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Lord Carter: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that very full reply, which is now on the record as we wanted. Without attempting to turn the knife too hard, if the consultation and dialogue that the noble Lord describes had taken place in the run-up to the 1991 Act and after, we should perhaps not have needed this Bill. Not all the problems that have arisen, but certainly a large number of them, could perhaps have been avoided. However, we are all grateful now for the consultation machinery that is available. The object in having an independent committee was to formalise the procedure, to make it independent of government and to make it objective. However, considering the range of the consultation in which the Government are now engaged, perhaps the committee is not required. Therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.10 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Women's Refuges

7.8 p.m.

Earl Russell rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have any plans to improve the provision and funding of women's refuges.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I should first like to offer my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for their help in getting this Question arranged and on the Order Paper.

It is a relief, after the business in which we have been involved, to be discussing a completely non-party subject. So far as I can see, the sympathy and concern on this issue are shared among all three parties and those of none at all. The only division—and it is one that runs

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through all parties—is between those who are familiar with the priorities of these issues and those who are not; and that can very easily be dealt with.

Recently I came across a letter dealing with this subject. Since it deals with a lot of the issues that we come across over and over again, perhaps I may quote it:

    "This morninge, about the breake of daye, there come to my gates the ladye Kennedye in very straunge and wreached manner, bare legged in hyr petycott and an olde cloake, and hyr nightgeare in greate fryght and almost starved for colde. Shee desired houseroome and fyre of my wyffe hyr coosen in this extremitye, beinge as shee sayde dryven oute of hyr house by Sir Jo. Kennedy and with greate violence breake in upon hyr, and shee stole awaye in this sorte at a back doore. Much terrefyed with his furye and violence in forcinge hyr house with a greate companye as shee sayes [and] left hyr with my wyffe; untyll hyr mother sende for hyr ... and my selfe unwyllynge to deale in a matter between man and wyffe but could not turne hyr away".

Your Lordships may have noticed something a little unusual about that letter. It was written in 1609. It was addressed to Robert Cecil, first Earl of Salisbury and first Viscount Cranborne. The sister of the unfortunate woman concerned happened to be my ancestor.

That letter illustrates two points that we too easily forget. First, this is not a new problem. Secondly, it is not confined to any one social group of people; it may be found anywhere.

Again, your Lordships will have noticed the visible reluctance in the voice of the lady's host. The lady clearly could not remain there very long. That is why it is important in any review of the homelessness legislation which may take place that a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence, even when she has temporarily taken refuge elsewhere before going to a refuge, should not be regarded as intentionally homeless. There is nothing intentional whatever about that situation.

In that case, the man concerned was not only a batterer but also a pursuant. Unusually, he chose not to pursue the lady but the man with whom he believed, perhaps wrongly, that she had been having an affair. With a company:

    "of furious Scots armed [and with] snippers and searing irons",

threatening to use him "worse than a Jew" he turned up outside the man's house at break of day. Fortunately, the man was virtuously in bed with his own wife and, even more fortunately, he woke up. They escaped across the fields, he leaving his breeches and his lady by his side in her smock with her petticoat in her hand.

People sometimes think that refuges are too worried about concealing their location for reasons of security. But that kind of story still happens and has continued to happen for a long time. So long as it happens, security will be necessary.

Again, as we have seen from those letters, there is a need for co-ordination. This issue cuts across every departmental boundary in Whitehall and every departmental boundary in a local authority. Sometimes that is very serious. In local authorities, refuges tend to rely on housing services for capital funds and on social services for running costs. Although there are areas where social services and housing departments communicate extremely well, that is not always the case.

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Also occasionally the generosity of one is not matched by the generosity of the other and trouble results. Whitehall involves the Environment Department on the housing angle and local government angle; the Home Office on the criminal angle; and the Health Department on the social services and welfare of children angles. The Education Department is involved because schooling of the children whose life has been interrupted presents quite a serious problem; and social security services are involved because housing benefits provide much of the basic income on which a refuge works.

