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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Thursday 17 June 2021

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Fifteenth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Steve McCabe, Sir Charles Walker

† Anderson, Lee (Ashfield) (Con)

† Atkins, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)

† Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

† Clarkson, Chris (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)

† Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)

† Dorans, Allan (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)

† Eagle, Maria (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)

† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)

† Jones, Sarah (Croydon Central) (Lab)

† Levy, Ian (Blyth Valley) (Con)

† Philp, Chris (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con)

† Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)

Huw Yardley, Sarah Thatcher, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 17 June 2021

(Morning)

[Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Good morning. Before we begin, let me remind you of the preliminaries. I remind Members to switch electronic devices to silent; that Mr Speaker does not permit food or drink during the Committee; to observe social distancing and only sit in the appropriate seats; and to wear face coverings in Committee unless you are speaking, obviously, or are exempt. If you could pass any speaking notes to Hansard, they would be very grateful.

The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room. I remind Members wishing to press a grouped amendment or a new clause to a Division to indicate their intention when speaking to their amendment.

On a point of order, Mr McCabe. Colleagues will recall that I made the point on Tuesday that the cliff edge for an extended determinate sentence, referred to by the hon. Member for Stockton North, can occur where an EDS prisoner is recalled and then serves the remainder of their custodial sentence and licence period in prison. I am sure Committee members knew that, but for absolute clarity I thought I would put it on the record.

Thank you; that is very helpful.

Clause 139

Serious violence reduction orders

I beg to move amendment 101, in clause 139, page 128, line 42, at end insert—

“(9A) If the order is made before regulations have been made under section 175(1) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill for the coming into force of section 139 of that Act for all purposes and in relation to the whole of England and Wales, the court must, in every case where the prosecution makes an application under paragraph (b) of section 342A(1) for a serious violence reduction order to be made, set out in writing its reasons for making, or not making, such an order.”

This amendment would require the court, during any pilot of serious violence reduction orders, to set out in writing its reasons for making or not making such an order.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 103, in clause 139, page 133, line 43, at end insert—

“(3A) Guidance under this section must include guidance on the intelligence, community information and risk factors that are to be considered before an application is made for the imposition of a serious violence reduction order.”

Clause stand part.

Amendment 99, in clause 140, page 134, line 33, leave out “and (3)” and insert “(3) and (3A)”

Amendment 98, in clause 140, page 134, line 42, at end insert—

“(3A) The report under subsection (3) must include—

(a) information on the ethnicity of people made subject to a serious violence reduction order;

(b) information on the number of people made subject to a serious violence reduction order where there is no evidence of their having handled a weapon, either in the incident resulting in the imposition of the order or previously;

(c) information on the number of people stopped by a police officer in the belief that they are subject to a serious violence reduction order, broken down by ethnicity (collected on the basis of self-identification by the person stopped), and including information on the number of times any one individual is stopped;

(d) analysis of the distribution of serious violence reduction orders in relation to the ethnic make-up of the population;

(e) an equality impact assessment including an assessment of the impact of the pilot on the groups mentioned in the equality statement produced before the pilot is commenced;

(f) analysis of data assessing the extent to which the pilot has reduced serious violent crime and reoffending by comparison with other areas;

(g) an assessment by the Sentencing Council of the proportionality of the distribution of the imposition of serious violence reduction orders;

(h) analysis of (i) the impact of the length of time for which a serious violence reduction order is imposed on reoffending and (ii) the extent to which the length of time for which a serious violence reduction order is imposed has harmful impacts on the life of the individual who is subject to it;

(i) an assessment of the impact of the imposition of serious violence reduction orders on the use of ‘stop and account’ in the pilot area or areas;

(j) feedback from Community Scrutiny Panels on scrutiny of body-worn video of all stops of people subject to, or believed to be subject to, a serious violence reduction order;

(k) analysis of any adverse impact of the imposition of serious violence reduction orders, undertaken on the basis of interviews with (i) people subject to a serious violence reduction order and (ii) organisations working with young people, in addition to any other information considered relevant by the person conducting the analysis;

(l) analysis of who is made subject to a serious violence reduction order, what evidence is relied on to justify the imposition of such orders, and whether there is any bias in the decision-making process;

(m) analysis of information on the reason for each breach of a serious violence reduction order;

(n) analysis of the extent to which searches made under the powers granted by this Part could have been carried out under other powers.

(3B) Statistical information collected for the purposes of section (3A) from different pilot areas must be collected and presented in a form which enables direct comparison between those areas.”

Amendment 100, in clause 140, page 134, line 42, at end insert—

“(3A) The condition in this subsection is that consultation on the report under subsection (3) has been undertaken with anyone the Secretary of State considers appropriate, including—

(a) representatives of the voluntary sector, and

(b) representatives of communities disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.”

Amendment 102, in clause 140, page 135, line 2, at end insert—

“(4A) Regulations under section 175(1) which bring section 139 into force only for a specified purpose or in relation to a specified area—

(a) must include provision bringing into force section 342J of the Sentencing Code (Guidance); and

(b) must provide that section 139 may come into force for other specified purposes or in relation to specified areas only once guidance has been issued under section 342J of the Sentencing Code.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on serious violence reduction orders before any pilot could commence.

Amendment 104, in clause 140, page 135, line 2, at end insert—

“(4A) The powers under section 342A(2) of the Sentencing Code are exercisable before the power in section 175(1) has been exercised so as to bring section 139 into force for all purposes and in relation to the whole of England and Wales only if every officer of any police force in an area in relation to which section 139 has been brought into force has completed the College of Policing two-day training on stop and search.”

This amendment would require all police officers in a pilot force area to have completed the College of Policing training on stop and search before the power to impose serious violence reduction orders could be used.

Clause 140 stand part.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr McCabe. Part 10, chapter 1, introduces serious violence reduction orders. Officers would be allowed to search people with an SVRO without reasonable grounds and without authorisation, which would be an unusual stop-and-search power. In effect, SVROs are not only a new court order, but a new stop-and-search power.

Clauses 139 and 140 specifically encourage officers to search people with previous convictions. The only safeguard in the Bill is the fact that the court decides whether to apply an SVRO on a conviction or not. Once an individual has an SVRO, officers would not have to meet any legal test in order to search them for an offensive weapon.

The context is that, on this Government’s watch, there have been record levels of serious violence. Despite the fall in violent crime during the first lockdown, it exceeded the levels of the previous year by the summer; between July and September 2020, it was up 9% compared to the same period in 2019. Violent crime has reached record levels, with police dealing with 4,900 violent crimes a day on average in the last year. The police have recorded rises in violence nationally since 2014, and violence has more than doubled in the past five years. In the year ending September 2020, violence against the person reached 1.79 million offences—its highest level since comparative records began in 2002-03.

Even during the last year, knife crime increased in 18 out of the 43 forces—44% of forces—despite the effects of lockdown. In the last year, violence made up nearly a third of all crime dealt with by the police; it was up from 16% when the Tories took office and 12% in 2002-03. Reports of violent crime have increased in every police force in the country since 2010. In four fifths of forces, violent crime has at least doubled, and knife crime reached its highest level on record in 2019-20, having almost doubled since 2013-14. There is clearly much to be done.

On the flip side, more and more violent offenders are getting away with their crimes; charge rates for violent offences have plummeted from 22% in 2014-15 to just 6.8% in 2019-20. While the total number of violent crimes recorded has more than doubled in the last 6 years, the number of suspects charged has fallen by a quarter, and the number of cases where no suspect is identified at all has nearly trebled. It is clear that the Government have a serious problem; they have let serious violence spiral out of control.

Earlier in Committee, we discussed the prevention of serious violence, and I put forward various amendments to improve clauses that we broadly welcomed. We talked about the way that violence drives violence, and said that if the Government want to properly follow a public health approach to tackling serious violence, they cannot treat it as though it happened in a vacuum. We need a proper public health approach to tackling violence that addresses the root causes of why people fall into crime, with early intervention to significantly impact the lives of vulnerable young people and communities.

It is hard to be persuaded that more sweeping powers to stop and search people with previous convictions will reduce serious violence. There is little evidence that stop-and-search is an effective deterrent to offending. That is not to say that it is not an important tool; it absolutely is and we all agree with that—nobody is saying otherwise. It is part of the police’s armoury when it comes to tackling crime.

Stop-and-search is more effective at detecting criminals, but most searches result in officers finding nothing. The key figure, which it is always important to look at, is the proportion of searches that actually result in finding something. Only around 20% of searches in 2019-20 resulted in a criminal justice outcome—an arrest or an out-of-court disposal—linked to the purpose of the search.

While evidence regarding the impact on crime is mixed, the damaging impact of badly targeted or badly conducted stop-and-searches on community relations with the police is widely acknowledged, including in my community in Croydon, where the police have put a lot of work into building community relationships to try to bridge that gap.

Is my hon. Friend interested, as I am, to see what the Government plan to do to rebuild that trust with communities, which has, unfortunately, unravelled over the last few years?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We should remind ourselves of this: if I faced a crime, I would immediately call the police—they are the people I trust to fix it—but there are communities in our country who do not have that trust, and who do not think that calling 999 will help them, or keep them safe. We must act on that. Following Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd, the police in Croydon have reached out to the young black men in our community to try to build relationships. That is exactly what we should do, and it is something that all the national police organisations are looking to do.

The Library states that

“Available statistical analysis does not show a consistent link between the increased use of stop-and-search and levels of violence”.

I do not often point to the Prime Minister as an example of good practice, but in every year while he was Mayor of London, the number of stop-and-searches went down in London, as did violent crime. Interestingly, he was following a slightly different course from the one he now advocates as Prime Minister.

The College of Policing has concluded that stop-and-search should be used “carefully” in response to knife crime. The Home Office’s research found that the surge in stop-and-search during Operation Blunt 2 had

“no discernible crime-reducing effects”.

A widely cited study that was published in the British Journal of Criminology and analysed London data from 2004 to 2014 concluded that the effect of stop-and-search on crime is

“likely to be marginal, at best”.

The research found

“some association between stop-and-search and crime (particularly drug crime)”,

which I will come back to, but concluded that the use of the powers

“has relatively little deterrent effect”.

Most searches result in officers finding nothing. Officers found nothing, as we have talked about, in nearly 80% of searches in 2019-2020. Searches for drugs were more successful than average, with about 25% linked to an outcome.

The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, when they talk about stop-and-search, talk about getting knives off the streets. However, the searches for offensive weapons and items to be used in burglary, theft or fraud were the least likely to be successful—9% were linked to a successful outcome. The results are even lower for pre-condition searches, or section 60 searches, as they are called, although the only reason officers can use the power is to search for a knife or an offensive weapon. This is a very stark statistic: in 2019-20, only 1.4% of pre-condition searches led to officers finding a knife or offensive weapon. Nearly 99% of searches did not find an offensive weapon, and obviously that has taken a huge amount of police time and resources.

In February 2021, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services published the findings of a review of 9,378 search records, 14% of which had recorded grounds that were not reasonable, and the inspectorate said the vast majority of search records had weak recorded grounds. There is a real lack of clarity on both the success of stop-and-search, and the Government’s messaging on it. They say it is to tackle knife crime and break the cycle of weapon carrying, in the interests of keeping our community safer, but actually the figures for finding a weapon are really low. The Government need to be clear about what the purpose of stop-and-search is. It seems to be that most of the positive results are in finding drugs, yet in communications they say it is about protecting families from the scourge of knife crime.

Around 63% of all reasonable-grounds searches in 2019-20 were conducted to find controlled drugs. HMICFRS says,

“The high prevalence of searches for possession of drugs…indicates that efforts are not being effectively focused on force priorities.”

What the Government do not talk so much about is the outcome of these searches; if only 20% last year resulted in an outcome, what were the Government doing with this data—what are the results? What are they doing to try to measure and improve outcomes?

It is, of course, imperative that we pass legislation to keep the public safe, but these measures are not a proportionate way of protecting the public. They risk further entrenching disparities, and there is little evidence that they would have the crime reduction impact that the Government intend. The worry is that introducing more stop-and-search powers without reasonable grounds will only serve to stoke division, and not necessarily have the intended outcome.

We have sought to amend clauses 139 and 140, and I will get to the amendments later, but first I want to set out a number of problems that could arise if these clauses were to become law. The inspectorate and the Independent Office for Police Conduct both raised concerns about reasonable grounds not being used or recorded properly. As the College of Policing recognises, requiring that objective and reasonable grounds be established before police can exercise their stop-and-search powers is key to their decision making. However, the serious violence reduction orders in these clauses will require no reasonable grounds or authorisation. When Nina Champion from the Criminal Justice Alliance gave evidence to this Committee, she said:

“Of course, we all want to reduce knife crime, but…We worry about these very draconian and sweeping police powers to stop and search people for up to two years after their release without any reasonable grounds. Reasonable grounds are an absolutely vital safeguard on stop and search powers, and to be able to be stopped and searched at any point is a very draconian move that, again, risks adversely impacting on those with serious violence reduction orders. For young people who are trying to move away from crime, set up a new life and develop positive identities, to be repeatedly stopped and searched, labelled and stigmatised as someone still involved in that way of life could have adverse impacts. It could also have impacts on the potential exploitation of girlfriends or children carrying knives for people on those orders. There could be some real unintended consequences from these orders.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 156, Q265.]

Many different organisations have raised concerns about the measures in clauses 139 and 140. When I have spoken to police officers about them, they say that the clauses almost came out of the blue; it does not seem that these clauses come from the police, and they do have concerns about how they will enforce them.

Does the hon. Lady agree with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and me that stop-and-search powers used properly and effectively can save lives, especially among young black men?

Stop-and-search is an important tool; I would not argue with that. The key is to make sure that it is used effectively, in conjunction with good local intelligence about where crimes may have been committed. In some of our black communities in London, and some of those I visited in Glasgow, and in certain estates or postcodes, people are experiencing the same overuse of stop-and-search. Where it goes wrong is where there is not intelligence—when people are stopped simply because of how they look. That is the risk. If, under section 60, police find one knife out of every 100 people stopped, that is a lot of resource; perhaps it is not the most effective way for the police to reduce violent crime. There are concerns about how stop-and-search is implemented, but the hon. Gentleman is right: it is very important.

Clause 139 permits a court to impose an SVRO when it

“is satisfied on the balance of probabilities that a bladed article or offensive weapon was used”

during the offence, or if the offender

“had a bladed article or offensive weapon with them.”

An SVRO may be imposed in response to an incident in which a person did not use an offensive weapon, but

“another person who committed the offence”

had such a weapon on them, and the first person

“ought to have known that this would be the case”.

This means that that power to stop and search someone anywhere at any time can be imposed on a person despite no evidence of their ever handled a weapon before.

The Bar Council says:

“These proposals place onerous obligations on individuals and may generate significant questions of law in regard to liability for the conduct of others. For example, do the proposals impose a duty of care on individuals to ensure that those with whom they commit criminal offences do not carry knives? How this would be determined as a question of law is unknown. Any such measures ought to be subject to consultation or piloted before being brought into force—it would be important to monitor the extent to which any orders made are based on the ‘ought to have known’ test rather than proven use/knowledge of a weapon on the part of the individual made subject to the order.”

Even section 60, which remains controversial, can be used only for a set period of up to 24 hours in a defined area. However, proposed new section 342D provides that an SVRO can be issued for two years and no less than six months. These orders can be renewed indefinitely, during which time they can run continuously, whenever the person is in a public place.

Clause 139 also creates a new offence of breaching an SVRO, for example

“by failing to do anything required by the order, doing anything prohibited by it, or obstructing a police officer in the exercise of any power relating to it. This would carry a maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment on summary conviction, two years imprisonment on conviction on indictment, and/or a fine in either case.”

Can the Minister provide assurances on how people who question their search, who ask for the legal authority for subjecting them to stop-and-search, or who may not understand the instructions given by a police officer and therefore fail to comply, for whatever reason, will be safeguarded from the offence of breaching an SVRO?

I quote from the written evidence provided by Liberty on clause 139:

“Clause 139 allows the Secretary of State to impose by regulation any ‘requirement or prohibition on the offender for the purpose of assisting constables to exercise the powers conferred’ by the Bill, as long as the court considers it ‘appropriate’. This is remarkably broad. The orders can impose both positive and negative obligations and neither we, nor Parliament, know what they will be, as they will be made in the future by the Secretary of State. This is made more concerning by the lower standard of evidence needed for a court to impose an SVRO.”

The Bill makes it clear that it does not matter whether the evidence considered in deciding whether to make an SVRO would have been admissible in the proceedings in which the offender was convicted. Despite this, a person subject to an SVRO may face criminal penalties if they breach it, even if they breach the yet unknown requirements made by the Secretary of State through regulation.

The Bill would insert proposed new section 342J of the sentencing code, which provides the Secretary of State with the power to issue guidance to the police about the exercise of their function in regards to SVROs. The police must have due regard to this guidance. Statutory guidance on stop-and-search is in code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which is underpinned by a formal scrutiny process, but here we have the publication of separate statutory guidance on SVROs. That is unusual and worrying. PACE code A is not being used as statutory guidance for this incredibly sensitive power.

