Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
Applications for orders
I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 16, after “police” insert
“for a police area in England and Wales”.
This amendment and Amendments 2 and 6 would allow the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police and the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Force to apply for stalking protection orders and interim stalking protection orders, and to take part in related procedures.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 2, in clause 4, page 3, line 24, leave out from “police” to the end of line 27 and insert
“who applied for the stalking protection order and (if different) the chief officer of police for the area in which the defendant resides, if that area is in England or Wales.”
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 1.
Amendment 3, in clause 9, page 6, line 2, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of”.
This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to use a new name before doing so.
Amendment 4, page 6, line 8, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of”.
This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to change their home address before doing so.
Amendment 5, in clause 10, page 6, line 30, leave out
“whose home address is not”
“who does not have a home address”.
This amendment would cater for the possibility that a person might not have a home address.
Amendment 6, in clause 14, page 8, line 9, at end insert—
““chief officer of police” means—
(a) the chief constable of a police force maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996 (police forces in England and Wales outside London);
(b) the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis;
(c) the Commissioner of Police for the City of London;
(d) the chief constable of the British Transport Police;
(e) the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police;”
See the explanatory statement for Amendment 1.
Amendment 7, in clause 15, page 9, line 4, leave out from “force” to the end of line 5 and insert
“two months after the day on which this Act is passed.”
This week we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first woman taking her seat in this House. I am immensely proud, as a Devon MP, that that woman was Lady Nancy Astor, and I think all of us in this House owe her an enormous debt of gratitude for the work she did, particularly in fighting on behalf of women and girls. I am proud that this Government have continued that work. Indeed, Members from across this whole House have done so much to advance this cause.
Of course, stalking does not just affect women—it affects men as well, and it is a vile crime of an insidious nature. I am very grateful to all those, both within this House and beyond, who have contributed to the passage of this Bill, including with advice, which has caused me to table some important amendments. They are minor in nature, but I think they will greatly improve the Bill.
Amendments 1, 2 and 6 would enable the chief constables of the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police to apply for stalking protection orders and interim orders, and to initiate related proceedings in connection with the variation and renewal of an order. That is because stalking occurs across a range of contexts and situations, with devastating consequences, and it is essential that a stalking protection order is available to police in a variety of situations. There may be circumstances in which the British Transport police or MOD police are best placed to seek an order, for example if the stalking conduct has taken place on the railway network or a perpetrator lives or works in MOD premises.
Amendments 3 and 4 would modify the notification requirements on a person subject to a stalking—
I know that my hon. Friend was about to move on, but I just wanted to inquire about a thing not included in this list: the Civil Nuclear constabulary. The MOD police are included, and they protect particular areas. I welcome the amendments, but is there any particular reason why the Civil Nuclear constabulary is not included?
I thank my hon. Friend for his point, which we could consider in the House of Lords as the Bill continues its passage.
Amendments 3 and 4 would modify the notification requirements on a person subject to a stalking protection order. Under the notification requirements, as drafted, a perpetrator must notify the police within three days of a change taking place. These amendments simply enable the perpetrator to give such notice in advance of a change taking place, and I hope that colleagues from across the House will recognise that that is a small, technical, but important change.
Finally, amendment 5 also relates to notification requirements. It caters for circumstances where the subject of a stalking protection order has no home address. In such a case, the amendment provides that the perpetrator can instead notify of a place where they can regularly be found. That simply mirrors notification requirements related to registered sex offenders. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) also has an amendment in this group, but I do not see him in the Chamber today, so I think we will assume that he does not wish to press that amendment. For now, I commend the amendments standing in my name to the House.
What a pleasure it is to say a few words in this debate.
Before I move on to the specifics, it is important to look at some of the context, because of course it was not until fairly recently that stalking was made a crime. Before 2012, the concept of stalking was perhaps not taken terribly seriously at all—it was almost considered something of a joke—but over the past decade there has been a recognition that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, stalking is an insidious and wicked crime. I pay tribute to her work to ensure that society’s response truly fits the scale of the threat.
I was hoping to intervene on the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), but she concluded her speech very promptly. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s sentiment—it is critical that we focus on the outcome of the Bill, which is to deal with what even for one person in this country is such an oppression that none of us in this House can really fathom it, if we have not been on the receiving end of it. Stalking can consume someone’s life and be devastating, and it can have both physical and mental health consequences, so let us not forget the victims who have to contend with stalking throughout the country.
As always, the hon. Lady makes her point extremely well—she is absolutely right. When I came into this place in 2015, I really had only the most limited understanding of what stalking was all about but, exactly as the hon. Lady indicates, it has an incredibly insidious effect.
Like so many of us in this place, the circumstances in which I came to understand stalking revolve around a constituency matter. My constituent, Dr Ellie Aston, was a local GP, and someone started to stalk her. What was worrying was the extent to which the behaviour ratcheted up from something that was initially fairly innocuous in terms of attention from a patient to something that became concerning, and then deeply troubling, as the letters multiplied, as he started to attend her home address, as he then started to attend her children’s birthday parties and when there were concerns about the gas supply being interfered with. What is so troubling is that this went on for more than seven years. When the person was arrested, the police looked into his computer and found that he had searched for “How long after a person disappears are they considered dead?” When he was released, he sent a message to the victim saying simply, “Guess who’s back?”
No wonder, then, that many victims of stalking refer to it as murder in slow motion. That might sound like an entirely melodramatic phrase, but they say it because over time their freedom and ability to go about their business starts to be eroded. They are looking over their shoulders and increasingly become prisoners in their own lives. What is so worrying is that stalking can escalate to very serious violence, which underpins why we need to take action early.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I realised the extent of stalking when people brought cases to me. I was particularly struck when it involved an ex-partner and I saw how seriously the police took it. I had a case in which the person moved, and on the day she moved in, she received a card from her ex-partner. The police said, “Well, that’s just quite a nice thing to do.” Actually, it was clearly the ex-partner saying, “I know where you live.”
The hon. Gentleman might not know this, but I always sit in front of the memorial to my parliamentary neighbour Jo Cox. As the whole House knows, she was a victim of a type of stalking. I served on the anti-stalking commission, and that really opened my eyes to the misery of victims and the fact that very often they do not complain because they are terrified to do so.
That is absolutely right, and the hon. Gentleman will know that the rise of digital means of stalking has magnified the problem over the past decade or so. It used to be that the stalking might consist of the person turning up at someone’s home address and then doing that threatening but apparently innocuous act of driving past. Of course, people can now stalk others using multiple fake identities. I heard about an appalling case in which somebody had generated the identity of the victim’s dead partner—you could not make it up. They were seeking to harass, intimidate and upset that individual.
When I was working on this issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), it became clear to us that although society and this place had started to react to the issue by generating the offence of stalking, the penalties that existed for it were manifestly inadequate. The penalty at the time of only five years’ imprisonment was less than the maximum penalty for the theft of a Mars bar, which is seven years, and less than the maximum penalty for non-residential burglary—lock-up burglaries and so on—which is 10 years or so, yet stalking can genuinely ruin people’s lives. The sentence was insufficient.
My hon. Friend is obviously a great expert on these matters and I do not want to divert him too much, but while probably all of us in this Chamber have been trolled—we have probably all been trolled repeatedly, with quite vicious language at times; it is a function of being in this place—hopefully most of us have not been stalked. Surely one thing we need to be clear on is the difference between the two. Presumably the lines will blur as cyber-crime grows and that sort of behaviour continues.
My hon. Friend makes an acute point. We must always recognise that whenever we legislate in this place, there is always the potential for the law of unintended consequences to apply. One thing that the courts will have to consider is precisely what stalking means, and that is covered by the Bill. Notwithstanding the possible pitfalls, there is no doubt that there was a gaping hole that needed to be filled. We in this country have moved much faster than most to seek to fill that gap.
I do not want to spend too much time looking into the history, but it is important to spend a moment putting the measures into context. The maximum penalty was five years’ imprisonment. When the judge came to sentence my constituent’s stalker at Gloucester Crown court, he said, “I simply don’t have the powers required to do justice in this case.” We know that if the maximum sentence is five years, which is of course 60 months, and the defendant pleads guilty—very often the evidence is so overwhelming that that is the only sensible approach for them—that takes it down to 40 months. They then serve half, and indeed they may even be released on a tag before the halfway point, so in reality the maximum penalty is around 18 months’ imprisonment. For a GP who has been stalked for seven years, driven to post-traumatic stress disorder and advised to come off the General Medical Council register, and who cannot begin to rebuild their life until they know that the person is in custody and they themselves are safe, 18 or 20 months is manifestly inadequate. I was therefore grateful to colleagues from all parties who came together to change the law and protect victims.
It is worth noting the work that my hon. Friend did with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) to produce a report that provided compelling evidence for why the House should change the law. It is appropriate that that is put on the record. Perhaps my hon. Friend may wish to reflect on the impact of that work.
It is very kind of my hon. Friend to say that. Our work has had an impact, but none of that would have been possible—as I say to Dr Aston and, indeed, as I say to the family of Hollie Gazzard, who was very sadly killed by a former partner in Gloucester—or achievable in this place without people being brave enough to support the campaign. When I sat down with Ellie, I said, “Are you prepared to put your name to this and to try to change things?”, because I was always concerned that it could reheat old traumas, but to her great credit that was precisely what she agreed to do.
Let me turn to the Bill. Again, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes for the work she has done. With characteristic clarity, she has identified the importance of early intervention. The reality of this behaviour is first that it escalates, and secondly that it can become ingrained very quickly. For both those reasons, it is important to intervene, because the nature of this kind of offending is such that—and this is not a criticism of the police at all—the police intervene only after it has escalated and the behaviour has become ingrained.
Just imagine the circumstances in the example of my constituent. A GP says to the police, “I’m a bit concerned because I’ve had five letters from my patient.” The police officer says, “Well, it seems a bit odd, but probably no crime has been committed.” She then says, “Actually, it has now escalated, because he’s turned up at my home address. He didn’t say anything violent, but he didn’t have any particularly good reason to be there.” The police officer says, “Yes, well, that also sounds a bit odd, but it probably doesn’t cross the threshold for actually arresting or prosecuting someone.” One can imagine the drip, drip over time, and we are suddenly one, two, or three months down the line. Meanwhile, that behaviour and that fixation has become truly entrenched.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for very kindly giving way again. It is worth putting on the record one of the key points of this Bill that we have not yet discussed this morning: we know already that there are too many people across our country who have to bring forward civil action at their own cost in order to contend with this challenge, which can take years of some people’s lives. The real purpose of the Bill, and the essence of what we are discussing today, is to ensure that that does not have to happen and that we empower victims and give them the support that they rightly deserve and need.
