1.57 pm

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), and I congratulate the Members who secured this debate, in particular the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who opened it so eloquently.

The One Billion Rising campaign reminds us that one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. Today’s debate gives us an opportunity to commend the women and men who in so many different ways are refusing to accept the status quo and are working either to support the victims of sexual violence or to change laws, attitudes, customs and institutions that perpetuate abuses of power here at home and internationally.

On a day when so many people around the world are celebrating loving relationships, it is important to highlight the extent to which violence against women and girls blights our individual and collective lives and to acknowledge the systemic nature of violence against women. It affects all of us, directly or indirectly, whatever our age, nationality and religion. I am sure all of us will have experienced gender-based violence or will know a friend, sister, mother, aunt or work colleague who has experienced it.

It is also important not to be overwhelmed by the dimensions of the problem and the scale of the challenge of ending the culture of violence. Some 20 or 30 years ago domestic abuse was seen as a private family matter. Too often criminal violence in the home was not pursued as it ought to have been. It was a taboo subject. Breaking the silence around abuse has been an important milestone on the road to taking the issue seriously and tackling it. It is a multifaceted problem, but I believe it is underpinned by inequality between women and men, and is perpetuated through unacceptable abuses of power. One reason why it is so difficult to address is that it challenges deeply

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held attitudes and beliefs, understandings of justice and ingrained cultural perspectives—yet it is neither inevitable nor intractable.

As legislators, we have a special responsibility to tackle the grave and serious human rights abuses happening in our own community. We also need to recognise that we are not impotent to deliver meaningful progress. Today’s motion has focused largely on prevention within the formal education system. Obviously, education is a devolved issue in Scotland, and the structure of the curriculum does not mirror the situation in other parts of the UK. Nevertheless, I wish colleagues well in their efforts to improve the curriculum in England and Wales, and I hope there will be reciprocal learning on how the respective education systems can rise to the challenge, especially given the alarming attitudes to sexual violence recorded among young people, to which Members have alluded. The hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) talked about the normalisation of violence, so I do not see how anything could be more of a priority for us.

One example recently brought to my attention in the Scottish context was a pilot scheme initiated by the Dundee violence against women partnership, which was an attempt to embed preventive measures in the curriculum for excellence in nursery, primary and secondary school settings. Working with a range of partners and using a rights-based approach, it tries to embed the idea that children and young people have rights and that their dignity is important. The project workers commented on how relatively easy it had been to integrate preventive measures across the curriculum. They used a thematic approach so that the issues could be addressed in an English class or a statistics class—not just in the timetabled slot for health, well-being or relationships education.

Another key part of addressing sexual violence is ensuring that perpetrators are held more accountable for their actions within the criminal justice system. Changing attitudes and beliefs will not be enough on its own if people cannot realise their rights. I do not think it would be controversial to say that the historical track record has not been good in domestic terms.

Again, I would like to share some perspectives from the Scottish context, which I am sure will resonate with hon. Members from other parts of the UK. I pay tribute to the Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland for its campaigning and advocacy to raise awareness and improve our legislative framework. Only one in four rape cases reported to the police in Scotland results in a prosecution; three out of four people who seek access to justice are still denied it. We know that huge numbers—perhaps a majority—of people who have been raped do not report it to the police. In that respect, confidence in the system remains far too low. Conviction rates have historically been woeful; they are improving, albeit from an abysmal starting point. It is easy to understand why many people who have experienced serious sexual assault are reluctant to put themselves through further trauma at a time when they might feel exceptionally vulnerable. Given the fairly low prospect of securing a conviction, it takes immense courage for women to come forward.

Our criminal justice system has failed and continues to fail far too many victims of rape and sexual assault. Many of us have been deeply saddened by the dreadful revelations about the suicide of Frances Andrade. Back in 2002, an equally tragic death took place in Scotland

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when 17-year-old Lindsay Anderson took her own life shortly after giving evidence at the trial of a person subsequently convicted of raping her. What was particularly appalling was that in court Lindsay had to hold up the underwear she had been wearing at the time of the attack. It was sickening and, frankly, it still leaves me speechless. In spite of real efforts to move away from using women’s character and sexual history in court, people subjected to sexual violence are still traumatised by the process, which can compound the very real harm done by the original offence.

I do not have much time left. Before concluding, I echo the points made earlier about the way in which women are portrayed in popular culture and about the misogyny often expressed in social media. We do not have any room for complacency. Prevention and accountability must go hand in hand. Together, we really can make progress and end—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order.

2.4 pm

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford). This morning, I was not intending to speak—not because I was disinterested or uninterested, but because it seemed to me appropriate that this debate should be led by women. I have, however, been inspired by the clarity, compassion, cross-party consensus and expressions of support for the importance of this debate. My decision to speak was also provoked by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is not in his place. I share with him a great interest in horseracing and I have a great affection for him. I thought he made some good points, but I profoundly disagree with him on one or two central points.

I have rearranged the day in order to speak up for many of my hon. Friends whose absence should not be misconstrued as lack of interest in this important subject. I want to put on record my personal commitment to this issue; I also want to speak on behalf of women and girls in my constituency and elsewhere who perhaps fear that men are not listening, and to speak up for a modern, compassionate, progressive conservative strain of thinking, which takes this issue very seriously and applauds the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary for their leadership on it.

It seemed to me that the central point made my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was to insist on an equality of treatment and to deny the need for any gender-based policy approach. That denies something very fundamental: that men and women are different and, in respect of sexual and physical violence, are not equal.

Around the world—here, too, but especially in the developing world—we are witnessing a shaming prevalence of violence against women and girls, which we have a duty to tackle. I do not pretend to be an expert, but one does not need to be an expert to see the urgency of the problem. If we look around the world, we can see that the emancipation of women and the education of girls has been a profound force for good in our society and in human progress. On the subject of the education of girls, I know from my own area of science that we have a huge problem and a huge challenge in Britain to ensure

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that more of our girls are educated in a way that allows them to take part in the great opportunities of the modern economy.

Around the world, too, we have a huge problem of sexual violence, which has been a long-standing part of too many conflicts. We heard earlier from those more eloquent than me about the problems of genital mutilation, forced marriages, sexual slavery and the human trafficking of boys and girls. We are all mindful, too, of the appalling story of gang rape in India, which I think has triggered huge public interest and has fired people’s sense of moral outrage. In a world whose economic globalisation we celebrate day on day, we all face a challenge to take responsibility for other impacts of globalisation that are perhaps less visibly, immediately or directly seen as our responsibility. We need to take both those sides of globalisation together.

My main point, however, is that we have a serious problem here in the UK. In recent decades, we have seen an epidemic of sexual and violent crime, the casualisation of media attitudes to sex and violence, an explosion of pornography, and in recent years casual online sexualisation and prostitution and huge problems relating to stalking and even classroom abuse, as we heard in the eloquent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). It is the casualness of all this that is worth highlighting. Such things are not any more considered by our media or our commentariat to be serious crimes. That, I think, is the most serious crime of all.

We should all be shamed that London has become a global centre of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Far from this being, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley suggested, a distraction from the serious business of Government, I suggest that it is a vital and topical issue that affects more than half of our population.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): I commend the hon. Gentleman for his eloquent speech, reminding us all that not every male member of the Conservative party is blinkered or bonkers on this subject. Does he share with me the hope that better health and sex education in school can help prevent the real blight of sexting? As a Member of Parliament and as a parent, I must confess that, like others, I am only just beginning to understand the gravity of that situation.

George Freeman: I agree. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, which I feel personally, too, as the father of an 11-year-old daughter. I also think, however, that as a Parliament and a Government we need to be brave enough to realise that advice on sex must be put within some kind of moral framework. We need to be brave enough to acknowledge that young children require of us some guidance about what is right and wrong. Difficult territory though it is, there is no excuse for simply suggesting that there is no sense of appropriate conduct that we should be conveying.

This is a vital and topical issue which affects more than half our population, and it is an issue of global and local significance. I believe that our generation in this great institution must address it, and that we all have a duty to take it seriously. As I said earlier, I am the father of an 11-year-old daughter, but I also speak as the husband of a wife and as the son of a mother. We are all, in one way or another, linked to this issue, and, as a compassionate Conservative, I am proud that this

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generation, and this Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, have provided such leadership on it. The Prime Minister said recently:

“I want to see an end to violence against women and girls in all its forms. I’m proud to add my voice to all those who stand up to oppose it. Too often these horrific crimes have gone unpunished. We want this to change and that is why we have criminalised forced marriage, widened the definition of domestic violence and made stalking illegal.”

I believe that, as a result of cross-party consensus, our generation may be able to look back on what we have achieved and be proud of it. I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on arranging the debate, which, given its significance, I should have preferred to take place on a Monday rather than a Thursday. I also congratulate the sponsors of the motion, and those who are speaking about this important topic this afternoon.

2.10 pm

Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to contribute to this very important debate. I congratulate those who secured it, and those who have contributed to it so far. Let me also say that it is great to follow the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). This important issue is close to the heart of many Members who are present today, and I know that those who are not present support the motion.

A recent incident in New Delhi unfortunately led to the death of a 23-year-old woman whom the people of India named “Nirbhaya Damini”, the brave-hearted daughter of India. Damini was brutally gang-raped by a group of men on a public bus. She suffered from various injuries which severely damaged both her brain and her body, and as a result of that inhumane act, she died on 29 December 2012.

This particular act of violence has sparked much anger in India, here in the UK, and throughout the world, and it is part of the reason why I stand here to discuss the subject of violence against women and girls. Over the last few months, through vigils in my constituency and outside the Indian high commission, I have been able to witness the hundreds of people who have been brought together to share their anger against the perpetrators of such a despicable act. All of us were in Parliament square this afternoon to support those who were campaigning against the violence.

I want to focus my remarks on women and girls with an ethnic-minority background. Through my work in my constituency, I have come across many women and girls who, because of their background, require special assistance to protect them from violence, and who are much more vulnerable as victims. Women and young girls should not have to endure violence. We have a moral duty to protect our citizens, especially those who are in an especially vulnerable position. Many women suffer violence and are then unable to leave or take action against the perpetrators: they face different challenges, and feel powerless to overcome those obstacles.

Numerous acts of violence have been inflicted on women and young girls in recent years, and such issues are now being widely addressed. However, women from an ethnic-minority background may suffer various violent acts, notably female genital mutilation, “honour-based”

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killings—of which there are more than 2,800 a year—forced marriages, domestic violence perpetrated by their husbands, in-laws and other family members, dowry-related abuse, and suicide or self-harm aggravated by harassment or violence.

It is vital to acknowledge that in some cases, women with an ethnic-minority background suffer acts of violence that are deemed acceptable and perpetrated by a group of family members. The main concept behind those acts is the “shaming” of the women’s families or community members. It is absolutely vital to eradicate that absurd concept, which is often used by perpetrators to justify their actions.

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend is making a brave and impassioned speech. He seems to be hinting that there are issues involving power in the midst of these crimes and relationships.

Mr Sharma: I shall say more about that shortly.

The concept that acts of violence are justifiable if they will protect the family’s “honour” is ridiculous and unacceptable.

