There's optimism. I apologise if I repeat myself. It will only be one sentence, I am sure.
This very simple amendment was spawned from my looking closely at the Bill and the categories laid out in subsection (4). It is intended to add mental health trusts and members of any educational establishment to the list. I can anticipate the Solicitor-General's response: I am sure that she will say that she relies on clause 7(6), which grants the Home Secretary the power to vary the list of persons and bodies in subsections (4) and (5) by order. In all probability, she will need to rely on that subsection sooner rather than later, given that local probation boards will disappear and the catchily named National Offender Management Service will come into play. In fact, the service started on 1 June. It would be interesting to know when the anticipated changeover will take place and whether the provision will hold good on the statute book until legislation in the next Session makes the changes to the probation service.
However, to dispel the argument before the Solicitor-General deploys it, I want to consider the persons and bodies she has already included in the list in subsection (4)(a). The list appears broadly to cover health, education, social services, the probation service and the police. I want to establish whether the two groups that I want to add to the Bill are presumed to be covered, or whether, as I suspect, they have been left out and could be included only by relying on clause 7(6) or the discretion of the Secretary of State.
Although my amendment does not cover this, it would have been comforting to see the coroner mentioned. The coroner obviously has a tremendous contribution to make to domestic homicide reviews. I would like the Solicitor-General to consider that.
In debates so far, concern has been shown over the gaps that exist in the case of a family that has never had contact with the statutory agencies and which
therefore may not become the subject of a serious case review. I admit that the Solicitor-General has sought to put our minds at rest, but I am still not particularly convinced that what she says is necessarily the case. Women's Aid has identified the lacuna in relation to so-called middle-class families.
I want to add the two extra categories to subsection (4)(a) for the following reasons. A young person—albeit over the age of 16—may have attended a private school, college or university, or another educational establishment. Equally, he or she may have been at a state school. By including in the Bill the additional category of members of any educational establishment, we can ensure that vital information can be captured from that source to inform the lessons to be learned from the death.
The hon. Lady is making a good point. I am reminded of a case in my constituency, in which a young person at an independent school committed suicide. When the police spoke to me about it, it was clear that they had no idea what investigations were being carried out, independently, by other statutory organisations. I would not want any legislation to be passed that could not pick that up.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and I agree. I have a constituency case at the moment, which is allied to that, although it is not strictly about this type of domestic abuse, in which a constituent is particularly worried about children in independent schools and the duty of care offered to them in any sort of child abuse case. The Solicitor-General may wish to note that I am trying to take that constituent to see her colleague, the Minister for Children. If the Solicitor-General has any influence with her, I hope that she will use it and encourage the Minister for Children to see my constituent, because he has some valid points to make about independent schools and the duty of care towards children in them.
We are all aware of the increasingly high incidence of people with mental health issues, particularly in our prison populations. If the Minister included mental health trusts in the Bill, she would recognise the important dimension that evidence from mental health workers could add. Mental health trusts may be covered by
''NHS trusts established under section 5'', in subsection (4)(a), but I do not believe they are, nor do I understand the logic of identifying primary care trusts, local health boards and section 5 NHS trusts without specifically mentioning mental health trusts. It has already been mentioned, and I think that all members of the Committee accept it, that mental health is an issue in many domestic violence cases, particularly in relation to ethnic minorities. Therefore, it is even more important that mental health trusts are included in the Bill.
The amendments are minor: they are additions to a list.
Welcome to the Committee this afternoon, Mr. Benton. Was it indeed your good self who was on the television last night? Was it the same Joe
Benton in the company of Charlie Dimmock and the ''Ground Force'' team? If you can get other organisations to transform your constituency for you in a way that your constituents want, have you considered the pressure that it would put on the rest of us to try to live up to your example?
We all congratulate you, Mr. Benton, on an excellent thing for your constituents.
Clause 7(4) sets out a list of statutory bodies with a duty to have regard to the guidance issued by the Secretary of State in relation to domestic homicide reviews. Amendment No. 84 would extend the list of bodies to include mental health trusts and members of any educational establishment. Members will recall that the purpose of domestic homicide reviews is to identify the lessons to be learned from the death. To that end, the Government would not wish to exclude any agency that might have been involved with the victim. As the hon. Lady mentioned, mental health services are important, and I assure her that mental health trusts are already covered by, and included in, the list of bodies in subsection (4) because they are part of NHS trusts.
The amendment is therefore unnecessary; however, the spirit behind it is important: such bodies should not only be included, but know that they are included. It is one thing to get legislation right, but another to ensure that those covered it know that it applies to them. In working with colleagues responsible for mental health in the Home Office and the Department of Health, I will make sure that, just as we want general practitioners and accident and emergency departments to know that the legislation includes them, we want mental health trusts to think through the difficult issues and to know that they must participate in those reviews. The amendment is technically unnecessary, but it brings a point well to the Committee's attention.
On the arguments in favour of extending the list of bodies to include members of any educational establishment, I make no promises, but I would be grateful if the hon. Lady would allow me to consider such arguments at greater length and come back to her on Report.
