My Lords, this Government are committed to a rigorous and comprehensive consultation on the proposed domestic violence and abuse Bill to identify all the legislative and non-legislative measures that we can take to truly transform our approach to domestic abuse. The Government recognise that it is critical to look beyond criminal justice measures and also to focus on what we can do to prevent abuse and violence in the first place.
I thank the Minister for that reply, and I am reassured by it. Could she give an indication of when the Bill will be before us? Has she consulted the various women’s groups which have expressed anxiety up until now about the narrow scope of the Bill? For instance, Women’s Aid has made a number of recommendations about mandatory relationship and sex education. Has she consulted it? When will we be looking at the Bill?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right to make the point about engagement with the various women’s groups and charities. Of course, they are the best placed to advise us on the Bill going forward. We are putting out a consultation document and I fully expect that the types of groups she talked about will be fully engaged with it. Other issues will also come out in the consultation process so we will have a well-informed Bill when it comes forward.
My noble friend is absolutely right to raise this issue; it has been quite prevalent in recent months. Back in July, the Government put in place an action plan to tackle the use of acid and other corrosive substances in violent attacks. It was based on four key strands: ensuring effective support for victims, effective policing, ensuring that the relevant legislation is understood and applied, and working to restrict access to acids and other harmful products.
My Lords, lesbians, gay men, trans men and trans women are also victims of domestic violence and are often very isolated. Can the Minister assure the House that, alongside other people’s, their access to services is always taken into consideration in the consultation on the strategy and will be safe?
The noble Baroness makes a very valid point about LGBT victims of domestic abuse, because, of course, they are not exempt from the violence that people suffer. Any LGBT group can make representations to the consultation, and we have a national helpline for LGBT victims of domestic violence. We also made it clear in our national statement of expectations on domestic violence that we expected anybody who needed help to receive it, irrespective of their sexuality or, indeed, their sex.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Women’s Aid has raised concerns about the suggestion that refuges be localised. Will she ensure that the proposed Bill provides for mandatory nationwide access to refuge services and resources for all those who seek refuge?
I was part of the conversations on local delivery that took place in DCLG. We made it clear that we thought local areas were best placed to deliver the services appropriate to their locality, and set out the national expectations for delivery at a local level. We also made it clear that if things did not work out locally, we were prepared to legislate. However, the national statement of expectations seems to be playing out quite favourably.
My Lords, as Victims’ Commissioner, I have not been privy to the preparation of the Government’s consultation on the domestic abuse Bill. Therefore, will my noble friend the Minister say whether the Bill will include statutory provisions to prevent perpetrators of abuse pursuing their victims through the family courts?
My noble friend makes a very good point about victims of domestic violence who quite often face further intimidation and, I would say, abuse as perpetrators seek to pursue them through the family courts. Certainly, the MoJ is considering this issue in relation to victims of domestic violence in the family courts.
As I said to the noble Baroness, the Government are certainly looking at how we can prevent acid attacks, in a domestic violence setting or otherwise. The consultation will be an opportunity for people to bring forward suggestions about what should be included in the Bill.
My Lords, while recognising that faith communities have serious issues of domestic violence abuse within themselves, does the Minister also recognise that they contribute a great deal to tackling it through organisations such as the Mothers’ Union, Restored and Kahrmel Wellness, and that today, 16 days of global action begin to try to raise awareness of domestic violence and abuse?
One of the suggestions that has been made, which the Government are actively considering, is to recognise in law, in sentencing, the terrible effect that domestic violence has on children. There could be as few as one witness of domestic violence but it will not only affect the rest of their lives; there is also a societal effect, and this cycle of abuse can go on.