Before we come to the statement by the Home Secretary, I need to inform the House that because charges have now been brought in the Sarah Everard case, legal proceedings are now active for the purposes of the House’s sub judice resolution. That means that reference should not be made to the case, including to any details of those against whom charges have been brought. It is, however, in order to discuss the relationship between the covid-19 regulations and the right to protest, for example. I now call the Home Secretary.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the tragic death of Sarah Everard and the events of Saturday evening. I would like to begin by saying that my thoughts and prayers are with Sarah’s family and friends at this unbearable time. I know that every Member of this House will join me in offering her loved ones our deepest sympathies. While this is a horrific case, which has rightly prompted debate and questions about wider issues, we must remember that a young woman has lost her life and that a family is grieving.
Let me turn to this weekend’s events. I have already said that some of the footage circulating online of Clapham common is upsetting. While the police are rightly operationally independent, I asked the Metropolitan police for a report into what had happened. This Government back our police in fighting crime and keeping the public safe, but in the interests of providing greater assurance and ensuring public confidence, I have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to conduct a full, independent lessons-learned review. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has welcomed this and I will await the report and, of course, update the House in due course.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge why Sarah’s death has upset so many. My heartache and that of others can be summed up in just five words, “She was just walking home.” While the specific circumstances of Sarah’s disappearance are thankfully uncommon, what has happened has reminded women everywhere of the steps that we take each day without a second thought to keep ourselves safe. It has rightly ignited anger at the danger posed to women by predatory men, an anger I feel as strongly as anyone. Accounts shared online in the wake of Sarah’s disappearance are so powerful because every single one of us can relate to them. Too many of us have walked home from school or work alone only to hear footsteps uncomfortably close behind us. Too many of us have pretended to be on the phone to a friend to scare someone off. Too many of us have clutched our keys in our fist in case we need to defend ourselves. And that is not okay.
Women and girls must feel safe while walking our streets. That is why we have continued to take action. Our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill is on track to receive Royal Assent by the end of April, and this will transform our collective response to that abhorrent crime. It builds on other measures that we have introduced, including the controlling or coercive behaviour offence and the domestic violence disclosure scheme, known as Clare’s law, which enables individuals to ask the police whether their partner has a violent or abusive past. We have also introduced new preventative tools and powers to tackle crimes including stalking, female genital mutilation and so-called upskirting, but we can never be complacent. That is why throughout the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, we have accepted amendments from hon. Members from political parties across the House. The Bill now includes a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, outlaws threats to disclose intimate images and extends the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to cover post-separation abuse. This is in addition to the Bill’s existing measures, which include a new statutory definition of domestic abuse that recognises the many forms that abuse can take—psychological, physical, emotional, economic and sexual—and, of course, the impact of abuse on children, as well as new rules to prevent victims from having to go through the pain of being cross-examined by their abusers in family and civil courts.
We all know that action is needed to improve the outcomes for rape cases, and we are currently developing robust actions as part of our end-to-end review of rape to reverse the decline in outcomes in recent years. At the end of last year, in December, I launched the first ever public survey of women and girls to hear their views on how we can better tackle these gendered crimes. On Friday, in the wake of the outpouring of grief, I reopened that survey. I can tell the House that as of 11 am today, the Home Office had received 78,000 responses since 6 pm on Friday. That is completely unprecedented, and considerably more than the 18,000 responses received over the entire 10-week period when the survey was previously open. I am listening to women and girls up and down the country, and their views will help to shape a new strategy on tackling violence against women and girls, which I will bring forward to the House later this year.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which we will shortly be debating, will end the halfway release of those convicted for sexual offences such as rape. Instead, under our law, vile criminals responsible for these terrible crimes will spend at least two thirds of their time behind bars. Our new law will extend the scope of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 with regard to the abuse of positions of trust—something that predominantly affects young girls—and it will introduce Kay’s law, which will encourage the police to impose pre-charge bail with appropriate conditions where it is necessary and proportionate to do so. We hope that that will provide reassurance and additional protection for alleged victims in high harm cases such as domestic abuse. I note that the Opposition will be voting against these crucial measures to support victims of violent crimes, including young women and girls.
The Government are providing an extra £40 million to help victims during the pandemic and beyond. Last month we launched a new Government advertising campaign, #ItStillMatters, to raise awareness of sexual violence services and ensure that victims know where to get help.
Over the past year, during the coronavirus pandemic, the police have been faced with an unenviable and immensely difficult task—one that, for the most part, they have approached with skill and professionalism—of helping to enforce regulations, as determined by Parliament, with one crucial objective in mind: to save lives. On 6 January, this House approved those changes by 524 votes to 16. Sadly, as of Sunday 14 March, more than 125,500 lives have been lost to this horrible virus. It is for that reason that I continue to urge everyone, for as long as these regulations are in place, not to participate in large gatherings or attend protests. The right to protest is the cornerstone of our democracy, but the Government’s duty remains to prevent more lives from being lost during the pandemic.
There will undoubtedly be more discussions of these vital issues in the days and weeks to come, but we cannot and must not forget that a family is grieving. I know that the thoughts and prayers of the whole House are with Sarah’s loved ones at this truly terrible time.
I thank the Home Secretary for coming to the House to make a statement and for advance sight of it. We come together at a time of national grief and what must now be a time of change. The news of Sarah Everard’s death is heartbreaking for us all and our thoughts are with her family and friends. Although I of course appreciate the legal sensitivity of the case, reports around its circumstances are extremely distressing.
The reaction to Sarah Everard’s death throughout the country has been extraordinarily powerful and moving, led by the passionate voices of women and girls who are rightly demanding action and change. It cannot be right that so many women continue to fear for their safety on a daily basis, whether on the streets or at home. The testimonies that have been shared highlight the unacceptable levels of abuse and misogyny—harassment on the streets; women walking home with their headphones turned off so that they can listen for threats, keys between fingers; women being told to stay home after dark to avoid attackers. Let me be clear: it is not women who should change their behaviour; it is men and wider society that need to change.
