I confirm that we will act swiftly. We have acted swiftly already today by announcing the areas on which we comprehensively agree and in announcing cross-party talks. Perhaps I may reiterate what I said a moment ago: there is no reason why the press cannot start in this new direction as quickly as possible, providing a system of independent and transparent regulation with very firm criteria, along the lines proposed in the report from Lord Justice Leveson.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Lord Justice Leveson said today that the Black-Hunt proposal for a reformed PCC does not come close to delivering regulation that is genuinely free and independent both of the industry and political control, and has called for an independent verifier established by statute. Twenty years ago, David Calcutt QC came to virtually the same conclusion and was ignored. Are we not in danger here of repeating the mistake of 1992 of asking for advice and then ignoring it?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the overwhelming majority of the recommendations, suggestions and thought process that Lord Justice Leveson has gone through have been accepted by us and, no doubt, by the press. I say “no doubt”—I very much hope that that applies to the press. There are issues that we believe need to be explored more thoroughly, particularly about the role that legislation should play. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon that he had issues on the principle, the practicality and the necessity of that. These are issues that we can explore in the near future.

Lord Prescott: My Lords, I speak as a victim of our free press. The failure of the PCC and the Metropolitan Police is well recorded in this excellent report by Lord

29 Nov 2012 : Column 347

Justice Leveson, who has given us solutions to that failure. I welcome the report, as it recommends change and accepts the recommendations that I made for change, including the voluntary and statutory framework, when he invited me to do so in giving evidence to his inquiry. Does the Minister accept that Lord Justice Leveson was well aware that there could be a failure, as there has been in the past six inquiries into the press, as to whether they would carry out their promises and make the change? In those circumstances, is the Minister prepared to consider in the legislation that will come before this House a sunset clause that makes it clear that, if the press fail to carry out their promises, we have the authority in the Bill to bring forward a statutory framework, which Lord Justice Leveson said was the only alternative?

Lord Strathclyde: The noble Lord was clearly wronged by elements of the press. He is right to say that Lord Justice Leveson has comprehensively exposed a failure in the PCC, which cannot continue any more. He largely absolves the police from blame, although he has made some important recommendations on certain changes relating to the relationship between the police and the press.

I know that there are a lot of speakers. I shall try not to make my answers too long so as to get in as many as we possibly can, but I remind noble Lords that there will be another Statement along in a minute.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, I shall try to follow that good example. When Lord Justice Leveson was appointed, I knew that we had an excellent judge to undertake this task. I knew from a certain amount of experience of being in Government in the past that he was dealing with an extremely difficult problem. We had the “last chance saloon” and so on over the time when I was in Government, so I know how difficult it is. Surely we have a unique opportunity at this time to go ahead with an extremely well thought-out system for giving the press the right of self-regulation that is seen to work in the public interest. The only purpose of the statutory arrangement is to ensure that that self-regulation will be properly independent in the sense that Lord Justice Leveson explained. I would have thought that the sooner we can get all-party consent to this, the better. There will be a certain amount of discussion about detail, but the principles and essentials of the legislation can surely be put in place very quickly. We owe it to people like those who have been referred to to do it as quickly as possible to prevent that kind of thing happening again.

Lord Strathclyde: My noble and learned friend has a great deal of experience and knowledge on this subject, and I agree with him that what we asked Lord Justice Leveson to do was extremely difficult—yet what he has done is to bring his intellect to bear and publish an extremely impressive report and analysis. I agree with much of what my noble friend said; there is an opportunity for us to work together on a cross-party basis to bring about some extremely good results as quickly and effectively as possible.

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, the Prime Minister said at the beginning of his Statement that above all we should put the interests of the victims first. I am

29 Nov 2012 : Column 348

afraid that in his response to Leveson he is doing the very opposite of that: he is putting politics and the perceived power of certain sections of the press before the interests of the victims. Let us be honest, he is not the first Prime Minister to be in that position.

The Leveson report is a very moderate and realistic set of proposals that seeks to achieve two things. First, it seeks to achieve high standards of journalism in this country and the untrammelled ability of journalists to pursue those high standards, while at the same time putting in place a rudimentary protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals. It is perfectly clear that what certain sections of the press—they are by no means unified—want to put forward instead is a variation of the PCC, which, as we know, is and always has been a plaything of the Daily Mail and News International—nothing more or less than that.

Leveson is right: we need a statutory longstop to a genuinely independent system of regulation—a statute that should give privileges to the press because of the unique role that they play in our society, but should make absolutely clear that while they enjoy those unique privileges, they are none the less not above the law in how they behave.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, it is truly astonishing to hear the noble Lord complain about politicians being political. I cannot join him in his accusation that my right honourable friend is afraid of the power of the press; in fact, I think that my right honourable friend has accepted most of the criteria set out in this report. Where I agree with the noble Lord is that we should have uppermost in our minds the interests of the victims, and should judge the criteria and the new system of regulation against that. The new regulatory system, unlike the current one, will be devoid of editors and members of the Government on its governing board. That is an enormous strength to ensure that it can never again become a plaything of any newspaper group.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, in the public debate there is sometimes an assumption that the problem with the press is that of a rogue reporter distorting a story. When I chaired the Hillsborough independent panel, we became aware of the way that one news agency failed not just one national newspaper but several, which between them became cumulatively responsible for misrepresenting the events of Hillsborough for a generation. Will the Government ensure that the regulatory body is sufficiently equipped to deal with complaints against such complex and enormous misrepresentation?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate brings a very particular experience of abuses of the press that have recently come to light. Again, it will be a test of the new regulatory system whether or not it will have the resources that he mentioned. At first reading of the executive summary, I am bound to say that I think the intention is that it will. However, that is precisely the kind of thing that we will be able to discuss in great detail.

Lord Soley: My Lords, some people have been quick to demand that the powerful be held to account. Now is the time to hold the press to account because

29 Nov 2012 : Column 349

they have avoided that for too many years and we have all ducked the problem for too long. What troubles me about the Statement repeated by the Leader of the House today is that it calls on the press to make these changes, with which I agree, but if that means that they then do not proceed to legislate on the Leveson proposal, I will tell him exactly what will happen: in about two or three years’ time, when the spotlight of Leveson has dimmed, they will go back to their old ways. We must have Leveson.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Lord Justice Leveson has created a new, self-regulatory system. We expect the press to put it into effect as quickly as possible. We should all be guardians to make sure that the press sticks to the new regulatory system.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I join in with the well deserved congratulations tendered in respect of Lord Justice Leveson, but does the Minister agree that a great deal of irrelevant nonsense has been spoken on the issue of freedom of the press? The press is subject to the law of sedition, defamation, treason, contempt and dozens of other fundamental legal principles, yet remains free. In Leveson we have nothing more than a statutory framework for spelling out certain principles of human decency that should have been abided by all along.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord that there has been a lot of nonsense spoken, but I do agree that there are statutes designed specifically to deal with excesses not just of the press but of other people as well. There are also instances—for example data protection—where the press has a privileged position and is excluded from the law. This is one area we need to examine.

Lord Hattersley: My Lords, in another place the Prime Minister was less than precise about how a regulatory authority that was not statutorily backed would be constituted. Does the Leader of the House agree that were the regulatory authority to be financed and nominated by the press itself, it would no longer be independent?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there is perhaps a small misunderstanding. The authority will not be nominated by the press. It will be a truly independent body that will not have editors on it, as the current body has.

Lord Black of Brentwood: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on the need to get on with establishing a new system of tough, independent regulation. The Prime Minister has laid down a tough challenge to the newspaper industry to proceed quickly. I reassure him that the industry will rise energetically to the challenge, starting tomorrow. There is much in the Leveson principles that he referred to that the industry can agree with. The proposals can be fully deployed in the proposals set out by my noble friend Lord Hunt. As the report says on page 1769, there is no reason why the industry model should not be capable of adaptation to meet the requirements set down. I concur, and we can look at the various points raised.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 350

Finally, I echo the great caution expressed about the role in the new system of the statutory regulator Ofcom. I should have prefaced my remarks by declaring my interest as executive director of the Telegraph Media Group. I draw the Leader’s attention to paragraph 6.16 in volume 4 of the report, which states that the recognition body would be required to determine whether the standards code met statutory requirements. That would put a state regulator at the very heart of the newsroom. Does he agree that if the industry can make rapid progress in the task of establishing a new system, such a move would be not just profoundly dangerous but completely unnecessary?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I very much welcome what my noble friend said about the press welcoming this report as much as we do. It is for the press to come up with a very firm timetable for how quickly they will put this into effect. The issue of Ofcom is one that we will discuss over the next few weeks.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, I discovered towards the end of the Leveson inquiry that my daughter’s mobile phone had been hacked 10 years ago. Her intimate conversations were used in a story published in the News of the Worldand other publications. Will the Government and the leaders of all parties bear in mind that it is not just those in the public eye but the families of those in the public eye, including the wider families—the brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers—who suffer from press intrusion even though they have never volunteered to be in public life. Will the Government also consider, in the discussions that are about to take place about the importance of the media outwith London, the culture of the media across the whole of the United Kingdom, particularly in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the national media operate in just as influential a way as they do in London for the rest of the UK?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I agree entirely with what the noble Lord said. He is also right about the rest of the United Kingdom, and we shall need to take into account the devolved Administrations to make sure that they are fully on board with some of these changes.

