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21 Jan 2010 : Column 176WH—continued

5.3 pm

Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I would be grateful for your guidance, Mr. Benton, on when Members are to give way for those on the Front Benches to make their final contributions.

It is apt that we hold this debate in the wake of the Second Reading of the Crime and Security Bill on Monday and the most welcome review of the family justice system announced yesterday by written statement. Ministers are to be congratulated on those two initiatives, the latter of which is an example of joined-up Government from two Departments. The statement from the two Secretaries of State is evidence of the wider repercussions that violence against women can have, particularly in the domestic context. It is on those aspects of domestic violence that I wish to focus my remarks.

When considering what support must be in place for victims of domestic violence, it is necessary to understand the pervasive nature of the crime for the victims. Victims are forced to carry their abuse with them. It is impossible to escape. Abuse happens in the home, in public and at work, and it stalks the victim throughout the day, whether the perpetrator is absent or not. The abuse does not end when the violence stops, but continues as a psychological torment. Depressive illness frequently follows. There is a fear of others' questions, of letting the carefully constructed semblance of normality slip and of the consequences of allowing the secret out. Then there is the ever-present fear, whether alone or in a crowd, of returning home to the abuser, perhaps an abuser who abuses in front of the children.

It is also true that abuse might not be limited to one assailant, but be perpetrated by several of the victim's close relatives, and perhaps against the victim's other close family members as well. Recourse to police intervention can come after an extended period of domestic violence. The perpetrator might come from a family environment where violence and intimidation in the home is one of the primary means of communication. That problem hints at the need for a broad menu of public policy solutions involving early intervention and support for all parties involved, and that is something I want to emphasise in my short speech, bearing in mind that another important contributor to the debate is yet to speak.

We need to accelerate the timing of intervention. It can be distressing for a family to see a relative exhibiting regressive tantrum-like behaviour normally exhibited in younger children. That can involve self-abuse, public exhibitionist self-abasement and public violence to fellow family members. That can cause trauma for partners and extended family members such that that they too are victims. Dr. Keren Skegg has done good work in that area.

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Before taking recourse to the authorities, the victim of domestic violence might have faced a daily litany of violent abuse, physical force, false imprisonment, denial of funds for food for both them and their children, intimidation, threats to family pets, which the Minister mentioned, physical injury from the use of domestic items or even traumatisation through the erratic misuse of road vehicles to physically intimidate. The panoply of means of violence and abuse are frighteningly extensive, and ease of recourse to support for women who want to care for those whom they love, but at whose hands they suffer, is a much-needed reform. There is much that is done well in Europe in that regard, but I will probably not have time to detail that in my contribution.

A presumption in the family justice system to break up and separate families might need to be challenged by funding early support and intervention before court action becomes inevitable. In that circumstance, I praise the Government's upcoming review of the family justice system and refer to the valuable Adjournment debate held yesterday evening, in which I declared my frequent use of the family justice system. That debate was secured by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), who raised the vital issue of the abuse and overuse of ex parte family court proceedings, often on a Friday afternoon, and often on behalf of male applicants. I was pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), said that she would consider whether the concern about ex parte application misuse could be included in the Government's welcome family justice system review. We must remember that violent partners in family justice system cases can abuse that system to continue their intimidatory behaviour and use the public domain for inappropriate defenestration.

I would also like to highlight the excellent work of the Centre for Social Justice in seeking support for bolstering families subject to domestic violence, which in itself can exhibit intimidation within the extended family. Violence within lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual relationships also needs to be considered in the debate, and I would like to place on record the excellent work I have learned about through my attendance at monthly Croydon LGBT meetings with the Croydon police about that serious concern. That is an initiative of the Croydon police that should be studied and followed.

The proposed "go" orders in the Crime and Security Bill are vital. The need for their introduction is urgent, but I believe that it should not fall on the police to order; instead, there should be proper investment in the court system to allow for immediate recourse to 24-hour courts. I would prefer the term "time-out orders" rather than "to go orders". It is a better term, which would encourage more frequent use and, most importantly, earlier recourse to the facility. Earlier and frequent use of time-out orders would save lives and save families.

I am cognisant that there is another Member who has more to contribute than I do to this debate, so I will not have time to talk about good practice in Europe. However, it should be noted how the support that is given to both sides of a dispute means in many ways that families can be protected.

In conclusion-perhaps it is an exaggeration to say "conclusion"-I would like to spend a little time on two issues that were raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone). I have raised in
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this Chamber before my concern about victims of domestic abuse being denied services because they are not entitled to public funds in what is a sad and serious legal anomaly. Of course, the Solicitor-General will say that it is a matter for the courts. It is right and proper that what might be termed social benefits are not available, but support at public expense in the course of upholding the British tradition of justice is a separate issue. Police officers would not pass by on the other side of the street if they observed a person being assaulted whom they knew to be without the right to remain, so why should it be acceptable to consign a victim to the same fate within the confines of what might loosely be termed their home? A distinction must be made between public money used in connection with crime and justice, and the sort of social services benefits that are properly the thrust of the legal finding.