At times like this, it is vital that people are able to have their voices heard—in, of course, a way that is lawful and covid-secure—yet this weekend in Clapham things clearly went very wrong. I share the anger about the policing and the scenes that we saw. It is right that the Mayor of London has shown leadership by calling on Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Independent Office for Police Conduct to investigate. The Home Secretary asked for a report from the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and I hope she will publish it, because transparency is so important. Will the Home Secretary also publish the minutes of the advance meeting that was held on Friday, as mentioned by the Minister for Crime and Policing in the media this morning? Will she confirm what communication she personally had with the Metropolitan police prior to the events on Saturday?
Although Saturday’s event was a vigil, not a protest, the scenes from Clapham should be a red warning light to the Government: Ministers should not be rushing through laws that crack down on protest. The truth is that the Government are failing to address violence against women and girls and Ministers even want to curtail their right to protest about it. It is a chronic failure of the Government. Meetings and the reopening of surveys are nowhere near enough—and we understand that the Minister for Women and Equalities will not even be attending the meeting this evening.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that recorded rapes doubled between 2014 and 2019—doubled. The crime survey for England and Wales showed that more than 2 million people experience domestic abuse in a year, yet only a tiny fraction of perpetrators are charged and charging rates are falling. The justice system sends a perverse message that murdering someone at home—which predominantly means men killing women—is a lesser crime than killing someone in the street, because it hands out shorter sentences for domestic homicides.
The 296-page Bill that we will consider later contains the word “memorial” eight times and fails to include the word “women” once. The Government’s message is that they want to lock up for 10 years people who damage the statues of slave traders, when rape sentences start at half of that. I say to the Government that unless this changes—unless there is action on homicide, on street harassment and on stalking—the Bill will risk becoming an abuser’s charter that just allows violence and injustice on our streets and in our homes to continue unchecked.
Ministers have been on the airwaves today struggling to find aspects of the Bill that will make a difference to addressing violence against women and girls. Let me take just one example: Ministers have pointed to whole-life tariffs for rape. When the Home Secretary gets to her feet, will she say how many rape convictions have resulted in life terms? The answer is hardly any. Today, the High Court ruled in favour of the status quo on rape. It is a status quo that is shameful and that the Government must change. The figures show that 99% of rapes reported to the police in England and Wales result in no legal proceedings whatsoever—99%. It is effectively a get-out-of-jail-free card and it is appalling.
It does not have to be this way: this could be a time of national unity when we decide to come together as a country to put forward protections. Either the Government can change course and take the necessary action, or Ministers will find themselves on the wrong side of history once again.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments, but at a time when the country is mourning a significant loss and there are moments of great unity,
I am quite sorry to hear his tone, particularly regarding the Government’s record on and commitment to tackling violence against women and girls.
The right hon. Gentleman will be well sighted—more than aware—of the significant contributions of all Members of this House to the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been under debate, scrutiny, challenge and amendment for a considerable period of time, and is in the House of Lords right now. I emphasise that we are committed to addressing violence against women and girls at the highest level. Look at the work of this Government over the last decade; I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) for all her work, as she was the one who really set the bar high in legislation. That work includes not just the DA Bill, but all the measures to address female genital mutilation, and violence against women and girls, and all the money and support that has been put forward for charities. This Government are building on those measures, and no one can ignore that simple fact.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will be debated this afternoon, and he specifically mentioned rape and rape convictions. The Bill is a criminal justice Bill as well as a policing Bill, and he will be very mindful of the work that the Government are undertaking right now through the end-to-end rape review to completely reverse the decline in outcomes that we have seen in recent years; this Government are increasingly very honest and upfront about that decline in outcomes. We are working with all relevant parties, including the Crown Prosecution Service. We want to change the direction there. There is much more work to come and that will be published in due course—shortly, in fact.
To say that the Bill does nothing for women is completely wrong, especially when it comes to sentencing, because it will end the halfway release of those convicted for sexual offences such as rape. Instead, our laws will go after those vile criminals, and they will spend at least two thirds of their time behind bars. It is worth reflecting that it was a Labour Government in 2003 who made automatic halfway release mandatory for all standard determinate sentences, regardless of whether the offender had been convicted of a violent or sexual offence. The Bill that the House will debate later will reverse that policy.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there is no specific mention of women in the Bill. That is another accusation that I reject, primarily because it is a criminal law and sentencing Bill, which applies equally to everybody. The Labour party knows that it is in line with the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and the Criminal Justice Act 2003, neither of which, as Bills that related to criminal justice and sentencing, mentioned women.
There are many other measures that we will discuss later in the passage of the Bill, but I want to come back to the points that I made in my statement. It is right that I have had many discussions with the Metropolitan police and specifically the commissioner on Friday and over the weekend in relation to preparations and planning prior to Saturday evening. My comments are public and on the record regarding what has happened and, quite frankly, the upsetting images of Saturday evening. A review is now being conducted by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. It is right that that takes place. No one should prejudge anything in terms of conduct until we absolutely see what has happened through that report. The police are, rightly, operationally independent.
All of us in this House—this is not just about the Government—want to work to drive the right outcomes, so that women feel safe. Laws and legislation will absolutely do that; there is no question about that. But this is also about behaviour and culture—that is culture across society, and that is culture with men as well, and we should be up-front about that and never shy away from being honest in discussing that. Right now, all Members should have in their thoughts and prayers Sarah’s family and friends at this particularly unbearable time.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her remarks. She is right to remind us that behind the events of Saturday lies the tragic death of Sarah Everard, a bright young woman dearly loved by her family and friends. I join my right hon. Friend and other Members of the House in saying that my thoughts and prayers are with Sarah’s family and friends at this time. We want justice for Sarah. We also want women to be able to feel and be safe on our streets and in their homes.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must redouble our efforts to ensure that the Government’s excellent Domestic Abuse Bill reaches the statute book next month, as anticipated, but also recognise that legislation is not enough? If we are going to eradicate violence against women and girls, we need a change of attitudes. That is about dealing with perpetrators and changing their behaviour but also teaching young men and boys about respect for women and what is or is not acceptable in a relationship.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for her work and leadership around domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. She is absolutely right that the Domestic Abuse Bill is a landmark piece of legislation that all Members of the House should feel proud of, in terms of the work that has come together across the House. She is also right about the cultural and behavioural aspects that must be changed. All of us have to be conscious of that. As a mother bringing up a young son, I think that respecting women and girls, treating everyone fairly with equality and understanding that there are no barriers in demonstrating that respect to one another and, importantly, tolerance of one another is absolutely vital.