The bodies listed in subsection (4) have a duty to have regard to any guidance, and may be directed by the Secretary of State, under subsection (2), to set up or participate in a review. The definition of members of an educational establishment could be quite wide, and perhaps include school pupils. I assure the hon. Lady that we get her point, but we do not want inadvertently to create a situation in which the Home Secretary is given powers to direct school pupils to set up reviews. We have to consider how wide the provision should be and whether the drafting uses
the correct terms, and we will establish whether the drafting can be done in terms that would take things forward in the way that we all want.
As the hon. Lady acknowledged, local education authorities will be covered by subsection (4); we are not sure whether it would be right to place such duties on head teachers or governing bodies. She also mentioned private schools and universities. If experience showed that further bodies should be added, there would be a power to do so by statutory instrument under subsection (6).
We must also bear it in mind, however, that we will want a number of organisations to participate in the reviews but will not necessarily want them to be put under the power of the Home Secretary. For example, an employer might well know of a pattern of absence on sick leave, because of a broken arm or rib; sometimes the employer will have a piece of the jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes, the victim's colleagues at work will have the jigsaw pieces, and we want them to be involved as well.
The Metropolitan police reviews and those of organisations such as Cardiff Women's Safety have shown that often it is already clear that Victim Support and Women's Aid might have information, and we want them to participate in the reviews. If they can help the agencies learn lessons, and they have information about a case, they must come forward and share in the review. It would not be right, however, to give the Secretary of State the power to direct them to conduct or participate in a review.
As with the previous amendment, we all agree on what we want to do, but there is a question about what role legislation should play. I will get back to the hon. Lady about the educational point.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen) said something important about teachers. There has been a lot of discussion about what to do if a child says, ''I am being beaten,'' and teachers are now very aware of how to deal with that. However, they are not so aware of what to do if the child says, ''My mother is being beaten.'' Often, children will tell their teacher not about being subjected to abuse themselves but about something else that is going on at home. That is why an education Minister is on the interdepartmental group. Education has a key role to play, as does health. The key question is what extent the power of direction should have. We will consider that further.
I am delighted with the Solicitor-General's reaction to this amendment. I should say that I had no briefing from anyone for it, I made it up myself, and the imperfection of the drafting is clearly shining through. My eternal thanks go to the Clerk who helped me with the form of words to describe the educational establishments, because I was at a loss as to how to put that. I agree that the amendment is imperfect, but it has served well as a vehicle to air this matter.
The amendment is important because of the historical background. People have sometimes been
reluctant to be involved with or contribute to reviews, and I felt that the Bill ought to say that there is a duty. It is also important to recognise that domestic violence is not a class thing; it happens across all colours, races and religions, and regardless of economic standing. I was worried that we might be missing a dimension—for example, with regard to private education establishments—that could play an important role.
I was particularly struck by something that a person in my county who is involved with domestic violence cases told me. A long ongoing series of incidents came to light only when the child referred to the fact that his mother regularly ate out of a dog bowl. That was enough for that idea to stay with me. I am sure that everybody has heard such stories.
I agree that an employer will often have information that helps to solve the puzzle, and I also agree with what the Solicitor-General said about voluntary agencies. However, when I looked at the report of the debate in the other place I saw that there might be a reason for not including voluntary agencies. That is why I stuck to those two groups of organisations.
The Solicitor-General did not take up my point about the coroner. Perhaps she would like to come back to me at a later stage and in a similar fashion on that? I would be perfectly happy if we could do that.
On the understanding that we can revisit the matter on Report, and that the Solicitor-General will consider how we could draft the clause to provide a comprehensive list, particularly with regard to the mental health trusts, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The clause stand part debate gives me an opportunity to address other subjects. I welcome the clause and the establishment of the reviews, but I want to ask some simple questions that will help us get a clearer picture of things.
First, when does the Minister expect to be able to let us have sight of the guidance? I appreciate that it will draw on both the serious case reviews and the guidance used by the Met police, but during the Bill's passage in another place the Minister, Baroness Scotland, gave the distinct impression that the document was already in existence when she said:
''The guidance takes the line that case reviews should not be delayed as a matter of course because of outstanding criminal proceedings or an outstanding decision on whether or not to prosecute.''—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 February 2004; Vol. 657, c. GC227.]
She thereby gave the impression that the guidance was alive and well and living in the Home Office. If that is the case, some idea of when the guidance will be produced would help everyone in the Committee, because we are of one mind. We are hungry to look at the guidance because we want the measure to come into play with all the force that we have intended. Will the Solicitor-General give us some idea when we can see it? Will the guidance be produced in sufficient time
for consultation so that there can be some input from the many organisations concerned?
That brings me to my second point concerning the conclusion of the review, which is why I chose that particular extract from proceedings in another place. Notwithstanding the fact that the review is not dependent on the commencement of criminal proceedings, will the Solicitor-General assure me that no review will be deemed concluded while there are outstanding criminal proceedings? Otherwise there could again be missing pieces of the puzzle that could yield valuable information.
