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My Lords, throughout my adult life I have tried to do my bit to create a fairer society and one that values and improves the lives of some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our communities. I have tried to do this through my work in the health service, through my work as the Legal Services Ombudsman and Legal Services Complaints Commissioner for England and Wales, as a trustee of the NSPCC, and as a commissioner and deputy chairman of the then Commission for Racial Equality. I have listened to and seen at first hand the harrowing effects that physical, sexual and psychological abuse and violence can have on the lives of individuals and on the lives of their families.
I was very moved by my noble friend Lady Seccombe’s insightful speech last week when she spoke about domestic violence. It made me reflect on the great strides that society has made in bringing this corrosive behaviour and violence to light so it is no longer hidden, mostly, behind closed doors. Attitudes, quite rightly, have changed significantly. However, despite the great strides made, sadly the Office for National statistics figures, which I make no apology for quoting, show that for the year ending March 2016, of those who said they had experienced domestic abuse, 1.2 million were female and 651,000 were male—of every three victims of violence, two will be female and one will be male. Overall, 27.1% of women and 13.2% of men had experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.5 million female victims and 2.2 million male victims. Around seven women a month are killed by a current or ex-partner in England and Wales. Findings from the British Crime Survey show around 30 women, every day, attempt suicide as a result of experiencing abuse. Every week, three women take their own lives. These are shocking figures.
Like Age UK, I am also concerned that domestic abuse towards older people is a hidden issue. Coercive behaviour and control is the dominant aspect of abuse, and this can make victims even less likely to disclose abuse, and professionals do not always identify indicative patterns. Official police statistics consistently report low levels of abuse and domestic violence against older people, while prevalence surveys suggest that around 340,000—about one in 25—older people living in the community are affected by abuse every year. Health and Social Care Information Centre figures show that the majority of all safeguarding concerns relate to those over 65. Age UK recently found that, at a very conservative estimate, 130,000 people living in the community aged 65 and over have suffered financial abuse. As with younger age groups, the majority of victims are women.
It is also important to note that statistics on domestic abuse are often based on the Crime Survey for England and Wales, CSEW. However, the self-completion module of this survey has historically only been put to respondents aged 16 to 59. Can my noble friend the Minister say what the progress is on plans to totally remove the age limit of CSEW abuse statistics? No loving partner, no loving parent, no loving member of the family or friend should violate those closest to them. Age is irrelevant.
As a society, we must have zero tolerance to domestic violence and abuse. To that end, I would personally like to see the law strengthened so perpetrators of domestic violence serve their full prison term rather than being released after serving only half. Despite domestic violence and abuse affecting both men and women, it is women and girls who bear the brunt of it. It is therefore right that the Government have made stopping violence against women and girls a priority. But no one should live in fear of these crimes, and everyone should have the right to feel safe at home and in their communities.
In that regard, the Government have undertaken some ground-breaking work which should be commended. They have published their Ending Violence against Women and Girls strategy and pledged increased, dedicated funding of £100 million between now and 2020. They have launched a £15 million service transformation fund to boost local provision of services to promote and embed the best of local practice. They have launched a £20 million DCLG domestic abuse accommodation fund, which will support 76 projects, creating 2,200 new bed spaces in refuges and other specialist accommodation. They have rolled out domestic violence protection orders and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, and introduced a specific offence of domestic abuse, which outlaws patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour and carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, a fine or both. They have placed domestic homicide reviews on a statutory basis and driven improvements to the police response time by overseeing delivery of recommendations from HMIC reports. They have also prepared legislation that will give family courts the power to stop abusers from cross-examining victims in person.
Those are all welcome measures, and as a result of the Government’s strategy, the volume of prosecutions and convictions for domestic violence is now at its highest-ever level. That means more victims are coming forward and are seeing justice than ever before. However, although it is important to recognise these improvements, there is still a long way to go, as the statistics I have outlined and the recent joint report by HMIC and HMCPSI, Living in Fear – the police and CPS response to harassment and stalking, show.
I am therefore pleased that the Government intend to build on this important area of law by announcing in the gracious Speech that they will be introducing a new domestic violence and abuse Bill. Currently, there is no definition in law of domestic violence and abuse, and the law in this area is fragmented across different pieces of legislation. I hope that the Government will remedy this in the domestic violence and abuse Bill, as well as defining the law on what is domestic violence and abuse. That would bring greater clarity and guidance to the justice system, as well as better understanding of the law and the role and responsibilities of key professionals working across our public sector. Perhaps my noble friend say whether the definition will consider all forms of domestic abuse—for example, financial abuse, abandonment, including outside the UK by UK nationals living in the UK, and intimate partner violence.
I agree with the Women’s Aid network that the Government should put prevention and early intervention at the core of the new legislation and any regulations relating to it. This will enable domestic abuse to be identified and responded to before it escalates. It needs with clarity to address areas of prevention and early intervention in its strategies in areas such as in the community and at work, and better engagement and co-ordination with professionals in the health service and in the care of the elderly.
I would like the Bill to strengthen work on sanctions for perpetrators of violence and the reporting mechanisms between professionals, such as the NHS and enforcement agencies. Safeguarding issues are important for all vulnerable people, but more so for the young and the elderly. The Government should also consider putting in place mechanisms which enable us better to understand and respond to the devastating and lifelong impact that domestic abuse has on children, who carry the effect into adulthood. Such mechanisms could enable targeted and better planning of services and access to specialist needs-led support—which is vital.
We should not forget the ratification of the Istanbul convention. A Private Member’s Bill relating to this, so ably taken through your Lordships’ house by the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, received government support—no doubt the noble Baroness will have more to say today. The ratification of the Istanbul convention by the Government will put in place an important framework in the UK which will enable the proper monitoring and assessment of progress. It had full cross-party support, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a timetable for its implementation.
Given the landscape I have outlined, these are all significant areas of policy, and I support the Government’s commitment to and emphasis on further legislation and regulation, which continues to improve and protect the lives of some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our communities.
To conclude, can my noble friend say how the domestic violence and abuse Bill will recognise the harm inflicted on children who witness domestic abuse, and how will the Government support the Bill with practical action and resources? Also, will the Government think carefully and creatively and use the Bill as an opportunity to amend company law in tackling modern slavery and abuse by incorporating or linking Section 54, which relates to supply chains and subcontractors under the Modern Slavery Act, into UK company law? I mentioned last week that the French vigilance law is a good example in relation to human rights and the environment.
I end by congratulating the Government on its domestic violence and abuse strategy and with a quote from Women’s Aid network:
“The Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a step change in the identification of and response to domestic abuse by public sector agencies, and set in motion a cultural shift in the way that our communities recognise and react to survivors”.
I could not agree more. I beg to move.
My Lords, I warmly welcome today’s debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for taking such an important and timely initiative. It will enable the Minister to provide details about the Government’s proposals in relation to the important domestic violence and abuse Bill. Many vital aspects of this issue deserve consideration, as today’s wide-ranging debate will show, but as a trustee of the fantastic charity Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service, I will focus my remarks on stalking.
Paladin is marking its fourth anniversary, and I celebrate all that we have achieved in such a short period. We have been advocates and campaigners. Working with others, we have brought about changes in the law. We have developed and nurtured best practice and, through training, we are slowly—all too slowly—changing culture and practice in the police and judiciary. Most importantly, our brilliant accredited independent stalking advocacy caseworkers—ISACs—have supported thousands of victims of stalking when they are at their most vulnerable and desperate. They have saved lives.
