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Sexual Harassment

Volume 709: debated on Monday 28 February 2022

7. What assessment she has made of the potential merits of making public sexual harassment a criminal offence. (905733)

We fully recognise the concern that my right hon. Friend raises. In fact, that same concern has been raised by many Members across the House and many campaigners. We will do all we can to make streets safer for women and girls, and if that includes a new offence, so be it.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister agrees with the Law Commission that misogyny should not be a hate crime. Does she not also think it appropriate that she should agree with the Law Commission that public sexual harassment should be a specific offence? I would like to echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has just said that women should be able to live their lives

“freely, safely and without harassment”.

Can we stop looking hard at this and actually bring forward some legislation to make it happen?

As I have just said, if the work we are doing with the Law Commission, legislators and others makes it clear that we need to make a new offence, that is exactly what we will do. I would like to draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the work that the police are doing to keep women safer. They are recording more VAWG crimes, there is an increased willingness of victims to come forward and there are improvements in police recording. We know we have more to do, which is why this evening we are launching a national communications campaign to tackle the perpetrators of public sexual harassment.

But last week the Minister could not have been clearer in her view that the test as to whether there should be legislation in these areas was what the Law Commission said about it. She was absolutely clear that, because the Law Commission did not recommend that misogyny should be a hate crime, that should not be the law. Why is she not equally clear on sexual harassment?

Let me be as clear as I can for the whole House. If there is a need for a new offence, we will bring it forward.

I welcome the Government’s broad support for tackling violence against women and girls, including in public, and for banning virginity testing and hymenoplasty in the Health and Care Bill, which is going through the other place. I also welcome their backing for the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham)—the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill—to ban child marriage in England and Wales. Our Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will look to extend some of those issues, for example by outlawing breastfeeding voyeurism and ensuring that violent offenders spend more time in prison. Does the Minister agree that, by voting against that Bill, the Opposition are failing to send the right message on protecting the victims of crime?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the sheer scope of the work we are doing to tackle these atrocious crimes. Violence against women and girls is appalling, and this Government are focused and united on stamping it out. I would like to see the Opposition voting with us this evening to support the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Given the very loud comments Opposition Members have made from a sedentary position, I expect to see them in the Lobby with us this evening.