“Any recommendations given by GREVIO (that is the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) and the Committee of the Parties (that is the Committee of the Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)) are not binding on the UK Government.”—(Philip Davies.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 10—Recommendations by GREVIO and the Committee of the Parties (No. 2)—
“Any recommendations or reports by GREVIO (that is the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) or the Committee of the Parties (that is the Committee of the Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention)) must be debated in Parliament before any Government response is given.”
New clause 11—Annual statistics—
“The Government must use its best endeavours to obtain statistics on the levels of violence against men, women and all domestic violence victims in each country who are ratified members of the Convention and to make them publicly available and published annually.”
New clause 12—Quarterly statistics—
“The Government must use its best endeavours to obtain statistics on the levels of violence against men, women and all domestic violence victims who are ratified members of the Convention and to make them publicly available and published quarterly.”
New clause 14—Limitation on reservations concerning Article 44—
“The United Kingdom shall not make its ratification subject to any declaration as provided for under paragraph 2 of Article 78 of the Convention that it will not establish jurisdiction under Article 44 when the offence established with the Convention is committed by a person who has her or his habitual residence in the United Kingdom.”
New clause 15—Territorial application—
“The United Kingdom shall not make its ratification subject to any restriction on territorial application under Article 77 of the Convention.”
New clause 16—Victims of forced marriage—
“The United Kingdom shall not make its ratification subject to any restriction on its right to take the necessary legislation or other measures referred to in Article 59.4.”
New clause 17—Compensation awarded to those who have sustained serious bodily injury or impairment of health—
“No ratification of the Convention shall be made by the United Kingdom unless at the time of depositing its instrument of ratification it declares that it reserves the right not to apply the provisions of Article 30 paragraph 2.”
New clause 18—Limitation on reservations concerning psychological violence and stalking—
“The United Kingdom shall not make its ratification subject to any declaration as provided for under paragraph 3 of Article 78 that it reserves the right to provide for non-criminal sanctions for the behaviours referred to in Article 33 and Article 34.”
New clause 19—Reservations—
“Nothing in this Bill shall prevent the United Kingdom ratifying the Istanbul Convention with reservations as provided for in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 78.”
New clause 20—Requirement to denounce of the Convention after five years—
“The United Kingdom Government shall denounce the Istanbul Convention no later than five years after it has ratified the Convention.”
Government amendment 1, leave out clause 1.
This amendment leaves out clause 1.
Amendment 56, in clause 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert—
“without making any reservations under Article 78 of the Convention.”
Amendment 57, in clause 2, page 1, line 11, after “Convention” insert “without reservations”.
Government amendment 2, page 1, line 12, leave out “date by” and insert “timescale within”.
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to report on the timescale within which she expects the Istanbul Convention to be ratified, rather than the date.
Amendment 58, page 1, line 13, at end insert “without reservations.”
Amendment 24, page 1, line 14, leave out from “laid” to end of the subsection and insert “when reasonably practicable”.
Government amendment 3, page 1, line 14, leave out
“within four weeks of this Act receiving Royal Assent” and insert
“as soon as reasonably practicable after this Act comes into force”.
This amendment changes the deadline for a report under clause 2 from four weeks from Royal Assent to as soon as reasonably practicable after commencement.
Amendment 22, page 1, line 14, leave out “four weeks” and insert “three years”.
This amendment means the obligation to make a statement to Parliament will fall on the Secretary of State, rather than Her Majesty’s Government generally.
Amendment 59, page 1, line 17, after “Convention” insert “without reservations”.
Government amendment 5, page 1, line 17, leave out “it” and insert “the Secretary of State”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 4.
Government amendment 6, page 1, line 19, leave out “its” and insert “the”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 4.
Government amendment 7, page 1, line 20, leave out “the Convention will be” and insert—
“the Secretary of State would expect the Convention to be”.
This amendment means the Secretary of State will be required to make a statement detailing when she would expect the Istanbul Convention to be ratified, rather than when it will be so ratified.
Amendment 25, in clause 3, page 2, line 2, leave out “each year” and insert “biennially”.
Government amendment 8, page 2, line 2, after “each year” insert “until ratification”.
This amendment makes clear that the government will only have to report on progress towards ratification until ratification has taken place (see amendment 14).
Government amendment 9, page 2, line 4, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—
“(a) if a report has been laid under section 2(1), any alteration in the timescale specified in that report in accordance with subsection (1)(b) and the reasons for its alteration;”.
This amendment is designed to avoid the implication that a report under clause 2 will necessarily have been issued before a report is required under clause 3.
Amendment 26, page 2, line 4, leave out paragraph (a).
Amendment 27, page 2, line 7, leave out paragraph (b).
Government amendment 10, page 2, line 7, leave out “(before ratification)”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 8.
Amendment 28, page 2, line 10, leave out paragraph (c).
Government amendment 11, page 2, line 10, leave out “(before ratification)”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 8.
Government amendment 12, page 2, line 11, leave out “to” and insert “in”.
This amendment changes a reference to legislative proposals being brought forward “to” the devolved legislatures to legislative proposals being brought forward “in” the devolved legislatures - which is the usual formulation.
Amendment 29, page 2, line 14, leave out paragraph (d).
Government amendment 13, page 2, line 14, leave out “(before ratification)”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 8.
Government amendment 14, page 2, line 16, leave out paragraph (e).
This amendment removes the ongoing reporting obligation in clause 3(1)(e).
Amendment 49, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
“and produce a breakdown of government spending on victims of violence and domestic violence for both men and women.”
Amendment 50, page 2, line 27, after “violence” insert—
“and provide statistics showing international comparison on levels of violence against women and men”.
Amendment 51, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“and to include the names of these organisations”.
Amendment 60, page 2, line 31, at end insert—
“(f) the costs to the Exchequer of the measures set out in subsection (1)(e).”
Amendment 52, page 2, line 32, leave out “annual” and insert “biennial”.
Amendment 53, page 2, line 32, leave out “
Amendment 54, page 2, line 33, leave out “
Amendment 55, in clause 4, page 2, line 37, leave out from “Act” to end of subsection and insert—
“will not come into force until 90% of the signatories to the Convention have ratified it and there has been a proven reduction in violence against women in 75% of the countries who have ratified the Convention.”
Government amendment 15, page 2, line 37, leave out
“on the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent” and insert—
“at the end of the period of 2 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed”.
This amendment means the Act will be brought into force two months following Royal Assent, rather than immediately on Royal Assent.
Government amendment 16, in title, line 1, leave out
“Require the United Kingdom to ratify” and insert—
“Make provision in connection with the ratification by the United Kingdom of”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 7.
Government amendment 17, in title, line 3, leave out “; and for connected purposes”.
This amendment is consequential on amendment 16.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not wish to try your patience, but could you advise the House about the status of explanatory statements associated with amendments, and particularly Government amendments? The Member’s explanatory statement to amendment 4 on page 8 of the amendment paper says:
In fact, the amendment goes much further, because it would change the Government’s role in ratification and substitute the Secretary of State for the Government, so the explanatory statement is not a full and accurate statement of the effect of the amendment.
What I would say to the hon. Gentleman in response to that further point of order is that I am not responsible for the content of Government explanatory statements.
Well, the Government Whip says from a sedentary position, “Shame.” I have a sufficient burden, which I am very happy to seek to discharge to the best of my ability, but responsibility for Government explanatory statements is not part of that burden. Moreover—if I can bring a glint to the eye and a spring to the step of Mr Chope—it might be my observation that he, too, is not responsible for the content of Government explanatory statements. They are intended to try to help the House and to facilitate debate, but they enjoy no formal status whatever, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman should be troubled by the matter, although it may be something on which he will wish to expatiate at a later stage. We shall see.
Well, we shall see.
We begin with new clause 6—and I hope we can now begin with new clause 6—with which it will be convenient to consider the new clauses and amendments listed on the selection paper.
I want to speak to new clause 6 and the other new clauses and amendments that stand in my name and that of my hon. Friend Mr Nuttall. We have quite a large group of amendments and new clauses to go through this morning. There are 11 new clauses—seven tabled by me, and four by my hon. Friend Mr Chope. On top of those, we have 36 amendments, most of which have actually been tabled by the Government, in cahoots, it is fair to say, with the Scottish National party and the promoter of the Bill. I will come to their amendments in a bit, because they seem to be trying to con the campaigners behind the Bill by pretending to support the Istanbul convention, at the same time as filleting the Bill to make sure it does not come into effect at all—but more of that later.
I have tabled 14 amendments, and my hon. Friend for Christchurch has tabled five, so we have 47 new clauses and amendments to consider this morning. I will try to do justice to them, and I will try to do that as quickly as I can, because I appreciate that other people will want to speak to them. However, a quick bit of arithmetic will tell hon. Members that if I spend only two minutes on each new clause and amendment, we will soon rattle past an hour and a half, so it is going to take some time to go through such a large group.
It is fair to say that I have never been considered the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, and I am very grateful that the hon. Gentleman is elevating me to that lofty position. I suspect it is one I will never take up, so I might milk the opportunity for all it is worth now. The Prime Minister made it clear that she supports the Bill as it will be amended by the Government amendments, and I will explain why that is a long way from agreeing to the Istanbul convention. It strikes me that the Government amendments are all about trying not to ratify the convention.
I made it clear on Second Reading that I do not agree with the Istanbul convention because it is discriminatory, but at least I am up front and honest about that and about opposing the Bill and seeking to stop it going forward. That is a bit more appropriate than pretending to support something but quietly trying to fillet it to make sure it does not come into place. However, other people, including, hopefully, the promoter of the Bill, can explain their motivations when they get the opportunity to speak.
I hope they will.
Let me go through the group in order. New clause 6 refers to the recommendations by GREVIO—the Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence—and the Committee of the Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention), and would mean that those recommendations were not binding on the UK Government. The convention has a two-pillar monitoring system to ensure that all members live up to their commitments. [Interruption.]
It is interesting to note that nobody—particularly on the SNP Benches—wants to listen to the debate, which is surprising because it was exposed on Second Reading that they did not actually know what was in the Istanbul convention. You would think that they would have learned their lesson and would actually want, this time around, to learn what was in the convention—but apparently not. I am not entirely sure whether the position of Pete Wishart, who is on his knees and facing the wrong way, is in order during a speech, but it is certainly not normal behaviour from him. [Interruption.] He may not be listening, but he could at least give the impression that he is interested in knowing what is going on in the debate.