The women who turn to Paladin are of all ages and backgrounds, including some with a very high profile. I am hugely proud that we are the only national advocacy service in the world, but I am dismayed that the need for our services is growing. The challenges that society, and therefore our service, faces are constantly changing. Social media, which is wonderful and liberating in so many ways, has become yet another tool for perpetrators and a torment for victims. Consequently, our expertise and practices are evolving, and so must the policies and practices of the police and criminal justice system.
It is extraordinary, and deeply depressing, that in 21st-century Britain at least 700,000 women are hounded by stalkers every year. Too often, the signs of danger and despair are missed, leading to murder. Yesterday’s report, which has already been mentioned, from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, was truly devastating. The report followed a review of 112 cases of stalking and harassment taken from six police force and CPS areas across England and Wales. Victims were constantly let down, and not one of the cases was well dealt with overall.
Murder is always a heinous crime but, as a society, we should be incensed by the fact that most murders of victims of stalking could have been prevented. The signs are usually there for the police to see, but it is not possible to recognise them without training, appropriate tools and knowledge of best practice.
Just last week, we held a conference entitled “Raising the Bar—Preventing Slow Motion Murders”, an opportunity for members of the police and criminal justice system to share in Paladin’s learning, knowledge and best practice as derived from a review of more than 2,000 cases, and to galvanise action. The messages from all participants, including professionals, police, the HMIs, the Sentencing Council, victims and their families, were absolutely clear: the appalling lack of training, especially for the police, is making the lives of victims hell and leading to deaths. There is still not enough awareness of stalking and a national stalking register is urgently needed.
Noble Lords will recall that four years ago, the independent parliamentary inquiry on stalking law reform, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was a leading member and to whom I pay tribute for her courage and tenacity, produced a comprehensive report. Sadly, many of its findings were much the same as those in the report published yesterday and, despite all the evidence about training, best practice, raising awareness, assessment and advocacy, too little has changed. Women have died and continue to die because lessons were not learned—women such as Molly McLaren, who was murdered last week in Kent, Anne-Marie Birch in Kent, Justene Reece in Staffordshire, Hollie Gazzard in Gloucestershire, and many others. Since Hollie’s murder and the amazing campaigning work of her father Nick, things in Gloucestershire have greatly improved. The police have received training and we now have a multiagency approach, with an ISAC based in the excellent Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service, but this new system now needs proper evaluation.
The disgrace is that, before Hollie’s death, there was no police training in Gloucestershire and all the signs were missed. Along with tens of others, her murder could have been prevented. In many cases, the murders have been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but still the vital lessons have not led to action. Crucial patterns are not identified, indicators of risk continue to be missed—a victim’s fear, a victim not being believed, coercive control in the relationship, serial perpetration against multiple victims and threats to kill are too easily dismissed. There is evidence that one in two domestic stalkers and one in 10 of non-intimate stalkers, if they make a threat, will act on it, yet, alarmingly, no priority is afforded to those cases, despite 76% of murders happening on separation, and 34% within the first month. The University of Gloucestershire found that in 94% of homicides that it reviewed, stalking was present.
If there had been comprehensive training, thousands of victims of stalking who live in constant fear and whose lives have been blighted, could have suffered less. Stalking is a crime of persistence and control, and repeated patterns of behaviour can have a devastating effect on the victim and her family. Helen Pearson from Devon made 125 reports to the police over five years, and each time she told them it was linked to the previous report. But the police did not act, and then her stalker tried to kill her. It took eight years for the police to apologise. As Helen has recently said:
“I have to live with this every day. It’s just not good enough and I don’t want others to suffer like I have. The police must believe victims when they come forward”.
Alice Ruggles was murdered last autumn, and her father told us in the conference last week that he believed that Alice’s fear was dismissed by the police due to her polite and respectful demeanour. There was no consistency in the way in which her calls were handled. I learned last week that when one of our ISACs contacted the Durham police on behalf of a victim she was told, “We don’t have stalking in Durham—it only happens in the United States”. Many victims report that when they contact the police to report an incident and ask for help they are frequently asked, “Well, what do you think we should do about it?”, or they are told that the incidents that they are reporting are not significant. This is appalling, and there is no excuse. As the HMIC report says:
“Forces need to improve their understanding of harassment and stalking. Some victims are at considerable risk, and failing to identify and tackle this can have fatal consequences. Police leaders across the service need to grip this issue urgently”.
Specialist training has been developed as well as essential tools like DASH and S- DASH, the risk screening tools, but these are too often misused or not used at all. I believe that training for all police forces and for the criminal justice system should be mandatory. When we introduced the stalking laws in 2012, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I along with others argued that training should be in the Bill and that it should be mandatory, but this was not agreed by the Government. I regret that. As a result of the HMIC report and its recommendations, I trust that the Minister will add her voice to the demands from professionals, victims and their families for training in each and every police force—not tick-box training, which did not save the life of Shana Grice in Sussex, but specialist training. Even after the tick-box training, Shana, when she reported an incident of stalking to the police, was given a fixed-penalty notice for wasting police time.
There have been real advances in legislation since the first stalking laws in 2012, with the introduction of the coercive control offence in 2015, the stalking protection orders announced in December, and doubling the sentence for stalking, for which I am grateful. But as yesterday’s report so clearly demonstrated, laws are not enough; awareness-raising and training is required. Too many prosecutors are charging stalking offences as harassment, meaning that charges do not reflect the seriousness of the offence and victims do not receive the support that they require. In addition, there is some plea-bargaining for expediency, which is simply not acceptable. It was clear from what the DPP was saying in our conference last week that the CPS recognises the need for change, and I hope that it will follow the recommendations of the report, including that the CPS should ensure that all prosecutors have received training about harassment and stalking.
The changes in the law have largely come about as the result of campaigning by victims, their families and charities that support them. They are best placed to know where there are gaps in the law and where action is needed. They welcome the draft Bill that the Government have announced but—as that is likely to take some time to get on to the statute books, due to what I hope will be pre-legislative scrutiny, which I strongly support—on their behalf I ask the Minister to consider the urgent introduction of a register for serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators, which could be incorporated into ViSOR, the Violent and Sexual Offenders Register, and managed under MAPPA, the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements. This would enable police to monitor and track perpetrators, taking the onus off the victim and protecting them.
At the moment, it becomes clear that a stalker is a serial stalker or abuser only if evidence is given by a number of victims. If there were such a register, perhaps Alice Ruggles would not have died. Indeed, her stalker, who had a history of abuse, was issued with a police information notice that was not enforced when breached. I noted that one of the recommendations of the HMIC report is that chief constables should stop the use of police information notices and their equivalents immediately. John Clough and Pamela Dabney, whose daughters were both murdered by their stalkers, are leading the campaign for a register. Might the Minister agree to meet them and Laura Richards to discuss this issue further?
Stalking is rightly known as murder in slow motion. We know that these murders can be prevented, and that we can better protect victims. There is, sadly, now a huge body of evidence, and we know the lessons that should have been learned. The report from the HMIC and its recommendations are welcome, but there is nothing new. Now is the time for action. I am delighted that a few—too few—police forces have commissioned training and have SPOCs in their teams, but protection and support for victims should not be a postcode lottery. All police forces should be trained; all should use the tools and best practice available. I understand that there is always a question of resources, but this must be a priority—and it could, of course, save a huge amount of money that is currently spent on murder inquiries.
