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David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD):
Does the Solicitor-General accept that any improvements in the prosecution of domestic violence are being undermined by the long delays experienced in many parts of the country in
sending offenders who have been sentenced on the effective and excellent domestic violence programmes? There are delays of six months in many parts of the country and delays of up to four years in others. That is completely unacceptable.
The Solicitor-General: By no means all domestic violence perpetrators are put on what are called perpetrator programmesin the United States they are called batterer programmes. Availability varies from one part of the country to another. Delays are unfortunate. However, I am not sure that such programmes are the magic formula or cure that the hon. Gentleman suggests they are. There are other ways in which perpetrators can be brought to understand that their violence simply cannot continue. For instance, there is often a salutary lesson in the fact that when the woman finally complains, the authorities come down forcefully on her side and against the man. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point. There must be more of those programmesthe ones that are successfuland he can take it from me that the issue is being looked into.
Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): We obviously need increased support for victims of domestic violence, to enable them to bring the perpetrators to justice, but we also need early intervention, to prevent escalation to serious injury and, in some cases, death. Will my hon. and learned Friend join me in welcoming the recent Select Committee on Home Affairs report, which noted the positive outcomes of the one-stop shop model, of which the family justice centre in Croydon that I visited is an example? The report recommended further evaluation of the model, which I hopeand I hope that my hon. and learned Friend agrees with mewill lead to a one-stop shop centre in every local authority area.
The Solicitor-General: I could not agree with my hon. Friend more. It was very pleasing that the Home Affairs Committee report was positive about the work of the Crown Prosecution Service on domestic violence, as well as on forced marriage and honour crimes. I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. There is an organisation in Middlesbrough, near my constituency, called My Sisters Place, which is a one-stop shop. Domestic violence complainants are now supported by independent domestic violence advisers, who befriend them and stand beside them, right through from the point at which they make a complaint, helping them with public services and the difficulties that can follow making a complaint about domestic violence. For instance, sometimes the children have to move school and sometimes child care stops, perhaps because the in-laws were helping with it. IDVAs, as they are called, can help with all those practicalities. More of that holistic support is vital. However, we already have a large amount in place. That must be a major reason why the conviction rate has got so much higher; few complainants now give up.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC):
The Solicitor-General was quite right to say that there was a need for more provision for domestic violence treatment courses, if I may describe them in the vernacular. The truth is that two thirds of probation areas report huge delays of up to 12 months in some cases. The hon.
and learned Lady has made it clear that we need more provision; will she now lobby her Cabinet colleagues to make that provision?
The Solicitor-General: Yes. It is not so easy simply to roll out perpetrator programmes. First, they have to be properly evaluated and monitored, and they have to be successful, so it is not just a question of getting money and, as it were, doing more automatically. A programme of work is being undertaken to evaluate the programmes, but it is quite difficult to determine how good they are. We have to rely on the victim to say whether the violence has stopped, and, almost by definition, that is historically the person who has been oppressed by the perpetrator of the violence. So there are difficulties involved in ensuring that we do not roll out programmes that are not as effective as they should be. A programme of evaluation is under way, however, and I hope that that will give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance.
Ms Clark: As the Solicitor-General will be aware, a key issue is the treatment of victims by the police as well as by the prosecution services. What more can be done to ensure that women feel that their allegations are being taken seriously when they come forward to report them?
The Solicitor-General: A huge amount of work has been done with the police and with the Crown Prosecution Service, and it would be surprising if there were still a prevalent sense that domestic violence was not taken seriously when people come forward to report it. Now that we seem to have got the criminal justice agencies to take this matter seriously and to be immensely supportive, I see the need for earlier identification as the greater problem. We need to start putting a lot more resources into that, so that womenat least 90 per cent. of the people who suffer in this way are womendo not suffer for so long before they decide to come forward. We need to enlist all the public authorities to be watchful for the impact of domestic violence, so that there can be earlier intervention.
the CPS has had inspections on domestic violence and rape that have highlighted areas for future action.
Those reports, particularly the ones on rape, were published in 2002, and then again in 2007. The 2002 proposals were very clear, and the CPS
acted on a good number of them. However, in 2007, it was clear that there were still some deficits and that certain matters had not been brought up. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, since then, there has been a powerful, strong and concentrated programme to ensure that the policieswhich the inspectors found to be in the right place and of the right kind at the top of the CPSwere being driven all the way through. There is now a powerful system of monitoring and evaluation of the way in which domestic violence and rape are dealt with in the CPS. I therefore hope that we are now well set for the future.
The Solicitor-General: The CPS does not keep data that allow us to identify the number of prosecutions of children found working in cannabis factories; it keeps data on offences. I am, however, aware of one recent case in South Yorkshire in which a young boy was prosecuted for working in a cannabis factory. The CPS has guidance for prosecutors, which advises them that when a youth might have committed an offence involving cannabis cultivation and there is information that they have been traffickedI assume that that is what the hon. Gentleman is talking aboutthere is a strong public interest in not prosecuting them at all.
Mr. Steen: May I first compliment the Solicitor-General on her new pixie look? I hope that that is not inappropriate. Will she explain why on 11 June a 15-year-old Vietnamese boy was jailed for the work of tending cannabis plants in Doncaster when he had clearly been trafficked, threatened with violence, kept prisoner and was desperately scared? Are not the Government supposed to be committed to rescuing child victims of trafficking, not sending them to prison and criminalising them?
