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Istanbul Convention

Volume 776: debated on Thursday 24 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why they have not yet ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, and when they intend to do so.

My Lords, the Government are absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls, and to ratifying the Istanbul convention. In most respects, measures already in place to protect women and girls from violence comply with or go further than what the convention requires. Before the convention is ratified, we need to take extraterritorial jurisdiction over a range of offences. We will seek to legislate when the approach to implementing ETJ is agreed and parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but I feel quite disappointed with it, bearing in mind that each year more than 2 million people in England and Wales, the majority being women, suffer some form of domestic violence. Although we have a raft of laws to protect people from domestic violence, this would be an additional safety net that means all our citizens could lead a life free from violence. I hope the Minister can go back and have another look at this. I am sure parliamentary time can be made available if the will is there. I hope the Minister will agree and urge whichever ministry is responsible for this to get a move on.

I hope I can give the noble Baroness some comfort on some of the offences for which we already exercise our extraterritorial jurisdiction: murder, FGM, forced marriage and offences against children. In addition, we have pledged to increase funding to £80 million for violence against women and girls between now and 2020.

My Lords, as the Minister has said, there has been tremendous progress over the past six years. However, she has not really articulated why we are a signatory to the convention but still setting our face against ratifying it. By ratifying it, we would show a long-term commitment to preventing, educating and doing all we can to take action on violence against women. Ratifying also means providing education for equality between men and women and on how violence against women in all its forms is unacceptable. What is wrong with that?

My Lords, as I have said, we will seek to legislate when the approach to implementing the extraterritorial jurisdiction requirements in England and Wales is agreed and parliamentary time allows.

I am grateful to the Minister for that commitment in principle. These questions no doubt mark White Ribbon Day tomorrow. Does the Minister agree with me that it would be a wonderful statement on the part of the Government if they were to commit to ratifying this important treaty by International Women’s Day next March?

The noble Baroness points to something that both she and the Government would ultimately like to see. I repeat what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece: we will seek to legislate when the approach to implementing the extraterritorial jurisdiction requirements in England and Wales is agreed and parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, as a Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, could I ask the Minister how many conventions of the Council of Europe have been signed but not ratified—I am not asking for details of them—and why not?

I literally cannot answer that at this point because I do not have the figures before me. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, because I forgot to welcome her to the Front Bench.

My Lords, the Minister has talked about legislation for extending extraterritoriality in England and Wales. What discussion has there been with the Scottish Government about extraterritoriality in respect of this convention with regard to Scotland?

We liaise regularly with the devolved Administrations on violence against women and girls issues. Ministry of Justice officials have had informal contact with their counterparts in the devolved Administrations about the extraterritorial jurisdiction requirements of Article 44. We will formally consult Ministers in the devolved Administrations about whether legislative change on ETJ in England and Wales should extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland in due course.

My Lords, may I remind the Minister and Members of your Lordships’ House that when my noble friend Lady Armstrong was the Minister for Local Government, we ratified the convention giving genuine self-government at local and regional level? People need to be vigilant after a ratification, because many of those terms are still not implemented.

The noble Baroness makes a valid point. In some ways, we perhaps go further in our application of ETJ than other countries.

My Lords, may I push the Minister on similar point to the one that I raised? I asked how many conventions had been signed but not ratified. Will the Minister investigate this and write to me?

I most certainly will. Indeed, on any of the specific questions on this matter that I have not been able to answer, I will write to noble Lords.

My Lords, can I come to the assistance of the Minister and say that we have some of the best policies on domestic violence—I cannot pretend that we have solved the problem—and have made greater headway on law here in Britain than most other parts of Europe? I therefore think we have a role to play in expanding our experience and bringing it to places where we can do great good. One reason for ratifying the treaty is to make use of our expertise in a field in which we certainly have some.

The noble Baroness is absolutely right: we are world leaders in certain areas such as tackling violence against women and girls, domestic violence and stalking, and I hope other countries will follow.