Victims must receive support and have access to accredited ISACs. This service costs money and, to date, there has been no funding from government. I understand that the provisions in the draft Bill will be accompanied by a full programme of non-legislative measures, backed by the £20 million of funding announced in the Budget. I urge the Minister to ensure that a small part of this money is invested in Paladin towards the service delivering advocacy to high-risk victims and to our university-accredited ISAC training. Independent domestic violence advisors, IDVAs, have been resourced or partially funded, I believe, so why not ISACs?
As yesterday’s report clearly states, the police and judicial system is failing victims of stalking by under-recording, inconsistent services and a lack of understanding. In the words of Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Wendy Williams, who led the inspection:
“Changes need to be made immediately and the recommendations in the report should be acted upon without delay to protect victims from further harm”.
Let us ensure that this desperately needed action is taken and that we deal with stalking with the seriousness its victims deserve.
I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for securing this important debate and for the breadth of its title, which makes it clear that we are not just talking about domestic violence. It includes abuse—and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, specified, it needs to include coercive control and stalking. I would add one further point from my own personal experience. I was stalked by my Conservative political opponent in the run-up to the 2010 general election. Because that was entirely political—although it was sexual as well—it was not domestic; however, all the traits of that behaviour followed the form of everything else. When the domestic violence Bill is before this House, I hope that the definition in its widest sense is included as well.
We have already heard that at least two women are killed every week in England and Wales through domestic violence, and as many as one in four women will experience some form of domestic violence in their lifetime. The impact of domestic violence is disproportionately felt by women, but we should not ignore the fact that it is also a problem for men. However, I want to focus on younger, single, socioeconomically disadvantaged women, who often find themselves targeted. Despite the prevalence of this epidemic—invisible to most people—our legal and judicial institutions have failed to accommodate and support the victims of such crimes in several respects. Noble Lords will know that I have spoken on this subject in your Lordships’ House on a number of occasions.
I will add a statistic that may not sit within domestic violence. Perhaps more worryingly, nearly 11% of rape cases are reported as “no crimes” by our justice system, higher than any form of sexual assault. We know that rape and domestic violence have been among the hardest things to secure charges for. It is crucial that we further develop competent institutions that cater for the individual needs of victims of domestic violence and abuse on a case-by-case basis, in a way that protects the identity and safety of the victim at the point of reporting and preferably after, and provides first-class services, counselling and resources through any and all means necessary to meet the needs of those who have faced such suffering and difficulties.
I thank the many organisations that support victims of domestic violence, domestic abuse, coercive control, and stalking. Most of those organisations are run by people who have themselves been victims and survivors of those forms of abuse. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who is speaking after me. I am sure that, as the Commissioner for Victims, she will talk about that role. I will not steal her thunder except to say that her 2015 report was extremely significant. It laid out clearly the failures of process in our system—from the start with the police and throughout the criminal justice system, including the family courts. Almost 75% of the victims consulted in that review were unhappy with the response they received, and over 50% found that the relevant agency’s complaints process was difficult to use. No wonder it becomes difficult for victims to come forward.
Last year, the Public Accounts Committee published a report that concluded that the,
“system is bedevilled by long standing poor performance including delays and inefficiencies, and costs are being shunted from one part of the system to another”.
The system—that is, victim support—
“is not good enough at supporting victims and witnesses”, and:
“Timely access to justice is too dependent on where victims and witnesses live”.
The committee was concerned that the Ministry of Justice,
“has been too slow to recognise where the system is under stress, and to take action to deal with it”, and that:
“There is insufficient focus on victims, who face a postcode lottery in their access to justice due to the significant variations in performance in different areas of the country”.
The committee’s chair, Meg Hillier MP, said:
“An effective criminal justice system is a cornerstone of civil society but ours is at risk. Too little thought has been given to the consequences of cutbacks with the result that the system’s ability to deliver justice, together with its credibility in the eyes of the public, is under threat. Our Report paints a stark picture of the human cost of critical failings in management from the top down. The system is overstretched and disjointed. Victims of crime are entitled to justice yet they are at the mercy of a postcode lottery for access to that justice. About two-thirds of Crown Court trials are delayed or do not go ahead at all and only”, just over half,
“of those who have been a witness say they would be prepared to do so again. These are damning statistics”.
This is why, in the course of the Policing and Crime Bill, I laid amendments before your Lordships’ House that would not just strengthen victims’ rights but, for the first time, place a duty and responsibility on everyone in the police and criminal justice system, and anyone in any other agency who comes into contact with a victim, to deliver the victims’ code support, which is set out really quite well. The problem we have is not the victims’ code, but the lack of responsibility for agencies to deliver.
Why is this necessary? I have stories from two women, which I heard last year. The first spoke very movingly about how hard it was to take her continued domestic abuse—not just from her husband; she was sex trafficked to his friends. One of the first police officers she reported it to told her that she should enjoy it—it was clearly part of their marriage—and that she should be flattered that she was regarded as such an attractive woman. She went on to complain, as the abuse continued. Her children were witnesses to it and eventually she and the children fled the marriage. Because he was known and the children were therefore at risk, a social worker was involved. After she had been provided with a safe place to live, the social worker divulged the address to the husband on the grounds that, as a father, he had the right to know where his children lived. This happened not once in this case, but twice—with the same social worker. He also abused the family courts process by asking repeatedly to have access to the children. Until very recently, there was no linkage between the criminal court system and civil court system to ensure that this could not happen. She now lives 200 miles away from him and the children are at their third or fourth school. She cannot allow them to appear in any photographs at school or in any activities anywhere, because she is really worried that, some years on, the children will be recognised on social media and her ex-husband would be able to find her.
The other case concerns a woman who was viciously assaulted by her husband. Then, he laid her down on a bed and, in front of their child, raped her violently. He then got up and, when the child tried to stop him, he attacked the child. When this one assault, which took place in under four minutes, was reported, the local police station insisted on each separate crime being listed separately and dealt with by separate departments within the police force—against all the formal requirements for cases such as this, which state that there should be one crime number and one leading officer, and all agencies should work together. This is the postcode lottery in reality, and this is why women attempt to take their lives: they know that will not be listened to and they cannot get the support they need.
This morning, my Private Member’s Bill had its First Reading. It is 35th on the list so I suspect it will not get very far, but I will be bringing forward some of the text of that Bill as amendments to the domestic violence Bill to ensure that training becomes mandatory, not just for the police but for the criminal justice system and for social workers. We need mandatory reporting of child sex abuse because, too often, in cases of domestic violence and domestic abuse, the children are targeted as well. We also need to ensure that the formal processes I have outlined are required training, both in the police and the criminal justice system. There is only one way to do that, which is by formal, mandatory reporting back to Parliament. Otherwise, it will not happen.
I understood, although I rejected and objected to, the lack of mandatory training and reporting when the stalking law reform went through. Some four or five years on, it is clear that that system is not working. This needs to change, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for bringing forward this debate. These points have not been covered in the Home Secretary’s announcements over the last few days. None of the system will work and all the money going into preventive work will fail if victims cannot get the support or the services they need to make sure that such incidents are reported.
Your Lordships will know that I have a particular interest in disability. Will disabled women be specifically included in the Istanbul Convention? At the moment, they are invisible in that regard but they are, I am afraid, also targets of domestic violence and domestic abuse. I am encouraged that the Government are taking the next steps towards ratification, but I would like to know whether there is a timescale for it, whether it will happen before or after Brexit, and whether the Government continue to provide the right support. There has been much debate in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere about working across Europe after Brexit. If we are moving towards ratification, I hope that the Minister can confirm that we will not only ratify but, like many other countries in Europe, continue to work cross-country to learn best practice and hopefully ensure that we can contribute examples.