There is so much more work to do. Legislation can only go so far. We can never, ever be complacent. The Government and both Houses share the determination and desire to do so much more when it comes to protecting girls and women, and we must be united in our strategies. This is not about just saying, “There’s a survey taking place.” We must all contribute to that. In fact, now that the survey has been reopened, I very much hope that Labour Members will contribute to it, to help us have a united and coherent approach—a one voice approach—to how we can support women and girls and prevent violence against women and girls.
The murder of Sarah Everard has truly shocked and saddened us all, and I join others in sending our heartfelt condolences to Sarah’s family and friends at this time. “She was walking home”—a sentence that resonates with all women. This tragedy serves as a stark reminder to women, who assess every aspect of their daily lives in fear of sexual violence, assault or abhorrent crimes at the hands of men. I once more take this opportunity to urge the Prime Minister to ratify the Istanbul convention without further delay.
Across the UK this weekend, women reclaimed the streets in protest and to pay tribute to the life of Sarah Everard. Police responding have received widespread criticism, and questions must be answered about whether the actions were necessary and proportionate to protect people and prevent public harm. The public health crisis has made restrictions necessary and public gatherings inadvisable. While the police face difficult decisions every day, it is impossible to watch the footage of the events at Clapham common without shock and concern that the policing appeared heavy-handed and disproportionate. It is therefore right that the chief inspector of constabulary has been asked to conduct a review. In Scotland, this incident would have been examined by the Independent Advisory Group—experts with a specific remit to ensure that the use of powers is consistent with human rights principles and legislation.
In terms of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the right to protest must remain a fundamental human right. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the chief inspector’s review will focus on human rights as well as policing matters?
I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks and for her sentiment on the tragic death of Sarah Everard. If I may, I will come back on a number of points. The hon. Lady is absolutely right on the role of the inspectorate, and we will wait for that review and, obviously, I will report back. It is worth reflecting, once again, that this has been a difficult and demanding period for the police, with the impact of coronavirus restrictions—we know why they are in place. On the point about protest, I am very conscious that we will have the debate later this afternoon as well. This Government absolutely support freedom of expression and, clearly, the whole issue of the right to protest is fundamental to our democratic freedoms. Without wanting to pre-judge the debate or the future discussions on the Bill, let me say that the legislation will, of course, speak about the police using powers in terms of how they would manage protest, but it is also worth reflecting that this will be updating legislation—the Public Order Act 1986—that was enacted more than 30 years ago. So this will be very much part of the discussion we will be having in due course.
I join my right hon. Friend and voices from right across the House in paying my deepest condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and loved ones. It is a truly heartbreaking situation, which I know has allowed many women to find the strength to share their own experiences, and I was really moved to hear that 78,000 people have now responded to the reopened consultation. I am encouraging many others to do the same and share their voice. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we really want to get the best outcome and make our streets feel safer for everyone, we have to listen to all voices—both men and women, and people of all political persuasions—to ensure that we are truly working together to deliver the change we need?
I thank my hon. Friend for her comments and her questions. She is of course absolutely right; this is a collective effort, for everyone to be part of shaping future strategy, policy and legislation. We can do that together, which is why it is unprecedented and incredible that 78,000 people have responded to the survey. We are really pleased about that, because we do want to encourage people to contribute. As you have heard me say, Mr Speaker, I encourage all Members of this House to play their role and join that contribution.
May I join in the expressions from across the House of deep sympathy and condolences to Sarah Everard’s family following her tragic death? Women across the country have been moved to talk about the experiences that we all share, and that no one should have to endure, of feeling threatened and unsafe on our own streets. Eight months ago, I put forward measures to deal with repeat perpetrators of abuse and stalking: to be able to register them; and to be able to prevent the problem where they move from one victim to another, no one keeps track and they get away with it. At that time, Ministers said that those measures were not needed. Has the Home Secretary looked at this again? Will she work with me, Baroness Royall and Paladin to make sure we can bring in these strong measures, take action against repeat perpetrators and keep more women safe?
The right hon. Lady is absolutely right about the points that she has been raising and the measures at large. There is something about perpetrators and their serial offending that has to be addressed—there is no question about that. Of course this does link predominantly to many of the criminal justice outcomes and the wider debate that this House will be having, not just later today, but over future weeks. I will be very candid: we will look at all measures, and rightly so. We should be doing everything possible to keep women safe—and indeed everybody safe. The behaviour of serial perpetrators and offenders is deeply corrosive and damaging, and obviously it has dreadful, dreadful implications and consequences. So we will be happy to continue not just to look at these measures, but, right now, with the violence against women and girls consultation that is under way, to engage with others and follow up on these points.
It is clearly unacceptable for any woman to feel unsafe walking the streets. Can I propose some practical measures that the Home Secretary might adopt? Can she introduce a fund to roll out much more CCTV around the country, which will help to make our streets safer for people and bring evidence where there is a crime committed? Can she stop taking people off the DNA database? There are huge numbers of crimes—sexual assaults, rapes and murders—where there is DNA evidence available but no match. The more people on the DNA database, the more chance of getting these people off our streets and rightly convicted. Can we increase the sentences for people convicted of sexual assaults and rapes? Can we stop the automatic early release of criminals who are still considered a threat to society? These measures would help to make our streets safer for everyone.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments and his practical suggestions. We are doing a lot on CCTV, and we do have the Safer Streets fund, which he will be very aware of. He has raised a number of areas, and I suspect that if he were to join the Committee on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, he could absolutely contribute to that and make those points there.
