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Violence Against Women

Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are considering appointing a National Adviser for Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence, similar to the appointment made by the National Assembly for Wales in 2015.

My Lords, protecting women and girls from violence and supporting victims remain key priorities for this Government. We welcome all initiatives to tackle violence against women and girls.

I thank the Minister very much for his response, although I am a little disappointed in what he said. Does he agree that anything that can be done to reduce the high number of women suffering from domestic abuse—1.4 million in 2014—must be done? Will he agree to meet the Minister in Wales to discuss the ground-breaking law in Wales so that women in England can benefit in the same way as women in Wales do now from that new law, which would add to all our existing law?

Yes. In fact, I probably recommended the meeting and I am very happy to sit in on it. We have appointed, for the first time, a Minister for Preventing Abuse and Exploitation, Karen Bradley, in the Home Office. She takes a lead in this area, and I am sure that discussions between those Ministers will be very important. It is very important that we all work together. The key element of the Act passed by the Welsh Assembly was to provide for a strategy. We have that in England and Wales in the cross-government strategy, but we can all learn from each other. It is a very important area and we need to do more.

Experience in Spain, Portugal and elsewhere has shown clearly that electronic monitoring or tagging in the context of domestic violence is an effective way of keeping victims of domestic violence alive and safe. As my noble friend will know, several police forces in this country—Hertfordshire, Northumbria and Cheshire—have purchased electronic monitoring equipment but they cannot use it unless the offender agrees. When will the Government amend the present law relating to the use of that technology so that tags can be fitted to domestic violence offenders with the authority of the courts, even if offenders are not minded to wear them?

My noble friend makes a very good point. We have introduced domestic violence protection orders—2,500 have been issued—which have had a positive effect in enabling people to have protection. Often, the victim of domestic violence is the one who is forced to flee their home, whereas it should be the perpetrator who is excluded from the home. That use of technology would seem very worth while. I am certainly happy to follow that up with my noble friend afterwards.

My Lords, the Welsh commissioner referred to in the noble Baroness’s Question is a part-time appointment for what is very much a full-time problem. FGM is one aspect of that. The coalition Government undertook some commendable work, led by my noble friend Lady Featherstone, to raise public awareness of FGM. At that time, we understood the importance of NHS staff recognising and reporting cases of FGM. NHS staff in England have a duty to do so, but there was no such duty in Wales at that time. Is it still the case that NHS staff in Wales do not have to report cases of FGM?

I am not sure about the answer, because it is a devolved matter for the Welsh Assembly to determine. It was certainly introduced here. Another very positive development which we introduced was FGM protection orders to give children at risk court protection to prevent them being moved out of the country to where those barbaric practices can be carried out.

My Lords, will the Minister join me in congratulating the Government of Gambia on banning female genital mutilation, as announced in a newspaper today?

My Lords, what resources are being put into educating boys and men to make them understand that sexual violence and domestic abuse are neither normal nor acceptable?

The noble Baroness is right, and that is why we have a ground-breaking, leading campaign called This is Abuse. The campaign plays a key part in that, as well as ensuring that there is appropriate sex and relationships education in schools. People need to understand the word “consent” and the meaning of the word “abuse”, and to live by those terms.

Does the Minister agree that, where different authorities and persons hold evidence, they should actually talk to one another?

That is absolutely right. It is very important that the cross-ministerial group, chaired by the Home Secretary, ensures that there is a joined-up response on these issues. That is also one of the purposes of the domestic violence disclosure scheme—the so-called Clare’s law—which allows people to find out whether a potential partner, whom they might be bringing into their home, has a violent or abusive past.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in order to deal with domestic violence within Islamic Muslim communities, it is absolutely necessary to have an adviser who understands the Koran, can understand the interpretation and can deal with the misguided view held by particular members of that community that they are entitled to be violent towards their women? It is essential to have someone who knows what they are talking about.

That is very true. In answer to a question yesterday on stalking, I spoke about the charity which is working with us on that. Furthermore, I had the occasion to visit a team working in the Foreign Office—the Forced Marriage Unit—which is offering advice to those in fear of forced marriage. It is doing excellent work in this area and is very sensitive to the communities to which it is speaking.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition suggests that children could be encouraged to protest and cope with abuse from peers, adults or the media. Does the Minister agree that schools could play a part in this by developing and delivering programmes that encourage children to develop resilience, self-confidence and knowledge about this issue? Why do the Government not make such programmes statutory in schools?

We have been very clear that we expect sex and relationships education to be taught in all schools. In fact, it is inspected by Ofsted as such. We help the PHSE Association to develop materials for use in the classroom in this area. Of course, there is more that can be done, but it is particularly important that people in schools, who might be the first to hear of instances of domestic violence, have the confidence to know what it is and to report it.