He is not. We are very grateful to him for clarifying that he is not interested in the debate. There is no wonder the SNP is so authoritarian.
The Istanbul convention has a two-pillar monitoring system to ensure that all members live up to their commitments. The aim is
“to assess and improve the implementation of the Convention by Parties.”
We therefore have two groups: GREVIO, which is initially composed of 10 members and which will subsequently be enlarged to 15 members when the 25th country has ratified the convention, and a political body—the Committee of the Parties—which is composed of representatives of the parties to the Istanbul convention.
The last thing we need is another group from a supranational body that is set up to make it look as if that body is doing something on issues but that just becomes a talking shop. It is not the implementation of the Istanbul convention that will make any real difference to levels of violence generally—and certainly not to levels of violence against women—but harsher sentencing of perpetrators. The idea that having a group of experts pontificating about how well or badly something has been implemented will make any material difference to the levels of violence in the UK is for the birds.
GREVIO’s task is to monitor implementation, and it may adopt general recommendations on themes and concepts of the convention. The Committee of the Parties follows up on GREVIO reports and conclusions, and adopts recommendations to the parties concerned.
There are different procedures that these two bodies can use to monitor each country’s implementation, such as a country-by-country evaluation procedure whereby GREVIO considers evidence submitted by the relevant countries. Should it find the evidence insufficient, it has the power to organise country visits and fact-finding missions.
My right hon. Friend is usually much more up on these matters than I am, so I always bow to his superior knowledge, but my understanding is that we would get members on these bodies only once we had ratified the convention. If he knows differently, I am happy to allow him to correct me because, as I say, he is usually more right than I am on most matters.
Another procedure that GREVIO can adopt is a special inquiry procedure that can be implemented when there is reliable information indicating that action is required to prevent a serious, massive or persistent pattern of any acts of violence covered by the convention. In this instance, GREVIO can request urgent submission of a special report by the concerned country.
Obviously I do not believe that the Government should ratify the convention at all, but should we do so, I do not want these foreign supranational bodies to come over and start lecturing us about things when in fact we are usually doing an awful lot better than any other country in the world on such matters. We often see this with the United Nations. By ratifying the convention on the terms of this Bill, we will open ourselves up to visits, fact-finding missions and interference by a foreign body lecturing us about what we should be doing, and perhaps even instructing us that we should be doing this, that and the other.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is rather sad if the House of Commons, and Parliament generally, thinks it is so poor at holding the Government to account on these things that it cannot do it itself and has to farm out the job to a foreign body. That would be a rather strange approach and from a Parliament that was lacking in self-confidence. The Women and Equalities Committee—I will not go into the issue of its name today—would be more than capable of holding the Government to account on the work they are doing on combating violence against women, and violence against men for that matter. We do not really need foreign politicians and foreign bureaucrats sticking their noses into what we are doing .
Is not my hon. Friend rather contradicting himself, because if we were to adopt the convention, it would not be a foreign body lecturing us, would it? It would be a body on which we had representation and were able to make our views known.
I do not accept that. Having said that my right hon. Friend is virtually always right, I fear that this is one of the rare occasions when he is not. These things all sound wonderful when one signs up to them, but one does not necessarily understand the full implications of doing so. As an illustration of that, we might focus on the European convention on human rights. It would be very difficult for anybody to disagree with anything in that convention, but we did not realise at the time how it would grow and start to get ahead of itself, interpreting things in a way that could never have been envisaged and getting above its station. That creates all sorts of problems further down the line. In this context, my fear is not necessarily all about what is in the Istanbul convention, although I do have concerns about that—I am more concerned about the way in which a foreign body will interpret its role and start growing to a level that was never envisaged either in the convention or in the Bill. The votes for prisoners issue in relation to the European convention on human rights perfectly illustrates how these things can grow in a way that we never envisaged. I therefore do not accept the premise of my right hon. Friend’s intervention.
New clause 6 is absolutely essential to maintaining our sovereignty in the United Kingdom and to making sure that that is set out clearly in the Bill so that there is absolutely no doubt that we retain all sovereignty in these matters and in what we are implementing.
New clause 10 follows on from that. I would have hoped that the SNP and the campaigners for this Bill would very much welcome it, because it says:
“Any recommendations…by GREVIO…or the Committee of the Parties…must be debated in Parliament before any Government response is given.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North argued that Parliament should be in charge of these matters. If we sign up to this Bill as currently drafted, Parliament will be excluded from anything that goes on. Once we have ratified the convention and the Bill is passed, Parliament will suddenly become redundant. If a foreign organisation is producing reports saying that the Government are not meeting what they signed up to—if that is the view of GREVIO and the Committee of the Parties and they produce a report along those lines—then surely it is only right that the matter is debated in Parliament so that Parliament can have its say on whether it agrees before the Government respond to GREVIO and the Committee of the Parties.
I cannot see why anybody who is in favour of this Bill and is campaigning for it could possibly object to giving Parliament more scrutiny over the process and more power to hold the Government to account. If anybody who supports the Bill would like to intervene and tell me what objection they have to new clause 10, I would be very happy to hear it and try to deal with it. If people do not have any objections to it, they will obviously remain quiet and we can proceed on that basis—we can press it to a vote and hopefully get people’s endorsement. I will give people the opportunity again: if anybody has any objection to new clause 10, perhaps they could speak now. If they do not, we will press it to a Division and hopefully get full support for it. It looks as though we have that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will come on to the Government amendments in due course. The Government, in cahoots with the SNP in the cosy little deal that they have put together, have removed any post-ratification scrutiny of how the Government are doing. That is quite extraordinary, but no doubt the Government and the SNP will be able to answer for themselves in due course.
My hon. Friend says that the Government have removed it, but so far the Bill has not been amended at all. He will obviously ensure that any Government amendments are tested in this House, because it may well be that quite a lot of the people who were originally supporters of this Bill would not want to see it watered down in the way that the Government wish.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Far from watering down the Bill, he is seeking to strengthen it; I will come to his amendments and new clauses in due course. We have an important role to play in Parliament in making sure that any legislation is fit for purpose. We ought to test the will of the House on any attempts to hoodwink the public. People should know where each MP stands on watering down the convention and on whether Parliament should have any role post-ratification—or whether we should just ratify the convention and leave it at that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way with regard to his new clause 10, but I wonder whether he has thought through the constitutional implications of allowing a vote in this House to have any formal standing when it is neither a statutory instrument nor primary legislation. Would that not risk bringing the courts into the proceedings in Parliament?
I always bow to my hon. Friend’s superior knowledge of constitutional issues. I would never enter into a competition with him on that, because I would certainly lose. However, I do not think there is anything to fear from new clause 10. All it asks for is a debate on the report in Parliament before the Government give a response. It would not even necessarily make the Government beholden to the outcome of that debate, but it would at least ensure the Government were aware of the views of MPs before they responded.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. How would that be tested? If the Government decided not to have a debate in Parliament, it could not be taken to a judicial review, because the courts could not consider a proceeding in Parliament.
There is plenty of evidence of Governments ignoring what Parliament has to say to them on a number of occasions, whether on appointments, Select Committees or whatever. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concerns and I always take them seriously. I will reflect on what others have to say in the debate; they may be able to persuade me that new clause 10 is not worth pursuing. However, I do not envisage the problems my hon. Friend envisages. I suppose we ought just to leave it at that and perhaps move on from there. My hon. Friend may well have the opportunity to have his say and explain in greater detail why new clause 10 should be resisted. I am sure the House will listen carefully to what he says, as will I. It would be a sad—and rare—state of affairs if I found myself voting in a different Lobby to my hon. Friend. New clause 10 should find favour with campaigners in favour of the Bill and the convention, because it gives Parliament more say over what happens post-ratification.
New clause 11 relates to annual statistics. This is very important. I have heard many assertions from campaigners that we must pass the Istanbul convention to eliminate violence against women, and that if we do not ratify it we will not have any reduction in violence against women. Campaigners say that if we pass the convention there will miraculously be no violence against women. New clause 11 requires the Government to use their
“best endeavours to obtain statistics on the levels of violence against men, women and all domestic violence victims in each country who are ratified members of the Convention and to make them publicly available and published annually.”
The point of that is to allow us all to see for ourselves whether ratifying the Istanbul convention actually makes any difference at all to levels of violence against women and levels of domestic violence. At the moment, we do not really know too much about it.
In preparation for this debate, I tried to get figures on countries that have ratified the convention to ask them if they had seen a reduction in violence since ratification. We should want to test whether it will actually make any difference at all. Unfortunately, the House of Commons Library told me that it did not have any such figures and that these figures did not exist. So anybody who stands up today and says that passing the Istanbul convention will reduce levels of violence against women is doing so in the full knowledge that they have no evidence at all to support that claim—unless, of course, they have done what I did. In the absence of any House of Commons Library figures, I wrote to the ambassadors of all the countries who ratified the convention to ask whether they could supply me with any of the information.
I do not know whether anybody else in the House has actually bothered to find out whether ratifying the convention makes any difference to levels of violence against women. Perhaps anybody who has done so could intervene now and share that information with me. No, I did not think anybody would intervene. I did not think that anyone would actually have any idea of what they were talking about before they came here today, but of course someone coming in on a Friday and knowing what they were talking about before pontificating would be breaking a great tradition. I have done the work for them—again. I contacted the ambassadors of the countries that have ratified the convention and asked for their figures. I am sure everyone will be interested to know what has happened in those countries since ratification. I am sure the Minister will be delighted to know. Maybe the Minister does not know this either. It is quite extraordinary, really.