I join Members in continuing to extend our thoughts and prayers to Sarah Everard’s family. My constituents have reacted with justified anger to the Metropolitan police’s treatment of those in attendance at this weekend’s vigil to commemorate Sarah and all women who lost their lives to gender-based violence. It is bitterly ironic that an event intended to highlight the issue of public safety for women was blocked on the grounds of public safety. What happened this weekend is a reminder of what happens when police try to completely bypass the views of the communities they serve. Does the Home Secretary recognise that the police’s high-handed approach got the balance between public safety and the right to protest completely wrong? Does she agree that the police’s heavy-handed treatment of female protesters was wrong? Will she now accept that her Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is ill-conceived? My constituents are very angry about what has happened and want to know what the Government will do to reassure them that they will proactively address violence against women and girls and deep-seated forms of institutional discrimination in the UK police.
I understand the sentiments that the hon. Lady is raising on behalf of her constituents and obviously recognise the constituency that she represents and the terrible, tragic events that have taken place. All our thoughts are clearly with Sarah Everard and her family. Of course, the Metropolitan police themselves had been involved with the vigil that was planned and spent a great deal of time with the organisers, and the Metropolitan police have been very public about that. I am not going to repeat my comments about seeking greater assurance and ensuring public confidence in policing, hence the reason why Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is now conducting a full, independent “lessons learned” review. I think that is absolutely appropriate. My comments about Saturday evening are on the record and well known.
With regard to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, that is a manifesto Bill that this Government were elected on, and we will of course participate in its Second Reading later on this afternoon. It is not ill-conceived at all. The British people voted for it. We live in a democracy and this Government will work to deliver on it.
I welcome the announced in-depth review of the criminal justice system when it comes to rape and sexual assault. Does my right hon. Friend agree that every part of the criminal justice system has to play its role in bringing perpetrators to justice and better supporting victims? A lot of rape happens within marriage, and it is not the best situation when people have married under the age of 18 to a man who is much older. Will she also look at that to see how we can stop that sort of situation arising?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I would like to pay tribute to her for all her work and campaigning on this particular issue. Of course, she is absolutely right that this about the criminal justice system from an end-to-end perspective—from policing right through not just to charging, but to conviction. That is effectively what the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is about, which is why it goes across two Departments.
The rape review is fundamentally important because obviously the numbers have not been going in the right direction. We have to understand the lessons as to why charging decisions have been how they are, and the impact on witnesses and victims themselves, including, with victims, the attrition that takes place when it comes to going to court. A lot of work is taking place in this area.
I should also mention in dispatches that the Prime Minister leads the crime and justice taskforce. This is one of those fundamental issues, again across Government—not just the Home Office, but across the MOJ—where we are bringing core elements together with the Director of Public Prosecutions, and working with the CPS and working with the Attorney General. These issues are absolutely integral to the entire system.
I send my condolences and thoughts to the family and friends of Sarah Everard at this most difficult of times.
The scenes of women being forced to the ground, restrained and arrested simply for holding a peaceful vigil in memory of Sarah Everard and in condemnation of violence against women and girls were utterly disgraceful. Of course the Met Commissioner Cressida Dick must resign, but what personal responsibility does the Home Secretary herself have for the terrible handling of this peaceful vigil? Did the Home Secretary speak to the Met commissioner in the run-up to the vigil, and if so, will she tell the House now what guidance and advice she gave the Met police in advance of the vigil?
The right hon. Gentleman is right in the sense that those scenes were distressing and upsetting. There is no question about that at all, and I have already spoken about the measures that are now in place for getting assurance about the way in which the Metropolitan police conducted its operations. It is rightly operationally independent, and the independent lessons learned review is obviously now taking place.
I had been in touch with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on Friday and throughout the weekend, and we have had extensive discussions on planning and preparation for the vigil. I should, however, emphasise that on Friday there was legal action under way, so until that legal action had been determined—and of course the commissioner and the Met police themselves were engaging with the organisers of the vigil—there were various plans that the police were working on. I will be very clear, though: on Friday my views were known, and they were based on the fact that people obviously wanted to pay tribute within the locality.
We need to bear in mind that we are in a pandemic—we cannot forget that; we are in a health pandemic—but for people who live locally and out on a daily basis or passing through, laying flowers is absolutely the right thing to do, and we saw many people doing that. Of course, as I have said, those scenes on Saturday evening were upsetting. That is the reason why I asked the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to provide a report on the event itself and what happened, and now why we have a lessons learned review into the operational effect and the impact of what happened.
Like colleagues across the House, my condolences are with Sarah Everard’s family and friends.
All women should feel safe, and no offender should think they can abuse women on the streets or anywhere else. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that all reports of allegations of abuse must be seriously and more rigorously investigated, and that there must be confidence in the justice system that it will do this and that it will support victims? Will she confirm that she intends that there will be such confidence in the justice system after the consultation on the violence against women and girls strategy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Much of what we are discussing right now speaks to greater assurance and public confidence in the criminal justice system and of course, as Members have touched on already, in policing and the events on Saturday evening. It is vitally important that, through the VAWG consultation and the development of the strategy, we look at this not in an isolated way, but end to end. We need to look at the entire system, right down to the types of abuse and harassment that girls and women are experiencing. We need to look at the root causes and behavioural factors to understand why perpetrators and individuals are behaving in a particular way. We need to look at why abuse is taking place and at how we as a country and a Government tackle those issues. That does impinge on the criminal justice system. All our work is based on driving better outcomes—the right outcomes—so that, when criminality takes place, we can ensure that the perpetrators of crimes are receiving the tough sentences that they deserve.
I join others in extending my condolences to Sarah Everard’s family and to the families of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman and countless others who have lost their lives because of male violence.
