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Domestic Violence

Volume 636: debated on Monday 26 February 2018

Let me begin by updating the House briefly on the recent tragedy in Leicester. Five people are now confirmed to have died in an explosion last night at a shop in Hinckley road. Five others remain in hospital, one with serious injuries. I thank the fire crews who are continuing to search for survivors, and the hospital staff who are working tirelessly to save lives. I know that I speak for all of us when I say that our thoughts are with the family and friends of those who have died, as well as those who have been injured.

Domestic violence is a devastating crime that shatters the lives of victims and families. The Government have introduced a new offence of coercive and controlling behaviour, rolled out new tools to tackle domestic violence—such as protection orders—and committed £100 million to support for victims.

The number of domestic violence offences in Greater Manchester rose by more than 20% last year, and the local police identified my constituency as a particular hotspot. The police, local authorities and support groups are working flat out to ensure that cases are reported, families are supported and prosecutions take place. Given the significant Government cuts in those services, what steps will the Home Secretary take to ensure that the forthcoming legislation will resource public services adequately so that they are equipped to deal with the rise in domestic violence?

I agree with the hon. Lady that tackling domestic violence and abuse is a priority. It will always be a priority for the Government, which is why we are introducing a domestic violence and abuse Bill. There will be a consultation first, and I hope that the hon. Lady will participate in it. There has been an increase in reporting, and although it seems counterintuitive, it is right to welcome that, because it shows that the police are taking domestic violence more seriously, which is exactly what we want.

The Southern Domestic Abuse Service, which is based in Havant, does great work tackling domestic violence in southern Hampshire. Will my right hon. Friend support the local and regional charities that do such great work, and will she back the service’s recent campaign to raise funds in order to build a women’s refuge in southern Hampshire?

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating southern Hampshire on taking action to protect women and to raise funds for refuges. The support of local charities, councillors and local activists is often necessary to ensure that the women in their communities are kept safe.

Marianne and Tracy, two domestic violence victims in my constituency, came to see me to ask me to support their petition asking the Government to do more to tackle serial domestic abuses by, for instance, providing a publicly accessible register to help to prevent perpetrators such as George Ward, their former partner, from successfully targeting new potential victims through dating websites such as Tinder.

The hon. Lady is right: serial domestic abusers are one of the worst elements of this whole subject. I encourage her, and her constituents, to participate in the consultation so that we can ensure that that particular trend is addressed.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s article in today’s edition of The Times, which sets out a clear commitment to this important issue. Does the Secretary of State agree that the increased use of screens and video links so that victims of domestic violence can give evidence without having to face their attackers will not only lead to increased reporting, but give the victims a voice in court?

I thank my hon. Friend for referring to that article. The purpose of the announcements that I have made today is to ensure that victims are more confident about coming forward and of feeling safe, and to ensure that we can be more certain of securing the convictions that they expect and we all want.

We on the Labour Benches also wish to thank the brave fire crews in Leicester, and our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

It is welcome that the Home Secretary has expressed concern about domestic violence, but we know that, on average, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. That is the end point of too much domestic violence. We also know that the number of refuge services in England has sharply reduced over the last few years. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that it fell from 294 in 2010 to 274 in 2017. It is all very well for the Home Secretary to talk about the role of charities, but what will the Government do to address the funding crisis that refuges now face?

I point out to the right hon. Lady that there are more beds available to women seeking them now than there were in 2010. This Government will always make sure there are sufficient numbers of beds for the women who need them, so that women are kept safe when they need to be. Since 2010, domestic abuse prosecutions have risen by 26% and convictions by 33%. It is good that women are able to come forward and that convictions are taking place, but terrible crime and gender-based violence against women remains, so I share the right hon. Lady’s view about the need to do something. She can rest assured that this Government are taking action, and I hope she will support the Bill we will be introducing.