Sweden signed the convention in May 2011 and ratified it in July 2014. It came into force in November 2014, with reservations. I will come on to reservations later, because I know that is a subject my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch feels very strongly about. From the figures given to me by the Swedish ambassador, the total number of reported offences in 2013, before the convention was ratified in Sweden, was 39,580. When the convention came into force it was 42,217. In 2015, after ratification, it went up to 42,252. The preliminary figures for 2016 show another increase in violence, with reported offences at 43,179. The offences included in this category—I am very grateful to the Swedish ambassador for sending this very detailed information—are all forms of assault, murder and rape, including attempted rape, regardless of the victim’s age. In Sweden, therefore, ratification of the Istanbul convention has not made a blind bit of difference to levels of violence against women. In fact, all that has happened is that levels of violence have continued to increase. What do all those who claim that the convention is essential to reducing violence have to say about that? Absolutely nothing—that is what they have got to say about it.
I wonder whether there might be other factors involved. My hon. Friend will no doubt have heard the President of the United States expressing considerable concern about the dangers now arising in Sweden.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I do not intend to deviate too much from the matter in hand, but he raises an interesting point about what might be the driving force behind that. I think the point he is getting at is that he thinks the levels and nature of immigration into Sweden might have been a contributory factor—a point made by President Trump last week. There may well be truth in that. I do not know; I did not ask the ambassador for any assessment on that. All we do know is that ratifying the Istanbul convention has not led to a decrease in violence against women in Sweden, and so all the people claiming that that is what is going to happen might want to think again.
Is it possible that in a country that cares about a particular form of violence people might be more willing to report that violence, and so figures might go up rather than down?
It is a no-fail measure, isn’t it? If the level of violence goes down, it is because of the Istanbul convention; if it goes up, it is because the Istanbul convention has helped levels of reporting. It cannot fail: whatever the figures it is a winner. I commend my hon. and learned Friend greatly for that line. She will almost certainly be made a Government Minister very soon. With such aplomb at the Dispatch Box with which to explain away any difficult figures in her Department, I suspect she will make a very fine Minister in short order.
My hon. and learned Friend may well be right. Unfortunately, the situation in Portugal is not quite the same as that in Sweden, so her thesis slightly falls down. Portugal ratified the convention a bit earlier than Sweden, since when the numbers have been like a rollercoaster: they have gone down, then up, then down again. I am not entirely sure how that can be explained away on the basis of increased awareness.
It is fair to say that, to any independent observer, the figures indicate that ratification does not make a blind bit of difference to levels of violence against women. I am very happy for other hon. Members to put their own gloss or spin on why the figures have gone up and down; I am just looking at them as someone who is interested in the statistics.
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is referring to reported figures. Surely the point is that if women are aware that their voices will be heard and that support is available, they will come forward and report incidents of this hidden crime. Surely he can see that that is a positive thing.
Of course I am in favour of people reporting crimes, but I am not entirely sure that we need to ratify the Istanbul convention for them to do so. We already encourage people to report crimes. If my hon. Friend wants to send a message today to every victim of violence that it is essential that they report that crime to the police, she is welcome to do so and I will endorse that message wholeheartedly. Any victim of any kind of violence, in any shape or form, irrespective of their gender, should report it to the police. It should be fully investigated and the perpetrator brought to justice and much more harshly punished than they currently are. Let that message ring out from the Chamber today, but we do not need to ratify the Istanbul convention for people to report that they have been the victim of a violent crime—we already have measures in place to deal with that.
The rollercoaster effect in Portugal that I described has also happened in Poland, which ratified the convention on
There is no pattern to the figures in the countries whose ambassadors kindly sent me them, but it is important to put it on the record that they show that Sweden, Portugal and Poland clearly take the issue very seriously. I commend those countries for doing so and for laying bare their figures to me. In some cases the figures are good and in others they are not, but those countries have been open and transparent enough to share them with me so that I can share them with the House.
I worry about the countries that did not share their figures. I appreciate that I have no evidence to support this and that I am making an assertion that can be countered, but I fear and suspect that some countries did not supply me with the information because they are slightly embarrassed that the figures have gone in the wrong way since they ratified the convention. I could be wrong, but people can draw their own conclusions.
I have also seen figures from Albania and Austria. In Albania, they show an increase since ratification from 4,599 to 5,281. In Austria, the trend is the same. Its first annual report, which came out last September after the convention came into force in 2014, showed that the number of female victims of violent offences had increased from 37,546 to 37,677—so I think it is fair to say that we are not going to make a massive difference to levels of violence against women by ratifying the treaty.
After Austria ratified the Istanbul convention, the number of women murdered there went from 118 in 2014 to 165 in 2015. That seems quite a significant increase in murders against women a year after the country ratified the convention.
I suspect that it is harder for a murder victim to report that crime—so clearly not. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that statistic cannot be explained away by increased reporting of crime. I think it is fair to say that murders are known to the public authorities.
Given the considerable increase in murders the year after Austria ratified the convention, I hope all the hon. Members who claim that the convention will lead to a miraculous reduction in violence against women will now change their minds. Perhaps they will be persuaded to vote for new clause 11, so that all the statistics would be available to us and we could produce our own analysis, whatever it might be. What does anyone have to fear from knowing the facts about all the countries that have ratified the convention? I do not see what anyone has to fear from asking the Government to source that information.
New clause 12 is similar to new clause 11, but it asks for quarterly statistics:
“The Government must use its best endeavours to obtain statistics on the levels of violence against men, women and all domestic violence victims…published quarterly”.
I will not dwell on new clause 12. The arguments for it are the same as for new clause 11, but it asks the Government to publish statistics quarterly rather than annually. Hon. Members can choose which of the new clauses they prefer; they are not really compatible with each other, but I tabled them both to give the House a choice about when to see the figures published. New clause 17 relates to compensation
“awarded to those who have sustained serious bodily injury or impairment of health”.
We now come to the reservations allowed within the Istanbul convention. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch knows much more about the subject than I do, and I am sure that he will want to speak on his new clauses and amendments that cover it. Unusually, he and I seem to be coming at the Bill from different angles: I want the Government to retain as many reservations as is allowed under the ratification of the convention, while he seeks to reduce the number of—indeed, eliminate—the reservations that they would be allowed to retain under it. He will make his case in his speech; I want to make the case for giving the Government as much freedom as possible within the convention. I would be interested to know from the Minister where she stands on the issue.
Article 30, paragraph 2, of the convention states:
“Adequate State compensation shall be awarded to those who have sustained serious bodily injury or impairment of health, to the extent that the damage is not covered by other sources such as the perpetrator, insurance or State-funded health and social provisions. This does not preclude Parties from claiming redress for compensation awarded from the perpetrator, as long as due regard is paid to the victim’s safety.”
I am a bit nervous about that. Obviously I believe as much as—perhaps more than—any hon. Member present that victims should be treated much fairer in the criminal justice system, and that that has to include proper compensation for being a victim of crime. However, my fear is that adopting article 30 would open the Government up to large claims for compensation from the state when those claims might more appropriately be pursued through other avenues. It might lead people not to pursue such claims through other avenues because they thought it much easier to go to the state.
I hope that the Minister will give us an estimate of how much the Government think it would cost to adopt article 30. I genuinely do not know what additional cost, if any, there would be to the UK taxpayer from signing up to article 30. Perhaps the Minister does not know—I would not blame her if she did not, because obviously any figure would be an estimate—but if we do not know, rather than signing the UK taxpayer up to an unknown cost, it would be more sensible for the UK to reserve the right not to sign up to the article. We can make our own arrangements in the House. Not signing up to that part of the Istanbul convention does not mean we cannot do it ourselves. We should leave it for us in the UK to decide these matters, rather than signing ourselves up to something of which we do not know the full consequences or cost to the UK taxpayer. That is the point of the new clause.
I commend my hon. Friend for tabling new clause 17. It is effectively a probing new clause trying to find out the Government’s policy on the issue. They say they wish to ratify the convention, but they have made no statement about whether, in ratifying, they wish to have reservations under the powers in the convention.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and I hope that the Minister will make that clear. I have given up the hope that SNP Members know anything about what is in the Istanbul convention. They clearly have no idea. If they bothered to read it, they would know that it contains powers for Governments to reserve some areas—not sign up to them—but still ratify the convention. We have no idea, however, whether we are going to sign up to these things. Before Parliament agrees to something, we should at least know what we are signing up to. At the moment, we have no idea. Perhaps the Minister will be good enough to tell us, before Third Reading, what the Government envisage us signing up to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is right in one sense about the new clause being a probing measure to tease out from the Government which bits of the convention we will sign up to as part of ratification, but he does it a slight disservice. I am not entirely sure I agree that it is just a probing new clause. To describe it as such suggests that I do not particularly agree with it and am just seeking information, whereas I do agree with it, so I cannot agree with him.
If my hon. Friend was to make the same accusation about new clause 19, however, he might have a point. It states:
“Nothing in the Bill shall prevent the United Kingdom ratifying the Istanbul Convention with reservations as provided for in paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 78.”
In effect, that would allow the Government to ratify the convention with the maximum number of reservations allowed. It is important to highlight what reservations are allowed and therefore what would be covered by the new clause. The reservations apply to the following outline areas: compensation, which I have just covered on new clause 17, jurisdiction, statute of limitation, residence status and the right to provide for non-criminal sanctions for psychological violence and stalking.
I have talked about article 30 and compensation already. The new clause 19 would also allow the Government in effect to opt out of paragraphs (1)(e), (3) and (4) of article 44, on jurisdiction; article 55(1), as it relates to article 35, on minor offences and ex parte and ex officio proceedings; article 58, as it relates to articles 37 to 39, on the statute of limitation; and article 59, on residence status, especially in relation to spouses. Finally, article 78(3) declares that a state
“reserves the right to provide for non-criminal sanctions, instead of criminal sanctions, for the behaviours referred to in Articles 33 and 34”— on psychological violence and stalking respectively.
There is a good case for saying that the UK Government and Parliament should be sovereign in all these areas and that where we can leave matters to the UK Government, Parliament and the UK courts, we should take that opportunity, mainly for the reason I outlined in response to my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight: we have no idea necessarily how these things will develop over the years, so it is best to reserve as many rights as possible. That would be the most sensible strategy for the Government to adopt, because it would allow them to retain as much control as possible.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is plenty of precedent from around Europe for going down precisely this route in respect of what other countries have done as part of their ratification process?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, I was just about to come on to that. Of the 22 countries that have already signed and ratified the convention, 11 have done so with reservations attached, and a further four have signed it stating they want reservations too. It is clearly a reasonable approach for Governments to take—it is in the convention that countries can do it, so it must be an accepted approach. It is clearly a reasonable approach, as all countries, Governments and legal systems are different, and it is important that that be recognised as much as possible so that provisions can be to the taste of particular countries. I hope, therefore, that the Government will make it clear where we are with these reservations and what implications there might be. If they are seeking the maximum number of reservations, as I would advise them to do, perhaps the Minister can confirm that she has no objection to new clause 19, which would simply make that clear in the Bill and put the matter beyond any doubt and further debate.