Leveson Inquiry


5.40 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement on the Leveson inquiry made earlier in the House of Commons by the Deputy Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, I am grateful for the opportunity to address the House. I know it is unusual, but this is an unusual debate. The terms of reference for Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry were agreed on a cross-party basis. As the House has heard, we intend to proceed on a cross-party basis. So I think it is right that Parliament is clear on the initial views of the Government—across the coalition.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 351

First, let me say that I agree with a huge amount that has already been said by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, which bodes well for the cross-party talks taking place later this afternoon.

I would like to thank Lord Justice Leveson for his extremely thorough report. In my view, there are two big liberal principles at play in this debate: on the one hand, the belief that a raucous and vigorous press is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy; on the other, the belief that the vulnerable, the innocent and the weak should be protected from powerful vested interests.

A free press does not mean a press that is free to bully innocent people or to abuse grieving families. What I want now is for us to strike a better balance between those two liberal principles, so that our media can scrutinise the powers that be, but cannot destroy innocent lives; so that the journalists up in the Press Gallery can hold us, the politicians, to account, but we can look up to the individuals and families in the Public Gallery knowing they have the right protections in place.

I have always said that I would support Lord Justice Leveson’s reforms, providing they are proportionate and workable. I will come on to why, at first glance, I believe that to be the case for the report’s core proposal for a tougher system of self-regulation, supported by new, independent checks, recognised in law.

However, I do not want to disguise the fact that I have some specific concerns about some specific recommendations; for example, on data protection rules, and any changes to the way in which journalists can use personal information when reporting in the public interest; and on the suggestion that it should be Ofcom that independently verifies the new press watchdog. Ofcom has a key role in regulating the content of broadcast media, but I am yet to be convinced that it is best placed to take on this new, light-touch function with the print media as well. Lord Justice Leveson has himself said this function could be fulfilled by a new body.

However, on the basic model, of a new, self-regulatory body, established with a change to the law, in principle, I believe this can be done in a proportionate and workable way. I understand the entirely legitimate reasons why some Members of this House are wary of using legislation. I myself have thought long and hard about this. I am a liberal; I do not make laws for the sake of it—and certainly not when it comes to the press. Indeed, when I gave my own evidence to the inquiry, I made the point that, if we could create a rigorous, independent, system of regulation that covers all the major players, without any changes to the law, of course we should. But no one has yet come up with a way of doing that.

Lord Justice Leveson has considered these issues at length. He has found that changing the law is the only way to guarantee a system of self-regulation that seeks to cover all of the press, and he explains why the system of sticks and carrots he proposes has to be recognised in statute in order to be properly implemented by the courts.

What is more, changing the law is the only way to give us all the assurance that the new regulator is not just independent for a few months or years but

29 Nov 2012 : Column 352

independent for good. Someone will need to check, periodically, that the independence of the regulator has not been weakened over time. The report explains why that needs to be set out in law. As Lord Justice Leveson himself says:

‘This is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press’.

This is a voluntary system, based on incentives, with a guarantee of proper standards. It is not illiberal state regulation.

It is worth dwelling on that point for a moment because, while there has, rightly, been a lot of discussion about the risks of legislating, there have, so far, been key arguments missing from this debate. First, the press does not operate in some kind of lawless vacuum; it has to abide by the law. In many instances it is already protected by the law, and I agree with the report that we should actually go further in enshrining the freedom of the press in statute.

Secondly, it has been suggested that using the law will blur the line between politicians and the media, but we must not ignore the extent to which that line has already been blurred under the current system of self-regulation. It is the status quo which has allowed such cosy relationships between political and media elites to arise in the first place. And let us not forget that, of the five PCC chairs, three were serving parliamentarians who took a party whip. Far from allowing greater overlap, the laws that have been proposed give us a chance to create a hard wall between politics and the press.

Thirdly, as the report notes, there is already an example of statutory underpinning in the Press Council of Ireland, which has been accepted by a number of UK newspapers. The Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star, the Sun, the Sunday Times, the Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror are all members; they all publish Irish editions. I have not yet heard these papers complain of a deeply illiberal press environment across the Irish Sea.

Of course, neither I nor anyone can be certain of exactly how these proposals will look until we have worked up the detail. The two tests I have set—that any reforms must be workable and proportionate—will need to be met in practice as much as in principle, and if they are not I will be the first to sound the alarm. In that event, we would then need to consider alternatives.

Absolutely the worst outcome in all this would be for nothing to happen at all, but we must not now prevaricate. I, like many people, am impatient for reform. Bluntly, nothing I have seen so far in this debate suggests to me that we will find a better solution than the one which has been proposed. Nor do I draw any hope from the repeated failure of pure self-regulation that we have seen over the past 60 years. We need to get on with this, without delay. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing—too long for an independent press watchdog, in which they can put their trust. I am determined we do not make them wait any more”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 353

5.48 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for repeating the Statement of his right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister in the other place. It is a bit like the No. 11 bus: we have been waiting a long time for a Statement on press regulation and two come along at the same time. The House has shown remarkable sympathy to accommodate the strains and stresses of the coalition Government and allow this to happen. Perhaps it will be equally accommodating when we are dealing with the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, which we hope will come along at some point.

I found myself largely in agreement with much of what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, said. I also pay tribute to his long-standing and consistent work in this area. Of course, the reason why the Deputy Prime Minister found it necessary to make a statement separate from that of the Prime Minister is now clear: there is a fundamental difference between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is extremely reluctant that statute should be involved in any way in a system of independent regulation of the press, whereas the Deputy Prime Minister is clearly convinced that a new system of independent regulation must be supported by statute. I invite the noble Lord, Lord McNally, to reiterate that Lord Justice Leveson could not have been clearer about why statutory underpinning of his proposed system of independent self-regulation is required. Paragraph 70 of the executive summary of the Leveson report says plainly that,

“it is essential that there should be legislation to underpin the independent self-regulatory system and facilitate its recognition in legal processes”.

Does the noble Lord, Lord McNally, accept that Lord Justice Leveson absolutely rejects as inadequate the proposals put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Black? In paragraph 53 of the executive summary, Lord Leveson says that,

“the new body must represent the interests of the public as well as the press and the proposed model”—

the Black model—

“does not go anything like far enough to demonstrate sufficient independence from the industry (and in particular, serving editors) or sufficient security of high and unalienable standards for the public; neither does it appear to have sufficient support from all the major participants within the industry”.

Surely that is persuasive in the need for action to provide the statutory underpinning that Lord Justice Leveson puts forward.

In his response, the Prime Minister seems to be setting himself against a fundamental point of what Lord Justice Leveson proposes. He is setting himself against where the public are and he is certainly setting himself against where victims of the media want politicians to be. Of course, legislating on the press is a difficult and complex area but we believe that the Prime Minister is making a misjudgment on this issue. He should put his faith in what Lord Justice Leveson is proposing and enact it.

We welcome the Statement from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and look forward to working in cross-party talks with him and his party on this point. It is very simple: we should not allow the press to have another

29 Nov 2012 : Column 354

lock-in at the last chance saloon, which has lasted for so many decades. Our democracy needs a free press, but a clean press, too. We will work very hard to achieve that.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I am grateful for the kind, personal remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, called out from a sedentary position, “What’s the difference?”. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, tries to find differences. One of the things that I found most encouraging about the two Statements—indeed, the three Statements made in the other place today—is the broad level of common ground. I hope that everyone will take the opportunity, including my noble friend Lord Black, to read the Leveson report and then match the statements that they made before reading it in the light of it. In some ways it is an insult to someone who has spent as long as Lord Justice Leveson has, whether it was a year or nine months—I am never quite sure, but it was a very long time—to produce a four-volume 2,000-page report, and then to announce, “I agree with this; I agree with this; I agree with this”. Let us read the report and think about how to go forward. I am pleased that, as far as I am aware, those cross-party talks have already been in place for the past 55 minutes, which bodes well.

5.54 pm

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, clearly Lord Justice Leveson’s report managed to answer the tests that he was set, which were basically how to reconcile freedom of the press with concern for the many victims who have suffered terrible mistreatment at the hands of the media. I think there is consensus in this House and in the other place that he has managed to do that with great aplomb, skill and proportionality.

I listened with care to what the noble Lord, Lord Black, said, and it filled me with concern. Here we are with a report that recommends regulation with the lightest of touch—it really only creates backstop oversight and allows the press themselves to create the independent regulatory system that we would all like to see—yet there is still a sense that somehow the media will not be satisfied and that the press barons and their supporters will rally to prevent anything happening.

There was a wonderful moment in the Leveson inquiry when Stephen Dorrell—who is not much remembered anymore but he was a Minister in the early 1990s in what was then the Department of National Heritage, now the Department for Culture—told how someone working on his team had produced a memo. Calcutt had just reported and the memo said, “We can’t do anything; we’re not going to do anything; we can’t say we are not going to do anything; we therefore have to find something to say that sounds as though we’re not going to be doing nothing”. That is the terrible thing that I feel could easily happen here again. We must not descend again. I would like the Minister—who, as everyone has said, has a great track record on this—to reassure us that he is not going to allow this to become the purview yet again of those masters of the universe who happen to run some sections of our press.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 355

Lord McNally: My Lords, there will be a test tomorrow. If tomorrow’s newspapers and editorials follow the lines suggested by the noble Baroness, I—and, I hope, the noble Lord, Lord Black, and anyone who has influence on it—will say that our media have misjudged horrendously the public mood and the public disgust at their behaviour. It is simply not good enough to wave the flag that it will be a state-controlled press and Russia and Turkey will be pleased at what we are doing, when manifestly that is not the case. That would be really sad.

