Asylum: UK-Rwanda Agreement

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Monday 22nd January 2024

(5 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to speak today and thank the International Agreements Committee for its excellent report. I will just say that as Lord Bishops we take no position on this Bench based on tribal loyalty and we are not whipped. Instead, because of what our Christian faith teaches us about care for the stranger, we have spoken with one voice on these Benches.

I am focusing on the issues before us today; friends on this Bench will speak to wider points in the coming weeks, as the Bill is discussed. As has been said, this treaty is the central plank of the Government’s case that Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers. As others have commented, it is remarkable for the Executive to request that parliamentarians declare another nation state safe, and safe ad infinitum, on the basis that one drafted international agreement answers all the concerns of the Supreme Court. If Parliament proceeds to, in effect, substitute its judgment for that of the Supreme Court, where does that leave the constitutional principle of the separation of functions and what precedent is this setting?

The question is not whether both parties are willing and capable of delivering on the treaty, but whether the provisions will become operational in reality. Both the committee and the High Court question Rwanda’s ability to fulfil its commitments in the short term in light of the evidential deficiencies of the present asylum system in Rwanda, as has been mentioned. Furthermore, the UNHCR has not observed any systemic changes that will address the court’s concern. Future assurances, however sincerely offered, are not on their own a strong enough basis to legislate a country as safe.

The role of government is indeed to create law, but it is not to create injustices. Therefore, if the Government are so confident that the treaty obligations placed on Rwanda will ensure that the Rwandan partnership is lawful, why not make this argument again before the judiciary? As the Government are not pursuing this course of action, the International Agreements Committee has recommended that the treaty not be ratified until Parliament is satisfied that the protection it provides has been fully implemented.

Given that the Home Secretary has stated that

“we will not operationalise this scheme until we are confident that the measures underpinning the treaty have been put in place; otherwise, the treaty is not credible”,

do the Government concede that this is an eminently sensible proposal that should be given serious consideration? To take one example from the treaty, can the Minister reassure us that judges from a mix of nationalities will have been appointed to the new appeals body before any flights take off to Rwanda? In general, how long do the Government envisage that it will take for Rwanda to put in place the protections outlined in the treaty?

No one on these Benches is denying the complexity of the challenges that irregular migration presents globally and on our shores. The boats must be stopped. The traffickers must be stopped and held to account. Immigration must, of course, be controlled. However, this debate is focusing us on the issue of whether sending people to Rwanda is safe and humane. The Prime Minister has called on Peers to

“get on board and do the right thing”,

but I fear that it cannot be right to assure ourselves that asylum seekers will be protected by a few sheets of paper.

Female Domestic Homicides: Black, Asian and Ethnic-minority Overrepresentation

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Monday 22nd January 2024

(5 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I have already gone through a number of the programmes that have been put in place, many of which started only in 2022. I do not think it is fair to characterise the Government as not treating this as a priority. As the noble Baroness will be aware, we made it a strategic policing priority alongside terrorism and other priorities only last year. It is worth mentioning at this point someone I have referenced many times from the Dispatch Box. Maggie Blyth, who is the VAWG lead at the NPCC, has recently been appointed as the new deputy CEO at the College of Policing. I think that is a very positive step forward from an enforcement perspective. I would also like to commend Louisa Rolfe, who is the domestic abuse lead at the NPCC. We are doing a great deal. A consultation is under way on the domestic homicide statutory guidance; I suggest that the noble Baroness participates.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, after contacting the police to report domestic violence crimes, migrant women in the UK have often been reported to Immigration Enforcement. For this reason, those women often stay silent for longer. What are the Government doing to ensure that black, Asian and minority-ethnic women who are victims of domestic violence can report abuse without fear of detention or deportation?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate will be aware that, if they do, they are not subject to immigration action—a subject that has been talked about a number of times from the Dispatch Box.

Refugees: Homelessness

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Wednesday 13th December 2023

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I commend my noble friend for his generosity in hosting the Ukrainian family and I associate myself with the remarks on how they are needed back in Ukraine—they will be needed when the reconstruction efforts in that country commence. Regarding what the Government are planning for the Ukrainian visa system, I do not have that information to hand but will come back to the House as and when it is available.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, given what has already been said about the inadequate notice period, can the Minister give an assurance that no notice to vacate will be implemented when a severe weather emergency protocol has been announced?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I would take slight issue with the right reverend Prelate on whether the notice period is inadequate. I think that 28 days is more than enough, and there is huge pressure on our asylum system. As the House will be aware given that we talked about it the other day, the asylum and immigration system is costing this country £4 billion a year. However, ministerial agreement has been given to pause evictions for up to three days when a local authority has activated its severe weather emergency protocol due to poor weather conditions. This reduces the risks to life and enables the individual and/or local authority to find alternative accommodation arrangements.

