It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Serious violence is an issue that we in Northern Ireland know better than most, but tonight we are discussing a different kind of serious violence. I would first of all like to welcome the Home Secretary’s commitment and the important measures he suggested to tackle knife violence. Many right hon. and hon. Members have referred to county lines and Mr Lammy referred to drugs. Drugs seem to be the key issue for most of what is happening.
I want to make a quick comment on firearms. The statistics show that those who have the legal right to have a firearm, through licences and firearm certificates, are the most law-abiding people in the land. It is therefore important that the focus is put on those who have illegal firearms and on deactivating firearms. I am reminded of a slogan I saw in Canada many years ago, which said “When all the guns are outlawed, the only people who will have guns will be the outlaws.” The message is clear: those who want to have guns illegally will find a way to do so.
In the short time available, I want to refer to serious domestic violence. Like other types of violence, serious domestic violence is about the psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional, controlling and coercive behaviour that can lead to a pattern of threats, humiliation and intimidation to harm, punish or frighten the victim—all serious violence. The level of domestic violence has dropped slightly in the past few years. That is good news as it shows that some things are working. At the end of the day, however, there were still 1.2 million female and 713,000 male victims in 2016-17. Also, 26% of women and 15% of men aged 16 to 59 had experienced some sort of domestic abuse since the age of 16. That equates to some 4.3 million female and 2.4 million male victims, which again, indicates the immensity of domestic violence and why it is important that it is addressed.
The Government have brought in a number of methods to address the issue, including domestic violence protection orders whereby a perpetrator can be banned from returning to their home and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. That is good stuff—the right sort of thing that we need—but again, it is important that victims are given the time and space to access support and consider their options. The domestic violence disclosure scheme—Clare’s law, which many will be aware of—has been rolled out across England and Wales since March 2014. The scheme means that an individual can ask the police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. I wish that we had some of that legislation in Northern Ireland—it is the sort of legislation that we would like. The police will consider disclosing the information under the “right to know”.
The Government rightly committed some £80 million to a strategy on ending violence against women and girls. They have committed another £20 million to that as well, so some £100 million has been committed in total. In the Queen’s Speech of 2017, the Government promised a courts Bill that would
“end direct cross examination of domestic violence victims by their alleged perpetrators in the family courts and allow more victims to participate in trials without having to meet their alleged assailant face-to-face”.
Will the Minister tell us what is happening in relation to that?
A couple of very helpful recommendations, again, came out of the Home Affairs Committee inquiry—a comprehensive review of funding of support for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, and the suggestion that the proposed domestic abuse commissioner should instead be established as a violence against women and girls and domestic abuse commissioner. I believe that that recommendation reflects, importantly, the gendered nature of domestic abuse and its links to other forms of gender-based abuse.
I want to finish with something that it is important to put on record. Today, one of my constituents contacted me—I am not going to mention her name; I am just going to tell her story. She said:
“I have been the victim of domestic violence. In August 2017 my husband tried to strangle me and he set fire to our home. My 3 and 5 year old girls witnessed the abuse and my now 6 year old is still experiencing flashbacks, nightmares and dealing with panic attacks due to the trauma. Social services have said my ex husband is still not safe to have direct contact with my children however he is still seeking access through the courts. Next month I face being questioned by my ex husband in family court. This is a man who has a suspended jail term due to his abuse of me, a non molestation Order to stop him harassing me and the judge gave a 2 year restraining order due to the level of abuse I have suffered and then next month he will be allowed the opportunity to have direct contact with me! The domestic abuse bill”—
I know that that is not your responsibility, Minister—
“is a start in improving the situation for victims and survivors of domestic abuse and their children but in Northern Ireland” we do not have it yet, as she and I would like. I know that it is not your responsibility to do that, Minister—[Interruption.] It is not your responsibility either, Mr Speaker—I am sorry, I do that all the time. I was trying to get away from using the word “you”. I apologise—when we are in the middle of all this EU stuff, it is very hard to distinguish the two.
I am sure that the Minister has been touched, as I was, by that heartfelt plea from a lady who has been through nightmarish scenarios to get safety for her children and is begging for us to make a change so that other people do not have to go through this. Again, for the record, we need the domestic abuse Bill and these proposals to be put forward here in the UK mainland and in Northern Ireland—I wish we had them.