To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to reduce the number of women killed by partners, ex-partners or family members and the incidence of domestic abuse.
My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling domestic abuse and have placed domestic homicide reviews on a statutory footing to ensure that local areas learn lessons from each and every one of them.
I thank the Minister for that reply, brief though it was—it took me slightly by surprise. For those in the Chamber who are not aware, today is the international day against violence towards women, hence the importance of the Questions on the Order Paper today. Since 28 October, when I put this Question down, eight more women will have lost their lives at the hands of a violent partner or ex-partner. Can the Minister tell the House, with some clarity and precision, just what the Government are doing to prevent this carnage and what specific training programmes police forces are required to undertake to recognise cries for help and spot dangerous situations? What measures are in place to ensure co-ordination across government departments?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right that, on this International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and girls, we should focus on this issue because every one of those deaths was in some way preventable. We have often found in these cases that incidents will have been happening over a consistent period of time, until the point of the fatal action, and that if there had been earlier interventions something could have been done. That is the reason for changing the police training on this. The Crown Prosecution Service has also changed its procedures. As a result, we are seeing domestic violence convictions at a record level. Referrals from police and prosecutions are also at a record level. Those results are all heading in the right direction but there is an awful lot more still to be done.
Is the Minister aware that Britain was the first country to bring this into public notice, at the United Nations conference for women, and that because of this, other, smaller countries which had had terrible violence against women for many years were no longer ashamed for it to be known about? There is still a lot to be done but we have made considerable progress over those 20 or more years.
That is a very important point because this is a UN international day, which is in its 17th year. We also remember the work done through DfID and the Girl Summit, which was hosted in this country last year, to get to grips with this issue in other countries as well. But we also have a great deal more to do in our own country to ensure that we have the response absolutely right.
My Lords, what is being done to pick up on early warning signs, given that the women who are losing their lives or suffering domestic violence are often harassed and stalked by partners and ex-partners over a period of time? Evidence has emerged that in some of these cases, when women have rung up the call centres, these signs have not always been picked up on or followed through appropriately. What is being done to ensure consistency and that call centre staff are trained appropriately to take these calls very seriously?
The National Domestic Violence Helpline is run by two organisations, Women’s Aid and Refuge. As the noble Baroness will be aware, both those organisations have been given additional funds as a result of the Chancellor’s Statement today—£1 million each. A principal focus of the work will be looking at early intervention. We want to learn the lessons from that so that we can refresh the Government’s strategy for violence against women and girls, which is due to take place in the next few months.
My Lords, first, I remind your Lordships of my declaration of interests, because I work with two charities that are involved, among other things, with victims of domestic violence. I have worked for over 40 years on this issue and even I am shocked at the number of women I meet now who are homeless, whose lives have been riven with addiction and who are on the edge of the criminal justice system, nearly all of whom have been victims of sexual, physical or other abuse. Will the Government have another look and make sure that right across the board—not just in the Home Office but in the Department of Health, the Ministry of Justice and other departments —they recognise the importance of this? Many of these women have never talked to anyone but their lives have been ruined.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to her work over many years in this area. She will recognise that the number of places in refuges, which is the subject of ring-fenced funding of £40 million—there through this Government—has increased so that there are now 3,472 places available. The number of rape advice centres—also funded by the Ministry of Justice—has also increased by 15. But again, it is a collective effort to make sure that we all tackle this most abhorrent of crimes.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware, as I have said this to him before, that where there is domestic abuse of women it is often also children who suffer. At this time when we are looking at the spending review and are aware of the pressure on local authorities, would he not acknowledge that much of the work in these families was carried out by social workers in local authorities? Will he not only commend the work that they do on behalf of society but hope to protect their budgets and the numbers in post?
I will certainly do that. The noble Baroness will be as encouraged as I am to hear from the Chancellor that there will be new facilities in the social care budget to provide additional funding to that important area. The Government have also announced that we will give additional funding to an organisation called Behind Closed Doors, which works particularly with children to help and support them in those difficult times.
My Lords, the Government have not ratified a pan-European convention on women’s and girls’ rights—the Istanbul convention—after signing up to it in 2011. That convention seeks to protect women from sexual violence and gives them the formal right to counselling after suffering domestic violence or abuse. Why have the Government not ratified the Istanbul convention and when do they intend to do so?
We are implementing most aspects of the Istanbul convention. One area—Article 44, I think, which deals with extraterritorial jurisdiction when dealing with forced marriage—requires primary legislation and is the only part that we have not introduced. Apart from that, this Government have been working on this through things such as the Girl Summit. I am not quite sure where my right honourable friend William Hague is in the metamorphosis from that place to this place.
Ah, my noble friend Lord Hague is due here tomorrow. He has done a tremendous amount of work in this area and that is being continued by my right honourable and noble friend Lady Anelay as well.