There is nothing in the Bill about what the guidance will be like or how it will be drawn up and approved. The Bill does not provide the Secretary of the State with the power to issue guidance to other actors in the SVRO process. All relevant persons will be required to have regard to upcoming guidance relating to knife crime prevention orders. A relevant person is defined as one who

“is capable of making an application for a knife crime protection order”;

that, as is set out in section 1.3 of the draft KCPO guidance, includes the police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Like KCPOs, SVROs will be applied to an offender only when an application for one has been made to the court. Only the prosecuting lawyer can apply to the court for an SVRO to be issued. However, the Bill does not provide the Secretary of State with the powers to issue guidance to the CPS on its function to apply for an SVRO to be attached to an offender’s conviction. Can the Minister say why? It is vital that guidance be published before the pilots of these orders go ahead.

We are all aware of the impact stop-and-search has on police-community relations. These new sweeping powers will be difficult for the police to apply practically on the ground. Once again, the Government are proposing a law that could lead to a lot of challenges for the police. The Government’s response to the consultation on SVROs noted that

“several responses from police forces and officers noted potential challenges around identifying individuals subject to an SVRO”.

That is where the guidance becomes incredibly important, but we do not have the detail yet. These searches will be less intelligence-led and risk increasing the chances of police stopping the wrong person.

A major concern we have with these powers is that they could increase disproportionality. The code of practice for statutory powers of stop-and-search, PACE code A, states:

“Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors”,

and notes that police cannot use, alone or in conjunction, as a basis for stop-and search,

“A person’s physical appearance with regard, for example, to any of the ‘relevant protected characteristics’ set out in the Equality Act 2010…or the fact that the person is known to have a previous conviction”.

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is yet more evidence that the Government ought to carry out a full impact equality assessment for the whole Bill, never mind the provisions she is addressing?

My hon. Friend is right. These issues are very difficult and complex, and we have to make sure we get them right, or the impact on our communities will be great.

Black and minority ethnic people were four times more likely to be searched than white people in 2019-20. Black people in particular were nine times more likely to be searched than white people. In September 2020, the Joint Committee on Human Rights heard evidence that an estimated 85% of black people in the UK were not confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police. As I am sure most of us with mixed communities have, I have been in primary school assemblies where I have been asked by young boys why it is that they are being stopped and searched. They are even told by their parents to expect these things, and they learn that this is something that happens. We have to address that, stop it, and make sure we do not make it worse through these orders.

HMICFRS says no force fully understands the impact of the use of stop-and-search powers, and no force can satisfactorily explain why ethnic disproportionality persists in search records. Badly targeted stop-and-search serves to reinforce and create the mistrust between those subjected to it and the police. It is clear that the lack of trust and confidence in the police felt by black and minority ethnic people is related to the persistent disparities in stop-and-search rates by ethnicity.

The House of Commons Library says:

“There is no evidence to suggest that BME people are more likely to carry items that officers have powers to search for. Neither is there evidence that suggests they are more likely to be involved in criminality associated with stop and search enforcement…Societal racism and its effects…appears to explain most of the disparity in stop and search rates by ethnicity.”

For a recent Channel 4 documentary, 40 black men who had all experienced stop and search were surveyed. More than half of them had been stopped at least 10 times, and 39 of them had experienced their first stop and search before they turned 18. Three quarters of them had repeatedly been stopped and said that it had negatively affected their mental health. Nearly half of them had previously complained to the police about their treatment, and just three had had their complaints upheld. Jermaine Jenas, who made the documentary, said:

“Take what happened to Jamar, a kid I met, who is respectful and talented. Aged 16, he was walking home from a party when the police stopped him, looking for a young black man reportedly carrying a sword. Jamar was wearing grey jeans, white trainers and a light jacket; the description was of a guy wearing a black tracksuit.

Officers forced him on to his knees in the middle of a road and searched him at gunpoint, a Taser pressed to his neck. Of course, nothing was found. His black friends were handcuffed and held up against a wall; his young white mate walked around filming the whole thing, the police not interested.”

That is a very extreme example, I think we would all say. Like a lot of hon. Members, I have been out with the police when they have done stop and search, and in many cases it is done properly, but we have to watch these things very carefully. During the first lockdown, when the police were much more proactive in going out to try to tackle the crimes, as they had the time to do so—other things were closed, and they had less work—we saw in London a huge increase in stop and search. In itself, that is okay, but London MPs began to see an increase in people coming to us saying that they were being handcuffed as a matter of course at the beginning of the search. We met Cressida Dick and talked about it in Croydon. My local police officers said that something had absolutely happened, and that it was becoming the norm that they were handcuffing people, which they are not supposed to do when they first stop them. The Met is working on that. The IOPC has highlighted it, and the Met has acknowledged it. It is an issue. The point is that people can slip into behaviours that are not right, and we need to keep a really close eye on how stop and search is done.

It is vital that the use of stop and search is monitored properly so that the police can better understand the consequences and reasons for disparities in rates by ethnicity. That is important, and it has been repeatedly raised as a concern by Her Majesty’s inspectorate. In February 2021, it reported that, on average, 17% of force stop and search records were missing ethnicity information. The proportion of search records ranged by force from 2% to 34%. HMICFRS says that the disparity in search rates by ethnicity is likely being underreported as a result, and that no force fully understands the cause. It has repeatedly called on forces to do more to monitor and scrutinise their use of powers.

The Government’s proposed serious violence reduction orders risk further increasing disproportionality in the criminal justice system. Our concern is that they will be pushed through without proper evaluation. Labour wants to ensure that there is a proper consideration of disproportionality before serious violence reduction orders can come into force. The Government should be recording data on the ethnicity of people subject to the orders and analysing the adverse impact of them. They must ensure that all police officers complete the College of Policing training on stop and search before the power can be used in pilot A areas. It is crucial that the pilot is evaluated before any decision to permanently roll out SVROs is taken, and that should include full consultation with the voluntary sector in the communities that are disproportionately represented across the criminal justice system. The courts should have to set out their reasons in writing for issuing an SVRO.

Does the hon. Lady share my concern that neither of the proposed pilots will be held in Wales, given the distinct landscape in Wales after devolution and the fact that it has a much higher proportion of incarceration of black people than England?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. Perhaps the Minister will respond to the point about where the pilots will be and whether there should be one in Wales.

Our amendments seek to make those changes. Amendment 102 would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on serious violence reduction orders before any pilot could commence. Amendment 103 would ensure that guidance under this clause must include guidance on the intelligence community information and risk factors that are to be considered before an application is made for the imposition of a serious violence reduction order.

Amendments 98 and 99 would make provision for the report under subsection (3) of proposed new section 342J. It must include information on the ethnicity of people made subject to a serious violence reduction order; information on the number of people made subject to a serious violence reduction order where there is no evidence of their having handled the weapon, either in the incident resulting in the imposition of the order or previously; information on the number of people stopped by a police officer in the belief that they are subject to a serious violence reduction order, broken down by ethnicity and including information on the number of times any one individual is stopped; analysis of the distribution of serious violence reduction orders in relation to the ethnic make-up of the local population; an equality impact assessment, including an assessment of the impact of the pilot on the groups mentioned in the equality statement produced before the pilot is commenced; analysis of data assessing the extent to which the pilot has reduced serious violent crime and reoffending by comparison with other areas; an assessment by the Sentencing Council of the proportionality of the distribution of the imposition of serious violence reduction orders; analysis of the impact of the length of time for which a serious violence reduction order is imposed on reoffending, and of the extent to which the length of time for which a serious violence reduction order is imposed has harmful impacts on the life of the individual who is subject to it; an assessment of the impact of the imposition of serious violence reduction orders on the use of stop and account in the pilot area; feedback from community scrutiny panels on scrutiny of body-worn video of all stops people are subjected to; analysis of any adverse impact of the imposition of serious violence reduction orders, listing what those could be; analysis of the information on the reason for each breach; and analysis of the extent to which searches made under the powers granted by this part of the Bill could have been carried out under other powers.

Amendment 104 would require all police officers in a pilot force area to have completed the College of Policing training on stop and search—which is excellent—before the power to impose serious violence reduction orders could be used.

In summary, I am not sure where this came from, other than as an idea from a think-tank. It is not led and driven by the police, and I know that the police have concerns about it. The courts will have concerns about it, too. That is not to say that we should not do everything we possibly can to tackle serious violence, but we must ensure that if the orders are to be introduced, they are piloted properly and effectively, so that we are rigorous on issues such as disproportionality, because we do not want to go in the wrong direction. Will the Minister reassure me on some of those points and let me know whether she will consider any of the amendments?

It would also be good to know how the knife crime prevention order pilot has progressed, because I do not think that we have seen those results, unless I have missed them. It would be good to understand from the Minister how she thinks the serious violence reduction orders will work, how they will work alongside the KCPOs and other things, and how we will avoid some of the issues that, potentially, could arise with them.

It is a pleasure, again, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe.

Before I respond to the amendments and observations of the hon. Member for Croydon Central, I wonder whether it might assist the Committee for me to set out why we are introducing the orders. I understand very much the points that she has made on behalf of organisations and others. I think it would help to set the orders in the context of the thinking behind their introduction.

We know that there is a serious problem with knife crime in many parts of our country. That is why over the past two years we have committed more than £176.5 million through a serious violence fund to address the drivers of serious violence locally, and to bolster the police response to it in those areas. That includes £70 million to support violence reduction units in the 18 areas of the country that are most affected by serious violence. That has been calculated through a variety of datasets, including admissions to hospitals for injuries caused by knives or bladed articles. There has been a great deal of thinking about how we target those parts of the country that have greatest experiences of knife crime and serious violence. We have also committed a further £130 million to tackle serious violence and homicide in the current financial year.

There is much more to do, however. Every time a person carries a blade or weapon, they risk ruining their own lives and other people’s lives, so we must do our utmost to send a clear message that if people are vulnerable and want to move away from crime, we will support them.

Unfortunately, in the last few days in South Derbyshire, a young lad has been murdered with a knife, and another young lad has been severely injured in a revenge attack melee. This legislation is incredibly important. My message to all parents in South Derbyshire is, “Please talk to your children about not carrying a knife.” This legislation will make a major impact, and I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for bringing it forward.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. May I say how sorry I am to hear of the experience in her constituency? It serves to highlight that knife crime does not just happen in great big cities, but can happen in picture-perfect rural areas as well. When I come to the pilots, I will explain why the four pilot areas have been chosen. We want to ensure that the orders work across the country, helping different types of communities and residential areas to safeguard people’s lives.

We as a Committee are concentrating on these clauses, but under the serious violence duty that we have already debated, local areas must, as a matter of law, get around a table and address the serious violence issues in their area. I very much want these orders to be seen in the context of the whole package of measures that the Government and the police are using to tackle serious violence. I very much hope that that duty will help in my hon. Friend’s area.

I apologise for asking the Minister to reply again. May I also put on the record how grateful I am for the superb work that Derbyshire police have undertaken on this case? They really have wrapped it up very quickly, and I want to ensure that—

Order. I am not sure where that case is in its proceedings. It is maybe not too helpful to closely identify it.

Again, I am very happy to thank not just my hon. Friend’s local police force, but police forces across the country for all the work that they do day in, day out to keep our constituents safe.

Does the Minister acknowledge the success of the Scottish violence reduction unit that was established in 2005? It has reduced the number of homicides from 135 in that year to 64 last year. It works on the principle that violence is preventable, not inevitable, and that the best approach is multi-agency working and partnership. The detail contained in the Bill will set up such committees across the country.

Very much so. I am shameless in plagiarising good ideas to protect people across the country. We have worked very closely with the Scottish authorities to learn from them, and from their work in Glasgow in particular, how they have brought down violent crime in Glasgow. The hon. Gentleman rightly identifies that the serious violence duty very much builds on that work, so that we require every single local authority area to look very carefully at what is happening and at how they can identify and address those problems.

Will the Minister address the points that I raised with the Opposition Front Bench about pilots being held in Wales? Was any consideration given to holding pilots in Wales in the light of the distinct situation there?

If I may, I will keep that point back for a little later, but I will develop it. I promise the hon. Gentleman that every single constabulary area was considered carefully and we arrived at the result in a data-driven way. I hope to answer that point in due course.

We know that the police see stop-and-search as a vital tool to crack down on violent crime and we have already made it easier for forces to use existing powers, but too many criminals who carry knives and weapons go on to offend time and again, and serious violence reduction orders are part of our work to help to end that cycle.

The orders will give the police powers to take a more proactive approach and make it easier to target those already convicted of offences involving knifes and offensive weapons, giving the police the automatic right to search those offenders. SVROs are intended to tackle prolific, high-risk offenders, by making it easier for the police to search them for weapons.

SVROs are also intended to help protect vulnerable first-time offenders from being drawn into further exploitation by criminal gangs, by acting as a deterrent to any further weapon carrying and providing a credible reason for those young people to resist pressure to carry weapons.

I am interested in the point the Minister is making about first-time offenders. A lot of children and young adults carry knives because they are scared and because they are aware of the crime going on in their area and they want to protect themselves—they feel vulnerable without a knife. What guidance will be in place for police officers to make the distinction?

First and foremost, this will be piloted and there will be lessons learned during the careful piloting of the orders. Also, the orders are only available to convicted knife carriers above the age of 18.

I compare and contrast with knife crime prevention orders, which form part of the overall context of the orders. The hon. Member for Croydon Central will recall that KCPOs were introduced in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 and are intended to be rehabilitative in nature. We have both positive and negative requirements that can be attached to them. They are available for people under the age of 18, from the age of 12 upwards. That is the difference between the two orders.

The hon. Member for Croydon Central asked me about the piloting of KCPOs. Sadly, because of the pressures of covid, we were not able to start the pilot when we had wanted to, but I am pleased to say that the Metropolitan police will start the pilot of KCPOs from 5 July. We will be able to gather the evidence from that type of order alongside the work on SVROs, which will obviously start a little later than July, given the Bill will not yet have Royal Assent. That will run alongside. It will run for about 14 months and we will be able to evaluate and see how the orders are working.

I want to lay the same challenge to the Minister as I did to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Croydon South. The Minister talks about the fear of young people, feeling they must carry knives and being pressured into carrying knives. Does she accept that much more needs to be done to deal with the organised criminal gangs—indeed, organised crime as a whole—which drive young people to carry knives? The Government need to do so much more.

The hon. Gentleman and I agree that the young people we are understandably focusing on in today’s debate are the victims of the criminal networks and the organised crime gangs that, for example, run county line networks across the country, in urban and rural areas. They are out and about selling drugs for these sinister, cruel organised crime gangs. The many ways in which children and young people are exploited by these gangs are well known to members of the Committee. Going along with what my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire said earlier, we want to get the message out that it is not normal to carry a knife. There can be a feeling within certain parts of our communities that that is what everybody does. Actually, the overwhelming majority of people do not carry knives, but it is that fear or that worry that people need to carry a knife to protect themselves that we are trying to address.

The sad fact is that people are far more likely to be hurt themselves by the knife they are carrying, whether that is because they get into an altercation or whatever, than by a knife belonging to somebody else.

However, I appreciate—having, sadly, met many grieving families and young people who carry knives—that the fear is there. This measure, as I say, is just one tool that we are giving to the police to help us to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place. As constituency MPs, we should all, please, spread the message among our own constituencies that it is not normal to carry a knife. We must really support our schools, our police and others who will work so hard under the serious violence duty to spread that message.

I will try to make some progress. I want to deal, if I may, with the very important point to do with concerns about disproportionality. I know from conversations I have had with many charities who work day in and day out with young people, particularly in tackling gang crime, that there is a concern that these orders will disproportionately affect young black people. Clearly, we take those concerns very seriously, as I have said.

The thinking behind the orders is to help the police to take a very targeted approach in relation to known knife-carriers. Data from 2018-2019 shows that young black people are 24 times more likely to be victims of homicide than young white people—24 times. That is a very chilling and startling statistic, which we must try to address and tackle.

As long as young people, young black people, are the victims of these crimes, and as long as we have to meet grieving families who somehow have to cope with the devastating loss of a beloved son or daughter, then I genuinely think that, as a Government and indeed as a society, we have got to do everything we can and try everything we can to tackle these horrendous crimes.

Clearly, as part of this work we must build an understanding of the impact and the effectiveness of the new orders, and we have got to explain these orders to charities and to those working with young people, so that in their work they can help to reassure young people and point them towards further help, if that is needed. This is precisely why we are piloting these orders, because we want to understand their effectiveness and impact. Clause 140 sets out the details.

We have announced that the SVROs will be piloted in four areas, namely by the Merseyside, Thames Valley, Sussex and West Midlands police forces. I have rightly and understandably been asked why those areas were chosen. All four forces that will pilot SVROs are in the 18 areas across England and Wales that are most affected by serious violence. Those 18 areas accounted for 80% of all hospital admissions for injury with a sharp object, with each one individually accounting for 2% or more—rounded up to the nearest percentage point—of all admissions. West Midlands has the third highest rate of knife crime in England and Wales, and Merseyside has the sixth. The pilot will allow us to build an understanding of these new orders before making a decision about whether they should be rolled out nationally to other force areas.

In selecting these force areas, we were very clear that we wanted a fair analysis of different urban and rural areas, as I say, and of different demographics. We have also looked at the influence of county lines—whether an area is an exporter or an importer—to try to give us a grounding and a good evidence base on which to make proper and valued decisions, in due course, about how the orders can be rolled out. That is why a Wales force is not included. I hope the hon. Member for Arfon accepts that as much as I have valued and enjoyed my visits to Welsh police forces in my time as a Minister, I could not say we had to give it to a Wales force just because it was in Wales, because we are doing it on such a careful, data-driven basis.

