HC Deb 30 November 1998 vol 321 cc521-3
2. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

What steps he is taking to reduce the incidence of violence in the home. [61089]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)

We are taking forward a range of measures to achieve that, in collaboration with a number of colleagues across Departments. In particular, we have made it clear that we expect the local crime and disorder audits being carried out under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to address domestic violence, and we are working on a cross-departmental awareness campaign for England and Wales, to be launched in the new year.

Helen Jackson

Every day last year in Sheffield, a woman had to be rehoused, having lost her home because of domestic violence. Three quarters of cases reported to the police also involved children. We must recognise that far more than double that number experience violence in the home, but do not report it. I congratulate the Government on making violence against women one of the key points in the recent policy document "Delivering for Women". However, what practical steps is the Minister taking to ensure that homes are safe places for women and children, and not safe havens for violent criminals as they currently appear to be?

Kate Hoey

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She may be aware that research has been commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security and the women's unit to look into the accommodation and support services available to those who suffer domestic violence. The research includes a survey of refuges and a comprehensive view of provision by local authorities. It will be completed late next year.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

How many local authorities and police forces have set up domestic violence units? Will the Minister confirm that none of those units is expected to close as a result of resources being devoted to other laudable anti-crime and disorder initiatives that are flowing from recent legislation?

Kate Hoey

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like an exact answer to his question and I am prepared to write to him as I do not have the precise information here.

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough)

Does the Minister agree that 400 women's refuges in England and 45 in Wales are not enough to help victims of domestic violence? Does she agree that we really need tougher sentencing in the courts so that the people who commit the crimes do not get away with it?

Kate Hoey

As my hon. Friend knows, the Government treat crimes of violence committed in the home very seriously. Those crimes damage the family and society as a whole, and we are determined that they will be taken seriously. The review that I have mentioned is also considering long-term arrangements to achieve a fair balance between demands on housing benefits and other sources of funding. That may mean that local authorities will find that the cost of providing refuges, which may be more initially, results in savings in the long term. We do not want resources to be a reason why women—or men—have nowhere to which to flee if they are in danger.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

One problem, which the hon. Lady may already know of, is that men and, particularly, women who suffer domestic violence withdraw their complaints when they get near or arrive at the court stage. What can she do to assist such people in maintaining their complaints all the way to a verdict?

Kate Hoey

The hon. and learned Gentleman is right. He will welcome the new criminal justice measures in the Queen's Speech, which will help vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, including those who have suffered and survived domestic violence.