Furthermore, many women and young girls from an ethnic minority continue to suffer because they feel that there is no way out. There is evidence that, on average, women suffer acts of violence and abuse more than 20 times before they report it, but among women from an ethnic minority the number is higher—and that, of course, assumes that the acts are ever reported. The under-reporting of such acts is another serious issue which increases the complexity of the situation in which those women find themselves.

The funding of services for women who are victims of violence has been dramatically reduced. According to a report published by Women’s Aid, 27,900 women have been refused refuge because of a lack of vacancies, and the cutting of support for such groups will cause further problems.

I am also concerned by the cuts that are being made in my local police force. There will no longer be front-desk police officers 24 hours a day in my local police station in Southall. Those cuts could prove life-threatening when combined with the decreased funding for other services that help women who are victims of violence.

Let me end my speech by thanking Southall Black Sisters, who are based in my constituency. They have contributed positively to the community for more than 30 years, providing excellent services which help women from black and ethnic-minority backgrounds. Many people will know them for their work on the Kiranjit Ahluwalia case, which ultimately focused on issues that I mentioned earlier: issues which need to be resolved, and which lie deep within communities. Southall Black Sisters have provided valuable services, but, owing to their limited resources, they can only take on the most extreme cases, and there are still many more women who need assistance.

The matters that are being discussed today are of great urgency, and I hope that the Minister will resolve to work on a global basis with other Government agencies and non-governmental organisations to eradicate the fear of violence from women throughout the world.

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2.17 pm

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): I am pleased to note that a male Minister is responding to the debate. All too often, debates such as this are shunted off into the category of “women’s issues”, and it is left to our female colleagues to engage in them.

Other Members, including in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), have spoken powerfully about sexualisation and normalisation. The issue of female genital mutilation was raised by my hon. Friend—my good friend—the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), who I know have done extremely good work in that regard.

There are two issues that especially concern me, and on which I press schools in my constituency. One is the use of social media for the swapping of sexual images. What worries me is that, while adults swapping sexual images of children are committing a criminal offence, when children do the same thing it seems to be regarded as a bit of a lark. I hope that the Government will think about whether the providers of social networks should bear some form of culpability. Are they not committing an offence by allowing the transmission of what is effectively child pornography?

I have also pressed local schools on the issue of consent. Too often we think that if a woman does not say no, there is implied consent. I wrote to all my local secondary schools asking whether in personal, social, citizenship and health education—I wish someone could come up with a better name, as PSCHE is a bit of a mouthful—they teach express consent, because not saying no is not consent. I was pleased that all the schools replied saying that the point had been taken on board. Will the Minister press the Department for Education to update the curriculum on PSCHE so that express consent, not just consent, is taught?

Those are my two points. I hope that the Minister will comment on whether the transmission of what is, in effect, child pornography can be dealt with by taking action against the network providers and whether the curriculum can be updated.

2.20 pm

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, which shows the House at its best. As we make our voices count in the One Billion Rising campaign, we recognise that we cannot end violence against women and girls without also looking at wider attitudes in society. We need to consider how we, in our schools, our curriculums, our children’s services and our local authorities, are actively seeking to educate young people and safeguard them from dangerous and abusive situations. Alongside the resourcing of the immediate needs of those exposed to violence and abuse, we need to examine the widespread gender violence and attitudes to it that are so prevalent in society today.

As technology evolves, so, too, do the means of sexual exploitation. Grooming for sexual exploitation, the increased normalisation of sexual favours and the widespread sexualisation of the young all contribute to the vulnerability of our young people. Recent cases of systematic child grooming involving violence—often sadistic violence—for the purpose of sexual exploitation,

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such as those in Rochdale and Oxford, highlight just how necessary it is to equip our young people with the knowledge and resources to prevent such horrendous situations from recurring in other areas and ways.

Such cases are, in a sense, the high-profile, visible manifestations of this culture. Many young and vulnerable teenage girls, in particular, are targeted, groomed and abused in this way by such offenders and by their peers. Young people need to understand that they cannot “consent” to their own abuse and their own exploitation, and that they cannot do so must be reflected consistently by law enforcement agencies, support services and education services.

Mr Virendra Sharma: Does my hon. Friend agree that these things are happening because there has been a huge reduction in the resources going to the agencies that protect these young kids?

Gavin Shuker: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I do believe there is an issue of resources to address. It is also important to acknowledge that successive Governments have perhaps not sought to invest enough in these services, particularly in the kinds of hub and spoke models that would allow us to get into the community to engage with the people who are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence. I believe that our educational bodies have a responsibility to teach and model respectful and healthy relationships for all young people.

Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend is making a key point about the importance of education. Statistics suggest that 750,000 children are witnessing domestic violence each year, so does he agree that it is increasingly important that our schools play a role in ensuring that children are able to understand that what they are seeing and experiencing is not normal?

Gavin Shuker: My hon. Friend is knowledgeable and accurate on this point. We understand that the models we grow up with affect how we engage with the wider world. One of my particular concerns is to ensure that young people who are subjected to seeing this kind of abuse in their own circumstances do not go on to perpetuate that violence in later life.

We know that this education needs to be of high quality; to have age-appropriate content; to enable people to make informed choices; and to highlight potentially dangerous patterns of relationships or environments. It is needed across the board; it must not simply be targeted at a group we would deem vulnerable. I appreciate the views of Members across this House who feel, just as I do, that sex is a spiritual as well as emotional and physical act. There are those who, like me, believe that deep moral and ethical questions are related to issues such as the scale of abortion in this country, but to deny young people the education and the capacity to prevent themselves from finding themselves in that situation in the first place is a perverse outcome of that belief.

Education targeting the prevention of violence against women and girls is not just an issue for women and girls, so there is a need to educate both young boys and young girls about mutual respect within relationships, recognising that men and young boys can also be victims of violence and abuse. Educating both boys and girls is a key

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element in a preventive education. Alongside statutory sex and relationships advice, resources should be made available in schools so that support can be accessed by young people experiencing or concerned about violence and abuse. I have real concerns about the resources available to engage those at high risk of becoming victims of sexual exploitation.

We do not just need to take action in schools and education authorities. In my role as chair of the all-party group on prostitution and the global sex trade, I have been struck by the measures taken by some good local authorities to introduce strategies to tackle violence against women and girls in their own communities. Introducing measures to tackle domestic violence, sexual violence, prostitution and female genital mutilation under a comprehensive strategy, with direct support and enforcement of the law, is a real step towards the goal of a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and girls. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s view on whether other local authorities should also adopt such strategies to work across their own communities. If such strategies were replicated nationally across local authorities and prioritised as a matter of urgency, that could go a long way towards ensuring that vulnerable people do not fall through the cracks.

In finishing, I wish to make a few brief remarks about one of the groups at greatest risk of violence against women and girls. The alarming statistics on adults involved in prostitution who were sexually abused as children, experienced domestic violence or entered prostitution before the age of 18—the age at which they could consent—highlight the urgent need for preventive education and support services for young people at risk. According to Home Office figures, 70% of those involved in street prostitution had a history of local authority care, and nearly half report a history of childhood sexual exploitation. Highlighting issues of vulnerability and the consent of children sheds light on the continued vulnerability of women into adulthood. The legislation on commercial sexual services currently sends no clear signals about the nature of this trade—these are signals to be picked up by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Perhaps a debate such as today’s is an important time to assess the impact that these industries have, not only on those directly providing these services or being exploited, but on our society’s attitudes towards women and girls.

In our group’s call for evidence for our inquiry into the law on prostitution, I have been struck by the fact that much of the language from those who purchase sex completely fails to challenge, and in some places continues to perpetrate, the idea that access to sex is a man’s right. In normalising and legitimising occupations in this way, we not only maintain the prevalence of an industry that will be sustained by future generations, but we communicate attitudes accepting and promoting the commoditisation of women. It is notable, for example, that violence against women involved in prostitution is part of one of the most popular video games in this country. Inherent in this attitude is the idea of the entitlement of men to pursue sexual pleasure, no matter what the cost. That attitude continues to reinforce the power imbalance at play behind many of the issues we have heard about today. We need to assess how widespread the acceptance of such—

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George Freeman rose

Gavin Shuker: I will give way.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. I am terribly sorry, but you have taken two interventions already.

Gavin Shuker: I thought that was the case.

Mr Deputy Speaker: It was. I call Diana Johnson.

2.29 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on securing the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on allocating time for it. I also pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary and my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) in promoting and getting behind the One Billion Rising campaign.

Many Members on both sides of the House have spoken with passion about the importance of ending violence against women. In my constituency, we have a wonderful football team, Hull City, with a wonderful football ground, the KC stadium, which holds some 25,000 people, and as a new MP I was told that the stadium would be filled to capacity by all the victims of domestic violence in the city. That statistic is a stark reminder of the prevalence of domestic violence in all our constituencies.

When I spoke to the police in Hull last week they told me that domestic violence was still one of their key priorities. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) spoke about the very positive Strength to Change campaign, which was funded by the PCT. It worked with more than 250 perpetrators to try and change behaviour, but those men had already engaged in domestic violence. I think we all agree that it is much better to prevent it from ever happening by getting in early and ensuring that our young men and women understand what is acceptable in relationships and that violence is never acceptable.

The education we give to our young people in schools is limited, as we have heard. It falls within the science curriculum and talks about the biology of reproduction and sexual diseases, but does not in any way address the issues that young people say they want to know about. Young people want to know what a healthy relationship should look like. We need to consider the self-esteem that our young girls, in particular, should be developing and the confidence they need to make good choices. We know from examples around the world that good sex and relationship education in schools delays the time at which youngsters start having sex and most Members of this House would think that that is a jolly good thing.

We must also remember that parents can still withdraw their children from sex education up to the age of 19. Nobody can accept that that is a realistic way of proceeding. We need to ensure that the law reflects what is going on in our country. We know that PSHE is taught with success in some schools and not in others and youngsters tell us that we must get that sorted out for their sake.

I respect the Minister for Immigration, who is on the Front Bench, but I am disappointed that the Home Secretary is not sitting there today. I understand that she chairs the inter-ministerial group on violence against women and girls, on which the Home Office takes a lead. She has spoken out against violence against women

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and girls on many occasions and I have great respect for her, too, but it would have sent a clear message that the Government were getting behind the motion had she been in the Chamber today.

Let me focus on the motion, which is about making PSHE a statutory requirement in our schools. The review undertaken by the new Government when they came into power ended in November 2011. We must remember that the previous Labour Government attempted to make sex and relationship education statutory in 2010, but that opportunity was unfortunately blocked in the “wash-up” by the Conservative party. The review finished in November 2011, as my hon. Friend the Member for Slough said, and since then I have been chasing the Department for Education. I have tabled many parliamentary questions and asked whether Ministers are meeting groups and organisations to ensure that they get their approach absolutely right, but it seems that very little has happened.

Fiona Mactaggart: My hon. Friend spoke about who she thought should be on the Front Bench. Is she as disappointed as I am that there are no Education Ministers sitting there?

Diana Johnson: Yes. One Education Minister was in the Chamber earlier, but unfortunately did not stay to hear the rest of the debate. The Department for Education is the villain in the piece today, because there is general acceptance across the House that although making PSHE statutory is not the whole answer, it is part of the jigsaw. It fits in with what the Government are saying and the steps they have taken since they came to power, as well as those taken by the Labour Government, to try to address violence against women and to equip our youngsters with the skills and knowledge they need to make good choices about the lives they lead. I am disappointed that no representative of the Department is in the Chamber to listen to the debate.