I certainly take the Minister’s point that these things are decided on objective measures. County lines extend into Wales from large conurbations in the midlands and from London. There is one specific point that might be captured were Wales included. It is a comparatively minor and specific point in that in the sentencing code in proposed new section 342A(9) it says that

“the court must in ordinary language explain to the offender”.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the point that in Wales “ordinary language” might mean in Welsh or English.

The Welsh Language Act 1967 says that Welsh and English should be treated on the basis of equality and more recent legislation establishes Welsh as an official language. That free choice of language is pretty subtle and not just a matter of law. Guidance should be given to court officers so that they understand how subtle that might be.

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point. I remember visiting Welsh courts and feeling at a great disadvantage that I did not speak Welsh. He raises a serious point. I cannot give confirmation here and now, but I know that we will take that factor into account in due course once the evaluations have been conducted. He makes a fair point and he makes it well.

When Martin Hewitt from the National Police Chiefs’ Council gave evidence to the Committee, he welcomed the piloting of the orders and made the following point, of which we are all aware:

“There is no doubt that there are people who are more violent and have a history of violence, and we do a range of things to try to reduce the number of violent crimes. Our concern is to make sure that there is no disproportionality in the way these orders are used, so we are really keen to work very closely with the pilot site to assess how this can be another tool—and it is just one further tool—in dealing with street violence and violence among younger people.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 13, Q16.]

I thought Mr Hewitt put that extremely well. This is another tool that we want to put forward to help the police deal with violence on the streets around the country.

The pilot will also test the deterrence effect of SVROs. It will trial how we ensure that vulnerable offenders are directed to local intervention teams, test community responses to the orders and examine the potential impact on disproportionality, as well as building evidence on the outcomes for offenders who are subject to an SVRO.

On the point of deterrence, the available evidence suggests that a criminal conviction can prevent reoffending through the deterrent effect, particularly in changing behaviour in more vulnerable offenders, as it could equip them with a credible basis for resisting gang or other peer pressure to carry knives. A recent academic study has shown that individual searches can produce useful results, such as the discovery of contraband materials. It could also be effective if focused on prolific offenders. One of the many reasons for running pilots on the orders very carefully is to gather evidence on their deterrent effect before they are rolled out nationally. We also understand the importance of scrutiny and oversight and stress the importance of being completely transparent about how SVROs are being used, to reassure communities that the orders are being used appropriately. During the pilot, we will work with partners to address those challenges and ensure that the orders are used appropriately and effectively.

We expect all forces to allow stop-and-search records to be scrutinised by community representatives and to explain the use of their powers locally, as the statutory guidance requires them to do. At our request, the College of Policing has updated its stop-and-search guidance to include better examples of best practice for community engagement and scrutiny, and it is available now for all forces to follow.

As required by clause 140, we will lay before Parliament a report on the operation and outcome of the pilot. That brings me to amendment 98, which would prescribe in the Bill the matters to be addressed in the report on the outcome of the pilot. The amendment lists no fewer than 14 matters that would have to be addressed as part of the evaluation. I will deal with some of the specific points, but before doing so, I again wish to reassure the Committee that we want the SVRO pilots to be robust and their evaluation to be thorough. We are still in the early design phase, and although I may not agree with all 14 points listed in amendment 98, many have merit and I can assure Opposition Members that we will take them into consideration as we progress the design work and agree the terms of the evaluation. I will make the general point that it is not necessary to include such a list in the Bill. Indeed, the approach adopted in clause 140 is consistent with, for example, the piloting provisions in the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 in respect of knife crime prevention orders.

We are talking about those matters listed in amendment 98. As part of the pilot, we plan to evaluate the impact of the orders on black and ethnic minority people. When we considered police forces for the pilot, we took into account the demographics of each force, and it is a key reason why we are piloting SVROs in four forces rather than just one—to ensure that we capture sufficient data, including the ethnicity of those given an SVRO, to properly examine the impact on disproportionality. No one should be unfairly targeted by stop-and-search, and safeguards—including statutory codes of practice, use of body-worn video to increase accountability, and community scrutiny panels—already exist to ensure that that does not happen.

SVROs will be subject to the same scrutiny as current stop-and-search powers. As I said, we expect all forces to allow stop-and-search records, including those for SVROs, to be scrutinised by community representatives and to explain the use of their powers locally, as the current statutory guidance on police use of stop-and-search requires them to do. We are also exploring with the four pilot forces how they can make best use of body-worn video—that is absolutely critical, I think, in opening up transparency—and how they can use community scrutiny panels during the pilot.

What is more, during the Committee’s consideration we have contacted all the pilot areas to ask them what plans they have to contact and engage with local charities and people who work with young people to ensure that the community as a whole has an influence on how the pilots are rolled out, and all four forces have confirmed that they are already in contact with them, or are planning to be, ahead of the pilot. Again, I very much hope that that gives reassurance about the direction of travel that we expect from the four pilot forces, and indeed thereafter, when it comes to the use of these orders.

I understand that there are also concerns about mistaken identity and possible methods, such as using stop-and-account, to identify those who are subject to an SVRO. We very much expect police officers to take steps to confirm somebody’s identity on the street when exercising their powers and to be sure that the person they are stopping is in fact subject to an SVRO. It is also important to note that an officer would be acting unlawfully if they exercised the SVRO powers in relation to a person who is not subject to an SVRO. Again, as part of the pilot, we will monitor use to identify any disparities or concerns that may arise about cases of mistaken identity.

The pilot will also monitor the impact of the orders on reoffending and the outcomes for offenders who are subject to an SVRO. Pilot forces will monitor the impact of SVROs on the individuals subject to them. We will be sure to carry out an evaluation and are exploring the specific options and metrics with the pilot forces. We want to be able to make direct comparisons between forces and we will work with pilot forces to collect data in a consistent manner.

On the rest of amendment 98, I want to point out that following the public consultation that we held on the serious violence reduction orders, we amended the proposed model so that SVROs are made at the court’s discretion. In other words, we have listened to consultation and amended the orders accordingly. That approach will enable the court to take into account the individual circumstances of the offender when determining whether an SVRO should be granted.

The first condition on which the court must be satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, are set out in subsections (3) and (4). They relate to whether a bladed article or offensive weapon was used by the offender in the commission of the offence, or that the offender had such an article or weapon with them when the offence was committed; or that another person used such articles in the commission of the offence, or had such an article with them when the offence was committed, and the offender knew, or ought to have known, that that was the case.

The second condition is that the court may only make an SVRO if it considers the order is necessary to protect the public or any particular member of the public, including the offender themselves, from the risk of harm involving a bladed article or an offensive weapon, or that the order is necessary to prevent the offender from committing an offence involving a bladed article or offensive weapon. That point about the offender being protected is, again, part of one of the two reasons for the orders—to help protect those vulnerable perhaps first-time offenders, to give them a reason for those who are putting them under pressure that they will not continue carrying a knife or bladed article.

We very much believe it is important for the courts to have that power, as it will allow the courts to make fair and objective decisions on who will receive an SVRO. There should be, it goes without saying, no bias in the decision-making process but, again, the pilot will monitor who is subject to an SVRO and any disproportionate impact of the orders. In most cases, it will be clear to the court whether the offender handled a knife or offensive weapon during the commission of the offence.

The Bill, however, provides for instances where not all the offenders handled the weapon during the commission of the offence, but where individuals knew or ought to have known that other offenders used or possessed a weapon. It is considered that those individuals would be complicit in the use of the weapon. Since all those given an SVRO will have been convicted of an offence where a knife or offensive weapon was involved, we are not persuaded that there is value in collecting data showing whether they carried the weapon with them when committing the offence or not.

Amendment 100 would require the Secretary of State to consult with members of the voluntary sector, and representatives of communities disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, on the report of the SVRO pilot. We have already run a public consultation on the design of the orders, in 2020, and we will seek and are seeking the views of communities and key organisations to inform the data for the report.

During the pilot, police forces will be required to engage with communities, including victims of knife crime and their families, to ensure that those communities understand that SVROs are there to protect their families and to ensure that offenders are monitored effectively and discouraged from offending again. Moreover, it would be open to anyone to comment on the report once it has been published. Given those arrangements, we do not believe that a duty to consult on a draft of the pilot report is necessary or appropriate.

Amendment 101 would require the court to set out its reasons in writing. The Bill already provides that, when an order is made, the court must explain its effects to the offender in plain language. That includes the stop-and-search power that a constable has in respect of the offender, any requirements or prohibitions imposed by the order and the offences that may be committed if the offender breaches an SVRO. In addition, following the Human Rights Act 1998, courts must always state their reasons for making an order, and that would of course apply to SVROs. Legal advisers and judges record those reasons on their files, and they will be available to parties that require them. I am not persuaded that we should single out SVROs by requiring the court to set out its reason in writing. There is no such requirement in relation to knife crime prevention orders, for example. It would of course be open to an offender to mount an appeal against the making of an SVRO, which will provide an important safeguard for those who want to challenge the order.

Amendments 102 and 103 relate to the statutory guidance provided for in proposed new section 342J of the sentencing code. I very much agree with the hon. Member for Croydon Central that the statutory guidance must be issued ahead of the start of the pilot, and we are committed to doing just that. That is why clause 175(4)(r) expressly provides for clause 139 to come into force on Royal Assent for the purposes of issuing the guidance. Moreover, we intend to publish an early skeleton draft of the guidance before Lords Committee stage.

We are working closely with key delivery partners, including the police, through an SVRO working group to develop the guidance. The guidance will provide detail on the police processes, including the preparation of evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service to support an application for an SVRO. Again, I am not persuaded that it is appropriate to be prescriptive in primary legislation about the contents of the guidance.

Finally, amendment 104 would require all police officers in a pilot force area to complete the College of Policing training on stop-and-search before the power to impose SVROs can be used. Currently, new recruits undertake mandatory stop-and-search training as part of their entry-level learning, and officers are required to complete regular training throughout their career, including modules on stop-and-search. We therefore expect that the officers who exercise these new powers will have already completed appropriate training. We will work with the pilot forces to ensure that there is guidance and that officers have taken part in training on the use of stop-and-search in relation to SVROs.

The Government are determined to do all we can to deter people from becoming involved in knife crime and prevent them from falling victim to it. There must be transparency in how SVROs are used, and there are already safeguards in the Bill, which we will develop to ensure the orders are being used appropriately and effectively. We will reinforce that message in the guidance and during the pilot, which will be the subject of a robust and thorough evaluation. In the light of the assurances that I have given about the conduct and evaluation of the pilot, and the content and timing of the statutory guidance, I hope the hon. Lady will be content to withdraw the amendment.

I thank the Minister for that response, which gives reassurance on a number of areas. In particular, having the draft guidance before the Lords Committee is very helpful. We can look at it and see what it says, and then the Lords can take a view about whether they will support it. I am also reassured by what the Minister said about the College of Policing training during the pilots, and about the content of the pilot and what it will look at. There is support for lots of the elements that we put in the amendments. We still have serious concerns that the provisions could be problematic and might not tackle violence, which is the point of them. However, with the reassurances that the Minister has given me, I will not seek to divide the Committee. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 139 and 140 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 141

Locations for sexual offender notification

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clauses 142 and 143 stand part.

New clause 65—Registered sex offenders: change of name or identity

“(1) The Secretary of State must commission a review of how registered sex offenders are able to change their name or other aspects of their identity without the knowledge of the police with the intention of subverting the purpose of their registration.

(2) The review must consult persons with expertise in this issue, including—

(a) representatives of police officers responsible for sex offender management,

(b) Her Majesty’s Passport Office, and

(c) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

(3) The scope of the review must include consideration of resources necessary for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.

(4) The review must make recommendations for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.

(5) The Secretary of State must report the findings of this review to Parliament within 12 months of the day on which this Act is passed.”

This new clause would ensure that the Secretary of State must publish a review into how registered sex offenders are changing their names or other aspects of their identity and propose solutions for how the government aims to tackle this issue.

I remind the Committee that if the Whip is seeking to adjourn at 1 o’clock, he will not be able to interrupt a speaker, so if we are going to proceed with that, we will need whoever is speaking to finish just before 1 pm so the Whip can do what he might wish to do.

It would be convenient—thank you. It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr McCabe.

I found a very real problem that I did not know existed. I have spoken to a number of Ministers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice about it, and they all recognise that it is a real problem. I am seeking, through new clause 65, to get a review into how registered sex offenders are changing their names, and in doing so, are slipping under the radar with some absolutely devastating consequences.

Currently, all registered sex offenders are legally required to notify the police of any changes in their personal details, including names and addresses. Those notification requirements are incredibly weak, however, and place the onus entirely on the sex offender to report changes in their personal information. I would like to say that, by their very nature, sex offenders tend to be incredibly sneaky and used to subterfuge, so the likelihood of them actively notifying their police officer is quite slender.

At this point, I would like to mention the crucial work that has been carried out by those at the Safeguarding Alliance, who identified this issue four years ago and alerted me to it. They have an upcoming report, from which I will use just one case as an example. It is the case of a woman called Della Wright, the ambassador for the Safeguarding Alliance, who is a survivor of child sexual abuse. She has bravely chosen to speak out and to tell her story, which is symptomatic of that of so many other survivors who have been impacted by the serious safeguarding loophole.

When Della was between six and seven years old, a man came to live in her home and became one of her primary carers. He went on to commit the most heinous of crimes, and was free to sexually abuse Della at will. Years later, Della reported the abuse in 2007 and again in 2015. Then it quickly become apparent that the person in question was already known to the police. He had gone on to commit many further sexual offences against an undisclosed number of victims. During this time, Della was made aware that his name had changed. It has since been identified that he has changed his name at least five times, enabling him to relocate under the radar and evade justice. When Della’s case was finally brought to court, he was once again allowed to change his name, this time between being charged and appearing in court for the planned hearing. That slowed down the whole court process, adding additional stress to Della, and made a complete mockery, I may say, of the justice system.

While the loophole exists, Della’s abuser is free to change his name as often as he likes, including from prison.

If a sex offender changes their name, they must tell the police within three days or they face up to five years in prison. For the sex offender to face that time in prison, they must first be caught and therein lies the nub of the problem. The loophole means that sex offenders are changing their names and the police are unaware of it, and therefore the sex offender goes under the police’s radar.

Once they get a new name, the sex offender can get a Disclosure and Barring Service check, as the new name would not flag up their previous offences. They can then go on to secure jobs working with children and vulnerable people, putting those people at risk of sexual exploitation by an individual who has been punished for that crime.

In response to my written parliamentary question, the Government confirmed that more than 16,000 offenders have breached their notification requirement in the past five years. A freedom of information request carried out by the Safeguarding Alliance confirmed that at least 905 registered sex offenders had gone missing between 2017 and 2020. Only 16 of the 43 police forces responded to that request, so the actual number will be much higher. There are currently 100,000 sex offenders on the register.

We can surmise that the main reason why offenders have gone missing is because they have changed their name. Notification requirements as they currently stand are not an efficient way of monitoring sex offenders. They have already been to prison for sexual offences and are likely to lie to the police in order to reoffend.

The current name-change process is unbelievably easy. Adults can get a name change registered at the Royal Courts of Justice in a few days for £42.44. That is an enrolled deed poll and requires the applicant to fill out three forms, but none of the forms asks the applicant whether they have a criminal history of any kind. In addition, legally, there is nothing to stop anyone from using the do-it-yourself deed poll, by simply writing down their new name in the presence of two witnesses. I find that staggering. Using that approach, some sex offenders are able to change their names from prison for as little as a £15 administration fee.

Police have the powers to put a marker on the file of sex offenders at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or Her Majesty’s Passport Office, so that, if a name change comes up through their systems, the police would be informed. This is useful, as a driver’s licence or a passport is required for a DBS check. It is worth noting, though, that DBS does not undertake any background checks on whether a name change has occurred. It is only the link with the Passport Office, if fraud is found.

I am astounded to hear what the hon. Lady is saying. Do similar checks take place when people get married, as there is quite a trend towards new, double-barrelled surnames? Is that a similar loophole that people could use?

I do not know the specifics, but I do know a friend whose husband cheated on her, who wanted to change her name before the divorce came through. She used the £15 option; it is just filling out a form and paying the money.

I would raise a further point. One of the aspects of denial among sex offenders is that they put a psychological distance between themselves and the offence on conviction. That is a subtle driver for people to change their names, quite apart from the wish to offend again and not be detected.

The hon. Gentleman makes a really interesting point on the psychology, which I had not considered. He is absolutely right.

If the name-change process was well joined up, it would stop the sex offender from successfully receiving a DBS check. Current guidance means that the police can only do that in certain cases—for example, for sex offenders they believe to be at risk of changing their identity or who work in a profession where they have regular contact with vulnerable people. As far as I am concerned, that would be the definition of all sex offenders. The police are encouraged to limit their inquiries to these agencies to avoid unnecessary or high volumes of requests to them.

The guidance states that

“to avoid unnecessary or high volumes of requests to these agencies, enquiries should be limited”

to cases where risk factors apply. I believe that the police should be able to do this for all sex offenders.

The Government have recognised that this is an issue. In response to an e-petition, the Minister said that the Government would like to change the guidance so that only enrolled deed polls are seen as an official name change. This is still concerning, as an enrolled deed poll means that the individual’s old name, new name and address appear in the London Gazette. I ask Committee members to imagine they were fleeing domestic violence and wanted to change their name. How would they feel, knowing that that was going to be broadcast in a place where their abuser would be sure to look?

