Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has relegated the fight against the ill-treatment of women under Treasury pressure to find big cuts in her £10bn-a-year budget, her predecessor in the role claims today.
In a strong attack, the shadow Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the Government was developing a "pattern of behaviour" that is anti-women. In an interview with The Independent, Mr Johnson accused the Coalition of:
* Opting out of a European Union directive on human trafficking designed to clamp down on "sex slaves";
* Shelving plans for domestic violence protection orders to force violent men to leave the family home;
* A proposal, since watered down, to allow people accused of rape to remain anonymous.
Mr Johnson said: "I don't doubt that Theresa May meant it when she said that she wanted to end violence against women and girls. But now she is going cold on it. The Government's actions show that it is not giving the same priority to it as the last government did. It should be accelerating it, not slowing it."
The former home secretary accused his successor of not fighting the Whitehall battle as aggressively as Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, as the Treasury seeks to impose cuts of up to 40 per cent in departmental budgets in the government-wide spending review to be unveiled on 20 October.
"It is poor judgment by Theresa May. She is losing arguments in Whitehall. She is the Home Secretary and she should carry a lot of clout," said Mr Johnson. "It demonstrates a lack of concern for victims of domestic violence and trafficking."
Mr Johnson accused the Government of pulling out of the directive to appease Eurosceptic Tory MPs. "I suspect the only word it didn't like in the directive is 'Europe'."
The directive would allow traffickers to be prosecuted for offences in other member states.
A Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Secretary has made clear she considers tackling violence against women a priority. This Government is committed to protecting victims of domestic violence and that is why we have continued to provide £3.5m funding for Independent Domestic Violence Advisers and Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences."
Whitehall sources said no final decision had been taken on whether to go ahead with pilot schemes for violent men to be banned from their homes for up two weeks, to give victims the chance to seek help. The previous government's plan is being reviewed as part of the search for cuts.