The qualification must be that entering into the support system should not have an immediate effect on the victim's immigration status. That is a separate issue, and while their new familial status is undoubtedly of importance, it would be unfortunate if people were attracted to making accusations of abuse from anything other than genuine concern.

I would also like to refer to the Metropolitan Police Service human trafficking team pilot, which is being closed down. I was so pleased to hear what the Solicitor-General had to say about advertising: I agree that local newspapers should abstain from the type of advertising that assists the human trafficking business. It is of great regret to me that the Croydon Advertiser has not followed the example of the Croydon Guardian in removing such adverts, regardless of the amount of money that they bring in.

The process that was agreed at the beginning for funding the pilot-to reduce the 50 per cent. of the Home Office funding during this financial year and to have no funding next year-compromises an important unit. I previously had an answer in the main Chamber from the Leader of the House that the problem will now be dealt with by the vice unit in the police service, but I believe that it is important to have a dedicated service. As the Solicitor-General will know, I do not wear any political badge here so, in quoting the Mayor of London's letter to me I am not trying to make a partisan point. However, I would like to quote it in concluding my speech, because it poses a question which the Solicitor-General may have time to answer in winding up the debate.

Boris Johnson stated:

the letter is to me-

I have fulfilled the Mayor's request. I very much look forward to what I am sure will be a significant contribution to the debate by the next speaker.

5.14 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I thank the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) for his generous remarks. I speak as the chair of the all-party
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group on prostitution and the global sex trade, and as a secretary of the all-party group on domestic violence, and I am the only person in this Chamber at the moment who was able to participate in yesterday's debate on trafficking. I think that there is some important read-across between that debate and this one.

I believe that everyone who has contributed to this debate agrees that tackling violence against women is of massive importance in reducing violent crime, and that we must focus on it in a way that was not sufficiently done in ancient years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), led us back to those ancient years, and we remember the victims of those times.

I was honoured this year to be given an Emma Humphreys award for the work that I have done in tackling prostitution. The award recognises organisations and individuals who work to tackle violence against women. I had the privilege of winning it because of my work to ensure that men who pay for sex from women who have been forced to prostitute themselves are criminalised, and I would like to honour the Solicitor-General for contributing to that work. I believe that it makes an important contribution.

The Government's strategy is great, but let us be clear: we have done a lot but there is a lot left to do. I want to focus on the "left to do". Hon. Members have focused on prevention. I share the view that education is a critical part of prevention, but we need to start before people are born. One of the most important ways to prevent domestic violence is for every pregnant woman to be asked at antenatal appointments whether she has ever been a victim of domestic violence. The Daily Mail and others will claim that that is nanny-stating, but there is compelling evidence that a woman is more likely to reveal her status as a victim at that time than at any other. One can then put in place the kind of support procedures that she needs to protect herself and her future child from domestic violence. I strongly urge the Solicitor-General to speak with her colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that that becomes the norm rather than the exception. Such action is taken in my area, but not in many others.

I also urge the Solicitor-General to ensure that section 14 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009, which criminalises men who pay for sex, stops being the secret piece of law that it is at present. We must have proper publicity in every male lavatory and so on asking, "Are you certain that someone who you are thinking of paying for sex has chosen to do it? If you have any reason not to know, you will be prosecuted." I do not think that there has been sufficient publicity about that.

I would like to echo remarks by other Members about the valuable Sojourner pilot project for women who are subject to immigration control and are victims of domestic violence. My anxiety is that it provides for only eight weeks' support, and in many cases, frankly, there is not competent legal immigration advice available to women during that period. One of the simple ways that the Solicitor-General could make a real difference to the effectiveness of the pilot is by guaranteeing good-quality legal advice for that group of women at that point. I hope that that the pilot project will be extended.

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There is another issue that I would like to raise in respect of the interaction between immigration law and violence against women. In my constituency there is a young woman who has temporary immigration status because she was admitted in conjunction with her mother. She had two years' stay in the first instance, which will lead to settlement if her mother's marriage, which one imagines has been going on for some 18 years because that is how old the daughter is, persists during those two years. Her father is trying to force her to marry her cousin in Bangladesh and she is being protected by the forced marriage unit, but there is no mechanism to sort out her immigration status. She has no income, but to get settlement she has to pay a fee although she has no access to money for that. The bending of the rules put in place for victims of domestic violence is not available for women in her position. Frankly, the Home Office is doing its normal Home Office stupid in this case.

I urge the Solicitor-General to take up that case and raise with the Home Office the need for victims of violence to receive not only legal advice, but the kind of resources that women often do not have. They do not have money that is needed to make the Home Office do the things that they need. The response that people receive is: "Oh, this is not a proper application, because it was not accompanied by the fee that we require. It's therefore an improper application and we're therefore bound to refuse it in law." That is what I mean by Home Office stupid. If the Solicitor-General intervened, we might get a little less of that.

