HL Deb 26 October 1992 vol 539 cc984-1010

8.36 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their response to the report on domestic violence by the inter-agency working party formed by Victim Support.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to ask this Unstarred Question I very much welcome the fact that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth is going to make his maiden speech.

The issue I am raising tonight is concerned with violence. It relates in particular to attacks by men on the women with whom they live. It is for a variety of reasons a crime which has received far too little public attention. In the past women were often far too frightened to come forward and complain to the police about what their men were doing to them. Indeed, in a number of cases that remains true to the present day. When they did come forward they often refused to give evidence in court. In those circumstances it was perhaps inevitable that many of the social agencies involved, including the police, gave a relatively low priority to cases of this kind. They certainly did their best to calm things down but they were heavily extended in other areas. If the victims persistently refused to give evidence against their assailants, what more, the police sometimes asked, could they do about it.

There has undoubtedly been some improvement in the recent past concerning this general approach. There are two fundamental reasons for this. First, fewer women are now prepared to tolerate repeated acts of domestic violence. As a result of that more cases are being reported. Secondly, there has been a significant alteration in police attitudes in many forces. They are not only prepared to record episodes of domestic violence but many forces, including in particular the Metropolitan Police, arc now making substantial resources available to help women who are prepared to report attacks by their husbands or partners.

Perhaps I may deal first with the scale of the present problem. Just about half of all homicides of women are killings by a husband or partner. One-third of reported crimes against women result from acts of domestic violence. As the report that we are debating points out, domestic violence is far more frequent than violence against women in the street, the pub or the workplace.

It would be useful to illustrate the effect of some new police procedures in relation to the numbers of reported acts of domestic violence. In June 1987 a new Metropolitan Police policy was laid down in a force order. It addressed the intervention role of police officers who are called to such incidents. Henceforth, there would be a positive arrest policy. Instructions were laid down as to the support to be given to the victim, on follow-up action and on liaison with other agencies. Domestic violence units have now been established. There are 62 such units in divisions in the Metropolitan Police. They are staffed by 126 officers.

The effects of the new policy have been striking. Last year the Metropolitan Police received over 30,000 calls from people stating that they had been subject to domestic violence. A 66 per cent. increase in such offences was recorded. In the first six months of this year there has been a further 34 per cent. increase.

I am sure that all noble Lords welcome the fact that more women are coming forward to report such crimes, although they represent a most disturbing commentary on the character of our society. In the main we are talking about repeated assaults, not isolated acts of violence. We are talking about punching, biting, blows with weapons and sometimes far more sadistic attacks.

In Canada research indicates that on average a woman is assaulted on over 30 occasions before the police are called. In this country it is probable that the figure is also a disturbingly high one.

The problems facing a woman in such a situation cannot be overestimated. It is often difficult for her to contemplate a life outside the relationship. What is she going to do? She may have no means of earning money and in the current economic situation she may find earning a livelihood of her own impossible, even if she has some form of qualification. If she has children, she will often have to take them to temporary overcrowded accommodation. If she fears that a vengeful husband will try to follow her, she may have to go to an area with which she is not familiar, finding new schools for her children and often being compelled to live in the direst poverty. If she comes from one of the minority communities her situation is, if anything, a great deal worse.

The police and other agencies involved clearly face formidable problems in dealing with women in those circumstances. First, if the man is arrested, arrangements have to be made, sometimes at extremely short notice, to deal with the bail application the following morning. Obviously in cases of most grievous assault the man will almost certainly he remanded in custody. However, in other cases it will be necessary for applications for bail conditions to be imposed, in particular for a special condition requiring the defendant not to return to the family home or to seek either directly or indirectly to make contact with either the woman or her children. In other cases the woman and the children will have to be moved out of the family home and lodged in a hostel, run perhaps by a women's group, or she may have to go to some form of local authority accommodation which may be a significant distance away. The police will have to continue their support until the eventual trial.

I have had the opportunity of discussing the matter with a number of officers of the Metropolitan Police who are involved with this work. I have been deeply impressed by their quality. I found them to be caring and compassionate people, wholly committed to the distressed women with whom they deal. I have no doubt that the burden which they carry is a very substantial one, and I find it hard to believe that there are any officers more dedicated in the police service. However, they, I am sure, would be the first to recognise the difficulty which confronts us all when we endeavour to establish a clear set of priorities when dealing with this issue. The working party has performed a most useful service in setting out an agenda for action. It is to the recommendations in the report that I now turn.

I should like to deal first with the criminal law. I have already dealt at some length with the policy of the Metropolitan Police. I should be grateful if the noble Earl could tell us what discussions are taking place with ACPO and the Inspectorate of Constabulary as to how the issue is being handled by forces outside the major conurbations which would not necessarily be able to replicate the precise arrangements that exist in London. It would be helpful if the noble Earl could deal with that matter. I am well aware of the existence of the Home Office circular and I am also aware that many chief officers now attach a high priority to this form of crime.

I should now like to deal with the probation service. The working party, which included a representative of the probation service, has recommended that its management should promote good practice when supervising an offender to ensure that staff do not collude with the perpetrators in minimising the seriousness of the violence. Clearly, that situation has very substantial implications as far as training in the probation service is concerned. Probation officers will have to bear in mind that they have a direct responsibility to ensure, in so far as they can, the safety of the abused woman. I hope that the noble Earl will tell us what can be done by the Home Office and the probation inspectorate in dealing with that recommendation.

The Crown Prosecution Service was represented by observers on the working party. It is suggested that the CPS should publish its policy guidelines on the prosecution of these offences to ensure that such cases should not be withdrawn too easily. I am sure that all noble Lords would like to know whether the CPS is prepared to accept that recommendation.

I now turn to the position of the civil law and the courts, which are the responsibility of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. The working party suggests that if evidence would potentially justify adding a power of arrest to an injunction, then an undertaking should never be seen as an adequate substitute. It urges that a power of arrest should be added as a general rule whenever there has been actual bodily harm.

The working party makes another significant recommendation—that the powers of the magistrates' court and the county court should be brought into line so that, whatever a woman's marital status or living arrangements may be, she can get a protection order under the same legislation in either court. We should like to hear the views of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on that matter.

The issue of housing is of critical importance to the abused woman and her children. I have been told by the police that a number of local authorities handle these distressing cases in a sensitive and intelligent manner, but inevitably that is not always the case. The working party urged that trained women staff should also be available within homelessness sections to interview those women in private; that bed and breakfast provision should be used for a limited period only, preferably in women and children only accommodation; that there should be a specific refuge liaison officer in each such section; and that information should be made available about the existence of Women's Aid as well as other local support services. Those are important recommendations. They are part of the responsibility of the Secretary of State for the Environment, and I shall be pleased to know what action that department is taking to discuss those matters with the local authority associations.