Those people do not always know what the others are doing. Refuges are not just a housing service. They involve practically every kind of welfare imaginable. I have with me a list which comes from a county council source. It lists bodies which have to be consulted in the course of dealing with a single case of domestic violence. It begins: the hospital social work team; the education welfare services; special education needs support services; educational psychology service; the police; the Crown Prosecution Service; the Probation Service; prison services; the diversion unit; and magistrates' courts. So far that is only one third of the way through it, but I cannot use up too much of the House's time on one list. Maybe the House will take the point.

One needs a co-ordinating principle and funding as well. The sources of funding can be as manifold as the range of problems that have to be dealt with. Some funds come from central government, some from local government and from some charitable funding. The Home Office takes the lead on some aspects, the Department of Social Security takes the lead on others, as does the Department of Health. Also involved are the Housing Corporation, the Rural Development Commission, the Benefits Agency, City Challenge and, we hope, the Single Regeneration Budget—we would welcome assurances on that. Each of those bodies tends to be earmarked for a particular purpose. It is no good having the most perfect provision for the care of children if there is no money to repair the building.

So, clearly, there needs to be some kind of co-ordination. That must be done without discouraging the voluntary initiative, which is what makes refuges so cheap and effective. Some kind of central co-ordinating principle is needed. In fact, the administrative systems work in some ways rather better when dealing with either the Scottish Office or the Welsh Office, where there is not the problem of Whitehall boundaries. There is one co-ordinating department which is capable of looking at everything.

If I knew how to achieve that result in the departmental structure of Whitehall, I should have found the Philosopher's Stone. I want to ask whether some thought can be given to finding a more coherent way of tackling the problem than is done at present.

There is also need for a bigger supply of refuges. In 1975, the Home Office Select Committee recommended one place per 10,000 people. We are only 35 per cent. of the way to that figure and the demand now is much greater. The returns from refuges in the latest Women's

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Aid report reveal that 63 per cent. wanted more bed spaces; 31 per cent. wanted more re-housing; one refuge could accommodate only a third of the women referred; another had to refuse refuge to 224 women, which represented 65 per cent. of those who contacted it; and another had 5,594 referrals, with 320 taken in.

The effects of refusing a woman refuge and the consequences in what she might have to do instead are quite serious. At the moment, the cost for the whole of the refuge movement is only £17 million. That is only twice the cost of running this House. It is not a very big drop in the ocean of public spending. Although this House provides outstanding value for money, I believe that refuges, in terms of what they do, provide rather better value for money. The report by Women's Aid published in January asks for another £33 million to deal with needs such as the care of children, the care of buildings and increased provision of bed spaces. The sum of £33 million is still less than the running cost of another place. If my calculations are correct, it is one fifty-seventh of a penny on income tax. That is hardly an overwhelming contribution to public expenditure.

The Treasury may well say, as Treasuries tend to do, "They all say that". Well, no doubt they all do. But that is where the interesting questions begin about how cost-effective provision is. Any time one is costing any proposal for spending public money one should also cost the effects of not spending it. That is one of the acid tests of whether one is getting value for money. One manager in a housing department was faced with the cost of putting up three families in a refuge or in bed-and-breakfast accommodation and found that putting them in a refuge could save, just for the three families, £30,000 a year. There is plenty of pressure on other homeless services—25 per cent. of the people taken in by the rough sleepers initiative are domestic violence victims and the cost of putting children into care, which tends to happen if there is not a refuge, is enormous. If the Government think of value for money, they could not find any better method than this.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for raising this issue. He did so with a typically outstanding contribution. I am also particularly pleased that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, is to respond to the debate not only because he is a very distinguished parliamentarian but also because I read with great interest his comments in the previous debate on 26th October 1992. I have no doubt that the noble Earl will recall every word that he said in that debate. I shall certainly be asking him one or two questions about his comments when the time comes.