My suggestion is for all sex offenders to have a marker on their file at the DVLA and at Her Majesty’s Passport Office that would mean that would be flagged on the DBS database. That would remove the onus from the sex offender so that if they breach their notification requirements, the police will know quickly. I accept that more resources would be needed for this to be effective, but surely it is worth more funding to prevent more adults and children from experiencing more traumatic abuse.

There needs be a full review to try to identify the gaps in safeguarding and ensure this cannot go on any longer. New clause 65 is supported by over 35 MPs from across the House, including the Chair of the Education Committee, the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), and the former Brexit Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis).

Does the hon. Lady agree that if the provision had been in place in 2002, it could have prevented the needless murder of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by Ian Huntley, who had changed his name prior to committing this offence?

I absolutely agree. That is my frustration because when we look back at some of these high-profile cases, name changes have been common practice. This issue was also raised in the recent report by the Centre for Social Justice, “Unsafe Children.” The End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:

“It defies logic that this current system appears to rely on perpetrators of sexual offences identifying their own risk. Especially given that perpetrators are often highly manipulative and skilled at deceiving others and appearing ‘safe’.”

The new clause is not controversial. All I ask for is a review to find out what is going wrong. I do not know if other Members have signed up to receive notifications if a person of high risk is rehoused in their constituency. I receive such notifications, unfortunately quite regularly. In the most recent notification I had, there are 19 different specific licence conditions that the offender has to meet. One of them is to notify their supervising officer of details of any passport they may possess, including passport number, or any intention of applying for a new passport. However, there is no mention on that list of changing their name. That would seem to be a basic thing, so that at least the sex offender knows in advance that they have to notify the police, so it is a clear breach of conditions when they do not do that.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Tom Pursglove.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Steve McCabe, Sir Charles Walker

† Anderson, Lee (Ashfield) (Con)

† Atkins, Victoria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

Baillie, Siobhan (Stroud) (Con)

† Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)

† Charalambous, Bambos (Enfield, Southgate) (Lab)

† Clarkson, Chris (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)

† Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)

† Dorans, Allan (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (SNP)

† Eagle, Maria (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)

† Goodwill, Mr Robert (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)

Higginbotham, Antony (Burnley) (Con)

† Jones, Sarah (Croydon Central) (Lab)

† Levy, Ian (Blyth Valley) (Con)

† Philp, Chris (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Pursglove, Tom (Corby) (Con)

† Wheeler, Mrs Heather (South Derbyshire) (Con)

† Williams, Hywel (Arfon) (PC)

Huw Yardley, Sarah Thatcher, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 17 June 2021

(Afternoon)

[Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

I remind Members of the usual things about devices, masks, seating, drinks and so on.

Clause 141

Locations for sexual offender notification

Question (this day) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Clause 142 and 143 stand part.

New clause 65—Registered sex offenders: change of name or identity—

“(1) The Secretary of State must commission a review of how registered sex offenders are able to change their name or other aspects of their identity without the knowledge of the police with the intention of subverting the purpose of their registration.

(2) The review must consult persons with expertise in this issue, including—

(a) representatives of police officers responsible for sex offender management,

(b) Her Majesty’s Passport Office, and

(c) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.

(3) The scope of the review must include consideration of resources necessary for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.

(4) The review must make recommendations for the long-term management of the issue of registered sex offenders changing their names or other aspects of their identity.

(5) The Secretary of State must report the findings of this review to Parliament within 12 months of the day on which this Act is passed.”

This new clause would ensure that the Secretary of State must publish a review into how registered sex offenders are changing their names or other aspects of their identity and propose solutions for how the government aims to tackle this issue.

I think the Minister was just about to respond.

I was, Mr McCabe—thank you very much. I understand that the Opposition do not oppose clauses 141 to 143, but I will obviously respond to new clause 65, tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham and signed by more than 30 other Members. I understand the message of how seriously Members across the House take the issue. We are very alive to the ability of sex offenders to manipulate systems, build trust, groom, and use many evil, awful methods in order to commit their crimes.

I am not naive to the risks that the hon. Lady put forward in her very well argued speech about the motivations of sex offenders in changing their name. As she said, there are very strict rules: sex offenders are required to notify the police within three days of changing their name—indeed, failure to do so is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of five years. I note her concerns, and those of others, about what can be done, if a sex offender does not so notify, to ensure that there are not consequences further down the line.

In fairness, parliamentarians have been having this debate for some time. I have received a great deal of correspondence on this matter, particularly in conjunction with the campaign run by the Safeguarding Alliance. As a result, I have commissioned officials to look into the matter very carefully. I have written to the Master of the Rolls requesting that a judicial working group set up by the Ministry of Justice should consider how the deed poll process can be exploited for criminal ends.

The work of that group includes considering whether amendments to the Enrolment of Deeds (Change of Name) Regulations 1994 are required. I raise that because the regulations for changing name by deed poll are made by the Master of the Rolls, not a Minister, and I must of course respect and honour that; it is not as straightforward as me signing my name and changes happening. The ball has already started rolling with the Master of the Rolls, and indeed the Ministry of Justice, to try to find ways of addressing the concerns that the hon. Lady and many other Members have voiced in recent months.

I hope the Minister recognises my concerns around enrolment, and the fact that the data then gets published. The enrolled deed poll does not include the question whether someone has a criminal past. I am still concerned that that could be a loophole.

Interestingly, the point that the hon. Lady has highlighted about, for example, victims of domestic abuse having to publish their addresses is one of the factors that we are very much having to bear in mind as we look at this. I have also received a great deal of correspondence from hon. Members concerned about the safety of transgender people, for example, and victims of domestic abuse. We can think of other examples of where people have changed their name and there are security issues therein as well as the fact of the name being changed. It is a very complicated area.

I have also listened to the concerns about the Disclosure and Barring Service system. As colleagues will know, the DBS conducts criminal records checks and maintains lists of people who are barred, by virtue of their previous convictions, from working with either children or vulnerable adults—sometimes both. That is an incredibly important process. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) has done a great deal of work on the issue as well.

I have asked my officials to work with the Disclosure and Barring Service, employers and others, including the General Register Office, to examine whether, for example, requiring birth certificates would help assure employers such as schools of a person’s history and previous names. The work is very complicated, not least because we have to bear in mind, for example, that 20% to 25% of records checks involve applicants born overseas. Although one would hope that it is easy in this country to obtain a copy of a birth certificate if one has lost it, that may not be the case elsewhere in the world.

The Minister has been going through the same process that I have been going through. Rather than putting a blanket demand for birth certificates on everybody, is there the potential to flag all sex offenders? I am not sure about the Minister’s view, but mine is that when someone carries out a sexual offence, they lose some of their rights. If all sex offenders had a flag on them that automatically triggered the check, either with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or the Passport Office, that would seem a more manageable way forward administratively.

The Passport Office can already refuse to change the names on a passport under the existing regulations, but this whole area is incredibly complicated; it involves not just regulations but the common law as well. There is a great tradition in common law of people being able to change their names, and we would not want to trespass upon that. What we are trying to do is target sex offenders who are not doing what they should be—namely, notifying the police of any changes to their names.

I have gone through some of the work that we are conducting, albeit quietly; we have not gone to the lengths of describing it as a review. Given the wording of her new clause, I hope that the hon. Member for Rotherham takes comfort from the fact that we are looking at the issue seriously. We are working across the MOJ, the Home Office and other agencies relevant and important to the issue to try to find answers that are proportionate and protect the rights of the very people we are not trying to target.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby gave the example of someone who changes their name on getting married. I am sensitive to the resource implications of having blanket orders. We will continue with this work. I am happy, as always, to involve the hon. Member for Rotherham because I know of her great interest and expertise on these matters, but I hope I can persuade her not to push her new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 141 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 142 to 144 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 145

List of countries

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 145, page 143, line 16, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would place a requirement on the Secretary of State to prepare (or direct someone to prepare) a list of countries and territories considered to be at high risk of child sexual exploitation or abuse by UK nationals and residents, rather than leaving at the Secretary of State’s discretion to produce such a list.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 4, in clause 145, page 143, line 20, after “residents”, insert

“, including those who commit those crimes online, remotely or via the internet”.

This amendment would ensure the list prepared by the Secretary of State includes countries and territories where children are considered at high risk of child sexual exploitation by UK nationals and residents who commit those crimes online, remotely or via the internet, and is not limited to in-person offending.

Amendment 5, in clause 145, page 143, line 24, after “residents”, insert

“, including those who commit those crimes online, remotely or via the internet”.

This amendment would ensure the list prepared by a relevant person directed by the Secretary of State includes countries and territories where children are considered at high risk of child sexual exploitation by UK nationals and residents who commit those crimes online, remotely or via the internet, and is not limited to in-person offending.

Amendment 6, in clause 145, page 144, line 16, leave out subsection (9).

This amendment would remove the ability of the Secretary of State to withdraw the list of countries and territories considered to be at high risk of child sexual exploitation or abuse by UK nationals and residents.

Clause stand part.

Clause 146 stand part.

I previously spoke about the horrific nature of online exploitation and the need for an urgent and robust response from the UK to disrupt the cycle of supply and demand fuelling that abuse. As I previously argued, the Bill is an important opportunity for the Government to take action in this area, and clause 145 is no different. I very much welcome the measures set out in the Bill and particularly in clause 145, which provide for the establishment and maintenance of a list of countries and territories in which children are considered to be at high risk of sexual exploitation or abuse by UK nationals or residents. Tied to this, clause 146 would require applicants—for example, the police—for a sexual harm prevention order or sexual risk order to have regard to that list. These important measures should be welcomed. They give effect to a recommendation made by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.

It is vital that we do all we can to tackle contact offending overseas, but we must also take into consideration online offending against children overseas. My amendments 4 and 5, to clause 145, would require the Secretary of State to produce a list of high-risk countries for both in-person and online abuse. As currently drafted, the Bill grants the Secretary of State the ability to publish a list of countries and territories in which UK nationals pose a high risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. Through my amendments, I am seeking to clarify that that relates to both in-person and online abuse. Through amendment 6, I would make it a requirement that the Secretary of State do this; currently, it is a matter of discretion.

It is hoped that, through consultation with law enforcement and civil society, we will enable an accurate list of high-risk areas to be gathered together. That would be an immeasurably useful resource for targeting resources in the future. This process will also help us to better understand the nature of exploitation and abuse by UK nationals, enabling us to ensure that interventions are effective in achieving prevention.

As with my other amendments on online sexual exploitation of children, these amendments are supported by the International Justice Mission. I am very grateful for its support on this matter, but also for all the work that it does around the world to protect children. It knows only too well the horrific nature of online abuse carried out by UK offenders against children overseas. I really hope that the Minister is minded to add a provision about online abuse to the Bill or is able to give reassurance that the online proliferation of abuse will be included in the list.

Again, I am mindful that the clauses are not opposed by the Opposition, so I hope that I can move straight to the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Rotherham. However, I should just say, for those who are not familiar with why we are putting together a list of countries, that it was a recommendation of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that we as a country must look very carefully and seriously at how sexual offenders within the UK travel abroad to rape and sexually assault children overseas. That is an incredibly important matter and one that we take very, very seriously.

The inquiry recommended that we bring forward legislation providing for the establishment of a list of countries where children are considered to be at high risk of sexual abuse and exploitation from overseas offenders—I underline that. This is a list to help people regarding offenders from the United Kingdom, not a commentary on offenders within the countries that are so listed.

The purpose of the list is to help the police and courts identify whether a civil order with a travel restriction should be made. The list has been created. We commissioned the National Crime Agency to develop the list of countries, and it brought together insights from sensitive law enforcement data, open-source intelligence analysis and the expertise of those who work with the victims of child sexual exploitation, in drawing it together.

On amendment 3, I assure the hon. Lady that it is very much the Government’s intention that a list of countries should be prepared, and we are committed to doing so in our tackling child sexual abuse strategy and our response to the IICSA recommendations. We have commissioned the agency to create the list. Although we fully intend to establish and maintain the list, providing for a power, rather than a duty, in clause 145 mitigates any unforeseen future risk that the list may no longer be of practical use.

I very much understand the hon. Lady’s intentions behind amendments 4 and 5. Children outside the UK should be protected from all forms of child sexual abuse, both offline and online. The specific purpose of the list is to enable the courts and the police to make civil orders to prevent people from travelling overseas. The courts will have to consider the necessity and appropriateness of imposing travel prohibitions via the orders to limit opportunities for such people to travel overseas to abuse children. That is why clause 146 places a requirement on applicants and the courts to have regard to the list in those circumstances.

The inclusion of additional countries at risk of online offending would not be appropriate and may confuse the intended function of the list. It could also, I am told, reduce its effect, as it would become less relevant to a court in considering whether to impose a travel restriction.

I understand the logic of the argument that the Minister is putting forward, but what I hear anecdotally from the police is that there is that escalation. I would have thought that knowing, for example, that they are able to watch children being abused in the Philippines would be a draw for UK abusers who want that escalation to go to the Philippines. Having the word “online” there would make the police recognise the very severe damage that happens, whether it is done in person or is being directed by a UK national. It is about the recognition of how this escalates.

Yes, I do understand that point, but there has been very careful consideration of the effects of an order to prohibit a person from travelling overseas. I am told that adding “online” to the clause would undermine the appropriateness of such orders.

I also draw the Committee’s attention to the Online Safety Bill, which will help more generally in the online world. It will place a duty of care on tech companies to target grooming and the proliferation of child sexual abuse material. Of course, Members will in due course scrutinise the draft Bill that has been put before the House for its consideration.

On amendment 6, the effectiveness of the list is dependent on its reflecting the current global intelligence picture. The Secretary of State must retain the right to withdraw the list in the unforeseen event that the intelligence picture changes rapidly or that the list becomes no longer of practical use. I stress, however, that our intention is to maintain the list, and any decision to withdraw it would be taken on an exceptional basis.

I welcome the hon. Lady’s, and indeed the Opposition’s broad support for the clauses, and invite her to withdraw the amendment.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 145 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 146 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 147

Standard of proof

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 162, in clause 148, page 150, line 14, at end insert—

“(1B) A sexual harm prevention order must require the offender to participate in a treatment programme approved by the Secretary of State for the purpose of reducing the risk of sexual harm that a person may pose.”

Amendment 163, in clause 148, page 152, line 34, at end insert—

“(1B) A sexual harm prevention order must require the defendant to participate in a treatment programme approved by the Secretary of State for the purpose of reducing the risk of sexual harm that a person may pose.”

Clause 148 stand part.

Amendment 164, in clause 149, page 154, line 42, at end insert—

“(7A) A sexual risk order must require the defendant to participate in a treatment programme approved by the Secretary of State for the purpose of reducing the risk of sexual harm that a person may pose.”

Clauses 149 to 152 stand part.

Amendments 162 to 164 were tabled in not only my name but that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson). They amend clauses 148 and 149, which relate to sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders. The Government are introducing the clauses to expand the role of those orders so that positive requirements can be placed on individuals, and we welcome that. Currently, the law allows only for individuals to be ordered to stop things.

Given that the Government are introducing changes to the orders, I believe that the law could be strengthened even further, which is why I am speaking to the amendments in the name of my right hon. Friend. The amendments would impose a positive duty to refer to a treatment programme all individuals who are subject to a sexual harm prevention order where they have been convicted, or a sexual risk order when a conviction has not yet been obtained. For example, that could be prior to a court hearing when there is sufficient concern for an order to be made before a conviction is obtained.

Under the amendments, a mandatory referral to treatment services would be required for all those engaged in criminal sexual behaviour and where a SHPO or SRO is to be put in place. That is an attempt to intervene at the earliest opportunity, and in particular to stop non-contact sexual offending behaviour escalating. Starting with non-contact sexual offending, such as indecent exposure or voyeurism, is necessary as it is often a gateway to more serious offending. There is a great deal of evidence that those who commit low-level or non-contact sexual offences will often escalate their behaviour and take more risks, with the potential for increasingly violent sexual crimes.

That pattern of behaviour is encapsulated by the case of a University of Hull student, Libby Squire, who was out in Hull one night when she was picked up by a man who went on to rape and murder her and then dumped her body in the River Hull. She was not found for many weeks. It was later revealed that the man who murdered Libby had been prowling the streets of Hull for many months committing low-level sexual offences such as voyeurism and burglary of women’s underwear and sex toys. Those crimes took place between 2017 and January 2019.

The last known non-contact sexual offence that the man committed happened just 11 days prior to the murder of Libby Squire. Unfortunately, very few of his crimes were reported to the police before Libby went missing. Even if the offender had been charged or convicted of those non-contact sexual crimes, the police believe that little would have been done to address his offending behaviour, as his actions did not meet the high threshold for referral to specialist treatment.

The amendments would address that issue and make referrals mandatory for all sexual offending, including lower-level or non-contact sexual offending. That would effectively interrupt a pattern of behaviour at the earliest possible point and help to prevent an escalation of sexual offending, thus helping to reduce the risk of sexual harm to women and girls and the wider public. I look forward to hearing what the Minister says about this group of amendments, as I know that she too is very concerned about these matters.