I appreciate that the intention is to be able to start the homicide reviews without having to wait for the start of criminal proceedings. I believe that they are dependent on the Home Secretary pressing the button—will the Minister confirm that? I do not want the reviews to conclude before we have the whole picture. We may not want to wait until a case goes to appeal, but I would like to know what the Solicitor-General expects.
As for the totality of information, although devolution may bring benefits, in this instance it may be the reverse. The position of Northern Ireland and Wales with regard to legislation would certainly allow the Government to include both those countries in the provisions, but no such power exists to include Scotland. There may be some useful lessons to be drawn from including evidence from Scotland, and I would like the Minister to comment on whether similar provisions are either in existence or planned for Scotland, and when the information could be pooled.
It is important to recognise that we require a critical mass of information to help to prevent further tragedies, and that we need to gather that information as rapidly as possible. It would greatly shorten the odds on providing useful lessons for everyone involved if we could have access to similar information for Scotland. Are there any plans to consult the Scottish Parliament? Do similar provisions exist in Scotland, and does the Minister think it would be sensible to hold cross-border talks, because of the obvious value of collecting as broad a pool of information as possible?
Another point that was raised indirectly concerns the culture surrounding a domestic homicide review. We have talked about so-called honour killings and the problems within some of our ethnic minority communities. I want reassurance that it is envisaged that the cultural aspects of the domestic violence will be considered and reported upon in the domestic homicide reviews. That is a taboo area; many people do not talk about it, and not all the facts emerge. We seem to hold back when we are discussing it in case we offend people. I do not want to be worried about that. I want to learn the lessons, and I want the facts hung out so that people know about them. It is important that in the transcript of these proceedings there is some undertaking that those reviews could, and should, involve an investigation of the cultural circumstances in which the homicide took place.
What will happen to that information? I mentioned that issue earlier, and I am grateful that the Committee is debating clause stand part, because I was not sure where else the subject would fit, or whether I could frame an amendment that would serve my intended purpose. The phrase used is that we will have those reviews to identify
''the lessons to be learnt from the death.''
Once those conclusions have been drawn, where will they be deposited? Who will be the repository for all that information? How will it be analysed and how will it be disseminated? A plethora of organisations are involved, or have an influence, or could be in a position to gain from the lessons learnt—but unless they are disseminated to them, how are they to do so?
We have only to examine the tremendous work put in by Women's Aid, and the organisations from which they collected support for their amendments, to see that a wide range of organisations are involved and have an impact. It would be pointless and impotent to put the clause into an Act and start the process without knowing clearly how the information will be collected, and how it will be disseminated around the country.
I appreciate that that might be a difficult question to answer at this stage, and I am sure that the Solicitor-General will rely on the fact that the details will be in the guidance. However, we need reassurance that it will be—although I am not quite convinced that that will be the answer. I hope that there will be an answer, because otherwise this is a fruitless and pointless exercise. We will examine each individual case, we will arrive at some results and, as we said, the measure will act as a form of restorative justice for other family members, but in the final analysis it may not be very useful, unless there is a good system for handling the information.
It will be interesting to note how the information is handled. We have heard about marvellous new IT systems that are being introduced to the criminal justice system and to other areas, but will the information be handled by the section of the Department with responsibility, or will it simply be stored on computers? How will it be accessed? How will we get over the problem of data protection? Some of the information will be very sensitive, and if we cannot clear the data protection hurdle, which seems to be raised from time to time, we have a problem.
I am not a skilled lawyer; I am half a lawyer—an unqualified lawyer—which is the most dangerous thing of all. However, I know that the Data Protection Act 1998 often stands, or appears to stand, in my way as an MP. I do not want that legislation to stand in the way of the dissemination of valuable information from the domestic homicide reviews set up under the clause.
I have mentioned statistics, and I was pleased with the Solicitor-General's response on that subject. However, I also want reassurance that the statistics from the domestic homicide reviews that are kept will feed into the system, and will not sit in isolation somewhere in the Department gathering dust. For the
reviews, it is important to have joined-up thinking across the board.
Finally, turning to the costs, the regulatory impact assessment states that figures from part 8 reviews
''of suspicious child deaths suggest that each review is likely to cost in the region of £50,000 in terms of time and effort.
There are currently some 150 domestic murders every year, which suggests a total cost of £7.5m.''
The reviews anticipated under clause 7 will cover people over 16. In all likelihood, costs will vary—there may be complications in investigating multiple deaths in complex circumstances. If I correctly understood what the Solicitor-General said earlier, the Home Secretary will have sole discretion to initiate reviews. Can the Solicitor-General indicate whether £7.5 million is the maximum amount for annual expenditure on reviews? If not, what will the budget be and who will be responsible for picking up the costs? I refer specifically to the phrase
''£50,000 in terms of time and effort.''
Direct costs may be involved in conducting the reviews, and it would be helpful to know who will bear them. For example, will the Secretary of State direct that chief officers of police in the police authorities areas of England and Wales be responsible for costs in connection with the reviews? Likewise, will local authorities, probation boards, health authorities and so on be responsible for such costs? As the reviews are new and more extensive, it is not outwith the realms of possibility that none of those organisations will have budgeted for them.