Finally, there are issues involving other government departments. Some abused women obviously still do not report such offences to the police. They may, for instance, go directly to the outpatients' department of a local hospital. As the working party points out, many of those departments do not have social workers assigned to them. It is obviously desirable, whenever possible—I understand the constraint on public expenditure—to have such social workers available so that the women involved could have their problems referred to the agencies which exist to assist them. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell us what is the position of the Department of Health in respect of that recommendation. There is of course another important issue—the financing of women's refuges, many of which are woefully underfunded. Again, I recognise the problem of central government expenditure and the financial problems facing local authorities, but it is most unsatisfactory that many of the refuges experience the greatest difficulty in making ends meet. I know that we are all interested to know what action can be taken to deal with that matter.

Beyond the working party's recommendations to which I have already referred and the many others on which I shall not touch because of the time limitation, there is one issue of central importance to which I hope the Minister will apply himself. It is that there should be a clearly defined department willing to accept the responsibility of taking the lead on domestic violence. I have already mentioned four separate government departments, each with its own responsibility and each to some extent working in isolation. I hope that the Minister will tell us, at the very least, that officials from all the departments involved will be brought together, preferably under Home Office chairmanship—the issues we are discussing are primarily matters involving the criminal justice system—to formulate a response to the working party's recommendations and all the issues which will undoubtedly be ventilated during the debate.

I have no doubt that the Government are as disturbed as any of us about the extent of domestic violence in this country and about the thousands of frightened women and children who as we speak are suffering from the conduct of violent men. We require an assurance that, despite the country's present immense difficulties and the inevitable public expenditure implications, speedy action will be taken to implement many of the report's important recommendations.

8.54 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My Lords, I rise to speak with some trepidation. It seems incongruous that a maiden speech should concern itself with domestic violence. I am also aware of the lateness of the hour when bed begins to beckon. I hope, however, that I shall not imitate the bishop who dreamt that he was addressing your Lordships' House and when he woke up found that he was.

The publication of the report marks a significant advance in raising public and political awareness of a problem which has for long been with us but which has, until recently, been treated as one of the unmentionables of our society. So I join those who welcome warmly the work done so thoroughly and comprehensively by Mary Tuck and her working party. It is not of course the first or only exploration of this especially nasty form of human behaviour. The Churches have, for some time, recognised the need for study and action. Their ministers and pastoral workers are only too familiar with incidents of domestic violence since it is to them that many victims naturally turn in their distress. It is also by them that the horrid secrets of an apparently tranquil home may be discovered and confronted.

So it is perhaps surprising that there is no reference in the report to the experience of the Churches or other faith communities. Nor is consideration given to their potential as partners in combating domestic violence. It is of course true that the Church itself has not and is not always free of wrong attitudes of behaviour by men towards women, although a distorted patriarchy is a betrayal of the Christian gospel, for that points towards the relationship between the sexes which is based upon mutual respect and service and true equality of status in the eyes of God. It is that that Christians uphold and proclaim when they are true to their founder.

But domestic violence cannot be confronted by the Churches alone, and the role of the statutory and voluntary agencies rightly features large in the report. I look forward to a positive reply from the Minister on behalf of the Government in respect of the report's recommendations, for those who commit acts of domestic violence should be held properly accountable to society for their actions. The law must provide adequate protection for those who are their victims.

As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, there is a serious inadequacy which is highlighted by the working party. It is the patchy and underfunded provision of refuges. That requires the Government's urgent attention. The need for refuges is not confined to urban areas. An archbishops' commission, in its report Faith in the Countryside, indicates that special difficulties are experienced by women and families in rural areas where undue domination by the male seems to be more marked than in cities.

Another group, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out, for whom help is required is the black and ethnic minority group. The needs of those women who are especially vulnerable can be met adequately only by specialist provision which is sensitive to the background and specific needs of the group. Some of those are spelt out in the recommendation of Southall Black Sisters to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice.

Much more important than dealing with the results of domestic violence is to work for its prevention and to establish conditions in our society which make it as unthinkable as slavery. One of the most urgent practical means towards that end is the provision of adequate, permanent, safe and affordable accommodation. The case for that is well made in the report. Its lack creates the conditions in which overcrowding and impermanence lead easily to violence in the home. Closely related to that is the frustration of those who lack security and a sense of self worth because of their being unemployed. Add boredom and the circumstances are just right for men to take out their feelings on those who share their homes. No matter what legal measures are provided to deal with physical abuse in the home, they will not in my view significantly reduce its incidence until there is much greater employment in this country, as well as the additional housing which I have mentioned.

I spoke earlier of the Church as a potential partner in combating violence. I believe the Church has a peculiarly important contribution to make, not solely or even primarily in the socio-political sphere but in its fundamental task of proclaiming the Christian Gospel for this teaches the infinite worth of every individual person as one created in the image of God; body, mind and soul. Therefore, respect, even reverence, is due to each one regardless of gender, age, race, nation or creed.

There is surely a great need to recover a sense of reverence or respect in this generation. Nothing seems to be held sacred any more and religion, royalty and reticence in matters to do with sex are all equally open to public debunking and the pillory of the media. How can young people in particular learn a proper awe for the mystery of life when Jesus Christ is presented as a hippy puppet? How can they develop respect for the time-honoured institutions which give stability to this nation when members of the royal family are at the mercy of peeping Toms? How can they have respect for a woman when her body is so exploited for titillation and commercial gain? Moreover, it has become fashionable to debunk authority of every kind and an unhealthy delight seems to be taken in some quarters in revealing the failings of politicians, officers of the law, teachers and clergy. In this way confidence is undermined as many people find it difficult to distinguish between an important public office and its all too human holder.

As Churches and other religious organisations are founded upon reverence for the Creator they are in a good position to contribute to society something of their sense of reverence and so help people recover that proper respect upon which all healthy human relationships depend. The Church already has some opportunity to do this in the education, training and formation of its own members as well as in the important work of preparing couples for marriage. However, even that is an uphill task given the influence in every home of both the press and the broadcasting media.

Much that one reads or sees seems to encourage rather than discourage domestic violence. Those who are responsible for portraying gender roles, particularly on television, perhaps need to be asked whether we are presented with enough positive images of men positively caring for their wives, partners and children or whether we are presented with images of women who are sufficiently confident and competent to negotiate their way in the trickier and more demanding aspects of relationships.