That is absolutely right. We spend a lot of time in this House passing legislation, and we collectively tend to pat ourselves on the back and say, “Well, look, brilliant, we’ve done it.” But unless legislation can be enforced, it becomes a dead letter. That is conversations that we have in this place in respect of all sorts of things ranging from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 to the Equality Act 2010 and so on. The concern here is that unless people can get ready access to these sorts of protections then they are, as I say, a dead letter. The point that the hon. Lady makes about injunctions is an extremely good one. How many people want to issue a writ in the county court, or indeed in the High Court, at significant personal cost? Litigation of any type is an uncertain option, and—this is the critical point—what would be the remedy in the event that that injunction is breached? What we need is a swift and muscular—if I may use that expression—approach in order to be able to intervene early. It also has to be fair. That is the point that I will come to after I have taken this one intervention, and then I will make a bit more progress.
The hon. Gentleman absolutely puts his finger on it. I will develop that point in a moment. One thing that I have experienced in my time in practice, particularly in relation to this kind of offence, is that the approach and the attitude of the officer in the case is absolutely crucial. If an officer understands precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, which is that individual instances are not necessarily picked up and allows them to slide, then it can become a problem. On the other hand, if a police officer, because he has been properly trained or is particularly engaged in the case, is excellent at collating that evidence and material to build that picture, that can have a dramatically different impact, first, on the way the victim feels about it, and, secondly, on the remedy that they are likely to get.
I want to develop this other point. One thing that we have not dealt with in this piece of legislation, and that we need to go on to, is to look at the role of technology in all this. What do I mean? An individual victim will always be better and more effective at recording the litany of instances than the bureaucracy of the police. That is not a criticism of the police, but a statement, I would imagine, of the blindingly obvious. What we need to do is to put into the power of individuals the right, in appropriate circumstances, to record and list episodes as they take place. We might say, “Well, hang on, why don’t you just do that on a sheet of paper?” No, what we should be doing is potentially looking at an app, so that when the police, for example, authorise an app and say that they are going to open an investigation, the complainant or victim can, when there is an incident, record it on this app—what happened, the time that it took place and any photographs that go with it—and that can then be reviewed and assessed by police officers in due course. Otherwise, the danger is that if a person has to go down to a local police station every time their stalker walks past their house, it is terribly bureaucratic and inefficient.
I do not want to go down a rabbit hole, but there is an important role in ensuring that victims are best able to record and collate what, ultimately, will make the difference to an effective prosecution in due course. It becomes 10 times more powerful if the individual can say, “I remember that, at that precise moment, he walked past my house, or he knocked on the door, or he put the letter through my door, or he terrified my children and I will record it at that precise moment, and this is the evidence that I have collated.” That is powerful evidence and we should be helping to facilitate that.
My hon. Friend is making a very persuasive speech. Of course, what will be required is for the police to prioritise their resources to police this new offence. What that will also mean is that they may have to deprioritise other areas, or receive additional resources. I understand that an extra £410,000 is being allocated. Does he think that that will be enough to deliver the measures that he rightly talks about this morning?
It is an extremely important point, and it does build on the point that I was making just now. There is no doubt that if this is not handled correctly—if it is not arranged correctly—there is a danger that it becomes more onerous than it needs to be. The example that I want to develop is the one on which I have just briefly touched. Principally, the old analogue techniques are that if somebody is robbed in the street, the police officer will say, “You are making a complaint, I understand that. Please come to the police station on a certain date and we will sit down and prepare a statement. You, the complainant, will make the allegation of what happened to you in the street. I, the police officer, will write it down. It will be in longhand, running to various sides of paper. You will then sign each page and so on.” That process could easily take an hour and a half. It then gets logged onto a system and so on.
That might be perfectly appropriate where the allegation relates to an incident that took five minutes in, say, a high street, but where the allegation relates to a cumulative total of ongoing events, innocuous in isolation but insidious in combination—to coin a phrase—we need to have a more digital approach. That is why I invite the Home Office to consider digital techniques to allow the police to work as effectively—and to take up my hon. Friend’s point—and efficiently as possible, otherwise there is, of course, the danger of resources being mopped up. The only point that I would say on this resource issue is that there can be few more compelling priorities in circumstances where the evidence suggests, compellingly, that if we do not address this behaviour early it can have very serious consequences. In other words, this is a worthy candidate, I respectfully suggest, for the prioritisation to which my hon. Friend refers.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech, and this is a very good Bill. May I just come back to a point that he made earlier? I know that he had extensive legal experience at the Bar before coming here, so can he confirm his view that there is no adequate provision in existing law for this sort of thing to be brought forward by a victim or by the police—for example a restraining order—and that this effectively fills a gap that currently exists?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is true to say that there are measures that could be imposed to say to a would-be defendant, “Don’t do this.” The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) talked about injunctions. It is true that there could be bail conditions further down the line, or indeed restraining orders. What this Bill does is provide for much earlier intervention. That is the critical point. It would mean that a chief police officer, under clause 1(1), could apply to the magistrates court for an order in respect of the defendant if it appears that the defendant has carried out acts associated with stalking and so on and so forth. I respectfully completely agree with the points that were made about the amendments. The reason why it is important is that a person then gets a hearing before the court in short order and it is a judicial process.
By the way, this is the other point that we need to be crystal clear about: just because we think that these allegations are serious, and just because we know that they can lead to very harmful consequences, it does not mean that we should jettison a proper judicial process. People should be made subject to these orders only if evidence is called—cogent, compelling and admissible evidence—to ensure that individuals are properly subject to these orders. We should make no mistake about this: they are deliberately onerous and deliberately restrictive, because they are designed to protect the individual, but also, and importantly, they are designed to provide the courts with the tools they need to seek that early intervention and rehabilitation of the complainant. I am pleased to note also that duration of orders comes under clause 3, which provides that the stalking protection order has effect until a further order. In other words, if things have changed, and if as we all, I am sure, hope get to the point where an individual defendant finds themselves rehabilitated, they can come back to the court and apply to have the order discharged if that would be the appropriate thing to do.
The point that was made very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) is about providing a new tool in the armoury. The reason why it is in the armoury, so to speak, is that there are serious consequences in the event that someone breaches it. Clause 8, which covers the offence of breaching a stalking protection order, provides a power of imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, a fine or both.
I am finding my hon. Friend’s speech both interesting and persuasive. Does he agree that we must be very clear that these powers are in addition to the powers that the police and the courts already have, and that they should in no way be seen as an alternative? If someone has committed an offence under existing legislation with the penalties that it carries, then that should be used? This measure should be viewed as a way of protecting someone in addition to those powers, and not as a replacement in any way?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right; this is in addition.
Many victims have told me that by the time a perpetrator can be convicted under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, when the court says, “Yes, an offence has been committed, the defendant has been convicted and we will now impose a restraining order,” they want to say, “Well, thank you very much, but the damage has been done,” because the concerns are in place and the behaviour is entrenched. Therefore, although one would not wish for one moment to remove that power—it remains an important tool for the courts—this provision fills that gap earlier in the process.
I have spoken for far too long, Mr Speaker. [Hon. Members: “No, no!”] Hon. Members are very kind. In conclusion, we as a society have come an awfully long way on this issue, and we have done so as quickly as any other peer nation. It has been a process, and we are now close to, if not completing that process, getting to the point where these tools are available to the authorities. Ultimately, however, what will make the difference, whether in the criminal justice system or in any other part of public life, is the individuals who actually use these powers.
I wish to pay tribute to Gloucestershire Constabulary, whose police officers have put so much effort into this cause. They are leaders in their field. They have seized the baton and run with it, because they recognise the implications for people in our county—Hollie Gazzard is an obvious example, and Ellie Aston is another. Ultimately, it will be the officer who receives the complaint from the victim who, through their compassionate and organised response—I say “organised” because it is about collating so much data—will make the difference in whether justice is done. I think that that conscientious, professional officer will now have the tools that he or she needs to keep victims safe. On that basis, I am delighted to support the Bill.
I must say that it makes a pleasant change to be called to speak so early in the debate, because usually I have the joy of almost having to sum up, particularly on a Friday. It is a pleasure to speak to the amendments tabled by my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). It was a joy to serve on the Public Bill Committee for this important legislation, which will provide protection for many victims of stalking.
This debate is timely, given the experiences of Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner, who we have learnt has been a victim of domestic violence and stalking offences. Of course, the Bill relates more to victims who have not been in a relationship with the perpetrator, but it is very welcome that she has spoken out, and hopefully her experience will inspire other victims of stalking to realise that they need not stay silent.
Turning to amendment 1, I think that it makes eminent sense to be clear that the Bill applies to virtually every police force operating in England and Wales, and not just to the geographical police forces. The inclusion of the British Transport Police makes sense, given the obvious potential for stalking offences on public transport. For example, a stalker could follow their victim on to the train they take to work each day. Trains coming into London can be particularly crowded, and the four minutes to 4 train from Exeter to Paignton can be exceptionally crowded. That could give stalkers an opportunity to be in close physical contact with their victim. Normally that is just considered part of commuting. We have all experienced the joy of taking the tube at about 20 minutes to 9 in the morning, when the trains are packed. It is a chance to get very close to our fellow passengers, although not by choice. The inclusion of the British Transport Police is therefore welcome.
I should be clear that I support the amendments. I note that amendment 6 lists the police forces involved. That brings me to a query about whether the Civil Nuclear Constabulary ought to be included—the Minister might like to reflect on this—considering that these provisions could apply in instances where there has not been an intimate relationship. For example, someone working at a nuclear establishment could be stalked purely on the basis of their views on nuclear power generation. The same could be true for those who protect sites such as Sellafield. Or would that be an encumbrance in the legislation? That is more of a query, rather than something I think should necessarily be amended immediately.
I note that the Ministry of Defence police are included. I should explain, for the benefit of those following our proceedings—I always think that it is important to help people understand this point—that they are different from the military police or the naval provosts, who enforce military law against service personnel. The Ministry of Defence police are very visible in Plymouth, where I grew up, because of their role in enforcing the law at Her Majesty’s naval base Devonport and the submarine refit complex. They are police officers who work with the military; they are not the military police. It is important to be clear about their role.
The Civil Nuclear Constabulary operates as a fully armed constabulary, given the nature of its officers’ work and the sites they protect, and particularly given the threat of terrorism. Again, should they be included in the Bill? I see the Minister dutifully noting down these queries, so I am sure that we will have a full response when the time comes. We should consider whether these would be useful additions, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes touched on when I intervened earlier. Of course, although we in this House will complete our consideration of the Bill today, it is still to go through the other place, where this matter might be considered further.