On that occasion the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said:

    "The importance of the subject is only just beginning to be recognised".—[Official Report, 26/10/92; col. 995.]

The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, quoted the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as saying that, and went on to say:

    "It is a terrible indictment if we are only just beginning to understand it. It is a terrible indictment that there should be such a previously unthought of aspect of life".—[col. 1003.]

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I am afraid that the indictment is even greater than that. Although I am not enthusiastic about former Members of another place talking about what they said and what they did many years ago—that is rather overdone occasionally—I must tell the House that I raised this issue in another place in 1973. In fact, I was the first Member of Parliament to do so. There was a great deal of jocularity then. Some journalists and some Members of Parliament said, half jokingly, that the women deserved the beating and that it was a perk of marriage. That kind of jocularity is exactly the wrong note to strike on a major social problem. But that was the atmosphere of those times when the issue was first raised in the House of Commons.

At that time I asked the Home Secretary to make domestic violence a criminal offence and to discuss it with the chief constables. I asked the Attorney-General to make sure that injunctions were heard without delay. I asked the Secretary of State for Social Services, the much loved Keith Joseph, who later became Lord Joseph in this House, to establish a network of refuges. I asked the Prime Minister, Edward Heath, whether he would establish one Minister to co-ordinate all the requirements for battered women. On all sides in the House of Commons it was not a party political issue. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, also made that point. All sides pressed the issue from 1973 onwards in parliamentary Questions, Early Day Motions, debates and deputations to Ministers. That started in 1973 and yet today we have to have a debate in the House of Lords asking for improvements in funding for refuges and for a network of refuges. After all this time the indictment on successive governments is a serious one—and I include the Labour Government of 1974-1979.

There have been some improvements—notably in police attitudes and aspects of that nature—and many more refuges have been set up, but we have failed. Why is that so? We have failed because the significance of the term "domestic violence" is not really understood by the public and indeed by many parliamentarians. When the public think of domestic violence they imagine a domestic row between two people and then kissing and making up. They see that as the end of it. My wife Pauline and I saw the reality in November 1972 when we visited Chiswick Women's Aid. There we saw a decrepit old house with 130 women and children in the most abysmal and appalling conditions. What was interesting was the atmosphere. It was a very peculiar one. It was an atmosphere of great distress because these women had been very badly beaten. Yet in a curious sense it was cheerful because they were in a refuge and away from the brutality that they had known.

When one sees the kind of person who has been battered and beaten one begins to understand what the term "domestic violence" really means. What we saw were people who had been bruised, cut and even scalded and burned. They had been really brutally attacked. Their bones had been broken and their spirits had been crushed. That is the reality of domestic violence. No one really understands that until they see the problem. But most people do not see the problem. What they tend to

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see are the husbands or boyfriends appearing in court, well dressed and well spoken, and saying that it was a misunderstanding between them and their wife or their partner. The real guilt and the real brutality is obfuscated and disguised.

Because the public and many parliamentarians do not understand that, they do not give the issue a high enough priority. If dogs were treated in this way there would be marches on Parliament. There would be outrage in the press and elsewhere. But in this case it is only women or, as the police say—or the police used to say—they are "only domestics". The phrase "only domestics" was a kind of shorthand for getting round the problem, for evading it and for avoiding it. The police have improved since then. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, when he was at the Home Office, was very active in ensuring that the police played a more important and constructive role. The Metropolitan Police in particular have been splendid and have set up the kind of domestic violence units that are so valuable and which have been copied elsewhere.

Erin Pizzey, who ran Chiswick Women's Aid in those days, was a great pioneer. She wrote a very revealing book entitled Scream Quietly or the Neighbours will Hear. That was a very revealing title indeed. Erin Pizzey really began this whole campaign. Organisations like the Women's Aid Federation have carried on that fine work and have established a series of refuges throughout the country. The Women's Aid Federation offers very great protection but clearly it needs resources and assistance from the Government.