Some European projects, such as Implementing Victim-Oriented Reform—known as IVOR—have longitudinal studies on victim treatment across the EU. The Protasis Project funds cross-cultural workshops with police from Portugal, Italy and Greece to develop the manner in which victims are treated and how the various agencies work. The sophistication of our domestic abuse units, child protection teams, multi-agency risk assessment conferences and domestic violence advisors is in theory reputable. We have to ensure that those employed in such services can execute their responsibilities in practice. There is much to learn from how our European colleagues handle some of these processes. Can the Minister assure me that we will be looking and learning from those as well?
I have painted a pretty bleak picture but I end on a more positive note. I worked with a victim of domestic abuse in my home town of Watford some 10 years ago. She went through all sorts of things, including having emergency alarms fitted in her own house, and a traumatic family courts experience because her ex used those. I am pleased to report that that time has long since gone. She has remarried and brought up her children, and her eldest daughter, who witnessed much of the damage, hopes to become a police officer very soon.
My Lords, having heard the previous three speakers, I am quite emotional as I am very passionate about victims. As someone who is also a victim, I become irate when I listen to these speeches, as we are not discussing politics or legislation but human lives.
First, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Manzoor on initiating this very important topic. Sadly, as we debate this very important subject in your Lordships’ House today, the statistics state that 2 million women, men and children suffer the violent and needless harm of domestic abuse—2 million people who should never ever suffer such horrendous acts of violence in their own home, in their loving relationships and more importantly from another human being.
Women especially have suffered in silence for many years. After all, marriage was seen as marital sanctity, creating an attitude in society of putting up and shutting up. Many generations stood by and watched their friends’ and families’ relationships breaking down, watching—or shall I say choosing to ignore?—their loved ones’ downward spiral of self-worth. The controlling and violent acts and, even more dangerously, coercive methods created such fragility within relationships. Is it any wonder that even today in the 21st century we constantly hear and read about mostly women—but I have to say also men—who feel so alone and desperate, losing their lives to violent crimes? The latest figures show that the proportion of women aged 16 to 59 who have experienced domestic abuse in the past year is at its lowest since 2004. However, I see and hear stories of victims of domestic abuse who frequently tell me they would not report to the police as they know that they will not be believed. Often, they are very right.
I have even met male victims of domestic abuse. This is very interesting as we mostly visualise weak men struggling with this type of crime. However, the victims to whom I spoke were ex-SAS and military men, so they were not meek and mild. However, when they wanted to take their own lives, as they could not deal with the hurt to their male pride, they reported the crime and sought help and support. They told me that a policeman had said, “If you give her a belt, you can claim self-defence”. What are we coming to when a victim of crime goes to an agency for support, only to be given such horrendous advice by a police officer? That is totally immoral and disgraceful. How does that help the children of families who witness such abusive relationships—which in turn can lead to their relationships being as abusive, and to some entering into the criminal justice system—at such an early age? In west Kent, the number of children who witness such violence is two for every offence. That number is worryingly high.
In my role as Victims’ Commissioner it saddens as well as angers me to listen to accounts of the acts of violence which these women and men suffer from the very person who they thought loved them. How calculating and brutal it is to turn such loving emotions into such cruel acts of violence against the very person they say they love, leading to the victims of such abuse wanting to take their lives as they are lost and lonely and think that this is the only solution to gain some peace and respect. There is not one character to this abuse; it presents itself with several heads. Surely, society needs to change mindsets, and to listen and truly understand that it is not as simple as just saying, “Well, leave him if he’s that bad”, or, “It can’t be that bad as you’ve gone back to the home”.
I have a saying that if we presented ourselves with a broken arm or leg, people would show empathy. However, if we do not have such an injury, and we smile, the presumption will be that we are healed and not shattered. Sadly, that is not true, as a smile hides many broken memories and emotions. However, it is strange that when there is violence within a relationship, our mindset leads us to look at these injuries on a different level. We start off with tea and sympathy, which has its place, but it is even more imperative to understand the dynamics of the many facets of domestic abuse. If it was so simple to resolve and we could simply up sticks and walk away, we would not be having this debate in your Lordships’ House and the Government would not have to legislate to recognise the harm of domestic abuse as a criminal act.
As I travel round the UK and Wales, sadly, time and time again victims tell me that the police do nothing. They are not interested and do not see a pattern of incidents as domestic abuse at all. They feel that the victims are just moaning and want them to go away. Not only are too many investigations being poorly run but, too often, we see further trauma to the victim and their children when family matters become a civil matter. I therefore welcomed the announcement by the previous Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, on setting up an emergency review to ban perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims within the family court system. The Government must ensure that this is followed through so that the family courts are a safe space for the victims to speak freely and openly without further trauma and upset, thus ensuring that the correct protection and supervision orders are put in place. Judges have to be stronger for the victims.
As I previously stated in the debate on the most gracious Speech, I truly welcome the Government’s introduction of the new domestic abuse Bill, as well as the support and input that has been provided by Women’s Aid and many other third sector groups. I place on record and commend the work of Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, who, sadly, is leaving this post and going to work for Shelter. Polly has worked tirelessly to ensure that government is listening and puts protections in place to support victims of domestic abuse. I wish her well in her new role and know that she will be sadly missed.
It is therefore essential that the Government ensure that there is a complete overhaul to address the culture of domestic abuse. I know for sure that there is a shortage of independent domestic violence advisers. These are essential to build a relationship with domestic abuse victims. We must ensure that there is no postcode lottery. How can we ensure that victims give evidence in court when their adviser is not allowed in the witness box with them? How can we ensure that we will introduce a world-class domestic abuse Bill when the courts do not recognise independent domestic violence advisers? Surely, that cannot be right.
Although there are domestic homicide reviews, “lessons learned” are the two most insulting words for a victim’s family to hear. I am tired of listening to TV, newspaper and other reports in that regard. Lessons learned are on the basis of people losing their lives and families being hurt for the rest of their lives. I would like domestic homicide reviews to come back in six months and see whether there have been changes. There has to be accountability and responsibility. Lives are not worthless; they are important.
I also ask my noble friend to ensure that we have enough resources to put these advisers in place. My advisers call them a SPOC, but I think that that is too Star Trekky. I think they should be known as victims’ advisers and support victims from the beginning of their journey to the very end, irrespective of whether they enter the criminal justice system. They need somebody to whom they can relate and who speaks their language. They need somebody within our criminal justice system who speaks for them because, at the moment, there is nobody there.
Governments past and present have built an expectation that victims of domestic abuse will be better supported, and therefore they must not let them down. That is why I welcome the fact that the Government have put in place an increase in funding. The £15 million violence against women and girls service transformation fund is intended to encourage joint working and a more integrated response. However, I say to my noble friend the Minister that on my journeys up and down the country I have been made aware that people are still waiting to hear the outcome of their bids, as, sadly, the process was halted due to the general election. Can the Minister shed any light on how those bids are progressing? The money is needed to advise and support victims. The fund will enable and encourage joint working and look at measuring success, as well as creating an honest landscape instead of everyone claiming success for the same initiative, which creates double-counting results.
I also welcome the introduction of a domestic abuse commissioner. I look forward to further discussions about the creation of this statutory role, whose focus will be on ensuring that victims of domestic abuse are provided with the quality support they require, as well as on driving up standards and enabling people to share what works.