I am trying to clarify whether there will be any financial barriers to having the cases investigated thoroughly and properly, or whether the regulatory impact assessment lists maximum figures and the Secretary of State will not order any more reviews after a ceiling has been reached. It is important to put that on the record, because, according to the regulatory impact assessment, the benefit is that each life saved through lessons learned will save £1,100,000 in public funds, lost earnings and costs of emotional trauma. That is an enormous figure to put on a life. If several people lose their lives in the course of domestic violence incidents, one can use the multiplier to determine the cost. However, the cost is not only to the public purse; for me, it is expressed in human lives, which transcend all financial provisions.
I want to ensure that the Government are not setting up an Aunt Sally and that when we finally bring reviews into being there will always be excuses not to pursue them fully, or financial barriers in whatever organisations are directed by the Secretary of State to take part in them. I am sorry to have given the Solicitor-General a list of questions, but I am sure that she is capable of dealing with them. I look forward to hearing her responses.
Thank you, Mr. Benton, for allowing me to raise a few further issues. One is the role of the voluntary sector, on which we have already had some debate. In the domestic homicide review carried out in Cardiff, the voluntary sector did not simply contribute information; it played
a crucial role, because the review was chaired jointly by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the police. The report was written by the NSPCC, and Women's Aid and Cardiff women's safety unit were part of the information-gathering group.
I understand why the voluntary organisations are not listed in the Bill, but will the Solicitor-General comment on the fact that the NSPCC played such a crucial role in the Cardiff review and wrote the report? Those who took part in the review felt that the NSPCC contributed enormously and that agencies could take part in a way that would not have been possible if the review had been led by a statutory agency. The voluntary sector has gone beyond being a partner and giving information in some cases, so how will it fit into the reviews when they become statutory? Will the reviews still be able to be carried out in that way? All those taking part and I felt that the voluntary sector was able to play a constructive role.
My second point, which relates to the cost of the review, was also made by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). I have experience of only the one review, but that took more than 12 months and an enormous amount of the time on the part of the professionals and voluntary bodies involved. They did it as part of their job, but, in view of the number of reviews that will have to take place, I wonder whether it is possible at this stage to cost them. I should also welcome some comments on the costings and how the voluntary bodies, which play such a major role in the reviews, can be helped.
My third point relates to restorative justice. In the example that I gave earlier of the woman who had been battered to death by her partner, the victim's family felt strongly that the case should be used to help to stop such a thing happening to anybody else; they wanted me to use her case in any discussions. The help that is given to the families of the victim, and perhaps of the perpetrator, is important, because we must remember that families will find it difficult to understand why the incident happened. A review will help both sets of families involved in such appalling tragedies.
I am glad that my constituent was able to brighten up your constituency so well, Mr. Benton.
I rise to add to the Solicitor-General's comments. The responses to ''Safety and Justice'' were, sadly, fairly truncated, which meant that it was difficult to get an idea of the breadth of the comments made. It is worth exploring the response of the Greater London domestic violence project, which has huge practical experience of dealing with reviews. Its members are the only people who have been doing them for any length of time, so it is instructive to listen to what they have to say.
My initial reaction was that a review was definitely a good thing and I could not see why anybody would have reservations. None the less, serious questions need to be asked about how we can ensure that it works to best effect. How will information from the review be used? There are concerns that if conclusions
are rushed, they might be false. I shall give a couple of examples. In London it has been discovered that a disproportionate number of victims are Asian. If they were minded, people could interpret that to mean that being Asian was a factor in the case. However, that is not what the Greater London domestic violence project believes; it believes that the social exclusion and isolation of the women is the overriding factor. However, from a race or culture point of view, there are dangers if that is not set in a wider context. That problem needs to be tackled sensitively and in the right way.
I spoke to some of the project's representatives, who said that nothing much seems to have changed: no information is available now that was not readily available before, and the process has been quite expensive. In its response to ''Safety and Justice'', the project said:
''we are unconvinced that Domestic Violence Fatality Reviews will necessarily provide useful information that will enable the prevention of future deaths. Certainly the reviews that have been conducted in London have failed to elicit any findings that were not already documented by a significant body of research. In other words, it has been an exceptionally expensive, time-consuming and bureaucratic process to demonstrate what we already knew.''
I found that alarming, because, as I said at the beginning, it seemed a good idea and it is good that all agencies should work together.
The project also raised the fact that the agencies often have useful information because they have been involved with a woman previously. However, it costs them a significant amount of money to take part in the process. If they have to spend their precious, hard-won resources on participating in the reviews, will they have less to provide some of the more practical help that they give day to day? Will the Solicitor-General clarify how the funding streams break down? That would put some people's minds at rest.
There is a possible omission. In the United States, there is usually some sort of interview with family or friends, but that is not suggested here. Will the Solicitor-General clarify? Evidence is available that if a perpetrator is aware that people know what he is up to—perpetrators are usually, although I accept not exclusively, male—and have contacted a project, that can be a protection. It is important that we try to find out, particularly in the early stages, what information is available from those sources.