There is also a responsibility on us. I do not mind the odd bit of knockabout, and I might remind the other side of its record in this area at some points in this questioning, but the responsibility of the three parties that have had experience of government is immense. This is our chance, a chance that may not come again, and it would be a betrayal if we did not take it.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, in that precise context, does my noble friend agree that those in the press who have so overplayed their hand in their pre-emptive bombardment of Leveson, in the hope that we would somehow put it aside, have woefully misjudged both the public mood and the seriousness of the problem that confronts them, to which Lord Justice Leveson has provided such a balanced reply?

Lord McNally: After long experience, I always agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, the Minister spoke about the vulnerable, the innocent and poor people. Undoubtedly the issues that such people face will be complex and they will need help. Will the noble Lord undertake that, in suitable cases, legal aid will be available to them?

Lord McNally: I suspect that legal aid would be available. However, this is not the evening to discuss that issue.

Baroness Hollins: My Lords, can the Minister suggest an appropriate and achievable timetable to scrutinise Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals for legislative action? Can he reassure the House that the case for legislation to underpin independent self-regulation will not simply be referred to another committee?

Lord McNally: I most sincerely hope not. As I said earlier, all-party talks started, as I understand it, at five o’clock. When I had the pleasure earlier today of sitting in on a meeting between the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, they were both clearly determined that this issue would be pressed with all possible urgency. It will not run into the sand or go into the long grass, and the sooner that the press understand that and respond with a sense of urgency and reality, the better.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I should declare an interest as chairman of the Cumbrian Newspaper Group, not that that makes me much of a press baron.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 356

Will my noble friend confirm that the Government accept Lord Justice Leveson’s findings of fact in his report?

Lord McNally: I would assume so, although I am not sure whether there is an elephant trap in that. One of the things that have been said by all those who have responded is that they pay tribute to the absolute thoroughness of the work done by Lord Justice Leveson.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I welcome the report. Perhaps I may follow up the aside of the previous speaker and ask where do the press begin and where they end. It is not clear how much printed media there will be in the coming 20 years; increasingly they are going to be in the blogosphere, twittering and whatever, and it seems that, whatever the Government do, they must weigh that very carefully. The problems of the press are increasingly going to be the problems of the paperless media. I would like a reassurance that, in swiftly implementing what the inquiry says, the matter will be given careful thought.

Lord McNally: My Lords, we are most certainly moving into a new age, but let us be clear: newspapers that publish online are already subject to the same disciplines as the printed versions of those newspapers. As I think we discovered in the Lord McAlpine case, electronic tweeting, e-mails and so on are not protected from the other laws of this land.

Lord Whitty: My Lords—

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords—

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords—

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, I think we should hear from the noble Lord, Lord Whitty.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there seems to be one dimension that the discussion in this House so far has missed. A truly free press requires diversity of opinion and therefore diversity of ownership. A whole chunk of the recommendations in the report relate to that plurality point. The Government have a great chance. There is a Bill already before this House, the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, in which the recommendations made here on media ownership, competition and plurality could be introduced at this stage. Will the noble Lord and, indeed, the Leader of the House prevail upon their colleagues to consider putting them into the Bill?

Lord McNally: I will certainly take that suggestion back, and I think that the noble Lord is quite right. Although the Leveson report devotes a relatively small amount of attention to plurality, it throws on our respective Houses and on the Government the responsibility of looking at, monitoring and, if necessary, responding to questions of plurality. I hope that we will take up the challenge posed in the report because, as has been said, this is an industry in technical change and we may find that there are very rapid concentrations of power. We may well need to be able

29 Nov 2012 : Column 357

to respond to such concentrations, but whether or not that is done through the noble Lord’s suggestions is above my pay grade.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, I hope I am not alone in expressing my deep sympathies for my noble friend and for the Leader of the House at having to repeat these two Statements in the House because it is surely not the right way to proceed. What really matters are the all-party talks, and I am delighted to hear from my noble friend that they have already started. The danger about these Statements is that they overemphasise the differences within the coalition before the talks have started. That is not the right way. Lord Justice Leveson took a long time to produce a weighty report, so we should treat it seriously and see that it is properly implemented.

Lord McNally: I hear what my noble friend said, but this is one of those dilemmas. In each House, my right honourable friend and I could have sat silently while a Conservative made the points, or we could have done what I think is the sensible thing, which is to set out clearly the attitudes of the three major parties that are going to have responsibility for seeing this through. I think we took the right decision and do not agree with my noble friend.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: On the specific point made by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, this is a different House from the House of Commons and very different in its procedures. I have agreed with everything that the noble Lord has said so I hope he will forgive me if I ask him: in what capacity was he speaking from the Dispatch Box? Why could he not have done what has been done on a number of previous occasions—the noble Lords, Lord Alderdice, and Lord Dholakia, have done it—and expressed a point of view from the Liberal Democrat Benches? That is what is done in this House, which is different from the other place.

Lord McNally: This House would not then have had the benefit of hearing what my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister said in the other place. I was trying to work out how long the noble Lord and I have known each other. I think it is—

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: It is 45 years.

Lord McNally: So he knows the affection in which I hold him. However, I do not think that this is an issue for the barrack-room lawyers. It is a time for statesmanship in all three parties.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords—

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I resist completely any temptation to embarrass the noble Lord in relation to the issue of legal aid, something that I have assiduously sought to do over the past six months, but does the Minister accept that Lord Justice Leveson says in his report that any complaint should be made,

“without cost to the complainant”?

29 Nov 2012 : Column 358

Therefore it does not matter whether that comes from legal aid or some other public purse—there should be that complete freedom and guarantee in this regard.

Lord McNally: As with other parts of the Leveson report, we will have to look at this. However, one of the things that I know is in the report is the suggestion that, rather than a purely legalistic solution, there should be a road for settling complaints against the press that is cost-free.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords—

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords—

Lord Elton: My Lords—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords—

Lord Strathclyde: We have only had one Conservative speak so I think it should be my noble friend Lord Elton.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I come back to the involvement of statute. I was 12 years old when the first of the succession of reports on the misconduct of the press was published. I was not old enough to take much interest in it, but I have taken an increasing level of interest in the successive ones. Every report has concluded that the press has undertaken to behave better. I was greatly impressed by the proposals from my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lord Black but it comes down to the fact that if their working is dependent on the press fulfilling its undertakings to behave differently, then I hope my noble friend and his right honourable friend will look at the record before deciding how much weight to put on those undertakings.

Lord McNally: My noble friend makes a very sound point, and it is extremely good that it comes from someone on the Conservative Benches with such long experience of these matters.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Deputy Prime Minister’s Statement makes the very important point that the statutory underpinning of the Press Council of Ireland is accepted by those very newspapers that have become so hysterical about the possibility of statutory underpinning in this country. Will the Deputy Leader of the House assure the House that this crucially important point will not be lost in the cross-party discussions that will take place and that the Deputy Prime Minister will stick to his guns on this point?

Lord McNally: I can assure the noble Baroness of that fact.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, Lord Justice Leveson makes clear recommendations about changes to the framework of the Data Protection Act in terms of eliminating some of the exceptions that currently apply to the media. I note in the Statement repeated by my noble friend that my right honourable friend has certain reservations about that set of recommendations. Is the abuse of personal information not one of the root

29 Nov 2012 : Column 359

problems that we have seen during the past few years? Should we not proceed with those changes, particularly in light of the fact that his department would be responsible for making them?

Lord McNally: No, my Lords, we should not proceed with those changes but we should certainly move with speed to see how such changes could and should be implemented. The recommendations on data protection came slightly from left field; I am not sure that anyone was fully aware that Lord Justice Leveson would make suggestions in this area. It is an area where we are discussing matters in a European context, in terms of revising the European data directive and our own legislation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice and I have already commissioned work within our own department to respond to the Leveson suggestions. As with other parts of the report, we will move forward with all due purpose.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, while joining all the speakers who have condemned the attacks on people who are particularly vulnerable at times in their lives, such as the McCanns, and noting the Leveson report’s reference to a second inquiry, which cannot be discussed at this stage, will the Minister please confirm that not only the weak and vulnerable but everyone who has the sought the limelight or is in public life should be exempt from anything that is found to be an illegal action?

Lord McNally: Yes, my Lords, I am sure that that is broadly the case. I have just been asked to remind the House, in relation to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, that the illegal use of data is already against the criminal law. I say in response to the noble Baroness that what we want is a press that respects us all, and for us all to respect that press.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, Lord Justice Leveson recommends that there should be a new a regulatory body for the press, that it should not be made up of the press, as was the PCC, and that it should not be made up of parliamentarians or Ministers. Who would make up this new independent body? Who would appoint the members? Would they be elected and what role would the judiciary play?

Lord McNally: These matters will be looked at because they are not prescribed in the report. Although the judiciary must be feeling a little overworked these days because of the number of times we ask them to pick up hot potatoes for us, it is an interesting thought that there may be some judicial role in setting up the body.

The key thing is to emphasise that there is a broad measure of support for this and, I suspect, a broad measure of political determination. There have been views from different places this evening. Although I have occasionally thought that this House could be reformed, I have never been in any doubt that there is a collective wisdom in the House that Governments should draw on, particularly at times like this. On 18 December, we will have a debate on this in the House. The other place contains faster readers and

29 Nov 2012 : Column 360

they will have their debate on Monday. The debate on 18 December could—and, knowing this House as I do, will—contain a great detail of experience and wisdom, which will carry us forward on this issue.

Violence Against Women

Question for Short Debate

6.15 pm

Asked by Baroness Jenkin of Kennington

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to prevent violence against women.