How far does prime time viewing depend upon crude macho-style stereotypes of men or equally crude victim-style stereotypes of women to improve ratings? There are, of course, other ways in which some attitudes, assumptions and practices of western society undermine respect for the individual human being and are inimical to Christian and religious values. I conclude by quoting from a submission by Church leaders to the Canadian panel on violence against women which stated in March this year: We believe that churches, sensitive to spiritual and other dimensions of human relations, can contribute to the solution of violence against women. Many abused women turn to clergy and pastoral care workers, not only for practical help but also with questions about self-esteem, their personal dignity and their relationship with God. Our people are becoming better able to respond to those needs and to offer comfort and healing to all involved. Together with medical, legal and other community resources, the churches can contribute to an effective and integrated response".

I hope we shall encourage them to do so.

9.5 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his excellent and informative maiden speech. I do so because my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley is not able to be present today although his name appears on the speakers' list. Normally he would have congratulated the right reverend Prelate. However, it is appropriate that I should congratulate the right reverend Prelate because a 17th century forebear of mine contributed to debates upon episcopacy at a time when there was a strong movement to remove the bishops from Parliament.

My ancestor coined what I believe is the only quotation to be found in the dictionary of well known phrases which can be attributed to a member of my family. He was a well educated man and the phrase was quite simple. It was, "When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change". That dictum has become axiomatic in political life and I am glad to say that in respect of bishops my forebear's advice was heeded and the right reverend Prelate is with us today making his excellent speech.

On behalf of the whole House I must say I hope to hear him speak on many occasions in the future. I have read the right reverend Prelate's potted biography in Dod and I note he is a man of many activities. He is about the same age as I—1935 was a good year. That was probably because those of us who lived then had to endure the rigours of wartime food and we did not sit in front of television sets. We both look well for our age.

However, I do not feel quite so cheerful as regards this report. I have read it through several times. I do not know whether it is the report's colour, general printing or tone that does not please me. I find much of the contents interesting but the foreword was somewhat daunting. It concludes in a rather bold way: The essence of this report is that it is a statement of consensus from all the major organisations both voluntary and statutory who helped to produce it. It provides a clear, agreed and practical way forward in dealing with this huge social problem. Now all that remains is for its recommendations to be acted upon". I found that foreword daunting and I was disappointed to find that not a great deal was said in the report about the causes in society of this appalling problem of domestic violence.

The report is quite clear about its definition of domestic violence—that is, that domestic violence, as it figures in this report, is violence by males to women in a relationship—obviously a heterosexual relation-ship—whether it is marriage or some other relationship. It was felt that to include violence to children would unbalance the report. There is scant reference to the effect on children of violence in the home. I suppose that it is taken as read that we understand that children suffer, but I do not believe that sufficient emphasis is placed on that aspect. The report suggests that it is not a happy arrangement that social workers or others involved in these matters should deal with both abuse to children and violence towards women. Apparently that is too much for one expert to deal with.

I feel that it is not good enough to suggest that the reason for violence to women is that we live in a male dominated society. We all know that we live in a male dominated society and we understand the historical and cultural reasons for that. However, I am sure that there are male dominated societies in which violence of the kind we are considering does not necessarily occur. I do not say that it is not a strong contributory factor, but surely pressures of work, shortage of housing and other problems which the right reverend Prelate mentioned must play a part. In particular, I believe that the right reverend Prelate was right to mention the effect of the media and television and especially the crude stereotypes portrayed during prime time viewing. That is an equally powerful contributory factor to the violent behaviour that we see around us.

I am not speaking in this debate because I have a general interest in violence, although in London I have lived next door to a family in which very unpleasant violence occurred. It was predictable, usually occurred on a Saturday night, and usually resulted in the police being called. It was disturbing, to say the least, especially for residents new to the area. Unfortunately, one grows used to such disturbances.

The main reason why I wished to speak in this debate is that there is in the report no mention of alcohol except in one line of a section giving potted case histories of women who have suffered at the hands of males. One girl—I think her name is Sandra—thought that the man involved in her case might have had an alcohol problem but was afraid of raising the subject because she feared that he would beat her up.

I have met a number of alcoholics who have been treated both outside residential care and in residential I care. A high proportion of those people who have alcohol problems have been involved in domestic violence of this kind. Indeed, they have been encouraged to undertake residential care, whether publicly or privately funded, by concerned families. It seems that where there is an alcohol problem there is often also a problem of violence. I find it very strange that there is no mention in the report of alcohol as one of the causes of violence in the home. I feel particularly strongly about the matter because the Government have made certain changes to the community care arrangements in this country—your Lordships will be debating these on Wednesday—under which it seems possible that residential care for alcoholics and drug addicts will be hard to come by because the funding will not be available.

If groups such as the people who produced this report do not mention the part which alcohol has to play in the social problem which they deal with—and that applies also to other groups who deal with other social problems which can involve people suffering from alcohol related problems—is it any wonder that the Government do not appreciate the problem and have to be persuaded of its importance by those of us who are involved with the results of alcohol misuse? We have spent endless hours in your Lordships' House and in another place trying to persuade the Government that it is essential to reserve funding for the treatment of alcoholics in residential care and outside local authority control because local authorities have other priorities. Inevitably those people get left out.

If we allow most of the residential care centres for alcoholics in this country to close there will be an increase in violence in the home. I have spoken to Turning Point and Alcohol Concern on that very point. There are very few statistics, but they estimate that between 50 per cent. and 60 per cent. of all cases of violence to women in the home involve alcohol. The same percentage applies in the case of child abuse.

I shall not weary your Lordships further on that point at this late hour, but I take a rather jaundiced view of the document, not because of its style, which is typically and necessarily brief and bureaucratic, but because it does not mention one of the most important factors involved in violence—alcohol. It is much more important than it ever was in the case of football. We went on endlessly in this House about football. We spent large sums of public money on a pointless examination of violence and football. The involvement of alcohol in domestic violence is much more profound than it ever was in football violence.

I hope that in future anybody who is dealing with domestic violence, whether it be the worthy bodies which have contributed to this report or others, will take on board the fact that alcohol is a very important factor in the whole problem.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, from the Cross-Benches I too would like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. I think that for women it is good that they have a good shepherd to speak on their behalf. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this very important report on domestic violence.

First, I should like to pay a tribute to the late Baroness Phillips who was perhaps the greatest supporter in your Lordships' House of the victims of crime. Had she been alive today I am sure she would have been speaking in this debate. She will be greatly missed by many people, especially the women's groups for which she did so much.

The report states that the seriousness of domestic violence has not yet been sufficiently addressed by society. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for bringing it to the notice of your Lordships and giving us the chance to hear the Government's response. Some time ago in your Lordships' House I asked what the Government were doing to lessen the likelihood of rape. I had an amazing amount of letters and telephone calls from women who had had terrible experiences. Many had found that the help they needed was not always forthcoming. So often when people have been shocked and revolted they do not want to relive the experience. Often domestic violence takes place behind closed doors and children are involved who will bear the scars, perhaps for ever. Very often neighbours who may know something violent is going on do not want to get involved.