I acknowledge the particular policing challenges at a time of covid restrictions, but the Met is still obliged to follow the Human Rights Act and execute its powers proportionately and only when necessary. It is clear to everyone that it got it terribly wrong on Saturday night. Does the Secretary of State therefore not see that handing over yet more draconian powers to the police when they have so badly misjudged this situation would be both foolish and dangerous? A Bill that criminalises protests that are noisy and have impact effectively means cancelling this country’s long-standing right to peaceful protest altogether. Finally, will she stand in solidarity with the women arrested over the weekend and call for the withdrawal of any fixed-penalty notices that were issued because of the Met’s disproportionate response?
I will not go over my comments about the police on Saturday evening. Those points have been made. I absolutely disagree with what the hon. Lady said, but we will discuss it further on Second Reading of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill later this afternoon. The fact is that, as a country, we believe in freedom of expression, free speech and the rights of people to express themselves freely through protest—managed protest—in the right way. The police always engage with individuals and organisers. We will debate this during the course of the Bill, but I am afraid that the hon. Lady has completely misrepresented the proposals that we are putting forward.
The murder of Sarah Everard was a shocking event and I feel terribly sorry for what the family has gone through, made even edgier really by the fact that there have now been charges levelled against a police officer. We require police officers to protect everybody, particularly women. However, I received a note—
My apologies, Mr Speaker. I was not going to refer to him other than just in passing.
The reality is that my right hon. Friend has announced that she will have an inquiry into those terrible events on Saturday night. They were shameful, but it ill behoves politicians to get up and pass judgment on what happened without having all the evidence. I was contacted by a female police officer today to tell me what happened to her on that night. She was threatened and told that she, not Sarah Everard, should have been murdered. She was also manhandled. I simply say that both sides should be dialling this down, not trying to raise the temperature by calling for resignations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks—his point was well made. I, too, have been written to by many police officers expressing very similar sentiments from their own experiences. The point about not pre-judging is absolutely right. The police have operational independence. Obviously, as Home Secretary, I called for a report. I have now received that report, and an independent review is under way. It is right that we have that review, yes, for assurance purposes, but also to strengthen public confidence in policing and, obviously, for all Members of this House to hear the full facts of what happened in due course.
I take this opportunity to extend my personal sympathy to the family and friends of Sarah Everard at this horrific time.
In June 2020, I proposed a domestic abuse register for the early identification of abusive men as a means of preventing death and injury. The Minister for Safeguarding rejected that, claiming that current systems for preventing violence against women were adequate. The National Police Chiefs’ Council also objected, on the grounds of cost and its capacity to manage such a register.
I sense that the Government now recognise that the current system is failing women and that a properly funded, staffed and supported register for serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators is urgently needed. How will the Home Secretary ensure that such new proposals and funding properly account for the different legislative landscape in Wales, so that women in Wales are not excluded from future protections, which I hope are on their way?
I think this is an important moment for this House and for all colleagues when it comes to Domestic Abuse Bill measures, which have been extensively debated in the House. The right hon. Lady has clearly spoken about Wales and the authority and responsibilities there. We are absolutely working across the devolved Administrations, because we want consistency of approach.
It is right that we all work together to support women, and the Domestic Abuse Bill will absolutely do that. My hon. Friend the Minister for Safeguarding has worked extensively with all colleagues in the House on the issue that the right hon. Lady raises, but the fact of the matter is that we want that Bill to receive Royal Assent. It should do so very soon. We need that to happen to safeguard more and more women and give them the protection that they desperately need from their abusers.
I went to Clapham common bandstand yesterday evening to pay my own respects. I, like Members across the House, send my greatest sympathies and sadnesses to Sarah’s family.
I believe that it is highly regrettable that Members of the Opposition demand that the first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan police resign in this situation. May I ask my right hon. Friend what she is doing to ensure that the facts are understood properly before premature conclusions are made on people’s actions?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and for the sentiment that he has shared with the House this afternoon. I agree entirely with his comments. Alongside that, of course, he asks what I am doing. I have commissioned the inspectorate of constabulary. It is important that we have the full facts in addition, to supplement the lessons learned review. I come back to the point that I really, strongly recommend that colleagues do not prejudge. The images were upsetting—of course they were upsetting—but alongside that, it is right that we see the full report in due course and that we hear the facts as they come out.
I add my condolences to the family and friends of Ms Everard, and all those who have been affected by this most hellish and tragic of murders.
Turning to the events that we saw on Clapham common on Saturday evening, I think Members are entitled to ask the question, what on earth was the Metropolitan police thinking? What on earth happened to police discretion? What on earth happened to proportionality, to flexibility, to empathy, to any sense of self-awareness, given the circumstances that surrounded that hellish murder? Every ingredient of good policing, in my view and in the view of many of my constituents, appeared to be completely absent from the policing activity on Clapham common.
The defining image that will stick in the collective mind of Britain will be of Patsy Stevenson being almost sat upon by three police officers while being detained. I must say that if I saw one of my adult daughters treated in that way, I would find it impossible to contain my anger. May I ask the Home Secretary, therefore: how quickly will this report be made available? How expeditiously can she act to rectify what is an appalling wrong?
The hon. Gentleman’s comments are very strong, but in response to his question, he knows, and the House knows, that I have commissioned a report from the inspectorate of constabulary. I have asked for the report to be concluded in the next fortnight. We will obviously then update the House in terms of findings and recommendations.
I think it is worth reflecting that in terms of what happened on Saturday, for approximately eight hours there was peace around the bandstand. People were respectfully paying their respects, laying flowers, grieving and showing support and empathy in a way in which every individual would want to in offering their sympathies and condolences. That is why we need to look at the review to see effectively what happened operationally, and then if lessons need to be learned, they will be post the report.