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington: My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to open this timely debate on violence against women. As noble Lords will appreciate, it is timed to coincide with the annual International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November, designated by the UN General Assembly to raise awareness of the fact that women around the world are subject to rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence, the scale and true nature of which is often hidden. Each year, this creates an opportunity for individuals, groups and NGOs such as Women for Women International, UN Women, UNICEF, ActionAid and of course DfID—to name but a few—to promote 16 days of activism, joining together to speak out against and raise awareness of the need to end violence against women. Over the past few days, I have found the tweets of these various organisations extremely illuminating. I am delighted that this debate falls within the 16-day campaign period which ends on 10 December. I hope that it, too, will serve to highlight and draw attention to some of the issues both domestically and internationally which so many others around the world are also currently discussing.

I am far from an expert in this area and look forward to hearing from noble Lords across the Chamber who speak with great experience and authority. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, who, along with my honourable friend Jane Ellison in the other place, has been a leading campaigner on the issue of female genital mutilation. I look forward to her contribution to the debate. I look forward to hearing from the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, whose review into the treatment of rape complaints by public authorities has had such a significant impact.

I am also delighted that we will hear from three noble Lords. As in so many areas of policy, we need the support of men for things to change and for progress to be made. Here, I take the opportunity to pay tribute to two men of vision who have by their actions proved this point. Andrew Mitchell, when Secretary of State at DfID, ensured that women and girls are at the heart of every DfID programme—that includes 16 programmes in this area alone. As he said on International Women’s Day earlier this year,

“Discrimination and violence destroys the potential of girls and women in developing countries and prevents them from pulling themselves out of poverty”.

Also, the announcement of our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, earlier this month on preventing sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations was groundbreaking. I will return to that later in my remarks.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 361

Before preparing for this debate, I was of course aware of the basic facts and statistics with regard to domestic violence, many of which have been raised in this Chamber during Questions or in debates, and will I am sure be raised again today. But looking through the briefings which we will all have been sent, I confess to being utterly shocked by the extent of what is going on under our own eyes. A friend of mine was recently hospitalised with broken ribs. It turned out that her husband had been beating her for years and neither her friends nor her family had any idea. She is one of the fewer than one in four victims who, suffering abuse at the hands of their partner, report it to the police. That means we have to do more to help victims feel confident about reporting these crimes and overcome the feelings of guilt they have about the consequences of doing so. As a society, we are failing to remedy the tragedy of gendered violence. In the UK alone, two women every week are killed by a partner or ex-partner, and every year 60,000 women are raped. Sexual harassment in schools, communities and workplaces is routine.

However, the hour is late and the time is tight. I shall focus my comments on the global situation. I hope that my noble friend in her closing remarks will expand on recent changes domestically which are addressing many of the challenges that we will discuss today. They include the new anti-stalking legislation, the Home Office’s call to end violence against women and girls and the fact that forcing a girl to marry against her will is to become a criminal offence in England and Wales.

I am sure that all of us in this Chamber welcome the Government’s new cross-governmental definition of domestic violence, which will be implemented next March. That definition will reduce the age at which domestic violence can be recognised from 18 to 16—something that is necessary given that the British Crime Survey in 2010 found that 16 to 19 year-olds are the most likely to suffer abuse from a partner. It affects more than one in 10 girls in that age group.

Violence against women and girls is the most widespread form of abuse world wide, affecting one-third of all women in their lifetime. Addressing violence against women and girls is a central development goal in its own right and key to achieving other development outcomes for individual women and their families, communities and nations. Globally, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not yet considered a crime.

To mention a few specific issues, more than 60 million girls are child brides. I recommend the report of the APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, A Childhood Lost, published earlier this week, which is packed with detailed information spelling out the consequences of child marriage, as well as some utterly tragic case histories.

Yesterday’s horrifying news of the beheading of a 15 year-old in northern Afghanistan because her father thought she was too young to marry, is the latest in an alarming trend of similar violence in the area. About 100 million to 140 million girls and women have experienced FGM. More than 600,000 women and

29 Nov 2012 : Column 362

girls are trafficked across borders each year, the vast majority for sexual exploitation. In a survey in India, 50% of men and women agree that wife beating is justified if the woman disrespects her in-laws or neglects the house. When violence against women is justified and attributed to the victim, change is very unlikely to occur.

In the South Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reportedly the worst place in the world to be a woman or a child, there is an epidemic of rape—according to UNFPA, an average of 40 women every day. Given how difficult it is to get news out from some of those remote places, we can only assume that these dreadful stories are merely the tip of the iceberg.

As mentioned earlier, in his speech on 14 November about the use of violence and rape in war, William Hague said that we must shatter the culture of impunity for those who use rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war and shift the balance of shame away from survivors to the perpetrators of that crime. The Foreign Secretary is right to address what is a common view in some parts of the world that it is the victims who should feel ashamed. We need a cultural change through education and media so that women are empowered and gender relations can be built that sustain respect, harmony and non-violence. Those are all issues which need to be addressed both for the victims’ sake and for development reasons

Violence against women has its roots deeply embedded in the inequality between men and women. Violence is used as a tool to maintain subordination of and control over women. Gender inequalities and discrimination are exacerbated during crisis and social breakdown, meaning that already vulnerable girls and women are increasingly less likely to be able to defend themselves, or to break the cycle.

As I mentioned, violence against females impacts negatively on economic growth—indeed, the cost to society is billions of dollars in lost opportunities from education and employment as well as more direct costs for policing, healthcare and the justice system. Violence against girls has a direct correlation to poor performance in school, lower enrolment and high dropout rates. Females are often forced into pregnancy, and abuse can have serious repercussions for their physical and psychological ability to gain employment and participate in what we would consider to be normal lives.

I end by looking back briefly to the origins of this particular day. The international recognition that women have a right to a life free from violence is recent. Historically, their struggle with violence, and with the impunity that often protects the perpetrators, has been linked with their fight to overcome discrimination. Since its founding, the United Nations has concerned itself with the advancement of women's rights, but it was not until 1993 that it specifically targeted the high rates of violence against women. One of the aims of the resolution which adopted the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was to overturn the prevailing governmental stance that violence against women was a private, domestic matter, not requiring state intervention.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 363

Next March, Governments, NGOs and civil society leaders will again meet at the UN in New York for the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The priority theme is the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. As they meet, and as we continue our deliberations today, I hope that they and we bear in mind the remarks made at that meeting nearly 20 years ago by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, when he issued a statement in preparation of the declaration. He said:

“The struggle for women’s rights, and the task of creating a new United Nations, able to promote peace and the values which nurture and sustain it, are one and the same. Today—more than ever—the cause of women is the cause of all humanity”.

6.26 pm

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for introducing this debate on a subject that, sadly, is always with us. It comes at an apposite time for a new development that is taking place in the campaign against a particularly horrible type of violence against women. I speak, of course, about female genital mutilation.

Almost a decade has gone by since the passing of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, which makes it an offence to take a child abroad for mutilation and carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. All of us associated with the Bill that became that Act hoped confidently for prosecutions but none has been brought. Three cases have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service but none has made it to court. The police have tried, but a major objection has been and is that the young girls—it is usually children under 12 who are cut—are unwilling to give evidence against their parents. Another is that Horn of Africa communities maintain silence, even among themselves, on FGM issues.

Now, however, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, has spoken out on the criminality of this practice and published an action plan. The 10 provisions in the plan include: gathering more robust data on allegations of FGM, so that the scale of the problem can be gauged; identifying case studies from the data to examine emerging issues as to why the police officer or doctor did not proceed; investigating what has hindered investigations and prosecutions; raising with Ministers what the existing reporting duties are for medical professionals, social care professionals and teachers in referring possible FGM cases to the police; exploring how other jurisdictions prosecute this crime; examining how these have prosecuted cases of FGM; and asking what evidence is required to support charges of conspiracy to commit, or to aid and abet, the offence.

The plan proposes that the Director of Public Prosecutions should raise with Justice Ministers whether current legislation should be reviewed. Other police tactical options might operate and the question asked as to what intelligence could be collated to support evidence-gathering for a prosecution. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service should develop a protocol for the police to refer all cases of FGM to the CPS for early advice on lines of inquiry and evidential issues, so that the police can build a strong case. Discussions will take place with the Department for Education on

29 Nov 2012 : Column 364

whether guidance on

Working Together to Safeguard Children

requires updating for further clarity about FGM. A steering group has been established to oversee the progress on the action points ahead of the DPP’s next FGM prosecution round table in summer 2013.

I cannot stress too strongly the pleasure and hope that learning of this action plan will bring to the many who have supported campaigns against FGM and suffered continual disappointment during the past years. In the past decade, it has appeared that whatever might be happening in other EU countries—France, Italy and Sweden, among others—the UK was to remain a safe haven for those who practised with impunity the excision of young children’s genitalia. If this action plan can set in train a real advance in prosecution and therefore a warning to those contemplating FGM, it will be a step forward that should have happened 10 years ago, but now that such a decisive plan has been formulated, it must not be allowed to founder. Its progress will be watched avidly by the dozens, by now hundreds, of groups and organisations across the United Kingdom set up over the years to oppose this particular type of child abuse.

6.30 pm

Baroness Hussein-Ece: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for securing this important debate. I, too, woke up this morning to the horrifying headline news of the 14 year-old Afghan child who was beheaded by members of her family because her father had refused a marriage proposal for her. As we debate how we have a responsibility to lend our weight to end violence against women around the world, this terrible tragedy comes as a stark reminder of the urgency of this issue.

