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Women: Dishonour-based Violence

Volume 764: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the Day of Remembrance on 14 July for victims of dishonour-based violence, and what steps they are taking to prevent such violence against girls and women.

My Lords, the Government are clear that so-called honour-based violence is utterly unacceptable. We commend the efforts of all those working to raise awareness of these horrific crimes, including through yesterday’s first national day of memory for victims of this form of abuse. Tackling forced marriage and so-called honour-based violence is a key priority. This is why we have criminalised forced marriage and are committed to supporting survivors and those at risk.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his commendation of yesterday’s day of memory for victims of so-called honour killings. It was symbolically chosen as the day that would have been the 29th birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, if she had not been suffocated by her parents in front of her siblings for daring to adopt a western lifestyle deemed to bring shame on her family. Is the Minister aware that many victims of “honour-based” violence still do not receive the support and protection they desperately need from the police and social services because of a reluctance to interfere in cultural practices? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that cultural sensitivities do not inhibit the protection of vulnerable citizens or, indeed, override the law of the land?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right to raise this and I pay tribute to her tireless work in this area, championing people who are suffering in such a terrible way. It is very much a hidden crime and that is a major problem we face, but we are clear that we must not allow cultural sensitivities to get in the way of prosecuting the guilty. A crime is a crime and a victim is a victim wherever they are. We need to get that message out there. I was pleased that my colleague from the Home Office, the Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, was at the same event as the noble Baroness and spoke movingly of the accounts that she heard, which have given us a new sense of commitment to doing all we can to tackle this heinous crime.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that very many of the victims—these young girls and women subjected to this disgraceful, dishonourable crime of violence—find it incredibly difficult to approach the police and, in effect, shop their families? They rely heavily on organisations in the community that do a lot to support women and signpost them. Can the Minister say how much investment is being made to fund these organisations and to recognise the work they are doing to ensure that women have a place to go when they need help?

My Lords, there are various things. Starting with the Home Office, we have the forced marriage unit, which has done tremendous work in going around the country and making sure that police, local authorities and schools understand the nature of the problem. We have just established the female genital mutilation unit, which will work in a similar way to promote awareness. Of course, it is vital that we work with these other organisations to which she has referred to ensure that we get the message across. The Chancellor announced a further £3 million for refuges for those suffering from domestic violence, and that area of access would be available to those who have suffered as a result of so-called honour-based crimes.

My Lords, as one of the architects, alongside the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, of the first report on the task force on forced marriage, I welcome all the work that has been done—in particular by the Minister himself, and previously by the noble Lord who is now the Chief Whip. Will the Minister acknowledge the work of the Newham Asian Women’s Project and Southall Black Sisters, which have been stalwarts, but for which the funding has, sadly, been decreasing over the years? Can he assure the House that that funding support will continue, without which our commitment will not be met to the victims of forced marriage and so-called honour killing? By the way, I find absolutely distasteful the whole idea that it is an “honour” killing.

The noble Baroness’s terminology is absolutely right—it is anything but honourable. It is a way in which to categorise the term, and I have challenged it myself in talking about these matters.

On funding, I am very happy to look into the specific case that she raises about that refuge to see what we can do there, but I am sure that the Government are committed to tackling this whole wide area of violence against women and girls. The Prime Minister has put himself behind this—that is why we had the Girl Summit here a year ago. Then there is the work of my former right honourable friend William Hague in advocating this on an international basis, because that is also where the solution lies.

My Lords, how many cases have been referred to the police or other investigative organisations to be looked into?

My noble friend puts his finger on a key point. When you look at the level of prosecutions, after the legislation has been put through and the initiatives have been announced, we have not got a strong story to tell. The previous Labour Government introduced forced marriage protection orders; as a result there have been some 800 of those orders, which are a civil function. But we very much want to see further criminal prosecutions so that the message goes out that we do not tolerate this type of behaviour at all.

In the light of the answers that the Minister has already given, what resources are the Government providing this year and next to promote measures and action seeking to prevent dishonour-based violence? The support of which organisations or bodies has been secured by the Government in the drive to prevent dishonour-based violence against girls and women in this country?

We have worked on a cross-party basis; the Serious Crime Act introduced new measures on female genital mutilation and the anti-social behaviour and crime Act introduced measures on forced marriage. We have now produced various statutory guidance, which is now available and being promoted to police forces. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is going to undertake a review this summer into so-called honour-based crimes to see what more can be done in police forces across the country. A great deal is being done, but we are not complacent—more needs to be done.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the president of the Muslim Women’s Network UK. This group has been active in working within the community and with Muslim women, men and their families, but unfortunately it is starved of funds. As the Minister is very kindly offering some funds, please may I ask for some for us?

I recognise that a great deal of work is going on. I hope that I have demonstrated that the Government are taking this very seriously. If there are particular organisations about whose work Members of your Lordships’ House wish to make representations, then of course I am always available on this very important issue.

My Lords, some element of mistreatment of women surely arises from the practice of Sharia law, in contradiction to the law of the land. Is it not time that something was actually done to control this and potentially to ban the practice of Sharia law in this country?

I think that is a wider point. There will be an opportunity for the House to consider that in the forthcoming counterextremism legislation, where we will look at the effort that has been made to challenge certain views in our society and to reaffirm British values.