No, I do not. I was going to come to that later, but as my hon. Friend has raised it now, I should make it clear that I absolutely do not think that. In fact, colleagues will remember my hon. Friend Alex Chalk waging a fantastic campaign trying to double the maximum sentence courts could impose on people convicted of stalking. I was a strong supporter of his 10-minute rule Bill that sought to do that, and I was pleased that the Government agreed to adopt that measure. That was fantastic.
I differ with my hon. Friend, however, in that I do not accept the premise that providing for reservations from the convention means that we necessarily always have to disagree with what is in those articles. It just means that we are free to do what we think is right, rather than having another body telling us its view of the matter. We can be trusted to do the right thing by victims of stalking, as the Government have already done. Not signing up to an article does not mean disagreeing with what is in it; it just means we want to retain sovereignty for our own country.
Does my hon. Friend understand why, when the last Labour Government were negotiating the convention, they were prepared to allow other countries to have non-criminal sanctions in respect of stalking? Why were they prepared to allow a reservation of that nature, given that only a very limited number of reservations are allowed?
That is a very good point. No doubt the Labour spokesman will be able to explain why Labour thinks it is absolutely fine for other countries to have non-criminal sanctions for stalking, and for psychological violence against women. The Labour Government obviously agreed to that being part of the convention, and people are happy for us to sign up to it on the basis that it is a gold standard for protecting women. Well, I hope people realise what is in this “gold standard for protecting women”. Those who campaign most vociferously seem to be the ones who have read the smallest amount of it. There is a direct correlation: the people who seem to be the most wound up about it are the ones who have read it the least. If some of them take the time to read it, they may be shocked to find what is in this “gold standard”.
I actually think that the UK can do a damn sight better than the Istanbul convention. I think that by signing up to it we will be levelling things downwards rather than levelling them upwards, which is what we should be seeking to do. If the Government want to do something useful around the world, they should be encouraging other countries to adopt the practices in which we engage in this country, rather than our agreeing to adopt their practices, which are much weaker when it comes to dealing with violent crime and, in particular, violence against women.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: Labour Members have a great deal to answer for in this debate. Perhaps they will be able to explain why they think that stalking and psychological violence against women should be subject to non-criminal sanctions in other countries, and perhaps the Bill’s promoter will be able to explain why she would adopt that policy as well. I suspect that it is not something that she tells people about very often when talking about the Istanbul convention.
New clause 20 provides for a requirement to denounce the convention after five years. In effect, it is a sunset clause—I think that more Bills should contain sunset clauses—enabling us to review whether or not the Istanbul convention has been a force for good in the United Kingdom. If everyone is so confident that ratification will indeed be a force for good, they have nothing to fear from a sunset clause, because it will become apparent that the ratification has been a great triumph, and we can all agree to put the provision back on to the statute book in time for it to continue. If, of course, the ratification proves to be a turkey, the Bill will fall, and we shall be able to start from scratch. We shall be able to introduce legislation that is much more sensible and effective. I have no idea why anyone might not support a sunset clause. It seems a very good safeguard, because it requires us to continue to focus on what a Bill is designed to achieve, and to ensure that that is what it is achieving.
Those are my new clauses. I shall now deal with the amendments—14 of the 36—that are tabled in my name. Amendment 22 relates to the report that subsection (1) requires the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament on the timetable for ratification of the convention. The subsection states that the report
“must be laid within four weeks of this Act receiving Royal Assent.”
What is required within four weeks is for the Secretary of State to set out
“the steps required to be taken to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Istanbul Convention;
and…the date by which the Secretary of State would expect the United Kingdom to be able to ratify the Convention.”
I think that is a rather unrealistic timetable. No doubt the Secretary of State could rustle something up to hit that arbitrary four-week target, but I think it would be much more sensible for the report to be meaningful and accurate. Surely we should be aiming for that, rather than sticking to an artificial timetable.
I should love to know why the Bill specifies four weeks. Perhaps its promoter will be able to tell us. Why four weeks? Why not six weeks, or two weeks? What is so special about four weeks? I suspect that there is nothing special about it at all. I suspect that someone said, “We shall have to put in a figure. What shall we put in? Let’s go for four weeks, shall we?” I do not think that that is a sensible way of drafting legislation.
My hon. Friend is effectively supporting one of the Government amendments, but may I present an alternative point of view? The Government have had since 2014 to draw up a list of the legislative requirements that will enable the convention to be ratified. The Bill was published on
My hon. Friend seems to have made my point for me. I understand what he is saying: that the Government have had ample time in which to do this, and we should therefore be able to put to them a fixed time in the near future. My contrary point would be that, if after such a long time they still have not been able to do it, how on earth are we to expect them to do it all of a sudden within four weeks? That seems unrealistic to me. Surely the fact that the Government have not managed to do it in all those months suggests that they will not be able to do it in four weeks. My point is that the timetable is unrealistic.
But it is not just four weeks, is it? One of the Government amendments says that the Act should not come into force until two months after Royal Assent, which means, effectively, that after Royal Assent the Government would have three months on top of all the time that they have had up until now.
My hon. Friend is clearly right. I cannot disagree with anything that he has said. The points that he has made about Royal Assent are factual. However, I am not entirely sure that that timetable is achievable either, given the delay that we have already seen. My point is that, rather than rushing to meet an artificial target that they are clearly finding it difficult to meet, the Government should be left to set out those steps at a reasonable time.
My amendment 22 would extend the timetable from four weeks to three years, and I should like to think that everyone would agree that it allows the Government ample time to get their ducks in a row and their house in order. I should like to think that the Government would have no excuse for not sticking to that particular timetable. However, my hon. Friend thinks that that would let the Government off the hook too much. My amendment 24 replaces the four weeks with “when reasonably practicable”.
My hon. Friend is right, and I shall go into that in a bit more detail later. The Government really are selling people a pup. They, and the Scottish National party, are trying to get all the plaudits for putting their shoulders to the wheel to ensure that the Istanbul convention is ratified, but the “filleting” amendments are designed to do the exact opposite. My three-year amendment, as my hon. Friend puts it, may mean a long time in the waiting, but at least it will mean that there is a fixed deadline for the Government to meet. Amendment 24, which says that the report must be laid “when reasonably practicable”, mirrors the Government amendment. It is very similar. Obviously, great minds—mine and the Minister’s—think alike on the matter. However, I concede that the amendment allows for a never-ending timescale. Perhaps that is what the Government, and the SNP, have in mind. I do not know. I am perfectly relaxed about either measure—I will take soundings from colleagues as to which they think is the best. My general point is that the four-week target is never going to be achievable, particularly given all the other things that are going on for the Government at the moment.
It seems to me that it is what it says on the tin:
“as soon as reasonably practicable”.
It is when the Government are in a position to be able to do so. I know my hon. Friend has extensive experience of government, as a former Minister. That is a privilege that I do not have, and never will have, so it is not for me to say what it takes for the machinery of government to get itself into a position to do something, but I am sure that he trusts the Government to move as speedily as possible on these matters, given the Minister’s stated commitment to these things. I am sure he has nothing to worry about on that provision. The Minister tabled a similar amendment to mine, which is a rare thing in itself. Presumably, she may be able to answer his question. She may be able to explain what she had in mind when she tabled her amendment to satisfy him.
Amendment 25 is about the annual report that is required in clause 3. The clause says that the Secretary of State shall lay a report “each year”. I propose to change that to “biennially”. Every two years is perfectly adequate for that report; we do not need an annual one. If my hon. Friend gets his way, it will not need to be laid annually or biennially because the Government will have this done and dusted in no time anyway. Therefore, I am not sure why we need an annual report, to be honest. However, Members can explain why, if these things have to be done quickly, we need an annual report saying what steps need to be taken and when we are expected to ratify the convention. Presumably, the whole point was to have it done and dusted in no time at all, so I am not sure I understand the need for that provision.
Amendment 26 would delete
“any alteration in the date by which the United Kingdom expects to be able to ratify the Convention and the reasons for the alteration”.
I do not see any point in that provision. It seems to be superfluous to requirements.
I propose in amendments 27 and 28 to delete paragraphs (b) and (c) of clause 3, which are about pre-ratification reports. I cannot see the point of those provisions, including that on
There is all this verbiage in the Bill about the Government having to report on this, that and the other. It is all just bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy. In practice, none of the pre-ratification requirements will make a jot of difference to the victims of domestic violence and people suffering any kind of violence. It is a pen-pusher’s dream to explain away why the Government are not doing anything, or why they have not done something. The Bill is all about looking as if you are doing something, rather than actually doing something that will make a difference to people’s lives. The more we can get rid of all this unnecessary bureaucracy and crack on with measures that will help to reduce violent crime in the UK, the better—that would be much more worth while. I would prefer to see action taken, rather than reports of inaction.
Order. I am sure, Mr Davies, you are not going to go down that route.
My word, Mr Deputy Speaker! If we were to abolish Bills that were just about gesture politics, that would abolish private Member’s Bill Fridays altogether. However, that is a debate for another day. I do not want to be sidetracked down that line today.
“the measures to be taken and legislation required to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Istanbul Convention”.
Surely it is clear what legislation is required to enable the UK to ratify the convention. Why on earth do we need an annual report for the Government to tell us what legislation is required to ratify the convention?
Order. I am a bit worried. Time is going by and I know that you, Mr Davies, will want to hear some of the other speeches. I am sure that you will want to get towards the end of your speech. Mr Chope is trying to distract you permanently. We have to worry about that.
I will try not to be distracted by my hon. Friend too many times. As I think you will appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been trying to crack on through my amendments, but there are 47 new clauses and amendments in this group and they take some wading through. However, I have been racing through them. I will leave the Minister to answer my hon. Friend’s point when she speaks.