The working party consisted of inter-agency experts. To solve any difficult problems it is important that both statutory and voluntary agencies work together. When funds are short it is likely that the unfortunate victim who seeks help will be pushed from pillar to post. Domestic violence is perhaps the most difficult position in which the unfortunate individual can find herself. To leave home and perhaps find herself homeless with young children must he a very difficult decision to take. I applaud the recommendation in the report that some women should have sole rights to the occupation of their current home. To uproot children from their homes and friends can have long-lasting effects.

In present day society there seems to be a trend for many women to live with men without marital status. That complicates the woman's legal rights when the relationship ends in violence. She can lose her home, possessions and financial security. She feels guilty about uprooting the children and may remain homeless or in temporary accommodation for an extended period.

The report states that the whole matter of domestic violence is very complicated and can affect all aspects of a woman's life. Women need information about their rights and continuing support to overcome the many legal, practical and emotional hurdles that they face. One of the many recommendations of the report is that more resources should be made available to women's aid groups and refuges to provide out-reach services and drop-in centres to help support women in temporary accommodation.

What I do not feel the report covers adequately enough is the problem of alcohol abuse relating to domestic violence. I feel that if there were more detailed research undertaken on the causes of violent offences against women and children in the home alcohol would be found to play a substantial part in many of the cases. There should be far more places for treatment available where the abusers could be treated and rehabilitated should they agree to it. If not, most likely they will go on to abuse and beat up other women and the cycle of violence will continue. I echo the remarks of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, but it is of great importance to emphasise the point.

It is of great concern to many people working in the field of alcohol and drug abuse that the Government have said that the existing residential rehabilitation services will not be ring-fenced within the outer ring-fence of local authority social services departments. Alcohol and drug services feel threatened, as those services are so often at the bottom of local political priorities. But I consider that disruption and violence in the home can contribute greatly to the break-up of family harmony.

I come from a rural area and am pleased that the report has not forgotten women living in rural places. The report states that such women might find it extremely difficult to obtain effective help. There are fewer services and they have greater isolation and visibility to their abuser. In order to remain safe women in rural areas often need to be referred to refuges outside their local areas. There may well be a lack of choice, funding problems and stronger pressure not to take into the refuge women from outside the area.

The report highlights the lack of recognition by local authorities of the need for a truly national network of refuge provision and housing services as well as the vital importance of reciprocal arrangements and understanding. There is no statutory duty on local authorities to fund refuges. Therefore there will be a wide variation in services.

The report has not forgotten disabled people. Along with other women, disabled people sadly have the same or higher levels of breakdown and violence in their domestic life. One of the recommendations clearly states that funding should be identified to improve disabled access to existing refuges and full wheelchair access should be included in all future developments. What is suitable for a disabled person is suitable for anyone else to use. So often doors are too narrow and the lavatory is inaccessible. It is easy to have some ground-floor accommodation.

With so many women as members of the national inter-agency working party on domestic violence, I was surprised to find that mine was the only female voice in this debate. More and more women are standing up for themselves and will not tolerate domestic violence. But there are still many women who for many reasons, as stated in the report, cannot do so. I am pleased that Victim Support has addressed the issue. I hope that we shall receive a hopeful and helpful reply tonight from the noble Earl.

9.25 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, it is my pleasure as it is my privilege to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth on a truly excellent maiden speech, carefully thought out and full of food for thought. It was excellently delivered and continued a contribution which the Church has made to increasing public awareness of the subject and changing the climate of opinion—a contribution which has been in progress for over 300 years. I thank him for his speech.

My noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich will appreciate that it is conventional to thank the noble Lord who introduces an Unstarred Question. Some thanks are more heartfelt than others. I was once thanked for introducing an Unstarred Question by a noble Lord who promptly added, "When I first saw it on the Order Paper I confess that I did not feel particularly grateful." However, on this occasion I feel most grateful.

The importance of the subject is only just beginning to be recognised. The report is valuable. I take the points that my noble friend Lord Falkland made. I shall come to why gaps exist, but overall I believe the report to be excellent.

It is a pleasure, especially in these exciting times, to be discussing a subject that is not a matter of any profound party disagreement. I wish to express my appreciation of the responses that I have had from a number of people in the Government on this subject: from the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper; the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when she was at the Department of the Environment; and the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. Our hearts are all in the same place on this subject. It is useful to remember that.

As my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich said, it is also a subject that continually crosses the boundaries of ministries. I support what my noble friend said about the need to bring officials together. A number of cases in the report cross the boundaries of ministries. I hope that the noble Earl will consult my noble kinsman Lord Henley about the influence of housing benefit on this subject, and also his honourable friend Sir George Young on low-cost housing and the transfer from council housing in one local authority area to another. A good deal of the material in the report also crosses the boundary of the department run by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

The report has some interesting comments on the interaction of the subject with policies laid down under the Children Act and with the provisions for the matrimonial home made under the Child Support Act. I do not ask the noble Earl to answer those points which are outside his brief. However, I ask him to ensure, if he can, that there are consultations between ministries so that people can bring those points to each other's attention.

The subject divides into two areas: first, the problem of the woman who does not wish to leave the man; and, secondly, the problem of the woman who does wish to do so. Of the two, the first problem is a great deal thornier. I do not believe that we have clear ideas about what we wish to do with regard to that problem because we have not met the traditional army test of identifying our objective. That is because in such situations the woman herself has not yet identified her objective. She has a choice in front of her which she hopes will go away. Therefore she has not made up her mind what she wants to do. As a guiding principle for that part of the problem, I suggest that the wishes of the woman should be paramount. The reply might be that the woman is sometimes too cowed to be in a good position to form her own wishes. That is true, and we must address the problem of making it easier for her. However, I am not a believer in the nanny state.

I am always reluctant to set up the state as knowing someone's mind better than she knows it herself. I entirely agree with what the right reverend Prelate said about prevention; and with what my noble friend Lord Falkland said about causes. I agree entirely with my noble friend and with the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, about the crucial importance of alcohol in this issue. That has been recognised for more than four centuries. It would be useful if more could be done about it. Many men involved in these acts have a psychiatric problem and need treatment. I should like more to be done in that respect.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Falkland about the crucial importance of knowing causes. But, on a subject that is as underground as this, it is difficult to obtain a controlled sample for any research on causes. That is one of many ways in which a changing climate of opinion may help. Above all, the woman who has not decided to go may be helped if there is a climate in which she is freer to decide to go if she wishes. We have all heard of the Stockholm syndrome. A possible way of treating that is to shift the balance by opening the door so that the woman and indeed the man know that there is a way out.

