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The terrifying facts of this case and other incidents of domestic violence demonstrate the importance of ensuring that the response to the needs of victims of domestic violence is handled earlier and effectively, to reduce the risk of incidents like this occurring, as the
right hon. Lady pointed out. She will appreciate that I have been advised that I cannot talk about the handling of individual cases, including this one, but I will outline the comprehensive improvements that have been made by the Thames Valley police force to its handling of domestic violence.
At the outset, I assure the right hon. Lady that I should, of course, be happy to meet her in my office to discuss matters that it is not possible to raise now. Stalking is one of those matters, and I look forward to her contacting me so that we can organise such a meeting.
In addition, I shall outline a wide range of measures that the Government have instigated through the national delivery plan for domestic violence. Sweeping changes in case handling have been made across the criminal justice system, including in the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts. Those changes will aid victims and help to prevent cases such as those in the Thames Valley area and beyond. The plan also highlights action to ensure the early identification of victims and perpetrators. In addition, it offers focused support for victims and the better management of perpetrators.
This debate gives me an opportunity to say a few things. As a new Minister at the Home Office, I was shocked when I was briefed on the scale of the problem that we face. For instance, the House will be appalled to learn the following: that, on average, two women a week are killed in the UK by a male partner or former partner; that in 2003-04 nearly 40 per cent. of all female homicide victims were killed by their current or ex-partner, compared with about 5 per cent. of male homicide victims; that about one in four women and one in six men have been victims of domestic violence since the age of 16, although women are clearly likely to suffer greater injury and be classed as chronic victims; that 89 per cent. of those suffering four or more attacks are women, and that one incident is reported to the police every minute. Moreover, as the right hon. Member for Maidenhead noted, there were more than 14,000 such incidents in the Thames Valley area in 2004-05.
In addition to the human suffering that is caused by domestic violence, the costs to our economy are staggering. In 2001, domestic violence in England and Wales was estimated to cost a total of £23 billion, of which £3 billion was spent on public services and£2.7 billion was absorbed by employers and workers. The cost of human and emotional suffering was putat £17 billion. In addition, the criminal justice system spent £1 billion on domestic violence cases, and£300 million was spent by civil legal services.
In 90 per cent. of incidents involving domestic violence, children are in the same or the next room. Domestic violence also has worrying links to pregnancy: 30 per cent. of domestic violence starts during pregnancy, and existing violence often escalates. Domestic violence accounts for 17 per cent. of all violent crime in the UK. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Maidenhead probably knows those facts better than I do, but they are another reason why we should welcome the opportunity that this debate gives us to state them in the House.
Those statistics tell a terrible story, as is highlighted by the case at the heart of this debate, but that story is
made far worse when we realise that behind each statistic is a life, and often many lives. Those lives are damaged and sometimes destroyed by the cruel and barbaric acts that are committedand as a man I have to say thismainly by men. I recognise that men and same-sex couples also experience domestic violence, but women are far more likely to experience physical or sexual violence at the hands of men.
However, I wish to reassure the House that the Government are facing up to our responsibilities, and I should like to outline some of the major steps that we are taking to respond to this most insidious of crimes in all parts of the country, including in the Thames Valley area. The Government take domestic violence very seriously, and that is why we have set up the inter-ministerial group on domestic violence. It is chaired by Baroness Scotland, and draws ministerial membership from across all the major Government Departments. The group performance manages the delivery plan and monitors its progress quarterly.
As the right hon. Lady noted, we passed the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 in November of that year. The biggest overhaul of domestic violence legislation for 30 years, that Act gives tough new powers to the police and the courts to tackle offenders, while ensuring that victims get the support and protection that they need. We hope that that protection will help people across the country, including in the Thames Valley area.
The 2004 Act gives greater protection to victims and children, and encourages them to stand up for their right to live without fear of violence. The measures that it contains have been rolling out in stages since March 2005.
I turn now to the specific concerns about Thames Valley police expressed by the right hon. Lady. I should like to reassure the House that that force have initiated a fundamental overhaul of their policies and procedures in response to domestic violence cases. The Thames Valley police domestic violence project is nearing completion; the main changes have been implemented and the force is consolidating the improvements in its routine business. After some of the awful things that we have seen and that she highlighted, I hope that lessons have been learned and I trust that such initiatives offer some comfort and reassurance.
The improvements include the establishment of public protection units throughout Thames Valley police. Those specialist units focus on protecting communities from the most dangerous offenders and provide expertise in cases involving the most vulnerable members of our society. The forces existing domestic violence units have been incorporated in the public protection units and augmented with additional investment and resources. Specialist domestic violence officers now review all domestic violence incidents.
A comprehensive structured risk assessment process has been implemented. All operational officers have received training in identifying domestic violence cases and in the use of the risk indicator tool to assist their investigation and management of the case. Every case is assessed by a specialist domestic violence unit officer to ensure that high-risk cases are identified earlya point made by the right hon. Ladyand given added priority and resources.