When the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, replies to this debate I hope that he will acknowledge that the present provision is an inadequate patchwork of refuges. I hope that he will acknowledge that local authorities are far too jealous of people moving in from outside into their refuges. Some, but not all, are very selfish. It is immoral that it should depend upon geography and where a woman lives as to whether or not she receives this kind of protection.

I conclude by referring again to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. In 1992 the noble Earl, in a very helpful speech which I am sure he will remember very vividly indeed because he has a fine memory, said:

    "The Department of the Environment will be considering what changes in local authority and housing association practices and legislation may be needed".—[Official Report, 26/10/92; col. 1006.]

I am very glad that he made that promise and gave that undertaking. I am sure that he has been working very hard ever since. As that was nearly three years ago, I am sure he has made great progress.

I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give a positive and constructive response to his own statement when he winds up this debate. I appreciate what he and the Government have done so far. I appreciate the work of active people like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and, above all, people like Sandra Horley, who is carrying on Chiswick Aid and the people who run the Women's Aid Federation. They are the people who are keeping the flame alive. I also congratulate the women themselves who have made a great contribution by

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fighting back and insisting on better provision. I hope that the noble Earl will be able to give them a satisfactory statement tonight.

7.32 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I follow two noble Lords who have distinguished records in raising the issue of domestic violence and in particular the need for refuge provision onto the public agenda.

Our society provides something of the order of 200 times as many sanctuary places for animals as it does for women victims of domestic violence. That says a lot about our society. It is our duty to try to rectify the discrepancy in those numbers as fast as we can. We do not know the real scale of the problem. By definition it is one of those areas which, to a very large extent, must remain hidden. But we do know that 18 per cent. of all murders are of women by the husband or partner. That is the tip of an appalling iceberg, but it probably gives some indication of the scale of the difficulties.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, referred to the development of work in a number of areas connected with domestic violence over the past few years. In particular he mentioned domestic violence units run by the police. The development of that work has been admirable. I am only recently acquainted with the refuge movement, but seeing the development of that work has been very encouraging. Much more discussion between different agencies and different departments of local authorities and so on must take place, but there is still a need for basic refuge provision. When I say "basic" I do not mean that the provision itself should be basic. It is very important that the facilities provided are welcoming and homely. The breadth of the problem was referred to, using those very terms, in the Home Affairs Committee report of February 1993. The language of the report is rather more prosaic than that used earlier this evening by my noble friend Lord Russell, but the point is very much the same. At paragraph 129, the report says,

    "Our first concern is on housing matters, and especially the provision of refuges.... The present number of refuge places is less than one-third of the number recommended as an 'initial target' ... in 1975".

My noble friend Lord Russell reminded us that the number has grown very little since then.

The report continues:

    "When refuge places are scarce, we have already argued that the police may not be able to secure a woman's safety when they attend an incident; that crime cannot be prevented as easily; that a woman may be deterred from following through a prosecution; that community-based sentences for offenders may cause dangers to the victim, and that there is a particularly acute problem in rural areas and in provision for ethnic minority women".

That is a more prosaic way of putting the very telling points that came from the letter.

Inadequacy of refuge provision results primarily from inadequacy of funding. A diversity of sources of finance is referred to, leading to what ACPO called a lack of,

    "adequate funding and inconsistent spread of refuges".

That is the very point the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, made as to the lottery to which women in this situation are subject.

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Referring to service providers, the report calls for a coherent national funding strategy. It states:

    "We are convinced that an adequate response to domestic violence will be impossible unless refuges and move-on housing"—

that is very relevant as we come to discuss the housing White Paper and no doubt the housing Bill in the next Session—

    "are available to victims of domestic violence".

