My Lords, police and crime commissioners will be democratically accountable for cutting crime and ensuring that the policing needs of their communities are met. Given the prevalence of violence against women and girls across the UK, we expect PCCs to have a key role in tackling these crimes by setting the strategic direction, determining local budgets and holding their respective chief constables to account for the totality of policing within their force areas.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Domestic abuse is still a hidden crime that occurs behind front doors on every street in every town, city and village. Is the Minister aware that every Labour police and crime commissioner who is elected will adopt an excellent five-point plan on women's safety? While I hear what the noble Baroness says-that the Government expect police and crime commissioners to act on these issues-what will they do to ensure that all such commissioners, of no matter what party, make tackling violence against women and girls a priority?
My Lords, we all want to see violence against women and girls stamped out. For the first time ever, victims will have to be listened to before decisions are made about policing priorities in their areas. If noble Lords want to know how big a deal that is for victims of crime, I urge them to read the speech made last Thursday by my noble friend Lady Newlove in the debate about PCCs. Whatever PCCs decide to do locally will be on top of the commitments already made by this Government and in addition to the measures in the organised crime strategy. I point to what has happened in London, where the Mayor of London provides the nearest example of what PCCs will be able to achieve once they are in post. In his first term the mayor increased the number of rape centres from one to four, using some of his own funding, and set up a helpline and a website for victims. It is interesting to note the way in which the local violence against women group has engaged with him in putting together that strategy and holding him to account for delivering it.
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister share my concern that 10% of boys think it is okay to slap their girlfriends and that one in three teenage girls have experienced violence from their boyfriends? Does she not agree that more needs to be done to educate young men and boys in schools? The police should have a role in trying to ensure that crimes against girls in the form I have just described are reported by schools and there should be proper programmes whereby boys learn about respectful relationships with girls.
I certainly agree with my noble friend that victims of violence extend to young girls in relationships, and that boys need to be educated. In fact, I will next week answer a Question about what is being done to help men who are inclined to this dreadful behaviour. It is worth making the point that one of the changes that this Government have made is to extend the definition of domestic violence to include violence against girls who are 16 and 17, and that is a welcome measure.
Does the noble Baroness agree, as a matter of principle, that the lower the poll the weaker the mandate? In those circumstances, if the poll in these elections turns out to be derisorily low, how does she think that police commissioners will be able to combat violence against women or, indeed, any other form of criminal activity?
Any mandate that the police and crime commissioners achieve will be stronger than the mandate that currently does not exist for the invisible police authorities.
Will the Minister assure the House that when these changes take place, every encouragement will be given to chief constables to ensure that when they come across homes in which there is domestic violence and that have young children in them, steps will also be taken to refer those matters to social services to make sure that those children are protected from this behaviour?
Yes, my Lords. One of the advantages of the new regime of PCCs and devolving decisions on policing priorities in this way is that it will, I hope, lead to greater co-ordination between local agencies. Particularly with regard to children, it is worth reminding noble Lords that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, was successful in introducing an amendment to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to ensure that police and crime commissioners hold the chief constable to account for safeguarding children and the promotion of children's welfare.
Notwithstanding the work of police and crime commissioners, will my noble friend confirm that the Government will centrally continue the valuable work they are doing to combat violence against women and girls?
Yes, I absolutely can confirm that. It is worth making clear that under this Government we have set aside £40 million of secure funding until 2015, and it is guaranteed funding that will continue. Within that £40 million, £10.5 million has been allocated to rape support centres located throughout the UK.
My Lords, if a dispute arises between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, who would arbitrate? If the matter was not resolved, could that lead to a loss of confidence by the commissioner in the chief constable, which could lead to dismissal?
The noble Lord should be clear that operational decisions for policing remain very much the responsibility of the chief constable. The role of the police and crime commissioner is to be the voice of the local community and to make sure that, in setting the strategic priorities, the local community's voice is heard.