Michelle Bachelet, director of UN Women, in her message for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, called for bold action and decisive leadership to galvanise efforts to end the pandemic of violence against women and girls. Today, we know that 125 countries have laws that penalise domestic violence, which is a huge step forward from a decade ago, but that is not enough as 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is still not a crime. Recently, a high-profile, educated woman from the Indian subcontinent told me of an incident where a senior official casually in conversation talked of how when he beat his wife, she knew what she had done wrong. This is by no means an unusual attitude and is not necessarily confined to poorer communities. I experienced threats of violence myself some years ago, when I set up the first project and centre to support Turkish and Kurdish women who experienced violence in the UK, from the very men who perpetrated that violence against women and their family behind closed doors, or who, often in the name of their so-called honour, which, as we all know, is dishonour, tried to control women by using violent methods.

Having laws in place is not enough. We need those laws to be properly implemented. We know that legislatures and enforcement authorities are usually dominated by men who often do not see this issue as a priority. We must do better to protect women and prevent this pervasive human rights violation. Governments and

29 Nov 2012 : Column 365

leaders must lead by example. Many Governments, such as the Afghan authorities, make promises, but it is time for Governments to translate international promises into concrete action. We need an increased number of women in politics, law enforcement and peacekeeping forces as well as economic opportunities for women. We also need educational campaigns, both here in the UK and elsewhere, that teach human rights and advocate mutual respect that will inspire young people so that the next generation can show leadership on ending violence against women.

Here in the UK, we are still working hard to eliminate and educate people in our society to change behaviour and attitudes, but according to the NSPCC sadly one in three teenage girls experience sexual violence from their boyfriends. We need to look at how women are being portrayed in some sections of the media, particularly in online sites.

In showing leadership and using our influence to progress this work internationally, will the Minister consider whether the UK will lend its support to the recommendations that Oxfam, among others, has put forward on human rights featuring prominently in UK diplomacy at international and country level with specific attention to gender-based violence, including sexual violence, and also on championing a place at the table for women in peace negotiations, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to help to ensure that gender-based violence is recognised as part of any peace process and that women’s rights are sustained over the long term?

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, said, the 57th session of the Commission on the Status of Women will be held next March and will be on this theme. It is important that the UK Government show leadership at this event and support the call from UN Women and its expert group for the development of an international implementation plan to end violence against women. Will the Minister say whether this will be the case?

6.34 pm

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for initiating this important debate during the 16 days. I shall concentrate my remarks on what needs to be done to prevent rape and serious sexual assault in this country; I am talking particularly about the rape of those over the age of 13, not young children.

Great progress in dealing with rape and serious sexual assault has been made in recent years, both under the previous Government and under the coalition Government. The Government have made clear in a number of policy documents what they see as the right approach, with which I agree wholeheartedly. First, the victim must be central to the response, and help and services should be provided regardless of the possible criminal justice outcome. Secondly, good specialist law enforcement is essential. Thirdly, prevention must always be accorded time and resources.

Those three aspects are interconnected. If victims are at the centre and given the support and help they need, they are more likely to stick with the legal

29 Nov 2012 : Column 366

process and more likely to give information that might help prevention efforts. I will illustrate this with one small example. Sexual assault referral centres are key to an approach that puts the victim first. These are places that are run ideally by the NHS and commissioned jointly by the police and the NHS, where victims reporting rape go straight away for forensic testing and attention to any other immediate needs. In the London sexual assault referral centres, of which I am patron, a nurse reads all the reports of all the cases that they deal with: those reported to the police and those of people who come to be tested but do not want to report to the police. The nurse puts stickers on a map which identify the clubs and nightspots which seem to be producing a number of cases. Where there is a cluster which suggests a particular nightspot is attracting those who prey on vulnerable women, the nurse talks to the management of the club and offers training to the staff to understand what is going on on their premises and work to prevent women being harmed.

That is one small example of how prevention should be woven into the thinking of every agency that sees and deals with the victim. Of course, spreading understanding of the law about rape, particularly to young people, must also be done. The London sexual assault referral centres have produced an interactive video, aimed at young men, called “Where is your line?”, aiming to make it clear that sex without consent is rape. I also congratulate the Home Office for its online educational campaign about rape and sexual assault, targeting 13 to 18 year-olds.

Dealing with rape and sexual exploitation is not a simple matter of a victim making a report, a suspect being charged, a court case and a conviction. Success is not that easy to measure. It is a complex matter involving a strategic approach in every area, with the police ideally having a specialist rape unit working in an integrated way with health and with the involvement of the range of organisations that care for the many vulnerable groups that are especially at risk.

Success cannot be measured by any one indicator on its own. I first ask the Minister therefore, how are the Government going to try and get this complex message across to the police and crime commissioners, who will now be in charge of policy in their areas? Secondly, is the Home Office anticipating a phase two of the online educational campaign that was so successful the first time around?

6.39 pm

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for this debate, I must also apologise to the House that there are no women on these Benches to contribute to this important debate today. The fact that they are excluded from the Bench of Bishops is not unrelated to how women are treated generally throughout the world. Although religion can be a liberating force, history shows that it also can be used to confine and to constrain, and to reinforce prejudice against women.

One reason why I believe that women should be bishops in the Church of England is that in the history of my faith you can trace the liberation of women.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 367

I would go as far as to say that the cursive script of the hand of God in the course of history is seen through the development of the leadership of women: namely, in the Bible; in the early church; on the mission field; in the fact that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England is a woman; in that women serve on the General Synod; and in the exercise of leadership of women in our parishes where one-third of all clergy in the Church of England are now women. Indeed, if women did not serve in leadership in our parishes, the parish network of the Church of England would collapse today if they withdrew the gifts that they bring to the church and to the world.

I believe that the time has come in this historic development to open the door of the House of Bishops to the spirit of God and to the women of God. Not to do so reinforces prejudice and discrimination on the grounds of gender, and defies the biblical understanding that women, as well as men, equally bear the image of God.

In my capacity as Bishop to Prisons, I am particularly aware of the issues surrounding women in prison and on probation. Last January, I explored some of these themes in a BBC Radio 4 series, “The Bishop and the Prisoner”. At the risk of generalisation, and without exonerating perpetrators of crime, it is clear that the context in which many women offend is coloured by them being victims of abuse and violence. In 2002, according to the Ministry of Justice, more than 50% of women in prison reported suffering domestic violence and one in three reported sexual abuse.

The diocese of Liverpool sponsors a bail hostel, Adelaide House, for women who have come out of prison or are on probation. On one visit I met a number of women and in each case her story of offending was linked with her being the victim of physical abuse. They were not trying to excuse their behaviour but simply giving an account of their actions and reactions to being the victims of violence.

I should like the Minister to respond to two points. First, what progress are the Government making on implementing the proposals brought forward through the Corston report, especially in relation to female offenders who are the victims of violence? Secondly, on the point with which I began, will the Minister for Equality be seeking a formal meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to explore how the Church of England might, with equity and justice, serve all the people of England?

6.43 pm

Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone: My Lords, I am honoured to follow the right reverend Prelate. I warmly commend his approach, and that of many of his colleagues, of taking every opportunity available, whatever the topic of debate, to reinforce the arguments for women on the Bishops’ Benches. Many of us should follow that example. If we could extend it to the Roman Catholic Church we might really be making progress. I entirely am with him on that issue.

I believe that many of these issues are deeply and profoundly cultural. We know that there was legislation to protect animals 20 years before legislation to protect children. The idea that a woman is somehow

29 Nov 2012 : Column 368

a chattel is very recent in our lives. For some years I, with my noble friend Lady Howe, was particularly involved in Brixton and Peckham, working with the Child Poverty Action Group. I remember an evening when a woman was screaming out at about one o’clock in the morning near where I lived. We went out and took her in, and had her for the night. The following morning she went home. No police came and there was no support for her. Only 20 years ago, there was the idea that culturally these issues were taboo and unacceptable, and that somehow it was the individual’s own fault.

More shockingly and more recently, we all have personal examples where we have been taken aback by the horror of the situation. A woman who worked with us for 25 years in Surrey suddenly arrived with bruises in her early 80s. Her husband suffered from pathological jealousy and, when he had his walking stick, all the way through his marriage, he would trip her up and then beat her with it—and this in a respectable Surrey village, with the shame and humiliation. That happened four years ago.

We talk about progress, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, did—and there has been great progress. The humiliation of being treated following rape by, I am sorry to say, some of the police and other forces, was almost as bad as the rape itself. Some of the agencies have been deeply unhelpful and humiliating, and have hurtfully said that women had brought it on themselves. I am delighted that the Home Secretary and the Minister for Equality, Maria Miller, have taken this seriously, with the 100 step action plan—and there is not only that but, as has been said, the work being done at DfID and the Foreign Office.

I can recall the British Council visiting a women’s group in Kenya, where the women were beaten and left in the back kitchen. When they could finally bear it no more they went back to their homes and the parents said, “You have brought shame on us—you must go back to your husband”. The British Council introduced legal rights and education policies to try to make progress.

People have talked about the subcontinent. India is a country where seven chief executives of banks are women but somehow there is still this massive group of women who have no rights and no dignity. I like practical projects. I know of a man called Vineet Nayar who has introduced 400 teachers in communities. They have the teacher only if they have 100% attendance by the girl children.

I know that I am encroaching on what the following speaker is going to discuss, but I have been very struck not only by what government can do and what charitable agencies can do—Oxfam, refuges, Women’s Aid—but also by what employers can do. My great good news at the moment is that there is a new charity, the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence. What do we do at work about domestic violence? Who at work ever thinks that people are late or delayed or fearful about domestic violence spreading into the workplace? This is an organisation that reaches out to people in HR and business, which can do a huge amount of good. I hand over to the noble Baroness.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 369

6.47 pm

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for bringing forward this wonderful and important debate—and, indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, for introducing so generously a subject that I shall touch on. Noble Lords will know that I have to declare my interest as patron of the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence, the Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic and Sexual Violence.