Again, I am not going to address the clauses, because I understand they are not opposed. If I may, I will deal with the amendments. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Rotherham and the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North, who has rightly brought to the fore the case of Libby Squire. Although I am not a Hull Member of Parliament, I have some knowledge of it because it is in my part of the country, and everyone in our region watched the facts of that case unfold with growing dismay, gloom and horror when it was eventually clear what had happened to poor Libby, so I very much appreciate the chance to put on the record our condolences to her family. I also completely understand why the right hon. Lady has tabled the amendments.

We are not able to agree to the amendments because we are concerned that for each offender, even of so-called low-level offences, one has to be very, very careful to make it clear that those offences are still by their very nature serious. Sadly, the depravity and gravity of sexual offences is such that there is a range, and the lower-level offences are ones that are particularly troubling to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North in the context of this clause.

It is important to make an individual assessment of the value of a treatment programme in each case, using risk assessment and risk management plans to inform the decision. Sadly, not all offenders will respond appropriately to a treatment programme. Indeed there are fears that, in some cases, it could exacerbate their offending behaviours. At the moment and for the foreseeable future, we intend that treatment programmes should be directed towards offenders who would benefit most. When I say “benefit”, it is for the wider benefit of the community that these perpetrators are stopped, but it is for those offenders who will respond best to the programmes. That means that a case-by-case assessment must occur, rather than the universal approach proposed by the right hon. Lady.

I have spoken to the right hon. Lady and received a letter from her setting out her concerns. I know that her principal concern is how we manage effectively the risk presented by sex offenders whose offending behaviour starts with non-contact sexual offences such as indecent exposure, but which then escalates. There is a growing understanding that there is a range of behaviours that can escalate, and we very much want to address that escalation in behaviour.

However, one of the challenges is that, as the right hon. Lady acknowledges, the lower-level non-contact sexual offences might not be reported. If they are not reported, the police cannot deal with an offender if they do not know about that offender. They cannot manage the risk presented by such offenders if the behaviour is not reported and prosecuted as appropriate. So, from this afternoon, let us all encourage people who see the voyeurism or indecent exposure that concerns us in this particular area to please report that to the police. If it is reported, it begins to build a picture of that offender so that appropriate and necessary action can be taken.

Where such offences are reported and lead to convictions, the offender will be made subject to the notification requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and risk-assessed and managed under a multi-agency public protection arrangement. That plan will be implemented with support from other relevant agencies within the MAPPA framework.

The risk assessment will identify the risks presented by that individual and the appropriate level of assessment that they require. For those who have not been convicted, the police should still be using local safeguarding processes to risk-assess and manage those who are a cause of concern and, in appropriate cases, apply for a sexual risk order. It is important that the courts consider, on a case-by-case basis, the appropriate restrictions and requirements attached to any such order, rather than adopt the blanket approach provided for in these amendments.

I understand the motivations behind the amendments, but we have concluded that they would not achieve the results that the right hon. Lady and the hon. Lady so understandably wish to see.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 147 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 148 to 156 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 17 agreed to.

Clause 157

Terrorist offenders released on licence: arrest without warrant pending recall decision

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clauses 158 to 161 stand part.

That schedule 18 be the Eighteenth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 162 stand part.

I want to speak briefly to the clauses, which we support. I begin by paying tribute to Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, whose lives were so tragically cut short at the Fishmonger’s Hall attack. Protecting the public is the overall and overriding priority for us all, and clauses 157 to 162 would help law enforcement and counter-terror policing to better manage and monitor the risks when terrorist offenders are released on licence.

Lone attackers intent on causing carnage have taken the lives of innocent people, injured more and caused enormous suffering to all those affected. In the year ending June 2020, 34 sentenced terrorist offenders were released from prison custody. Between July 2013 and June 2020, 265 terrorist prisoners were released from a custodial prison sentence, but the statistics do not show which of those were released on licence. It would be helpful if the Minister had any statistics on the number of terrorist prisoners released on licence in recent years.

As we know, this is an issue of heightened importance since the atrocities at Fishmonger’s Hall and Streatham. The perpetrators were terrorist risk offenders or were on the authorities’ radar to a certain degree. The Opposition have repeated called for a review into lone actor terrorism and the need for a clearer strategy to tackle it.

It emerged in the spring that the Home Office had in fact conducted a review of that kind but through an internal unit, so few details are known about it. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) pressed Ministers for more details about the review and for its key findings to be shared confidentially with us, but we have had no response. All along, we have said that we want to work with the Government to get these crucial matters right and to strengthen national security, which is our top priority. We can do that better if we have the right information and if there is full transparency by the Government about where the system needs to improve.

Overall, we welcome the provisions in clauses 157 to 162 that will insert four new sections into the Terrorism Act 2000, providing for new powers to manage terrorist offenders. We were pleased that the Government asked the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall, QC, to review multi-agency public protection arrangements regarding the management of terrorist offenders and other offenders of terrorism concern. In the joint letter by the Justice Secretary and the Home Secretary to Jonathan Hall, QC, they wrote that

“officials consulted all operational agencies, including counter-terrorism, police and the National Probation Service, which confirmed how useful the new powers would be and in what circumstances they might be used.”

Labour welcomes this statement.

In the evidence sessions for the Bill Committee, Jonathan Hall, QC, made some important points, one about a specific safeguard, which I would like the Minister to respond to. Jonathan Hall, QC, said on the power in clause 159 to apply for a warrant to search the premises of a released offender, which he supports, that

“it would be possible to apply to a judge for a warrant that would allow you to enter on any number—potentially an infinite number—of occasions. If you think about released terrorist offenders on licence, their licences can last a very long time—for example, 10 or 15 years—so perhaps the Committee may want to think about whether it is appropriate to have a power that would authorise multiple entries into a person’s premises throughout 10 or 15 years. The power of multiple entry under warrant does exist when you are talking about a live operation, and the police find that quite useful. I am not quite sure whether it is justified in the context of this particular risk.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 51.]

Since this is our first chance to discuss small points of detail in the Bill, it would be helpful if the Minister could respond to the point that Jonathan Hall, QC, made.

Furthermore, on clause 158 Jonathan Hall, QC, had a question about the purpose of this search, in that the clause is drafted in a way that makes its scope wider than that of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011. Can the Minister say what precisely is the purpose of the search, and can she respond to the point made by Jonathan Hall, QC, that it may be that the purpose of the search goes a bit wider than necessary?

Finally, Jonathan Hall, QC, said in March that the Government have not taken any steps in the Bill to address the fact that there is no proof that the desistance and disengagement programme for released terrorists is working. Can the Minister point us to anything in the Bill or elsewhere that addresses that point?

I join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, whose lives were tragically cut short in a horrific manner in Fishmongers’ Hall. I am really pleased that these clauses meet with the approval of both the Government and the Opposition parties, so that we are able to make some very substantial changes, as recommended by Jonathan Hall, QC. He examined the legislation with great care and attention following the commission from the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor.

The hon. Lady asked me a few questions. If I may, I will write to her on the point about the statistics; I do not have the statistics to hand, I am afraid, but I will write to her with them. She asked about the ability under clause 159 for officers to apply for a multiple entry ability warrant. The reason for that ability is that we anticipate that there will be a very small number of cases in which counter-terrorism police officers believe that a warrant permitting multiple entry is required. An application by the police will only be made following cross-agency work, including discussion with probation services on the justification for a warrant and its appropriate scope. Ultimately, of course, it would be for the court to decide, and clause 159 is clear that the court should issue the warrant only if it is satisfied that such authorisation is necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism.

To reassure colleagues, Parliament has previously agreed to the creation of premises search powers that permit multiple entries. For example, the search power under section 56A of the Counter-Terrorism Act 2008 provides for that, and it was inserted by the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. I hope that as we felt able to do that in that legislation, we will feel able to do the same in the Bill, given all the safeguards.

The hon. Lady asked about the purpose of a search. The personal search will provide the police with the means of conducting assurance checks. We envisage that in the majority of cases, they will be checks on whether a relevant terrorist offender is in possession of something that could be used to harm or threaten a person—a weapon or a fake suicide belt, for example—but there may be other limited scenarios in which a personal search for something that appears innocuous may be necessary for purposes connected with protecting members of the public from a risk of terrorism. An example would be a personal search to check whether the offender was in possession of a mobile phone in violation of their licence conditions.

This provision gives a better means of monitoring risk, because a contraband phone would be unlikely to meet any definition of something that could be used to threaten or harm, but depending on the offender’s background, it might embolden them to make contact with their previous terrorist network, enable them to access materials useful in preparing an act of terrorism, or provide a route for them to radicalise others. I hope that I have addressed the hon. Lady’s concerns.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 157 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 158 to 161 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 18 agreed to.

Clause 162 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 163

Rehabilitation of offenders

I beg to move amendment 134, in clause 163, page 180, line 23, at end insert—

“(A1) The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, as it forms part of the law of England and Wales, is amended as follows.”

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 143.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments 135 to 143.

It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe, and an equal pleasure to follow the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle.

Amendment 142 relates to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, which sets out a rehabilitation period for orders on conviction that impose prohibitions and other penalties. The rehabilitation period is equal to the duration of the period for which the order is specified to have effect. The amendment seeks to put beyond doubt that where the court imposes any provisions in an order, that attracts a rehabilitation period and requires disclosure in a way that is similar to when orders impose prohibitions and penalties. A provision may say, for example, that a person should, or should not, engage in a particular activity. Any provision, of whatever nature, triggers the disclosure requirement until such time as the provision ends. Amendment 142 makes that clear.

Amendment 138 is in a somewhat similar spirit. It relates to orders that set out that they have effect until the occurrence of a specified event. The court may make provision for some orders to have effect indefinitely, or until a further order is made in respect of the subject. Those orders might include disqualifications, restraining orders, sexual harm prevention orders and criminal behaviour orders. The amendment is intended to put beyond doubt that where such provision is made in the order, the rehabilitation period and the accompanying disclosure requirement end only when the order ceases to have effect, so once again, it is clarifying. The rest of the amendments in this group—134 to 137, 139 to 141, and 143—are technical amendments that make corrects to various cross-references.

Amendment 134 agreed to.

Amendments made: 135, in clause 163, page 180, line 24, leave out

“of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 143.

Amendment 136, in clause 163, page 180, line 25, leave out from “sentences)” to “is”.—(Chris Philp.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 143.

I beg to move amendment 9, in clause 163, page 180, line 30, leave out from “for” to “or” in line 32 and insert

“a serious violent, sexual or terrorism offence specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument”.

This amendment would make the list of offences subject to lifelong disclosure specified in regulations rather than set in primary legislation.

Clause 163 would allow some custodial sentences of over four years to become spent after a certain period of time, excluding convictions for serious sexual violence and terrorist offences. It would also reduce the existing rehabilitation periods for certain other disposals given or imposed on conviction. I am pleased to say that we are very supportive of the Government’s direction of travel on criminal record reform, although as ever, I wonder whether it can go that little bit further, and do all the more good for it. The focus on employment discrimination is correct: we know that employment is a critical factor in preventing reoffending and maintaining the wider wellbeing of people with criminal records. One proven way to help people with criminal records into work is to reduce the period for which they have to disclose their record. These changes will impact as many as 50,000 people a year, and will make an appreciable difference to their life.

While we are supportive of the Government’s efforts to help people with criminal records into work, I note that the charity Unlock, which specialises in this area, has said that it

“cannot agree that the white paper proposals alone will have an appreciable impact on reoffending or employment.”

The reforms are welcome, but a major concern of ours is that they are not necessarily grounded in evidence. Let me be clear: there is evidence that reducing spending periods will reduce discrimination and help people with criminal records into employment, and that being in employment is one of the most important factors in preventing reoffending. However, there is not evidence that the specific reductions that the Government have proposed are the most effective way of reducing employment discrimination and/or preventing reoffending. As Unlock noted in its response to the White Paper,

“Even where there are reductions, the MoJ has not discussed how or why they have arrived at these figures. While Unlock do support these reductions, it is concerning not to see a base of evidence offered for those choices, or even a broader public policy justification. To see disclosure reduced from two years to one year is positive; but why is one year the correct length? Why not six months, or 18 months?”

Policies are more likely to achieve their aims if they are rooted in clear evidence. Can the Minister share with us the Department’s reasoning in coming up with these numbers? I agree that a shorter spending time is better, but I am interested in why the Government have chosen to place the limits where they have.

It has been only a few years since the Government’s previous set of radical reforms in this area came into force under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, having been proposed in the 2012 Ministry of Justice “Breaking the Cycle” White Paper. I am sure the Government would agree that it is preferable to get it right this time, and not need another set of so-called radical reforms a few years hence.

I turn to the impact on children’s spending periods. Under the Bill, children’s rehabilitation periods continue to be half those of adults. The Youth Justice Board queries whether that is the correct way to do it and advocates instead for an approach that takes into account the differences in child offending patterns. It sounds eminently sensible to me that the Government should base child rehabilitation periods on evidence of child reoffending and what actually works to rehabilitate children, rather than simply halving the number in the adult model. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether his Department has given any consideration to that, or might look at it in the future.

That said, the Opposition are certainly in favour of the proposals on child rehabilitation periods, as we would like them to be reduced. As the Howard League notes in its briefing, the impact of the childhood criminal record system in England and Wales is

“extremely punitive by international standards”.

These proposals will help more people who commit an offence as children to turn their lives around and move away from offending behaviour, so we are glad to support them. However, I put on record the Opposition’s concern that these proposals for child rehabilitation periods will still exclude those who turn 18 before conviction. I will speak further on this next week when we come to the relevant new clauses that we have tabled, but it causes us disquiet that not every child who commits an offence will have a child rehabilitation period. That is especially relevant because the number of children who turn 18 while awaiting trial is increasing as a result of the unprecedented court backlog.

Finally, before I turn to the amendments, I want to touch on the fact that this direction of travel, welcome though it certainly is, makes some disparities in the disclosure regime even wider. One example is motoring offences, which I will speak about shortly in relation to amendment 165. I would welcome information about the work ongoing in the Department on this topic that could reassure us that the Government’s ambitions are not limited to these proposals.

I will be relatively brief on amendment 9, but first I thank Unlock for its helpful input. Amendment 9 would mean that the list of offences that are subject to lifelong disclosure was specified in regulations, rather than in primary legislation. This is effectively a future-proofing amendment, which will make future Government reforms in this area easier to achieve. The list could be more easily amended over time in response to changing needs and circumstances.

The Bill provides that some convictions that previously led to a sentence of more than four years should become spent after seven years. Before this, all sentences of more than four years had to be disclosed for life. There will be a tremendous positive impact on the lives of people with criminal records covered by this proposal. The reach of the policy is clearly restricted, because the Ministry of Justice proposes that

“serious sexual, violent and terrorist offences”

be excluded, and I make it clear that we have no opposition to that restriction.

The offences that will be excluded are those covered by schedule 18 of the sentencing code. That in itself illustrates why it would be simpler to keep the list in regulations. After the sentencing White Paper was published, but before the sentencing code became law, the Lord Chancellor intended to use the list from schedule 15 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to determine which offences would be excluded. This list fulfils a similar purpose, but I think that demonstrates the point I am trying to make.

In fact, I hope that schedule 18 of the sentencing code is more appropriate, because Unlock has estimated that around 65% of all sentences of over four years are imposed for crimes on the list in schedule 15 of the Criminal Justice Act, meaning that the Government’s proposals would affect only a minority of those with criminal records. Furthermore, the offences listed in schedule 15 had a very wide range of outcomes: 27% of schedule 15 offences in 2019 received only community orders, despite being classified as serious. It would be helpful to hear some reassurance from the Minister that schedule 18 is more fit for purpose. Regardless, I am sure that he can understand the benefits of future flexibility. I hope that he will support this simple amendment.

I turn to amendment 165.

No, I think it would be better to stick to the sequence on the selection list.

Given your direction, Mr McCabe, I will not speak to clause 163 substantively just yet—or, indeed, to amendment 165—but will speak narrowly and specifically to amendment 9.

I understand the spirit of the shadow Minister’s amendment, but I observe that it is not often that the Opposition propose conferring on Government regulation-making powers that they have not asked for. It is usually the other way around, is it not?

The Government take the view that schedule 18 of the sentencing code sets out the list of most serious offences. They are the same offences used to assess dangerousness. Using schedule 18 ensures simplicity and consistency between assessing dangerousness and requiring longer disclosure. We think it is more straightforward and transparent for those people subject to disclosure requirements to know that that is not a moving target; they know the list is fixed and will not change.

The power that the shadow Minister generously proposes conferring on the Government might lead to unpredictable changes for the people affected. For those two reasons—predictability and consistency—we prefer to set things out in statute, as is currently proposed, via schedule 18 of the sentencing code.

I will briefly answer one question that the shadow Minister posed—I might address some other questions later—on research on whether these are the right lengths of time, or whether more can be done in future. Yes, I confirm that we will continue to look at this, and to conduct research as appropriate to ensure that the balance is struck between rehabilitation and protecting the public.

The fact that the Government have missed the point about the narrow application of the measure and how very few people will be caught by it is lamentable. I will not press the amendment to a vote at this stage, but we may well revisit the matter in future. It is great to have such provisions, but they affect only a minority of people in the criminal justice system, when they could benefit so many more. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 137, in clause 163, page 181, line 27, at end insert—

“(3A) In subsection (2) (rehabilitation periods), in the words before paragraph (a), for ‘(3) and’ substitute ‘(2A) to’.”

This amendment and Amendments 138 to 140 make provision about the rehabilitation period that applies to a person who is subject to a relevant order where the last day on which the order is to have effect is not provided for by or under the order.