Legislation is very important but there is no point in creating anything if nobody on the agency front takes note of what they are supposed to do. Time and again, my reviews have shown that agencies think they are doing the right thing by victims but there is a huge gap and, sadly, there is no accountability or responsibility. As I said in the debate on the humble Address, I think that the time has come for a victims’ law, because we need to be able to address the suffering of these people and their families. They need someone to be accountable instead of having to go through barriers. It is all very well for us to stand up in your Lordships’ House and say that that is not happening, but it is not right—these are human beings. Legislation has a place but, as I keep saying, these people should be treated with dignity and respect, because they are living with the abuse 24 hours a day. It is very sad to hear that the measures we put in place are not being heeded. We need quality, professional workers who know what a victim’s journey is about. Until that happens, we will stand here again and again attempting to protect these victims, because their voices and their names matter.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Manzoor for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important and difficult subject this afternoon. I would like to make a short intervention in the debate to make only five points.
The first is to welcome the fact that this important issue receives a very much higher profile now than has historically been the case. The work of campaigners both inside and outside Parliament—I very much include those who have spoken in this debate, particularly my noble friend Lady Newlove, who made a very moving contribution just a moment ago—has brought this widespread and horrific crime to greater pubic prominence. I pay tribute to all those in the police, the health and social services, and the voluntary sector who have done, and continue to do, so much to ensure that the protection and support available is immeasurably better now than was the case only a few years ago. That is not in any way to diminish the very powerful representations that have been made for yet better services and greater co-ordination between agencies in the protection of victims.
I would like to refer to the Rob and Helen story that occurred in “The Archers”. It probably brought this issue to greater public prominence than any other single initiative in the UK for very many years, if not ever. I understand that more than 1 million additional listeners tuned in to hear the final throes of this moving and deeply disturbing story. It perhaps humanised the issue and brought home the realities of coercive control, to which a number of noble Lords have referred. Perhaps the BBC, which comes in for a lot of stick, should be commended for taking this brave initiative, which has done so much good.
It is important to seek to quantify the scale of the issue. As we have heard, the official statistics tell only part of the story. According to the ones that I saw for 2013-14, 887,000 incidents of domestic violence were recorded by the police. Those figure are now a couple of years out of date but they give a good indication of the situation. The true level is very difficult to measure, for all the reasons of non-reporting that are easy to understand, but the true scale is in the order of 2 million incidents, which is a huge number if one considers the adult population of the UK. There are thought to be currently 100,000 individuals in the country at high or imminent risk of serious abuse. I was also very interested to hear the words of my noble friend Lady Manzoor, who referred to the plight of older victims. I agree that they do not receive the degree of prominence that they should, and I am sure that it is an uncovered area of significant concern.
Secondly, I draw the House’s attention to the report entitled Getting it Right First Time, produced by the charity SafeLives in 2015. This is an excellent and well-thought-out piece of work, drawing some very pragmatic conclusions about areas where the support provided by different agencies could be enhanced. This charity was originally set up in 2005 as Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse—CAADA. It advocates the use of a risk-based approach, prioritising those at greatest risk of harm, and it takes a modern, facts-based research approach towards this issue.
We know that early intervention is one of the keys. Finding families under threat earlier will save lives—that is, in my submission, unarguable. It has been estimated that 85% of victims sought help from professionals, including from the medical profession, some five times on average in the year before they received effective help to stop the abuse. That represents five opportunities for disclosure of the issue, which, had they been taken, could have brought the situation to a stop a great deal earlier. Therefore, the argument for early intervention is very clear. Research also indicates that high-risk victims live with the situation for an average of between two and a half and three years before they receive successful help. During that time, the level of abuse almost invariably escalates, and the effect on children within the family over that average period can be very severe. On a more pragmatic note, late intervention is also very expensive, being estimated to cost more than £18,000 per instance. That is another powerful argument for more effort to be focused on earlier intervention.
Proactive identification and co-ordination are clearly also important. It is very clear that the strenuous efforts of the various agencies involved and recent positive initiatives have achieved a great deal, but there is a great deal more that can be done to ensure sufficient co-ordination between them. Greater co-ordination, proactively focused on early identification—and, in particular, on linkage between children’s and adult services—would be of great benefit. Although a great deal of work has been done to facilitate earlier identification, undoubtedly more could be done. Giving greater confidence to families that reporting will also result in effective action is also a priority, and, we hope, will promote the ability of people, as well as families and relatives, to reach out for help earlier and report incidents to the authorities.
Like other noble Lords across the House who have spoken, I welcome the draft domestic violence Bill, and in particular the focus on creating a robust and well-defined legal framework, which I understand will include for the first time a legal definition of the offence or offences and will consolidate the relevant legislation. That is a very positive development.
From my understanding the Bill has been well received, and its announcement has prompted many suggestions and recommendations from experts in this field. I was particularly struck by one line of argument that stressed the need to put the emphasis on the perpetrator rather than on the victim, utilising the risk-based approach that I referred to earlier in my remarks. I trust that this will be reflected in the Government’s consideration of the issue and in our deliberations when the Bill eventually comes before this House.
This is an extremely challenging, complex and multifaceted issue. We are all very grateful to my noble friend Lady Manzoor for having secured parliamentary time to air this important issue.
My Lords, the importance of addressing domestic abuse is moving up the agenda, which is to the good. As the noble Baroness made quite clear, it is a people’s issue and not just a women’s issue, so I congratulate the one man in our debate—he contributed very effectively.
We are all aware of the significance of public awareness, in general and on the part of those affected—a point made by the noble Viscount—and those who abuse. None of today’s speakers come new to this subject, but we will all have been shocked by what we have heard and been reminded of, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I suspect we all have experience of discussing this with other people and seeing disbelief or dawning belief on their faces. That is particularly so in the case of coercive control, now recognised in law and by more, but not all, of the public.
I want to think aloud about two prominent points in the Government’s proposals. The first is the creation of a new offence. I am not arguing against consolidating what we have, but when legislation is proposed I always wonder whether it is because the Government do not quite know what to do, or know but want to avoid the issue of resources, or want to transfer responsibility to local government or the third sector, usually without resources. My concern is that violence and abuse are crimes now. We must all have argued against the characterisation of “just a domestic”, and I do not want us to do anything that diminishes the seriousness of the criminality. I might be more comfortable if we built on current offences but with recognised aggravating factors that can affect sentencing.
On that point, has the Sentencing Council been part of discussions about the proposed legislation? Indeed, what consultation has there been generally and what responses have the Government received? We all know that although legislation is important, and can indeed sometimes lead the way, it is attitude and culture that really matter. I have to acknowledge that a number of noble Lords made very powerful cases for changes in the law, but I do not think that that is inconsistent with the point I am making.
My second thought is on the creation of a commissioner—we used to have tsars, but I much prefer the term “commissioner”. I query whether the position is appropriate here, but that is not to question the energy or ability of those who fill various commissioner roles at present. Will the Government be transferring to the commissioner what should be their role and responsibilities?
Noble Lords have rightly emphasised the horrifying statistics. There is one trend I would like to mention: the prevalence of domestic violence in teenage relationships. To me, that says a lot about gender stereotyping and the importance of very wide PHSE. Perhaps domestic violence is one aspect of a set of wider issues.