This debate is timely, because we still live in a world where one in three women will suffer from domestic violence at some stage in their lives. It is still the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls worldwide. Some 75% of those victims suffer abuse while at work and 56% of victims do not go to work at least five times a month. It was for that reason that we created the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence in 2005, when I left government, to assist businesses to do what they could to reduce the impact of domestic violence on the workforce.

This issue can be tackled, but it needs us to tackle it together. In this country, we have moved from serial dysfunction to function by coming together in partnership to make a difference. Noble Lords will know that we managed together, with all parties working with the third sector and business, to reduce domestic violence in our country by 64% and reduce the economic cost of domestic violence by more than £7 billion.

However, it is not just in this country that we can do that. We worked with Spanish Ministers in 2006. As a result of that joint work and initiative, our Spanish colleagues took the matter further and reduced domestic violence homicide in Spain in 2006-10 by 25%. This is something we can do worldwide. For that reason I created the Global Foundation for the Elimination of Domestic Violence in 2011. I was proud to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, talk about the work of UN Women, because the global foundation joined its expert panel and assisted in drafting the UN policy in December 2011. We are now working in a number of countries, not least Turkey, where we have done a full in-country assessment. We launched EDV India in February this year. We have also formed a coalition of more than 200 organisations in 85 countries—the largest coalition to combat domestic violence—along with the Global Truce 2012 campaign. In doing that, we have, together with Peace One Day, reached 280 million people, and we hope to reach 3 billion people by 2015, so there is a great deal we can do.

However, there is concern here in our country that our focus hitherto has not been as good as it could be. Wearing my various hats, I am constantly being contacted by a number of our voluntary organisations, which are very concerned about this issue. Yesterday I was contacted by the Changing Lives project, which said that many female participants with whom it deals have overcome significant barriers around domestic violence, sexual abuse and forced marriages. The Changing Lives project provides advice and counselling to ensure that victims get support from local services. It trains staff and offers an advanced certificate in systemic family therapy.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 370

It also offers a brand of systemic family intervention that combines therapeutic support with parenting skills, and does so in community languages to bridge the gap. However, with the changes in funding, the level of support available to those affected by domestic violence has gone down significantly. As a significant number of community advice services have lost their funding and are no longer available to provide legal advice to these women, and they are not entitled to legal aid, many of these women and their children are experiencing a cycle of stress, physical health problems and mental distress.

All of us in this House, together with those outside, have fought very hard to change that paradigm. Have Her Majesty’s Government assessed, or do they intend to monitor, the effect that the cuts in public funding to legal aid, the provision of Sure Start places and parenting skills programmes, such as those provided in Bengali, Urdu and Somali, is having on vulnerable and hard-to-reach families? Will the Government help us to better address these issues in future?

6.53 pm

Baroness Brinton: My Lords, the threat of violence remains a shocking part of everyday life for too many people. Noble Lords have spoken movingly of that in this important debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, for securing this debate.

Some noble Lords will be aware of my own experience of being stalked—thankfully, it was never actually violent. I want to focus on how the new law that came into effect last Sunday will begin to transform the lives of victims of stalkers, the vast majority of whom are women. The independent stalking inquiry chaired by Elfyn Llwyd MP, on which I was privileged to sit, heard evidence last year which shows that stalkers are frequently very bright, extremely manipulative and seek to control the lives of those whom they stalk in every way, every hour of every day. Problems have arisen in the past when the police and criminal justice system have not recognised the threat of violence, resulting in tragic consequences. For example, at the inquest of Clare Bernal, murdered by a former admirer in Harvey Nichols in 2006, the coroner said that the police could not have prevented her murder. However, this ignored the many signs which the police and others ignored. These included his threats to kill her and the fact that he had approached colleagues for advice on how to buy a gun and on the jail sentence for murder—all at a time when he had been arrested for harassment, stalking and threatening to kill, had been rearrested for breaking bail conditions, had talked of suicide and had lost his job. But no one thought to assess the risk he posed to Clare.

It did not have to be like this. The examples of Australia and the United States, which legislated some time before us, prove that comprehensive anti-stalking legislation can be highly effective. The Australian legislation, which first separated stalking from harassment and domestic violence, as we have now done, has led to a substantial decrease in stalking. Key to the legislation are police protocols to assist victims through their ordeal, including the allocation of a trained police officer as primary liaison and the training of all—yes, all—police officers to recognise stalking and its dangers.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 371

Sadly, prosecution alone is often not enough to help a victim overcome the complex consequences of their ordeal. In America, stalking survivors have explained which measures undertaken by their local police department made the biggest difference in their cases and, ultimately, their lives. These included the speed of the officers’ response, putting safety first, the use of technology in recording evidence, and help for victims to understand the risks to themselves.

The new stalking law in England and Wales makes stalking a criminal offence in its own right and no longer just part of harassment. It gives courts the ability to sentence stalkers threatening violence to up to five years in prison. Unlike the Scottish law introduced two years ago, the legislation here goes further by stating that training and support is necessary for the entire criminal justice system. The victims of stalking also need expert help to protect themselves from the perpetrators.

I give my personal thanks to all Ministers who supported this legislation as it progressed through Parliament, and particularly to Lynne Featherstone, who made it a priority to champion the fight against violence against women in any form. It remains essential that we hear the voices of the victims and assess the risks to them. An anti-stalking law is only as effective as those who enforce it. The culture change proposed in the new law may take a while to implement, but I am sure that now we have a tool that can give women peace of mind and safety from the persistent nightmare of stalkers.

6.57 pm

Lord McColl of Dulwich: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for initiating this debate. What I am about to say may sound rather detached and clinical, because I shall draw on my experience as a surgeon. I will give your Lordships an example of this terrible problem. One evening a man started attacking his partner at home. He put her up against a wall and beat her for three hours, smashing her face with his fist, his foot and then with an instrument. Throughout the night he beat her intermittently and finally he raped her. She thought she was dying. The surgery to repair the terrible damage took five hours and cost thousands of pounds. Further operations had to be carried out over the ensuing six months. Such was the skill of the surgeon that the physical result was perfect, but the psychological damage continues. In half of victims, it remains all their life.

There are three aspects to this that need to be emphasised. First, physical violence is a sign of an abusive relationship. Such are the complexities of human make-up that the abused person—as has been said—may blame herself for her injuries. This is one of the reasons why I commend to the House charities that are working together to transform abusive relationships and address the root of the problem. Among them is Restored, an umbrella organisation working in this country and overseas to end violence against women.

This violence usually escalates. It may start as a slap, go on to a punch in the abdomen, perhaps next time to a smash in the face and eventually to death. The problem often goes undetected. On the first occasion

29 Nov 2012 : Column 372

the attacker may be forgiven by the victim, and when they go together to the casualty department the story is that she fell against a wall or a door. The woman will deny that she was attacked. After the next assault they go to a different hospital; after the third attack they visit yet another one, so the problem is not picked up. When the doctor in the casualty department suspects what is going on, there is a reluctance to report the case for many reasons, including lack of proof.

To try to solve this problem, Professor lain Hutchison of the Royal London Hospital has established the National Facial, Oral and Oculoplastic Research Centre in Leeds to collect data to help identify victims early on. His scheme is as follows: when one suspects such a victim, a note is made that this may be an example of potential domestic violence—PDV—and it is recorded at the national centre in Leeds. Two notifications will alert the authorities and three will trigger an investigation.

Another possible solution that might reduce this appalling scourge is to make facial injury caused by personal violence a notifiable disease or condition. This was suggested by a surgeon who spends most of his time operating on these victims to repair the damage. Nowadays these injuries are more violent and destructive than ever and the facial bones are so severely smashed to pieces, making reconstructive surgery a lengthy and complicated process, to say nothing of the suffering and cost. The majority of cases go unreported for a variety of reasons, including lack of understanding by the authorities, fear of reprisal and further suffering. The police are often not informed. If the condition were made a notifiable disease, this would bring to light the huge extent and severity of the problem and ultimately reduce the number of cases. Will the Minister kindly consider this suggestion?

Finally, it is essential to have an integrated multiagency response that includes medical professionals, police, judiciary, social services and others. It is vital that perpetrators are held to account for their appalling crimes. I also stress the importance of debates such as this to raise awareness, encourage disclosure and make the abuse of women, in any form, socially unacceptable.

7.01 pm

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, for sponsoring this debate, and for her introductory speech, which set the tone for us.

I declare an interest as a joint patron of the Everyman Project, which is a small London-based charity that provides training for men who are violent in family relationships but who want to stop it. Last Thursday I tried to get in a question and had I done so I would have been putting this question to the Minister—today I get the opportunity to ask her just how much money is being spent on men who are prepared to undergo training to alter their behaviour.

I know very well that if you get yourself into the criminal justice system and you end up in prison or on probation, there is an opportunity for anger management training and for individuals to try to change their practices. But for those who do not get to that stage but who want to change, I suspect that the amount of money that is available to assist them is very small indeed, and this really ought to be changed.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 373

The vast bulk of money that is spent in this area comes from the charitable and voluntary sector. Of course, at the moment, it is extraordinarily difficult to raise cash. For example, the Everyman Project does not get a penny piece from the public purse yet it provides a 13-week training course for men who want to change. Unfortunately, we have to turn away far more men than we are able to offer training to because we simply do not have the resources to accommodate them all.