Amendment 138, in clause 163, page 182, line 8, at end insert—

“(4A) After subsection (2) (and after the table in subsection (2)(b)) insert—

‘(2A) Subsection (2B) applies where provision is made by or under a relevant order for the order to have effect—

(a) until further order,

(b) until the occurrence of a specified event, or

(c) otherwise for an indefinite period.

(2B) The rehabilitation period for the order is the period—

(a) beginning with the date of the conviction in respect of which the order is imposed, and

(b) ending when the order ceases to have effect.’”

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 137.

Amendment 139, in clause 163, page 182, line 9, leave out subsection (5) and insert—

“(5) For subsection (3) (rehabilitation period for community etc order which does not provide for the last day on which the order has effect) substitute—

‘(3) The rehabilitation period for a relevant order which is not otherwise dealt with in the Table or under subsections (2A) and (2B) is the period of 24 months beginning with the date of conviction.’”

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 137.

Amendment 140, in clause 163, page 182, line 11, at end insert—

“(5A) In subsection (4)(b) (rehabilitation period for other sentences), for ‘subsection (3)’ substitute ‘any of subsections (2A) to (3)’.”

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 137.

Amendment 141, in clause 163, page 182, line 29, after “order” insert “—(a)”.

This amendment and Amendment 142 make provision about the rehabilitation period that applies to a person who is subject to an order which imposes requirements or restrictions on the person or is otherwise intended to regulate the person’s behaviour.

Amendment 142, in clause 163, page 182, line 31, at end insert “, and

(b) for paragraph (g) substitute—

‘(g) any order which—

(i) imposes a disqualification, disability, prohibition, penalty, requirement or restriction, or

(ii) is otherwise intended to regulate the behaviour of the person convicted,

and is not otherwise dealt with in the Table,’.”

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 141.

Amendment 143, in clause 163, page 182, line 31, at end insert—

“(8A) In section 6(5) (the rehabilitation period applicable to a conviction), for the words from ‘by virtue of’ to ‘or other penalty’ substitute ‘to an order within paragraph (g) of the definition of “relevant order” in section 5(8) above’.

(8B) In section 7(1)(d) (limitations on rehabilitation under the Act), for ‘or other penalty’ substitute ‘, penalty, requirement, restriction or other regulation of the person’s behaviour’.

(8C) In paragraph 5(b) of Schedule 2 (protection for spent cautions), after ‘prohibition’ insert ‘, requirement’.”—(Chris Philp.)

This amendment makes amendments to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 that are consequential on or otherwise related to the amendments to that Act made by Amendment 142.

I beg to move amendment 165, in clause 163, page 182, line 45, at end insert—

“(12) The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Commencement No. 9, Saving Provision and Specification of Commencement Date) Order 2014 (S.I. 2014/423) is amended by the omission of article 3.”

This amendment would provide that the changes to the rehabilitation periods in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 made by sections 139 and 141 and Schedule 25 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 would apply to road traffic endorsements.

As I mentioned, the welcome changes in clause 163 widen some disparities in the disclosure system, leaving certain offences extremely out of step with others. A particularly notable area where the discrepancy would manifest itself is motoring offences. That was raised in the evidence session by Sam Doohan of Unlock and Helen Berresford of Nacro. I thank Nacro for its input on this amendment.

A person who is convicted of, or receives a fixed penalty for, an offence listed on schedule 2 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 is required to disclose that information for a period of five years if they were an adult when convicted, or of three years if they were a juvenile when convicted. Motoring convictions have some of the longest rehabilitation periods when it comes to criminal record disclosure. In fact, adult motoring convictions that receive an endorsement at court have a five-year rehabilitation period. That means that, under the Bill, a minor motoring offence would be disclosed for more time than some custodial sentences and become even more of an outlier in the disclosure regime.

As Sam Doohan said in an evidence session:

“People end up having to disclose, say, a speeding ticket for five years, which is longer than if they had gone to prison for a year.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 20 May 2021; c. 99, Q155.]

I am sure that the Government recognise the nonsense in that. Current rules already have a disproportionate impact on people who apply for jobs because they have to disclose those convictions for five years. Now that will be even more disproportionate because they will often have to disclose for far longer than for non-motoring offence convictions that receive the same disposal. That affects a large number of people; more than half of all convictions every year relate to motoring offences.

The amendment would remove the blanket five-year rehabilitation period for motoring convictions, aligning the rehabilitation period with other convictions as set out in the table in section 5(2) of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. That means that for an adult motoring conviction that leads to a fine, the person would receive a one-year rehabilitation period, as for any other fine. For an adult motoring conviction that leads to a custodial sentence, the rehabilitation period would match the current periods for those sentences.

There is a real need for change and I hope the Government agree that the Bill is a good opportunity to move forward. The progress that the Government have made in relation to other criminal records will not be felt in cases where there is a motoring offence element. As in other instances where there is more than one disposal within the same proceedings, the disposal with the longest rehabilitation period determines when a conviction is spent. Motoring offences, with such a long rehabilitation period, have a dragging effect on other unspent convictions because none of an individual’s convictions becomes spent until they all do.

We are concerned that if we do not address the outlier of motoring offences, the Government’s positive efforts to shorten disclosure periods for prison and community sentences will be undermined. For example, if somebody is convicted of a motoring offence when serving a community order, the offence that resulted in the community order will be dragged into the motoring offence’s disclosure period, leading to its being disclosed for significantly longer.

The impact can be serious because employment discrimination against people with criminal records is universal—it does not necessarily matter what the offence is. Nacro told me that it has supported people through its criminal records support service, but sometimes a job offer is withdrawn due to previous motoring convictions, which bear no relation to the job role. I understand that the Government may think that motoring offences need longer disclosure periods for insurance purposes, but that information could be made available to insurers by other means, instead of having a blanket disclosure period.

I am sure that the Government do not want their widely celebrated efforts to be undermined by that oversight, so I hope that they will join us in supporting the amendment.

As the shadow Minister said, the amendment would change the current rehabilitation period for endorsements that are imposed in respect of motoring convictions from five years to nil.  Unless another disposal is given for the same motoring conviction that attracts a separate rehabilitation period, the amendment would result in some motoring convictions being spent immediately and having no rehabilitation period. 

It is worth saying that the Department for Transport leads on the rehabilitation periods for motoring penalties. It is a complex area with a combination of fines, driving bans and penalty points, as well as community and prison sentences, which are an important part of the system to reduce dangerous and careless behaviour on our roads.  That includes the way in which the provisions interact with the insurance system, as the shadow Minister said.

Clearly, if someone gets speeding points and that has consequences for their insurance premium for some time, it is a disincentive to drive dangerously. There is also a reasonable link between someone who drives carelessly or dangerously and the risk they pose, which leads to higher insurance premiums. There is therefore a certain justice to that link.

The range of penalties and the current penalty points system has been developed to prevent low standards of driving behaviour, which have the potential to cause serious harm to other road users and, in the worst cases, death. That approach has been successful over the past few decades, under Governments of both colours, because road deaths have, mercifully, been decreasing.

Given the complexity of the subject, we do not propose to make the change that the shadow Minister suggests just now, but I can commit to conducting further research and investigation into the matter. The shadow Minister made the point about a longer disclosure period for driving causing other matters to be disclosed for a longer period than would otherwise be the case, with the consequent impact on employability. We will conduct further research into this area to ensure that we get the balance right and continue the positive direction of travel on safer roads, while at the same time ensuring that we facilitate rehabilitation.

That is a helpful response from the Minister and I welcome the things that he had to say, particularly in relation to reviewing the issue in future. I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. I understand that there is considerable cross-party support elsewhere for this approach to ironing out the anomaly, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

The shadow Minister has already touched on the substance of the clause, so I do not want to repeat what he so eloquently laid out for the Committee a little earlier. In substance, the clause amends the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 to enable an individual’s conviction to be spent earlier than would otherwise be the case. The reason for doing that is to enable people to rehabilitate and get back into work sooner than would otherwise be the case. However, we recognise that for the most serious offences, we want the conviction never to be spent—hence the exclusion defined by offences covered by schedule 18 of the sentencing code, which we discussed a couple of minute ago. For other offences, both for adults and for people under 18, the spending periods are reduced.

The shadow Minister asked earlier how we arrived at those particular times. We have looked at the data on reoffending, engaged widely with stakeholders and various groups in the sector that have an interest in this issue, and we have arrived at the reductions that we have. We think the reductions strike a balance between providing an earlier opportunity for rehabilitation on the one hand, and providing additional public protection and protection for employers on the other.

Of course, no Government or Ministers have a monopoly on wisdom—except, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle—but we think this is a good starting point and a step in the right direction, as the shadow Minister has said already. However, we will continue to research in this area and will keep it under scrutiny, to ensure that the balance struck is the right one. I am pleased that stakeholders generally, and the shadow Minister, welcome this move.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 163, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 164

British Sign Language interpreters for deaf jurors

I beg to move amendment 147, in clause 164, page 183, line 10, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment would expand the provision of the clause to include other language and communication service professionals such as interpreters for Deafblind People, lipspeakers, notetakers, Sign Language interpreters, Sign Language Translators, and Speech to Text Reporters.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 148, in clause 164, page 183, line 13, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 149, in clause 164, page 183, line 14, leave out “interpreters” and insert “such interpreters or professionals”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 150, in clause 164, page 183, line 16, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 151, in clause 164, page 183, line 18, after “interpreter” insert “or professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 152, in clause 164, page 183, line 20, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 153, in clause 164, page 183, line 25, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 154, in clause 164, page 183, line 28, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 155, in clause 164, page 183, line 30, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 156, in clause 164, page 183, line 33, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 157, in clause 164, page 183, line 34, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 158, in clause 164, page 183, line 37, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 159, in clause 164, page 183, line 39, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 160, in clause 164, page 184, line 3, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Amendment 161, in clause 164, page 184, line 8, after “interpreter” insert

“or language and communication service professional”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 147.

Clause stand part.

Clause 164 will amend the law to allow British Sign Language interpreters in jury deliberation rooms. This change will enable profoundly deaf people who use sign language to serve as jurors. The Opposition are supportive of the clause, and we are pleased to see the Government taking steps to include differently abled citizens in the processes of our criminal justice system. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) for her work on behalf of deaf people, particularly on this issue.

Jury service is a centuries-old civic obligation. We all have to play our role when the time comes, and it is only right that deaf people should be able to play their part in society as equal to everyone else. As the former chief executive of the British Deaf Association, David Buxton, has said, the change was

“long, long, overdue but very welcome.”

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People also welcomed the clause, but thinks it could go further—a point I will come to when I turn to the Opposition amendments.

The Juries Act 1974 makes no provision for the maximum number of jurors; that is governed by common law, under which it is a long-established principle that a jury consists of 12 persons. It is common law that prohibits a 13th person.

We all wish to do whatever we can to help those with a disability, but has the hon. Gentleman costed this for the taxpayer? Obviously, some trials go on for many days, and interpreters may charge £20, £30 or £40 an hour.

It is a Government proposal to introduce interpreters in this situation, so perhaps the Minister can answer that question later. I would like the provision extended, as the hon. Gentleman will hear when I speak to the Opposition amendments.

The clause amends the common law “13th person” rule by adding new provisions to the 1974 Act to allow British Sign Language interpreters to assist deaf jurors, including in the course of their deliberations. The Government acknowledge in their equality impact statement that other individuals who might require the assistance of a third party will not benefit from the clause. The statement says:

“Where third party assistance is currently required in the jury deliberation room, efforts will be made to arrange for other jurors to provide this, wherever possible. For example, blind and partially sighted jurors can be assisted by a fellow juror reading out documents. However, we recognise this proposal is limited to profoundly deaf jurors who require a BSL interpreter and does not extend to other individuals with disabilities who, in order to serve effectively as a juror, would require the assistance of a third party (other than a fellow juror) in the jury deliberation room. We intend to keep this issue under review.”

It is welcome that the Government will keep the issue under review, but we could go further now. The Bar Council articulated the point well:

“If reasonable adjustments are to be made for jurors such as these who are otherwise disqualified, then adjustments should be made for all, otherwise a potential juror who is not able to understand British Sign Language (BSL) may feel discriminated against, as may a juror whose disability of disadvantage is not catered for by Clause 164.”

Could the Minister share with the Committee how his Department plans to review the extent of the provisions? I am sure the Committee would feel more comfortable moving forward with the clause if we knew a bit more about the Government’s plans in this area. It would be particularly good to hear whether there are plans to extend the use of the new provisions beyond people who are differently abled to people whose comprehension of English is insufficient for them to comprehend the proceedings fully.

I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on another issue raised in the Bar Council’s submission to the Committee. It raised concerns about the position of a juror in retirement. Our jury system guards the collective nature of jury deliberations, in that deliberations are confidential, and nothing is allowed to influence them. Subsection (3) contains provisions on that matter, including measures that put an interpreter under the same restrictions as a juror as regards carrying out research and disclosing deliberations. It makes it an offence for the interpreter

“intentionally to interfere in or influence the deliberations of the jury”.

If the Committee will bear with me, I will quote at length from the Bar Council’s submission, as it raises an important, though hopefully rare, possibility that needs to be safeguarded against, and I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on it:

“as soon as a thirteenth person is introduced into the jury, particularly during deliberations, the equilibrium of that jury is disturbed. All the input the hearing-impaired juror receives is via the interpretation—and the emphasis is on interpretation—of the thirteenth person, the interpreter.

That interpreter will have to control the deliberations so that they can interpret everything to the one juror. Any asides, cross-speaking or remarks which are not properly heard will not be transmitted and so the interpreter will become a sort of de facto second foreperson, controlling discussions. Inevitably their conduct will influence how the deliberations proceed.

Because a jury is kept private, any misconduct by any juror can only be reported by the other jurors. Although this does not happen frequently, it is not a rare occurrence; human nature being what it is. At present, anything amiss that occurs during deliberations is inevitably 16 witnessed by the rest of the jury, and if any single juror misconducts themselves the rest of the jury are obliged to report it. This is impossible in the case of the private communications between an interpreter and a deaf juror. Should either or both misconduct themselves, the whole premise upon which the integrity of the jury is based—that all witness the behaviour of each other—would break down and no one would know. For example, should an interpreter fail to interpret properly, no one would ever know. This is not to say that one should assume this will happen and that it is a reason not to permit interpreters. The fundamental objection is that the jury system can only work because it is the jury collectively which polices itself. That safeguard is removed if two people in retirement—the interpreter and the deaf juror—are participating in the deliberations in a way which the rest of the jury are excluded from and so cannot monitor.”

I stress that that possibility, which may be rare but is not fantastical, does not impinge upon the Opposition’s support for the clause. However, it is a serious and important point, which I am sure that the Minister gave some thought to in constructing the proposal. I would be grateful if he could share his thoughts on how such a situation could be handled were it to arise.

I thank the RNID for its help and support on amendments 147 to 161, and I specifically thank my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South for her work on them too. They touch on a point that I raised in my previous speech: the concern that clause 164 does not go far enough, so lots of people are excluded from jury service. The Government are at least trying to expand provision for deaf jurors, but the clause as drafted meets the communication needs within deliberation rooms for a relatively small proportion of potential deaf jurors.

Of the 12 million people across the UK living with some form of hearing loss, around a million have severe or profound hearing loss, and just over 100,000 are likely to use British Sign Language as their main or primary language. Many other deaf people utilise other forms of communication support, the most common being a speech-to-text reporter, but the clause makes no provision for those people to have their communications needs met.

We would like to see the scope of the clause expanded so that there is discretion within the system, if it is approved in individual cases, for other forms of communication support to be provided as an alternative to a BSL interpreter. The clause as drafted imposes a single form of support for deaf people without considering their individual needs or the diversity of communication support that people prefer to use. While it is right that support is provided to BSL users, it is disappointing that a system that allows judges discretion to provide communication support limits the support that can be provided in deliberation rooms to BSL interpreters.

There are many different kinds of language and communication professionals, including: sign language interpreters, who enable communication between deaf sign language users and hearing people; speech-to-text reporters, who type every word that is spoken, and the text appears on the screen; note takers, who type a real-time summary of what is being said, and the text appears on the screen; lipspeakers, who repeat every word that is said without using their voice, so that people can lip read them easily; and interpreters and communicator guides for people who are deafblind.

The amendment is widely drafted, so it is not prescriptive; it would simply extend the discretion for judges, to allow them to make adjustments on a case-by-case basis, which puts the deaf person at the centre of deciding their communication needs. Although it may be the case that not all of those could and should be used in a justice setting, it does not make sense to limit the allowed provision in primary legislation to BSL interpretation, as the clause does.

The RNID tells me that the clearest case for extension is with speech-to-text reporters—a commonly used form of communication support for those who cannot always follow speech but do not use BSL. Given that the clause allows the judge to make an individual assessment on the need for communication support, it is not clear to me why we need to limit it to that single form. Both the clause and the explanatory note are clear that the onus within the system will be on judges to make an individual assessment and then, where the judge considers that the assistance of a BSL interpreter would enable the person to be capable of acting effectively as a juror, the judge may appoint one or more interpreters to provide that assistance, and affirm the summons.

As the RNID has said:

“It is contradictory to require judges to make an individual assessment, but only empower them to offer a single solution.”