We need to ensure that action on stalking is included in those procedures. The right hon. Lady asked about guidance in such cases. The Association of Chief Police Officers has issued police forces with guidance on harassment, which includes stalking, so the right hon. Lady can be reassured about that issue.
The changes in the Thames Valley force are part of a much wider overhaul that has been instigated in all police forces. In November 2004, ACPO issued comprehensive guidance to all forces in England and Wales, including Thames Valley, about the investigation of domestic violence cases, including Thames Valley. The accompanying training programme covers identification and flagging of cases of domestic violence by the police; officer response at the scene of the incident to protect victims and to gather evidence; managing the investigation and building a prosecution case; protecting the victim as the case progresses through the criminal justice system; and how to engage effectively in multi-agency working. I was most interested in the information from America provided by a relative of the family about multi-agency working. Perhaps the right hon. Lady and I could discuss that further when we meet. The police alone cannot tackle domestic violence; it requires a partnership response, although I am very aware that turning those words into reality is something else again.
The San Diego experience is one of the interesting points that I should like to discuss with the Minister. The scheme was set up on a voluntary basis and has managed to get around many of the administrative barriers that can get in the way of a multi-agency approach, which then fails to operate properly, as the Minister said.
Mr. Coaker: I thank the right hon. Lady for her welcome. We can certainly discuss the issue she raises. I am well aware that bureaucracy sometimes gets in the way of service delivery and in cases such as these we need to make sure that what we say in an office translates into reality on the ground for people who suffer, or may suffer, domestic violence.
The training programme that I outlined is a major initiative in each police force area, including Thames Valley, and a target has been set to ensure that every operational officer in every police force in England and Wales will be a graduate of the programme by 2008. To complement it, every new recruit in every force will be trained about domestic violence as part of their mandatory training, as they have been since April 2005. Again, Thames Valley is obviously included in that
programme. Such training is crucial to changing the culturechanging awareness and attitudes. All those things are important and will take longer than a training programme, but the programme is vital none the less.
I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is present in the Chamber. She has also taken a keen interest in these matters, including when she was a Home Office Minister, and we are building on much of the work in which she was involved.
Every police force in England and Wales now also has a domestic violence co-ordinatorso the Thames Valley police will have such a co-ordinator as well. That illustrates the fact that the Government and the police recognise that domestic violence is a serious crime that needs to be policed rigorously and effectively, but our commitment to tackling domestic violence does not stop there. To ensure that we capitalise on the improved policing policy, the Crown Prosecution Service has also created a domestic violence training pack for all its prosecutors. It, too, has set a target of having all prosecutors trained on the programme by 2008 and every CPS area, including Thames Valley, now has a domestic violence co-ordinator.
Last year, to strengthen the role of the criminal justice system further, the Government announced the development of 25 specialist domestic violence court systems, which will be in place by April 2006so they are obviously just in place. There will now be at least one specialist domestic violence court area in every region of the countryobviously, including the Thames valley. In this context, specialist courts are not just about the practice of courts and their procedures; neither are they about tangible changes being made to existing courthouses: it is an approach that situates the court system and the criminal justice system as part of a community-wide response to domestic violence. Clearly, such arrangements may cover parts of the Thames Valley area.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Maidenhead on initiating the debate. I am very happy to meet her to discuss what is clearly an issue of importance not just in the Thames Valley area but in the whole country and something about which we, as a country, need to do more. This was a terrible case; we must learn the lessons from it. Thames Valley police, as well as all other forces, have reviewed their procedures, and we must all hope that, in so far as possible, such tragedies are avoided in the future. I thank the right hon. Lady again for raising the issue; I am sure that we all need to do something more about it.
That the Lords Message [25 April] relating to Conventions be now considered.
That this House concurs with the Lords in the said Resolution;
That, accepting the primacy of the House of Commons, a Select Committee of 11 Members be appointed to join with a Committee appointed by the House of Lords as the Joint Committee on Conventions, to consider the practicality of codifying the key conventions on the relationship between the two Houses of Parliament which affect the consideration of legislation, in particular.
(A) The Salisbury-Addison convention that the Lords does not vote against measures included in the governing partys Manifesto;
(B) conventions on secondary legislation;
(C) the convention that Government business in the Lords should be considered in reasonable time;
(D) conventions governing the exchange of amendments to legislation between the two Houses; and that the Committee should report by Friday 21 July 2006;
That the Committee should have power
(i) To send for persons, papers and records;
(ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;
(iii) to report from time to time;
(iv) to appoint specialist advisers;
(v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom; and
That Mr. Russell Brown, Mr. Wayne David, Mr. George Howarth, Simon Hughes, Sarah McCarthy-Fry, Andrew Miller, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Mr. John Spellar, Ms Gisela Stuart, Mr. Andrew Tyrie and Sir Nicholas Winterton be Members of the Committee.
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