It makes eminent sense to tidy up provisions for when someone might need to give notification and how they are to do so. The Bill needs to be robust and we must not create any loopholes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) explained in his excellent speech, because many of those engaging in this kind of behaviour not only ruthlessly work out how to intimidate their victims and gain power over them, but research the law in an effort to stay just this side of committing a criminal offence. My hon. Friend described the impact on his constituents, which was welcome, because this is not some dry debate about legal orders that prevent people from doing something; it is about real victims.
Do we not sometimes lose sight of the overall context? In this country today, deep into the 21st century, we have a tremendous problem with violence against women. There is not just stalking; there are gangs up and down our country—gangs of men of Pakistani origin prey on young girls and even children—and domestic violence. There is a real problem in our country with violence of all kinds against women. This Bill is part of the fight to roll that back.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. He is right to highlight that there is a real issue. It is not just physical violence; it can be verbal violence. It is about someone trying to gain power over someone and have them under their control, whether through direct violence, intimidation or other actions, such as constant emailing or the sending of cards, as we have heard. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made the point that sending a Christmas card might seem innocuous, but it must be seen in the context of the overall behaviour. It can be about the perpetrator being constantly in the victim’s life.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned violence against women. I am a supporter of the white ribbon campaign in my constituency, and I hope he is doing the same—I am sure he is—in his own constituency. This is about men standing up and saying that other men’s violence against women is unacceptable. I have a close relative who experienced a violent relationship for a significant period. She was physically abused—in one case, she was hospitalised by the attack launched against her—but what sticks is the constant name calling and running down. One of the points she used to make was that if someone who did not know them had observed what was going on and then asked what her name was, they would have been given not her name but two swear words put together. I do not need to repeat such language in the Chamber; Members can work out for themselves what sort of language I am referring to. She felt that that was how she would be known.
There was constant denigration and running down, and then when trying to move away from the relationship, there were constant phone calls and texts. Bluntly, it was only when BT’s choose to refuse service became available that a lot of that could finally be brought to an end through blocking the numbers. I wonder whether, if something like the Bill had been available, it might have helped to build confidence in tackling those situations.
It is right that we have clear penalties. We have been clear that this is an additional way of protecting potential victims of stalking, not about replacing existing legislation. For me, this is not just about those who have been in relationships. As I touched on in my comments about the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, such actions may in effect be stalking but are due to other reasons, such as political reasons.
Yesterday, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) and the hon. Members for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) and the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), I had a very interesting visit to the Community Security Trust, which works with the Jewish community, and heard about the experiences of some of the people there. The reason for someone in effect stalking or harassing in such cases is based on their faith. Again, it would be interesting to hear what the Minister thinks about someone engaging in the completely unacceptable behaviour of targeting people for that reason, but doing so in a way that looks very much like stalking. She is an eminent lawyer in her own right—a learned Member—and I am sure she will outline how some of these powers might be of assistance.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree with me—I make this point not specifically to my own Front Benchers but about successive Governments—that although Parliament is very good at creating new laws, if money, resources and guidance are not provided, the authorities responsible for enforcing those laws cannot deliver on that, which calls the laws into question in the first place? I found that as a district councillor under the previous Labour Government and I am afraid it is happening again. I absolutely support this Bill, but there is a wider point. When Parliament passes a new law, should there be a money resolution not for the Bill to be carried forward but to make sure that it can be enforced and delivered on the ground? Otherwise, we are, I am afraid, misleading people.
My hon. Friend is right. There clearly needs to be an intention not just to pass a piece of legislation—it makes us sound very virtuous, and we can pop our speeches on to our websites when we get back to the office—but to ensure it has a real and clear effect. I am sure that the Minister, who I see has already made some notes, will talk about how the Home Office will seek to work with police forces to make sure this power is used and brought into effect.
I have one slight disappointment. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) was due to talk this morning on his amendment 7, which is about when the Bill will be brought into force. Again, when we move on to Third Reading—I hope the Bill will be given a Third Reading later today—it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts about when she intends to bring it into force. We do not just want to pass the Bill and then leave it sitting on the statute book, but to bring it into force.
On the question raised by our hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill a few moments ago—[Hon. Members: “And Battle.”] Let us not forget Battle. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) asked about funding. Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government intend to increase funding to combat violence against women by £100 million between now and 2020? That may go some way to addressing the concern that our hon. Friend has raised.
I thank my hon. Friend for yet another very well thought through and incisive intervention. I am obviously encouraged to hear that news, as I am sure Members from across the House will be. We probably should be clear that this law is gender-blind—the victim of stalking could be male or female. I remember a case in Coventry, where a male vicar was targeted by a female stalker. I absolutely welcome the funding, which is a sign of the intention to tackle a problem from which, sadly, too many women suffer. When a relationship is breaking down, or even when it is still going, it can go from love and affection to aggression, control and domination.
My hon. Friend should give himself more credit. This comes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp). The Government of course focus resources on certain policy areas. I absolutely agree. They have spent £802 billion—that is what this Government do and they do it well—but when we state that we are spending this amount on a generic area, and that it is not ring-fenced to a particular offence or new legislation, people are somewhat left short. I am thinking of the free bus passes that the previous Government brought in. I was a district councillor, and we found that they were not funded at all, and the district councils took the rap.
My hon. Friend—I visited the Battle part of my hon. Friend’s constituency, at his invitation, earlier this year—makes a valid point. When I was deputy leader of Coventry City Council, the funding for free swimming passes was distributed. Bizarrely, some councils with swimming pools struggled with the amount of funding they received, yet one council received the funding even though it did not have a swimming pool. One council got the bill and another got the funding, so it was a bizarre situation.
To return to the Bill, I know that the Minister, who is in her place on the Front Bench, will be keen to reply to us to confirm how we see it being taken forward, implemented and explained in guidance. We should not get drawn into the amount of additional resource because this is also partly about the police officer who is looking for legal options to deal with a case and a victim. The Bill gives them that option. In many cases, that can be done with existing resources. It is about assisting officers in dealing with a situation that may otherwise escalate into a worse one—with a much more serious crime being committed, necessitating even more police resources—or one where they have to let it run, because at the moment the law does not quite kick in. The Bill gives officers an opportunity to make an application. I am certainly satisfied that the protection of requiring the application to be made to a court means that there will be a fair process, and this cannot just be used arbitrarily. As Members will have noticed, there is also provision for an interim order, pending a full application, if the court feels that is appropriate.
I would not necessarily say that this should be codified in an amendment, but it might have been helpful if my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch had spoken to his amendment to allow us to discuss the exact time the measure will be brought in. However, we certainly want to reflect on the fact that we need not just to pass legislation, but to provide an element of funding to ensure that it becomes of real help on the ground.
The amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes make eminent sense. They will strengthen the Bill and introduce additional tweaks to those measures introduced in Committee, and they will make the Bill even more robust as—hopefully—we send it in the not-too-distant future for scrutiny by their lordships. The Bill will be welcomed. I hope that hon. Members will support the amendments and that we will not be forced to spend time on Divisions that could otherwise be spent on Third Reading. I congratulate again my hon. Friend on the progress of the Bill so far.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster). He said that the House probably did not want to hear more, but he does himself a disservice. I was certainly left wanting more, and I look forward to hearing him speak on other matters, possibly later today. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for introducing this important Bill. As a child I remember being a great fan of the Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, and the episode that scared me the most was “The Solitary Cyclist”—
The Minister clearly shares that recollection. As a child I found the concept of a lone female on a bicycle being followed at distance by someone else on a bicycle absolutely terrifying. That was a drama, and without giving a spoiler to anyone who does not know the story, the gentleman was not quite as nefarious as perhaps the lady had feared at the start, but in summarising the sense of fear produced by stalking, that story left an indelible mark.
I wish to refer to a specific constituency case regarding this Bill, but I will keep it for Third Reading when I hope to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, because it is more a point of principle. It is a matter that I have previously discussed with the Minister, and I think it may well be raised in another place, perhaps by Lord Deben or the newly ennobled Lord Garnier. The point is incredibly important to me personally and to my constituency, so I shall keep it for Third Reading.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay I welcome amendment 1 on the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police, and I shall focus my remarks on that. South Suffolk contains the village of Wattisham. Strictly speaking the Wattisham Army airbase is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), but many service people reside in my constituency. They live either on the base or in the nearby town of Hadleigh.
To underline the importance of that base, at the Remembrance Sunday service in Hadleigh the entire regiment and town come out, and we have a fly-past by Apache helicopters. I do not know what the probability is or what the statistics are on stalking occurring in those residential homes, either within the base or for service personnel who live in towns, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay that there is every reason to extend these powers to those officers because stalking could occur. Stalking is not confined to any part of society—it embraces all of society, including my constituents, and it affects men and women as both victims and perpetrators.
The British Transport police are often undervalued, but they perform a fantastic job protecting the transport network. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay referred to being on the tube at twenty to nine in the morning, and being uncomfortably and involuntarily close to people and their armpits—[Interruption.] I am sure you have experienced it too, Mr Speaker, and that is the nature of the tube at busy times. It can be quite unpleasant, but we grin and bear it so to speak. The point is that someone could be on that tube following, pursuing or stalking someone. I do not necessarily understand exactly when the order could be placed, and whether it would be done by the normal constabulary in respect of the person being stalked and their home address, or whether the British Transport police would have specific responsibility for doing that. I will leave that to finer legal minds than mine, but the logic of extending those powers seems straightforward, and I am happy to support the amendment.
I want to build on my hon. Friend’s powerful point by saying that, in my community, public transport is essentially how everybody gets around. People often travel on the overland or underground late at night, and this is a crucial amendment to a crucial Bill that I very much support. I am pleased that my hon. Friend supports the Bill, and I add my support to his.
I am very much enjoying my hon. Friend’s detailed remarks and his usual analysis of the Bill. Does he agree that involving the British Transport police—or, for example, the Metropolitan police—means that either/or, or even both could apply to the court? That is the approach they should adopt, rather than waiting to agree or thinking that the other force will act. Each force has the ability to apply once the evidence is there. Will my hon. Friend join me in encouraging information sharing between the forces so that we do not have half the evidence required with the British Transport police, and half with the Metropolitan police, without the two being put together?
That is a good point, and the fact that I am unable strictly to comment on it underlines why politicians should probably not have a role in frontline policing matters. We do, however, have responsibility for making the law and resourcing the police, and I want to focus on that point. My right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening) made a good point about public transport. We have public transport in South Suffolk—indeed, many of my constituents wish we had more buses and so on, and there is one train station—but in rural constituencies people overwhelmingly rely on cars. This is an issue of police resources. On many occasions I have been happy to defend the Government’s position of enabling police and crime commissioners to decide whether to raise the precept to fund the police, but if we pass laws that may result in more being asked of the police, we must ensure that they have the resources to carry out those tasks.