Amendment 49 is about a report—we are still laying a report—about the measures taken by the Government to comply with the Istanbul convention to
“protect and assist victims of violence against women and domestic violence”.
At the end of that, my amendment would insert
“and produce a breakdown of government spending on victims of violence and domestic violence for both men and women.”
I do not see why anyone would want to oppose the Government having to produce a breakdown of how much they are spending on victims of violence and domestic violence, broken down by men and women. Men are nearly twice as likely as women to be the victim of a violent crime—1.3% of women interviewed for the crime survey reported being victims of violence in 2014-15, compared with 2.4% of men. When it comes to the most serious cases, according to the crime survey for England and Wales, women accounted for 36% of recorded homicide victims in 2015-16, whereas men accounted for 64%, yet so far the provisions we have here apply only to women. Therefore, it is important that the Government make clear what provisions they have for the victims of violent crime, whether they be men or women.
I hope that the Government will agree to publish that information, and, if not, explain why they object to it so much.
Amendment 50 addresses the next bit of clause 3, which is about the report showing what the Government are doing to
“promote international co-operation against these forms of violence”.
At the end of all that, I have inserted that they should also
“provide statistics showing international comparison on levels of violence against women and men”.
I do not intend to repeat myself, but I spoke earlier about the information I have managed to acquire from different ambassadors. If we ask the Government to show what they are doing and then to show what other countries who have ratified the convention are doing, that will give us a good idea of how we are doing compared with other countries. Surely that is a meaningful comparison that we would want to look at. At the moment, the Government can offer us no meaningful comparisons to show how we are doing in comparison with other countries. I do not know why they would be afraid of doing that; surely they would want to make sure they were doing better than other countries. My amendment would give them the opportunity to do that and to highlight their record against that of other countries. Perhaps that would level everybody’s standards upwards, rather than them just being at the lowest possible common denominator.
Amendment 51 relates to the report on the measures the Government are taking in providing
“support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to co-operate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence.”
At the end of that, I have added
“and to include the names of these organisations”.
It is important that the Government should make it clear, as part of this reporting strategy, what support and assistance they are giving and to which organisations they are giving that support. Then we can scrutinise whether or not they are the right organisations.
It might well be that there are other organisations out there—perhaps small organisations in local communities that the Government have not come across—that we can champion and say, “You don’t seem to be giving any money to these organisations. How about giving them a cut of the funding available?” I do not know what would be lost by the transparency of knowing which organisations the Government were funding.
Does my hon. Friend see any irony in the fact that while he and I have proposed, in separate amendments, deleting clause 3(1)(a), (b), (c) and (d), the Government have proposed deleting paragraph (e), which is the most substantive of all the paragraphs to this clause?
My hon. Friend is right, and what is happening here—if anybody bothers to notice—is that I am strengthening paragraph (e); I am trying to give the Government more requirements for reporting what they are doing post-ratification.
I will come to the Government amendment a bit later, but my hon. Friend is right to say that while I am, through these amendments, strengthening paragraph (e) and making sure that the Government have to give more information, the Government, with the SNP’s connivance, are making sure that there will be no reporting on any of these issues post-ratification of the Istanbul convention. Again, they will have to explain themselves on that, but I think that if we are going to ratify this convention, we should at least have some post-ratification knowledge of what on earth is happening and how well we are doing.
Order. If the hon. Gentleman does want to hear that, it might be helpful if he gets on and ends his speech, as I can then get some answers for him—and I would not want to distract him from hearing the answers.
As ever, you are absolutely right, Mr Deputy Speaker. There have been lots of interventions and I will try to resist the temptation to be as generous in taking them as I normally am—for a bit, at least.
Amendment 54 again addresses clause 3 and the reports on progress. The amendment says that the first annual report should be laid no later than
Amendment 55 is my final amendment and it relates to when this Bill, when it becomes an Act, should come into force. The Bill says it should
“come into force on the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent”, and the Government have amended that, but I suggest it should
“not come into force until 90% of the signatories to the Convention have ratified it and there has been a proven reduction in violence against women in 75% of the countries who have ratified the Convention.”
It seems to me to be perfectly clear that we would want to ratify the convention only if it is actually shown to work. As I made clear earlier, we do not have the evidence at the moment to support that.
Those are my amendments, and I will now touch briefly on the other ones in the group, which I can race through fairly quickly, I hope. All of the new clauses in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch are about making sure that the Government do not apply any of the reservations. I have explained why I think the Government should apply some reservations, however, and that is why I would reject new clauses 14, 15 and 16. If I might be so bold as to say so, I think my hon. Friend’s best attempt here is new clause 18 on psychological violence and stalking. It is inconceivable that those things would not come with a criminal sanction in the UK, so in that sense we have nothing to fear from signing up to that. It might be my hon. Friend’s argument that if we were to make it clear that we would sign up to that—that we would be happy to make sure they would always have a criminal sanction—it might encourage others to do the same. I do not know whether that would work, but I would not be averse to that, and if my hon. Friend were to push new clause 18 to a vote, I would be more sympathetic to that than I would be to his other new clauses, if that is helpful to him.
The Government amendments—which the SNP has endorsed, let us not forget that—are extraordinary. I have made it clear that I am opposed to this convention, but this cosy deal shows that they do not care too much about it either. They pretend—
They are attempting to fillet this Bill without anybody noticing, claiming to be champions of the Istanbul convention while getting the Government off the hook of ever having to actually implement it. These amendments are all about making sure either that the Istanbul convention is never ratified or that its ratification is delayed as much as possible. Only SNP Members will know why on earth they have agreed to this. Only they will be able to explain that, or perhaps they are so embarrassed about it that they will not be willing to explain it at all. I hope they will have the guts to admit to what they have done.
Government new clause 1 would remove clause 1 and therefore would remove the ratification of the convention on violence against women, because clause 1 imposes a “duty” on the Government
“to take all reasonable steps as soon as reasonably practicable to enable the United Kingdom to become compliant with” the Istanbul convention. The Government want to delete that. They want to leave out clause 1, yet clause 1 is the whole point of the Bill, in that it imposes a duty on the Government
“to take all reasonable steps as soon as reasonably practicable to enable the United Kingdom to become compliant” with the convention. The Government want to remove that provision from the Bill, and the SNP is quite happy for them to do so. This is absolutely extraordinary stuff, Mr Deputy Speaker! You literally could not make it up.
Mr Cunningham, who intervened on me earlier, referred to the words of the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions on Wednesday. What she said was very sensible, as usual. In answer to the leader of the SNP, she said:
“In many ways, the measures we have in place actually go further than the convention”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 621, c. 1013.]
What on earth is the point of the UK ratifying the convention, when the Prime Minister herself says that we already have measures that go further than those in the convention? As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch says, this is gesture politics. The Prime Minister also made it clear that the amendments tabled by the Government were “mutually agreed” with the SNP.
Amendments 56 and 57, both tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—[Interruption.] I think that SNP Members are rather embarrassed about the fact that they have been cosying up to the Government on these amendments, and they are trying to mask anyone knowing anything about that. This is quite extraordinary, and it is a good job that some of us are on the ball. Amendments 56 and 57 relate to reservations, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will talk about them later.
Government amendment 2 is again one that I would support. It would amend clause 2 by replacing the words “date by” with “timescale within”. There is quite a big difference between the date by which something must be done and a timescale within which it is expected to be done. Again, this is watering down the provisions in the Bill and the SNP has agreed that the Government should do this. Government amendment 3 is very similar to my amendment 24. It proposes producing a report
“as soon as reasonably practicable after this Act comes into force”, so we can leave that one there as I have already covered that in my amendment. I will obviously support that Government amendment.
Government amendment 4 covers a matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch raised in a point of order at the start of our proceedings today. To be perfectly honest, I do not really understand this. There must be a reason for this proposal, and I hope that the Minister will explain what it is. The amendment proposes that it should be the Secretary of State, rather than Her Majesty’s Government, who determines that the United Kingdom is compliant the Istanbul convention. Surely the Secretary of State is the person within Her Majesty’s Government who is responsible for this policy area, so I do not really see why this needs to be changed round. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why that should be the Secretary of State’s responsibility rather than that of the Government. There must be a point to that proposal, but it has passed me by.
Government amendment 5 seems to be consequential to Government amendment 4, so I think we can leave that there. I believe that Government amendment 6 is consequential to Government amendments 4 and 5, so we can leave them there too. Government amendment 7 represents another significant watering down of the Bill and of the convention. Clause 2, at present, provides that the Government must make a statement to each House of Parliament on
“the date by which the Convention will be ratified.”
Presumably the whole purpose of the Bill is to ratify the convention, and at the moment the Government are required to announce the date by which it will be ratified. However, the Government and the SNP want to water down that provision so that the Government would no longer have to tell Parliament the date by which the convention will be ratified. Instead, they would simply have to say when
“the Secretary of State would expect the Convention to be” ratified. Well, that could be any date at all. This is a significant watering down of the Bill that has not been well publicised until now—[Interruption.] I know it is very boring of me to point out that SNP Members are watering down their own Bill and cosying up to a Conservative Government in doing so. I know that they are embarrassed about doing that, but I am taking great pleasure in telling the people of Scotland what SNP Members do when they are down here.
Government amendment 8 deletes the requirement to produce a report “each year” and replaces it with a requirement to produce such a report only “until ratification”. Government amendment 9 firms up the watering down of the Bill. It refers to alterations in the timescale and the reasons for such alterations. It is a consequential amendment to those that water down the Bill, which the SNP has agreed to. Government amendment 10 is consequential to amendment 8, as is amendment 11. Government amendments 12 and 13 are again consequential to Government amendment 8 and have no real consequence.
Government amendment 14 is very significant, as per amendment 8. At the moment, the Bill requires the Government to produce an annual report setting out
“the measures taken by Her Majesty’s Government to ensure that the United Kingdom is, and remains, compliant with the Istanbul Convention”.
Specifically, the report is to include measures to
“(i) protect women against violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence;
(ii) contribute to the elimination of discrimination against women, promote equality between women and men, and empower women;
(iii) protect and assist victims of violence against women and domestic violence;
(iv) promote international co-operation against these forms of violence;
(v) provide support and assistance to organisations and law enforcement agencies to co-operate in order to adopt an integrated approach to eliminating violence against women and domestic violence.”