The report concludes:

    "We recommend that the first priority for Government action on domestic violence should be the establishment of a central, co-ordinated policy for refuge provision throughout the country. We believe that this could well be the single greatest cost-saving measure that could be taken".

Co-ordinated funding does not mean that the funding has all to come from the centre by way of direct provision. There is a debate which needs to take place as to whether funding is best provided centrally or at local level. I believe that central funding tends to a little less transparency as to how decisions are made on the way funding is divided. The refuge movement would be the last to claim that it can do everything. There are many worthy recipients of the funding that may be available.

In any event, local funding, as currently structured, is very heavily dependent on central grants. We are not talking about different pots of money. There is a problem with local funding. Refuge provision at a very local level, and only at that level, is insecure and inadequate. Refuges must have at least a regional perspective.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, referred to insecurity. To those who say that it is simply a matter for local authorities, I say: imagine being afraid to go out to the shops or the market in case you bump into the person from whom you have fled. Imagine fearing sending your children to school in case they encounter their father who, at the very least, will revive all the confusion and problems to which those children must be subject, and at worst, may cause mental or physical injury or use the children as a method to find you.

My noble friend Lord Russell referred to different aspects of the issue and sources of funding. As co-chair of Refuge, as the Chiswick Refuge is now called, I am very well aware that in attempting to raise funds as a charity, abused women are not as attractive as children. That is a problem for a charity. How honest are we with the public about the real issue? Of course, the children are important, but they come along with the women who need to be the prime target and the prime recipient of assistance.

The Select Committee on Home Affairs referred to refuge provision as the "first priority" and the Government's response—I refer to recommendation 38 in the 1993 report and to the Government's response at paragraph 103—acknowledged the valuable role played by refuges, saying that the issues,

    "will be relevant to the inter-departmental discussions on refuge provision, due to begin shortly".

Much reliance is placed on those interdepartmental discussions, particularly by the individual women concerned and the refuge movement which awaits, and

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is desperate for, the outcome. Indeed, they start from a position of desperation. I cannot think what it must be like to be driven to flee one's home and to seek refuge.

My noble friend Lord Russell referred to the value for money of such provision. Providing for abused women includes child care provision, children's homes, social workers and so on. Much of that work is taken on board by refuges. A year or two ago it was estimated that if all the children at Refuge in Chiswick were in local authority residential care, it would cost about £19 million a year.

We have talked about the varied nature of the problem and I well understand the need for interdepartmental talks. I welcome a cross-disciplinary approach, but not if the outcome of those discussions is kept to the people in those discussions. I do not welcome them keeping their thoughts to themselves.

There is a strain not only on the individual women; there is an enormous strain on those who work in refuges both as paid staff and as volunteers. There are many volunteers. I am accustomed to having messages left on my answerphone from Refuge which start, "Sally, it's 11 o'clock at night and I've just got home from the office." I applaud the people who are prepared to work with the energy and commitment with which so many in that movement work, but I do not think that we should demand it of them.

In a way, this debate is back to front. I should have liked to hear first from the Minister because this is not a new debate. I do not believe that any of the points being made tonight will be new points. I look forward very much to hearing the reply of the noble Earl.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, on his new portfolio. Ministers come and Ministers go, but the noble Earl seems always to be on the Front Bench. He is now on the Front Bench as Minister of State at the Department of the Environment. I congratulate him most sincerely and hope that we shall have many exchanges in the future.

I thank also the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for tabling this Unstarred Question which, as the Minister will recognise, raises a matter of great importance. As my noble friend Lord Ashley and the noble Earl have said, we need to look back into history. In 1975, the Select Committee in another place recommended provision of one refuge place for a woman and her children for every 10,000 of the total population. Currently, only one-fifth of that recommendation has been met, yet all surveys show that the number of women suffering domestic violence and seeking refuge places has gone up. As local police said in a survey conducted by the London Housing Unit in 1994,

    "unless you phone early in the morning it's hard to get places ... there needs to be more refuge space available and more information".