I have spoken frequently about rape conviction rates. I praise the Solicitor-General's police force in Cleveland, which has the best conviction rates in the country because it has a decent strategy on a range of sexual violence issues, including prostitution. However, in some ways, I was disappointed by her explanation of how rape conviction rates are counted. In most cases of rape, although not in every case, the victim is able to identify the perpetrator. That is true in, say, street robbery, but not true in many areas of crime, such as burglary, car crime, and so on. It is therefore logical to count the statistics in that way.

I am afraid that I was depressed by the Independent Police Complaints Commission report into Warboys, because it showed that still there persists, even among specialist police officers, insufficient sensitivity to the experience of the victim of rape and an insufficient determination to treat rape as a major violent crime that must be investigated. I hope that the Solicitor-General will ensure that that attitude leads to penalties for those who were responsible for that case and that such attitudes are driven out of the force.

I am really looking forward to the Stern report. Vivien Stern is an excellent woman and I am sure that she will do a good job. However, one thing that other hon. and right hon. Members have discussed-and it is true-is the importance of supporting rape victims to enable them to go through the court procedure to get a conviction. In that regard, independent sexual violence advisers are critical. I represent an area that has one of the 27 domestic violence courts, which make a real difference, but I have noticed a trend for the police to scoop up the money for ISVAs. I am anxious about that, because it is better to have an independent sexual violence adviser who is from the voluntary sector and separate from the police. I urge the Solicitor-General to
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try to find mechanisms to stop this trend, which does not recognise the brilliance that the voluntary sector is capable of-the police can be brilliant in other ways-and which is often lacking in other sectors.

The brilliance of the voluntary sector is not sufficiently recognised in commissioning refuges. I am deeply concerned that some local authorities are putting out to tender refuge provision in their area, with contracts being won by big housing associations that offer a 9 to 5 answer, and a service in which men supervise women, but in which there are no mechanisms in place to ensure that the great vision of those women who created the refuge system is protected. I urge the Solicitor-General to speak to colleagues to ensure that the significant contribution of the voluntary sector, is properly protected, not just with words but by putting in place mechanisms that prevent such local authority stupid commissioning of services.

Finally, I should like to mention the case of Rancheva, recently decided by the European Court of Human Rights. She was a young woman who went from Russia to Cyprus on an artiste's visa to perform in what she believed was burlesque or something like that. She tried to leave the club within three days of arrival-it is clear that it was, in effect, a club for sexual exploitation-and days later she was found dead beneath the balcony of her flat. The judgment in that case included the following statement:

directed at

The Solicitor-General mentioned voluntary efforts to reduce the number of advertisements in local newspapers. That court judgment gives our Government a responsibility to prevent the acceptance of such advertisements by law, because it says clearly:

There are no regulations preventing such advertisements, which are used as a cover for trafficking.

Lynne Featherstone: I am mystified, given the number of advertisements in the back of local papers that are clearly to do with trafficking, as to why the police do not follow up those telephone numbers, track them down and use them. Yes, such adverts should be banned, but the police say that they do not have the manpower to track those numbers down.

Fiona Mactaggart: In her speech, the hon. Lady mentioned the Metropolitan police trafficking unit. She is right to be concerned that that specialist expertise is due to be lost. In fact, as soon as this debate ends, along with other Members of Parliament from all parties, I will be speaking with Commander Cressida Dick of the Metropolitan police, trying to persuade her to reverse that decision. The reason why that decision is so important is connected to the reason why local police forces are not prosecuting in such cases: they do not really know how to and it is outwith their competence.

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The inadequacy of policing this issue is a little bit like the inadequacy of police responding to rape victims in years gone by. Hon. Members may recall a television portrayal of Thames Valley police many years ago and how they treated a rape victim. The public were really shocked by how that victim was treated. As a Member of Parliament who represents Thames valley, I should say that that is not the usual experience. At that time, the police did not have the expertise and did not understand the extent to which this is a cover for massive organised crime.

Local police forces do not get it. I am anxious about the merging of the trafficking unit with the vice and clubs unit, which is more concerned, in my experience, with public order and less concerned with serious and organised crime, because it will mean that a resource that was beginning to educate police forces around the country about ways of tackling and policing this will be lost. I do not believe that this is merely a matter of Government funding, because the Government only ever offered the start-up funding for that unit. It is due to a combination of factors, including the Metropolitan police choosing not to be the national resource that we fund them to be. If the Metropolitan police refuse to act as a national resource to other police forces, why do Thames Valley police not get some of that money and do it? Why do Cleveland police, who have a better record than other police forces, although they are a tiny police force, not get some money and do it? We should penalise the Metropolitan police for their inadequacy in this regard.

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