Who will lead the reviews? Among the responses to ''Safety and Justice'', it was frequently suggested that the police might be a suitable lead agency. However, the Greater London domestic violence project made reference to evidence from a 1996 report, ''Multi-Agency Work and Domestic Violence: A National Study of Inter-Agency Initiatives'', which suggests that initiatives are less effective when they are police-led. Clearly, a lot of thought still has to be devoted to the fine detail. I agree with the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, who said that it would be useful to see the details, and to comment and consult. In particular, the agencies involved need to be able to do that.
The Greater London domestic violence project also raised a point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome. It felt that it was
necessary to examine to role of coroners' courts. I think that the Solicitor-General said that they had a narrow remit, so it would be useful if she could tell us whether that remit will be widened and what sort of links are to be made with other parts of the process. The idea that we are discussing is a good one but, given the costs and the amount of time and bureaucracy that could be involved, we need a clear idea of what we want to do with the information afterwards, even though I contend that any interaction between the agencies will be able to prevent further cases.
I rise to speak in support the establishment of domestic homicide reviews, because of an experience that I had at the end of last year. Two years ago a young lady called Heshu Yones, a 16-year-old Kurdish Muslim from west London, was stabbed to death by her father, Abdullah. She was dating a white boy. The court case only came to fruition last year.
Shortly after her death, during the trial, a couple of men from the college of further education that she attended came to see me. The reason for their visit was that they knew I took an interest in crimes of so-called honour. One of them had been a colleague of mine in Blackburn Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament about 45 years ago and he remembered me. He wanted to talk to me and get a lot off his chest. There had been indications within the college that things had been going wrong at home for Heshu Yones and he was worried that such events could happen again unless something was done. He was saying to me that he would have loved to have had input into some sort of hearing, so that he could have explained what was happening to her, what her reactions were and what things she had said to lecturers and to mentors, so that another such case can be prevented.
This is my first contribution to this Standing Committee—unfortunately, I was not able to be present at our proceedings on Tuesday. As a result of my actions on Tuesday, or perhaps for other reasons, I think that we now have two by-elections on 15 July. I leave hon. Members to work that one out.
I support the aim of the clause in principle, but I am concerned by two aspects that I hope the Solicitor-General will be able to address when she responds. The first was alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) in connection with the bodies that will be involved under subsection (4). I note that subsection (6) states:
''The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (4) or (5).''
I would like guidance from the Solicitor-General as to whether she sees that power vested in the Secretary of State as simply one to amend the list in the light of changes to the arrangements for local government, or as a power that might be used to reflect some of the points made during the debate. There is probably a
good case for the Secretary of State broadening the group under that power, in the light of experience or otherwise. I can think of instances when it might be appropriate to bring into the reviews youth leaders, those who are running refuges and others, because they would have a specific contribution to make, particularly in the serious case of homicide. To broaden that provision and to give the Secretary of State the power to do that would be worth while.
My other point is on the guidance that will be issued. Paragraph 44 of the explanatory notes states:
''This clause provides for guidance on the establishment and conduct of domestic homicide reviews''.
Paragraph 45 states:
''The guidance will encourage multi-agency reviews in relevant cases and will provide details as to leadership, format, timing and participants depending on the individual circumstances of the case.''
It would be helpful if the Solicitor-General gave the Committee some idea of what that guidance will be. I am most concerned about the circumstances in which the review is triggered. Whose responsibility is it to trigger the review process? Who will set it going? Who has the power to request a review? Is it automatic? Will the chief police officer always do that, or will other bodies be able to trigger it, including bodies not listed in subsection (4)? Apart from those reservations, I very much support the thrust of this clause.
It seems to me that one of the glaring omissions from the categories of people who might be involved with a review is social services. They will more than likely have been involved in such a case before the sad death.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is not really for me to answer to it. When the Solicitor-General responds, she might say that ''local authorities'' covers social services. However, the point is made that there are bodies that ought specifically to be included in the reviews. As I said, despite the reservations that I have expressed, I support the clause.
A number of very important points have been made in a helpful debate, and I will seek to answer them all one by one.
The guidance is not yet written. The guidance mentioned in the extract from debate in another place that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham quoted was guidance about reviews into child deaths. However, I can respond to her point positively by saying that when the guidance issued under the clause is written there will be wide consultation because we want to get the guidance right and we want everybody to buy into it. Buying into the sort of process that we are discussing is not achieved simply by changing a law. It is necessary to build it, bit by bit. The consultation on the guidance is part of that general work, which will be done throughout the voluntary sector and all the statutory agencies.
I am delighted to hear that the right hon. and learned Lady will consult on the guidance. That will also be widely welcomed by the organisations that have briefed Committee members. However, will she ensure that there is sufficient time for the consultation? Many recent Home Office consultation
processes have been truncated. I would like an assurance that the statutory guidelines set by the Government themselves at 12 weeks will not be breached in this instance.