On the point of connections, I want to mention a project run by Safer London—here I declare an interest as a member of the board. The project stems from its gang exit work, which includes relocating young people and their families when they are determined to get out of gang membership and activity. Safer London’s pan-London housing reciprocal agreement serves London boroughs and registered housing providers with reciprocal offers of housing to enable women and their families, who for their own safety need to get away from their home area, to move within London. It is very small-scale, but it is important.
Mentioning resources, in his contribution to the Queen’s Speech debate my noble friend Lord Paddick referred to local authorities outsourcing the provision of refuges, with contracts whose requirements are narrow so that the provision is the bare minimum of a roof—the physical provision—but not the very necessary support. We cannot avoid the issue of local authority funding.
The issues that any Government must address rarely exist in a vacuum but are related to other concerns. I want to draw attention to the circumstances faced by women whose experience of abuse leads, directly or indirectly, to them committing offences, usually minor. The Prison Reform Trust is undertaking a programme aimed at reducing women’s imprisonment. It seems from that work that the criminal justice agencies need better to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse, the behaviour of perpetrators and the effect on victims and survivors.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear me talk about training in this context, as the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, mentioned, and the need for joint working by and with specialist services. Again, it comes down to money, but also attitudes. I do not know whether the noble Baroness heard it, but this morning on the radio reference was made to police training comprising 25 minutes of a desktop module at the discretion of the police chief. I cannot comment on whether that was complete or accurate, but that was what was being discussed. It seems that this is affected by the turnover of police staff and officers.
Given that each speaker has the luxury of making a long speech, I will read part of the work done by the Prison Reform Trust:
“HMIC found in 2014 that in 30% of cases of actual bodily harm which were identified as domestic abuse related, there were counter allegations with both parties claiming to be the victim, and stated: ‘Information on the previous history is vital if officers are to be able to identify who the victim is in instances of counter allegations’”.
The work goes on to refer to a recent focus group, at which women commented that if the police attended an incident of domestic violence, it was more likely that their partner—the primary aggressor—would be calm, while they the victim would be agitated and lashing out, and therefore more likely to be arrested. One victim said:
“When the police do arrest you after a domestic incident, maybe because you’re the one that’s suffering you tend to be the one that’s going to kick out at the police. And the chap, you know your abuser, tends to be … dead calm …You just think, ‘I’m trapped again, I’m trapped.’ And my arrests have been when I feel trapped and then it’s just like everything’s like a volcano because you think, I’m getting framed here by my abuser and nobody seems to understand”.
The briefing I have seen refers to the need for police discretion in these circumstances. It goes on:
“Prosecutors must make the same judgement when deciding whether it is in the public interest to pursue a prosecution. Similar expectations must be placed on offender managers, defence solicitors and barristers, to identify where a defendant has been a victim of abuse or coercion and to ensure this is taken into account in decisions throughout the criminal justice process. Sentencers also have a critical role to play in ensuring that appropriate account is taken of women’s experiences of abuse and coercion. The provision of high quality pre-sentence report is essential here”.
I saw the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in the Chamber a few minutes ago. This would have been familiar to him as it was an issue in the Modern Slavery Bill and was taken into account in that Act.
This leads me inexorably to the importance of strategy and its implementation for women in the criminal justice system. The Corston model, as it has become known after the noble Baroness, of women centres is more effective than prison and much less expensive.
On joint working, can the Minister confirm that the Home Office is working with colleagues in the MoJ, the Department of Health and DCLG to deliver the long-promised strategy on women offenders that will improve the response of criminal justice agencies to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including through ongoing training and sustained investment in the national network of women-specific services in the community?
Like other noble Lords, I have had connections with these issues for some time. This valuable debate has given us an opportunity to think afresh and to hear new points. However, I fear that this will not be last time we will need to debate these issues.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, for bringing this important debate before us today. It is the latest in a list of debates that we have had on this topic over many years. However, it is an important debate and hopefully we can highlight and deal with some interesting matters.
The noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, referred to zero tolerance. There is more than one form of domestic abuse. Although many people still think there is only one form—a man hitting a woman—we know that there are many forms of domestic violence, which can be psychological, physical, emotional, financial or sexual. It is a largely hidden crime but it can take over every aspect of a victim’s life.
I know these figures have been given by nearly everyone who has spoken today, but on average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales. That figure has remained about the same for many years. I hope that one day it will be reduced.
Domestic abuse-related crime makes up 10% of total crime and, on average, the police receive more than 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour. Domestic abuse exists as a form of violence against women and girls and results from the deeply ingrained inequality between men and women in society. Domestic violence discriminates between genders—it is a gendered crime. The Crown Prosecution Service reported 100,930 prosecutions for domestic abuse in 2015-16. Where gender was recorded, 92.1% of defendants were male and 7.9% were female.
This debate is even more relevant given the report released yesterday by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate. It highlighted how the police and prosecutors are letting down victims of harassment of stalking. My noble friend Lady Royal and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, eloquently spelled out exactly what the report indicated. Hopefully it will be looked at carefully. I pay tribute to both noble Baronesses for the great work they have done in this field in highlighting the issue and for bringing to the House horrendous statistics and stories about how the police are reacting. Listening to those stories was horrifying for me—and, I am sure, for all noble Lords.
The report shows a lack of understanding of stalking and domestic violence and reinforces the need for specialist understanding, training and services to properly deal with these crimes and, more importantly, to help and protect victims. The report showed that, in 95% of the case files reviewed, care for the victim was deemed inadequate. These crimes are often missed or misunderstood by the police and the CPS. The crime survey for England and Wales 2016 indicated that one in five women and one in 10 men aged 16 to 59 had experienced stalking behaviour since the age of 16.
The Government’s commitment to tackling domestic violence is welcome and their domestic violence and abuse Bill, promised in the Queen’s Speech, is a real opportunity for us to change the way we identify and respond to domestic violence. I hope that it is not just a consolidation of our current legislation. We welcome the Bill, but it must go further than the justice system. Victims of domestic abuse need support in a multitude of ways. They need support with accessing mental health services, bank accounts, safe housing and welfare provision.
It was Labour that first proposed a violence against women and girls Bill in 2014 and the pledge appeared in our 2015 manifesto—as did proposals to appoint a commissioner and set minimum standards in tackling domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We welcome the commitment to a domestic violence and abuse commissioner. It is important that they are a representative of victims and survivors. Is the Minister aware that in Wales a national adviser has been appointed to advise Welsh Ministers to pursue the Violence against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act 2015? Has the Minister had any discussions with Welsh Ministers to see how this is working and whether what the Government are proposing is something similar? A key element of the law should also be to monitor the statutory agencies and hold them to account. Will the Minister confirm that this will be a key part of the role, particularly in light of the report from the Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate?
Legislation is one step, but in addition we must ensure that resources are available to put in place a complex web of specialist services needed to ensure that victims of domestic violence get the support they need. It is the Government’s cuts to domestic violence services and the punitive welfare reforms that have been having a devastating impact on the support available to women when they are at their most vulnerable. The coalition Government of 2010 to 2015 made changes to legal aid for domestic violence that have left 40% of victims unable to provide the evidence required to receive support. I welcome the fact that the Government have begun a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Will the Minister confirm that the review will include a targeted review of access to justice for domestic violence victims? Will she update the House on the changes promised in February this year that additional types of evidence would be accepted and that time restrictions would be scrapped? Have these changes been implemented?