Putting aside the money coming from the precept, we feel concerned that the funding formula penalises Suffolk. Norfolk is a very similar county in many ways—of course, it is not quite as good in some respects—and it receives about £1 million more per year than Suffolk for no obvious reason, and significantly more per head, which is even more indefensible. I very much welcome the funding to deal with violence against women, but will it be distributed to forces under the current formula, and how will that be determined? Stalking is a terrible crime that we all oppose—that is why we are here to support the Bill. If it is that serious a crime, and if the police are to be given more resource to deal with it, how will that resource be distributed and where will it come from?
I support the amendment but I have a caveat about resourcing. As the Minister will be aware—perhaps the note from the officials is on this point; I hope it is—on funding we must take rurality into account, and not just in terms of reliance on the car. I submitted a written question to the Home Office to ask whether it has considered the difference in cost between rural and urban policing, and it responded that no such study has been undertaken.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the impact of rurality. Does he agree that in that context it is even more important to consider technological solutions, so that individuals are able to record and report allegations that relate to stalking or other offences, without necessarily having to make long journeys to local police stations to make a statement? Only by properly harnessing technology can the police truly build effective prosecutions that lead to justice.
My final point on funding relates to pensions. As I believe all hon. Members are aware, the police will be required to make additional pension contributions and they will have to be funded. There is no choice in the matter. On the strategy of using the precept, whether to raise funding for more resources to deal with stalking or any other crimes or issues that present a resource challenge to the police, it is one thing for me to say to my constituents in Suffolk, as I do, that I defend the use of the precept by saying, “You know that every pound raised is spent in Suffolk on our police”. However, if we are to raise that money and give it to the Treasury to fill a pension deficit, I think that argument becomes harder to make. On that basis, it would not be unreasonable for the centre to say, “Look, we’ve had to make an adjustment here. It wasn’t expected. Chief constables were not expecting this and therefore there should be central recompense.”
That is a pitch I make to the Minister because this is an incredibly important Bill. Stalking is a terrible crime: a crime of cowardice and bullying. On Third Reading, I will refer to a constituency case that comes under that heading. If the police are to deal with these measures adequately, whether the British Transport police, the Ministry of Defence police or the constabularies in our counties and cities, they will have to be adequately resourced.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), and in particular my hon. Friend for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), who speaks with great knowledge of these issues. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on introducing this very important Bill.
I would like to speak briefly to a few amendments. There is complete agreement among Members that stalking is an abhorrent behaviour that can have terrifying consequences for its victims. It can cause significant psychological damage and worse. Sadly, I have heard from constituents who have been victims of stalking just how it can take over their lives, not only when the stalking is happening but for years afterwards. It is therefore very important that we take action.
The House heard during our previous consideration of the Bill how the powers currently available to the police to intervene in stalking cases are insufficient. The responses to the Government’s consultation demonstrated that “stranger stalking” in particular is a form of crime that is not adequately addressed by existing laws. The passing of the Bill will send a very clear message to victims and perpetrators alike that stalking in all its forms is despicable, will not be tolerated and will have serious consequences.
Thanks to the excellent work of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes, the Bill has cross-party support, as well as the backing of the Government, so there are very few amendments for me to address at this stage. However, I would like to talk about a few. I welcome the broadening of the Bill’s scope that amendments 1, 2 and 6 would bring. We all recognise that there is a gap in the existing protective order regime, particularly in terms of provisions for early intervention in stalking cases or addressing emerging patterns of behaviour. Under the current regime, it is difficult to take any action in cases in which the criminal threshold has not yet been met, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham articulated, in which the stalking occurs outside a domestic abuse context, or in which the perpetrator has not been intimately linked with the victim previously.
One of the Bill’s most important benefits is the fact that it transfers the onus to take action away from the victim, giving other bodies—the police and the courts—the additional tools they need to intervene in stalking cases at an early stage. The amendments will ensure that access to the new tools created by the Bill is not limited solely to local police forces in England and Wales, but given to the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence police and the chief constable of the British Transport police. It can only benefit the victims of stalking if we ensure that those other branches of our police forces are able to act on their behalf.
The technical changes made by amendments 3 to 5 put in place important safeguards that should reduce the likelihood that perpetrators of stalking could evade the Bill’s provisions. As colleagues will be aware, the Bill creates a new civil stalking protection order that will enable the imposition of both prohibitions and requirements on individuals who are deemed to be perpetrators of stalking. One of those requirements, introduced by clauses 9 and 10, is that any person subject to a stalking protection order would have to give their name and address to the police by attending the local police station and also notify the police if their address changes. There was, however, a lack of clarity in the Bill about when persons subject to an order would have to notify the police of any changes to their registered details. Amendments 3 and 4 provide important clarification by requiring individuals to give notice of their intention to change their name or address, rather than being able to inform the police after the fact.
Under the Bill as originally drafted, there was a danger that perpetrators with no fixed address could evade the requirement to register their details with the police. Amendment 5 addresses that directly by explicitly catering for the possibility that a perpetrator may not have a home address. All the amendments are eminently sensible and receive my support. I support the Bill and I look forward to speaking on Third Reading.
It is a pleasure and privilege to speak on Report. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on promoting such an important Bill. I steered a private Member’s Bill through this place in my first year as a Member, so I know the many demands that can suddenly appear in the inbox and arrive down the telephone line the moment one is drawn in the ballot, as there are any number of competing calls from non-governmental organisations and campaign groups. I can think of very few issues that are more worthy to pursue than the one that my hon. Friend has chosen.
It was a particular privilege to serve on the Bill Committee with my hon. Friend and to hear some of the examples from Members on both sides of the House. The core purpose of the Bill is to fill gaps in existing legislation and to ensure that our laws keep up with the changing pattern of stalking offences and developments in our understanding of them. It is a testament to the skill with which my hon. Friend has steered the Bill that it received overwhelming support from both sides of the House and that our proceedings in Committee were so straightforward. There was strong support for both the principle and the detail. She has rightly continued to work to ensure that every t is crossed and every i is dotted so that the Bill can fulfil its potential.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) in speaking very briefly to the amendments, which will make this very good Bill even better. I think that most Members will welcome amendments 1, 2 and 6 as common-sense clarifications. We would expect most applications for protection orders to involve police forces that cover geographical areas in England and Wales, but it would clearly be undesirable to allow specific cases to fall between the gaps purely because the jurisdiction they occurred under was covered by the British Transport police or the military police. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) suggested, the Civil Nuclear constabulary would be a sensible addition to those bodies, should the opportunity arise at a later stage of the Bill’s passage. Those three amendments clarify that the orders are not confined purely to what we might think of as police forces, but cover all parts of our police service.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire pointed out, when one of the core provisions of the orders is notification requirements, it is very important that those notification requirements are sensible and comprehensive. It would be frankly absurd to preclude people covered by the orders from being able to notify the appropriate authorities before they changed their name or address, but the Bill as originally drafted could easily have been interpreted as saying that the sole period within which people could make notifications was during the three days immediately after the changes came into effect. In tabling her amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has provided clarification and brought forward what most Members would see as common-sense provisions. Similarly, there is further clarification on people without a home address—particularly those of no fixed abode—and clearly, it would not fit the purpose of the Bill if orders could not apply to people in such circumstances.
I think that this is an extremely important and welcome Bill, and the amendments will make it even better. I hope to catch your eye on Third Reading, Madam Deputy Speaker, to speak about the Bill more generally.
May I say what a pleasure it is to support the Bill and these amendments today? The whole House thanks my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for her incredibly hard work on the Bill, helped by her members of staff. This has been a shining example of the House of Commons at its best: we have cross-party agreement; we know the direction of travel and the destination we want to get to; and we have had constructive criticism, questions and so on to help us to improve the Bill. In that spirit, I thank all Members who have contributed on Report.
If I may, I will reflect on my hon. Friend’s comments about Lady Astor being the first female MP. I have the pleasure of representing a seat for which the second female MP stood—we always remember the firsts for landmark events, but we tend not to remember the second. Margaret Wintringham represented the seat of Louth in 1921. She was the first ever British-born female MP—the second ever female MP—and she took a slightly different approach to campaigning than I or any of my colleagues, because she took a vow of silence during the campaign, which might commend itself to some of us in future.
In that spirit, I welcome these modest refinements to the Bill. Amendments 1, 2 and 6 will expand the list of chief officers who will be able to apply for the orders to the Ministry of Defence police and the British Transport police—we have heard from colleagues about the benefits that this could have—and they will be able to initiate related proceedings in connection with the variation and renewal of an order.
I listened very carefully to the observation made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) about the Civil Nuclear constabulary. Its role is to provide security for nuclear material and sites, and of course we recognise that that covers workplaces. I am mindful of figures that were released only yesterday by the Office for National Statistics. It compiled a bulletin of data from the national stalking helpline, which is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. In an analysis of the calls to the helpline, which is an incredibly important facility, it looked at the types of stalking behaviours experienced by callers who reported stalking by an ex-partner or family member, so it was restricted to, as it were, intimate relationships, as opposed to stranger stalking. None the less, I note that 4% of calls reported stalking in or through the workplace, so my hon. Friend raises a very good point regarding the Civil Nuclear constabulary, and we will look into that as the Bill proceeds through another place.
I thank the Minister for her detailed response and agree with her proposed approach. As I said, the reason why I raised the point was that the Ministry of Defence police focuses fundamentally on securing a base, but may react to incidents on the periphery of the base. It is about the police being part of the process, but I welcome her proposal.
Indeed, and I note that my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) raised a more general point about service personnel. The Bill already covers acts of stalking by forces personnel against civilians, and stalking offences apply to service personnel automatically by virtue of the Armed Forces Act 2006. However, I will look into the points that he raised.
Stalking occurs across a range of contexts with devastating consequences. It is therefore essential that the orders are available to different police forces, and I am delighted that the amendments will help us to achieve that. While I am speaking to clause 1, and I have notified my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes about this—who knows, it may be that my legal skills are causing me to examine the text too carefully—I want to commit to clarifying the terminology in the clause, which moves between “defendant” and “person”. I want to make it absolutely clear for the police, those who litigate on their behalf and magistrates how the Bill should be navigated, so I will provide clarity on the use of terminology in the other place.
Before I move on to amendments 3 and 4, I want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) for his speech. I will be more loquacious about his contribution to this issue on Third Reading, but I note his point about the police updating their processes to include, for example, the use of apps to help to record instances of stalking. I will explore that with the police, because it seems to be a very valid point.
I am grateful for the observations from my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) on police resourcing. We make an economic impact assessment of the effects of any Bill, so one has of course been conducted for this Bill. I heard what they said about the police settlement, which they will both know is coming forward in December. We have managed this year to provide a further £460 million for policing, with the help of police and crime commissioners, but it is very important that we listen regarding any further support that can be given in pressing the case for dealing with the challenges of changing crime in the 21st century. The full economic impact is a reason why we have not placed a commencement date in the Bill. That point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay, and I will deal with that at the end of my speech.