May I also offer my condolences to the friends and family of Sarah Everard? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absurd to hear this afternoon that the Opposition are actually opposing the provisions of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which wants to increase sentences for rapists? There is a dichotomy there that is a bit absurd, is it not?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. To be very frank, I was quite surprised when I heard that was the position that the Opposition were taking. This is a criminal justice Bill. It will increase sentences for individuals and perpetrators who perpetrate the most horrendous, appalling sexual offences and crimes against women, children and citizens. It is an important Bill, as I have already said. It was key to our manifesto, and the British public voted for it. This Government and our party in government are absolutely determined to strengthen our laws and the criminal justice system so that we can put away those individuals who cause harm to individuals and increase sentences.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Sarah Everard’s family. The Home Secretary will be aware that the whole nation was upset by the images of women who had come to a peaceful vigil about violence against women finding themselves wrestled to the ground and handcuffed by police officers. The statement by the Metropolitan police sought to justify what happened on Saturday by talking about
“the overriding need to protect people’s safety”.
Is she aware that some people are puzzled by the idea that you can make people safe by manhandling them and handcuffing them?
In relation to the policing Bill, which the House will be debating later, the Home Secretary herself has made it clear that it is expressly designed to crack down on peaceful protests by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter. She described the peaceful protests by Black Lives Matter as “dreadful”. Can she understand why many people in this country believe that giving the police even more powers to crack down on peaceful protest can only lead to more distressing scenes like those the nation witnessed on Saturday at the vigil on Clapham common?
With respect to the right hon. Lady, I urge her not to be so judgmental with regards to the events on Saturday evening until we see the report that comes from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. She will have plenty of opportunity to discuss protest and police powers during the passage of the Bill, but I would like to say this: in recent years, we have seen a significant change in protest tactics, which has led to disruption and also to violence and people’s lives being endangered. I look forward to the debate with her on this particular point later on, but she is absolutely wrong in her characterisation of the measures we are introducing.
I will try my best, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Home Secretary rightly said that the right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy but, as she also said, on 6 January the House voted for swingeing powers to control protests for the period of the coronavirus restrictions. May I ask her to work with concerned Members across the House to ensure that the legislation we are about to pass protects that right of peaceful protest and stops only serious disruption?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will continue to engage with all colleagues on this. It is a really important point, and I know how hard it has been for many colleagues in the House. Of course, the regulations, with their implications and the restrictions they have brought in, will be subject to debate in the House going forward.
I would like to pay my deepest sympathy and respects to the family of Sarah Everard and her many dismayed and grieving friends. I welcome the reopening of the violence against women and girls consultation. It is evident that the Home Secretary recognises the genuine and justified strength of feeling about women’s safety that lay behind the vigil on Clapham common, so surely it was just wrong of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to refuse to reach agreement with the organisers and find a way so that the vigil could go ahead safely.
Does the Home Secretary agree with the Joint Committee on Human Rights that the law on protest during the covid pandemic needs to be clarified so that protests can go ahead, but do so safely? The Joint Committee has drafted regulations that will be published with our report later this week. Will she undertake to consider them seriously with a view to laying them before the House?
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her comments. I think everyone across the House has expressed shock, grief and, obviously, concern about the images from Saturday evening. There is no dispute there whatsoever. I will, of course, look at the report when it is published and I will be more than happy to have discussions with colleagues about it. We are in a pandemic, and this has been a very difficult period. It has been difficult for the police as well—I am the first to acknowledge that. We have asked the police to do unprecedented things, and they have had unprecedented powers throughout the pandemic based on the need to protect public health. With the incredible work of the vaccine roll-out, and as we ensure that that carries on smoothly and we move through the Prime Minister’s road map and plan of easements, one would now hope that we can work together collectively, yes, to live with coronavirus but do things differently.
I join colleagues across the House in sending my heartfelt condolences to Sarah Everard’s loved ones. I am shocked at the way in which Saturday night’s vigil was policed. The situation demanded sensitivity and compassion—something which was evidently lacking. But I am also shocked that what started as a peaceful and important vigil turned into a protest, with photographs showing ACAB—“all cops are bastards”—signs. I am concerned that a young woman’s murder could be hijacked by those who would seek to defund the police and destabilise our society, making it even harder for women to come forward and report assaults. Will the Home Secretary confirm that nothing will deter the Government from delivering stronger legislation to protect women and girls from harm?
I thank my hon. Friend for the points that she made. She is absolutely right. We will continue to do everything in our strategies, policies and laws going forward to protect women and ensure that they are safeguarded in the right way. She also made the very important point that a peaceful vigil on Saturday turned into some pretty ugly scenes. We will wait for the report. There is no question but that where there are lessons to be learned, they will be learned. Where individuals were acting inappropriately, in the way in which she said, that will also be subject to some consideration.
First, I would like to put on record my thanks to Kent police for their incredibly difficult work in the ongoing investigation into the tragic death of Sarah Everard. In order to seriously tackle violence against women and girls, it is vital to put women at the heart of legislation. However, in today’s policing Bill, women are not even mentioned. With that in mind, and with rape convictions at a shocking all-time low, how will the Home Secretary ensure that women can come forward with confidence that they will be believed and that they will receive justice?
If I may, I too would like to thank Kent police for all the work they have done in conjunction with the Metropolitan police in the investigation associated with the Sarah Everard case. This has been a very difficult time across policing; there is no doubt about that.
I am not going to come back in detail to those points, because I have covered many already in my statement. I speak with conviction in my determination, as does every member of this Government, when it comes to safeguarding women and to our strategies and approach to violence against women and girls. As I have repeatedly said, I would welcome all Members joining us in a cross-party effort to do much more to give women and girls the confidence to come forward.
This House criminalised the freedom of protest. It was this House—us—not Dame Cressida or the Metropolitan police, who criminalised the freedom to protest collectively. We are up to our eyeballs in this. Does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary agree that now is the time to decriminalise freedom of protest—not tomorrow, not next week, but this afternoon or this evening? Let us get people back on the streets and allow them to get things off their chest again. Protest is a safety valve.
I understand entirely the sentiment that my hon. Friend has emphasised this afternoon. The Prime Minister has laid out a road map, and I appreciate that my hon. Friend would love me to say right now, “Let’s just do this and change things immediately,” but we are still in a pandemic and we are following the guidance that has been put in place. Obviously, it will be subject to debate over the next week or so, and I am more than happy to continue to discuss this with my colleagues.