For that reason I am concentrating my remarks on chapter 4 of the report which deals with what should he done after the woman has decided to leave home. First, I draw attention to the recommendation at the end of chapter 3 for a 24-hour help line. These problems do not arise at the most convenient moments. They have a knack of happening late on Friday evenings or on bank holidays. A 24-hour help line, including a list of solicitors prepared to deal with the problem, could be of great value. It could help vitally to assure the woman that she has freedom of choice about whether to go or to stay.

When the woman leaves home she is covered by the code of guidance on homelessness. That is a good code but the situation would be helped if it could be given statutory force. Many local authorities—by no means all—prefer not to notice the subject; they prefer to sweep it under the carpet. They go to peculiar lengths and produce the most ingenious arguments to avoid doing anything about it. I have not forgotten a particular councillor in Brent who objected to refuges, saying that they were discriminatory because they did not admit men.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, pointed out, there is a key loophole in the code of guidance. It creates an obligation to house the homeless woman but not to have a refuge. Therefore, it tends to result in women being placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, which is more expensive for the Government. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, stressed strongly in a letter to me on 11 th March, that is also a great deal less suitable for the woman and the children.

The difficulty is that it is of the essence of the provision of refuges that it must be possible for the woman to go outside her own borough. Fear of pursuit is often well-founded—often dangerously well-founded. Therefore, in order for the woman to feel safe she needs to be a long way away. But the whole of the training and conditioning of a local authority is in favour of providing help for its own poll tax payers, ratepayers, council tax payers or whatever. As it does not come naturally to them, local authorities need constantly to be reminded that they have an obligation to house people from outside their own areas. They need constant reminding when it comes to permanent rehousing for the women that they may not—and this is already in law—send women back to their own boroughs if by sending them back they put them at risk of domestic violence.

Attention needs to be paid to the tendency of some local authorities to wriggle out of that obligation, as they would see it, to foreigners by offering women unsuitable housing. I recall one case, again in the London borough of Brent, where a woman was offered a council flat which had no lock on the door. Of course, that is not what one feels like accepting in that situation. She had also just been given a £600 community care grant from the Social Fund which was stolen on her first day in the flat, every last penny of it. If local authorities have adequate dwellings, they must make an effort to give women from outside the borough as good a deal as they give to women from inside it.

There is also a strong case for looking again at legislation to see whether we should extend the right to local authority housing outside the borough to childless women who, while in shock, may find it as difficult to re-establish themselves as do women with children. In fact, they sometimes find it more difficult because they do not have the need to look after the children to force them to keep going. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said, we should consider the plight of women who are not legally married. We should also pay attention to women harassed by ex-partners. It may seem outrageous—indeed, it does seem outrageous—to talk about a woman needing to leave her own home because of harassment from a man who has been thrown out of it and has no right to live there. But sometimes, unless the police can provide 24-hour around-the-clock protection—and I am sure that the noble Earl will tell us why that cannot be done and I understand that—the woman has no other option. She is simply not safe any other way. For that reason, we should consider statutory protection for women threatened by ex-partners.

If we can do all those things, if we can pay attention also to the problems of legal aid, on which the report makes some sensible comments, we may perhaps begin to break the perpetuation of that problem. The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, has made us familiar with the cycle of deprivation. That is an extremely important point. However, there is also—and research is beginning to show this—what one may describe as a cycle of maltreatment. The abusers are those who were themselves abused and the violent are those who have themselves been the victims of violence. Therefore if, by taking women and children away from the danger point, we can break that cycle, we may be doing something to prevent that problem going on from generation to generation.

9.38 p.m.

Lord Richard

My Lords, I begin by expressing my admiration and congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth on the speech which he gave us this evening. I thought it was not merely informative, as it was described by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, but thought-provoking, especially his remarks on the effect of the media. I am sure that it will cause controversy which will no doubt be aired in this House and other places, but perhaps happily that will be on another occasion. I sincerely congratulate him on the quality of his maiden speech. From these Benches I can say that we look forward greatly to hearing from him often on future occasions.

Secondly, I offer what I hope are not merely the customary congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. Once again, not for the first time, he has aired a topic in this House which needed airing, at perhaps the precise time at which it needed airing.

It has been a helpful and useful debate. It has also been a somewhat strange debate—echoing the words of the noble Baroness—in that the participants are almost entirely male. I should have thought that on this occasion, when we are discussing in effect violence concerning women, for we males to rise to pontificate upon the effect it has upon women, while inevitable given the fact that we were the only ones who wanted to speak in the debate, leaves the whole thing slightly lopsided.

I should also like to take issue, gently I hope, with the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland. Of course alcohol is important when one is considering the causes of domestic violence. However, the terms of reference of the report were not to consider the causes of domestic violence. As the foreword says, they were, to review the type and extent of service provision currently available to victims of domestic violence and to produce recommendations as to how these could be co-ordinated and extended throughout England and Wales and Northern Ireland". I suspect that if it was looking at the causes of domestic violence the working party might have been differently constituted and the report might indeed have looked completely different. In looking at the terms of reference it occurs to me to inquire what happens in Scotland. Does it have its own report, or is that perhaps an unfair question to throw at the noble Earl at this hour of the night? I see his junior Minister nodding furiously in agreement.

However one looks at the issue, first, it is important; secondly, it has been neglected; thirdly, it deserves to be better understood; and, fourthly, it deserves more action by the Government. I commend the report. I thought it was a useful document. I particularly commend the last chapter, pages 89 and 90, where the authors set out five major principles which underline and sum up all the detailed recommendations. When one looks at those five principles, which I shall outline briefly in a moment, one sees that most of the debate tonight fits conveniently into them.

The first principle set out is that: Domestic violence is an extremely serious matter … It is a long neglected issue and the Working Party welcomes the higher public profile and better place on the political agenda that it is currently receiving … There is a need for continuing public education on the issues". I believe that everybody in the House accepts that. Secondly, it sets out that: All initiatives to address domestic violence should have as their primary aim the provision of services that are appropriate, effective and adequately resourced". We can all agree with that. The Government may not be quite so happy with the next sentence, which states: Current provision of refuges is underfunded, patchy and scandalously inadequate". That is expressed modestly and moderately in that paragraph of the report and I shall return to that later. The report goes on to say: Priority should be given to improving funding for refuge services … Domestic violence should be treated by all criminal justice agencies with the same degree of seriousness as other forms of violence … All statutory and voluntary agencies should be called upon to develop their own formal policies and working practices on domestic violence, which will also include training programmes. Inter-agency understanding and co-operation is crucial". Those seem to me to be five basic, sensible principles upon which all discussion of this issue can be based.

