HC Deb 19 April 2004 vol 420 cc119-20W
Mr. Hancock

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has to commit resources to a UK national strategy as agreed in the Beijing Platform for Action to eliminate all forms of violence against women. [160913]

Paul Goggins

There are currently no plans to create a National Strategy on Violence Against Women and there is no requirement within the Beijing Platform for Action for us to do so. We are, however, developing a range of policies in this area: In June last year we published the consultation paper, "Safety and Justice", which set out the Government's strategy to tackle domestic violence in England and Wales. It set out proposals under three key headings: prevention; protection; and justice and support. And it included proposals for non-legislative as well as legislative measures, which now form part of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill, which was introduced into the House of Lords in December last year.

The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) is investing £18.9 million this year in refuges in England, which will mean 273 units of new or improved accommodation over the next three years. There will be a further £7 to £9 million in each of the next two years.

The ODPM contributed £1 million over three years, matched by £1 million from Comic Relief, towards the development of a single national 24-hour freephone helpline for victims of domestic violence and the UK `refuges online system', which provides immediate access to information on refuge accommodation and specialist services across the UK. These were launched in December last year. The Home Office is contributing £1 million towards promoting the new helpline.

On sexual offences, the Government are concerned about the low rate of convictions for reported rape. Issues surrounding consent are central to establishing whether a sexual offence has taken place. The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduces a test of reasonableness into the law on consent. It applies largely to England and Wales.

We are also supporting the development of Sexual Assault Referral centers (SARCS) throughout England and Wales. SARCs are 'one stop' locations where victims of sexual assault can receive care and counselling while, at the same time, having the opportunity to assist the police investigation into alleged offences. SARCs will be considered as part of a wider strategy to improve services for victims of sexual offences. The Government are also considering options for the development of a national rape helpline. We are in discussion with the Scottish Executive, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Office to consider how this will best serve victims of sexual offences nationally.

And finally, The Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, implemented on 3 March this year, reinforces existing legislation criminalising the offence and increases the maximum penalty for performing and procuring female genital mutilation from five to 14 years imprisonment. It applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.