Amendments 3 and 4 will modify the notification requirements on a person subject to a stalking protection order. I am pleased that they have the approval of the House. Under the requirements as drafted, a perpetrator must notify the police of a change of name or address within three days of that change taking place. It enables the perpetrator to give such notice before the change takes effect. Amendment 5 caters for circumstances in which the subject of a stalking protection order does not have a home address, and mirrors the notification requirements relating to registered sex offenders.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay examined the issue of commencement dates. We propose to deal with that through regulations, and he will know that that is the usual way of enacting provisions in any Bill that receives Royal Assent. We have gone for the traditional or usual way of commencement because we are mindful that if the orders are to be used as effectively as all colleagues wish, there will be implications for the courts, legal aid, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Prison Service and the National Probation Service, as well as the police who will require training and who will make the applications. We want to allow a little time for that to bed in, and guidance will be issued as part of that.
I thank the Minister for the details that she is providing on commencement. Would she provide a rough timeline for the benefit of those following our proceedings? It makes eminent sense to give those organisations time to prepare, but I assume that we are talking about a matter of months, not years.
Most certainly. My hon. Friend will understand that I cannot give precise dates, but it is certainly months. We want to get this on the statute book, and put it in force as soon as possible. We have a date for consideration in the other place early in the new year, and we want the measure to be put into force as soon as possible. May I thank all hon. Members, including my hon. Friends, for their contributions to this stage of scrutiny, and commend the amendments to the House?
Amendment 1 agreed to.
Variations, renewals and discharges
Amendment made: 2, page 3, line 24, leave out from “police” to the end of line 27 and insert “who applied for the stalking protection order and (if different) the chief officer of police for the area in which the defendant resides, if that area is in England or Wales.”— (Dr Wollaston.)
See the explanatory statement for amendment 1.
Amendments made: 3, page 6, line 2, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of” .
This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to use a new name before doing so.
4, page 6, line 8, leave out “within” and insert “before the end of” —(Dr Wollaston.)
This amendment would ensure a person can give notice that they are going to change their home address before doing so
Method of notification and related matters
Amendment made: 5, page 6, line 30, leave out “whose home address is not” and insert “who does not have a home address” .—(Dr Wollaston.)
This amendment would cater for the possibility that a person might not have a home address
Amendment made: 6, page 8, line 9, at end insert—
““chief officer of police” means—
(a) the chief constable of a police force maintained under section 2 of the Police Act 1996 (police forces in England and Wales outside London);
(b) the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis;
(c) the Commissioner of Police for the City of London;
(d) the chief constable of the British Transport Police;
(e) the chief constable of the Ministry of Defence Police;” —(Dr Wollaston.)
See the explanatory statement for amendment 1.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
May I begin by thanking the Minister and all her officials for the extraordinary amount of work that they have put into assisting with the Bill, and for everything that the Minister has done to progress the violence against women and girls agenda in the House? I also thank Daragh Quinn in my team for his work and for doing so much to co-ordinate and help with the preparation of the Bill. I also thank the many individuals and organisations outside the House that have made such a difference. I am thinking of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Paladin, the Gloucestershire Stalking Advisory Service, the National Stalking Consortium and many others, such as police and crime commissioners for Sussex, for Northumbria, and for Devon and Cornwall, as well as officers from Thames Valley police and Devon and Cornwall constabulary, I thank them for their valuable advice, and I also thank the stalking lead for the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
I would particularly like to pay tribute to colleagues and Members across the House for their work. Having listened to the characteristically thoughtful speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk), I pay tribute to the work that he has done, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), on stalking, which has made an extraordinary difference.
I thank everyone who has contributed today with thoughtful speeches and interventions, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), my neighbour, whom I join in his tribute to the police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall for her courage in talking about her experience. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge), for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), and for Dudley South (Mike Wood), for their thoughtful interventions. I thank the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), as well as my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon South (Chris Philp), and for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman), for their ongoing and long-standing work. I greatly appreciate all the support I have received from colleagues across the House.
As we have heard, stalking is an insidious and dangerous crime with devastating consequences for victims and their families. Acts that initially appear, as we have heard, to be trivial, when seen as a whole have an extraordinary effect, not just on the individuals immediately affected but on everyone around them. Stalkers contact not just members of the family—my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham spoke about his constituent, Dr Aston—but people’s workmates and neighbours. There is a sense in which it never stops. As we heard from my hon. Friend, it is often described as murder in slow motion. It affects people’s physical and mental health, leaving them feeling isolated and fearful. It can escalate rapidly. In the context of domestic violence, about 50% of threats of violence are acted on, and there are many examples in which stalking has escalated to rape and murder.
Stalking behaviour is much more common than people realise. About one in five women and one in 10 men experience some kind of stalking behaviour in their adult lifetime, according to the crime survey for England and Wales. It typically takes about 100 episodes of stalking behaviour for victims to come forward. That is what the Bill is partly about. It is also about raising awareness and allowing this to be taken seriously. We hear time and again of people coming forward to report stalking behaviour, but it is dismissed as somehow a compliment.
I am impressed by what my hon. Friend is saying, as it shows the great passion that she has brought to the Bill. We would all agree that it adds huge value by protecting our constituents and bringing greater security and peace of mind to those who have suffered from this, knowing that others may be better protected in future.
I thank my hon. Friend.
Raising awareness will help to encourage more people to come forward. There has been some encouraging progress. In the 2017-18 crime survey for England and Wales, there were more than 10,000 recorded offences of stalking, almost double the previous number of 5,313. The increase is likely to be due to improvements in the recording of the crime, rather than an increase in stalking. That is an important point: laws in themselves will not protect victims. A key focus is to make sure that we have better recording so that victims are more confident about coming forward. That does not mean that every instance of unwanted attention will lead to prosecution for stalking—of course not.
Stalking is a type of harassment characterised by fixation and obsession. As hon. Members have said, the Bill will allow earlier intervention, rather than allowing that to become a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour that carries on for decades. We heard that Emily Maitlis’s stalker pursued her for more than two decades and even, disgracefully, managed to continue his behaviour from prison. There is a possibility that, if we can intervene at an earlier stage, we can stop this behaviour in its tracks, and I think that that is an important aspect of the Bill.
I pay tribute to the courage of all the victims who have come forward and spoken out. I am not talking just about celebrities; as we have heard, stalking affects people in their everyday lives, and stalking patterns of behaviour sometimes follow relatively trivial encounters. I pay particular tribute to Alexis Bowater, from my own area, for her long-standing work and her campaign for changes and increased protections.
I, too, welcome the courage of the people who have been able to speak out, but we should recognise that hundreds, if not thousands, of people throughout the country are unable to do so. I have heard victim impact statements read out in court from people who have not been able to come forward because the stalker’s behaviour has had such a negative impact that it has affected their mental and physical health, and their ability to conduct their daily lives. That has impeded them from speaking out, although they may have wanted to.
That is an extremely important point. There is, of course, another group who cannot speak out: those who have lost their lives at the hands of stalkers. Some of the most moving testimonies that I heard when I was preparing the Bill have come from families who have been bereaved by stalking. I am thinking in particular of the family of Alice Ruggles. I pay tribute to all those people, and I am grateful to the Minister for meeting some of them at a roundtable. I think that we were both struck by their personal courage and bravery in trying to change a hideous experience into an attempt to protect others in the future, and I thank them all.
Another point that has been raised today concerns the growth of online stalking. There is nothing new about stalking, but, sadly, what is new is the increase in the number of avenues that are open to stalkers. That is one of the reasons the Bill does not strictly define stalking. This is a rapidly evolving, changing field, and it is important for us to retain some flexibility. The number of avenues that are open has increased even over the last few years, and if we defined stalking too tightly, we might restrict future opportunities to head off stalking behaviour. The Bill leaves the definition open, giving examples of the kinds of behaviour that could constitute stalking. As I have said before, the point about stalking is the fixated and obsessive nature of it, and the fact that it is a form of harassment. That needs to be recognised as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham made an important point when he said that an app should be considered. That would enable the full picture to be seen, and I hope that the Minister will consider adopting my hon. Friend’s welcome suggestion.
The Bill is important because it fills a significant gap in the law relating to those who are subject to so-called stranger stalking—that is, stalking by someone who is not a former, or indeed current, intimate partner. It is also important because it takes the onus away from the victim. It means that someone else can come forward to apply for a civil stalking protection order on the victim’s behalf, rather than the victim’s incurring a huge amount of expense and trauma in trying to establish protections on their own behalf. That is one of the key features of the Bill. Moreover, because this is a civil order, it can be imposed on the balance of probabilities—although, importantly, breaching it is a criminal offence. There are real penalties, which I think have been lacking in the past. Stalking is punishable with up to five years’ imprisonment. However, the protection order is not intended to replace a prosecution for stalking. When the criminal threshold has been met, we would expect the police and the whole criminal justice system to go down that route, but we know that a case can take time to build. The point about a stalking protection order is that it could be there while that case was being built for a full prosecution.
My hon. Friend is making a very important point, not least for this reason. A substantive and full prosecution could allow the court to consider the entirety of the conduct in its full context, to ensure that the punishment was truly fitting and appropriate. If the prosecution related purely to a breach of a stalking protection order, the courts might not have the powers that they required, because the offending itself would not be fully set out. Does my hon. Friend agree?
Absolutely. Following the important work that my hon. Friend has himself undertaken, longer sentences are available following a full prosecution for stalking. However, as he will know, it takes time to build a case, and in the meantime the behaviour is allowed to continue.
Another feature of the stalking protection order is that it has both positive and negative requirements. It is a bespoke order, so it can allow the court to include a requirement to undergo a psychiatric assessment or, if necessary, to take part in a perpetrator programme. I hope that the Minister will look into perpetrator programmes, and what we can do to ensure that more of them are available where they could help.
The Bill also makes it possible to consider the full range of stalking behaviour in imposing prohibitions. For example, much more of such behaviour now encompasses online stalking. The orders would ensure that perpetrators not only registered their names and addresses, but registered all their names and addresses, and the aliases that they used. They could be required not to have encryption software on their computers, so that it could be demonstrated whether or not they were continuing to contact their victims using another means. If, for example, they did have encryption software, that in itself would constitute a breach of the order and a criminal offence. A bespoke order allows us to be flexible about all the different methods that perpetrators are currently using.
Some people may fear that we would use the orders in inappropriate circumstances. Others have suggested to me that a person who complains of being stalked may, in fact, turn out to be the stalker. That is why this must be a very careful process, and the orders must be demonstrated to be necessary to protect. They must pass that test. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham has already pointed out, there needs to be a very effective process for people to be able to come back and challenge the orders, and that, I think, is another important aspect of the Bill.
