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Violence Against Women

Volume 754: debated on Monday 9 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to reduce levels of violence against women.

My Lords, the Government are strongly committed to tackling violence against women and girls. Forty million pounds of funding has been ring-fenced until 2015 for specialist domestic and sexual violence services. We have also created two new offences of stalking, introduced legislation to criminalise forced marriage, in which the noble Baroness played a pivotal role, relaunched our successful “This is Abuse” campaign and rolled out new powers to the police to provide greater protections for victims. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will be hosting a girls summit in July to rally support for a global movement to end FGM and forced marriage. Indeed, a reception in this regard was held earlier this afternoon at the House.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. I welcome the announcement of the campaign today aimed at young men about domestic violence which is timed to run through the World Cup. However, I am sure the Minister is aware that statistics suggest that there will be a repeated increase of domestic violence during the World Cup. If that happens, what plans have the Government made to deal with the increased demand for refuge places? What advice does the Minister offer to abused women and children in an authority such as Cheshire West and Chester, whose Conservative leadership has voted to close three women’s refuges, reducing the number of beds available from 17 to just eight, and to reduce the number of places on offer to women and children outside the area? That is important because women often have to move outside their immediate area.

My Lords, first, I am sure all noble Lords will wish England well in the World Cup. We all join in that and may they go far. Turning to the specific question, this is a serious matter and all authorities at a local level target it. Irrespective of what political party they represent, they take all domestic violence cases seriously. It is interesting to look at the numbers of domestic violence cases being reported. In the past two years we have seen more cases being reported. Indeed, a record level of 74.3% was recorded for 2012-13. As I have already said, we are allocating an additional £40 million of ring-fenced funding to local authorities for them to work at a local level to ensure that refuge centres and rape crisis centres are provided and to provide support to those who are desperately in need of such services.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of recent research which shows clearly that in households where there is domestic violence that behaviour is often extended to the children and young people in the household? Can the noble Lord assure the House that the recommendations of that report will be taken seriously by the Government and that everything will be done to protect children who live and grow up in these most unpleasant circumstances?

The noble Lord makes a pertinent point. Unfortunately, he is, of course, right that children who see and witness domestic violence also become part of that vicious circle, both as victims and, tragically, at times as perpetrators of such acts. The Government take this matter seriously. I have already alluded to the “This is Abuse” campaign, which aims to prevent teenagers from becoming both victims and perpetrators of abuse and encourage them to consider their view of abuse and the meaning of consent within relationships. We are working on a wider front as well with programmes such as “Hollyoaks” and the MTV music channel to ensure that issues of abuse are highlighted to young people in order to prevent this becoming a vicious circle, as the noble Lord pointed out.

My Lords, what progress has been made in addressing the issue of young boys, some as young as 12, being reported for harmful sexual behaviour towards girls in schools? What is being done to educate these young men and boys to treat women with respect and to desist from this behaviour?

I agree with my noble friend that respect for women and girls is something that should be taught to boys from infancy in schools and in every sector of society. The Government have published a national strategy that supports an action plan on tackling violence against women and girls which includes a range of actions to address gender inequalities, such as the Body Confidence campaign. In December last year we launched the teenage relationship abuse campaign, which aims to prevent teenagers becoming the victims and the perpetrators of abuse.

My Lords, can the noble Lord give us a little more detail about the £40 million budget he alluded to? Is it a Home Office budget or will it be shared with other government departments? If it is to be shared, can he tell us about the allocations to other government departments?

I can certainly talk about the Home Office funding. Its contribution is going to be £28 million for the spending review period. Within that, some of the schemes we are looking at are those I have already alluded to, such as refuges for women who fall victim to violence. The other thing I would point out to the noble Baroness is that we will be working with the third and voluntary sectors, which do an absolutely sterling job in protecting those women who are the victims of abuse and crime.

Would the Minister support an exhibition in Parliament of pictures showing some of the thousands of women who have been brutalised? It would include a photograph of a lady who was smashed up with a baseball bat by her partner. The surgeons who had to repair the damage got splinters in their fingers and streptococcal infections as a result. It would also show that the man removed the whole of her upper lip by biting it off.

My noble friend has pointed graphically to some of the horrors that result from this issue. They say that a picture can replace a thousand words. It is not my place to give approval for such exhibitions, but I can assure my noble friend that any steps that can be taken to avoid violence happening, be they at the national or the international level, will be taken. I am sure he will acknowledge that through schemes such as the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which is starting tomorrow, and the initiative of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in hosting a conference in July on FGM and forced marriage, the Government are demonstrating that violence against women, whether it is perpetrated domestically or internationally in conflicts, is totally to be condemned and utterly wrong.

My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on whether, with hindsight, his right honourable friend the Home Secretary regrets denying a UN delegation access to an immigration centre where women had complained of sexual brutality against them?

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is doing a sterling job of ensuring that she protects women’s rights across the board. She has been spearheading campaigns not just domestically but internationally. The noble Baroness refers to the visit to Yarl’s Wood by the inspector—or her desire to visit Yarl’s Wood. As I am sure we have all experienced when we travel internationally, any programme that is set for a Minister or visiting delegation is done with the authority and approval of and in conjunction with the domestic authority or the Government. In this case, a programme was sent to the special rapporteur. As part of that programme, various women’s refuges were put on her agenda, which she chose not to visit. Then she turned up unannounced at Yarl’s Wood. I am sure the noble Baroness will appreciate that operationally certain things cannot be arranged on the hoof and it would have been inappropriate for her to be granted access at that time. That said, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons conducted a visit last year and the report was generally positive, highlighting good practice, the cleanliness of the centre and the measured use of restraint at that centre.