The decision lies with the judge; the amendment will just give them a wider choice. I hope that the Government will support the amendment to provide judges with wider discretion to allow deaf people to engage with jury proceedings, which is surely just realising the full intention of the original clause.

I thank the shadow Minister for his speech. Interestingly, it pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, he quoted the Bar Council’s concerns about whether the jury principle might be undermined, but then he moved a series of amendments that would considerably increase the scope of the clause. Those two points clearly pull in opposite directions, perhaps suggesting that the clause as drafted is about in the right place.

As the shadow Minister eloquently laid out, once again, clause 164 permits a stranger—a so-called 13th member—to enter the jury room where that person is a British sign language interpreter, to assist a deaf juror in participating in the proceedings. Both sides of the House have agreed that that is a good idea. The shadow Minister read out a quote from the Bar Council that raised some concerns about the sanctity of the jury room being infringed. That is of course an important principle in law. I sat as a juror at Croydon Crown court during the summer recess a couple of years ago, so I know that that is something that the system protects fiercely, and rightly so.

I assure the shadow Minister and the Bar Council that several safeguards are in place to ensure the BSL interpreter cannot unduly influence proceedings. They have to sign an agreement that includes confidentiality and other provisions, and undertake not to engage in any behaviour that might be of concern. They swear an oath to the same effect, and breaking it would be a criminal offence. Only BSL interpreters on the proper register can be used, so someone cannot be picked off the street and wander in; it has to be somebody who is on the approved register to start with.

The shadow Minister asked about the possibility of error. I believe that the intention is to have two BSL interpreters present just in case one makes a mistake or loses attention for a moment, so there is a safeguard there. Of course, if any member of the jury witnesses behaviour that concerns them, it is always open to them to report the matter to the trial judge. I hope that the safeguards that I have just outlined address the points that the shadow Minister and the Bar Council raised.

If jurors break their oaths and say things outside or reveal things that they should not, there can be contempt proceedings and punishments. Will the same punishments apply to the interpreters? The Minister has set out a number of contractual arrangements, which are all well and good, but will the same obligations lie upon the interpreters as lie upon jurors?

Yes, I believe—in fact, I know, because it is written down in front of me; that is not quite the same thing, but let us assume it is for these purposes—that the provisions create a new offence where a BSL interpreter intentionally interferes in or influences the deliberations of the jury in the proceedings before a court. Yes, there are now criminal provisions being introduced by the clause.

I understand the spirit in which amendments 147 to 161were moved by the shadow Minister, and he mentioned that the hon. Member for Nottingham South assisted in their development. I understand that widening the type of people who might be able to assist could help a wider range of jurors, but there are some concerns about going too far, too quickly.

As the shadow Minister pointed out, this is a significant step. It is a significant departure from centuries of established practice. Allowing a 13th person into the jury room has never been done before. There is a feeling among the stakeholders we consulted—the judiciary, the Bar and so on—that we should take this one step at a time. Let us start with British sign language interpreters and see how that goes. If it is made to work successfully, as we hope it will be, we can look in due course at widening the range of people who might be accommodated.

There are also, I should add, potential capacity constraints. For example, I am told that there are 150 registered BSL interpreters, but only 32 speech-to-text reporters, so one might have issues with the number of available people. This is an important step. Let us take this one step first and then review it on an ongoing basis to see whether we need to go further.

I accept the Minister’s explanation as far as the sanctity of the jury room is concerned, so I can leave that to one side. However, in his last few sentences he illustrated why there should be wider provision in this area: so few people are available to provide the services for the particular way he wants to take this clause forward and serve deaf people. I think there is a real opportunity to involve far more deaf people in the system. For that reason, I will press the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 164 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 165

Continuation of criminal trial on death or discharge of a juror

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

This is a quick and simple clause. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which has been drafting this Bill, spotted a stray reference in an old piece of legislation to offences punishable by death in the context of jury sizes. It goes back to the concept of small war-time juries being unable to try certain offences where the penalty was death. We no longer have the death penalty, so the OPC thought it was a good idea to tidy up the statute book by removing the reference.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 165 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 166

Remote observation and recording of court and tribunal proceedings

I beg to move amendment 72, in clause 166, page 185, line 41, at end insert—

“(8A) The Lord Chancellor may not make regulations under subsection (8) unless the advice of the Senior Data Governance Panel (or similar committee established for this purpose) has first been sought on the provision which they would make.”

This amendment would require the Lord Chancellor to seek the advice of the Senior Data Governance Panel before making regulations governing the broadcast of court hearings.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Clause 167 stand part.

I will be brief. Clause 166 replaces temporary emergency provisions included in the Coronavirus Act 2020, which allows for certain proceedings to be observed remotely and recorded. At the same time as replacing these temporary measures, clause 166 would also extend them.

While the current emergency provisions cover only criminal provisions, clause 166 extends coverage to civil proceedings as well as proceedings across tribunals. The Opposition believe firmly in the principles of open justice. We believe the public should have a right to witness proceedings taking place, unless it is in the interests of justice not to do so. This is why we will support clause 166 today. Nonetheless, we have a reservation that we hope the Minister will be able to address.

Proposed new subsection 8 of clause 166 makes provision for the Lord Chancellor to make regulations to decide which types of proceedings can be broadcast and what factors must be taken into account before this can take place. These regulations can only be made if the Lord Chancellor agrees, but no other external stakeholders would be consulted in this process. This is why we have tabled amendment 72.

As I am sure the Minister will understand, legal proceedings often cover sensitive and painful topics and, for many, just attending court or tribunal will be a difficult time. For that reason, decisions regarding which types of proceedings should be broadcast should not be taken lightly.

One aspect of the decision-making process that is particularly sensitive is how any regulations made under proposed new subsection (8) will impact the privacy of court users. As the Legal Education Foundation explains, if regulations are made under the proposed new subsection without input from external experts, they may have serious unintended consequences, including a chilling effect on the types of claims and cases brought before the courts.

Amendment 72 seeks to provide a safeguard against the unintended consequences that the Legal Education Foundation touches on, by requiring the Lord Chancellor to seek the advice of the Senior Data Governance Panel before making regulations governing the broadcast of court hearings.

The Minister will be familiar with the Senior Data Governance Panel, but for the benefit of Committee members who might not be, it was specifically established to enable the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice to access advice from external experts on changes to the way in which information about court proceedings is made public. Given that the panel already exists and currently plays a central role in setting the approach for how decisions are made on matters relating to privacy, it seems sensible to us that the Lord Chancellor consults with the panel in making any regulations under the proposed new subsection. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Clauses 166 and 167 put on to a permanent and sounder footing many of the measures that have been used during the coronavirus pandemic to, first, enable remote hearings to take place and, secondly, where proper, to allow transmission of those hearings. It is important to stress that at all times the judge retains control of the proceedings and it is ultimately for the judge in any particular hearing or trial to decide what is appropriate. Nothing in the provisions fetters that important judicial discretion and safeguard over the management of any individual hearing or proceeding.

On clause 166, over the past year, our courts and tribunals have successfully and rapidly moved the bulk of their proceedings online during the pandemic. Such hearings have been vital in our court recovery.

It should be noted that in the civil and family jurisdictions, and in tribunals, the ability to hold proceedings using audio and video technology is not governed by legislation, but is permissible under the court or tribunal’s inherent jurisdiction. Accordingly, no legislation is needed to enable remote hearings for those jurisdictions, in contrast to the criminal jurisdiction, for which clause 168, which we will consider shortly, makes provision.

Legislation is required to make sure that suitable safeguards are in place to protect those taking part in a hearing and ensure the proper administration of justice. Clause 166 replicates some of the temporary powers introduced during the coronavirus pandemic for that purpose, future-proofs them and brings several new jurisdictions into the regulatory framework. The clause also allows courts and tribunals to provide transmissions of proceedings either to individuals who have identified themselves and requested access, or to specifically designated locations.

As I have already pointed out, judges, magistrates and anyone presiding over a tribunal panel retain the ultimate discretion. Regulations made by the Lord Chancellor, with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, will govern much of this area and will enable the regulations to be refined for particular circumstances or applications.

Clause 167 makes several further safeguards in relation to this matter permanent, with a few minor refinements. For example, the clause prohibits the recording or transmission of anyone remotely attending proceedings in a list of major courts and tribunals, unless authorised by the court or tribunal or the Lord Chancellor. It also provides clarity by defining this offence as summary-only as well as contempt, while making new provisions to preclude double jeopardy. It enshrines some of those important safeguards.

On amendment 72, which was moved by the shadow Minister and would compel the Lord Chancellor to seek the advice of the Senior Data Governance Panel, we say that that is not necessary in legislation as set out here. Of course the Government do not make the relevant regulations in isolation. That is why secondary legislation can be brought forward only with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor—a member of the Government—and of the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chief Justice’s concurrence is a very important safeguard.

Of course, in the formulation of regulations of this nature, informal consultation will take place with a number of bodies, including the SDGP, the judiciary, court practitioners, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and other interested parties. The SDGP does of course advise, but it is worth pointing out that the SDGP itself is not on a statutory footing and therefore perhaps it is not appropriate to give it the sort of status that the amendment proposes. That might also risk interfering with the notion of judicial independence. Therefore, although informal consultation with various stakeholders and experts is of course important, we think that the statutory obligation contemplated by amendment 72 goes a little too far.

I am content with the Minister’s explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 166 and 167 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 168

Expansion of use of video and audio links in criminal proceedings

I beg to move amendment 73, in clause 168, page 189, line 30, at end insert—

“(d) the court has been provided with a physical and mental health assessment of the person to whom the direction relates confirming that proceeding via a live audio link or live video link will not impede their ability to understand or effectively participate in proceedings.”

This amendment would require the court to be provided with a physical and mental health assessment of an individual before it could make a direction requiring or permitting them to take part in criminal proceedings through a live audio or video link.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 124, in clause 168, page 189, line 30, at end insert—

“(d) in the case of a direction relating to a person under the age of 18, the court considers that no other method of dealing with the person is appropriate.”

This amendment would introduce a presumption against a direction for a live video or audio link in criminal proceedings involving children.

Amendment 118, in clause 168, page 189, line 30, at end insert—

“(4A) The court may not give a direction under this section relating to the defendant in the proceedings unless that defendant has previously been given the opportunity to state whether they would prefer to appear in person and they have consented to appearing via live audio link or live video link.”

This amendment would provide defendants the opportunity and ability to choose to appear in person rather than via audio or video link.

Amendment 119, in clause 168, page 189, line 45, at end insert

“with particular reference to the following—

(i) where the person is a defendant, the existence of impairments or other factors that may negatively affect the defendant’s ability to participate effectively in court proceedings;

(ii) the nature of the hearing, including the complexity of the case and the matter being dealt with; and

(iii) the likely impact of the hearing on the rights of the defendant, particularly if it puts the defendant at risk of deprivation of liberty,”.

This amendment would require the court to consider a range of additional factors which may affect the ability of the person to participate effectively in proceedings when deciding whether a person should be able to participate via audio or video link.

Amendment 125, in clause 168, page 190, line 6, at end insert—

“(h) in the case of a direction relating to a person under the age of 18—

(i) any need for additional support for that person to enable them to take part in the proceedings effectively,

(ii) the requirement to ensure that that person understands the legal proceedings in which they are participating, and

(iii) whether there are other more appropriate means of requiring or permitting the person to take part in the proceedings.”

This amendment sets out a range of considerations which the court must take into account when considering a direction for a live video or audio link in criminal proceedings involving children.

Amendment 74, in clause 168, page 190, line 10, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State may exercise the power in section 175(1) so as to bring this section (and part 3 of Schedule 19) into force only if the condition in subsection (5) is met.

(5) The condition in this subsection is that a review of the impact of the expansion of audio and video links in criminal proceedings has been conducted in accordance with subsection (6).

(6) The review mentioned in subsection (5) must—

(a) collect evidence of the impact of live audio and video links on—

(i) sentencing and remand decisions,

(ii) the effective participation of defendants,

(iii) the experience of victims and witnesses, and

(iv) the cost to the wider justice system, including costs borne by the police and prison systems; and

(b) be undertaken by a person who is independent of the Secretary of State.

(7) The review mentioned in subsection (5) may also consider any other matter which the person conducting the review considers relevant.”

This amendment would ensure that the expansion in the use of audio and video links will not be undertaken until an independent review of its impact has been undertaken.

Clause stand part.

Amendment 75, in clause 175, page 193, leave out line 37.

This amendment is consequent on Amendment 74.

You will be pleased to know, Mr McCabe, that this will be my last substantial speech this afternoon. There are a couple of small ones to go, but this will be the last substantial one.

Clause 168 expands the use of video and audio or live links to a wide range of criminal proceedings. The Government hope that expanding the use of live links will allow courts to conduct criminal hearings remotely, with defendants, witnesses, lawyers, and possibly jury members attending remotely by audio or video link. The proceedings include preliminary hearings, trials before the magistrates and Crown courts, appeals and sentencing hearings, to name just a few.

The rationale behind the clause seems somewhat confused. As we know, the clause develops and expands the framework for remote justice that was developed during the pandemic. During the pandemic, video and audio live links were required as an exceptional measure to ensure that the wheels of the justice system could continue turning. That makes it all the more confusing that the Government are seeking to introduce clause 168 now, when thankfully we are in a different phase of the pandemic altogether.

I wonder whether the Minister will explain the Government’s thinking behind the clause—I am sure he will. Is it, as some have suggested, a safeguarding measure against, as unthinkable as it is, another pandemic-type scenario hitting the country? If that is indeed the purpose behind clause 168, it is something that the Opposition could cautiously support, provided that certain safeguards were built into the clause. The Opposition accept that there are countless hearings—many of them administrative in nature—where live links would allow them to be completed more efficiently than proceedings in person. None the less, I hope that the Minister will accept that there are other circumstances and situations in which the use of live links could have a profound impact on fair trial rights. I will discuss that in detail when I come to our amendment shortly.

It is also important to point out that clause 168 goes quite some way beyond the measures implemented under the Coronavirus Act 2020. As the Minister will know, clause 168 would allow, for the first time, live links to be permitted by a court in respect of juries—in other words, remote juries. Although it is very welcome that the Government have introduced a number of safeguards in relation to remote juries—for example, jurors would not be able to take part from home, and parties would be able to appeal a direction for juries to sit remotely—the Opposition are still concerned by this new power. The Minister must accept that clause 168 as a whole, but particularly in relation to juries, represents a momentous change in our legal system, and it is concerning that it seems to be based on little evidence and has been put together largely without consultation. As Transform Justice points out:

“The government has claimed that video and audio links in the pandemic have been a huge success. But beyond the occasional announcement on the number of links used, we have no evidence on video and audio criminal hearings in the pandemic. No data has been systematically collected and no research published.”

That is why the Opposition have tabled amendment 74, which would compel the Government to seek a full independent impact assessment of the effects of clause 168 before the expansion of audio and video links could take place. The aim of the impact assessment is to show what impact the roll-out of live links would have on sentencing and remand decisions, the effective participation of defendants, the experience of victims and witnesses, and the cost to the wider justice system, including costs borne by the police and prison systems. I am sure the Minister will agree that these are fundamental questions that the Government must know the answers to before clause 168 can fully come into effect.

The Opposition understand that some benefits may come from the Government’s direction of travel in relation to remote juries, although as I said in my previous speech, those benefits are relatively limited. It is vital that they are not obtained by impinging on the central tenets of our justice system, which are access to justice and the right to a fair trial. If the Government are set on moving in this direction, I hope they can at least see the value in a series of safeguards that can help to ensure the safety and fairness of trials. Serious concerns about these reforms have been raised across the legal and justice sectors, and the input of those sectors has been invaluable. In particular, I thank Transform Justice, Fair Trials and the Legal Education Foundation for their constructive and considered engagement with these proposals. This series of amendments—73, 118, 119, 124 and 125—would introduce a range of sensible safeguards, and I hope the Government recognise their value.

Amendment 118 would give defendants the opportunity and ability to choose to appear in person, rather than via audio or video link. Research has shown that effective participation in court proceedings can be impeded if the defendant appears on video or audio link. This is because remote hearings can interfere with defendants’ rights to participate effectively at their own hearings, and to review and challenge information and evidence relevant to those proceedings. In their report of April last year, called “Preventing the health crisis from becoming a justice crisis”, the Equality and Human Rights Commission pointed out that

“poor connections cause important information to be missed”

and

“can cause disconnection and separation from people and legal process”.

The EHRC also looked at this issue in its report “Inclusive justice: a system designed for all”, in which it noted that defence solicitors and advocates highlighted:

“The separation between the defendant and their solicitor and/or court”.

It outlined that

“defendants may not have a full view of the court, or know who is present in the room at the other site…It was also noted that being alone for a video hearing, without support, can be difficult for some people.”

One defendant shared their experience with the court, saying that

“It wasn’t what I would call a real court because I was sat in a room all on my own with a screen but I couldn’t hear what was being said…I found it very difficult and I was unable to take part in it”.

Remote court proceedings can also affect the effectiveness of lawyer-defendant communications, undermining defendants’ ability to access legal advice and effective legal representation. Research by Fair Trials has found that lawyer-defendant communications have been badly affected during the covid-19 pandemic, meaning that defendants are finding it more difficult to consult their lawyers and to seek advice before, during and after court hearings. On top of that, a March 2020 report on video-enabled justice, funded by the Home Office and carried out by the Sussex police and crime commissioner in conjunction with the University of Sussex, found that

“The loss of face-to-face contact in video court can create challenges in terms of advocates developing trust and rapport with their clients”

and that

“appearing over the video link could make defence advocates less effective, particularly in relation to bail applications”.