Overall, the Bill improves protection for victims against what is a really horrible crime, which is much more common than people realise. It fills a gap in the law for those who are victims of so-called stranger stalking, and I think that it has shown the House working at its best. Colleagues on both sides of the House have recognised the gap in the law and made constructive suggestions for improving it. I am grateful to everyone who has supported the Bill and helped it to make progress.
I would like to start by congratulating wholeheartedly the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who, with her characteristic diligence, perseverance and cross-party approach, has succeeded in uniting the House behind these important measures that will protect victims and save lives. I can think of few tasks more important to this House than keeping our constituents safe, and she has done all our constituents a huge service through this Bill.
We have heard the emotional and chilling testimonies of constituents who have brought their cases to their MPs. They show why this Bill is so important, and it will undoubtedly ensure better and earlier protection for victims of these terrible crimes.
Far too many stalking crimes go undetected. In 2015, there were just 194 convictions for stalking offences. Yet, the crime survey suggests that one in five women and one in 10 men will be affected by stalking in their lifetime, while the under-publicised national stalking helpline has responded to almost 14,000 calls since it was established in 2010. Clearly the conviction rate is barely the tip of the iceberg.
Providing the police with the vital additional tool of this Bill is important to protect victims, and, importantly, puts the onus and the priority on the police. The hon. Lady knows that we wholeheartedly support this Bill and will continue to do so as it makes its way through the other place.
However, as is clear from this debate, it will be important to continue to keep the measures under review and look at what more might be needed in future in order to build on this architecture to ensure long-term safety and protection for victims. There are simply too many gaps in the current legislation as it stands. With increased technology and globalisation it is important that legislation covers cyber-stalking and crimes carried out from other countries, and it is also important that measures extend to strangers.
Last year the House amended the law so that perpetrators of stalking may now receive much longer maximum sentences. We know that the way that victims are dealt with is simply not good enough, however. Charges are amended and dropped with no notice and victims can be cross-examined by their own tormentor in court. It is a matter of deep regret that the Government have failed to bring forward a victims law, as promised in successive manifestos. It would enshrine the rights of victims in law and create important new measures to support victims. If the Government chose to bring forward such a law, they would have the full support of Labour for the creation of an independent victims advocate, who would help the victim navigate their fundamental rights at a traumatic time, when the array of services and institutions they have to deal with can often be overwhelming and bewildering. The rights of victims often end up, almost unwittingly, falling by the wayside in this process.
The measures in this Bill are essential for early intervention, not just because prevention is always better than cure, but because even before arriving at sentencing, victims of stalking face additional hurdles in their treatment by the criminal justice system. It has been shocking to hear that victims experience on average 100 occurrences before coming forward to report the crime. As with all serious crime, the police and the entire criminal justice system need an integrated and informed approach if the issue is to be tackled effectively. Better detection and better treatment of victims must be their priorities. That has been very apparent in today’s debate.
This insidious form of harassment has been acknowledged and recognised only over the last few years, and the impact on, and implications for, victims and the difficulties they face in attempting to get the authorities to take them seriously has been described by several Members. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made an excellent speech, in which he compellingly described this form of crime as “murder in slow motion”. He talked about how the victim’s freedom is constantly chipped away and horrendous psychological damage caused, and the feeling that the crime will not be taken seriously by the authorities. As constituents of mine have experienced, such crimes are sometimes taken seriously only once an actual violent crime has been committed.
Despite the obvious progress made since 2012, I have repeated conversations with the police about the difficulties they face in bringing successful prosecutions. As we know, access to the police and support for victims is at an all-time low, and there is serious concern that despite all the tools the police undoubtedly now have to tackle harmful crimes such as these and crimes of domestic violence and coercive control, they do not have the resources to devote to the kind of service necessary for the support of victims and for the required level of investigation to secure a successful prosecution. The numbers of these crimes are rising year on year while prosecution rates continue to fall.
The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) made the important point that, with such limited resources, it is inevitable that if the police are to focus on these crimes they will deprioritise other areas. He said that the Government have a duty to ensure that resources are continuously available to enforce the legislation that we bring forward in this place. The police are constantly frustrated that we reach for a legislative response in dealing with serious issues and crimes while not ensuring that they have the resources on the ground to get the job done.
That issue was raised by several other Members, too. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (James Cartlidge) raised the issues that Suffolk experiences because of the funding formula; next-door Norfolk, with very similar issues and priorities, receives significantly more funding. The issue of the pensions gap was also raised, and the £165 million of further cuts for 2019-20, which is forcing police and crime commissioners to use their precept to plug the gap. The hon. Gentleman rightly said it was indefensible to ask local people to pay more in rates to plug a gap for the Treasury when that money should only be spent in the local area on local policing priorities.
Indeed, an unusually high number of Conservative Members have raised the issue of resources today and the fact that the police simply do not have the resources that need to be devoted to investigations in order to secure prosecutions for these crimes. Despite the rise in serious crime, this Government have cut the number of police officers by over 21,000 and continue to make cuts, with below-inflation budget rises even given the precept flexibility—and now there is the £165 million pension gap. Those cuts have consequences, and they are having consequences in every community in our country.
When our officers face this much pressure, it leads to the downgrading of crimes; that has been reported on a number of times over the last four or five years. To add to that, officers have not been sufficiently trained to tackle stalking crimes. That decreases the chance of prosecution even with new legislation. Police forces need the specialist resources required to address crimes such as stalking which touch on and concern violence against women in particular.
The measures in this Bill are vital but not sufficient. I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes again and all who have supported the Bill’s safe passage through the House, particularly the Minister and her officials. It is a privilege to support this Bill and I wish it speedy passage through its remaining stages.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for introducing this important Bill, and for her assiduous work in bringing it forward. I also thank Opposition Members, including the hon. Members for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) for contributing powerful arguments this morning and situating this Bill and this change in the context of a wider agenda to prevent violence against women. Today we are taking an important step to protect victims of stalking, but it will not, of course, be the final step.
One reason why I am keen to speak in this debate is that I have constituents who have been the victims of stalking: the family of Alice Ruggles, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes has mentioned. Alice was murdered in 2016 by Trimaan Dhillon, who has now been sentenced to life imprisonment. Alice’s story is a perfect example of so many of the problems that my hon. Friend’s Bill seeks to solve. Alice had twice told police that Trimaan Dhillon was harassing her. He was given a police information notice, but that did not stop his obsessive behaviour. Later, it emerged that police had previously given Dhillon a restraining order for harassing another ex-girlfriend. Alice’s family have established the Alice Ruggles Trust to make the case for changes to protect future victims of stalking, and I pay tribute to them for their incredible courage.
I am therefore very pleased to support this Bill today. It will fill a clear gap in the protective order regime and protect people like Alice in the future. It will enable effective action to be taken against stalkers whose actions are not yet provably over the criminal threshold. As my hon. Friend set out, the instrument being created today is highly flexible and will enable us to cover all the different new types of stalking behaviour. At present too many people who pose a real threat to life are simply being repeatedly cautioned and given PINs, or action is simply not taken against them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes pointed to the fact that there has been a huge increase in the registration of stalking cases, and that is welcome. It suggests that the police are now taking this more seriously. I hope that creating this new tool for the police in the form of the stalking protection order will help to solve the problem. The sanctions that it will create will help to stop stalkers whose behaviour is escalating, and the prohibitions it creates will help victims to live without fear. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made a powerful speech in which he talked about “murder in slow motion”, and about the fact that cases can go on for years and years.
This is a hugely important new instrument, and I hope that, as well as providing these direct benefits, its introduction will be a catalyst for the police to improve their handling of stalking cases more generally. A report published last year by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service found that people who had suffered repeated harassment or stalking were frequently being let down by under-recording, by inconsistent services and by a lack of understanding in the criminal justice system.
In one of the most powerful parts of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, he described why these cases are so hard to tackle, and how something that can start off seeming slightly unsettling can shade off into something more sinister and then become more and more worrying. At what point do the police, who are busy all the time, take action? That is why this is such an important piece of legislation, and I hope that it will trigger police forces to review how they handle stalking and to start following the best practice guidance set out by the charity Paladin. This is a hugely important piece of legislation. It is not the end of the story, by any stretch of the imagination, but the flexibility the Bill creates will allow stalking protection orders to be useful in a wide variety of circumstances. It will improve lives and I hope that it will save lives. I support it in the strongest possible way.
It is a great pleasure, as always, to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien). Let me join other hon. and right hon. Members in extending my warm congratulations and thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who has conceived the Bill and steered it so expertly through the various stages of the legislative process. She does the whole country a great service in the work that she has done, and I am sure that all Members across the House are grateful to her for her hard work and for the expertise and dexterity that she has brought to bear in bringing this legislation almost to its final stage.
I was not going to make my own contribution today, but I should like to echo what the hon. Gentleman has just said about the cross-party spirit in which the Bill has been brought forward. It is also no mean feat to get a private Member’s Bill passed. We all know colleagues on both sides of the House who have secured their place through the ballot and presented a Bill to the House but who have not secured cross-party or Government support. I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on the fact that we are here today supporting this Bill, and I look forward to its making progress and being passed.
I strongly agree with the hon. Lady’s comments. The House of Commons is at its best when we come together and find cross-party consensus on these issues. This is often evident only on a Friday when private Members’ Bills such as this are being debated. Perhaps it would be better if we could find similar common ground on other days of the week. Who knows, maybe we will do so in due course.
My hon. Friend’s Bill fills a lacuna in the current legislative framework. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) laid this out with his characteristic forensic attention to detail during his speech on Report a short while ago. He made it clear, very powerfully, that the tools available are not adequate to deal with this particular category of emerging stalking that we are addressing today. For example, the measure of taking out an injunction in the civil court is extremely complicated and expensive, so it is unreasonable to expect a victim of stalking to have to take out their own injunction in the county court or the High Court. Restraining orders generally follow conviction, or at the very least they follow court proceedings, so that occurs only when the problem has become so serious that the threshold of criminality has clearly been crossed and, generally speaking, adjudicated on by a criminal court. Bail conditions only follow arrest. So the measures of restraining orders and bail conditions cannot be used at an early stage in the pattern of offending. That is why the measure that we are debating today is so welcome; it gives victims protection at a very early stage in the process of the offending behaviour.
In the consultation that the Government ran on this legislation, 69% of respondents felt that the current legislative arrangements were inadequate and that something more was required. There is no question but that these stalking protection orders will fill the gap identified by those respondents. The gap is powerfully illustrated by a conviction that was handed down yesterday by the Crown Court in Hove in Sussex. The defendant who was convicted was in fact a resident of my borough, Croydon, and unusually it was a female defendant. Most defendants in these cases are male. This defendant, Lina Tantash, aged 44, is a resident of Croydon and she was jailed yesterday for four years for stalking offences that had carried on over a period of 10 years. The conviction applied to three of those years. She had persistently harassed and stalked the victim by turning up unexpectedly at his place of work—even turning up at his office Christmas party—by making thousands of phone calls and by offering money to his colleagues to provide his personal mobile phone number. Eventually, the victim had to leave the country.