Climate Change: Migration

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Thursday 14th September 2023

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, it is a delight to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. I am grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for bringing this debate and raising this important issue. It touches on two of the primary challenges that we face in the 21st century; as we have heard, they are deeply connected. We heard astounding statistics, such as that, by 2050, perhaps 200 million people will be displaced due to climate change.

I was reminded of many of the weather events of this summer in Europe. We saw about 19,000 people evacuated from Rhodes due to wildfires; there were images of holidaymakers fleeing but being given refuge and hospitality by local people. We saw temperature red alerts and the hottest June on record globally. This is the climate crisis close up and, at the most basic level, it involved the movement of people and the support of other people—a small snapshot of a much larger global issue.

Just recently, at a refugee and asylum seekers service in Gloucestershire, we had a conversation about the fact that some regions of the planet are becoming uninhabitable and simply will not be able to adapt to extreme temperatures. A recent report published by Christian Aid pointed to research that supports what we have already heard: higher temperatures will lead to greater projected asylum applications to European countries.

However, as we have also heard, we need to keep this in perspective, set against the backdrop of millions of people displaced within their own countries and across neighbouring borders. I, too, was going to talk about Somalia but we have heard about that already. What is really important is that so many people across our world are being displaced for reasons other than climate change, such as war or persecution, and then discovering that the effects of climate change are adding to their suffering. Another example concerns the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, who are being further impacted by adverse weather disasters due to climate change.

None of this can be separated from the issues of poverty that underlie all we are talking about. The option of air conditioning simply does not exist in many places where people live across our world and the world’s poorest are bearing the burden of the climate crisis, which is not of their making. We also know that, for a whole host of reasons, the impact of climate change is predicted to affect women and girls disproportionately; we have already heard about children. It is not surprising that people are on the move. It is simply not an option for us to pull up the drawbridge and leave others to deal with the consequences of global migration. Working with our European partners is a practical necessity to deal with a crisis that is global in scale. As we have already heard, we have a collective responsibility to work with our European partners; many of those bodies have already been named. We cannot expect other countries to pick up the tab when we hold so many of the resources.

There are practical questions that we must address. The issue of the definition of a refugee has already been mentioned. The refugee convention described a refugee as

“someone unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted”.

That reflected the realities of 1951, not 2023. We would be wise to explore a more extensive definition that takes into account the drivers of migration that have developed over the past 70 years and, in particular, reflects the way in which climate change affects migration patterns. One way of addressing this is to invest further in climate adaptation, as well as in loss and damage payments, to help people respond to the impact of climate change in the countries where they live. It would be good if the Minister could say what is being done to address this.

One day last year, at the Lambeth conference, bishops from across the world gathered in the grounds of Lambeth Palace on one of the hottest days of the year. The grass was like straw. We sat in the shade of marquees and heard stories about the effects of climate change on real lives in real places. Some of it was very hard to hear. We had food that day—extremely good food—and plenty of water as we talked and listened to one another but many of the stories I heard were about climate change devastating food production, the failure of crops and people no longer being able to survive in the places of their communities. We also heard stories of hope. For example, I heard of churches in Uganda providing seedlings for tree planting and of the church in Kenya teaching and encouraging dryland farming, but all of it requires investment so that people can stay and build strong communities where they are.

This is an issue of justice. For me, as a Christian, that really matters, so I am grateful for this debate, which has highlighted the need for us not simply to keep looking for instant solutions to a problem that is about us here in the UK endeavouring to manage the inflow of people. This is about the need to work closely with European and other partners to engage in a courageous global vision and seek long-term and often slow but persistent ways to address the push factors, as well as just ways of managing the flows of increased movement across Europe.

Illegal Migration Bill

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, I move Amendment 64 and will introduce Amendment 65. One is consequential to the other so I will take them together. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and the noble Baronesses, Lady Sugg and Lady Gohir, for their invaluable support, and Women for Refugee Women for all its work on the amendments.

The amendments do no more than restore the status quo ante by limiting the detention of pregnant women to 72 hours, extendable up to a week with ministerial authorisation. This aim is supported by the JCHR, Children’s Commissioner and many organisations.

The existing time limit represented a compromise put forward by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in response to your Lordships’ House voting time and again for the absolute exclusion of pregnant women from detention, as recommended in the government-commissioned review by Stephen Shaw, former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman. Shaw based his recommendation on what he considered to be the incontrovertible evidence of detention’s deleterious effects on the health of pregnant women and their unborn children. His verdict was referenced in a recent letter to the Times from, among others, the CEO of the Royal College of Midwives and the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, calling on us to oppose the removal of the detention limits.

