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Women: Domestic Violence

Volume 762: debated on Tuesday 16 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are undertaking to ensure that women who have suffered domestic violence and abuse have access to the legal and emotional support they may require.

My Lords, tackling domestic violence and abuse is a core priority for this Government. We have allocated £7.5 million this year to fund local services which provide both legal and emotional support. Our ambition is to achieve the best possible outcomes for victims. We will continue to work with courts, police and crime commissioners, local government and the health service to make effective decisions to meet those needs.

I thank the Minister for his response. However, does he agree with me that the two-year rule on providing evidence for victims of domestic violence is not working well enough? Does he also agree that, in line with two recent reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Justice Select Committee, as well as the Law Society and women’s groups, Regulation 33 of the LASPO Act 2012 should be amended to ensure that once legal aid has been granted on evidence of domestic violence, the certification should remain in force until the completion of the case, which does not always happen now, and that there should be discretion regarding the two-year rule? Bearing that in mind, will the Minister look at Regulation 33 with a view to amending and improving it?

First, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for constantly focusing on this issue and holding the Government to account on it. We can recognise that some progress has been made on this with the introduction of the law. Her point about the regulation is well made, and we will look at it. That matter will be under review—we are collecting the data from all the forces at present—and a further report will be issued by the national oversight group, which is chaired by the Home Secretary. I will ensure that that point is looked at and addressed.

Does the Minister agree, as I am sure the whole House does, that no child should experience or witness violence in their own home? Will the noble Lord use his good offices to ensure that when the police are called to a family home because of domestic violence, if children are there that matter is reported to the child protection agencies, if for no other reason than to ensure that this is not a standard, normal pattern of behaviour in that household?

The noble Lord speaks from great experience in this area. On the key point of disclosure, the threshold for disclosure is of course raised significantly when there are children in the home. I think we all recognise that there is a greater job of work for the police to do in making sure that they are trained in their responses. Further work is going on at the College of Policing on the specific area of how to handle such situations. The pilot scheme operating in Hertfordshire finished two weeks ago, and the reports are very encouraging.

My Lords, could the Minister give an assurance that any woman who needs legal aid in order to escape an abusive and violent relationship will be able to access it?

I can absolutely give that assurance. It is absolutely right that that should be a priority for legal aid. In fact, we have gone even further and said that where there are domestic violence injunction orders, the £75 court fee is waived as well. It is vital that people get the help that they need at a time of stress.

My Lords, given that, for a reasonable proportion of the women in our prisons, the route there started with domestic violence, does the Minister agree that it would be cheaper for the public purse, and much better for women and their children, for them to receive emotional support during the incidents of domestic violence rather than ending up in prison? I remind him that in the previous Government there was a very good focus on women who were at risk of offending, and these are often women who have been victims of domestic violence. That agenda has been dropped by this Government. Will he please ensure that such support is given to these women?

Actually, with respect to the noble Baroness, I do not think that it has been dropped. We have changed the programme, incorporating it into the work of the troubled families programme, which we have extended to some 400,000 families and which has a strong domestic violence focus. On her central point—that it is better to prevent; to stop people early on in that journey, which might lead to prison—that is better for the taxpayer and better for the family all round.

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that one of the most important parts of support for women experiencing domestic violence is having a secure place to live and to have their children. For the times when they are not able to stay in their own homes, is the Minister giving support to Women’s Aid and other organisations providing accommodation and emotional support?

Yes. We have ring-fenced £40 million for that in the current spending round. We have announced an additional £10 million specifically for the refuges—in addition to the £7.5 million for emotional support that was mentioned—so we hope that that support is there. Additionally, wherever possible we want to try to keep these people in their own home, because they are victims of violence and should not have their situation exacerbated by being required to move. That is why domestic violence prevention orders, keeping the perpetrator out of the home and the victim in the home, are such an important part of this.

My Lords, the Metropolitan Police are currently involved in a wide roll-out of body-worn video cameras. These should be a vital tool in enabling prosecutions to be brought that potentially do not involve the woman or members of the family having to give evidence. Are Her Majesty’s Government going to statistically track the prosecutions linked to body-worn video cameras, so that we can know what impact that may be having?

The noble Baroness makes a good point. This is part of an ongoing trial, as she alluded to. Once the trial is completed later this year, there will be an evaluation process, and factors such as how it has been used in domestic violence situations, in particular, will be taken into account in deciding how we move forward.

My Lords, the ONS figures demonstrate that last year 1.3 million women and over 700,000 men suffered from domestic violence. There is a strong link between poverty and domestic violence. What are the Government doing to tackle that issue?

That is absolutely right. The figures that I have are roughly the same: 1.4 million women and 700,000 men. Clearly, there is a link to people’s economic situation, their educational achievement and their overall environment. That is why we have extended to a further 400,000 families the troubled families programme, which is having a real impact in this area in tackling that type of behaviour.

My Lords, domestic violence against women is one of the largest abuses of women, not just in the UK but in the world. I would be interested if the Minister commented on the Government’s commitment to reaching such a diverse range of women, in spite of their ethnic background, religion or location, over the next few years.

Particular groups, some of which are on the national oversight board on domestic violence, chaired by the Home Secretary, are doing a great job in working in BME communities and tackling this issue. One such example is Imkhan. However, this issue is absolutely cross-cutting. It is not predominant in one particular group; it needs to be tackled as a whole. The HMIC report, which all this work is based on, is entitled Everyone’s Businessand that is what it is.