In recent years local authority spending reductions and local commissioning practices have seen 17% of specialist refuges in England closed. The funding for domestic violence services is particularly fragmented and the amount of local authority funding differs from service to service. Women’s Aid has found that 10.2% of services responding to its survey received no funding at all from local authorities in 2015-16 and that one in four referrals to refuge services in the same period was declined due to a lack of capacity. This figure does not even take into account how many more referrals were not made because the refuge was already known to be full. What is more, local authority commissioning criteria often value cost over quality, leading to larger generic service providers being able to undercut specialist services, despite their inability to demonstrate that they have specialist support available.
A woman’s refuge is not just a place to lay your head at night. They not only provide a place of physical safety but help women to access health, counselling services, housing, benefits and legal advice. They are trusted organisations with a track record of delivery that generate high levels of self-referrals. Specialist services, particularly those serving the BME communities, are unique. Their local proximity is part of what gives them such value. By relying solely on local authorities to commission refuge services, the Government are failing to maintain a strategic approach to the delivery of domestic violence services across the country. Will the Minister tell the House what the Government are doing to monitor specialist domestic violence refuges and service providers that have closed, and how they can assure that every woman has access to the support they need?
Government cuts are hitting not just in one place. Everywhere we turn we see the withdrawal and rolling back of services that were put in place under a Labour Government to protect victims of domestic abuse. If we take magistrates’ courts, for example, domestic violence cases used to be heard in magistrates’ courts on one specific day, with an independent domestic violence adviser available to support victims and an appropriate, trained magistrate present. Because of government cuts, these cases are now heard whenever they can be fitted in, and the specialist advice and understanding are lost.
The Government’s new funding proposals for supported housing are also a real threat to refuges. Housing benefit currently covers about 89% of weekly housing costs. Women’s Aid says that the local housing allowance cap to housing benefit would force 67% of refuges to close. Refuges are a national network of specialist services and the challenge they face is, again, unique. The Government need to deliver a separate solution for refuges and they must engage domestic abuse experts and organisations in the design of this solution. If they do not, they will deny victims the support they need and will leave women and children with nowhere to go.
Much has been said on the level and scope of domestic violence and abuse. We need to come up with a very good programme of prevention. That is something we would all want to see. I know that much has been tried, but I hope that other programmes of mutual respect can been carried out, especially with young children and continuing throughout life. I know that many organisations do valuable work in this field, but we will need constant vigilance to get to a world where women and girls do not have to deal with this form of violence and abuse.
The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 election committed to,
“support victims of domestic violence to leave abusive partners, reviewing the funding for refuges”.
Can the Minister therefore give a commitment to sustainable and long-term funding for these vital services to ensure that women and children fleeing violence can access the support that they desperately need? Can she confirm that the Government’s manifesto commitment means that they will ensure access to specialist and gender-sensitive support for survivors and not just to general victims’ services?
I have not yet mentioned the Istanbul convention. I have a Question on that coming up one day next week, so have not brought it into the full discussion today. I know that it is of interest and that some noble Baronesses mentioned it today. Can the Minister say—if not today then perhaps next week—when ratification will take place. I think we all forward to the day when that happens.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Manzoor for tabling today’s debate. Its timing sits well with the lead-up to the domestic abuse Bill. I also commend my noble friend Lord Goschen for being the only man to have spoken in this debate. We have heard some very good contributions from all sides of the House, bringing different aspects to the subject. I pay tribute to those who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue over the years.
As we have heard today, domestic abuse covers a range of harmful and deeply unacceptable behaviours which can devastate the lives of victims, survivors and those closest to them. Victims deserve our best support and they deserve justice. This Government are committed to doing everything they can to transform our approach to domestic abuse to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge not only that they will be supported but that their abuser will be pursued.
Last year, we launched the violence against women and girls strategy, setting out our ambition that no victim of abuse is turned away from the support they need—that echoes the final words of the noble Baroness, Lady Gale. It signalled a move towards early intervention, a drive to stem offending and, as is all too often the case, reoffending by perpetrators.
The strategy is supported by a new National Statement of Expectations, which is a clear blueprint for good local commissioning and service provision. It is backed up by new tools and guidance to help raise all areas of the country up to the level of the best.
As has been said, it is important to be clear that men and women can experience domestic abuse and that all victims must be supported, but it is also important to recognise the gendered nature of domestic abuse, which is why the Government have a violence against women and girls strategy.
Data show that women are much more likely than men to be the victims of high-risk or severe domestic abuse. This is clearly demonstrated by a greater number of cases going to multiagency risk assessment conference, or MARAC, and accessing an independent domestic violence adviser service—as referred to by many noble Lords. Those deal with the most severe cases of domestic abuse. More than 95% of victims are female and 4% are male.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, talked about the funding mechanism for IDVAs versus the lack of funding for ISACs. We have moved from national matched funding of individual roles such as IDVAs to supporting integrated programmes through the VAWG Service Transformation Fund. The £17 million from that fund announced yesterday—to answer the question asked by my noble friend Lady Newlove—will help 41 local areas to improve support to victims, and 10 of those bids include support for victims of stalking. The Government have also funded via the tampon tax fund other programmes to support victims of stalking. Those include the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Black Country Women’s Aid. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust has received £200,000 to enable it to reach an additional 290 women and improve front-line professionals’ first response to stalking.
My noble friend Lady Newlove asked about the role of IDVAs in the courts, and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, talked about the courts seeing cases on the same day and worried about the more scattered nature of those cases being heard now. I acknowledge the role of the IDVAs in supporting victims; in the magistrates’ court, domestic abuse cases are often listed together to enable the IDVAs to be able to support victims during the court hearings, which makes absolute sense. The listing of cases is the responsibility of the judiciary, although I note the noble Baroness’s point.
A lot of questions were asked about funding. To support the Government’s commitment to tackling these crimes, the strategy was accompanied by increased funding of £80 million until 2020. A question was asked about sustainable funding going forward. Clearly we cannot make funding commitments beyond the spending review, but to further support our efforts to tackle domestic abuse, we pledged a further £20 million in the spring budget, bringing the total dedicated funding to £100 million. This will help to deliver our goal to ensure a secure future for vital services like refuges and rape support centres while driving a major change so that victims get the help they need, when they need it.
In the last year we have provided £3 million for the Disrespect NoBody teenage relationship abuse campaign. It is a very important campaign indeed, which is designed to raise awareness of different types of abusive behaviour and recognise them while girls— and boys—are younger.
Beyond the £80 million, tackling these crimes will benefit from a range of government sources. Funding through the tampon tax, again, for example, has supported innovative programmes like the joint Women’s Aid and Safelives’ Sooner the Better early intervention project, and Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, which supports women with complex needs.
My noble friend Lady Newlove asked specifically about the VAWG Service Transformation Fund. I have just gone through that, but it is excellent that these projects will make sure that the victims get the right support at the right time and prevent these terrible crimes.
We know that abused women use healthcare services more than non-abused women and are more likely to trust health professionals when disclosing abuse. That is why we are funding a number of health-based projects, including the health-led ASSIST program in Birmingham, which will provide specialist support to victims of domestic abuse who also have complex additional problems—which is not unusual—such as drug, alcohol or mental health issues, which mainstream services are often unable to address, and will focus specifically on supporting women who are at risk of having their children taken away.
We are also funding proposals that will work with schools and young people to help build resilience and develop positive and healthy behaviours to prevent abuse before it happens. For example, we are funding a family intervention project with Portsmouth to upskill children’s social workers to identify harmful behaviours early, as well as to support children who have witnessed domestic abuse. We are also providing funding to 17 programmes, which include working with perpetrators to change their behaviour. Perpetrators have been mentioned a lot. This includes working with teenage boys to provide targeted interventions at an early stage to prevent worrying behaviours escalating later into abuse.