That is the background to this evening's debate.

The Government have continually asserted that refuge funding is best provided at a local level. My noble friend Lord Ashley dealt with that problem. While there is

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merit in that idea, the Government's ideological insistence on moving housing provision away from local authorities to other agents allows local authorities much less physical and financial scope with which to provide refuge accommodation—and for that the Government must take responsibility.

As my noble friend Lord Ashley said, there is a clear need for a strategy at a higher level than that of the individual local authority. That is a role for the Government. Many women fleeing from domestic violence, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, described graphically, wish to move from their immediate location, but not so far as entirely to lose contact with their surroundings. That is illustrated by analysis of the current composition of refuge residents: few previously lived in the immediate vicinity, but the majority lived within a reasonable radius. Those facts should not detract from the fact that local government, in its enabling role, should play a particularly important part in the provision of women's refuges. However, local authorities must be given the resources to do that and they must work to a co-ordinated strategy.

What should that co-ordinated strategy be? It can be set only by the Government. I quote again from the 1993 Select Committee report from which the noble Baroness also quoted. It recommended:

    "The first priority for Government action on domestic violence should be the establishment of a central co-ordinated policy for refuge provision throughout the country. We believe that this could well be the greatest cost-saving measure that could be taken".

In introducing the debate, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned costs and rightly said that, while the provision of refuges costs money, it is worth remembering the money that is already spent on the consequences of domestic violence. There is the cost to the NHS of patching up battered women and their children. There are also policing costs. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in his previous incarnation, will know all about that. There are also the costs resulting from retaliation by battered women, such as the cost to the courts and legal aid system. All those costs could be avoided or lessened if more women who are subject to domestic violence had a refuge to which to go.

After the most recent Select Committee report was produced, the Government set up an interdepartmental group, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, mentioned. I have heard nothing about that interdepartmental group other than in a Written Answer last November in which Mr. Robert B. Jones, MP, replied:

    "The provision of women's refuge is best decided by local authorities and other agencies taking into account issues such as the local supply of housing available for short-term use in emergency situations. The ministerial group on domestic violence met on 17 May"—

that is, last year—

    "and discussed, among other issues, the need for a centrally co-ordinated policy on refuge provision. The Group agreed to consider this further at its next meeting".—[Official Report, Commons, 30/11/94; col. 728.]

Therefore, I ask the Minister whether there has been another meeting. If not, why not? If so, what were its

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conclusions and recommendations? Will the noble Earl be good enough to say what the group is about and what it proposes to do?

We have now had the Government's White Paper on housing and, to be honest, I can only say that it will worsen the housing situation and the problems of women's refuges. During 1992, 11 per cent. of homeless households were due to domestic violence. Those figures do not include women who leave violent men and stay with friends before declaring themselves homeless.

The Government's view seems to give greater weight to waiting time. Women suffering from domestic violence do not put themselves on a waiting list and declare that they will flee a violent situation in a year's time. That is not the way the world works. During that time they will subject themselves to whatever violence they may be suffering in the home. When they decide, they decide to leave. They become homeless and need housing as an emergency. If all that is on offer is unsatisfactory temporary accommodation, with little prospect of permanent housing, and the fear that if they cannot find a permanent home their children will be taken into care, how many women will remain longer in violent situations?

It is our view that many women tolerate violence at home for months or years simply because they have nowhere else to go. The most urgent need is for a safe place that will accept them without notice and provide the practical and emotional support that they will generally need. There is an urgent need for the Government to provide a national strategy and a clear mechanism for funding to ensure that there is somewhere else for them to go.

I hope very much that the Minister, in his new guise—although he knows about this problem from his previous guise—will be able to give the House many assurances that the Government take the problem seriously and that the noble Earl's Question is properly put.