I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that the guidance will not be rushed out. By the same token, I hope that later she will not complain that we did not get the guidance out quickly enough. One of the reasons why the Bill did not come before the Commons sooner is because we wanted to consult everybody; we wanted everyone to have an opportunity to suggest what should go into it. We were therefore a tad disappointed when the hon. Lady asked what had kept us so long from bringing the Bill before the House. I assure the hon. Lady that we were not resting on our laurels; we were consulting and we will do that on the guidance, too. We will consult extensively, not only with those to whom the guidance will apply, but with all the other people who might not be brought within the Act but whom we want to participate. We want everybody to understand what is going to happen. Families, friends and organisations will know because they will have heard the discussions about the consultation. They will know that the change is happening and that they may have a role to play. It is important to get that right and it is important to consult on it. It is no good achieving a state of perfection in Committee and in legislation unless we also achieve change on the ground.
As for the conclusion of reviews, it will probably depend case by case, but I think that the hon. Lady is right that, even where the agencies have discussed something, evidence may come up in a criminal case that of which they had not been aware and which changes their understanding of the situation and their conclusion. I do not think that, once concluded, reviews will be put on the shelf. The agencies will be expected to learn lessons from the moment that they start discussions. If there are further lessons to be learned, they will have to be fed back into the review process.
The hon. Lady asked about Scotland. She was absolutely right—not having people to brief her or organise her research is not doing her any harm because she made a very good point. People go backwards and forwards across the border and, if the homicide occurs in England or Wales, there will be questions about information that may have arisen in Scotland, and vice versa. Next month—and, if not, in September—representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service and I will discuss with my good friend and colleague the Solicitor-General for Scotland, Elish Angiolini, her colleagues and various agencies how we work across the border not only on domestic homicides and the reviews thereafter, but on many issues.
A number of points were raised about the cultural aspects of the cases in question. It is important that people do not shrink from that issue, as it needs to be considered and understood. There needs to be greater understanding of the extra difficulties for victims who come from abroad, have no friends or family, do not speak from English, or do not go out to work but stay in the household. The lesson that agencies need to
learn from victims in that situation is that they need to be extra alert and that they must seize the opportunity to help people who might have difficulty escaping from domestic violence.
In relation to the perpetrator, I think that we should have no sensitivity at all to the cultural aspect. Grievous bodily harm is grievous bodily harm, whether it takes place in an Irish household, a white middle-class household, an Asian household or an African household. Whether the crime is manslaughter, murder or malicious wounding, the penalty for all perpetrators must be the same. The law must apply equally to everybody. We have no cultural sensitivity to the perpetrator, but we have exceptional cultural sensitivity to the victim to help us understand how we can protect victims in the future.
In the homicide reviews carried out during the last two years in London, the Metropolitan police have identified six risk factors. Of those, family honour being at issue is one of the risk factors for homicide reviews, so they are making it clear to the police in London that they must be alert to that and respond to the issue positively rather than feeling that they do not know how to handle the situation.
Is that the same risk assessment that, when used retrospectively, showed that two murders had been assessed as low risk? Does the right hon. Lady accept that there may be a danger that while it is easy to spot the high risk, it could be easy to become complacent about the low risk and that we must guard against that?
Obviously, one of the review's purposes is to identify and to try to distinguish those cases in which there is a serious risk of escalation. I will get to what those factors are and where there is a very high risk. I have referred briefly to the cultural aspects.
A number of colleagues asked how lessons are to be learned. If all the agencies sit down with the voluntary sector and talk about a case, and the GP, the representative from A and E and someone from the school comes and the police and the prosecutors are present, people will immediately learn in terms of how they work together. The very fact of having the review is therefore a step forward from where we are now, which is that everyone disappears and no one comes together.
It absolutely would. That needs to be made widely known when a review is being conducted so that there will be two aspects: first, people have to see whether they have any knowledge of the family or the circumstances; secondly, others might be aware that they have something to contribute to the review but are not one of the agencies. As my hon. Friend said, at that point they have the
opportunity to say, ''I know that you're having a review on this and I would like to say that you might not have known that she came to see her tutor.'' All the people invited to participate in a review should come forward.
Those who have not been invited, possibly because people did not know that they had had any involvement, need to be made aware, by its being made widely known that there is a review, so that those who are not directed to come forward can do so and give their information to the review. That might mean a trade union representative from a woman's workplace: the employee may have said to her trade union representative, ''I daren't say that I'm off sick again but I can't face coming in because I have to go and see the doctor about my broken rib.'' There are all sorts of circumstances.
Lessons will be learned by people getting together and discussing matters. Partnership working is extremely important. Hon. Members have said that one of the objectives of learning lessons is to deal with the frustration and despair of bereaved relatives who think that what has happened to them could happen all over again. It helps if there is an element of restorative justice. I remember a domestic homicide case in which the relatives wanted the law changed on provocation. The woman had been killed because she said to her husband that she had feelings for a karate instructor, and he was convicted not of murder but of manslaughter by reason of provocation. People think that even if they can never bring back the person they have lost, they want lessons to be learned and things to move forward. The domestic homicide reviews will contribute towards that.
The restorative justice element is exceedingly important. Given that a coroner's hearing is held in public, is it the Government's thinking that there would be public pronouncements on the reviews? Would the findings be publicly available?
