consider whether these crimes are not thought of as being religious but are motivated by falsely inculcated religious beliefs?

My Lords, the rate of increase that we are seeing is because we are putting on much more pressure and are identifying the crimes; they were there already. What we are doing will, if anything, make the rate come down. However, because people are reporting them and because they are being seen, we know that they are there. I absolutely believe that this is nothing to do with the Koran and the Muslim religion but with culture and those kinds of things. One has only to look back into our own history when one owned women; one’s wife was one’s chattel and you could do all kinds of things to her. These things happen within cultures; they are nothing to do with religion.