I still await an answer to the question I posed in Committee, citing an unanswered letter from the Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody to the Home Secretary. Has the Home Office

“carried out a full assessment of the risks linked to the indefinite detention of pregnant women”?—[Official Report, 7/6/23; col. 1494.]

Given that the limits on detention for pregnant women were introduced only seven years ago, and it has been admitted that very few have come over in small boats, there must surely be strong grounds for this change in policy. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, exposed so skilfully in Committee, we have been given the flimsiest of justifications, lacking any evidential base. For example, in Committee the Minister declared that he was

“happy to repeat … that we must not create incentives for people-smuggling gangs to target pregnant women or provide opportunities for people to exploit any loopholes”.—[Official Report, 7/6/23; col. 1504.]

Could the Minister explain what the Government have in mind here? Are they suggesting that women might deliberately get pregnant to avoid unlimited detention or that people smugglers will be scouring refugee camps for pregnant women?

To be fair to the Minister, he tried to persuade us that pregnant women would be treated well on a case-by-case basis. But let us remember what Theresa May said in 2016:

“This new safeguard will ensure that detention for pregnant women will be used as a last resort and for very short periods”.—[Official Report, Commons, 18/4/16; col. 679WS.]


For a safeguard to be effective, it needs the backing of law. Discretionary case-by-case consideration is simply not enough to ensure the protection of women in very vulnerable circumstances. We can see this from what was happening before the time limit was introduced. Previous Home Office guidance stated:

“Pregnant women should not normally be detained”.


However, under this guidance, nearly 100 pregnant women were detained in 2014, with one-third held for over a month and four held for between three and six months. The gulf between policy and practice has been closed only with the implementation of the statutory time limit.

The Minister also insisted that pregnant women will be protected through categorisation as adults at risk level 3. Yet during the passage of the 2016 Act, the Government ultimately recognised that this approach provided insufficient safeguards. Why are they now arguing the opposite? The Minister further tried to reassure us by pointing out that

“it will be open to pregnant women to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for immigration bail after 28 days”

or that

“a writ of habeas corpus”—

which, as pointed out in Committee, is very limited in its application—could

“be made at any point”.—[Official Report, 7/6/23; col. 1505.]

But these are women who are likely to be very stressed and may already be traumatised by what they have been through, with damaging effects on their unborn baby. Twenty-eight days in detention is a long time, particularly in the context of a pregnancy.

How realistic is it to expect them to have to engage with the legal system for protection that they receive automatically now? If they did so, why would the Government want to spend time and money on what should be unnecessary legal challenges? This is all in the context of what the JCHR has described as a severe restriction on judicial supervision.

When we debated a similar amendment in Committee, not only did all those who spoke give it unequivocal support but I was aware of a number of noble Lords sitting on the Government Benches and the Cross Benches who were supporting the amendment in silent solidarity. That was quite something, given that it was well past midnight. While I feel passionately about the amendment, it is a very small cog in the wider wheel of the Bill. It is one which the Government could easily concede without undermining the Bill’s objectives, as much as I disagree with them. I very much hope that the Minister will remember what is at stake for pregnant women and their unborn children and will do the right thing today. I beg to move.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who expertly outlined why the amendment is needed.

I will not repeat all the points made, but this is an issue of dignity for a highly vulnerable group. I will highlight one or two things that have been said. There is no evidence to suggest that the current 72-hour time limit on their detentions resulted in lots of pregnant women making the crossing. The Government have previously conceded that the adults at risk policy would not adequately safeguard pregnant women, and, in response, the 72-hour limit was brought in. We have research from prior to the introduction of this time limit that highlighted the inadequate healthcare for detained pregnant women. It is hard to believe that any healthcare arrangements would therefore relieve the stress of detention and the damaging impact on both a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.

We have already heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on the number of medical organisations and people who are opposed to removing the 72-hour limit. I join with them by strongly supporting this amendment, and I urge noble Lords to do likewise.

Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which I have added my name, because this Government are compromising the safety of pregnant migrant women and their babies.