Those are the aims of the convention, yet the Government are saying that they will not be required to report on any of those things. In effect, they are saying, “Once we have ratified the Istanbul convention, that will be job done. We don’t need to worry about these things any more. We don’t need to monitor what is happening and we don’t need to report on what is happening in this country because the job has been done.” Well, I am afraid that it has not been done, as we have seen from the results in other countries. We need to keep on top of these things to ensure that the Government are doing what they said they would do to ensure that violent crime is going down in the UK. It is quite extraordinary that the Government and the SNP do not want any reporting of anything at all after ratification of the Istanbul convention, and I hope that the will of the House will be tested on that matter.
Amendment 60, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, is one that I very much support. He wants to retain clause 3(e), as I do, rather than delete it. He also wants to strengthen it by requiring the Government to make it clear what the costs to the Exchequer will be of the measures set out in that subsection. It is quite right that the UK taxpayer should know much is being spent on the measures in the Bill. That is a matter of transparency.
Government amendment 15 is yet another watering down of the Bill: instead of coming into effect on the day of Royal Assent, another two months will now have to pass before it comes into effect. I am happy to support the amendment, but people campaigning for the Bill should be rather worried about the motives for the amendment.
In many respects I have saved the best till last.
Do not worry, the House will hear it in all its glory. Government amendment 16—and, with it, Government amendment 17—is an absolute pearler. The Bill is so bad that not only are the Government taking out clause 1, which is the whole point of the Bill, but they are even changing the title because it is no longer applicable to what they are prepared to sign themselves up to—with SNP support.
The title says that this is:
“A Bill to require the United Kingdom to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention);
and for connected purposes.”
Everyone outside this place thinks that that is what we are debating today. They think this is a Bill to require the United Kingdom to ratify the Istanbul convention. Well, not any more. The Government and the SNP have caved in on what the Bill was supposed to be about, because now they are changing the title. The requirement on the United Kingdom to ratify the convention will no longer be in the Bill’s title if the Government and the SNP get their way. The Bill will just:
“Make provision in connection with the ratification by the United Kingdom of”.
In other words, “Let’s kick this one into the long grass. We’ll just have a few things that need to be done before we actually ratify the convention.” The Bill will no longer require the Government to ratify the Istanbul convention, and even “and for connected purposes” will be removed. Nothing that might actually help to ratify the Istanbul convention will be included in the Bill.
There we have it: a whole range of amendments. Some of my amendments are about transparency, and some would strengthen the measures expected of the Bill—people would certainly know what has to be reported on so that we can see what is happening in other countries. On the other hand, we have the Government amendments, supported by the SNP, that water down the Bill and even remove the requirement to ratify the Istanbul convention. The public outside need to know that they are being conned by people who claim to support ratification and who claim to be on the campaign group. The public have been sold a pup. At least some of us are honest about not liking this convention, which has to be a better way to operate than this rather shabby deal between the Government and the SNP.
I hope that we can test the will of the House on the weakening of the Bill, and we will see how we get on.
In considering this group of amendments it is useful to consider the related document, the sixth report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, session 2014-15, on violence against women and girls, which was published in February 2015 and called on the Government to ratify the Istanbul convention.
I am delighted that my Bill is back before the House on Report. I am extremely grateful to colleagues on both sides of the House—from nine parties—who support the Bill, and especially to those who have given up a valuable constituency Friday. I am particularly grateful to those who have been up all night with the by-elections. I can see quite a few folk who are a bit bleary eyed this morning. I thank everyone for being here.
Preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is extremely relevant to people in every single constituency. We have a chance today to make a real difference to their lives and the lives of future generations. On Second Reading the Government intimated their intention to amend the Bill while supporting its intent and principles. Although the amendments were not forthcoming in Committee, they are before the House this morning, and I thank the Minister and her officials for working constructively with me and my staff to table amendments that meet the Government’s need for unambiguous and watertight legislation without watering down the substance of the Bill.
Grown-up politics is about compromise and, frankly, we would all be much better off if there were less grandstanding on our hind legs in this place and more constructive discussion and real work. I will address the Government amendments in due course. However, as we have all heard ad nauseam this morning, there are screeds of further amendments before the House today, and all Members will be relieved that I do not intend to address them at great length. I plan to keep my remarks relatively concise and to the point, and I hope the substance of my comments will more than compensate for any brevity, but I need to respond to some of what we have heard this morning.
I am aware that Philip Davies enjoys playing the pantomime villain in this very public theatre and that he genuinely opposes the principles of the Bill, but the way he has gone about tabling wrecking amendments and talking to them at mind-numbing length this morning does nothing to enhance his reputation or the reputation of our democratic process. The only embarrassment in this House today is the embarrassment of his Government and his Prime Minister at the way he has misrepresented their position. He lets himself down and he lets down thousands of his constituents who have experienced horrific sexual and domestic violence and whose lives have been irreparably blighted as a result.
Yesterday, along with other MPs, I received a copy of a letter from more than 130 of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, women and men from the Shipley area who are dismayed by his
“wilful misunderstanding and sabotage of the Bill”.
They point out that:
“While this Bill is delayed, people (mostly women) are being maimed and killed by abusive partners. To see this legislation filibustered is soul destroying for those who really need the protection of such a Bill.”
Some seven women a month are killed in England and Wales alone. Does my hon. Friend agree that that deserves to be treated with the utmost urgency, as we would any other major cause of death?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We also need to understand the dynamic of control and abuse that feeds those shocking statistics.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on making such progress with this important and very necessary Bill. Does she agree that it is important that people have faith in parliamentarians to carry out their monitoring role once the convention is implemented and that the actions of Philip Davies do not help?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I will address scrutiny in a bit.
There are few issues that unite this House, but there is a compelling degree of unanimity on the need to ratify the Istanbul convention and the need to do more to prevent and combat gender-based violence, which is reflected in the cross-party support for the Bill and the willingness of Members from all parties to work together to achieve the progressive change that people in our communities want to see.
However, the hon. Member for Shipley has done me one favour with his amendments by giving me an opportunity that I might not otherwise have had on Report to clear up some fairly basic misunderstandings about the Istanbul convention—not least what it actually says and does—and some fundamental misconceptions about the gendered dynamics of sexual violence and domestic abuse.
First, clause 3 of article 4 of the Istanbul convention explicitly states that
“the provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, gender, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, marital status, migrant or refugee status, or other status.”
It is unambiguous: the Istanbul convention provisions apply to women, men, trans and non-binary people alike, and regardless of any other characteristic. It is comprehensive and clear.
Interestingly, an organisation such as Stay Brave, which advocates specifically for male, trans and non-binary victims of sexual and domestic violence, and which would not have in the past claimed adherence to any feminist agenda, supports the Istanbul convention and wants to see it ratified, because it recognises that the convention will help all victims. As its chief executive said in a blog published yesterday, it recognises that:
“The focus on ending violence against women is important, because it recognises the global pandemic of injustice. Gender inequality…creates a world where power, money and strength become motivators for systemic violence.”
The chief executive officer of another men’s organisation, David Bartlett of the White Ribbon Campaign, yesterday also urged all MPs who care about ending violence and promoting gender equality to vote in favour of the Bill today.
That is why the hon. Member for Shipley is simply wrong to suggest that this can ever be understood as a gender-neutral issue, and why the points he has made in the past about men being left out and this not being about them cannot be taken seriously. All of us are agreed that all sexual violence and all domestic violence is serious, regardless of the gender of the victim or of the perpetrator, and regardless of any other characteristic —end of.
No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman has more than enough air time. Everybody recognises that some men will experience gender violence and domestic violence, and that sometimes the perpetrator will be female, but in the real world in which we live the people who experience sexual and domestic violence are overwhelmingly female; women are disproportionately subjected to these forms of violence and abuses on a colossal scale—we cannot ignore that reality. The large majority of perpetrators, although by no means all, happen to be men; no credible, documented source of evidence anywhere in the world suggests otherwise. We do ourselves a huge disservice if we pretend that this is just another case of “the boys against the girls”—we are not in primary 4. It is a grave distortion of a terrible, systemic abuse of human rights to ignore the profound gender inequalities that drive and compound sexual violence and domestic abuse.
It is also important to say that some types of sexual violence are becoming more prevalent. Crime in Scotland is at a 40-year low, yet sexual offences are rising. That could be due to more people reporting what has happened to them, and in the wake of the exposure of the Savile review we know that there has certainly been a spike in the reporting of historic incidents. But I fear that this is also to do with a genuine increase in new types of gender-based violence, which are partly facilitated by this saturated world we live in of violent sexual imagery: the emergence of so-called “revenge porn”, which was not possible until the advent of smartphones; and things such as so-called “date rape” drugs being available. Those things were not problems 20 or 30 years ago but they have become prevalent problems now, and they are driving an increase in sexual assaults in particular. However, women’s inequality is still a key feature of every society in the world, and that is what is really underpinning gender-based violence.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and an important point. I congratulate her on her ongoing work on this issue and I hope everyone will vote in support of the Bill today. We came into this Chamber with the horror of the Helen Bailey story in today’s papers, her partner having been jailed for 34 years for her murder. Does the hon. Lady agree that this highlights how the crime of domestic violence and violence against women hits? Age and background are not relevant, as this is a universal crime. Finding a way of raising awareness among young people will be the best gift we can give them in terms of prevention, and supporting the Bill today will be global Britain in action.
The hon. Lady makes a series of salient points in her concise intervention, and of course our condolences go to the friends and family of Helen Bailey, whose dreadful murder made us all pause for thought and for breath. It was a truly horrific crime and I am glad her killer has been brought to justice.
The hon. Lady also anticipated the points I was just about to come on to make on the universality of gender-based violence. I talked a lot on Second Reading about the differential experiences of gender-based violence, and in explaining why I will be opposing amendments that have been tabled, I will reiterate the points I made then. Although this is a universal crime that affects women right across the spectrum, we know that low-income women, disabled women and women under 30 are more likely to experience gender-based violence than others. We know that women from some ethnic and cultural minorities are exposed to greater risk of specific manifestations of violence, such as female genital mutilation or forced marriage. Sexual violence can happen to any of us—it affects people of all economic and social backgrounds and ages—but there are deep structural social inequalities reflected in our likelihood of experiencing sexual and domestic violence, and gender inequality is the cross-cutting factor that underpins and compounds them all.
