The United Kingdom has some of the strongest protections in the world for safeguarding women and girls. The Government are committed to further supporting women to rebuild their lives, breaking cycles of abuse and bringing perpetrators to justice. We will continue to update our violence against women and girls strategy, as we have done every year, and we will consider the special rapporteur’s findings.
We are absolutely clear that legal aid should be available to victims of domestic violence. The hon. Gentleman asks a question on the details of the legal aid provisions, which of course are a matter for the Ministry of Justice. As it happens, the Policing Minister is also a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, and he will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s representations.
I acknowledge the work that this and the previous Government have done on violence against women and girls, which I have supported. Does the Home Secretary share my concern that the rapporteur’s report identifies that many initiatives to reduce violence against women and girls remain pockets of good practice and that we still do not have a consistent and coherent approach? The other issue identified in the report is the funding crisis. Does she share those concerns, in broad terms? Obviously, I am not asking her to comment on the detail.
I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman, when he was the Director of Public Prosecutions, gave particular focus to this area of the law to ensure that support was available for victims giving evidence, which has given people the confidence to come forward, as we have seen. The Government have made extra funding available: just before Christmas we announced an extra £10 million for domestic violence refuges. Of course, since the 2010 budgetary decisions were taken, we gave four-year funding—later five years—for combating violence against women and girls to ensure that there was some stability. We talk regularly to all those providing support to victims of domestic violence to ensure that we share best practice.
Thousands of British women continue to be victims of female genital mutilation. What further work is being done to ensure that people are prosecuted for that heinous offence?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. Of course, we have already seen the first case brought forward for female genital mutilation. There is a widespread view across the House that we must do everything we can to deal with this appalling act. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Jane Ellison, for the considerable work she has done to highlight the issue and ensure that the Government continue to focus on it. We want to see more prosecutions so that we can eradicate this terrible crime.
Since my Female Genital Mutilation Bill became an Act 11 years ago there have been no successful prosecutions in this country for female genital mutilation. The rapporteur is severely critical of the fact that 11,000 young girls under the age of eight are deemed to be at risk. What is the Home Secretary doing about that?
The right hon. Lady talks about the time when her Bill became an Act, but it was not until after 2010 that cases were put before the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration. She is absolutely right that it has so far proved difficult to get a prosecution, but I can assure her that all parts of the criminal justice system are clear that we want to see people prosecuted for this crime, which is why we are all working together to ensure that we can bring those prosecutions forward and ensure that they are successful.
UN Special Rapporteur Rashida Manjoo was prevented from accessing Yarl’s Wood during her visit last year, amid concerns about violence against women detained in that facility. In that light, we welcome last Thursday’s suspension of the detained fast track policy. Why has it taken the Government so long to realise the error of their ways?
On the contrary, I continue to believe that there is a place in our asylum system for a detained fast track system. I have always felt that one of the important things about any asylum system is its ability to give people decisions as quickly as possible and as merited from the details of their particular case. We are pausing the detained fast track system while we have a review of certain aspects of it, but I continue to believe that it is an important part of the asylum system.
In 2013, 4,286 asylum seekers were locked up under the scheme in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere—a 73% increase on the 2012 figure. Given the concerns about violence against women highlighted by the UN special rapporteur, will the Government, instead of rushing to put in place a replacement for this scheme, work with outside agencies and experts to ensure that procedures are in place that safeguard vulnerable asylum seekers and make detention an absolute last resort?
As I said to the hon. and learned Lady, we are reviewing the detained fast track scheme. She makes a wider point about detention, particularly about vulnerable people in detention. Because I felt it was appropriate that we looked at that issue, I asked Stephen Shaw to conduct his review of welfare in detention, as he has been doing for some months. He has visited the various detention centres and spoken to a number of people who have an interest in this issue, and he will be bringing his review forward.
The UN special rapporteur did indeed conclude that there was a lack of consistency in the Government’s approach to violence against women and girls. In addition, recent data show that 16 to 19-year-olds are more likely to be victims of intimate violence than any other age group. When does the Home Secretary plan to respond to the report’s conclusions and, in addition, the need for compulsory relationship and sex education in schools?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady did not feel able to welcome the fact that in 2014-15 police referrals, charged defendants, prosecutions and convictions for all crimes of violence against women and girls reached the highest volume ever. The criminal justice system is dealing with these issues. Of course, there is always more that can be done. We want people who commit these crimes of violence against women and girls to be brought to justice, and that is exactly what we are doing.