Violence against Women and Girls

Part of Contamination of Beef Products – in the House of Commons at 2:29 pm on 14th February 2013.

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Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:29 pm, 14th February 2013

I congratulate my hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on allocating time for it. I also pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and my hon. Friend Stella Creasy in promoting and getting behind the One Billion Rising campaign.

Many Members on both sides of the House have spoken with passion about the importance of ending violence against women. In my constituency, we have a wonderful football team, Hull City, with a wonderful football ground, the KC stadium, which holds some 25,000 people, and as a new MP I was told that the stadium would be filled to capacity by all the victims of domestic violence in the city. That statistic is a stark reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence in all our constituencies.

When I spoke to the police in Hull last week they told me that domestic violence was still one of their key priorities. My hon. Friend Karl Turner spoke about the very positive Strength to Change campaign, which was funded by the PCT. It worked with more than 250 perpetrators to try and change behaviour, but those men had already engaged in domestic violence. I think we all agree that it is much better to prevent it from ever happening by getting in early and ensuring that our young men and women understand what is acceptable in relationships and that violence is never acceptable.

The education we give to our young people in schools is limited, as we have heard. It falls within the science curriculum and talks about the biology of reproduction and sexual diseases, but does not in any way address the issues that young people say they want to know about. Young people want to know what a healthy relationship should look like. We need to consider the self-esteem that our young girls, in particular, should be developing and the confidence they need to make good choices. We know from examples around the world that good sex and relationship education in schools delays the time at which youngsters start having sex and most Members of this House would think that that is a jolly good thing.

We must also remember that parents can still withdraw their children from sex education up to the age of 19. Nobody can accept that that is a realistic way of proceeding. We need to ensure that the law reflects what is going on in our country. We know that PSHE is taught with success in some schools and not in others and youngsters tell us that we must get that sorted out for their sake.

I respect the Minister for Immigration, who is on the Front Bench, but I am disappointed that the Home Secretary is not sitting there today. I understand that she chairs the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, on which the Home Office takes a lead. She has spoken out against violence against women and girls on many occasions and I have great respect for her, too, but it would have sent a clear message that the Government were getting behind the motion had she been in the Chamber today.

Let me focus on the motion, which is about making PSHE a statutory requirement in our schools. The review undertaken by the new Government when they came into power ended in November 2011. We must remember that the previous Labour Government attempted to make sex and relationship education statutory in 2010, but that opportunity was unfortunately blocked in the “wash-up” by the Conservative party. The review finished in November 2011, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough said, and since then I have been chasing the Department for Education. I have tabled many parliamentary questions and asked whether Ministers are meeting groups and organisations to ensure that they get their approach absolutely right, but it seems that very little has happened.