HL Deb 08 March 2005 vol 670 cc623-5

2.53 p.m.

Baroness Henig

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to identify and protect victims of domestic violence and to bring perpetrators to justice.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, a national plan is being developed that identifies victims earlier through routine inquiry in primary health and social care settings and provides support through a variety of agencies. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act includes measures such as making common assault an arrestable offence, criminalising the breach of a non-molestation order and extending the availability of restraining orders to all violent offences. This will enhance our ability to protect victims and should lead to increased arrests, prosecutions and convictions.

Baroness Henig

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that positive response. However, in view of the fact that incidents of domestic violence account for at least 16 per cent of all violent crime—and that is almost certainly an under-recording as we know that women victims will suffer up to 35 incidents of domestic violence before going to the police—what is the cost of this crime to society? What measures, taken in conjunction with the police and local community safety partnerships, such as, for example, the provision of dedicated women's centres, does the Minister consider would be most successful in encouraging women victims not just to come forward at an earlier stage but also to give them help, support and, most importantly, protection in what are often most difficult court proceedings?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as regards my noble friend's first point on costs, Professor Walby undertook research on behalf of the Department of Trade and Industry which indicated that the cost of domestic violence at the moment is about £23 billion a year. Some £3 billion is spent on public services; £1 billion on the criminal justice system; £1.2 billion on the NHS; a quarter of a billion pounds on social services; £160 million on housing; £300 million on civil legal services and £2.7 billion is accounted for in costs to employers through loss of working time. That is a huge cost to this country. It is a vile and wicked situation. Through the inter-ministerial group that I chair, the Government have a cross-departmental response to these issues which includes health, education and the housing responsibilities of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. All those issues are tackled in a co-ordinated way.

Lord Laming

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the victims of domestic violence include the children of the household? Will she give an assurance that when the police are called to households in these circumstances they will report on the children's welfare to social services?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I emphasise what has just been said in relation to domestic violence. Children are often the silent witnesses of what happens in the home and they unfortunately get to know far more of what is going on than adults believe. We have emphasised in the guidance and in the work that we are doing with the Association of Chief Police Officers how important their welfare is. I am very proud to say that the new provisions which we have introduced enable better safety for our children to be more easily delivered.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, according to the Government's paper, Living without fear, a woman may approach up to 10 different agencies before she gets the help that she needs. What discussions has the Minister had with organisations such as Refuge, Women's Aid and the NSPCC to promote close working relationships with government on this issue?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have worked very closely indeed with Women's Aid and Refuge. Noble Lords will know that we launched a national helpline for domestic violence. That was done with those agencies. A very strong contribution was made by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, by my noble friends Lord Filkin and Lady Ashton and in particular by my noble friend Lord Rooker, who is the Minister responsible at the ODPM and who has worked very hard indeed on our ministerial committee to try to ensure that these provisions are in place.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, in view of the clearly embedded nature of this heinous crime and, indeed, the cost to the whole community as well as to individuals which the Minister has already outlined, will she expand on the role that the education services are expected to play?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am very pleased to do that. This very day we launched with the National Union of Teachers guidance to teachers on how they should respond to domestic violence, together with the Home Office-sponsored anti-bullying and domestic violence toolkits. The real issue for many teachers who have grappled with this issue for a long time is, when they identify a child who is so suffering, what they do on a practical level to help to alleviate that situation. The guidance that we issued today, together with the Home Office joint anti-bullying and domestic violence toolkits, gives teachers the tools that they need to meet this challenge much more effectively.

Baroness Prosser

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the report which was published last week entitled, What a Waste, which calls on government to take a more strategic approach to combating violence against women? I declare an interest in this report, as it was published in part by the Women's National Commission, which I chair. How may such strategic approaches enable government to provide a more coordinated response to the varied impact of violence on women's lives, particularly bearing in mind the impact on their general health?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we have implemented a strategic approach to the way in which we work together. I hope to be able to publish the results of that work at the end of the month. I hope that my noble friend will be very pleased by it. I shall put a copy of the report in the Libraries of this House and the other place.