This was a serious pattern of behaviour that took place over many years. When the sentence was handed down yesterday, it was accompanied by a restraining order to prevent any repeat of the offence, but by then it was far too late. Had this legislation been in place some years ago, it would have been open to the victim to go to the police and ask them to seek a stalking protection order. That would have prevented the offending from getting to that serious stage and it would probably have prevented the need for a criminal conviction. It would have protected the victim, but in a sense it would also have protected the perpetrator, because they would never have reached the point of facing a four-year prison sentence. This legislation would have benefited both the victim and the stalker, because it would have prevented the stalker from ending up with a criminal conviction. One of the most powerful elements of this proposal is that it can prevent the offending from escalating in a way that is damaging to everyone.
I have listened attentively to what the hon. Gentleman has said about that specific case. I served on the original stalking commission. Stalking is wrong, and it is women who are affected in a huge proportion of cases. Does he not think that this country should have some sort of universal Bill of Rights for women to be free of violence? We need to guarantee that women can be free from the fear of violence, whatever their ethnicity and whatever part of the country they come from.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right to point out that the vast majority of victims of these terrible crimes are women. He is also right say that we should ensure that women from all backgrounds are protected. He made reference to a Bill of Rights that was gender-specific, but I believe that rights are universal and that they should be enjoyed by people regardless of their gender or race. However, his objective—that women should be completely protected—is one that I wholeheartedly agree with.
I made a speech in Westminster Hall in 2009 about what I knew to be going on in the gangs working across our cities who were preying on women and on children in care. At that time, the police were saying to me, “Well, guv, it’s difficult. It’s expensive. And in their culture, certain things are acceptable.” No violence against women is acceptable in my book.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There can be no excuses, based on cultural background or anything else, for the mistreatment of women in any way, whether that is stalking, forced marriage or female genital mutilation. All those things, and others, are abhorrent. No woman of any age or of any ethnic background should experience them, and categorically cultural background is no excuse; it does not make it okay.
Members on both sides of the House— and I hear agreement coming from the Government Front Bench—should all make it clear that it is totally unacceptable. There can be no excuses, and there can be no tolerance for these kinds of offences on any grounds at all. I am at one with the sentiments of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman).
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the prevalence of these offences. Indeed, there were 1,000 reported cases of stalking in London in 2017, and there may, of course, be many more that were not reported. There were a further 12,000 cases of harassment. This clearly is a wide-scale problem, and the police need to focus on it.
I am pleased to hear that the Metropolitan police—I am a London MP, so I pay particular attention to the Met—have recently set up a stalking unit, but that unit has only eight officers. Clearly, if there are 1,000 stalking offences being reported, eight officers strikes me as quite a small number. I encourage the Metropolitan police to consider increasing the size of its stalking unit, bearing in mind the scale of the problem.
This is an excellent and welcome Bill. Its provisions should in no way deter the police or the Crown Prosecution Service from pursuing prosecutions where they find evidence of criminal behaviour. This does not replace criminal sanctions; it is an additional tool that should be used at a very early stage in the pattern of behaviour.
Clause 12 provides for the Secretary of State to issue guidelines suggesting to the police how and when these powers might be exercised. It is important that the police are proactive in this area and that, when a victim comes to the police, they respond energetically and proactively. Those guidelines are important to making sure that police forces across the country actually use these powers. This worries me sometimes. We pass legislation in this Chamber on all kinds of topics, but legislation is impotent and ineffective unless it is used and implemented by the public bodies it empowers. In this example, it is critical that the police actually use this legislation when they are approached by victims, and the House should keep a close eye on it to make sure that, once this legislation becomes active, it is used by police forces across the country.
A chief constable told a group of us only two weeks ago that the Crown Prosecution Service is very restricted in resources at the moment in taking cases forward. That was the police saying, “We can’t get the action because the CPS is in that position.” The budgetary concerns are broader than just the police.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for putting that concern on record. As we go through the comprehensive spending review next year, laying out departmental spending limits for the four or five years to come, it will be a good opportunity for Members on both sides of the House to make submissions to the Treasury on such issues to make sure that the resources are in place to enable the CPS and the police to prosecute people, as appropriate.
My last observation, in passing, is that I notice there is no formal definition of stalking in the Bill or in the interpretations at the end. When stalking is referred to, it is with a lower-case s. Stalking does not seem to be formally defined. I consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, who drew my attention to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which lists some examples of stalking behaviour, but again it does not provide a precise definition. I wonder whether at some point, in future legislation, it might be worth our creating a more formal definition of what constitutes stalking to help police forces and the CPS in their work.
This is an excellent Bill and, again, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes on her fantastic work, her legislative dexterity and her perseverance in getting this Bill to Third Reading. The Bill fills an important gap in our current legislative framework. I am delighted to give it my enthusiastic and vocal support and, if necessary, to support it in the Lobby.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on bringing this important Bill to this advanced stage. My only disappointment is that, in its current form, it does not apply to Scotland.
In Scotland stalking is covered under the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, section 39 of which includes some of the measures we discussed this morning. Section 39 specifically mentions conduct, especially the different kinds and modern forms of stalking. The conduct defined in that Act includes: following someone; contacting or attempting to contact them by any means; publishing material relating to, purporting to relate to or purporting to originate from them; monitoring their use of electronic communication; entering premises; loitering in any place; interfering with their property; watching or spying on them; or acting in another way that a reasonable person would expect to cause the victim to experience or suffer fear or alarm.
The 2010 Act has no provision for a stalking protection order, which my hon. Friend seeks to introduce today. If the Bill is successful, we can work with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to make sure there is equality of law and equality of the protection of rights across the United Kingdom.
This truly is a British problem. In 2017-18 there were 1,376 reported cases of stalking in Scotland, up from 495 in 2011-12—a 170% increase in the incidence of stalking. I know from the personal experience of constituents coming to my office that geography is no hindrance to such crimes, and it is important that, across the United Kingdom, our citizens have the same rights and protections.
My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) spoke on Report about the British Transport police—an issue that has been a bone of contention back home and has been debated here and elsewhere. It is particularly important that these powers include the British Transport police, because these crimes have no respect for geography. He accurately highlighted that busy commuter trains and other forms of transport are where individuals can be at the greatest risk, especially in this day and age when a mobile phone can be used to take a picture or a video of someone sitting on a train, reading a paper in a tube carriage or doing anything else on public transport. That is another realm of risk, and many years ago, or even in the 2010 Act, we would not have appreciated the current extent of that risk. Including the British Transport police and making sure we have a co-ordinated and joined-up approach across the United Kingdom are both important.
Many Members have spoken today about their experiences as Members of Parliament, and about the experiences of their constituents. A number of constituents have approached me with varying degrees of relationship and other issues, and whether they go to the civil courts or cross over to the criminal courts, it is important that such personal and individual matters are given the right expression and protection in this place.
Individuals can be affected in incredibly negative ways when what originally seems to be innocent following turns a lot more malicious. It is important to make sure that the protections are there for these individuals, which is why I started my speech by talking about the different forms of conduct. It is important that we consider the breadth of conduct.
I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who talked about a definition of stalking. My hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) has just raised that matter again. The real problem sometimes is that what seems innocuous to most people preys on the mind of the person who is being stalked, so a little thing that we may think is nothing actually has a huge impact. That is one of the problems of defining stalking.
I thank my hon. Friend, who makes, as always, a very wise contribution that is very welcome. As I was saying, it is important that we protect these individual rights and make sure that, no matter how seemingly innocent these actions are, people have the right protection so that the experience is right for them because it is about their own fear of harm and harassment.
I welcome the provisions to extend this to the British Transport Police and to make sure that the protections for individuals are there. I hope that, if my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes is successful with the Bill, she will work with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament as well to make sure that we have equal rights across our United Kingdom.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham). Although this Bill does not apply to Scotland, it is great to see representation for Scotland in the debate—and eloquent representation it was, too.
It is a pleasure to join other Members in supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). Sometimes, I feel, we do not agree on other subjects, so it is excellent to be able to contribute to a debate in which we are perfectly aligned, the alignment being not just on our side of the Chamber but on both sides.
We have heard some excellent legal minds give their insightful view on this Bill, so I want to adopt a slightly different approach and use the latitude that is sometimes afforded to us on Fridays to give a public information broadcast. First, anybody who is at risk of stalking, experiences stalking or has family members who are being stalked should contact the national stalking helpline on 0808 802 0300. That line is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. The interesting thing about it is that it is a freephone number from landlines, but it also free from a number of mobile service providers. Also, the number will not show up on someone’s phone bill if they are phoning from a BT line, which might be important for some people who are concerned about stalking and do not want information to be shown on their telephone bill.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is a great source of information on stalking. Let us just briefly remember why the trust was set up. Suzy Lamplugh was 25 years old in 1986 when she disappeared, and her parents, Paul and Diana, set up the trust to provide incredible support to people who are victims of the type of terrible tragedy that they have experienced and to others who are victims of stalking. The trust receives money from the tampon tax fund, from which the Government contribute approximately £15 million a year, using money taken from VAT on sanitary products to support organisations that provide support for disadvantaged women. The trust is one of a number of organisations that that supports. It is a fantastic charity. Suzy Lamplugh was very tragically in the news most recently because police excavated the site of John Cannan’s mother’s house to try to finally find evidence to attribute the crime to him.
The trust is not the only charity that provides support in this field. In preparation for this debate, I also came across the Hollie Gazzard Trust. Last night, I tried to download the Hollie Guard app, which I thought I might be able to utilise to offer some feedback to the House on its efficacy or otherwise. Unfortunately, it is necessary to register to use the app and I am still awaiting notification that I can be registered as a user. However, I believe that it provides a valuable tool. If someone is walking home and feels that they might be vulnerable, the app enables them to register their start and final destination. It will track their progress and, if they do not arrive at that destination within a prescribed time, it can alert people they have predetermined from the contacts in their phone. It can also turn the phone into an alarm so that it gives out a high-pitched noise and the torch comes on as well to attract attention.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for doing the research and finding out about that. I know Nick and Mandy Gazzard, the parents of Hollie Gazzard, and they will be absolutely thrilled to hear that he has, first, researched it, and secondly, accurately identified precisely what it does. Good for him—I am very grateful.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I would like to further endorse the work of Nick Gazzard. In December last year, West Midlands police operated a Facebook page where people could type in comments if they had concerns about stalking, and Nick was responding to those comments with Detective Inspector Jenny Bean from West Midlands police. He is doing incredibly valuable work and supporting people, following the terribly tragic circumstances of his daughter’s death in February 2014. The joint report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the CPS inspectorate identified 112 stalking cases that were not dealt with correctly, and in 60% of cases a risk assessment was not prepared. Clearly there is some work to do, but it certainly sounds as though West Midlands police are doing their best to make sure that they address this.