Although I have said that there will be consultation on the guidance, I do not think that it is proposed that the reviews should be held in public. We do not want lessons to be learned just by those sitting round the table, however; we want them to be learned more widely. There is the question of how to draw to one side sensitive information that might involve identification, or confidential information relating to people who are still alive, so that that can happen. Certainly, we need to ensure that lessons can be brought to Ministers' attention, and that they can make what they learn public without treading on sensitive, personal matters. Matters warrant that description not because they relate to the protection of the reputation of agencies, but because they relate to people who are still alive and entitled to confidentiality.
On confidentiality, I do not think that data protection is the problem, because the Data Protection Act 1998 allows information to be shared when it is for the avoidance of crime. The legislation is sufficiently wide. However, professional confidentiality
is a major problem. Different professions have a different sense of the confidentiality requirement—and not just in the context of people in the family who are still alive: some professionals believe that they must protect the confidentiality of somebody even after that person has been killed. We have had situations in which somebody has said that she went to her GP six times, but the GP will not tell us what happened because it is confidential. Others will say, ''She might have had a right to confidentiality, but now she is dead, and we want the opportunity to learn lessons.''
The issues of professional confidentiality and the obligation to disclose are very difficult and are at the heart of this subject, as they are at the heart of child protection. A great deal of work is taking place in the Home Office, between Departments, and between professional organisations on how to resolve the obligation to disclose and the obligation to maintain confidentiality. In addition, the president of the family division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, and I are chairing a working party on the disclosure and exchange of information between the civil jurisdiction of the family courts and the criminal courts. We are working on that issue all the time.
Everybody needs to ask themselves the question, ''What in my judgment is the best thing to do in this case? Should I keep things secret because of my professional confidentiality? Or is it worse to keep a secret when it might put somebody in more danger?'' The important thing is for people to feel that they are confident about making judgments in each and every case. I know that that is much easier said than done.
The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham raised the question of costs and mentioned the regulatory impact statement. In Cardiff, it was estimated that the external consultant cost £6,000, but that was quite apart from all the extra work that the agencies had to put in. When I was in Walsall last week, the West Midlands police told me that they anticipated that any review that they led would be part of their mainstream work. The review is about learning lessons and risk prevention, and so they would expect it to be a good opportunity to have the wash-up that they would have anyway, and get other agencies in. When I asked the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review after a domestic homicide, it wrote to all the agencies and asked them to write back with what they knew. It then held one meeting. We will have to see how things go. I do not think that there will be a national blueprint. We have some examples from the Metropolitan police, one from Cardiff and one or two from other areas. We will have to determine which models are best.
It is difficult to identify the cost, as there will be great variation. Depending on the complexity of the case, the review might not be a high-cost activity. On the other hand, it could be extremely costly. We will just have to consider each one. It is difficult to come up with an average, because the cost will depend on the case and on how local people organise the review. We will put the overarching framework in guidance, but we want people to work out at local level how best to put it into practice.
I appreciate that the proposal is embryonic and that we are moving towards the framework and the ultimate guidance, on which the Solicitor-General will consult. However, I want to satisfy myself that there will not be financial impediments to thorough reviews. It goes without saying that many organisations, particularly local authorities and police authorities, believe that they are short of money. If the Secretary of State were to authorise a particularly complex, large and costly review to be carried out with, say, a local authority taking the lead, I would not want there to be a financial barrier. Instead, I would hope that the Home Office or some other Department would offer a financial resource on which that body could draw. Otherwise, the review might be found wanting because of its excessive cost. That was the sort of assurance I was seeking from the Solicitor-General. I do not think that it is unreasonable.
For the most part, the reviews are not about people looking for new information but about people getting together and sharing information about their involvement; that will be the nature of the reviews. I agree with the hon. Lady when she says that the aim is to spend to save. Investing people's time after a homicide will save lives, but the estimate is that it will also save money. The idea is to learn lessons and intervene earlier, and to identify risk factors and stop their escalating. The analysis done by Cardiff shows that earlier intervention saves repeat calls to the police and repeat victimisation. We are not yet clear on what the costs or savings will be; we will have to keep an eye on that.
It was said at one point that only the Home Secretary will be able to initiate reviews. That is not the case. Only the Home Secretary can direct, but anyone can initiate. For the most part, the Home Secretary will not direct, because someone somewhere in the local system will have said, ''We need a review.'' It would be depressing if, having established that that was the way in which people should go about it, that does not happen and the Home Secretary has to direct. Anyone can initiate a review, whether or not they are one of the organisations identified in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) mentioned the role of the voluntary sector and told the Committee that the review in Cardiff was carried out by the NSPCC and the police. I pay tribute to their conduct of the review, which I have considered and examined thoroughly. Under this legislation, anyone can take the lead in such a review. If it were a wildly inappropriate choice, the Home Secretary might direct somebody else to take the lead, but we do not expect that. Where voluntary agencies are well placed to take the lead, are trusted by the all other agencies and are the preferred option, they might take the lead on their own, or in partnership with a statutory agency as happened in Cardiff.
