The Home Affairs Select Committee called for the changes as part of a national strategy to combat domestic violence. Its report into what MPs accepted was a 'rife problem with grave consequences' made 42 recommendations covering the lack of adequate help for battered women seeking to leave violent partners, education, policing and prosecuting abusers.
'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,' the report said.
But while its words and sentiment were welcomed yesterday by women's and victims' groups, there was concern that there was neither the political will nor resources to tackle the issue.
Sandra Horley, a social psychologist and director of the recently renamed Refuge - the country's first centre for battered women and their children, in Chiswick, west London - said: 'This is a really excellent report. But where is the money to fund the necessary refuges nation-wide going to come from?'
When the Home Affairs committee last looked at the issue in 1975 it called for a similar series of wide-ranging reforms, including the setting up of 800 hostels around the country. Eighteen years on there are only 200 and many - including Refuge - are fighting for survival. Ms Horley said: 'The 1975 committee produced an excellent report . . . but little changed, and in fact funding for refuges has diminished.'
In the meantime, statistics showed that men battering women accounted for a quarter of all violent crime and one in five of all murders.
Sir Ivan Lawrence, Conservative chairman of the committee, said: 'There should be no illusions about the cost of domestic violence in financial and human terms. We need to heighten public and parliamentary awareness of its evils.'
MPs' calls for local authorities to end the 'nonsense' of declaring a victim fleeing domestic violence 'intentionally homeless' and therefore denying her and her children priority on housing waiting lists. It also urged the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department to upgrade the quality of statistics on domestic violence.
It recommended reforms that would make civil and criminal courts more accessible to victims and called for the 'rapid provision' of separate waiting rooms in courts for the abused.
The committee said its role was not to interpret the law. But in the wake of recent cases where women had killed their violent partners, it added: 'It does now appear that the definition of what constitutes provocation is not . . . as clear as it might be.' The MPs called for enactment of the Law Commission's proposals for a wider definition of provocation as a defence to murder.Reuse content