If the Government are really serious about trying to help in this area, I hope—even though I have made this plea previously, unsuccessfully—that they will be prepared to look again at the possibility of going into partnership with a number of charities, where perhaps matched funding arrangements could be made, to try to ensure that we get far more men going on these training courses. Ultimately, that is going to be a far more effective way of utilising money than the cost that is accrued when people end up in the courts and go to jail, although at the end of it they have an opportunity to get training if they are prepared to embark on it. I make an open, unabashed approach to the Minister to see whether she is prepared to take this away and give some consideration to it. I ask that question against a background of rumours that more women were killed in violent incidents in domestic disputes last year than in the previous year. I hope I am wrong on that but there are stories that that is the case. Can the Minister provide some clarity on that?

I should also like to pick up on the point made by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland about the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence, and again this goes back to government departments. I understand that the NHS has signed up to this organisation and fully supports it, but I also understand that a number of government departments have declined to do so or have not indicated a willingness to join up so far. Can the Minister say whether that is the case, which departments they are and whether she will bring pressure to bear to ensure that they go along with it?

7.05 pm

Baroness Bakewell: My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin, for bringing forward this debate and I thank all the other speakers for such an informed session. In recent days I have read many thousands of words about the initiatives that people are taking and I am really impressed. There are initiatives from the Home Office, from Europe, from the police and from the UN. I read that 125 countries now have laws that penalise domestic violence. This is a positive demonstration of the will of civilised legislators to bring an end to what they all agree is pernicious behaviour, yet I have noticed a distinct lag between all these good intentions and what is actually happening on the ground. Changes are intended and many are coming, but they are happening too slowly and, so far, on too modest a scale. I shall give some examples.

Forced marriage is currently a civil offence in Britain. Government proposals will make it a criminal offence and that will go before Parliament in 2013. That is all

29 Nov 2012 : Column 374

well and good. In 2002—10 years ago—the Government created the Forced Marriage Unit. In 2008, forced marriage protection orders came into being and a statutory duty was placed on public bodies to protect both children and adults. However, in 2011 the Forced Marriage Unit helpline received 1,400 calls and, in 2012, some 600 by the time this excellent report that we have all had—

A Childhood Lost

—was compiled. Yet it is estimated that each year around 5,000 women are at risk of being forced into marriage against their will. If that is an annual estimate, then 50,000 women are being threatened. With 1,400 calls but 50,000 women at risk, it is clear that the message is not getting right through. The people who need the help are not being reached.

In the matter of honour-related violence, according to the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, more than 2,800 honour-related cases were reported in the UK in 2010, and police say that that was an increase of 47%. However, in 2011-12, only 172 cases of honour-related violence were prosecuted and, of those, only 50%—some 80—were successful. That number was down from the figure of 52% for successes in the previous year. Therefore, these modest achievements—positive gains in the face of intolerable violence—are no match for the scale of the problem.

This is indeed a global and cultural problem of huge dimensions. It is well established in many cultures that men have the right to exercise control, which often means violence, over their women. That cultural belief is often rooted in the fundamental religion that prevails in the country. I suggest that the religious leaders of the world should perhaps be invited to examine the texts on which these acts of violence are justified. The enlightened leaders of religion know that violence against women is not a moral activity. It would be good if they were to examine the texts, just as the leaders of the anti-slavery trade campaign examined the texts in the Bible that supported slavery. They examined the texts and revised the attitude of their followers.

I have two further suggestions for the Minister. Britain sends trade delegations around the world. The delegations speak up for human rights and plead the case of prisoners wrongfully detained. Could not violence against women be specifically noted in their agendas? Could not a woman be included in delegations, specifically with the idea in mind to meet up with women in other countries and bring the issue into arenas of debate at a high level, with ambassadors, consular officials, and so on, being properly briefed to meet the people who are now speaking out in often very backward countries with little support?

Secondly, the treatment of women fleeing violence who seek asylum in this country is far from satisfactory. The organisation, Women for Asylum Women, has charted many cases where women are summarily turned away by the UK Border Agency and sent back to face the abuse that they were fleeing. The Home Office must instruct the interrogating staff about the nature and scale of violence that such women are fleeing, and allow those women asylum. We are not short of suggestions in this Chamber; we want to see them activated.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 375

7.11 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, for this debate. Yes, indeed, let us have plenty more on this subject. As we know, violence against women has been with us for far longer than any of us can imagine, and probably since the world began. Indeed, in this country in the past, such violence was regarded almost as acceptable family behaviour; it was seldom discussed openly, and certainly not if it happened in a middle-class family because of the shame felt by the woman concerned. Thankfully, those issues are now slightly more of a priority for open discussion and solution.

I want to concentrate my comments on three areas in which I hope the Government have active plans to support and encourage. First, midwives and health visitors are those who have the earliest contact with mothers and their babies and they may well have reason to suspect that there is a history of violence in a particular family. Can the Minister assure the House that there will be enough trained and aware staff—albeit working with skilled volunteers, such as those from Home Start—to provide the family with the support needed in such circumstances?

Secondly, given the views of Schools Safe 4 Girls and the End Violence Against Women Coalition, and many others, that sexual bullying and harassment are routine in UK schools, will the Government encourage all schools to run compulsory parenting classes? I mean not just classes that teach children how to cope with their parents but classes that concentrate on ensuring that all girls, and indeed boys, know the essential skills and loving relationships needed to bring up their own children as responsible, well-adjusted citizens. Thirdly, as preventing bullying at school could set the tone for acceptable behaviour across all lifetime relationships, including employment, will the Government consider encouraging the successful practice employed by some schools where a slightly older child mentor is provided for each new school entrant and that mentor gets brownie points on the quality and success of that pupil’s integration?

Some progress has been made and we should acknowledge it. For example, and as we have already heard, the new law against stalking is an important first step in coping with a number of problems that the internet world has created for us. I have to say that I think that many more steps will be needed but that one is important.

I remain worried about the effect of the increasing volume and escalation of violent and explicitly sexual activities shown on all forms of media. Of course, my own Online Safety Bill is relevant for child protection and I hope that, ultimately, the Government will support it. However, my unease grows that there is a growing appetite for the explicit sexual violence that is being created, with its obvious implications for increased violence against women.

7.15 pm

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I say, “Hear, hear” to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool on his commitment to women bishops—and that is from

29 Nov 2012 : Column 376

a collapsed Catholic. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, for raising this vital area of concern to all of us.

I welcome the work that the Government have achieved so far in combating violence against women and girls. Their plan of 88 actions has been set out clearly and their work on encouraging prosecutions and on stalking, in which my noble friend Lady Royall played so vital a role, is to be rightly acknowledged. However, I, too, wish to sound a note of caution about the notorious nature of the under-reporting of this area of crime, as many noble Lords have said. That has been acknowledged clearly by the CPS in its most recent report. We still have a long way to go before we can claim that we are having a positive effect on the majority of the lives of vulnerable women and girls in the UK.

The recession has been bad for everyone but it has been a total disaster for vulnerable women and their families. Tensions within households that can lead to violence and breakdown are exacerbated by unemployment, lack of certainty over permanent housing, lack of food, lack of heating, an increase in consumer debt—the list goes on and on.

These are desperate times for many vulnerable women and their children, who need the safety, the calm and the specialist advice of local refuges. Yet that safety from violence is being sought at a time of unprecedented cutbacks in the funding of women’s refuges. The executive director of the Colchester and Tendring Women’s Refuge says in its latest annual report:

“The ever present threat of cuts to statutory funding and the uncertainty around future commissioning of refuge services in Essex, means that we are constantly looking for additional avenues of income”.

She goes on to say:

“Last year, cuts to our Supporting People grant forced us to make difficult staffing decisions, and we are waiting to see what impact the Welfare Reform Bill will have on the Housing Benefit we receive on behalf of our residents, a significant part of our income for front line services”.

What action are the Government taking to ensure that the safeguarding and the survival of the women’s refuge network carries on at local level?

While it is right and proper to acknowledge the work that the Government are undertaking on behalf of vulnerable women, it is also only fair to point out that they did not start with a blank sheet. I am pleased to see my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland in her place. I am reminded of her own tireless work, and the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, in tackling the victimisation of women. Convictions for rape increased by 45% under my noble and learned friend’s watch and I, for one, am proud of the way in which the previous Labour Government put women and children at the heart of their policy-making legislation.

I end by asking the Minister if she would bring the House up to date on those actions set out in the Government’s action plan which have a completion date of December 2012. If time is short, obviously the noble Baroness can do this in writing. I refer to points 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, 45 and 61. She will know what I am talking about. The Government’s work so

29 Nov 2012 : Column 377

far on the vital issue of violence against women will be eroded unless local government cutbacks are revised and economic growth is urgently achieved.

7.20 pm

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Jenkin of Kennington, for initiating this very important debate. I have only a few minutes in which to speak and the hour is late. I am also feeling extremely cold, so if anyone notices a colleague falling asleep they had better wake them up, because I have been in this Chamber for about five hours and I am now very chilled. I shall limit my speech to putting to the Minister a few questions about the problems we face in the UK. We have had an extremely good debate that has covered both the world and many of the issues, and I congratulate noble Lords on doing that.

Like my noble friend Lady Crawley, I read with interest the latest report from the Home Secretary, A Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls: Taking Action—The Next Chapter, that was published in March this year. It sets out progress on the 88 recommendations in the action plan. It is indeed a comprehensive round-up of what the Government are doing and what they want to do. It reads well and in some parts it is very good. However, it may ring hollow in places because the broader policies being implemented by the Government will undermine many of the aspirations set out in the document. For example, on page 17 the Government want to achieve outcomes that include that:

“VAWG victims receive a good and consistent level of service across England and Wales”.