To date, the Minister has not provided evidence that the numbers will increase if women are not detained. I wrote to the Minister and last week he acknowledged that, since January, no pregnant migrant women have arrived in this country illegally. Evidence has also not been provided that housing a few handfuls of migrant women, who have probably arrived over several years, will provide a danger to our society. For those reasons, I urge the House to support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

Vagrancy Act 1824

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Wednesday 17th May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am happy to give a bit more detail on the positive aspects of this. So far, we have invested up to £500 million through our flagship rough sleeping initiative 2022-25 so that local authorities can provide tailored support to end rough sleeping. We have launched the £200 million single homelessness accommodation programme, which will deliver up to 2,400 homes for vulnerable people sleeping rough or at risk of rough sleeping. In addition to the 6,000 homes being delivered by rough sleeping accommodation programmes, we have committed £42 million of funding since 2018 towards the subregional Housing First pilots in various regions. We have also committed up to £186.5 million in funding for substance misuse treatment services.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for those statistics and for his assurance of an eventual commitment to no one being criminalised simply for having nowhere to live. Is he aware of the Ministry of Justice data which shows that people released from prison to homelessness are over 50% more likely to offend within a year? What more is being done to ensure that prison leavers have a home on release?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I cannot specifically answer as regards all prison leavers. I know that a lot of work is being done with the rehabilitation of drug addicts in an effort to prevent recidivism. I will come back to the right reverend Prelate with more detail, if I can find it.

Police Uplift Programme

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd May 2023

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, in fact there are more policemen than under the last Labour Government: 3,542 more, to be precise. The fact is that demand for policing has changed since 2010, which is why in 2019 the Government made this commitment to increase the number of police officers by 20,000, to help the police respond. I am afraid that I cannot say how many of this new intake will complete their probationary period, as, obviously, some will still be in their probationary period. I will endeavour to find out the statistics and come back to the noble Lord. On the number who left, I have already gone into the statistics in some detail on the number who were recruited, as well as the attrition statistics.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, it is very good to hear the Minister speak about police uplift. I am certainly not asking for more and more but I am asking for more join-up. I am really concerned about the “we are coming for you” rhetoric being part of the solution, and the sense that if we simply arrest more people and send more people to prison, we will reduce reoffending. There was nothing in the data about the high rate of reoffending. Unless we look at what is going on in our prisons, at how we rehabilitate people and address some of the systemic issues relating to why people offend in the first place, we will not be doing that join-up across the criminal justice system. I am really concerned about the rhetoric whereby, if you arrest more people and lock them up for longer, our streets will be safer; the data simply does not reflect that. Will the Minister say more about the join-up across the whole of the criminal justice system?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate has made some very good points. The public would expect charge, arrest and prevention rates to increase from the current levels. However, without work on reoffending and the criminal justice system in the round, as the right reverend Prelate suggests, I think that things will fail to improve as much as we would all like. I cannot give her any precise details but, when it comes to the drug strategy, work is being done between the Ministry of Justice, the criminal justice system more generally and the Home Office on reoffending and referring people to preventive programmes at an earlier stage. That should yield some results.

Violence Against Women and Girls: Stalking

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Thursday 23rd February 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I accept that there is some regional variation in, for example, applications for stalking protection orders. Where those variations exist, the Safeguarding Minister is planning to write to the various chief constables whose forces applied for fewer than might have been expected, in order to encourage them always to consider these. Forces such as the Met and Kent have been making excellent use of the new orders, applications for which have risen by 31% in a year. So, as regards stalking, it is a very good story; it needs still to improve, of course, but it is getting better.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, according to the Office for National Statistics, only 18% of domestic abuse victims report to the police. Can the Minister say whether the Government are taking a whole-system approach to tackling and preventing abuse—through the health system, education and better housing and welfare provision? A whole-system approach is needed.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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Yes, I can. For example, a couple of new initiatives were announced on Monday, one of which concerns the digital aspects of this. As I am sure many noble Lords are aware, we are strengthening the domestic violence disclosure scheme—sometimes known as Clare’s law—which enables the police to disclose information to an individual about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending. So my answer is yes: work on this is being strengthened and, as I said in answer to an earlier question, is very much ongoing.

Violence against Women and Domestic Violence

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Thursday 1st December 2022

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, do the Government plan to include the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s definition of immigration abuse in policy and guidance on domestic abuse?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have already taken forward a number of the recommendations made in part 1 of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Safety Before Status report. As I say, the follow-up report is due to be published soon. We have partially accepted 11 recommendations. I am happy to say that all those things will be considered in due course.

Male Victims of Crime: Support

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Thursday 9th June 2022

(2 years ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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It most certainly does. As I explained in my previous answer, this does not diminish the problems that men face, but we as a Government recognise that the disproportionate effect of domestic abuse is on women and girls.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, in this important issue of violence against men and boys as well as against women and girls, addressing the drivers of violence is as important as responding to it downstream. Can the Minister give an assurance that work is being done to focus on a holistic preventive framework for all domestic and sexual violence, as in Victoria, Australia?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I could not agree more with the right reverend Prelate on the point that preventing it in the first place is far better than having it happen and there being subsequent victims of it. We did a lot of work with the Troubled Families programme in tackling the problems upstream and identifying people who were victims or might become victims—and I think that is the basis for a good government policy.