My Lords, my few words are about broken relationships. I was pleased to hear in the gracious Speech that a draft Bill on domestic violence and abuse is to be introduced later in this Session. When I was a new, raw, young and inexperienced magistrate, crimes of this nature were few and far between, the reason being that they were rarely reported. It seemed to me at that time that if a case came before the court there was a reluctance by magistrates to get involved. Such delicate issues were private matters between husband and wife, and in any case very difficult to prove. I could never accept that, and said so.
Women at that time often believed that if they were attacked and severely bruised by their husband it must be their fault, and that to seek any outside assistance was not the answer as they would pay for it later. Men very rarely sought relief from the courts; they saw it as rather shameful as it showed a sign of weakness, and felt that they and they alone should be able to resolve the problem. Thank goodness we have come a very long way since then. There has been a mammoth change in the attitude of society, which will no longer accept such cruel treatment being committed under the radar. People, both male and female, have come forward, and since 2015 police forces have centrally collected recorded offences.
Publicity and numerous passionate campaigns have meant that there has been a dramatic rise in recorded crime. Based on the latest figures, in 2015, 7% of women and 4.5% of men experienced domestic abuse. In other words, over 1 million women and two-thirds of a million men were victims and suffered in this perfectly sickening way. These distressing statistics caused concern and demanded action. Since then the Government have made stopping violence against women and girls a priority, as no one should live in fear of violence. Everyone has the right to feel safe in their home.
As a result, new laws have been introduced. For example, protection orders stop the offender from returning to the house. There is a new offence of coercive behaviour, with a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. Forced marriage is now a criminal offence, and there is protection for victims of stalking. The law on female genital mutilation has been strengthened, so now it is a criminal offence to fail to protect a young girl from this hideous practice. More funding for advisers, rape crisis centres and women’s refuges has also been committed. Much of this has been done, so now is the right time for extensive consultation so that a Bill can come before the House which will make our citizens able to live without the dread of such repulsive behaviour.
We think and talk a lot about care in society today. In my mind, nothing is more important than caring for people who have suffered for generations at the hands of bullies, and all behind closed doors. I hope that the legislation that will be brought before the House will protect victims and punish those who commit crimes in an appropriate manner. That, for me, is at the heart of the caring agenda.