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“Honour-related” Violence

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 14 February 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to reports of increases in “honour-related” violence in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government condemn this awful practice. We are committed to tackling honour-based violence, and our action plan to end violence against women and girls sets out our approach. This includes working with our partners to identify what more can be done to protect victims and ensuring that the police and specialist prosecutors are trained to improve the prosecution of these crimes.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that sympathetic reply. Is he aware of a report by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, which tells that in 39 of the 52 UK police force areas, there were 2,823 incidents of honour-based violence in 2010? The data available show a 42 per cent increase over the previous year, and of course many more cases are never reported because of family and community pressure. Does the Minister agree that it is deeply disturbing and totally unacceptable that so many women and girls should be suffering from this kind of violence in this country, and that a prerequisite for effective action must be accurate information? Will Her Majesty’s Government ensure that all police forces collect data in a consistent form so that appropriate action may be taken to stop this barbaric practice?

My Lords, I am aware of the report and am very grateful to the noble Baroness both for making a copy available to me, which I have read, and for bringing it to the attention of the House. That is very important indeed. I am also aware of the underreporting of this particular crime, which the report draws attention to, and the reasons behind that. It is quite obvious that we need much better information in this field. One of the objectives of the honour-based violence strategy of the Association of Chief Police Officers is for all forces to collect data for honour-based violence and forced marriage in a consistent and considered way. We encourage them to do that because once we have the information, it will be far easier to take action.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this is so far removed from what we might consider to be honour that perhaps we should find a new word to describe it?

My Lords, before I came here, I wrote down honour-based violence and put inverted commas around “honour”. The noble Lord has made the point exactly for me. It is a strange use of the expression “honour”, but it is the one we have at the moment. Possibly, as the noble Lord says, we ought to find a better expression.

My Lords, my interest in this comes from originating the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act. We have plenty of criminal law already, and we should be careful before we add any more crimes to the statute book since that could lead to people not coming forward to report these evil and barbaric practices, but does the Minister agree that there might be a case for strengthening it where there are breaches of the forced marriage protection orders?

My Lords, I am aware of my noble friend’s interests in these matters. He will also be aware of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s desire to make the breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offence. I also understand what my noble friend says about the dangers of adding crimes to the statute book. We should bear that in mind. He will be aware that a consultation is in progress on this subject, which finishes, I think, some time in March. At the end of that period, we will consider the appropriate options.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for his considered response to this very worrying question and trend. May I ask about the capacity of police forces to deal with it? He will be aware that the reduction in police budgets has had a very bad impact on some of the specialist units in forces up and down the country. Can he assure me that the police are in a position to deal with this matter and give sufficient attention to it?

My Lords, I do not believe that the reduction in budgets, which is necessary because of the situation we are in, is relevant here. It is a matter that the police can deal with in the appropriate manner, but we need appropriate information and evidence before we can act in the proper way. However, it is not just what the police have to do in this area that is important; it is also important, as I said in my original Answer, that we work with all other partners. Therefore, it is not only a question of ensuring that we can prevent this crime; it is also a matter of educating people about the inherent dangers. It is a matter of identifying and recording this, as I said earlier, and, where appropriate, prosecuting.

My Lords, in Islam there is no such thing as an honour crime. For 14 centuries, according to Islamic law and Koranic teaching, marriage has been based on a personal agreement between two individuals who have to sign a contract. The parents have no right to dispose of their children in these circumstances or to define whom they marry. It is a matter of choice for the man and woman to decide whether they wish to ask for their parents’ blessing, but it is not a Koranic teaching. Therefore, in Islamic law there is no justification whatever in defining something as an honour crime, and it should be punished accordingly.

My Lords, I am grateful—and the whole House will be grateful—for what the noble Baroness has told us. It is something that we should all fully understand: that marriage is a matter of a contract between two individuals and is not a matter for their parents. I repeat what I said to the noble Lord, Lord West, about the use of the word “honour”. That is possibly something that we want to get away from.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the challenges that we face is making clear to the heads of such families—usually an autocratic father—that when they come to this country because they want the benefits for themselves of an open and democratic society, such opportunity should also be accorded to their daughters as a matter of law and human rights? All too often, they bring a code of so-called “honour” from their own country that apparently applies to their daughters but to no one else.

My Lords, again, I and the whole House are grateful for what the noble Baroness has said about the challenges we face, particularly about the idea of the autocratic father. Dare I say it, but autocratic fathers can exist in all societies and all cultures. I am not sure I had an autocratic father, but it is something that should be taken very seriously, particularly in respect of autocratic fathers’ relation to their daughters. I speak as a father with one daughter.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, has drawn our attention to the effects of ignorance facilitating crime. Is my noble friend aware of the extent of the existence of so-called Sharia courts, which are believed by their local communities to have the full authority of the British judicial system but have none whatever? They also impose on people various decisions that result in violence and crime.

Again, my Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Ignorance is something that we need to tackle, which is why I wanted to stress the importance of education. Education is probably the first and most important point to get over, a point that was made very strongly by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston.