HC Deb 23 March 1998 vol 309 cc3-4
3. Ms Squire

If she will make a statement on the Government's plans to tackle violence against women. [340441]

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

The Ministers for Women have been working with Ministers from across Government Departments on this issue. A national strategy for England and Wales on tackling all forms of violence against women will be published in the autumn. The Scottish Office is producing a strategy on tackling all forms of violence against women in Scotland, along the same lines as the national strategy.

Ms Squire

I welcome my hon. Friend's statement about a national strategy. Is she aware that the demand for refuge accommodation by victims of domestic violence throughout England, Wales and Scotland has increased? For example, last year, in Dunfermline, 246 women had to be turned away, and throughout Scotland more than 4,000 women and 6,000 children were turned away because of a lack of suitable accommodation. Does she agree that there is no excuse for violent criminal behaviour that causes women and children to flee their homes and that it is vital that combating domestic violence remains a Government priority?

Ms Ruddock

One of the prerequisites of any effective national strategy is access to accurate statistics. In our early discussions between Departments, we found many gaps. My hon. Friend will wish to know that in Scotland a research survey was commissioned by the Scottish Office to review service provision for women who had suffered domestic violence. It was published on 16 March.

I wish to announce to the House today that, with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, our women's unit is commissioning a survey and a research report that will review the current accommodation and support needs of women fleeing domestic violence in England. Local authorities and the Women's Aid Federation (England) Ltd. will be involved and we will ensure that our Scottish colleagues are kept informed of the methods and results.

Mrs. Gillan

Given the concern about violence against women, will the Minister tell us whether she agrees with the Secretary of State for Social Security, who believes that it is only by appointing more women judges that the Government can show that they are taking domestic violence seriously, or with the Lord Chancellor who, when putting down the Secretary of State, said that We cannot have positive discrimination in making judicial appointments and that he had the fullest confidence that all judges, regardless of gender, already deal with cases of domestic violence with impartiality and consideration for the victims of domestic violence"? I can see the Secretary of State prompting the Minister. Will she tell us independently who she agrees with the Secretary of State or the Lord Chancellor?

Ms Ruddock

I assure the hon. Lady that we are all concerned with achieving equality of opportunity. The Lord Chancellor has made it absolutely clear that he believes that more women should have the opportunity to reach the highest levels in the court and justice system. We are all engaged in that and we have every confidence that, whatever judge is sitting on domestic violence issues, justice will be done.