The Solicitor-General: First, let me respond to the hon. Gentlemans effusive personal compliment to me, which I take in very good heart. I am more frequently likened to a goblin than a pixie, but I am doing my best.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about a case in South Yorkshire. I have received information from the chief Crown prosecutor about it, which I can send to the hon. Gentleman in a letter rather than rehearse the facts of an individual case here. Will it suffice for the time being for me to say that it was literally only in mitigation of sentence in the court that the issue of trafficking was raised? The young man was arrested; he was interviewed; he had a solicitor and an appropriate adultbut the issue of trafficking was never raised. The solicitor did not appear to have taken it into account, although she accepted that she was aware that the Crown Prosecution Service would probably not prosecute if there were any evidence of trafficking. If this young man was, in the end, traffickedthere are, of course, lots of Vietnamese families in the UK, so not all Vietnamese young people are trafficked victimsit was clearly not brought to anyones notice until the very last time. The magistrate does not seem to have referred in his sentencing to the
question whether he was trafficked, but if there is something more to be said, there is still time for an appeal.
The Minister for Women and Equality (Ms Harriet Harman): Representations on lap-dancing clubs have been made, among other ways, through my hon. Friends early-day motion and again yesterday through the private Members Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods).
Lynda Waltho: I know that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of the concern about this issue up and down the country, demonstrated not least by yesterdays support for the private Members Bill. Does she not agree that it is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age that one can object to a neighbour building a porch, but cannot object to a lap-dancing club opening up 200yd up the road? Will she further commit to steering this issue through to a successful conclusion so that we are not subjected to an endless game of ping-pong between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, which I greatly fear?
Ms Harman: I make that commitment to my hon. Friend, many other hon. Friends and all Members who have raised this issue. The important point is that local communities and local authorities need to know that the law is there to back them up. If the local community and the local authority think that it is inappropriate for a lap-dancing club to be opened in a particular area, the law should be there to back them up, but it is evident that that is not the position currently. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said that it was important to make commitments not just to consult, but to act. I can give the House that commitment today.
The Minister for Equality (Barbara Follett): The Government are committed to reducing the gender pay gap, which has been brought down from 17.4 per cent. to 12.6 per cent. in the past decade. We have introduced other supportive measures, including increased maternity pay, improved access to child care and Britains first ever minimum wage. We have also introduced the right to request flexible working and will announce further measures shortly in the Equality Bill.
Barbara Follett: Gender stereotyping leads to occupational segregation. That is crucial in addressing the gender pay gap, and particularly true the older the person or the woman in the work force. Women can be deterred by the lack of part-time and flexible working in male-dominated occupations, as well as by poor information and social stereotypes. That is clear when we realise that the gender pay gap is 20 per cent. in the City and in private businesses as opposed to 10.4 per cent. in public ones.
The Government have taken a range of actions to address that, including the introduction and extension of the right to request flexible working, new support for teachers teaching careers and a series of proposed initiatives including targeted funding to encourage young people to consider atypical career choices when applying for apprenticeships.
Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey and Wood Green) (LD): Does the Minister share my concern about reports that Nottingham city council is reducing the wages of 1,400 of its employees to achieve equal pay, rather than increasing the salary of the women? Should not equal pay mean levelling up, not levelling down?
Barbara Follett: Obviously it should, but local authorities are responsible for addressing their equal pay issues and we recognise that that is a difficult and costly pressure for many of them. However, I am glad to say that progress is being made. The latest figures show that 47 per cent. of councils have either implemented or completed their pay reviews with only 3 per cent. yet to start them.
Last year, the Government issued £500 million-worth of capitalisation directions to 46 local authorities, allowing them to borrow against the cost of back pay arising from equal pay deals, thus spreading the load of this one-off cost over a number of years. Councils can also apply for that borrowing facility in the current year.
Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): One of the most resistant councils in respect of equal pay claims would appear to be Bury under its new Conservative leadership. For more than a year, Bury council has refused to negotiate with Unison, and has prevaricated, delayed and rejected the Governments offer of capitalisation. There is no progress. Will the Minister speak to her Department for Communities and Local Government colleagues to put some pressure on Bury council to move forward on the issue, because it is completely unfair that low-paid women workers in my constituency should have to wait any longer to get their just desserts?
Barbara Follett: I commend my hon. Friend on his championing of those low-paid women in his constituency and I will discuss the matter with DCLG colleagues, but, as I said, pay is a matter for local authorities and the decision is theirs.
Barbara Follett: The Government are fully committed to reducing the number of women in prison. I have had regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on that matter and the Government have agreed to promote community orders as an alternative to custody, in response to Baroness Corstons recommendations on women offenders.
Dr. Blackman-Woods: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. She will know that the Corston report talks about the need to inform sentencers of the need for alternatives to custody. What is being done specifically to make non-custodial sentences a reality so that the women who end up in Low Newton prison in my constituency get the support that they need in the community to direct them from crime in the first place?
Barbara Follett: First, I commend my hon. Friend on the work that she is doing in this particularly difficult area. She is quite right: we need to ensure that more women, who often get sentences for relatively minor offences, are dealt with in the community.
To that end, the Government are considering how we can promote a sentence package that targets offenders who might otherwise have received a custodial sentence with an intensive community order using the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and making use of the mix of requirements available to the courts. I am glad to say that a pilot project is under way in the Derbyshire area to promote such a community order and I look forward to hearing the results.
James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): How many womens prisons have been closed and converted to mixed asylum centres, a process that has effectively forced the Governments hand on the issue of finding a viable alternative?
Barbara Follett: I am afraid that I do not have the information at my fingertips, although I do know that 4,000 of the 82,000 people who are currently in prison in the United Kingdom are women. I will, however, write to the hon. Gentleman with the answer to his question.
Barbara Follett: My Departments report Tackling Violence Against Women: A Cross-Government Narrative provides a detailed summary of the progress made in this vitally important area. The Government have introduced a number of measures, including a dedicated forced marriages unit and specialist domestic violence courts. As a result of those and other measures, the number of successful prosecutions for both domestic violence and rape has increased since 2003.
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