I wonder how this will be possible given what is happening on the ground.

I turn first to intelligence and information. In 2007 and 2009 the End Violence Against Women coalition was funded to provide what were called the Map of Gaps reports. Both of them were very important documents, and I shall highlight the main points. The first pointed to the fact that a third of local authorities provided no services at all for women suffering domestic violence, while the second report published in 2009 similarly reported gaps in services, pointing in particular to the problems faced by ethnic minority women. Of course, the funding for this ended in 2010. My question for the Minister is therefore about how information and intelligence is being gathered now. How accurate will the Government’s picture be of refuges and the services that are available in 2012? Who is collating the information and where and when will it be published?

What we know is that the cuts of 27% to local authority budgets appear to have been translated into cuts of 31% to the services that protect women who are experiencing violence. For example, Eaves, a local charity that supports vulnerable women, has reported that demand for its services has increased from 366 referrals for advice and support in 2009-10 to 548 in 2010-11, a 50% rise on the previous year. The 31% funding cut in the domestic violence and sexual abuse sector means a reduction from £7.8 million to £5.4 million. According to a Women’s Aid survey, on a typical day some 3,410 women and 2,502 children were living in

29 Nov 2012 : Column 378

refuge accommodation, but that 230 women seeking refuge—around 9%—were turned away due to lack of space. The number of independent domestic violence advisers, who we regarded as crucial, has been reduced. In 2011 eight major IVDA service providers supported 13,180 clients, but two of them faced cuts. This means that those services are not being provided.

I have two other issues that I wish to highlight because I think that they will have a terrible effect on services for abused women. One of them has already been mentioned by my noble friend. Refuges are going to be particularly hard hit by the changes being made to housing benefit. Are the Government monitoring the effect that this is going to have on abused women?

The second issue concerns changes to the legal aid structure that will make it more difficult for women to get legal aid when they need it. I recommend a briefing that has just been produced by Gingerbread, Resolution and Women’s Aid, which explains the problems that there are going to be for the domestic violence gateway criteria. Will the Minister assure the House that she and the Equalities Minister will be monitoring this issue and the effect that it is going to have, and will take action if what we think will happen happens?

I congratulate all noble Lords who have spoken. We have had a good and hard discussion but clearly there is much more to do.

7.25 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, this has been a very powerful and timely debate, coming as it does within the 16 days of action following last Sunday’s UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Jenkin on securing this debate and on setting out so comprehensively the massive problem that we are trying to combat and its effects. I also pay tribute to all noble Lords who have contributed today. I know that this is an opportunity for me to respond, and lots of questions have been put to me, but I also consider it an opportunity to listen and learn, which I have certainly done.

We have covered a wide range of issues. In responding, I will talk briefly about international issues later on but will concentrate on the domestic—by which I mean national—front. I will write to all noble Lords if I fail to cover any of their points, which I know I will do. I know for sure that I am not going to be able to respond to the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, about the action plan.

I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, who said that the scale of the problem was not being matched in global terms by action. In global terms, that is evident and it is why we continue to raise this issue and put it right at the top of all agendas. I will respond right at the start to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who asked a specific question about the number of domestic homicides and whether that has increased recently. I am not aware of any increase in those numbers, and certainly not in the last published crime statistics.

Violence against women is not a political issue; it is too important for that. Combating it for good is a real ambition that we all share. This Government’s strategy, which we first published in 2010 and which has been referred to by many noble Lords today, has that as its

29 Nov 2012 : Column 379

clear purpose. It can be explained quite simply in three parts: it seeks to help prevent violence against women happening in the first place; to provide adequate levels of support where that violence, regrettably, occurs; and to bring perpetrators to justice. All our work in these areas is in partnership with many other agencies and voluntary organisations, some of which noble Lords have referred to today.

Our strategy and our commitment to it is underpinned by the guaranteed funding of £40 million, which we have allocated until 2015, for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services, a range of national phone lines, existing rape centres and developing some new centres, where there are gaps in provision.

While I am talking about funding it is probably the right moment to answer some of the points that the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Crawley, made about funding. Of course I understand people’s concerns about potential cuts to any kind of local authority funding. I can absolutely see why people would raise that. However, we do not recognise the 31% figure that has just been quoted. Many local authorities are not making cuts and indeed some are increasing their funding. I point to Westminster as one example, which is putting its funding for outreach work up from £440,000 to £760,000. All that said, to try to understand the situation around local funding further, the Home Office is holding a round-table meeting with the Local Government Association in January.

While we are talking about local services and local provision, I make it clear that it dismays me as much as everyone else to hear of any woman who is turned away if they are seeking refuge. I do not want to hear that; none of us does. I would like to think that provision exists to meet everybody’s needs. While some women may be turned away from some of the refuges designated as local authority refuges, they are not the only place where women seek refuge. If refuge is not available to them there, it is often available elsewhere. We fund a database delivered by Women’s Aid which enables those working with victims to identify appropriate services and refuge vacancies.

If I have misunderstood the point on refuges and housing benefit, I shall come back to it in the letter with which I shall follow up the debate. The concern expressed by women and women’s groups about women in refuges who are in receipt of housing benefit has now been addressed. It was a legitimate concern and it is my understanding that it no longer remains a problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, asked about the future of SARCs—sexual assault referral centres. These have been locally commissioned up till now on a collaborative basis by police and NHS primary care trusts. We have decided that, for the future—at least in the short to medium term—responsibility for them will rest with the NHS Commissioning Board.

The noble Baroness also asked what role PCCs would play in tackling violence against women. I shall not go into great detail about this, because I answered a Question on it recently. The best way in which I can respond is to point to what Boris Johnson has done here in London, because he has been the nearest example that we have had to a PCC before those who

29 Nov 2012 : Column 380

were recently elected. It has been striking how, in working with London women’s groups, he has diverted some of his own funding alongside national funding to increase the number of rape centres in London. He shows us that there is real potential for violence to be tackled through the new police and crime commissioner structure.

If we are to end violence against women and girls, we need to challenge attitudes—that has been made clear by many noble Lords today—and raise awareness of abuse and educate young people. There is always more that we can do in this area and we have to keep looking for new opportunities to do so. One of the things that we are doing in the 16 days of action is to restart this very weekend the teenage rape prevention advertising campaign. Its target audience is 13 to 18 year-olds and it will run until the end of January. The noble Baroness asked about the website alongside that. That will be available and be part of that campaign.

My noble friend Lady Bottomley raised questions about awareness of domestic violence in the workplace and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said that it was important that we debate domestic violence. I hope that we can encourage employers to do this in the workplace and encourage women who may be feeling isolated to come forward. I have taken on board that point.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece referred to sexualisation of women and children. This is of course a matter of great concern. Since the controls on online pornography recently introduced by ISPs, the Government have reconsulted on online controls. Fairly soon we should be making public some new thoughts on the way forward to build on what has already announced. We are very aware that this is something that continues to concern all parents. With regard to child sexualisation, one useful initiative was the launch of ParentPort—a single website for complaints and feedback to regulators if parents see any inappropriate advertising located where children might see it.

Obviously we can use the law and strengthen it to prevent violence against women and girls. My noble friend Lady Brinton referred to the new stalking offences. I share with her and those others who commented on this the fact that we as a Government are proud to have introduced these new laws but we recognise the contribution made by so many people to make that happen, including Members of this House.

I will skip along because I am running out of time. We are introducing lots of new measures in terms of new laws. One of the most important ones is about extending the definition of domestic violence to include 16 and 17 year-olds, and another is for the definition to include coercive control—or mental cruelty, as other people might recognise it.

My noble friend Lord McColl made a very interesting proposal about the collection of data on potential domestic violence. I have already asked my colleagues in the Home Office to raise that with the Department of Health because my noble friend was kind enough to give me advance notice of it. I will certainly come back and write to him about that.

29 Nov 2012 : Column 381

The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, spoke in great detail about female genital mutilation so I will not go over that in any detail myself. I am so pleased that she welcomed what Keir Starmer announced at the weekend; we very much share her view that this is absolutely vital. Having that law in place is not enough. We need prosecutions, and action to bring prosecutions to bear.

On the international agenda, my noble friend Lady Jenkin trailed the Commission on the Status of Women next year, the focus being on the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. I hope it will give some comfort to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece that my officials have already started preliminary work to ensure that this agenda moves on next year and is not just something that we have ambitions for that are not fulfilled.

Also in the international arena next year, the UK will take the presidency of the G8. As my noble friend mentioned, the Foreign Secretary is using the profile of that forum—the world’s richest countries—to promote the UK’s initiative on preventing rape as a weapon of

29 Nov 2012 : Column 382

war. I am so pleased that someone of that rank in the Cabinet has taken this on board and will take it forward. If noble Lords have not yet had the opportunity, I urge them to read the speech that he gave about that earlier this month.

Lots of questions have been asked; I have a pile here of things that I need to come back on. Forgive me that I am not able to cover them all now. In closing, we are committed to maintaining our strong lead on both the national and the international stages. Ending violence against women and girls is not possible for Government alone. The progress that we have made would not have been possible without the hard work of so many people, including Members of this House. The challenge now is to sustain that collective commitment, to challenge the inequalities and attitudes that can encourage violence against women and to drive improved service for those victims. I believe that we are on the right path to creating a society where no women or girl need live in fear, but we are clearly far away from actually getting there.

House adjourned at 7.39 pm.