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House of Lords

Wednesday, 8 March 2006.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Coventry): the LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Domestic Violence

Baroness Gale asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are committed to tackling domestic violence. In response to this horrific crime, the Government passed the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. Building on the new legislation, we shall publish the second national report and comprehensive national delivery plan for domestic violence at the end of this month.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply and congratulate the Government on the work that they have done in trying to alleviate the terrible problem of violence against women. Does she agree that, if boys were taught from a very early age and had a continual education in school and the community to respect girls and women, that would help to alleviate domestic violence? I believe that some schemes already exist. Could the Minister say what the result has been of those schemes?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend is right. Obviously, respect for women and girls has to be a key part of the agenda, and the Government have been working across different departments to ensure that the issue is tackled not only by the Home Office but through education and in other areas. I shall be happy to write to my noble friend on the success of the schemes that we have put in place and place a copy of that letter in the Library of the House.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, could the Minister also confirm that the legislation will act just as swiftly and heavily against violence against men as it does against women? Is she aware that there are certainly occasions when, in a domestic circumstance, violence occurs against men as well?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am happy to confirm that the legislation is gender-neutral. We all know that there is violence against men. I am sorry to have to say to the House that it is sometimes held up as an issue for some ridicule, but it is a very serious issue, and we need to tackle it.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, is the Minister aware that domestic violence has the highest level of repeat victimisation of any crime? I declare an interest in that
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I am a member of the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, which has produced a number of reports and recommendations. Will the Minister look at those recommendations and see how the problem could be addressed by different parts of the criminal justice system?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, 89 per cent of repeat victimisation is against women, which is something that we need to tackle. I am happy to look at the recommendations mentioned by the noble Lord and see whether there is anything further that we can do.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, as this is International Women's Day, I am sure that the Minister will join me in praising the valuable work of organisations such as Refuge, Women's Aid and the NSPCC in providing much-needed help to the victims of domestic violence. What discussions has the Minister had with such organisations to promote close working relationships with government on the issue?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I totally endorse the noble Viscount's comments. The work of those organisations is very important, and we have worked closely with them over a number of years. They have been absolutely critical in helping us to develop our policy and strategy.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there appears to be a wealth of anecdotal evidence from the relevant areas that some of the gravest offences committed against partners in domestic circumstances—mainly women, of course—never find their way to the criminal or civil courts, due, no doubt, to the fear of reprisal, family pressures and considerable economic dependency? In the circumstances, does she agree that in many cases such victims can be helped in practice only by enhanced support for specialist social services agencies?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, of course we are worried about the fact that there is much going on that we do not know. That is precisely why we have put in place special measures, including special courts, to enable us to address those issues. On top of what the Government can do, we are working with other agencies, including social services, to see what other support we can put in place to enable the victims of violence to make their condition known.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I echo the congratulations afforded to Women's Aid and Refuge in particular for their dedication over a tremendously long time. Does my noble friend accept that, although it is true that men suffer from domestic violence, it is overwhelmingly women and children who tend to suffer the most? Also, will she address the issue of women from minority groups? Does she agree that the number of women reporting violence has increased over a period when women have enjoyed economic independence and that those facts are related? What are our Government doing to ensure that women who
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are most vulnerable at that time of their life are afforded economic empowerment and support, as well as other measures to protect them from violence?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right: one in four women faces significant violence, and two women die every week. Those are serious figures. She is right that more people are coming forward. That is partly a result of the activities of government and other agencies, which are encouraging women and others to come forward because we feel we need to tackle the issue. One explanation may be women's greater economic independence, but there are other explanations. We need to do all that we can to ensure that women and men are supported in coming forward and that the criminal justice system takes every care to deal with the issue sensitively.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, although the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, is congratulating this Government, we have been working on the issue in this country for a long time? The UK was the first country to acknowledge, in relation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, that violence against women did exist. Our example, by showing that we were not afraid to admit that it happened, helped many other countries in the world to acknowledge the position. Does she agree, however, that there is still a long way to go to change attitudes?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right, but it is also important to point out to her that, following the legislation in 1976, nothing was done by government on this issue until we came to power in 1997. I am proud of this Government's record on developing the first cross-government strategy for tackling domestic violence.

Children: Smoking

3.08 pm

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, on International No Smoking Day, I am pleased to say that the Government have made good progress in reducing the number of young people who smoke. Our comprehensive tobacco control strategy to tackle smoking has helped to reduce smoking rates in young people aged 11 to 15 from 13 per cent in 1996 to 9 per cent in 2004. Among other initiatives, the Government will soon be consulting on increasing the age limit for selling
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tobacco from 16 to 18. We will also look at increasing sanctions on retailers who persistently sell tobacco to children.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Ninety per cent of smokers start smoking before they reach the age of 18. In fact, by the age of 15, 21 per cent of children are regularly smoking, which I think is staggering. Does my noble friend agree that, given that a third of child smokers want to quit, it is vital to the Government's tobacco strategy that smoking cessation programmes are targeted at children? I refer particularly to access to nicotine replacement therapy for child smokers and peer education for potential child smokers.

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