If we are serious about ending these forms of abuse, we need to understand their manifestations and end the denial—the blind spot—about the far-reaching effects of wider gender inequality. Women may have secured equality before the law—de jure equality—but we are nowhere near achieving de facto equality, or equality in practice. We need just to look around Parliament or to listen to the amount of air time that people get in Parliament, including today, to see that. Until we get that equality in practice, women will continue to face life-threatening, life-changing abuse over the course of their lives.
I now want to turn to the amendments tabled by the Minister, all of which I am happy to accept. I am grateful for the way in which the Government, in proposing some significant changes, have worked to retain the principles, intention, integrity and spirit of the Bill. We are at our best as legislators when we use those areas where there is already a large degree of common ground and consensus to find compromises and push forward together where we are able to do so. Although these Government amendments were not tabled in time for the Committee, the Government were able in Committee to outline their intentions in some detail and to indicate the areas in which they planned to amend the Bill on Report.
Government amendment 1, which removes clause 1, is undoubtedly the amendment over which I still have some reservations, but I am prepared to take in good faith the Government’s commitment that they will move forward with all due haste to make the legislative changes they need to make in order to bring the UK into compliance with the Istanbul convention. I reject absolutely the assertion from those on the Tory Back Benches that the Government do not care about these issues. I urge anyone who takes that view to speak to some of the women on the Tory Benches, including those who have so courageously spoken about their own experiences of domestic abuse. Tory women are no more immune from gender-based violence than anyone else; all of us are affected. I believe genuinely that there is a shared commitment on this, including a personal commitment from the Prime Minister.
I greatly appreciate how the hon. Lady has acknowledged the cross-support on this issue and everything she has done in the Chamber and outside it. She has the full backing of female Conservative Back Benchers, but I also applaud my male colleagues, who are also behind her.
I am grateful for that intervention. As I said on Second Reading, actions speak louder than words. We have heard a lot of warm words and verbal commitments in principle about the Istanbul convention for nearly five years now, but the process had clearly stalled. So I am delighted that a few days ago, ahead of this debate, the Prime Minister announced new legislation on domestic abuse and expressed her support for this Bill. I hope the Minister will be able to say more about that proposed legislation and will confirm whether the Government intend to use it to address the outstanding issues, particularly those relating to extra-territorial jurisdiction, which have been the last main barrier to the ratification of the convention. Will the Minister also say whether there are plans to strengthen compliance with the convention in areas in which we all know there is massive room for improvement, such as on coercive control and the way the family courts, and their equivalents, work in all our jurisdictions? Will she also set out how discussions are progressing with the devolved Administrations, which support the Istanbul convention but also have competencies and steps to take towards ratification in such areas?
The Prime Minister’s personal commitment to and oversight of the process is really important, because it is the one way to ensure that crucial issues that will cut across more than one Government Department, such as extraterritorial jurisdiction, will not slip through the cracks. It has been too easy for sexual violence and domestic abuse to fall off the to-do list. All Members will be familiar with the tired old phrase, “When parliamentary time allows,” which around here is code for, “Yeah well, whenever; maybe never.” It has been trotted out too often in relation to the Istanbul convention. The primary aim of my Bill has been to shift the logjam and get the ratification process back on track, so the Prime Minister’s intervention is a welcome signal that that is now happening. We should all applaud that progress and continue to work together to ensure that it becomes a vehicle for real and meaningful improvements for people affected by gender-based violence and is not just a token effort.
On Government amendments 2 and 3, which are on timescales, I hope the Minister will be able to assure us today that the Government will continue to pedal as hard as they can on this matter and keep up the momentum, although I appreciate that the machinery of Government can sometimes take time to turn.
It is important to highlight Government amendments 7 to 13, which relate to those parts of the Bill concerned with reporting back to Parliament as we progress towards ratification, and once the treaty is ratified. The convention itself commits the UK to substantial reporting requirements and a process of ongoing monitoring and evaluation, through annual reports to the Council of Europe’s expert group, GREVIO—the group of experts on action against violence against women and domestic violence. Those requirements are arguably the most useful mechanism in the treaty, in that they will enable the UK to benchmark and measure progress, not just in a UK context but against international comparators. They will enable us to learn from other people, and other people to learn from us. They will enable a more coherent, strategic and consistent approach to preventing and combating gender-based violence throughout the whole UK, and they can be used as a vehicle for ongoing improvements in policy and practice.
I know the Government were concerned that the post-ratification reporting requirements in the Bill might duplicate the annual report, but my intention has never been to create unnecessary extra work; it has been to improve parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. However, we all know only too well how easy it is for reports that are simply filed in the Library to become stoor gaitherers that no one ever reads again. The whole point of the reports is that we pay heed to them and use them to inform future improvements in policy and services.
A new car will not get anyone anywhere if it is left parked in the garage, and the vehicle of the Istanbul convention will help us only if we use it. That is why Sarah Champion and I pressed the Minister in Committee for a commitment not only that the Government will lay their report to the Council of Europe before the House, but that Ministers will come to the Dispatch Box in Government time to make an annual statement on the report, so that we can better do our job of parliamentary scrutiny and prevent this issue from once again falling out of sight and out of mind. I very much hope that the Minister will reiterate that commitment today, particularly for those who did not hear it the first time around. I hope that Members will support the amended Bill, but oppose those amendments that are simply intended to scupper this vital piece of legislation.
I thought I might assist the House by rising at this stage of the debate to explain Government amendments 1 to 17 and to address the valid concerns raised by my hon. Friend Philip Davies.
I very much welcome the opportunity to discuss the Bill on Report and to continue to work with Dr Whiteford on this important issue. As the Prime Minister made absolutely clear at Prime Minister questions on Wednesday, the Government share the hon. Lady’s commitment to ensuring that the UK ratifies the Istanbul convention.
We signed the convention in 2012 to signal our aim that everyone, men and women, should live a life free from violence. The convention’s key priorities already align with those of the UK. They are to continue to increase reporting, prosecutions and convictions, and, ultimately, to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place. The UK already complies with or goes further than the convention requires, including by delivering against its practical requirements such as ensuring the provision of helplines, referral centres and appropriate shelters for victims, as well as by meeting its requirement to ensure we have robust legislation in place. However, before we are fully compliant with the convention, there remains one outstanding issue in relation to extraterritorial jurisdiction that we need to address.
The UK already exercises ETJ over a number of serious offences, including forced marriage, female genital mutilation and sexual offences against children. However, there are some violence against women and girls offences over which we do not yet have ETJ, and primary legislation is required to introduce it. I am working closely with my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to progress this issue and, as the Prime Minister has signalled, we will explore all options for bringing the necessary legislation forward.
I made it clear in Committee that the Government fully support the principles that underpin the Bill. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan is seeking to ensure that we deliver on our commitment to ratify the convention, and I thoroughly commend that aim. However, as I indicated in Committee, some amendments are necessary to ensure that the Bill achieves that aim. I shall set out the rationale behind the Government amendments.
Government amendment 1 would remove clause 1, but I should make it absolutely clear that we fully support the motivation behind the clause, which would require the Government to take all reasonable steps required to ratify the convention as soon as reasonably practicable. As I have set out, though, both we and the devolved Administrations need to legislate to introduce ETJ before we can ratify the convention. Members will appreciate that that this means there is a danger the clause could be interpreted as imposing a duty on the Government to legislate; indeed, it could be interpreted as pre-empting the will of Parliament. I assure Members that we support the intention behind the clause, and the requirements in the remainder of the Bill will ensure that we deliver on its aims. I am absolutely clear that seeking to remove the clause in no way changes our absolute commitment to ratifying the convention.
Clause 2 would require the Government to lay a report setting out next steps to be taken to enable the UK to ratify, and the expected date for that, within four weeks of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. As I outlined in Committee, we fully support the motivation behind the clause but, as we need to legislate on ETJ before ratification, we need to ensure appropriate flexibility for the timing within which we need to lay the report. Such flexibility is also necessary because Northern Ireland and Scotland will need to legislate on ETJ. Amendment 2 would therefore replace the words “date by” with “timescale within”, and amendment 3 would replace the four-week timeframe with
“as soon as reasonably practicable after this Act comes into force”.
Clause 3(1 )(e) would require the Government to lay annual reports on the measures taken to ensure that the UK remains compliant with the convention post-ratification. As with other Council of Europe treaties, once the UK has ratified the convention we will be required to submit regular compliance reports to the Council of Europe. Those reports will include detail on the policy and strategies in place to tackle VAWG and on the role of civil society organisations, particularly women’s non-governmental organisations, as well as data on prosecutions and convictions. The reports will be scrutinised by GREVIO, the independent expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the convention. Based on the information received, GREVIO will prepare a final public report with recommendations. In addition, a selected panel of GREVIO members may visit the UK to carry out further assessment of the arrangements in place. I wish to confirm that, once we have ratified the convention, additional members of GREVIO will be appointed, and it will be possible for the UK to have representatives on GREVIO.
As Members will appreciate, we want to avoid duplicating our existing reporting requirements. Amendment 14 therefore removes paragraph (e) of clause 3(1). However, I hope that Members are reassured to hear that, after we ratify, there will be rigorous oversight to ensure that we continue to remain compliant with all the measures in the convention. Clause 4(2) would ensure that the provisions in the Bill come into force a day after Royal Assent. Amendment 15 reflects the usual two-month convention for any Bill receiving Royal Assent. I wish to reassure Members that this will not affect the timescale for any of the measures proposed in the Bill.
The remaining amendments 4 to 7, 9 to 13 and 16 and 17 are consequential on the Government amendments, and are technical to ensure that the Bill reflects usual drafting conventions.
It is related to the fact that we have already accepted everything that is within the convention, and that it is just a matter of verification. The details of what this House has agreed to have been set out very clearly. There is cross-party and cross-country support for every aspect of the convention.