I would also like to mention Black Country Women’s Aid, which set up a stalking support service in January this year, also funded by the tampon tax fund. I thank Lorraine Garratley for her support and the information that she has provided me with in preparing for this debate. The group provides support for women and young girls over the age of 13 to help them through this difficult experience.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes. I completely endorse this Bill.
I, like every Member in this House today, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) for bringing forward this Bill. I pay tribute to the work done by the Ministers, officials and many people across both sides of the House in making sure that this happens. I look forward to voting in favour of the Bill in a short while.
As I said on Report, stalking is an abhorrent behaviour, and its victims often suffer devastating consequences that should not be underestimated. It has widespread ramifications for the victim. It not only severely impacts their mental state but can affect their careers, their relationships, and so many other things. The relentless nature of stalking, often over a period of many years, can leave the victims feeling absolutely helpless. This is exacerbated by the high threshold that must be met under the current regime for police to be able to intervene. There are many improvements in this Bill that will change things substantially.
Stalking is commonly misunderstood. Reporting unsolicited advances or a bombardment of messages can seem trivial if not considered as part of an overall pattern of harassing behaviour. Some victims have said that they were made to feel as though they were overreacting, or even wasting valuable police time, when trying to report their experiences. As one constituent of mine said about their own experiences of being stalked: “No one considers me seriously. There is no emergency but I am living with things that I simply should not have to live with.”
We should also remember that stalking can be a gateway to other criminal behaviour and often escalates, sometimes to the point of rape and murder. I welcome the fact that this Bill makes it clear that, where the police are empowered to apply for a stalking protection order on the basis that it is necessary to protect a person from risk, this risk can be of either physical or psychological harm. The risk element is key. Much progress has been made on the reporting of stalking offences over the past few years, but much more needs to be done. Although the number of recorded stalking offences has trebled in England and Wales since 2014, prosecution rates have significantly declined. It is clear that there is a gap in the law and the powers available to the police are not sufficient to tackle stalking in its various forms. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said, an astonishing one in five women and one in 10 men have experienced stalking behaviour in their lives, and this Bill will help police effectively to address the huge volume of cases that have not become criminal but are nevertheless emotionally traumatic for the victim.
I suspect that there is a problem between the stalking and the reporting of it and, in some ways, a higher level of reporting is a good thing because it means that more people are coming forward with their concerns. I do not think we will ever be able to get a fully accurate record because there will always be situations and circumstances where some people, for whatever reason, do not wish to report.
Three or four years ago, the stalking commission looked at this issue. Anonymity and social media are very much at the heart of this, as there is this wicked ability for people to insinuate themselves into someone else’s life anonymously through social media. The people who run social media have a lot to answer for.
The hon. Gentleman is making a valid point, and I certainly hope that the online harms White Paper, which will be coming out before the end of winter, will address some of these issues, too. I understand that the White Paper is being produced jointly by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, and I am sure this will be much debated again. The social media companies have a lot of power and a lot of responsibilities, but they have to take those responsibilities seriously.
I spoke earlier about the dangers of stranger stalking and I will not repeat those comments now. I just want to say in conclusion that this Bill sends a clear message that stalking is a crime that the Government take seriously and that all of us in Parliament take seriously. It has a devastating impact on people’s lives, and I fully support all the measures in the Bill.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on successfully steering this important Bill through the House. May I also take this moment to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) and for Gloucester (Richard Graham), both of whom have done so much work over the past few years to ensure that those who are convicted of the terrible offence of stalking meet the justice they deserve? My thanks also go to Conservative colleagues, and to colleagues from across the House, many of whom speak to me quietly behind the scenes about cases that concern them and that their constituents have suffered. Those Members know who they are, and I thank each and every one of them for their help.
Stalking is a terrible crime that still affects literally millions of people and often makes their lives a misery. The title of last year’s inspection report, “Living in fear”, sums up well what it feels to be as a victim of stalking. I am proud of the actions that this Government and their predecessors have taken to reduce that fear, from the original Protection from Harassment Act 1997—we heard from the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) about the role he played in that—to introducing the specific stalking offences in 2012 and the funding we have given to the excellent national stalking helpline.
At this point, may I just thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) for his speech, which was public service broadcasting at its best? He made the important point that there is help available, albeit we sometimes need to search for it, and that is something that I have very much taken away with me. That helpline has helped almost 14,000 callers since 2010, as the shadow Minister said, and 94% of those callers say that they feel better about their situation immediately after making contact with that helpline. There is clearly a need, and the helpline is playing a huge role in helping victims.
Other projects are going on across the country to deliver innovative solutions to tackle this terrible crime. The Metropolitan Police Service, in partnership with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, has received more than £4 million from the police transformation fund for a multi-agency stalking interventions programme to share best practice and learning on developing interventions to tackle stalking. Northumbria has received more than £600,000 under the violence against women and girls service transformation fund for the Northumbria Building Capability project, which includes a specific project on cyber-stalking. Several projects to tackle stalking are funded through the tampon tax fund, including the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which has received money to scale up its casework support service for women who are being stalked. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North mentioned Black Country Women’s Aid, which has received more than £200,000 to pilot the first specialist support service for victims of stalking across the Black country area and to conduct research on stalking.
The hon. Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), with whom I work on other campaigns, made a brilliant public service broadcast, but one thing he missed out was saying that when people are in trouble with stalking, MPs can help. MPs and our staff are very skilled at helping—we know about stuff—so please let us not underrate the job that MPs can do.
I very much agree. Cross-party co-operation really can and must happen on such issues. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that Members of Parliament can do a great deal to help, and I thank him for his work on this topic.
A project called YOU Trust is another example of work to help to tackle stalking specifically. It provides a victim support service to women who experience stalking, risk assessing all cases and delivering solutions appropriate to that risk. We are working closely with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and other partners to raise awareness of stalking and to ensure that appropriate guidance and training are in place. Colleagues have been right to express concerns about the initial response of some police forces—although not all, by any means. It is right that we focus on the training offered to the police and ensure that their conduct is examined in inspections. That is why the findings of last year’s joint inspection report are so important. They are being addressed through a national oversight group chaired by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and the action includes revising the legal guidance on stalking and harassment and delivering updated mandatory training for prosecutors. [Interruption.] Sorry—would somebody like to intervene?
May I apologise to the Minister? A very good friend and colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), was just passing and said, “You’re the first man to wear a roll-neck sweater in the Chamber.” It was a terrible diversion from the Minister’s good speech.
I do not know quite how to respond to that, so I shall move on quickly.
The 2017-18 performance data indicated that joint police and CPS work to take forward more prosecutions for stalking rather than harassment, when that is the right course, had a positive impact. I listened carefully to the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), who quite rightly made the point that stalking protection orders are in addition to the ability to prosecute, not instead of it. He asked about putting a definition of stalking into the Bill or the underlying 1997 Act. As he rightly said, there is a checklist of behaviours in that Act, but we are conscious that types of stalking behaviour can change. Indeed, in 1997, when that Act was passed, cyber-stalking was unheard of—it simply did not happen. Sadly, time has shown that nowadays it can and does happen. I hope that the list of examples helps not only my hon. Friend but practitioners on the ground to understand what can fall into the category of stalking behaviour.
I acknowledge the observations of my hon. Friends the Members for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who both referred to the breadth of practices in stalking behaviour. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay mentioned specifically conduct against people’s political and religious beliefs, which was of course a very valid point.
At this point, may I also thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who is no longer in the Chamber? I look forward to joining her on Monday in this place for a day of commemoration and solidarity against those who continue to behave disgracefully towards Jewish people and to give support to the Jewish community.
I just want to put it on record that there is cross-party support for this excellent Bill. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) on introducing it.
The Minister mentioned behaviour. Surely one thing that we should be looking at is educating people about the behaviour that leads to stalking. Does she have any thoughts about what can be done to educate people to stop them stalking in the first place?
Very much so, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. Again, I am happy to acknowledge the work, co-operation and collaboration on the Bill of Members across the House, for which I thank them. There are a number of projects, some of which I have already referred to, including in London with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, to help to intervene with perpetrators as well as to support victims. I hope that one of the most exciting aspects of the Bill is the potential for positive as well as negative requirements under the orders, such as requiring the perpetrator to seek mental health treatment if that is appropriate. I hope that the orders will bring about innovative thinking that is very specific to the person against whom the order is applied to help them to tackle their behaviour so that they do not continue to offend.
We all acknowledge that there has been a gap in the system, as was revealed in the public consultation in 2016, particularly around how to bring security to victims in the early stages of so-called stranger stalking. Early intervention is always important when tackling crime, but it is fundamentally so in the case of stalking, when apparently innocuous behaviour can often escalate into something more sinister, as hon. Members have been very good at describing today. I am delighted that this Bill will plug that gap and provide additional security to victims.
These orders will be a vital tool that the police can use to protect victims and to control the behaviour of perpetrators. As has been noted, one of their greatest virtues is their flexibility, permitting positive and negative requirements that will help to stop perpetrators from behaving as they have been. Of course, the ultimate sanction is available through criminal sanctions should people breach the terms of these orders.
Stalking can have devastating effects for women and girls; indeed, it can for men and boys as well, but we know from the evidence that the vast majority of victims are female. This measure will, I hope, be passed by the House just two days before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which is on Sunday.
The Government are carrying out a whole raft of work on tackling violence against women and girls, not least by refreshing the VAWG strategy alongside introducing the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which I hope to bring to this House before not too long.
I must finish by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes for introducing the Bill, the officials who have advised me and who have worked so hard on the Bill, and hon. Members across the House for their help with the Bill, including those who served on the Bill Committee.
I finish by reflecting on the people whom this Bill seeks to protect: the victims of stalking and their families. My hon. Friends the Members for Totnes, for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), for Cheltenham and for Walsall North, as well as other Members, referred to families who have lost loved ones as a result of stalking. I have had the privilege of meeting Mr and Mrs Ruggles, Mr Gazzard and others during the passage of the Bill and through our work more generally on stalking and harassment in the Home Office. This Bill is for them. It is to protect their families, their friends, their work colleagues and so on, and it is about trying to ensure that the terrible, terrible cases of stalking that we have heard just a little about today do not happen in future, and that we keep the victims of stalking safe.
I thank the Minister, her officials and Members on both sides of the House. This debate has shown Parliament at its best. I look forward to the Bill making progress in the other place, and I thank Baroness Bertin for taking it forward.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.