I was a little flabbergasted when I heard that the Department for Education had accepted that financial education should be statutory. If the Department knows that that is important and wants to give young people the skills and experience to deal with their finances, it seems rather ironic that it does not accept that young people also need the skills, experience and knowledge to deal with relationships and sexual matters. The Department argues that it does not want to prescribe what schools have to do, but it seems to me that if the Department can be prescriptive about financial education it could be a bit more prescriptive about sex and relationships education.

The Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), answered Equality questions earlier today but said nothing about the very effective campaign to reduce teen relationship abuse, which is working directly with young people. It is not being used by the Department for Education—I checked its Twitter account and it is not promoting that campaign. I think the Department for Education should stop turning its face away from what the vast majority of young people, parents and Members of this House want, which is for high-quality statutory sex and relationships education to be brought in as soon as possible with properly trained teachers and proper resources. That will not solve the whole problem, but it will help.

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2.36 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) and I pay tribute to the leadership shown on this subject by the hon. Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) and for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). We have heard compelling speeches from Members on both sides of the House and I was particularly struck by those from the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman). Notwithstanding that, I share the disappointment that has been expressed about the lack of vigour from those who sit on the Government Front Bench, in particular. When I asked the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), this morning about the importance of statutory education in PSHE and violence against women and girls, I was told that it is voluntary and that schools can offer it if they want to. Everything we have heard in the debate this afternoon suggests that that is not enough.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady agree that it is a problem that PSHE is not part of the curriculum in academies and free schools? As we have all agreed during the debate, the problem goes across society.

Caroline Lucas: I agree. I also agree with those who said we need a whole-school approach. Yes, PSHE is vital but such education should also be mainstreamed across all other parts of the education system.

The figures, tragically, are all too familiar. In Britain, 60,000 women are raped every year and two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner. That culture of violence is doing enormous damage to our young people. As the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) said, NSPCC research found that so-called sexting is linked to coercive behaviour, bullying and violence and has a disproportionate impact on girls. A YouGov poll for the End Violence Against Women Coalition found that more than 70% of 16 to 18-year-old boys and girls said that they heard sexual name calling towards girls routinely and, even more disturbingly, one in three girls said that they experienced groping or other unwanted sexual touching at school.

In a report published last year entitled “I thought I was the only one,” the office of the Children’s Commissioner found that in the space of just 12 months more than 16,000 children, mostly girls, were identified as being at risk of sexual exploitation. The report highlights that we need to ask why so many males, both young and old, think it is acceptable to treat both girls and boys as objects to be used and abused. That brings me to my key point: violence does not happen in a vacuum. We must recognise the impact of the wider culture, so I want to focus on just one aspect of that—the objectification of women in the media, whether it is in the newspapers, music videos, adverts and video games.

Women have been served up as sex objects in some of our daily newspapers for many years. They show images that would be prohibited on television or subject to the watershed, yet they are sold entirely without age restriction in shops, often at a child’s eye level. As the mother of two sons, there are shops I would prefer not to go into because of the eye-level material that they will see and have seen and because of the effect on them.

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Every week we read in the papers cases of women who are killed by their partner or former partner. Every one of these cases should cause an outcry, but rarely warrants a paragraph because it is tragically becoming so routine. The problem was highlighted last year by women’s groups who gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry and later published a report called “Just the Women”. This examined how domestic homicide cases are reported as “tragic” one-off incidents, rather than as part of a well-understood pattern of behaviour. Rape cases in some papers are routinely placed next to pictures of half-naked women. Cases of forced marriage or so-called honour-based violence, a horrible misnomer, are explained in terms of culture or religion—anything but violence against women and girls. Lord Leveson himself suggested that a front-page report in The Sun headed “Bodyguards for battered Towie sisters” about violence against two women from “The Only Way is Essex”, which was accompanied by a picture of one of the women in an erotic pose in lingerie, may well infringe clause 12—the discrimination clause—of the editors code of practice.

No one is suggesting that the media are solely to blame for these attitudes, but their objectification of women and the treatment by some newspapers, for example, of rape cases go some considerable way towards explaining why prejudicial attitudes to women are so deeply entrenched and are so normalised. The chief Crown prosecutor for London, Alison Saunders, has expressed concern about the impact that the treatment of women in the media has on rape cases and jurors’ decision making. She believes that jurors are coming to court with preconceptions about women that affect the way they consider evidence and she says:

“If a girl goes out and gets drunk and falls over . . . they are almost demonised in the media, and if they then become a victim, you can see how juries would bring their preconceptions to bear.”

Fortunately, much needed work is being done with detectives and prosecutors, for example, to dispel myths and stereotypes about women who have been raped or subjected to sexual and others forms of violence, but Alison Saunders asks whether there is

“something more we should be doing”

so that people doing jury service are not being challenged for the first time, and the subject is not one that they are thinking about for the first time.

The answer to that question is, of course, yes. That is why our schools should be taking a lead. Work to prevent violence against women and girls must be an integral part of education policy, delivered in every school as part of the statutory curriculum. It is astonishing that in 2010 40% of 16 to 18-year-olds said either that they did not receive lessons or information on sexual consent, or that they did not know whether they did. Although PSHE education must now teach about consent, it needs to go further and cover all forms of violence against women, including teenage relationship abuse, forced marriage, FGM and sexual exploitation. It should also be linked to work on gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes; otherwise young women and men will never be exposed to education designed to reduce gender violence and to counter the damaging impact of cultural factors, such as the media.

The 1 billion women rising today want a world that empowers young people, rather than represses their sexuality, so work in our schools must allow young

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people to be more in control of their sexual identity, rather than being dictated to by the media or advertising. Crucially, it must address harmful notions of masculinity and present boys with positive alternatives. The Director of Public Prosecutions and the Deputy Children’s Commissioner have both spoken out about the impact of pornography on young men’s sexually aggressive behaviour, and there is evidence of the negative impact of porn on young men’s attitudes to women.

In my constituency, the domestic abuse charity Rise is an excellent example of existing good practice. It delivers a PSHE preventive education programme on healthy relationships to schools across the city. Our schools also subscribe to the whole-school approach recommended by the End Violence Against Women coalition, where heads take a lead, teachers are trained on the issues, and all students receive comprehensive sex and relationship education which deals with consent, equality and respect. If we are serious about preventing gender violence, those messages need to be reflected not just in our schools but across society as a whole.

2.43 pm

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Two women are killed every week in the UK—109 women last year. Worldwide acts of violence against women and girls aged 15 to 44 cause more deaths and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined. More than 53% of children aged five to 18 in India have been sexually abused, and 57% of Australian women reported experiencing violence in their lifetime. In 2010-11 728,145 incidents of domestic violence were recorded by our police, but only 8% of those cases ended successfully in prosecution. Some 45% of women in the UK have experienced violence.

It is no wonder that 1 billion women are rising today. As Kathy Lette said at the rally in Parliament square earlier today, “Women are always runners-up in the human race.” The statistics are shocking and possibly challengeable, but it is not enough to be horrified. We have to do something. A study by Professor David Gadd, “From Boys to Men”, found that among year 9 pupils, 48.4% of boys and 33.3% of girls thought it was all right to hit their partners in certain circumstances. The Girl Guides attitude survey found that 39% of girls and 43% of boys thought it was all right “to make you tell your boyfriend where you are all the time”; 21% of girls and 39% of boys thought it was all right for a boy to tell his girlfriend what she can and cannot wear; and 2% of girls and 11% of boys thought it was all right to hit or kick somebody if they spoke to someone else at a party.

When young people believe that violence in a relationship is okay, we have a long, long way to go, because domestic violence is not about uncontrolled emotions. It is about power and control of one’s partner. It is about how women are viewed in society. Think back to those traditional marriage vows, which start with

“Who gives this woman to this man”

and end with women promising to obey. The vows may have been updated, but in so many cases attitudes have not.

If we want to change attitudes, we need good sex and relationships education in schools. We need girls and boys to be confident in themselves and to have good

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self-esteem. We especially need girls to be assertive and not to accept that they have to do what they are told to do by their partner. Just think about where young people currently get much of their education about sex and relationships. Some may come from parents, but much more will come from peers and pornography. When I worked with young people, I was horrified by the publications they were reading and the films they were watching.

Porn does not talk about loving relationships or about young people waiting until they are ready to have sex. It does not talk about safe sex. It talks about taking women, about domination, about rough sex, about women as sexual objects to be used. I was deeply shocked when one young woman told me about being with a group of girls and boys in the bedroom of one of the boys. This boy was masturbating while looking at pornography in full view of the group. This was deemed to be appropriate behaviour, nothing unusual, perfectly normal.

I have worked with many victims of domestic violence over the years, including colleagues. Domestic violence robs the victim of confidence and self-esteem. Victims are told that it is their fault—if only they were a better girlfriend, wife, mother, lover, worker, cook, cleaner, this would not be happening to them. The reality is that whatever they did, however they behaved, the violence would still happen, because in the end that partner becomes the whipping boy, the outlet for frustration and anger—but, of course, “I only do it because I love you, dear.”

I believe sex and relationships education is essential in talking about good relationships, positive relationships, equal relationships. It is essential in building assertiveness in girls so that they do not accept that they should be hit and controlled. An Irish study showed that 12% of year 11 and 12 pupils think that boyfriends who hit girlfriends deserve a second chance. For me, that decision to stay, that excuse that “he only did it because he was stressed/upset/I was bad/he’ll never do it again” is far too often the start of a journey into long-term domestic abuse.

Such abuse is not only, and may not even be, violent, but it is psychological. It is controlling, threatening and bullying. The normal journey is one where the woman becomes more and more isolated because the perpetrator makes it impossible for the victim to maintain relationships with family and friends. Her self-confidence is stripped away and she can no longer see a way out. The fear of the perpetrator does not disappear if she manages to walk out. That is why refuges do not publish addresses and why women often have to move many miles away from their previous home and from any remaining support network.

Relationships are fundamental to our society, but too often they are not built on equality or mutual trust and respect. The very least we can do in a civilised society is give young people information and skills, and hopefully values, so that they can build positive and equal relationships.

2.49 pm

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): I thank the Backbench Business Committee for selecting this important debate and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member

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for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on leading it so eloquently. I want to focus my contribution on violence against women in the home, because I have been talking for some time with the Women’s Aid project in my constituency. It tells me that domestic violence against women in our communities is still for the most part hidden and not really openly spoken about, even by the women subjected to it. Why is that? We have heard a mixture of reasons today, not least of which are the fear of talking openly about it, the shame victims feel and their belief that they somehow brought the violence upon themselves, which is not the case. The real shame is that society still allows it to happen. In my part of the country, Scotland, a domestic violence incident is recorded every 10 minutes. Just imagine how many that is over the course of this debate.

No one deserves to be abused. No one should have to put up with abuse anywhere, let alone in their own homes. Domestic abuse can affect any women, regardless of class, race or age. There is no typical abuser either, but 82% of domestic violence incidents involve men attacking women—women they profess to love. Two or three women a week are even killed by former or current partners.