There is also evidence suggesting that remote hearings disproportionately result in custodial sentences. That Home Office-funded report concluded that individuals whose cases were handled remotely were more likely to be jailed and less likely to receive a community sentence. Furthermore, the proportion of unrepresented defendants receiving custodial sentences was higher than the rate for represented defendants, and those sentenced in a more traditional court setting were more likely to receive fines or other community sentences.

I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on these findings, as they have very serious ramifications for our justice system as more hearings take place remotely. If the Government want to make changes, they need to take responsibility for the outcomes and not simply farm out that accountability to the judiciary, so I would like to hear what steps the Minister’s Department thinks we should take to safeguard against the outcomes I have just outlined.

Another point that we need to consider is that the public are not really in favour of this move, as a recent survey commissioned by Transform Justice found. When asked for their preference should they be accused of a crime, two third of respondents said they would prefer to appear in court in person, rather than on video or on the phone. The judiciary does not seem to be in favour of the move either. A survey of judicial attitudes commissioned by the judiciary suggests most judges are unhappy about virtual hearings. Some 75% were concerned by the reduction in face-to-face hearings, 75% by the digital reform programme, and 81% by court closures. Given all we know about the possible impact of remote hearings on trial outcomes and access to legal support, we believe that all defendants, including those remanded by the police who wish to appear in person rather than on video or by audio link, should be provided with the opportunity to do so. Amendment 118 would provide a safeguard for all defendants who wish to use it.

I turn now to our other amendments, which would provide further protection to particularly vulnerable defendants. Amendment 73 would require the court to be provided with a physical and mental health assessment of an individual before it could make a direction requiring or committing them to take part in criminal proceedings through a live audio or video link. Vulnerable defendants are especially vulnerable to unfair trials where trial proceedings are conducted remotely. Multiple studies have shown that remote justice proceedings are an inadequate substitute for in-person hearings in such cases.

Both the Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have acknowledged that people with mental health issues or cognitive impairment and/or neurodiverse conditions can struggle to participate in their court hearing on video, and they may find it harder to understand what is happening in the hearing and to communicate their views during it. The EHRC’s report on video hearings, which I referred to earlier, says that

“video hearings are unsuitable for disabled people, such as those with learning difficulties, cognitive impairment or a mental health condition…The EHRC were also concerned that the emergency use of remote justice may ‘place protected groups at further disadvantage and deepen entrenched inequality.’”

That could result in unsafe convictions, which generate appeals and increase pressure on the criminal justice system. Delays in the criminal justice system and unsafe convictions harm victims and undermine public trust.

The EHRC recommended that the Government should address the barriers to effective participation for disabled defendants before any further measures are introduced or extended. There is currently no reliable system to identify those who have mental health or neurodiverse needs and cognitive impairment disabilities, particularly considering that these are often hidden disabilities and the defendant may be reluctant to disclose them. Amendment 73 would ensure that there is a system in place to identify all those who have a physical or mental condition that makes remote hearings inappropriate for them, and it would thus address the EHRC’s recommendations.

Amendment 119 would require the court to consider a range of additional factors that may affect a person’s ability to participate effectively in proceedings when deciding whether they should be able to participate via video or audio link. The Bill’s equality impact assessment says:

“On balance, we do not consider that expanding the availability of live links or that making use of technology in this way would result in people being particularly disadvantaged because of any protected characteristic. Ultimately, judicial discretion remains in place as to whether it is appropriate for a video hearing to take place.”

The judicial discretion is provided for in proposed new section 51(5)(b) whereby the court must consider

“all the circumstances of the case”

when making a direction under clause 168, with further guidance provided by subsections (4) and (6), and future guidance by the Lord Chief Justice, as provided for in subsection (5)(a).

We do not think that the clause as drafted is robust enough to safeguard the interests of vulnerable defendants. The general requirement to take into account all the circumstances of the case, including whether a person would be able to take part in the proceedings effectively, does not provide sufficient protection. As I have already said, remote hearings can interfere with defendants’ right to access effective legal assistance in order to participate effectively in their own hearings and to review and challenge information and evidence that is relevant to the proceedings. There is also evidence to suggest that remote hearings disproportionately result in custodial sentences.

To protect against those adverse outcomes, we would like the factors in amendment 119 to be taken explicitly into consideration when making directions under clause 168. Those factors are any impairments that the defendant may have that will limit their ability to participate in the hearing; the nature of the hearing, including the complexity of the case; and the likely impact of the hearing on the rights of the defendant, particularly if it puts the defendant at risk of deprivation of liberty. The stakes are too high to get this stuff wrong. For that reason, I hope that the Government will support these simple additional safeguards.

Finally, our remaining amendments on this topic provide specific safeguards for hearings involving children. Many of the points that I have made in regard to defendants who are vulnerable because of physical or mental conditions stand true for children, too. Amendment 124 would introduce a presumption against a direction for a live video or audio link in criminal proceedings involving children. Children who are accused of crimes struggle to understand what is happening in court when they are there in person, not least because so many have pre-existing communication difficulties. Remote hearings will only exacerbate that problem. As the Alliance for Youth Justice notes,

“Research also indicates that children who appear via video are much less likely to appreciate the seriousness of the situation or present themselves well, prejudicing their outcomes at court.”

Remote hearings are much less likely to be appropriate in the case of children, and so we would like the Government to introduce a presumption against their use.

Amendment 125 sets out a range of considerations which the court must take into account when considering a direction for a live video or audio link in criminal proceedings involving children. The need for that is illustrated by a 2018 case, about which the Alliance for Youth Justice wrote an open letter to the Government. It said:

“A 17-year-old boy was sentenced to prison for ten years. He pleaded guilty but his case overran. The judge decided to sentence the boy by video link early on a Monday morning. His Youth Offending Team officer was not consulted about the use of the video link. The boy will have been alone (save for a prison officer) in a small room at the prison when he heard his sentence, isolated from his lawyer and his family. The evidence shows that children (under 18-year-olds) in court, many of whom have communication problems, struggle to understand what is going on and to participate effectively in proceedings. How much more difficult to do so if you are sat hundreds of miles from the court and separated from everybody there by a video screen?... We are concerned that video link risks making it much harder for children to comprehend the seriousness of their crimes and the harm they have caused.”

In the light of that quote, the considerations provided for in the amendment include additional support for the child to enable them to take part in the proceedings effectively, a requirement to ensure that the child understands the legal proceedings in which they are participating, and an explicit consideration of whether there are other more appropriate means of requiring or permitting the child to take part in the proceedings. Again, these are simple safeguards that require no extra work from the Government. It is simply about ensuring that those factors are explicitly in the mind of the judge when deciding whether it is appropriate to make a direction under clause 168.

The safety of trials for vulnerable and child defendants is a matter of grave importance, so I hope that the Minister can understand our anxiety to get this right and will support the amendments so we can put these safeguards in primary legislation.

We have heard extensively from the shadow Minister on the clause, so I do not think I need to repeat too much of what he said about its purpose, save to say in summary that it enshrines the expansion of the use of, or enables the use of, video and audio links in criminal proceedings beyond that introduced last year in the Coronavirus Act 2020, which, as we have already discussed, has enabled a great deal of court recovery.

Clause 168 builds on that progress by moving the barriers, restrictions and inconsistencies in the current legislation, which limits the potential use of live links in criminal proceedings. It is vital to stress that nothing in the clause makes remote technology in any way compulsory or inevitable. It is always a matter for choice by the court, which may choose it for reasons of health, as we have during the pandemic, or have some other reason for thinking it is a good idea. The point is, we are creating a discretion and a power for the court to use. Indeed, some participants, including defendants, may want to exercise their own choice and say to the court—for a particular reason, perhaps the inconvenience of travelling—that they want to participate remotely. It might be easier for a witness to participate remotely, for example, rather than travel all the way to a court that might be a great distance away.

The flexibility that the clause enshrines could be useful in a wide range of circumstances. Those principles have been widely debated in previous clauses and are, broadly speaking, agreed.

The proposed amendments to the clause in essence seek to introduce a range of very specific safeguards to circumscribe or control the way in which the measures may be used by a judge. The Government view, however, is that the safeguards already built into clause 168 and its associated provisions do that already. Let me enumerate what those safeguards are, which I hope will assure the shadow Minister and anyone else listening.

First, the court—the judge—must decide whether it is in the interests of justice for a live link to be used. That is a critical test. In doing that, the court is required to consider

“any guidance given by the Lord Chief Justice, and…all the circumstances of the case”—

I stress, “all the circumstances”.

The amendments have tried to pick out various different, specific circumstances. Inevitably, that list will not be exhaustive—they might forget something—so by saying “all the circumstances”, we give the judge a wide range of discretion. Those circumstances expressly include “the views” of the person who might be invited to attend by live link, so if someone has a particular problem or objection, they may table it and say to the judge why they think it is not right for them to appear remotely, if they are invited to do so. Equally, of course, they might say to a judge, “I would rather participate remotely”, for some reason of logistics or something else.

I am conscious of time and the shadow Minister made a long speech, but on this one occasion, I will give way.

I am keen for the Minister to understand that not all defendants who are offered the facility would be legally represented. They might not have appropriate advice about the benefits of appearing in person.

Where someone appears without representation, obviously a whole number of issues are raised, of which this is just one small one. In those circumstances, the judge himself or herself will—and does—carefully talk the defendant through the implications. When someone is unrepresented, the issues are to do not only with live hearings, but all kinds of elements of the proceedings where ordinarily a barrister or solicitor would assist the defendant. In the absence of that, the judge has to lead them, ask them questions and ensure that their interests are properly accounted for by the court in a manner that is impartial and fair.

Another question under clause 168 and its associated provisions that the judge must consider is whether the person concerned could participate effectively in the proceedings. A number of the amendments talk about disability and so on. It is therefore worth enumerating again in more detail the circumstances that must be considered: the nature of the proceedings; whether the person can participate effectively by live link; the suitability of the live-link facilities; and the arrangements that could be put in place for the public to observe the proceedings. There are a lot of things there that the judge is already obliged to take into account to ensure that the interests of justice are served—that the defendant gets a fair trial, or that the witness or victim may participate properly.

On children, the courts already have a statutory duty to have regard to the welfare of children. It is important to acknowledge that there may be situations in which it is beneficial for a child, whether as a witness or a defendant, to appear by live link. It is important that the court can take a balanced judgment, rather than a presumption one way or the other. Critically, however, there is already a statutory duty to have regard to the welfare of the child.

I hope that I have demonstrated, or illustrated, with that long list of considerations that the matters of concern that the shadow Minister has properly raised already have to be taken into account. Ultimately, however, I do not think that it is appropriate for us to seek to legislate for everything in detail, as some of the amendments seek to do. Instead, I have set out the principles to rely on—the good offices and the sober judgment of the judge presiding over the case—to make sure that justice has been done. I have a great deal of confidence in our judiciary to ensure that the right balance is struck, as has been done throughout the pandemic. No one has suggested that, during the pandemic, any particular defendant or witness has been especially badly served. I have confidence in the judiciary to get these balances right, and I believe that the statutory basis of clause 168 is the right one.

I have listened carefully to the Minister, but across the sector there are widespread concerns about these proposals and the lack of safeguards. It is important that certain safeguards are built into the Bill. Not even the judiciary are satisfied and even some of the reports that are required are insufficient in these particular circumstances.

However, my huge concern is always about children and what the Bill means for them in the system. The Minister talked about having confidence in the judiciary and their discretion. Well, the judge who decided to sentence that 17-year-old to 10 years’ imprisonment when he was stuck in a room somewhere in a local prison did not show much understanding of young people—all the more reason why we should legislate to put greater protections in the Bill, particularly for children.

I shall push amendment 73 to a vote.

Clause 168 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 19

Further provision about the transmission and recording of court and tribunal proceedings

Question proposed, That the schedule be the Nineteenth schedule to the Bill.

Briefly, this schedule is consequential to the previous clauses. Part 1 of the schedule enables non-parties to observe proceedings remotely; part 2 prohibits unauthorised recordings; and part 3 sets out various supplementary procedural matters around the giving, variation and rescinding of live-link directions in criminal proceedings, as provided for in clause 168.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 19 accordingly agreed to.

Clause 169

Repeal of temporary provision

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Very simply, clause 169 essentially repeals some of the temporary measures in the Coronavirus Act 2020, which are superseded by the clauses and schedule that we have just debated.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 169 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 170

Financial provision

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: clause 171 stand part.

That schedule 20 be the Twentieth schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 172 to 174 stand part.

We are entering the final straight of the main section of the Bill and cantering towards the finish line.

In brief, clause 170 contains standard provisions around financial authority. Clause 171 introduces schedule 20, making a number of technical amendments to the Sentencing Act 2020. Clause 172 is a standard clause conferring powers on the Secretary of State to make any consequential amendments. Clause 173 gives the Secretary of State power to amend the sentencing code to incorporate changes to its provisions that are made by this Bill—nothing untoward there—and clause 174 is a standard clause setting out the territorial extent of the provisions in this Bill that we have debated for the last few weeks.

Over the days of our debate, Opposition Members have pointed out areas where the Government’s resource assessments seem to be well out of step with the Government’s expectations of the Bill’s impact.

One particular area of concern is the impact on prison places. The Government’s impact assessment has come up with a total increase in the adult prison population of around 700 offenders in steady state by 2028-29. After the hours of debate that we have had on changes to provisions that will extend the custodial period for many sentences and increase sentences for some road traffic offences, I find that number completely implausible. To put my mind at ease, perhaps the Minister could share with the Committee the arithmetic that conjured that number up.

Incarceration is extremely expensive, so if the Government have underestimated the impact, I worry that prison budgets will be stretched even further when they are already at breaking point. If rehabilitation and support for the cycle of offending are to work, they must be properly resourced.

There are areas of the Bill where the Government have not even been able to make an assessment of the cost impact. For instance, in the impact assessment for the changes to detention and training orders, the Government say:

“There will be some individuals that spend longer on supervision in the community under this option, which would incur additional youth offending team costs. It has not proved possible to quantify these additional costs.”

Youth offending teams are so stretched that we have even had to table an amendment to ensure that the current provision of intensive surveillance and supervision is adequately funded across the country; otherwise, the range of appropriate sentencing options for children will be limited. I hope that the Minister can commit to ensuring that additional costs will be robustly monitored so that these services, which save the justice system in the long run by turning people away from offending, are provided with sufficient resource to do their jobs properly.

I simply draw attention to the calculation set out in the extremely extensive impact assessment, which I am holding in my hand, and to the additional 10,000 prison places that are being constructed and the extra probation service personnel who are being recruited.

I think you had me cantering with you, Mr Philp, because I almost missed out Mr Cunningham altogether.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 170 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 171 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 20 agreed to.

Clauses 172 to 174 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 175

Commencement

I beg to move amendment 144, in clause 175, page 193, line 21, at end insert—

“(ea) section [Proceeds of crime: account freezing orders].”

This amendment provides for NC74 to commence two months after Royal Assent.

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government new clause 74—Proceeds of crime: account freezing orders.

Amendment 144 and new clause 74 are an administrative amendment and new clause to ensure that the provisions available under the Financial Services Act 2021 in relation to account freezing and forfeiture powers are available in Northern Ireland. It was not possible to get a legislative consent motion when that Act was passed. That clearly needs to be corrected to protect the good people of Northern Ireland, and we propose to do so through this clause.

Amendment 144 agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

I am sure you will rule me out of order if I am, Mr McCabe, but I just want to make a quick remark here. In some areas, the Government have been very receptive to the Opposition’s concerns—they have committed to carrying out a cost-benefit analysis and other assessments—but the Bill was rushed through to Second Reading after the White Paper, and it was only because of an unexpected delay that we were given sufficient time to prepare for Committee stage, especially considering the size of the Bill and the complexity of some of its provisions.

I hear Ministers are keen to get this Bill through Report and Third Reading before the summer recess, which starts in four weeks’ time. I would like reassurance from the Ministers that the work they have committed to undertake will be done in a timely fashion as the Bill progresses. Perhaps they will need a little more than four weeks to get the job done. It is no good having a cost-benefit analysis that shows that a provision is too expensive to be worth it if it is already in law and has come into force.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman thinks that we have rushed into this. There was a period of some nine months, I think, between the White Paper and the introduction of the Bill and Second Reading. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South, and I have been very careful throughout the scrutiny of this Bill to make it clear where there is extra work to be done. The timeframes, as far as we are able to do so, have been provided.

We very much look forward to continuing to scrutinise the Bill, as the processes of this place and the other place continue in the time-honoured fashion. I am told that we have published impact assessments. Indeed, a great deal of work has gone into the Bill, and into the preparation of documents associated with it. I hope we will be able to continue the positive trends that have emerged during parts of the scrutiny of this Bill into next week. These are important measures and the Government want to pass them as quickly as possible to continue protecting the people we have been so keen to discuss in this Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 175, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 176

Short title

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I was going to talk for hours on this, but I see that my hon. Friend wants to beat me to it. This is the short title of the Bill, and we ask that it be cited as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2021.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 176 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Tom Pursglove.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 22 June at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock. 

Written evidence reported to the House

PCSCB39 Victims’ Commissioner

PCSCB40 An individual who wishes to remain anonymous