What is the scope of the problem? Is it possible to analyse it and be at all certain as to its extent? We know, because the figures are available, about the worst kinds of domestic violence—they result in homicide. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, pointed out, almost half of homicides of women are killings by a partner or ex-partner. That is domestic violence taken to its most extreme and dreadful conclusion.

The figure we were given was 48 per cent. in 1990, and that compares with 9 per cent. of male homicides in which the man was killed by his partner. Therefore 48 per cent. of women who are murdered are killed by their partner and only 9 per cent. of men who are murdered are killed by their partner. I am not sure what precise conclusion one can draw from a comparison of those figures. It certainly seems that the violence within the domestic situation goes inevitably from the male towards the female and not vice versa. One-in-four of all murder victims is a woman killed by a partner or an ex-partner. One-quarter of all reported assaults take place in domestic circumstances. One-third of all reported crimes against women are assaults in domestic circumstances. I hope that the House will find it unexceptionable and unarguable when the report says: If society is serious in wishing to prevent violence against the person, it must put domestic violence at the centre of its concerns". Are we doing that? What is the law actually doing to protect women now? Should it be reformed to ensure equal protection under the law for both men and women?

Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, I wish to pay tribute to the enormous improvement in police services over the past few years. As the noble Lord pointed out,62 domestic violence units have been set up in London with 126 officers. Similar schemes are now operating in other areas of the country. Since they were set up it is interesting to note the way in which the figures for reported domestic violence have escalated. In 1986, the year before the units were set up,860 cases were reported. In 1987 that figure rose to 2,320. In 1991 the figure rose to 8,000, which is a ten-fold increase on the 1986 figures. I do not for one moment believe that domestic violence has increased ten-fold. What I believe has happened (the police authorities also feel this) is that just as rape is a crime which has, to coin a phrase, come out of the closet in the past decade or so, domestic violence is in precisely the same category. More people are now prepared to report circumstances which in former times they would not have reported or, if they had done so, perhaps the police would have dealt with it not as a crime but as some kind of domestic disturbance that was not really a proper or fit matter for interference by the law.

Women's recourse to law needs to be improved. Women have to feel that they have a right to protection under the law. I believe that now many women in circumstances of domestic violence do not feel that. Assault in the home and in a private relationship is just as much a crime, and should be viewed as such, as assault on the street or elsewhere. As the report states: Indeed it is arguable that partner assault"— that is a somewhat awkward phrase which is used although I suppose it is fairly clear what is being said— is even more destructive of the bases of society". I believe that women must have support so that they feel they can proceed with a prosecution. It is worth examining the report's suggestion that the decision to prosecute should be taken by the Crown Prosecution Service rather than by the woman herself. That would at least prevent intimidation of women in the run-up to a trial. She would not be able to decide whether or not the trial should go ahead.

As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out, emergency legal aid needs to be more widely available so that the woman who is abused can leave and seek a lawyer straight away. The longer the gap before there is proper legal intervention the more vulnerable the woman is at precisely the most vulnerable point of what is sometimes a terrible history.

I believe that ex parte exclusion orders should be more easily available. Exclusion orders themselves and non-molestation orders should be available for more than three months. Where power of arrest is granted that should apply to all the powers of an injunction and not just to assault or returning to the home. In that way the woman feels supported.

Perhaps I may make one plea to the Government; namely, that they recognise the importance of the availability of interpreters who are trained in issues relating to domestic violence. They can offer increased help to women in domestic minorities who do not speak English. Frequently women from ethnic minorities who have been abused find themselves in the most sensitive and difficult position if they cannot even make themselves understood in order to make a complaint.

Finally as regards the law itself, there has to be an urgent review of it as it relates to murder and the interpretation of the defence of provocation. I know that every case depends on its own facts; that no two cases are the same and therefore one cannot really compare two sentences. A situation has occurred recently in this country where two daughters killed their drunken father when he was beating one of them. They stabbed him. They were each sentenced to three years' imprisonment. On the following day, I believe at the same court, a man who murdered his wife when she asked for a cup of tea was given two years' probation. On the face of it, that seems a ludicrous comparison and I totally accept that one cannot make such crude comparisons. Nevertheless, the law on provocation is in a mess and I hope that the Government will be able to do something soon to remedy that position.

If possible, women should leave the violent abuser. I am not suggesting for a moment that murder is the proper way out. Women should leave. But the report shows how difficult it can be for women to do that. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out, one of the main problems is rehousing. If she is lucky enough to get local authority housing a woman will probably be offered bed and breakfast accommodation, which is cramped and which, in itself, may well put pressure on the woman to return to the very person who has been doing the abusing. Again, as the report states: Her sense of isolation can leave her wondering in the face of all these new problems and enormous odds whether she can really make a go of things, and she is often driven back by despair". It is also unfortunately the case that more battered women are murdered by their partners once they have moved away than when they are living with them. If a partner traces and follows the woman there is frequently an extreme degree of violence.

Local authorities often do not have housing stock that is far enough away from ex-partners. There is some evidence to suggest that women from ethnic minorities are rehoused in particularly bad accommodation. Refuges have been mentioned. Pressed for cash as they are, local authorities often do not give priority to refuge funding. Perhaps I may give the House the figures on this because I do not think that they have yet been given in the debate. Twenty-seven per cent. of local authorities have no refuges; 11 per cent. have one, and 5 per cent. have more than three. It emerges in the report that research has indicated that refuges cannot meet the demand. A report from London, for example, indicates that following 5,000 calls only 40 per cent. of the required places could be found. More assistance must be given to women who have to leave joint homes so that they can find a way out through the jungle of the law on joint ownership and set up house again in a place of safety.

I should like to make just one other point before concluding. A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police has said that many of these women are also vulnerable because their partners will accuse them of being bad mothers. "Your children will be taken into care if you leave me" is one of the commonest accusations. A woman may be so cowed that she believes that. If she is to take her children into almost certain economic deprivation, away from their friends, school and familiar surroundings, she must have enough confidence to feel that that will be better for her children than the situation in which she currently finds herself. A woman may feel, for example, that her children need a male role model and a father even if that father is beating up their mother at the same time.

For me, at any rate, the report illustrated not only the scope of the problem, but some of the steps that need to be taken to try to deal with it in a more humane and sensible fashion. I echo what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said. Of course, this is not a party matter. It is a matter of bringing the light of research onto a problem which has been hidden and neglected for far too long and then of applying sound common sense to what emerges. I commend the report to the House and especially the five principles to which I referred at the beginning of my speech. They seem to me to encapsulate a sensible approach to the problem and I hope that the Government will be able to accept them.