7.53 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (Earl Ferrers): My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for having given your Lordships the opportunity this evening to discuss what is a very important subject. As so often, he has illuminated his speech with a personal anecdote, as well as lacing it with a touch of history. That always adds a bit of glamour and excitement to his speeches.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, fell into the trap of saying how boring it is when people refer to speeches they made previously—and of course promptly referred to the speech he made in 1973. I do not mind that in the slightest. It was a good thing that he made that speech. He was good enough to remind me of what I said in 1992 when I was in the Home Office. Such reminders are not always particularly convenient, but I was grateful to him for jogging my memory this evening.

Which department takes responsibility for answering a Question depends upon the way the Question is phrased. The Question in 1992 was phrased in such a

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way that it fell to me in the Home Office to answer it. Due to the way the Question is phrased this evening, it falls to me in the Department of the Environment to answer it. It just so happens that it is the same person answering the Question, although each Question referred to a different department. It is one of the hazards that one tends to be caught by when there are ministerial musical bumps.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, will of course know from what I have to say that, having had the privilege of being in the Department of the Environment for at least some nine hours, I am already an expert on the subject which he has sought to bring to your Lordships' attention. First, we should all be concerned about battered and abused persons. It is horrifying. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, referred to people who have been bruised, battered, scalded and had their bones broken. Frankly, that leaves the imagination almost incapacitated.

As the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said, when that happens the police are involved—a point about which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was concerned. In 1980 Home Office guidance was issued to chief officers of police. It emphasised that assaults within private relationships are no less criminally serious than violence which takes place between strangers. The guidance encouraged police forces to establish force policies on domestic violence. All police forces in England and Wales have a force policy on domestic violence. That emphasises the overriding duty to protect the victim and children from further attack; the need to treat domestic violence as seriously as other forms of violence; the use and value of powers of arrest; the dangers of seeking reconciliation between the assailant and the victim—although one may try hard and think that one is doing the right thing, in fact it may be counter-productive—and of course the importance of record keeping to enable chief officers to monitor the effectiveness of that policy in practice.

The first thing we must do is recognise that individuals who leave home to escape domestic violence need help to start a new life. Many have nowhere else to live, and many often need assistance to obtain alternative accommodation. Many can benefit also from practical advice, and from just the sheer, simple support at a time of emotional distress.

Women's refuges, or other forms of temporary accommodation, address the immediate housing needs of women who flee from domestic violence, but bricks and mortar are not the only answer to the problem. Whether women are in a refuge or elsewhere, the fundamental requirement for success in helping victims of domestic violence is the effective co-ordination of all the services available—some from the private sector and some from the public sector. All noble Lord were right to draw attention to the fact that it is the co-ordination of the different services which is so important.

Victims of domestic violence have to be considered, first, as individuals. Second to that is the fact that they are victims of criminal abuse. The kind of help which they need and which they will want will vary from person to person. Not all victims of domestic violence need to make use of refuge accommodation. Some may

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prefer to stay with their family and friends or to move into ordinary housing as soon as possible. Other forms of emergency accommodation can also help.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was concerned that under the reform of homelessness legislation women should not be regarded as intentionally homeless. That is right. Under the proposed reforms, people who flee domestic violence will continue to be considered unintentionally homeless if they would risk violence by returning home.

The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, said that there should be some form of central co-ordination. Co-ordination is important, but it should be at the local level because that is where the services are provided. The agencies have to work together. Of course centrally we are also co-ordinating policy through the interdepartmental group. We support co-ordination of the voluntary sector by funding the Women's Aid Federation. But it is bound to be for local authorities to assess the need for refuge provision in their area and to decide the level of funding that is appropriate.

It is important to achieve the right balance between providing emergency accommodation, on the one hand, and action to help people to obtain longer-term housing, on the other hand. In some areas it may make most sense for the housing authority to apply its resources to helping individuals to move on into ordinary housing. Any form of central government policy which prescribes a particular quantity of refuge housing would remove the flexibility that local authorities need to have. It is only at the local level that the need for refuge services can be properly assessed. That does not mean to say that it is not equally important at the local level for all other services—including, if necessary, the police—to be co-ordinated too.