I have made my point very clearly. I really want to respect the wishes of Mr Speaker, who has made it very clear to everyone that he is very keen to ensure that today, as on all days, Back Benchers have as much time as necessary to make their cases. I have very thoroughly addressed the issues raised in the amendments by my colleagues. I will now press on in the time that I have available.
I really want to emphasise that ending violence against women and girls is a top priority of this Government. Since publishing the original “A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls” strategy in 2010, we have made great strides. In the past four years, we have strengthened the legislative framework and introduced a range of new measures including new offences on domestic abuse, forced marriage and stalking; tools such as domestic violence and FGM protection orders; and a range of guidance and support for professionals. Of course we know that there is more to do. I assure the House that we remain committed to drive forward at pace work to tackle violence against women and girls. That is why we recently announced the “Tackling child sexual exploitation: progress report” supported by a £40 million package of measures to protect children and young people from sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking, and to crack down on offenders.
Last week, the Prime Minister announced plans for a major new programme of work to transform the way we think about and tackle domestic abuse. That is being led by the Home Secretary and the Justice Secretary and it will look at all legislative and non-legislative options for improving support for victims, especially in terms of how the law and legal procedures currently work. It will work towards bringing forward a domestic violence and abuse Act, and the measures that come out of the work will raise public awareness of the problem as well as encouraging victims to report their abusers and see them brought to justice. The £15 million Home Office VAWG transformation fund is currently open for bids further to support local areas in promoting and embedding best practice.
I wish to turn my attention to the issues raised by the other amendments in this group. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley has spoken about the importance of recognising that men and boys can also be victims of these crimes—he has spoken about that both on Second Reading and in many other parliamentary debates on VAWG and related issues.
Let me make it clear that this Government recognise, as does the convention, that men and boys can be victims of these crimes, and that they too deserve support and protection. That is why, for example, the Home Office funds the men’s advice line, which provides support to male victims of domestic violence, as well as Galop, which provides information and support to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community members who may be affected by violence and abuse.
I also want to be clear that the UK’s signing of the convention has both cross-party and cross-UK support. We signed up to the convention in 2012, and we stand by our commitment to delivering against everything it requires. All acts of gender-based violence need to be tackled. However, we cannot ignore the fact that women are still disproportionately affected by these crimes. The 2016 crime survey for England and Wales showed that women are around twice as likely to have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16 as men, and that 19.9% of women, compared with 3.6% of men, have experienced sexual assault from the age of 16. Furthermore, other data show that women are much more likely than men to be the victims of high risk or severe domestic abuse. That is clearly demonstrated by the fact that a greater number of cases are going to the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference, and that more victims are accessing independent domestic violence advisers who deal with the most severe cases; more than 95% of these victims are female.
The Istanbul convention seeks to address that by promoting international co-operation on VAWG. Indeed, it is the first pan-European, legally binding instrument that provides a comprehensive set of standards to prevent and combat violence against women. It is the most far-reaching international treaty to tackle these violations of human rights and to promote greater equality between women and men. It is therefore in the UK’s interest that we further co-ordinate our efforts internationally to eliminate all forms violence against women and girls, both at home and abroad.
Although I understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that the measures that we take to address VAWG do not inadvertently discriminate against men and boys, and that men and boys are also supported, I must stress that this Bill, which is focused on progress toward ratifying a convention that we have already signed up to, simply does not do that.
I also want to reassure my hon. Friend and the House that once we are compliant, and before we ratify, we are required by the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to lay the text of the convention and all accompanying explanatory memorandums before the House for scrutiny. I realise that I am being rather optimistic but I hope that he will seek to withdraw his amendments, because there is overwhelming support in this House today and across the country that this Bill be progressed.
I will be incredibly brief because we have taken years to get to this point, and I do not want to slow this down any further. I congratulate Dr Whiteford and her team on their hard work in ensuring that this private Member’s Bill made it this far. I know that she has gone to great lengths to ensure that we can be here today, and I congratulate her on that.
The convention provides a step change in the way in which we all—central Government, local authorities, charities, women’s services and even individuals—work to prevent violence against women and girls.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work she has done to support the Bill. Does she agree that it is important that we get the multi-agency and co-ordinated approach to tackling violence against women and girls that the Istanbul convention demands? Will she work with MPs across the House to check that this integrated approach and the support services are available throughout the country, as they are absent in some areas?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The good thing about the Bill is that it encourages everyone to work collaboratively to prevent the crime and tackle the perpetrators, and then to provide support. She is absolutely right that there is a patchwork of provision across the country. This legislation will only go so far. We need scrutiny on the ground to ensure that everybody gets the service they deserve.
The successful passage of this Bill is hugely significant. The Government have given a commitment to ratify the convention but, with due respect, a commitment on the statute book will always count for more. I am grateful to the Minister for her endorsement of the Bill and for the truly collaborative way in which she has worked for the benefit of all women. I heard her speech and understand the reasons for tabling the amendments. I am also grateful that she has again made the commitment that the Government are fully intent on ratifying the convention. As such, we support all her amendments. However, I want to push her on two issues.
First, the Government last week announced plans for a programme of work that will lead to a domestic violence and abuse Act, which I fully welcome. Pushing the Minister a little on the detail, will she confirm whether such a Bill will contain the primary legislative measures necessary to extend the extraterritorial jurisdiction to the remaining offences of violence against women and girls? If so, what is the Government’s timetable for that Bill?
Secondly, I have repeatedly asked the Government to make assurances about continuing the grant funding for the revenge porn helpline, which ends shortly. Since the helpline opened in 2015, it has received more than 5,000 calls relating to more than 1,200 individual cases. The only answer I have received so far from the Government is that a decision on funding will be made “later in the year.” Will the Minister tell us exactly when that will be?
I have worked closely with too many survivors of domestic violence over the time that I have served as the MP for Rotherham. These brave women show so much courage just by sharing their stories. We owe it to them, at the very least, to give clear and committed action to prevent violence against women and girls, and this Bill goes a long way towards achieving that.
This is an extraordinary occasion. We are discussing a Bill, the long title of which—as put down on
“To require the United Kingdom to ratify the…Istanbul Convention.”
We have just heard the promoter of the Bill explaining why she now wishes that long title effectively not to require the United Kingdom to ratify the Istanbul convention. I congratulate Dr Whiteford on the charming way in which she has been able to explain a complete volte-face in her approach to this important subject.
The Minister has spelt out all the wonderfully effective and good measures that the Government have introduced to address the really serious issues of violence against women and domestic violence. I commend her and the Government for the work they have already done and the work they will do. However, she has not addressed the questions implicit in the amendments I have tabled as to whether, when the Government ratify the convention, they will do so with any reservations. We have not had an answer to that. I would be grateful if the Minister would intervene to assure me that when the ratification occurs, it will be without any reservations.
I have made the position very clear: we have already signed the convention, so all we are looking to do now is to ratify it.
With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, that is not an answer to the question. The question is: when the Government ratify the convention, will they do so with or without reservations?
I am glad that my hon. Friend has been satisfied by the Minister’s response.
One reason that I have been interested in the subject for a long time is that I was present at the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe when this convention was first discussed. I remember vividly the representations that were made to me and my hon. Friend, the then Member for North Dorset, explaining that the United Kingdom Government really wanted the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to pass an amendment to the draft convention—as it then was—to enable a signatory party to the convention to have a reservation in respect of extraterritorial jurisdiction.
The Foreign Office representative who lobbied us in Paris on that occasion— unfortunately, only half an hour before the decisions were to be taken—expected us to persuade everybody to accept an amendment from the United Kingdom Government at very short notice. The Government, through their Foreign Office representative, were very concerned then about the extraterritorial application of the convention, which is why they wanted to allow a participant party to have a reservation. In the end, the convention went through without that power being granted. Everybody who is suspicious about the length of time it is taking for the Government to get their act together on the issue needs to bear in mind that background—that in 2011, on the basis of a convention that had been negotiated by the previous Labour Government, the Government were concerned about the issue of extraterritorial application. We have not heard, even at this very late stage, anything from the Government precisely about what measures need to be brought in to satisfy those requirements before the convention can be ratified. It seems to me that we are owed something from the Government on that because the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan and others have been pressing them to come up with a list of what is required.
Even Sarah Champion, in her short contribution from the Opposition Front Bench, asked the Minister whether the forthcoming legislation on domestic violence, to which the Minister referred, would incorporate the necessary legislative requirements to enable the ratification of the Istanbul convention, but my hon. Friend—I do not think she is listening, which is a pity—was not even able to respond. That must surely cast doubt on how long it will be before the convention is actually ratified.
One of the Government amendments says that the Government do not want clause 2 implemented before clause 3. Therefore, no report may well have been made under clause 2 by the time we reach
I have tabled a number of amendments and new clauses. I think I have a commitment from the Minister, in so far as one can tell, that when the convention is ratified, it will not be ratified with any reservations, and I am grateful to her for that. However, I still fear that the impression being given to the world outside is that we are passing today a Bill that will require the United Kingdom to ratify the Council of Europe convention, when, in fact, it does no such thing, and that needs to be made absolutely clear.
Finally, I referred earlier to the explanation given by the Government for amendment 4, but my hon. Friend has not answered that point at all. Why is it necessary for the Secretary of State, rather than Her Majesty’s Government, to determine that the United Kingdom is compliant with the Istanbul convention? I can understand why the Secretary of State should be required to make a statement to each House on the issue, but I do not understand why the Secretary of State, rather than the whole Government, should determine whether the United Kingdom is compliant with the convention. My hon. Friend has not responded to that point; if the Bill progresses to the other place, I hope the Government will respond to it at that stage, because the situation is most unsatisfactory. It is also most unsatisfactory that the explanatory note given by the Government in support of their amendment is inaccurate in such a major respect.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene to address amendment 4—he is quite right that I did not address it in my few words. The replacement of “Her Majesty’s Government” with “the Secretary of State” is to ensure that the Bill reflects the usual drafting conventions. In no way does it alter the overall responsibilities of the Government.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I am grateful to her for that intervention. I am sure that others will be able to check out the issue to see whether it will need further discussion when the Bill gets to the other place. However, having said that, and in the light of her intervention, I am not going to speak to the new clauses and amendments that I have tabled, because I get the feeling that the House would like to move on to debate other issues.