Peaceful assembly must be an absolute right in this country, and the actions of the police on Saturday were deeply troubling. I would like to highlight the use of kettling, in particular. Many disabled people and disabled people’s organisations have long raised concerns about the use of this controversial crowd control tactic, which in the past has been used for up to 10 hours, with serious potential health implications. What does the Home Secretary have to say to the many disabled people who fear this disproportionate policy?
In response to the hon. Lady’s question about operational tactics—of which kettling is one, based on a police assessment around a situation, a protest or an event—the police themselves make judgments and decisions about the tactics that they use as part of their operations.
The hon. Lady raised an important point about disabled people who wish to express themselves by participating in protests. Of course, their needs can be met by working with the police, and many organisers talk to the police about the groups of people and the characteristics of individuals who are coming out to protest. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach. She will be well aware of the approach that the police take in engaging with organisers over protests.
I would like to put on record my sympathies to the family and partner of Sarah Everard.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. In the last few months I have been working with Our Streets Now on the issue of public street harassment: vile and explicit language that is aimed at women with the purpose of degrading them. It is often aimed at children—schoolgirls. I look forward to my right hon. Friend’s strategy later this year, but will she consider, as part of that, introducing legislation that might address the issue?
On Sunday, I shed a tear, along with so many other women, at the gates of Queen’s Park, where ribbons and tributes had been left in memory of Sarah Everard, and for Moira Jones who was raped and murdered there in 2008 and all women who have experienced abuse at the hands of men. May I ask what the Home Secretary is going to do to change the toxic culture we have that diminishes and minimises women’s experience, and to challenge the whole spectrum of men’s behaviour so that my daughter and all young women can grow up without living their lives in fear?
The hon. Lady has an opportunity to join us. She has heard me speak today, as all colleagues have, about the need to contribute to our VAWG strategy. This is not about the work of one individual; this is about what we do collectively, together, in terms of cultural norms and a change in behaviours. We all have a role to play and I urge her to join us in that effort.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and extend my heartfelt condolences to Sarah Everard’s family at this time. Does she agree with me and my constituents that it is frankly absurd for the Labour party to call for tougher sentences against rapists while, in the same breath, opposing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which delivers exactly that?
Last week on the Armed Forces Committee we heard about prosecuting crimes, including rape, through the military courts. One statement stood out for me. It was:
“our servicepeople are thoroughly good people, but they drink too much, something goes wrong and they end up in court.”
What discussions has the Home Secretary’s Department had about that attitude towards victims of male violence, and does it reflect a general attitude to women that we saw on Saturday on Clapham Common?
First, no it does not reflect a general attitude to women, and no one should pre-judge or make assumptions of that nature. The hon. Lady makes a very important point, though, in terms of the armed forces work and the work that has taken place across both Departments. Our Minister with responsibility for safeguarding has done extensive work on this particular issue with our colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and that will of course continue.
May I express my condolences to Sarah Everard’s friends and family? I thank the Home Secretary for reopening the VAWG consultation and for requesting the lessons learned review into Saturday night’s policing. She has shown that she is determined there will be action, not just words. Some 78,000 responses so far is absolutely enormous. These are women who do not have confidence in the system at present and we desperately need to instil confidence for them. It will take an enormous effort in shifting cultures, coming together and working collectively to make sure we achieve that aim. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that those women are going to have their voices heard on the justice taskforce, which looks suspiciously like an all-male room?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her points, and obviously the importance and significance of the VAWG consultation and the fact that that has been reopened. Let me give her an assurance that the crime and justice taskforce is not a male show at all. I am obviously a part of that, as is the safeguarding Minister. There are many other agencies and parties involved, including the first female Metropolitan police commissioner, so there are a range of voices. Again, I urge people not to be too judgmental and assume that all the work that takes place in government is just by men, because it is not.
I would like to add my thoughts and condolences to the families of Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and all women who have died violently. Does the Home Secretary agree with me that if you are black, disabled or a trans woman you are disproportionately more likely to be a victim of violence? That is not emphasised in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. What steps is she taking to rectify that?
We want to prevent anyone from becoming a victim of crime. It should be not just our conviction and determination, but our collective imperative, to ensure that no one becomes a victim, and particularly anybody from the groups to which the hon. Lady referred.
May I, too, send my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of Sarah Everard, and I echo the comments made about the events of Saturday evening? Nobody should feel threatened when on our streets, and the best way to prevent violence against women and girls is to tackle the root causes of that violence. New Government research has identified viewing pornography, particularly violent pornography, as an influential factor in harmful sexual behaviour towards women and girls. How will my right hon. Friend reflect that finding in new Government policy?
My right hon. Friend has made a powerful and important point about those behavioural aspects and their links to pornography. I know she has focused on that issue, and I would very much like to discuss it with her further as part of our work to protect women and girls from violence.
My heart goes out to Sarah Everard’s family and friends during this horrific time. A year ago on International Women’s Day, I introduced a private Member’s Bill to make misogyny a hate crime. In light of the recent horrific events, and the continued failure to prevent violence against women and girls, will the Government commit to adopt my Bill and to end some of the continuing injustices against women?
I am proud of a Government who, since 2010, have put women’s safety at the heart of their policymaking. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill puts women at the front and centre of this Government’s policymaking when it comes to tackling violence against women and girls?
The tragedy that befell Sarah Everard is a cue for rethinking so much, including readopting and designing out crime principles in our built environment. As one small Asian woman to another, may I ask that in all new housing developments, and in the reappraisal of the low-traffic network road changes that are due, consultative consideration of women’s safety and fear of crime is mandated, so that appropriate natural surveillance is built in? We must avoid creating nouveaux ghettoes, where perceptions leave women trapped and vulnerable.
I have been contacted by several constituents in Bosworth who are concerned about events over the weekend. On one hand some are concerned about the police’s conduct, and on the other hand are concerns about mass gatherings during a pandemic. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made about the fact that this is an operational issue for the Met, versus the fundamental framework of the law? Taking that forward, will she reassure my constituents that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will protect the rights of those protesting and the right of the police to be safe, but also set out the responsibility of those protesting not to cause serious disruption, and that of the police to act proportionately?