Many victims are not being attacked for the first time. In 2011-12, more than 33,000 of recorded incidents involved victims who had already experienced domestic abuse. The previous year the figure stood at just over 28,000. It can be a continuous cycle of violence, with women and children forced to flee their homes to seek sanctuary—many of us have difficulty understanding this —only to return to the abusive partner. Why? Again, the reasons are many: desire to try to maintain a resemblance of family life; they might have nowhere else to go; and even because, “Yes, I still love him.”

Domestic abuse causes serious and long-lasting harm. Apart from physical injury, it frequently causes psychological damage, and abused women can also lose their jobs and homes. It also affects the children who witness it. It undermines their relationship with their mother, disrupts their education and can even turn some into abusers themselves in later life. We have to stop this vicious cycle. Education in schools of zero tolerance is absolutely essential.

As I said, I have visited and spoken with those involved with the Women’s Aid project in Inverclyde. They believe that the causes of domestic abuse go back historically to the days when—believe it or not—a man was legally allowed to beat his wife. In Scotland, the problem can more usually be traced back to alcohol. For some, alcohol is the elixir that releases held-back pressure and frustration, allowing their rage to turn violent and leading them to lash out at those nearest and dearest. I always think that it is no coincidence that it took a Scotsman to write “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”, in which a potion released his darker and violent side.

Domestic violence corrodes and damages our communities and our society. The extent of the problem is shocking. A recent study revealed at the Scottish Women’s Aid conference in Edinburgh showed that domestic violence in Scotland has risen by 66% over the past 10 years. There is always a motivation behind the violence, whether it is physical or emotional: it is a way of maintaining control through fear. The woman becomes isolated from her family and friends. Many victims of domestic abuse blame themselves for the abuse, as I have

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said. Over time, domestic abuse creates an emotional and psychological state that is unique among crimes, similar to the fear endured by survivors of violent atrocities. I know that the police in Scotland have vowed to crack down on this crime and to make it easier for victims to raise the alarm, which I welcome.

Mr Virendra Sharma: The police have a major role to play in tackling domestic violence. We have the example of Gwent police force, which has established a dedicated domestic abuse and safeguarding unit, which appears to have had very positive results. Does my hon. Friend agree that we should replicate that on a national scale so that communities can be reassured and can receive specialised support services for the most marginalised and vulnerable?

Mr McKenzie: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He must have been looking over my shoulder at my notes, because I was about to move on to that subject. My local police force is now setting up remote stations to allow victims to report crimes without having to go to a police station.

We must go into schools and teach our young people that domestic abuse, be it physical, mental or sexual, is totally unacceptable. We must protect our future generations of women from this violence. All the agencies involved in tackling violence against women should be working together more effectively to eradicate it. There should always be zero tolerance for violence against women. We must be unremitting in our pursuit of those who carry out such crimes and in our support for those who suffer as a result. No woman should be subjected to violence, and certainly not in her own home. I applaud and support the work of the Women’s Aid project in my constituency.

2.55 pm

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on initiating it and on the work that she has done in this field.

The Government estimate that last year 85,000 women were raped or sexually assaulted. That is a shocking statistic. Clearly, this violence takes place in a cultural context. I want to build on the remarks of the hon. Members for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Devizes (Claire Perry) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to suggest some concrete things that we might do to shift this culture which is portraying women in such a highly sexualised way.

During my adult life, women have made lots of progress in many respects. We have made progress at work, in education and public services, and in pensions and child care, but we seem to have gone backwards in the public portrayal of women and the impact that that is having on our self-esteem and on the way that men treat us. The all-party group on body image has looked into women’s attitudes to their bodies. That can appear to be at the soft and fluffy end of the scale, but it often drives into women’s sense of themselves and levels of self-esteem. People who have negative self-images can

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become extremely depressed and subject to mental health problems and eating disorders—so much so that 80% of women are unhappy with their bodies, 40% of children are concerned about their bodies, and 1.6 million people have eating disorders. People’s anxieties are strengthened by their being faced with a constant bombardment of images of perfection.

I thought it would be interesting to talk to two groups of young people about these issues. I went to a school in London to talk to a group of girls in year 10 and to a school in my constituency in County Durham to talk to a mixed group of boys and girls, also in year 10. They agreed that these were significant problems. The girls, in particular, drew a connection between the images portrayed in the media and the way they are harassed on the streets by complete strangers. They have now begun to airbrush their own photographs on Facebook—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Slough is groaning; I was appalled as well. There are some practical things that we can do about this. It is impossible to ban airbrushed photographs in advertisements, but we could label them as such.

The young people told me that they find such discussions valuable. As I said, they saw a clear link between sexualised imagery in the media and how they were treated in real life. The portrayal of such images should be covered in the PSHE curriculum. The Girl Guides have produced a fantastic pack about these issues. Another important aspect is that this is reducing trust between the genders. That is not a good thing, because obviously we want people to have happy, fulfilling long-term relationships, and they will not do that if they feel anxious and insecure.

The thing that most worried them was music videos that glamorise violence. They were particularly scathing of Eminem and of Rihanna’s video, “Love the way you lie”, which is about a woman who is apparently in love with an aggressive man. The girls were particularly alarmed by that.

We need to take some positive action, so I suggest that the Government consult urgently on introducing age-rating for music videos, which was one of the Bailey review’s proposals; that Ofcom look again at its rules for radio stations to keep sexually explicit and inappropriate lyrics to particular times of the day; and that we reduce the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it.

A further problem that has been brought to my attention by ATVOD—the Authority for Television on Demand—is that R18 material is available on on-demand online sites that are not out of the reach of children. A survey of mine on The Huffington Post website is gathering people’s views on these issues, so Members should visit it if they would like to take part.

I know that the Minister will not be able to commit to my suggestions this afternoon, but we need seriously to take some concrete steps and move the policy on.

3.1 pm

Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): Today we are seeing what is being called a “feminist tsunami” around the world. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) looks a bit worried; I think he should be, judging by the tone of some of his remarks. There are 160 events across the UK alone, and 203 countries

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around the world are joining in to say, “Enough. It is time. One Billion Rising.” Whether here in the UK in Sheffield, Liverpool, Ipswich, Corby, Bute, Norwich, Manchester or Kirklees, or whether in Manila, South Africa, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, the Lebanon or Afghanistan, women and men are coming together to say that they do not want to live in a world where one in three women will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. They are turning those billion women who would be assaulted into a billion people calling for change.

The question for us today is whether the British Parliament has done justice to that call. Having listened to the debate, I think we have. A fantastic range of contributions have reflected the number of issues that affect women’s safety in British society and, indeed, internationally. I briefly want to reference some of them.

Many Members, such as my hon. Friends the Members for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie) and for Bolton West (Julie Hilling), have discussed the prevalence of domestic violence in our society and how we can tackle it. The hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) made a fantastic and personal contribution about how we might deal with that. Others have highlighted the issues in some of our minority communities, addressing in particular the idea that this is a cultural issue when gender violence is gender violence. In that sense, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma) and for Luton South (Gavin Shuker).

We have also discussed the need to express international solidarity. The hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) talked strongly not only about forced marriage, but about how we need to tackle such issues across the world, as did the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod) and my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who both spoke out for Jyoti Singh. Let us say her name and that we in the British Parliament stand on her side.

We have also heard many examples of how we could improve the way in which our criminal justice system works. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) mentioned Lindsay Anderson and the tragic case of Frances Andrade. I put on record my personal support for the work that the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has done in challenging and calling for a change to how we deal with victims of sexual violence in our court system.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) talked about his fantastic work on stalking. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) highlighted what the child protection system could do and the problems with the probation service’s lack of awareness of sexual violence among young people. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) gave the sobering statistic that one in five calls to our police is to report domestic violence. Something has to change in British society.

We have also covered broader cultural issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) spoke about the impact of body image. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) talked about the objectification of women in society. I will extend the hand of co-operation across the House

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to the hon. Member for Totnes if she wants to run the “No more page 3 in the Tea Room” campaign. She is absolutely right.

The hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who unfortunately is not here, made a fantastic point this morning when she told the police that when so many women from the UK Parliament are standing up to say that they want change, they should not move them on. She has been a fantastic champion of tackling the changes that are allowed by online technology.

All of the points that have been raised are examples of a broader issue that we need to deal with. The fundamental problem is not technology or the practice of female genital mutilation; it is that we live in a society that is unequal. That impacts on the safety of women in our society. Even if the internet did not exist, women would still face the same scale of violence. That will continue unless we tackle the root cause of inequality, unless we tackle those attitudes and unless we take the stand that we are taking today every day to say that something has to change.

That is what the motion speaks to. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who has been a fantastic champion for this issue with the Backbench Business Committee. I also pay tribute to Members across the House who have supported the motion, including the hon. Members for Erewash (Jessica Lee) and for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), who cannot be here. I want to say why the Opposition think that the motion matters. We want to help the Minister if he is brave enough to listen to the arguments that have been made today about why compulsory sex and relationships education for both boys and girls is intrinsic to changing the culture in which we see violence against women in our communities.

Many Members have talked about the impact that is made by high-quality sex and relationships education. I accept the point that was made by the hon. Member for Battersea. The Brook advisory service has demonstrated the impact of poor-quality teaching. That is an argument for the use of expert guidance within schools rather than for having no guidance at all. I commend the work of Women’s Aid in that regard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North put her finger on it succinctly when she said that the Department for Education was the villain of the piece. I agree with her. As somebody who has campaigned for financial education be a key part of tackling debt within our society, I do not understand why we can teach our children about compound interest but not about consent. That must be a critical part of the process.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) talked about the importance of youth work. She is right that we must deal with this issue not only in schools, but throughout our culture.

The hon. Members for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) and for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) made well-meant contributions in which they seemed to suggest that this was a debate for women. Let me tell them very clearly that it is not the responsibility of women to avoid violence; it is the responsibility of society to stamp it out. We welcome them here to take part in the debate not because they care about women, but because it is for everyone in society to tackle these issues and to say that violence against women must not happen any

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more. With that in mind, I hope that they will help us to challenge those who suggest that this issue is about what women wear. I urge the Foreign Secretary, as he is in his place, to look again at the advice on the Foreign Office website and to consider what message it sends out about rape in our world.

It is not acceptable to offer a caution as a penalty for rape in our society. We have to tackle the way in which we deal with rape. When only one in 30 rape victims in our society sees justice, it is an argument not for cautions, but for changing the criminal justice system. [Interruption.] That was actually the suggestion of the Secretary of State for Justice, so I hope that the Government Members who are heckling will take it up with him.

My hon. Friends the Members for Slough, for Kingston upon Hull North and for Bolton West and the hon. Member for Battersea have spoken about the importance of sex and relationships education. We know that children will get their advice from somewhere. We know that they will go to Google if they do not go to a quality-assured source. We know what impact that has not only on their sexual behaviour, but on how they deal with relationships and whether they have respectful relationships. I am mindful of the comments of the hon. Member for Luton South about the importance of respect in relationships.

That is why we cannot avoid this question any more. That is why we must challenge those who are trying to stop us. That is why I challenge the Secretary of State for Education when he suggests that all we need to do is to raise educational attainment, as though sexual violence is not happening in the highest performing schools in our country. Let me tell Government Members that we know that sexting takes place in the poshest and most expensive boarding schools that children can go to. So this is not about—[Interruption.]Members are barracking me, but the Secretary of State told the Education Committee that one of the best ways to get children not to indulge in risky behaviours was to educate them so well that they had hope in the future. He seemed to be suggesting that it was about improving standards in schools—we all agree with that—but not about taking on the cultural aspects of what sexual behaviour people think is acceptable.