However, many other people in society rely on housing assistance or other forms of services that are provided or supported by local authorities. There are, for instance, the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill and the homeless as well as women who have been beaten up or abused by their husbands or, as in the current day unattractive vernacular used by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, their partners.

It would be invidious for central government to try to specify precisely what level of resources in terms of money or units local authorities should make available to address a particular need. It is, after all, the authorities themselves which have the responsibility for providing those services to the public and for justifying how they have applied and allocated their resources against all the demands that are made on them.

However, it is right that there should be a statutory safety net to ensure that vulnerable people have access to the right accommodation. That safety net is provided by the homelessness legislation. It is set out in Part III of the Housing Act 1985. The Government have plans to reform that legislation but the new legislation, whenever it comes forward and whatever it is, will continue to provide a proper safety net for the same

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groups of people as it does at present. That includes people with children and single people who are vulnerable because they have suffered violence.

The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, asked what action the Government have taken to ensure that tackling domestic violence is given the appropriate priority by all departments. The interdepartmental groups have been set up at official and ministerial level to take forward the Government's response to domestic violence. The official group has met four times to discuss the proposals in the key areas in raising public awareness and improving inter-agency co-operation to tackle domestic violence. The proposals were endorsed by the ministerial group on domestic violence at its inaugural meeting on 17th May. We remain determined to tackle what is an important issue.

We all want to help, whatever our situation may be. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, believed that there should be central co-ordination. I agree that there is value in that. But there is central co-ordination. The local authorities must take the lead in devising exactly the kind of strategies that need to be in place to address the housing needs of the victims of domestic violence in their areas, in addition to all the other problems that they face. The Government, in their turn, are ensuring as far as possible that decisions on spending are consistent with what individual authorities are doing.

I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that it is vitally important that there should be co-operation between the agencies. Clearly, it is vital for housing authorities and housing associations to work closely with social service departments and voluntary sector agencies when they develop their proposals for new housing association refuges and running the existing ones.

The Government also contribute indirectly to the provision of refuges and to their running through the substantial revenue and capital resources which we make available to local authorities. Where people cannot afford to meet the full costs of their accommodation from their own resources we provide financial assistance through the housing benefit system. That housing benefit is available to people irrespective of the type of accommodation in which they live.

The voluntary sector agencies play a vital role in running refuges and providing services in co-operation with statutory bodies. In order to help the voluntary sector in this work the Government are providing more than £150,000 of funding to the Women's Aid Federation in England in 1995-96. They are providing £49,000 towards a national telephone helpline. Furthermore, £55,000 is being provided over three years to fund the Women's Aid Federation's national housing co-ordinator. We are supporting other women's aid organisation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Domestic violence is a very important subject and, like most difficult subjects, it is not one to which an easy solution can be found or which will disappear by government legislation or government or local authority funding. Basically, it must be the co-ordination of everyone's good work and efforts, supported by the

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appropriate funding. However, because it is an important issue, the inter-departmental official group on domestic violence was set up.

I have referred to that group which is due to meet soon in order to discuss the provision of women's refuges and other matters related to domestic violence. It will report to the ministerial group on domestic violence so that Ministers themselves can consider the matters and how best to take them forward. We shall look carefully at what is said in the official group but, as yet, I do not believe that a case has been made out to change what has been the long-standing policy of the Government as a whole—that local authorities should have the responsibility of deciding how to address the housing and other needs of the victims of domestic violence. However much there may be ministerial co-ordination—and that is right—and however much there may be an inter-departmental group working to see how we can pull together all the services—and that is right—in the end the problem must be addressed locally by the local authorities and the local agencies.

In so far as the noble Earl's Question has drawn attention to the problem tonight he will have done a service to your Lordships and to others too—

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