We now live in a country where domestic violence has soared but prosecutions have plummeted, where rape has effectively been decriminalised because prosecutions are at their lowest ever level and where stalking a woman gets a shorter sentence than fly-tipping. This is the record of the Home Secretary and her Government. Is she proud of it?
A quarter of all police forces are either already actively recording or trialling recording where crimes are motivated by a hatred of somebody’s sex or gender. Where they do this, the police have better intelligence to track and prevent violence against women and women report more confidence in coming forward to report assaults and harassment. Will the Home Secretary and her Government drop their opposition to amendment 87B to the Domestic Abuse Bill tonight in the House of Lords in order to require that all police forces follow this best practice in England and Wales? That will finally put us on the road to equalising misogyny as a hate crime, as it should be.
I would also like to add my condolences to the family and friends of Sarah Everard. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Domestic Abuse Bill showcases this Government’s commitment to protecting and listening to victims of domestic abuse, who are mostly women, so that we can tackle this abhorrent crime effectively? That goes alongside the increased funding we have given to organisations such as North Devon Against Domestic Abuse in my constituency, which does so much to support the victims of this dreadful abuse.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I will not go through the measures I touched on earlier. Clearly, the Domestic Abuse Bill is a landmark Bill that will absolutely change outcomes on domestic abuse and increase support to women who have been victims of it.
My thoughts are also with the family and friends of Sarah Everard at this desperately sad time. On the same day that the suspect in the Sarah Everard investigation was arrested, UN Women published survey results showing that 97% of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment. While we wait for the reviews and investigations into the events of Saturday night, will the Home Secretary work with the Metropolitan police to mandate that every officer serving undertakes training on misogyny and sexual harassment so that young women living in London have confidence that their concerns will be taken seriously and that they will receive an appropriate response from the police when reporting this aggression, which causes women everywhere to be fearful every day in our streets and public spaces?
When it comes to police training, I think it is important to reflect on a lot of the work that is already under way across all police forces, not just the Metropolitan police force. The College of Policing has extensive work taking place in this area, which is also subject to a lot of the work that takes place at the National Crime Agency Board.
I also extend my deepest condolences to Sarah Everard’s friends and family. Does my right hon. Friend agree that preventing violence against women is partly about what we do with boys? That means teaching them that what is often depicted on TV, online and in video games is not acceptable behaviour, as well as simply restricting what they see through the forthcoming online harms Bill.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is another Bill that will come to the House in due course. This is about cultural aspects and the behaviours we inculcate in our children, including how our boys grow up and the things they are exposed to. This will be subject to much discussion and we welcome the views of my hon. Friend and others in the consultation we have just reopened.
I send my deepest condolences to Sarah Everard’s loved ones and all those who have lost loved ones to violence, including Bibaa Henry’s and Nicole Smallman’s loved ones, who have been really struggling recently. Sir Patrick Vallance said that
“it is clear in the SAGE papers…that outdoors is much lower risk than indoors”
“it is difficult to see how”
“can cause a spike.”
So public health was not really the primary, driving factor, but even if we do accept that some of the restrictions were needed to safeguard public health, as a Parliament—as a defender of free speech—we need to be careful about restricting the rights of people to express their views. Saturday showed us the mess of not allowing people to organise properly and what happens when the police are confused about their powers. The general public did not vote to have their democracy removed and their voice silenced. Can I ask the Home Secretary who she is consulting when suggesting additional, draconian police powers?
I refer the hon. Lady to comments that I have made extensively this afternoon about covid restrictions, but also the fact that, when it came to the events on Saturday—the vigil—extensive dialogue had taken place between the Metropolitan police and the organisers.
I know the Home Secretary will agree that there are very many serious questions to be answered about the policing of the vigil on Clapham common on Saturday evening. However, does she not also agree that it is quite wrong to conflate that with the perfectly reasonable provisions in the Bill that will be debated later this afternoon, which will prevent disruptive protests of all kinds that prevent people from coming into Parliament, ambulances from getting on their way and ordinary people from going about their everyday business? That is a completely different matter and the two should not be conflated.
That is absolutely right, and I thank my hon. Friend for his point and comments. There is, conveniently, far too much conflation taking place when it comes to examples of protest. This will be subject to debate later today during the passage of the Bill, but he is absolutely correct on that.
Much of the debate over the last few days has focused on how we secure women’s safety in the public domain. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is equally important that Government policy secures women’s safety in private settings, including women’s refuges? And does she agree that Government should prioritise upholding single-sex spaces, services, provision and roles for women and girls where single-sex provision is permitted under the Equality Act 2010?
The hon. and learned Lady makes important points about violence that takes place at home and the need to safeguard women. This is exactly what this Government have been doing—particularly over the now soon to be 12 months under coronavirus and this pandemic—through the money that we have been putting in place for refuges and providing support, but also by giving awareness and places where people can go to demonstrate, express themselves or let the police know that they have been a victim of abuse. This work will continue. It is so important, and I should conclude by saying that as we unlock through the road map on coronavirus, we should be prepared for more people to raise some unpleasant experiences that they have had, and they will be supported through policing and by this Government.
Homicide rates among women have shot up under this Government. The impact of Sarah Everard’s murder is devastating in Hornsey and Wood Green, where hundreds of women, men and teenagers from all corners of my constituency have written in to express their grief and anger. What urgent action will the Home Secretary take to convince us that they take violence against women and girls seriously? Until there is a credible response, I am putting the Home Secretary on notice that women in Hornsey and Wood Green will not be patronised and silenced.
No one should be patronised or silenced, which is why we have reopened the VAWG consultation, and 78,000 people have responded since 6 pm on Friday evening. I urge others to come forward as well. Perhaps the hon. Lady would also like to encourage her constituents to do so. There is much more work that we can do collectively to drive better outcomes to stop violence against women and girls.