HC Deb 06 July 1998 vol 315 cc727-8
7. Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

What representations she has received on the impact of the Government's proposed crime and disorder legislation on women. [47474]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women (Ms Joan Ruddock)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Women's organisations, many of which depend on volunteers, do not find it easy to enter into partnerships with public bodies such as local authorities and the police. In their representations, women's organisations have made the point that there is not enough working together of all the key players, including women's organisations. The provisions in the Crime and Disorder Bill for effective inter-agency working should, we believe, address these problems.

Mrs. Mahon

My hon. Friend will be aware that one of these organisations, the Women's Refuge Movement, undertakes valuable work on domestic violence. However, quite often it does not get the co-operation at local level that we would all like to see. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the national guidelines for co-operation between local authorities, women's refuges and the police are implemented?

Ms Ruddock

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and I want to give her the reassurance that she seeks. Co-operation at local level, as my hon. Friend says, between different agencies has not always been as good as it might be. For the first time, a statutory duty will be placed on local authorities and the police to create partnerships to tackle crime. One of the main duties of these partnerships will be to undertake audits to establish local crime statistics and experiences, with the idea that crime should be reduced. In looking to devise those audits and carry them out, we expect that women's organisations will be able to give valuable expertise to the other partners that they might otherwise lack. I give the assurance that domestic violence will be one of the crimes that we regard as extremely serious and that we shall give guidance on the new partnerships.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

The Home Secretary gave a clear commitment to the House that women victims in rape cases would not be cross-examined by the defendant. Has that commitment been dropped and overturned by him?

Last week, there was the tragic suicide of a woman prisoner. Will the Government now be minded to support my Prevention of Delay in Trials Bill, which provides that women should not be kept on remand for more than 110 days before being brought to trial?

Ms Ruddock

I am sure that the hon. Lady should properly direct that question to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I certainly have no knowledge of any change of heart on his part. We have made recommendations about the treatment of rape victims and they are now being consulted on. I will, of course, refer the hon. Lady's remarks to my right hon. Friend, and I undertake to write to her in due course.