To support victims who need a crisis response, we recently announced that the current round of the £20 million domestic abuse accommodation fund will support 76 projects, creating 2,200 new bed spaces in refuges and other specialist accommodation. This will provide more than 19,000 victims with somewhere safe to live and rebuild their lives, and will offer further access to education, employment and life skills training. I am incredibly pleased to announce that we have committed to legislate to deliver the Government’s manifesto commitment to ensure that the victims of domestic abuse who have lifetime tenancies and flee violence are able automatically to secure a new lifetime tenancy. This is something we also touched on in the then housing Bill, which is why I am doubly pleased about it. We will take this forward at the earliest possible opportunity.
However, we all know that funding alone will not solve this problem. The Government are committed to ensuring that front-line agencies have the tools they need to provide effective protection to vulnerable victims. We have introduced a specific offence of domestic abuse which outlaws patterns of controlling and coercive behaviour to recognise the fact that domestic abuse reaches far wider than physical abuse alone. We rolled out the domestic abuse disclosure scheme, known as Clare’s law, so that the police may disclose information about previous violent offences committed by a current or former partner. The police are no longer left guessing whether people might be at risk.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, asked about listing on the ViSOR scheme. From memory, I know that if someone is both violent and a sex offender, they will be on that register. Clearly there are differences in the types of cases, but I know exactly the point that she is driving at. I will look into it and come back to her, but my current understanding is that the register is for violent sex offenders. We will talk about that some more. We have also brought in domestic violence protection orders, which can prevent the perpetrator from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, giving the victim a vital breathing space. We have extended the troubled families programme to 2020 to work with an additional 400,000 families, including those affected by domestic abuse. It was obvious that it was quite prevalent in some of these difficult family situations. We have worked with the police to improve training and guidance, and I will say more on police training and so on shortly.
On the subject of stalking, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her work with Paladin. As noble Lords have mentioned, a report by the Inspector of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate on the response to stalking and harassment which was published yesterday has found that the police and the CPS response is just not good enough. These are quite devastating crimes which cause great distress to victims. Noble Lords have described some of that distress and it is absolutely unacceptable that these victims are being left to live in fear. We have strengthened the law in this area and are taking steps to include a new civil stalking protection order to protect victims at the earliest possible stage, but clearly there is more to do. The Home Secretary will be speaking to national police leads about what action needs to be taken. To that end, the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Brinton, both gave us several examples of where the systems can dreadfully fail women, so action needs to be taken.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, also asked whether HMRC and the CPSI stalking harassment report shows that the police and the CPS are failing to tackle these crimes effectively and failing victims. We know that these crimes are devastating, and that is why back in 2012 we strengthened the law to create specific stalking offences and to raise the maximum sentence for stalking and harassment to 10 years—thanks to the noble Baroness—through the Police and Crime Act 2017. To make sure that victims get the support they need, the Home Office has provided £50,000 a year to support the national stalking helpline.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Hamwee, talked about the specific issue of training. I am quite horrified to hear the story of spending 25 minutes in front of a desktop computer being considered to be sufficient training for anyone, let alone the police. Since 2012, the College of Policing’s training package on investigating stalking effectively has been completed by more than 68,000 police officers. I hope that was not 25 minutes on a desktop. Again, I hope the e-learning module on stalking is not of just 25 minutes—
It does not say that in my notes. If that is the case, I will go back to the department for more detail on that. When the noble Baronesses were getting agitated, I thought I might be hitting on exactly the thing they had criticised. The Home Secretary will be meeting the national police lead, Garry Shewan, who used to work for Greater Manchester Police. I will make sure that this issue gets to the Home Secretary’s desk and, I hope, to his.
I have a note on the register for perpetrators of stalking. They will already be captured on the PNC. We need to make better use of existing databases and improve connectivity and information-sharing, rather than create new databases. The noble Baroness does not agree with me so I think we will have further discussions on that as well.
On sentencing, in response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, we should be clear that release under licensing does not mean that prisoners are let off lightly. All prisoners are released on licence and if they breach their licence conditions they may be returned to custody. The period served on licence is an integral part of the sentence and necessary for the purposes of safely reintegrating prisoners back into the community in a controlled and supervised way, reducing the risk of further offending. Requiring a proportion of the overall sentence to be served in custody followed by a period on licence in the community is not new, since the legislation was introduced in 1967. Successive Governments have maintained this approach.
We are seeing some progress in the reporting of these often hidden crimes. That is on the rise and prosecutions and convictions are at record levels. However, there are still 2 million victims of domestic abuse every year in England and Wales. That is 2 million too many living in fear, and too many families and children devastated by this awful crime.
I quickly move to the measures in the domestic abuse Bill, which I think noble Lords will agree is a landmark Bill. I am also aware that I am at 17 minutes and not even half way through my notes so I will have to get some letter-writing done. In response to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Manzoor, I confirm that there will be a legal definition of domestic abuse. What will be in that definition? The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to that. We are consulting widely on the Bill, including opportunities for noble Lords and others, so that the legal definition will not only be supported but is robust and has the correct teeth that it needs.
The recognised harm caused to a child is a really important area. The children of victims of domestic abuse not only witness that abuse but can be damaged by it for the rest of their lives. If abusive behaviour involves a child, we will make sure that the court can hand down a sentence that reflects the devastating, lifelong impact that the abuse will have on that child.
We will establish a domestic abuse commissioner to stand up for victims and survivors, to raise public awareness and to hold those agencies to account. I assure both my noble friend Lady Manzoor and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that we will be consulting widely on the scope of the role and the powers available to the commissioner.
It will be music to the ears of the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, that we intend to demonstrate our commitment to the Istanbul Convention by including in the Bill the changes needed to enable us to ratify it. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked whether disabled women were included in the convention. The convention consists of 81 articles related to tackling VAWG—violence against women and girls—including articles to ensure appropriate support for victims, including those with complex needs, and it recognises the need to support all victims, including those with disabilities. This is reflected in the Violence against Women and Girls—National Statement of Expectations, published last year, which set out a blueprint for local areas.
Some very good points were made about older people. If we think domestic abuse is a hidden harm, it is most certainly hidden in our population of older people, some of whom may not even know that they are suffering domestic violence.
I apologise; I have got only half way through my notes and my 20 minutes are up. I will write to noble Lords. I have probably missed out aspects of what they asked. Again, I thank noble Lords for taking part in a debate where I think we are all coming from the same place and want the same ends. I thank my noble friend for bringing this debate to the House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this very important debate for their individual, invaluable and thought-provoking contributions. All noble Lords made very moving contributions—particularly, for me, the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove—reflecting the importance of what it means for the victims and the society that we live in.
I thank the Minister for taking the trouble to have a meeting with me to discuss modern slavery and domestic violence, and for her response today, which was, as always, sympathetic and informative. I know that she will have listened very carefully to your Lordships and I hope that in her usual accommodating style she will consider how the issues raised today might be captured in the domestic violence and abuse Bill which, as we have heard, will come before your Lordships’ House in the near future.
Across the House we all want the same thing: domestic violence and abuse must end. It should have no place in our homes, communities or society. We need to do everything in our power to eradicate it. As we heard, legislation is a key component but it is not the only one. There are other things that we need to do. Again, I thank noble Lords for taking part. I beg to move.