9.54 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Earl Ferrers)

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for introducing this important debate. The final few sentences of the noble Lord, Lord Richard, encapsulated what we are discussing—the tragic aspects of some parts of family life. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, set the scene in a graphic way by making it clear what a terrible and not isolated business family violence is. I find it astonishing that so much family violence takes place. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that we are just beginning to understand it. It is a terrible indictment if we are only just beginning to understand it. It is a terrible indictment that there should be such a previously unthought of aspect of life.

I found the contribution of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth a great asset to the debate. It was a speech of enormous thought and understanding and one in which he showed great care and great philosophical insight. He said that it is right for the Church to play a leading role in this area because women turn to the Church for their self-esteem, their personal dignity and their relationship to God and that churches can contribute to reverence. It is the reverence of individuals and of women which is required and which is such an important part of this scene.

The right reverend Prelate referred to the fact that everyone nowadays is debunked. He struck a chord with many of us when he said that it does not matter what the person is—whether a politician, a member of the Church, a member of an authority, a teacher or even indeed a wife—it is all too easy for them to be debunked. It is a matter of great sorrow that children should be brought up in that kind of atmosphere.

The Question asks for the Government's response to the working party's report. I can tell your Lordships that our response is one of gratitude, both to Victim Support for having convened the working party and to the working party itself for the care, thoroughness and common sense with which it has approached its task. The working party states early in its report that, the seriousness of domestic violence has not yet been sufficiently addressed by society". That was echoed in many of the speeches today. It may well be that it has not been sufficiently addressed by society. But the Government are in no doubt at all of the seriousness of the problem. We have taken action on it, and we are continuing to do so. The right reverend Prelate said that these people should be accountable to society. I agree with the right reverend Prelate and with the noble Lord, Lord Richard. We take the view that assaults within the home are just as much crimes as are assaults by strangers. We also know that domestic violence is a pervasive problem. It exists throughout the whole of society, and it can cause very considerable pain, suffering and distress.

The policy of the Government is, first, that action should be taken to bring the perpetrators of domestic violence to justice; secondly, to provide the victims of it with the necessary support; and thirdly, to ensure that steps are taken, through education and other means, to prevent the violence in the long term, a point made by the right reverend Prelate. The working party examined the range of responses to the problem of domestic violence and then made a large number of recommendations, not all of which were directed at the Government but which will be taken into account as we continue to try to tackle this problem.

Very many of the concerns of the working party—and some of the concerns expressed by noble Lords today—have been acknowledged in action taken in recent years. By that, I do not mean to say that all which needs to be done has been done. Of course not. Much still needs to be done. The problems cannot be resolved overnight. But we should not overlook the steps already taken. There is concern that domestic violence should be treated by the various organisations in the criminal justice system with the same degree of seriousness as are other forms of violence.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, referred to the scope of the problem. It is difficult to provide categorical figures, not identified recently in recorded crime figures. However, we know from research and the British crime statistics that domestic violence is a widespread problem. It is a greater threat to women than any other kind of violence. That is why we have taken the steps that we have and why we shall continue to do so.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, stated that much of the problem is caused by alcohol. We share the view of the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness that it is not possible to identify a single simple cause of violence. Alcohol is often associated with domestic violence, but the research evidence is inconclusive as to whether it is the cause or sometimes an excuse. The Government pursue policies to discourage alcohol abuse, including the treatment of offenders with alcohol problems.

In July 1990 we issued guidance to all police forces in the United Kingdom. That guidance was designed to ensure a quick and effective response to the incidence of domestic violence. It took account of the overriding need to protect the victims. Information which was collected by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in force inspections indicated that within a year of that guidance all police forces in England and Wales had clear policies on domestic violence. That is quite an achievement. Most forces had introduced specific improvements in their response to incidents of violence in the home. I was pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Harris found that the Metropolitan Police officers were so dedicated and caring. He stated that he could not have found more caring officers. That is a wonderful accolade to receive. However, he was concerned as to whether that was a universal response.

It is not only the Metropolitan Police who have made great strides in improving response to domestic violence. The initial work of the new Home Office research study indicates that there is a considerable amount of activity throughout the country. Her Majesty's inspectorate is monitoring the inspections. In Nottinghamshire an excellent inter-agency forum has been developed for dealing with domestic violence. In Staffordshire a positive action policy has existed since the 1970s. In South Yorkshire a sophisticated alarm system has been developed which links the victim directly with a local operations room. Two pilot schemes are in operation in Merseyside, one looking at domestic violence and the other looking at alarm systems. Both systems are being fully evaluated by academic researchers. In the West Midlands there are 11 domestic violence units in operation and programmes are being researched in relation to men who batter. In West Yorkshire there are eight domestic violence unit alarm systems in the form of Vodafones and a highly developed inter-agency forum. Therefore, a great deal is going on in other forces.

The report of the working party suggests that the new policies and improvements may not yet have filtered through in the practice of every police officer on the ground. That is one of the drawbacks of any large organisation. The Government are concerned that the new policies should lead to real changes. That is why we in the Home Office have put in hand a research study which will assess the impact of the guidance, how it is working in practice and what changes forces have made in the light of that study. The findings of the study will help us to decide what further action should be taken.

At the same time as guidance was issued to the police in England and Wales, the Crown Prosecution Service issued guidance to all chief prosecutors as to how they and their staff should deal with the causes of domestic violence. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked whether guidance could be made public. The guidance which is given to the Crown Prosecution Service is not usually made public. However, I shall consult on that point and consider it. One of the consequences of the increasing seriousness with which the criminal justice system is responding to incidents of domestic violence should obviously be that more of those crimes are being brought to the notice of the system.

There is some evidence that such a trend may already have begun. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that the number of reports was increasing and that the Metropolitan Police had had some 30,000 calls about violence last year. That is a terrible figure. The British Crime Survey found that in 1981 of those who had suffered domestic assaults only one in five had reported the offence to the police, whereas in 1987—six years later—the proportion had increased from one in five to one in two. One fact which seems to emerge is that there is more of that type of violence than there used to be, but also that more people are prepared to come forward and to report it when it happens. The results of a new British Crime Survey which will measure crime as it was in 1991 will soon be available and seems likely to suggest that that trend of increased reporting is continuing.

Another of the report's principal concerns was the provision of a range of services for the victims of domestic violence. Again, that approach to the problem is similar to the Government's. The guidance to the police emphasised the importance of ensuring that victims of assaults were put in touch with the various support services. The Government recognise the importance of providing the victims of domestic violence with immediate support, with places of safety and with sources of advice.

There are now over 375 local victim support schemes throughout the country and this year they are benefiting from some £7.3 million from government funds. The four Women's Aid Federations also receive grant-aid from central government.