I actually agree with the Prime Minister on the issue. He said that

“I believe that sex education, when taught properly, is extremely important. It should not be values-free. That must mean teaching young people about consent: that ‘no’ means ‘no’. At the moment, this is not even compulsory in the sex education curriculum. This has to change – and it will change with a Conservative government. This will be an important step towards encouraging greater responsibility and helping tackle one of the root causes of rape and sexual violence.”

The Prime Minister said that to the Conservative Women’s Organisation in 2007. We all know that in 2010, Labour’s efforts to change the situation were a victim of the wash-up, and that the other coalition partners supported putting compulsory sex and relationships education on the curriculum. Since then, there has been a vote about academies, and the Government voted against the motion.

Today, we have heard the support in the country for sex and relationships education in schools through the One Billion Rising Campaign, including from Government Members, and particularly the concern that if 50% of our schools become academies, they will be able to

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avoid sex and relationships education altogether. I hope that there will therefore be cross-party consensus that the situation has to change, and cross-party support for the Minister if he chooses to say here and now that he will take on the Ministers from the Department for Education who could not even be bothered to come here today to talk about the issue and are not willing to support it.

That is key to tackling the root causes of these problems—we need to say that it is enough. It is time. We must not let those people get in the way of changing attitudes. One Billion Rising is because one is too many. The hon. Member for Battersea talked about solidarity and standing together. Let us stand up to the people in the Government who still do not take that line. I say to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister that to tweet about One Billion Rising is fantastic and sends a message, but we will hold them to account every single day if these issues are still not resolved.

I ask Members to vote for the motion, to give Home Office Ministers the clear support that they need. I ask Members to give the Home Office the evidence it needs to show that the situation has to change, so that Ministers can go to the Department for Education and say that they want to see sex and relationships education on the curriculum. Anyone who heard Jahmene Douglas talking today about the impact that it had on his sister and his family, and who saw such a brave young man come forward, will know that we cannot leave it to chance that schools will provide it. We have to ensure that it is a standard across British society.

I hope that Government Members will put their money where their mouth is, vote for the motion and support us in this effort. I hope we will say that One Billion Rising is not just for one day but is the start of something different in British society.

3.12 pm

The Minister for Immigration (Mr Mark Harper): I congratulate the Members who bid for the debate at the Backbench Business Committee. It was an excellent idea, and well done to the Committee for setting aside the time for this debate and the one to follow, which is on the same theme of sexual violence. The House will shortly be able to hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood).

I thought that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) rather spoiled the debate, frankly. It had been a good debate, and I had listened to powerful speeches from both sides of the House, including from Members on the Labour Benches and other Opposition Benches, but her tone at the end rather soured an excellent debate.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) finds my presence disappointing. I fear that may be the case for Opposition Members. I thought, though, that both she and the hon. Member for Walthamstow were rather churlish about the Department for Education. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson), found the time to come and listen to part of the debate, and he and I have spoken about these issues previously, including earlier this week. Some Opposition Members cling to the idea that there is somehow a divide in the Government, but it is a false idea.

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The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North said that the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Mr Browne), had not mentioned the teenage relationship abuse campaign when he answered a question in Women and Equalities questions. I may be wrong, but I listened carefully and the Minister not only referenced that campaign, but made the point that the Government are relaunching it today and are committed to continuing it because it has been so effective. On the basis that things said in the House of Commons are often the greatest secrets in the world, I will say it again: the teenage relationship abuse campaign “This is abuse” will be relaunched today with a focus on what constitutes controlling and coercive behaviour, and on raising awareness among teenagers of what constitutes abuse and violence. I have seen that campaign and think it rather effective. Evidence also suggests it is effective, and I am pleased the Government are relaunching it.

Diana Johnson: My point—I am sorry if I did not make it clear—is that the information was not on the Department of Education Twitter feed, which is obviously a place that young people might look to see what the Department is saying about these good initiatives.

Mr Harper: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, if a Minister speaks in the House of Commons, I as a Member of Parliament happen to put greater weight on that than on what—with greatest respect to the Foreign Secretary, who uses Twitter in an excellent manner—goes on the Twitter feed. If the Minister says something at the Dispatch Box as a statement of Government policy, that is important. The fact that the announcement was made in the House of Commons proves the saying that things said here remain great secrets.

In the limited time available, let me pick up a number of issues raised by Members across the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), who is not in her place at the moment, raised two issues that were taken up by others. She referred to the pilot scheme for domestic violence protection orders run by her constabulary in Wiltshire, and I am pleased to say that three pilot forces continue to operate those protection orders. The Government were asked to extend those powers, and we have done so. An evaluation of those pilots will be published this summer, and a decision will be taken about whether to roll the scheme out. The good news is that the pilots will continue in those areas.

My hon. Friend also mentioned sexting. That issue was taken up by a number of hon. Members, some of whom described concerning examples that either they or others had heard about. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre produces resources for teachers to use in the classroom, and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) gave a graphic example not just of sexting but of sexual offences taking place in the classroom, suggesting a more serious problem in some areas than sexting itself.

The hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) referenced the St Mary’s sexual assault referral centre near her constituency, which is jointly funded by her local police force, the national health service and local authorities. Responsibility for those assault centres will remain with the NHS Commissioning Board, working with local partners to fund them. That partnership approach works well.

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The hon. Lady also chairs the all-party group for runaway and missing children and adults and I pay tribute to her for that. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich, who was present in the debate, said that he spoke with her yesterday at a conference on child sexual exploitation. That demonstrates that the Department for Education is alive to a number of these important issues.

The hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz) demonstrated—as did much of the debate—that concern about this issue is shared by hon. Members across the House. We have had a good constructive debate and heard some excellent ideas. She, like the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr Sharma), raised this issue’s international dimension and mentioned recent events that have pushed it up the agenda, not only in the United Kingdom but elsewhere. The hon. Lady and others mentioned the impact of human trafficking. That is an issue I take very seriously as chair of the inter-departmental ministerial group on human trafficking, and I have engaged on the issue with the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who so ably opened this debate. Together with fellow officers of that group, she will hold my feet to the fire as the Government make progress on that agenda.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler) mentioned forced marriage, and I am pleased that the Prime Minister and the Government have committed to taking steps to criminalise that. The issue was raised by the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, and the Government have made their position clear. We have led the world in tackling that practice. We will criminalise it and make a breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offence. It is not enough just to change the law; we need to change people’s attitudes and engage with communities to change people’s views. That point was made by the hon. Member for Slough and the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall.

My hon. Friends the Members for South Derbyshire and for Battersea (Jane Ellison), and hon. Members on both sides of the House, mentioned female genital mutilation. The Government have taken the lead on that. The Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, who has responsibility for crime prevention, has made it clear that FGM should be seen for what it is: child abuse. It is not acceptable. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) mentioned the importance of securing prosecutions. The Crown Prosecution Service wants to lead on that with its action plan on improving prosecutions. The Home Office will continue to work with the Director of Public Prosecutions to identify the barriers to successful prosecutions.

The declaration against FGM, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, sets out the law and potential criminal penalties. It is supported across the Government and has been signed on behalf of their Departments by the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane, who has responsibility for crime prevention; the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who has responsibility for public health; and by the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for

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Crewe and Nantwich, who has responsibility for children and families. There is good evidence that Ministers from a number of Departments are focused on a range of issues and on delivering progress. The characterisation of the Department for Education is therefore unfair.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd)—I hope he will forgive me for mangling the pronunciation of his constituency—mentioned the stalking offences that he worked on with the Government, which came into effect last November. Police and prosecutors have been given special guidance and training on the offences, and I hope they make an impact on dealing with that incredibly serious offence, which was previously not dealt with well in the criminal justice system.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Harper: I will give way just once—to the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne).

Sandra Osborne: Is the Minister aware of the recent cross-party inquiry by the hon. Members for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) and for Solihull (Lorely Burt) and me on unwanted pregnancy? We called for statutory provision for sex and relationships education. Will the Minister comment on that—it is relevant to the debate—before he takes his seat?

Mr Virendra Sharma rose—

Mr Harper: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will answer that intervention. I was not aware of the inquiry on which the hon. Lady worked, but I am now.

Let me come back to sex and relationships education, if I may. Sex education is a statutory responsibility. I listened very carefully to the points made in the debate. Interestingly, many Members said that sex and relationships teaching as a component of PSHE is in many cases not high quality. It is important to focus not just on teaching sex and relationships education. Schools must have regard to the Secretary of State’s guidance, but it is important that it is well taught. That was the point made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab) rose—

Mr Harper: If the shadow Home Secretary lets me finish my point, I will give way to her.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion referred to a charity in her constituency: Rise, which works in partnership with schools in her constituency. Partnership working with charities and non-governmental organisations can be important in effective delivery of high-quality education.

Yvette Cooper rose

Mr Harper: At the risk of trying your patience, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will give way to the shadow Home Secretary.

Yvette Cooper: I appreciate your tolerance, Mr Deputy Speaker.

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The Minister will be aware that sex and relationship education is not compulsory in schools and that there is no requirement to teach zero tolerance of violence in relationships. The legislation available before the election, which the current Secretary of State for Education personally blocked, would have made it possible for him to require zero tolerance of violence in relationships to be taught in our schools. Can the Minister give me any reason at all why he opposes that today?

Mr Harper: I have just said that good teaching in schools is essential. I am not sure the route the right hon. Lady sets out is a valid one. I will take no lectures from her on the urgency of the task. She was in government for 13 years. She is now complaining about failing to legislate in the wash-up at the tail-end of 13 years of Labour government. If she meant what she said, she would have done something about it. I am afraid that her strictures are rather hollow.

This has been a very good debate. I think I am being glared at by Mr Deputy Speaker, and am being urged to bring it to a close. I am sorry that I have not been able to reference everyone who has spoken in this excellent debate. I think it will be followed by an equally excellent debate, with which Mr Deputy Speaker is keen to proceed.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): For no more than two minutes, Fiona Mactaggart will sum up.

3.25 pm

Fiona Mactaggart: I will be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. I want to thank everybody who has contributed; it has been an excellent debate. I am grateful to hon. Members for pointing out that sex and relationships education based on zero tolerance to violence might be part of the solution. However, it is by no means all of the solution. We have had many excellent contributions about the other issues that need to be taken on board to bring to an end to violence against women and girls—we need to bring this violence to an end. We have made progress on some of these issues. We have to make practical progress now, and that is why I tabled this motion.

I want us to vote on the motion, because we have heard one voice against it, and I will speak to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). In my political life, I have campaigned strongly for all victims of violence. In the past year, 109 women have been murdered by the people they loved. Domestic violence, the violence we have talked about in this debate, and the control that goes on inside ostensibly loving relationships, terrorises all of women. That is why this is a specific issue, and that is why we need to deal with it. Unless we can teach young men and young women that wherever we go, however we dress, no means no and yes means yes, we will not have a society in which women are safe.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes the One Billion Rising Campaign, and the call to end violence against women and girls; and calls on the Government to support this by introducing statutory provisions to make personal, social and health education, including a zero tolerance approach to violence and abuse in relationships, a requirement in schools.

