My Lords, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has noted in recent inspections that forces have protected dedicated resources to support victims of domestic abuse. The number of police referrals, prosecutions and convictions for domestic abuse has increased significantly since 2010. However, this Government are committed to doing more still and in this Session will publish in draft a landmark domestic violence and abuse Bill to better protect and support victims and to bring perpetrators to justice.
I thank the Minister for that Answer. With police numbers already at a 35-year low and with no new money for policing announced in last week’s Budget, the situation is in a potentially perilous state, according to HM Inspectorate. Requests made under the “right to ask” part of Clare’s law must be made in person at a police station, but the number of public-access stations is being reduced as part of the cuts being imposed on local authorities. Are the Government therefore exploring other options, such as online requests, for victims of domestic abuse who want to find out whether their abuser has a violent past?
I can certainly make inquiries for the noble Baroness about online requests for such information. However, HMICFRS has noted improvements in the overall police response to victims of domestic abuse since the publication of its first report in 2014. In addition, the Home Office is putting forward £1.9 million for specialist training for police to obtain a licence to practise so that they are equipped to deal with vulnerable people in such situations.
My noble friend makes a good point. The breakdown of victims of domestic violence is thought to be about 96% women and 4% men. We have a helpline for men and, as I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, earlier, anyone who is a victim of domestic violence should be able to have the help they need.
My Lords, the Minister will remember that earlier in the year during the passage of the Policing and Crime Bill, some amendments were tabled to strengthen the victims’ code. At the moment, there is no mandatory requirement on the police and other agencies to provide support—it is an entitlement for victims—and, despite being promised back in January that there would be extensive and wide consultation on strengthening it, we still have no sight of that consultation, let alone any proposals from the Government. When are we going to see specific proposals from the Government to strengthen the support for victims?
My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness further updates on that matter. Yes, she raised it in the Bill, and the Home Secretary is chairing an oversight board to ensure that the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and national police leads are doing all that is required of them in dealing appropriately with victims of domestic violence.
My Lords, what are the Government doing to provide safe places outside the community where the violence occurs? Many community minorities have always, as a matter of course, closed ranks to defend whatever their position is, and many women need somewhere that is safe for them which is not in the same city but somewhere else.
The noble Baroness raises the reason why we set out the national statement of expectations rather than a nationally led programme of delivery for domestic violence. In terms of safe places outside the community, that means that a lady or a man who needs to flee their community to go to somewhere else will be sure of a safe place. I would like to move to a position where a lady did not need to flee her community in order to be safe but where the perpetrator was dealt with effectively.
All circumstances are taken into account when someone is prosecuted. My noble friend is right about the cycle of abuse. Someone who is a victim of domestic violence will go on to have perhaps depression or other mental health problems, or drug or alcohol problems, which may lead to crimes being committed. Certainly within the justice system this cycle of abuse and crime needs to be unlocked.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness have discussions with her counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland so that we can learn from experience and exchange ideas in this United Kingdom? In that context, will she welcome the visit by the Justice Committee of the Scottish Parliament to Westminster today?
I certainly welcome the visit of the Justice Committee. As to whether we have lessons to learn, I am sure that we have lessons to learn from each other in examples of good practice. However, I say to the noble Lord that I am proud to stand here, given what this Government have done over the past seven years to help victims of domestic violence.
My Lords, many children and young people suffer from domestic violence after seeing pornography and other violent acts online. What are the Government doing to encourage the police to go into schools and talk to young people about this kind of crime and the support that victims would get from them if it is happening to them?
My Lords, sex and relationship services within schools are a good forum in which to discuss not only what healthy relationships look like but what unhealthy relationships look like. Online providers are alive to what sort of material is suitable for viewing by children, and the Home Secretary is working with CSPs to improve their response to it.