My Lords, we have already committed increased funding of £100 million to support victims of violence against women and girls, and today have launched a wide-ranging consultation working towards a domestic abuse Bill which seeks views on a suite of proposals to do more still to support victims and target perpetrators of these terrible crimes.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for her Answer. While we need to change the narrative on domestic abuse from “Why didn’t she leave?” to “Why didn’t he stop?”, all women fleeing abuse must have a safe place to run to. However, there have been many deeply worrying reports and accusations that the number of spaces for women in refuges is being reduced. Can my noble friend reassure the House that this is not the case? Can she also acknowledge how crucial it is to take early and preventive action, particularly when it comes to supporting the thousands of children who witness abuse on a daily basis?
I thank my noble friend for her question. I can reassure her that the provision of bed spaces has increased by 10% since 2010. We want to be very clear that the current level of refuge provision will not reduce—she may have heard my right honourable friend the Home Secretary state that this morning. We have heard the need for sustainable funding for refuges, which is why we are reviewing the way in which refuges and supported housing are delivered. We have asked all the charities and organisations working on the front line to feed in their expertise and come forward with their ideas on how best to deliver this on the ground. The process is ongoing. We have been clear that no options are off the table as we work with them to ensure that women requiring support in their time of need are not let down.
My noble friend was absolutely right when she talked about early intervention to prevent domestic abuse, which is why the domestic abuse consultation is coming about. Children, as she mentioned, are at the forefront of this work. Today, we have announced £8 million of funding to support—
Today, we have announced £8 million of funding to support children who witness domestic abuse and to help with their recovery. I am sorry if I have taken too long, but this is an important subject.
My Lords, a major difficulty in some of these appalling cases, in which I have been involved judicially, is that there are no witnesses other than the participants. That is one of the problems of proving the cases. Do I presume that the same standard of proof will prevail nevertheless?
The noble and learned Lord is absolutely right that, quite often, there are no witnesses other than the participants who mete out such abuse on women; quite often, there are no physical signs of abuse where it involves coercive control and, as the Home Secretary mentioned this morning, economic control of women. That is why we are strengthening the law and why we have gone out to consultation: so that such things may be pursued. It is also why the domestic violence protection order is being introduced.
My Lords, from what the Minister has already said it is clear that she fully understands and accepts that domestic violence is a real threat to the well-being and proper development of children. In this consultation, can further consideration be given, in cases where police are called to a home because of an instance of domestic violence and children are present, to requiring that the police automatically contact the safeguarding unit of the local authority to ensure that that the children’s needs are considered as well as those of the adults involved?
I thank the noble Lord for that question; he has extensive experience of this area. We have allocated additional funding to the College of Policing to improve training for some of those first-line responders, who in the past may not have been aware of children’s needs, Children who suffer even one incident in which they witness domestic abuse can sometimes be affected for their entire lives.
My Lords, in welcoming the Government’s latest initiative on controlling and coercive behaviour, I would highlight the study by the charity Refuge, which found that one in four 16 to 21 year-olds—young people—thought it perfectly normal that coercive and controlling behaviour took place. It is growing, and we know that it is a precursor to physical violence in the end. Will the Minister say a bit more about what is being done to educate young people, and indeed the public—women in general—that coercive, controlling and psychological abuse is not acceptable and that they can seek help?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising that point. Coercive and controlling behaviour may not even be seen as that by the victim—I think that is the point the noble Baroness is making. We can do much through PSHE and educating girls in self-respect. Education in the use of social media and the internet is crucial in this area. The statistics cited by the noble Baroness do not surprise me, and we have much to do to educate our young women.
Will the Minister consider making severe facial trauma a notifiable condition? These men smash up their wives and then take them to a hospital to be treated. The next time they take them to a different hospital, and the third time yet another hospital. If it were a notifiable condition all this would add up and prosecutions might well take place.
I will certainly take back my noble friend’s suggestion. He touches on a very important point: not only might these women be taken to different hospitals each time, but the woman might feel too frightened to report what she has gone through. The whole purpose of some of the Government’s initiatives is that women should no longer feel frightened to come forward and get the support they need through these terrible traumas.
My Lords, am I right in thinking that in February 2017 Theresa May announced a domestic violence and abuse Act? We have seen no moves towards that Act, as far as I know. A consultation was promised; more consultation is now being promised. What does this consultation consist of? Do we need more consultation, or should we just get on with it?
I can assure the noble Baroness that the VAWG commitments that Theresa May made, both as Prime Minister and previously as Home Secretary, are still firm. It is not an either/or in terms of the commitments—the measures in the Bill—will cover: they will enshrine a definition of domestic abuse; they will introduce a new domestic abuse commissioner and a domestic abuse protection order that I talked about earlier; and they will include proposals for ensuring that the sentencing in domestic abuse-related offences duly recognises the devastating impact that these offences have on children, as I explained to the noble Lord earlier. Moreover—the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, will be interested to hear this—we will introduce measures to adopt extra-territorial jurisdiction over remaining sexual offences so that we can advance towards ratification of the Istanbul convention.