My hon. Friend also said that statutory agencies have larger budgets. We are talking about 130 cases a year, which is not a huge number. For a police force, that might take a relatively small proportion of their
overall budget, but for a small voluntary organisation, such as Victim Support in a small town, the cost might be a huge issue if it participated or took the lead. Voluntary bodies are financed in many different ways by many different organisations, and we shall have to see how we respond to ensure that they play their part. It is essential that Victim Support, Women's Aid, women's groups and other community groups that might have a role to play in these reviews can come forward and not be restricted by money.
I am slightly confused. The Bill contains a list of the bodies that can participate in the reviews, but the Solicitor-General is saying that anybody can initiate a review. What status would the review have if it were not conducted by one of the bodies on the list?
If the local agencies felt that a review was necessary in a domestic homicide case and they all thought that the local NSPCC, which is not listed in the clause, was the best body to lead it, that could be decided. The clause is about the Home Secretary's powers to direct, so it is not exclusive. Anybody can initiate a review and any organisation can lead it. It is simply a question of whether the Home Secretary can direct. He is only directing the organisations in the list, although he might be able to amend it if need be.
The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) mentioned the Greater London domestic violence project. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to it and, in particular, to Davina James-Hanman and all who work in it. They have done a great deal of work, especially with the Metropolitan police, who have stepped forward on this issue in a way that would have been inconceivable 10 or 15 years ago. I am not sure what the hon. Lady was quoting from, because I did not recognise it.
I think that the project does fantastic work, but the risk assessment that emerged from the Metropolitan police reviews of domestic homicides in London identified six risk factors. We all spend a lot of time thinking about domestic violence and most of us here are well informed about domestic violence. If I asked members of the Committee and you, Mr. Benton, to name the six risk factors for domestic homicide, we would probably quickly produce the same list, but the system has to understand those risk factors and we have to build an objective case for them.
One of the six risk factors—the times when women are particularly vulnerable—is pregnancy or a new baby. It is depressing that that should be one of the risk factors. Another is honour killings, which I have already mentioned. Another is if stalking or sexual offending is involved. Another dangerous time is around separation or divorce. A fifth is where there is repeat violence that is escalating in severity. I cannot remember the sixth.
If we were asked to guess the risk factors, we might guess those correctly, but we have to institutionalise an understanding and ensure that it is rational and
objective. We all have a hunch: we could all say, ''Oh, we know that anyway''. But the system does not know it, and we do not know it with any objectivity. It is important that we try scientifically to identify risk. Family and friends need to know that a review is taking place and they need to be able to contribute. I have said already that there will not be a national blueprint about who could lead the review, but it could be done from the voluntary or health sector.
Coroners are likely to come into the picture only after a homicide. The reviews are for the agencies to understand what they could have done before the homicide. However, to the extent that coroners might receive information that may not have appeared anywhere else in the system, it will be important to work out how such information can be shared with the homicide review. I will look into how we shall ensure that that channel of communication is open.
I hope that I have dealt with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) about people who want to step forward. The point is that we must make it known that the review is taking place so that people who are not under direction know that they can participate.
The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) asked why the Home Secretary would need to amend the list. There are two reasons. First, definitions change and names change; the National Offender Management Service may change the name of local probation boards. We can be certain that most of the names in the list will change shortly. Secondly, organisational structures also change; we are seeing that in relation to children. Sometimes the substance of an organisation will change. We may have missed something obvious from the list, which we will work out later on.
I have answered the question about who can trigger a review: anyone can.
I was asked about social services. They come under local authorities. We have not specially mentioned them, but they need to be especially involved. They will be important contributors to the reviews not on all, but on many occasions.
Although we have been discussing the awful issue of people being killed, usually by a husband or boyfriend or former husband or boyfriend, and the awful issue of children being killed at the same time as domestic violence takes place, we can be optimistic that we can help and that clause 7 will be part of helping to bring about a culture change so that we do not just wring our hands and say, ''Domestic violence: well, it's been going on since Moses came down from the mountain, and there's nothing we can do about it,'' and walk away.
We in the Committee all feel that domestic violence is something that should not happen in the 21st century, and we cannot let it continue unchallenged. The clause is part of the carrying out of the report's conclusions. For many people, it has been a surprise to hear that two women are killed every week, and they say, ''Good heavens, is it really
two?'' As a result of domestic homicide reviews, they will know not only that two women are killed but the circumstances in which they were killed, and they might think about how they, too, could be part of preventing that. The reviews will be important as part of the culture change in the country and will create change in the agencies, so that everybody feels that they have a role to play in the prevention of escalation. We need to prevent the escalation of violence, which leads to so many tragic—and, many now believe—preventable deaths.
I thank the Solicitor-General for a thoroughly comprehensive response to the points raised by both sides of the Committee. Her response was impressive, and I am grateful for the detail that she put into it.
There are still some outstanding issues from previous amendments, and I look forward to considering those, particularly the withdrawn amendments, on Report on the Floor of the House. I hope that the Solicitor-General will consider the suggestions made when we debated the amendments. I thank her for making sure that we fully understand, and she should be in no doubt that there is total support, across the board, for the reviews.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.