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Sexual Violence in Conflict

[Relevant documents: Written Evidence and uncorrected Oral Evidence from the International Development Committee, on Violence against Women and Girls, HC 934 and HC 934-I.]

3.27 pm

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of preventing sexual violence in conflict.

My favourite ever quote is not particularly erudite, which is not very good for an Oxford MP. It is from “The West Wing”, when Leo tells one of his members of staff:

“Never let the urgent crowd out the important.”

In a nutshell, that is why, with all the domestic pressures crowding in on us at the moment, I still prioritise my work with the all-party associate group on women, peace and security, and why I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to preventing sexual violence in conflict.

Major General Cammaert, the former peacekeeping commander in Democratic Republic of the Congo, said in 2008:

“It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.”

In that year, 14,591 new cases of sexual violence were reported in DRC. Since 1998, it is believed that more than 200,000 Congolese women have been raped. Today, we still hear of widespread sexual violence in DRC, Syria, Sudan and South Sudan. Just last week, there was a report of a Somali woman who spoke up about being gang raped by state security forces only to be sentenced to a year in prison, along with the journalist who reported her story, for daring to speak up. This reflects the exponential growth of conflicts that target civilians, especially women and girls, as a means of intimidation and ethnic cleansing. Films such as “Hotel Rwanda” and “Shooting Dogs” mean that most people now know that the abuses that these women suffer are among the most horrific that any of us can imagine. Nevertheless, as if the failure to prevent this violence in the first place was not bad enough, these women are still routinely denied access to any form of justice, or any engagement with the peace processes that follow.

Male victims, crimes against whom are even more chronically under-reported, face extreme stigma and almost non-existent access to services. It is almost impossible to estimate the scale of an abuse that remains largely unreported and unrecorded. I hope that the House will forgive me, however, given that I am chair of the all-party associate group on women, peace and security, if I focus my remarks on the issues affecting women in conflict. It is meant not to imply that the abuses suffered by male victims are less grave, but only to acknowledge that the protection challenges are different and that it is not my area of expertise. Whether the victims are male or female, however, the unpalatable fact is that the perpetrators prosper with impunity and that there remains little if any deterrent against sexual violence in most fragile and conflict-affected states.

The primary responsibility for prosecuting these crimes must lie with the states themselves, of course, but where the rule of law has collapsed or is failing to enforce

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domestic and international laws to protect victims, the international community has a constructive and effective role to play in capacity building and challenging those states over the need for justice and accountability. Security Council resolution 1325 is the cornerstone of policy on gender and conflict. It was the first resolution to acknowledge that women experience different impacts from conflict and that this matters for global peace and security.

In 2008-09, further resolutions concluded not only that violence against women was a criminal matter that could be addressed by justice systems once countries had stabilised, but that sexual and gender-based violence was often a deliberately deployed weapon of war, that a failure to stop violence against women was a failure to stop an abuse that catalysed and perpetuated conflict, and that until we started seeing violence against women as a security threat, we would never be able fully to achieve our defence, foreign policy and international development goals of conflict prevention and stabilisation.

Mr Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) (Con): My hon. Friend deserves great credit for having tabled this important motion, not least because, as she pointed out, girls and women are at the forefront of violence in the areas she identified. That is why so many of the Department for International Development’s programmes around the world specifically combat violence against women. Does she agree that it is hugely to the Government’s and particularly the Foreign Secretary’s credit that they have put this item squarely on the agenda for the G8 meeting in Britain later this year and that that helps to build on the international agreements that are aimed at tackling this subject and those which she has just mentioned?

Nicola Blackwood: I do indeed, and I thank the former International Development Secretary for his intervention. I know that he was a great champion of women’s rights when he was in that role. I hope that when the Foreign Secretary speaks, he will update us on progress at the G8 on this issue.

All the statistics and stories tell us that women are most vulnerable to the worst human rights abuses imaginable, but they are more than that. Among the women I have met are those such as Jineth Bedoya, a Colombian journalist who will not stop challenging arms dealing in her country, despite being abducted, tortured and raped by paramilitaries and then being told that there would be no prosecutions, but that she could have either bodyguards or a ticket out of the country.

Then there is Ikhlas Mohammed, a Darfuri survivor who speaks out continually about the abuses that women and girls have undergone in her community. The story she told still haunts me and demonstrates that practical solutions such as the preventing sexual violence initiative are not just western follies that tinker at the edges, but exactly what those who survive sexual violence are calling for. She told me this story: “I was in Tawila town when a girl’s primary school was attacked. The little girls in the school were raped, some in front of their families. Many were less than 10 years old. How do you stand being made to watch while someone rapes your daughter, or your mother or your sister? It is better to die than that. They use rape as a weapon. Now the women who were raped are pregnant they are unacceptable

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in their families. Most of the girls did not tell anyone they had been raped because of the stigma. If there is no justice, if there is no law, then everything has collapsed. We cannot stop women’s violence. We cannot stop rape. We cannot stop any kind of sexual violence towards women. We need justice. I am a representative of Darfurian women and we are looking for justice.”

Those women who speak up after they have survived sexual violence and who challenge it regardless of the risk are not just victims. They are not even primarily victims. Many whom I have met have become exceptional human rights defenders and leaders in their own countries, calling for their right to live free from the fear of all kinds of violence, for their right to access services and, just as importantly, for sustainable stabilisation. They are calling for women to be considered and included in peace processes so that they can hold their own leaders to account. Those women are indomitable agents for change whose determination and strength of purpose is a resource for peace and security that we can ill afford to ignore. They are, in short, a good investment.

I am delighted to welcome the Foreign Secretary’s preventing sexual violence initiative. I know from discussions with him and with the PSVI team that tackling sexual violence in conflict is a genuine personal passion of his, and I thank him for his leadership in driving the matter up the international agenda in a way that we have not seen since resolution 1325 was signed in 2000.

Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady agree that we in the developed world also need to address this issue? Is she aware that 20% of US female veterans report that they have experienced sexual assault during their careers?

Nicola Blackwood: There is no question but that sexual violence is a problem in every country, and every country needs to take responsibility for tackling it. It is also a fact that in certain countries the rule of law has entirely collapsed, and in those countries there is much more scope for capacity building and support. The G8 countries and the international community can offer support in a way that will make an extraordinary difference to women’s lives.

The all-party parliamentary group and our co-ordinating group—Gender Action for Peace and Security—have already taken every opportunity to engage with the PSVI team as the initiative develops. We have been making the case for participation, as well as protection and impunity, to be part of the PSVI package. We have emphasised that, in this sensitive area of policy, we need to take a “first, do no harm” approach, particularly by ensuring that support and protection are in place for the survivors of sexual violence and for those women human rights defenders who are brave enough to stand up but who face extreme intimidation and abuse.

We must also ensure a sustainable impact by integrating the PSVI with the national action plans developed around resolution 1325, with the building stability overseas strategy and with other DFID and peace-building programmes so that there is no risk of duplication. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will give us an update today on his progress on the PSVI with the G8 member

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states, and on his plan for taking the initiative forward following the April Foreign Ministers’ meeting and beyond.

The practical measures that the PSVI offers are the missing link in our international response to the risks that women face in conflict. A frequent problem is the failure to understand the risks in the first place. Much of the rhetoric around women in conflict-affected states fails to address the full range of roles that women might have played in the conflict. Some take part as combatants, others as field operations supporters and some as sex slaves. Their inclusion in peace processes, in disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration, repatriation and resettlement programmes and in intelligence networks is every bit as important as the inclusion of their male counterparts, whom we would not dream of excluding.

Women represent 80% of refugees, along with their children. The number of war widows and female-headed families increases exponentially immediately after conflict, and those groups continue to face survival crises in post-conflict situations, making them even more vulnerable to sexual violence. They need access to employment programmes and to health, education, social and justice services if they are to protect themselves and, if they are already victims, to recover. However, post-conflict reconstruction and development analyses rarely prioritise and target women in conflict-related scenarios.

This is a matter of seeing the protection and inclusion of women as an integral part of the security challenge of stabilisation. For example, roads and ports are needed for commerce, but they might not help women to access local economies if they do not connect to the smaller, rural markets that the women frequent. Employment programmes almost always target young men, to absorb them, away from conflict-related activity, but that can leave women without assistance of any kind. One capacity solution is to focus on recruiting women to front-line services such as criminal justice, health or education. That would serve the dual purpose of ensuring that women found the employment that they needed to prevent poverty and vulnerability, as well as ensuring that they had access to those services. Both those outcomes would offer stability and security benefits in peace-building efforts.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I have looked at the support our country provides for policing internationally, and our Departments now work together much better in that regard. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that there is further work for the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office to do in ensuring international policing support operates in the best possible way and also that such policing projects are adequately funded, given our domestic financial constraints?

Nicola Blackwood: My hon. Friend makes a good point about cross-departmental working. This is clearly an area in which MOD, FCO and DFID need to work well together, and there has been an enormous improvement in the approach to conflict situations over the past two years, and the conflict pool—BSOS—has played a big role in that. There will always be more work to do in ensuring Government Departments work together better, however.

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Mr Andrew Mitchell: Does my hon. Friend agree that the National Security Council, set up by this Government, has made a huge difference to that cross-departmental co-ordination? In Afghanistan, training the police is enormously important, and that greater co-ordination has had a major impact on the ground.

Nicola Blackwood: I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows much more about this matter than I do, as he speaks from considerable experience. I will say, however, that we should be working to recruit more women to the Afghan police, and ensuring that they can play a role in enabling women to have more secure lives in that country, where they face extreme violence daily.

Whatever role women play, we need to get women involved in making peace, because without them peace-making and post-conflict stabilisation is more difficult and less likely to take into account the central issue of stopping the abuse of women or to be sustainable. There is a direct correlation between more inclusive models of negotiation and a greater chance of keeping the peace. The impact on the ground is clear. Melanne Verveer, who until last Friday was the first ever US ambassador for global women’s issues, noted at the end of 2010 that 31 of the world’s 39 active conflicts were recurrences of conflicts after peace settlements had been concluded, and that in all 31 cases women had been excluded from those peace processes. It is impossible not to conclude that, despite vocal support for the women, peace and security agenda, there has been negligible improvement in women’s participation in peace-building since resolution 1325 was signed in 2000.

I hope the G8 agreements and the preventing sexual violence initiative will lead to a recognition that the protection of women from sexual violence and the participation of women in peace processes are two sides of the same coin. In the quests to end conflict-related sexual violence and to stabilise fragile and conflict-affected states, we do not get one without the other. In order to achieve our goal, we must get a commitment to put into practice the EU guidelines on human rights defenders.

Over the past few years there has been an increase in geopolitical upheaval in the Arab world, which none of us could have anticipated. There has been famine in areas of east Africa and the Sahel, too, which is increasing the pressure on already fragile states, and international economic instability is widespread. As a result, the PSVI and related strategies to tackle violence against women and girls and the BSOS have never been more relevant. As the rate of political change accelerates in so many countries in the Arab world, and as conflict emerges and re-emerges unexpectedly in Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Syria, and as the status of women becomes increasingly uncertain in those countries and many others experiencing instability, I hope we, too, can accelerate our rate of political change and embed the 1325 agenda as a fundamental part of our foreign policy response to fragile and conflict states.