The provision of good local support services, including women's refuges—a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and a number of your Lordships referred—is obviously a matter for local organisations. We shall look at whether existing levels of funding can be improved. The Government believe that there is a need for professionals who work in the health and social services, housing and other agencies to learn more about the totality of the services available. We are not convinced that all those people know exactly what is available.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to the civil law. The Government recognise that the provisions of the civil law which cover domestic violence and occupation of the family home form an important part of the response to domestic violence. We acknowledge that the law as it stands is too complicated and that there may be gaps in the protection afforded to the victims of family violence. The Law Commission's recommendations in its report on the law and domestic violence and occupation of the family home are being considered carefully by my noble and learned friend.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, was also worried about housing. The Department of the Environment will be considering what changes in local authority and housing association practices and legislation may be needed. A working party on relationship breakdown and housing will be reporting shortly. The noble Lord was also interested in the Department of Health. It is for local health authorities to decide whether to provide social workers in out-patient departments. They will take careful note of the report's recommendations. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is currently considering the Law Commission's report on the civil law as it applies to domestic violence.

We share the working party's view that a good way of improving the local response to domestic violence would seem to be to set up a local forum which involves all the organisations which are involved both with helping those who are victims and with trying to prevent the violence occurring in the first place. In that way there would be a cross-fertilisation of views and knowledge. The Government's role in all this must be essentially to encourage effective local action and the use of what has been found to be the best approach.

Over 100 safer cities schemes for tackling domestic violence have been given government grants. Derby, Hull, Islington and Tower Hamlets are all funding staff who are dedicated to helping the victims of domestic violence and particular schemes have been set up with safer cities funding in Coventry, Wandsworth and Leicester.

In Coventry a co-ordinating group called Domestic Violence Workers for Change has been set up. Research on women's safety in the city has been started through this group, and a seminar was held on 30th October of last year with local authority support. A report is being produced to promote improvements in policy and practice on domestic violence and to develop new services.

The Wandsworth project is funding a crisis telephone helpline for women and girls. It has provided alarms for particularly vulnerable groups such as nurses, night shift workers, Asian women's groups and the elderly. The Leicester project has set up a major undertaking which will fit emergency alarms to the homes of women who are at risk from their husbands and similar schemes are in operation in Bradford and in Islington. A further aspect of the problem is being addressed by the Coventry and Hammersmith and Fulham projects through schemes which will help the children of women who experience domestic violence.

The Home Office Programme Development Unit, which was set up last year to fund innovative local projects in the field of crime and criminal justice, is also funding five programmes which are aimed at tackling family violence. Two of the programmes, in Islington and Leeds, are concerned with increasing and improving the criminal justice response to domestic violence and they are backed up with an increased range of services to support women and to meet their welfare needs. In Islington a domestic violence crisis intervention team will be attached to the police at the police station. The skilled civilian team will operate on a 24-hour basis. The project is modelled on the well-known and successful scheme which operates in London, Ontario. The purposes of the project are to improve the responses of the police and other local agencies to help to prevent further incidents of violence and to provide immediate support to victims.

The civilian team will undertake counselling. It will provide information on matters such as legal remedies. It will also act as a bridge between the police and organisations such as the Crown Prosecution Service, emergency and long-term housing providers, sources of income maintenance and those who provide support to victims. The team will encourage prosecution and it will promote the awareness of domestic violence within the community so that knowledge about it may lead to prevention.

In Leeds the programme consists of a number of projects. A civil court and criminal justice forum will be established in order to encourage the understanding of the needs of victims in both civil and criminal courts and to provide a legal service to support women through the court processes. Specialised counsellors will also be attached to two local GP surgeries in an area of Leeds. Women who are victims of domestic violence often seek help not only from the Church but also from their doctors. However, doctors, although they are mercifully trained in a multiplicity of medical problems, are rarely trained in how best to deal with the non-medical aspects of domestic violence. The counsellors will provide specialised help and information on other sources of advice and support.

Both programmes will be monitored and evaluated over their three years' duration. The results of the evaluation will be disseminated widely so that other areas can benefit from the lessons which will have been learnt. I think that the variety of work which is being done and the experience which has been and is being gained will set a very good precedent for the future.

As the right reverend Prelate said, steps must also be taken to prevent domestic violence. One form of prevention involves work with offenders to try to shift them away from reoffending in future. The Home Office and the Scottish Office are jointly funding a research study which will evaluate two projects which are aimed at changing the behaviour of men who abuse their wives. One is the CHANGE project, as it is called, in the Central Region and the other is the Lothian Probation Project.

The Association of Chief Probation Officers recently issued a document which depicts the seriousness with which it is approaching the task of encouraging probation officers to respond to various aspects of domestic violence, ranging from their civil work to intensive work with violent offenders. The Victim Support working party also saw a need for, continuing public education on the issues surrounding domestic violence, throughout the community". Schools of course have a very important part to play here. The National Curriculum Council's guidance to schools on health education suggests that by the age of 16 pupils should be aware of the problems which can arise in family life and of the help and the support which are available from statutory and from voluntary organisations.

Two of the projects which the Home Office Programme Development Unit is funding are aimed at the development of educational programmes which can be used in schools and youth clubs. These are the Leeds inter-agency project, to which I have already referred, and a youth education programme which will be undertaken by Keighley Domestic Violence Forum. That programme will also undertake the training of school teachers and youth workers.

I hope that I have been able to provide some flavour of the range of activity against domestic violence which is in hand and that I have been able to assure your Lordships that the Government share the concern of the working party and of your Lordships that this problem needs to be tackled—and tackled with vigour.

One of the principal concerns of the working party was that the duty and the objectives of central Government should be clearer. It recommended—and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked today—that there should be a lead department which would have the task of drawing up and of implementing a national policy. I hope that I have demonstrated that some significant steps have been taken in recent years and that that has taken place against a background of close co-operation and consultation between departments. We intend to continue with that.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, both referred to consultation between government departments. We recognise that the response to domestic violence involves a number of departments as well as a range of local agencies. Home Office officials are arranging to meet with officials of other departments, including the Departments of Health, Social Security, Environment, Education, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices, the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Crown Prosecution Service in order to ensure that future action is both grounded on a shared understanding of the nature of the problem and co-ordinated. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked whether the Home Office would consult with the Department of Social Security and the Department of the Environment. As he will have understood, I have given an assurance that that will be done.

The noble Earl also asked about a 24-hour help line. The Department of Health is funding, by £45,000 this year, a Women's Aid national help line.

The noble Earl also asked about the obligations of local authorities. I shall certainly consider that matter in the cross-departmental discussions, including the need for cross-borough provision. Legislation and so forth will be under consideration in light of the relationship breakdown working party.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked that there should be a lead department. I can tell him that the Home Office will be the lead department, and we shall pay particular attention to the recommendations of the Victim Support agency working party as the work progresses.