Ms Joy Ogwu, former president of UN Women, has said:

“No one can run fast on one foot.”

A security agenda that fails to prevent sexual violence in conflict, that fails to support women human rights defenders and leaders and that fails to ensure women’s participation has been a limping beast, but I believe that the PSVI and the Foreign Secretary’s personal commitment

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to championing this issue at the G8 can mark a turning point in the international rhetoric on women in conflict situations, so that we can finally begin to put into practice changes on the ground that will protect these women, who so desperately need it.

3.44 pm

Gemma Doyle (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) on her excellent speech in opening this debate. She began with a “West Wing” quote. I originally had a reference to “The West Wing” in my speech, but had taken it out; I shall now put it back in. I wanted to mention the episode “The Women of Qumar”. For anyone who recalls it, the President and his staff are managing a situation with the fictional country of Qumar—over an arms deal, I think. The President’s press secretary, C.J. Cregg says:

“They beat women; they hate women; the only reason they keep Qumari women alive is to make Qumari men.”

Unfortunately, I fear that that is not just a fictional situation for some women around the world.

I feel that I cannot do justice to this subject today, not because of time constraints but because of the horror of some of the situations the debate is about. I had the privilege of attending a meeting here in Parliament in January 2011, addressed by Margot Wallström, the first ever special representative of the UN Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict. Her term in the position came to an end last year, and she has been replaced by Zainab Bangura, a senior politician from Sierra Leone. I am sure that we all wish her well in that role.

I am always struck by how we seem to accept that sexual violence is something that just happens—that it is a “fact of life” both at home in the UK and when it occurs in conflict. I do not accept that, and I think much more can be done to tackle it. In preparing for this debate, I unfortunately stumbled across some truly horrifying discussion boards, with comments illustrating appalling attitudes towards rape. While we are absolutely right to shine a light on these issues in a conflict setting, it is also true that the attitudes that lead to this behaviour exist in all societies. The issues we face here in the UK were well highlighted in our earlier debate.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): Does the hon. Lady recall a recent case this year in which a Muslim man found guilty of rape was exonerated by the judge on the grounds that he had received education in whatever educational establishment he attended, which had taught him that women were of no value? Does she agree with me that this attitude permeates fundamentalist thinking, and that it can be traced in many of the conflict situations emerging, particularly in north Africa?

Gemma Doyle: The hon. Lady is right to highlight that issue, but I believe that these attitudes can be found across all societies. They are absolutely not acceptable; we should do everything we can to combat them.

Just as I believe that we will never entirely eliminate violence, it is unlikely that we will ever entirely eliminate sexual violence. The issues we are debating here today are depressing, upsetting and tragic—yet I think we have reason to be optimistic. If everything that could have been done had been done, and still no progress had

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been made, that would be a hopeless situation. I am optimistic because not nearly enough has been done, and I think that with the will and the resources we can drive down sexual violence in conflict. The investigation teams announced earlier this week were very welcome, and I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s commitment, too, although we need a greater emphasis on prevention, along with a focus on investigation.

There is no doubt that sexual violence is used as a weapon in war. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found that an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 women and girls had been raped during the conflict; the Special Court for Sierra Leone estimated 50,000 to 64,000 had been similarly affected; and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found that an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 girls and women had been raped.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Gemma Doyle: I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not mind if I do not. I want to make a bit of progress.

Disgracefully, in all those examples, only relatively small numbers of men faced prosecution for their crimes, and most got away with them. The extent to which people can get away with such crimes is illustrated by what was said by Korto Williams, of ActionAid Liberia, in October last year:

“It was routine during Liberia’s war for women to be raped at check points. Men who committed these crimes never faced the law and were allowed to act with impunity. Today we have had reports that at least one even became a Member of Parliament, representing the country, while the women he violated still wait for justice.”

It is no wonder that women have no confidence in their ability to seek justice in the aftermath of such conflicts. Justice for crimes of sexual violence remains far too distant for far too many women, and they are often marginalised during the subsequent process of resolution. In far too many cases, the rights of women have been sacrificed in attempts to secure formal peace deals. In only 18 of more than 300 existing peace agreements is there any mention of sexual, gender-based violence, and even in modern peace agreements, the position and rights of women in society are still being threatened. I agree with ActionAid, which suggests that that is partly because women are not at the table during discussions, and considers that we should make it a priority to seek to guarantee places for them. Organisations such as ActionAid, Amnesty and Oxfam are working around the globe to try to tackle these issues, and I think that we should try to make progress by harnessing their knowledge and their networks on the ground.

Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy), the shadow Secretary of State of Defence, made an important speech outlining his ideas on early intervention, emphasising the need to work alongside our NATO colleagues in conflicts, and to monitor fragile states and, when we can, intervene to stop them from falling into conflict. Experience over the years has shown us the mistakes that have been often made in foreign interventions—mistakes that have cost women dearly in, for instance, the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

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I think the fact that for the first half of the current Parliament there was not one woman in the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development or the Ministry of Defence was an enormous step backwards. If we argue that women should be sitting around the table in peace negotiations throughout the world, we must surely accept that they should also be sitting around the table in the Departments that make so many decisions that affect women’s lives.

Mr Andrew Mitchell: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Gemma Doyle: I am sorry; I am about to end my speech.

There was no mention of sexual violence in conflict in the strategic defence and security review, and no recognition of that specific and particular weapon which is most commonly directed towards women. That is not unusual—I suspect that the subject has never been mentioned in a defence review—but it cannot be said that there was no place for it. There are parts of the SDSR in which it would have been entirely appropriate to raise the issue. Sexual violence is a weapon of war. It is about power, and about the abuse of power to humiliate and degrade. It causes untold misery, and it is the most obvious example I can think of that requires preventive work that can and should be done.

Al-Jazeera has reported a 22% increase in crimes of violence against women in Afghanistan. Many people repeat the statement that we did not go into Afghanistan to improve women’s rights. That is true, but it does not negate our responsibility to those women, given that we have been in the country for more than a decade. We have an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy there in the context of women’s rights and, in particular, their basic security, which is the cornerstone of their rights. I do not doubt the sentiment of the Ministers who are involved in the discussions on Afghanistan’s future, but I am sure they will agree that warm words will be of no comfort to those women if the progress that has been made is whipped away.

I have previously asked Foreign Office Ministers if they will support a guaranteed 30% women’s representation at the London 2014 summit on Afghanistan’s future. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary is to respond to the debate, because that enables me to put the challenge to him again today. I urge Ministers—in fact, I beg them—not to let this issue slip to the bottom of their negotiating list. All of us who enjoy protections and freedom in this country, regardless of our gender, have a responsibility to the women of Afghanistan and to women all over the world.

3.54 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr William Hague): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) on securing and launching this debate, and welcome the words of the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Gemma Doyle). I also welcome the opportunity this debate gives me to update the House on our initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict and to take into account, in developing that initiative, the issues that have been and will be raised by hon. Members.

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We have set ourselves a very important and very practical goal: to use the United Kingdom’s diplomatic influence and resources to increase the number of perpetrators of sexual violence who are brought to justice and to help to build up the legal and practical capability of other countries to tackle these crimes. We are determined to confront the culture of impunity, to overturn the age-old assumption that rape is somehow an inevitable by-product of conflict, and to rally the world to do more to help survivors. I have made it my personal priority, as has been said, during the UK’s presidency of the G8 this year to ask all the G8 nations to make practical commitments to help us towards that goal. We have had representatives of the G8 here in London this week, and I have met them in advance of the meeting of G8 Foreign Ministers in April. The agreements we reach at the G8 we will then take to the United Nations.

We are pursuing this initiative for many reasons, many of which have been mentioned already, so I shall not dwell on them. In our lifetimes, millions of women, men and children have endured the horror of rape and sexual violence in conflict, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bosnia, South Sudan, Colombia and Afghanistan, and in Syria today. The sad truth is that the perpetrators of these appalling, life-shattering crimes still go unpunished far more often than not. In many situations, survivors endure the fear and torment of their abusers living freely in their communities. This shocking culture of impunity is a moral issue. Survivors face emotional and psychological pain, physical injuries, disease and social ostracism. They have a right to justice and support, and to live dignified lives.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon pointed out, tackling the use of rape as a weapon of war is also central to a just foreign policy, because the psychological and physical trauma suffered by survivors affects whole communities, exacerbating ethnic, sectarian and other divisions long into the future, and preventing reconciliation. I have seen the consequences with my own eyes in some of the countries I have visited as Foreign Secretary and that has left a deep impression on me.

Ours is a country that can actually do something about this issue. Many countries might feel powerless in the face of it, but we have one of the largest diplomatic networks in the world and one of the largest development programmes of any nation, and we have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and play a leading role in UN agencies. Given that we have those assets and resources, and that concern for human rights and development in other countries is part of our national DNA, we should use those resources. I am absolutely convinced that shattering the culture of impunity for sexual violence in conflict is one of the great global challenges for our generation.

Some 200 years ago, this Parliament confronted the Atlantic slave trade. Now we are seeking, across parties, an international arms trade treaty. Our objective on this issue must be global action to end the use of rape as a weapon of war. Indeed, we have an even greater responsibility in the case of tackling sexual violence, because it affects women disproportionately. Ours is a world in which women in many countries still suffer discrimination, oppression and exclusion, and any effort that advances women’s rights must be pursued with the

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greatest resolve and commitment. I pay tribute to hon. Members from all parts of this House and in the other place who have drawn my attention to this issue, and who have championed women’s rights for many years.

Our aspiration is, of course, an end to violence against women—in any context, not just conflict, although that is what this initiative is particularly focused on. The Foreign Office works very closely with the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325 as a whole as well. I am proud that our Government have a ministerial champion on tackling violence against women and girls overseas, the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone).

The initiative, which I announced nine months ago, has three main practical components. First, we have set up the first ever unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office entirely dedicated to working on the issue. The unit comprises officials from the FCO as well as from the Department for International Development and it is working full time to lobby other Governments and international organisations. It is focused extensively on our presidency of the G8, but the work will continue beyond this year.

Secondly, we have created a new specialist team of experts that can be deployed to conflict areas to address sexual violence. We have now recruited more than 70 experts. I met many of them a couple of weeks ago and they include police, lawyers, psychologists, doctors, forensic experts, gender-based violence experts and experts in the care and protection of survivors and witnesses. The objectives for each deployment of the team of experts will, of course, depend on needs in the country concerned but they will usually support a UN mission, assist a non-governmental organisation working on the ground or be deployed at the request of the national authorities of that country.

We have already deployed the team to Syria’s borders, alongside the NGO Physicians for Human Rights, to train local health professionals in how to respond to reports of sexual violence. We will expand that work this year and will deploy a team again to help Syrian refugees. The prevention of sexual violence was included in our project with the Syrian opposition on raising awareness of the rules of armed conflict.

I announced a few weeks ago that we will deploy the team of experts to at least four other countries this year: to Libya, to support survivors of sexual violence committed during the revolution; to South Sudan, to work alongside the UN and Government to strengthen local justice; to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, to help doctors and lawyers to investigate crimes against the hundreds of women and girls who are raped each month; and to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to help courts and prosecutors to address the backlog of war crimes cases and to protect survivors and witnesses for the thousands of women who are still waiting for justice 20 years after the war.

An effective response to sexual violence needs to be built into every aspect of conflict prevention and peace-building overseas. We have offered members of our team of experts as part of the EU military training mission to Mali to provide human rights training to the Malian armed forces on preventing and responding to sexual violence in the conflict taking place there now.

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Fiona O’Donnell: I welcome all the action that the Foreign Secretary is driving forward and the leadership he is giving. Does he agree that it is vital that the Prime Minister, in his leadership role in agreeing the post-2015 framework, should ensure that women’s rights are always on the agenda?

Mr Hague: Yes, absolutely. The Prime Minister is supportive of the initiative and determined that it should be part of that agenda, too. Our initiative is focused particularly on sexual violence in conflict and we should maintain that focus. Of course, we can add more to it but it is important to make great progress—and to show the world that we can make progress—on this aspect of sexual violence with the particular characteristics of rape when systematically used as a weapon of war.

At the same time as taking the other actions I have mentioned, we have significantly increased our support for the UN Secretary-General’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict. We have provided £1 million in funding to her office and this week I announced that we will contribute an additional £500,000 to the International Criminal Court’s trust fund for victims, bringing our total support to £1.5 million in the past two years.

Thirdly, we have pledged, as I mentioned briefly, to use our presidency of the G8 this year to seek new commitments from some of the world’s most powerful nations. We have consulted UN agencies, the International Criminal Court and NGOs on how to make the most of that opportunity, and we have listened to the views of 75 experts from more than 26 countries who attended a conference we ran at Wilton Park in November, which I also attended. On the basis of those consultations, when I chair the meeting of G8 Foreign Ministers in London in April I will ask them to declare that rape and serious sexual violence amount to “grave breaches” of the Geneva conventions, signalling that we are prepared to pursue domestic prosecution of such crimes on the basis of universal jurisdiction.

We have also proposed a set of practical commitments to promote greater accountability and to overcome the most significant barriers to progress in this area. Those barriers are the poor quality of investigation and documentation of incidents of sexual violence in conflict; the inadequate support and assistance to survivors; the failure of wider peace and security efforts to address such issues; and the lack of international co-ordination.

In developing the commitments we have been careful to identify suggestions that we believe will have a real practical impact and will make concrete progress on the ground. Our proposed new international protocol, for example, on the investigation and documentation of sexual violence in conflict, should improve the evidence base from which investigations and prosecutions can be drawn.

We will suggest that the G8 provide greater protection and support to women human rights defenders, one of the target users of this new protocol, which will result in better documented cases, further building the evidence base. Doing so will also strengthen the support they provide to the survivors of sexual violence, as would broader G8 support for health, psychosocial and rehabilitation services, which will result in survivors feeling readier to pursue prosecutions.

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We will also press the G8 to ensure that an improved response to sexual violence is reflected in their own security and justice sector reform programmes, as well as in any support that they provide to national legislative reform. Such actions would help to provide the domestic legal and institutional framework within which survivors can act which, if supported by more coherent international support to strengthen UN efforts, would further build this national capacity.

These commitments are ambitious. I am firmly of the view that taken together they will begin a comprehensive global response to tackling impunity for sexual violence through a combination of legal and practical interventions which complement existing international activity, but target gaps in the current global response. We have had encouraging and supportive responses from G8 partners and from others, including Australia, New Zealand and countries most directly affected by the issue, such as the new Government in Somalia. There is also enthusiasm to do more in the OSCE, the African Union and NATO. This is a time to take the issue forward. I believe we can develop a critical mass of support which will lead to serious concrete progress over the next couple of years.

What we started nine months ago and what we are going to do at the G8 is just the beginning of a long effort. We will do our utmost to galvanise greater collective action. We will take this cause to the United Nations, including to the UN Security Council in June when we hold the presidency of the council, and at the UN General Assembly in September, when we will hope to increase support for the concept of a new international protocol on the issue. I hope that the Government will have the support, advice and encouragement of Members across the House in taking forward this vital issue at a moment in world affairs when we genuinely have the opportunity to pursue it and to make a difference, for the sake of hundreds of thousands and millions of people affected by these appalling crimes.

4.7 pm

Mr Douglas Alexander (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) on securing this important and timely debate in the House today. It is timely, not least because of recent developments at the United Nations and in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and it represents a significant issue that deserves proper time, attention, debate and indeed action.

I welcome the personal interest shown by the Foreign Secretary in advancing work on this issue and recognise his personal efforts to raise the issue on the international agenda. Where there is agreement in all parts of the House, it is only right that it be acknowledged, and on this issue, the Foreign Secretary has our full support in the efforts that he has made to prioritise the prevention of sexual violence in conflict both for the United Kingdom and for the wider international community. His efforts have been widely acknowledged and are rightly praised.

However, the recent work of the Foreign Secretary builds on decades of vital and important work done by countless charities, non-governmental organisations, political leaders and human rights activists. I am sure the Foreign Secretary would agree with me when I say that their unrelenting commitment to this issue is what

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has helped ensure that the issue today is becoming more of a focus for Governments right around the world. Our efforts today build on the work of many and it is only right that we pay tribute to their contribution. In particular, it is right to single out the work that women human rights defenders do on this crucial issue. Those working in this area are often subject to the gravest threats and risks, facing intimidation, abduction and even killings by those who oppose the work they do. They do it simply because they are there to do the right thing. Much more must be done to support these groups and promote their agenda so that theirs is not a struggle they face alone.

I welcome the work already being done by the recently appointed UN Secretary-General’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Zainab Bangura. Hers is a crucial and difficult task, which is why we fully support the recent pledge Her Majesty’s Government made to offer direct financial support to help fund her office.

Given the degree of cross-party support on the issue, I will echo some of the sentiments already expressed by colleagues in the Chamber before turning to the specific package of measures the Foreign Secretary has set out. When debating policy responses on this issue, it is only right that we first take time to acknowledge the sheer scale of the challenge, and indeed the extent of the suffering, that we are seeking to address. More than 75% of rapes in England are never reported to the police, so it should come as no surprise that we know very little of the true extent of sexual violence committed in conflict. However, there must be no doubt that rape and sexual violence are used today as weapons of war, and indeed as weapons of torture and mass persecution. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has rightly described sexual violence as

“the most pervasive violation of human rights across the globe”.

It is time for the international community to step up its efforts to respond to that harrowing truth.

The conflicts that have in part defined the last decades of war have themselves in part been defined by the prevalent and tragic use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, more than 250,000 women were raped, and 50,000 women were reported to have been raped during the war between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. During the post-election violence in Cote D’Ivoire in 2010-11, sexual violence was widespread, with over 50% of reported incidents involving children. Although deeply disturbing, the statistics cannot do justice to the scale of human suffering involved; it is only the personal accounts that come close to beginning to shed light on the scale of the horror that the use of sexual violence in conflict inflicts on its victims. The horrors continue today in the conflicts that still rage across the world.

It is therefore right that the UK has made the issue a priority for our presidency of the G8. We sincerely welcome the steps that the Government have taken to help direct efforts at both UK and international level towards addressing the issue. The Foreign Secretary will therefore have our continued support in his efforts to ensure that tackling sexual violence in conflict receives the attention and, crucially, the resources that it rightly deserves.

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However, I am sure that the Foreign Secretary would agree that the real challenge we face collectively is how to influence the facts on the ground in conflict areas. The true measure of the success and effectiveness of any steps agreed by the G8 will be their capacity to effect change in some of the most difficult and dangerous regions of the world.

Let me turn to the specific package of measures the Foreign Secretary has set out. We welcome the Government’s preventing sexual violence initiative. It is right that one of its key components is trying to overcome the apparent impunity that has existed on the issue until today. Sexual violence as a tool of war remains one of the least prosecuted crimes. We need to do more to improve accountability on the issue more generally. That is why the work of the specialist teams the Foreign Secretary spoke about, which will be deployed to conflict areas, is welcome. The work they do to gather evidence, help build local capacity and help civil society to investigate alleged crimes will be vital. Tragically, however, demand will always outstrip the capacity of even those groups when documenting and prosecuting crimes on such an horrendous scale. That is why we support calls to ensure that this UK-led taskforce is also focused on building up local in-country capacity to deliver the necessary accountability without leaving countries totally dependent on welcome but necessarily outside support.

Also key to any effective response are efforts to improve international co-operation and co-ordination to prevent sexual violence in conflict on the ground. That level of co-ordination is best achieved through the United Nations, so it is vital, as we have heard, that the necessary resources are made available to the relevant departments so that well-meaning objectives can be turned into concrete outcomes. That is why we hope that the Government will consider recent reports that the gender-based violence area of responsibility within the United Nations remains chronically underfunded. Effective prevention must also extend to regulations on the supply of arms and trade in arms, which are too often ultimately used in so many of the conflicts where sexual violence becomes prevalent. In effect, the irresponsible transfer of military equipment across borders fuels gender-based violence within global war zones, and the equipment is also transferred outside war zones, remaining in operation long after conflicts have officially ended.

In that regard, we will be encouraging the Government to clarify their position in relation to the upcoming negotiations on the arms trade treaty at the United Nations. As the Foreign Secretary will be aware, article 4.6 of the draft text, which explicitly refers to gender-based violence, requires states only to “consider” taking measures to prevent arms sales from facilitating such abuses. Many argue that this provision must be strengthened if the treaty is to have a hope of providing effective prevention, and must therefore stipulate that all practical measures to ensure weapons are never used to perpetrate or facilitate acts of gender-based violence be included in the treaty.

Let me turn to the specific regions where I am sure that the Government recognise that we have not only a strategic interest but, potentially, an operational advantage. It is only right to acknowledge that the prevention of sexual violence in conflict is not confined to those countries that are technically defined as being at war.

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Afghanistan still reels from the effects of conflict in recent years. Given our operational capacities on the ground there, I would welcome the Government’s making it a priority area for UK efforts on this issue. The Government’s stated objective of making Somalia’s stabilisation and development a UK strategic priority means that any UK-led initiatives in that country should focus on responding to the reported use of sexual violence during decades of conflict and on ensuring that everything possible is being done to prevent its re-emergence in future.

No one can deny that at its core the issue we are debating is a moral one. The suffering and scale of the terror alone should be justification enough for the international community to act. However, the Foreign Secretary is right to say that it is also a foreign policy issue and therefore a strategic imperative for the United Kingdom in working together with the international community in its efforts to do more. The use of sexual violence in conflict not only makes the conflicts themselves harder to resolve but contributes to making their legacy even harder for local communities ever to overcome, in turn perpetuating precisely the type of insecurity that it is in our collective national interests to prevent.

Ultimately, the best remedy to prevent the use of sexual violence in conflict is to put an end to conflict. That might seem to be straightforward common sense, but it should inform all our efforts on this issue, because that means that any approach to tackling it will always be embedded within a broader strategy for preventing conflict, promoting stability, and protecting against insecurity. Where the Government are taking steps, as they are, to advance this kind of approach, they will have our full support.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. In order to try to accommodate the half dozen colleagues seeking to contribute, I have imposed with immediate effect a four-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.